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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Blue skies were behind them, and smoggy skies were ahead. The Scorned Mare plunged through a cloudbank, skimming through puffy fluffy wild clouds, descending gradually from the high altitude she had climbed to for part of the trip. The twin cities of Huginn and Muninn once again were ahead, and a patrolling airship flashed a powerful spotlight in greeting.

Most of the group had remained on deck, with Fluttershy having gone belowdecks to be in the air conditioned atmosphere indoors, along with Bon Bon, Lyra, and Yew. Twilight and her friends gathered near the rails with Tannis and Agnetha, and Bucky controlled the ship with his magic as he maneuvered carefully to take them over Huginn at a slow cruise.

Passing overhead, one could actually feel heat radiating from the city of Huginn.

 

 

“King Fleshrender claims this is the most advanced industrialised city in the world,” Tannis said, reciting what appeared to be a well practiced speech. “Since we don’t have much in the way of magic, we don’t have very much arcano-tech. We rely on coal to provide power for everything. Below us are hundreds of factories. We churn out consumer goods. Common things like spoons, knives, forks, lanterns, the sort of things we use every day that we all take for granted, the trinkets of civilisation,” he announced.

“And I suppose armaments and airships as well,” Bucky remarked, peering over the rail at the Tartarus-inspired landscape below. A river of brown sludge slowly made its way to the ocean, burbling and glorping as it sloshed along, and Bucky felt a strong sense of revulsion as he saw it.

“Some of the factories are dedicated to airship manufacturing, I admit,” Tannis admitted. “But King Fleshrender’s big claim to fame is that we can make more consumer goods than any other civilised nation on this planet. Our factories are a wonder of mechanical automation.”

The group looked over the edge of The Scorned Mare, studying the city below. There was no greenery, no parks, there was no wasted space in the city. The streets were all arranged in a perfect grid. Many of the streets had rails in the center, and a small train trundled along the rails, moving supplies, goods and passengers from one section of the city to another.

Seeing the train gave Bucky ideas for modern transportation back in Equestria, it was a brilliant idea, a series of wagons that needed no ponies to pull them. It would be perfect in a city like Canterlot, Manehatten, or Baltimare.

“The small train… I have seen such a thing in a toy store, a giant toy for foals to play on, but this one actually seems practical and functional, this is amazing,” Bucky said, looking down with genuine appreciation.

“We call it a trolley train. We no longer have private wagons in the city. It was Fleshrender’s solution to several problems. It got rid of traffic and the dependance upon slave labour to pull wagons. Now, everything is delivered and moved around the city with careful scheduling, and some of the trolley trains are dedicated to moving griffons around to their jobs,” Tannis explained, gesturing and pointing at various moving railcars down below them.

“But can’t you just fly everywhere?” Rainbow Dash asked, looking confused and shaking her head. “I don’t understand why you’d take this trolley thing when you could just fly… this doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

“Rainbow Dash, there are tens of thousands of griffons in the city. All of them trying to fly to their jobs or run errands. The skies become too crowded because the population is too dense. My father demanded that the skies be cleared and order restored to the city. Most griffons no longer need to fly and can save their energies for their shift in the factories,” Agnetha said, looking first at Rainbow Dash and then down at the sprawling city below her.

“I suppose it would become crowded with everybirdy trying to fly everywhere all at once,” Rainbow Dash admitted, her brows furrowing. “But I would hate not being able to fly and be free in the sky.”

An airship went steaming past, belching out clouds of black smoke, sending black ash floating down to the city down below. Below the airship, suspended by cables, were long steel girders too big to be moved by trolley train. It was crewed by griffons black with soot and grime.

Another ship went moving past, this one carrying an enormous vat of what appeared to be fresh water. As they watched, the ship descended upon a tall concrete structure, and the vat was docked with the giant water tank on top of the high rise tenement building. With a loud gurgle-glug, the water vat was emptied into the giant water tank. Once this was completed, the airship sped off, presumably off to wherever it was it had drawn fresh water from.

“What are those big beehive looking structures?” Twilight Sparkle inquired. “I’ve never seen anything quite like those before. No windows, several stories tall, and they appear to be made out of reinforced concrete.”

“I don’t know what those are to be honest,” Tannis replied, shaking his head. “I have asked about them, and have received no answer… they puzzle me,” the griffon admitted.

“I have never seen anything like them before,” Lugus said, peering downward as they drifted over the city. “The city has changed so much since my departure. I don’t recognise anything. Everything I once knew has been knocked down and rebuilt.”

“I don’t agree with everything that King Fleshrender has done, but he has brought a sense of order to the nation. The trains run on time. Military service is mandatory for all citizens of Huginn, from the warrior castes to the servant castes. The day is divided into well measured parts, with part of the day spent doing drills and training. The other part of the day is spent labouring in the factories or other jobs. Food, however questionable it might be, is brought and distributed equally among the citizens, something no other king can lay claim to doing… although it disturbs me a great deal because I know that some of the meat is pony and zebra meat, or meat from other creatures with language. It concerns me,” Tannis said, explaining life in Huginn. The griffon slumped down, looking miserable, his feathers now filthy and sooty once again.

“What terrible price is paid for order,” Bucky said, shaking his head.

