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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3. Chapter 3

Rye Mash walked slowly around the deck of the ship, watching the sun set off on the distant horizon. The sunset was never more beautiful than it was right now. The clouds were purple, orange, and red. The first stars of the evening were already shining on the other horizon. Somehow, the notion of being truly free made the sunset all the more beautiful even though he could not say why exactly.

Other members of the crew also seemed to be taking a moment to enjoy the setting sun.

“Yer the new cabin colt,” a voice in a clipped accent said.

Rye turned to face the pony speaking to him. He saw a pegasus. A scrawny looking pegasus.

“Name’s Skeeter. My mother named me Mosquito. This is my first tour. I left home looking to find my way in the world. Captain Spyglass offered twice the wages of everypony else,” the pegasus said, introducing himself and offering a bit of history.

“My name is Rye Mash. I’m named after a type of whiskey. I was captured today and joined the crew,” Rye said. “Hey, do you know where we are going?” Rye asked.

“Trottingham,” Skeeter answered.

“So the Shire Isles,” Rye said as he turned his gaze out towards the colourful horizon.

“Yep, the Old World. Captain Spyglass wasn’t lying when he promised me that I would be able to see the world if I toured with him. I’m just a poor pegasus from Cloudsdale. I never thought I’d have a chance at a good life,” Skeeter said with great enthusiasm.

“I am from Canterlot. Well, sort of. I was originally from the Shetland Isles. And then I spent time in Fillydelphia. And then Canterlot,” Rye explained in reply.

“Yer a Shetlander,” Skeeter said slowly. “I’ve met a few of your kind. Always glad to meet your kind. Shetlanders tend to be some of the nicest ponies I’ve ever met,” Skeeter said. “Shame about what goes on there though,” he added in a low voice.

Rye nodded and  turned his gaze back to Skeeter. “So what is it that you do?” Rye asked.

“Me? I gather clouds and help to compress them into the gasbag. I also fetch clouds and stuff them into the condenser so we can have water for both drinking and powering the steam engines. I also move cargo, well, the stuff I can lift, and will do most anything I am asked,” Skeeter replied.

“You mean to tell me that there are clouds in there?” Rye asked as he looked up at the gasbag.

“Super compressed clouds. And a bit of unicorn magic. We pegasi can build cities out of clouds. Hanging an airship from a compressed cloudbank is easy. We do have to get unicorns to enchant the ship though so it is super light,” Skeeter explained as he answered Rye’s question.

During his entire time aboard an airship he had never bothered to ask how they stayed aloft. Rye felt a little stupid. He continued to stare upwards at the gasbag in disbelief. It was nothing more than clouds. The only thing keeping the ship aloft was clouds. A few bits of fluff were all that kept him and everypony else from plunging to their death.

“I have to go, stuff to do, but I hope we will talk again,” Skeeter said.

“It was pleasant meeting you,” Rye said as Skeeter departed. He heard a growl coming from his stomach and wondered where he could get a bite to eat.

 

 

Officer’s mess was separate from the crewmember’s mess Rye discovered, and as cabin boy he had the privilege of eating in the tiny officer’s mess. Everything onboard this ship seemed tiny and cramped. Officer’s mess was a round table secured to the wooden floor. No chairs. There was a tiny window to the kitchen that food was passed though.

Dinner was a chunk of black bread, a bowl of thick root vegetable stew, two apples, and the option of a few pickled eggs, which Rye gladly took. It was much better food than he was used to eating. Back home, the servants were fed leftovers boiled into a runny gruel. Abroad with Lace Collar, Rye ate whatever the deckhands were eating, which wasn’t much. The food was delightful. The cook made it known that the officers and the deckhands ate the same food, just in different places. Deckhands ate on deck or below decks.

Rye ate alone and pondered his situation. He realised that he was finally in a position to do something with his life. He wasn’t just planning the future as he had done when he was Lace Collar’s servant, hoping for the day when he had his freedom and his debt was paid off. His future actually was his own now. He had a chance to make some money if he could crack the code on the parchment strips. The notion of his future was almost overwhelming. It was no longer a distant dream, something to daydream about. It was here, it was now, and he had a good opportunity to make something of himself.

He chewed thoughtfully on his chunk of black bread. It was oily and smelled a bit weird. He couldn’t remember the name of the oil used to preserve the bread and keep the mould away. It smelled faintly of pine.

The door opened and Bloody Velvet entered. She sat down at the table and twitched a bit. “I was hoping to find you here. I understand that I am to give you firearms training. We will begin tomorrow. I have a brace of pistols taken from a griffon. Nice weapons. Large bore. There is also a shotgun. I shall have to teach you about the rules of combat aboard an airship, like never fire upwards,” she said, the corner of her mouth ticking as she spoke.

Rye nodded but said nothing because his mouth was full.

Bloody Velvet turned her head and stared into the corner. She cringed and shuddered.

Rye swallowed and found his courage. It was probably a foolhardy thing that he was about to do, but he figured that there was no harm in asking. “What do you see?” he asked.

“Bah, if I told you, you would only think I was crazy like everypony else,” Bloody Velvet replied.

“Try me,” Rye said. He then slurped up a pickled egg.

Bloody Velvet sighed and slumped. “I don’t like talking about it. I know how crazy it makes me sound,” she said in a low voice. One ear took on a metronome like twitch.

“I once saw a ghost. Nopony believes me. Everypony laughed and thought I was barmy,” Rye said.

Bloody Velvet smiled a lopsided smile. “I believe you,” she said. The mare sighed. “Princess Celestia sees all,” she began. “I know it sounds paranoid, but I swear it is true. She latches on to certain ponies that she finds interesting. She has a realm… some place on the astral plane I think. A grey place. It is full of big moving pictures… like paintings that move. And she watches certain ponies that interest her. And I can see her divination magic,” Bloody Velvet stated.

