The Chase

Bucky Bitters struggles to escape the airborne affections of Derpy Hooves after a chance encounter caused them to bump noses together. His real mistake was trying to comfort the mare after the snoot-bump. Little does the poor stallion realise that their meeting was only the prologue to a journey that will change not only his life, but the lives around him forever.

This story is a sequel to The Catch

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The afternoon loomed before him and Bucky felt better after a nap. Thankfully, all traces of his headache were gone. He was still worried about Keg Smasher and so many other things, but there were things to do.

He settled a large boulder near the ship and sat down. Already, he was feeling a bit peckish. He was going to need an enormous gasbag. Even with the ship being lightened, there were still going to be plenty of ponies on board. He was working entirely by gut instinct and approximation. He was going to need a gasbag at least one hundred feet in length and sixty six feet in diameter. Give or take a bit. It was a lot to transmute and then enchant. Every square foot of the canvas would need to be enchanted to hold in the super compressed cloudstuff. This was a task that was going to require several days, followed by thorough checking. If one single inch lacked proper enchantment, it would leak, and that would be all kinds of bad. He was also going to have to craft an opening so that more super compressed cloudstuff could be added. The magic in the clouds faded with enough time and more clouds had to be added. That would be easy enough. A canvas flap opening with a magical adhesion spell to hold it shut.

Bucky sighed when he realised the enormity of his task. This was a task for entire teams of unicorns. He had once visited the shipyards of Canterlot as a colt and watched the construction of airships. It was a school related trip to show the practical applications of enchantment and transmutation. The fillies he was with had shown no interest at all in the construction process, but it was a day that had always stayed in Bucky’s memory.

Enchantment was power. A lone unicorn by themselves wasn’t much of a credible threat. Dangerous sure, lethal perhaps, but still fragile. But that same unicorn on an airship outfitted with magical weaponry, that held potential for being a real threat. Wars had been won this way, and it was the reason that Equestria was a major world power. The Equestrian Navy guarded the borders and protected vital trade routes.

And it all came down to enchantment really.

He heard the flutter of wings and saw Ripple struggling to ease Piña to the grass. The landing was a little rough, but Piña was a hearty little earth pony filly. He watched as Ripple took to the air again, returning to the deck to get Dinky.

Bucky did nothing to ease their landing. They were big fillies, and a few bumps wouldn’t hurt them too much. Ripple came in for a much harder landing this time, and hugged Dinky to her barrel protectively as she tumbled through the grass. The two of them giggled as they pulled apart from one another and then the trio drew near to Bucky.

“That’s a big rock,” Dinky said as she rubbed her bumblebees on her backside.

“Yes it is Dinky,” Bucky agreed.

“My arse hurts,” Dinky said as she sat down.

“Dinky! Don’t let your mama hear you say that,” Bucky said in a half hearted scold.

“Feck, shite, arse,” Ripple said. “Just words.”

“Ripple!” Bucky exclaimed in exasperated tones at the pegasus filly.

“Gobshite,” Ripple said with a smile.

Bucky shook his head in disapproval. “Look, I probably shouldn’t say this, but I really don’t mind it all that much, but if you said those things around a certain grey pegasus mare… I suspect that you would excite her enmity,” Bucky warned.

“What’s enmity?” Dinky asked.

“An-ani-er-animous-no… animosity,” Piña said after failing the first few attempts.

“What is ani-whatever you said?” Dinky asked.

Piña rolled her eyes. “Odium, you noodlehead,” she said in a peeved voice.

“I still don’t know what that is!” Dinky cried. “Ever since you’ve been reading that dictionary you’ve been all wordy you booger licker!”

“Dinky, enmity means hostility and anger,” Bucky explained patiently.

“So why not just say that it would make mama mad?” Dinky demanded.

“You could have said “arouse her abhorrence” and I think it sounds a little better than “excite her enmity” does,” Piña said calmly.

“Piña darling, how much time do you spend reading the dictionary?” Bucky asked.

“She keeps reading it in school and Sparkler had to pull it away from her so other foals can use it,” Ripple said. “And snot face here skips out on her lessons to pick it up and read it.”

“Fart fluffer,” Piña returned to Ripple.

“Girls,” Bucky said patiently.

“Yes?” Dinky said sweetly.

“Such ugly names you call one another,” Bucky replied.

“I was going to say “fart licker” but I thought that “fart fluffer” was nicer,” Piña admitted.

“Oh yuck Piña!” Dinky cried.

Ripple fell over into the grass with a case of the giggles.

“We love each other enough to know that the names are just meant in fun, there are never any hard feelings,” Dinky explained.

“We’re sisters,” Piña said. “Sisters torment one another.”

Bucky nodded in defeat, realising there would be no stopping this behaviour. “Look girls, I need to turn this big rock into a giant expanse of canvas so I can make a gasbag for the ship. If you want to watch, that is fine, but I need to concentrate,” he said in gentle tones.

“Okay, shut up everypony, daddy is about to unleash the deep magic and I wanna watch,” Dinky insisted.

“Transmutation,” Piña said.

“I know what transmutation is you show off,” Dinky muttered.

