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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2. Chapter 2

Rye found that his quarters were distressingly small. He had seen closets larger than the tiny room that was meant to be his. He supposed it was better than sleeping in a common room like most of the crew. There was a hammock and there was a tiny narrow desk that folded into the wall.

“How is Canterlot?”

Rye turned to look at Bloody Velvet. Her pelt was a fiery orange and her mane and tail were a bright bloody red. She was twitching and the corner of her mouth kept jerking into a lopsided smile. She was distractingly beautiful.

“Canterlot is probably much the same as it was when you left,” Rye replied. “It is the eternal city. Nothing ever seems to change there,” he said.

Bloody Velvet’s back arched for a moment and a leg kicked outwards. “I have things to do. I expect that the captain will be by to speak with you at some point. Settle in and get some rest. The captain is a very productive pony. He expects all of us to work tirelessly at our jobs. He had to throw the last cabin colt overboard,” she said as she turned to leave.

“WHAT?” Rye shouted.

Bloody Velvet turned back around and one eye fluttered as she glanced at Rye Mash. “The last cabin colt was thrown overboard. He was lazy, he was sloppy, and he tried to betray the captain in the middle of combat. Tried to shoot the captain in the back. Stupid colt,” Bloody Velvet said.

“Oh… oh my,” Rye gasped. “I would never do anything like that,” he said.

“No. You wouldn’t. You’re fragile and prissy. You’d be too scared to ever pull a stupid stunt like that,” Bloody Velvet agreed.

Hot shame flooded through Rye’s face. “I am not prissy,” he spat. “I’m cultured!”

“Yeah yeah, I’ve heard this all before,” the mare said as she turned to leave. “There is a woollen blanket in the cabinet under the desk. It gets cold at night up here at the higher altitudes.” She turned to look over her shoulder and gave Rye a final glance. “You seem nice. Life up here tends to make ponies not nice. Try to stay nice, okay?” she said as she departed.

Rye stood alone in his quarters. It was narrow and long. He pulled the door shut and sat down near the desk, settling onto the wood floor. The ponies around him may or not be pirates, but they seemed quite comfortable with casual acts of killing. He shuddered, a cold tingling sensation running up and down his spine. His master Lace Collar was gone. And he was free. He didn’t know how to feel about his freedom. If he ever returned to Canterlot, there would be Tartarus to pay.

Rye supposed that if things didn’t work out here that he could try to return home to the isles. He wondered if he had any family there. He could only barely remember that he had family. All he had was hazy memories.

There was a faint rapping at the door. Rye turned to look and then opened the narrow plank door with his magic. There was a crew member standing there.

“A few things for you sir, some of the baubles that were taken from the fop,” the crewmember said.

“Thank you,” Rye said graciously, taking the bag in his magic. When the crewmember turned to go, Rye shut the door.

He unfolded the desk from the wall and set the bag down. He opened it up and began to pull out its contents. There was a small tobacco snuff box made from silver and ivory. Rye shivered. Making something from another animal’s teeth. It was something that Lace Collar shouldn’t have… and made Rye quite puzzled. Lace Collar hated tobacco use. He called it vile and boorish.

He pushed the snuff box aside for a moment and continued to plunder the bag. There was a bottle of cologne, a bar of sealing wax, and a small silver sealing wand with the symbol of House Avarice, which was a set of scales. There was a small bag filled with coins of all kinds. Equestrian bits, griffon dollars, and the small horn shaped bits of precious metal that the minotaurs used.

There was nothing particularly special in the bag.

Rye finally opened the snuff tin, his nose crinkling in disgust. The smell of the snuff was nauseating. There was also a bit of bone white parchment sticking out. Rye carefully pinched it in his magic and pulled it free from the snuff. It was a tightly rolled strip of parchment.

He unrolled the parchment and looked at it. It was covered in letters. It was all garble though. There were no words, only a jumble of letters. Rye thoughtfully considered the letters as he stared at them.

“Hello, I’ve found a code,” he mumbled to himself.

This was perhaps a chance to get on the captain's good side. Telling the captain that he had found a coded message and presenting it to him would surely be seen as a sign of loyalty. And Rye wanted to make sure that the captain knew that he was loyal. The last thing Rye wanted was to suddenly find himself tossed over the rail. He wasn’t sure where they were, but they were over the ocean.  And it would be a long way down.

It had been a long day. He thought about the capture. Clouds had enveloped the airship he had been on. And then from out of the clouds came harpoons that punctured the gasbag. Hooks had been thrown over. The ship began sinking slowly, losing precious cloudstuff out of the tears in the gasbag. There was some fighting on the decks. And then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was over. The deck had been set on fire and most of the crew were more than willing to be captured to escape the burning and sinking vessel.

And Rye had found himself taken and stuffed into a barrel.

It could have been worse. At least he was still alive. And free. In a sense. A quiet sense of doubt slipped into his mind. He was free to do as he was told and he was free to go over the rail. He heaved a sigh of resignation and decided to make the most of his situation.

He eyed the hammock. He had never slept in one before. A nap sounded rather nice right about now. He moved toward the hammock and raised a hoof. He gave a tug at at the netting and tried to ease himself in. He immediately found himself dumped on the floor. He gasped and struggled to draw breath, the fall having knocked the wind out of him.

“Damn,” he muttered, a rare vulgarity slipping from his lips. Usually, he was far more genteel and polite.

He tried the hammock again, this time hooking both front hooves onto the edge of the hammock and trying to boost himself into the netting slung between two walls. The hammock flipped and twisted. Once again, Rye found himself kissing the floorboards.

