• 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 18: Applied Herpetology for Dummies

Explanations waited until after Mighty Fortress had done what he could to put my body in order, with bandages in places I preferred not to think about, and until the other ponies gathered in the church were present to listen.

Finally, with everyone gathered- Mighty Fortress, Hot Lead, Mighty Gale and Shadow Lurk just returned from their wild-goose chase to Ponyville, Johnny Respectable and his bodyguards, and Anastasia the Abyssinian thief, plus the addition of Canterlot Guard Lieutenant Lucky Star, summoned there at Twilight’s request.

“I figured it out when Johnny told me that my client was an imposter,” Twilight spoke for me. “And the leader of the True Canon virtually confirmed it for me this morning, not that he knew it. As soon as the Pastel Rats got the Sketchbook away from Roam and outside the protections that kept the Fallen from touching it, they tried to get it. They killed Gustav to find out where it was headed, but that’s all they got.”

“He wouldn’t ever sell us out,” Anastasia sighed. “We were a team. That was what made us the best.”

“And for various reasons, they planted evidence pointing here and then used that evidence to put me on the case,” Twilight continued. “So when you told me that my client was an imposter, it meant two things. First, that Father Victorious was in reality one of the True Canon-“

“Victorious?” Mighty Fortress gasped. “But that can’t be! Victorious and I came up in the priesthood together! We were even part of a secret society!”

“-and second, that the Canon had killed the real Victorious to take his place,” Twilight finished. “Which brings me to the one loose end in the mystery.” She turned my head to face Lucky. “Do you remember the autopsy Bitter Butter performed? On the pony with no head or hooves?”

“And all the diseases,” Lucky said, shuddering.

“I’ll come to that. But more importantly, no identifying marks. They didn’t care about the body, but the head and hooves had to be destroyed, so they disposed of those and dumped the body. But they missed the tattoo.”

“Tattoo?” At the word Father Fortress leaned forward, his mouth curved down as if he were preaching a funeral- which I guess was right on the money.

Please put a brake on the narration for a few minutes, would you?

Sorry.

Twilight lit up my much-abused horn and created a shape of light in the air- a perfect replica of the tattoo on the corpse’s left shoulder. “Do you recognize this, Father Fortress?”

Fortress hung his head. Slowly, he settled back on his haunches and used his right forehoof to slide the sleeve of his priest’s cassock up to the shoulder. The same Haygyptian eye could just barely be picked out under the fur.

“We all got it together one night in Roam,” Fortress murmured. “We were young. We were holy warriors, or so we thought. And every young priest joins a secret society at some point. And then we go out into the real world, and we put aside childish notions.” He took a deep breath, finishing in a husky voice, “But we never forget those days when we were immortal. Poor Victorious.”

“And that would explain why the imposter sought you out, Harriet,” Mighty Gale said. “They knew Victorious and Mighty Fortress knew each other, and they couldn’t risk their ringer being spotted.”

“That’s one reason,” Twilight said. I don’t think telling them about the recruitment pitch is a good idea, she added for my benefit.

No, not really, I agreed.

“So the imposter hired me,” Twilight continued. “He told me that you recommended me, Father Fortress. But considering how confused you were about my being mixed up with the True Canon, I’m guessing that was a lie.”

Fortress, still looking at the ground, nodded slowly. “I haven’t seen Victorious for decades,” he said. “We last exchanged letters about a month ago.”

“I’m very sorry, Father,” Twilight said quietly. After a moment’s silence, she resumed. “Anyway, he gave me the info I needed to track down the Sketchbook. And then I’m guessing they had another pony tailing me- probably Helpmeet. She followed me to the Pastel Rats’ hideout and waited until the Sketchbook of Tiveen was out of its hiding spot,” Twilight pressed on. “But I had a trick or two they didn’t know about, so they got a decoy and I got away, with Alexandria.”

“Why didn’t you take it from her then?” Johnny Respectable added. “I know you, Daresden. You could have done it easily.”

