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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23. Chapter 23

The view from the lighthouse had been spectacular, well worth the many stairs one had to climb to reach it. Sable Blanc was many things to many ponies, but Rye Mash would remember it for its beauty. Now, having left the lighthouse, Rye followed Mousy, who led the way, the curious earth pony eager to see the sights. Skeeter followed along after Rye, looking a bit pained but sticking it out.

Sable Blanc was a free city, a freedom kept safe by the well armed and well trained Regulators. As they walked, Rye Mash saw signs informing the public of safe places to take shelter in should there be an attack. Heavily fortified cellars, bunkers, even the lighthouse was fortified and quite solid looking. Some of the houses had rooftop gardens, patches of green that grew fruits and vegetables, while other rooftops had cannons, mortars, and other forms of artillery.

The companions kept going, moving through the city, until Rye Mash came across something that made him pause. A shop had a peculiar sign over the doorway, a wooden sign with two black pistols crossed that much to Rye’s surprise, looked an awful lot like his cutie mark. Saying nothing, Rye Mash headed for the door, with Skeeter groaning and Miss Mousy looking a bit apprehensive.

 

 

Inside the shop there were only a few guns, but what the store lacked in quantity, they made up for with quality. There were very few pistols, much to Rye’s disappointment, but there were many rifles on display. A short minotaur cow was sitting on a stool behind the counter. She wore glasses, the pale gold frames glinting, and Rye could see that she was sizing him up.

Without warning, Rye Mash became transfixed, almost as if held in place by a spell. He stood before a glass case and inside was a long rifle, it had to be at least two yards in length, and it was scoped, much like his longshot pistol. It was a beautiful weapon with a well polished cherry wood stock that seemed to gleam with its own inner light. The brass scope went almost the full length of the barrel. Seeing it filled Rye with a strange feeling of lust. He wanted to stroke it, he wanted to rub his cheek against it, more than anything else, he wanted the rifle—but he understood that the rifle would be useless to him. Pistols were far better for Rye’s purposes, he knew that, he accepted it without reservation, and he mourned the fact that he would not be walking out of the shop with the rifle.

Skeeter had gone off to look at leg guns; weapons made for ponies without magic that strapped to the leg and had a long cord held in the mouth to operate the matchlock. Rye didn’t see the practicality in these weapons, sure, a pegasus or an earth pony could fire the gun, but who would reload the weapon for them? It might be possible for them to reload, but how long would it take? It just didn’t seem like a very good idea. Pegasi and earth ponies got the short end of the stick when it came to being able to manipulate objects.

With a forlorn sigh, Rye tore himself away from the display case with the long rifle. He moved towards the counter, meeting the gaze of the minotaur cow. She was wearing a long dark blue dress that hung loose from her shoulders. She seemed pretty enough, heavyset, stocky, with thick, well muscled arms that were bare, her dress having no sleeves. She was busty, something that Rye found a little strange, having mammaries so high up on the body. Perhaps nature had done that to allow her to balance so she could walk in a bipedal fashion.

“Hello, Gunslinger,” the minotaur said as Rye Mash approached. “You may call me Miss Tickles. Don’t try anything funny or I will have you ground into sausage. Nothing may be touched or examined unless you show me some coin.”

“Miss Tickles, I have coin… quite a bit of coin actually,” Rye Mash replied, his eyebrow raising. “Coin I would very much like to spend in your establishment, should I find what I am looking for.”

“Rye, do you really need more guns?” Mousy asked.

“One can never be too wealthy, too good looking, or too well armed,” Rye replied.

Miss Tickles nodded, a grin splitting her face. Rye could see that the minotaur was studying him, her eyes looking him up and down, taking him in, eyeing his gear. He could see intelligence in her eyes. Her hand twitched and her thick, meaty fingers began to drum on the counter.

“I’m guessing that you do a lot of fighting in cramped quarters… would you say that you are, how shall we say, a boarding specialist?” Miss Tickles’ smile vanished and she became all business.

Rye narrowed his eyes, cottoning on to what was being said. “Yes… I facilitate boarding operations and clear obstructions. My job requires the use of pistol and shotgun, some of these obstructions are quite stubborn.”

“I see.” Miss Tickles nodded as she reached up to adjust her eyeglasses. “I cannot help but notice that you have two shotguns. Those are both heavy and they take a while to reload. Would you be interested in having four shotguns that only take up the space of one?”

“What do you mean?” Rye, his curiousity pricked, stepped closer towards the counter.

Reaching beneath the counter, Miss Tickles went to pull something out. There was a heavy clunk, a thump of wood on wood, and then a thud of metal on wood. She lifted out what appeared to be a portable cannon and set it down upon the counter.

Rye whistled, Mousy gasped, and Skeeter sucked in his breath.

It was a very strange looking gun, with four barrels packed into a massive square lump of metal. The barrel assembly was one solid piece of metal with four holes bored into its length. It wasn’t very long, had a heavy wooden stock suitable for smashing skulls into pulp, it was, overall, a heavy looking and ungainly weapon. Each of the four openings at the end of the square barrel was large enough to fit a tangerine inside.

“This is a prototype design, a four barreled scattergun. You load up all four barrels—”

Rye watched as Miss Tickles placed her massive hand on the barrels.

“—and when you pull the trigger, one barrel fires. Then, the entire barrel assembly rotates, bringing the next barrel into place over the firing mechanism. Pull the trigger and this barrel fires, the barrel assembly rotates, and the next barrel is made ready to fire. With four quick pulls of the trigger, one can clear the deck and facilitate boarding.”

