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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Home. It was terrifying to go home. Fearful of what might be waiting for him, Bucky continued homewards, shadow winking through the darkness, a shade borne upon the currents of the night, tugging the odd magical amplifier along with him. Already, he was feeling a compulsion to place it over his horn, but the call was weak and he ignored it.

The lights of home were visible. He saw the school, the farmhouse, his tower, the small tower in which Witching Hour and Tiddlywinks lived, as well as the other buildings that dotted the landscape. Further on in the distance was Ponyville, a sparkling jewel embedded in snow made silver by moonlight. For a moment, Bucky paused, hovering upon wings made of shadowstuff, and he looked over the places he called home. Tilting his head, he saw Canterlot in the distance. Canterlot had once been the city light, a shining beacon upon Canterhorn peak. Much of the city was dark now; it had suffered so much in the past year and continued to undergo so many changes.

Canterlot had been his home, along with Baltimare, where the Bitters family estate houses were located. Feeling a pang of regret, Bucky came to the conclusion that Canterlot deserved a better fate. Canterlot was a city impossible, built upon a rock shelf on top of a mountain, with no space around the immediate area for farmlands, no means to grow its own food, it was difficult to get water up into the city, it was just barren rock that ponies insisted on turning into a city. The gems that had once made the city wealthy were long gone; the mountain had almost been hollowed out by the mining. Canterlot was a city sustainable only through magic and insanity. After some time spent upon reflection, Bucky realised that Canterlot was a city of defiance; a city built and then sustained to show that it could be done.

Tearing his eyes away from the dim lights of Canterlot, Bucky headed home.

 

 

As he descended, Bucky saw a collection of figures waiting for him, including a tall white alicorn. For a moment, he entertained the notion of escape, but he had no idea where to go. He drifted downwards, aware that his presence had been detected. He dropped out of shadow, fell several feet, and landed in the snow, his cloak settling around his body.

Celestia was striding forwards, she must have came when Shining Armor had told her what had been done, and she was moving. There was no point in running, Bucky heaved a sigh and stood there, resigning himself to whatever was about to happen.

Behind Celestia, now very much awake, Twilight Sparkle also moved with a great deal of hustle and bustle in her step. Her expression was unreadable and Bucky supposed that he had it coming. Standing nearby, Shining Armor’s projection flickered as he watched his sister move.

It was so very easy to feel so very small around Princess Celestia. She was a tall pony, but more than that, she had a presence, something about her that made her seem even larger, ever taller than her actual height suggested.

When Bucky felt himself snatched up into the air by magic, he went limp, offering no resistance. He closed his eyes, waiting for it. A moment later, he felt himself pressed against a warm body and there were two wings wrapped around him. Celestia’s knees buckled and Bucky found himself down in the snow, pressed to Celestia’s neck, her wings tight around him, and he realised that she was crying.

A second later, a very solid mass collided with the both of them, and Bucky, who could see nothing, realised it was Twilight Sparkle. A warm sense of pleasant confusion settled into Bucky’s mind as he came to the conclusion that he might live through this act of stupidity.

“You stupid little pony! What were you thinking?”

Whoops, Celestia still sounded angry…

He was let go of, lifted again, held aloft, and Bucky felt himself being turned around so he could be looked at. For a moment, he saw Celestia’s magenta eyes, there was a deep ocean filled with frantic worry to be found within them as she looked him over, her eyes darting back and forth as she no doubt took in every detail. He was spun around and he felt a wing touch his cheek, his good cheek, and he saw Celestia looking into his eyes.

“You seem whole of body…”

“Shining Armor shielded me. I’m fine,” Bucky said in a tiny, forgiveness seeking voice. He glanced at Twilight, who was beside Celestia in the snow. “I brought you home a present.” Bucky held aloft the weird magical amplifier and gave it an enticing shake.

“What do you say, Twilight? Do we forgive him?” Celestia asked.

“I already have,” Twilight replied as she rose up onto her hooves.

Also rising up, Celestia stood in the snow, her expression one of anger and relief. She took the amplifier out of Bucky’s levitation bubble and began to examine it. Her eyes narrowed and her ears pinned back against her head. She shook her head and her eyes widened.