Twilight sighed, producing some twinges of serious pain in my ribs. “Because I wanted her to hoof it over of her own free will,” she said. “And failing that, I wanted to make sure that the buyer wouldn’t try to take it back once it was in the Church’s hooves. Which meant finding the buyer.”

“You already knew I was the buyer,” Johnny pointed out. “Maddog’s attempt to take the imposter when you first met, remember?”

“I suspected it,” Twilight corrected. “But I wasn’t sure. Remember, at the time I thought you were targeting me, not the fake Victorious. So I had to be sure.”

And I wanted to find a way to do it without starting a war with Johnny Respectable. Why does nopony believe that I don’t go out looking for more trouble to get into?

Twilight repeated my words aloud, verbatim. Leedie, Lucky, Johnny, Mighty Gale and Father Fortress just stared at me- at Twilight- who could only respond with a lame, “Well, I don’t.” Shaking her head, she tried to continue as if I hadn’t spoken. “So I followed the Sketchbook to the auction.”

“You set me up,” Alexandria said, a little bitterly.

“I saved your life,” Twilight said, rallying. “Repeatedly. And you got paid.”

“Darn straight,” Alexandria said. “And I’m going to have the retirement of a lifetime.” Her cat’s eyes glared, then sank into somber thought. “For three lifetimes,” she said. “Poor Gus. Poor Fifi.”

“Which brings us all up to date,” Johnny continued. “A priest and two thieves are dead, and a bunch of demons have the Sketchbook. How do we get it back?”

“It would help,” Mighty Gale said, “if we knew what they were going to do with it.”

“Would this duel of yours have anything to do with that?” Johnny asked.

Twilight shook my head. “I’m pretty sure the Nightmare Court and the True Canon aren’t talking to each other,” she said. “Otherwise I probably wouldn’t be here now. Just bad timing.”

“In other words, a typical Daresden mess,” Lucky Star commented.

I couldn’t deny it, and Twilight didn’t see any reason to. “But as for what they intend to use it for,” she said, “I think that’s pretty obvious. Think about it. These are some of the angels who helped Faust build the world, right? And now they want to unmake the world so it can be redone to Faust’s original plan.”

“We know the declared purpose of the True Canon, Miss Daresden,” Pale Skies said impatiently.

“Well, I didn’t,” Lucky Star muttered.

“But we don’t know their specific aims,” the mystic bodyguard said, ignoring the mumble.

“Oh, yes we do,” Twilight said. “The Sketchbook of Tiveen contains a fraction of Faust’s power, right? It’s one of the tools She used to create this world, if I’m not mistaken. Which means they must know how to use it too, since they were Her assistants.”

Pale Skies considered this a moment. “The Sketchbook’s magic would resist the Fallen,” she said doubtfully.

“If they couldn’t turn it to their scheme, they wouldn’t bother with it,” Twilight said. “So they must have a way. And I’m pretty sure I know the method, and the place, and even the time.”

“The time is midnight, of course,” Pales Skies nodded. “The time when holy power is at a nadir.”

“Right,” Twilight said, looking at Lucky Star. “And they tipped their hoof on the method with Victorious. I think he was their guinea pig.”

“What?” Lucky Star asked. “You mean all those diseases Bitter Butter found?”

“Right!” Twilight repeated. “A disease curse that survives more than one sunrise? I can just about see a Fallen being able to do that, to a single pony. But that’s not what the True Canon wants. They want chaos. Disaster. And they want a lot of ponies they think shouldn’t exist to stop existing.” The muscles on my face were doing things I didn’t want to see in a mirror as Twilight finished, “Which means they’re planning to curse all of Equestria. And maybe the world. And they need the Sketchbook for that kind of power.”

“I see,” Mighty Gale said, nodding. “So they’re taking it to the peak of Mount Canter? So the spell can stretch across the whole kingdom at once?”

