• 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 12: One Interruption After Another

I didn’t go straight home.

For one thing, since I was already halfway there, I went to Victorious’s cheap hotel by the train station to give a report on progress. He wasn’t terribly thrilled by the fact that I’d seen the Sketchbook and let it walk way, and I chose not to mention the fallen angel who had complicated matters (never mind the phantoms in my head who had made them complicated in the first place). I reassured him that the trail was still hot and that I’d keep in touch.

When I asked him if the Church of Faust would be willing to ransom back the Sketchbook, Victorious didn’t refuse outright. I’d expected a sanctimonious homily about not paying ransom for Faust’s treasures, said with an air of what I’d call outrighteousness.

But he didn’t say yes, either. He hemmed and hawed about the limited resources of Mother Church and claimed he would have to message back home for instructions. That seemed a little cockeyed to me. The Church dates back to at least the days of Unicornia; heck, it was practically the only institution the Three Tribes had in common back in those days. Legend has it the unicorns were the last to enter Equestria because of the weight of the Church’s treasure wagons. They’ve only gotten richer since. “Limited resources” my sparkle-studded flaming flank.

But that was all a minor issue. The main reason I saw my client at all was that I wanted something to occupy my time while I waited for Anastasia to reach whatever backup hiding place the Pastel Rats had had. The eavesdropping crystal wouldn’t pick up any clues until she was settled in and ready to talk. And I didn’t want to use the tracer function yet, because a unicorn walking the streets of Canterlot with her horn lit up and nothing in her telekinetic field looks a little suspicious.

Besides, there was the possibility that the True Order had found the airship by following me. I didn’t know yet how I was going to prevent that when I did go for the Sketchbook, but I could eliminate that possibility in the meantime.

Finally, there was lunch- a hayburger, fries, and a strawberry shake, which I picked up on the way back to my apartment.

I smell hay fries.

And naturally junk food was what brought the ghost of Princess Celestia’s personal student back to awareness.

Welcome back, Hornsparker muttered. Now would you mind explaining what in Celestia’s name happened back on the airship?

Hayfries first. My horn lit up without my willing it, and a large clump of hayfries floated up to my mouth, bumping against my closed lips for a moment before I opened them to let them pass. Oh, that’s good. Sorry, Hornsparker, but that’s so much better than what you have on the Lydia. How I’ve missed-

What happened? I asked, working hard to keep a steady pace down the street with the rest of my lunch.

I don’t know. The last thing I remember was feeling something reach in and give me the power I needed to break that ring. My shake floated a bit closer to me, and I let Twilight slip the straw in for a sip. Oh, that’s good milkshake. Anyway, I guess I passed out from the strain, because-

Yeah, and that’s pretty weird. Because we didn’t feel the strain at all.

Well, you wouldn’t. None of the magic actually got used until the suppressor ring broke, and that outside force was what-

What was that outside force, anyway?

I don’t know! It could be the Element of Magic- did I mention I’m one of the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony? It could be Harmony itself, or Faust, or anything! It might even be the stupid Haycartes spell, for all I know!

That… Hornsparker’s mental voice went silent for a couple of moments, then resumed. That might be it, now that I consider it. According to that… that talking skull thing-

Bobbin. Her name is Bobbin. And she’s a spirit. She just lives inside the skull.

As you say. According to, er, Bobbin, you, Twilight Sparkle, made several positive changes in my world while in my body. But suppose-

I’m surprised you admit it.

I do find it very troubling to contemplate, indeed, Hornsparker said quietly. And I have had far too much time to consider it. The notion that my entire world is nothing but an author’s construct made flesh by a magic spell raises most disquieting questions. But beyond that, the fact that you saved more ponies from that travesty of duty and honor than I would have points means I would otherwise have failed in that duty to princess and country. And I find that most troubling indeed.

I’m… I’m sorry. But you always do the very best you can, Hornsparker, I’m sure of that.

