• 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 5: No Time for Love

I lit up my horn, and there he was: the russet fur, the curly black mane, the snub spiral horn, the dark eyes that I always felt I could fall into and lose myself forever inside.

And maybe I did, because I didn’t twitch when Twilight Sparkle thought, Huh. For some reason I was expecting Iron Press.

And what would Lord Iron Press be doing here? Hornsparker thought back. It’s bad enough I got dragged along into this… this… whatever it is. Why bring him into it?

Well, look at Daresden! She’s just standing here staring, hasn’t even pulled that wand away from his throat. She’s obviously goo-goo in love with him!

“Just- very good friends,” I managed to say, not realizing I said it out loud.

“Yes, you’re the same charming Harriet Daresden I learned to love.” Hot Lead smirked at me over the holdout blaster. “You always know just what to say to make a boy feel needed.”

ARRRRGH! Twilight shoved me out of the mental driving seat. “No, I’m not,” she said hurriedly. “I’m one of the voices in Daresden’s head, it’s a long story, no I’m not a ghost or a demon, we don’t have time to discuss it while Harriet’s standing here with her head stuck out through the wards! Just hurry up and NOOOOO!”

That last word was mine. I’d come to my senses just in time to stop Twilight from making me make a possibly fatal mistake.

Yes, this was Hot Lead, aka “People Keep Thinking I’m a Blacksmith Because They Only See My Name in Print”, my beloved. But he was also the reason I touched off the war with the Nightmare Court in the first place. Specifically, because the Nightmare Court tried to turn Hot Lead into one of them- a ritual that was better than half done before I stopped it.

Completing the process required only one step- the first feeding on a victim. And it had been more than a year since I’d last seen Hot Lead. It was just possible that he’d given in to the urge. So, love him as I did, I had to be absolutely certain.

“What was that about?” he asked.

“Yeah, sorry,” I said. “Leedie, I’m glad to see you… but I’m not inviting you into my home. You understand why.”

“Oh.” Hot Lead nodded. “Yes, I understand. And you’re quite right to be careful.”

There’s a natural magic about homes that affects a wide range of supernatural creatures, including most of the Courts (the Court of Shapes being the main exception). A thestral has to be really powerful to overcome it, except under two circumstances. If you invite a thestral into your home, without restrictions, well, you don’t deserve what you get, but you deserve something for being that stupid. And if a pony dies by non-mystic violence in a home, the thestral can enter even uninvited.

But I wasn’t dead, and I had explicitly not invited Hot Lead in. So when he stepped across the threshold without so much as a twitch, I relaxed. For the time being, at least, he was the same stallion I’d known.

Well, mostly. He wasn’t a thestral yet, but he had most of the strength of a thestral, plus a number of other party tricks. But the mind was the important thing, and the mind, at least for now, was all pony.

I can’t describe how good the relief felt. Here was my dearest friend, the pony I wanted to marry, the pony I’d been willing to let the whole world burn for, the pony I’d asked Fetch Quest to find for me… here, now, in my apartment.

We were together, hugging, heads intertwined, rubbing neck to neck. It just felt so darn good to have my friend back.

Hey.

A year’s worth of pain and worry, gone, erased by the touch of his fur against mine.

Hey!

I relaxed the hug just enough to face him directly, looking into those beautiful dark eyes, leaning my lips forward to-

TIME OUT!!!

I found myself not just pushed out of control of my body but flung, hurled to the back of my own mind and pressed down hard. My senses became muffled, as if someone had put someone else’s prescription glasses and a pair of earmuffs on me. I had enough awareness to wonder: was that what it felt like to Twilight when I stopped her from inviting Hot Lead in?

“That’s enough of that!” I heard Twilight Sparkle say with my voice. “What did you do to her? To Daresden, I mean?”

Do to me? What made Twilight think… I could just about see Hot Lead’s face falling, his head hanging low. Oh. Maybe…

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I’m still a unicorn… but I’m not the same pony I was. I could feel you… her… going under the spell…” He turned his head away completely, unable to face me as he said, “I liked it.”

The Kiss? I asked, then adding a curse as I remembered I didn’t have the body.

“I understand,” Twilight said. “I read the… no, that would take too long to explain.” I felt my lungs fill with air, then expel them in a calming breath. “From your point of view, I’m from another world,” she continued. “My name is Twilight Sparkle. I’m an alicorn princess who cast the wrong spell and ended up in the head of your friend Harriet. There’s another pony in here as well, but she’s not important right now.”

