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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Beneath the runners of the sleigh, the snow and ice crackled. Bucky, lost in his thoughts, was not paying attention to much of anything around him. Deep in his own introspection, he failed to notice that it was snowing once more and the skies had begun to fill with clouds.

He thought of time in Ponyville. Seeing Flash Sentry and Rainbow Dash. Seeing Discord and Fluttershy. Getting a chance to stop and say hello to Thunderlane, Cloudchaser, Flitter, along with their foals Rumble and Cloudstreaker.

Friends. Bucky had friends now. He thought of how he was; it seemed like a lifetime ago, when he gave himself over to solitude. He thought of other friends, friends he had not seen in quite some time. Keg Smasher. Deadspin, Sour Mash, and Bunny. Zebra Finch.

After thinking of them, Bucky discovered that he missed them a great deal. There had only been official correspondence between him and Keg Smasher. It pained Bucky to realise that he missed them, that he wanted to see them, and perhaps, wanted to hug them.

“You cannot save them…”

The unwelcome visitor. Bucky closed his eyes for a moment and tried to push the voice out of his head. It was too much like his own voice. There was a physical pain just behind his horn, a pressure. Bucky’s ears began to ring.

“You cannot save them…”

Biting down upon his lip hard enough to draw blood, Bucky attempted to wake himself, worried that this was a dream. He shook his head, the pressure behind his horn becoming ever more painful. “Yes I can… I can save them…”

“Why do you allow this weakness?”

Bucky realised that he was arguing with a voice in his head. He knew how bad that was, but it did nothing to stop him. “It isn’t a weakness… they are my strength… now go away!”

“You cannot save them from death… not in your weak and worthless state… but you could… you could save them… you could keep your friends and those you love safe… forever.”

A cold chill lanced through Bucky’s heart. He did not know how to respond, what to say, how to make the voice stop and go away.

“Even now, you are considering my words… I can see in the back of your mind, the dark and shadow places where you don’t like to look. I know what you fear...”

“Get OUT!” Growling through gritted teeth, Bucky clenched his talons into a fist. He uppercutted himself, sending him flying out of the wagon bench and sprawling into the back of the wagon, where he saw stars swirling overhead.

“Being alone... ”

Lifting his head, Bucky slammed it down into the floor of the wagon with a loud -thud!- and then did it once more. Bucky knew all to well that he could save them. He thought of Clover, trapped in her crystal. She still loved Sombra. She had forgiven him for what he had done.

For one very dark moment, Bucky wondered if his family would forgive him.

“You do not have to be alone… you could save the ones you love. Remove them forever from harm’s way...”

Unwanted thoughts flooded Bucky’s mind. He knew what Sombra’s mistake had been. He knew why the spell had failed. He knew why Clover had gone mad. Bucky had already figured out all of those mistakes. It would be so easy to save those he loved from pain. From death. Sombra had trapped many ponies in crystal, where they remained trapped in torment.

Bucky knew that he could get it right.

But that would be taking their choices away from them. Grabbing a heating stone in his talons, Bucky smashed it into his own skull hard enough to cause the colour to leave his vision. The world around him turned a bleak shade of grey.

“I’ll kill myself before I give into you…” Bucky said to himself.

“You cannot save them...”

“Yes I can!” Bucky hefted the stone in his talons and thought about crashing it into his own temple. It might be enough to knock him unconscious and make this torture stop.

Or it might not.

“Who will save them from you? You cannot stop what has already begun to happen!”

Just as Bucky was about to smash the stone into his head one more time, the pressure behind his horn ceased. The ringing in his ears stopped. His talon fingers relaxed and the stone fell from his grasp.

Very much against his will, Bucky began to cackle.

 

 

For a moment, Bucky stopped and stood in the snow, wondering how he could face them. He was bloodied, messed up, and out of sorts. Ahead of him was the front door to the farmhouse. Beyond the door there was warmth. Life. Happiness. Behind him had been the journey home, which Bucky wanted to forget all about.

