• 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 4: Having a Heart to Heart… to Heart… to Heart?

It continued to rain as I walked back to my apartment. Due to the needs of state and the desirability of allowing the princess of the sun to actually see what she’s doing, Canterlot doesn’t get scheduled for rain very often. When it comes, it’s a slow, all-day affair, allowing the water to seep into the garden soil and the rocks and the like without becoming flash floods at the bottom of Mount Canter. But despite all that, I could tell it was getting late in the afternoon. Before long the creatures of the night would be out and about, which was usually when I was at my busiest.

But I didn’t intend to go out tonight, not if I could help it. Winter Wrap-Up was just barely gone, and the early spring nights were still pretty nippy. Chilly and wet are words which seldom come together on my list of Fun Ways to Spend an Evening.

You say you don’t intend to go out tonight, Gumpy Voice muttered.

“Well, yeah,” I muttered aloud. Nopony was nearby, so I wouldn’t have to worry about looking crazy… okay, looking crazier than I normally look. “Water’s running down my neck from my hat. I’m tired and strung out. Oh, and I have two voices in my head that aren’t mine, and I need to straighten that out, mustn’t forget that.”

Ha-hmm. Yes. Well, I wasn’t thinking in those terms. I was considering the complications of you getting in.

“What complications?” I muttered. “I unlock the door, I order the wards to let me pass. I restore the wards, lock the door, wake up Bobbin, and hash out this head thing from the comfort of my easy chair.”

You assume we’ll be permitted to get so far as the door.

I stopped walking. You mean another ambush? I thought.

Consider the evidence, Grumpy said. This Dr. Nettle- some sort of monster in pony guise, I gather? He as much as said that all your friends are being shadowed by assassins. Why not you? The primary goal of his group is, after all, to see you dead. Or alternately, the highwaymen who tried to ambush you outside the tavern. We don’t know that the chaplain was the target. It might have been you.

She’s right, Geeky Voice chimed in. Have you got any kind of early warning system for ponies lurking around your front door?

I did. Unfortunately, I’d only be able to hear them go off if I were already in the apartment. Whoops.

Well, shoot. Okay, I need to take over for a minute, then.

And just like that… phoot. Geeky Voice was in control-

We have names, you know.

- and I wasn’t. I felt my horn build up for another big spell-

Shoot! You’re not as powerful as I was when I was a unicorn, never mind- well, just never mind. I think I can still make this work, unless Celestia lowers the sun early.

-and then hold there, as much energy as I could store balancing on the tip of my horn, lighting up the top of my hat like a miner’s candle. Needless to say, I felt just a little bit conspicuous.

And quit blocking me! I need at least enough access to your memories to know where we’re going!

Four blocks ahead on the right, I thought at her. Four-story townhouse converted to boardinghouse that’s seen better days. I rent out the basement apartment. And I need the body back at the door if you don’t want to fry us all.

What kind of pony uses lethal wards on their front door?

The kind who has really powerful ponies and monsters lining up and taking numbers waiting for a chance to kill them.

She has a point, hallucination.

Right. Geeky Voice almost missed a step. I just felt something… eeew. Like a kind of static field, only evil. Like King Sombra’s inner chamber, sort of.

I felt it too. Usually the Nightmare Court’s thestrals disguised their true nature better… but then again, the moon hadn’t been raised yet. With the sun up, their powers were weakened one hell of a lot. The only reason a thestral could be around was the overcast sky. Door’s being watched, I thought. And thanks to that spell of yours, whoever it is knows exactly where we are.

That’s fine.

The heck you say.

Can you pinpoint them? I only get one shot at this, and the weather ponies won’t let it last very long.

You’ve got the body, I said. Body driver picks the music, crossbow rider shuts their piehole.

Thanks a lot.

I softened a little. The voices were trying to protect our mutual flanks, after all. And my mystic senses were dulled by being secondhand through Geeky’s control, but… I think he’s directly above my door, I thought. Rooftop most likely.

Rooftop of that building? The one on the corner?


Got it. Be ready to take over. I’m putting everything I’ve got into this!

Why are you so cooperative with her and not me?

Because being in your head is like being in quicksand! We had this tendency to merge! Harriet’s mental training keeps us strictly separa- can we not talk about this now??

Half a block to go, I thought.

Now or never, Geeky thought, and she let loose the spell she’d been carrying.

The spell itself was surprisingly simple. It was just a cloud-shredder. It wouldn’t harm anything else, though aiming it at a pegasus cloud home would be a great way to end up in a lawsuit. But Geeky had aimed it at a particular patch of sky, which ripped away to reveal a patch of light-orange afternoon sky… and the bright, shining yellow sun, which shot a shaft of light directly on, and only on, my boarding-house.

