• 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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BRAY TO QUARTERS Chapter 5: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

“So,” said Xipe Totec, still on his makeshift throne as if he had not left it since Twilight saw him two days before, “you have already done what I wished you to do, captain?”

“We captured the Cumpleanos last night,” Twilight replied.

“And the provisioning of your own ship is, I understand, complete?”

“Almost. We were interrupted by the taking of Cumpleanos. My lieutenants report we should have the maize bread finished and the last stores boarded shortly after noon.”

“Then you have done what I wanted. That is what I said before.” The tone of voice was calm, the body language as tranquil as a meadow-pond in summertime… except for the eyes, which still showed too much of their vein-riddled whites for Twilight’s peace of mind. For what very little it was worth, it seemed to her like the eyes belonged to the last ounce of sanity the former Don Sunstruck possessed, shielded from the unyielding self-confidence of his messianic delusions.

Not that Twilight cared. She’d spent a sleepless night spent securing the crew of Cumpleanos, doing what little could be done for the few wounded of the captured ship (the Lydia’s complement had suffered, thank goodness, not a single casualty in the taking of the other ship), and getting both ships back into position to resume the transfer of supplies from the shore onto Lydia. After all that, and then being summoned to Xipe Totec’s villa without even her own breakfast, she cared about practically nothing.

She would have at least taken a nap, but Hornsparker hadn’t let her. The false personality kept taking over just long enough to commit her to some other task or oversight role, then receding and leaving her to actually carry out the chore. But as annoying as it was, the chivvying by the spell-created memories had produced results. By sunset Lydia would be ready to flee this author-crafted Tartarus and abandon the story- or, at least, the worst parts of it.

That thought, naturally, had triggered a prolonged struggle for control with Hornsparker, who insisted that duty to Celestia required that Lydia sweep the South Luna Sea clear of enemy shipping, even attacking colonial ports and looting them for the prize money long promised to the crew. Twilight felt the Lydia had done enough damage to the noncombatants of the area through carrying out those obscene secret orders, and the best thing she could do now was withdraw, if not out of the war altogether, then at least to a more honorable and civilized part of it.

That had gone on for an exhausting half-hour of mental struggle in the pre-dawn hours, even as the Lydia’s crew labored hard by lanterns and starlight, hoisting nets full of barrels up from boats and down into the hold. Twilight’s body had spent most of that time pacing the quarterdeck, a sight so familiar to the crew that nopony noticed the outward signs of two personalities struggling for control… or so both personalities hoped.

But on one point both the real Twilight and the fake book-Twilight had agreed: after seeing Xipe Totec, they had no intention of leaving any pony as his prisoner, not if it could be at all avoided. Thus, the burro officers of the Cumpleanos had been secured in the cable-tier of the Lydia, out of sight, with dire warnings to remain absolutely silent while they were in port.

And, Twilight thought, right about now Wildrider should be carrying out the second part of that particular plan…

“This afternoon,” Xipe Totec said, “I shall proceed with my army to the port of La Amistad, using your ship and mine. I shall reach there tomorrow morning, and tomorrow night I shall dine in the Nickeraguan capital ten miles inland, with my faithful.”

Twilight stifled Hornsparker’s flinch at this declaration. She had seen it coming. In fact, she’d fully expected the mad mule to include the Lydia as his ship as well. And the longer we remain here, the more likely he’ll get to that… But Hornsparker had hoped to keep the Cumpleanos, both to spare its mostly-native crew and for the prize money it would represent if it could be sailed back around the cape. The story-pony had been in denial… until now.

But Twilight had also predicted Xipe Totec’s next words, and Hornsparker had agreed they were probably coming; hence Wildrider’s current orders. “The crew of Cumpleanos is mostly unhurt?” the skin-wearing mule asked. “And the sailing-master and other warrant ponies? Then I shall slay the invader officers and replace them with my followers. The crew shall happily follow my glorious revival. This I have seen.”

“Ah.” Twilight was not a terribly good actor and she knew it, but now was the time to bring forth a performance worthy of Bridleway. Lives depended on it. “I’m afraid that’s no longer possible, sir.”