Rye chewed a bit of black bread, swallowed, and nodded. “I believe you,” he said sincerely.

“Wait, are you actually being honest?” Bloody Velvet asked.

Rye nodded and took another bite.

“She knows I can see her globes of divination magic. She keeps trying to hide them. She’s been watching me for a long time. I used to be one of her students. One day I was drifting through the astral realms and I accidentally found my way into her own private pocket plane. I saw her. She didn’t know that I could see her. At least not then. I am certain that she has since overheard me talking about it to a number of ponies including yourself,” the mare stated.

“She wouldn’t be a princess for as long as she has been if she didn’t have a means to spy on ponies,” Rye reasoned. “It seems plausible that she uses her alicorn magic to keep an eye on threats,” he added.

“You really do believe me,” Bloody Velvet said in a stunned voice.

Rye stuck his muzzle into his wooden soup bowl and sucked in a mouthful of soup. It was cooled off enough to eat. He lifted his head and studied Bloody Velvet thoughtfully. He suspected that she was watching him carefully, looking for the slightest sign that he was patronising her. Rye was a clever unicorn, or so he thought.

“It is nice to have another unicorn to talk to. All these brutes and numbskulls grow tiresome. Sure, some of them are good conversationalists, but I can’t talk to them about magic,” Bloody Velvet said wistfully.

“Does it ever bother you being a mare on a ship full of stallions?” blurted out Rye rather suddenly.

Bloody Velvet stared at Rye Mash and blinked a few times, her blinking still out of synch. The corner of her mouth twitched and pulled, sometimes up, sometimes down, and other than the uncontrollable tics, her expression remained blank.

“I only ask because I worry. I mean, call me old fashioned, but I actually worry about the fairer sex. I uh, oh my that look you are giving me… I uh always try to make sure to let the new servant girls know that they should never allow themselves to be alone in a room with several males because… uh… oh…” Rye’s words faded into a worried silence.

“For a moment I thought you were implying something about me and my position on this ship. And then I realised that you were showing genuine concern for my well being. I had almost forgotten what that is like,” Bloody Velvet said carefully, trying to ease her piercing glare. “I might be the only mare on this ship, but Spyglass has made it very clear that I am not here for the crew’s enjoyment and that I am not to be harassed. I’ve only had to kill one pony to make that point clear,” she continued.

“Did you throw him over the rail?” Rye said, his voice becoming a terrified squeak at the end.

“No,” Bloody Velvet replied. “I tore his potato sack off using my magic. He bled to death while I lectured him.”

Rye gulped. His mouth was empty and he was glad. It was suddenly too dry to ever hope to swallow anything like food. He cleared his throat several times. “And this is why I make it a point to respect mares,” he murmured in a strained voice.

“I like you,” Bloody Velvet announced. “I think we will get along quite well.”

“I hope so,” said Rye in a high pitched reply. “I like my potato sack. I will be on my best behaviour. If I ever offend you by accident, please give me a chance to atone for my mistake,” he begged.

Bloody Velvet smiled warmly and seemed to relax somewhat, her twitching becoming noticeably calmer. “You really are a nice pony. Now I am worried about you. Seriously, life up here has a way of changing you. It is every pony for themselves. Many of our situations are kill or be killed sort of affairs. Spyglass is a good sort and he does good things, but make no mistake. He is a killer. His business is doing bad things to the deserving,” Bloody Velvet said in a low emotionless voice.

The pair of ponies continued to study one another. Bloody Velvet watched as Rye Mash continued to eat. She felt a pang of regret over leaving home. “You remind me of my husband,” she said, emotion now evident in her voice.

“You are married?” Rye asked.

“I am. Or was. I married young. Arranged marriage. I had two foals. Twins. For which I am thankful for the both of them, because I would never allow him to touch me ever again. Feeling him touching me made my skin crawl. He was slimy and repugnant. I wasn’t always like this you know,” Bloody Velvet said in regretful tones. “I didn’t always have the shivers.”

“I remind you of your husband? I hope that isn’t a mark against me,” Rye said in a worried voice.

“Oh, he was a boisterous eater. Sort of like you. You have manners, but it is clear to anypony watching that you want to wolf it down. He didn’t care who was watching. He was a horrible pig of a pony,” the mare stated in disgusted tones. “Don’t worry, I like you. Just the way you are made me think of him. Don’t worry, I will not hold it against you,” she promised.

“So you left home and made a life for yourself here… what happened?” Rye asked.

“I’ll tell you at some other time,” Bloody Velvet replied. “Suffice it to say, I found out certain truths that I was unhappy with. I was unhappy at home. So I left,” she finished.

“I look forward to knowing more,” Rye said after swallowing a bite of apple.

“Tomorrow I want you up by dawn. Rear of the ship. I’ll be teaching you how to shoot. I hope you are not easily spooked. Some ponies are,” Bloody Velvet said. “I must be going. I have certain duties to attend to,” she continued with a quivering smile. “And when I have some free time, we will be going over some basic combat spells,” she said as she rose and headed for the door.

“I shall do my best to not disappoint you,” Rye said as the mare pushed through the door.

“You have already exceeded my expectations,” Bloody Velvet replied as she disappeared from view.

 

Author's Note:

And I begin to lay the groundwork for some of the major story elements.

I hope it was an enjoyable read. The important players will be introduced slowly and information about them will be revealed in time.

Thanks for reading.

And let me know if I missed any of those pesky typos.

Also, do not harass Bloody Velvet. If you do, you do so at your own risk.

 
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