• 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 14: Dat Appointment

This dress, Twilight thought, is crap. My friend Rarity makes better than this for use by chimney sweeps.

I agree, Hornsparker grumbled. We can barely move in this thing. When our enemies appear- not if, when- we shall be gravely handicapped.

Will you two quit complaining? I thought as I smiled and nodded at the wealthy ponies and their hangers-on who surrounded me… us… whatever. What do you expect out of a rental? Besides, we wouldn’t have got in the door without this show-pony gear.

That was nothing but truth. The rented dress, plus two press passes provided by Hot Lead’s ex-editor as a sort of goodbye present, had got me through a pair of giant brass-inlaid doors which would otherwise have cost five thousand bits minimum for the fundraiser dinner and auction for the Canterlot Society of Art and Antiquities. The president of said society, by no coincidence whatever, is Johnny Respectable. We’d missed the dinner, but there were little sandwiches and drinks to tide over the well-bred and well-funded of Equestrian high society until the art and antique auction, which began at 11 PM.

Leedie had arranged it all. He’d been the one to find out which Platinum Hall had a relevant event going on (the one in the Mareiott Canterlot, the highest-end hotel in town short of Celestia’s guest suites). He’d organized the carriage, the rental tux and gown, the press passes. And he’d turned up to tell me all about it less than a minute after Winter Wisdom had come back to my apartment to tell me about the meeting with Little Nettle.

Celestia, I wanted to marry him. I wanted to have his foals and fillies.

I’ve had foals. It’s overrated.

Shush. Mind on task, girls. We still don’t know exactly when the transfer is supposed to be, or where. They’re certainly not going to do it here in the ballroom…

I suppressed my mental sighs. A pony in love should never be forced to share her head with a cynic and an aromantic.

We can still hear you narrating, you know! By the way, those cucumber sandwiches don’t last very long.

I snagged another cluster of nibbles from the buffet… and nearly dropped them when I turned around to face Johnny Respectable himself, in the flesh. One wouldn’t expect the undisputed lord of organized crime in Canterlot to be an earth pony, and I still didn’t know the details of how he pulled it off. I did know how he stayed there, though- by being more ruthless and deadly than the worst predators the wilds of Equestria had to offer. But here he was, looking like a delivery pony in a custom-tailored suit, the only pony in the entire room without either a smile or a sneer on his face. He was the only one in the room who didn’t feel any need to do either.

I understood exactly where his confidence came from. I’d seen his soul, and he’d seen mine. I don’t know what he saw in me, but what I saw was a manticore in a cage with a very simple, easily opened latch… with the same forest-green eyes as the brown-coated, black-and-gray maned stallion in front of me. And, outside the soulgaze, I’d seen what his inner manticore could do against enemies who ought to have had magicless mortals as appetizers before moving on to roast wizard for the main course.

I remember reading that story, Twilight thought. It was a lot less frightening when it was only words on a page.

I considered that, and found myself wishing that Johnny was only words on a page to me, too. But here he was, nodding at me and saying, “Well, Miss Daresden. How fascinating that you choose to dare this den tonight. Not your usual choice of dangers, high society.” He looked at my companion and said, “And Mr. Lead, how pleasant to see you. I understood you were no longer in town.”

“This is something of a farewell fling,” Leedie said. “I’m wrapping up my affairs before going on an extended assignment overseas.”

“Ah. My condolences, then. I know Miss Daresden will miss you greatly.” This pleasantry aside, Johnny turned his attention back on me. “But might I say, this is a rather peculiar choice for a farewell soiree. I never took you for a patron of the arts, Miss Daresden.”

“As it happens, I’m a specialist,” I said. “I only have an interest in sketches.”

Johnny Respectable’s eyes bored into mine. He could do that; we’d done the soulgaze thing, which under normal circumstances you can only do once. “I’m afraid the only sketches available tonight would be well beyond your ability to pay, Miss Daresden,” he said. “I recommend you set your sights elsewhere. I could make a few recommendations.”

“I’m sure you could,” I replied. “Like the recommendations Maddog and your goons tried to deliver to me at spearpoint yesterday afternoon.”

And for an instant- just for an instant, so quickly a professional poker player might not have seen it- Johnny Respectable looked confused. Even I might not have noticed it if he hadn’t followed up with the kind of faked-genuine smiles you see on businessponies throughout the city and beyond. Johnny saved that for the cameras. He never wasted it on me.

He didn’t know what you were talking about! Twilight shouted. He didn’t send the goons after you!