Ha-hmm. That’s beside the point. In any event, assume that you, Twilight, made some blunder which made things worse- worse enough, indeed, that the, er, the story might come to, hm, a premature end. Would not the spell seek to, well, make a correction to keep the story on track?

It’s possible. As out of control as this spell is, anything’s possible.

I see two flaws with the theory, I thought back at them. First, if we accept the idea that our worlds are creations of this spell- and I’m not conceding that point, I just want that clear- then we also have to accept that it’s trying to conceal itself from Twilight. If Bobbin knew nothing about it, either it doesn’t exist or it’s really hiding. Which means you, Hornsparker, as a creation of the spell, shouldn’t even be capable of hypothesizing about it.

Hm. Point. Although it is possible the spell might use me to mislead Miss Sparkle.

Either way. Second point: the theory might lead us to think we’ll be protected by anything, because the spell needs us to live until the climax of the story at least. I’m not comfortable with that. It feels too much like jumping off a skyscraper because we know Supermare will show up to save us.

Who or what is Supermare?

Never mind. You understand what I’m saying, right? How much do you want to rely on being bailed out by out-of-control alicorn magic?

Not in the least.

Girls, can we not think about this now? I’m still tired. And I want more hay fries.

I looked in the bag. We’ve eaten them all.

What? You only got one order? Are you on a diet or something? All right, give me one of the burgers, then.

You’re kidding. I only ordered one burger.

Right! We’re going back for more hay fries.

I felt Twilight fumble for control of the body, and I gave her a mental shove. I felt something inside my head sort of flop over onto its side. Look, I thought, I’ll order a pizza or something, all right? But we’re almost home, and I suspect Anastasia has found her new hiding place by now. Time to get back to work.

I agree, Hornsparker said. Also, what is pizza?

“Well, it’s about time you showed up.”

This is a violation of the spirit of-

Quiet, I thought. I can’t hear the bug over you.

The drawback with my tracker-snoop gem is that, in order to get it small enough to be easily overlooked, I have to make compromises with the enchantment. The sound on my end is really faint and tinny, kind of like a gramophone with a dirty needle. I have to really concentrate to make out words, so even stray thoughts- especially when they don’t belong to me- can drown out the audio.

Twilight, who’d already had a lot of words for me when I’d revealed the existence of the bug, settled back in my head, radiating her outrage and anger through my mind. I tried to ignore it as I heard a male voice through the bug’s spell.

“… lot of blood on you. What happened?”

“Most of it isn’t mine. Most.”

“Yow! That’s a big bandage! You should get somepony to look at that.”

“And how many pony doctors here in the heart of Equestria even know anything about Abyssinian medicine? And out of those, how many would stay silent? Besides, it’s just a flesh wound. My partners weren’t so lucky.”

“That’s unfortunate. But it’s the risk we take in this line of business.”

“No. It’s an additional expense on my invoice. Which your boss will pay if he wants the merchandise.”

“I’m sure our employer-“

“No. Your employer. My customer. And after my two closest friends died getting this thing for him, the price is going to be a lot higher than that insult he first offered.” Anastasia’s voice dropped so low I could barely make out the words: “Darn it, their deaths have to be for something.”

“That’s not something I can negotiate,” the male voice said flatly. “But I do have a message for you. He will be ready to accept the merchandise and make payment at the agreed-upon time and place.”

“I’ll just bet. But I, on the other hand, am not ready.” Pause. “The original deal was for the three of us to deliver the goods and be paid. Now there’s only me, Junior. And I’m not sticking my whiskers anyplace until I’m good and sure I won’t join my friends.”

“I can’t negotiate that,” the male voice repeated. “All I can tell you is, if you want your pay, you’re expected in Platinum Hall at quarter of-“

Someone began pounding at my front door. “Miss Daresden? Miss Daresden, are you there?” Another male voice, high-pitched.

