Is it possible for one to work too hard on a story? I think so, because I sure as heck think I worked too hard developing this one. Not that I'd say I regret the work I put into it—writing is always enjoyable—but for what almost everyone here would view as a shipping joke between mods that only about two-and-a-half people would read, yeah, 25 hours is probably a little excessive. That's writing for you: It always takes longer than you'd expect. For that matter, the story might also be longer than you'd expect for a mere joke. Fair warning to PiratePony, Lightwing, and anybody else who somehow finds themselves starring in a story at some point: Be careful when you give full artistic license to the creator because it means that ridiculousness like this can result. We've got four chapters of this ahead.
"Anchors away, lads! Quickly, before more of them Celestial maggot boiler jacks try and take me spoils!" the a pony called, his ragged voice rising above the din of the ever-crashing waves. From a chorus of ponies scattered across the ship came, "Aye-aye, Captain!" A pair of ponies scampered to the pulley system operating the anchor currently keeping the ship in place. With a concerted effort, they cranked the gears, slowly raising the anchor off the seafloor. "And ye scallywags; get aft a'fore I leave without you!" the captain called again, this time pointing to an adjoining ship. This one was in far worse shape than the one the captain was standing on. His ship was a perfect (and terrifying) vision of black and purple with nary a scratch to sully her paint the slightest bit. The other ship was a catastrophe of white and gold, pockmarked with many patches of brown where numerous holes had been blown into her hull. These holes were taking on water, even as scattered deckhands—also garbed in white and gold—attempted to patch those holes up. To boot, her sails were also shredded to bits and her mainmast was shattered, leaving no means for the ship to move even if her hull were intact. Another chorus of "Aye-aye, Captain!" before several other ponies, some injured to various degrees, made their way across a gangplank from the white ship back to their home ship of black. Some of them carried bags with glittering items inside. Gold, silver, jewels, and whatever else of value they could find on the ship. As soon as every pony was back across, another pair of ponies lifted the gangplank and unlatched it from the home ship, severing the connection between the two. What ponies were left were left with a disabled ship and no means of movement. It would be hours before they were able to move a whit again, if ever. This all happened as the captain strode back and forth of his ship, observing it all happen. He was garbed in black and gray with purple gilding, the fabric torn and in a jagged shape where the sleeves and skirt ended. He also wore a hat with an embroidered skull and crossbones, a cutlass in scabbard attached to a waistbelt, and an eyepatch on his left eye. On his shoulder was a varicolored facsimile of parrot, and on his mouth was also what seemed like a perpetual sneer of derision. Essentially, a stereotypical pirate. The image the captain cast about himself was so complete that nopony on the ship actually knew his real name: They only knew him as "Captain." Or if they were being formal, "The Dread Pirate-Pony." Captain pointed to a pony, this one wearing a hat and a compass on his fetlock. "You thar! Be me helmsman, and get me out o' these Sun-infested waters!" Another "aye-aye, Captain," and before long, Captain's ship parted the waves and the white ship grew smaller and more indistinct as it receded into the distance. Even as it disappeared, Captain kept staring at it, that same sneer on his mouth. All this, too, was observed by new visitor-tuned-captive on the ship. "Let me go, you ill-begotten bastards! My cousin was on that ship, and you just had to take everything he had and leave his ship to drift on the ocean!" Captain turned to eye a pegasus, currently being restrained by two deckhands. In the dying amber light of Sun, her periwinkle coat looked nearly gray, and her mane appeared the color of blood, though it'd be pink in more lively light. She kicked and tried to escape her captors to no avail. And Captain continued to sneer. "You should avast yer fightin' and be grateful. I could be havin' you ported on that ship to sink to Davy Jones' Locker, but I saved yer life and tookst ye aboard mine instead." The periwinkle pony stared back at Captain. "I would rather die than let you brutes take your liberties with me." Captain scoffed. "Liberties? What sort o' pirates do ye think we are?" He called to his crew then who were currently restraining her, "Let the lass go. She won't hurt nopony." Even as she was released, she shot a glare at her former captors before looking back to Captain. She didn't move. "Then what do you want with me?" she hissed. Captain rolled his eyes. "Always ye lasses with 'what do you want with me'. Maybe I just thought ye be too pretty to let drown?" Captain took a step forward. "And ye be lucky. It's been a long time since I've found a lass pretty enough to save." She narrowed her eyes. "So you saved me merely because you thought—" "Hold that thought, me lass," Captain interrupted, turning to address the crew pony who had just walked up to him, this one different from the others. To start, she was female, as opposed to every other crew pony on the ship. And rather than being dressed as a pirate, she appeared to be more of a vision of a princess, what with the long royal purple dress she wore, matching her purple curls and complementing her alabaster coat. On her head was a horn glowing blue, complementing the blue surrounding the scroll she held in her aura. "The figures are here, Captain, for what we captured and where we've to go. It seems that we've made some good progress." She spoke with idiosyncratic accent, seemingly not cultivated by the seven seas but by a life of high society. It seemed the exact opposite of Captain's ragged drawl. The two voices intermingled in a strange cacophony of immiscible voices as they murmured words to each other, words too indistinct to comprehend. But as their discussion came to an end, the princess rolled up her scroll with her magic. Captain said, "Aye, we be doing well. Good work. We be talkin' later about what waters be best for pillaging." With that, the princess bowed and retreated to a cabin shrouded in shadows too deep to pierce. Captain turned his eyes back to his captive. "Aye, so where were we?" She ignored the train of thought and instead said, "Who's that?" She pointed at the cabin the princess had just retreated into. "She's not another mare you captured, is she?" There was a tone of threatening in her voice. Captain chuckled. "Nay, she be me quartermaster. Been that way fer many years, many voyages." The periwinkle pony wore a look of incredulity on her face. She sputtered a few times before saying, "And you got her to work with you?" "Aye." "A-aye!?" Captain cocked his head to gesture at the princess' cabin. "Aye. She and I be havin' the same goals." "And what goals are those?" Captain rolled his eyes again. "Ye lass and yer endless questions. Maybe I'll be more wantin' to answer when accursed Sun is up again." He glanced at the horizon and Sun, just recently hidden below it, leaving the only light left blue and weak. Then he sidled up besides the mare and roughly nudged her to follow. "Yer quarters are this