Johnny reached a hoof up and patted me on the head. I hated when ponies did that. “Miss Daresden, you must be confused,” he said. “I haven’t a clue who you encountered, but rest assured I do not let my employees accost innocent ponies in public. I am a civic-minded business-pony, after all.”

And then Maddog himself was behind Johnny Respectable, towering over him. Next to him stood a striking unicorn, solid white except for her pale blonde mane, built much like a certain Fancy supermodel if said supermodel had wiry muscle on the whip-thin body. As big as Maddog was, the blonde unicorn matched his height, though obviously not his mass. And as deadly as I knew Maddog to be, something about his escort made me think she was by far the greater threat.

“Ah, here’s the pony in question now,” Johnny said. “As you can see, not wandering the streets looking for purple unicorns to waylay.”

“Nossir,” rumbled Maddog, his eyes never leaving me. I tried not to look at him too long, myself; I hadn’t seen his soul, nor had I any reason or desire to do so.

“And his companion is Pale Sky,” Johnny continued. “She’s a recent addition to my staff.”

“A consultant only,” Pale Sky said, with a voice that reminded me vaguely of the far north. “I am an expert in personal security. Magical and otherwise.”

“Ah,” I said, putting two and two together. “I’ve heard of your work, secondhoof.”

“I trust your informant advised you against any unwise attempts at a more personal probe,” Pale Sky continued. “Now or later.”

“Yes,” Johnny said quietly. “We don’t want to cause a fuss, after all. If you have some other issue you feel you must bring up, well, my office is always open to you with an appointment, as you know. If you’ll pardon me…”

I sized up my options. Maddog I could take out in ten seconds, if I didn’t mind declaring open war on Johnny Respectable here and now. Pale Sky was an unknown quantity to me, but my instincts screamed at me that I’d have the fight of my life on my hooves if I tried it. And then there was Johnny himself, who despite being something like half Maddog’s size was easily twice as deadly… and who could never accept defeat. Put the three of them together in one place-

You’re going to back down!

Well, yes, I thought. I don’t have leverage here. He’s got all the cards, and-

We don’t have time for these stupid mind games! Twilight insisted.

I can’t make him answer questions here in public, with his two strongest bodyguards right here!

Then move over!

I felt Twilight shove her way between my mind and my body, taking control.

Right. Now, I believe your soulgaze spell works like… this!

And before I knew it, I found my awareness, and Twilight’s, falling through those deadly green eyes…

… and I saw something the same, yet totally different, from the first time I’d stared that deep into the eyes of Johnny Respectable. Last time I’d seen a beast, barely caged but always ready to leap out at the unwary. This time…

… well, I should point out that no two White Council wizards perceive things the same way in soulgazes. Each pony’s mechanism for turning what they see into something the mortal pony brain can understand is different. Mine tends to be metaphors, some of which are direct, but others are so obtuse as to be useless for anything other than determining if a pony is good or evil in the broadest possible terms.

What I saw now, I realized instantly, was more or less the same underlying reality as what I’d seen in Johnny the first time, but interpreted through the magical talent of Twilight Sparkle. The manticore was gone, and so was Johnny’s business suit. In its place was fur and leather armor from the tales of the Gard, ages ago… fur, leather, and one heck of a lot of blood. Pony skulls, also covered in blood, surrounded him in mountainous piles. He gripped the hilt of a sword in his teeth, guarding against attack at the moment, but obviously ready to strike if necessary.


… in my first vision, there had been a shadow behind the manticore, something deep and dark that Johnny wanted kept hidden from the world. Here, Johnny’s left foreleg had a buckler shield belted to it, and he held it not in front of himself, but over something on the ground, something shadowy…

My eyes blinked, and I saw a wall of white. They blinked again, and the wall became a white-furred pony leg. “Please step back from Mr. Respectable,” Pale Sky said, a soft but dangerous tone blending into that far-northern accent.

Twilight stepped my body back one step. “Mr. Respectable?” she asked. “Are you all right?”

Johnny was shaking his head. “I thought…” he gasped, and then he began again in a firmer voice. “I thought you said you couldn’t do that again.”

“I’m sorry,” Twilight said with my voice. “And I’m also sorry for wrongly accusing you of attacking- sorry, of ordering an attack on me. I was wrong.” All of that was in a meek voice that sounded nothing like mine. And when she continued, again she sounded nothing like me- but in a totally different direction. Instead of making me sound like a little filly, she now made me sound like… well, like Princess Celestia. “But we need to talk about a lot of things. In private. Right now.”