I groaned and thanked Celestia the bug’s audio wasn’t two-way. “Just a minute!” I shouted. I tried to listen to the bug some more, but the pounding kept up. Groaning at the horrible timing, I set down the listening stone and went to answer the door.

The pony from the city guard morgue, Bitter Butter, stood on the other side of the door. “I’m sorry to bother you,” he said, “but Lucky Star gave me your address and told me you needed to know this. And that you might have some answers.”

A stack of papers hovered at me, held in Butter’s white-tinted magical field. I didn’t bother looking at them. “Quick summary?” I asked.

“You remember all those diseases I mentioned last night?” Butter asked. “Well, most of ‘em are gone. I did a second test this morning to verify my results, and it came up negative. After that I went down the list again, and eleven of the diseases don’t show up anymore. But the others are still there. Now, even if the germs are dead and non-viable, the tests would still show they were there. So, what gives?”

“Sunrise,” I said. “Our headless friend was the victim of a plague curse of some kind.”

“What?” Butter asked. “There’s no such thing as curses!”

“That’s what they teach you in Celestia’s School, yeah,” I agreed. “And they teach you that because they don’t want ponies cursing each other. It’s a good system. Works real well… until it doesn’t.”

“Well… well, all right, but then why did it fade out?”

“The better question is, why did it last so long?” I asked. “You didn’t find the guy the same day he died, did you?”

“Nope,” Butter said positively. “We got him at least a full day after he died. It’s tough to tell for sure after so long, but I’d say more like thirty-six hours. When you were called in, it was closer to forty-eight.”

“Yeah, that really worries me. See, the thing about deadly curses is, once they claim a victim, they run out of power. They don’t go running on to kill somebody else, at least not usually. So by the time you got the body, there shouldn’t have been a single deadly germ on him-“

The pony body is full of potentially lethal pathogens which are harmless in certain places, notably the digestive tract, but which lead to severe illness and death if introduced-

“-well, not any of the ones that killed him, anyway.”

“But there were, Miss Daresden. Lots of ‘em.”

“Yeah. I know. It doesn’t make sense. But as for them leaving, with dying spells like that- especially dark magic- sunrise is usually the time they expire. There’s something about the first light when Celestia raises the sun that makes it hard for dark magic to sustain itself. Same thing with holy magic and midnight, by the way. When the sun came up, those missing germs just evaporated. More will probably go tomorrow morning- maybe all of them.”

“Huh.” Butter looked at me, wearing the expression of a pony assimilating a lot of information in a hurry. “What about other ponies? Would they be able to catch these germs if exposed?”

“That… is a darn good question,” I said. “A curse usually only affects one target. But this one is really weird. I’d say play it safe and assume the magic germs act just like natural ones until they go away.”

“Okay. That’s what I’ve been doing.” Butter nodded his head, then cocked it as he remembered something. “By the way, any luck on that tattoo?”

“Not really,” I said. “It’s called the Eye of Trot, and apparently it’s common as dirt among secret societies and the like. Unless somepony comes forward missing a friend who mentions a Haygyptian eye tattooed on a shoulder, it’s a dead lead.”

“That’s a shame.” Butter waved the papers with his magic again. “Do you want my reports?”

“I don’t think I could read ‘em,” I said.

I could! I could!

Ignoring the voices in my head, I continued, “Besides, I’m pretty sure I’ve got the relevant…”

My mind trailed off as, for a moment, I remembered that headless, hoofless body… and how it had been cut.

“I changed my mind,” I said. “Any photographs in that?”

The papers fluttered in Butter’s telekinesis, and two pages slipped out of the bundle and floated over to me. I caught them and looked at the stump of the neck, the missing forehooves, the slices where the cutie marks had been removed- all clean and neat.

“Oh, roadapples,” I said. “I know what made the wounds on our-“

There was a knock at the door. Unlike Butter, the new visitor knew where knocking ended and beating began.

