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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It was a fantastic spring morning. It was warm, without being too warm. There was enough of a breeze to cause a tickle, but it wasn’t windy. There were a few clouds, enough to make the sky beautiful, but not enough clouds to make it overcast. By the sights and the smells around him, Sentinel knew that Ponyville was overcome with spring fever.

Spring fever. A part of him wanted to chase after Diamond Tiara and Boadicea, but he had a job to do. He stood, sniffing, looking around the town, his delicate nose trying to find one scent hiding among hundreds, maybe thousands of others. He had sniffed all around Sand Piper’s room, her toys, her bed, he had pulled her scent from her playthings and her possessions. The unicorn filly had two pegasi as parents and her name, Sand Piper, made a bit more sense after Sentinel had met her parents. He had done his best to assure them both that his nose could sniff out anything.

Dinky and Piña moved with him, both of them were quiet, but enjoying themselves. It was nice to be out and about, even nicer to be out and about with a purpose. Sentinel lifted his head, his nostrils flaring, and his ears pivoted about as he listened to the sounds of the world around him.

Grinning, Sentinel allowed himself to feel a bit of pride—his abilities as a hunter made him feel good about himself. He could sniff out prey, he was learning how to track for those times when his nose failed him for whatever reason, and his senses were far greater than the common solar pony. Around him, he could hear the sounds of hearts beating, the muted, muffled rush of blood flowing through veins and arteries. The sounds of life as it animated a body.

Sentinel took off at a swift trot, his nose to the ground, his ears perked and pointing forwards. He moved through a patch of petunias, tulips, and daffodils. He paused, pressed his nose into a cluster of petunias, inhaled, chuffed, and then took off once more. He moved in a circle around the flowers, following the scent, and then took off in a straight line.

He found himself leaping over a fence and then he was in a garden next door, a small garden with the tender shoots of new growth peeking up out of the rich, brown earth. Sand Piper had come here, her scent was still strong on the soil. He charged through the gate, his ears pointing in the direction where the scent was the strongest.

 

 

“What do you think it’s like to be Sentinel?” Piña asked as she followed after her brother, following a serpentine path that would have baffled most adults but made perfect sense if you were a foal. Adults followed the most efficient path between two points, a foal followed the most interesting path between two points.

“I dunno,” Dinky replied as she moved at a hurried trot to keep up, “but all of the things we think are stinky, Sentinel finds them interesting.”

“How does he do it? I mean, I try sniffing the dirt and all I can smell is dirt.” Piña’s voice lowered and her eyes narrowed. “Getting a nose full of fresh fertiliser is gross.”

Unable to help herself, Dinky began giggling. Ponyville, a rural city, still had outhouses, said outhouses regularly had their basements cleaned out and the contents used as fertiliser. While Piña was wondering what it was like to be Sentinel, Dinky was wondering what it was like to be Piña, an earth pony. The world was waking up all around them, winter was over, and new life was springing up out of the soil. Dinky knew that Piña was feeling something, but Dinky couldn’t feel it herself. Dinky could feel magic connections, she could sense Piña’s connection to the earth, but the ground did not speak to Dinky the way it did to Piña.

“I wonder what Larch is doing,” Piña said, thinking aloud, “and Babs… I can’t stop thinking about them both. It’s strange, but I have all of these funny feelings. Berry Punch says I’m growing up.”

Hearing Piña’s words, Dinky thought of Twist. Twist was her friend, but she had some confusing feelings for Twist. She liked spending time with the filly, she liked hearing Twist’s voice. Twist was smart. Dinky liked smart, but liking smart was confusing, because Piña was smart, but Dinky didn’t think of Piña in that way. It was all so very perplexing, trying to figure everything out. Dinky liked to study with Piña, it was nice, but there was something special about studying with Twist. It made her feel good and she didn’t understand why.

“This spring, Dinky, you are going to be seven.” Piña came to a halt when Sentinel stopped to sniff something, the wooden frame around a gate, which had a few short light brown hairs and a couple of long yellow hairs. “When my birthday comes in the fall, I’ll be nine… which is really weird because it seems like only yesterday when I was seven.”

“When I turned six, I felt so grown up… that was only last year. Now, after everything that has happened, I look back, and I keep thinking about how foalish I was.” Dinky took off at a swift run once more as Sentinel recovered the scent he was looking for.

“I know that feeling,” Piña replied, “I was so scared of everything… I was so skittish. I think back to how I was and I just cringe. I remember how the wolves scared me and I feel so bad that my stomach actually turns over and I feel sick inside. I’m so embarrassed about it.”

Dinky paused, freezing in place, and looked at Piña. After a moment, she looked at the other foals around them, watching them play, and her ears went limp, falling down against her face.

“Dinks?” Piña asked as she came to a stop.

“We’re not like them,” Dinky said to Piña, “after everything we’ve seen and done… the wolves… the Shetland Isles… all of the blood and the fighting… we’d still be like them Piña if life had turned out different. We’d be weak and scared, like we used to be.”