“So… is King Fleshrender a fascist?” Twilight asked, her voice hesitant and barely audible over the industrial grind of the city below. She looked worried, her eyes narrowed and watering, tears streaming from the corners, the whites of her eyes now bloodshot.

“That is complicated to answer,” Tannis replied. “He rejects any accusations of fascism, but with the same breath he orates about the glorious autarky of Griffonholm and demands worship and veneration of the Crown. It has practically become a religion. He has even taken to raising cubs in Crown sponsored rookeries. The indoctrination starts at an early age…” he said, his words trailing off.

“My father truly believes he is leading Griffonholm towards some great and glorious future, and promises all griffons a return to previous glories,” Agnetha stated, her crest rising as she spoke. She gestured at the city below her, her talons flexing. “And this is the price of that dream. I do not agree with my father, and gladly work to oppose him in secret.”

The ponies and griffons on the deck of The Scorned Mare all watched a gout of flames shooting out of a tall smokestack, belching and spewing thick black ash into the air which drifted down to the city below.

“That is one of Fleshrender’s new oil refineries. He’s been trying to find new uses for the thick black sludge that leaks out from the deep earth. Our alchemists have produced some fascinating new compounds and we are on the verge of discovering what might be fuels superiour to burning coal,” Tannis said, explaining the purpose of the building with the flame belching smokestacks.

“I am not sure if the price of progress is worth it,” Rarity said, raising her eyebrow and looking at Tannis pointedly. She shook her head, coughed, cleared her throat, brushed flakes of ash from her now sooty grey pelt, and then sighed. “When I look at the city down below us, I see a terrifying vision of the future if progress is not tempered with patience and wisdom. As a craftspony, I can see my trade being devoured by industrial machinery and made soulless and  left empty of art, beauty, and aesthetic.”

“Wow Rarity… that’s pretty deep… I don’t know what to say,” Twilight Sparkle stammered, her voice now raspy and gravely.

“Rares, that has to be the wisest thing I think I’ve ever heard you, or anypony for that matter, say in my entire life,” Applejack said, looking at Rarity with an expression of appreciation.

“I hate these moments when I don’t feel smart enough to say something worthwhile,” Rainbow Dash grumbled.

“There used to be hills off in the distance,” Lugus said, peering off into the smoggy horizon, rubbing his eyes to try and clear them.

“Those hills are gone. There was copper and coal beneath them,” Agnetha said, batting a few large flakes of ash out of the air as they drifted down in front of her face. “Using massive steam powered machines and alchemical applications, my father had the ground cracked open to expose the wealth found therein. He had the hills sheared off layer by layer until they were gone, and then vast open air pits were dug down into the earth. Along with the coal and copper, we found veins of silver and platinum. This wealth allows us to secure water and food from the diamond dog kingdom off to the east,” the griffoness explained.

“That’s the most awful thing I’ve ever heard,” Pinkie Pie moaned, finally saying something. Her cheeks were sludgy from tears mixed with soot. Much of her mane had gone limp, either from depression or the awful atmosphere. “You can’t do that to the land… the land is a living thing. It has feelings… it sings to those who can hear it, like my sister Maud. She looks so happy when she can hear the earth singing to her. I’m not sure I’ve heard the earth singing quite like Maud does or felt particularly connected to the earth in general, but even I can feel this,” she blurted out, the floodgates opening, and tears spilling out from her eyes.

Saying nothing, Applejack collected Pinkie Pie into her forelegs, hugging her tightly and trying to make the inconsolable dingy pink earth pony feel better. Pinkie Pie, glad for the hug, collapsed into Applejack and sobbed, hiccuping as she let it all out.

“So what happens when the resources run out?” Twilight questioned out loud, already knowing the answer. “Nevermind. Don’t answer that. It was a rhetorical question… I don’t even want to know.”

“So that enormous mountain of piled coal that I can see from here, I take it that it all used to be a hill somewhere over there on the horizon,” Bucky said in stunned disbelief.

“Yes,” Tannis admitted in a voice filled with grief.

Most of the companions watched as another airship hauling a vat of water maneuvered over a building nearby, making ready to deposit its precious payload into the enormous water tank on top of a sooty concrete building. This time, the building appeared to be a factory, not an apartment building. One of end of the building flowed a river of yellowish and slightly green sludge that ran down a canal and then into the river of brown sludge that eventually emptied into the ocean. Pinkie Pie, still sobbing, continued to cling to Applejack, both of them  feeling a pain that only earth ponies could feel.

Deep within the ship, Lyra held Bon Bon, who was also overcome with a most peculiar feeling as they drifted slowly over the ruined earth that was the foundation of the city of Huginn.

“I can’t take this anymore,” Twilight coughed. “I feel sick inside… I don’t know what is wrong, but I don’t feel right. I want to be away from here. I guess it is time to head back to Muninn, not that it is much better.”

“Finally feeling your inner earth pony Twilight?” Pinkie Pie said as she sniffled, looking up at Twilight with her cheeks covered in a black pasty substance. “Make this go away Twilight… I can’t bear it anymore! Please!” she begged, giving her friend Twilight Sparkle a pleading stare.

“I don’t know what to do Pinkie Pie.”

 

 

 

 

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