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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In the hours just before dawn, when the desert was still cool, before the sand had become a scorching sea, Ripple watched as a flare rose up on the horizon. As she stood watching, she knew what it meant, she knew what the flare signaled, and her excited snorts could be seen as puffs of steam shot from her nostrils. The waiting had been tedious, the ants had remained elusive, but now, it seemed as though the ants were on the move.

Behind her, somebirdy rang the bell, sounding the alarm. Ripple felt her muscles tense, she felt adrenaline flooding through her body. She was ready, she was spoiling for a fight. Loki, her forward scout, was already fireproofed, but Ripple worried for the others.

“Looks as though we’re about to have ourselves a scuffle,” Ripple said to all who were listening. “Wake the others and all of you drink up. We’re about to poke an anthill!”

A collection of squawks and cries went up from all on deck. Ripple looked off to the east and saw no sign of the sun yet, the sky was still dark. It made sense; the ants moved during the coolest parts of the day. Before it even reached noon, the sand became too hot to touch. By afternoon, it would blister a pony’s tender frogs. And it would stay hot through most of the freezing cold night, releasing the heat that it had trapped during the searing day.

“Gofannon, you know the plan. You’re in charge. Keep the fledglings safe. I hate keeping you out of battle, but I need somebirdy I can trust up here.”

“Aye aye, I understand.”

“Lugus and Yew are in the village,” Ripple said as she watched another flare rise up, this one coming from a different location. The ants were moving in an unmistakable path towards the village again, no doubt looking for prey to drag off to the anthill. “North Star, Kiara, I want you up here with Gofannon in reserve. I might need you for a bombing run.”

“Aye aye,” North Star replied.

“We’ll be geared up and ready,” Kiara said to Ripple as her girth puffed out.

Ripple listened to the commotion on the deck, her ears perking, and she felt her muscles jerking. Was her danger sense kicking in or was it just battle nerves? She didn’t know.

“Is this going to be a stand up fight, or will this be a bug hunt?” Flench asked in a sleepy voice. The little griffon yawned and then let out a half-awake peep. “We want to keep them from reaching the village, right? That’s gonna mean engaging them on the ground to slow ‘em down, ain’t it?”

Turning to look at Flench, Ripple took a moment to consider his words, then replied, “We’ll hit them from the air and do as much hurt as we can. If they ignore us though and keep heading for the village, we’re going to have to offer ourselves up as bait and go about this the hard way.”

“I like the hard way,” Angry Angus said as he tested the draw on his crossbow, a weapon he had made himself. “These ants will have stings, right? And they breathe fire?”

Nodding Ripple flexed her wings while stretching her legs. “Yes, they have stings. And if one stings you, you’ll be impaled. I understand that they are quite large.”

“Great.” Angus’ crest rose. “Death by impalement. What a way to go.”

“You don’t have permission to die,” Ripple said as she focused her stern gaze upon Angus. “Don’t you even think about it, you lazy pile of owl pellets. Your soul might belong to Odin, but your arse belongs to me.”

Angus saluted. “I could think of no finer ownership for my arse—”

“Stow it, Private.” Ripple grinned. “We have work to do. Gear up and let’s go, everybirdy!”

 

 

Cold grey light came from the east as Ripple and her Raptors circled over the ants below. The ants moved in a line, marching with what could only be described as perfect militaristic discipline. Ripple and her Raptors waited, flying over head, it was not the time to strike. Ahead was a narrow canyon pass through the jagged hills, and Ripple planned to attack there, when the ants would be thinned out and could not form a tight, defensive group.

Brigid and Shaquah flew as a pair, then Branwen and Grunion. Flench and Angus brought up the rear. Loki was still scouting, flying around in a wide circle. Belisama flew above them, with Fleshrender’s rifle gripped in her talons. The group was well armed, they had guns, crossbows, and magical ordnance out the wazoo. Ripple had her war shoes, which were heavily enchanted. All of them were fireproofed and wearing armor, which would make things difficult when the day grew warmer. It remained to be seen if the armor could stop fire ant stings.

