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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16. Chapter 16

Trottingham awaited. The sky was grey with clouds, fog, and soot. Burning coal poured black smoke out of almost every chimney and black ash fell down like snowflakes. The Apogee drifted beside The Whalefish and both vessels were becoming soiled from the filthy air.

Rye Mash felt a tingle of excitement. This was a new city for him. A grand place, a fantastic place, a place storied in song and fireside tales all over the civilised world. This was one of the world’s largest cities. It sprawled in all directions, endless rowhouses, narrow streets, plain looking squares and rectangles for buildings.

“Rye?” Bloody Velvet called out Rye’s name, trying to get his attention after she had poked him and there was no response. “Rye, are you there?”

“Sorry.” Rye turned to look at Velvet.

“You’ll have some time to explore but I doubt we’ll stay here for long. We’re here to see the Broker and take care of some other business. Captain Spyglass is going to need you to be your most charming when we visit the broker. I’m not allowed to go because of being a telepath. Makes him nervous. So you are going to guard Captain Spyglass. Everything should be fine. Just be polite.”

“Okay.” Rye Mash returned to looking at Trottingham.

“This place is a horrible cesspit. Rye, be careful. They have some bad attitudes about unicorns here in Trottingham. Be careful what you say, be careful with your magic, just… be careful,” Bloody Velvet said.

“Starjammer refuses to come out,” Woe Betide said as she trotted up next to Velvet.

“Starjammer is far too in love with his own snowy white pelt and that silvery blonde mane and tale of his… I have never, in all my life, seen a pony quite so vain.” Bloody Velvet shook her head as one of her hind legs quivered. “He’s allowed to get away with it though, cause he’s handsome. Right, Rye?”

Saying nothing, Rye stared ahead at the filthy city. It started to drizzle and murky rain oozed down from the dull grey clouds. Everything looked the same; endless boxes of rowhouses stretched out as far as the eye could see. There were big brick factories near the coast. The seawater was a disgusting brown sludge with shimmering oily rainbows upon its greasy surface.

“What’s that smell?” Woe Betide asked.

“Trottingham,” Velvet replied, shaking her head. “The city sits at sea level, more or less. When the tide comes in, it pushes all the sewage back through the sewers. As a result, the streets are quite literally full of—”

“Shite?” Woe Betide finished.

“Yes, Woe, you, uh, said it quite well. I was going to be a bit more polite about it.” Velvet glanced down at the foal. “You’re staying on this ship and you are not to leave.”

“Oh, I don’t want to go down there… there are all kinds of ponies that would probably love to bugger my backside or do all kinds of just awful things to me.” Woe Betide shuddered. “I like it here. It is warm, dry, there is food, and all of you are nice to me.”

“And your backside remains undiddled,” Rye said.

“Rye, do not let anything happen to Captain Spyglass. I mean it. You don’t understand how important our work is. He is vital to our cause. I know I tell you not to be blood thirsty and not to recklessly shoot other ponies or griffons, but if something does go wrong for whatever reason, you don’t hold back, do you understand me?”

“Yes, Bloody, I understand you…”

 

 

The streets were in fact, full of dung. Filthy congealed muck oozed over the cobblestones. Rye Mash and Captain Spyglass rode together in a hansom cab that was driven by a small griffon. Rye Mash, wrapped up in his cloak, was armed to the teeth and very, very alert. Spyglass, also wearing a heavy cloak, was watchful as well.

“Watch those foals,” Captain Spyglass said in a low voice.

“Foals, sir?” Rye Mash eyed the foals following after the hansom cab.

“Mister Mash, if those foals stop the cab, I do believe we will be robbed. If one of them approaches to beg for coins, give them a good scare and stick him in the snoot with your pistol. That should send a clear message. I hope.” Spyglass was nervous and his eyes darted back and forth as he tried to take in everything around him.

Rye loosened one of his pistols from the holster and waited. One of the foals was trotting alongside the cab now, looking up with a hopeful grin. Rye noticed that several pegasi were sitting up on top of the roofs of the rowhouses, looking down. This was all very interesting.

When the foal jumped up onto the step, Rye Mash drew his pistol and placed the end of the barrel just below the colt’s eye. The colt froze, shrieked in fear, pissed himself, and then jumped down. The other colts took off running and the pegasi up on the rooftops flew off.

Rye Mash sheathed his pistol and resumed his watch.

 

 

The Broker, as he was known, was a scrawny unicorn with glasses and only three legs. His eyeglasses were thick and made his eyes look tiny. He had several pegasi with him and a few unicorns.

The meeting took place in a shabby, run down rowhouse with ratty furniture. Rye Mash stood close to Captain Spyglass, who had sat down in a chair that was covered with a tattered blanket. The living room was small, almost cramped, the Broker’s bodyguard’s had trouble all fitting into the small room together.

“I apologise for these conditions,” the Broker said in a reedy voice. “But I am a wanted pony. House Avarice has placed a high price on my head, as have the griffons, a number of diamond dogs, and the king and queen of the Shire Isles.”

