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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After a round of showers aboard The Scorned Mare, the group returned to their quarters to settle in. They were subdued, silent, thoughtful, what they had seen had changed them all in some fashion, forever altering their world view.

Bucky, somehow completely unaffected by the harsh toxic air, was filled with ideas, his sense of practical realism ignited. Public mass transit would revolutionise life in the cities and reduce the dependence on pony drawn wagons, cabs, and carriages, which tended to flood the streets with impossible traffic in the larger cities. Bucky saw a means to ease the heavy burdens off of the shoulders of earth ponies all over Equestria and make their lives a little better, their existence a little kinder, and already his mind, a perfect mind for plotting and planning, was hard at work trying to think of a way to do this as cleanly as possible.

Much to her horror, Twilight saw a world where eventually industry outpaced or even replaced magic, a thought that frightened her a great deal, an outcome she was already subconsciously preparing to prevent. Magic was mostly clean, at least when used responsibly, did not devour whole forests, nor entire hills, or so pollute the ground beneath a city as to completely render the area unfit for life. Her own unicorn-centric view manifested, anything that couldn’t be dealt with by the judicious use of magic could be dealt with using muscle and effort, which was why there were earth ponies.

 

 

The room was filled with the relentless clicking of knitting needles and ponies already soiled from soot even though they had showered not all that long ago. The group was subdued, quiet, thoughtful, with little being said at the moment. The only real conversation seemed to be between Lugus and Flash Sentry, who spoke in quiet tones about the burden of duty and a society that would never truly appreciate all that was being done for them by those who served.

Pinkie Pie, completely unable to comfort herself, attempted to comfort Fluttershy, holding her and patting the yellow pegasus on the back when she coughed, which she did frequently. Fluttershy’s weak constitution and frail respiratory system was unable to deal with the harsh environment, and she sneezed, coughed, and wheezed, just as she did when it was springtime and the air was full of pollen. Her constant coughing made it difficult to knit.

Feeling unusually reflective and quiet, Applejack thought about her experiences, the day as a whole, from their time on the beautiful unspoiled beach to the horrible hours spent drifting over Huginn. Her brows furrowed, the apple farmer thought about the loss of the land, how precious and finite the world was, and how things like coal, once gone, were probably gone forever, never to return. The earth only had so much to give and what was a pony or griffon supposed to do when everything was gone? The question haunted her, and Applejack felt her worldview shifting to something unknown, a feeling that she no longer understood the world as much as she thought.

Her wings fluttering, Rainbow Dash tried to imagine a world without flight. To have wings but not the ability to use them. To be hauled around in a steam powered trolley, back and forth, huddled together while going to and fro. She felt itchy all over, and she found herself staring at both Twilight Sparkle and Flash Sentry, feeling an odd longing when she looked at either of them.

“What happens when the coal runs out?” Spike asked, his question loud enough to jolt everypony and everybirdy from their stupour. He waved a clawed hand around in wild furtive gesture, looking upset and confused. “I have thoughts I don’t know how to put into words!”

“Slow down Spike,” Sentinel said in a calm voice, looking over at his friend with concern, his knitting needles still clicking. “Try to form a question.”

“When your life depends on burning coal to keep going, how do you live when the coal is gone?” Spike asked, flexing his clawed fingers nervously, his eyes wide with nervous energy. “I mean, the electric lights, the factories, everything the griffons currently have, it all depends on coal. What will they do when it is gone?”

“Well,” Lugus began, clicking his beak together, his eyes closing in thoughtful concentration. “Most likely, being griffons, they will move on and take something elses’ coal to keep society going,” he continued, one talon tapping upon the floor, nervously drumming away with a “tap tap tap” sound.

“And what then?” Spike questioned. “So they go to war with a neighbor? Take their coal? Their water?”

“Yes Spike,” Lugus said patiently, looking at the little dragon who seemed to be having a severe crisis.

“So this is like dragon greed,” Spike whimpered. “You grow larger and larger, and you keep taking and taking, but what happens when there is nothing left to give to the dragon?”

“The dragon dies,” Lugus replied, causing several ponies in the room to gulp loudly, and Spike broke down completely, covering his his face with his hands after Lugus spoke.

“I couldn’t stop,” Spike whimpered. “I needed more and more… I just wanted to keep taking and taking and now I feel so bad about it… if it wasn’t for Rarity stopping me I… I…” he stammered, his words fading into sobs.

With a flash of glittery magic, Rarity lifted the dragon up, brought him to her, and hugged him close, trying to comfort the weeping baby dragon. She sat back on her haunches, took him into her forelegs, hugged him tightly, and kissed him softly upon the top of his head.

“That certainly puts things into perspective,” Twilight murmured softly, looking at Spike and Rarity together.

“Shush Spikey Wikey,” Rarity cooed, trying to calm the sobbing Spike, who was quite beside himself at the moment.

