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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30. Chapter 30

“You wanted to see me?” Rye Mash looked at the stricken alicorn laying in her bed. Her body twitched, she shivered, and her eyes were unfocused. He felt a growing feeling of concern and unease when he looked upon Princess Celestia.

He had returned to The Apogee with Mousy when he had been approached by one of Princess Celestia’s guards, telling him that he was wanted. Rye had come at once, worried, and Mousy had come with him, insisting on remaining by his side.

Princess Celestia’s laboured breathing was heavy in his ears and her eyes seemed to be staring through him. He could feel the heat radiating from her body, as if she was being consumed by some terrible fever. She was sweaty, the parts of her not covered by her blanket were slick and shiny.

“Stella… old tongue… it means star,” Princess Celestia managed to say in between panting gasps. “The stars... will aid... in her escape… star magic… is rare… and powerful… you must hurry.”

Rye’s ears perked forwards, he did not understand. He lowered his head and he heard the clank of armor as a guard shifted position. When he was almost nose to nose with Princess Celestia, he realised that he could smell the sickness, that smell that ponies got from sweat, illness, high fever, and something going wrong with their insides. A chilly ache permeated his guts and terminated in his balls with a stabbing throb, making the entirety of his nether regions clench.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” Rye said in a soft voice.

“The world… will be… lost… to darkness.” Princess Celestia’s halting, stammering speech came out as little more than a fevered, almost delirious sounding whisper. “Great evil… locked away… but the stars… the stars… are hers... I cannot… control them… any longer… something else… seeks… to… free… her.”

“Who?” Rye asked. He blinked. “I don’t understand… free what?”

Darkness,” Princess Celestia replied, exhaling the word in a breathy utterance.

Confused, Rye stood there, not knowing what to do, what to say, or even how to respond. Princess Celestia was no doubt consumed by fever, he could see it, smell it, he could feel it radiating from her, it was like standing next to a furnace. She wasn’t making a lot of sense.

“You… have to… hurry, Rye,” Princess Celestia whispered.

Drawing in a deep breath, flogging his brain for what to say or do, Rye was about to say something when Princess Celestia’s horn flashed. The room was filled with brilliant light, leaving Rye blinded. He blinked, trying to recover his vision, and he had the strangest sensation that he was falling.

 

 

Shivering, Rye found himself standing in a forest. It was dark, it was cold, and he had no idea what he was doing here. The sky overhead was black, black as pitch, and there were no stars. A strange silverish light offered faint illumination, but Rye could not tell where the light was coming from. His body harness was gone, he had no guns, no means to defend himself.

The trees were enormous, massive, and twisted. This forest was old, Rye could smell the scent of decaying wood and the sharp tang of forest loam beneath his hooves. Fungal growths protruded from the trunks of the trees, extending like empty shelves. Rye looked around, trying to figure out where the faint silver light was coming from. There were no stars, there was no moon, the sky was as black as a funeral shroud. The trees had no leaves, they were withered, naked, the skeletal trees of autumn.

“Who dares to enter my realm?”

The voice was cold, imperious, and regal. Hearing it made Rye shiver even harder. The voice echoed through the trees and the only other sound that Rye could hear was the sound of his own teeth chattering. His eyes darted to the left, then to the right, and his ears perked as he tried to discover the source of the sound.

“You do not have the magic to come here on your own… who might you be and why are you here?”

Muscles clenching, Rye Mash ground his teeth together, refusing to let them chatter for a second longer. He swallowed, summoning his courage, but on the inside, he quailed as he felt his bowels turning to water. Something about the voice was terrifying.

He started forwards, towards what he believed was the sound of the voice. His legs were stiff, difficult to move, and not from defiance. His whole body felt frozen, not just from the temperature, but from sheer terror. It felt as though his balls were being crushed in an icy vice. His guts ached as his innards twisted around inside of him like writhing serpents.

Ahead there was a pool of water that glowed with a silvery blue light. He felt something grab him, something unseen, and he was dragged forwards, his hooves dragging through the rotting loam. He came to a halt at the edge of the pool, something grabbed his head, and he was forced to look down into the depths.

The water darkened, turning black, like spilled ink. Something swirled in the depths and then, blinking, two eyes appeared in the maelstrom of darkness. Two eyes, dark teal, with reptilian slitted pupils. Black tendrils rose from the surface of the water, creeping towards Rye’s face. He tried to scream, but found he couldn’t.

One of the black tendrils curled around Rye’s muzzle, holding his head in place, while yet another began to worm its way into his nostril. The tip of another began to work its way into the corner of his eye, trying to squeeze in, and even though Rye Mash very much wanted to scream, he found that he could not, even when he could feel something slithering behind his eyeball and burrowing into his brain.

There was a brilliant red flash that blinded Rye, he blinked, trying to recover his vision, and he crumpled into a heap beside the pool of darkness. Whatever was trying to worm its way inside of his skull was now gone, but he couldn’t see what was going on.

“Don’t you touch him!”

Still blinking, still trying to clear his vision, Rye recognised the sound of Bloody Velvet’s voice. Somehow, she was here, and she meant business. He didn’t know what was going on, but he felt hopeful.

“I don’t know who or what you are, but you’ve made a terrible mistake… I’ll end you for this!” Bloody Velvet shrieked.

A blast of heat washed over Rye, driving the cold from his body, and now he felt a bit singed. The explosion did nothing to help his vision. He was blind, but he could hear. He heard fizzles, pops, the sounds of magic, and heard the sounds of water splashing. He felt a curious sensation in his navel, as though something was tugging on him from the inside.

