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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Boadicea looked down at the rat being offered to her on a sharpened stick. It had been fire roasted to perfection, it still had the skin on, which had turned crispy and succulent. The smell of it almost drove her crazy. Apprehensive, she looked at Lugus, making a wordless plea with her eyes.

After what seemed like a long wait, she saw Lugus give her an almost unnoticeable nod.

She looked at the little griffon offering her a rat on a stick. “I do not know your name,” she said as she took the stick from the griffon. “Thank you, by the way, you are very kind.”

The griffon, who had been staring down at the floor this entire time, looked up, for a moment, looking into Boadicea’s eyes. “You’re welcome.” The little griffon averted his eyes and looked down at his own feet. “My name is Coineagan… everybirdy calls me Coney. In Griffonholm I was a rabbit farmer.”

“I appreciate you bringing me food.” Boadicea tried to sound sincere. She did appreciate being brought hot food. “For your kindness, I owe you a favour. I give you my word as a hunter.”

The griffoness cub felt eyes upon her. She turned, looked at Lugus, and noticed he was staring at her. His face might have well been made out of stone. It was impossible to read, impossible to know what he might have been feeling at this moment. Boadicea felt very small and afraid. Lugus wasn’t making anything easy for her. Everything was a test. There was no assurance of anything, everything was earned. She had no idea if she would even be sleeping in a warm bed tonight, and Lugus had made it clear that she was owed nothing, but would earn everything.

“Do not make Lugus angry… be a good cub is all I ask of you,” Coney said in a soft voice, looking up at Boadicea once more and looking her in the eye.

Holding the stick in her talons, Boadicea bit the head off of the rat, crushed the skull between the edges of her beak, and swallowed. It was hot, salty, and peppery.

Reaching out with trembling talons, Coney patted Boadicea upon the shoulder and then scampered off, hurrying away to look after other rats he had roasting upon the fire.

“What do you think went wrong?” Lugus’ voice was low, emotionless, and held none of its usual warmth. He blinked. “At some point, the hunters lost their way. They ceased being the providers they prided themselves to be… they became fat and lazy. They allowed the little griffons to bring them everything.”

Panic. Terrible panic. Boadicea stared at her rat upon a stick. “Am I in trouble for accepting food?”

“No.” Lugus shook his head. “You have earned that meal and you are not in trouble. I am merely reflecting and I would like to hear what you have to say.”

“I’m being tested again, aren’t I?” Boadicea looked over at the warrior griffon.

Lugus nodded.

Tearing off the upper torso of the rat, Boadicea crunched it a few times between the side edges of her beak, held it over her tongue to savour the taste, and swallowed. “I don’t know… I hunted for everything I ate. I asked for nothing and I brought food back. The bigger griffons scoffed at it. The rats and lizards I brought back were unfit for them to eat. But the sla—” Boadicea caught herself, saving herself from what she knew to be certain doom. Lugus wouldn’t punish her if she caught herself, she had already learned that. “Ahem… the little griffons would gladly take the rats and lizards I brought back. They refused to eat the food that the bigger griffons ate… the… well, you know what it was.”

“King Tannis brought back fish for the little griffons… he provided for all he could. He bought medicine, kept them as healthy as he could. Why is it that some hunters stayed true to themselves but others became such mindless brutes… even without the sickness, some were just born bad. It distresses me. The warriors too. So much dishonourable behaviour.” Lugus turned his head and looked the fire. He watched as Coney turned a rat over so the other side could be roasted. His sharp ears heard the sounds of little bones crunching as Boadicea devoured the rest of her rat.

“I don’t know.” Boadicea’s answer was honest, her voice soft. The cub pulled her cloak around her, began to shiver, and struggled to stop her beak from clattering.

“You ate something.” Lugus’ voice was almost kind. “The blood is fleeing from your limbs and retreating to your stomach. You starved yourself for so long that it now takes your body serious effort to digest food.”