Ripple settled in between her two smaller siblings and held each one with her wings, hugging them to her sides. She blew her light blue forelock out of her eyes and awaited what was sure to be a good show. She yawned, feeling rather sleepy from the spell that eased her heat. Her nap earlier had helped, but she was already wanting to return to a nice nap.

“Settling down, being quiet, and being a good foal, beginning now,” Dinky announced.

Bucky smiled and raised his head high. He closed his eye and as he summoned his magical reserves, his emerald eye flashed blue green for a moment. The ground around him began to vibrate.

Dinky could feel it buzzing in her teeth and horn vibrated. She could feel pressure just behind her eyes. Deep magic. The sort of magic that only type threes and higher could summon. The sort of magic that changed things. Real power. Dinky had experienced it and was now hungry for it. Transmutation, like cold magic, required tremendous amounts of willpower and focus.

Piña meeped faintly as Bucky’s energy began to coalesce around his horn. She could feel it in her bones and down in her hooves. She huddled closer to Ripple and watched as the glowing orb of blue green magic grew brighter and brighter.

Bucky wasn’t sure this was going to work. He had never attempted anything like this. It was sheer balls out experimentation. If he failed, he was going to have to make several sections of canvas and sew them together somehow. If this worked, he was going to have a long canvas tube and he would need to secure the ends. He felt dangerously close to a surge yet at the same time he felt as though he was in perfect control. He wanted a surge. He needed a surge. The air around him began to grow cold.

The three fillies could see their breath and Ripple wrapped her wings around Dinky and Piña even tighter, trying to keep them warm. Ice crystals were forming in the air and falling to the grass. As Ripple watched, the rock began to look funny. The air around it shimmered and warped. It was like staring a patch of stone on a hot sunny day and seeing the heat shimmering off of it.

Dinky felt the feeling of alarm that all unicorns felt when they sensed a surge coming from another unicorn. Panic overtook her body and she began to worry, fearing that Bucky was going to have the mother of all surges.

Her panic was not unfounded. With an explosive roar, Bucky did have the mother of all surges and the world around them exploded with colour. Dinky felt herself wrapped in protective magic and a wave of cold washed over her. Her mane was blown back from her head and her horn tingled strangely. The air crackled and reeked of ozone.

And when Dinky could finally see again the massive boulder was gone. There was an enormous grey mass of fabric where the boulder had been.

“Ugh, I am starving,” Bucky shouted as he clutched at his stomach. His horn was encased in ice. He allowed himself to fall over in the grass and rested on his side.

Dinky broke free from Ripple’s embrace and rushed to Bucky’s side. She kneeled down and touched his face, her own face full of worry.

“I need food,” Bucky said. “I didn’t think it would be this bad, ugh, it feels as though my insides are going to implode,” he muttered.

“Come on, let’s go find him something to eat,” Dinky said.

“That was amazing,” Piña said.

“Let’s go,” Ripple said as she rose up on wobbling legs. She used her wings to steady herself.

“We’ll be right back,” Piña promised.

 

 

For the second time this day Bucky was chowing down. After being brought a few oatcakes by the girls, Bucky was able to stumble his way indoors and to the dining hall, where he was brought much needed food and a big jug of watermelon wine.

The three fillies stayed to watch their father eat and Ripple stole a swig of wine, lifting the jug up in her forelegs and tilting it back.

“I wonder where everypony is,” Piña inquired.

“Rising Star said he was going to go off and explore his magic,” Ripple said in reply. “Sparkler went off with Derpy, Berry, Loch Skimmer and Thistle. Some sort of big mare discussion and I wasn’t a big mare,” she grumbled.

“And Sentinel is sleeping with Lyra and Bon Bon,” Dinky said as she watched her father eat.

“What do you think they are talking about?” Piña asked.

Ripple shrugged. “I just know that I wasn’t asked to be part of it,” she said in annoyance.

“Don’t be upset Ripple,” Piña said gently. “Is it really so bad spending time with us?” she asked.

“No,” Ripple replied, her expression softening. “No, no it isn’t.”

“I was hoping to find you.”

Bucky turned at the sound of the voice and saw Winter Wheat. Wheatberry stood close near her leg and looked quite distraught. Both of them had red bleary bloodshot eyes.

Ripple held her forelegs out in a welcoming  gesture for a hug and Wheatberry ran to her. She lifted the yearling and held her close, and Wheatberry began to sob after burying her face into Ripple’s neck.

“How are you?” Bucky asked in between bites.

“I am holding up,” Winter Wheat said in a dull voice. “I seem to be alone in caring for Keg Smasher. There is so much going on. Our little hospital was overrun. The others want to come here but there is too much need for them,” she explained in a flat exhausted voice. “Or they cannot leave their towns and villages, lest what happened to mine happen to theirs.”

“How is Keg Smasher?” Bucky inquired.

“He sleeps for now. I gave him strong wine laced with the crushed seeds of poppies. One of my fellow-wives sent it back with the guard sent to collect her. The guard returned with only the packet of crushed seeds and no help for me,” Winter Wheat replied.

