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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12. Chapter 12

The Whalefish drifted north with an almost painful slowness. They were near the Hinterlands now, and would soon be near griffon territories. The idea of being anywhere near the griffon homeland filled Rye Mash with dread. He was not looking forward to this leg of the trip…

Except that he was.

There was a part of him that wanted confrontation. He wanted to go into a fight with his guns blazing. He wanted to see how his new pistol would perform. He wanted to test his mettle and see how he did in another fight. He had ideas, good ideas, and he needed bodies in front of his guns to test these ideas. The only way to get better at gunfighting was to get into gunfights.

It was troubling when your cutie mark indicated a future of extreme violence.

 

 

Sensing trouble, Rye Mash stared at Bloody Velvet, who stood with her head held high in the wind, and looked as if she almost could see or hear something off in the distance. Captain Spyglass paced around the deck, looking nervous. Starjammer, being a calm and collected sort, was busy writing something in a thick tome while Woe Betide, sitting beside him, ate an apple.

“Tell me Bloody Velvet, are we in for some excitement?” Captain Spyglass asked.

“Four unicorns… strong magic. Very strong magic. But no feeling of skill or ability.” Bloody Velvet closed her eyes and stood still, a look of concentration upon her face. “How very odd. Only four unicorns. I sense no other minds. No pegasi. No earth ponies. Just four unicorns on an airship.”

“Based upon your description, I’m thinking we have some Equestrian nobles. Maybe House Avarice themselves. But why would four of them be here, near the Hinterlands, with no crew? How are they sailing their ship?” Spyglass looked troubled and he turned to look at Rye Mash.

“There is one way to find out,” Bloody Velvet said in a low voice, the corner of her mouth quivering up and down as the side of her face spasmed. “Captain, shall I give the order?”

The pegasus nodded, a faint smile upon his face.

“Come up hard and fast! Bring all guns to bear! I want this as bloodless as possible! We’ll scare them into surrender! Prepare a boarding party! Full power forward!”

All around the deck, the crew burst into action and there was a lurch as The Whalefish sped forwards. The engines hummed and the airscrews that pushed the ship forwards turned fast enough to produce a faint buzzing scream.

Rye Mash smiled. At least the boredom had ended and the day was now exciting.

“Odd magical signatures! Electrical! Be warned!” Bloody Velvet’s warning was loud enough to be heard over the whole of the deck. Pegasi were lining up and making ready to board. The wind picked up as they gained speed.

Starjammer looked up from his book for a moment, frowned, and then resumed his writing, looking very annoyed and put out. He shook his head and snorted.

“Is there gonna be a fight?” Woe Betide’s eyes were wide and full of excitement.

“Stay with Starjammer!” Bloody Velvet barked in reply.

In the distance, a speck appeared, and it was growing larger as The Whalefish closed the gap. The forward guns were being readied. The tension in the air grew, it was a wonderful, dreadful feeling, and Rye Mash quite liked it. In moments, the strange ship was quite visible. It appeared to be about twenty five feet in length and had a smallish egg shaped gasbag with odd protrusions sticking out of the top.

A single warning shot was fired as The Whalefish drew near. Nothing happened. The ship in the distance did not respond. And then, without warning, something did happen, as was the case in these sorts of encounters. A stream of lightning arced near the The Whalefish’sbow.

“Pull back!” Spyglass commanded.

The whole ship lurched and shuddered as it veered away from the strange craft. The Whalefish banked and blazed away, preserving the distance between itself and the strange vessel that seemed to be armed with cannons that shot lightning.

“We have an advantage… the lightning will only shoot so far… fire one shot through their gasbag with one of our long guns!” Bloody Velvet commanded as she brought a shimmering shield up around herself.

Meanwhile, Rye Mash was looking through the scope on his fancy new pistol. “There are four unicorns on deck. They'e smiling and laughing. I can see them! They’re laughing at us!”

“I can’t stand smarmy bastards.” Spyglass’s wings fluttered at his sides. He squinted at the ship in the distance, scowling, and his furious expression became gleeful when the long gun fired.

The cannonball went hurtling off, trailing smoke and fire, it flew threw the air in a graceful arc, heading right for the strange vessel’s gasbag. It stopped just short of its target and a shimmering golden shield flickered around the strange craft.

“What in the name of Nightmare Moon’s stars?” Bloody Velvet shook her head. “I’ve never seen anything like that before. That is not a unicorn making that shield, be careful!” Her eyes narrowed as she tried to assess the situation. “If we want to hit harder and try to wear their shield down, we’ll have to get closer. If we get closer, we’ll be zapped by those lightning guns. Keep lobbing volleys of cannonfire and let’s see if we can wear them down from here.”

With a snort of annoyance, Starjammer slammed his book shut and then it winked away in a flash of light. He stood up and trotted to the deck. He watched as the long guns were fired and several more cannonballs bounced into the strange vessel’s shields.

“Stop.” Starjammer looked at Bloody Velvet.

Bloody Velvet looked puzzled for a moment as she stared at Starjammer. And then, her face brightened into a wide grin. “Ceasefire!”

After one final volley, the guns silenced their thunder.

“Starjammer has a plan. Rye, we need you to draw a bead on one of the unicorns with your fancy new pistol. I hope your aim is true. I am going to shield our ship from the lightning guns as we rush them and Starjammer is going to pierce their shield. When we’re close and you see the shield flicker out, take your shot! Then we’re going to steam away and see what happens next.”

“Sounds like a good plan! Let’s move!” Spyglass commanded.