“Oh son of a…” he hissed.

He angrily swiped at the hammock and then tried to leap into the now hated object. He was almost in when at the last moment he felt the now familiar feeling of twisting in the air. A moment later he found himself on the floor.

“YOU DIRTY LITTLE TEAT BITER!” he snarled. He felt a hot flash of embarrassment flood his cheeks. He didn’t know where those words came from. In his entire life he had never said anything quite like that. As far as angry profanities went, it was rather tame, but to Rye’s ears it sounded positively awful.

The unicorn glared at the hammock, his now most hated enemy. Of all of the horrible things the hammock had done, the worst offense committed was causing Rye to lose his composure and the unicorn truly resented the inanimate object for doing so.

Using his magic, he pulled the hammock open wide, made it stiff, and then he sort of rolled into it. He sprawled out and ceased the flow of magic. The hammock swung slightly and Rye found that he was quite comfortable. He took pleasure in his victory over the now hated hammock.

His feeling of victorious triumph was short lived however. It wasn’t long before he slipped into an exhausted slumber.

 

 

He awoke to the sounds of knocking. He struggled to get out of the hammock and found that he could not escape. He wiggled and twisted. His hated enemy had one last trick it seemed. Resentment boiled his unicorn blood.

“Do come in. Forgive me, I am having some trouble with this damnable hammock,” Rye said to whomever was at the door.

The door opened. “They are troublesome things,” Captain Spyglass said as he entered the small room. “Are you settling in? Other than the hammock, are you content?”

“I think so,” Rye said in reply. “Having some trouble with the idea of such casual murder though,” he added. Rye looked at the captain as he remained slung in the hammock.

“Ah, that. Well, I do believe in time as you learn more of what goes on that your feelings will change. We are not in Equestria. Things are different out here. Princess Celestia’s rule does not extend to the skies and the seas. The Sea of Grass, the homeland of the zebras, they have no means of influencing what goes on out here. The griffons… ah, the griffons. Most of the actual pirates you encounter will be griffons. The griffons are also slavers. You have to be careful with the griffons though,” Spyglass said as he sat down upon the floor and watched Rye who was squirming in his hammock.

“Be careful?” Rye asked.

“There are two sorts of griffons,” Spyglass replied. “Good ones and bad ones. The good ones are trying to escape Griffonholm. They flee their homeland, disgusted at what is going on there. They are trying to get to places like Equestria. Princess Celestia has been most gracious and takes in the refugees,” Spyglass explained.

“And the bad ones?” Rye asked.

“The bad ones would eat you. They don’t care that you could talk. They would see you as nothing more than a slave at best or food at worst. They are horrible rapacious brutes that cannot be reasoned with. They believe that all other races are beneath them. Well, most of them. Some of them can be reasoned with to a small degree I suppose. I know that House Avarice trades slaves to them. If we ever get boarded by hostile griffons, start killing and hold nothing back. If you get captured, you will not like what happens afterward,” Spyglass said.

Rye felt a cold shiver travel through his body. “I’ve never learned combat magic,” he admitted.

“No, of course not. They wouldn’t teach a slave combat magic, the means to free himself,” Spyglass replied. The pegasus shook his head and looked disgusted.

Rye felt hot anger course through him. He hated being called a slave. He hated it even more now that he knew that it was true.

“I am going to have Bloody Velvet give you a pair of pistols and teach you how to use them. Your magic should allow you to hold it and fire it. Griffons and minotaurs invented guns to counter magic. I am trusting you with these firearms. Should we get in a pinch, I hope that you will have my back and not try to shoot me in the back,” Spyglass stated. “And Bloody Velvet will also start teaching you some combat magic. She’s more of a defensive sort, but she has some doozers as far as spells go. She’s the reason we are still airborne. She has the most marvelous shield spell. She can create an impenetrable bubble around the ship. It blocks cannon fire, harpoons, other spells, she really is an amazing wizard. You would do well to learn from her,” the pegasus said.

Rye nodded and then remembered the scrap of parchment. “Oh, sir, I meant to tell you. I found a strip of parchment in Lace Collar’s snuffbox-”

“Is it covered in what appears to be code?” Spyglass interrupted.

“Yes sir, it is. I meant to tell you. You came in and we got to talking. I should have told you right away,” Rye said apologetically.

Spyglass smiled. “I appreciate your loyalty. I am starting to like you Rye Mash,” the pegasus said. “I have other such scraps of paper. I have no idea what they mean yet, but I am dying to know what they say.”

“If I could study them I might be able to puzzle them out. Lace Collar had me break a few ciphers for him,” Rye replied.

“Oh really,” Spyglass said charmingly.

“I just need a lot of words to look at. A pattern forms. Like the word ‘the’ for example. It connects other words together. You just start looking for the letter groupings of what might be the word ‘the’ and you figure out what those three letters are. And then you look for other common letter groupings like the word ‘are’ and whatnot. ‘The’ and ‘are’ both share a letter and it becomes pretty easy to guess what is what,” Rye explained.

“Fascinating. I will tell you what. You crack that code and you will not be my cabin colt any longer. I will promote you to my intelligence officer. Or something like that. I’ve never had one before. But you would be the first. And I will double… no, triple your pay,” Spyglass offered.

“You have a deal sir,” Rye answered.

“Delightful!” Spyglass exclaimed.

 

Author's Note:

Chapter two is now live. The story grows legs.

The shield spell seem familiar to anyone? Magic runs in families you know...

 
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