• Published 1st Mar 2019
  • 1,256 Views, 470 Comments

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 16: Breakfast at Tyranny's

Wake up.

I didn’t particularly want to. I could feel the aches and pain coming from my body, and so far as I was concerned some other mare could deal with them.

Wake up! Fire and damnation, I refuse to let this become habit!

The constant poking and prodding of Hornsparker’s personality brought me to full awareness. My eyes were open, in a manner of speaking, but in my current state that wasn’t the same thing as me seeing anything around me. There was a disconnect between my consciousness and my senses that had become a lot more familiar than I wanted it to be. So who’s driving? I asked.

Sparkle, Hornsparker said. But she’s not responsive. Your body has taken serious damage. I believe she shields us from the worst of the effects.

Possible. Or, alternately, she might have got our bell rung so hard that she couldn’t think straight yet. Either way, I didn’t care to put up with it. I’m taking over, I told Hornsparker. On three… one, two, THREE!

It wasn’t a mental struggle. To put it in a metaphor, instead of pushing against another mare, or even knocking down a tree, it was like pushing a loose stack of building blocks. I slid into the front of the brain so suddenly it surprised me…

… and to extend the metaphor, that’s when I found out the stack of building blocks had been holding up about ten tons of pain and misery. It hit at the same time my senses reconnected to my mind. I squinted my eyes shut, and I would have put my hooves to my head if they hadn’t been tied to the chair I was seated on.

“Ah, Miss Daresden. I was curious how long you were going to remain catatonic.”

I blinked, then squinted at the world around me- my headache making the squint pretty much involuntary. I was seated at what looked like a kitchen table, complete with flower-print tablecloth, while a gray-maned skinny unicorn stallion sat across from me nibbling at eggs and toast. His skinny build, his body language, and his voice identified him as the shadow pony from underneath the Mareiott.

Being tied to a chair at a breakfast table watching my captor eat… well, that more or less made sense, which says a lot about my life in general. But what made the scene surreal was the background.

My host was sitting in front of a solid, shining, flawless wall of ruby.

I looked around- and after the first neck movement I flinched and then looked around a lot more slowly and carefully. I wasn’t in a house or anything of the kind. This was a cave- a cave filled with gigantic gleaming gemstones of all kinds. Torches and lanterns lit the huge chamber bright as day, with occasional reflections sending little glittery needles of light directly into my eyeballs.

“Yes, it does impress at first glance, doesn’t it?” my host chuckled. “Holy Faust had a hoof in its creation, of course. These are the crystal mines under Mt. Canter. As it turns out, there are tunnels leading to dozens of places within Canterlot- including, as you probably guessed, the sub-basements of that hotel.”

Well, now I knew where Twilight had found that giant ruby. But I still didn’t know what an ordinary kitchen table, with a flower-print tablecloth and everything, was doing here. I wasn’t ready to ask, what was I doing here- I was working my way up to that. Anyway I had a pretty good guess.

“Oh, I am quite sorry,” the skinny unicorn added. “I’m afraid I can’t offer the proper hospitality to you. But, given your notorious contrary nature, even with your magic blocked and your hooves tied, I don’t think it quite safe to ask one of our followers to hoof-feed you breakfast.” A slice of toast floated up in his magic, and he spread some jam on it with a knife. “I hope you’ll pardon me if I eat without you?”

I grunted- he hadn’t bothered to gag me, but with the headache, backache, legaches, and so many other aches that the big aches had their own little aches, I didn’t quite feel up to my normal scintillating wit just yet. Instead I took stock of my situation. Suppressor ring on my horn totally sealing off my magic: check. Metal chair under my rump, hooves tied to armrests and chair legs: check and check. Amount of play in my bindings: zilch. Amount of looseness I could create in the ropes around my barrel if I sucked my gut in: just enough to make it all the more uncomfortable when I relaxed again.

Oh- uncomfortable rental dress totally ruined by magical combat, falling ceilings, etc: check, probably returned marked insufficient funds. That made it complete.

