• 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 6: Applied Demonology

I don’t think of my first magic teacher, Sunken City, very often, mostly because he was a horrible abusive brainwashing roadapple. But some things stick in my mind, like how he took an already creepy ode to death and poor taste and adapted it to wizardly occupational hazards… and made me memorize it.

A is for Apple Pie, slain by a curse
B is for Buckle Bright, who didn’t cast first
C is for Comet Tail, possessed by a wight
D is for Double Dutch who couldn’t make a light
E is for Emerald whose wit was too slow
F is for Frost and spells she didn’t know
G is for Gloria who burned out her magic
H is for Harriet whose own end was tragic…

Yes, he put me on the list. He never actually said how I died in that little story, but there were little tales for all other twenty-five ponies. Looking back on it, I have to give the evil creep his due: he had a creative streak. Maybe I’d have fewer scars on my psyche if he’d had a touch less imagination.

But looking at the corpse on the slab in front of me, I couldn’t help mentally running through that entire poem-

Thanks for that, by the way.

Indeed. That was truly disgusting.

- because the body- no, the meat, it wasn’t intact enough to call it a body- looked like it had experienced every single one of those cute little horrible deaths, plus a few others for which there hadn’t been an unused letter of the alphabet.

The assistant coroner on duty, a chubby little unicorn with a wild shock of mane named Bitter Butter, had ordered us to put on medical masks and smocks, right down to the hoof booties. “Touch with your magic only,” he said. “I really mean it. I’ve never seen anything like this. When you work with the Guard, Harriet, my job gets really interesting.”

Then, after some banter with Lucky Star, who headed up the Canterlot Guard’s IC Division- Inexplicable Crimes, that is- Butter took us into the examination room, where we found the meat I just mentioned. The dead pony’s barrel looked like the last stages of a really involved and sadistic game of Boxes and Lines, he’d been cut up so thoroughly. His forehooves were gone, chopped off by something incredibly sharp, since the black stubs of his bones were flush with the severed muscle and skin.

Oh, and his head was gone, too. It’s easy for inexperienced private investigators to miss a little detail like that, but I had five years in business for myself, and so I spotted subtle clues like that instantly. It didn’t take much to figure out why his head was gone, either; whoever or whatever had done this had also lopped off the skin on either flank where his cutie mark had been. The killer really, really didn’t want this pony identified by anybody.

All of that had my stomach doing somersaults, of course, but the worst thing-

Oh, dear Celestia. And I thought the wounded on Lydia were bad off…

- the worst thing, or rather things, were the sores and buboes all over the few parts of the body that were still vaguely intact.

“So, Butter,” Lucky asked, “what did he die of?” Lucky at first glance looks like he ought to still be in primary school, but he’s actually one of the better detectives the Canterlot City Guard has. He was put in charge of Inexplicable Crimes in the hope that the division would stop being the guard’s dumping ground for ponies they couldn’t fire but didn’t want to keep on the force. To everyone’s surprise, he accomplished exactly that, solving files, reopening and solving cold cases, and generally making the streets of Canterlot safer to walk on.

By a strange coincidence, I began working as a paid consultant for IC Division shortly after Lucky Star got his promotion. Funny how those things work out.

No, what’s funny is how much Lucky looks like Iron Press if he shrunk in the wash.

No, not at all. Mister Star’s coat is much whiter. His horn is a bit longer in proportion to his face. And he keeps his mane close-cut, not long like Lord Press.

Girls, please, I thought. Not the time.

“What did he die of?” Butter said. “What didn’t he die of? I’ve tested for seventeen painful fatal communicable diseases, and the deceased comes up positive for every last one.” He adjusted the bunny-ears headband on his head and continued, “He even comes up positive for cockatrice pox, and that’s supposed to be extinct since they came up with the vaccine for shingles plague!”

“Well,” I said, swallowing a little to keep my sandwiches down, “I would have guess death by decapitation, myself.”

“No, that’s the one thing I can guarantee he didn’t die from,” Butter said. “See the bruises under the fur here and here?” As I leaned over to see the faint signs of mottled skin under the fur, he continued, “Post-mortem lividity. Only happens when there’s still plenty of blood in the body. He didn’t bleed out.” He pointed to the chest and added, “But he did bleed some. All of this was done prior to death. Blood clots in the cuts.”

“But no idea beyond that?”

“Nope. Autopsy revealed organ failure in pretty much every organ more or less simultaneously. Liver, kidneys, pancreas, spleen, heart, lungs. If we had the head, I’d almost expect signs of encephalitis. There’s almost no point in trying to guess which one was the first to give out. I don’t know anything that could possibly cause this.”

Butter dropped a cloth over the corpse and slid its slab back into the wall. “I’ve cast every disinfection spell I can think of and scrubbed him down besides, but he still makes me nervous. He’s like a hotel holding a convention of all the worst imaginable ways to die, and I don’t want to be around when the featured speaker sits down, you get me?”

“Okay. Is there anything you can tell me about him?”