Burning shame overcame Bucky. His own thoughts had betrayed him. He had thought about something he wished that he had never thought about. His head dropped and he stared down at the snow. A bright red droplet of scarlet dripped down, staining the snow, but Bucky was so lost in thought that he did not think about the fact that he was still bleeding. He lifted his head and looked at the farmhouse.

A fearful feeling of hate crept through Bucky. A farmhouse. A farmhouse. He deserved far better. Loathing boiled through his brain. A palace… a fortress… something more suitable for the rightful Emperor of the Crystal Empire. A farmhouse was an insult.

With a pained cry, Bucky realised what he was thinking; what he was feeling. He wondered if these were his own thoughts or those of Sombra’s shadow that was intruding into his mind. He fell over into the snow, laying on his side, feeling a strange ache in his heart.

He couldn’t face them. Not after allowing himself to think such dark thoughts. He didn’t deserve them. He had already betrayed them with a thought. Deeds, actions, those things didn’t matter, it was thoughts, it was the mind that spurred the body into movement, it was thinking and planning that made action possible.

And Bucky had already betrayed them with a thought. Tears froze on his cheeks.

“There he is… get him… what a sorry state he’s fallen into.”

Bucky’s muscles tensed as he tried to will his body into action. His horn flared with piercing light which turned into black fire. All around him, he heard cackling, he heard mocking laughter. Something was in the snow with him.

“Look out Scorch, he’s feisty.”

“Yeah yeah, I know… Bucky, stay down… let us help you.”

Bucky rose to his hooves. Something awful was attacking him, using the voices of his friends. In the corners of his vision, he saw swirling dancing shadows, but when he turned to look at them, they were gone. There were two figures in front of him. One tall, one small. They were real and did not warp away when he went to look at them.

“Scorch, look out… those damnable little imps have a hold of his mind.”

More trickery. Bucky shook his head as the larger figure approached. “Stay back… I’m warning you… just… stay away from me. Leave me alone… I will be your ruin!”

All around him, Bucky heard mocking laughter. The stench of brimstone was in the air, a sulfurous stench that burned his nostrils. All of this was a trick. Around him, he saw flames. He felt heat, wonderful life giving heat. Heat gave strength. For reasons Bucky could not explain, he needed warmth, it nourished some need hidden deep within Bucky. He could still see little figures dancing around in the corner of his vision.

“Bucky, I am sorry… Sunset, hit him with everything you have!”

His own apprentice… what treachery was this? Bucky had not seen her. His reflexes kicked in and he began to summon his defenses, but there was something wrong. His mind seemed sluggish, his thoughts became soupy. His knees buckled.

Bucky pushed back against the fog encroaching upon his mind. This was all trickery, deceit, he could no longer tell what was real anymore. The dancing figures were no longer in the corners of his vision, but in his face, mocking him, making faces, making obscene gestures.

“Cadance, if you love your daddy, you need to make him feel it!”

There was a flash of pink light. The dancing mocking figures exploded into wisps of shadow, screeching as they vanished. All pain fled Bucky’s body. He felt himself going limp and his consciousness retreated.

As Bucky slipped away, the shame burned away from him as one final focused thought blazed within his mind. He might have thought about it, but he would never act upon it. With a grunt, he felt into the snow and knew no more.

 

 

Drawing a deep shuddering breath, Lyra looked at Bucky, who was laying in the bed, and then looked at Scorch and Odin. Scorch was in equine form now. Both Odin and Scorch looked agitated, out of sorts, and afraid.

Lyra drew another deep shuddering breath. “So what just happened?”

A deep scowl settled over Scorch’s face and he looked at Odin. “Sombra’s fell shadow waited until your husband was alone and then messed with his mind. Odin was able to sense it, he still has a connection to his eye. So Odin knew that Bucky was in trouble. In his weakened state, a group of free roaming imps decided to feed on him.”

“Is he safe now?” Derpy asked.

“Safe enough. He has all of you,” Odin replied.

