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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38. Chapter 38

Letting out a pained moan, Rye Mash wished that he had not awoken. He felt stiff and sore all over. The bandages around his neck crinkled as he tried to move. His body felt too heavy and too sluggish. There was a warm body beside him, but he wasn’t sure who it was.

His mouth was as dry as a desert and there was an emptiness in his stomach that Rye had never felt before. After several more seconds, Rye Mash realised he was not in his bed, but was laying on the floor, perhaps. The ceiling was much further away than usual.

He heard the soft —whump whump— of hooves striking wood. Something large loomed in his vision, but his vision was fuzzy. He tried swallowing so he could talk, he tried to summon whatever spit he could so he could speak.

“Rye, stay still. I don’t know how you woke up, my magic was supposed to keep you asleep,” Bloody Velvet said in a soft voice that was somehow soothing in Rye’s ears. “You got hurt real bad, Rye. One of the organs for your magic was struck. We got you fixed up though, you’ll be fine. Doctor Lapin helped as much as he could, but it was little Woe that did the stitching and the surgery to stop the leakage, with Lapin telling her what to do. She’s something. Prism Gem gave you some of her blood… I don’t know how it works, but it saved you. We about lost you. Starjammer started weeping… it was awful hearing him cry.”

Rye let out a croak as he felt his head being lifted. The pain was bad and his vision blurred to the point of uselessness. He felt something pressing up against his lips and he drank, his body reacting without thought or will. The water was rather warm, but he didn’t care. It slid over his parched tongue and brought relief.

“Captain Spyglass is real proud of you and what you did. The ponies you rescued are on The Whalefish. We’re flying back to Sable Blanc. Doctor Lapin has already been telling us a lot of good things to know. He’s real grateful that he was rescued and he’s real happy that you saved his assistant. I’ve never seen a diamond dog be so nice to a pony before. I like Lapin… if something were to hurt him… I’d probably skin them alive. ”

Coughing, Rye sputtered as he failed to swallow water. It dribbled from his muzzle and down to his stomach. He felt the body beside him shift, and then there was a sleepy snort. Rye had a strange, confusing moment when he realised that the word ‘lapin’ meant rabbit. He didn’t know how he knew that.

“Go back to sleep Rye… it’s best for you this way. Sleep…”

Bloody Velvet’s command was irresistible and Rye felt himself slipping away.

 

 

Standing on weak, wobbly legs, Rye Mash looked down upon Sable Blanc as they approached. It was different somehow, approaching it over land rather than over the sea. The ocean spread out before them, an endless expanse of blue green that stretched out to the horizon, right off to what appeared to be the edge of the world.

He coughed a little, his throat still a little sore, but he was feeling much better. Beside him, Mousy stood, she was anxious, worried, and fretful of his condition. Not far away, sitting on the deck, Doctor Lapin was getting some much needed sun. The poor, battered diamond dog was recovering from his stay as a guest in the prison. He was still scabby and emaciated looking, but he was now clean, at least. Prism Gem, the one winged pegasus stood near him, smiling, her pink pelt now looking a little more vibrant and a whole lot cleaner. Her rainbow mane and tail whipped around in the breeze.

Of Starjammer, there was no sign. He was over on The Whalefish and Rye did not know what he was doing over there. Starjammer had been tinkering with the ships though, testing out new ideas and experimenting with magical enchantments.

Woe Betide was practicing her sewing skills, and by extension, giving her telekinesis a workout. She made fine, small stitches on a piece of scrap cloth, her lips were puckered, and her little orange tongue hung out of her mouth in concentration.

There was one thing that stood out in sharp contrast in the city of Sable Blanc, something that was impossible to ignore. Princess Celestia’s royal yacht was still moored in the harbour. Rye felt nervous when he noticed it and he began to worry about what Princess Celestia might think about his methods. He realised that he cared about what she thought of him. For whatever reason, he wanted her approval.

She had given him his hanger sword, a fine gift, something that he treasured. It was a practical, thoughtful gift for somepony in his profession. Seeing her airship, Rye looked forward to meeting her, and he wondered what she might have to say about the whole of the situation they were in.