way." The mare growled and resisted at first, but at the sign she wasn't following, Captain put a hoof on hers and dragged her away. Growling again, the mare reluctantly followed, glaring at his back and wondering about all the ways she could escape the ship or sabotage Captain's crew. The quarters, as it turned out, were not exceptional, but they were certainly more lavish than what would be expected for a conventional prisoner. Inside the room there was a bed, a vacant bookshelf, some warm lights, and a murky porthole providing a view to the (at current, almost literally) black sea. It would, in any other circumstance, be nothing more than a lowly seapony's cabin. That "other" circumstance, it turned out, came in the form of a pair of locks she saw on the door that could only be worked from the outside. Glancing at the cutlass again and finding she had no choice, she stepped into the room. The relative comfort of the room she'd be staying in for the foreseeable future provided her no such comfort. She was, in effect, a prisoner all the same—confined to the ship and her quarters against her will until, presumably, she was rescued or she died. And she was no noble; no pony would spend any great deal of money to rescue her. So with those thoughts in mind, she glared back at Captain with the same piercing green eyes she'd always been glaring at Captain with. Captain, as always, seemed unaffected. He only said, "Well, lass, rest well; I'll see what ye c'n be doin' in the mornin'." "My name is Cupid," Cupid seethed. If she was going to be imprisoned, she wouldn't be depersonalized into a pirate's "lass" at the same time. Captain shrugged. "Suit yerself, lass." And he left as the door swung closed behind him, leaving Cupid to her rage and ruminations.
Cupid woke up the next day slowly and reluctantly. By the time she came to her senses, she also had the wit about her to remember where she was and (at least nonspecifically) why she was there, and those explanations were enough to keep her eyes closed, unwilling to wake. But even so, the longer the stayed in bed, the brighter the lights got, the hotter the blankets grew, and the lumpier the bed became. With an indignant growl, she kicked the sheets of the bed and snapped open her eyes to the wooden ceiling above. So she laid there for several minutes, staring at nothing but contemplating all the ways she could kill Captain or escape the ship, though her thoughts always found her to futility. Even if she could kill Captain, what then? She'd still be stranded at sea with a crew that wanted to kill her now. And abandoning ship was an easy way to a watery grave. She probably couldn't fly more than a mile or two before flagging and sinking to the water. She hated her situation and she hated Captain, but she didn't hate them so much that she would drown herself out of spite. Not anymore. And out of spite for what? For all the noise Captain made, he still didn't make clear what exactly what he wanted to do with her. Her first suspicion was one she made clear when she was captured; it didn't seem like Captain was interested in that, and if it would have happened, it would have happened sooner. It could be for ransom, but it that were the case, wouldn't Captain have left a message for somebody informing of his demands? At this point, it would be weeks before anypony would think she was missing . . . if there was anypony who cared where she was, that is. No family, few friends, and no boyfriend certainly. She couldn't think of more than a handful of ponies who would be willing to pay for her ransom, and it wouldn't be very much in any case. Even though she was the only mare on that ship, she was by far the most insignificant. It was a boring and life of low rapport for her back on land, but she'd much rather that than this. Her reverie was interrupted by a knock on the door. She glanced at the door but didn't care to answer it. She heard the door creak open anyways, followed by the familiar drawl of Captain. "Ye be a Moon-addled landlubber fer ye to sleep so much!" Cupid didn't look at him, opting to keep her eyes fixed on the ceiling instead. "Excuse me for being your prisoner," she said, annoyed. "Prisoner? Nay, ye be a deckhand today, me lass. The deck be needin' scrubbin' and the hull be needin' careening." "And if I refuse?" Cupid said, still not looking in his direction. "I be hopin' ye be reasonable." She moved her eyes to look at Captain, only a few paces away from her and the bed. She looked back at the ceiling and otherwise didn't move. "Reasonable for you. You're not going to cut me down and spill my blood all over this cabin if I just decide to stay here all day?" "Of course not, lass! Why ye be so ornery? And what kind of pirate d' ye take me fer?" She heard Captain take a step closer. Cupid looked again, her eyes drawn to his cutlass, ever attached to his waistband. This close up, she found that it wasn't even sharp. Indeed, what kind of pirate didn't keep a sharp sword? Nevertheless, she posed the obvious response: "A pirate." Captain sighed then (though it sounded more like a pony attempting to gargle gravel) and said, "I see me matey's reputation be ahead of me. Come, lass! Ye missed the mornin', but there still be a good meal fer ye on th' table!" With that, he pulled Cupid out of bed by the hoof, and she had no choice but to oblige and follow once again. Outside the cabin, midday Sun was bright overhead. She had, indeed, slept for a quite a while, longer than she thought. Then again, with no Sun in her cabin to tell her when it was day, that was kind of sleeping that happened. Captain led Cupid across the deck, down some stairs, and through a few narrow tunnels that smelled faintly of mildew. But they eventually found their way into a room with serving tools and food on trays, a room Cupid rapidly identified as a mess hall. In the middle was a large table, and there sat a small handful of ponies, some of them talking, all of them eating. "Get yer fill, lass, and sit back 'ere." Captain gestured to a tray of food, consisting of some stale breads, prepared vegetables, and a great heaping mound of oranges. He then went to sit at the table next to a pony she instantly recognized. It was kind of hard to miss the only other mare on the ship with her. The princess was wearing something different today, just a short baby blue blouse, but she still looked as elegant and out of place as ever. She had her own small plate of food in front of her, and she was using her magic to cut the food and lift dainty bites to her mouth. In contrast to every other pony in the room, who opted just to shove whatever food in whatever portions into their mouths as fast as possible. Cupid took a plate and dropped some food on it while she continued to muse. The sight of the princess confused her still. Why was she there? Captain referred to her as a quartermaster the day before, though she found that hard to believe. What sort of mare would willingly work on a pirate ship, and for him, no less? She thought the type of mare, and this one was definitely not that type. Ever the presence was peculiar, because she clearly wasn't a prisoner; Captain said as much himself yesterday, and while his credibility could certainly be questioned, the lack of any struggle or contempt in the princess could not. Plate in hoof, Cupid needed to decide where to sit. True, Captain had left a spot close to him and the princess, but she didn't want to be close to him for any longer