• 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 17: Dodging Deaths

Somehow, it turned out, nothing on my body had actually been broken by having a basement fall in on me the previous night. It only felt like it had, which meant walking with two guards up to where Winter Wisdom awaited us was only excruciatingly painful, not actually impossible. The hobbles didn’t help, forcing me to hop for every step, jarring my body again, again, and again.

The elderly kirin leaned heavily on his sword as he waited, forehooves propped against the guard, tip resting on the stone floor of the cave. He actually looked even older than he had two days before. His gray mane lay limp around his head. His eyes barely stayed open as they remained locked on Long Game.

But his voice, soft as it was, didn’t crack or waver when he spoke. “It has been a long time, Long Game.”

“Indeed it has.” Long Game, for all his own gray mane, looked a good twenty years younger than Winter Wisdom. “You’ve grown old.”

“You haven’t,” Wisdom replied. “And how does that fit with Faust’s plan for Her ponies?”

“I lived to see everything I knew pass away half a dozen times,” Long Game said. “My friends are dead, and all my family but one. These are the sacrifices I have made to restore Her vision.”

“Ah. Rationalization.” Wisdom’s tone implied he was shaking his head, but it didn’t budge. His eyes didn’t leave the Fallen’s for a moment. “Of course I did not come here to bandy philosophy with you. Though if you repent of your folly-”

“I think not, old knight.”

“As do I.” Wisdom sighed. “You remember our previous two meetings, do you not?”

“Thirty years are as a day with me,” Long Game said. “Unfortunately for you this is not the case. A third trial of strength will end differently, I assure you.”

“If you were certain of that,” Wisdom said dryly, “we would not be talking now, I think. But since we are, I have a proposal.”

“I am listening.”

Wisdom made the smallest flick of a forehoof in my direction, barely shifting his position propped on his sword. “I see you have not yet killed Miss Daresden. Yet I presume that is your intention.”

“You interrupted us,” Long Game said. “Did you come to join her? I assure you rescuing her will not happen, not unless you can somehow turn back age.”

“I come to replace her.”

Long Game lost his composure at that line- his eyes widened for the first time in the whole conversation. “You come to die? There are so many simpler and less painful means of committing suicide, old one.”

“I have my reasons,” Wisdom said. “Here is my offer. Harriet Daresden walks out that cave entrance.” Wisdom shifted his stance, going from leaning on his sword to gesturing with it so swiftly that I barely caught the movement. When he stopped, the blade pointed behind him to a tiny point of light far back among the shining shafts of gemstone. “She walks out unbound and fully able to defend herself. In exchange I hand myself into your hooves, willingly. And I shall make no resistance nor attempt to escape, regardless of provocation, for twenty-four hours.”

“Excuse me,” I said, speaking up for the first time. “But... well, I appreciate this and all... but are you nuts?” I waved a hoof at Long Game, ignoring how my guards tensed up at the sudden movement. “What makes you think he’s going to go for this wacked-out deal when he can probably just kill us both?”

Winter Wisdom smiled at me. “Miss Daresden, as a Knight of the Quill I have spent a lifetime interfering in this pony’s schemes. I have personally fought him twice and forced him to flee both times.”

“Thirty years ago,” Long Game muttered. His eyes had gone narrow again, but the corners of his mouth had turned upwards.

“As he says. We have, as you ponies say, a history together. You are merely an obstacle to his current plan. With me... it is personal.” Wisdom turned his gaze from me back to Long Game- a very small head movement, since I was standing almost directly behind the Fallen. “Is it not so?”

“Indeed it is,” Long Game agreed.

“And I believe,” Winter Wisdom continued, “that your current plan will work better with a willing victim than an unwilling one. Will it not?”

The smile on Long Game’s face vanished, and his eyes narrowed even more.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “What’s this plan?”

I know what the plan is, Twilight thought at me. No time to explain now.

Wisdom shook his head. “You will work it out in time, I am sure,” he said. “But if I tell you, I doubt Long Game would let you depart, no matter how tempting it is to have me at his mercy.”

Long Game scuffed a forehoof against the cave floor. From the look on his face, he’d had to struggle to keep it from becoming a full stomp. “Your terms are acceptable,” he said shortly. “But be warned that the instant Daresden is through that hole, she becomes open game again. And pursuit will begin immediately.”

“I expected no less.” Wisdom turned his eyes back to me. “Harriet, you are witness to the agreement. I ask you not to violate it. If you resist, my life is forfeit. Do not attempt to rescue me.”

“Listen to the old knight,” Long Game said quietly. “And try to enjoy your freedom, fleeting as it shall be.”

