When Daring finally woke up, it felt like the bright rays of morning sunlight were trying to saw her eyeballs in half, and even the smallest sounds -- the ticking of the clock, for example -- threatened to cleave her head in twain. She groaned into the pillow stuffed under her head and flipped herself over like a pancake, forcing her eyes open and staring painfully at the white ceiling spread out before her. For a moment, she wasn't sure where she was, or how she'd gotten here. And then it all came flooding back; the gun, Mr Moustache, Parquetry, his 'sewing kit', and most importantly, the whisky. She grumbled something inarticulate at the ceiling and pushed herself off the couch as the sweet smell of French Toast floated over her.
"I hate whisky," she told Parquetry as she dragged herself into the kitchen and pulled herself up onto a stool. "And I really hate you."
Parquetry waved he off as he pushed the sweet smelling bread onto two plates and drowned them both with deliciously sticky syrup. "Nonsense!" he told her. She clapped her hooves over her ears -- he may not have said it particularly loudly, but to her alcohol-addled brain it sounded like someone yodelling full blast on top of the Alps. "A little Whisky never hurt anyone. And a little Parquetry is never to be missed! That's not me talking, it's everyone else."
"Tell that to my head," she muttered miserably. "It feels like there's a dinosaur tap-dancing in there. Fix it!" she demanded. Or begged; really it could have been either one. Though judging by the desperate expression plastered all over her face, it was likely the latter.
"I can do that," Parquetry told her, sliding her about a gallon of water. "Drink all of that, then take these," he demanded, passing her a couple of pain killers. "And when that's all done, have this for good measure!" He plopped a jug full of sloshy red liquid down on the table and smiled broadly at her.
Daring looked at it suspiciously, and sniffed it cautiously, scared that might would come to life and swallow her head. She shoved the jug away and pulled the gallon of water over. "I'm not a vampire, Parquetry," she complained, crinkling her nose at what looked like congealed blood.
"No no! It's a Bloody Marey! It's supposed to be the best. Possible. Thing!" he told her enthusiastically -- he'd never had a hang over before, so at the moment he was living vicariously through her.
"I am not drinking blood!" she told him definitively, clapping her hooves over her ears to keep as much of his voice out as possible.
"It's not actually blood! It's tomato juice with lemon and Worcestershire sauce. And pepper and celery. Oh, and vodka. All the books say it works like a charm!" he insisted, shoving the spicy-smelling drink towards her.
She looked at it with distaste, trying to imagine how anyone could drink that monstrosity -- it sounded disgusting. "The last thing I want right now is more alcohol, thanks," she told him again, shoving the jug back in his direction and sneering at it.
Parquetry put on his best cuddly, pity-me face in a last futile attempt to convince her to chug it all down. But Daring Do was not one to be seduced by cuddle-faces and puppy dog eyes. “Not a snowball’s chance in – why are you looking at me like that?” she asked worriedly.
The pitiful expression on his face had darkened at her stubborn resolve, and his pearly horn began to glow bright green. The jug flew off the table, it's contents sloshing around angrily inside it. "You're gonna drink it, and you're gonna love it, and it's gonna work!" he told her, leaping at her across the table.
Daring's eyes widened as the other pony flew at her; had she been in a better condition, she could have avoided him easily. But as things were, he knocked her off her stool, sending her sprawling across the kitchen floor and pinning her down against the black and white tiles. "Now open wide," he instructed her as she clamped her mouth closed, locking her jaw as he tried to pry it open, the jug of sloshy spirit juice hovering forebodingly above her head. She squealed through her clamped teeth and kicked at him. A painful 'oof' erupted from his mouth, and she made the terrible mistake of letting out a mocking "HA!"
As soon as she opened her mouth, the jug attacked her, throwing itself between her lips and forcing it's contents down her throat. She drank deeply and painfully as it shoved itself down, leaking out the corners of her mouth as she tried to yank the jug away (to no avail, quite obviously). This time, it was Parquetry's turn to laugh condescendingly at her -- and he did it quite well, and so maniacally that for a moment, she couldn't help but think that could have made an exceptional villain. If he left his house more. And could run without killing himself. And if he thought of anything other than his precious antiques. Well, if nothing else, he had the crazy laugh down.
The jug dislodged itself from her lips as the last drop of Parq's spicy miracle cure slithered down her throat. She gasped for air and grabbed the jug as it was floating away, hurling it against the back wall and sending it shattering into a million pieces. The loud noise made her head throb, but the look of horror on Parquetry's face made it entirely worth it. He gaped wordlessly at the shards scattered across the floor. "That was two thousand years old," he told her painfully. "Two thousand years old..."
For a moment, she felt a twinge of regret as she watched him blubber over his ancient wine jug. And then she began to feel her mouth again -- and it was on fire. She yelped and threw herself at the kitchen sink, turned the water on full blast and shoved her head underneath, mouth wide open as she gulped it all down like a fish.
