• 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 9: Wake-up Calls

“Hello?”

I woke up to the sound of my own voice. My first thought upon regaining consciousness was, Wow, I sound like I’m still asleep.

“Did I wake you up, filly?” a familiar voice growled at me. “You sound like you’re still asleep.”

“Um… Ebon Geezer?”

“Yep, still asleep. I’ll give ya a minnit.”

Yeah. So, that’s Ebon Geezer. He was my second teacher, after the late and unlamented Sunken City bought the farm at the tentacles of something he’d summoned. For whatever reason, I don’t know what, the bald, white-bearded unicorn from the Foal Mountains had talked the White Council into not killing me for the use of black magic- long story, and not one I like to think or talk about- and had taken me into his home, giving me pretty much the most stable life I’ve ever had.

Think about that: one of the most powerful wizards of the White Council, a front-line fighter against the forces of shadow, was the closest thing I had as a kid to a stable family. I am all kinds of messed up, you bet.

But normally I wasn’t so messed up that a foreign mind possessing my body answered my crystal ball for me. Twilight? I asked. Could I handle this?

Please. The self-proclaimed princess seemed relieved-

And I am not self-proclaimed! I didn’t ask to be a princess! Celestia just made me one for some reason!

Anyway, I got control over my voice and said, “Yeah, sorry. I was pulling an all-nighter and dozed off.”

“Uh-huh. Well, don’t worry, filly. I just called to let you know not to worry about that duel foolishness. We’re gonna shut that down.”

We, in this case, meaning the senior leaders of the White Council- the seven most powerful white wizards not just in Equestria but in the world. (Well, for certain highly specific definitions of “white wizards”. Other secret societies had their own lists, but they didn’t count.) But obviously the old ponies had either held a meeting or a round-robin crystal ball conference, and I hadn’t been included. “No, don’t do that,” I said. “I have to-“

“Don’t do it?” Ebon Geezer asked. “Did a rock fall off Mount Canter and klonk you on the head, filly?”

“No,” I said. “But something like that or worse might happen to my non-wizard friends if I don’t show, Ebon. Little Nettle made arrangements.”

“I see.” I could tell from the old pony’s voice that not only could he see, he didn’t like what he saw one little bit. “You do know this death horse ain’t no pushover, right?”

“I’m working a few angles,” I said. “But I’ll take any advice I can get. Except ‘don’t go.’ That’s off the table.”

“Huh.” There was a moment’s pause, and then Ebon sighed. “You better tell me the whole story, filly.”

I did, beginning with the extra lunch guests from yesterday and going right down the entire list of the previous day’s events. The only thing I didn’t mention was my two mental hitchhikers. Ebon Geezer is a sort of enforcer for the White Council, and I’m hoping to resolve that particular problem before Ebon is required to do something both of us will regret. (That, of course, assumes the Nightmare Court, the Order of the True Canon, or whoever’s behind the theft of the Sketchbook don’t take care of it first.)

At the end of it, Ebon sighed again. “Filly, if you live past the coming week, you gotta learn not to go cliff-diving into bottomless pools of trouble, you hear?” That wasn’t the first time he’d said that.

“No promises,” I said, not for the first time either.

Ebon grunted. “Well, the business with those Knights of yours, and with the Sketchbook, that’s no affair of the White Council,” he said. “You’re on your own there.”

I’d expected as much. “What about the Nightmare Court?” I asked. “How’s the war going?”

“About as you’d expect, if your side is generaled by a turtle,” Ebon grumbled. “The Starswirl thinks all we have to do is hide behind wards until the Nightmares give up.”

This war had been going on for a couple years, and the White Council had lost a number of wizards already. “From where I sit, this doesn’t look like giving up,” I said.

“Nope,” Ebon agreed. “But it’s too dangerous to change leaders now. We have to stay united behind the Starswirl, or else everything falls apart. As it is, the death horses are trimming away at our allies. If we splinter now, we’ll lose them all, and then where will we be?”

“That depends on how many duelists the Nightmare Court has,” I said.

Ebon chuckled. “I guess it does,” he said. “You sure about this, filly?”

“Sure how?” I asked. “What I’m sure of is, I don’t want to do it, and I don’t have a choice about doing it. I’m sure of both of those. And not much else. But if I win, my friends live, and Canterlot becomes off limits. I’d think the Starswirl would like that.”

