• 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 7: Chalk Another One Up For Friendship, Maybe

For the moment I found myself back in control of my body. I immediately turned tail and bolted, hitting full gallop pretty much immediately. Behind me the monster bellowed louder than ever before, shaking off what was left of the giant ruby Twilight had hit him with.

I figured I had twenty, maybe thirty seconds left to live, tops, unless I thought of something really clever really quick. The problem is, although wizards of the White Council, like me, have plenty of heavy artillery for dealing with creatures like the thing attacking me, almost all of it requires a lot of prior preparation to use. I’d need time to, for example, prepare the kind of blasting wards I use to protect my apartment from intruders.

The sound of hoofbeats thundering behind me told me I wasn’t going to get that kind of time.

But then I noticed a snag. Two of them. That huge wall of an earth pony and the doddering old kirin with his cane were still out on the street. In fact, the kirin was crossing the street, heading towards the big stallion still holding his bottle of vodka under that streetlamp.

Maybe the monster wouldn’t bother with them. Maybe it only wanted me. But I just couldn’t take the risk of those two ponies becoming collateral damage.

“Hey!” I shouted at the two of them. “Get out of here!” I ran up to the kirin first, shoving him into the earth pony, which made the oldster blink behind his milk-bottle glasses. “Help him out of here! I’ll hold it off!”

That was all I figured I had time for. Once again I reached for my blasting rod with my magic, and this time I got it out. I only had a moment to aim- the monster was right on top of me- but it was so big aiming wasn’t exactly a problem. “FUEGO!” I shouted, pumping everything I had left after Twilight’s big spells through the rod. It came out as a jet of blinding white flame, smacking the charging monster right in the face.

The good news was, it stopped the charge, at least for a moment. The bad news was, instead of melting its face off like it should have done, it only seemed to act like a firehose, annoying and blinding the thing momentarily, but not actually doing much harm.

I didn’t have much left if the fire wand failed, but I did have one last party trick left. One of the benefits we White Council wizards get from our oaths is the ability to see the supernatural as it appears on the Other Side, as they say. It’s a mixed blessing; most of what we get to see that way isn’t pretty.

But one choice side effect of the Sight is what happens when we use it to stare into another being’s eyes. When we do that, we see their soul; the world falls away, and we see the ultimate truth of who and what they are. It leaves us completely vulnerable, which is a problem if there’s more than one enemy… but the thing is, that link is two-directional. While we see the other guy’s soul, they’re forced to see ours… and, in the meantime, they can’t see anything else.

It wasn’t going to get me out of the fight alive, not by itself. But it would buy time for Lucky and the bystanders to clear out… and who knows? Princess Luna might pick that moment to walk down the street and bail my flame-adorned flank out.

So, when the juice for the fire spell ran out and the monster turned its face back towards me, I looked it right in the uppermost pair of its eyes and activated the Sight…

… and fell through those burning red windows, deeper and deeper into a barren wasteland.

And, at the center of it, there stood- for lack of a better word- a pony. He was a unicorn, obviously towards the far end of middle age to go by his gray mane and wrinkles. He writhed and struggled in the kind of bonds I’d only seen in woodcuts from the darkest days of pre-Unification Equestria or in books about the horrors that ponies who went abroad sometimes fell into. Blinkers blocked most of his vision, leaving only a tiny window on the world directly forwards. A riding bit had been run through his mouth and hauled back hard, forcing the pony’s neck back in what had to be an excruciating position. Rings penetrated its nostrils, and reins attached to the rings ran parallel to those that pulled the bit back so brutally. All four hooves appeared to be embedded into the ground as if in concrete.

And, to top off the horrors, the pony’s cutie mark was gone. In its place there was a freshly burned brand, blackened flesh cracked and bleeding even as I stared at the design it made. I don’t intend to describe it. Symbols have power. It’s enough to say that, at a single glance, I instinctively knew that symbol represented something incredibly evil- something I didn’t want to be in the same kingdom with, never mind the same Sight-induced trance state.

