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 very difficult not to giggle with glee as Lugus landed upon the deck. Ripple did her best to hold still and she kept her head high. Below, the sounds of the village could be heard celebrating as The Bittersweet Sparkle hung low in the sky. The planks creaked as Lugus’ bulk settled upon the deck. Behind him, Yew landed and folded in her wings.

There were still a few ants left, but the all out assault and the rain had done them in, the deluge having messed with their chemical trails. What few ants had survived were now in a state of disarray. The village now had dedicated protectors, so everything was all wrapped up nice and neat.

“Squire Ripple,” Lugus said as he eyed his pupil. “Am I to understand that you gave a good accounting of yourself?”

The filly went rigid and her war shoes clicked together. Her throat felt too tight to speak, so she nodded and watched as Lugus stepped closer. She could see his sharp eagle eyes looking over the deck of the ship, at the other Raptors, at the Fledglings, and then his eyes lingered on Archer, who was hugging her deck gun, celebrating in her own way.

“They’re going to punish you with knighthood for this,” Lugus said in low voice.

For a moment, Ripple regretted that griffons could not smile, because she would have liked to have seen the smile that would be on Lugus’ face at this moment. She tried not to squeal like an overexcited filly, but it was becoming difficult to hold it in.

“I look forward to serving with you as my fellow knight.” Lugus’ words were a little gritty and the big griffon appeared to be a bit emotional. The big griffon saluted, then pounced. With careful grace, he pulled Ripple into a hug, careful of her injuries. He sat on his haunches and pulled Ripple in with one foreleg, bracing himself up with the other.

It was then, without warning, and feeling quite embarrassed for doing so, Ripple’s emotions boiled over and she found herself bawling as Lugus held her. She was still in pain, her side hurt, and she was riding an emotional high of a job well done. Nobirdy or nopony laughed.

“It was a little harder than I thought it’d be,” Ripple said, mumbling her words into Lugus’ feathered neck. “Things went a little sideways, but we adapted. Things didn’t go as planned.”

“Things never go as planned,” Lugus replied in a low, paternal rumble. “Everybirdy lived. Nobirdy paid for the sudden change in plans. This time, everything worked out.”

“That scares me a little.” Ripple sniffled as she clung to Lugus. “What if things don’t work out? What then? When things really go sideways? How do I live with myself if I get somepony I love hurt or killed?” She felt Lugus’ reassuring weight settle against her.

“I don’t know if I can prepare you for that.” Lugus’ words were gentle, soft, and came from deep within his throat. “This time, things worked out. That in and of itself is a lesson. Accept that everything went well and celebrate it, but do not grow complacent that things will always go well.”

“Yes, Lugus, I will.” Ripple drew in a shivery-shuddery breath and was glad for this moment with her mentor. “I wanna go home. It’s time to go home, Lugus.”

“Yes it is,” Lugus replied. “Soon.”

 

 

Meanwhile, in another part of Equestria…

 

 

“How do you think Sentinel is handling it?” Twilight Sparkle asked in a low voice as she turned her head to look at Bucky.

Slumped over in the grass, Bucky looked at Twilight, then off towards his son, Sentinel, who was sitting some distance away with Gossamer. He watched for a while, his eyes squinting. There was quite a group over there; Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, Sentinel, Diamond Tiara, and others as well. Apple Bloom’s clique had grown a bit. Bucky couldn’t keep up with them all. No doubt, deals were being hammered out that would benefit both Equestria and Gossamer’s griffons.

“I think Sentinel is handling this better than I ever could,” Bucky said, making a somewhat late reply. He lifted his talons and pointed in the general direction of the group. “Apple Bloom and Sentinel both have her interest. Look at her. Sure, she was a little hesitant to deal with Sentinel and ‘Bloom because they were a bit young, but look at her now.

Twilight, watched for a moment, then nodded, but said nothing.