“Earth pony,” Butter said. “You can tell by the thickness of the legs, though it’s a lot harder with the hooves gone. Age anywhere between thirty and sixty. Dead between forty and forty-eight hours. Only one distinguishing mark that the killers left was a tattoo on the left shoulder.”

That caught my attention. There’s a certain taboo on tattoos, so to speak, among ponies. They seem like cheating, like a denial of one’s cutie mark. There are ponies who get them- most notably sailors and airship crew- but it’s very rare.

Butters pulled out a sketch he’d made of the tattoo: something that looked like an eye, as the ponies of far southern Equestria might have drawn it ages ago. “I missed it the first three times I examined him,” he said. “It was only an inch across, and they made it deliberately hard to see through the fur. But it’s all I found.”

“Okay. I’ll check it out.” I grabbed a blank piece of paper off the desk at the end of the room, held it next to Butter’s sketch, and said, “Zerocks.” A little flick of magic, and I had a perfect copy of the drawing.

“Have fun. Meanwhile, I have to make up something my bosses will believe.” He shot me a look. “I’m still in mandatory counseling after I made the mistake of writing ‘remains of thestral, cause of death self-defense’ on a certain autopsy last year.”

“Not my fault,” I said, rearing to wave off the blame with both forehooves.

“C’mon, Harriet,” Lucky said. “I’ll walk you back to your place.”



There was another poem, or rather song, I picked up from my late and very un-lamented teacher Sunken City. He didn’t teach me that one intentionally. He hummed or sometimes even sang it sometimes while he was working on one of his little projects, all of which involved Outsiders or black magic to a certain extent. He was very good at keeping that sort of thing secret from the rest of the White Council… until he made one little mistake, got himself killed, and very nearly got me killed too.


Anyway, the lyrics of that song were running through my head as Lucky and I walked down the gaslamp-lit streets of the city towards my home.

Dahlia, Dahlia, have you seen Dahlia
Dahlia the tattooed donkey,
She has eyes that fill out the ranks
And for her flanks stallions give thanks
Dahlia, Dahlia, the boys they all hollia
For Dahlia the queen of tattoo,
On her back is a picture of Clover the Cliver,
Puddinghead graces the top of her withers
And her Platinum portrait gives ponies the shivers,
You can learn a lot from Dahlia!

What I was wondering, was what, if anything, I’d learn from a tattoo of an eye specifically made to be hard to see. Obviously it was some sort of group symbol, a sign of membership in a cult or society or something, but it wasn’t one of the ones I was familiar with.

It looks like… like… shoot! I know I’ve seen it before, but something’s blocking me from remembering it! It’s just like when I try to remember how Haycartes’ Method works!

That was an interesting tidbit. Apparently something didn’t want Twilight to know who this pony was, either. And in light of Twilight’s claims that, from her point of view, I was a fictional character, that suggested that Mister Mumbletypeg Grand Championship Second Place was pretty darn important… and connected, somehow or other, to my other problems.

“So,” Lucky said quietly, “what do you make of it?”

“Disease curse,” I said quietly. “And a really strong one, too, to be active this long after death. Normally curses like that tend to fade out once the target’s been dealt with.”

“So, another sorcerer, then?” Lucky asked. “You do seem to tangle with a lot of them.”

“Not enough information,” I said. “But the amount of power that kind of curse would take would require more than any pony I know of short of Celestia can deliver. Could be an unseelie, or one of the Courts, or a demon.”

“Demons are real?”

“Yep. Demons, the Fair Folk, fallen angels-“

“Wait a minute. I thought fallen angels and demons were the same thing.”

“Not even close. Way different. Demons come in all sorts of power levels. They’re just one of the creatures of the NeverNever. If this was a demon, there’s a small chance he’s run back there. Most of them don’t have any interest in the mortal world.” I touched the blaster rod under my coat. “The Fallen are nothing like that. There’s no such thing as a wimpy Fallen. They’re ex-angels, messengers and assistants to the Creators. They are extremely interested in what goes on down here. But they have to play by rules, or else their former bosses show up and stomp ‘em like an ant. I really doubt a Fallen was responsible for our shredded friend back there.”

Well, now you’ve done it.

What? I thought. What are you talking about?

We’ll find out, won’t we? Twilight’s tone made it clear she thought I’d just done something supremely stupid, and I had no idea what.

“Well, that’s lovely,” Lucky muttered. “Word on the street is half a dozen assassins are in town- top-level pros, and we’re trying to find something we can bust them on. Ponies are going missing. There’s some high-horse from across the ocean that has the palace in a tizzy. And I’m expected to help with all that while some sort of plague monster with a machete runs loose in my city!”

And then Lucky looked at me, smiled his cute pixie smile, and said, “But enough about me. How was your day?”

“Fine.”

I gave him one syllable for two reasons. First, Lucky was a friend and was in on some of the secret world, but not even close to all of it. If he didn’t have to be involved, I didn’t want him to be. Second, I’d just felt a twitch in the ambient magic around us, and every instinct I had told me the two of us were in imminent danger.