“-oh, shoot,” I swore. “No time to explain now. You’re going to get another body at your place soon, if the air patrol haven’t already brought it in. An airship was destroyed at the docks today- cut away from the bag and let to drop. There’s the body of a diamond dog in the wreckage, and I was nearly the second body. The dog will have this same kind of wound- stabs instead of slices, though. I saw what did it-“

Politely but firmly, the knock repeated itself.

“-look, send Lucky Star here as soon as he can get away,” I said.

“You ought to come with me,” Butter said, “and report it to the guard in person.”

“I just did,” I said. “You’re a guard.”

“I’m a medical examiner,” Butter said. “A coroner. An assistant coroner. I don’t even get to declare people dead. And you-“

More knocking, this time accompanied by a voice. “Harriet, is this a bad time?” It was the voice of a pony I’d started a war for.

I didn’t teleport to the front door, but I got there so fast I doubt Butter could have told the difference. Hot Lead was on the other side, hoof raised for another knock. “Sorry, Leedie,” I said. “I was just talking about a case with the coroner here.”

“Assistant coroner,” Butter muttered. “I’ll send Lucky as soon as I get back. Please be here, okay?”

And then one guest was gone, and the other entered, again not strictly invited but very welcome. “So,” I asked, “how did it go with your editor?”

“Awkwardly,” Hot Lead said, slumping to a cushion near the bookshelf. I pulled up a cushion of my own and joined him. “It was sort of like having someone describe your own funeral to you a year after the fact. Which is what it amounts to, professionally speaking.” He leaned forward and continued. “What about you? Do you still have those, er… visitors?”

“Afraid so,” I said. “Haven’t figured out how to send them on their way. To be honest, we haven’t had the time, what with duels and cases and demons trying to kill me and everything.”

“I see.” Hot Lead looked at his hooves, then back at me with the kind of expression that film stars use when they’re watching their one true love go off to sea or ride the train to Dodge or whatever form of Leaving You Forever is appropriate for the movie. (Except, of course, in the movies it’s only Leaving Until the End of Act Three.)

If Miss Sparkle is to be believed, we might as well be in one of these “movies” of which you-

“Well, this isn’t going to be any easier if I put it off,” Leedie said. “Harriet, I came-“

Not that I have a lot of experience with mental shoves (at least until the past twenty-four hours), but the one Twilight administered was as gentle as an ocean wave… and just as unstoppable. When I heard my voice interrupt Leedie with, “You came to tell Harriet goodbye,” I wasn’t the one saying it.

Leadie blinked, losing his train of thought.

“It’s kind of obvious when you think about it,” Twilight said, still using my mouth to say it. “You didn’t just come to quit your job. You’re making a break with your entire past life. Maybe because you’re afraid of becoming a thestral, maybe because of something else, but you feel you have to run. And you want it to be sweet and tender, and you want Harriet to know how much you wish it were otherwise, and I’m sorry but we don’t have time for all that right now.”

“Excuse me,” Leedie asked plaintively, “but could I have the voice in Harriet’s head who isn’t a total know-it-all?”

The straight line was too perfect for me to not regain control just to deliver the response. “We’ll let you know when we find one,” I said.

Leedie rolled his eyes. “I trotted right into that one,” he admitted. “But it’s not just about becoming a thestral. I’ve been to the Forbidden Jungles, to the villages where the Nightmare Court has total control.” His eyes narrowed. “And I’m going to find a way to stop it, Harriet. I don’t know how yet, but I’m going to find a way.”

Talk about your mixed emotions. I’d started a war between the White Council and the Nightmare Court to save Hot Lead’s life. Now Hot Lead was telling me he intended to wipe out the Nightmare Court, which sounded just fine by me…

… up to the point where I remembered that even attempting it would get Hot Lead killed.

“They’re farming ponies down there, Harriet,” Leedie continued. “They enslave them to their will, with the Kiss and… and other things. And then they feed. Mares, stallions… even foals and fillies. Imagine a chicken roost where the chickens were perfectly obedient.”