“No, they’ll take it to Celestia’s palace,” Mighty Fortress said. “They’ll give her the curse, and the magic will spread it to everyone she watches over.”

“Seriously?” Johnny Respectable asked. “You’re both wrong.” He looked at me and said, “It’ll be the train station, won’t it?”

Mighty Gale raised an eyebrow at that. “What’s so important about the train station?” she asked.

Lucky Star caught on quicker. “Thousands of ponies pass through the station every day!” he said. “And if the curse is slow-acting, they’ll scatter across the country before they know they’re infected!”

“It’s worse than that,” Twilight said. “It’s not just ponies going to or from Canterlot. Almost every train in Equestria goes through Canterlot. Every passenger train, every freight train- all of it. It’s the single biggest rail hub in Equestria. And it’s a magic disease, so even ponies who never get off the train will get it. It’ll be on the cargo in the freight trains. It’ll spread like lightning everywhere a rail line runs!”

“No, it won’t!” Lucky Star said. “My immediate superiors won’t believe this, but I can go over their heads to Celestia herself. She can shut down the system at a word. No more plague!”

“And no more Sketchbook,” Johnny pointed out. “I intend to have it back. Miss Daresden, our agreement is still on.”

Twilight nodded. “And even if it wasn’t, we can’t leave it in the Order’s possession. They’ll find another use for it that we can’t predict.” She turned me to face Mighty Gale and Shadow Lurk. “Which means we have to keep them from finding out we know their plan until we can strike.”

“Which won’t be until close to midnight,” Pale Skies said. “And you have a duel, do you not?”

“Right, right,” Twilight nodded, sighing. “Johnny, if I lose, you’ll hold up your side of the promise? Return the Sketchbook once you’re done with it?”

Johnny nodded. “If I’m around to return it. If not… it’ll turn up.”

Mighty Gale loosened her sword in its sheath. “I don’t like the idea of letting-“

“He promised,” Twilight said firmly, sounding really like me for the first time. “And on this I trust him. He’s on our side.” She softened a little and added, “Really, Gale. If you don’t trust him, trust me.”

Mighty Gale raised an eyebrow, but her sword settled back into place. “I trust you,” she said, with none of the tones that another pony might have used to mean I trust you and not him. “So we just hide here?”

“No,” Twilight said. “The imposter Victorious might still find out we’re here. He’s posing as a priest, remember? He could easily send somepony to check up on us.”

Shadow Lurk stretched himself. “Then,” he said in his thick accent, “it is best we check up on him first.”



“Father Victorious? Hello?”

Twilight knocked on the door, standing in full view of the hotel room’s peephole. On either side of the door, out of sight of the hole, Mighty Gale and Shadow Lurk waited, swords out and at the ready.

Twilight had wanted to try to negotiate, but Hornsparker and I shouted that stupid plan down before it could get out of my mouth. If Victorious was here at all, it was only so he could ambush me if I was foolish enough to come and give a report. He’d take us out as quickly as possible, using overwhelming force.

So, rather than walk through town and risk being spotted by either the True Canon or by the Nightmare Court, we’d teleported to the hotel. That took a lot out of my body, but Twilight wasn’t going to be doing the heavy lifting in what was coming.

“Miss Daresden? Is that you?”

“Yes, Father. I’ve got news for you about the Sketchbook.”

“Just a moment.”

If I’d been in the imposter’s place, I wouldn’t have been here. I’d be wherever Long Game and the Sketchbook were, protecting it until the plan was complete. Or, alternately, I’d be waiting for the shield to drop on my apartment, ready to strike as soon as it ran out of juice. I certainly wouldn’t have been waiting alone in a hotel room, even if I thought my prey was still totally ignorant of my true nature, not this close to the completion of the plan.

But he was here, and as small as the hotel room was, he was almost certainly alone. So maybe, just maybe, things were-

Stop that narration right there before you screw things up even more!

Agreed! Why do you feel this insane need to tempt the fates?