“You have a lot of work ahead of you, Twilight. Tell me, how is the Princess of Friendship going to deal with all of the work she has ahead of her?” Bucky turned away from the distant group and focused upon Twilight.

“With friends, of course,” Twilight replied. “I’m a little nervous, Bucky… so much now depends on me. The conditions are right for all kinds of new political alliances. There’s never been this much peace in the world. It seems like such a fragile peace.”

“We have a common enemy,” Bucky said to Twilight. “We struck the mirror travelers quite a blow, but they’re not gone. Dragons are in a highly irritated state on the other side of world. The civilised world feels like it is shrinking, but I can’t tell.”

“Princess Celestia says that the city-state of Stalliongrad might be evacuated and abandoned, with the hopes that it will de-escalate the situation over there.” Twilight shook her head. “I don’t agree. I don’t think it will help. I mean, I know this isn’t my area, but I think abandoning the city will embolden the dragons.”

“I’m inclined to agree,” Bucky replied. “The mirror travelers have disrupted the fragile peace we had with the dragons on the other side of the world. It was a smart move, but it will work against them.”

“How so?” Twilight asked, turning to look at Bucky.

“Well, the entire world is starting to unite against a common enemy, the mirror travelers. But… the mirror travelers are an invisible enemy, a shadow. Some creatures are having trouble understanding just what sort of threat they pose.” Bucky cleared his throat, scratched his neck, then continued, “Now, dragons on the other hoof, that is a plain and easy to understand threat. The entire world right now can see that the dragons pose a very real and immediate threat. So we have a shadowy enemy that brings us together, but a more immediate threat to help solidify the bonds of trust.”

“Hmm.” Twilight’s brows beetled.

“The dragons will unite those who do not believe in the mirror travelers as a threat.” Bucky’s eyes shifted and he looked over at Sentinel. “If we have to evacuate Stalliongrad, I do believe that with our current geopolitical situation, I think that a worldwide alliance will be a very easy sell. We offer protection, aid, and unity. But this can’t be lip service.”

“Friends must keep their promises.” Twilight nodded.

“And for us to keep our promise, we’ll need more airships. More warships. I’ll need control of a vast manufacturing empire. I have plans, Twilight, viable plans, but I need free reign to make them work. I need authority and resources.”

“And just what are you planning?” Twilight asked.

“A new generation of golems. Big ones. Automated warships… which will be tested on the dragons of course, the ones that threaten our friends. New types of flying ships. Mechanisation. Twilight, the new autogyros are going to be amazing, but I have an idea for a flying airport to launch them—”

“An airship that launches other airships?” Twilight blinked in astonishment.

“A floating, flying airfield that will be used to launch a swarm of autogyros. I have ideas for new types of powered armor that will not be so easily dispelled. Twilight, it is time for mechanisation.” Bucky’s ears laid back against his skull in a lazy, almost lupine manner.

“Get your ideas together, I’ll make sure that they happen,” Twilight said in a low voice.

 

 

Holding the small, fuzzy lump that was Berry Pinch, Berry Punch gave the foal a maternal nuzzle. Everything in her body suggested that Berry Pinch was hers. Hormones were a funny thing—a mysterious, wonderful, and funny thing. She inhaled the scent of the tiny filly in her embrace, smelling milk and new foal smell.

“It’ll be time to go soon,” Sour Mash said to Berry. “I’m gonna miss you.”

“We need to visit more,” Berry Punch replied.

The two mares went silent and both nodded at almost the same time. Sour Mash, sitting on the floor, hefted Brandywine, straining to lift her, and gave her a hug. Brandywine, glad for any sort of affection, melted and became dead weight.

“I’m a little worried about how Keg Smasher will react—”

“About the changelings?” Berry Punch looked up from Berry Pinch and focused upon Sour Mash. She could see the worry creases on the mare’s face. She could see the little ear twitches. “Sour, you need to trust in Bucky’s relationship with Keg. Now, Keg might grumble, and he might get a little blustery, but he’s going to trust Bucky… those two are like brothers.”

