Just a Little Batty

by I Thought I Was Toast

Echoes of the Lost

I flapped my wings for what felt like the thousandth time, and felt the warm tingly burn of muscles working as Dad and I pulled the wagon through the night. My sweat glimmered in the starlight as we kept both our wingbeats and our breathing in steady cadence—not even a tiny bit of turbulence reaching the snoozing passengers in the back.

“Mrgmmf! Buy some… apples….” Apple Bloom snorted, scratching at her ear with her hind hoof. Turning over, she stopped cuddling Scootaloo and latched onto Sweetie—who squeaked like a plushie in her sleep.

Scoots shivered as a breeze passed over us, and looked up blearily with a muffled squawk. Shuffling around the other two, she squeezed in between them and squirmed carefully to get her wings in a comfortable position. A series of giggles erupted from Sweetie and Bloom as Scootaloo’s feathers tickled them, and the pegasus crooned as she finally got into a good spot.

The wagon wobbled at their antics, and that made Diamond and Silver clutch to each other tighter. The two of them were in the back corner and wrapped thoroughly in a blanket—Silver’s glasses slid down her muzzle as her head drooped up and down.

“We’re almost there,” Dad rumbled, looking down on Shadow’s Reach with narrowed eyes. “You think the others will be up for helping us pitch the tents?”

“Maybe?” I looked back at everypony. “Might be better if we just let them sleep.”

“Probably.” Dad grinned. “Wanna put the bug attractors in their tents so we get breakfast and a show?”

“Dad!” I huffed. “That’s pure evil!”

“And hilarious.” Dad waggled his brow at me.


“Alright, alright….” Dad hummed as he turned back to navigating. The stars seemed right, and a quick glance to the side showed the enormous tree that housed the main part of the colony was now to the north of us—no longer north-by-northwest.

We were so close, I could almost taste the lovely morsels waiting for me.

“There!” I pointed as I caught sight of a silvery ribbon in the darkness. As we flew over it, an almost invisible opening in the canopy presented itself, and we dove into its depths.

It was a tight fit with the larger wagon, and the claw-like branches scraped at the sides as if they were trying to grab ahold of us. Slitted eyes glared at us from the shadows as we disturbed several night time predators, and more than one hiss and growl chased after us.

“Eeeeeeeek!” I glanced back momentarily to see Diamond strangling Silver with a vice grip. Her cries woke the others—who all started marveling at the forest as we descended.

Scootaloo buzzed her wings as she watched the forest rush by. “Woah… cool! Was that a lion?! No! A tiger! No! A bear?”

“Oh, my!” Diamond squeaked at a particularly sharp turn.

“Oh! Oh! Oh! Maybe it was one of those manbearpigs Lyra is always talking about!”

“Pfft! Those are just stories!” Apple Bloom snorted, still rubbing at her eyes as she gazed outwards.

“So?! Nightmare Moon was just a story a few years ago!”

“Nuh-uh! Night’s made it pretty clear that she knew Nightmare Moon was real!”

“She didn’t know Luna was coming back, though!”


“So, everything!”

“Girls!” Sweetie squeaked, making Bloom and Scoots blink.

“Thank you, Sweetie Belle.” Dad gave a rumbling chuckle before briefly looking back at everypony. “Remember the big rule for coming with us, girls. No leaving the campsite without me or Nightingale.” He frowned for just a moment. “It’s incredibly easy to get lost in Shadow’s Reach. Even the rangers don’t know every nook and cranny.”

“Pfft!” Apple Bloom waved a hoof. “We’re big fillies too, ya know. We’ll be fine.”


“Okay, most of us are big fillies.” Apple Bloom splayed back her ears and glared at Diamond.

“H-hey! I-I’m a b-big filly too!”

“You ain’t acting like it!”

“That’s cuz I saw a spider the size of my head!”