The skinny unicorn munched his toast and jam as he watched me, showing every sign of enjoying the show. “Oh, do come now, Miss Daresden, you can put more effort into it than that,” he said after swallowing a bit. “If you’re going to give me entertainment with my breakfast, at least make it good.”

I considered for a moment whether the old coot was trying reverse psychology on me, playing on my contrary nature to get me to stop escaping. Should I then be double-backwards contrary and try harder to get loose?

Be still, Hornsparker grumbled. It doesn’t matter what he wants. I’ve seen half a dozen other ponies go in and out in the past minute, and the one across from us has an actual demon in him. We sit and wait our chance to escape. Which is not now.

Well, that mental nudge helped. Now I wanted to be contrary in both directions at once. With the two urges balanced out, my little-used common sense got the tie-breaking vote. I relaxed in my chair, paused a moment, and then managed to say, “So, why am I not dead, exactly?”

My captor held up a hoof in a wait-till-I-swallow signal, rushed through his latest nibble of toast, and gulped it down. “Ah,” he said once his mouth was clear, “the famous Daresden wit surfaces at last.” He gestured at the table and said, “You are alive because my daughter and I haven’t had our breakfast yet.”

“Good morning, Papa.”

I knew that voice. It belonged to a lime-green pegasus pony. But instead of long strands of sheet metal for a mane, she had a normal looking mane of a somewhat lighter tint of green. And instead of large, armor-like scales, she had an ordinary coat of pony fur. The mutilated cutie mark was still the same, though.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” the older pony said indulgently. “The servants will bring your breakfast in a moment.”

“Oh?” The mare- barely more than a filly, to be honest- pointed a hoof at me. “I thought she was my breakfast.” She faced me and, in the same horrifying tones she’d used on that airship, she added, “I’ve been looking forward to carving her up.”

“Not just yet, dear. We discussed this.” The gray unicorn gestured his daughter into a chair, while a much younger unicorn with a clean, unmutilated plush-cushion cutie mark brought in more toast, jam, and a small bowl of hard-boiled eggs.

“She won’t do it, Papa,” the mare- Helpmeet, that was the name she’d used on the airship- said. “I should just kill her now and save time.” But she dropped into a chair and held out a plate in her forehooves as dear, loving Papa buttered up some toast and then added jam before levitating it over to her.

“Time enough for that later, if necessary.” With the cheerfully homicidal daughter occupied with stuffing toast into her mouth, he continued, “Last night’s events did not precisely lend themselves to introductions. My name is Long Game.”

“Which of you?” I asked.

The unicorn’s smile grew a hair wider. “A fair question,” he admitted. “I was born Long Game, in the kingdom of Unicornia, about fifteen years before the coming of the windigoes.” A shadow loomed up behind him, in spite of all the sparkling light reflecting off of the cave walls. “My partner is known in the pony tongue as Nightshadow. We are the head of the Order of the True Canon, as you likely already knew.”

I hadn’t, mostly because I hadn’t cared. It made sense, though. “I’d say pleased to meet you,” I replied. “Only I’d be lying.”

“I know.” The unicorn gestured to my less than comfortable seat. “Considering your reputation and record for letting nothing stand in the way of your goals, I felt your current condition to be only the most minimal requisite precautions for having a chat with you.”

“All right,” I said. “So let’s chat. I hear they’re predicting the Suns are going to have a good run at the pennant this year. Me, I’m more of an Ursas fan, but-”

“I think we can dispense with the humor. Entertaining as it is.” The smile on Long Game’s face had faded a little, and for the first time he sounded a bit impatient. “As you no doubt know very well, Miss Daresden, I have no reason to leave you alive and a number of most compelling reasons to ensure your quick and thorough demise. My daughter’s personal pique with you is only the least of those.”

“I don’t disagree,” I said. “So I repeat my question from earlier: why am I not dead, exactly?”