The Whalefish banked and angled towards the enemy vessel. Lightning streamed from little silver antennae mounted on the vessel. It crackled all around The Whalefish and caused Bloody Velvet’s shield to fizzle and crackle.

They were close now, so very close, they were heading right for the small strange vessel and the enemy ship was now turning to avoid being hit broadside. As the vessel turned, The Whalefish came up alongside the craft, there was less than a hundred feet between them, and lightning surged from the wiggling silver antennae.

Whatever was powering the lightning guns seemed to be wearing out already. Starjammer cast a spell, it flew towards the enemy ship and their shield came into view. It rippled, there was a loud buzzing sound, and then, the shield dropped, showering magical sparks down into the clouds below.

Rye Mash fired his long rifled barrel pistol with the scope. One of the unicorns suffered from an explosive headache as everything from the neck up burst into a fine red mist. The other three looked quite startled and all of them bolted from the deck, running for the door that led belowdecks.

The Whalefish angled away and began to put distance between the two crafts. Rye Mash began to reload his pistol. Bloody Velvet’s shield held against the lightning, but showed signs of failing.

As The Whalefish pulled away, the lightning guns ceased to fire, shooting sparks and feeble arcs of electricity, but not the concentrated streams of electric death. It seemed as though the ship was running low on power.

“Get a boarding party! I do not want this vessel damaged… whatever this is, it is important!” Spyglass unfurled his wings and took to the air. A group of pegasi took wing with him.

A moment later, Rye Mash felt himself being snatched up and carried into the air.

Now airborne, he could see the enemy vessel and he could see the scales that were the symbol of House Avarice. The flag fluttered beneath the gasbag and hung above the deck. There were no shields, no electricity left in the strange new guns, the ship was helpless.

When Rye Mash’s hooves touched the deck, he drew his main pair of pistols. He took aim when he saw the door open, but did not fire. A lone stallion came out, his eyes wide with terror. Rye Mash approached and Spyglass drew near as well.

“I surrender!” the stallion said. “My fellows are dying if not dead… they are drinking poison!”

“So you are a coward.” Spyglass snorted in disgust. “Tell me, coward, what is your name?”

The stallion dropped his head and looked fearful as he was surrounded. “My name is Buckminster Belvedere Bitters, Destrier of House Bitters, Scion of the Plat—”

“Oh that’s enough of that, I asked for your name, coward,” Spyglass spat. “Tell me, what are you doing here?”

The very nervous Buckminster Belvedere Bitters rubbed one foreleg against the other and looked all around him, his eyes wide with terror as he saw all the pegasi closing him in. He drew in one frightened shuddering breath, held it for a moment, and then looked at Spyglass.

“Last chance. Tell me or we shall test your unicorn superiority by throwing you over the rail. If you can command gravity to let you live, that will be quite a feat.” Spyglass’s lip curled back from his teeth in a sneer.

“I was sent here to negotiate with an outpost in the Hinterlands. We have contacts there. There have been too many foals born on the Shetlands and there are far too many to take in on the mainland, so we were looking to sell the surplus mud pony foals to the minotaurs and the diamond dogs.” The unicorn let out a frightened whimper and his ears drooped down to the sides of his face.

“And what of this ship?” Bloody Velvet asked as she stepped forwards.

Rye Mash smiled and hoped that the stallion would try lying to Bloody Velvet.

“This ship is The Apogee. It is an experimental vessel constructed in the House Bitters shipyards. It has high levels of automation, experimental weaponry, and we, uh, borrowed it for our trip.”

“House Bitters. One of the top houses within Avarice. You Bitters ponies have some of the purest and most undiluted bloodlines in all of Canterlot. Took a lot of incest to stay that way, didn’t it?” Bloody Velvet let out a scathing chuckle. “House Bitters… the House of Madponies.”

Buckminster cringed away from Bloody Velvet and kept his head low. “I just want to live. Please, I have foals at home and a thriving business and I just—”

“Cease talking this instant or I shall have Mister Mash shoot you in the leg!” Spyglass commanded. “Tell me, do you have records of your contacts? Information about them?”

“Yes sir, in my quarters I have detailed communications with our contacts and I have kept all of our correspondence. I have ledgers containing our products and detailed information about our drop and collection points.”

Spyglass’ eyes narrowed and he looked at the captive unicorn. “Ponies are not products. Flesh is not a commodity.” The pegasus shook his head. “So you have detailed information that I would be interested in, and it is just below, in your quarters?”

“Yes sir… I have surrendered… I have cooperated. I am giving you everything you want. Please, let me live,” Buckminster said, begging for his life.

“You have peddled flesh. Worse, you are peddling foal flesh. You disgust me. Mister Mash, please shoot him, the very fact that he continues to breathe infuriates and disgusts me.” Spyglass stepped away from the unicorn and shielded his face with his wing. A second later, there was a loud thunderous crack and Spyglass felt something splattering against his feathers. He shook his wing, trying to get the bits of bone and bloodied meat off.

The unicorn lay on the deck, his four legs kicking and twitching, and most of his head was now gone. Rye Mash stood nearby, smoke trailing up from the barrel of his pistol.

“I loathe flesh peddlers. But foal flesh, that is unforgivable. Somebody, please, dispose of this trash, the smell is most disagreeable and offensive to my nose.” Spyglass stepped away, looking disgusted, and his eyes narrowed. “Too much powder, Mister Mash. What a mess. I need to go find a cloud to roll in. I am covered in noble unicorn paste. Vile!”

“Come on Rye, let’s go have a look belowdecks and see what we can find.” Bloody Velvet gestured at the door and chuckled at Spyglass’ predicament.

Reloading, Rye Mash moved to follow Bloody Velvet.

 

 

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