"That's what you get for poisoning me!" she rasped out, her throat half shut by the spice in the drink. "What the hay did you put in there?! Evil?!"
He managed to drag his eyes away from the shattered, ruddy red clay on the floor and turned them on Daring. "Tabuckskin," he told her. "Not evil. Spicy. Besides, you're going to India; you need all the practice you can get."
Daring let out a strangled yell as something inside her clicked. "INDIA!" she exclaimed, her whole head flying to look at the clock: she had ten minutes to get to the port before her ship left. "OH MY GOD MY BOAT!"
She cantered to the couch and swung her saddlebags over her back, then hurled herself into the air, her teeth closing around a thick slice of French toast as she swooped down at the breakfast table. Parquetry ducked as she pulled herself back up and shot out the open window.
He ran after her, waving at the window as he watched her speed away. "BRING ME BACK A TURBAN!" he called to her as she yelled something back that sounded vaguely like 'goodbye'. But it also could have been 'god no'. He supposed he'd find out when she got back from India, with or without a turban in tow.
Thank Celestia for wings, she thought to herself as she wept down onto the paved ship port, landing gracefully with three minutes to spare. The smell of salt water and fish from the market next door invaded her nose, coming on so strongly it could have knocked her off her hooves. She'd gotten used to it over time though; in recent years, the Canterlot Port had become like a second home to her. She slept in a ship as much (if not more) than she did in her own bed, and at this point, even the captains praised her sea hooves. So the squawking of the fishmongers and the screeching of the gulls overhead were a sound she loved and welcomed with open arms.
She grinned to herself -- a mischievous smile that often made other ponies cringe back in horrified anticipation -- as she caught site of the Floating Filly, her barrel dipping lazily in and out of the crystalline ocean. All over her impressive deck swarmed the sea stallions that kept her afloat, flitting about and yelling commands at each other as they went about their work like ants, crawling over the hull and heaving barrels onboard as they prepared to set out. Overhead, the Filly's massive masts scraped at the underbelly of the sky, her pearly white sails unfurled and flapping loudly as her crew members tried to tie them down. She was an old fashioned ship, and nowhere near as impressive as the other ships which frowned down at her, dwarfing her with their massive steel bodies -- but she was a good ship, Daring had been assured, with a good captain and a steadfast crew. Daring had liked her from the moment she'd first laid eyes on her, and refused to take any ship but her. Or she would have, if there had been any other ship to refuse, but at the moment, the Filly was the only one going or coming. It had been sheer luck that she'd managed to secure a spot on the old girl -- according to those at port, trading ships came twice a year. Any other time, and she'd have had to fund the voyage herself. which brought to light the question on how on earth she was going to get home, but she'd worry about that later.
She trotted up to the old ship and flapped her wings, lifting herself into the air as they began to raise the gangplank. Just in time, she thought, both relieved and triumphant for having made it from the antique shop to the ship in ten minutes flat. If she'd not been in public, she'd probably have patted herself on the back. However, considering she was stuck with these guys for a while, she didn't really want them to think she was insane. Not just yet, anyway.
She landed on the deck amidst the shouting of sailors and the quick clipping of hooves as they ran from bow to stern and back again. The old girl groaned as she was pulled out of her parking place by a small herd of pegasi.
Daring watched in awe as it all happened; she'd never been on a ship like this before, and everything they did seemed new and exciting. She did not however, appreciate the crew members' intermittently suspicious and curious glances. They made her feel uncomfortable. On the other hoof though, no one was trying to throw her into the ocean, which she figured she should take as a good sign.
The cloud of pegasi above dropped their ropes, sending them spiralling onto the deck below and as a couple of the more clueless crew members dove for cover. Now that they were well on their way to sea, the flock broke up; most of the pegasi flew the short distance back to the port, landing on the cement as they waved goodbye. The others touched down on deck and began trotting off to join their friends or to finish some last minute work. But one pegasus looked at her and stopped.
Daring had noticed from the moment her hooves had touched the deck that there were pitiful few mares on this ship (despite the fact that it was called the Floating Filly). But standing before her now, her lavender wings folding themselves into her body, was a mare about her age, perhaps a little older (but not by much). Daring noticed almost immediately how all the other ponies reacted to her: they all tried to look busy and helpful, snapping to work immediately. She was a strong mare, who seemed to demand respect and take it, whether you liked it or not. She reminded Daring vaguely of Casablanca -- the difference was that Casablanca's respect and prestige came from a name. This mare had earned it, and Daring couldn't help but feel challenged by her, as well as a slight sense of admiration. But mostly challenged.
She straightened herself as she stared into the other mare's deep blue-grey eyes, which seemed to be picking her apart piece by piece.
"Daring Do?" the mare asked as the wind snapped the sails into place, and the crew cheered as the vessel picked up speed. They were on their way at last!
"Yeah, what of it?" she asked roughly; it was going to be a long trip if they found themselves in closed quarters. She was positive they'd do nothing but bash heads the entire voyage.