“I think he would too,” Ebon said. “Filly, when I was teaching you back on the farm, I thought I was helping you keep out of trouble. I wanted to keep you safe.”

“It’s not a safe world, Ebon,” I said. “That’s what we’re fighting for, isn’t it?”

“Maybe I taught you too well.” The laugh that followed that had no humor in it. “I should have taught you more astronomy instead. Remember that comet we discovered?”

Ebon’s greatest gift to me hadn’t been my life, It had been my love of the stars. We spent many summer nights up in the clear air of the Foal Mountains, the two of us and a battered old reflecting telescope. “I sure do,” I said. “It’s a shame the RAS gave credit to that Canterlot university group. I would have loved to have a Comet Daresden named after me.”

“It’s still Comet Daresden to me, filly. Do you remember where all your old observatory stuff went? I went looking for it last summer and couldn’t find it.”

“It’s in that big steamer trunk in the back corner of the hay crib,” I said. “Telescope, logs, charts, all of it. I thought I’d come back for it, but-“

“Yeah. Never enough time, is there, filly?” Ebon sighed again, and I felt a little scared at just how old that sigh sounded. “Never enough time. You real sure you wanna go through with this duel?”

“Ebon, I don’t plan on giving up,” I said. “Like I said, I’m working some angles. But…” Yeah, there wasn’t any gentle way of saying this next part. “Just in case, I’m leaving some papers in my rooms. You’ll know how to find them. Mostly stuff about people I’d like protected.”

“You’re gonna make me climb that fool mountain twice in two years, aren’t you?”

“Ebon, there’s a train. There’s a lot of trains. Almost every train in Equestria passes through Canterlot.”

“Yeah, and it’s just as far to walk to a train station as it is to just come up the mountain. Well, don’t worry about it. Hopefully I won’t have to bother.”

“Hopefully.”

“Luck, filly. Be careful.”

“Thanks.”

The magic shut off, and my crystal ball just became an ordinary polished ball of rock again.

I feel like a voyeur listening to that, Hornsparker’s mental voice said. Miss Daresden, you have my abject apologies.

Um, yeah, Twilight added. It’s one thing to read these scenes in a book and feel very touched and sympathetic. But being in the same room-

In the same head.

“Just let it drop,” I muttered. “Where did I pass out?”

At your workbench, Twilight said. There were about half a dozen little bottles in front of me when I heard the sound coming from your crystal ball. That kind of scared me, because I’ve never used crystal balls in the real world. You see, I have this baby dragon-

“Were the bottles corked?”

I think- yes, yes they were. I remember I was afraid I’d spilled them when I got up, but they were all stopped tight.

I let out a breath I hadn’t known I was holding. Those bottles held a little concoction, mostly of my own devising, designed to nullify the effects of The Kiss for a few hours per dose. I don’t intend to bore you with the exact recipe or theory about how it works-

No! Wait! Bore me! I’d love to be bored about it! I mean I wouldn’t find it boring at all!

-but, suffice to say, I wouldn’t know for sure how well it worked until some Nightmare Court thestral decided to breathe on me or something.

About that time I heard the alarm clock go off. Five minutes to dawn. I went back upstairs and checked the skull shelf. No sign of life. No Bobbin. She was cutting it close; spirits of her kind can’t withstand Celestia’s sun. It’s not that they’re evil, mind you. It’s that, strictly speaking, they don’t belong in this world at all. Without an object or person to possess, they’re vulnerable to certain things. They can’t go into sacred places, for one thing. And in all Equestria, there are few more sacred things than Celestia’s sun.

I watched the clock. Four minutes, and no Bobbin.

Three minutes, and no Bobbin.

And then, with just over two minutes to go, a ball of flame and lights weaved and wobbled its way into the apartment, finding the skull more by approximation than design. When the flames lit in the eye sockets, they weren’t much more than embers. “Harriet. You. You.” Bobbin paused to gather strength. “You. Complete. And. Total.” There was a longer pause, and then a rush of words pushed through in what sounded like a pegasus skyracer’s last gasp of energy at the finish, “You know what.”

“Tartarus,” I muttered. Bobbin usually keeps her good humor, even with me. “What happened to you?”

“What. Didn’t?”

“Are you okay?”

“Guess.” That one word dripped with whole paragraphs of irony.

“Can I help?”

“No. Rest.”

“Okay, then-“

“Must. Report.”