This is just how I think! I can’t help how I think!

Well, you can- door’s opening! Down!

The door swung open to reveal a totally dark entry hall. Twilight flattened my body just in time to duck below a pair of giant reptilian heads, jaws wide, snapping for me, catching nothing but air.

Two swords came down, lopping off the heads.

Something inside the hotel room screamed, and the unnatural darkness that had cloaked the doorway cleared to reveal a hotel room mostly full of hydra. Two stubs of necks waved frantically, but new heads were already growing as I watched. The severed heads in the hallway were already smoking, dissolving into nothingness after being cut off from their mystic source.

Then Mighty Gale and Shadow Lurk charged in, pegasus leading earth pony, and Twilight bounded up and followed. The hydra’s two remaining fully grown heads each had to deal fully with a sword apiece, snapping and weaving back and forth as the sword-points swung and stabbed.

And then I felt the tip of my horn touch the hydra’s chest. “Stop,” she said, in a quiet but clearly commanding voice I don’t think I could have managed deliberately in a millennium. “You have five seconds to change back to normal before I blast you. And I will do it.”

I wouldn’t have believed it, Hornsparker commented. She can actually deliver a convincing threat.

It’s not a threat, Twilight thought back in the same tones. I don’t want to kill, but NOPONY hurts my friends.

The hydra had stopped moving the moment Twilight spoke. So had the Knights of the Quill. For a couple of seconds everything stayed absolutely still. Then, with a long, dissatisfied hiss, the hydra’s body began to contract. The four necks contracted into a single one. The green hide faded away, and the old, nondescript earth pony who’d pretended to be Father Victorious stood there in the hotel room, two crossed swords at his throat and my horn aimed directly between his eyes.

“That’s better,” Twilight said. “I have some questions for you.”

“What makes you think I’m going to answer them?” the True Canon asked.

“We’ll see,” Twilight replied. “For starters, I know you’re not Father Victorious. What’s your real name?”

The fake priest shrugged slightly, careful not to get too close to the naked blades at his neck. “I am Backstabber,” he said simply. “My partner is Blind Faith, of the Order of the True Canon.” His eyes rolled first to Mighty Gale and then to Shadow Lurk. “But considering the friends you brought, you already knew that.”

“Pretty much,” Twilight agreed. “Why did you hire me?”

We know that. Long Game ordered him to, so he could recruit me.

“We knew the Sketchbook was coming here,” Backstabber said. “But we didn’t know its final destination. We needed someone who could find that out without leaving a trail of bodies.” The old pony smiled a little and added, “Helpmeet is not what you’d call a subtle tracker.”

“And I was chosen in particular because Long Game wanted a new follower.”

WHAT are you DOING? With Mighty right here? Are you TRYING to get us killed? I thought we agreed-

That was for the others! I trust Mighty Gale! In the books she's straight as an arrow! She's probably your best friend! Why don't you trust her, too?

“Possibly,” Backstabber said, shrugging again. “He certainly named you as our first choice. And it helped that you already knew my cover identity’s friend at the cathederal. That made my story a bit more… credible.”

“For a while, yes,” Twilight said. Her horn hadn’t budged from its target. “But the funny thing is, I saw you, Long Game and Helpmeet under the Mareiott last night, but you weren’t at breakfast this morning. What were you doing?”

“Oh, don’t you remember?” Backstabber asked his smile growing broader. “The fireworks I set off for you when you left our little hiding place?”

“Those spells were you?” Twilight asked. “But you’re an earth pony. How can you cast spells?”

“I am of the Order of the True Canon,” Backstabber corrected her. “With the blessing of my partner, I can do practically anything. Including firing a death curse at a carriage that’s shrugged off my best fireballs.”

“So that’s what that was,” Twilight said quietly.

My eyebrows would have gone up if I’d had control of them. Wizards of the White Circle, and a number of other schools of magic besides, get one death curse in their lifetime. It’s usually meant to be our last spell, since casting it is fatal. But, also usually, it’s an instant kill if it lands. The target can’t dodge it, can’t block it, can’t avoid it. Dead is dead is dead.