“I like it.” Rye breathed the words, his eyes wide, and he felt a sharp spike of arousal, much like he had with the long gun. With a four barreled scattergun he could cause a lot of damage. This was a portable deck clearing cannon. Loaded down with nails, silverware, or grape shot, Rye knew that he could end most fights before they started. With that reasoning, Rye figured that he could save lives with this fearsome weapon.

“It comes with a custom made, artisan tooled leather sheath that is unique to this gun. The barrels are made of the finest steel, the stock is made of bubinga wood from the Sea of Grass, a hard, heavy wood that does a fine job of absorbing recoil. All of the rest of the hardware is brass. The fact that it is heavy is proof of quality.”

“I have quite a collection of coins—”

“And two shotguns that you won’t need anymore. I’m certain we can work out payment.” Miss Tickle’s voice was confident, husky, and maybe even a little suggestive. “Pull that gun of yours out of its sheath and let’s have a look at it…”

 

 

“That cow was flirting with you,” Mousy said as she walked beside Rye.

“It was just business,” Rye replied, feeling a bit sweaty, itchy, and uncomfortable.

“When she kept leaning over the counter, you could see down the front of her dress.” Skeeter’s voice was soft and a bit muffled as he tried to speak without disturbing his wound.

“Well of course, she was trying to show off her assets.” Mousy seemed irritated, cross, and out of sorts. “She was trying to distract you two thick headed louts and she was doing a fine job.”

“I was looking at the shotgun—”

“Yes, I know.” Mousy sounded disheartened and a bit disgusted. She wasn’t certain how she was going to get Rye’s attention now unless she covered herself in a fine dress made out of firearms. She turned to look at Rye and saw his new gun hanging from his right side. It was a massive contraption and it was almost the length of his body.

“The breeze is nice,” Skeeter said, changing the subject. “Hey, that shop has saltwater taffy… who likes saltwater taffy?” The sky blue pegasus gave his companions a curious look, then an expression of disappointment settled over his face. “I don’t know if I could chew that.”

Mousy, sounding disappointed, but not about the taffy, suggested, “Let’s just keep looking around.”

 

 

The white sand of the beach fascinated Rye, he had never seen anything quite like it. He had seen chalk cliffs, and sand coloured sand, but the white sands of Sable Blanc were as beautiful as they were exotic. The sand was fine and felt smooth when touched, rather than coarse and gritty.

Bloody Velvet was giving Woe Betide an impromptu magic lesson on the beach and little Woe was using her telekinesis to manipulate sand. The one eyed filly appeared to be having quite a good time. Skeeter had laid down in the warm sand, his head resting on Rye’s folded up cloak. The pegasus was sleeping. Miss Mousy was playing in the surf, darting back and forth as the waves came crashing in and prancing around.

Rye was reminded of Canterlot. Not the city architecture, but the peaceful quiet. So far, there had been no violence today. No gunshots to be heard. No fights, no nothing. Sable Blanc was peaceful to the point of utter boredom, and Rye found himself enjoying it, sort of.

“You look a little better, Rye,” Bloody Velvet said as her student shaped the sand she was holding into a sphere that was more egg shaped than spherical. “The anger is a problem, I’ll admit. When I really began to learn what was going on, my anger almost consumed me.”

Lifting his head, Rye looked Bloody Velvet in the eye. He squinted at her in the bright sunlight, trying to understand her. She was complex, mature, and a pony that he found himself admiring a great deal. “I suppose I have been angry.”

“Anger isn’t a bad thing,” Velvet took a deep breath, her head tilting to one side, and her ears perked forwards as she continued, “anger is a gift.”

“How so?” Rye asked.

“Anger isn’t good or bad. It just is what it is. Anger becomes whatever it is that you want it to be. You can let your anger consume you, burning up your insides, or you can make your anger work for you. Be a motivator. You can use that anger to fuel your passion, making you a better pony. You can let your anger about injustice give you the strength you need to become the sort of pony that fights against those injustices.” Bloody Velvet frowned, blinked, and shook her head. “Or…”

After waiting for Velvet to finish, Rye realised there was a lesson here. One eyebrow raised and the left corner of his mouth twitched. “Or what?”

“Or… you get consumed by your anger, you fight, you become murderous and horrible, and, in the end, you will become not a force of righteous anger, but a common killer who masquerades under a so called righteous cause. This is not a good end, Rye. I’m dangerously close to being this myself, as much as it pains me to admit it. There is a reason they call me ‘Bloody Velvet.’ I’ve lost a lot of myself along the way. Maybe too much. I don’t know if I can get it back. I’m trying, having Woe makes it a little easier, but I have let my anger get the better of me.”

Rye considered Velvet’s words, trying to understand, trying to figure out how this applied to him. There was a fine, fine line it seemed, a narrow path that one had to walk if one chose this lifestyle. A worrisome thought trickled up from the depths of his mind; it had been far too easy to give in to his anger, he had gone from a mild mannered servant to a hot blooded gunslinger in the same amount of time it took to boil water for tea. He had done it because it felt right. He didn’t like slavery, he didn’t like his enforced servitude. He didn’t know how to express himself, or how to give words to his anger. But resorting to violence had been easy, because of his cutie mark, because of his talent, he was good at it. Gifted. He had taken to killing and violence the same way an otter took to swimming. He realised, that was the trouble. It was too easy, and as such, because it was easy, because it took no effort, this was the way he had chosen to express his anger.

“Choose to do better, Rye… we have a job to do… a terrible job… a job that most ponies wouldn’t understand and most would rather not involve themselves. Don’t let it do to you what it's done to me.” Bloody Velvet turned and watched as all of the sand slipped out of her student’s telekinetic bubble. For a moment, Velvet’s blood ran cold—she could not help but feel that it was a bit too symbolic of sands draining out of an hourglass… she hoped that she was not out of time.

Nodding, Rye replied, “I’ll try.”

 

 

 

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