• 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 8: Information Dumps Aren't Boring When Your Life Depends on Them

“What do you know,” Father Fortress asked quietly, “about Almighty Faust?”

We were safe, for the moment, and resting in a storage room deep inside the cathederal that Mighty Fortress tended on behalf of the Church of Faust. Shadow Lurk had had his broken foreleg set and splinted, and we were all sitting down with sandwiches and coffee- Fortress, me and my two currently silent mental guests, and the three Knights of the Quill.

“Well,” I said, “obviously my upbringing didn’t exactly include Sunday school. I only know what I was taught. Faust was the alicorn who created this world. Her direct influence waxes and wanes, but Her messengers still watch over the world to ensure that Her designs are preserved. Those are angels. Some of her servants didn’t like her ideas and rebelled, and that’s where we get the Fallen. Angels and Fallen are super-powerful, but they’re bound by a ton of rules, and if they break even one, everybody else comes in and smacks ‘em down good.”

Mighty Gale shook her head. “There are a few problems with that, Harriet,” she said quietly. “For one thing, Faust didn’t create this world.”

My eyes went wide. Mighty said that?? In a cathederal?? But there was Father Fortress, nodding his agreement.

Winter Wisdom spoke up next. “Creators come and go, Harriet,” he said. “Faust was neither the first nor the last. But it was her vision that forms the foundation for the world as it is today. The changes she made stretched forwards and backwards through time, altering or even erasing what had been before. Then she left, and other creators came, who for the most part have worked within the structure Holy Faust made.”

“Okay, that doesn’t make sense,” I said. “Why pray to Faust if she’s not doing anything? And why would Fallen angels try to undo her work when all they have to do is wait for another god-alicorn to come along and do it for them?”

“That’s another place where you’re mistaken,” Mighty said. “The Fallen you saw tonight was one of the Thirty-Seven. The Order of the True Canon. The True Canon are rebel angels, but they’re not in rebellion to thwart Faust’s designs. They’re rebelling to preserve them.”

My hitchhikers didn’t speak up, but I could feel their confusion along with my own. “Sorry, you’ve completely lost me,” I said.

“Faust is almighty only within Her creation,” Winter Wisdom said quietly. “There is a higher order of which we are permitted to know only what cannot be avoided. To know too much would deprive ponies of the free will and happiness Faust wanted us to have. But a few of us have passed down this bit of secret knowledge, which is vital in the understanding of our duty.” The old kirin leaned forward and said, “Faust’s departure from our world was not voluntary.”

“What?” I asked. “What can force a god to quit?”

“We do not know. We only know that something did, before Faust believed Her work was complete. She moved on to other worlds, other creations. Gradually Her angels followed as well, except for a few who help guide this world. But some of those angels thought the Creators who came after were inferior, and neither understood nor cared for the work of their Patron. In their anger and jealousy they stepped outside their role, seeking to control Creation rather than serve it, and thus they Fell.”

“You see, Harriet,” Father Fortress said, “everything must change. New things must be created, and old things reborn. That is the nature of this world- of all worlds. But the True Canon want to lock this world in stasis- no, worse, they wish to erase everything which they think Faust did not intend.”

“They can’t act directly,” Mighty said, pulling the binder back out. “They have to tempt a mortal pony to their cause. To that end they have possessed fragments of paper- the document by which Faust was released from her work here in Equestria.”

Mighty opened the binder, revealing an old, crumpled-looking piece of reddish paper. There were words on it in an alphabet and language I’d never seen before. But scrawled on top of them, as with a giant paintbrush or marker, was the same horrible sigil I’d seen branded into the flanks of that pony in the soulgaze.

“There are thirty-seven,” Winter Wisdom said quietly. “They are not always allied. Some of them fight with one another as ferociously as they strive with ponykind. But their overall goal is the destruction of Equestria as it is in favor of Equestria as it was. And if that requires a pile of pony bodies as high as Mount Canter, that bothers them not at all.” He gestured to the binder as Mighty closed it again. “Please put that in the cask for safekeeping.”

As Fortress gingerly accepted the closed binder, Winter continued, “Even touching the paper with hoof or magic is perilous. The least contact opens a crack by which the Fallen may enter the mortal’s mind. They shall tempt that pony with power, desire, anything which might get the mortal to agree to use the Fallen’s power. The more that power is used, the greater control the Fallen gains over their host. Finally, the Fallen strikes in some moment of weakness, and the takeover is complete.”

