The Catch

This story takes place roughly 200 years before The Chase.
If it wasn't for bad luck, Rye Mash would have no luck at all. As a foal, he was taken during one of the infamous sweeps of the Shetland Isles. Now, as a young colt, he is an indentured servant, forced to spend the rest of his life working for his master, a unicorn named Lace Collar, so he can pay off the bill for his education.
However, Rye Mash's bad luck ends up being Lace Collar's bad luck as well, and both of them end up as prisoners of the infamous sky pirates and their dreadful leader, Captain Spyglass, the mass murdering lunatic that is feared the whole world over.

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11. Chapter 11

The night was purple and the clouds were silver. The Whalefish drifted through clouds and fog, moving through the endless sea of sky. Tradewinds was behind them and Rye Mash had no idea what was ahead of them. Their end destination was Trottingham but Rye knew that anything could happen between here and there.

Rye Mash came to the conclusion that he knew very little.

He didn’t know how to act but he had been managing so far. Rye had been valued as a servant for his quick wit and his ability to adapt to almost any situation. His knack for rapid adjustment was still serving him well. The present situation was bearable; all Rye needed to do was just be himself.

Only Rye Mash wasn’t sure he knew who he was anymore.

The future was uncertain now in so many ways. The confusing kiss with Starjammer was proof of that. It lingered on his mind as he stood on the rear deck staring off into the grey expanse of clouds.

“Well, you certainly have made my life interesting.”

The sound of Bloody Velvet’s voice startled Rye and he felt his whole body tense. He took a deep breath and tried to relax. At least Bloody Velvet was smiling.

“I got her bathed and the dirty little foul mouthed filly is finally asleep. She’s smart… I like her… and I can’t believe that Spyglass allowed her on the ship.”

The clouds opened up just long enough for a few stars to wink through and then they were gone once more. Rye sighed, not sure if he liked being stuck in the clouds. He turned to look at Velvet and saw her trembling.

“Our dirty little grey filly is actually white. Oh don’t look so surprised… anyhow, Starjammer better share. I wouldn’t mind having an apprentice either,” Velvet said.

At the mention of Starjammer’s name, Rye felt his cheeks warm. It was time to change the subject. “How is Skeeter? I checked on him earlier but he was still asleep.”

“Still asleep,” Velvet replied.

Rye wasn’t sure what he expected, but he felt disappointed.

“So you’ve seen Tradewinds and from what I understand, you had a bit of an adventure,” Velvet said as she sat down upon the deck. She looked over at Rye Mash and watched his straw coloured mane blowing in the gusting wind. The deck lights flickered and threw shadows over Rye’s grey-brown pelt. “You know, I can see why Starjammer finds you handsome.”

Cringing, Rye turned away from Velvet. “He told you…”

Velvet chuckled. “He didn’t tell me. I just know. Remember, there is no keeping secrets from me. Don’t worry, I have no plans to tease you. He also finds me attractive… and truth be told, there is something about him that I like.”

For a moment, Rye wanted to throw himself over the deck rail.

“I’m betting that the kiss was confusing,” Velvet said.

Rye could not help but notice that Velvet was speaking to him as though she was his mother. It made his cheeks burn even hotter. He wanted to be anywhere but here.

“Look, Rye, you feel confused and a bit disgusted because of Lace Collar and his propositions. Starjammer is a much better pony—”

Unable to hold back, Rye Mash blurted out, “This isn’t fair, you being in my head like this!”

Bloody Velvet, all too aware of what Rye was feeling, felt a pang of guilt for intruding into his private feelings. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I should go.”

As Bloody Velvet took to her hooves, Rye let out an anxious gasp. “No, you don’t have to go… all of is very confusing for me. Which is why I was out here. I can’t sleep.” He watched as Bloody Velvet sat back down and he was certain that he could feel her piercing stare boring into his soul. “Yes, Lace Collar said things to me. Yes, it made me feel dirty and ashamed. No, I did not find him attractive. But…”

“But you do find Starjammer a little attractive?” Velvet finished.

“I don’t know… maybe?” Rye hoped that he was being honest with his answer.

Velvet nodded.

“Well, this is awkward.”

Once more, Velvet nodded. “This has been a hard day for you. You got a very confusing kiss…” Velvet paused and had to wait for a bad spasm to pass before she could continue. “And you had a filly invite you to diddle her backside.”

Rye began to stammer, unable to form words, stuttering and spluttering, he failed to make any coherent response.  

“Woe Betide tells me that you were the very model of a gentlepony and that you even shared your pie with her. It makes me sad that I know that there are many stallions that would actually do that to a foal.”

Still unable to speak, Rye Mash pressed his lips together into a straight line.

“You have my trust Rye Mash… you have proven yourself to be a good pony. I am sorry for prying into your personal thoughts. It has been a long time since I’ve met a pony that I would rather have as a friend than an amiable acquaintance or accomplice.”

“I just hope that I don’t let you down…”

 

 

The Whalefish headed north and the crew remained wary. North was the Hinterlands and beyond that, Griffonholm. Dangerous territory for any ship to travel through, the risk was much higher for a ship crewed by equines.

The crew was watchful and a patrol of pegasi flew alongside the ship.

On the rear deck, the very place where Rye had learned to shoot, Woe Betide was getting her first lessons from Velvet and Starjammer. Rye was paying attention as well, knowing that there was a lot he could be and should be learning. As he listened, he broke down his new gun over and over, getting to know it well, gaining a feel for every inch of it. It was long, it was heavy, and Rye worried that the scope might be a bit too fragile.

