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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Standing at the edge of her bed, Bucky looked down at Shaquah and smiled. Reaching out with his talons, he touched the side of her neck, stoked it in a gentle gesture of affection, and focused on her eyes. “How are you feeling?”

The griffoness’ crest rose a little and she squirmed, still having some trouble looking into the eyes of another. Reaching out with her good foreleg, she touched Bucky on the side of his neck, much in the same way that he was doing to her. “I am well, my king. Out of all of us that got hurt, I think I got hurt the least, but I think I was the most vulnerable to the paralytic effects.”

“Everybirdy made it out… and for that, I am glad.” Bucky stepped away from the bed to give Shaquah a little space.

“You’re not angry because we failed?” Shaquah asked.

“Why would I be?” Bucky replied as he shook his head. He belched and made a sour grimace as his stomach acted up.

“I guess I am so used to being punished for failure… I don’t know.” Shaquah sighed and her crest fell flat upon her head. “Sentinel saved us. He kept us together right up until the end. He was the only one of us not wearing armor but he used his body to shield us anyway. I don’t know how I feel about it.”

“I think the real heroes here are all of you. You worked together. You stuck together. And you obeyed Sentinel’s commands. You worked as a group and all of you are alive to show for it,” Bucky said in a reassuring, warm voice to the griffoness. “As a regiment, the Raptors still have a long ways to go, but all of you show much promise.”

Shaquah closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them to look at Bucky. “Do you think we’ll ever be recognised as an actual, official regiment? We failed. We did okay with the wyverns, but when it came down to a real threat, we got beaked.”

“I think…” Bucky paused in his reply for a moment to make his stomach stop churning and he tried to swallow the foul taste lingering the back of his throat. “I think that you did better than you realise. Just give it time… and don’t give up.”

 

 

Pushing his way into Sentinel’s room, Bucky saw Sunset Shimmer. She was laying on a cot, having a bit of a snuggle with Tourmaline. Sentinel was in the bed, gobbling down hospital food with reckless abandon.

There was too much evidence that there was something somewhat off with Sentinel.

“I was just helping Tourmaline recharge her batteries,” Sunset Shimmer said when she saw Bucky. “Cadance isn’t here and Tourmaline was feeling a little depleted. Tourmaline tells me that this is a good test of her abilities.”

“Minion… report.” Bucky smiled at Tourmaline and then sat down in the chair beside Sentinel’s bed so that he could listen.

“Master… well, I entered the sewer and I followed the spider golem swarms. The rotocopter golems provided valuable air support. The lurkers had moved back down to the lower levels, and it didn’t take long to get them riled up again. They came at us in force. I turned into a cockatrice, but couldn’t petrify anything, which is weird. I can turn into a dragon and get dragonbreath… Master, any idea why this is?”

“Dragonbreath is bio-magi-logical… there are chemicals, mana, clacker organs. Petrification beams are entirely magical,” Bucky replied. “I’m still growing my clacker organs, but Twilight says they are coming along nicely.”

“Oh… that makes sense… thank you, Master.” Sunset Shimmer bowed her head for a moment before she continued: “I had to fight against my nature and I turned myself into a small serpentine ice drake. It was supremely difficult because I am so strongly fire aligned. One of the most difficult self transmutations I’ve ever done. My drake body was utterly immune to acid attacks and paralysis and I was able to spit icicles at lurkers. Went down deep into the depths, way, way down, and found the main nest. Found a ratigator queen… she was too big to come up to the surface anymore, so her little rat alligator army was bringing her food. The golems and I killed her. She had to be over forty feet long. We smashed all the eggs and then we purged the surrounding area. The golems are still combing the sewer, crawling through places that I could not go, looking for teeny tiny hatchlings.”

“Ugh, worrisome.” Bucky shuddered and looked over at Sentinel, who was now almost done gobbling down his breakfast tray. He rubbed his stomach and wished the pressure would go away. Stress of any sort made his new biology upset.

“He’s gonna burp fire again… it’s awesome,” Tourmaline said and then began to giggle.

 

 

His expression both stern and serious, Lugus studied the two griffons before him. He first looked over Callum, who trembled a little as Lugus looked at him, and averted his eyes down to the floor. Next, Lugus looked at Branwen, gave her a nod, and was pleased to see that Branwen returned eye contact. At least, she did for a moment. With a nervous huff, the griffoness averted her eyes and stared down at the hospital green tile floor as her wings fluttered.

“Both of you distinguished yourselves down in the sewers. After listening to the reports of the others, I must say, I am impressed by both of you.” Lugus’ beak clicked as the big griffon leaned forward. “Callum, I dare say that you have the sharpest eyes available in our ranks. You have distinguished yourself as our messenger, but you have proven yourself as a sniper. If it was just one griffon telling me about the shots you made with a crossbow, I might not have believed them… but several tell of how you made some very difficult shots under trying conditions. For this, you have been promoted to the rank of Wing Corporal and you have earned the designation of sniper. You have proven yourself as a Raptor. It has become clear that you were never intended as a melee combatant; this is a much better role for you.” Lugus extended his wing and saluted.

