• 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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BRAY TO QUARTERS Chapter 4: Feliz Cumpleanos

Okay, so then we establish the etheric constant, which is… no, wait, isn’t it the etheric range? Or maybe it’s the orthographic… arrrrgh!!

A single, well-worn candle burned in the main cabin as Twilight Sparkle paced back and forth, trying to prod her tired mind into clear thought. This was the second night inside the book-

-if time runs at the same rate outside as inside- will I turn up missing? Will the girls look for me? Did I teach Starlight this spell? Will she think to ask Moondancer?

-and, for the second night running, every attempt to piece together the structure of Haycartes’ spell had ended in total futility.

The Hornsparker personality was no help. It would rouse itself now and again to complain that her time would be better spent refreshing herself on the charts of the South Luna Sea coastline, or bringing up a bit of mangled magical teaching a century out of date even if it were correct. But mostly it would say, I need to be on deck. The crew needs to be kept moving. They need to see their captain. Not a moment to lose- never a moment to lose.

But no moments were being lost. Thornbush and the other officers were keeping the crew going in shifts, day and night, readying Lydia for another seven to eight months at sea. That morning the water casks had been sent to shore with the ship’s barge, pinnace and gig, there to be washed out at the spring and filled with fresh, clean water. While that went on, another detachment went into the jungle, cutting firewood to restock the supply used for cooking and other purposes.

A third detachment were dealing with the largest task: the foodstuffs. To Twilight’s surprise (and Hornsparker’s amazement) Xipe Totec’s followers were bringing everything Twilight had asked for and more besides. Oats and hay by the wagonload; fresh fruits from the plantation, vegetables from the cottage gardens, salt, sugar, and- to Hornsparker’s pleasure and Twilight’s chagrin- rum for mixing into grog. Hornsparker had expected to be forced to wait a week or more for the supplies, and the phantom personality had pushed Twilight into releasing the armor, spears, bows and arrows from the hold to ensure the flow of food maintained its pace.

And also, Twilight noted, getting those things out of the hold gives us more room for other supplies, just in case. That was one good thing… but she hadn’t been able to think of a second good thing about hoofing over deadly weapons to that monster in the villa.

So it had gone in the day, and now it went during the night. On shore, food was packed in the empty barrels that had held the food which brought them this far, while the ship’s cooper and his assistants repaired broken barrels and began work on making new ones using native wood. Boats came from shore bearing water, bearing food, bearing firewood. They left bearing crates of weapons. The day watch were now in their hammocks, while the night watch continued their work, and would continue it the next day, and would probably continue it the day after that.

Provided, of course, that Cumpleanos gave them time…

Twilight sighed and gave up on trying to break the spell for the evening. She retreated to the cot in her sleeping cabin and selected one of the small collection of books Hornsparker kept- a volume on naval tactics. She didn’t want to rely on Hornsparker when the inevitable battle came; there was the chance she’d never get control back, after all.

Reading a book inside a book was a bit different than from the real world. When Twilight first opened one of Hornsparker’s books, the pages were all blank. Then, after a few seconds of delay, the pages would fill with text and diagrams as if they were the real thing. The spell’s etheric search took measurable time to complete. That was a fascinating thought.

Twilight wished she could remember the spell, or even parts of it. Even if she couldn’t cancel the spell, if she could remember the etheric processing speed of the spell, she could estimate the relationship of time inside the book to time outside the book. That delay of several seconds in making a simulated book readable might mean time passed faster inside the book… but it might also just mean the spell ran slow.

No. Quit it. Enough for one day. Focus now on learning how to be a captain of a sailing ship without a novel protagonist whispering in your ear.

Three hours later, Axle Wheel found her asleep on the cot. He gently removed the book from her hooves and slipped her uniform tunic off before placing the blanket over her. Not, so far as he remembered, for the first time.

The warning came late the next afternoon.

Twilight had just finished checking on the health of the six new ship’s hands, being carefully restored with the fresh water still being shipped aboard from the shore, when the native pegasus flew onto the ship and landed in front of her. “Senora captain!” he cried. “El Cumpleanos- it comes! The general, he sends me, tell you!”

Twilight only noticed after the fact that her first movement was to put her body between the native scout and the still-recovering torture victims. “Did you see it?” she asked. “Where is it?”

Si, I see it,” the native said. “It comes from there.” He pointed southeast across the headland of the bay entrance. “Is seven leagues off, maybe more. It comes tonight.”

Was he seen? Hornsparker asked, an edge of eagerness and desperation giving the phantom thoughts unusual strength. Twilight didn’t resist the urge to ask, “Were you seen? Where are their pegasus scouts?”