I felt the hobbles leave my hooves. A moment later magic flowed back into me as the restrictor ring slid off my horn. Okay, I thought, what’s the plan for busting heads?

I don’t think we do, Twilight thought back. Two Fallen here, a third one who knows where, and a lot of goons on top of that. I keep trying to think of a plan, but they all end with both Mr. Wisdom and us dead.

We run, Hornsparker said. Our ally is buying us time to go get help. We escape, find the other two Knights, and hunt down this demon and rescue Sir Winter.

Two against one, huh? I thought. I don’t like those numbers. I want a recount.

I’m all for a breakout, Twilight thought. But I’m not up for a teleport yet, and nothing else will get both of us out alive. Do you have a better idea?

No. I didn’t.

I shook my legs to work the kinks out, then walked over to Winter Wisdom. The kirin lifted his sword in his magic, sheathing it, then lifting the sheath off his back. “Take this with you,” he said. “You will have need of it.”

I couldn’t stop my jaw from dropping. “Um... Winter,” I said, “I’m not worthy of this. You know that.”

“Keep it,” Winter replied. “Until you find a pony who is worthy.”

The sword dropped out of Winter’s magic, and I barely grabbed it in mine before it hit the ground.

Then the old kirin walked past me, and I heard Long Game say, “Miss Daresden, I recommend you not linger. I have to go take my new prisoner downstairs... but my daughter will still be here, without my restraining influence.”

“Oooooh!” Helpmeet cooed. “I get to play tag? Should I count to a hundred?” Her mane began waving in the air, stretching and spreading as scales rose from her fur. “Five, ten, fifteen, twenty...”

Run, you fool! Hornsparker shouted in my head, and my hooves began moving without my thinking about it. I heard a grunt from Hornsparker’s thoughts, but no complaints as the pain slipped away from me, along with control of my body.

I didn’t want to say this back there, Twilight thought, but I’m afraid Mr. Wisdom was the story getting us out of another inescapable trap. Just like me melting the horn ring back on the airship. We were set up by the author. Or the spell. Whatever. We were railroaded into this.

I growled, even if I couldn’t be heard outside my own head. We had a choice, I thought. We could have done something. If only I could have thought of-

“ONE HUNDRED!” a shrill voice screeched behind me. “OLLY OLLY OXEN FREE!” The sound of clanging metal echoed behind me.

Belay the philosophy and let me run! Hornsparker’s thought gasped as we plunged through the cave entrance and out onto a ledge overshadowed by the bulk of Canterlot’s foundations hanging above us.

And there- thank Celestia!- there was a cab in front of me, with Hot Lead poking his head out the window and that beige pony in the robes- Vespers, that was her name- in the harness.

“Harriet, hurry up and get in!” Leedie shouted, throwing open the cab door.

I bounded in, and as soon as my weight hit the carriage it was rolling, and at a surprising clip.

I heard the clatter and rumble of rocks falling behind us, and I put my head up and looked out the window just in time to see about a dozen strands of gleaming steel splayed out from as many holes in the mountainside. A shriek followed the blades, a scream of frustration that echoed from the slopes of Mount Canter back to us on the ledge path.

The shriek followed us, but nothing else did. Vespers was one fast pony, and her hooves beat on the stone path like a drummer pounding the skins at one of the new dance clubs in Manehattan. The ledge climbed up towards the lip of Canterlot’s walls all the way, and we were actually gaining speed going uphill- too fast for anyone except a flier to follow.

That’s what I was thinking when the first spellblast struck the road next to the cab. Yeah, I should have known better. If things were going smoothly, it wouldn’t be Harriet Daresden’s life, now would it?

Quit narrating and keep our head down! Twilight shouted in my mind.

Shut up. I can’t protect us if I can’t see-

My horn lit up, and a half-sphere of magic shield appeared above and behind the cab. Done, Twilight’s mental voice snapped. Now stay down!

“Here comes another one!” Hot Lead shouted, and the cab rocked and bounced as Vespers swerved to the right just in time to dodge a slow-moving fireball. The spell left a half-melted crater behind.

The cart swerved left, hard left, and the view of the mountain went away, replaced by one of the city gates. I just barely had time to notice the total absence of the guards who ought to have been there welcoming visitors to Canterlot- those gates hadn’t been shut since before Ebon Geezer was born- and then they were past, and we were back in the winding streets of the city.

“Another one! Faster!”

Vespers found a little bit more speed on the flat, but it wasn’t enough. I felt the shock of the spell hitting and shattering the shield Twilight had thrown up with my magic. “I really want to fire back,” I muttered. “Can’t you see where it’s coming from?”

