• 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 10: Introductions and Re-Introductions

I didn’t understand why Hornsparker chose this particular moment to take control of my body for the first time. And I had no idea who this Thornbush pony was, or why anyone should care.

What I cared about was the fact that my front door was wide open, with a strange pony standing in it, threatening what protections I had against the Nightmare Court or the True Canon or even a random goon from Johnny Respectable’s mob. I wanted that door shut, or at least a darn good explanation for what was going on.

But I couldn’t get either. Trying to lever Hornsparker out of control was about as fruitful as a farmer bucking a pine tree to harvest apples. Seeing this Thornbush pony had given the spirit or whatever Hornsparker was the willpower to shut out the entire world.

So my screams were entirely on the inside when Hornsparker reached out and dragged Thornbush across the threshold, leaving the door wide open as she said, “Thornbush, how do you come to be here, of all places? What has happened to the Lydia?”

“Bless you, ma’am, I was hoping you’d answer that myself,” Thornbush said. “I remember this big blow coming up off the port beam, and we were all rushing up on deck to make the ship ready. Then there was this huge wind, and I felt like something were peeled off my skin, like. Most peculiar, ma’am. An’ then I was here, an’ everything in my mind said I’d always been here, but I also remembered you, an’ th’ Lydia, an’ the war, and ma’am, did you know it’s nigh on a hundred years in the future here?”

“So I had gathered, Thornbush,” Hornsparker said with my voice. “Do you remember nothing else after the squall? Or before coming to your senses, if that’s the appropriate term? Try your best, man, it might be the only clue we have to get home!”

“Aye, ma’am,” Thornbush said, “an’ I’ve been working my brain every odd moment tryin’ to do just that. An’ the Archive, she says she can’t help, which is peculiar, because she literally knows everything, ma’am. Everything.”

“Tommyrot,” Hornsparker said reflexively. “Not even Princess Celestia knows everything.”

“Which is why I exist,” a very young voice chimed in. “Captain Hornsparker, I presume? Thornbush told me much about you yesterday.”

In the doorway stood a unicorn filly- a very small unicorn filly, who looked like she might have stopped by on her way to magic kindergarten. Lemon-yellow coat, light green mane with a bit of curl at the ends, and deep purple eyes that stared at me without even the slightest drop of innocence or wonder you’d expect in a filly of that age.

And, as she calmly stepped into the room, I noticed she had a cutie mark of a bookshelf overlaid atop a starburst. That was the strangest thing about her- I couldn’t remember a pony that young having her cutie mark.

I was that age when I got my cutie mark, Twilight Sparkle thought to me. So were my closest friends, more or less. And I know one pony who was even younger.

“I am the Archive,” the filly continued. “And although I sympathize with you, Captain Hornsparker, I am here to speak to Harriet Daresden. May I have her instead, please?”

Hornsparker hesitated, which allowed Twilight to switch places with her. “First I have a number of questions, Miss… Miss… Is Archive your name or your title?”

“It is my function,” the filly said. “I have neither name nor title.”

“Why not?”

“What would be the point?” the filly said.

“Well,” Twilight said, “I suppose to have something that your friends could call you when you’re not being the Archive.”

“I am the Archive all the time, Princess Twilight Twinkle.”

“Sparkle. Twilight Sparkle. And how did you know?”

“If a pony knows it, eventually so do I. I am the sum total of all the knowledge of ponykind. When an Archive dies, the knowledge passes on to the daughter, along with all the memories of the previous Archive. I am every pony who has been the Archive for thousands of years. It is not-”

“Do you mean to say you are an orphan?” Twilight asked, appalled.

“Practically from birth,” the filly said. “It is an inconvenience. Hence the need for a bodyguard.”

An inconv- well.” Twilight reined in her outrage. “Well, what do your friends call you, then?”

“Bearing the Archive,” the filly said quietly, “does not lend itself to developing friendships. Quite the contrary, in fact.”

“S’right, ma’am,” Thornbush said. “Apparently I’ve been her bodyguard for years, an’ I can’t recollect any pony being half as close to her as I am. An’ most ponies I meet trying to meet her aren’t the type who make friends, if you follow, ma’am.”

“But… but I have to call you something!” Twilight said in exasperation. “I can hardly call you Archive!”

“Calling me The Archive would be preferable,” the filly said. “There is already at least one pony named just Archive, and she has powerful protectors.”

I’d had just about enough of this. Call her Fish Scale for all I care! I thought. And then ask her why she’s here! Or step aside and let me do it!

