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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“Mommy?”

Princess Celestia closed her eyes, savouring the sweetest word she knew. Tourmaline’s voice a comfort to her in her most troubled times. And now, now was a troubled time. The pain in her heart was almost too much to bear.

“Mother, you are unwell.”

The words were not a question. There was no hiding anything from Tourmaline. She knew. She always knew. Celestia heard the sound of tiny hooves approaching. Opening her eyes, she saw a jet black filly with a pink mane, a pink tail, and glasses with bright green frames.

“I know what troubles you,” Tourmaline said. “It’s her. Knowing that she is near gives me the heebie jeebies. I don’t like her.”

“I know,” Celestia replied as she felt Tourmaline brush up against her leg.

“Her and Bucky feel so similar sometimes… but Bucky isn’t as empty.” Tourmaline continued to rub up against Celestia’s leg, soaking up warm, wonderful, maternal love. “She has more despair than Bucky does, and Bucky holds more rage.”

“Despair?” Celestia asked, not understanding.

“The very worst sort of despair.” Tourmaline rubbed her neck against Celestia’s leg. “She fears death more than anything and has found ways to cheat death. She wants to live forever… but she has nothing to live for and she knows that. The many years have begun to wear her down. She is conflicted.”

“Oh… oh my.” A spike of pity lanced through Celestia’s heart. It was a cold, terrible physical pain. To go on living, extending one’s life, doing so to spite death, but having no real reason to keep going, other than spite or the need to cheat death. It was a bitter, empty existence, and perhaps the very worst sort of tortured existence that she could think of, because it was avoidable.

“Luna is awake. She is troubled. She’s sad, I’m not sure why. She is hiding her feelings and her thoughts from me. Sometimes, I think that Luna just likes being sad. Erebus makes her happy though, but she clings to her sadness.”

“Luna always was the mopey sort,” Celestia muttered.

“So are you.”

Blinking, Celestia looked down at Tourmaline, feeling a little shocked. “Why, I suppose I am, you silly little cuddlebug. Walk with me for a while, there is much I must attend to.”

“Okay.” Tourmaline beamed, a broad smile overtaking her muzzle.

 

 

Leaning closer to the bed, Bucky watched as Sentinel squirmed a bit. His face was bandaged, covered over, with only his surviving eye being somewhat visible. Queen Chrysalis had packed alchemical poultices under the bandages, insisting that they were necessary. There was a chance that Sentinel’s body might reject the newly grown skin and bone.

“Sentinel, son, can you hear me?” Bucky held his breath after he spoke, wondering if Sentinel would make some sort of reply. Queen Chrysalis had said that Sentinel might be able to talk a little bit, and it would be a good thing if he did.

There was a low moan and one of Sentinel’s hind legs twitched beneath the blanket. Bucky reached out, grasped Sentinel’s foreleg in his talons, and gave a soft, gentle squeeze. Relief flooded through Bucky, there was still plenty of fear, worry, and doubt.

“Hey there… don’t move too much. Can you hear me?” Bucky gave Sentinel’s foreleg another squeeze. He hoped that Sentinel wasn’t in pain. Chrysalis had concocted powerful non narcotic pain killers before her departure and Bucky hoped that they were working.

“You were in a bit of a fight, Sentinel… do you remember anything?” Bucky asked, clinging to his fervent hope that Sentinel could speak. He heard the sound of the blankets rustling.

A low moan came out of Sentinel and Bucky could feel Sentinel making a feeble effort to move the foreleg that Bucky was holding. Bucky leaned his head down closer, glad to hear Sentinel breathing. Queen Chrysalis had assured him that Sentinel would be out of bed and moving about within twenty four to forty eight hours. Bucky hoped that she was right.

“I remember nothing.”

Sentinel’s voice was muffled, weak, and quite faint. Bucky, even with his exceptional hearing, had trouble making it out. Bucky drew in a ragged breath that felt as though it was tearing at his throat.

“Are you in pain?” Bucky asked.

“No.”

Heaving a sigh of relief, Bucky blinked a few times, and tried to keep his breathing calm. He recalled all of Fluttershy’s lessons. Now was not a time to be angry, but to be happy. He drew in a deep breath, held it, thought happy, wholesome thoughts as Fluttershy had instructed, and then let it out, nice and slow, letting the bad feelings out with it.

He felt better.

The bedspread was a dull green colour, typical of hospitals, and the sheets were an off shade of yellow. Everything came from the same muted colour palette. Bucky found himself hating it, associating those wretched colours with his misery.

He did more of his breathing exercises and thought of Fluttershy’s soft, soothing voice. She had taught him to keep the rage away. How to stay calm. Collected. Serene. How not to go ripping things apart, shredding things, how not to let his rage consume him. He could almost feel her soft touch upon him. His ocean of boiling rage calmed a bit. He had his son. He had a lot to be thankful for. He still had Dinky and Piña, even if Piña was going to be a little strange from now on.

“Father, what happened?” Sentinel asked, his voice muffled from beneath the bandages.

“Don’t worry about that now… just talk to me, Sentinel, I so want to to hear your voice.”

 

 

The room was small, windowless, and magically shielded in just about every way conceivable. This room was no common interrogation room though. It was at least pleasant and comfortable. It had bright, vibrant carpets, soft, comfortable, pleasant furniture, and there were a few paintings on the walls. This was a room for discussions, not interrogations.

Princess Celestia made herself comfortable and looked at the psychic unicorn named Stargarden, a powerful psyker in her own right, capable of astral projection and other unusual mental magic. The mare was rubbing her head and Celestia could not help but notice that Stargarden looked troubled.

“If you are unwell, we can delay this,” Princess Celestia offered.

“No, no, I feel well enough. I can do this.” Stargarden looked up at Celestia. “You want to know more about the Hearthfire.”

