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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15. Chapter 15

Captain Spyglass paced back and forth, looking at the troubling sight that was the gold pile. It made his blood run cold and he felt tingles running up and down his spine with each glance. The gold, the scrolls, and everything else that had been found in the hidden cache. Over the past two days, the worry in his mind had grown, ever since this cache had first been found.

“The scrolls might be enough print for us to break down the cipher and figure out what we are looking at,” Bloody Velvet said as Spyglass continued to pace. “Rye Mash just needs time, so he says. He’s smart and he’s clever. I think he can do it.”

“I think I’ve already done it,” Rye said in a low voice. “I haven’t confirmed it and read everything just yet, but I think that it is a ladder cipher. I finally had enough words to work with. I need time to translate it.”

“Ladder cipher?” Spyglass asked. “This is wonderful news… do you think you’ve cracked it? What is a ladder cipher? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“A ladder cipher is a complex cipher that displaces letters and requires some guesswork. If you have a five letter word, like say, the word ‘cheek,’ the first letter might be five letter up or five letters down in the alphabet. The second letter will also be either five letters up or five letters down in the alphabet. If you have two of the same letters in the middle of the word, one will be up, the other down, making it harder to form a pattern and guess. To read this, I’m gonna have to go through and arrange each word letter by letter, trying out the different words they form until I get a working sentence,” Rye Mash replied.

“So… each letter is treated like a rung on a ladder, and the word itself is the key to tell you how many rungs to move either up or down?” Bloody Velvet asked, her muzzle scrunching up in concentration and her ear twitching from a petite spasm.

Rye Mash nodded. “I think. I think that is what we are dealing with. I need time, but I have a suspicion.”

“You have all the time you need, Mister Mash. Have any more caches been found yet?” Spyglass gave the crew of The Apogee a hopeful look.

“Just this one, two days ago,” Bloody Velvet replied. “We’re still looking.”

Sitting down upon the floor, Captain Spyglass turned to look at the pile of gold once more. This much gold was dangerous. This much gold could inspire a fair bit of greed. Make a pony desperate. This much gold, if word leaked out about it, could cause all manner of trouble to come looking for them. He turned and looked at Bloody Velvet.

“I’m tempted to dump it over the side and let it fall into ocean,” Captain Spyglass said, admitting what he had been thinking. “That much gold can make a pony mad. Do bad things to their mind.”

“Sir, that would be a bad idea,” Bloody Velvet replied, shaking her head. “This could be useful to our cause. This could help us fight.”

“Velvet, I look at that gold and I can’t help myself. I think that I could get out of this life. Set up my own kingdom somewhere, perhaps on some island. I must confess, I am tempted.” Captain Spyglass turned his head to look at the gold once more.

“Being tempted is fine, act on it, and I’ll kill you.” Bloody Velvet’s words were cold, emotionless, and spoken in a flat monotone.

“And you’d be right to do so… funny… gold has a magic all its own. Dragons kill for it. Wars are fought for it. Kings can never get enough of it. Brothers betray brothers for it. It would be better for us all if it was dumped over the side.” Spyglass shook his head and an expression of regret settled over his face.

“I am inclined to agree with Captain Spyglass. I don’t like how all that gold makes me feel,” Rye Mash said in a low whisper. “And I don’t like how Starjammer can look at it and be disgusted. It makes me angry at him for some reason, and I don’t like it.”

Starjammer’s ears perked up and he turned to look over at Rye Mash. He snorted, shook his head, his tail twitched, and then, without warning, he pressed his muzzle against Rye Mash’s and surprised the other stallion with an open mouthed kiss, slipping his tongue between Rye Mash’s unsuspecting lips and tickling the roof of Rye Mash’s mouth.

His eyes wide, Rye Mash pulled away, licking his lips, and staring at Starjammer.

“I must return to The Whalefish.” Captain Spyglass heaved a sigh. “Starjammer, please be gentle with my cabin colt. I do need him in one piece when we arrive in Trottingham.”

 

 

Woe Betide let out a faint squeak and continued concentrating, holding up a book over head. Failure to keep holding the book up over her head would cause the book to come crashing down upon her head. She felt a bead of sweat form under her mane on the back of her neck, along her crest. It tickled as it trickled down.

Letting out a cry, her concentration broke. She winced, waiting for the thump on her skull, but it never came. She opened one eye and looked around. She saw Starjammer and there was a kind, patient expression upon his face. His horn was ignited. She saw the book levitated away and set back upon the bookshelf.

“Am I getting better?” Woe asked.

Nodding, Starjammer’s head bobbed in an agreeable way.

“You never say much,” Woe said.

Starjammer’s head bobs ceased and his head turned from side to side.

“Can you tell me why?” Woe asked. “Please?”

The stallion nibbled upon his own lip, put on the spot by the curious filly. His eyes darted around, as if hoping to spot some way out of this predicament so he could keep his silence. He took a deep breath, cleared his throat, and then said in a soft voice, “Better to do than say.”

“I don’t understand. Explain.”