than necessary. Even so, she didn't particularly want to be close to any of the deckhands, either. And perhaps sitting where Captain had suggested would allay her curiosity about why exactly the princess even existed here. "Ah, there's me lass!" Captain said as she approached. And when she sat down, he slapped her hard on the back, eliciting a gasp followed by a growl. "Good morning, Cupid," the princess said with a small smile, much to Cupid's surprise since it was the first time she was addressed by name since she'd been kidnapped. She didn't even know she knew her name or how she knew of it; she'd never talked with her. It only made her more confusing. "Aye, and we be beachin' and spiffin' old Talita today! We be needin' to careen her hull so she don't seem so becalmed in our gale, an' some deckhands and lasses be needin' to do it!" Captain looked at her through his one eye, and Cupid glared back. "I don't believe Cupid would be willing, Captain. Leave it to Bourbon's crew. There are other things she can do," the princess said, though in referring to what exactly she'd be willing or not willing to do, Cupid had no idea. Though he was comprehensible most of the time, there were moments he seemed to switch into another language. "Well, ye be me quartermaster, so I be leavin' it to you. And ye might get through to the lass, too; she be stuck as a bilge rat now. Ye be doin' that?" The princess nodded once. "Aye, Captain. I'll do my best." Captain got up then and guffawed, "There's me lovely!" Then he called to the other deckhands at the table and shouted, "All hands on deck! We be needin' careenin' and cleanin' the decks afore we set sail again!" A chorus of "aye-aye, Captain!" rang before everypony besides Cupid and the princess jumped to their hooves and filed out of the mess hall. When everypony was out, Captain called, "Lass, ye stay with the Mistress 'till she has ye back on deck!" And three shrank to two. The two of them were left alone in the mess hall with each other and a veritable disaster of dishes to clean and food scraps to discard. Even so, neither occupant paid any mind to that: Cupid only stared at the princess, and the princess stared back, an apologetic look on her face. "I'm sorry, Cupid. You must be very confused right now." Cupid grunted. "Confused is right. What in Tartarus, is happening right now? Who is this Captain and what kind of pirate is he? And who are you to work with him like this when he kidnaps mares like me? What are you called anyway? And what does he really want with me? He's just never given me a—" The princess put a hoof up. "Peace, my dear. I'll answer what questions you have in the time we have, but one at a time, please." Cupid grumbled again. She took a bite out of the aubergine on her plate, though out of spite or to bide time to think or because she was actually hungry, she didn’t really know. (But her stomach, at that moment, growled ravenously, answering the question for both of them.) When she finished, though, she started with her most burning question first. "Who are you?" The princess looked up and to her right in thought. Cupid found it strange that one would need to think about their own identity; it seemed a simple question enough. But she recovered in time and answered. "Well, my time on Captain's ship has seen me go through a few names, but most of them are variations of 'Mistress,' or 'Madame Quicksilver,' or combinations thereof. And in formal contexts, 'Mistress Quicksilver the Clever' seems to be my title." Just as Cupid was about to interrupt on how the princess was only talking about her name and not who she was, she continued. "And if that doesn't answer your question, perhaps you'll know me better by my former name, the one I wore in my past life: Rarity." That one word was enough to arrest any thought in Cupid's mind and replace it with a sputtering, incoherent mass of thoughts and words. "I—but—you were that one time really famous—and then it just—I don't—you can't be that same—" The princess cut her off. "I am the one and the same, the Rarity who once took the fashion world by storm with her resplendent and unique designs. The Rarity who started as a country mare and became a regarded fashionista the world over. The Rarity who had boutiques in so many cities across Equestria. And yes, the Rarity who disappeared under mysterious circumstances nigh on five years ago." She smiled an enigmatic smile. "After a while, she was considered lost and dead. And indeed, I think she is dead, as she faded away and repurposed a new life for herself." She put a hoof to her breast. "Madame Quicksilver, however, is at your service." The princess might have been eloquent and disciplined, but Cupid was bewildered and aghast. She could hardly believe that the former epitome of fashion, propriety, and high society would turn to a life of piracy. They just seemed to be such different and incompatible ways of life. There were rumors Rarity had taken to sailing after her fashion life, but few enough ponies believed them. Even as Rarity/Quicksilver was right in front of her eyes, she could scarcely believe they were the same. She'd even be inclined to believe that this mare was lying were it not for her unmistakable accent and mannerisms. It was almost as if Rarity the fashionista was captured and taken on a pirate ship just a few months ago but took to her new life unreasonably quickly. "Just . . . Why? You were at the height of your career! Why would you bring yourself so low to . . . this?" she said incredulously. Quicksilver narrowed her eyes just a bit before responding. "I'll forgive you your words this once, but do not say those words to Captain; he has a shorter temper than I." She brightened then and continued in a livelier voice. "You would think I was, but no, where I was, I was miserable. Catering to the whims of the elite alone, their selfish desires, and doing exactly the same thing, year after year. High fashion is not a place of creativity, I found, no; It was a place of ruthless business acumen and endless backstabbing. Yes, I made it to the top, but for what? To care for the same selfish elite and step on those who might actually care. Just to keep doing the same awful things, year after year. "I couldn't stand it, so I left. I told none of where I went, and I disappeared, leaving the tabloids to speculate endlessly about what happened. Oh, for the time I kept up with them, it was glorious. The gossip! But as I left, I longed for a new life. Rather than circling in the society I learned to hate, why not try something anti-social?" "But piracy?" Cupid asked, keeping her language under control but unable to hide her shock and flabbergast. Quicksilver nodded. She smiled then, a smile a touch more sinister than the pure ones she flashed previous. "The elite don't deserve their opulence. I knew too many ponies in fashion circles who agreed with me as well. And this trade disruption, this sabotage, it hurts those elite most. They're the ones who win the revenue from the goods on board, if they're not on the ship in the first place." She sighed happily then and closed her eyes briefly. "Oh, their pleading is delicious. They're simply deaf to the same pleading they hear while walking to their penthouse suites." Cupid frowned and shook her head. Perhaps Quicksilver's logic made a perverse kind of sense, but how could she justify Captain's killing of everypony on the ships they attacked? Not to mention his indiscriminate ruthlessness or his