I could hear the scream from half a block away. A little pony-sized dot fell off the roof and scrambled for the alleys.

My knees went limp as Geeky Voice let control of my body return to me. She’d done a major drain on my magic reserves- again- but I sucked it up and forced myself to gallop for my front door. I had just enough spare energy to think, How in the name of Tartarus did you know how to aim that shot?

In the real world I spent twelve years as Princess Celestia’s personal star pupil! I know exactly where the sun is at any time of day in Canterlot, any day of the year!

Real world indeed! Poppycock!

I had to agree with Grumpy. Celestia didn’t take personal students. She taught classes at the School for Gifted Unicorns, but personal students meant a level of personal involvement she didn’t allow herself.

Wanna bet?

I let that one go. After all, I wasn’t exactly on the annual Grand Galloping Gala list. I could be wrong.

We got into the door without further incident. The first thing I did after divesting myself of my hat and duster was to tap a hoof on the skull adorning one of the bookshelves that almost covered my walls. In fact, that bookshelf was pretty much the only one in my living room that wasn’t filled with books. There were a few books, yes- pulp of the kind you found in a secret back room of a seedy caravanserai stop, the kind favored by lonely ponies on the road or even lonelier ponies at home. The skull sat on a small pile of stallion gear- chaps, a rough leather saddle, and a horsecollar. “Wake up, Bobbin,” I said. “We’ve got problems.”

A flicker of my magic lit up several candles around the skull, which in turn lit up with lights in its eye sockets that had nothing to do with candles. “The sun isn’t down yet, beautiful,” a deep contralto voice cooed. “Can’t you let a filly get her beauty sleep?”

“After a day like I’ve had so far, the answer is no,” I said bluntly. “First things first. I need an outside opinion for this. Scan me and tell me if you pick up any kind of spirit possession on me- ghosts, angels, remote manipulation, whatever.”

I already told you what it was! Geeky Voice said. It’s Haycartes’ Method!

“Now, Harriet, I’ve warned you about playing around with strange spirits,” Bobbin cooed. “Without me, that is.” The eye lights flickered for a few moments. “Well, that’s peculiar,” she said. “There’s the strangest mystic knot wrapped around you, but it’s like there’s no power running through it. It’s just… kind of… there.”

“Any idea what it is?” I asked.

“Never seen it before,” Bobbin said. “And I’ve seen a lot of stuff, no entendre intended.”

“What about the possession thing?”

“Not a thing, Harriet. So far as I can see, you’re the only pony in that pretty head of yours. What’s this about?”

To answer that, I relaxed my inner shields a bit, allowing both voices free access to my mouth. In fact, I prodded them a little. I didn’t feel like repeating everything for Bobbin’s benefit.

“Ah… right. I’m one of the, well, the new voices in Harriet Daresden’s head. My name is Princess Twilight Sparkle,” Geeky said, and even I could tell the subtle difference between her using my voice and me using it. “It’s very nice to meet you, Miss Bobbin.”

“Ms., please, I’m a liberated familiar.” The pony skull seemed to grin a little bigger. “And that’s definitely not you, Harriet. You’ve never been that polite.”

“And I am Captain Hornsparker of Her Royal Highness’s frigate Lydia.” Again the difference in voices was pretty easy to tell. Grumpy’s voice had crisper, slightly archaic diction and a stern, almost steely tone to it. “For what reason I cannot imagine, I have been dragged into this peculiar fever dream, and given that I cannot awaken, I seem to have no option but to conform with it for the nonce.”

“Hey, I know those books,” Bobbin cooed. “The Lydia, you said? Your best adventures are still ahead of you, kiddo.” The skull rocked a little bit. “But what’s this about a princess? The only princesses I know about in Equestria are Celestia, Luna and Cadance, and Cadance was just proclaimed about fifteen years ago.”

Geeky- I mean Twilight- took over my voice again. “What do you know about Haycartes’ Method?” she asked.

“Um… unicorn philosopher from about two hundred years back?” Bobbin asked. “Coined the phrase, ‘I think, therefore everything is.’ Developed the notion that the world is an illusion constantly rebuilt by the perceptions of ponies and other thinking creatures. I don’t know what his method was, though.”

“Shoot.” I felt a forehoof stamp softly on my cheap secondhand rug. “I’ll just bet the spell’s blocking knowledge of itself. Next time I do this I’m going to double-check the safeguards to make sure there’s a back-door out of the spell.”

