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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33. Chapter 33

Starjammer, who was trying to show Rye Mash how engines were maintained, set down a spanner, rolled his eyes, and shook his head. Rye Mash, who was distracted, and spent far too much time looking at Starjammer, when he should have been looking at the engine, gave Starjammer a sheepish grin.

Snorting, Oola, who was fed up with the whole situation, shoved them both out of the engine bay on The Whalefish so she could get some work done. How a kangaroo knew about engines was anypony’s guess, but Oola was full of surprises.

Elsewhere, on The Apogee, Woe Betide was being instructed on the finer points of magic use by Bloody Velvet. Today’s lesson; practical combat applications with telekinesis. Woe, under the tutelage of both Starjammer and Bloody Velvet, was showing signs of greatness.

Mousy was having a quiet discussion with Captain Spyglass, a discussion about the plight of earth ponies and how Mousy admired the captain for doing so much to help them. Skeeter sat with them, but said very little, not having much to say on the subject, but wanting to know and understand more about it.

Now, standing on the deck of The Whalefish, having been banished from the engine room by Oola Roo, Rye and Starjammer began a deadly dance of combat, with Rye waving his hanger sword while Starjammer threatened Rye with a massive lynchpin. Witnessing this, the crew had a few good laughs, which was good for morale.

There was a lot of tension in the air. The two ships were sailing into danger, of this there could be no doubt, and the fear was a palpable thing that could be felt. The cannons were all ready to fire, both on deck and the banks of cannons belowdecks. Teams of cannoneers, pegasi and earth ponies who practiced the fine art of loading and firing a cannon, paced the deck, looking pensive, and watching the two ponies having a good natured duel was a good way to ease the tension.

With the wind being kind, they would make their destination in just a few days.

 

 

“Captain Spyglass… before we go in, guns blazing, I want to investigate the city,” Rye Mash said to his captain in what he hoped was a confident, self assured voice. He narrowed his eyes and looked Spyglass in the eye. “I just want to have a look around. I understand that it is dangerous, but you never know, I might learn something.”

“Rye Mash… they take unicorns as slaves.” Spyglass gave Rye an impassive stare.

“About that… Starjammer knows a little bit about that. There are also unicorn slavers. I could play the part—”

“This is very dangerous, Mister Mash.” Captain Spyglass squinted one eye at Rye. “I don’t know if I like this. What are you proposing?”

Clearing his throat and lifting his head a little higher, Rye tried to look as serious as possible. “I go into the city and I see if I can find out anything. I’ll ask around. Maybe see if I can find contract work. Pass myself off as a slaver and a mercenary. See if I can find some way into Château de la Roche without a whole lot of bloodshed. If I can’t get in, maybe I can find out something else that’s useful and will help us.”

Spyglass’ lips pressed into a tight line and his brows wrinkled as he considered Rye’s words. Intelligence was always a valuable commodity, and they needed every available resource they could get to pull this off. On the other hoof, Rye was putting himself at risk. His cabin colt was capable though, and Spyglass was tempted. If they could pull this off without bloodshed, so much the better.

The Whalefish will keep a good distance from Alpin. We’ll send in The Apogee and have Velvet cast an aversion spell on it. Hopefully, you won’t get noticed too much. You can look around the city and see if you can learn anything. After having your look around, we’ll rendezvous and discuss what we should do next. Maybe you can find a way of doing this that doesn’t put the ships at risk and doesn’t end with a bloodbath.”

“Aye aye, Captain.” Rye smiled and felt relieved.

“So, Mister Mash, have you thought about how you are going to pass yourself off as a slaver?” Spyglass focused a weather eye upon Rye and waited for the answer. This wasn’t something that could be improvised, or so Spyglass felt, there had to be more of a plan in place.

“Oh, that’s easy,” Rye replied in a confident, self assured voice, “I just so happen to have an earth pony in my possession. She’s docile, good looking, and obedient.”