“Behind and above us!” Leedie shouted. “Whoever’s doing it is moving between- wait! There’s a glow building up- ooooh boy...”

I could feel it too. Something was sucking up the ambient magic of Canterlot into a single point, preparing one whammy of a spell. Whoever was doing it would only get one shot, because Celestia and Luna would feel that and come looking for whoever was trying to blow up their city... but by that time, we’d be blown out of the water.

“We gotta bail!” I shouted. “We’re helpless in this cab!”

“Do you think any of these buildings is any better?”

I looked up. We were in the warehouse districts near the rail depot, a lot of big buildings with thin walls. “Horseapples,” I muttered aloud, and then added, Twilight, can you teleport the three of us into my apartment from here?

From the freightyards? I can get us and maybe Mr. Lead. Vespers, though...

Vespers can look out for herself. “Leedie, tell Vespers to ditch the cab as soon as she can,” I shouted. “We’ll meet tonight at Mighty Fortress’s church!”

“What? But-”

I felt something very powerful tap on my magical senses. Tracking spell. “No arguments, out of time!” I shouted. Twilight, hit it!

My magic yanked hard on my horn, light flashed, and Leedie and I slid across the stone floor of my basement apartment, slamming into a bookshelf next to my grandfather clock. I barely noticed the books falling off and hitting my horn; once something gets to a certain level of sore, nothing else really registers.

Besides, I had other things to worry about- like the tracking spell which was still linked to me, pointing directly at me, guiding...

The row of candles by the door, already glowing redder than a Tartarus flame, exploded.

I pushed Twilight away from control of my magic and focused on a set of runes I’d carved into the floor years ago. They were an emergency measure- a last stopgap if all else failed- and now was definitely the time to put them to work.

About half a second after I triggered the runes, the building shook as a spell powerful enough to blow the peak off Mt. Canter hit the magic they spawned and dissipated into nothing.

Can I have a closer look? Twilight asked, and then: Oh. Battery charm, universal ward... you really brute-forced this one, didn’t you?

Yeah. That’s why we’re alive.

And shut in until the battery charm runs out.

True enough. The runes I’d cast were a kind of fortress spell. The idea was, I’d trip them, use Bobbin or some spell to call for backup, and wait to get rescued. Triggering the spell was pretty much an admission that I’d been stupid and got myself in over my head. But Ebon Geezer had beaten fool’s pride out of me years ago. As he once told me, the cemeteries are full of proud ponies.

Hot Lead pulled himself to his feet. Sweat ran down from his mane; he must’ve been pretty scared there at the end. Which made two of us. “Are we safe?” he asked.

I took a moment to consider this. I couldn’t feel the tracking spell anymore. My candle warning system lay splattered all over the entryway. But the lights were still on, and I didn’t hear anything like support beams creaking, masonry crumbling, or another explosion of magic force. And, most important, the emergency ward was still up. “Looks like it,” I said. “A magic attack like that probably attracted attention. Whoever that was won’t want to risk a second shot. If they have one.”

“Oh, good,” Leedie said, his eyes repeatedly glancing back at the door. “Well, you’re home okay, so I’ll just be trotting along now.”

“No, you won’t,” I said. “The spell I just cast locks us in for about eight hours. Nothing gets in. Nothing gets out.”

“What?” Leedie began dancing on his hooves like he had to visit the little foal’s room. “Harriet, that’s a joke, right? Tell me it’s a joke, Harriet. Because it really, really needs to be a joke.”

“No joke,” I said. “That spell was my last ditch defense. I put a lot of work into making sure nothing could get through, no matter how much trouble I got into.”

Leedie shook his head. “You don’t understand,” he said. “I need to get out. Right now. I can’t stay this close to you, Harriet. Not like this.”

Sweat was pouring off Hot Lead’s face as I stared at him. His hooves settled down, but he continued swaying back and forth as if he were about to pass out. Finally he bounded over to the door, as far away from me as he could get, keeping his face turned away from me. “Leedie, what’s wrong?” I asked. “What’s got into you?”

“Harriet,” Leedie said, voice taking on a peculiar strained tone to it, “you know exactly what’s in me. But you don’t understand how hard it is to keep it from taking over.”

Oh. Oh, yeah, that’s bad.

What is? I don’t follow.

Hot Lead is half thestral. And if he drinks the blood of another, he finishes the transformation. That’s how it was in the earlier books.

Ah. And Miss Daresden brought this person into her most secure redoubt and locked us all in. Brilliant.

