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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With a faint gasp, Sunset Shimmer lifted up the well crafted helmet and began to examine it, her opal eyes darting from detail to detail, admiring the golden metal. It was light, had a strange, soothing warmth that it radiated, and something about it was pleasant to touch with her magic. She swung the visor up and down, hearing no squeaks, admiring the mechanical hinge.

She looked over at Rising Star, who stood nearby, a proud expression upon his face. “This looks like the golden armor of the royal guard. It’s beautiful.”

“Actually,” Rising Star replied, flexing his knees as his eyes widened. “The golden armor of the royal guards is modeled after this stuff. But their golden armor is not the real thing, but a replica.”

“Huh?” Sunset Shimmer set down the helmet.

“This is radiant steel. It is very much like moon-silver. It is quite literally sunbeams forged into a special alloy. It can only be made by fey smiths and the ability to create it was lost when the fey unicorns vanished.” Rising Star let out an uncomfortable sounding whinny. “This armor is magical, but cannot be dispelled, not in the usual sense. It is purified. It is highly reflective, just like moon-silver, which means that some magical attacks might be reflected back at the caster, beam spells especially. It will stop most bullets, at least bullets of smaller sizes. This is a suit of armor that truly befits the first Empyrean Paladin.”

Sunset Shimmer felt herself blushing and the scent of sulfur grew stronger.

Rising Star nodded his head at the armor laid out on display. “Everything is ready. Princess Celestia wants for you to be wearing this at the ceremony when when spring is announced. We need to try this on and make certain that is comfortable.”

“I’ve never worn armor before,” Sunset admitted.

“No worries.” Rising Star lifted up the backplate. “This stuff is as light as a sunbeam. No joke!” He smiled, trying to put Sunset at ease. “This is very, very important to Princess Celestia. She wants ponies to see her chosen champion and she wants the papers to get a good look at the new military might that is growing here in Equestria.”

Several griffons had stopped what they had been doing and were now watching, waiting, their little eyes wide with curiousity. Little tails twitched and wings fluttered at little fuzzy sides. Little crests rose. A little unicorn filly came over and sat down with the griffons, a broad, beaming smile upon her muzzle.

The first thing put on was a simple shift of thick, padded cloth barding. When the backplate was set upon her withers and came to rest along her back, Sunset Shimmer felt a strange new emotion welling up within her, an emotion that manifested in the form of a tear that slid down her cheek. Another plate was placed along her belly and her barrel and the two halves clicked together as straps were cinched. Forgiveness, long wanted, had been earned, she had redeemed herself, she had atoned for the terrible things in her past. Princess Celestia was giving her a chance to make a good future for herself. She felt a growing lump in her throat as armored neck plates closed around her throat. More tears fell; not tears of sorrow, or pain, but those of joy.

“Paladin Sunset Shimmer, Bane of the Undead, Scourge of Necromancers,” Rising Star said as he continued his solemn task of dressing Sunset in her armor. He leaned in his head closer to her ear. “How does it feel being connected to the sun and having the blessing of Princess Celestia’s power?”

The question took Sunset by surprise. Her mind raced, trying to come up with some worthwhile answer. “I can cast sunlight now… real sunlight. I can feel Celestia’s magic in me… I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s changed me.”

“It’s changed Loki too,” Firelock said as she watched Rising Star buckle on some greaves. “He feels good about life now.”

Sunset nodded as more armor was strapped into place. She did feel better about life. She felt strong, confident, she felt capable. There was nothing that she couldn’t do. She could protect, she could defend. Instead of bringing harm to others, she could prevent harm from happening. Celestia’s powerful magic had manifested the healing arts within Sunset. The young unicorn knew that she had the courage and the conviction needed to deal with the pain. If Bucky could bear the pain of his existence, Sunset reasoned that she could do no less; she now had a powerful weapon to reduce the misery and suffering in the world.

The armor did not feel heavy as Sunset had expected. More of it was being strapped into place. A skirt of metal plates was hung from her cuirass that hung down to her knees on both her front and hind legs. This wasn’t the partial plate that the guards wore, but full plate. Everything on Sunset was covered, from her fetlocks to her chin, but there was a helmet that would soon cover everything else.

“It needs something,” Trixie said as she stood in the door with Bartleby sitting upon her back. The blue unicorn strode forwards, nodding as she examined Sunset. “Trixie is pleased by what she sees, but one thing is missing.”

With a dramatic flourish, Trixie whipped out Sunset Shimmer’s voluminous black cloak and placed it over Sunset’s now armored body, clasping it around her plated neck. She stepped back as Rising Star placed the visored helmet upon Sunset’s head.

“Black and gold are marvellous colours for you,” Bartleby said to Sunset.

“There’s no mirror… how do I look?” Sunset asked.

“You’re very pretty,” Firelock replied as she trotted forwards.

 

 

“Brennus is peeping!” Yew Wood lifted her head and her remaining eye glittered with joy. “He’s peeping! Listen to him! He’s so precious.”

“He’s so tiny,” Broom said. “Just like Bandua.” The unicorn looked down at the tiny, tawny bundle of fluff between Yew’s forelegs. “He looks like his father.”