“So what will happen when the griffons run out of coal? Or ponies for that matter?” Ripple questioned. “Equestria needs coal to run the trains. How do we know that we are any better than the griffons? What will we do to keep our way of life going when the coal runs out? We might  go about it in a nicer way, but the end result is the same. We will run out of coal and we will go looking for it in other parts of the world to maintain our way of life.” As the filly spoke, her wings moved on their own, the knitting needles producing a crooked yellow expanse of knitting that served no purpose but practice.

“The Crystal Empire has vast deposits of coal in the northern reaches, under the tundra. It is part of the reason why Princess Celestia secured the throne of the empire for Cadance, annexing the empire and securing its resources for Equestria. There is also shale oil and natural gas in the many bogs in the north. The ponies of the Crystal Empire lived a thousand years ago… they aren’t even aware of the wealth all around them and don’t even know the fortune they have lost,” Flash Sentry said, his face contorting with guilt. “We took it from them before they even knew what it was they had.”

“Flash Sentry… that’s awful and I wish I could say that it wasn’t true,” Twilight said in a raspy emotional voice. “I guess that is why Princess Celestia said that securing the North once the Crystal Empire reappeared was so important.”

“I don’t understand… the Crystal Empire vanished, what about the land?” Sentinel asked, shaking his head with confusion.

“The land itself was cursed. All of it. The crystal city vanished and the land all around became unreachable. Any pony trying to travel where the city was, or where the land was, would find themselves randomly teleported to some other location, and thousands of miles of land were unreachable… Sombra’s magic was powerful,” Twilight explained as best as she could, not in the mood for an in depth explanation.  

“A terrible fate for the Crystal Empire, but a beneficial act of serendipity for modern Equestria,” Bucky grumbled. “I mean, it certainly worked out in our favour having the land locked away and unreachable for a thousand years, only to have it reappear right when we need it the most. The coal mines of the Badlands went dead, the coal around Dodge City is now down deep and hard to reach, and I know for a fact that we import a lot of coal at great price from the southern kingdoms.”

“Actually Buckminster, we’ve cut back on our imports since Princess Celestia’s hydroelectric initiative starting showing positive results. Ponyville Gorge dam now produces more power than Ponyville needs, now that it has been optimised. Before the collapse, there was talks about shutting down one of Baltimare’s coal power plants and using the extra electricity from Ponyville Gorge,” Twilight Sparkle corrected, rubbing the side of her face with her hoof. “Except now, most of Baltimare is still without power at all. It’s all so tragic.”

“So we are moving away from coal powered technology?” Ripple inquired, looking curious, edging closer to Twilight Sparkle as she hoped for an answer, her needles still trying to stab something into existence from the yarn she worked.

“Slowly. We were building more dams. Solar plants were being planned. I don’t know about the train situation. Still need coal to burn and boil water for the trains,” Twilight responded, her ears perked forward in concentration.

The Scorned Mare is a marvel of clean technology. Contained storm cells, solar, all very self sufficient,” Bucky said. “So we can do better if we work for it. Can’t imagine the cost though. I’d venture a guess that the cost is going to make it difficult for most to reach this level of self contained sufficiency.”

“Something is wrong here,” Rainbow Dash interjected.

“What makes you say that Dash?” Twilight asked.

“Cloudsdale’s weather factories take enormous amounts of electricity to operate. We use super compressed storm cells to generate electricity. Why aren’t the griffons doing the same?” Rainbow Dash said in a raspy voice, waving her hoof around wildly.

“Rainbow Dash, airships and Cloudsdale share something in common,” Twilight replied in a soft voice.

“Whassat?” Rainbow Dash questioned, looking frustrated.

“Unicorn magic. By themselves, the griffons do not have the arcano-tech to manufacture the containment vessels for the clouds,” Bucky stated, answering for Twilight. “We only have what we have as a society because the tribes cooperate and share with one another.”

Spike, now quiet, continued to cling to Rarity, his arms around her neck, his head upon her shoulder. She stroked him softly, still trying to soothe him, and she occasionally whispered soft words into his ear frills.

“So how is Griffonholm producing these airships?” Rainbow Dash asked, her brows raising in concern. “I mean, if you need unicorn magic to make certain things work… I don’t understand… something seems off here,” she stammered, her magenta eyes widening with growing alarm and concern.

“Either they have lighter than air gases filling the gasbag or they have unicorns helping them,” Bucky answered. “And I’ve already thought about unicorns helping them. It is possible, however unlikely. There have been unicorns who have helped them in the past.”

“Did anybody bother to cast detection spells on the airships today while we were out?” a very sheepish Twilight asked, her words wavering with worry as she spoke, her head slumping down and her ears drooping from the crushing feeling of having done something both foalish and foolish.

“No,” Bucky admitted. “Which was stupid of me,” he grumbled as he scratched the withered side of his face that was partially covered now by a silver streaked sideburn.

“Stupid of us,” Twilight corrected. “I could have done it and failed to do so.”