“Yeah,” I said quietly. “I saw the soul of the poor jerk that monster had taken.” I looked the old kirin in the eyes. “So that’s what the Order of the Quill is really for? To fight the True Canon?”

“No,” Winter Wisdom said. “The purpose of the Order is to save them.”

My jaw dropped.

“Faust wishes happiness and freedom for all in Equestria, even the Fallen,” Mighty said. “Tonight represents a victory only in that there is one fewer Fallen in the world to ensnare a pony- one fewer for now, that is.” She sighed and let her eyes stare at the storeroom ceiling. “No matter where the fragments are stored, or how well hidden or guarded, the power they offer never fails to find them a willing host to take them back out again.”

“In the centuries of the Order, never have more than sixteen of the True Canon been accounted for at once,” Winter Wisdom said. “As of now the Church has eleven. And the eleventh was gained by a pony’s blood. A pony who, despite his crimes, might yet have been redeemed to harmony.”

“Uh huh.” And to my guests I added, Are you buying this?

For your world, sure. Not for mine. I think your author made up this Creators and Fallen business to give you bad guys to fight.

And I am no theologian. I couldn’t possibly judge.

Thanks lots.

Mighty sighed and looked at me. “Harriet,” she said, “I don’t know how you got tangled up in this. But you’re in desperate danger. Can you please leave town for a few days? Or just hole up in your apartment? Anything? Until the three of us get this settled?”

I sighed. “I don’t even know how these True Canon ponies connect up with my current job,” I said. “It’s possible they don’t at all. But even if I dumped that case, I still have business that won’t let me leave Canterlot until it’s done.” Or until I’m done.

Mighty looked at me. “You know where my sword came from, right?” he asked.

“Sure. At its core is a stylus, one of three, which Faust used to write the world.”

“Yes. And we use these swords to keep ponies innocent and free. To protect them. And, when we’re very lucky, to rescue them.” She shot a glance at Shadow Lurk, who hadn’t done anything more than glare at me during the whole conversation.

“I know that, Mighty. We’ve known each other for years now.”

“Yes.” Mighty looked at her hooves, unwilling to meet my eyes when she said, “Which is why I really don’t want to see a day when I have to turn that sword on you, Harriet. There are worse things than death. Please be careful.”

By the time I got back to my apartment it was past two in the morning. I wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed. It had been an intense fifteen hours since I first heard the strange voices in my head. Right now one of them was actually snoring in the back of my thoughts, and the other one was mumbling something about a nice comfy book.

But I couldn’t hit the sack yet. There were still things that needed doing.

“You still awake, Bobbin?” I called out.

The flames in the eyes sockets of the skull on the shelf flared a little bit. “No thanks to you,” she said spitefully. “You go have fun and leave me out of it.”

“Well, it’s your turn now,” I said. “I’ve got a list of chores a mile long for you. First, what’s the protocol for a duel under the Accords?”

“Your copy of the Accords,” Bobbin said distinctly, “is in a shoebox behind your bowling bag in the back of the closet.”

You bowl? That wasn’t in the books.

Good to know something isn’t. But the truth was, I’d bought the ball as cover for a bit of surveillance I did back when I was still apprenticing as a private investigator. I’d kept it because I might want to use the same cover again. Besides, there are times when a sixteen pound weight with handles becomes very convenient.

“And it reads dry as toast and dense as fruitcake,” I said out loud. “And I can’t afford to read myself to sleep right now. I’ve been challenged to a duel. Give me the highlights.”

“You? A duel? Who’s the unlucky devil?” Bobbin asked.

“You’re closer than you think. It’s a Duke of the Nightmare Court named Little Nettle.”

A low whistle came from the general direction of the skull. “You don’t play in the minor leagues, do you, girl?” she asked. “Okay. It’s basically the same rules as the Code Duello. The challenged party gets to choose weapons and method, but the challenger names the day, time and place. All that’s handled through your seconds- ponies each of you pick for the negotiation and to continue the duel if you somehow kill each other simultaneously.”

What possible purpose would that serve?

“I don’t have a second,” I muttered.

Quelle surprise, dearie. Find one. Quick. Not having a second can mean forfeiting the duel.”

