• Published 1st Mar 2019
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Haycartes' Pluperfect Method - Kris Overstreet

Twilight Sparkle has trapped herself in a shelf full of books. Will she survive- or will she lose herself to the story?

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BRAY TO QUARTERS Chapter 22: the Loose End

For the first time in weeks, the cabin hosted a dinner party: Twilight, Thornbush, Gerard, Cherry Mustang, and Iron Press.

It had been a week since Twilight had left the guarda-costa, a week of slowly clawing southwards in the feeble and directionless winds. Throughout that period Twilight had poked her head above deck only the absolute minimum time required for the captain’s duties, and Thornbush, knowing Hornsparker’s frequent black moods, had aided and abetted the antisocial behavior. But Iron Press, restored to the captain’s sleeping cabin after the repairs had been finished, had issued the invitation, and Twilight’s guilt wouldn’t let her refuse the request.

Iron Press had worked to keep the conversation lively- and Twilight, having learned the importance of reaching out to friends late in life, recognized the skills at work. He got Thornbush talking about his experience at the Battle of Trafalcon, where the combined Fancy and Maredrid navies had met defeat off the Griffish coast. A moment’s worth of stoking rivalries got Gerard to tell his stories of trading in Klugetown during his privateering days early in the war. Before long everyone was chatting away as merrily as anypony could ask- except for Twilight.

As much as she wanted to, Twilight couldn’t join in. There were ghosts at the party. On one side she saw young Potter’s Clay, shifting uncomfortably in his seat, dreading the inevitable whist game to follow the meal. On the other sat Wildrider, smiling a broad smile as he related some romantic escapade in Baltimare or Manehattan. Each of them looked at Twilight, smiled, and then vanished, returned back to her imagination.

Finally, after the traditional toasts to Princess Celestia and the Equestrian Navy, Twilight stood up. “I beg your pardon,” she said. “I fear some wounds are yet too raw for me to enjoy a game of whist. I shall go on deck and relieve Freerein and have her join your fun. Thank you for inviting me, milord.”

The moonlit deck of the Lydia seemed almost a refuge after the happy party. Up here Twilight wouldn’t be the wet-blanket on events. Up here the smiles and laughter wouldn’t twist a knife in her gut, thinking about Wildrider and Clay- and the hundreds of other ponies from this insane story-book world who, thanks to Twilight, would never smile or laugh again.

Why do I keep reminding myself this is a book? she thought to herself. It feels real enough, if you ignore the blank pages in books for the first few seconds. The pain definitely feels real enough. And leaving aside certain characters, the average ponies seem real enough. This world is real to them, isn’t it? And dead in a story is still dead, isn’t it?

“I must beg your pardon, captain.” Iron Press had left the party to come out after Twilight. He walked up next to Twilight on the quarterdeck, with only a single steerspony and a dozen or so ponies in the rigging to see them. “If I had known how strongly you were affected by recent events, I would not have disturbed you.”

“No, that’s all right.” Take Iron Press here. Yes, he’s the obvious love interest. But he’s also a genuinely good, intelligent pony. He reminds me of Rarity in many ways. Yes, he’s too perfect… but he’s almost believable, regardless. “I needed to get out more anyway.”

“I don’t think it’s all right,” Iron Press said. “You were doing well until you went on that coast guard boat. Since then you’ve been haunted. Your officers are worried about you, do you know that?” Iron Press paused a moment, then hurriedly said, “I should say worried for you. I’ve seen junior officers worried about their captain, but I’ve never seen junior officers honestly as fond of their captain as your officers are of you.”

Hornsparker, who had roused at the hint of possible mutiny, subsided again in Twilight’s mind, leaving her to answer honestly, “That’s… very gratifying, milord. I only wish I deserved it.”

“And why should you not deserve it?” Iron Press asked. “It’s hardly your fault you were given impossible orders. And look what you did with them.” He gestured around the ship. “The admiralty sent almost four hundred ponies halfway around the world on a fool’s errand. But you’re bringing the ship and almost two-thirds of them back, plus eighty ponies who would have been slaughtered without you. That’s your doing, captain. You deserve the praise. And I have the ear of a couple of mares who will make sure that praise is heard.”

This raised Hornsparker’s spirits, but not Twilight’s. How much longer must this drag out? she thought. I’m tired. I want to put the book down and sleep. Enough is enough. I don't care anymore. “Milord,” she said quietly, “I’m going to tell you a fairy tale. Just a silly little story. But I want to know what you think of it.”

“You have my complete interest, captain.”

Twilight took a deep breath. “Did you ever hear of a spell called Haycartes’ Method?”

“Well,” Iron Press said doubtfully, “of course I’ve heard of Haycartes. Great Fancy philosopher and wizard from about a century ago. But I’m afraid my literary tastes lean more towards poetry than magic.”

“Haycartes’ Method inserts a pony into a book,” Twilight said. “The pony appears as a drawing on the pages, and sees and hears the words of the book up close. It’s a difficult spell, and only well-trained unicorns can cast it.” She sighed. “Now imagine an al- I mean a unicorn pony, a very powerful, well-trained wizardess. A unicorn who loves books- any kind of book at all, but especially adventure stories.”