“But if that’s the case,” Twilight continued, answering my mental narration out loud, “how did Hot Lead and I survive? A death curse should have smashed that shield- my shield- any shield- like it was nothing.”

“There you have me,” Backstabber agreed. “I can only guess. I have the sensation that some form of grace intervened on your behalf- not taking the entire blow, but softening it enough for your defenses to do the rest.” The smile broadened and grew a little more reptilian as he added, “For what it’s worth, I intended the curse to be slow and excruciating. Because I wouldn’t want you to be bored.”

Grace? Twilight asked me mentally.

Could be one of two things, I answered. Either a non-fallen angel intervened- which they don’t do- or else someone, somehow, took the arrow for me. And absorbed as much of the curse as they could.

I hardly think this matters, Hornsparker insisted. That is in the past. Focus on what needs doing now.

Right. “Of course you didn’t,” Twilight said, only slightly slow on the response to Backstabber. “And now we’re going to make sure you aren’t bored, either.” Now the horn came away from Backstabber. “You’re going to tell us where Long Game and the Sketchbook of Tiveen are.”

“I rather doubt that,” Backstabber replied. “What happens if I refuse?”

Twilight gestured to Mighty Gale and Shadow Lurk. “Then I let these Knights of the Quill ask you. However they want.”

Backstabber chuckled, restraining himself to avoid cutting his throat on the swords. “You have no idea about these Knights, do you?” he asked. “You think they’re going to just pull the information out of me?”

“And why shouldn’t they?” Twilight asked. “After all, you’re a member of the Order they’re sworn to fight.”

Backstabber’s eyes widened. “Why yes!” he said ironically. “That’s quite true!” He lifted up a forehoof, and for a moment the swords tightened to touch his fur. Then a scrap of torn, tattered pink paper appeared on the hoof, and with a gentle motion he tossed it away, letting it land at Shadow Lurk’s hooves.

“Oh Knights of the Quill,” Backstabber said, taking on a mockery of a repentant face, “I stand before you, Backstabber, a prisoner and slave of the Fallen named Blind Faith. I repent my many crimes and seek absolution.”

The swords immediately withdrew from Backstabber’s neck.

“What? What are you doing??” Twilight asked, looking from one knight to the other.

“Sorry, Harriet,” Mighty Gale said. “We swore an oath.”

“But-but-but-“ Twlight gestured wildly at Backstabber. “He’s faking it! He’s obviously faking it! You can’t just let him go!”

“Yes, they can,” Backstabber said. “They’re sworn to seek the salvation of the Fallen and their servants whenever possible. And for reasons I can’t fathom, sometimes they succeed.” He looked at Shadow Lurk and added, “Isn’t that right, Prideful Boast?”

“Prideful Boast’s promises were not what they were made out to be,” Shadow Lurk said in that thick Stalliongrad accent. “And the price became too high. And Prideful Boast’s next choice of host proved unfortunate for him.”

“Yes, I heard,” Backstabber said. “But if such a one as you can seek redemption, then so may I.”

The big earth pony nodded, just once, slowly, his eyes never leaving Backstabber’s.

“We know he’s faking it, Harriet,” Mighty Gale added from her side of the standoff. “But this isn’t about who he is. It’s about who we are. If we were to lay a hoof on him now, we wouldn’t be worthy to carry these blades.”

“And without my Fallen to give me power,” Backstabber continued, “I can no longer cast spells of any kind. Which makes me an ordinary mortal, defenseless before a wizard of the White Circle. Which means your oath also prevents you from harming me.”

Not strictly accurate- I knew a lot of tricks which didn’t involve the slightest trickle of magic. But I wasn’t in control of the body.