Not important she says, Hornsparker grumbled. She’s getting revenge for all the times I called her a symptom of my insanity.

“In all fairness,” Twilight continued, “Harriet loves you very much. But I only know you from rrrr… from what Harriet’s told me. And as much as Harriet would love to… um…”

“Yes, I know,” Hot Lead said quickly. “And I’d love to um with her, too. But, under the circumstances… that would be a very bad idea. It’s hard enough to keep control as it is.”

“Um, I see,” Twilight said. She obviously wasn’t comfortable with this conversation. In fact, the whole topic of um made her very uncomfortable for some reason.

Possibly still a young filly? Hornsparker suggested. I for one have no qualms about, as you put it, um. I’ve birthed two colts so far. I still miss poor Golden Ratio…

Maybe I could tag back in? I suggested, testing the pressure pushing against my self-awareness.

Do you think you can resist that Kiss thing? Twilight replied silently.

Now that I know it’s on the table, yes, I said. Since Hot Lead had been partly turned thestral, obviously he had part of the powers involved. That included the power to seduce one’s victims, the pheromones that gradually weakened the will of the unsuspecting. The Kiss, the Nightmare Court called it. But if you knew it was there, you could resist, as Twilight obviously was doing.

All right. Get rid of him. We’ve got a lot of talking still to do!

I felt the pressure release, and I sort of… popped… back into control, like my upper brain functions were the dice-bubble in the middle of a Problems board. “Okay, I’m back,” I said. “I’m sorry about the… complication.”

Hot Lead smiled sadly. “What is a day in the life of Harriet Daresden without complications?” he asked.

“The second wish I make if I ever find a djinni lamp,” I replied. “How about a cola? Sandwiches?”

Where do cola and sandwiches fit into get rid of him? Twilight snapped in my head.

Belay that. We’re still hungry from that joke of a meal at the restaurant.



“Your editor misses you,” I said. “We all do.”

“I know,” Hot Lead said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m here. He deserves to see me face to face.”

“One last time, you mean?” I asked. “Is that why you’re here, saying goodbye? What’s wrong? Can I help?”

Can I help, she asks? A mare facing a duel against a creature of vast power and a showdown to take a holy relic from the darkest scum of this city, and she is offering to help? Hornsparker’s mental voice dripped with irony. Are you always so eager to commit suicide, Daresden?

Leave Harriet alone, Twilight replied before I could respond. The White Council is sworn to protect the innocent. Daresden, whatever his faults… sorry, her faults… stays devoted to that ideal, no matter what other lines he steps… she steps across. I really am sorry, Harriet, but I’ve read four books about the stallion version of you, so-

“Harriet, you look really strange when you do that,” Hot Lead said. “Please tell me you don’t do that outside.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I’m still figuring out what to do about my peanut gallery.”

I apologize, Hornsparker said quietly. I should not have mocked you. Duty is a harsh mistress to serve, but serve we must. An oath, once given, must be honored.

Um… thank you, I thought. That was as humble and soft as that grumpy voice had been since it first popped into my head. “But my question remains. Can I help?”

“Actually, I came to help you. To warn you.” Hot Lead took a swig of his cola and made a face. “What they make in Mexicolt City is better,” he said. “Harriet, the Nightmare Court-“

“Yeah, Little Nettle,” I interrupted. “We met today. At lunch. He made an impression.”

“He’s a killer, Harriet,” Hot Lead pressed. “Seriously. He’s taken out a lot of wizards already.”

“I figured that much. He wants at least one more.”

“It’s not going to be a fair fight.”

“Not news to me.”

“I don’t mean Little Nettle. My sources say Nettle wants peace, but his faction is in the minority. The Nightmare Court as a whole thinks it’s winning the war, Harriet. They’re perfectly happy for you to keep breathing if it means they have an excuse to keep killing White Council wizards. They’ll almost certainly meddle with the duel.”

I sighed. “I don’t have much of a choice,” I said. “Nettle’s got straights hired to stalk all my friends. Assassins. If I don’t fight, they die.”

Hot Lead nodded. “I can’t say I’m surprised,” he said. “Just… well, just be careful, all right?” He leaned forward and added, “And you hitchhikers better not get Harriet killed. Understand?”

Twilight pushed forward just long enough to say, “Well, we weren’t exactly planning on it.”