The first of the column of ants began to move into the narrow pass below, with sheer rock walls on either side. Ripple hovered, waiting, her eyes on the long line of ants that were making their way to the village. She lifted her front hoof and her Raptors hovered with her, remaining close.

The ants moved with surprising speed for their size, and they were huge. About pony sized. Dozens flooded into the narrow canyon pass. Saying nothing, Ripple pointed down with her hoof, and there was a sharp crack of a gun.

The lead ant’s head exploded and a plume of smoke curled up from Fleshrender’s rifle. Belisama was already scoped in on a second target when the Raptors joined in, unleashing a stream of lead and crossbow quarrels. A glass orb was thrown and when it exploded, more than a dozen ants were frozen in an ever expanding shower of icy missiles.

There was a strange chittering sound that filled the canyon as the attack upon the ants began. The Raptors turned the narrow canyon into a shooting gallery. The attack was going exactly as Ripple had expected. This was going to be a slaughter.

 

 

Using his sharp eyes, Gofannon peered down at the desert below, his crest rising in alarm. In the pale light of dawn, he could see the battle below, and while the battle was doing well, reinforcements were coming. A second column of ants was moving in, flanking Ripple and the others.

“Prepare the deck gun,” North Star said in a voice of stony calm. “Arm yourselves and make ready for battle.”

The fledglings all began to prepare themselves for battle. Archer and Boadicea worked together to move the heavy crate that held the deck gun. They slid it over the planks until they reached the mount, then opened the crate, and began to assemble the twenty millimetre cannon, a design based upon the same twenty millimetre that Bucky and Lugus had found at the griffon airbase. This gun had a self feeding hopper and was rigged with controls that would even allow an earth pony to use it.

Scootaloo took up position near the ship’s controls, ready to step in and fly if Gofannon had to take up arms. Rumble kept watch, pacing along the edge of the deck, his sharp pegasus eyes locked upon the second column of ants down below.

Kiara put on her helmet and then checked over her heavy armor as she sat upon North Star’s back. She thumped his armored neck with her gauntleted talons and let out a fierce squawk.

The deck gun, now assembled, was ready to fire. The long barrel angled downwards and Archer had the sights focused upon the first ant in the second column. Boadicea stood by, ready to reload the hopper. As one shell was fired, the hopper would empty by one shell, and she would add another. If something occupied her, the hopper held a total of thirty shells.

“Uh, guys… we have a bigger problem,” Rumble said in a quavering voice as he pointed with his hoof. “Some ants have wings.” The little colt’s eyes were wide with both fear and anticipation.

“Rumble,” Gofannon snapped, “you’re on fire duty! Arm yourself with an extinguisher!”

Below, the battle raged. Above, the battle had not yet started, but was about to.

 

 

When Ripple heard the thunderous blast of the cannon above her, she knew something was wrong. She looked around, scanning the sky, her wary eyes searching for any threat to her Raptors. What she saw unnerved her, but she did not falter. Flapping her wings, she gained altitude, rising higher. She saw the second column of ants coming and raised a cry of alarm. The Raptors scattered, looking for cracks and hidey holes in the nearby rocks.

Ripple took off, going after the flying ants that were the closest, the ones that posed an immediate threat to her and her Raptors. She hit the first one with both front hooves extended, slamming into it with all of her strength. It froze solid and shattered, sending chunks of ice flying in all directions. She went for another, ignoring the stream of fire being squirted at her, and she slammed into that one too. This time, it did not freeze, not that it mattered. She pulped it and moved on.

As she gained more altitude, she saw hundreds of ants, both in the air and on the ground. Some of them were flying for The Bittersweet Sparkle. Seeing the ship in danger alarmed her, but she had her Raptors to look after. Biting her lip, she made a hard decision. She was going to have to trust that those left on the ship would be able to take care of things. They were well trained, and the deck gun was already in use, and they were capable of looking after themselves.