“Oh?” Xipe Totec’s wild eyes ceased wandering and locked directly on her own. “Explain. And also, mortals do not call me ‘sir’. Mortal tongues have no title appropriate to my holiness. I am Xipe Totec, and that is all.”

“Yes… Xipe Totec,” Twilight managed. “But I must report that I anticipated your order, attempting to carry out your wishes in advance. The captured officers were taken into the depths of my ship, out of sight of sun and moon-“ a little mythical flourish she’d hoped would appeal to the god-obsessed mule- “-and had them strangled with ropes, bloodlessly. I suspect, even as we speak, the bodies are being loaded into a ship’s boat to be rowed out into the deep water outside the bay and cast out, where they can no longer defile your holy soil.”

That was Wildrider’s job. A few ponies from Cumpleanos had, despite Twilight’s hopes and efforts, been killed in the taking of the ship. Their bodies had been gathered and snuck into the Lydia, where Wildrider oversaw the sailmaker and his assistants preparing them as they would a member of Lydia’s crew for burial at sea. The operation had been Twilight’s plan. Hornsparker had wanted to just lie about dumping them overboard, but Twilight knew the Lydia was under constant observation. Something had to really get dumped into the ocean, or else word would get to Xipe Totec, and who knew what might happen then?

“It speaks well of you that you are so eager to serve your new god,” Xipe Totec intoned. “For that reason I shall spare you the usual fate of those who place their judgment before my own. But remember that future errors shall not be forgiven.” The glaring eyes turned away to resume their random wandering around the nonexistent decorations of the room. “It would have been better if my new followers saw with their own eyes the consequences of failure to recognize the rebirth of their rightful god.”

“I accept the kind correction from the gracious Xipe Totec,” Twilight said, bowing her forelegs into a curtsey.

Xipe Totec turned to face General Majordomo. “General, see to the arming and provisioning of five hundred ponies, to board the ships at noon. I will sail with them, and so will you.”

Twilight saw Majordomo bow and turn to depart-

and she found herself flying backwards into the darkness behind her eyes, her view of Xipe Totec shrunken almost to a speck. Hornsparker had retaken control… this time without even a struggle. Am I that tired? Twilight managed to think, even as the mental fog gripped her more tightly, pulling her down…

“Is the Lydia to have the honor of carrying Xipe Totec to La Amistad?” she heard her own voice asking. “My crew would greatly appreciate the distinction.”

That roused Twilight to resistance, and she pushed back against Hornsparker’s will. What do you think you’re doing? she screamed in the tightening prison of her mind.

Once on the Lydia I may be able to exercise some control upon him, Hornsparker thought. Or at least keep him under observation. If his madness should take it on to turn hostile, I want some warning before five hundred warriors and the Cumpleanos have their spears at my throat…

“Yes.” Xipe Totec said the one word as if the mere syllable represented some enormous condescension… as it probably did, in his madness.

“At what time shall I be at the beach to receive you?”

“Eleven.” Xipe Totec clapped his hooves, and the great studded doors opened from outside. They had been dismissed- Hornsparker and Twilight together.

And Twilight, who had all but succumbed as much to slumber as to the strength of the spell, found herself propelled back to the front of the mind, forced to stumble her way through the villa and out into the tropical morning sun. The second sudden shift in control kept her imbalanced and disoriented halfway down the jungle path. What the hay? she wondered. What’s with this spell? This isn’t like before. This wasn’t Hornsparker fighting with me. This was…

I don’t know what it was.

But whatever it was, Hornsparker didn’t stir in her head for the hours that followed, leaving Twilight on her own to call all hands and give stern warnings about treating their guests with respect no matter what- absolutely no matter what, or else they could just string up their hammocks in the pump room for the duration. After that came orders to Axle Wheel to lay on dinner for eight in the main cabin, to bring up the last two bottles of Chateau Minotaura wine, to Thornbush to prepare Lydia to take on two hundred soldiers above her normal complement…

… and then to oversee the transfer of Cumpleanos from the Lydia’s prize crew to her new commander. That was (or so she claimed) Vice Admiral Don Shadetree, a small hinny with the broad barrel and long ears of a donkey but a pony-like muzzle and an energetic, almost cheerful smile. Twilight nodded her head and ordered the eleven-gun salute due a vice-admiral, hoping to have found an island of sanity among Xipe Totec’s followers.

