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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37. Chapter 37

Almost right away, Rye Mash was happy that Skeeter had come along. Ahead was a yawning chasm, a natural barrier in the underground passage. The rescued slaves had said nothing about this. Below, there were spikes, old bones, and a few corpses that were a little too fresh. Peering ahead from the shadows, Rye could see a bridge that would swing out and a lopsided wooden shack that served as a guard station.

There was a guard, a one eyed unicorn that paced back and forth near the place where the swing out bridge was anchored. When the pony paced, he had his eye facing the chasm while he went one way, and his blind side faced the chasm when he went the other.

At the moment, Rye wasn’t quite sure what to do. He didn’t want to shoot the guard, that would make a lot of noise. If he sent Skeeter over, Skeeter might be at risk. Rye wasn’t sure what the unicorn could do as far as magic, but the guard pony could raise an alarm.

As he stood there, trying to figure out what he was going to do next, he felt Woe Betide slip in between his forelegs. She stood below him, concealing herself as much as she could in the shadows. Looking down, he saw Woe’s tongue sticking out from her muzzle. A look of concentration was on her face. Her horn glowed and Rye noticed a rock was held in her telekinesis.

The wily foal waited until the one eyed unicorn had their blind side toward them and she hurled the rock with her telekinesis, using every lesson that Bloody Velvet had given her to guide the rock in it’s flight. Above her, Rye’s head tilted off to one side as he watched the stone hurtling towards its unaware target.

“Teehee!”

Just as Woe let out a triumphant giggle, the rock clipped the blindsided unicorn right in the ear. With a grunt, the poor equine wobbled, stumbled, and then, pitched down to the ground face first.

As the unicorn flailed helplessly on the ground, Skeeter took off, flying forward with caution, streaking over to the ramshackle guard post. He landed, eyeing the unicorn, and began operating the crank that swung the bridge out.

The unicorn lay in an ever expanding puddle of blood that oozed from his ear. His head was lumpy and misshapen. The flying rock had fractured his skull. He let out a pleading gurgle and his legs twitched as he lay there, helpless.

Before the bridge had even snapped into place, Mousy lept onto it, began crossing the chasm, her bright eyes darting to and fro as she pushed forwards. She reached the other side in three shakes of her tail, had a look around, and before anypony could say anything, she rolled the helpless unicorn over the edge and sent his body plummeting into the spike filled chasm.

“Oooh…” Woe gasped, “eeeew… he’s squirting.” The filly looked down and could see the now impaled unicorn in the faint light. She looked up at Rye, who stood over her. “How long do you think it will take him to die?”

“Not long enough,” Rye replied with as dry wit as he could muster.

“You and Mousy are kinda mean.” Woe shot out from between Rye’s forelegs and began to cross the bridge.

“I reckon we are.” Rye nodded as he followed after the filly, saying nothing about the fact it had been Woe’s sneak attack that had laid the unicorn low, fractured his skull, and been the primary source of pain and misery in the events leading up to the unicorn’s death, however long that took.

Below him, as Rye crossed the bridge, the unicorn kicked and twitched where he had been impaled, and then gasped out his last breath. Rye crossed the bridge, his hanger sword drawn, his eyes focused upon the tunnel up ahead.

Mousy darted inside of the crude shack and then emerged a moment later, looking disgusted. She hurried away from the shack, her tail between her legs, shaking her head as she went to Rye’s side.

Skeeter also checked out the shack, peering inside, and then, he too, backed away, looking horrified. His wings twitched against his sides and the stallion snorted and gulped as he backed away.

Rye thought about having a look to see what the big deal was, but then decided that he didn’t need to know. Woe was almost glued to his legs again. Mousy, though disgusted, was ready to go. Skeeter was recovering from whatever he had seen in the shack.

There wasn’t far to go, Rye hoped. At the end of the passage was the prison entrance, and from there, the prison infirmary was near the entrance. When slaves were returned in need of care, if they got the care they needed, the infirmary was conveniently located near the entrance. Slaves that worked hard were not squandered, it seemed, and the prison had had a doctor on staff… Doctor Lapin.