“Okay. Anything else I should know?”

“Yes. Don’t get too clever in picking weapons. The other guy’s second can reject your proposal if they’re incapable of fighting with it or if the mismatch is too great. There will also be a referee, a neutral party agreed to by both sides- the Council and the thestrals, in this case- and they’ll have something to say about the options, too. You also can’t choose a non-lethal mode of fighting. Duels don’t have to be to the death, but death has to be a possibility.”

“I’m pretty sure this duel’s gonna end with only one of us walking away, Bobbin.”

“Then don’t die,” Bobbin said bluntly. “If you want to make that more likely, let me out of the skull so I can dig up the dirt on this Little Nettle bloodsucker.”

“Not yet,” I said. “There’s more. What can you tell me about the Order of the True Canon?”

The eye-flames flared. “Please, please,” Bobbin muttered, “please tell me one of them didn’t challenge you to a duel.”

“They might as well have.” I told Bobbin about my encounter coming back from the morgue.

When I was done, Bobbin said, “Gale is right. Stay away from them, Daresden. I mean it. Even if you take away their piece of paper, each of them have had decades, even centuries, to become lethal sorcerers or warriors. And with their Fallen at the reins, any one of them could put Celestia down for the count. I’m serious. Do not mess with them. And if they’re hunting you, run.”

“They’re that powerful?”

“The weakest of them is that powerful. They’re fallen angels, Harriet. They helped build the world. They can sure as heck destroy it if they find a way around their rules.”

“Can you give me any more details?”

“If you order me to, maybe I can find out more. But I really, really do not want to go there. And unless you have a new renter for the inside of my skull already lined up, you don’t want me to go there, either.”

I decided to back off that line. Mortal weapons wouldn’t touch a spirit of knowledge like Bobbin, and even most magic weapons would find it tough to do her in. If she was this scared, she had good reason. “Could one of them power a lingering, multiple-disease plague curse?” I asked instead.

“Of course they could. Why do you ask?”

I described the corpse back at the morgue, then fished the crumpled paper out of my pocket with the copy of Butter’s sketch of that tattoo. “This was the only identifying mark we could find,” I said.

“Hm. Eye of Trot. Ancient Haygyptian. Really popular among a lot of arcane societies. Sorry, Harriet, but that’s not much of a lead.”

“Do what you can with it,” I said. “Next, I want some leads on these two.” A twitch of magic opened up the folder Father Victorious had given me and pulled the pictures of the surviving Pastel Rats out. “They’re suspected of stealing a thing called the Sketchbook of Tiveen.”

“The what??” Bobbin asked. “First you ask about fallen angels, and now you want me to maybe tangle with the ordinary kind? What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you get simple jobs anymore? Why don’t you do something safe and sane, like take on the entire mob?”

“You didn’t let me finish,” I chided. “Lastly, I want you to swing by Johnny Respectable’s and see what you can sniff out. His goons paid me their respects earlier today, and I want to know why.”

Bobbin didn’t answer.

“Did you get that, Bobbin?” I asked.

“I got it, all right,” Bobbin grumbled. “Anything else you want? The combination for the lock on Celestia’s private cake safe, maybe?”

I sighed. “No, that’s pretty much it. You have my permission to leave the skull until your mission is completed or until dawn comes.”

“Little miss generous,” Bobbin grumbled. The flames in the skull’s eyes went out, and a little ball of flame and lights rose through the dome of the skull and out through the ceiling.

I looked longingly at my couch. I didn’t feel like I could even make it to the bed.

But… still more work to do. And the fact that there were now two sets of snores in my head didn’t help one bit.

I wound up my alarm clock and set the alarm to five minutes of scheduled dawn, just in case I nodded off. Then I went downstairs to my sub-basement lab. If I was going to face the Nightmare Court single-hoofed, I needed to cook up some surprises for them.


Author's Note:

An announcement will go up on my blog tomorrow...

... no, I'm not cancelling or shortening this. But I am going to shift a little bit of focus elsewhere.

No loa summoning this go round. There's no purpose to it except to add drama and flavor, and I need to pick up the pace if I'm going to return Death Masks to the library on time...

By the way, the Thirty-Seven does not refer to Strategems. I chose the number for another reason, and as more of the Thirty-Seven get named, it will become easier to figure out my rationale. There's a good chance you can guess already.

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