“Sorry, sorry,” Twilight muttered. “I am forgetting myself in this diversion. And yet I require answers, Miss… Miss…” I felt my own eyes turning sideways in a vain attempt to glare at the inside of my own head. “No, Fish Scale is a foolish name. What about Ivy?” she asked. “Ivy Walls. Like the kind that hold a library.” She reached my hoof up to touch the little filly’s green mane. “It goes with your mane.”

The filly tilted her head in consideration. “It will serve, if you wish it,” she said. “Am I to presume I am no longer speaking with Hornsparker?”

“Beg pardon, miss?” Thornbush asked, looking down at the filly- at Ivy.

“That’s right,” Twilight said. “Mr. Thornbush, you know how you seem to have a second set of memories that explains how you fit into this world? Well… in my case it’s a lot more extreme than that.” She/I took a deep breath and said, “My name is Princess Twilight Sparkle, and I’m the reason we’re all here today.”

She proceeded to tell the story of her misfired spell again, with a brief explanation of where she’d come into Hornsparker’s story and how the two had interacted. Our guests listened politely throughout the story, with sympathetic looks as Twilight described the hell of commanding a wooden ship in battle.

Finally she said, “And then I was here, in the role of Harriet Daresden- only there’s a whole Daresden personality, even stronger than Hornsparker’s, who isn’t done with the body yet. And, for some reason I don’t understand, Hornsparker came to the new story along with me.”

“So, beggin’ your pardon, ma’am,” Thornbush said, “but you mean to say th’ captain’s in there? And Daresden as well? Am I going to have voices in my head before this is over, too?”

“Well, I’d like to cut things off before they get that far,” Twilight said. “Ideally, if the spell is broken, we all go back where we belong- you and Hornsparker back to the Lydia, Daresden to her, um, troubles, and me back to my bed and my castle.” She looked at Ivy and asked, “Ivy, what can you tell me about Haycartes’ Method?”

“I can tell you nothing about it,” Ivy said flatly. “There is… a force… a thing bound up in the fabric of our world,” she said, slowly waving a hoof to indicate all of them together. “That force is working actively to prevent your gaining knowledge of certain facts. Apparently Haycartes’ spell is one such fact. If I were to try to explain the spell, something would happen- something very dangerous- to prevent the explanation. I cannot help you in this detail, Miss Sparkle.”

“Nothing?” Twilight asked. “But it does exist in this world?”

“It exists in the world,” Ivy said. “But it does not exist for you. Any attempt on your part to gain that knowledge will be thwarted. The stronger and more determined your attempts, the stronger the backlash.”

“So I’m not going home again, am I, miss?” Thornbush asked Ivy, his voice laden with gloomy resignation.

“The spell should cancel out once I get through all the books on my shelf,” Twilight said. “But I don’t understand it. I can’t think of why I would put such an elaborate safeguard on the spell to lock me inside.” She pointed my hoof at Thornbush and said, “And you shouldn’t be here at all, Mr. Thornbush! I would have had no reason at all to drag characters from one story into the next!”

I chose this moment to get control of the voice. “Unless you’re still casting the spell,” I said. “A runaway spell, without a strong will to counter it, will rewrite itself and do all sorts of things.”

“Indeed so, Miss Daresden, I presume,” Ivy said, nodding. “There are reasons I prefer calculus to magic. Calculus does not run away with itself.”

“But aren’t they fundamentally interdependent?” Twilight asked, giving my consciousness a little nudge away from control of the body. “Range applications depend on areas under the function, while any probability spell must-“

“As interesting as such a discussion might be,” Ivy said, not as icily as she might have done, “Miss Dareden’s business is of some urgency.”

And then I felt something immensely powerful reach into my head. It plucked Twilight Sparkle’s mind up like a kitten being lifted by the scruff and set her aside. Then I felt myself lifted in the same way and dropped- there’s no other word for it- dropped into the control seat of my own head.

The powerful presence retreated as Ivy said, “I apologize for the intrusion, Miss Dareden. However, my time is limited.” She looked at me and continued, “I have been selected by the White Council and the Nightmare Court, under the Accords, as the referee for your duel with Little Nettle. Who is your second?”

“Ah… I haven’t got one yet,” I said. “I’ve been busy. I intend to ask Mighty Gale to serve.”

“The Knight of the Quill? Very well,” Ivy said. “We shall see her next and confirm this. If she declines, do you have any other choice?”

I thought about this quickly. There were a few ponies I could ask, but I didn’t want to bring them into this trouble. There were also a couple of non-ponies I could ask, but asking any of them would incur a debt, and that debt might end up making me wish I’d lost the duel. “I’ll have to think about it some more,” I said.

“Think quickly, Miss Daresden,” Ivy said. “I shall be in contact before sunset. You have until eight in the evening tonight to secure someone to act as your second. Failing to do so will constitute a forfeit under the Accords.”

