• 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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DEATH BRIDLE Chapter 1: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Some things just aren’t meant to go together. Oil and water. Hay and potatoes. Pegasi and subtlety.

Wizards and punctuality.

I was running ten minutes late- literally running, galloping down the streets of Canterlot- for my appointment with Fetch Quest-

Wait a minute, that’s not right! Wizards can too be punctual! I’m on time for my appointments ninety-eight point two percent of the time!

- when the strange voice popped into my head.

Now, I am a wizard- not just an ordinary unicorn-

Wizardess.

Ahem. I am a wizard, which doesn’t just mean I know a few spells pulled out of a book. Almost since birth I’ve been part of a secret order which forms a line of defense between Celestia’s innocent ponies and things which would make even their greatest defenders cower in fear.

And why are you thinking like that? Are you talking to yourself or something?

I’ve faced monsters, changelings, and demons of various kinds- faced them down, mostly. The primary evidence for my success is, well, I’m still alive. And this wasn’t even close to the first time Harriet Daresden had an unwanted voice in her head, trying to steer-

Ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh! I know where I am now! This is the new Hairy Daresden novel! Death Bridles! I’ve so been looking forward to reading this!

This was, however, the first time the unwanted voice sounded less like a tyrant or tempter and more like a… raving fangirl in desperate need of a cold shower.

And that explains why you’re thinking like this! All the Daresden Files are written first-person! I’m hearing your inner monologue!

But demon or just insane teenager, I didn’t have the time or patience to indulge the mental stowaway just then. Not that I would have been very patient even if I hadn’t been late to an important meeting. Most of my friends- the ones who’ve survived, that is- keep telling me I need to work on my patience. Me, I just work on being more efficient in dealing with distractions. Therefore, I focused my power on the invading mind and-

Ooh, what kind of spell is that? The matrices are really brutal and inefficient, you know that? Here, just move over and let me show you-

- the spell passed through my mind as if I were the only one in it. Except, of course, I wasn’t the only one in it, because that other voice immediately attempted to shove me aside and take over the body. That’s how demonologists invariably go bad, by the way. They summon a demon, or make a pact, and then in a moment of distraction or weakness the demon mind takes control. And since demons usually have a lot more willpower than mortals, that’s usually the end for the summoner’s soul.

So I had all the motivation I needed to block the takeover attempt… which was a good thing, because the power was just barely sufficient. Fortunately my reaction was instant-

It was not! It took you a full second and a half with all your monologuing!

As I said, my instant reactions kept me in control. Just.

Look, I appreciate the compliment, but I really need you to move over. This is my body, after all. You’re just a fictional overlay. You’re me if I were born as Hairy Daresden.

No, I thought, I am me if I were born as Harriet Daresden, because I was born as Harriet Daresden! I have no idea who or what you are, though, but you’re not welcome. And by the way, quit getting my name wrong! It’s fun when I do it to others, but not so much fun when someone else does it to me, all right?

But… but… look, the intruder voice said, calming down a little bit. I cast this spell, Haycartes’ Method, with a little tweak to it. It’s supposed to put me inside the book, and I had a whole set of books on the shelf, and the newest Hairy Daresden, who is supposed to be a stallion, was one of the books.

That didn’t seem all that incredible, on first glance. If enough people believe in something, it gains power and begins to become real. If my life were a book series, and enough people followed the series, there would probably be a huge ball of mystic energy just waiting for a spark…

… but, on the other hoof, creating an entire multiverse? With the fae realms, the heavens and the hells, and all of Equestrian history including, let’s not forget, Discord?

That would take a heck of a lot of ponies… and one enormous spark.

The pony trespassing on my mind kept right on going. But I made the spell too strong or something, she said. Now I can’t remember it at all. I think it may be blocking me somehow. But the point is, I replaced the main character in the first book on the shelf! Instead of whoever it was supposed to be, the character was me if I’d been born into that world! And it’s the same with you!

Oh really? I thought. Are you seriously going to say I’m not real? Because if you are, first chance I get, you are outta here.

I… I’m not one hundred percent sure how to answer that. I thought Hornsparker was just an artificial memory and personality overlay created by the adjusted spell. It uses etheric referencing- or is that tantric referencing? Anyway, it seeks out the information it needs to make the simulation complete. But I was in control there, most of the time, except for the first few minutes and a couple of bad moments.

I beg your pardon! I was in control of myself the entire time, you stupid hallucination!

Oh, wonderful, I thought. Not one intruder, but two. And, just to make it even better, they began bickering, which might have been entertaining if they weren’t using my head to do it in.

Hornsparker?? What are you doing here? I thought your book was over!

What am I doing here? Having the most peculiar fever dream, so far as I can tell! Maybe I picked up some tropical ague from that island that took three weeks to set in-

You are not hallucinating! Well, no more than I am, thanks to this spell, but- well, you shouldn’t be here anyway! You should be back on the Lydia, falling in love with Iron Press and, I don’t know, setting up some love triangle nonsense for the next book in your series, or something! You shouldn’t be here in Canterlot!

On that we are agreed, voice of madness! Obviously I cannot be in Canterlot, not when I was sailing down the southern coast of the Luna Sea not ten minutes ago! Now take this illusion away before that squall comes and swamps us all, or at least before Thornbush has me confined to my cabin as a madmare!

