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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19. Chapter 19

Space aboard The Apogee was a little tighter. With Skeeter, Starjammer, Woe Betide, Bloody Velvet, and himself, things were already cramped. Now, with Mousy and Oola, things were, well, whatever it was that came after cramped, Rye Mash didn’t know.

Starjammer and Bloody Velvet were trying to rig up some place for Oola to sleep. Oola, a giant, had some trouble moving around the ship, unable to stand at her full height. She was forced to move around almost on all fours and there were no beds large enough for her.

Skeeter the pegasus and Mousy the earth pony struck up a conversation, if it could be called that, with Skeeter doing most of the listening and Mousy doing most of the talking. Mousy talked about doing what she was good at, which was being a padhoof. Skeeter listened with wide, curious eyes.

In the kitchen, Woe Betide followed Rye Mash around, trying to pry the bloody details of his time on shore out of him as he tried to prepare a meal. Rye, tight lipped about the events of the day, put the filly to work instead, ordering her to chop vegetables. Woe Betide did so, but only after much whining and protest.

In the main room, Oola settled in on top of a few cushions and cuddled up with a bottle of whiskey from the cabinet…

 

 

“So does anybody know where we are off to next?” Rye asked between bites of food.

Bloody Velvet chewed her food as she nodded. After swallowing, she replied, “Sable Blanc. It’s a little town on the coast of Fancy.”

“Why are we going there? Meeting with smugglers? Battle other pirates?” Excited, Woe Betide bounced up and down in her chair.

Shaking her head, Bloody Velvet smiled. “None of those things. Captain Spyglass is rather fond of the cheese that they make. I know nothing of cheesemaking, but they use seawater, and somehow the cheese itself comes out a little salty.”

“But seawater is full of shite and dead bodies,” Woe Betide said, her words causing Oola to laugh.

“Your mouth!” Rye looked at Woe, his gaze stern. “Trottingham’s water certainly was.”

“Perhaps we can have some shore leave where Rye Mash doesn’t have to kill anypony,” Bloody Velvet said. “Wouldn’t that be nice? Go somewhere and not leave behind a slew of dead bodies?”

The kangaroo lifted her head. “Sounds boring.”

A large piece of potato lurked in Rye Mash’s stew. He fished it out with his spoon, stuck it in his mouth, and began chewing. Exploring the city had been fun, but there was a certain thrill about conflict. He stared down into his bowl of vegetables almost as if he expected to find answers there.

“So this is what you do? You fly around from place to place, killing?” Oola asked.

“Well, that is what Rye does,” Bloody Velvet replied. The mare gave Oola a trembling, quivering smile.

“Hey!”

“The rest of us try to be civil.” Bloody Velvet smiled at Rye. “We try to make a difference. We prey upon the slavers, the pirates, and the scum of the skies. We’re not strong enough to wage war on our enemies in the usual way, so we use hit and run tactics, we hound them, and we pick off lone ships if we find them. We’ve freed hundreds of slaves.”

“Ooh… well… right… well, I’m all up for that.” Oola looked around the table. “I’m sick of taking it and I’m in the mood to dish it out.”

“Stories. We all have one.”

“The quiet one speaks!” Rye Mash looked over at Starjammer. “Plan to grace us with more words?”

With an almost embarrassed expression, Starjammer lifted his hoof, shook his head, and then returned to eating, ignoring Rye Mash’s laughter. Starjammer’s cheeks took on a faint pink tinge.

“What have I got myself into?” Mousy asked.

 

 

Surrounded by books, ledgers, and coded messages, Rye Mash had lost himself in work. Pieces of paper with letters scribbled in random strings were everywhere. Frowning, the colt then lifted one such sheet of paper, compared it to an entry in a ledger, and then set the paper down, his scowl intensifying.

Salad Days. Or was it salad days? It was hard to tell. Rye Mash suspected that there was a pony named ‘Salad Days’ that had an affiliation with House Avarice. Or perhaps a place called ‘Salad Days.’ Whomever, or whatever they were, they were getting regular shipments. Not long ago, something very, very valuable had been secured at great cost and then sent to Salad Days. Rye Mash had no clue as to what it was yet, but there was still a lot more to sort out and more code to translate.

Puzzling out another cipher, Rye Mash had the words ‘peck’ and ‘paw,’ which seemed to be some project that seemed to be associated with Salad Days. House Avarice had spent a great deal of money upon it.

“Rye?”

Blinking, his eyes bleary and blurry, Rye Mash looked up from his work. It took him several seconds to focus upon Bloody Velvet, her outline fuzzy. He set down his quill and then began to rub his eyes.

“Rye, you should take a break. You’ve been at this for far too long.”

“It’s only been a few hours,” Rye said, shaking his head.

“Rye, the ship’s clock says it is after midnight. You’ve been at this since after supper. It’s been over eight hours—”

“No… no, that’s not possible… is it?”

“Rye, you look like a corpse… and you’ve rubbed ink all over your face.” Bloody Velvet sat down upon the floor, the corner of her mouth spasming. “You need to get some rest—”

“No… I’m just starting to make connections… I’m just starting to get into the good stuff and things are starting to make sense. Sort of. I can’t quit now.”

Bloody Velvet shook her head. “Rye, you need to take a break… go to bed.”

“But I—”

“But nothing. All of this will still be here when you wake up.” Bloody Velvet’s horn lit up. She cleaned the ink from Rye’s face using a little minor magic and then gave him a stern look. “Go to bed.”

“I can’t—”

“Rye, I told you, killing changes you. I tried to tell you. What’s done is done, and what’s dead is dead. There is no way of undoing what you did earlier this day. It’s going to stay in your mind, no matter how much you work on these papers, it isn’t going to settle that nagging little voice in the back of your mind. Now go to bed.”

