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.


25. Chapter 25

Feeling a powerful feeling of frustration, Rye Mash sat down in a chair opposite from Princess Celestia, who sat on the floor on a nice cushion. Being as tall as she was, she still towered over the table. Nothing he had said had reached her. He had tried warning her about the conspiracies he had uncovered, he had tried to warn her about the plot to remove her from power. He had tried to tell her what he knew—and she had silenced him. Starjammer had fled the room and Bloody Velvet had done the same, leaving just a few seconds after Starjammer had skedaddled away. Captain Spyglass was sitting at the table, looking fearful, saying nothing.

“Young Mister Mash, there is something you must understand.” As Princess Celestia spoke, she pulled back her hood, which caused the well mannered Rye Mash to gasp. Her face was pinched, her eyes were sunken and bloodshot. She looked tired, as though she had not slept in years.

“There are always conspiracies. There are always plots. I eat each meal wondering which bite of food has been poisoned and will continue to weaken me.” Princess Celestia drew in a deep breath, her sides expanding. “I am not in a position where I can deal with such trivial issues, there are far more important things I must be looking after. I know it will be difficult for you to understand, but I assure you, there are things that I must deal with that consume all of my energy.”

“Aye, Ma’am.” Rye peered at the alicorn, wondering what brought her here. He supposed that she would tell him, after all, that was what she was here for. Turning his head, Rye saw Mousy creeping towards the table, her ears were pinned back, her tail drooping, and she kept her head low.

On the table, the tea was steeping and fragrant, nose tickling steam curled and rose towards the ceiling. There was a soft, faint creak of wood as Mousy pulled out her chair from the table and she sat down, her expression one of near terror as she kept staring at the alicorn before her.

“As for the matter at hoof, Mister Mash, my student, who is very dear to me, was foalnapped,” Princess Celestia said as her ears drooped. The white alicorn looked troubled and her tired looking bloodshot eyes focused upon Rye Mash.

“Oh dear,” Rye Mash replied, trying to sound both kind and sympathetic. “Can you tell me more about her? Do you have any leads? And, not to sound rude, what makes you think that we can find her?”

“Her name is Stella Scintilla. She is a unicorn, a bit younger than you. She has a pale blue pelt and a darker blue mane. Her cutie mark is a shining silver star. She has a powerful astronomy talent and is able to read the stars in a way that few can.”

Sitting in his chair, looking calm, Rye felt his blood run cold. Some of the ciphers he had puzzled out stated that the stars themselves could be turned against Princess Celestia. He said nothing, either Princess Celestia would shush him for saying something or she would already know. Either way, Rye understood that it was his place to remain silent and follow directions.

“Stella was stolen by a former student of mine… a unicorn named ‘Inkblot.’ Inkblot is a proud son of House Evening Star and is also an astronomer with powerful magical abilities, in this instance, divination. He will be quite dangerous, I assure you. He turned on me. Currently, Inkblot is in the employ of a pony named Salad Days.”

Rye tried swallowing the lump he found rising in his throat. He kept his calm as he prepared the tea, pouring a bit of cream into the cups, some sugar, and then, at last, the tea. He felt his heart racing as his mind made the connections. He knew of Salad Days. His brows furrowed. Two astronomers? Divination? He was going to need to ask Bloody Velvet a million questions, he wasn’t sure what divination was or how somepony skilled in divination or astronomy could be dangerous.

One eyebrow raising, Rye Mash cleared his throat and then addressed Princess Celestia in the most polite voice he could muster, seeing as how he felt as though he was choking. “I understand that when I find Stella that I am to rescue her and bring her back to you, but what would you like for me to do when I encounter Inkblot?”

“While I very much would like to see my former student have a change of heart and come back into the fold, I very much doubt that such a thing will happen.” A look of terrible sadness came over Princess Celestia’s face. “He was my student and I still love him a great deal. If he is unreasonable, if he does not cooperate, please… please, do make sure that it is quick if you have to put him down.”

“Why me? Why choose us? Why come out here to this place, find us, and ask us to do this?” Rye Mash asked, his muzzle crinkling in an intense, quizzical expression.

“Young Mister Mash, I have few allies at home. I fight to keep my throne. Things continue to worsen. For reasons I do not wish to explain, I have been left weakened… while I do not know you as well as I might like, I have been watching you for some time—”

“Through Bloody Velvet,” Rye said, his manners slipping as he interrupted.

“Correct.” Princess Celestia’s mouth tightened into a straight line and she looked quite serious. “Cerise Velvet might be troubled, but she is still a good pony. I have seen her heart, it weighs heavily with what she has done and what has been done to her. Had I the means, I would have saved her and others like her, but alas, I cannot. There is too much going on.” The white alicorn lifted up her teacup and drank some with a surprising slurp.

Rye Mash heard more slurping as Mousy lowered her head and began lapping up her tea out of the teacup he had placed in front of her. Captain Spyglass wasn’t even trying to drink his tea. The pegasus looked scared still, but also thoughtful.

“We operate on a very thin margin,” Captain Spyglass said to Princess Celestia in a low voice. “We are in a very precarious position, doing what we do. While I would like to help, I am unsure about sailing all over the world in search of a foalnapped student.”

“Captain Spyglass—”

“Hush, Mister Mash.” The pegasus had a hard look come over his face. “We try to do what good we can, but I am not going to get my crew killed trying to rescue just one student. That is not a good return for the danger involved. We just rescued a whole bunch of foals… the rewards have to be exceptional when weighed against the risks.” Captain Spyglass looked Princess Celestia in the eye and one hoof began to tap upon the table. “This isn’t about money or trying to get you to pay us more coin. For me, this life was never about the money.”

