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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Aboard a ship named The Season of the Bitch, which happened to be a diamond dog vessel, Bucky did his best to relax in strange surroundings. The Scorned Mare was back with the rest of the fleet, serving as a base of operations for the Shadowbolts.

The diamond dogs took a very stark approach to shipbuilding, and Bucky found that he rather liked the bare bones aesthetic. This ship had started its life in the Sea of Grass, had been purchased by the K-Neun Army of Germaney, stripped bare down to the hull, and rebuilt.

The ship was a bit chaotic as it had dogs and cats living together. Quite a number of Keg Smasher’s Griffon Remnants Army was stationed aboard, most of them hunters. All of them were hard cases, of this there could be no doubt. Many were missing an eye, or talon finger or two, or sometimes missing whole limbs. They were a battered lot, well seasoned, and had seen extensive combat against the enemy griffons during the archipelago engagement.

Bucky was proud to know them.

“Sir.”

Bucky turned to address the growly voice. A short but heavy set diamond dog stood at attention. Behind him, a much taller diamond dog stood, holding a wooden box. The short diamond dog’s arms were longer than his hind legs and the width of his shoulders appeared to be almost the same as his height. His forearms had to be larger than Bucky’s own neck. “Yes?”

“The K-Neun Army of Germaney has a gift for you, a sign of respect. For both you and Queen Belisama.”

“A gift?”

The taller diamond dog kneeled down, opened the wooden box, and the shorter diamond dog reached inside. He pulled out a spiked helmet and held it out to Bucky.

“A salad bowl!” Bucky grinned.

Both diamond dogs laughed and the taller one began to chortle.

“This is a pickelhaube, the traditional helmet of our soldiers. It is heavy, well made, can be used to beat your enemies to death, and this one is plated in nickel, making it extra shiny. Only officers and commanders get shiny nickel plating. Very desireable!” The shorter diamond dog let go of the helmet when he felt the tug of magic upon it and watched as Bucky placed it upon his head. “There is a second one for Queen Belisama.”

Turning around, the shorter diamond dog pulled a smaller pickelhaube out of the wooden box and held it out towards Bucky. Extending his field of levitation, Bucky accepted the gift and passed it back to Belisama, who wasted no time and put it on. The griffoness began cinching the strap that ran down under her beak.

“You say these are functional and will protect our heads?” Belisama asked.

The taller diamond dog nodded.

Her crest rising, Belisama pulled out Muninn from its sheath. With a flick of her wrist, she flipped the revolver around, grabbed it by the barrel, and with one swift motion, she hammered down the grip onto the back of Bucky’s helmet. There was a metallic ringing sound.

“Hey!” Bucky shouted, startled by the blow.

“Not even a dent,” Belisama said. She reached out and rubbed Bucky’s neck with her right talons as her left talons slid Muninn back into it’s oiled canvas sheath.

“Good wife. Checks gear and makes sure that it is safe. Very desireable in a mate,” the short diamond dog said.

“She just pistol whipped me.” Bucky craned his head around to look at Belisama.

“Pistol whipping for good reason. Very romantic,” the taller diamond dog said.

Reaching out, Belisama patted Bucky on the snoot. “I had to make sure that your helmet would keep your brain safe. I feel better knowing for certain.” She saw Bucky smile and felt her heart start pounding in a most familiar way.

The moment was interrupted by an alarm klaxxon going off, which made a deafening “AAAAAAOOOOOGAH!” sound. The wooden box was dropped and the taller diamond dog took off sprinting.

“Proximity alarm… what in Tartarus?” The shorter diamond dog looked panicked. “Is there a malfunction? That should only go off if there is an enemy right on top of us—”

The diamond dog was interrupted by a deafening explosion and the whole ship shuddered. Belisama reached out and grabbed Bucky’s mane to steady herself.

“How can this be? We should have a warning alarm to let us know an enemy vessel was approaching!” the diamond dog shouted as he took off running.

 

 

“Situation,” Bucky said in a calm voice as he stepped onto the command room.

“Sir, a ship just appeared in the middle of our formation—”

“Are you telling me a ship just teleported on top of us?” Bucky asked, shaking his head. He wobbled as there was another explosion, but kept his balance. “That’s impossible, you can’t teleport an airship, it’s too big!”

“Sir, that is what happened!”

THE AASFRESSER IS TORN IN TWO, SHE’S GOING DOWN!”

“Fliegen welpin scheiße!”

“Pull away, hard to starboard, gain altitude so our gasbag is above their line of fire!” Bucky commanded as he looked out and saw the enemy vessel that was just yards away from the window.

“Shields are holding but the arcano tech batteries are draining fast,” a griffon reported. “We’re in the yellow and approaching red!”

The whole ship rocked as another nearby ship exploded. Bucky understood that the old tactics of clustering together to have safety in numbers was now working against them. To open fire on the enemy vessel meant that they could risk hitting one of their own. Under normal tactics, staying clustered together for safety worked. Approaching vessels were met with bristling offense.