Saying nothing, Rye Mash made his way further into the prison, following the dim underground passage, wondering what they would encounter next. So far, this had gone better then he had hoped. Deaths had been few. So far, this was a lot better than a full on assault and a bloodbath.

The entrance had a surprising lack of guards. Oh, there were a few, but they hadn’t noticed Rye or his companions just yet. Rye studied the gate. It was open. Sometimes, it was open, other times, it was closed, or so the rescued slaves had told him. Woe had opened several gates along the way in the passage.

Beyond the gate was a large, open area and the rough stone of the passage gave way to bricks and mortar. There were holding cells, a stone building with well lit windows, and the indoor exercise yard.

Squinting, Rye looked at the holding cells. Most were empty, save one, and what he saw piqued his interest. He looked up at the guards at the gate, a few diamond dogs and a minotaur. They had guns, muskets by the looks of things. Rye wasn’t certain that the muskets would be so useful.

Glancing at Woe, he pointed at the holding cells and then made a gesture, turning his hoof, trying to act like he was turning a key. After a moment, Woe’s eyes lit up with understanding. Ducking deeper into the shadows, her horn lit up and the cell door lock began to glow.

After what felt like minutes, the lock clicked and the cell door swung open. The manticore in the cell howled with fury. There was a cry of alarm from the guards, who immediately fled their posts near the gate to find cover.

Roaring, the manticore began tearing around the open area beyond the gate. More guards emerged out of the stone building. There was popping crackle of musket fire, followed by bellows of rage from the manticore.

Rye Mash crept forwards, his companions on his heels, and they slipped through the gate together. They went left beyond the gate, heading for a wide stone archway, which Rye knew was the entrance to the infirmary, or so he had been told by the rescued slaves. Moving at a swift pace, Rye kept one wary eye on the manticore, which was busy mauling the guards.

He had no idea why a manticore was here in the prison, but he suspected that manticore venom was valuable. Or perhaps bits of the creature were used in alchemy, like the claws, the teeth, or some of its organs. He wasn’t quite sure what he’d do if he had to fight the manticore, but he hoped that his shotgun was up to the task.

 

 

As Rye burst into the infirmary, he was greeted by one very surprised griffon. Skeeter saw him coming before Rye did, he came in from the left of the door in an attempt to get a sneak attack. The pegasus blocked the incoming claws with his hoof, twisted his body around, and then delivered a powerful buck to the griffon’s beak.

The results were explosive and final—the griffon’s beak shattered on impact and his head snapped backwards, breaking his neck. Skeeter wickered, his sides heaving, and blood trickled down his foreleg where the griffon’s talons had grazed him.

It didn’t take long for Rye to find what he was looking for. The infirmary cells were in a long hallway that extended from the main room. He made his way down the hall, knowing that it dead ended, and he stopped at the fourth door. He turned and looked at Woe, who was trotting down the hallway, her saddlebags bouncing against her sides.

There was a roar of pain that drifted into the infirmary from the main room where the manticore had been freed. Rye, angling his head, looked at the doorway for the infirmary, and realised that this would be a dreadful place to get trapped. There was only one way to get in and out. This was where all of this could end, and end in a bad way.

With a loud click, Woe got the door open. Rye Mash pushed his way into the cell and was immediately met by a pink pegasus with a rainbow mane. She stood protectively over a body in the corner and it took Rye a moment to realise that she had only one wing.

“I won’t let you hurt him!”

The pegasus was little more than a filly, Rye figured that she had to be about his age. Old enough. She was almost a mare. She tossed her head around, snorted, and she waved her remaining wing around. She was crusted with dirt, but she was still pretty, one wing or no. Her mane and her tail were the most distinctive colours, a full rainbow.

“We’re not here to hurt him,” Rye said in a calm voice, “we’re here to rescue him. My name is Rye Mash and I was sent here to recover Doctor Lapin.” Looking down, Rye saw the battered looking diamond dog in the corner, laying on a pallet of filthy straw. He was curled up and he whimpered with each breath. The diamond dog wasn’t very big, as far as diamond dogs went, and he was covered in oozing scabs. “Who are you?”