“No scouts,” the native said. “No wing ponies on El Cumpleanos.”

Of course! Hornsparker thought. The officers will all be burros from Maredrid- and there’s no such thing as a winged donkey! And on this shore they won’t get any volunteers from the natives- they’ll have press-ganged earth ponies and avoided unicorns and pegasi because they can’t keep them under discipline.

“Which means,” Twilight murmured, more answering the voice in her head than the native, “they don’t know we’re here.” She looked up at the sun and added, “And it’ll be full dark before they arrive.”

“Yes, I say, it comes tonight,” the native said.

Twilight looked at the bay, at the furled sails and bare spars of the Lydia, at the narrow entrances to the bay… and at the large island which blocked much of the bay from view from the ocean outside.

It is a terrible risk, Hornsparker thought.

Yes, Twilight thought. But if it works, nopony needs to die.

And I save ammunition I cannot replace on this coast, Hornsparker continued.

And the alternative is to try to get out of the bay before dark, Twilight said. It will take hours, and the enemy will have the wind at its back and freedom of maneuver.

And they outgun me two to one, Hornsparker said.

Then let’s do it.


Preparations had been made, and completed. And now came the waiting.

Twilight paced in her cabin. Why can’t they be here already? she asked herself. I keep thinking about how everything could go wrong! What if they wait until dawn? What if they’ve heard about Xipe Totec’s rebellion? What if-

Hornsparker had been surprisingly quiescent throughout the preparations, as the crew was pulled in from the shore, as the Lydia was towed by the ship’s boats so slowly and painfully across the bay, as the ship was once more cleared for action. But now, with Twilight worrying herself into a panic attack and unable to stop herself, the phantom memories took control, shoving Twilight down into the depths with a stern The captain must never show fear or concern to her crew!

Twilight watched in her mental limbo as Hornsparker walked back out of the cabin and shouted, “Pass the word for my steward!” When Axle Wheel came at the trot, the captain said, “My compliments to Mr. Thornbush, and if he may spare Mr. Wildrider, Mr. Clay, and Mr. Mustang, I would be glad for their company at dinner and whist.”

Lieutenant Wildrider was the ship’s third lieutenant, a teller of many tall tales of his romantic conquests on shore. Naval regulations forbade officers entering liasons with subordinates, but Hornsparker suspected the female crew were in conspiracy to violate those rules with Wildrider, and no complaints had forced the captain to take notice thus far.

The other two, Potter’s Clay and Cherry Mustang, were midshipmen, and as such nervous and anxious when at the captain’s table. Hornsparker, for her part, played the part of a Canterlot host so smoothly that Twilight, shoved into the corner of her own mind, found enough clarity of thought to wonder if the Haycartes spell was using her own memories of Celestia’s dinner parties for reference.

As for the food, the green oatmeal had become a thing of the past. Even with the galley fires out in preparation for battle, the captain’s table practically overflowed with tropical fruit, fresh cut alfalfa and oats, coald roast corn on the cob with kernels every color of the rainbow, and candied carrots. The welcome taste of non-dreadful food relaxed everyone, even Twilight, and the bottle of native-made wine only added to the relaxation. When Mustang, the most junior officer at the table rose for the traditional toast to Princess Celestia, it came without the stumbles or awkwardness that might have come from nervousness. And, of course, limiting it to one bottle would ensure no stumbles or awkwardness due to other reasons.

Another midshipman, Knife-edge, poked her head into the cabin. “Mr. Thornbush’s compliments, ma’am, and the enemy is hull up from the masthead now, ma’am.”

“Her course?” Twilight felt her pulse race at the news, felt Hornsparker force her face to remain stiffly in place.

“Dead on for the west passage into the bay, ma’am,” Knife-edge said. “Mr. Thornbush says she’ll be in range in two hours.”

“Thank you, Mr. Knife-edge.” Hornsparker turned to face the junior officers with a calmness only Twilight could tell took the false personality’s full concentration. She could take control again if she wished, but... “We still have ample time for our rubber of whist, my little ponies.”

Twilight had never played whist herself- it was an old game, out of fashion with spades, hearts, cribbage and bridge taking its place. After an hour and more of Hornsparker forcing herself- the spell-created herself and the real herself- to calm down, Twilight was fascinated by the idea, coaxed along by Hornsparker’s memories of weekly whist nights the whole voyage around the great southern cape. She wanted to see how it was done, even if it meant passing up the chance to get her body back under control and her thoughts clear again.