willingness to steal or the fact that he just kidnapped her not even a day ago. Those, as far as she was concerned, were indefensible arguments, and those were the things she asked Quicksilver about. Maybe she would risk her anger as well as Captain's, but she'd take her chances for answers. Quicksilver, thankfully, was not offended. "I don't think you've been around Captain enough. Tell me, Cupid: In the time you've been with him, have you seen him once spill the blood of another pony out of spite or anger? Has he ever been unreasonably cruel to you or one of his deckhands?" Intuitively, her answer was "yes." He was a pirate, after all. But even as she thought it, she saw Quicksilver frown. "I can read your answer on your face. You're scowling. Think harder." Releasing the scowl she didn't know she had, she thought back. True, Captain was a pirate, but even as soon as her kidnapping, he wasn't quite being the pirate she thought he would be. No liberties were taken, no slavery was had. Just . . . whatever this was. Even now, she might be hard-pressed to convince the unaware wanderer that she had been kidnapped on this ship when she was currently chatting amiably with another mare. She had been, true. But even she couldn't reconcile the phrase "unreasonably cruel" to her current treatment. It was the kidnapping that was the problem, not much of anything else, actually. And then . . . Cupid looked again, her eyes drawn to his cutlass, ever attached to his waistband. This close up, she found that it wasn't even sharp. Indeed, what kind of pirate didn't keep a sharp sword? "His sword was blunt . . ." she mused aloud. Quicksilver nodded again and smiled. "I think you've got it. Captain doesn't have a sharp sword because he never really uses it. In fact, I think he just keeps it because it makes him look like a pirate," she finished with a chuckle. A reciprocal smile was arrested halfway on Cupid's face as she thought about what kind of violence Captain did commit. "Then what about all the ponies he left behind on our ship, then? He shredded the sails and blasted so many holes into it that I was convinced we were going to drown." "They won't. If we had really meant to send them adrift, we would have burned their stock of sailcloth as well." she responded, an enigmatic look now on her face. "They'll stumble back to their home wharf and spread the terror of The Dread Pirate-Pony and his horrible Quicksilver." "B-but Captain said that they would sink to 'Dave Jones' Locker,' wherever that is, and that he saved my life." "Hyperbole," Quicksilver said, waving it off. "Captain always says that. He only seems to impart in the rhetoric because that's what a pirate should say, even if it's not necessarily what he actually does." That gave Cupid pause. Because if that was true—and for everything that she learned of Quicksilver, she had no reason to believe that it wasn't—that meant the crimes of Captain and his crew could be interpreted to damage to public property and petty theft. Inexcusable, but a touch less heinous than the murder she thought they would have to answer to. "Does he do this with every ship he comes across?" "Steal from them or spare the crew their lives? If it's a fishing vessel or a passenger ship, we don't bother. If it's a merchant ship, on the other hand, we'd probably take their goods and give them a scare for good measure, but no more than necessary. I hate the elite, and so does Captain, but I don't hate them that much." "But can you really do that? Just steal and spare everypony?" Quicksilver's look became apologetic then. "We try our best, but nopony here purports to be entirely virtuous. You don't get to do this without a bit of collateral damage." Cupid's anger came back to her then, and in full force. "You call lives collateral damage!?" A nod. "Sadly, that's the nature of piracy. We give our targets a chance to surrender—you probably recall our call before the attack—but if they refuse the offer, we take by force. And if they refuse that, we take by whatever means necessary." Cupid shook her head over and over. As far as she was concerned, there was no excuse for taking another life, except in the most dire of circumstances. She had gotten to know many friends quite well, including their loves, their lusts, their relationships, and all the spiderwebs of links they make with other companions and across Equestria. It was, in part, her special talent as a cupid—to characterize these relationships and know them intuitively. To indiscriminately kill a pony was not just to take their life, but injure everypony else who had ties with them. Hurt upon hurt. That, in her mind, was utterly indefensible. But just as she was about to respond to that and refute Quicksilver's claims, a jolt racked the ship, sending Cupid crashing into the table and all the plates on it sliding across it, some landing on the floor. She groaned and raised her head, disoriented. Quicksilver took the jolt more gracefully, barely looking like she reacted at all. The only change was that her ears had perked up. "That's the beaching," she said. "We'll be stopped for an hour or two as Captain has the crew clean the bottom of the ship. He'll be needing me to direct them, so I'm afraid our time is at an end. If you have anything else you'd like to ask, say it now." There were so many things that Cupid wanted answered, though, so many things that she could probably spend all of next week discussing and still have things left to talk about. So she settled on her most immediate query. "Why our ship?" Rustling as Quicksilver gathered her coat with its various honors on it and prepared to leave, but she spoke as she was doing so. "We had been tracking your vessel for a few days. It was laden with gold and rough gems destined for Canterlot's docks and its wealthy traders. This, I'm sure, you can corroborate. It was always a target, albeit a low priority one." And just before she was about to leave, she turned back and looked and Cupid in the eye with a curious smile. "Then Captain saw you on the deck." Then she left.
"The poop deck needs sweeping, me lovely! Git to it!" "Yeah, yeah, whatever." "That's an 'aye-aye, Captain," lass!" Cupid glanced at Captain for just a moment before hiding a scowl and picking up a broom. She climbed the ladder above the lower cabins to the poop deck and started sweeping perfunctorily, allowing her mind to wander. The days and weeks following Cupid's talk with Quicksilver had seen her rage and anger directed towards Captain tempered, albeit not by very much. At least enough for her to become more than dead weight on the ship. She still wasn't fond of the captain—that much was clear—but the periodic raids that he led from then were exactly as Quicksilver had described them. He avoided unnecessary bloodshed wherever it, well, wasn't necessary, opting to let his reputation precede him by attempting to intimidate his targets to hand over their goods. More than once, he used the phrase, "We take no prisoners!" and it was perhaps true, in the strangest possible sense. Everypony else interpreted it as that Captain would rather kill than take prisoners or otherwise prescribe mercy. To her, what it actually meant was that the captives she did take couldn't really be considered prisoners. Even by a pessimistic evaluation, she couldn’t quite call herself that. (And as it turned out, the locks on her door entering her quarters didn't actually work, so they were just for show.) At worst, an impressed