Callum, overcome with emotion, said nothing, but extended his own wing and returned the salute. His talons twitched and his claws clicked upon the floor.

Lugus turned his attention to the albino griffoness. “Branwen, under pressure, you thought only of the health of your fellow Raptors. You managed the limited medical supplies that were available, making certain that there was enough to go around. You were even injured, as you did nothing to defend yourself as you looked after of one of your patients, and you used your own body to shield Freyja after she fell.” Lugus looked down at Branwen’s bandaged hind leg and then raised his gaze to look Branwen in the face. “For this, you are being assigned as the team’s medic and it is now your responsibility to learn how to care for your fellow Raptors. You have also earned a promotion to the rank of Wing Corporal for your actions.” Once more, Lugus raised his wing in salute.

With a soft, surprised squawk, Branwen returned the salute. “I will throw myself into my duties, sir. I will not let you down.”

“Both of you… pay attention and listen to what I have to say,” Lugus said in a somewhat gruff, serious voice. “Neither one of you have shown much in the way of combat prowess. Callum, you are as dovelike as your appearance. Branwen, you lived a soft, spoiled, pampered life as a pet. But it was both of you that have proven yourself as Raptors. There is more to war and combat than fighting, and I want both of you to think about why you were promoted and the value that both of you have to your fellow Raptors. Sometimes, those who seem like the least of us are the most valuable because of their skills, because of what they have to offer. Both of you have distinguished yourselves in combat, enough so that I am impressed. Now that you have shown yourselves as being capable, I will be expecting a whole lot more from you. Both of you are dismissed.”

“Sir, thank you, sir,” Callum said in a low gritty voice as he lifted his head and looked Lugus in the eye. “I will do everything I can to stop the danger before it reaches my teammates.”

“Come on Callum, let’s go get a cup of coffee,” Branwen said as she patted Callum on the back with her wing.

 

 

“Oh my gosh… you are such an adorable little pegasus… I could just cuddle-wuddle your feathers right off!”

Hearing giggles, Bucky looked up from the newspaper he was reading and glanced at Sunset Shimmer, who was waving Peekaboo around in her magic. Sentinel was watching and smiling. Yew Wood was sitting in a chair in the other corner of the room and clapping her front hooves together. In the bed, lying beside Sentinel, Tourmaline gave a snort but did not wake.

Bucky’s eyes returned to his paper, where he read about the need for environmentalism, responsibility, and the monsters living down in the sewers below Baltimare. A lot of ponies had a lot to say about the subject, and everypony seemed to be pointing hooves at everypony else, with the blame being leveled at several large, local companies.

The most hated local culprit seemed to be the manufacturers of the self cooking instant dinner for bachelors and bachelorettes. The dinner was kept in your freezer until you wanted to eat it. To heat it, all one had to do was slam it down upon the counter, where a small alchemical packet would get activated, produce immense heat, and cook the dinner in its foil container.

As it turned out, the company had a long laundry list of problems; employee abuse, poor wages, unsafe working conditions, questionable food safety practices, there was all manner of horrible in the paper, but one thing was missing.

Something that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were guilty.

For Bucky, the pharmaceutical companies were far more suspect; they had some dangerous compounds and the large, powerful companies produced far more toxic waste than a small time food production outfit.

A very paranoid thought passed through Bucky’s mind. What if the pharmaceutical companies were paying the reporters to stir up blame and create a scapegoat so that they might go unnoticed? Bucky scowled and rumpled his newspaper. It was now a troubling paranoid thought that wouldn’t go away, and Bucky didn’t like how reasonable it seemed the more he thought about it.

Conspiracy theories were important; he had been learning the fine art of creating a conspiracy from Luna. Conspiracy theories usually held a grain of truth to them, somewhere, but the deluge of false details and foo were so overwhelming that any message of truth was lost in the bovine excrement being shoveled into the story. Anypony that talked about the story was labeled as a crack pot. It kept ponies with dangerous opinions from having any sort of meaningful credibility and was how the Lunar Court maintained the many secrets and shadowy aspects of the Crown. Carefully woven conspiracy theories, a little mind control, and the surgical application of dream magic were how certain situations were managed and kept under wraps.

Like the Black Cloaks, who had remained a rumour for so long and were still almost all rumour and myth. They were now acknowledged, Twilight Sparkle wanted the group to be known to the public, believing that fear would keep certain ponies in line. So now, the Black Cloaks existed, but nopony knew what they did for certain. It was all wild speculation, rumours, stories, carefully created urban legends manufactured by Luna, urban legends that were spun by dimwits, and ignorant blathering conspiracy theorists who took all of the foo regarding the Black Cloaks and spun it into a magnificent yarn that was almost all categorically untrue.

Bucky was bothered by Twilight Sparkle’s position that fear would keep undesirable elements in line. Fear had not stopped the cultists or the more dangerous elements of society.

Fear didn’t keep certain ponies in line… vanishing kept certain ponies in line.

“Peekaboo… I’m gonna huggle-wuggle the blue right off of your adorable little body-wody!”

Sighing, Bucky ignored his apprentice and kept reading his paper.

 

 

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