 

 

It was strange how something as simple as a flight over a country could take one from brutal, bone chilling winter temperatures to a balmy, pleasant summer climate. Rye felt the ship rock and shudder a bit as it settled into its mooring. Sable Blanc awaited once again, and truth be told, Rye was eager to be back. He liked this place. He liked everything about it. It would serve as a quiet place for healing, and Rye wondered if that was the reason that Princess Celestia was here.

As the ship was being tethered, Rye saw pegasi wearing the armor of the royal guard flying over to greet them, but no sign of Princess Celestia herself. No time wasted. The royal guard meant business. Rye’s tattered and blood stained green cloak fluttered in the wind. He adjusted his leather body harness, the leather something that he never even gave a second thought to now, and tried to make himself look as presentable as he could. His neck was still bandaged, his mane was ratty looking, and his leg was also wrapped in bandages where he had been shot.

The first of the guards landed on the deck with a thump and Rye held his head high. He had standards. He saw Lapin and the poor diamond dog looked terrified. Prism Gem was moving in front of him, her face looking grim. Skeeter moved a little closer to Prism Gem, but he was smiling, his smile somehow making his scarred face look a little better.

With a fluttering of wings, Captain Spyglass landed near Rye. The captain folded his wings, shook himself, and then stepped forwards to greet the royal guards, his expression stern and serious.

“Greetings,” Spyglass said in a smooth, charismatic voice.

One of the guards stepped forwards, bowed his head, and then looked at Captain Spyglass. “I am relieved to see you. How do you do?” The guard looked around the deck and his gaze settled upon Doctor Lapin. “Her Royal Majesty, the Princess Celestia wishes to meet with Doctor Lapin face to face. I was told to offer promises and assurances of his safety. Princess Celestia wishes to know about her student.”

Prism Gem let out a whimpering sound and her one wing fluttered at her side as her hooves clopped upon the wooden deck. She backed up a little bit, closer to Lapin, and her eyes narrowed. After a moment, she glanced at Rye, then at Skeeter, and the expression in her eyes was one of pleading.

The guard, noticing the distraught filly, brought himself to attention. “Miss, I offer you my assurances, no harm will come to Doctor Lapin. Princess Celestia does not wish to keep him forever. She only wants to speak to him for a short time, and then he will be returned to you.”

“I don’t trust you,” Prism Gem said in a low voice. She pointed at Rye with one raised front hoof. “I trust him, because I’ve shared my blood with him and he owes me… but I don’t trust you.”

“Sir, if I might offer a suggestion?” Captain Spyglass asked.

The guard eyed Spyglass and nodded.

“I have spoken with the young Miss Gem. She is meek and mild mannered, I assure you. I offer you my good word that she will behave well. Take her with you so that her mind can be at ease. She has a… special bond with Doctor Lapin. They shared confinement together for an extended period of time. They both become anxious when separated.”

“I have no objections to that,” the guard replied. He looked over at the anxious filly. “Miss, would you be agreeable to this arrangement?”

Prism Gem, who looked quite skittish, thought about everything said, and after a short time of reflection, nodded her head. “Yes, but I want Rye to come with me.”

“Oh,” the guard began to chuckle, “you needn’t worry about that, Princess Celestia wants to see him. I assure you, everything will be fine.”

Captain Spyglass, realising that the filly required just a little more assurance, stepped forwards. “I have already secured Doctor Lapin’s services as my surgeon. I really must insist that he is returned to me if we are to continue with Princess Celestia’s tasks.”

The guard chuckled again and then bowed his head. “I give you my word, everything will be fine…”

 

 

Cautious, concerned that Princess Celestia might be unwell, Rye Mash made his way down the hall, his head low, his ears pinned back, the bandages on his neck crinkling with his every step. He limped a little on his bad leg, but he did not let that slow him. He was eager to see the white alicorn, and he hoped that she was well.

Behind him, the others followed, with Lapin shambling along with one paw resting upon Prism Gem’s back for support. Prism herself looked worried and out of sorts. Bloody Velvet had tried to brush the wild looking pegasus filly, but Prism was far too skittish and ticklish to hold still long enough for a good and proper brushing fit for a meeting with a princess.