The mare nodded, the wind picking up a few strands of her cropped white mane as she did, throwing them into her face. "I'm Captain Angel Stern, so called for the North Star and not for my sparkling demeanour, as you'd best remember. In future you will address me as either 'captain' or 'ma'am', and you will mind your tongue or loose it. Am I clear?" the lavender mare asked, her icy blue eyes boring a hole through Daring's forehead.
Yup. Daring hated her, and all of a sudden, she wasn't all that keen on the Floating Filly either. She should have just spent the extra money and chartered her own ship. But that would have taken too long, she reminded herself. And she needed to be in India now.
Daring fought off the urge to call her some rather unfortunate names. Instead, she gave her a stiff nod, not daring to open her mouth for fear of something awful falling out of it.
The other mare nodded in return, satisfied. "Good. You'll be sleeping in the first mate's quarters, beside my own. I wish you every happiness during the time you are with us, but I warn you that incompetence shall not be tolerated. Feel free to explore, because starting tomorrow, you're a crew member on this ship and shall act like one. Every hoof counts on a vessel like the Filly," Captain Stern told her. Daring hated the way she spoke down to her. It made her want to kick the other mare in the face. She wondered briefly if it was possible for a pegasus to fly from Canterlot to India. Quickly, she threw the idea away. She doubted even she could fly across the world without a rest.
She said nothing to the Captain in return. For a few moments, the two mares stared at each other, the tension between them almost tangible -- she could tell by the fact that every pair of eyes on deck had found their way over to them. All work had stopped as the crew members stared at the captain and their passenger, wondering if one was going to hurl the other over the side.
Finally, Captain Angel Stern broke the heavy silence between them. "As I said, Miss Do, you are welcome on my ship so long as you stay out of trouble. It has been a pleasure, I'm sure, but I have duties to attend to and unfortunately cannot spend the remainder of the voyage entertaining you. I would like to remind the rest of you that if you'd like to keep your hooves on my deck you will get back to work," she instructed, turning back to the crew who all jumped back to life at once, looking like guilty foals as they went about their business.
Daring watched as Angel Stern walked proudly towards the captain's quarters, her wings pulled against her velvet captain's jacket, and snorted angrily at her as she disappeared through the ornate wooden door. "What a stick in the mud," she announced to no one in particular.
"Aye, that she may be, but a good captain nonetheless," one of the sailors said, who up until that point had been fiddling uselessly with some rope to seem busy for his captain. "She's seen the lot of us through each and every storm Hippocampus has thrown our way. We've never lost a one on this ship, and that's a triumph by anyone's standards."
She raised her eyebrows at him. "If you say so," she said dismissively. "Doesn't mean I have to like her."
"Not a soul here will ever claim to like his captain, Lady, but luckily, that's not a necessity in our world. So long as you obey, you get home alive," he told her, scanning the deck for something... sailor-y she supposed. She didn't know the first thing about a ship like this.
"Wasn't there another Captain?" Daring asked as the stallion began to meander away.
He stopped and turned to look at her. "Other captain?" he asked, his eyebrows furrowed. "No, there's only one Captain, Lady. She's her you've just seen and she's it," he told her frankly.
"No, there was another one, a stallion," she insisted. "He's the one who invited me here; he sold me my spot on the boat!" she persisted, despite the blank look on her companion's face. "There has to be another one, there has to," she continued, pressing in on him.
He took a step back as she began to shove her face into his. "Take it easy, miss, there's no need for worries! He actually said he was captain, he did?" he asked, trying to put space between himself and the over zealous Daring Do.
Daring paused, thinking back to their conversation that afternoon. "Well... no, I guess not," she replied, frowning. She had been so sure! But now that he mentioned it, he never had proclaimed himself captain, or even eluded to it. She had just assumed...
"Well, there you go! We all know there's an extra room on board and Captain Stern does take passengers when she can get them, so like as not it was probably one of these scoundrels that sold you your spot," he told her, waving around at the crew, most of whom were busy lounging about now that their captain had vanished.
She looked around at the faces on board, trying to find one that looked in any way familiar. "Is this the whole crew?" she asked the sea stallion, who laughed brightly.
"No, of course not! The kitchen staff's in the kitchen, there's men bellow deck and them that's sleeping in the holding cells," he told her. "No prisoners in there these days, mind you; we use it mostly for turnips and the like, but it's a good place to hide away from prying eyes. Not to mention a great place to loose the Captain," he told her as he began to walk again, heading towards a group of stallions huddled around a water barrel. "Don't worry your pretty little head over it, Miss Lady, he's here and you'll find him eventually. After all, we knew you was coming, didn't we?" he asked her.
Daring couldn't doubt that; they had obviously been expecting her. Nonetheless, she couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't right here. You're just being paranoid, she told herself as she trotted to catch up with the other pony. Cool it; it's all gonna be fine. No one else is worried, so you shouldn't be either.
And yet she was. Amazing how one never listens to their own advice.