“This is an Element of Harmony,” Celestia said, her voice a stunned gasp.

The world around Bucky vanished.

 

 

The endless grey expanse of the astral realm stretched out in all directions. The sky was filled with stars. Bucky, now in alicorn form, floated over the clouds beneath his hooves. Twilight was a short distance away, and Celestia was studying Bucky’s prize.

The alicorn blazed as bright as the sun. She moved around the aether, almost as if she was swimming, calling down stars from overhead. They moved around her in a circular orbit, and the Element of Harmony was now a glowing red gemstone. It glowed with fierce intensity when Celestia drew it closer.

“What secrets do you have?” Celestia asked as her horn ignited with a radiant golden glow. The alicorn's face became serene, composed, and Celestia’s eyes closed as she began to concentrate.

After what felt like a brief eternity, Celestia’s face filled with worry and her eyes opened. “You are all wrong… everything about you is wrong…”

“Celestia?” Twilight asked as she drifted closer.

Pushing the gem away from her with her magic, Celestia shook her head. “Too much goodness is just as bad as too much evil. Too much harmony is just as bad as total disharmony. In all things a balance must be struck. This gem is the very essence of purity. Dangerously so.”

Reaching out a hoof, Celestia tapped a glowing star that orbited around her. It became a projection screen, and as it took shape a glowing tether of magic connected to the fierce red gem. Images danced upon the projection screen, and then other stars became projection screens. Flickering images filled the screens, and Celestia began to arranged them all around her in an almost spherical pattern. She pulled Bucky and Twilight closer to her side.

“Let us go with something recent,” she said as she tapped a screen with her hoof.

The projection flickered and the gem pulsed with light. On the screen, a dark image formed, difficult to see, but an alicorn came into focus. He had a stern face with fierce looking eyes. He was staring, and Bucky realised as he looked at it that he was seeing out of somepony’s eyes, looking into the eyes of the Night Stallion himself.

“I have grown weary of your constant boasting, your arrogance, and your whiny screeching. It is time to see if you are the pony that you claim to be,” the Night Stallion said in a voice that seemed to be devoid of any warmth or emotion.

“Yes, Night Stallion. For you, anything,” a voice replied.

“Go forth with a message. Announce yourself. Show them their weakness. Let them fear you, so that it might weaken them. Once they know you are there, go and kill the one called ‘Twilight Sparkle,’ for she is a threat to us. She is weak and spineless but she is their alicorn of magic. Kill her before she realises that she is dangerous.”

“Yes, Night Stallion, I will do as you ask…”

Reaching out, Celestia tapped the screen, freezing the image. Her lip was pulled back in a snarl. She shook her head and her eyes blazed with actual flames. Celestia touched the image again, shoving it away, and she began to look around her at other images projected on moving magical tapestries.

Bucky saw a familiar sight. It looked an awful lot like some greater demon, big, bloated, fat, and greasy.

Pulling the image upwards for a better look, Celestia set it in motion. There were several alicorns on the image, all of them battling what had to be demon lord from beyond the mirror. One of the alicorns was picked up and then impaled upon a shard of stone rubble.

“Wait!” Bucky cried. “Go back!”

Celestia made the image go backwards a bit and then let it play forwards, only this time the image was slowed down and easier to see.

Bucky waited, pointing, until the alicorn was just being slammed onto the spike of rock. “There! Did you see it? He had something on his horn but when he was impaled, it vanished and you can see his wings fading away.”

Replaying the image again, the trio examined what Bucky had noticed.

“The elements must go back to their source if something happens to their bearer,” Twilight Sparkle said. “Except we still have this element… I guess they can’t jump dimensions. I wonder if the Night Stallion realised that the element would not come back if the worst happened?”

“I do believe he has made a mistake,” Celestia said in a low voice. “He is arrogant and horrible… foolish even.” She shook her head. “But this element is all wrong… it is a dreadful thing.”

“We know that their Elements of Harmony gives their bearers the appearance of alicorns,” Twilight Sparkle said. “Probably because alicorns are the embodiment of harmonic order… I dunno… but I am getting ideas.”