“I dunno, he has a pony tail, and cute little hoofsies in the back, and I still think those teeny, tiny iddle-widdle wings are going to look like mine.” Yew looked up at Broom and grinned.

“Makes me think of the tales that Alfadir has been telling in the meadhall.” Magpie’s feathers fluffed out. “The great champions of old, the hippogriffs and all the good they did for both griffon and ponykind. I bet Lugus’ cub will be a fighter.”

“Oh, I hope he grows up like his daddy, even if he has a strange name like ‘Brennus.’ He’s certainly cute like his daddy.” Yew Wood leaned down her head and nuzzled her cub with her nose. “He’s not hideous at all.”

“You and Bucky both.” Magpie rolled her eyes. “Ponies.”

“Boadicea keeps surprising me,” Yew said to her companions. “She was feeding Brennus the other day. I caught her in the act. She looked so flustered. When I started to say something, she opened up her beak and started squawking at me and then flew off out of the balcony window.”

“Boadicea’ll make a good mum.” Broom nodded her head. “Now if we can just get her to stop strangling things she don’t like with piano wire.”

The room went silent for a moment and each face darkened as each of them thought about the attack upon the farm. There was a shared glance as they all looked at one another, each eye meeting, each acknowledging the other.

“Lugus still hasn’t said that he’s proud of her for what she did, he still hasn’t forgiven her,” Yew said in a low voice. “It pains her. She knows that what she did was wrong… she disobeyed Lugus’ orders to get to safety, but I still think she did the right thing going to Sentinel’s side. Lugus needs to understand that Boadicea is not the sort that will run away from danger… and that she loves Sentinel.”

“I’ve had enough of this,” Magpie said as her feathers all fluffed out. “Excuse me.”

“Where are you going?” Broom asked.

“I’m about to go tell Lugus off… I’m sick and tired of Boadicea skulking around and fretting because she upset her father,” Magpie replied as she stalked away, her tail slashing through the air.

“Excuse me dearie, but I think’ll go and watch that happen.” Broom smiled at Yew.

Sighing, Yew Wood watched as the mare and the griffoness departed, leaving her alone with Brennus. “Well, now I have you all to myself. Peep for me, my little fuzzy-wuzzy.”

 

 

“Bucky, I don’t mean to impose, but can I stay with you?” Clotho asked. She looked at Bucky, who was huddled over in his favourite chair, wrapped in his cloak and shivering even though the room was warm.

“What?” Bucky, caught by surprise from the question, blinked in confusion. “Why?”

“I… don’t want to be around my other sisters right now. I want to help you. I don’t know if the elixir I brought will help, but I hope it does. If it doesn’t, I plan to keep trying. I want to be closer to Celestia and Luna. I want to be around good ponies again. I… want to feel things again. When one hangs around immortals for too long, emotions cease to have as much meaning,” Clotho replied.

“You are always welcome to stay,” Bucky replied. He saw an expression of pain upon Clotho’s face and something stirred within his heart for her. “What should we call you?”

Clotho looked away from Bucky, her eyes coming to rest upon a bookshelf. “A long time ago, back when the world was young, long before the time of corruption, I came upon a group of earth ponies and their griffon protectors. The earth ponies foraged, living off of the land, and the griffons traveled with them. The earth ponies kept the griffon’s cubs safe while the griffons hunted. They had a good existence with one another, but it was a hard existence.”

“A history lesson was not expected,” Bucky said in a low voice as he curled up in his chair and looked at Clotho, waiting for her to continue.

“I stayed with them for a time. I showed them how to harvest a plant that grew all around them, a plant they called amaranth. The plant produced grain. In time, the earth ponies settled in one place, a beautiful river valley with rich black soil. I showed them how to grow, how to cultivate the amaranth. I used my magic to help them, but I appeared to them as an earth pony. They called me ‘Amaranth’ and began to worship me, knowing that I was different. After they flourished and formed a village, I left them, moving on to help others.”

Clotho sighed, looking sad. She looked Bucky in the eye and shook her head. “Every place I went, it was the same story. I’d go to help, I’d use my magic to help give root to civilisation, and then came the infuriating worship. I don’t know why it bothers me, but it does. I left behind three foals that I had birthed in that village, all of them earth ponies, all of them touched with magic. Same story everywhere I go.”

“So the griffons helped them?” Bucky asked.

“There is no better friend to a farmer than a griffon,” Clotho replied. “The griffons kept pests out of the field. Vermin. Animals that would come and devour the crops of the earth ponies. The griffons also kept the earth ponies safe from the prowling monsters. The earth ponies and the griffons needed one another to survive. Hippogriffs would be born sometimes, a joyous occasion, a reaffirmation of the harmony between the earth ponies and the griffons.”

Bucky closed his eyes for a moment, becoming thoughtful. The griffons must have had a good life with the animals coming to them. With all of the many pests that plagued farmers and destroyed crops, the griffons must have had an endless feast. It might even explain the griffons and their absolute hatred of vermin. Vermin would have destroyed crops and potentially threatened the cubs and foals that the griffons worked to protect. Vermin would have threatened harmony and stability. Bucky’s eyes opened and he looked at Clotho.