deckhand. She still didn’t like it. And for everything that Quicksilver said and Captain espoused on, she still couldn't stomach that what they were doing could be considered at all "virtuous" or somehow better than less anti-social measures. For every bit they stole in the name of marking the elite and hamstringing the corrupt—on that measure, she could somewhat agree with—there were at least two bits that hurt somepony else, somepony who didn't at all deserve piracy. Whether it be an order of food for a grandmother or an ingot of gold for some small business, never was a ship free of these poisons. While everypony else on the ship could apparently brush those pains off as "collateral damage" in the name for something greater, Cupid couldn't at all do the same. It was to the point that Captain seemed to curse Sun and everything relating to it while seemingly forgetting or overlooking the fact that Sun had ruled with peace and prosperity for hundreds of years after the Great War of Sun and Moon. Sun wasn't perfect—no governance system was—but neither did the entire thing need to be cursed and town down via piracy. Then of course, the single Captain's trait that he didn't try defending but she found utterly reprehensible: selfishness. He was a pirate, and while he was probably an unorthodox one, he was just as selfish as the types she knew and thought she knew. Of all the considerable riches that he collected, where did they go when they were "liberated" from the elite? Him and his crew, mostly, and they were getting quite wealthy from it, she could reason. She never asked (nor could she ask and receive an answer at all) about how much they "plundered," but the riches she saw that came from a single ship could probably feed a working family for months, at least. To steal from the rich only to become rich oneself seemed rather hypocritical. Then herself. She herself was a case of selfishness on Captain's part. She reasoned from her scattered answers from Captain and Quicksilver that she was merely here because Captain wanted her to be and found her beautiful. Praise normally, but no praise from a pirate. Cupid was no fool; she recognized the ethereal skeins of emotional attraction that Captain had for her even as soon as she was captured. Perhaps he didn't keep her around to fulfill his carnal desires, but even if it was for the labor or the good company, did he ever pause to consider her own desires? Ever pause to ask what she wanted? Never. He was lucky Cupid didn't have a spouse or children to speak of at the moment. Had that been the case, one of them would have killed the other a long time ago. So Cupid continued to sweep, a silent but complacent discontent guiding her actions. "So, where's yer home, lass?" called a voice from a few fathoms away from her. It took no effort to identify his gruff accent. Another attempt at small talk. If it was for the company, he could have that, but it if it was trying to endear her, it wouldn't happen. She responded brusquely, not looking in his direction and continuing to sweep. "The uptown of Trottaria." "Ah, it be the easternmost port city of Equestria, eh? We actually be heading in that direction." A nod. Then a question from her, albeit a sarcastically rhetorical one. "Any chance you'd let me get off at the docks and disappear into the alleyways?" She was expecting that terrible "hardy har har" sort of laugh that Captain had followed by some bogus explanation. But it actually took him several beats longer to say anything, and in the meantime, Cupid paused her sweeping. Captain climbed on the poop deck with her. "If ye really want to, lass, I won't be stoppin' ye. But it gets mighty borin' sailin' the seven seas fer weeks and months. No new faces to see. So yers on the ship is a mighty boon fer the morale of me crew, and we'd love if you be staying." She didn't expect Captain to be that . . . compassionate? No, compassionate was a word she'd never attribute to him. His own morale and the morale of his crew was all good and well, but she never asked to play a part of it, did she? She turned her eyes on him. "If you wanted be to keep you company, why didn't you try, I don't know, asking nicely?" she finished with considerable attitude in her voice. "Nicely? We be pirates; you be a missus on ye merchant ship. If we asked you 'nicely' to join the crew, would ye say yes? Pirates 'r made to be selfish." "No, I guess I wouldn’t," she said. Captain seemed a reasonable enough individual, somehow. A reasonable pirate, at least, that he would let her go just because she asked. That was . . . not compassionate, no. Commendable, perhaps? "But I never asked to be here, and you cannot explain that away." Captain growled, and Cupid stepped away, apprehensive. "Bein' goody goody in everything be no way to live, lass. That's what Sun does. Is takin' landlubbers off their decks without askin' wrong? Maybe it be. But if'n yer askin' me to be like them just to be nice, yer in fer a nasty surprise. Rules 'r an excuse fer ponies not to think." "And what's so wrong with playing by the rules? Sun has ruled over us for hundreds of years in pea—" "Bilge rat!" Captain roared. Her advanced, prompting Cupid to take another step back. His face was red with rage. "Ye watch your mouth, lass, or I be havin' your head on a pike! Sun be buried alive at the neck in her comfort, too blind to see what havoc her ponies be wreakin' under her nose, and—" "Avast!" came a cry so loud from on high that it was enough to arrest Captain's words on the spot. "Pirates at port side, two knots!" As if their argument didn't happen at all, Captain released his rage in a split-second and called back to the crow's nest lookout. "They be friendlies?" "Nay, Captain! They have a black flag, no markings!" "Blackhoof," Captain mumbled under his breath. "Will ye blaggard never rest 'till all of us be dead?" In a loud and commanding voice that could be heard everywhere on the ship, Captain bellowed, "All hands on deck! We battle, no quarter!" A sporadic chorus of "aye-aye, Captain!" came from various parts of the ship. Crew started coming up from under the deck and every other place, swords raised. Even Quicksilver emerged from her cabin, stance low, wielding a pair of curved daggers. "What's happening?" Cupid asked. "A battle with an old foe of mine. I spared 'im the last time we fought, but he don't be so merciful. Hide yerself, lass; ye will only get hurt." Then he jumped down off the poop deck and aligned himself next to Quicksilver. Cupid walked up to the edge, unsure of whether she should obey. She had been witness to a few of their raids, and while all were a show of force, none were as complete or desperate as this. Afraid to get in anypony else's way but also unwilling to become Captain's lackey, she hid behind a barrel and witnessed the events. As the ship came closer, Cupid saw it was much the same build as Captain's vessel, albeit garbed completely in black and grey, making it look almost inherently dark and sinister. Grey sails, black hull, and as the lookout cried, a large black flag flying on the fore of the ship. While that ship had banks of cannons just as Captain's did, neither fired theirs as exchanges and battles normally began. Rather, the black ship grew closer and closer, while Captain did nothing to stop their advance, until Cupid could see the facial features of the crew on the black ship. The two ships aligned, port to starboard. Captain stepped forward. He said in a low