“I understand, Captain Spyglass, but your bargaining posture is rather dubious. You see, no matter how noble you might think your actions are, you are a criminal. You have done some very bad things. Questionable things. Things that you must answer for. Should you refuse me, as much as it bothers me to do this, this lovely tea time will end in your arrest. Not your crew, just you. I will then ask Young Mister Mash to help me once more, and if he refuses—” Princess Celestia turned her steely gaze upon Rye Mash and one eyebrow raised.

“So this tea time ends in a bloodbath and I have to start shooting every pegasus guard that comes down those steps… unless you plan to do us in yourself, which I am sure you could do, but then the entire town of Sable Blanc will know that you murdered us during the false pretenses of a peaceful exchange.” Rye Mash leaned forwards, a hard look in his eye. “And nopony wants that outcome. So it is in everypony’s best interests to play nice with one another, it is in your best interests to continue to be nice to us, and it is in our best interests to do as you ask.”

“More and more, I am starting to believe that I have, indeed, found the right pony for the job,” Princess Celestia said in a low voice as she looked at Rye Mash through narrowed eyes.

“Mister Mash, you are supposed to be looking after my interests—”

“I am, Captain Spyglass, I am keeping you from being arrested and preventing a blood bath from taking place.” Rye Mash, still leaning forwards, turned to look at the pegasus beside him. “I understand your hesitation on this issue, but what choice do we have?”

Scowling, Spyglass began to tap upon the table with his hoof. “Not much, it seems. And if we part ways, fly off, and not do the job, I am certain there is a contingency in place to deal with us.”

“She muddled the minds of Bloody Velvet and Starjammer.” Rye Mash focused his gaze upon Princess Celestia. “That in and of itself is quite a threat to our existence, seeing as how much we depend upon Bloody Velvet.”

“I do not wish to threaten anypony,” Princess Celestia said in apologetic tones. “I just wish to have my student returned to me. It is very, very important.” The alicorn mare let out a sigh and shook her head. “I had so hoped to resolve this without resorting to threats.”

“Majesty, you have failed.” Spyglass looked at Princess Celestia with his ears pinned back in a submissive posture. “You are an alicorn and a princess… by virtue of your very existence, everything you do is a threat, implied or direct. You didn’t come here and board my vessels with the intent of leaving us be if you didn’t get what you wanted. You came here with a specific directive and you fully intend to have your way, with no care given to what we might want. We have no real say in this matter… we either do as we are bid or this ends badly.” Spyglass’ nostrils flared. “Madam, that is the very definition of tyranny.”

“Captain Spyglass… this will be very difficult for you to understand, but you are not the only one left with no options or choices here. I too, must obey the whims of circumstance. This is not about you or I, this goes far beyond either of us. What I am doing is preserving our shared future. There are forces at work that you could scarcely imagine. I am fighting to make sure that the sun keeps rising day after day and that life on this planet continues to exist. Whether you realise it or not, you and I are in a shared struggle… I am merely asking that you and I work together for our mutual survival.”

“So… one of two things are true,” Captain Spyglass said as his ears perked forwards. “I am being given a load of shite to ensure my cooperation or things really are as bad as you say and we’re all about to be neck deep in minotaur shite.” The pegasus cleared his throat. “I would like to believe that you are a good pony, good in the way that matters, and that you are trying to deal fairly with us, as much as an alicorn princess with near infinite cosmic power can deal with a few puny mortals in a fair manner.”

“Captain?” Rye Mash asked.

Spyglass glanced at his cabin colt and then back at Princess Celestia. “So let us assume that what you are saying is true and that you are not being a manipulative tyrant. What makes you think that we can help you? If we are fighting against a force of evil so great that it threatens you, but not just you, the entirety of life on this planet, what makes you think that we have any chance at all of dealing with it and getting your student back?”

“That is a very good question.” Rye Mash, after having made his remark, took a long drink of tea and watched as Princess Celestia’s expression became thoughtful. The alicorn did not answer. Her face contorted a few times, her brows furrowed, and she seemed quite perplexed. Rye Mash suffered a stunning realisation. Princess Celestia, the Immortal Alicorn of the Sun, was still a pony.

“If I may?” Mousy said, her voice squeaky with fear.

“By all means, say something,” Spyglass said, lifting his head and little higher and sounding a bit bolder after stumping Princess Celestia.

“It seems to me that Princess Celestia is choosing to ignore little things while focusing on bigger things that threaten our existence. The little trivial things are distractions that she is ignoring.” Mousy cleared her throat, licked her lips, and then her eyes darted around, looking at the different ponies around the table. “We’re little things. We’re teeny tiny things and we are easy to ignore because we don’t seem important. I’m used to being ignored… I’m an earth pony. I’m not important or much of a threat to anypony. I’m so unimportant that I’m almost invisible.” Mousy fell silent, her expression becoming one of pain.

“Miss Mousy, do continue,” Rye Mash said to the earth pony beside him.

“We won’t be noticed. We’re not important enough to notice. We’ll probably have a good chance at slipping in and getting back Princess Celestia’s student. They’ll be looking out for real threats, or focusing on events, or whatever it is that they do. Just as Princess Celestia doesn’t have the means to examine every little detail of what goes on around her, neither does whomever we are going against.” Mousy ducked her head, her ears splaying out, and gave the ponies around the table a shy smile.

“That line of logic troubles me, but I can see the sense in it,” Spyglass said, his words full of reluctance. The pegasus sighed and said nothing else.

“The wisdom of earth ponies never ceases to amaze me.” Princess Celestia, now focused on Mousy, appeared to be studying the earth pony mare. “Now that we have reached an understanding, perhaps we can continue to discuss this issue free of threats and coercion.”

Spyglass nodded. “I’ll agree to do this, but I have conditions… first and foremost, I must look after my crew and there is something I want from you…”



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