Then I took back my voice for a moment. “Start at the beginning,” I said. “What’s this about a spell?”

What followed was a crazy story about a Princess of Friendship, who lived in a magic castle in Ponyville, and a spell she tweaked without really thinking things through.

“So the first book was Bray to Quarters,” she said, “where I woke up thinking I was Captain Hornsparker. And the spell kept trying to tell me I was, giving me her memories, even her thought.” She paused and added, “At least, that’s what I thought. But if that’s the case, why is Hornsparker’s personality still here?”

And then Grumpy- I mean Hornsparker- grabbed my voice to say, “A perfectly valid question, if you swallow all that twaddle about books and the like. I certainly did not ask to be in Canterlot. Especially not a Canterlot with three princesses- you did say three, yes? I swore my oath to one and only one princess. And I had one of her ships in my charge, and I need to get back to it at once. Faust only knows-“

“Don’t worry,” Bobbin cooed, “you sail the Lydia home safe and sound, even short-hoofed as you were.”

“Short-hoofed?” Hornsparker asked. “Thanks to the survivors of Cumpleanos, we had a full complement!”

“Really? Hold that thought…” The lights in Bobbin’s skull flickered for a few moments. “All six of them? You lost over a hundred ponies and got back only six. You’re cute, hon, but your math needs work.”

“We got over a hundred ponies off that ship before it sank!” Hornsparker insisted. “Most of their wounded died, but-“

“How did you manage that?” Bobbin asked derisively. “The book clearly says only six ponies were fished out of the water after it sank. Shadetree fought you until the ship sank underneath her.”

I felt my facial muscles shift to match Hornsparker’s feelings of shock. “She did? But… but…”

Then there was another instant shift of control. “So I did change the story!” Twilight said, utterly delighted. “I thought I hadn’t made the least bit of difference! What about the ponies on the wheels?”

“What about them? I assume they died,” Bobbin said. “They were scene dressing, weren’t they? Just showing off how brutal Xipe Totec was.”

“I talked Xipe Totec into giving me the ones who were still alive,” Twilight said. “Six came aboard Lydia before we first-“

A knock at the door froze Twilight, Hornsparker and myself mid-conversation- all one of us. Hornsparker, who had withdrawn almost out of my ability to feel her, surged back into control, picking out my hold-out blaster wand from my jacket. “You were not expecting a visitor.” She said it not as a question, but as fact- which it was, since I’d intended to spend an hour talking out the situation with my hitchhikers, giving Bobbin marching orders, and hitting the hay.

But the mare of action was no wizard, and at least a century out of her time, if I understood what was going on. I strengthened my controls and retook my body. “You’ll blow my wards up in my own face if you do what you’re thinking about doing.” I pointed to a row of candles on a shelf near the door. “No orange or red flames,” I said. “That means the wards don’t sense any hostile intent.”

But that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to be careful. I kept that blaster wand in my magic and walked slowly to the door. The sun had set while we were talking, so I couldn’t see anything through the peephole.

Nuts. I threw open the door and jabbed the blaster against the neck of the pony on the other side. “Don’t move,” I hissed.

“Gee, Harriet, it’s good to see you too,” said a stallion's voice.

A very familiar stallion's voice.

The voice of the stallion I’d been longing to see for far too long.

Author's Note:

Maybe I shouldn't have had the action scene in the first part of this. It's not in the book.

The book begins with a TV show being taped in the evening, after dark. Because reasons, I changed the setting to lunch in a diner, which led to a lot of knock-off effects. Also, I'm tweaking things to keep them teen-safe, more or less- not quite TVY7, but a long way short of, well, where I went in The Maretian.

This was only supposed to be the first half of this chapter, but I've run out of steam. It took me until four in the afternoon to find out that no, actually, I did not get the booth I applied for in Nashicon in downtown Columbia, SC this weekend. A body can work with yes and can work with no, but spending time stuck on maybe is exhausting.

So, I'm out $180 for my non-refundable hotel room. (Yes, I tried anyway. No, I didn't get my money back. No, I'm not going to contest the charges- I bought it knowing it was non-refundable.) But, fortunately, that's all the money I'm out- well, that and the lost weekend of revenue.

Can I REALLY point you to Ko-Fi right now? I'm going to owe a good chunk of money for income tax, plus I have a couple grand of loans coming due this month that I was counting on turnover from Nashicon to cover...

Anyway, enjoy your cliffhanger. Since I'm going nowhere this weekend, that gives me plenty of time to write...

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