Wildrider, Clay and Mustang were the Lydia’s best officers at the game besides Hornsparker, but that didn’t say much. Thornbush, never a quick thinker or a mathematical whiz, floundered badly at any card game more complex than blackjack. These three were better players than the first lieutenant, but the captain routinely cleaned their clocks when partnered against them. She would then compound the torture by a thorough critique of their play, demonstrating in the process a perfect memory of who had played which of all fifty-two cards in the game.

Despite the approach of possible death and disaster, both Twilight and Hornsparker forgot it all as the game progressed. Hornsparker even reacted to Twilight’s mental nudges without the usual hostility or denial: Mr. Mustang is wrong to constantly bring out her aces first opportunity because it denies her a chance to retake lead in future tricks. If your partner has the trick, let them take it! We got away with it because Lieutenant Wildrider has never learned to indicate to a partner that he is short or void in a suit and can trump tricks led in that suit, and thus he costs his side tricks they might otherwise take.

The first rubber went quickly, with Hornsparker and Mustang scoring ten points to Wildrider’s and Clay’s two. A second rubber began with the captain partnered with Clay instead, and midway through it Twilight pushed her way back into control with hardly a struggle- indeed, almost without knowing it herself, simply for the joy of playing such a simple yet fascinating game. By the time the second rubber ended, with the captain’s team winning by a smaller margin, Hornsparker’s thoughts had ceased to offer any critique of Twilight’s play, merely grumbling that at least her delusions could tell a knave from a deuce.

“Oh… I suppose that’s it,” Twilight said as she tallied up the score, missing the barely-stifled expressions of relief from the junior officers. “Well… I hate to stop now, but I don’t think we have enough time for a third rubber before we have to go back on deck.”

Hooves scraped on the deck.

“But, you know,” Twilight continued, using a tone Hornsparker would never have permitted herself, “Mr. Wildrider, you could have kept the game going if you’d played the ace of hearts on the eighth trick. You already had six tricks, and we only needed one point for rubber. But you tried to finesse, trying to run up your score, and led a lesser heart, which let me trump your ace when it finally came out. And Mr. Mustang…”

What followed for the next ten minutes was such a thorough dissection of the gameplay of the evening that even the Hornsparker personality registered feelings of astonishment. When Twilight finally ran out of steam, to the relief of the juniors, the spell-memories muttered, If tropical madness improves one’s skill at the card table, I rather regret not having gone insane years before. I could have made a fortune in the long rooms at piquet…

And then it was time to go on deck, under the rapidly setting moon, as the crew waited in position, silent and still, watching and waiting.

Thornbush saluted as Twilight came out. “Enemy’s about to enter the bay, ma’am,” he said. “Th’ launch and cutter are in the water and awaiting their crews. Mr. Rhubarb’s got her ponies ready.”

“Very good,” Twilight said. “Get the boats away. I’m going forward. When I give the signal, you know what to do.”

In almost complete silence ponies scurried over the side into the two largest ship’s boats, and off they went, oars muffled with rags wrapped around the blades. More ponies scurried up the rigging into the spars, taking their positions to set the sails. Half the ship’s gun crews stood by their guns, while other crew members held grappling lines in their hooves or gripped sabers in their teeth.

And, as Twilight eased her way into the forward chains, right up to the Lydia’s bowsprit, she heard the soft rippling of water around the Cumpleanos as, in the dim light of the nightmare-marked moon, the Maredrid ship crept into the bay just in front of the frigate. She could even hear the officers on the enemy ship’s deck, giving orders to tack around the end of the island.

The island had hidden the hull of the Lydia. In the moonlight, with all sails furled, her masts and rigging became almost invisible. Without pegasi to scout ahead, and with no suspicion that anything larger than a native boat might be in the bay, the Cumpleanos had completely missed the Lydia’s presence, sailing up within hailing distance- almost to point blank range- without suspecting a thing.

Twilight’s little whistle changed that. With a single shrill peep hooves began moving. Sails dropped, drew taut, caught the wind, pushing Lydia forward. Boats rowed harder, rounding the Cumpleanos’s bows and coming round to take her on the port side as Lydia rushed up towards her starboard side.

Lydia’s port battery fired a single round, sixteen guns unloading on the unsuspecting Cumpleanos. A dozen grapnels sailed into the air, grabbing onto railings and rigging and decks. Dozens of ponies hauled on lines, and with a crash the two ship hulls met. Hundreds of armed ponies leapt over the deck railings on one side, as six dozen other ponies crammed into two boats pried open the lower row of gun ports on the other side and climbed through.

In less than five minutes of shouting, busting heads, and the very brief clashing of swords, it was over, and Twilight stood on the deck of the Cumpleanos.

The enemy ship was hers.

Author's Note:

With all the run-up time I had, I'm only maintaining a buffer of one chapter so far.

That's nowhere near good enough...

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