The pegasus did nothing to relax her guard and kept her rose coloured eyes on Rye Mash. “My name is Prism Gem. What do you plan to do with Doctor Lapin?”

Rye felt Mousy brushing up against him as she pushed her way through the door. Woe Betide was standing beneath him, peeking out from between his front legs. Skeeter stood in the hallway, keeping watch. He gave the riled up pegasus a warm smile.

“I need to speak to him. I need information that he has. It is my intention to rescue him, get him healed, and then protect him as a valuable asset. I give you my word that I do not intend to harm him.”

The pegasus’ wing folded against her side. “I am Doctor Lapin’s most valuable asset and his assistant. I’m not letting you take him unless you take me as well. He needs me to do his great work.”

Rye, knowing that he was pressed for time, was still intrigued. “Great work?”

Prism Gem looked down at the diamond dog on the floor and then back at Rye. “My blood can go into any other pony and give them life. The good doctor is trying to understand why. He believes I am one of a kind.”

“I see.” Rye didn’t understand, nor was there enough time to explain. It was time to go. “Mousy, think you can carry the doctor on your back? He doesn’t look well. He isn’t very big.”

“I can,” Mousy replied.

“Miss Gem, are you well enough to come with us? We must move swiftly and make our escape.” Rye, staring at the pegasus filly, wondered if he would get an honest answer. One eyebrow raised in an arch as he studied her.

“My place is by his side. I’ll be fine.” Prism Gem stepped aside and allowed Mousy to come closer to the diamond dog lying on the floor in a heap. “They’re starving him… they left me in here with him… they hoped they could break him… and make him… and make him…” the pegasus filly fell silent and her lone wing fluttered against her side. “But he wouldn’t. I think he’s dying.”

“A good dog is loyal.” The words that came from the diamond dog were a feeble, raspy growl. “I did not like being a bad dog. I will die a good dog.”

“Nope, no dying.” Rye stepped forwards and with a great deal of strain, he lifted the diamond dog up and placed him on Mousy’s back. Doctor Lapin slumped over, unable to hold himself up, and Rye Mash felt pity for the emaciated, almost skeletal creature.

“Uh, Rye…”

“Yeah?” Rye turned to look at Skeeter.

“I think we have company…”

 

 

There were a number of guards standing in the entry tunnel that lead out of the infirmary and into the main entryway chamber. They had guns. Rye had stuck his head out to have a look and had almost caught a bullet with his face. He had Right Nut and Left Nut out. His blood was already singing the song of battle. His heart thudded in his ribs. This was going to get bloody.

Woe, grinned and held up a bottle of whiskey she had filched earlier. There was a bandanna sticking out of the neck of the bottle. A menacing evil gleam glowed in the small filly’s remaining eye. Her horn glowed and the bandanna sticking out of the whiskey bottle burst into flames.

Lunging forwards, Woe, putting herself at risk of being shot, went out into the hallway, took aim, and lobbed her flaming cocktail bottle at the guards. It arced through the air, streaming flames, and crashed into the wall next to one very startled looking griffon. The area around the guards burst into flames. Feathers and fur ignited. There were screams and the area filled with the scent of burning feathers, scorched hair, and seared flesh.

Woe Betide giggled as she took cover, ducking back into the room with Rye and the others. Screams filled the infirmary. Prism Gem gagged when the stench hit her nose, and a second later, Mousy did the same.

The sounds of gunfire filled the infirmary as the muskets the guards had ignited. There was more screaming after the sounds of discharge. Rye, holding his pistols, made his way out into the hallway. No one shot at him and he saw the group of guards trying to extinguish themselves and each other. Blood was pooling on the floor. When the muskets had gone off, there had been injuries. One of the diamond dogs looked gutshot.

A minotaur lunged forwards, his arm still on fire, and raised his axe as he charged Rye. Showing no concern, Rye took aim as the big creature lumbered through the main room of the infirmary and when the minotaur reached the hallway that held the infirmary cells, Rye fired Right Nut, taking aim at the minotaur’s face.