The bound pony thrashed to the limit of his restraints, screaming muffled screams around that bit. The vision didn’t need any deciphering. The demon-creature wasn’t just a monster. There was a mortal pony underneath all of that misshapen flesh- a scared pony in unbearable pain. And something was holding him…

I finally thought to trace the leads back from the bit and nose rings. They ran into a fold in the ground… which, as I stared at it, shifted just a trifle.

Then the ground under my hooves began to shake, and I realized that I wasn’t standing on a wasteland. I was standing on stone, on solid rock… shaped like a giant minotaur hand, and that hand was moving.

Above me six red eyes appeared through thick clouds, glaring down at me.

BEGONE.

I went crashing back, out of the monster’s head, into my own, out of control of my body, and into the darkness.



When I came to, I felt my body walking along, burdened by the weight of that huge black earth pony leaning against me. He was hopping along on one foreleg, the other one bound up in an impromptu sling- made, I noticed, from my own duster.

Oh hey! You’re awake! I never thought I’d be glad to hear you narrating again.

Twilight, what happened? Where are we? How the Tartarus are we still alive?

Don’t you know? What was the last thing you remember?

I used the Sight on that monster. I wanted to hold it in soul-lock to give those bystanders time to escape. But-

Yeah, we got kicked out. That wasn’t fun.

My jaw would have dropped if I was in control of it. You remember that? I asked.

I was right there with you, Twilight said. Interesting spell, but I really don’t think it would work in the real world. Maybe I’ll ask Luna about it when I get back. Her dreamwalking magic is as close to what you-

Soulgazing does not take along hitchhikers, I insisted.

It didn’t take me along, Hornsparker muttered. From my point of view the body froze for about two seconds, and then we went flying. Hit a lamppost like a sack of potatoes.

But soulgazing doesn’t work like that! I thought. One soul links to one soul! That’s it! No more, and no… The implications sank in slowly. Oh. Ooooh, crap.

Um… I’m sorry, Harriet. But I think it’s proof of what I’ve been telling you. You and Hornsparker are just, well, reflections of me, created by Haycartes’ Method. One soul links to one soul, and, well… we only have the one soul, girls. With one original-issue personality and memories, and two others created by the spell.

I’m really not real, I thought. Really not real. The notion shook me to the core. Which was funny, because I thought I’d been okay with the idea of being fictional. But that only held true if you could be both fictional and real…

No, no, Harriet. You’re real- sort of.

Being real is not a sort-of thing!

You’re a reflection of me. That makes you a part of me. And if you’re a part of a real pony, that makes you real, too. Just… not a real pony, exactly.

I spot, Hornsparker interrupted, a flaw in your logic.

I’ll bet. Twilight’s mental voice sounded tired and annoyed. Let’s have it.

You say Daresden and I have no souls because we are creations of your spell, Hornsparker said. And so is everything else in the universe we’re currently interacting with. This whole world is also as false as the scenery in a theatre. Am I correct?

Not quite. You and Harriet share my soul, because-

I concede that distinction, since it’s unimportant for purposes of this argument. But am I wrong on any other point so far?

No, that’s pretty much it.

Very well. You possess a true soul, because you come from outside the realm created by your spell. So you have what is required for one end of Daresden’s soul-to-soul link.

But what I want to know is: where does the other soul come from? For if creations like Daresden and myself have no souls, then neither does anything else here but you. Including that fiend.

My body stumbled as Twilight absorbed this idea. I… but…

“Is something wrong, Harriet?”

I recognized that voice. My head moved to face its owner, a tall, strongly built pegasus mare. Mighty Gale, a Knight of the Quill, devout worshipper of Faust, and a member of the Bail Out Harriet Daresden Society. We’d saved each other’s lives, but if you actually took a count of who saved whose how many times, she’d have the advantage by a mile. Apparently she’d added yet another to that total.