Feeling bold, Boadicea spoke her mind. “The warrior griffons aren’t much better… they laze about all day expecting the little griffons and the hunter griffons to provide their needs. They spent most of the day sleeping, napping in the sun, doing nothing at all. If they wanted something and it wasn’t provided, somebirdy was usually beaten or killed for it.” Boadicea rubbed her body with her talons and could feel bare hairless flesh under her talon-tips. “It bothered me… what I saw. I heard nothing but stories about how we are a proud and noble species, we were meant to be the rightful rulers of this world, but everywhere I looked I saw fighting amongst our kind. Laziness. A lack of honour. I don’t know what to believe anymore. I keep thinking about what our king asked me… why I believed what I was told… about what he did… I suppose it was because it was easier to believe that than to believe that we would stoop so low… be so dishonourable… I am ashamed that I willingly believed what I was told for the matter of my own pride.”

“Tonight you will be sleeping in a warm bed.” Lugus stretched out his wings and flexed his talons. “Continue with your self examination. And go bathe yourself. You are a smelly creature.”

“Lugus! She has starvation sickness! She can’t help it!” Magpie lifted a spoon, took aim, and hurled it at Lugus. It flew, end over end, a flash of silver as it traveled through the air.

Snatching the spoon out of the air, Lugus looked at it for a moment, and then set it down upon a nearby table. His crest raised and he looked at Magpie. “I admire your aim. Perhaps you could train Boadicea in the proper way to throw.”

“I have to be going. I have foals to look after. I was just getting me a quick bite to eat.” Magpie looked at Boadicea and her eyes narrowed. “Should I have time, I will teach you.”

Overcome with a feeling of joy, Boadicea felt herself warm up just a little bit on the inside.

 

 

Standing in dirty snow, Keg Smasher watched as the zebras made ready to depart. He was silent, contemplative, and his eyes glittered as he looked up at the zebra airship. He glanced at Bucky, who stood beside him, looking at Bucky for a moment before his eyes returned to the airship.

“The zebras tell me that we have aluminum in these isles. Even more of it in Minnowrock. Takes a lot of hard bloody labour to get it out of the ground… but look at it. It makes for a pretty airship, don’t it?”

“Rising Star likes aluminum. He’s starting to get good at working with it. He’s been experimenting with adding scandium and titanium to the aluminum to make alloys… adds a lot of strength, or so Rising Star says.” Bucky, eyeing the new gasbag design, wondered how it might look on The Scorned Mare.

“I have no idea what any of those words mean,” Keg Smasher said in low voice. “But I’m smart enough to know that it sounds important.”

“Rising Star is challenging the long standing traditions of unicorn craftwork, namely, the use of heavy materials to make something, like brass and wood, and then using an abundance of magic to make everything lighter. He’s already got a gyrocopter that he is working on… Spanner and Lugnut are the designers… the thing is going to be lighter than a mosquito, and that is without any enchantments. It is going to be double hulled and will hold super compressed cloudstuff between the hulls to generate electricity. If all goes well, it should fly by spring. Going to change mechanical flight as we know it, mark my words.”

Looking over at his own shipyards, Keg Smasher sighed and felt a sense of pride. Shetlands airships weren’t much to look at, but they were well made and a source of local pride. So far, several had been constructed. The very first of them was The Scorned Mare, the ship that had given them all the courage to dare to dream.

Other wrecks had been hauled in, repaired, refitted, and turned into serviceable airships. Now, Luna had taken an interest and even more manufacture would be taking place come spring. With aluminum available on the isles, Keg Smasher saw a bright future ahead.

“Bucky… I wanted to thank you,” Keg Smasher said in a husky voice.

“For what?” Bucky looked over at his friend.