“In time, the griffons learned metal working. They made tools to help the earth ponies in their farming efforts. Civilisation grew because ponies and griffons laboured together, offering each other mutual assistance. The world flourished, pushing back the dark and the shadow. The spirit of cooperation allowed them to face any foe, any adversity, any time of hardship.” Clotho reached up and rubbed her neck with a front hoof, her eyes distant and dreamy. Her dull, drab looking brown pelt changed colours, shifting to a soft, almost sooty looking grey. Her straw coloured mane shifted over to a soft, but vibrant shade of pink.

“I suppose that Amaranth is as good as any name to call me. It reminds me of happier times,” Clotho said as her eyes changed from a shade of purple to a brilliant rose coloured hue.

 

 

Seeing that the door was open, Thistle, who had a zebra filly sitting on her back, stepped into Doctor Mawu’s office. She looked around and saw the zebra bocor was at her desk, reading something. Thistle took a deep breath, feeling as though she was intruding, and then said, “Doctor Mawu, do you have a moment?”

“I have a moment,” Doctor Mawu replied. “I will be having a group in about twenty minutes, but I always have a moment for Sukari.” The doctor smiled and waved at the foal on Thistle’s back.

Sukari, seeing another zebra, lifted her hoof and waved back. A faint smile hid on her lips. She slid down from her mother’s back, landed on her four hooves, and then walked over to Mawu, her blue eyes wide and watchful.

“Um, she’s got a mark.” Thistle pointed at Sukari’s backside. “She jumped into the lake and I had to rescue her and then I noticed that the mark was there. Do you know what it means?”

Mawu’s lips pressed into a straight line. “That is not a mark familiar to me. Hold on.” Standing up on her hind legs, she stretched and reached up to grab a book from a bookshelf over her desk. “There are only so many tribal marks… we zebras do not have a wide assortment of tribal marks like your cutie marks.”

Sitting down, the zebra opened the book, which wasn’t very thick, and began flipping through the pages. She looked at Sukari’s backside, examining the three wavy lines, and then peered into the book once more. She stopped flipping when she was almost at the back of the book.

“Those are waves. I have never, ever in my life seen a water tribal mark before. They’re rare,” Mawu said.

“So… water… is she a swimmer?” Thistle asked. Thistle’s head tilted. “Why are water marks rare?”

“Zebra tribal marks aren’t like your cutie marks. A tribal mark doesn’t confine you to a specific purpose. I have a moon mark and I am good at dream magic. Another zebra with a moon mark might be good at fertility magic. The moon and the sun are pretty common marks. Zecora, in the Everfree, she has a sun tribal mark,” Mawu explained.

“So… what does a water mark mean and why are they rare?” Thistle asked.

Mawu’s black ears pivoted forwards and she reached down to give Sukari a loving caress. “Thistle, to understand the rarity of a water tribal mark, you must first understand zebras. We are traditionalists. We follow tradition, sometimes blindly.” The zebra paused for a moment and shook her head. “It is part of the reason why I left home, but I digress.” Mawu reached over her desk, opened up a container, reached in, and pulled out a piece of candy.

Extending her hoof, she gave the bright orange piece of hard candy to Sukari, who slurped it in and began to suck on it. Mawu looked up at Thistle while Sukari was occupied. “Water means many things. Swimming. Irrigation. Meteorology.” Mawu glanced down into the book, blinked, and then looked back up at Thistle once more. “It also means change.”

“Change?” Thistle looked down at her daughter, trying to understand.

“For traditionalists, change is an unwanted element,” Mawu replied.

Thistle’s eyes widened as she made the connection. She looked down at Sukari.

“So this is a very rare mark to have. Most zebras do not swim. We lived on the savannah, in an ocean of endless grass, not water. The book mentions that some irrigation specialists would sometimes get the mark, though most farmers would get an earth mark. Most meteorologists would get a sun or a moon mark.” Mawu paused. “Tribal marks are nebulous things. Typically, it is left for the young zebra to figure out what their mark means to them, usually with some kind of vision quest, or some period of meditation and reflection.”

“Um, why does water represent change?” Thistle asked.

Mawu glanced around her office, trying to think of a good answer. “Think of a river. It is always changing, eroding away where it flows, changing the land, turning mountains into canyons. Water is also a paradoxical element.”

“Um, what?” Thistle shook her head so hard that her ears flapped. “Paradoxical?”

“What falls yet stays where it is?” Mawu asked, smiling at the kelpie before her.

“I have no idea,” Thistle replied.

“A waterfall.” Mawu’s smile became a grin, showing off her square teeth. She patted Sukari on the head as Sukari sucked on her candy. “When my group is over, I’ll come over to the house with a few books on zebra tribal culture for you.”

“Oh, that would be wonderful, thank you.” Thistle paused and looked down at Sukari. “Sukari, say ‘thank you’ to Doctor Mawu for the candy.”

“Thank you,” Sukari said, her left cheek bulging with the ball of hard candy.

 

 

 

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