“Sorry,” Twilight said on my behalf. “I’m still absorbing what just happened. Where's Lucky?”

"Reporting the corpse to his superiors," Mighty said. "As you told him to. Maybe I should carry Shadow Lurk for a while?"

"I'm fine."

Mighty let it go at that, and we returned to our inner conversation. I… I don’t know, Twilight admitted. Maybe it’s because it’s a spell that only works in this universe?

A spell, Hornsparker continued, crafted by the spell you say created this universe. As such, it cannot be used to prove the existence or nonexistence of anything outside its reach. Not only does it not prove that Daresden and I do not exist, it doesn’t even prove that you do.

Are you going to call me a hallucination again?

No, Miss Sparkle, I am not. I merely point out your surmise is flawed. I can think of two equally valid surmises that also fit the available facts. First, that since my magical talent is vastly inferior to yours or Daresden’s, I was unable to experience this soul-sight you describe. Second, that since the spell is intended to put you inside the narrative, it gave you the ability to observe what otherwise you could never have seen, because to do otherwise would be a failure of its purpose.

But-

And I ask that we drop this matter for now, Hornsparker thought firmly. Not for my sake. I am a coward, as you cannot help but know, having shared my mind-

Not true!

A polite lie. I thank you, but it is true. I am afraid of a great many things that my fellow ponies think nothing of. But I do not fear nonexistence, Miss Sparkle. I would prefer nonexistence to shame, to failure, to disgrace, to a long life as a helpless cripple. But Miss Daresden is intensely uncomfortable about this subject, so I ask that we move on to other matters.

Oh. I’m so very sorry, Harriet.

Can you just please tell me what happened? I asked.

Yeah, about that? Twilight said. When the Fallen smashed your psyche throwing us out of the soul-gaze-

Wait a minute- did you say Fallen?

When it did that it also shattered your mental shields. I was worried it had actually destroyed your personality somehow. But it let me access your memories- finally. And since I was still able to operate your body, I’m pretty sure what happened is in your memories, too. Just concentrate. Work forward from the moment we got thrown out of the Fallen’s head. Let me know when you get that far.

I would have shrugged, but, well, you know the rest. Instead I imagined a little mini-Daresden, floating in the darkness of my own head, closing her eyes and concentrating on the moment when my mind went flying…



… and, I now remembered, my body went flying along with it. I remembered hitting that lamppost with my back. I’m surprised I didn’t break a vertebra or two.

I remembered recalling my blaster rod in my magic- it must have been Twilight doing it, but in my memories it seemed like I’d willed it myself- and somehow managed to fire another blast of flame at the monster. This time the flame didn’t even reach its face. A force shield stopped it several inches short of target. It snarled at me, stepping forward slowly but surely to deliver what, in hindsight, I thought would be the final blow.

“Excuse me, but could you hold these?”

A small cloven hoof had held a pair of milk-bottle glasses towards me. It was that old homeless kirin, looking shriveled and shabby, but standing quite firmly next to me.

“Please run,” I’d said- Twilight had said- whichever.

Then somehow the glasses were in my hooves, and the old kirin was standing in front of me, guarding me. “Release that pony, Prideful Boast,” he said with a soft voice. “You have no power here.”

The bear-goat-pony thing turned its attention from me to the kirin. And then, to my surprise, it laughed- not a growly, monstrous laugh, but a clear, sweet, beautiful, chiming laugh, totally out of place with the growling and howling from before. “Winter Wisdom, is that you?” it chuckled. “Winter has come indeed to you, old one. You barely defeated me once, in your prime. Now you are nothing.”

The kirin’s forked horn lit up, and his cane rose into the air. A sheath of wood slid off, revealing a blade- a straight, glowing katana. “I give you one more chance, Prideful Boast,” he said. “Release your host and yield.”

“I think not.” It took a step forward.

Another light appeared directly behind the demon. The outline of the black-coated pony could barely be seen by the glow of the longsword held in one fetlock. “Prideful Boast,” he said in a strong but clear Stalliongrad accent. “You have no power here. Release your host and begone.”