I snorted at that. I spent years on a farm, after Ebon Geezer took me in. I knew chickens. Chickens do what they darn well want to, the more idiotic the more they wanna.

“It’s not a joke, Harriet.” Leedie stared me right in the eyes. “I found friends down there. Allies. Vespers is one of them. We’re going to free them all, Harriet. No matter what it takes.”

Hanging unsaid in the air was the fact that she knew exactly what it would take. It would take his life. And he was ready to do it… almost.

I’d made the first steps along this road many times before. Heck, I’d done it again just before dawn, talking to Ebon through the crystal ball. Hot Lead was putting his affairs in order, tying off the soon-to-be loose ends his death would leave.

“I wish I could go with you,” I said quietly.

“No, you don’t,” Hot Lead said, gently but firmly. “You have too many people to protect here in Canterlot. But it’s different for me. This is the first thing I’ve really found to fight for.”


“That’s part of it,” Leedie admitted. “But not just for me. If it was just me, I’d hide somewhere, become a hermit. But seeing ponies treated like livestock…” Something flashed in my ex-lover’s eyes, and I didn’t like the looks of it. He shook his head and said, “Anyway, now you know.” Forcing a smile, he added, “And aside from that, how have you been?”

“Oh, all right,” I said. “I’ve got a case that nearly killed me two or three times already, I’ve got a thestral who’s going to kill me, and I took the collected knowledge of ponykind out for ice cream at eight in the morning. You know, same old same old.”

“What kind of case?”

“Return of stolen property. And there are third parties who want it really bad. Body count is three and rising so far.”

“Any idea where it is?”

“Did have. Then a demon came along and, well, things happened.”

“Do you have any leads?”

“Just a moment.” It was long past hope, but I picked up the listening stone and put it back to my ear. Silence. “I planted a bug on the surviving thief,” I said. “I was about to get the time and place for the transfer to the original buyer when the pony you saw interrupted.”

“That’s a shame,” Hot Lead said. “Did you get anything at all?”

“Something about Platinum Hall at, and I quote, ‘quarter of KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK,’” I said, matching words with hoof on the floor. “It would be nice if I knew quarter of when, on what day, and which Platinum Hall. There’s Platinum Hall in the royal palace, Platinum Hall the concert venue, Platinum Hall the mansion, and probably one or two others I can’t think of off the top of my head.”

“Well.” Leedie perked up. “Sounds like a job for a snoopy reporter!”

“Aren’t you going away?” I asked.

“Not right this very minute I’m not,” Leedie said. “I love you very much, Harriet, but you’re not the only goodbye I have to say. It’s going to take me a couple more days to wrap everything up. I can spare a-“

Two raps at the door, and that was all.

I sighed. “I sense a trend forming,” I said.

“It must hurt so much to be popular,” Leedie said. He leaned over and gave me a kiss just under the horn. I so wanted to make it more, but he backed away, looking a little like he was afraid he’d gone too far. “I’ll be in touch, Harriet. Be careful.”

Hot Lead walked out, and in walked, of all ponies, Mighty Gale and that old kirin- Winter Wisdom, that was his name. “I can’t stay long,” Mighty Gale said. “I’m afraid we caught a bit of evidence that suggests the True Canon is up to something in Ponyville. Shadow Lurk and I are going to catch the next train down there.” She looked me in the eyes and said, “Please try to stay out of trouble until I get back.”

Does this pony know who she’s saying this to?

Both for the benefit of my visitors and my mental companions, I shrugged helplessly. “You know me,” I said. “Trouble usually seeks me out. I became a detective in the first place because I figured, if trouble kept coming to my door, I might as well get paid for it.”

“Could you at least promise to keep away from the True Canon?” Mighty asked.

