• Published 1st Mar 2019
  • 1,256 Views, 470 Comments

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?

  • ...

PreviousChapters Next
DEATH BRIDLE Chapter 2: an Offer You Really Can't Refuse

A quick reminder for those of you who might not know, like for example the two hitchhikers currently taking up valuable real estate inside my skull, there is a difference between the batponies you occasionally see around Princess Luna and a true, genuine thestral.

Batponies are sometimes called thestrals, but nopony who deals with things from beyond the Veil makes that mistake. A batpony is usually just some ordinary pegasus with a special enchantment on them, of the same kind that turns all the Day Guard into white stallions. Thestrals, on the other hand, are one of a group of monsters that feed off pony emotions. The various groups are referred to as the Courts, and most of them have barons and dukes and, yes, a king or queen at the top. The nicest of them- the very nicest- see ordinary ponies as food.

Not all the Courts were thestrals. The major courts were the Court of Shapes (changelings, who feed on love), the Nightmare Court and the Shadow Court (different factions of thestrals, both feeding on fear and lust by drinking blood), and the Jade Court (who are a rumor out of the kirin lands- nobody knows for sure what they are, because the only way we know they exist is from warning notes found on the beheaded and exsanguinated corpses of ponies foolish enough to annoy them). There are various minor Courts, including a few relegated to legend, like the Ice Court, of course, the windigoes everypony hears of at Hearth’s Warming time. There are also whispers of an Obsidian Court associated with the Crystal Empire.

But if you’re seeing a thestral face to face, the odds are extremely good they’re either of the Nightmare Court or the Shadow Court. If they speak with a Jungles accent, the Nightmare Court becomes even more likely, since that’s been their home territory for centuries. For a mortal that would be bad news, since a mortal actually seeing a thestral as they really are usually has about five seconds left to live.

For me, though, it was so much worse, because for the past two years the Nightmare Court had been at active war with the Council of White, the secret society of wizards I belonged to.

More specifically, they were at war with me. To be fair, I’d started it.

So: here was this thestral, oozing enough dark magic that I knew on sight he could wipe the floor with me unless I had everything planned out perfectly in advance. Was I scared? Was I frightened of this undead monster, one of the creatures I fought on a more or less daily basis?

Well, duh, of course I was scared. It took a lot of concentration not to make a dash for the little fillies’ room.

But despite that, I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to attack. For one thing, he wouldn’t have allowed a clearly oblivious straight pony to sit next to him while preparing for an ambush. And he definitely wouldn’t have let Fetch Quest sit there. Maybe he could enthrall the straight, but Fetch’s spirit-talking abilities gave him a pretty solid resistance to mental takeover. And based on how sick he looked at the moment, he hadn’t been enthralled even a little bit.

Also, we were in the middle of about thirty straights, totally unsuspecting ponies. Even the Shadow Court wouldn’t make a play in the middle of that kind of crowd. Bringing the secret societies out into the open would inconvenience everybody on all sides and lead to almost unanimous retribution.

Also, it would annoy Celestia, who wants her ponies kept relatively safe and innocent… and for all certain wizards and monsters laugh about the Nerf Princess, she is still the pony who controls the sun, the pony who glimpses the future, and the pony who almost certainly knows where all the bodies are buried- literally. And if things get to the point where she has to take direct and overt action, she is not likely to be Smiling Cake-Eating Declaring-This-Store-Open Celestia. No, she’ll likely be Solar-Plasma-To-The-Face, Not-Even-Ashes-Left, Buck-The-Collateral-Damage Celestia.

So I took my seat, forced myself to act as if I were calm, and said, “Sorry to keep you all waiting. I should have asked two of you to reschedule.”

“Oh, that’s quite all right, Miss Daresden,” the straight with the clerical collar said. “Dr. Nettle has been a most charming companion. We were just talking about the superstitions of his native land.”