“Brothers fight.” Sour Mash eased Brandywine down to the floor and the foal made a dissatisfied huff as Sour Mash picked up little Barley. “Never mind Keg Smasher, I’m scared.”

“Ponies always get scared when we’re faced with something different. That’s what we do. The best of us rise above our base instincts and embrace the new. The worst of us embrace xenophobia.” Berry Punch gave Sour Mash a meaningful look. “Crisis is one of my foals. Now, she might be a little weird, but I love her, and I don’t care what she is. Just give them a chance, Sour…”

Now holding little Barley, Sour nodded. “We could use the healers. I just worry that when ponies find out, they won’t want the healing. All of this scares me, Berry. It goes beyond my understanding. You, you’re smart. You have that education of yours and it helps you think. The educated part of your brain can reign in the dumb pony part of your brain. I’m not so lucky. All I can hear is the pony part of my mind screaming at me that this is dangerous.”

Understanding all too well, Berry’s ears drooped. Ignorance was a tough enemy to conquer. For a moment, Berry begin to doubt and she wondered if Bucky fully understood what he was subjecting the ponies of the isles to. How much this might disturb them. Bucky was far too much a pragmatist. He saw the end result and how things should be, but he didn’t always take the little details into account. He tended to just destroy and then rebuild when things got tough.

“We have plenty of ponies that are still having trouble with the griffons that live with us. And when the zebras arrived? Oh good gracious… they was more scared of the zebras than they was of the griffons. I think it’s ‘cause the zebras look like us, but they ain’t like us.”

“Minotaur shite,” Berry Punch grumbled, “what a load of minotaur shite.”

“I don’t follow.” Sour Mash waited for Berry to explain.

“Just that whole line of thinking… it just… bugs me. Sukari is every bit like us. So what if she has stripes? She has all of the same feelings that we do. She gets scared and wants hugs. She wants to be loved. She has four little hooves and bright curious eyes and a twitchy little nose and adorable little ears that perk up when you say her name. Okay, so her tail is a little different than ours, and her mane is a little bristly.” Berry Punch gave Berry Pinch a squeeze. “But those are just some minor physical differences. She’s like us in every way that matters and the physical differences shouldn’t matter.”

“I’ll confess, Sukari weirds me out just a little bit,” Sour Mash admitted.

“Why?” Berry Punch asked.

“I don’t know,” Sour Mash replied, “she just does. I can’t explain it. And changelings make my skin crawl. I don’t want it to be this way, it just is. I don’t like it, but I can’t seem to change it. I feel bad about it! I know it’s wrong to feel the way I do, but I can’t seem to shake it!”

Surprised and a bit startled by the confession, Berry Punch studied her cousin, not sure how to reply or how to feel. At least Sour was honest, and Berry appreciated that. Berry sighed and thought about the nature of ponies. Like attracted like. There was a reason that tribalism lingered. There were still plenty of ponies that didn’t like other different ponies. A pair of wings, a horn, these were different. Scary. Something to be avoided. The earth pony way had deep roots in xenophobia and tribalism, but nopony wanted to admit it. No, the earth pony way was culture, it was passed off as something desirable. Something wholesome. It was a virtue. You walked everywhere. You shunned magic. You kept your head low and you did your hard work like everypony else and you didn’t look up at those lazy, shiftless pegasi flying overhead, because that was wrong. The earth pony way only acknowledged one tribe of ponies as having the right way, and if something wasn’t part of the right way, it was easy to conclude that it was the wrong way through implication alone. The other tribes lived the wrong way.

The earth pony way could only be followed if pegasi kept their hooves on the ground and unicorns never did so much as a single spell, completely robbing them of their own tribal identities. And Ponyville followed the earth pony way. They were proud of that claim. Winter Wrap Up was all about the earth pony way. Thinking about it, Berry Punch felt disgusted.

“Sour, sometimes change has to come about through drastic circumstances…”

 

 

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