It was a bit uncomfortable at first, then it became a little painful, and then, without further ado, it became excruciating—Rye feared that he was about to be turned inside out. He tried to cry out in pain and couldn’t. He rolled over onto his back and felt something slither around his leg. Something was dragging him, he was being pulled down the slope and he realised he was being pulled into the pool of darkness.

“NO!” Bloody Velvet commanded, her voice accompanied by a searing blast of heat.

Rye felt himself let go. Confused, still blinded, he didn’t know what to do, but he tried crawling away from the pool before he was grabbed again. The tugging sensation inside of his navel grew in strength and Rye Mash endured the peculiar sensation that he imagined felt a lot like birth; he could feel his body being pulled through a hole that seemed far too small.

 

 

Princess Celestia’s pale magenta eyes were boring a hole into him and Rye Mash found that he could not turn away. He was mesmerised, unable to move, scarcely even able to breathe, and his nose was pressed up against the alicorn’s graceful, but sweaty snoot.

“Cerise Velvet… has… grown… powerful... she might… even be… the one… to restore… magic.” Princess Celestia’s panted words were hot and wet against Rye’s muzzle. “So… much… power… and… love… for… her… friends… she… might… be… the… one.”

Whatever was holding Rye let go of him and he lifted his head, Princess Celestia’s eyes followed him, remaining locked upon him. Try as he might, he found he could not look away from her gaze, but he did manage to take a step backwards.

Rye Mash, Rye Mash blinked as he heard Princess Celestia’s voice inside of his head, coming from in between his ears. You must hurry. Find Stella before it is too late. I was right to trust in both you and Velvet. Go and speak to her, she will know more of what to do. Trust in your friends, Rye… friendship is a magic all its own… it might be our last defense against what is surely coming.

With a gasp, Princess Celestia’s eyes rolled up into her head and she went still, her breathing becoming shallow. Rye stood there, silent, now free of whatever enchantment that had held him. He was able to look around, and he saw Mousy staring at him, a fearful look upon her face.

Lowering his head, Rye Mash pressed his muzzle against Princess Celestia’s, a gesture of affection, hoping to get some response out of her. There was none. She lay there, limp, unresponsive, and Rye felt hot tears lurking in the corners of his eyes seeing her in this state.

After a moment, he pulled himself away, turned to look at Mousy, and then said, “I think I need to go and talk to Bloody Velvet.”

 

 

“Rye, are you okay?” As Bloody Velvet spoke, Rye felt himself snatched in powerful magic and jerked forwards. Bloody Velvet was shaking far worse than usual, and as he found himself being examined. She looked into his eyes, gazed at his nose, checked his ears, and then rubbed her quivering, palsy afflicted cheek against his.

“I’m fine,” Rye replied, “mind telling me what that was?”

“I’m not sure, it was like the astral realm but different. I don’t know what that was. I just had the feeling that you were in danger and somehow, I knew where you were… what were you doing there? How did you end up in that place?” Bloody Velvet stepped back from Rye and continued to examine him, looking him over, her face fearful. “Injuries in the astral realm can be so real inside the mind that they can pass over into this world. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, really.” Rye took a deep breath. “I think Princess Celestia sent me there, I’m not sure what happened. She said some strange stuff and I don’t know what is going on. I’m not a very magical unicorn and I don’t know anything about this sort of stuff. What was that black thing anyhow?”

“I don’t know.” Bloody Velvet’s eyes narrowed and she shook her head. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s strong, whatever it is, might even be stronger than I am… if we have to fight it again, we’re in trouble… I was only able to hurt it because I was so angry… it was hurting you, Rye… I could see those… black… things digging their way into your head.”

“Velvet, we need to hurry. She’s real sick. Something is horribly wrong. Something is trying to escape or something, the ciphers I’ve cracked even said something to that effect. They foalnapped Stella because of her star magic. Do you think it was whatever was in that pool?”

“Might be, I don’t know. I don’t know enough about this sort of thing, but I know a pony who might. We need to make Starjammer talk somehow. He knows stuff. He’s scary smart and somehow, he knows stuff.” Bloody Velvet took a deep breath and began to try and calm down.

In the distance, the sun was setting, appearing to sink down into the ocean. The first stars of evening began to twinkle. The wind kicked up and The Apogee bobbed in its mooring. The three ponies standing upon the deck exchanged a three way glance and then all three of them looked over at Princess Celestia’s ship.

“How do I fight something like that… thing?” Rye asked.

“You can’t, Rye, you can’t.” Bloody Velvet shook her head. “You’re too weak. It will devour you. I’m not sure if I could face it again, but I might have a better chance if Starjammer joined me. He’s strong, but he’s not experienced in astral projection.” The mare stood there, trembling, her Shivers causing her whole body to jerk and twitch. “Princess Celestia has some nerve doing what she did just to test us.”

“This is bigger than us, Velvet,” Mousy said, finally getting up enough nerve to interject something into the conversation. “Better we get tested now and survive than later when the danger is greater and fail.”

Bloody Velvet’s ears perked forwards and she studied the earth pony that stood beside Rye. “You keep surprising me, Mousy. You keep this up, and I might find myself liking you.” Bloody Velvet gave Mousy a nervous smile. “I’m going to go and talk with Captain Spyglass. Something tells me that we need to leave in a hurry. Rye, don’t go wandering off, you and I need to have a long talk with Starjammer so we can sort all of this out.”

 

 

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