The monster hissed, then spoke again in that disturbingly charming voice. “Shadow Lurk,” it said. “I know you too well to fear you, even with a Sword of Inspiration in your hooves.” One giant hoof swept forward, and the big pony went flying, slamming into the wall of a townhome nearby.

The kirin burst into flames, shouting a roar louder than I would ever have believed. Eyes glowing almost as brightly as his sword, he leapt to the attack, forcing the monster to dodge to one side. The sword flashed, and one of the creature’s huge curled horns fell to the sidewalk.

Ignoring the big earth pony (yay!) and me (double yay!), the monster had focused its full attention on the old kirin- old nirik, I mean- circling around him carefully. Several times its forehooves slashed at him, and the sword flashed back, leaving nicks in the keratin. But after the third such pass the flames winked out, and the old kirin leaned on his sword, panting for breath.

The twisted monster smiled, stepping forward to tower over the old pony. “Is this all you have to face me? A weak-willed child and a doddering ancient?”

“No.”

And that’s when Mighty Gale had descended from the cloud-filled midnight skies like a thunderbolt with her own glowing sword and, quite neatly, taken its head off.

And a pony’s head- that old pony from the soul gaze, no riding bit or nose rings but otherwise pretty much what I’d seen- a pony’s head rolled on the cobblestones a few hooves’ distance, its face permanently frozen mid-scream.



Yeah, I thought to the other two me’s in my head, I can see why I wasn’t in a hurry to remember that.

It was a Fallen, Twilight thought. Mr. Wisdom calls it one of the Thirty-Seven. Mighty Gale has it imprisoned for now.

Imprisoned? Where?

Do you see the looseleaf notebook under her wing?

You can’t keep a Fallen in a looseleaf notebook!

Well, the Fallen isn’t exactly in the notebook. The piece of paper it uses to interact with this world is. So long as it’s there, it can’t possess another pony. I think. Anyway, it’s a holy binder, so we should be safe.

A holy binding by a holy binder. Cute. That’s cute, I thought. Anything else I should know before I take back over?

About that, Twilight thought. I recognize this isn’t the best time to bring this up, but from my point of view this is my body, and you and Hornsparker are the invaders. I know you both think differently, but so far as I’m concerned this is my body, and I want to keep control of it. I don’t want to end up like that poor pony we saw inside the beast.

Twilight, I thought, I don’t like the idea of proving I’m under possession by foreign spirits in front of three Knights of the Quill, but I will do exactly that if you don’t surrender control of my body back to me in the next ten seconds. I will fight you, Twilight, and you won’t be able to hide it from them. And you know I’ll do it.

But Mighty Gale is a very nice and gentle pony! I’m sure she’ll-

Five seconds, Twilight.

But this is my body!!

Three. Two.

All right, all right!

There was another brief stumble as I regained control of my muscles. The big pony next to me- Shadow Lurk, that was his name- grunted a little as his broken foreleg shifted uncomfortably next to me- but nobody said anything.

Thank you. Where are we going?

Mighty Fortress’s church.

Good. Maybe we can get the longer version of the story about this “Thirty-Seven” there.

Author's Note:

I'm not keeping as detailed notes on this project as I did on The Maretian- not much more than a vague mental outline of tweaks and changes to the original story and a cast list to keep names straight. But when I sit down to write an entry, I have a fair idea of where I'm going with it.

But the whole thing about Twilight's theory about the soulgaze, and Hornsparker debunking it, came quite literally out of nowhere, as I was writing it. And writing it was one of those magical moments where the words flowed as naturally as thought. I barely needed to rethink what I was doing. It was like I was just copying stuff that was already there.

I live for magical moments like that in my writing- doubly so, since it's a totally original thing, not an adaptation from the book with tweaks to fit ponies and especially Twilight into it.

But for you readers, I'll remind you that just because the characters say things doesn't necessarily mean they're right or wrong...

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