“I don’t think that’s so difficult to imagine,” Iron Press commented.

“This unicorn loved Haycartes’ Method, but she thought she could improve on it. She didn’t just want to be inside the book. She wanted to be inside the story itself, seeing things as the characters saw them. And one day when she knew she had nothing else that needed to be done, she gathered together a whole shelf of adventure books that she’d never read. She made herself comfortable, and then cast her improved spell… and vanished into the books.”

“Go on. What happened?”

“The unicorn found out her idea wasn’t all it was cracked up to be,” Twilight said. “She didn’t just find herself within the story. She found herself made into the main character, with the main character’s memories and thoughts jumbled in her head. She had to fight just to remember who she really was.

“But that wasn’t the worst part of it. The worst part was, an adventure story is only fun when you’re reading it from a long way away, in a safe place, where nobody real actually gets hurt. Living through an actual adventure is a terrible thing. This innocent pony, who’d never had blood on her hooves before, suddenly found herself responsible for the deaths of hundreds of ponies. And maybe the character she’d replaced could handle that, but she couldn’t. It wasn’t fun being in the story. It was a terrible nightmare.”

Twilight went silent, and Iron Press nudged her. “Go on,” he said. “Did the unicorn make it out of the book?”

“I don’t know,” Twilight admitted. “The fairy tale hasn’t got that far yet.” She stared out over the ocean, at the moonlight reflected in the swells, at the stars glittering in the clear sky. “I don’t know if it ever will.”

The silence that followed that line threatened to freeze even the tropical waters the ship sailed across.

Twilight shook her head. “But it’s only a fairy story,” she said, laughing. The laughs came out much more bitter than she’d wanted, and a little manic, and she choked them off. “Only a story, not real. The kind of thing a captain in a black mood dreams up on a hot night.” She stepped back from the rail. “I won’t bother you with my ramblings, mil-“

A hoof came down gently on Twilight’s shoulder, stopping her mid-step. “I believe you,” Iron Press said quietly.

Twilight froze, emotions roiling inside her, thoughts such a horrible tangle that she couldn’t tell which parts were her and which Hornsparker anymore.

“What was your name, in the other world?” Iron Press asked gently.

“Twilight Sparkle,” she answered instantly. “Princess Twilight Sparkle.”

“I see,” Iron Press said quietly. “And what about Captain Hornsparker?”

“She’s in here,” Twilight said, tapping her head. “I guess you could say she’s me, if I were born into this horrible world. In the real world this war never takes place, you see. Neighpoleon was never born. The revolution of Prance ran its course peacefully. Maredrid’s trading colonies were never run so brutally.”

“And what about me?” Iron Press asked. “Do I exist? What about my sisters?”

“I don’t know about you, milord,” Twilight admitted. “But one of your sisters eventually became prime minister to Celestia. And the other was a renowned diplomat.”

“Well, that’s something,” the Canterlot noble admitted.

“Hornsparker’s desperately in love with you, by the way,” Twilight added hurriedly. “Not that she’d ever admit it. She won’t shame her husband. His name is Plum Dumpling. They’ve had two children, one lost to fever.”

“Yes, I know,” Iron Press said. “Thornbush told me the story of your… pardon me, their wedding. He wouldn’t tell me what he actually thought of him, though.”

Twilight mentally prodded Hornsparker, but the mental voice was not merely silent, but pointedly silent, at this news. “Well,” she said carefully, “I don’t know if Hornsparker loves Plum Dumpling… but she pities him. They have practically nothing in common. But Hornsparker won’t do a thing that might hurt him. So… well… I’m afraid you’ll have to be patient and keep working at her.”

“I beg your pardon?” Iron Press asked.

“Think about it a moment,” Twilight said. “If you believe the fairy story, then that makes Hornsparker the main character, the one I’ve replaced. Under the circumstances that makes you the love interest.”

Iron Press’s blush was visible even in the moonlight. “Well,” he said, a little awkwardly, “I can’t say the prospect is a fate worse than death. But if I’ve been falling in love with an iron mare on a wooden ship, wouldn’t that be you? What kind of pony is Hornsparker, really?”

“Not that different from me,” Twilight said. “A bit more cynical. She has black moods. She’s obsessed with appearances. She thinks she’s friendless in the world. She’s… very awkward, among other ponies.” She smiled ruefully and added, “She reminds me of the pony I used to be, once. Before I found friendship.”

Iron Press’s hoof caressed Twilight’s shoulder. “I think I could be Hornsparker’s friend,” he said. “For as long as she needs one.”

Before Twilight could say anything else, a gust of wind blew across the deck. She looked out over the railing, noticing for the first time that something had blotted out the stars near the eastern horizon. “I think you should get below, milord,” she said, getting back to business. “Looks like a squall’s on its way. If you would, please ask my officers to come up on deck. I think we’re about to be very busy.”

“Certainly… Twilight.” The hoof left her shoulder, and then a light kiss touched her forehead just below the horn. “I do hope you make it home safely.”

A stronger gust of wind came and wrapped itself around Twilight…

… and the Lydia, the ocean, and the world fell away…

Author's Note:

And that wraps up Bray to Quarters...

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