Shut up! I wasn’t going to leave him out there in danger! And I sure didn’t hear either of you offering better ideas!

While I was dealing with my mental kibbitzers, I heard the slow clop of Leedie walking back towards me. Black patches had appeared in his fur, slowly spreading. His pupils took on a slitted shape, like a cat or a snake. “I can smell your blood, Harriet,” he said quietly. “Every scrape, even the bruises. It calls out to me.”

This... this was very, very bad. Here was the pony I loved, about to throw himself on me, and not in a good way.

“I’ve wanted you so much,” Hot Lead continued. “We’ve been apart so very long, and I think about you every day... the touch of your hoof... the feeling of your lips...”

Well, mostly not in a good way.

Can we please not do this now? Twilight shouted in my head.

And what do you want me to do? I asked.

Not allowing us to be killed by a newborn demon would be top choice!

And can we stop the romantic nonsense until we save the world and win that duel with Little Nettle?

Look, I thought fiercely as I began backing away from Leedie, I am not raising a hoof against the pony I love! And even if I wanted to, I don’t think I have anything that will hold him!

Fine. Move over!

And just like that Leedie was in my face, but it wasn’t my face anymore. “Stop me,” he whispered as the dark fur crawled up onto his face.

“Okay,” Twilight said with my voice.

My horn flashed to life, and a moment later ice cold water poured down onto Hot Lead, who shrieked and tried to back away. My horn flared again, and actual ice sleeted down onto him, while a purple lasso of magic held him in place under the spray.

“STOP! COLD! COLDCOLDCOLD!!” Leedie shrieked.

“Good!” Twilight increased the power to the ice-shower spell. The mixed ice and water seemed almost literally to wash away the black patches of fur, leaving Leedie’s normal earth-toned coat. When the last of it was gone, Twilight switched off the spell, grabbed a towel and telekinetically threw it in Leedie’s face. “Think you can control yourself now? Because there’s more where that came from!”

“No, no,” Leedie said quietly, his teeth chattering as he used his own magic to wipe the water off his face. (Twilight had already magicked away the slush from my floor.) “I’m on top of it for now.” Looking over the towel, he added, “But it could happen again any-”

“No. It couldn’t.” Twilight stamped a forehoof in frustration. “Because A, the next time you even look like that’s happening again I dump a ton of Yakyakistan snow on top of you, and B, no matter what Harriet said, we’re leaving.”

Leedie’s expression went from sad to betrayed to confused in about two seconds. “Harriet- er, Twilight?”

“That’s right,” Twilight said. “I’m running this body, and I’m going to keep it that way, now that I’ve got everything pretty much figured out.”



“You do?” Leedie asked.

“Except for one detail, yes,” Twilight continued. “For example, it’s pretty obvious that you didn’t just happen to come say your goodbyes at the same time Little Nettle showed up to challenge me to a duel. A lord of the Nightmare Court, the same monsters who tried to make you one of them? The ones you went off to investigate? You’re here to do something about them- about Little Nettle in particular. And Vespers, I’m guessing, is someone like you- someone halfway turned.”

Leedie managed a lopsided smile. “I didn’t want Harriet to know,” he said quietly. “She has that weird sense of honor sometimes.”

“So do I,” Twilight said. “But only with ponies who aren’t literally bloodthirsty monsters. And I don’t believe for one moment that Little Nettle is interested in a fair fight.”

“Of course not,” Leedie said.

“Good,” Twilight nodded. “Now, I don’t think I’ll need to worry about beating him, but when he reveals his trick, I want you and Vespers ready to counter it.”

I didn’t say, or think, anything.

Well? Twilight thought pointedly at me.

All right, I replied, I’m not happy about it, but Leedie can handle himself in a fight, and he knows exactly what we’ll be up against. I’m not going to stop him. Or you.

Good. Twilight turned her attention back to my wards. “By the way, I’ve been looking over Harriet’s spell, and while it’s very good at bouncing outside magic away, it’s less good at keeping magic inside. I’m pretty sure I can just teleport us out.”

Hot Lead’s eyebrows rose. “Really? Not like Harriet to miss a trick like that.”

“Harriet doesn’t know the teleportation spell,” Twilight replied. “Now stand next to me and pretend you’re a snowman.”

Author's Note:

Moving forward- not on a daily pace, but updates will be more frequent, since I have December more or less off.

But I'll be starting another project shortly to see where it goes- Patreon supporters will get a first look at it Friday night.

Anyway, Dresden fans might groan at a certain scene getting skipped over here... but Hot Lead is Harriet's lover, NOT Twilight's, and she's not interested. So certain... complications... well, we'll see.

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