“I guess not,” Hot Lead admitted. “If Harriet dies, then you-“

Someone knocked on the front door. My magic gripped the prespelled wand from where I dropped it before. “Who is it?” I shouted.

“I’m looking for Mr. Hot Lead.” The voice was almost inaudible through the door.

Leadie recognized it, though. “It’s all right,” he said. “I know who it is.”

“If you say so.” I didn’t lower the blaster. I went cautiously over to the door and opened it, revealing a mare almost totally concealed in a dark robe. My vision tried to just slide off her, but I could tell the soft bulges of wings under the robe and the absence of a horn under her hood.

The person on the other side of the doorframe didn’t even look at me. She leaned around me to look at Hot Lead, who had stood up and walked over to the door along with me. “Finish your business,” she said. “We have to go.”

I looked at Hot Lead. “Who is this?” I asked, trying not to feel jealous of a robe that might, or might not, have a pony vaguely associated with it.

“Harriet, this is Vespers,” Hot Lead said. “Vespers, Harriet Daresden.”

Vespers didn’t bother looking at me when I was named. “This is a waste of time,” she said. “We have urgent business.”

“Would you mind filling me in on that urgent business?” I asked.

Now Vespers did look at me- or at least the bit of beige muzzle poking out from her hood did. “Yes.” The muzzle turned back to face Hot Lead. “We have to go. At once.”

Hot Lead sighed. “I’m sorry I have to cut this short,” she said. “Harriet, seriously, be careful. I’ll try to get in touch with you again before I leave Canterlot.”

“Leedie-“

“I’m sorry,” he said, ducking around me and up the steps past Vespers. The robe turned, and it vanished, pony and all. Even Hot Lead took a few seconds to vanish into the gloom of a Canterlot evening.

“Swell,” I muttered, slamming the door. I spend a year waiting and wondering and searching, and when I see the love of my life I get less than fifteen minutes with him. And half of that was spent dealing with the kibitzers inside my brain.

It wasn’t even close to half!

I didn’t bother responding. I was too angry.

You’re still monologuing! That’s really passive-aggressive of you!

“Well, at least he’s still looking well, isn’t he?” Bobbin asked saucily.

I snatched up an uneaten sandwich from Leedie’s plate and stuffed it into my mouth as I walked past where he’d been sitting to my own chair. I flopped into it, growling the growl of a lover thwarted.

Look, it’s not our fault she couldn’t stay, all right? Twilight asked.

“You wanted him gone!” I snapped.

I have a question, Hornsparker said. Does it not bother you, Miss Daresden, that the hall… that… what is your name aga-

Twilight Sparkle. You know it’s Twilight Sparkle!

Miss Sparkle, Hornsparker drawled, tells us that we are but characters in fantasy books, that all of this is but a construction of a sorcery run amok. Does that not disturb you? Because I confess it disturbs me greatly.

“Not really,” I said. “I feel real enough to me. And if I lose that duel, I’ll be really and truly dead.”

“Harriet,” Bobbin said quietly, “care to cut me in on the conversation again? Your companions, whatever they are, aren’t spirits. I can’t sense them. That means I can’t hear them, either.”

“Oh, right,” I muttered. “Hornsparker was just changing the subject of conversation. What do you know about fictional realities?”

“In what sense?” Bobbin asked. “Illusionary worlds are common as dirt, especially in the NeverNever. And there are worlds and worlds beyond the NeverNever. I’ve heard stories of beings clad in the form of fictional characters invading from beyond. Not Outsiders, mind you. The Outside isn’t the only border of the NeverNever.”

“So,” I said, “it’s perfectly possible that, say, a world might exist somewhere,” I waved a hoof, “out there, let’s say, which is perfectly real to its inhabitants, but lines up perfectly with, say, a series of adventure nov-“

Someone pounded on the front door.

“What now??” Twilight asked, using my voice a little louder than I might have wished. If I’d stayed quiet, maybe whoever it was would-

“Harriet!” I heard that voice very clearly through the door, and this time it was one I recognized. “It’s Lucky! I need you down at the morgue! I have a corpse you need to see!”

Now how can a mare refuse a pick-up line like that?

Author's Note:

Tired and depressed most of the day, no doubt reaction from yesterday's problems. This doesn't feel like my best work.

Those of you who are bigger fans of the Dresden series than I am (I'm not fond of noir any darker than, say, the Nero Wolfe mysteries) can already figure out one place where Twilight's changing the story...

And Hornsparker is having trouble adjusting her mind...

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