voice, "Blackhoof. What'll it take fer ye to leave the seas?" A pony stepped forward, garbed in ripped black and grey, presumably Blackhoof. He was a brute of a pony, towering over Captain and all his crew, even as Cupid thought Captain was strong and well-built. While Captain seemed to be perpetually sneering (though even she thought he wouldn't be doing that right now), Blackhoof had an inscrutable expression on his face, like that of an impassive jailer. He said in a rumbling voice, "Your life. Pirates are the scourge of the sea, and they need to be exterminated." "Ye know ye be a pirate yerself. Yer not workin' fer Sun, so ye'd have to take yerself out first." Blackhoof laughed mirthlessly. "Myself? I am a pirate, but I see myself as a . . . sanitization crew." Cupid shivered at the utter lack of emotion he said that with. "An' how do ye hope to do that today? Ye have so little crew; I see only eight of ye on yonder ship." "You're behind the times, pirate." Blackhoof reached into his waistbelt and retrieved a peculiar thing Cupid had never seen before. He gripped it at the curved hilt, while the other terminated in a round nozzle-like metal thing that didn't quite look like a blade. And if it was a club or mace, it was an exceptionally short and light one. "Only one pony has defeated me before in combat, and that was you, pirate. I swore that day you'd live only long enough to regret forcing me to live with the shame." With that, he raised his instrument and pointed it at one of the crew. A percussive blast of sound erupted from the instrument, forcing Cupid to recoil and fold her ears back. When she recovered and looked back, there was smoke issuing from the nozzle of the instrument. And the crew Blackhoof had pointed at was on the deck, clutching a wound at his breast, blood coming in sheets from the wound. It was almost like magic. "That day is today. Attack!" A battle cry from Blackhoof's crew, then they leapt across the ships to do battle with Captain's crew, just as Captain's crew did the same. And the battle was begun. Cupid hid behind the barrel a little more every time one of Blackhoof's crew fired one of their weapons. They were like hoof-held cannons, explosive things that issued blasts of smoke and sound before somepony was sent reeling back, injured, if not killed altogether. She'd heard rumors of such instruments of death, but she didn't know they were true. Captain's crew, despite carrying swords that were only useful at close range, comported themselves well, charging when their opponents were preparing their weapons for firing, seeking cover when they fired. Quicksilver, in particular, displayed the truth in her name, flitting from pony to cover to pony quicker than most could react, dispatching her adversaries with one of her daggers. A massive blast of sound right behind her caused her to shriek inadvertently and scamper back away from her. Unbeknownst to her, the fighting had somehow made its way onto the poop deck, with one of Blackhoof's crew there, picking off other ponies on the deck below with his weapon. Hoping she wouldn't be next, Cupid snuck away, trying to sneak down the ladder of the poop deck and retreat under the deck and hide herself somewhere. Up with the rest of them, she'd only be a liability. She was halfway down the ladder when she looked back behind her and saw Blackhoof and his cold steel eyes. They met each other's gaze for just a moment before he lifted his weapon and Cupid was staring down the nozzle. It was the object of her death, she knew, yet she couldn't move. She had always been scared—since the battle began, she was—but now was when the fear paralyzed her and took the impetus out of her limbs. This was her end. She'd not done much since she was brought to the world. Just be a merchant child, a ragamuffin urchin who struggled to find her sustenance. Even making her way on such a wealthy merchant ship was a fluke. She had done nothing, and she'd found no one. There was no "difference" she made. And whatever pathetic chance there was that she'd be able to change that, it was gone now. "Get dow—!" She scarcely heard that voice scream before a large and heavy body slammed into her right side, breaking the ladder to the upper deck and sending her tumbling several feet down. And at the same time, she heard the weapon fire with its percussive blast of sound. She felt only pain in her flank as she was tackled and pain in her side as she slammed to the ground. Whether the wood splinters that sliced her cheek were from the ladder, the deck, or shrapnel from the weapon ricochet, she didn't know. It could have been a couple minutes or no time at all between her crashing to the ground and opening her eyes again. But when she did, she saw a face, one the same as she had seen so many times before, yet so very different. His eye patch which always seemed to be somewhere was off now, revealing blue eyes which were, by all accounts, piercing. And they stared into her, a concern she'd never seen before in their specular reflections. That was a concern that took over his face, and his face was always a hard one, perpetually sneering. It wasn't sneering now, nor was his face hard. There was always a smug complacency on his face, Cupid thought. All she saw now was a softened concern and worry. Worry for her. "Yer alright, Cupid?" he said, still with a voice full of sand, but as if tumbled to remove all the rough edges. And it was the first time he used her name, something she'd been asking for since she'd gotten here. How strange it was that he mentioned it now. Despite the situation, despite the fact her life was still in danger, Cupid found herself paralyzed again. Captain moved first. "Yer alright, lass," he said, then he stood back up and stepped back. Without turning around, without lifting his head, he stuck his right forehoof out. "Gi' it," he said. Quicksilver, by his side quickly, slapped a dagger into his hoof. In a low voice, yet one she was sure everypony on deck to hear, Captain said, "I spared ye, Blackhoof, 'cause I be wantin' to see if ye could leave us be. Run after somepony else. The ones who matter." He turned around and looked at Blackhoof coldly. "I be seeing what I should've done years ago." And he bellowed louder than anypony had yet before and charged. The charge was so quick that Blackhoof had barely the time to fire his weapon again before drawing his own dagger. He did, but only feet before Captain was due to close on him, grazing a long gash on the underside of his belly. He didn't seem to notice, not breaking step for a moment before seemingly running through him with the dagger. It was so fast, Cupid saw nothing but a flash of metal and Captain was behind Blackhoof, both daggers up in a fighting stance. Then he collapsed. He clutched his wound, a grievous one that went straight through his belly and loosed a great stream of blood, and collapsed to the ground. The pool grew beneath him while he twitched and groaned in pain. Captain turned around and put his hoof on Blackhoof's head, driving it down into the growing puddle. He looked at the rest of his crew, some dead, several wounded, a few dispatching the remaining crew left, either finishing their skirmishes or throwing them overboard. Then he looked at Cupid in the eye. "I be gettin' ye back to Trottaria next week. Git while ye still can."