Long Game didn’t answer at once. He’d levitated another knife- not the ones he used for the jam or the butter- to take the tip off a hard-boiled egg. Having done that, he used it to peel off the shell, then levitated up a tiny silver spoon and began taking scoopfuls of egg into his mouth. After a couple of bites, he finally deigned to speak. “You are not dead, Miss Daresden,” he said, “because where other ponies might see a ruthless enemy, I see an opportunity. And thus, I am prepared to offer you an alternative.”

A few more tiny scoops of hard-boiled egg went down, and I waited in silence. It didn’t take too long for him to realize I wasn’t going to prompt him. “One of two things is going to happen,” he said at length. His horn flared, and a crumpled-looking piece of paper floated up from a nearby end-table... a paper with one of those indecipherable sigils on it. “There is, as it happens, a vacancy in the Order. I wish to offer it to you, with all the power and benefits you could imagine.”

“I’ll bet,” I said. “And, hypothetically, what happens if I refuse?”

“Then this breakfast gets cut short,” Long Game said. “And Helpmeet does get so cranky when she hasn’t had her fill of strawberry jam of a morning.”

“I thought that’s how it was,” I said.

It took me all of about two seconds to discard the notion of defiance- well, not so much discard as postpone. Defiance is pretty much who I’ve always been. I felt like Tartarus. I had no magic. I was tied up tighter than a wino on the night before the Summer Sun Celebration. Long Game could kill me in half a second anytime he wanted to.

So, given the circumstances, I decided to dip into my (I admit) limited supply of discretion and to play along, stalling for time. (Time for what, I had no idea.) “So what are the advantages of selling my soul to a group of evil fallen angels bent on destroying the world?”

Long Game shook his head sadly. “Miss Daresden, such calumnies,” he said. “You’ll put me off my feed with talk like that.” He began to butter another slice of toast as he continued, “The Order is not evil. Far from it. We represent the ultimate good. We work to set right a universe that was once put wrong. Surely this is the most noble cause imaginable.”

“And the bystanders who have to die for the cause just lack imagination, don’t they?” I asked.

“Oh, don’t be like that,” Long Game said. “Those who Almighty Faust intended should exist will be restored. And who cares about those who were created by other hands?”

“Hooves,” I corrected.

“Hands,” Long Game insisted, and then moved on. “The goal of the Order, you see, is to disrupt this world so intensely that those with the power to intervene will be forced to. Then the world shall be mended, with Faust’s holy vision restored, and all those warped by the lesser creators made whole as if the taint had never existed.” Long Game smiled a gentle smile and added, “And you should desire this more than most, Twilight Twinkle.”

“Twilight Twinkle?”

Twilight Twinkle?? For the first time since I’d come to, Twilight Sparkle’s mental voice came to life.

“Did you never wonder why you constantly find yourself at war against the evils of this twisted world?” Long Game asked. “You were meant to be a major player in Faust’s vision, Miss Daresden. Born to greatness, as it were. Surrounded by a group of loyal friends- Firefly, Surprise, Minty, Apple Blossom- well, I don’t suppose the names would be familiar to you, would they?” The buttered toast waggled in midair as Long Game used it to gesture at me. “But you were born to be a defender of the innocent, Miss Daresden. Until a lesser mind- not even a true Creator!- tampered with this world and turned you into a mere... gumshoe. Almost no friends- just a group of enemies you can occasionally work with. Like Johnny Respectable, for instance.”

Who the hay is Twilight Twinkle??

“Eh, it’s a living,” I said, trying to blow off the hit my worldview had just taken. Twilight Sparkle being in my mind had shaken that almost to pieces, and now the idea that I might have been meant to be-

It’s the author being meta. Or the spell. It’s not real. Don’t listen to him.

“We’ve been observing you from afar for a few years now,” Long Game said. “We were going to approach you eventually, once we estimated you’d had a chance to grow into your proper power. You’re still only using a fraction of it, you know.” He paused for a bite of toast, then continued, “But when our paths crossed regarding the Sketchbook, well, we moved up our timetable. It was, as it were, too good a chance to pass up.”