“We don’t know what we have.” Bucky peered at the glowing red gemstone and he had a strong desire to touch it now. The compulsion was strong.

Gasping, Twilight Sparkle covered her mouth with her hoof as she looked at another screen. Reaching down with her other hoof, she touched it, setting the images in motion.

On the screen, row after row of unicorns were kept in tiny narrow stalls. Hundreds of stalls stretched on and on in a long corridor. Crystalline fibre cables were connected to their horns. Their eyes were milky, almost dead and lifeless. Their bodies were held up by slings hung under their bellies and under their heads. Their bodies were almost colourless, emaciated looking, and feeding tubes went down their noses.

“Tell me, Sunfire, do you pity them?” The Night Stallion’s voice was unmistakable.

“No, Night Stallion, I do not. They were the weak ones. As they were, they were too weak to live, too weak to fight, too weak to be of service. But now, they have been given the greatest of all gifts, strength, they get to serve and keep our city alive.”

“Sunfire, sacrifices must be made. All of these hungry mouths would have killed us. These insignificant souls would have been the death of us all. Keeping them alive as they were would have been folly. The magical might of one insignificant unicorn is nothing, it is a drop of water in a desert.” The Night Stallion shook his head. “But the magical might of thousands of insignificant unicorns linked together is what shields our city, keeps our air breathable, free of poison, keeps our water flowing, gives us light, gives us power, allows us to survive another day, keeps the darkness away, and helps our portals to be powered up. They serve a noble purpose, and truly, they are now the greatest among us. They give us life. Together, they are an ocean, and the ocean was a mighty thing, but I don’t suppose you remember what the ocean was. Do you understand, Sunfire?”

“Yes, yes I understand, Night Stallion,” the unknown voice replied.

“Of course you do, Sunfire. This is why you have been chosen as the Element of Obedience. I have a job that you must do, and you are uniquely suited for it,” the Night Stallion said. “You will have the glory of ensuring that others live. You will become one of the greatest among us.”

Reaching out, Celestia touched the screen, silencing it, unable to hear anymore. She turned away, unable to look at it. Her eyes were filled with sorrow, and the first sign of coming tears manifested as her eyes began to glisten with moisture, the fire that had been blazing in them having gone out.

Realising what the gemstone was, Twilight stared at it with a horrified expression. “This is monstrous…” She shook her head and a fearful expression escaped her quivering lips. “Get it away from me, I don’t want to touch it, even by accident!”

“He’s using them as batteries,” Bucky said, sounding a bit strangled. His voice was raspy. He thought about the long row of filthy stalls, each one holding a unicorn, each one a tiny spark of magic. He felt numbed and an icy cold sensation settled into his guts. Right now, more than anything, he wanted to be in bed surrounded by his wives and foals.

“Perfect harmony quells all forms of dissent, bringing about unquestioning obedience,” Celestia said as she stared at the gem. A tear rolled down her cheek. “Survival through extreme circumstances will cause you to do horrible things. We should not judge them too harshly.”

Bucky disagreed, but he said nothing. He had come home expecting wing slaps, but had been hugged instead, and the recent revelation had left him in a peculiar state. He wasn’t in the mood to disagree or argue.

“It’s red…” Twilight said, covering her face with her front hooves. She began to sob. “It’s red… it’s a ruby...”

“Twilight, what is wrong?” Celestia asked, wrapping her wing around Twilight and pulling the smaller alicorn closer.

Distraught, Twilight Sparkle did not reply, but let out a pained screech. She buried her face against Celestia’s neck and wept. She screamed once, then twice, and then just sobbed.

Eyeing the red gemstone, Bucky understood. He felt a heaviness in his heart as he reached the same conclusion that Twilight Sparkle had. “Rainbow Dash, a pony that Twilight Sparkle loves so very much, is the Element of Loyalty. Perfect loyalty is unquestioning obedience.”

Recoiling as if she had been struck, the muscles along Celestia’s jaw tightened as she pulled Twilight Sparkle away from the red ruby gemstone. All around her, the projection screens popped out of existence, becoming stars once more, which streaked off to the astral sky.

“This should have been a victory… but I just feel hollow and empty inside,” Bucky said.

 

 

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