Slumping down in defeat, Rye Mash looked at Bloody Velvet, his eyes full of pain. “It’s not fair that you get inside my head like that.”

“I know, and I’m sorry. But I can’t change what I am… and I guess you can’t change what you’re becoming. I’ll try to be here for you if I can though.” Bloody Velvet shook her head. “I have cleaned the ink off of your face. Now go to bed.”

“Okay.”

 

 

Feeling somewhat amused, Bloody Velvet watched the dark blue-grey earth pony filly. Her night blue mane was whipped around by the wind, but the filly wasn’t paying attention to her mane; no, the entirety of her focus was spent on watching somepony.

Turning her head, Bloody Velvet looked at Rye Mash for a moment, and then she looked at Mousy once more. Mousy did indeed have a mouse for a cutie mark, a dark mouse with a little pink nose, pink ears, and whiskers. It was an appropriate cutie mark for a sneak thief.

Ignoring the twitching in her legs, Bloody Velvet tried to enjoy the moment. The sun was shining, the breeze was pleasant, and some filly on the verge of marehood was infatuated with her rescuer. It amused Bloody Velvet a great deal, but there was something to be said about being in distress and having a rescuer show up that coloured your perceptions.

“Do you like what you see?” Bloody Velvet asked.

“Huh?” Mousy jumped and she looked around with a guilty expression upon her face. “I don’t know what you mean…”

“You’ve been staring at him for the past hour while he’s been trying to help Woe learn her letters.” Bloody Velvet looked down at the pair and then back at Mousy.

“It’s not every day that you see a stallion being so nice to a filly—”

“A colt. Rye is a colt. And Rye is in that odd place where his body is mature but his mind still needs to grow up a bit… you know, the age where stupidity reigns and a colt does everything he can to impress everypony around him, especially fillies.”

A sullen frown crept over Mousy’s face. The filly said nothing, but glanced at Bloody Velvet for a full minute before returning her eyes to Rye Mash. Her small frame flexed as she sighed.

The amusement Bloody Velvet felt turned sour. She was stuck on a ship with not one, but several hot blooded types, two of them being quite young, and there was no offense greater than speaking ill of somepony’s crush. She could feel Mousy’s growing annoyance and anger. Of course, in Mousy’s eyes, her handsome rescuer could do no wrong. Bloody Velvet rolled her eyes.

“He’s not stupid, he was brilliant! He pulled those guns out and he took control of the situation… they tried to surround him, and Rye warned them in a very polite way that they were about to die. He had spectacular manners… and when the trouble started, he blew the padlock right off of the kangaroo’s cage and she got out and Rye could have killed all of them, but he was so dashing… he only killed a few of them and he was very polite about it and then he made good his escape, taking me and Oola with him.” Staring at Rye, Mousy heaved another sigh, her ribs expanding and then contracting. As she sighed, her eyelashes fluttered like little butterflies in the breeze.

Oola and I, Bloody Velvet thought to herself, feeling a growing feeling of annoyance. The sense of infatuation was almost nauseating at this point for Bloody Velvet. Mousy knew almost nothing about Rye Mash, other than he had rescued her, that he was kind, and that he was good at getting out of a tight spot. She turned away from the earth pony and looked at The Whalefish, which flew ahead of The Apogee.Bloody Velvet didn’t even know how to begin to explain to Mousy that the filly had competition from another admirer with a strong crush; Starjammer was far more suave and sophisticated, not to mention that Starjammer knew how to play the game better.

“Velvet?”

“What?” Bloody Velvet returned her attention to Mousy, expecting more inane drivel.

“I overheard you and Captain Spyglass talking about piloting this ship when it is chasing the beacon on the other ship. I know that pilots have shifts and somepony will have to look after the wheel if we go flying off to do something… could I learn how to fly?”

Taken aback, Bloody Velvet was not at all prepared for this question, and all of her sarcasm died in her throat. This was unexpected and Bloody Velvet had to think about how to reply to the earth pony filly.

“This is a big deal for me… I can start a new life. I don’t have to be the way I was. I was trapped before… but now… now I can do anything. I can be a sneak thief because I want to, not because I have to. And I don’t have to do bad things… at least I hope I don’t. I don’t want to be just a thief. I don’t want that to be the first thing ponies think about when my name is said. I’m also a dancer, but nopony ever thinks of that when I’m mentioned. I’m a passable singer too, but nopony ever thinks of that when they think of me, either.”

Bloody Velvet’s hard edge softened and she felt herself warming to the filly. “When you come on a ship, and you take to the sky or the sea, you leave your old life behind. That’s why ponies join the crew. Out here, you make a name for yourself and you can be anypony that you want to be. I was a soft spoken noble at one point in my life, a mare named Cerise Velvet. I was genteel. I had the best education. I had everything… but,  I was also walked all over, trampled upon, and treated like dirt. I was only good for bearing foals. But here… in the open skies…” Bloody Velvet looked at the blue skies and the clouds all around her. “Out here in the open skies, I became Bloody Velvet, the terror lurking in the clouds. At home, Cerise Velvet was a quiet mare that could be bullied into submission. But Bloody Velvet has command. She has power. She can pilot a ship, she can fight, she commands respect from the entire crew. Out here, anything is possible.”

“Anything?” Mousy turned and looked Velvet in the eye.

“Anything,” Bloody Velvet replied. “Right now, you are an earth pony that is flying, soaring through the domain of the pegasi. You’re already doing the impossible.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.” Mousy smiled and then turned to look at Rye Mash. “I know what I want.”

Heaving a sigh of frustration, Bloody Velvet stormed away in a huff, frustrated beyond measure by the infatuated filly.

 

 

 

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