“I agree,” Johnny said instantly. “For one thing…” He whispered the question, “Why are there three of you right now?”

I don’t know if I’m grateful to be noticed, Hornsparker muttered next to me in my head, or if I preferred being beneath this blaggard’s notice.

“Mr. Respectable,” Maddog said quietly, “I believe that would be a very bad idea just now.”

“Bring your bodyguards along,” Twilight said quickly. “I presume that, since they are on the premises tonight, they know your plans. For my part, I will swear on my power that I will not attack you, will not attempt to coerce you or magically influence you or your employees in any way during our meeting.” She leaned forward, carefully looking at his muzzle rather than his eyes, and said, “But it is urgent that we talk candidly. We don’t have any time to spare.”

“And what about Mr. Lead?” Maddog asked.

I personally wanted to keep Leedie next to me. Leaving aside his enhanced strength and other talents from being halfway to becoming a thestral, this was likely my last night ever with him. And he would want to stay by me. But Twilight said quickly, “If he bothers you, he can stay here and mingle. But I am serious about there not being any time!

“Let them both- wait.” Johnny looked at me. “Does Mr. Lead know about…” He tapped his head meaningfully.

“I’ve heard Harriet picks up hitchhikers from time to time,” Leedie drawled.

Johnny nodded. “All right, then both of you,” he said. “The green room should be empty at the moment.”

Twilight found it hard to tear my eyes off the green room’s food table, which was a smaller rendition of the larger snack selection out in the main hall. But aside from swallowing a little extra drool, the little chowhound focused on Johnny, who was looking at her with a confusion he no longer bothered to conceal.

“Okay,” she said. “I’m in a hurry, but I need to get one thing out of the way immediately. And I absolutely need an honest answer on this.” She took a deep breath and said, “I don’t need to know exactly what you want to do with the Sketchbook of Tiveen. I’m curious, but it’s not important right now. But I need to know, in a general sense… do you intend to use the Sketchbook to expand your personal power or your criminal empire? I can work with either yes or no, but-“

“Please.” Johnny held up a hoof. “Let’s cut this short. I am fully aware of the legends behind the Sketchbook. I intend to use it for one thing and one thing only. I intend to risk no pony except myself in the attempt. And I swear that, if the attempt is successful, no harm will come to any pony except possibly myself. This is an entirely personal matter- not business.”

“Okay.” Twilight nodded. “Then let’s begin by this. I- Harriet Daresden-“

“You’re not Daresden,” Johnny said. “I know how Harriet Daresden talks, and you’re not her. There’s three ponies in there. I saw three of you. You all look more or less alike, but there’s three of you. One had her back turned, so I couldn’t see anything beyond what looked like an old naval jacket. And I saw Harriet, looking… well, looking like before.

“And then I saw you. At least, I assume it was the being I’m talking to now. And what I saw of you is why we’re having this conversation- and why I made that promise just now.” Johnny’s eyes tracked towards the ceiling- anywhere but at me. When he spoke again, it was in a soft, almost sing-song tone of voice. “You looked like Harriet as a little filly- soft, innocent, totally guileless,” he said. “But there was this enormous shadow behind you, and it had both wings and a horn. And there were five bright stars in the shadow and a host of smaller ones.”

“Are you okay, Mr. Respectable?” Maddog asked, sounding honestly concerned for his boss’s mental health.

“He’s fine,” Pale Skies said. “He’s seen the soul of Harriet Daresden. Or should I say souls?” She looked at me, but not close enough to trigger a soulgaze of her own. “And that last one sounds like the kind of psychic passenger I would prefer not to challenge.”

Johnny looked at the tall, slender unicorn. “But what do you see with your own talents?” he asked.

“Two deaths,” Pale Skies said simply. “But not three, which confuses me. And there is something else… like a single outstretched wing of fire. I do not understand it.”

Johnny grunted. “Unimportant. In any case, might I be introduced? I presume Daresden told you other two about me.” A small, but genuine, smirk crept onto his lips. “Totally slanderous, I don’t doubt.”

“Actually, I- no, that would be too hard to explain,” Twilight said. “Anyway, Harriet is in here. It was her talking to you until I cast the soulgaze on you. The one with her back turned in your vision was Captain Hornsparker. She hasn’t got much magical talent, so she can’t do the soulgaze.”

“Hornsparker?” Johnny asked. “You mean like in the movie with Stiff Lip?”