“What happened?” Bucky asked, not sure if he actually wanted to know.

Winter Wheat stared at Bucky for while and then moved to sit down beside him. She placed both of her forelegs on the table and leaned forward. “The wolves came. Two nights ago. Not long after I sent Wheatberry away to be with her daddy… I had this feeling. Earth ponies, we get this feeling sometimes, we just know when something is wrong,” she explained.

Bucky nodded and glanced at Piña.

“The wolves came by the dozens and started winking into homes. An alarm was raised. The wolves were everywhere. They’re vulnerable in the bright light, in the fire light, but it is like they didn’t care. They were just popping into houses and cottages and began killing,” Winter Wheat said in a low frightened voice.

Bucky shivered and lifted the jug of wine to his lips. He drank quite a bit in one go.

“I took up a torch in my mouth and I ran around the town setting things on fire with wolves snapping at my heels. I’m fast… and with everything burning they couldn’t wink and blink around. They had to run after me. I had a few nips but I kept running. Once everything was blazing… I set many of the thatched roofs on fire, we started getting everypony into the big common hall. The pegasi of our village engaged the wolves to buy us time and try to keep us safe. They gave us their foals and begged us to keep them alive somehow and to remember them,” Winter Wheat said, her voice now husky with emotion. “Those brave pegasi picked a fight with the wolves. Many earth ponies did too. The stallions stood together and made a wall so the mares to could escape to the hall where we could stand together.”

Piña and Dinky clung to one another and Ripple held tightly to Wheatberry, horror visible on all of their faces. Bucky felt a twinge of worry upon seeing their reactions.

“Somehow, we held out until dawn, and the wolves vanished. Most of our stallions were dead. We sent a messenger to Keg Smasher, a pegasus mare that had made it through the night without too many injuries. The wolves couldn’t take us in the hall, not with all of us herded together,” Winter Wheat said.

Bucky passed the mare his jug of wine. She lifted it and drank, guzzling down a fair bit and setting it back down upon the table with a thud.

“Keg Smasher and his guard came. The state of the town, the dead bodies everywhere. They tried to help us get together. They helped the wounded,” Winter Wheat said and then fell silent. She stared at Bucky with wide frightened eyes. “You have to believe me…” she insisted. “I know it sounds impossible, but you have to believe me!”

“What happened?” Bucky asked, casting a glance at his foals, worried about whatever came next.

“There was magic. We all felt it. Bad magic. It made everypony sick. The pegasi couldn’t fly. We all started vomiting. And then… and then… and then the impossible happened,” Winter Wheat mumbled, now looking quite distraught.

“What?” Bucky asked urgently.

“The dead ones, both wolves and ponies, they got up,” Winter Wheat whimpered.

Bucky felt his blood run cold. He looked at his girls. All of them looked terrified. “Leave. Now. If you argue you will regret it,” Bucky commanded. “Go and take Wheatberry to our room. Sit with Lyra and Bon Bon. Now,” he added.

The foals and Ripple didn’t need to be told twice, they scrambled away in a hurry.

“Now I want you to tell me exactly what happened,” Bucky said, his control reasserting itself.

“The dead got up. They attacked the living. We were all sick from the magic, whatever it was. Keg Smasher was the first to recover and he set about trying to protect us. He kept shouting, barking commands. He finally got through to his guard and they started to fight back. There was a pitched battle and we were all ushered back to the common hall. I defended my ponies once again. The dead had to be put down. Keg Smasher and his guard killed them, but it was difficult. How do you kill what is already dead?” Winter Wheat asked.

Bucky reached out and touched the frantic mare with his foreleg and encouraged her to take another drink. She did and seemed to calm a little.

“And then the sun began to set. Keg Smasher refused to leave unless he could get all of us and carry us home. He just wouldn’t go. We holed up in the common hall and waited. The wolves came at us by the hundreds. They didn’t stop. There was so many bodies that began to pile up. Keg Smasher had been fighting all day and he was starting to tire. He can only do so much. Eventually the wolves brought him down some time near dawn. Almost a hundred ponies went into the common hall, less than thirty saw the dawn. That guard you sent discovered us. He flew back and fetched help, and we brought Keg Smasher back,” Winter Wheat said in sorrowful tones. “My town is gone. And I think some of the dead made it away,” she said in a frightened whisper.

Bucky scowled. It was too late in  the day to do anything. But he was already making plans to hunt down the remaining dead tomorrow. He knew that he was going to need Lyra, and even though Derpy was going to kill him, he was going to need Rising Star and Sparkler too.

“We will watch Wheatberry, I want you to get some rest. I believe you. I want you to go to bed and lie close to Keg Smasher and I want you to sleep,” Bucky commanded gently.

Already, his mind was putting a plan into motion and he had dozens of questions already forming. He would need Lyra well rested, but he also needed her to keep the cold and the fear away during the night with her magic lyre. He worried about Keg Smasher. In his current state, the cold would be dreadful for him. Bucky realised that there was much that needed to be done and just no means to do it. He was going to be forced to cut corners somewhere.

Bucky hated cutting corners.

 

 

 

 

 

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