Spyglass scowled, not liking this type of humour at all, though he knew that Rye was making a point. He trusted Rye, knew Rye to be a good pony, but hearing those words coming out of his cabin colt’s mouth ruffled his feathers. He wickered, bothered by this, but understood the necessity. He didn’t like putting Mousy at risk. He rather liked Mousy. She was a thinker.

“Mister Mash, are you really willing to put your bride at risk?” Spyglass asked.

“Captain, this is her idea,” Rye replied.

“Oh… shite…” Spyglass felt a cold chill go through his wings and he shuddered. He felt his stomach clench as a flood of emotions poured through his innards as he began to realise that not only was Mousy intelligent, but she was also ruthless and pragmatic. He stared at Rye and wondered what the colt might do with Mousy at the reins. Spyglass began to wonder if Mousy being a helpless damsel in distress was just a ruse. He suspected that they had all just been grifted. He also felt a little better about sending Mousy with Rye, the colt would need some brains to back him up.

“Mousy is more than willing to act like my slave… she even told me to rough her up a bit if I have to… she said that she’d act a little insolent just so I could put her in her place if we needed to make the act a little more believable. She did ask me not to hit her in the eye though, she hates that, but she said a fat lip was okay.”

“Mister Mash… if it comes down to that, if, you are to respect her wishes, are we clear?” Spyglass heaved a sigh. “I don’t like this. I don’t like any of this. I can’t stand that Princess Celestia coerced us into doing this. I don’t like you putting yourself at risk and Mousy as well. All of this is awful.”

“I’m sorta hoping that I can get into the castle under the guise of looking for work, perhaps. While I’m in there, maybe I can find the doctor we’re looking for. I can pass myself off as a heartless mercenary if I need to. Maybe we can find out more about their operation.” Rye Mash gave his captain a hopeful look.

“If all of this goes wrong, this could go quite badly for you and Mousy,” Spyglass said. “Do you have a plan for that? Can you do what needs to be done?”

“If things go badly and I know that there is no other way out, I know what needs to be done.” Rye Mash’s voice dropped into a pained whisper. “One bullet for her, one bullet for me. Quick and easy. I don’t want Mousy being broken in for real. I know what they do to female slaves to make them submissive.”

Spyglass shuddered. Rye understood all too well. He felt a catch in the back of his throat. He looked at his cabin colt and felt a strange pain, a pain not unlike the worry a father feels for his son. “Rye, be careful. I’ll talk to Bloody Velvet about this. When we get to Alpin, you do your thing and see if you can find out anything useful.”

“Aye aye,” Rye replied.

 

 

Below, an endless expanse of evergreens stretched out in all directions like a green sea, and even as high up as they were, the scent of the evergreens reached the noses of the crew. The air was cold, as cold as winter, and everypony could see their breath.

Ahead of them were the mountains and the city of Alpin. Below them, nestled among the evergreens, were logging camps. A light freezing rain was falling, precipitation from feral clouds that gathered around the mountains. It made the decks slick and ice rimed every surface.

The cold made being friendly easy. Ponies huddled together, both above and belowdecks, trying to stay warm. Those who had cloaks were wearing them. Some wore blankets wrapped around their bodies.

“Rye, we’re going to put you and Mousy down just outside of the city.” Bloody Velvet’s face contorted as the entire back half of her body spasmed. “I did a little far seeing with my magic. There is an ideal location for us to put down. We’ll be waiting for you there. There is a little moonshiner’s hollow a short distance away and we’ll be negotiating the cost of a large quantity of medical grade alcohol.”

Medical grade alcohol. Terrible stuff, awful stuff, stuff great for cleaning wounds, but lousy for drinking—unless one was desperate, then it would do in a pinch. For a thirsty sailor, anything would do, even engine degreaser.

Unless of course, you were a teetotaller, then medical grade alcohol was fine, even if it stung a little. The burning let you know it was working. Pain was the assurance of life and continued living, a means to celebrate that you would live to see another day, just so long as said celebration did not involve drinking medical grade alcohol, but rather, a hot cup of wonderful, soothing tea.