Just as Rye Mash reached the end of the hall where a door with a blazing sun symbol waited, the door was pulled open by an invisible force. Rye paused, licked his lips, realised that he looked pretty rough, and then made his way through the door.

“Rye Mash… do come in… I was so worried for you, my little pony,” Princess Celestia said in a warm, inviting voice. The big white alicorn was resting on a large cushion in the pony loaf position. Her regalia and her shoes were scattered around her. The room was messy, there were papers, maps, and books all around her in piles.

Celestia’s head lifted higher when she saw Doctor Lapin and she let out a gasp. “Doctor Lapin… I have watched you from afar… thank you, Lapin, for looking after my little ponies.”

The diamond dog froze, a worried, hurt expression upon his face, his jowls sagging, and his eyes were sad. “I did bad things… I did bad things. I’m sorry.”

“Yes, you did bad things, but you realised that they were wrong and you tried to make up for them. Surely, the past can be forgiven,” Celestia said in a soft voice. “I have watched you for some time. I know your heart is good. You are troubled by what you have done… there are many who feel no such shame or guilt.”

“I’m sorry,” Lapin said as he pitched over to the ground. Down on all fours, he closed his eyes and shook his head. “Please, forgive me.”

“You are forgiven,” Celestia replied. “Be the good dog that I know you can be.”

Lapin let out a low whine and crawled a little closer to Celestia, while Prism Gem watched with startled confusion. Rye eased himself down to the floor and sat down near Celestia, thankful to take pressure off of his injured leg.

“Doctor Lapin, you were the last one to see my student, Stella Scintilla.” Celestia, getting right to the point, spoke to the doctor in a pleading voice. “Not long after you checked her over, she vanished from me and I could no longer watch her from afar. I was hoping that you know something.”

The diamond dog blinked, surprised, and he took a moment to think and recover. “I know a little about Stella… she was brought to me after one of her guards roughed her up. One of her hind legs was injured. The warden wanted to know if she would be fit to travel and if she was in good health… after I saw her, Peck and Paw took her and she was gone.”

“Do you know where they took her? Do you know anything at all?” Celestia asked in a soft voice that held a hard, demanding edge. “If you know something, anything, I will be most grateful if you could tell me.”

The diamond dog pulled himself together and took a seated position on the floor. He grunted when Prism sat down beside him and pressed herself up against him. Rye watched the pair, noting their closeness, their camaraderie. He felt himself wishing that Mousy was here with him.

“Majesty,” Lapin said in a worried, raspy voice that was filled with gravel, “there is very little that I know. But I suspect that you know that I know something, and you would be correct. There were meetings… gatherings, and these meetings were protected against magical eavesdropping and intrusions—”

“Yes…” Celestia nodded her head, eager to know more.

“I do not know everything that is going on. All I know is, they are trying to open some kind of safe or maybe a prison cell or something. The lock is connected to the stars.” Lapin took a deep breath, his jowls quivering and flapping. “My former employers, they have taken Stella and others with star magic and they are going to try and find the Temple of Time in the Forgotten Wastes to see if they can roll back time to see the positions of the stars on a certain night about eight hundred years ago.”

“I see.” Celestia’s brows creased as she began to look concerned.

“Once they know the position that the stars were in on that night, they plan to use Stella and the others to move the stars above back into position so they can open the door. Lord Byron Bitters said that the door would be difficult to open, but not impossible.”

“Oh dear… oh… no… oh dear,” Celestia stammered.

“I take it this is bad?” Rye asked, thinking about Byron and Byron Bitter’s bitter end.

“If that door opens, it could mean the end of the world,” Celestia replied. She focused her steely gaze upon Rye Mash. “We cannot let this happen. It will mean the end of all we know. The Elements of Harmony are lost… I cannot find them. What they want to do is open a prison. If it is opened… well…” Celestia fell silent and her eyes filled with tears. “I might be able to kill what lies locked away, but the consequences for such an act would be disastrous.”

Rye sensed that there was something that Princess Celestia was not telling him, something important. Some precious bit of information that she was withholding. One eyebrow arched and he studied the great white mare.

“So what can we do to help you?” Rye asked.

Without hesitation, Celestia replied, “You must try to stop them.”

 

 

 

 

 

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