The bullet went into the minotaur’s eye and exploded out of the back of the minotaur’s skull. The mighty creature toppled over and lay twitching on the floor. A curl of black smoke rose from the end of Rye’s pistol. Rye began reloading and kept his eyes on the other guards as he made his way forwards.

“Don’t,” Rye warned as a griffon struggled to reload his musket.

A second later, Left Nut discharged, the sound almost deafening in the close quarters of the infirmary, the stone walls amplifying everything. The bullet struck the griffon in the shoulder, almost tearing his left foreleg off, and the musket clattered to the floor. Rye reloaded, acting on reflex.

He heard shouting in the distance, out in the entryway area. Rye knew that they needed to leave, and they needed to leave now. He heard a faint squeak and Woe went shooting past him. She rolled under a table, taking cover, and out of the corners of his vision, Rye saw that the filly was looting the infirmary of valuable goods with her telekinesis.

Drawing the pepperbox, Rye made several rapid fire shots, putting the flaming guards out of their misery. He watched as the bodies went still, he listened as blood sizzled and popped on the flaming floor.

“Woe, grab what you can… the rest of you, let’s go!” Rye barked as he checked the bodies. He didn’t want any surprises. He began to reload the pepperbox and he thought about his odds of making it out of here. He still had to make his way down the passage. He needed to destroy the bridge somehow. It wouldn’t slow down any griffon guards, but it would still be helpful. He felt a faint twinge of regret that he couldn’t free the slaves here.

Woe began stuffing things into Rye’s saddlebags; bottles of medical grade alcohol, laudanum, other pills, phials of strange liquids, bandages, gauze, thread, boxes of needles, surgical tools, she was emptying out the cabinets as fast as she could and trying to cram in as much as possible.

Stepping over the flaming corpses, Rye made his way into the entryway, alert for any sign of trouble, and worried about the manticore he had loosed. That was a bastard thing to do, but he didn’t feel too shook up about it. He doubted he would lose sleep over it. There were bodies everywhere. Mutilated bodies and ripped off limbs.

Lying in a heap in the middle of the entryway chamber was the manticore. Rye blinked as he took it all in. Dozens and dozens of guards lay dead all over the place. A major battle had taken place here. A bullet went whizzing past his head and as Rye jerked himself back into the doorway to take cover, another bullet grazed his neck.

“Oh feck me,” Rye swore as he backed into the hallway. His neck burned and he could feel blood coming out in a steady trickle. At least it wasn’t arterial spurting. He drew out his scoped pistol, gritted his teeth, and then once more, he stuck his head out into danger. There were two shots and he felt a second bullet graze him, this time just below his jaw. The pain filled his vision with stars, but he knew where the shot was coming from. He raised his scoped pistol, peeped through, and saw the enlarged image of a diamond dog reloading from behind partial cover. All he had was part of the creature’s shoulder, an ear, and his elbow. Rye, being a bastard of the worst stripe, picked the elbow. His scope focused on the elbow, and when Rye had his target in the crosshairs, he fired.

A second later, there was a long, keening howl of agony that filled the entryway chamber. A foreleg flopped on the ground near some crates close to the gate. The second guard, a minotaur, rose up from behind the crates, took aim with his freshly reloaded musket, and fired at Rye, just as Rye was leveling Right Nut.

The pair exchanged bullets. The minotaur’s bullet passed through Rye’s right front foreleg, just above his elbow, and Rye’s bullet went through the minotaur’s neck. There was a gushing geyser of crimson from the minotaur, and Rye limped for what little cover there was to be had, heading towards the crates near the gate.

Nothing else was shooting at him. He began to reload and realised that he was bleeding pretty bad from multiple places. The flesh wounds below his jaw and on his neck were steady trickles, but the hole in his leg was pretty bad, with blood dribbling out of both the entry wound and exit wound.

Rye’s companions scooted through the open area, moving as fast as they could, and with several pistols drawn, Rye led them through the gate. He ignored the pain in his leg as he limped along, leaving behind a trail of scarlet as a proof of his passing.