“Where are we going?” Woe Betide asked.

Velvet sighed. “Trottingham.”

“Why?”

“Business.”

“I don’t have business in Trottingham.”

When Rye chortled, Velvet shot him a dirty look.

“My horn hurts. I’d rather just watch the clouds as we go by,” Woe Betide said.

“Come on now, this is rather simple. Just a bit of the basics. You have talent. You have skill. Wouldn’t it be nice to develop that?” Velvet asked.

“I dunno… how come there is no clouds of black smoke coming out of the boat?”

Rye heard another exasperated sigh from Velvet.

“The boilers were upgraded to arcano-tech. Clouds of black smoke have a way of revealing your position,” Velvet said as she tried to give the curious and annoying filly a reason. “Now pay attention. You can pop locks which shows you have a fine degree of magical manipulation. That shows promise.”

“Can I learn to use a pistol?” Woe Betide asked.

Starjammer’s eyes narrowed and the unicorn stallion immediately turned to look at Rye. As he was doing this, Bloody Velvet also turned to look at Rye. At the same time, both smiled matching devious grins.

Rye thought it was a little bit creepy. He began to understand that Bloody Velvet and Starjammer were two very different unicorns than he was. What he was seeing was manipulative and devious. Rye prefered the direct approach. For one very brief moment, he wondered if they were devious because they were nobles or just because they were clever.

Still smiling a devious smile, Bloody Velvet leaned down and looked Woe Betide in the eye. “Using a pistol takes some magical skill. Rye Mash has to use his telekinesis to handle the gun. It takes fine manipulation to load his guns, clean them, and keep them in good repair.”

“Hmm…” Woe Betide paused and look thoughtful. “I suppose I can learn stuff so I could do that. So what do I do?”

“To start off with, go over there and watch how Rye Mash disassembles and then reassembles his gun. He’s been doing it compulsively for at least three quarters of an hour now,” Bloody Velvet said as she gave Woe Betide a gentle nudge to get her moving.

The filly moved with a slow gait; she almost seemed shy as she approached Rye Mash. She sat down in front of him and watched as the gun was reassembled, held aloft in Rye Mash’s telekinesis.

“Rye Mash doesn’t have a lot of magic. But as you can see, when he is working with a gun, his talent manifests itself. If one observes him at work, you can see that he is exhibiting fine control. This is probably due to his talent manifesting and giving him a little extra magic. Magic is a funny thing. Every day we learn a little more about magic through observation, but we will never know everything. The study of magic is the study of the unknown and making it knowable,” Velvet said in a clear patient voice.

Rye Mash lifted up a small canister of gun grease, a salve that protected the wood on his guns. “Here, unscrew this lid.”

Taking the canister into her own magic, Woe held it up and looked at it with her remaining eye, which she had trouble keeping open due to all of the swelling. She had done this before. Reaching out with her mind, she turned the canister in one direction and the lid in another. There was a little squeal of metal from the cannister as it opened. There was a faint whiff of something almost like oranges, something she had never eaten but had smelled many times in the markets of Tradewinds.

“Now put the lid back on,” Rye instructed.

Woe Betide twisted the cannister back around and there was another faint squeak.

“And that right there is the proof that you are at least a type two,” Bloody Velvet said. “You can move two different things in two different directions. I strongly suspect that you are a type three though, which is why I am eager to have you learn some magic.”

Woe Betide twisted off the lid once more and then screwed it back on. “Magic is nice, but guns are neat.”

Starjammer rolled his eyes but said nothing in reply.

“Guns are neat and I use them occasionally. But bullets are no match for strong magic,” Bloody Velvet said in a soft patient voice.

“Can you stop bullets?” Woe Betide asked.

Bloody Velvet nodded. “Most of the time. Also, I can make my enemies not want to shoot me. With magic I can cloud their minds, put them to sleep, and sometimes even make them like me.”

Woe Betide turned to look at Velvet. “Could I do that?”

Velvet shrugged. “Maybe.”

The little filly looked thoughtful as she screwed and unscrewed the cap on the cannister over and over. “So what do I do with this magic?”

Velvet dropped her head down to be eye level with Woe Betide. “You use it to make a life for yourself. You use it so you can be free. So you don’t wind up as food or ingredients. With magic, you’d have work, and with work, you’ll have coin. With coin, you’ll have freedom. Or do you want to be a worthless sneak thief for the rest of your life?”

The filly closed her eye. “I hadn’t thought about it… I’ve just tried to live long enough to see the next day. I steal what I have to and do what I need to do. It was either steal or sell my body and I chose stealing even though I know what they do to ponies that steal in Tradewinds.”

“They brand you. And once you have that brand, you’re forced to remain a thief because nopony would ever employ you and you become stuck. Eventually, you go to prison and stay there, get killed, or you turn to prostitution.”

Bloody Velvet’s words were cold and said without emotion or feeling.

“Yeah,” Woe Betide said. The filly opened her eye and sighed. “I never thought about my future much. Wasn’t much to think about.”

“You speak well enough. You seem smart. It is time for you to work towards the future you deserve.” Bloody Velvet’s eye began to blink in an erratic manner and the mare pulled her head back away from Woe Betide.

“You okay?” Woe asked.

“She has the Shivers,” Rye replied. “Just give her a moment.”

“I’ll be fine, just leave me be…”

 

 

 

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