“I’m flattered,” I said. “But what do I get out of it?”

“Control,” Long Game said, and his smile took on an edge that made me much colder than being in a cave could explain. “You would have the power of the Creators at your hooves. You would no longer be restricted by false oaths and illegitimate rules to merely responding to threats. You could erase them entirely. All the evildoers you’ve spent your career trying and mostly failing to stop? You could just wipe them out. Gone. No more evil. Think of it.”

Another pause for toast, and then he repeated, “Think of it. You would be working not just to restore your rightful identity- your rightful history- but to relieve the world of the fear and pain that Faust never intended to exist. And unlike the common mass of ponykind, you would be present and aware for Faust’s return, when She comes to repair Her creation. You would live for centures, millenia- as long as it takes to see that glorious day.”

“Yeah,” I grunted. “A prisoner in my own body, while a Fallen drives me around like an apple cart.”

“You’ve been listening to the Quills, haven’t you?” Long Game asked. “It is true that the Fallen take advantage of the weaker minds... the ones who think they can cheat Faust’s own.” As he continued to talk, the shadows behind him began moving on their own again. “But for the stronger minds, it is not a battle of wills. It is not a temptation. It is... a partnership.” Something took a bite out of the half-eaten slice of toast in the air. “A purely symbiotic relationship. I gain life, power, and authority; my dear Nightshadow gains direct access to this world, experiences he would otherwise be denied, and the ability to intervene properly without interference from- well, you’ll find out about them soon enough.”

“I’d prefer to find out about them now,” I said. “You know, before they begin hunting for my head or something.”

“Oh, you don’t need to worry about that,” Long Game said blithely. “They’re sworn to non-intervention. So long as there’s a mortal participating in the decision-making process- with a few exceptions- they can’t touch us.”

“Except through the Knights of the Quill,” I pointed out.

“Yessss,” Long Game said, and his smile vanished. “But even then their aid is most indirect. Though still quite annoying. They do find the most inopportune moments to pop up from nowhere.”

“I noticed.”

“Yes, I know you did.” Long Game sighed and bit off half of what remained of his toast. “I’m afraid that if you accept our offer, your friendship with this Mighty Gale will come to a most unfortunate end.”

Yeah, I thought, and same thing if I reject your offer, too. “I kinda guessed that,” I said. “And anybody else who stands against the True Canon?”

“Oh, we’re not bloodthirsty, Miss Daresden-”

“Hmm, blood!” Helpmeet took a messy bite out of her jam-covered toast, then said while chewing, “This would taste so much better with some nice fresh blood, don’t you think, Papa?”

“Papa’s talking, sweetheart,” Long Game said gently. “Please try not to undermine what Papa says the instant he says it, hm?”

“Cute act,” I said. “Okay, so one way or another, anyone opposes you, they go down, even if they were friends. What about the bystanders? The Fallen who chased me a couple nights ago didn’t seem bothered about them. Nor you guys in the tunnels under the Mareiott.”

Long Game shrugged. “The ones who Faust intended will be reborn,” he said. “They will have no memory of this distorted mirror of the proper world. As for the others?” He shrugged again. “They will cease to ever have existed. Painlessly. Totally unaware of ever having existed, never mind the cessation of existence. In either case, what happens to them here and now is of no consequence, not in the long run.”

I began to get my philosophical hooves back under me. The nature of the universe aside, I’d seen megalomaniacs like Long Game several times before. They were the kind of pony who coined the old lie, “the ends justify the means.” They always had some way of claiming they were good ponies, but they also treated anypony who wasn’t them as disposable. As things, not people. And that meant, no matter how much slick patter they could rattle off on command, they were just wrong.

Given the choice between this guy and Johnny Respectable, who recognized people as people (and then had them killed anyway if they were in his way, because that was his business), I’d pick three of Johnny over one of Long Game.