“For convincing Celestia to make me a prince. I dinnae know it, but I guess I wanted to be one. I feel real happy and hopeful for once. Leadership is what I’m good at… and I suppose this is the highest level of leadership. I dunno how to say it or put it in words… but it feels nice to be in charge of shaping a collective destiny… I can finally make these isles, all of them now, the sort of place I have always felt that they should be. I have big dreams… and I always thought they’d just stay dreams. But now… now they seem possible.”

“I’m not good at leadership and I don’t want to be what I am.” Bucky watched as the zebra airship began to rise.

“Liar.” Keg Smasher gave Bucky a nudge. “You are good at leadership. You proved that here. You gave us hope again… made us believe. You did something I couldn’t.”

“Bah!” Bucky shook his head. “Gobshite.”

“Yer a cuss headed numpty,” Keg Smasher said, a lilting brogue creeping into his voice as he became irritated. “I suppose you’ll be leaving soon. You have those winter games coming up. I do believe that Luna is going to clean yer clock. And Celestia is doomed as well. I have a fair bit of coin placed on Luna winning.”

“Lecherous stretcher of little colts' arseholes.” Bucky’s face soured.

“Aye… Bucky, I love ya like a brother… I couldn’t love you more if we had shared the same teats as colts.” Keg Smasher chuckled for a few minutes. “Luna is going to clean your clock though. See, I know something you don’t know.”

“And that is?” Bucky asked.

“She’s already had her troops training here. In secret. Where they cannae be spied on by prying eyes… these are war games Bucky… war and all that goes with it. Spying too.”

“Myrmidons?” Bucky looked up at his friend.

“I dinnae love ye that much. Luna would haul me to Gelding Grotto if I betrayed her secrets.” Keg Smasher’s eyes narrowed. “Or worse, she’d send you to do me in. I understand that she sends you to do her dirty bidding.”

“I am Luna’s sinister left hoof. Soon, she will have a whole network of sinister left hooves. Shadowbolts. We’re building an army of assassins.” Bucky watched as the zebra airship began to pick up speed.

Keg Smasher nodded. “We’ve talked about it, she and I. She plans to train some of them here. This is a hard land, Luna feels it would make for some hard Shadowbolts.”

“So... brother… you can’t tell me who Luna has been training here?” Bucky looked at Keg Smasher and raised an eyebrow.

“Gelding Grotto is not a nice place to visit.” Keg Smasher winced. “Or having Luna send some spook like you. You’d do it too… you called me a tyrant and whacked me with a cheese wheel for just trying to get you to calm down and cease your bloody rebellion.”

“I was a little drunk.” Bucky shrugged.

“You smacked me with a bloody two hundred pound cheese wheel!” Keg Smasher’s bellow echoed in the snow.

“I was a whole lot drunk.” Bucky kicked the snow with his talons, breaking the crust of ice.

“One Myrmidon. One big bloody feckin’ Myrmidon. A male. Plus a compliment of lunar pegasi and a few unicorns. A dozen troops in total.” Keg Smasher whinnied and nickered from nervousness. “I’m a dead pony.”

“Oh that’s bad… I mean, it could be worse, she could have selected a female, or she might have had more Myrmidons, but just one is enough to ruin any chance I have of winning. Ripple is going to be crushed. The Raptors make good scouts… and assassins. But they are not front line fighters.” Bucky slumped down and his ears drooped.

“Luna speaks highly of your wee Raptors.” Keg Smasher gave his friend a reassuring nudge. “Cheer up… ya look like a kicked foal.”

“She does?” Bucky gave Keg Smasher an incredulous look.

“Aye lad… in time, she hopes that more of the wee little ones will take up service. Luna sees potential for shadows and spooks. Blades in the dark. Things that the bigger pegasi and griffons might not be good at.”

“You have no idea how much better that makes me feel… doesn’t help that I still have to figure out how to break the news to Ripple that we’ve lost.” Bucky sighed and watched as the zebra ship began to shrink as it flew away.

“Come on lad… it is bloody cold out here. Let’s go have a drink. Coffee… for both of us. There’s been enough booze pickling our brains as of late.”

 

 

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