“I’ll bet.” I picked up the menu at my place, mostly for show, since I already knew what the cheapest option on it was. This wasn’t my first time using Chez Fromage Malodorant for meetings… which is probably how the thestral figured out when and where I’d be, come to think of it. But that didn’t explain the priest. “Have the rest of you already picked out what you want to order?”

“I’m afraid I’m not very hungry,” Fetch Quest said shakily. “In fact, I’m afraid I’m coming down with something. Harriet, could you show me the way to the restroom?”

As a means of getting the two of us away from the other two for a bit of private conversation, all that can be said for that ploy is that there probably wasn’t a better one short of rescheduling the meeting. Which, under the circumstances, would have been fine by me, but apparently Fetch wanted it over with. Anyway, I agreed to help him to the bathroom, and he did in fact run water over his muzzle when we got there, so I guess he wasn’t faking it completely.

“He walked up to the table within a minute after I arrived,” Fetch said. “I’m going to bail. If you take my advice, you’ll bail, too.”

I shook my head. The thestral probably wanted to talk. And anyway, if I left, it would be no trouble at all for him to follow me somewhere without witnesses, and then there wouldn’t be any talking. Plus, again, that priest. “Can’t do it,” I said. “What did your sources find out?”

“Not much,” Fetch said. “I know he isn’t dead. Or undead, at least not yet. The spirits say he’s somewhere near Tenochitlan. But I can’t find out what he’s doing, or who he’s with, or any details. I think something’s blocking the spirits.”

“Really?” That wasn’t exactly surprising, but it was unusual. Spirit wards usually work only on ghosts and the like who still interact directly with the material world-

What is all this blather about ghosts?

It’s part of the setting, Hornsparker. Everypony knows there’s no such thing as ghosts in the real world.

Is this being quiet? I thought sharply.


Anyway, the undead who have truly passed on, who are Fetch’s prime source for news, are a lot harder to stop. If someone’s using wards capable of blocking them, not only do they mean serious business, they’re packing serious power. Which, of course, made the Nightmare Court prime suspects…

“Well, thanks for trying,” I said. “I’ll arrange with the management so you can come back here another day, and they’ll bill me for it.” I looked at the doorway back to the dining floor and said, “I don’t think you should worry about being subtle. The straight won’t notice, and the thestral’s almost certainly here for me. Take off when you feel up to it.”

I walked back to the table, glum. My original reason for being here had been a washout, and now I had to deal with a thestral and… and what was that old priest doing here, anyway?

Five bits says he wants to be a client.

Come to think of it, the smarter mental voice had a point. A lot of my previous paying clients have found ways to avoid coming to my door in the open. But that still leaves the question: how did he know?

Anyway, my mind was more focused on the other self-invited dinner guest, the one who could rip out my throat as easily as a pony might crop a dandelion. “I’m afraid my friend Fetch really is sick,” I said. “Stomach flu, he thinks. I gave him a rain-check. Shall we order?”

“Is he?” the so-called Dr. Nettle said, voice all solicitude. “I do hope he gets better soon.” He looked at his right forehoof and said, “You know, I shook hooves with him when I sat down. Perhaps it might be a good idea for me to wash up before we dine. Perhaps you should do the same, Miss Daresden?”

Now, really. I understood exactly why the thestral was doing this, and up to a point I agreed. The innocent, mortal priest was really going to crimp our style if we tried to talk around him. The problem was, going with him meant leaving the highly visible central table and going where nopony could see us- in short, exactly the sort of situation I was afraid of.

But the same logic that made me go back to that table in the first place, instead of out the door right behind Fetch, still held true. There weren’t a lot of places I could go that the thestral couldn’t, except in the brightest sunlight- and, worse luck, it was raining outside today. And the few safe places I could get to weren’t exactly next door to Chez Fromage Malodorant. That was kind of the whole point of Chez Fromage Malodorant- otherwise it wouldn’t exist in my personal universe. If I wanted to talk- if he wanted to talk- it would have to be the bathrooms.