“Correct.” Celestia felt almost like a foal on Hearth’s Warming Eve, but showed no outward signs.

“Piña and I spoke at length… well, in a sense.” Stargarden’s brows furrowed. “There is a lot I don’t understand. Piña doesn’t understand it either, but something tells me that she doesn’t need to understand it.”

The unicorn mare’s muzzle crinkled as she stared down at the floor, lost in contemplation. After a time, she lifted her head to look at Princess Celestia. “Majesty, near as I can tell, Hearthfire is the psychic remains of old, dead heroes.”

“Say again?” Celestia’s head leaned forwards.

“Hearthfire is the residue of sacrifice. I don’t know how else to put it. It is a powerful psychic manifestation of old, dead heroes. It’s more than that, but I cannot put it into words.” Stargarden let out a weary sigh. “Piña is hearing echoes… every time she comes into contact with Hearthfire, I believe it is strengthening her psychic abilities, and I think she is hearing echoes. Are you familiar with echos, Majesty?”

Celestia paused, becoming thoughtful, and reached down deep into her well of memories. After several long moments of thought, she nodded. “I have experienced them… I went into a cave where a unicorn battled a terrible, monstrous foe. Both of them died, but the battle continued. You could feel the battle all around you, and for those of us who have the right minds, you could hear it.”

“Yes… echoes. When Piña came into my mind… when she tried to show me what Hearthfire was… I was very nearly overwhelmed. I saw the river of time stretching out before me, and it was long… I don’t know what I saw. But Hearthfire has been around for a very long time. As long as there have been heroes.”

“Yes… but did you find out what Hearthfire is? What it does? Why does it appear?” Princess Celestia asked, unable to keep her curiousity bottled up any longer.

“Well, um… you see… Hearthfire… Hearthfire… well, it’s really just a fancy way for old dead heroes to pass along their skills to one another and give young heroes a chance to survive while making mistakes.”

Hearing Stargarden’s words, Princess Celestia’s mouth hung open in dumbfounded awe. She had expected so much… she had expected some great, powerful, beautiful mystic force. She had expected the phenomenal cosmic power of the universe. She had expected an all powerful, all capable, trump card of magic.

“Shocking, isn't it?” Stargarden asked.

 

 

Her legs felt like jelly, but Dinky was able to walk. She made her way down the hallway at a slow, steady pace, with Piña beside her and Bon Bon just behind her. A short distance away, down at the end of the hall, Boadicea and Diamond Tiara stood waiting for her. Her friends. She was glad to see them both as she fought to keep her balance. She was feeling better, but she was still feeling weak.

She had flexed her magical muscles and was now stronger for it. This was the path to power. Pushing yourself far beyond your natural limits and then going a little further. Athletes had to do it with their bodies, wizards did it with their magic. Dinky knew that her thaumaturgic system would recover from this and be better, be more capable, and everything would be easier now. She would be able to teleport better, lift more in her telekinesis, she would be able to perform magic longer, she would be able to push herself harder.

As she pushed herself forwards, Boadicea and Diamond Tiara were no longer content to sit and wait for her. She was almost bowled over when Diamond Tiara plowed into her, but Boadicea and Piña both kept her upright. Surrounded by her friends, Dinky felt stronger than ever.

 

 

“I just remember being angry,” Sentinel said in a faint, scratchy whisper. “So angry.”

“We have to be careful about our rage, son. It will be our undoing. Princess Celestia and I have been speaking. She wants you to join me when I spend time with Fluttershy and she’s teaching me how to meditate and control my feelings.”

“Okay… I like Fluttershy. Can we knit?” Sentinel peered up at his father through his remaining eye.

“Sure, we can knit.” Bucky nodded. “Are you hurting?”

“For the last time, I’m not hurting. I just feel… woozy,” Sentinel replied. “I just remember going through the thicket with Dinky and everything after that is red. I’m sorry I can’t remember more.”

“Son, it’s okay. Don’t worry about it. We’ll talk more about what happened later. I’m just so glad that you are alive.” Bucky leaned his head down, lifted up Sentinel’s foreleg, and touched it to his muzzle, so he could rub it against his cheek.

“Father, is Sand Piper okay?” Sentinel asked.

Slumping, Bucky didn’t know how to answer. He wanted to lie to spare Sentinel the pain of knowing. He pressed his face against Sentinel’s foreleg, wishing that he didn’t have to answer. It felt as though his heart was being ripped out of his chest.

“She didn’t make it, did she?” A long sigh escaped from Sentinel.

“No son… things went badly. But Dinky and Piña are okay. Boadicea too. She… well, Boadicea came along and helped to save all of you.” Bucky sucked in a deep breath, then added, “Things could have gone a whole lot worse. We’ll talk more about this later, okay?”

“Okay.” Sentinel tried to yawn, but had some trouble opening his mouth. “I’m sleepy.”

“Then you get some sleep, son. When you wake up next, Diamond Tiara and Boadicea will be here with you. They’re going to be your nurses.” Bucky rubbed his cheek against Sentinel’s leg a little more.

“Oh, hey, I get good looking nurses,” Sentinel said in a sleepy voice.

“Yes, Sentinel, we get good looking nurses to help us recover. It has to be the best part of being us.” Much to Bucky’s surprise, he heard Sentinel let out a weak laugh. It made Bucky feel better, and he found himself laughing.

“I want to see them in those little paper hats.” Sentinel tried yawning again and his surviving eye drooped, closing halfway. “I’d like that.”

Bucky nodded, but he didn’t know if Sentinel could see him. He lowered Sentinel’s foreleg down to the bed, laying it to rest, gave it a gentle pat, and then looked down at his son as Sentinel’s eye was closing.

“The best part of being a hero is good looking nurses…”

 

 

 

 

 

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