As the ship climbed and pulled away, Bucky had a good view of the enemy vessel. The gasbag was struck by a lightning gun, it ripped into the aluminum with ease. A blossom of fire erupted from the sundered gasbag.

In a fraction of a second, Bucky realised that the gasbag was not filled with cloudstuff, but hydrogen. Already the flames were blooming into a massive fireball. He felt the deck plate beneath his hooves shudder.

Acting on reflex, Bucky dropped into shadow, pulling Belisama with him. He retreated into his cloak, his mantle of living darkness, and then he shadow winked away as the blossoming fireball overtook The Season of the Bitch.

 

 

Bucky winked back into existence quite some distance away. He felt Belisama clutching his neck, she was trembling. His cloak protected him in the daylight, but Bucky felt weak. His shadow magic was being taxed by trying to fly and hover in the daylight.

He watched as the fleet of seventeen ships fell to earth, all of them burning and broken. Hundreds of lives had just ended. Off in the distance, on the distant horizon, he saw another massive explosion. Bucky could only guess that somehow, another ship had been teleported into the middle of another formation of airships.

He felt a lump rise in his throat. This was impossible. He did not understand how this could be happening. The magical power to teleport something as large as an airship was incalculable, impossible, inconceivable.

“You okay?” Bucky asked.

“I’m alright,” Belisama replied in a soft squeak.

“We’re in trouble Belisama… the fleet is several hundred miles behind us. The forward advance… I have a feeling that most of them are gone. It’s daylight, and that’s bad for me. Once it is night, I can get us back to the fleet in no time.”

“We get down to ground level and we hide.” Belisama wondered how they were staying up in the air, but that was a question for another time. “They’re all dead, aren’t they?”

“Probably,” Bucky replied. As he spoke, there was yet another horrendous explosion off on the distant horizon where another formation of airships had been pushing forward towards the mountains. More ships were now going down in flames and hundreds more lives had just been lost. Feeling fatigued, in both a mental and physical sense, Bucky angled himself towards the ground, his cloak fluttering around him like wings.

 

 

Against his better judgment, Bucky crept forward towards the crash site, working his way through the trees. Flaming wreckage lie ahead and the forest was burning. Even though he knew that he would find none, Bucky hoped that there would be survivors. Even if the flames did not kill them, the fall would have. The ships had been over a mile in the air.

As he made his way to the wreckage, Bucky put out any patches of fire in his way, keeping Belisama and himself safe. He couldn’t put out the entire blazing forest fire, the expense of magic would be immense, but he was able to protect himself from the flames.

There were pieces of ships scattered everywhere, most of them quite small. Some pieces were larger. Bucky peered around and came to the dreadful conclusion that he would find no life in this dreadful inferno, but he already knew that.

Bucky came across a large section of keel, the very bottom part of a ship. It was charred and black, dented, and a part of it had crumpled. There was a gaping tear in the side. Curious, he stepped through the tear and made his way inside of the fallen section of airship.

 

 

Bucky illuminated the dark space with his horn so Belisama could see. It was hot in here, but his magic kept him safe. He smelled burning hair. There were no fires in here, just immense heat. He crawled through another hole ripped through a bulkhead and entered into a wide open space. The walls all around him were crumpled.

The room was full of horror. Belisama let out a frightened peep.

The broken bodies of several unicorns lay upon what used to be a wall, but now served as the floor. Some had been torn free, but others still had magic collectors around their horns. Feeding tubes snaked up their noses. They were emaciated looking, and almost all of them were hairless.

In the corner of the room there was a large crystal sphere that was somehow undamaged. Bucky went over to examine it. He could feel Belisama quaking in terror upon his back. Looking around, he saw crystalline fibre cables, conduits, more magic collectors, and the torn remains of slings that had once held bodies.

The crystal sphere still pulsed in the faint spark of magic. As Bucky examined it, he realised what all of this was. The airship had been a golem powered by unicorns. Expendable unicorns. It was a grim realisation, one that shocked Bucky, and then he had a second revelation.

He figured out how the ships had managed to teleport. The ships were not constrained by arcano tech batteries, but living unicorn batteries. There were over a dozen in this room with him, and Bucky had no idea how many more had been on this ship.

“Belisama, I think we’re in big trouble,” Bucky said in a low voice.

“I figured that out on my own, thanks,” Belisama replied. Her voice sounded brave, defiant event, but her trembling body gave away her real feelings.

“Belisama, those unicorns you see, those were living batteries. This ship was an automated golem. I’m pretty sure that is how it was able to teleport into the middle of our formation. Probably from miles away, outside of our threat detection range. We need to get back to the main fleet and tell them about this. We’ll need to change our tactics and how we position our ships. And we’ll need to figure out how to fight an enemy with vastly superiour technology.”

“Bucky, I want to be away from this place… please, can we go? I don’t like the smell,” Belisama said in a pleading voice.

The immense heat was cooking the bodies around them. Bucky nodded, took a final look at the crystal sphere, the cables, the conduits, an entire system of powerful magic built upon the exploitation of those too weak to defend themselves. It made him feel sick to his stomach to think about it.

Turning away, Bucky began to climb back out of the wreckage.

 

 

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