That feeling of hope lasted up until the Cumpleanos’s crew stood on her maindeck, Twilight and the officers Shadetree had brought with her looking at them from the quarterdeck. The sailing-master, the purser, the ship’s carpenter and their assistants- all native Mexicolti, but wearing uniform tunics that probably came from Maredrid at some time in the prior generation- were brought up to the quarterdeck and lined up before Don Shadetree.

Shadetree, still smiling, walked over to face the youngest of the assistants, a colt not even yet out of childhood. “You,” she said. “You will now hold up your hoof and swear your eternal faith to our rightful god and ruler Xipe Totec. Up, now.”

The colt stammered, no words actually coming out, but his hoof rose slowly into the air.

“Now repeat after me: ‘I swear-‘”

The colt’s eyes grew wider, and not even babbles came out of his waggling mouth. His jaw just swung silently as he trembled in terror.

“Come, now,” Shadetree said encouragingly. “It’s not hard. Say I swear…”

The colt finally found his voice. “B-b-but Cel-“

He never completed the sun princess’s full name. Faster than Twilight’s eye could follow, Shadetree’s hoof flew forward, and a dagger-hilt appeared at the base of the colt’s throat. With an almost soundless croak the boy collapsed to the deck, dead instantly.

“Too bad,” Shadetree said, shaking her head. Her cheerful smile hadn’t budged a millimeter. She looked at the next assistant, this one a full-grown pony. “Your turn, now. You will swear for me, won’t you?”

He would. One after another, they all did, all of the warrant officers of the Cumpleanos swearing total obedience and worship of Xipe Totec, denying the existence of the false Celestia and forswearing allegiance to any lesser line of nobility.

And then, after a cheerful and encouraging five- minute speech about the glory of ejecting the Maredrid colonizers from the sacred soil of the Forbidden Jungles, that was that. The Cumpleanos belonged to Xipe Totec, and his flag- a red field with a single white star at its center- rose up the mainmast, and Lydia responded to the new flag with the steady salute Twilight had ordered before.

Her eyes kept returning to the colt, who remained dead on the deck where Shadetree had left him. She didn’t even seem to notice.

So much for sanity.

Half an hour later Twilight met Xipe Totec and a dozen proclaimed generals and colonels, none of whom looked the least bit military to either Twilight’s mind or Hornsparker’s spell-created memories. The group were put aboard the launch and rowed across to the Lydia without a word until Twilight prepared to lead the group up the ladder. Then Xipe Totec spoke:

“The correct salute for me, captain, is twenty-three guns.”

That brought Hornsparker awake with a jolt in Twilight’s head. WHAT? she screamed. The salute for Celestia herself is only twenty-one guns! What absolute foolishness does this obscene madpony think-

Twilight gritted her teeth while she still had control to do so. What does it MATTER how many times we fire the signal gun for him? she thought back savagely. We get him on, we get him to his Faust-forsaken battlefield, we sail off, and we forget we ever saw this place! After what we’ve seen, after the horrible things we’ve allowed to happen, after what we’ve enabled, what does a gun salute matter?

But this is not the way it is done-

Twilight stuffed Hornsparker back even harder in her mind and forced herself up the ladder, giving the order for the salute the instant she touched the deck. After what she’d seen already, she wasn’t in any mood for an argument to tradition from someone made up by some long-dead writer who, with any justice, ought to have been seeing a psychiatrist on a weekly basis, under court mandate, for their obvious mental illness.

And then, to make things even better, the instant Xipe Totec stepped into the main cabin and saw the table set for the group, he said, “I will dine alone here. Let the food be brought to me.”

Now it was Twilight’s turn to splutter in the privacy of her mind, as Hornsparker’s memories chided, What does it matter whether we eat in the cabin or the gunroom mess?

Twilight grit her teeth and said as little as possible through the awkward meal in the stuffed-to-bursting gunroom, through the boarding of Xipe Totec’s army, and the weighing of the anchors.

One quick sail up the coast, she thought. That’s all. And then we’re done with this.

We’re so very done.

Author's Note:

Urgh. Five hundred words of buffer left. I got very little sleep last night due to intestinal cramps, and the irritation, the cold, and the sleepiness add up to no writing today.

But I persevere...

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