“I don’t know, I haven’t seen the movie,” Twilight said. “But both she and Harriet are, well, versions of me. Me if I’d been born into a world of war at sea, or a world of supernatural invaders and secret defenders. My name is Princess Twilight Sparkle, and thanks to a spell I mis-cast, I seem to be dropping into one st- one world after another, in one role after another.”

And dragging innocent ponies along for the ride, Hornsparker thought bitterly. Let’s not forget that.

“I think I see,” Johnny said. “When you say princess, you mean alicorn princess, don’t you? Like Celestia?”

“In my world I was Celestia’s chosen student,” Twilight continued. “I became bearer of the Element of Magic. I’ve fought Nightmare Moon, Queen Chrysalis of the changelings, King Sombra of the Crystal Empire, Tirek the Devourer, and a number of other threats to Equestria.” I felt my face flush as she finished, “The thing is, all that means is, when I mess up, I mess up big.

“Is this why you needed to talk to me?” Johnny asked. “Did you mess up my deal?”

“No,” Twilight said. “The problem is, Harriet sees practically everyone, except for a very short list of ponies, as a potential enemy. You included.”

“Well, of course,” Johnny said. “That’s common sense in Miss Daresden’s line of work. I’ve often thought she was foolish. But stupid? Never.”

“I don’t agree,” Twilight said. “Harriet is afraid of you. She sees you as an obstacle… when she should have seen you as a potential ally.” She stamped one of my forehooves on the floor as she added, “An ally against the other people who are after the Sketchbook.”

“Other people?” Johnny asked. “By which you mean, not your client, or not ponies?”

“Both,” Twilight said firmly. She turned to Pale Skies and said, “What do you know about the Fallen?”

Pale Skies’ eyebrows went up, but that was pretty much the limit of her reaction. “Fallen?” she repeated. “I probably know more about them than you do, little princess. Or Miss Daresden.”

“Good. Then you know about the Order of the True Canon.”

Pale Skies nodded cautiously. “Indeed I do.” She looked at Johnny and said, “I cannot guarantee your safety if they are involved, Mr. Respectable. But I shall make my best effort to protect you.”

“Bad news, are they?” Johnny asked.

“We are talking of beings,” Pale Skies said with no change of tone, “who implemented the wishes of the creator of the world, and then turned against that creation. Normally these beings are prevented by their former colleagues from direct action. These have found a loophole in the rules, allowing them to use perhaps a tithe of their true powers.” A single eyebrow rose as she finished, “Would you consider a tithe of the power that shapes worlds to be ‘bad news’? When it’s aimed at you?”

“Understood.” Johnny looked at me- at Twilight- and said, “What do you propose?”

“Above all else, the Sketchbook can’t be allowed to fall into the hooves of the True Canon,” Twilight said. “They probably know it’s going to be here tonight. That means we need to get it away from here as soon as possible.” She stepped forward again, into the center of the little room, and said, “Here’s my deal. After you’ve done what you need to with the Sketchbook, however it turns out, it goes back to the Church of Faust. But in the meantime, not only do I stop interfering, I will do everything in my power to get it into your hands and keep it there. In exchange I want your full cooperation and assistance. Can you do that?”

Johnny considered this. “There’s one minor problem,” he said at last. “Since we’re laying everything on the table tonight… you were wrong about me ordering Mr. Maddog and his assistants to attack you.”

“That was Harriet saying that,” Twilight said. “But I kinda thought the same thing at the time, so, um… yeah. Sorry.”

Twilight might be sorry. I wasn’t. It was the obvious assumption to make.

“Did none of the three of you consider who Mr. Maddog was actually sent to, shall we say, discourage?” Johnny continued.

“We’ve been kind of busy!” Twilight snapped.

I haven’t, Hornsparker thought at us. And the answer is obvious on reflection.

“My associates in Roam, the ones who I used to contact the Pastel Rats, informed me of the death of one of their number,” Johnny said quietly. “They also informed me that the priest sent by the Church of Faust to investigate the affair had been replaced by an impostor of some sort at about the same time. I secured a description of the impostor and, thinking him a rival for the same goal, ordered my subordinates to be on the lookout for him.” Johnny looked straight into my eyes and said, “Your client is a phony, Miss Daresden.”

“Oh, crap,” Twilight muttered. “Crap, crap, crap, crap.”

Well, I thought, so much for getting paid on this job.

Author's Note:

Too busy. Too tired. Too technical difficulties (the last of which was that my computer would never identify my hotel's wifi, which meant no internet in my hotel room).

But here's the next chapter, finally.

Moving on to the action next chapter... and the next... and the next... straight on down the line. And now it's Harriet's turn to be along for the ride...

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