In other words, Twilight muttered, another Xipe Totec.

Indeed, Hornsparker agreed.

But maybe now wasn’t the time to let him know I’d made up my mind- heck, that I’d never even briefly considered the offer. Instead, searching for any topic to continue the conversation, I asked, “So what devil have you put aside for me?”

“Please don’t insult Smarty Pants,” said Long Game, lifting the crumpled note paper again. “She’s so looking forward to joining you. You’ll find her an eager and enthusiastic helper and a very quick study. She’s always looking for ways she can help.”

Smarty Pants??

“Just like me, huh, Papa?” Helpmeet asked, her muzzle still half-covered with red.

I can kinda see it now! There’s the mismatched button eyes, and that might be the suspenders- but how? How did the author know? Is somepony spying on my life back home?

“Not... exactly like you, dear,” Long Game said. “As helpful as you are, you’re not particularly... how to put this... subtle. Smarty Pants is one of the most subtle of the Order.” He sighed, and the shadows behind him seemed to slump and sigh in time with him. “Sadly, also one of the most opinionated. She does have difficulty working with others.” The smile returned to his face as he added, “Which makes her perfect for you, Miss Daresden. You two have so much in common.”

I thought for a second what I could say next, what I could ask. Nothing came to mind. I’d put off the inevitable as long as I could. “That’s too bad,” I said. “But there’s room for only one opinionated mare in this head.” Leaving aside my hitchhikers.

If I could leave I would, you know this.

“I take it that you are declining my offer?” Long Game asked. “You’re passing on the chance to witness the glory of Faust’s return.”

“Yeah, that’s a shame,” I said. “It sounds like a neat trip. But the price of the ticket is too high. Whatever got there wouldn’t be me anymore. It’d be a monster. I know what that kind of monster looks like, and I’d rather kill myself than end up that way.”

“I can help you with that!” Helpmeet offered cheerfully. “I’m SO looking forward to it!”

Long Game didn’t smile. “Is your decision final, Miss Daresden?”

I nodded, careful not to give my headache-ridden skull too much of a jostle. “I guess you could say it’s my last wishes, all things considered. Gotta honor the last wishes of a condemned pony, don’t you?”

“Quite.” The last bit of Long Game’s toast dropped onto the plate. “I suppose breakfast is-”

The sound of pattering hooves echoed through the cave. A pair of spear-toting unicorns rounded a corner and galloped up to the breakfast table. “My lord!” one said. “There is an intruder in the lair! He demands a parley! And he demands that Miss Daresden be present!”

“Deal with them,” Long Game snapped. “You have your orders.”

“My lord,” the other unicorn said, “the intruder has incapacitated a dozen of our number already. Any who get within reach of his sword get-”

“Sword?” Long Game’s eyebrows jumped up. “Describe to me this intruder.”

“An old kirin, my lord,” the first unicorn said. “You’d think he could barely walk, let alone wield a sword, but-”

“That’s good enough,” Long Game said. “Tell your guards to keep well clear of him. And begin arrangements to move base. It seems this one is no longer secure.”

As the guards trotted off to obey, my captor slid off his chair and walked around to me. “As I said,” Long Game muttered, “the most inopportune moments.”

I’m not complaining!

Indeed not.

I agreed with Twilight and Hornsparker, but I knew better than to do it out loud.

Author's Note:

Took me long enough. I finished a chapter of CSP, wrote twenty-seven pages of comic script, and did a bunch of other things, but I haven't abandoned this story.

But updates will be sporadic, since I still have to finish that game module draft...

EDIT: I should explain for those who don't know that, in the original Dresdenverse, the Denarii- the group that the True Canon is replacing here- are out to bring about Armageddeon. They just want to see the world burn. That motivation didn't quite work for me when I ponified the setting. The True Canon isn't about destroying the world so much as forcing a reset, or failing that forcibly realigning the world with their vision of what it ought to be.

Different motivations, but they get to the same place, really.

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