A flaming blur shot past Ripple, it was Loki, and he was going after the flying fire ants. He had two swords drawn, wicked looking hook swords, and the little harrier griffon had murder in his eyes. Ripple followed him, but kept an eye on the Raptors taking shelter in the crevices in the canyon walls.

Bellowing with fury, Ripple slammed into another flying ant, dismembering it on impact.

 

 

Gripping the control sticks in her tight clenched fetlocks, Scootaloo brought the ship around to face the incoming swarm. She tried to keep it steady, but her whole body was trembling. I can fly this, she told herself in a panicked internal dialogue, I can fly anything.

Her ears rang when the deck gun roared yet again. This time, Archer wasn’t shooting down at the ground, but at incoming ants. Archer’s aim was perfect, as always. Scootaloo couldn’t remember Archer ever missing. Scootaloo slowed the engines and took a deep breath so she could calm herself. Gofannon had a long lever action rifle and he fired off a shot. One ant staggered in the air, but did not go down. There was a second shot and most of the ant’s head vanished in a spray of chunks. Scootaloo tried not to think of the pressure on her. For the others to shoot and have good aim, she had to keep the ship steady in the incoming side wind.

There was a thunderous roar from the deck gun and another ant exploded. Boadicea had a pistol in her left talons and was reloading for Archer using her right. North Star launched himself from the deck with Kiara mounted on his back. The little griffoness let out a roar that would make a lion jealous.

The ants closed the distance all too quickly and the world around Scootaloo was filled with fire.

 

 

Struggling to fly with the fire extinguisher, Rumble flapped his stubby wings and braved the flames, which scared him even though they could not hurt him. The ship was on fire. The gasbag was on fire in several places. He wrestled the extinguisher in his forelegs and used his mouth to yank the release, sending a stream of foam into the roaring, crackling flames.

He had bigger problems though. One large winged ant was coming right for him. He scrambled, swore and said something his mother would not approve of around the handle in his mouth, and then cleared out of the way just as the ant stung the spot where he had been just a second ago.

A hole was torn open in the gasbag and cloudstuff began to leak out. Rumble, still swearing like a drip infected merchant marine, whipped the extinguisher around and bashed the ant on the head. It didn’t do much good and the ant was coming around for another sting.

He dodged another sting, then another, and then the ant got another hit in on the gasbag. More cloudstuff began leaking out. This was bad, and the flames were spreading. Rumble needed to get them out.

There was a loud crack and Rumble’s ant assailant fell out of the sky. Rumble looked around through the smoke and the flames. Looking down, he saw Belisama coming up, flying through the flame filled chaos. She looked every bit like a warrior queen. In her left talons, she held her curved officer’s sword, in her right talons, she had one of her big, scary looking revolvers.

She had somehow made the shot from an unbelieveable distance. Rumble knew that others would accuse him of storytelling if he told them about it. He scrambled to get the flames out, spraying his extinguisher with wild abandon, but it didn’t seem to be doing much good. Too many flames, too many ants, and the gasbag was leaking.

Rumble flew down, dodging and avoiding ants, then skimmed over the deck. He went to the emergency lockbox, where more extinguishers were located, but he wasn’t after a fresh extinguisher. He fumbled around until he found a wooden box with brass reinforcements that had the words ‘repair kit’ on the front.

Still swearing, eye watering profanity just spewing from his mouth, Rumble ripped the box open, not knowing what he would find inside. Upon opening the box, there was a blue green glow.

“Repairs initiated,” a disembodied voice said as a half dozen tiny spider golems scrambled out of the wooden box.

The tiny spider golems went scuttling off, crawling over the deck, then climbed up a chain to reach the gasbag, and then vanished from view. Rumble grabbed a fresh extinguisher and then went back to work, fighting a war against the flames, knowing that he had a guardian griffon watching over him.

 

 

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