“It is understandable,” Captain Spyglass replied. “Not only do I have your package, but I have a great deal of information and my cabin colt has cracked the ciphers we have been finding.”

“I am interested.” The Broker sat up straight in his chair. “How much for your cabin colt, might I ask? Intelligence is a rare and precious commodity, more precious than gold or gems.”

“Flatterer.” Captain Spyglass’ eyebrow raised. “He is not for sale. He has proven himself quite capable so far. I am sorry, but I am certain you will understand. Not only is he smart, but he’s damn good at shooting things I don’t like… how does one put a price on that?”

One of the pegasi began to snicker.

The Broker shrugged and then continued with his business. “House Avarice has put out quite a price upon one of their own sons, a stallion by the name of Starjammer. It seems as though there were some killings. Starjammer also is reputed to know a number of interesting facts about House Avarice, seeing as how he is one of the high ranking members. Rumour has it, he has been travelling by airship. If you were to run into him, you would do well to hire him on as a crewmember, if you can. He’s on the run from ponies who are very, very serious about killing him.”

Spyglass nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind.” The pegasus settled back into his chair. “We captured a prototype ship called The Apogee. On the ship were quite a number of interesting things, but most of it was encrypted correspondence. We’re still sorting through the information, but in my saddlebags I’ve brought copies of the things we’ve decoded so far and a number of business ledgers.”

“Good.”

Rye noted that this Broker fellow, whomever he was, seemed pleased. He looked around the room, noting that none of the Broker’s bodyguards were hostile. In fact, all of them seemed quite like pleasant fellows. Rye began to suspect that he and Spyglass were in no danger from the Broker and his guards, but rather, those hunting the Broker.

“I get the feeling that this is going to be a profitable exchange.” The Broker smiled. “I would love to stay and chat, but right now, a number of agents are no doubt destroying the place where they thought this meeting was taking place. I took a great risk in coming here to this location, and I’d rather not stay. I must bid thee adieu.” The Broker pointed down at a oilcloth canvas courier bag sitting beside his chair.

Captain Spyglass took off his saddlebags and set them down upon the ground. The two ponies looked at one another for a while, then nodded. As the exchange was being made, a burly pegasus peered out of the dingy glass of the front window.

“My cabin colt has left instructions on how to read the ciphers. Some of the material I have left for you has not yet been translated. When next we meet, I would like to know what it says, if possible,” Captain Spyglass said.

“Understood. It has been a pleasure seeing you, as always,” the Broker replied.

With the bags exchanged, the meeting was over. The Broker stood up on his three legs, his movements stiff and clumsy. He looked at Rye Mash, peering at him through the thick lenses of his glasses. The frail unicorn smiled.

“You play a dangerous game, cabin colt. Good luck… some of us keep playing for the love of the game… just remember, there are no rules other than to survive…”

 

 

A different hansom cab, this time the pony pulling the cab was also the driver. Rye Mash sat wrapped up in his cloak, worried about keeping his guns dry. This cab had horrible suspension and he could feel every cobblestone they passed over. Rye Mash kept his eyes open for trouble, keeping watch for any orphans.

“Mister Mash, I do not know if you understand how much trust I have shown you this day, but you should know, you are trusted,” Spyglass said as the hansom cab rocked back and forth.

“I get the feeling that we are more than privateers.” Rye Mash gave Captain Spyglass a teasing smile. “So just who is this Broker fellow?”

“No one knows who he is exactly. His name remains unknown. But he is an ally. We meet once in a while to exchange information.” Captain Spyglass scowled as the rain continued to come down in a steady, filthy torrent. “I don’t know how he has managed to live for so long. Everypony wants him dead. He continues to live, much to the dismay of many.”

“So I am guessing that the information that you gave to him, he passes it along to others like us… fighting whatever it is that we are fighting. And the information you got from him is information that ponies like us have given to him,” Rye Mash said.

“Yes, Mister Mash, and you are quite clever in your deductions,” Spyglass replied.

Deep wrinkles appeared in Rye Mash’s muzzle as his brain worked overtime. “So there is a whole bunch of ponies like us, fighting a good fight, trying to do the right thing. But I guess we don’t have a leader and we don’t really know about each other so that way if some of us get captured, we don’t have much to say.”

“Correct, Mister Mash.”

“When you said that not many unicorns would choose this life, you weren’t just talking about serving aboard an airship, were you?” Rye Mash asked after having a flash of insight.

“We are working to tear away the excessive privileges of unicorns in Equestria… and many other places in the world. I fear that would make you quite unpopular, Mister Mash.” Spyglass turned and looked at his cabin colt for a moment. “You really are quite remarkable.”

“Why?” Rye asked.

“Why what?”

“Why are we doing this?”

“Because, Mister Mash, all it takes for evil to be triumphant is for good ponies to sit back and do nothing. I make no claim to excessive goodness, but I sleep well enough at night.”

“I see, Captain Spyglass.”

“Once we have returned to the ships, feel free to take a little shore leave. I know that some of the others have. Watch out though, this is a rough city for sailors.” Spyglass resumed his vigil and kept his eyes upon the world around him, alert for danger.

 

 

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