“Dinky, I’m not sure if that’s a nice thing to say, calling them weak and scared.” Piña’s voice was almost a whisper, she didn’t want any of the ponies around them hearing her.

“But it’s true, Piña… think back to how we used to get bullied… we were both so timid. Or if something happened, we’d run and hide just like everypony else our age. We’ve changed, Piña, we’re not like them anymore. We’ve changed and when we look back at how we used to be, we feel sick and disgusted because we know how weak we were.”

“But I… no… I didn’t mean it like that… I just cringe at how I was… I didn’t mean…” Piña stammered in a hesitant voice. “No, Dinky, it isn’t like that at all.” Piña scowled, wishing she could say something else that would convey her feelings better, but she didn’t know what to say. Dinky was right. Piña was embarrassed about her weakness, her fear, she did cringe when she thought about wetting herself because of the wolves howling. Piña was disgusted by the weakness she had shown.

And she knew that she wasn’t like the other foals her own age now, she had seen too much, done too much, had experienced too much, and had grown up too much. She had a hard time relating to other foals her own age. Piña, after thinking for a moment, realised why she liked Babs so much—Babs had experienced some pretty rough and tumble stuff during the collapse, even if Babs couldn’t remember it. It had made Babs tough. Larch was independent for his age. With a defeated sigh, Piña realised that Dinky was probably right.

“I was talking with Rising Star… he said we’ve become shepherds. He told me that some ponies are content to remain in the herd, but some ponies, when danger happens, they become something else. The fighting and the violence changes them and they become shepherds. Rising said that the shepherds live with the herd, but they’re not part of the herd, not exactly. They’re different. They’re scary. And ponies only tolerate them because they need protection. It’s gonna be rough for us, Piña.”

Wide eyed, Piña stared at Dinky, watching as Dinky went prancing off after Sentinel, feeling conflicted, a bit hurt, and sad. There was a ring of truth to Dinky’s words, but Piña didn’t want them to be true. Her lips pressing together into a tight frown, Piña got moving, hurrying after Sentinel and Dinky.

 

 

On the edge of town, Sentinel stopped and looked at the path ahead. The scent trail lead into the Everfree. The Everfree, which had thawed out and was now alive and vibrant with the coming of spring. He tilted his head to one side, his ears perking, and he listened to the sounds coming out of the Everfree.

“Not trying to brag but I think the three of us are scarier than anything in the Everfree,” Piña said as she too, stared at the treeline of the Everfree.

“Piña, that is a dangerous assumption.” Sentinel stretched out his wings and flexed his knees, both front and back.

“I was only kidding, I know the Everfree is dangerous. But I do think we can handle it. If we stay together, we should be fine. Sentinel, you’re good at fighting and Dinky has the magical whammy-jammy to back you up.”

“And what about you, Piña?” Sentinel asked. “What are you sensing? That’s your special ability.”

“How did you know I was sensing something?” Piña blinked at her brother.

Sentinel sat down on the soft earth, his tail swishing around his hind legs as he did so. “I didn’t… but you just confirmed that you are.”

Clever. Piña peered at her brother, he was smart sometimes when he wasn’t doing something stupid. “It’s hard to tell what I’m feeling. There is so much in the Everfree. It’s like a room full of ponies all screaming at once. It’s hard to pick out just one voice. But something weird is out there… that’s all I can say.”

“Prolly something that woke up after hibernating and is hungry,” Dinky said to her siblings, “we’ll have to be careful. I’m thinking we can do this, but I’m scared at what we’ll find.”

“Me too,” Sentinel replied, peering into the Everfree forest. “I’m not worried about fighting, but if Sand Piper has been killed by something, we’re going to have to be the bearer of bad news to her parents.”

“This is the job we were sent to do.” Piña swallowed, feeling a little worried, and she leaned up against Dinky for support. “This is part of our community service and a good chance for us to learn something. Not everything we do will have a happy ending. We might as well figure out now how we will deal with something if it ends badly.”

“We go in, we stick together, we stay glued to one another, and we bring Sand Piper back, alive if possible. Dinky, keep your magic ready. Piña, I’m depending on your senses… if you feel that something is wrong, you say something. Even if you are wrong or mistaken, it is better to be forewarned than be caught by surprise. And we stick together.” Sentinel stared at his sisters, the sunlight glinting off of his glasses.

“And if something wants to eat us?” Dinky asked.

“I’ll rip them apart… you and Piña stick together… Piña, use your magic if something gets too close, and Dinky, you do the same. I think we’ll be fine if we use our heads,” Sentinel replied.

Rising, Sentinel took off, moving with cautious hesitation towards the treeline of the Everfree. Dinky and Piña, sides touching, moved together, almost as if they were one pony, and they followed after their brother, Sentinel. The trio crossed the threshold of the Everfree, facing the dangerous forest together.

 

 

 

 

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