Starjammer slumped over and let out an exasperated sigh as a pained expression crept over his face. “Actions.” He paused for a moment and looked Woe in the eye. “Not lip flapping.”

“Is this why you keep sneaking up on Rye and kissing him? You’re showing him, rather than telling him?” Woe asked.

A wide toothy grin spread over Starjammer’s face and his head gave an enthusiastic bob in reply to the curious filly that had asked just the right question. His eyes twinkled with merriment.

“Is it weird to kiss another stallion?” Woe looked up at Starjammer and blinked.

Shrugging, Starjammer waved a hoof around.

“Is one set of lips the same as any other?” Woe Betide, overcome with curiousity, wished that Starjammer would just say something.Anything.

Staring up at the ceiling and refusing to look Woe Betide in the eye, Starjammer nodded.

“Have you kissed Bloody Velvet yet?” Woe Betide asked in the most innocent voice she could muster.

The stallion, staring at the ceiling, began humming.

“I think it’s neat that you’re kinda girly.” Woe Betide gave up all pretense of being innocent and went right for the throat. “Maybe some perfume would get Rye’s attention. He sniffs things a lot. I noticed it when I was helping in the kitchen.”

Starjammer’s head snapped downwards with alacrity and his eyes almost bored a hole through Woe Betide. One eyebrow began a slow, almost glacial pace as it crept up his forehead. His nostrils flared.

“Bloody Velvet says I need to act more girly and stop saying words like bugger so much.” Woe Betide’s shoulders rose and fell as the filly sighed. “I don’t know anything about being girly and I always feel funny when she lectures me about trying to be a proper lady.” Woe looked over at her teacher. “Maybe we should take lessons together.”

Considering the foal’s words, Starjammer reached up and began to rub his chin with his hoof. He nodded and looked Woe in the eye.

 

 

A headache was forming and Rye Mash closed his eyes for a moment to rest them. He had uncovered one message so far that disturbed him a great deal. A short, brief message that had burned into his brain.

Kr ku xeqa irb qeb Prk vq vhw dkg ijqaw omvi vcfds.

The implication of the words were terrifying. It had taken him a while to solve the ladder cipher, including a loop that went from beginning back around to the end, but the meaning of the words were clear. And chilling. He wondered what House Avarice was planning.

Other messages talked of putting an end to Princess Celestia and driving her out of Equestria somehow, while others talked about unicorns seizing control of the sun once more, and by doing so, seizing control of the world. Whoever controlled the sun controlled all life on the whole world by extension.

House Avarice it was said, came from Princess Platinum and the unicorns that had once controlled the sun. The only thing that kept them from ruling the world was the fact that they were a noble house, and not the royal family of Equestria. Princess Celestia was the sole monarch of Equestria, although there was a lot of talk that she was little more than a puppet now, a figurehead.

And given the nature of the cipher, Princess Celestia’s future seemed grim.

 

 

“Skeeter, what are you doing up and about… are you feeling better?” Bloody Velvet asked in a low voice as she looked the pegasus over. He wobbled a bit but seemed to be moving around okay.

The pegasus shrugged, paused, and nodded. He made his way to a comfortable chair and sat down. His face was still swollen and Skeeter made no effort to speak. Skeeter’s distinctive cerulean blue pelt was glossy and still somewhat damp after coming out of the shower, his dark blue mane was ever darker from being wet.

“Something ever messes up your face again and I hope Rye shoots them,” Bloody Velvet said as she got up into Skeeter’s face and began looking him over. “It’s healing well. Swelling seems to have gone away. Does it feel hot?”

Skeeter shook his head, causing his mane to tumble down into his eyes.

In a moment of unexpected tenderness, Cerise Velvet kissed Skeeter on his other unwounded cheek and then she stepped away. “Brave little pegasus. You’ve earned that scar. Don’t you ever be ashamed of it, do you understand me?”

More of Skeeter’s mane tumbled into his face as he nodded. Reaching up with his left foreleg, he pushed it back.

When Rye Mash stumbled into the common room, Bloody Velvet could see by looking at him that there was something wrong, and not from peeking into his mind. His eyes were red, bloodshot, his ears were limp, and he looked just awful. She felt his headache for a moment and then backed out of his consciousness. Rye’s straw coloured mane looked limp, stringy, and unkept, which was worrisome. Rye was prissy and not one to let his appearance go. He kept his mane combed and neat looking.

Lifting her hoof, Bloody Velvet pointed at a chair. “You,” she said to Rye Mash. “You sit down. You look like you could use a drink.”

Not replying, Rye Mash went over to the chair that Velvet had pointed at and fell in with a grunt. His head fell down upon the overstuffed arm of the chair and he lay there, limp and unmoving.

Bloody Velvet opened a cabinet, pulled out a decanter of whiskey, a glass, and she poured Rye a drink. She levitated the glass over to him and watched as he took it in his own telekinesis. She saw him sip it and then grimace as the fierce whiskey burned his throat.

“The whole world is going to burn,” Rye Mash said in a low, raspy voice that had been burned by whiskey.

 

 

 

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