“I feel sick,” Lyra said. She took a few hesitant steps to the bed and lay down, her legs dangling over the side of the mattress. “I was so scared that it would end badly.”

“I suppose it is nerve wracking to ambush a unicorn like Bucky,” Scorch said as he shrugged his shoulders. He looked at Odin. “I think we had it under control.”

“He’s bleeding. Somepony should clean up him and look after him.” Odin hopped up on the bed, gave Lyra an affectionate reassuring pat, and then looked at Bucky. “He shouldn’t be left alone. Coincidence and circumstances worked against us. Sombra preyed upon him while he was alone and then the imps took advantage of Bucky while he was in a weakened state.”

“I still have the magic inhibitor that Luna gave me.” Sunset Shimmer began to feel awkward when she realised she was being stared at by several piercing eyes. “You know… for emergencies. Like this one.”

Scorch shook his head. “I don’t think it will be necessary.”

“We should contact Luna.” Lyra lifted her head and looked over at Bucky, hoping he was okay. Derpy was beside him, examining his face with her bad eye held shut.

“Already did that,” Sunset Shimmer said.

“So we don’t leave him alone… not even for a minute. We watch over him and make him feel good.” Using her wing tip, Derpy daubed at a gash on the side of Bucky’s head. “This looks bad. It’s swelling.”

Odin, still sitting on the bed, looked at Lyra’s cutie mark for a moment and then began to rub the side of his neck. He glanced over at Belisama and then looked back at Lyra. Reaching up, he smoothed back his crest and looked back at Belisama. “You there… tiny warrior… I have a job for you.”

Belisama let out a nervous peep. “I’m no warrior—”

“Oh stuff it with the modesty!” Odin snapped, his feathers fluffing out. He flexed his talons and let out annoyed squawk. “A warrior is not measured in size, but in heart… I want you to stay with your husband. Play him some music. Sing to him. It is very important that you sing. It doesn’t have to be constant… but every now and then, sing him a sappy love song. Sing him a lullaby. Sing a silly song.”

“I will do as you ask.” Belisama bowed her head, froze, realised that perhaps bowing her head might not be the right thing to do, and then let out a nervous squawk.

“We can sing together,” Berry Punch said as she emerged from the nursery.

Settling in, Odin made himself comfortable on the bed. “A long long time ago, when the world was a very dangerous place, things had far more meaning.” The old griffon cleared his throat, stretched out his body, and then leaned up against Lyra. “We do things now, we still go through the motions, but we have forgotten the meaning, the reason behind why we do what we do. A mother was her offspring’s only real defense against the terrors of the night, the dark things, the shadows preyed on the very young, the demons that roamed freely in the night, and every other dark thing you could imagine. When a mother gathered her young close and sang to them a lullaby, she wasn’t just singing them to sleep… oh no… with the power of her voice, she was driving back the darkness. It was done for protection. The power of music, imbued with a sense of love, was an anathema to the dark things that roamed the night. There is no force quite so formidable as a mother standing guard near a crib… that force of will permeates into everything she does… including her song. Lullabies were the first real defense against dark influences… dark magic… and fell shadows. I have heard it said that lullabies were the first form of magic that the different species of this world learned to control.” Odin paused and looked Belisama in the eye. “It is still our best defense and our most powerful weapon. For reasons I cannot explain, we have lost touch with our understanding of this magic and it’s value. Perhaps the creeping shadowlings did it to nullify its threat.”

“It was music that held back the power of the shadow wolves…” Lyra said, remembering a dark time and giving thought to Odin’s words. “I guess now we use it to hold back Sombra’s shadow.”

“If something wants Bucky, it has to go through us first.” Derpy’s voice was a low growl, gritty, full of gravel and the promise of pain. “We will do whatever it takes. One of us will remain with him at all times to keep him company. If we need to sing, then we will sing. If we need to fight, we’ll do that too. We are all ferocious terrible mares and we will not give up what is ours.”

Berry laughed, a nervous laugh that almost caught in her throat. “We mares and one tiny lioness…”

 

 

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