So, for the second time in under five minutes, I led a pony to the potty like a black-trenchcoated kindergarten teacher. (What can I say? It’s a rough school I teach.)

That… is… so… COOL!

That is so pretentious.

I didn’t even wait to make sure we were alone in the bathroom. I did begin washing my hooves, because why not? I did have my pre-spelled pocket blaster, but anything more involved required preparation time I wouldn’t get. So there wasn’t exactly a reason to keep my hooves free or my eyes focused on Nettle. “Okay,” I said. “You obviously want to talk with me pretty bad. First, who are you, really?”

“For what it’s worth,” the thestral said, “my name is Little Nettle. And I do actually hold a doctorate. But to be honest, I have come here to Canterlot with the intention to kill you.”

That made it a little difficult to keep rubbing my hooves together under the faucet. “Is that a fact?” I asked, trying to keep my voice from shaking.

“Not here and now, Daresden,” Nettle said testily. “I have a proposal for you to consider, first.”

“You know, you could have led with that instead,” I commented, shutting off the water. Nettle politely levitated a hoof-towel over to me. “There are all sorts of books about successful negotiations. You should try reading one sometime.”

Oooh! Oooh! The widely acknowledged leading work on the topic is Gabby Gift’s Making the Horse Drink: Fifty Surefire Tactics to-

Not now!

Sorry! So sorry!

“It’s about this wretched war between you wizards and the Nightmare Court,” Nettle said. “It’s a waste of time and resources. And it began over such a petty matter.”

“You took a dear friend of mine and tried to convert her into one of your kind,” I said quietly. “That’s not petty to me.”

“Very well, call it an act of principle,” Nettle said. “The fact remains, your act of principle triggered a war nopony really wants. And I am offering a way out.” Nettle had to struggle to turn on the tap for his sink. Thestrals of the Nightmare Court, and of the Shadow Court also, have serious problems with running water.

“All right,” I said. “You have my attention.”

“I am a Duke of the Nightmare Court,” Nettle said. “But I am only one of the courtiers, and certainly not the King of the Court. And the King and a majority of the Court have sworn to have your head, Daresden. Again, on a matter of principle, though possibly not as noble as your own.”

“Obviously. Somepony stands up to you, they have to go down. Not exactly brain surgery.”

“Quite. But there are ways, and there are ways. Face me in a duel, Miss Daresden. Myself and yourself, and nopony else. If I kill you, as I fully expect to, then the Court will have achieved its primary goal in this war and will be open to an offer of peace from your White Council.”

“And what happens when I kill you? The Court sends another duke, and we do this all over again?”

Oh… oh, no. No, no no no. Can we please not do this? I’ve just come from a place of so much death and stupidity. I was hoping this would at least be heroic-

Belay your whining, you hallucination. Let her do what needs doing.

Oh. Sorry. Sorry.

“There is a chance that you might get lucky,” Nettle admitted. “In that case the war would probably continue. But not here, not in Canterlot. The Nightmare Court would agree, in the event of your victory, to make this city neutral territory. Which means certain of your friends and former clients,” the thestral continued, baring far too many shining teeth in a mockery of a smile, “would not face the attentions of the dozens of mortal assassins who are currently ordered only to keep them under observation.” The smile turned to a perfect expression of innocent concern. “I dread to think what the orders might be if you were to decline.”

When I’d gone up against the Nightmare Court before, I’d been crazy-prepared, not to mention crazy-angry, and possibly just plain crazy. I’d also been crazy-lucky, a condition I don’t enjoy that often. The last thing I wanted was a one-on-one with a thestral duke, hundreds of years old at least, powerful enough to give that new princess, Cadenza, a run for her money.