I shook my head. “Can’t,” I said. “They’re tangled up with my current case. They’re trying to get their hooves on-“

“-the Sketchbook of Tiveen, yes,” Winter Wisdom said. “We are aware. We do not know why they want it, but in their hooves it would be a powerful force of destruction.” He looked me in the eyes and said, in that soft, whispery voice of his, “As also you would be, Miss Daresden. We must ask you to please drop your inquiries in this matter.”

I shook my head. “I couldn’t do that now even if I wanted to,” I said. “When I said they’re trying to get their hooves on the Sketchbook, I mean they darn near succeeded this morning. I came a bit’s thickness away from getting added to the body count by a Fallen named Helpmeet. And it made it clear it had orders about me.” To say nothing of a personal grudge, now, but I figured adding that little detail would not encourage Mighty to get off the subject.

“Helpmeet,” Winter Wisdom whispered. Looking at Mighty, he said, “That all but confirms that she is here.”

Mighty nodded. “Then please be as careful as you can,” she said. “I might not be around to save you next time. The True Canon will see to that.”

“I agree,” Winter Wisdom said. “I suspect the Ponyville lead is a deception planned by them for precisely that purpose. But we cannot allow them to go unopposed if the danger happens to be real.”

“Yes.” Mighty agreed, but she wasn’t happy about it. “Anyway, the reason we came over is, the Archive told us about your choice of second for your duel with Duke Little Nettle. I’m afraid I can’t accept because of the Ponyville thing.” She gestured a wing at the kirin and continued, “But Winter Wisdom says he would be glad to take my place, if you’re willing.”

“Really?” I looked at the kirin, who smiled behind his thick glasses. I looked back at Mighty Gust and said, “Obviously he’s a good pony, or he wouldn’t be a Knight of the Quill. But I don’t know him, Mighty. How well do you-“

“He trained me,” Mighty said simply. “I trust him with my life and more. So can you.”

Mighty Gust is a fine pony. One of her very few flaws is that she trusts other ponies to do the right and decent thing a bit too much. But she’s not blind. When she says she trusts a pony with her life and more, that’s not her religion or her forgiving nature talking. That’s the warrior at her heart talking- indeed, an unbroken line of warriors going back to the Pegasopolis phalanxes under Commander Hurricane.

And given a choice between my trust in Mighty’s judgment on such matters and, say, my trust that Celestia will raise the sun tomorrow, I pick Mighty over Celestia any day. Mighty’s judgment has never failed. Celestia, on the other hoof, did miss once-

That was totally not her fault! And wait, if Nightmare Moon happened in this universe, does that mean I exist here too? If I send a telegram to myself in Ponyville, will I get an answer? Oh my gosh, the Golden Oaks might still be here in this world! I have GOT to get to Ponyville before-

“Okay,” I said, trying to ignore the mental babbling. “If he taught you, I couldn’t ask for anypony better.”

“You are too kind to a old and temperamental kirin,” Winter Wisdom said.

“All right,” Mighty said. “Then we’ll be off. Wisdom has to meet with the duke’s second to arrange your meeting. And I have a train to catch.”

Almost on cue, there came a knock at the door. “Harriet!” Lucky Star’s voice cut through the thick wood like it wasn’t there. “Open up this door right now!”

I did just that, swinging the door wide with my magic, and there stood Lucky, holding a pizza and a six-pack of soda cans in his magic. “You owe me fourteen bits for the pizza boy,” he said, “and half of the slices. And one heck of an explanation for what you’ve been doing the last twenty-four hours!”

“Pardon us, Detective,” Winter Wisdom said, smiling a little wider. “We were just leaving.”

And inside my head, the babbling stopped to say, Half the pizza? Darn…

Author's Note:

Well, it's been a busy ten days.

A convention. Errands. Trying and failing to get video streaming to work. Internet outages. Food poisoning. Writer's block. Having to replace a mouse, and then replacing the replacement.

But, finally, here it is, the next update, in which we are reminded that, left to her own devices, Twilight is a junk food addict and enormous eater. (She only looks like a small eater in comparison to Pinkie Pie, honest.)

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