Girls, I thought, this is no hallucination and no fever dream. Or if it is, I’m the one having it, and I’ve had my shots.

That’s what I’ve been trying to tell her!

And why should I listen to two figments of my fevered imagination?

I happened to be walking past a wrought-iron fence at that moment, and I took the opportunity to whack my head against it. Hard.

OW!

OUCH!

Uh huh, I thought. Have I got your attention now? Good. I am now fifteen minutes late for a very important lunch appointment. If you two will just keep quiet, watch, and maybe learn, the three of us can go back to my apartment, and we will straighten out there who is real and who is fictional. Or I can find every buttable object between here and the restaurant and give all three of us headaches. The mood I’m in right now, I’m good either way. Am I clear?

Yes, Hairy- I mean Harriet.

Rrrrgbl… as you will.

Fine. The voices in my head went quiet, but as I trotted into Chez Fromage Malodorant and ducked under its Zesty Gourmet three-star sign, I could feel them both still in my head. One pushed hard against my control, not so much seeking control as trying to see better out of my eyes. The other one… well, to be honest, it was sulking and pretending to be uninterested in affairs. But I could live with that.

Normally I would meet a private investigator in my office/apartment, or at their office. But Fetch Quest knew me too well, at least by reputation. I’ve been attacked by all sorts of supernatural enemies, plus the occasional mobsters and, due to the occasional misunderstanding, the city guard. He didn’t want to be seen with me on the street; he didn’t want to come to my place; and he didn’t want me within a mile of his place.

Now, if Fetch was just an ordinary gumshoe, I wouldn’t go to the trouble of arranging a meeting at a restaurant where the prices are in inverse proportion to the amount of actual food on the plate. But I needed Fetch, and he insisted on a meeting place too busy and crowded for any attacker to risk an improvised trot-by zapping.

So here I was, waiting for the maitre d’hotel, resigned to picking up a dinner tab that would double the cost of hiring Fetch in the first place. And, voices in my head aside, I didn’t actually regret the expense. Private eyes are easy to find, but an actual ghost whisperer is worth paying for.

Ghost whisperer? You mean necromancy? But there’s no such- sorry. Sorry! Sorry! Shutting up now!

“Ah, Miss Daresden,” the stereotypical snooty waiter said, walking up to me, with his ghost-pale coat, his pencil-thin mustache, his mane slicked back and ears permanently tilted back to match. “I wish you had informed us your party had expanded to four. It took a bit of improvisation to provide seating.”

For the record, this lunch date had been for myself and Fetch and nopony else. And I was pretty sure the maitre-d wasn’t referring to my two new cranial hitchhikers. But even when you suspect somepony is about to royally screw you over, you don’t let it show. “I’ll do better next time,” I said. “It was as unexpected to me as it was to you, or else I would have called ahead.”

“I understand. This way, Miss Daresden.”

When I had booked the appointment, I had requested a corner booth somewhere, so that a quiet conversation would be ignored, if the grumbling of the patrons’ empty stomachs didn’t drown it out completely. But the waiter led me to a small table for four, situated almost perfectly in the center of the main room, where three ponies already sat waiting for me. So much for private conversations.

Fetch Quest I recognized- a dumpy pony with a wispy gray mane that matched the wind-wisp of his cutie mark. The second pony I didn’t recognize at all- a bit older than Fetch, brown and a bit wrinkled, mane a mix of black and gray, wearing a clerical collar around his neck, marking him as a priest of some kind.

But the third pony at the table made my heart rate shoot up from sixty beats a minute to about fifty million.

There was a thin aura around him that I recognized as a glamour spell. But one of the first things I learned when I came into my magic was the true sight, that lets me see the unseen… well, provided that the unseen is only hiding from ordinary mortals. Sometimes they make me work for it. I don’t know what the other ponies saw when they looked at him, but I could tell Fetch was seeing the exact same thing as me, and it made him sick as a dog to be anywhere close to him.

Which makes sense. No necromancer in their right mind wants to be anywhere near a genuine, no-illusions thestral, and this thestral, fangs and bat-wings with claws and all, was sitting across the table from him.

“Ah. Miss Daresden,” the thestral said, his voice thick with the accent of the Forbidden Jungle. “We were just waiting for you so we could order.”

Author's Note:

The first chapter of the original Death Masks takes place on a television stage, for reasons pretty much identical to those given for Fetch Quest here. I'd intended to get through the whole chapter, but among other distractions, I've been cleaning house and working on my taxes (the two chores are closely linked).

On the naming of Fetch Quest: the original character's name is Mortimer Lindquist. "Quist" inspired "Quest" as a decent name for an Equestrian private detective, and after a bit of wrestling I settled on "Fetch Quest". Only after I'd decided on this did I remember that "fetch" is also a dialect word for a ghost... (In the original book he's a spirit medium and not a PI, but nothing we've seen in the cartoon indicates that ponies have all that much interest in contacting the dead, or at least not enough to make a living by it.)

As to why the first half of the chapter is as it is: the single biggest dissatisfaction I had with Bray to Quarters is that Twilight didn't really have other characters she could bounce off of freely. Horatio Hornblower is written to be, in C. S. Forster's own words, "the Man Alone." And he makes it work, but it's not where I do my best work. So now Twilight will have her own brain conference... with the addition of Harriet Daresden, who is going to be a much tougher nut to crack than Hornsparker.

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