Yeah. Bobbin wanted and needed to shut down, especially with the sun coming up outside right about now. But as a spirit of information bonded to me, she literally couldn’t put off a report after I’d requested information. “What beat you up like this, then?”

“Wards. Johnny. Respectable.”

“What??”

“Wards.”

“Yes, I got that,” I said. “But Johnny’s no more a wizard than I am a bookie. Where would he get wards?”

“Canterlot. Duh.”

Well, yeah. The top magic school in the kingdom, plus a couple others in the top ten, were here in town. Canterlot was lousy in trained magic users, and you didn’t need a member of any of the secret societies to cast effective wards against scrying or eavesdropping or teleportation… any of which would also be a nasty shock to a spirit. And Johnny Respectable had connections. For all I knew, Celestia herself might have installed the wards as a personal favor after he gave protection money to an orphanage or something.

“Okay. What about Little Nettle?”

“Found’m,” Bobbin muttered. “Townhome. Diamond Ledge address. Half dozen thestrals. Twice as many mortals.”

“And the Pastel Rats?”

“Airship,” Bobbin said. Her voice was getting fainter the more she talked. “Dock Six. Tracked one there. Can’t get in. Holy ground.”

Blocked by the Sketchbook. Not too surprising, but Bobbin had brought back just enough info for me to proceed. “Okay, you’ve reported,” I said. “I’ll ask questions later. Sleep now.”

The flames in the skull eyes winked out instantly.

Is that all? Twilight asked. We don’t know what Nettle’s planning! We don’t know what kind of wards exactly this Mr. Respectable has! We-

“I’m not going to risk losing a valuable resource, and might I add a friend, over this,” I growled. “Bobbin’s really hurt, can’t you tell?”

Sorry. No, I can’t tell. In my world there’s no such thing as spirits.

“That you know of.”

Excuse me, but ponies have been attempting contact with spirits for centuries, and not a single spell has-

Sssh. I didn’t make the sound- only thought it at Twilight. I’d just felt a shiver go up the base of my spine. Something powerful- something very, very powerful- was coming.

Even as I realized this, orange flames began to build from the candles I used for my wards’ warning systems. Then the red candles began lighting up, one after another, until all of them were burning with a noticeable heat and a lot of light. Whatever this was, it was bigger than a Nightmare Court thestral. It might even be big enough to be a Fallen, and if it was I probably had no better options than to hope Mighty Gale or Winter Wisdom was keeping an eye on my front door.

Which wasn’t to say I was totally defenseless. I had a couple of things that would slow a Fallen down at least a little bit. The wards would help with that, as would the reinforced door- and, of course, the supernatural power of doorways even without steel reinforcements. And I had other things- holy water, iron filings, rock salt, whole garlic bulbs- that would slow down, or worse, any number of other unwanted guests. And, of course, there was the three-pounder breech-loading cannon I kept in a hidden compartment by the door. One kick of a hoof, and it popped out, ready to give the first pony or whatever who tried to break down the door a good reason to sincerely regret their life choices and not a lot of time to get that regretting done in.

Is this necessary? Really? We don’t know-

I ignored Twilight. Not worth the discussion. I could hear the metal rims of a carriage crunching to a halt on the street outside. I heard hoofsteps coming down the stairs, and then a knock at the door.

“Who’s there?”

A male voice with a thick Trottingham accent said, “I’m here ter see th’ wizard, Miss Harriet Daresden, on behalf o’tha Archive.”

That voice!

“What’s the-“ I began to say, and then something shoved me out of control of the body.

Hornsparker tossed away the blasting rod I’d been holding, stepped away from the trigger for the cannon, and threw open the door. There stood a burly earth pony, a couple of scars and some powder burns on his cheeks, holding a bundle of papers in one fetlock.

The earth pony’s jaw dropped as he looked down at my body. “Captain??” he asked, totally surprised.

“Thornbush,” Hornsparker gasped. “Thornbush, by Celestia!”

Author's Note:

Enjoy your cliffhanger!

No chapter tomorrow: instead my writing time will go towards the next chapter of Changeling Space Program. (See my most recent blog post if you haven't already.) Patreon supporters will find a blog post about noon tomorrow with a link to the Google Doc where I'll be doing livewriting on that tomorrow night (beginning about 8 PM Central).

And yes, Ebon Geezer has a dark gray to black coat.

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