It was like so many a night before. She had always lied awake in her cabin, looking to the ceiling, restless. It had been days since the battle, and their losses had been ill-taken by Captain. He brought all the crew (including herself and Quicksilver) out to the deck to give a solemn farewell to their comrades before leaving them to the boundless ocean. Even losses on the other side had been hard. Not only in terms of . . . cleanup, but the memories. Perhaps for her more than the other crewponies, who'd been more inured to death than she had. But those ponies had given her a new perspective. Death was inexcusable. Even those ponies on the other side, even Blackhoof, they all had a life to go back to, even if it was piracy, and more sinister than Captain's own brand of it. She didn't want them killed, and she wouldn't have killed them. Until the battle, that was. Almost literally staring at grim death and at a pony who wanted nothing but her own death. She would have killed him for that, not giving a thought to whatever ponies would have missed him. Because it was her own life in danger. That was the kind of danger that pirates and Captain lived in every day. That was the kind of lifestyle that would make death tolerated—maybe even acceptable—with enough time, where every life you didn't take was another that could potentially take yours. There was a sort of empathy in that. The rest of piracy, she still didn't understand. But perhaps there was a little more she understood about it and Captain now. Captain . . . he was something else. Because that moment that he took her off the ladder was the moment that she saved her life. And like (or dislike) somepony like that, there was nobility in what he did. She had given up. She would have been dead had it not been for his move, and she couldn't forget that. Then there was the fact that at that moment, after the fire, he didn't seem so much a pirate. He was over him, blue eyes piercing, muscles rippling, naught but concern in his eyes, his face, his body . . . that was the kind of stallion she had been wanting to meet for so long. But back home she didn't have a chance at that. Trottaria wasn't so polarized as other cities, but it had a high and low class. She was in neither, so low as to be virtually a beggar. (She preferred the term "vagabond" or "ronin," but that could just be semantics.) Needless to say, nopony looked for her. Yet here she was. What little she did have to contribute to society—her special talent—gave her an easy perspective. She knew her own infatuation, that much was clear. Whether she wanted to admit it—or even act on it—that was a different story. Captain was not perfect; she could list a million and a half things wrong with him, all things that she didn't want to get anywhere close to. But with that knowledge came perspective and her questions once again. Where else? And how much better? Those links were just so hard to find, where both parties would admit to liking the other. Yet there were just so many other things wrong that made the simple solution so much more complicated. Ahead, there was so much more. Neither simplicity nor complication, just mystery. Whether that was complicated or not, or held the answers, she couldn't know. She got up from bed. With this much on her mind, she needed more room to think. She needed somepony to talk to. She walked up to the deck. This late, nopony else was out and up, besides the lookout. At the sound, he looked down from the crow's nest and gave a curt little salute. Cupid nodded back and returned to her ruminations. Moon was high in the sky, high as midday Sun would be, though certainly not as bright or hot. But it cast its light on the deck, suffusing the ocean, the wood, the cabins, blue. Cupid looked back. The cabin under the awning of the poop deck, seemingly perpetually in shadow unless the light of Sun or Moon were to hit it directly. As it was now. She only recently figured out whose it was. She didn't know if she was awake, but she was one she knew she'd be comfortable speaking with. And she'd be the least likely to chew her out if she woke her up by accident. Cupid stepped up to Quicksilver's cabin and gave three curt knocks. She stepped back. The door opened only a couple seconds later, revealing a familiar white pony. She wore nothing at this hour, the blue light of Moon reflecting on her white coat. She almost sparkled with purity. And she said one word: "Cupid." It was neither an accusation nor a question, but it prompted a follow-up. "Sorry to disturb you so late, Quicksilver," Cupid said, "but I've been thinking about some . . . things. And I could use someone to talk to." Quicksilver looked back into her cabin and back at her. Then she smiled a little and took a step back. "Come inside, dear," she said. Quicksilver's cabin was lush, though not as opulent as she'd expect a former Rarity to deck her cabin in. It had wooden walls. She would have expected Rarity's cabin to be bedecked in purple and mink and satin. All told, it did have curtains and had some nice-looking bookshelves, though the scrolls and books in it all looked clearly used. It was no purely decorative element. Her bed, too. Plush, and with a comforter, which her own, nor any other cabin she saw on the ship, did not have, but other than that, austere. Quicksilver took a seat behind her desk and stowed some leaflets and scrolls back on the bookshelf and in some drawers, leaving a clean surface. She prompted Cupid to sit in the opposing chair across the desk, which she did. A beat. "So," Quicksilver said. "I hope you've recovered from your rather trying ordeal from a few days back?" "If you're referring to that Blackhoof, then yes, and thank you. Hopefully the crew's doing the same." "They are, though slowly. It is fortunate that I studied some healing spells before getting on Captain's ship, though. Closing a wound is beyond my capability, so I sanitized them with magic and let time heal the rest. They should be fine." "That's good." Another beat, this one longer than the last. "We'll be arriving in Trottaria's main port next morn," Quicksilver said. "I'm sure you're excited about that, to get off this ship." Cupid shuffled in her seat uncomfortably. "Yeah." Yet more silence. Quicksilver sighed then and said, "If you came to me to discuss something in particular and not just make small talk, which I'm sure you did, give voice to it. This isn't the time to be dawdling." Cupid bit her lip. "What if I told you . . ." And she looked away. "What if I told you I was considering not leaving when we make port in Trottaria?" Another pause, though this time it wasn't Cupid's fault. Quicksilver held an inscrutable expression, but it was clear that she was thinking about what she just said. "Then I'd say that goes against everything I've heard from you since you've gotten here." "Yeah," Cupid said simply. "Maybe it's just the perspective I've gotten since being on the ship. I don't tell ponies on the ship this, but I don't have much a life in Trottaria. Or anywhere, for that matter. Trottaria's just the latest place I've been, and it's where I was before all this happened. I've always sort of . . . wandered. Figuring out what to do, where to be. And when you find yourself in cities where everyone's settled down and you're the only one who hasn't . . . I mean, they don't make it any easier for you to try making a life for yourself. Captain telling me what to do on the ship, it's really not different from the odd jobs I get around town." "I see." Quicksilver traced a circle on the desk, a contemplative and pitiful look on her face. "It's been hard for