“I’d be glad to serve,” Thornbush put in. “But, well, I’ve got a duty. A double duty now, I suppose. Being th’ bodyguard of the referee, that makes me sort of a referee myself, doesn’t it? I can’t take sides. Wish like Tartarus I could, though.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Why aren’t you calling me ‘ma’am’ anymore?”

“Beggin’ your pardon, Miss Daresden,” Thornbush said. “But Captain Hornsparker is my superior officer. An’ I suppose Twilight Sparkle is too, on account of bein’ a princess an’ commanding the ship during our fight with Cumpleanos. I’ll have to think about that one. But nopony put you in command over me, an’ that’s a fact. So it’d be out of line for me to call you ma’am.”

I felt two little warm balls of smugness form in the back of my mind.

“Now moving on to choice of weapons,” Ivy continued. “By the forms of the Accords, you may select magic, willpower, spirit, skill, luck, or strength. The actual nature of the challenge will be of my selection. Given your opponent,” she added, “I would advise against choosing either skill or strength.”

“I choose magic,” I said instantly.

“You realize Little Nettle will almost certainly reject your proposal?” Ivy asked.

“Yeah,” I admitted. “But until he does, I don’t have to choose something else. And it is my strongest point.”

“Maybe you could choose luck!” Thornbush suggested. “I don’t know about Miss Daresden, but the captain’s a dab hoof with the cards, she is! I’d put her up against anypony at whist, an’ that’s a fact!”

Cute little fillies are far too young to wear that particular are-you-stupid expression. “Unfortunately, since you have suggested it, Thornbush,” Ivy said, “I can no longer accept it. That would constitute partiality towards one disputant. Referees cannot take sides, remember?”

Thornbush looked so sheepish I had the temptation to fetch some clippers. “Sorry, young miss,” he mumbled.

“In any case, I have taken note of your choice, and will present it to the Nightmare Court for approval. I should not get my hopes up if I were you.” Ivy took a step backwards towards the door. “For the time being, this concludes my business with you, Miss Daresden. I shall be in touch.”

She looks so lonely, Twilight thought.

I looked at the grim-faced filly. How lonely is it to not even have a name? To have no company except for thousands of dead ancestors, the massive bulk of everything every pony has ever known, and one bodyguard?

And Thornbush, though most dutiful, is not the pony for intellectual conversation, Hornsparker muttered. Nor one for dealing with little girls, his four sisters notwithstanding.

“I beg to differ, Ivy,” I said, making a sudden executive decision. “There is one piece of unfinished business. The business of ice cream.”

“Beg pardon?” Thornbush asked, as Ivy looked at me with the same level of confusion.

“Little fillies who do good work get ice cream,” I said. “Even little filly Archives. So I believe we should all go out and get some. Right now.”

“Ice cream!!” The words blurted out of Ivy’s mouth, and for a moment her smiling face looked like the rest of her body- like it belonged on a six-year-old filly.

“It’s too early for ice cream!” Thornbush insisted. “You’ll stunt her growth! An’ we haven’t the time, miss!”

“Mister Thornbush,” Ivy said with a molecular layer of dignity electroplated over an obvious intent to secure her ice cream, “I bear the wisdom of thousands of years of pony civilization, to say nothing of the memories of all my predecessors. And they are nigh universal in saying that there is always time for ice cream.” She looked at me and added, “I will, of course, be paying for my own, so as not to be suspected of bias.”

So the collected wisdom of our species can lie like a cheap rug, Hornsparker thought cynically, when ice cream is on the line.

Shut up and start thinking about what flavor you want, I thought back.

That was a mistake, since we spent the whole walk to my favorite ice cream parlor in a three-way mental argument about favorite ice cream flavors. I eventually had to get all three and let each of us take turns in control of the body for the tasting.

When we finally parted from Thornbush and Ivy, I had a massive brain freeze and the uncomfortable flavor of pistachio lingering on my tongue.

But it was worth it, for the smile on Ivy’s face as she matched me bite for bite.

Author's Note:

I missed yesterday's update because I didn't have the time. I wrote the first draft of this at the doctor's office today, but the running around wiped out my energy, so the writing I badly need to do on Peter is the Wolf isn't happening.

I had to return Death Masks to the library today. Unfortunately, I didn't take as many notes as I'd intended, so I suspect there will be at most one update over the weekend. Unless I break the planned chapter in half... which could happen. To make things worse, I wrote the above without the book for reference, and to be honest Jim Butcher did it better. I am NOT happy with this chapter...

... maybe it would have worked better if I hadn't decided to write out Mister.

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