“So, if you’ll be so kind as to step aside,” Backstabber said, taking a step wide of the Fallen’s pink slip, “I shall go out into the world and seek good works to do. Because, by the oaths each of you swore, there’s not a single thing you can do to stop me.”

Twilight waited until the old pony had walked past and was about to step out into the hallway before smiling. “Oh, I wouldn’t say nothing,” she said.

Right on cue, a pair of hobbles snapped onto Backstabber’s forehooves. “Backstabber alias Victorious,” a voice said, “you are under arrest as a material witness in the murder of the pony Victorious, native of Roam.”

Twilight hadn’t teleported herself and two ponies to the hotel; she’d teleported herself and three ponies. I wouldn’t have involved Lucky Star in this myself- we had no idea whether or not we’d even be able to separate the imposter from his Fallen companion, much less whether or not he’d have defenses beyond that. But then, I wouldn’t have talked the plan over with Mighty Gale as thoroughly as Twilight did, and I wouldn’t have found out about that oath or its gaping huge loophole.

It pays to learn things, Twilight said. And it really pays to take an interest in what your friends do. Just because it’s not your religion doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn more about it.

Can we save the friendship lessons? I snapped mentally.

Sure. “Maybe you’ll be able to talk your way out of custody,” Twilight said, doing her best me imitation. “But there are a lot of ponies in Roam who are going to be very upset with you. If I were you, I’d start thinking of some really good answers.”

“You… you tricked me!” Backstabber hissed, almost as if he could still turn into a hydra. “You knew! You know all of it!”

“I know I want you out of circulation until this is all done with,” Twilight replied. “Lucky, can you arrange that?”

“Oh, yeah,” Lucky said, nodding. “I can do that. Let’s go, pal. There’s a wagon coming for us. Should be pulling up outside any minute now.”

As Lucky Star ponyhandled the old earth pony down the hall to the lobby, Mighty Gale looked at me and asked, “Don’t you think we should have asked a few more questions?”

“No,” Twilight said. “He wasn’t going to answer anything else willingly. And you can’t trust information gained under duress.”

I don’t know. I’ve gotten some good information by-

Your methods are interesting to read about glossed over in a book, Twilight said, and that granite tone of no quarter came back, this time aimed at me. But they are not, and never will be, MY methods. What you have in mind is just plain wrong, and nothing justifies it.

Even saving lives?

Nothing, Twilight thought back at me. Because once you have the first justification, the next one comes easier. And then the next, and the next.

And how would you know, Ms. Sugar-Sweet Alicorn Princess? When have you ever had to make the hard choice?

I am with Miss Sparkle on this, Hornsparker added. I have actually watched these things done. They are demeaning to torturer and victim alike, and they seldom gain any information that could not be gained otherwise. They disgust me.

“Besides,” Twilight said out loud as much to me as to Mighty, “we already know where they’re going to be and what they’re trying to do. What else could we have asked?”

Mighty shrugged. “Details?” she asked.

Twilight shook her head. “Not worth it,” she said. “For now, I’m going to teleport back to my apartment and get some rest before sunset.”

Mighty shifted on her hooves. “Harriet,” she said, “with Winter Wisdom gone, I’d be more than glad to take his place as your second.”

“I know,” Twilight said. “But Hot Lead can handle it. After all, he’s just as concerned with the Nightmare Court as I am.”

“All right,” Mighty said. “Ten PM at the cathederal?”

“Right. And if I’m not there by ten-thirty, go on without me. Though I suspect you’ll know a lot sooner than that.”

“Be careful.”

I would have said something like, “When am I not careful?” or some other smartass comeback line. Instead Twilight just said, “I will,” and left it at that.

Some ponies just have no sense of what it means to be a private eye.

Will you QUIT IT with the narration??

Author's Note:

Wow. This chapter REALLY did not want to write.

In the original the fight to subdue the Fallen is a bit more involved than this, but I don't feel like writing out a long fight scene, and it doesn't feel right here, anyway.