you. Would you rather we make port somewhere else than Trottaria, then?" "I . . ." She didn't want to say it; she really didn't want to say it. But what was what Quicksilver was forcing her into. "I kind of . . . want to stay on the ship for a little bit more to see if, um . . ." "If piracy might be the career choice for you?" Quicksilver finished, her smile growing larger. "D-don't call it that!" Cupid exclaimed. "But . . . yeah, that's what it is. I don't approve of it, but I mean, the atmosphere is honestly better than most of the places I've been, aside from the abduction thing." She blinked and put a hoof on her forehead. "I can't believe I just said that." Quicksilver chuckled. "You're thinking like a pirate, dear. But I'm glad you like it here." "N-no, that's not . . . I don't want to be a pirate! I'm not the type. But the crew here's always been respectful, even when I, um, haven't been. And you're really nice; I like talking to you. And . . ." "And Captain's quite nice too! Is that it?" Quicksilver said in a sing-song-y voice, an expression on her face that was downright smug. A blush grew on Cupid's face. She was angry, though whether at herself for blushing or Quicksilver for making the suggestion, she didn't know. "It is!" she said, clapping her hooves together gleefully. "Oh, how romantic! A pirate abducts a beautiful lady only for the lady to fall in love with her captor and his true heart. That is just the sweetest—" "Stop, please!" Cupid said, hiding her face in her hooves and turning away. Just days ago, she was about to die at the hooves of a battle; now she was going to die out of embarrassment. She waved a hoof at her, not daring to look at her. "I mean, aren't the two of you—" "Oh, perish the thought, dear! We're colleagues, Captain and I, and nothing more. He still needs a girlfriend to sail with him on the seven seas, oh yes he does!" "It's not that simple!" Cupid cried out, still dying of embarrassment and hoping Quicksilver wouldn't try killing her any more. "It's . . . That doesn't mean anything, that I find him nice and nice-looking. He's still a pirate, and I still can't support what he does, and I'd still be questioning my conscience for every minute that I worked with him or even supported anything he did." She finally took her face out of her hooves then and looked back at Quicksilver, who thankfully was no longer smiling like an ass. "It's . . . I can't do that. But I don't want to just curl up and go back to my boring and unfulfilling life, either. Like, this is the first time I've been so close to getting a life, the life I want, but it's just so wrong at the same time. I know you don't think it's wrong, but I do. I wouldn't be able to live with myself like it is. If I wanted that, I'd just have to change so much of me or change so much of Captain and all of you. And I just don't know what to do now." Quicksilver was silent then, and for quite a while. She shook her head and flicked her eyes between her books, the door, the desk, and Cupid. She even stepped up from her seat, walking around her cabin in a tight circle, making three full revolutions before sitting back down at her desk. Finally, she said, "I've never been one to take the easy way out, Cupid, and I don't mean for you to do the same. If you want the knowledge of what's safe and familiar, you know what to do. "But, of all the time you've been out at sea, don't you feel a little . . . excited? A little tempted to try the untried, the dangerous, maybe even the crazy just to see what will happen? To forge out into the unknown, fully knowing that what's out there might be frightening or might even kill you, but to search for the fulfilling and wonderful regardless? That's adventure, and that's the pirate's way of life." Cupid's hoof was on the table, and Quicksilver clapped it with her own. "I hope you know I'm not talking about piracy. But still, I'll ask you the question: Cupid, are you a pirate?" What a question. Of all the time she'd been on she ship, she hadn't considered the question (mostly because it didn’t need considering), and certainly not in the way Quicksilver was phrasing it. But it was apt. And it could very well decide her fate for the next thirty years. She looked in her heart then, and searched for the feeling, the hope, the longing, and the comforts. They were few and far-between, all of them, but there was one facet that colored her life experiences: discontent. She wanted change. She wanted different. She wasn't ready to go back to the same monotony of her older life, even if the new wasn't straightforward. It would never be. She looked up to Quicksilver. And she gave her answer. Epilogue "I give ye a chance to surrender, ye landlubbers! This once! We caught ye, and ye'd do best to surrender 'afore things get worse fer ye." The crew on the enemy ship put their hooves up. "Good, ye know what's good fer ye. Yer under arrest fer . . ." Captain looked down at his commission then, and called somepony over. It was a pony with periwinkle coat and pink mane, though it had recently been dyed red. She looked quite out of place next to Captain. But she came and read the commission, and she declared, "You're under arrest for gem trafficking and trading under false pretenses. You've a right to a trial under a civil court of peers. You've the right to request escalation up to the Court of Sun itself. You've a right to . . ." As Cupid recited the terms of surrender and the rights the merchants had, the crew of Captain's ship rushed back across the gangplank, carrying all matters of gems, gold, silver, and other precious things. They wouldn't be holding on to them—it would have to go back to the crown—but they got a commission on everything, thankfully. It was a small percentage, but given the value of what they reclaimed, it still turned out to be a generous sum. And as soon as all the members of the enemy ship's crew were arrested, stowed in the ship dungeons, and their ship cleaned of all their goods, Captain's ship was on the move again, leaving the other adrift. Quicksilver came up to the two of them, scroll in hoof. "A fine catch you made, Captain. I counted at least ten thousand bits worth of goods on the ship. No casualties on either side. Looks like a clean plunder." "I prefer the term 'reclamation,' if it all the same to you." "Ye always prefer 'terms,' me lovely. It's a plunder; call it a plunder!" Quicksilver chuckled. "Whatever you call it, you still did a good job." Cupid looked up to Captain. "That we did." Then she gave him a nuzzle. "Special Agent, Captain. How do you like your new job title?" Captain frowned, but nuzzled Cupid back all the same. "Ah, I be likin' piracy better. And the 'proper speech' ye insist I do when we meet with the Department hurts me throat, it does. And why do we be havin' to work fer Sun, anyway?" Cupid pouted and looked at Captain. She retreated a little distance away. "Because if you don't, I'm not going to be happy." Captain looked back at Cupid, first with disdain, then at the tiny hair gap between them. "Ah, fair enough, lass," he said, and he closed the distance himself, wrapping a hoof around Cupid's neck. Quicksilver added, "If you're going to—" "Nope!" She didn't get through her sentence before both Captain and Cupid interrupted her with the same interjection. "It's only because you keep criticizing our kissing." "Well, if you would just—" "Nope!" They said together again. They looked at each other then. And then they started laughing.