But I was well and truly stuck. The White Council has rules, because the single greatest danger of secret monster-hunting societies is that the hunters become monsters themselves. We swear oaths, binding our magic, and the first one- the very first one- is that we do not use our magic to kill mortals. Ever. (Well, hardly ever- I got into trouble as a kid when- but that’s another story.) And that, in turn, meant that Nettle’s assassins, if they really were innocent mortals, were all but untouchable.

Fortunately, there are rules to this sort of thing. I was a bit rusty on them- okay, a lot rusty- but I knew the basics, and that gave me a little wiggle room.

“Put it in writing,” I said. “Have someone deliver it to the Council. I’m sure you have people who know how to do that.”

“We do have unofficial paths, yes.”

“Unofficial isn’t what I want. I want this official and binding. I’s dotted, T’s crossed, both sides fully informed. Once that’s done, you have your fight.”

“Very well,” Nettle said. “Since our business is concluded, I shall not further disturb your meal. The excuse that pathetic ghost-botherer used will serve well enough for me. Until we meet on the crease, Miss Daresden.”

This time I let the thestral go first before walking back to the table. “Looks like it’s going around,” I said casually. “Or maybe Dr. Nettle’s got a weak stomach. I recommended he go home and get lots of liquids.” Which, ironically, he probably was doing.

“That’s a shame,” the priest said. “But I suppose it gives us a chance to talk privately,” he added, smiling. “You see, I trespassed on your hospitality like this because… well, I require your services, Miss Daresden.”

Ha! Called it!

“I kind of suspected as much,” I admitted. “How did you know I’d be here in the first place?”

“Father Mighty Fortress recommended you,” the priest said. “He said you often met ponies here, and he had some words with the owners. They, in turn, informed me of your reservation today.”

That explained a lot. It also made things awkward, since I owed Father Fortress a lot of favors. He’d never call them in directly- he didn’t approve of my worldview, or I his, because reasons- but this was probably his way of calling a favor in indirectly. I’d need a darn good reason to get out of this… and a death-duel with a thestral, or a case of multiple spirit possession, might or might not be good enough reasons.

“Okay. Next, who are you, exactly?

“Oh, that’s right, I never said,” the priest said. “But, of course, I was acting under the pretense that you already knew me, and I couldn’t admit otherwise-“

“I get that. Name, please?”

“Father Victorious,” the old pony priest said. “I’m here from Romane.”

“Romane?” That was a long way across the Celestial Ocean- past the griffon lands, even. “Come for the tourist season, then?”

“Canterlot is a splendid city to visit,” the priest admitted. “But no, I’m afraid my business is rather more urgent than that.” He lifted his menu and said in a more quiet tone, “But I would really rather not discuss it in front of any other ponies, even quietly. Besides,” he added, “I’m afraid that waiter has been staring at us for the past ten minutes, wondering if we’re ever going to make a drinks order.”

I didn’t look. As I said, this wasn’t my first time hosting clients or informants here. The waitstaff and I had an understanding; when I wanted service, I’d signal. No signal, keep away. In exchange, they expected me to order quickly… a lot more quickly than I’d done today.

“Okay,” I said. “Do you at least know what you want?”

“I shall accept whatever comes to me,” Victorious said. “But since I am on Holy Faust’s work, and hope to have you on it as well, the Church shall cover the expense.”

“Oh.” Well. Given that… “Then let’s start with a bottle of Pinot Egregious,” I said, waving for the discreetly hovering waiter. “That’ll give me time to look over the menu again.” After all, I usually ordered the cheapest thing on the menu. I’d forgotten what was the most filling thing on the menu, and if somepony else was picking up the tab, I definitely wanted that instead.

After all, I was eating for three now.

I heard that!

Oh, be silent, hallucination. I can’t remember when I had proper pinot last…

Author's Note:

Give Twilight credit: she's mostly playing nice, and not pushing to take control until she understands what's going on.

Paolo Ortega, in the most literal translation, does indeed boil down to "little nettle". Paul = "small, humble"; Ortega = "from the place of the nettles."

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
PreviousChapters Next
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!