The Apogee drifted among the clouds, the ship glazing over with ice, which caused all manner of creaks, pops, and crackles. Unlike The Whalefish, which was rather simplistic all things considered, The Apogee had a means of heating the interior. However, the heating system consumed a lot of power and did almost nothing, leaving the inside just as cold as the outside.

In the higher elevations, along the slopes of the mountains, the evergreens were covered in a blanket of white snow. In just a few days, Rye Mash had gone from warm, sunny beaches to cold, snow covered mountains. Woe Betide had never seen snow before, so this was a novel experience for her.

 

 

Below was a somewhat flat space on the side of the mountain with a collection of shacks, buildings, and a massive still in the middle. Rye, nervous, knew that it was time to go. He had checked his weapons a dozen times now, but it did not feel like enough. He was wearing his green cloak and Bloody Velvet had pulled a scarf of hers from out of storage for him.

For Mousy, there would be no cloak or scarf. Slaves were treated poorly and Rye had to appear to be callous—indifferent to her suffering. Mousy stood, her teeth chattering, trying to keep warm. She looked miserable, which was a good thing. She needed to look miserable and downtrodden if this was to be pulled off.

“Rye… if you get in trouble, we’ll try to rescue you. I’ll do my best to keep an eye on you with far seeing.” Bloody Velvet frowned, adjusted the scarf around Rye’s neck, and then looked Rye in the eye. “Starjammer is resting and reserving his magic. If something goes wrong, he’s ready to burn the whole mountain down to get you. So, if something does go wrong, just try to hold out until we can rescue you, okay?”

Rye nodded. “Yes, Velvet, of course.”

“When you get back, and you will be coming back, you owe Mousy, do you hear me?” Bloody Velvet gave Rye a stern look.

“Yes.” Rye nodded again.

“No, really, I want to make this clear, you owe her for this. You are going to be her slave. You will bring her tea. You will serve her every whim and need. You will keep her warm and happy. I want you to look at her right now and see how miserable she is.”

Turning his head, Rye looked at Mousy. He could hear her teeth chattering. Frost had formed on her pelt. The freezing mist had turned some of her mane to icicles. A snotcicle hung from her nose. A twinge of guilt spiked through Rye’s heart. As he stood staring, Mousy gave him a shivering, quivering smile.

“I’ll be fine. I like the idea of having a unicorn serving me.” Mousy chuckled and stomped her hooves on the wooden deck. “It’s so bloody cold that I can’t feel my teats.” She turned to Bloody Velvet and her smile vanished. “Velvet, you know what needs to be done… make it quick.”

Nodding, Bloody Velvet’s horn flared and a burst of telekinesis flashed near Mousy’s head, striking her with concussive force, and knocking the earth pony down to the deck. Rye let out a startled yelp, followed by an angry bellow.

“Rye,” Velvet said, looking him in the eye. “Mousy and I agreed to this. She knew it needed to be done. Calm down and deal with it.”

Rye gritted his teeth, not liking this. He looked down at Mousy, feeling hurt and angry. Blood trickled from her ear, which was already starting to swell. She looked as though she had been kicked or struck in the side of the head, which in sense, she had been, by Velvet’s telekinetic burst. He helped her get up on her hooves again, and then pressed himself up against her.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

“I’m not,” Mousy replied in a somewhat woozy voice. “Remember, fat lip good, black eye bad. I hate being punched in the eye.”

Bowing his head, Rye planted an affectionate kiss upon Mousy, the last act of affection he would be able to show her for a while. He hoped he had it in him to do what needed to be done. A seething, searing coal of hatred kindled in his heart.

“Good luck,” Starjammer said in a low voice from where he stood in the doorway leading belowdecks. “Come back to me… both of you.”

“Yeah, good luck,” Woe Betide added.

Skeeter extended his frost covered wing and waved. “Be careful Rye, and look after Mousy.”

“I hate goodbyes.” Oola reached up, rubbed her eyes, and then, bouncing a bit, she slugged Rye in the withers. “Good luck, ya doof.”

The city of Alpin awaited.

 

 

 

 

 

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