Pushed this out by request. Going back to Friendship is Deceptive for a while after this, since Changeling Space Program is still being a bit blocky.

Quick reminder: my main source of income, selling at conventions, is temporarily shut down cold due to COVID-19 and is likely to be badly crippled afterwards while so many people are trying to get their jobs back after the current shutdowns. Your support on my Patreon and Ko-Fi is greatly appreciated. Also, since the last chapter of this posted, I've started a regular schedule of game streaming on Twitch: https://twitch.tv/redneckgaijin

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PreviousChapters
Comments ( 10 )

And then I felt the tip of my horn touch the hydra’s chest. “Stop,” she said, in a quiet but clearly commanding voice I don’t think I could have managed deliberately in a millennium. “You have five seconds to change back to human before I blast you. And I will do it.”

The "back to human" looks like an oops here.

Will you QUIT IT with the narration??

You cannot turn off Voice of the World.

Sneaky Twilight, very sneaky. I love watching villains getting hoisted by their own petard.

Twilight is quite right. Torture is bad for intelligence gathering. It incentivizes telling what they think you think the truth is. Glad Twilight took a stand on that, and that Hornsparker agrees.

I do like the point they made in the original though, that it isn't JUST about who they are. Even if he's faking, being separated from his fallen is still a chance.

Friendship lessons triumph once again!

Excellent. I am really enjoying this series and a surprise update is just the thing to get us through these dark times.

Cunning Twilight is scary Twilight. And I like it.

Love the sneakery, you go team! :D Also love the two-pronged argument against the validity of undermining your ethics for any justification.

Hope things ease up for you soon, Kris! Thanks for the chapter!

Lucky Star caught on quicker. “Thousands of ponies pass through the station every day!” he said. “And if the curse is slow-acting, they’ll scatter across the country before they know they’re infected!”

Well. This got accidentally topical.

It’s the single biggest rail hub in Equestria.

That's always struck me as improbable, simply because Canterlot is halfway up a mountain. Forcing every rail line in the country to go up that slope seems grossly inefficient. Sure, a rail hub at the foot of the mountain makes sense, but...
Ah well, it's a story. One must allow for certain narrative conveniences (and inconveniences.)

“I am Backstabber,” he said simply.

"Seriously?"
"it was a rough pregnancy."

Wonderful seeing Twilight's attention to detail come in clutch. Looking forward to more. Here's hoping the next chapter is less of a struggle.

10162504 There are three reasons why Canterlot as a rail hub isn't quite as outlandish, despite the fact of, y'know, being a city hung to the side of a sheer mountain cliff.

(1) It's the capital, and one of the oldest settlement sites in all Equestria, thus ensuring demand for both passenger and freight rail early on in development of the technology. Also, there's strong political incentive to debut new technology under Celestia's nose, which means making Canterlot your starting point if at all possible and certainly an early destination if you're forced to start elsewhere.

(2) It's almost in the dead center of Equestria, and no other major population center comes anywhere close to the geographical center of the kingdom. (Ponyville doesn't count for this purpose, being a small town rather than a major city.)

(3) Shipping by water is less of a factor in the pony world than in ours, especially given the strong isolationist tone of pony society prior to about season 7 or so. There's very little foreign trade, and indeed the Mane 6 know virtually nothing about countries and races outside Equestria. One of the effects of this is that internal commerce becomes all the more vital for the country, which means a greater need and demand for internal trade- which is exacerbated by the fact that, according to the maps, all the major cities of Equestria except for Canterlot and Cloudsdale are on sea coasts. Which brings us back to (2) and amplifies it.

Now, the logistic and safety concerns involved are enormous (for example, round, smooth iron wheels on iron track simply will not climb any but the shallowest up-grades, which makes laying rail from Canterlot down to the valley floor a tremendous engineering challenge), but the incentive to solve them is also strong- and we already know the combination of the three tribes' magic skills are incredibly potent.

not bad, but I liked the premise a lot less than I thought I would like

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