Mousy moved along quite well with Doctor Lapin on her back, moving with swift, smooth grace, and not allowing her precious cargo to fall. Prism Gem stumbled and almost fell over. Skeeter, bending his legs, darted forward, slid beneath the filly and then stood up, causing her to let out a squeal of shock and surprise.

Woe Betide, running to catch up to Rye, held a roll of cloth bandage in her telekinesis. She began wrapping it around Rye’s leg as they walked, a look of worry upon her face. Bloody Velvet had promised to paddle Woe’s arse a new shade of pink if something happened to Rye. Woe knew that Bloody would do it too—she had spied on Bloody Velvet paddling Starjammer’s backside a new shade of pink.

Not knowing what was safe, or what might lie ahead, Rye wasn’t sure what to do. He needed to be up front to fight danger if they ran into it, but he was also worried about a guard patrol coming down the passage and attacking from the rear. His head jerked back and forth as he tried to look ahead and behind, and his frantic movements caused the tear in his neck to bleed profusely.

Rye was starting to feel a little woozy.

 

 

As they neared the bridge, Rye almost stumbled. They seemed free and clear, but Rye was afraid to let his guard down. Nothing was chasing them, nothing was shooting at him, there was nothing at all. He wasn’t even sure how to destroy the bridge.

His hooves felt too heavy and Rye was having trouble holding up his guns. His magic felt weak, drained, he was having trouble maintaining his telekinesis. He was unaware of the fact that his thaumaturgical system had been damaged and that his precious magical liquids, his mana, was leaking out of neck with his blood.

In his mouth, his tongue felt too large. He was thirsty and his stomach felt empty. The emptiness was a painful, gut wrenching ache. His horn began to have a peculiar sensation as he crossed the bridge.

On the other side of the bridge, Woe Betide waited for her companions to cross, and then, after rummaging around in one of her saddlebags, she pulled out a glass bottle of medical grade alcohol. She tossed it on the wooden bridge. It shattered, sending glass flying everywhere, and soaked the bridge in eye watering alcohol. Woe’s horn glowed for a second, a bright, piercing light, and the puddle of alcohol ignited.

The bridge began to blaze with blue fire. Woe watched the fire with her one manic, glittering eye, her only eye. The little filly let out a horrible obscene giggle as she watched the fire with rapt, horrible attention. In no time at all, the dry wood of the bridge was utterly ablaze, and the structure was consumed by fire. The passage began filling with eye burning smoke.

Much to Rye’s relief, the smoke seemed to be sucked in the direction of the prison, but Rye, in his current addled state, could not guess why. He wasn’t doing very well and he knew it. He hoped that he had the strength to keep going.

Going down the passage, the blazing fire behind them, Rye Mash careened into the wall and left behind a crimson smear of blood. His guns were away now, he couldn’t hold them up any longer. He stumbled forwards, almost appearing drunk, and his companions all eyed him with worry and concern.

 

 

Nearing the exit, Rye Mash could smell fresh air, the scent of pine, and the smell of snow. He was having to focus on putting one hoof in front of the other now, which was much harder than he thought it would be. He felt heavy and sluggish.

It was with great effort that he made his way through the guard barracks where he killed the first few guards they had encountered, stabbing them in the neck. As he walked, he left behind a glistening trail of blood. The bandage that Woe had tied around his leg was now stained a deep, rusty red and soaked clean through with blood.

Ahead, Rye Mash saw a figure. He panicked, not knowing what to do, knowing that he couldn’t use his guns right now. Something was wrong with his magic. He just didn’t seem to have any. His stomach made a terrible squelching sound and Rye wondered what was wrong with him, he was worried that he was perhaps gutshot or something.

He stumbled, having trouble seeing who it was ahead. His horn sparked, but he couldn’t get his telekinesis to work. He squinted, trying to see who it was. He was quite unprepared for what he heard next. It wasn’t often that Starjammer said very much at all…

“Rye Mash… my beautiful, darling colt… what have those brutes done to you?”

 

 

 

 

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