Yeah, I felt it too.

I don’t feel it, but I notice it. The night denizens of Canterlot have cleared out. They sense danger as well as you do.

Hornsparker had a point. Lucky and I were walking down the middle of the avenue, where the streetlamp light overlapped. Normally Canterlot at midnight on its main streets is slow but by no means dead. There are dozens of all-night establishments for the college students, the night-shift military and civil service, the dissipated children of wealthy parents from across Equestria, plus of course the usual derelicts, drunks, and crazy ponies who haven’t made it into one of Celestia’s care homes. There ought to have been dozens of ponies in sight, even now at midnight.

Instead, in addition to myself and Lucky, I saw only two ponies. There was a huge dark earth pony, gripping a vodka bottle in a fetlock and glaring at the two of us as we walked past. And there was a kirin, who looked really, really old insofar as I could tell the age of a kirin, leaning on a cane and hobbling along the other side of the street. And that was it.

Lucky’s horn lit up, and a small but very functional cutlass slid out from under his own jacket. “Something not right here?” he asked.

Shouldn’t we send him home? Twilight asked. From what I remember of the books, Lucky’s a good cop, but he’s just a target in a magic battle.

Too late for that, I thought. I can protect him a bit if he’s close. Out of sight he just becomes a defenseless-

I heard hoofbeats, speeding up and getting closer, coming from behind us. I spun round to see… well, I suppose it was like a bear, if you painted it like an Ursa Minor. Except bears don’t have hooves. Or huge curled horns. Or multiple pairs of glowing red eyes, or green drool dripping off of about the same number of teeth in one head as hydras carry in seven.

My magic went grabbing for the blaster wand…

… and it fumbled, because I got shoved down hard again. Time for me to take over, Twilight said grimly, and instead of turning and running- which was the smart option, and definitely the one I wanted Lucky to take- she faced the oncoming freight train of demonic death straight on, charging up my horn for something really big.

No, no, no! I shouted. A wizard fights on his own terms or else a wizard has a very short life! We don’t know what this is! We ought to be running-

Relax, Twilight said, absolutely no fear in her thoughts. I do this all the time.

My body stepped close to Lucky. “Brace yourself,” Twilight said, using my voice.

The charging monster roared, slobbering that green stuff all over itself. I could see a little glow of light at the back of its throat.


Just a little closer… now!

I felt the spell go off, and suddenly the world had shifted, and we were behind the beast. Without waiting to recover herself, Twilight charged up my horn again and unleashed a simple, direct blasting spell into its back.

The creature howled in rage, spinning on its hooves and glaring at me and Lucky.

“I think you just made it mad, Harriet,” Lucky muttered.

I know you only made it mad, Twilight! I added.

“Shh,” Twilight said. “All part of the plan.” She looked at Lucky. “Drop the sword,” she muttered. “I need you to boost my magic for this next spell. Give me all you can, all right?”

“What are you going to do?” Lucky asked.

“It’s a surprise.”

Oh, joy, Hornsparker muttered.

Agreed, I said.

The demon-thing, which had been stepping cautiously towards us, broke out into another gallop, charging me down with another roar. Twilight charged up my horn again, and Lucky added her trickle of magic to that. I felt a spell reach down into the depths of the earth below us, probing deep into the core of Mount Canter… finding something… and YANKING.

A ruby big enough, if you could hollow it out and slap wheels on it, to make a really gaudy carriage for a rich and utterly tasteless family, appeared in the air about thirty feet up. As it began to drop, Twilight used my magic to grab it again and swat the demon with it like a bug.

The demon skidded to a stop a few hooves short of us.

Then its head rose, six ruby-red eyes glaring at us. The soft growl it made terrified me more than the roars had. It explained with profound clarity and eloquence that, where before it had been merely vexed, now it was well and truly pissed off at me.

Lightning crackled along its body, striking the ruby, which crumbled into about a million pieces.

Well, now what? I asked Twilight.

Um… er… For the first time Twilight felt a bit worried. Actually, about now is the time Applejack catches its horn in a lasso, or Rainbow Dash gives it a buck to the face, or Pinkie Pie pulls out her party cannon and-

Okay, I thought. Plan B.

Plan B?

Plan B, Hornsparker said.

And for a moment which might have been in any other context a glorious example of synchronicity, all three of us grabbed for my voice to say one simple word.

“RUN!!!”

Author's Note:

I was reminded that, technically, tomorrow I have several things to go to, if I choose, since I'm not in South Carolina; a community event (cemetery homecoming), a local tabletop gaming con (fundraiser for a Houston-suburb PTA), a couple of other things.

But since my money is tight and I'm not sleeping well nights the last few days, I'm probably just gonna stay home...

Oh- in the original book Lucky (Murphy) stayed at the morgue- in fact, never left it. Phones are really rare in the pony world, for whatever reason. So s/he wasn't involved in the fight this chapter ends unresolved...

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