“If they are using lighter than air gases, the airships would be highly explosive, and thus, a weakness in war. I doubt that the griffons would present such a weakness right now, with so many enemies,” Lugus said, offering his opinion, his crest rising as he became thoughtful. “I wish Yew was here to adjust my spine.”

“Back bothering you?” Bucky asked.

“Room is too small. I spend too much time hunched over or bent in half,” Lugus replied, flexing his wings slightly.

“If all of the griffons are now equals like Tannis claims, and I’m not doubting Tannis, but I’m doubting that Fleshrender horseapple head… how is a big warrior griffon like Lugus able to fit on one of those little trains with all of the other griffons? I didn’t see any big griffons flying around anywhere today, and I know that no big griffon like Lugus is riding inside of one of those tiny little toy trains. I might be a hick but I ain’t dumb,” Applejack said, reaching up and tipping her hat back from her eyes and looking around the room.

“Applejack, you bring up a very good observation,” Twilight admitted.

“Most of the warrior caste griffons would never allow themselves to be lumped in with the commoners. Griffons of my size are practically royalty unto ourselves. We get what we want because we are large enough, powerful enough, and dangerous enough to take it. Might makes right,” Lugus said, explaining his own position in griffon society. “Not that I ever did anything like that… I am disgusted by those that do.”

“Nopony doubts you Lugus, there is no need to protect your reputation my friend,” Bucky said, reassuring Lugus’ worries and doubts with soft gentle words.

“Lugus is a nice griffon. I like Lugus. I didn’t like Gilda,” Pinkie Pie said, finally breaking her silence. “Gilda was a jerk. She was mean to Fluttershy. She was a lousy friend to Rainbow Dash. I wish all griffons were as nice as Lugus, Tannis, or Agnetha… my Pinkie Sense tells me they are good friends just waiting to be befriended.”

Feeling an icy stabbing sensation in his spine, Bucky suddenly wondered if Fleshrender and Tanner were both avoiding the diplomatic negotiations because of Pinkie Pie’s well known Pinkie Sense. The books about Princess Twilight Sparkle and her friends were many, and stories about Pinkie Pie and her Pinkie Sense were many and well detailed. He felt a twitchy burning sense of nausea taking him over and he suddenly felt quite ill.

“Buckminster, you don’t look well,” Twilight said, looking at Bucky.

“I hate the name ‘Buckminster’ and I wish nopony would use it!” Bucky snapped.

“I’m sorry,” Twilight offered, feeling concerned, noting that Bucky had avoided saying anything about how he was feeling with his reply.

“Bucky… -cough- you don’t look well. Did the air -cough- get to you?” Fluttershy inquired in a soft gentle raspy whisper that somehow silenced everything else in the room.

“No,” Bucky answered. “I have a lot on my mind. I don’t feel well, that’s all,” he explained, not telling the truth but not lying either. “I didn’t get any sleep last night. I’m tired. I think I am going to go to bed and get some shuteye.”

 

 

Laying on the chaise lounge, Bucky tried to tune out the soft sounds of the room. He hadn’t eaten dinner, Twilight had not gone to fetch it yet, and truth be told, he didn’t feel like dinner. Each muscle in his body twitched, every nerve was on fire, and he couldn’t help but feel as though something was wrong.

He silently told himself that he might just be overreacting or over thinking… Tanner did have heavy metal poisoning and headaches seemed like a reasonable problem, but he couldn’t get the notion that they were being avoided because of Pinkie Pie out of his mind. He felt one hind leg kick and the blanket over him felt too heavy.

His thoughts drifted to Witching Hour and Tiddlywinks, and he started to wonder what they would do in this situation. He had done everything that Witching Hour had told him to do. He checked his food for poison, even the food on board the ship, if by some odd chance an infiltrator had somehow made it onboard. He was cautious. He was paranoid. He was careful. The room was warded with alarms and the door was being locked at night. There were no windows, and the door was the only way into the room, making this a fairly secure place. Lugus, Flash Sentry and Ripple all made for formidable guards and one of them was awake and on watch at night.

Even with every bit of precaution, something felt wrong. He took a deep breath, and began the ritual he did now every night before going to sleep, running a checklist of paranoia, an activity that had become habit. Every night before going to bed, he cast a few simple wards on himself and a purpose driven aversion spell that made him difficult to see for anything hostile towards him. He had been practicing this little ritual for a couple of weeks now, and it actually allowed him to relax and wind down before going to bed. He wished for Lyra and Bon Bon to be in the bed with him, but there was nopony.

His horn flashed several times, his magic flaring, and the pre-sleep ritual made him feel just a tiny bit sleepy. He missed his wives at home. He missed his foals. He missed Barley. He even found himself missing Bittersweet oddly enough, and he knew that Ripple was missing her as well.

His last thought was of Harper and her fluffy poofy orange mane that stuck out in all possible directions, a static-filled mass of curls that had all of the electric intensity of an angry thunderhead.

 

 

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