“Mmm….” I grinned at the thought, licking my lips. “Sounds like the eggs have already hatched this year, then. That’s gonna be some good eating.”

“W-what?! You mean that was just a baby?!”

“Eh, I wouldn’t worry about it.” I shrugged, diligently maintaining my forward vigil as me and Dad navigated the twists and turns of the path. “If anything, it’s the giant mosquitos that’ll get you.”

“G-giant wha—”

“Oh! We’re here! We’re here!” I cheered as we finally finished tunneling through the canopy into the gloom of Shadow’s Reach. “Welcome to Hollow Shades National Park!”

Tree trunks as thick as a house loomed around us, while the ground waited far below. Massive boughs arched from tree to tree, forming pathways between them all. Every so often, a patch of softly glowing fungus could be seen on the trails—providing a comfortable amount of light to the darkness. Small colonies of thestrals dotted the branches around us, hiking to their heart’s content in the muted shadows.

Many of them waved as we passed by, and we all waved right back.

“Who are we waving to?” Scootaloo hissed to Apple Bloom as she flailed her hooves at the darkness.

A few buildings were built into the trees around us—mostly for administrative stuff. Dad and I were heading to the biggest to get our little group all registered, but my eyes kept trailing over to the summer flight camp and the happy squeaking of fillies and colts.

“Oi!” Dad flicked me with his tail and I startled, heat creeping up my face as he grinned at me. “You listening? I need you to look after your friends while I get us all paid for.” He glanced pointedly at my fellow crusaders—all whispering conspiratorially.

“Sir, yes, Sir!” Platoon Sergeant mode activated!

Dad laughed as we landed, nodding toward the little specks of foals that were flying in the distance. “Amazing how little it changes, right? It was like this when your grandpa brought me and your aunts and uncles here, too.”

“So you’ve told me.” I giggled as he ruffled my mane.

Dad unhitched himself and continued to noogie me until I gave an indignant squeak.

“Be on guard, now, soldier.” He smiled at me before walking off towards the nearest door.

“So the whole campsite is in the trees?” Scootaloo eyed the branching pathways in the distance. The boughs all split again and again as they traveled away from the tree, eventually becoming so cluttered that they bound together to form the almost impassable canopy above our heads.

“Most of it.”

“And what’s down on the forest floor?”

“Monsters!” I bared my fangs in a grin.

“Really?! Awesome!” Scoots did a quick flip.

“N-not awesome!” Diamond eyed the forest like it was ready to eat her. “You promised Shadow’s Reach wasn’t as scary as everypony said.”

“It’s not!” I pounded a hoof against my chest and stood taller. “Dad and I are here!”

Diamond squirmed, looking down.

“What? Don’t you trust me?” My ears splayed back.

“It’s not that…” she mumbled into her hooves.

“Come on! At least trust the park rangers! It’s their job!”

“I said it’s not that!” Diamond glared at me, and I blinked.

“Then what is it?”

“I don’t know….”

“The forest does kinda rub me the wrong way.” Apple Bloom wriggled her hooves. “I can feel it in my frogs like a bunch of icy pins and needles.”

“You can feel it too?” Diamond looked to Apple Bloom.

“Is that why my horn itches?” Sweetie rubbed her head.

“My coat and feathers are a little on edge.” With a ruffle of her wings, Scootaloo glanced over the forest again.

“You’re all crazy.” I shook my head.

“Or maybe the forest just likes you.” Silver adjusted her glasses. “Clearly, it’s hungry for little sun-loving fillies.”

Diamond shivered and shrunk into her friends side.

“Guys!” I whined.

“I’m back!” Dad trotted up to pick up his half of the harness and blinked. “Did something happen, girls?”

“They think there’s something wrong with the forest.” I pouted.

Dad snorted. “Well, it is supposedly cursed.”

“C-cursed?!” Not even Scootaloo and Silver kept their cool at the word, and all the girls bunched up as they echoed Dad. The three earth ponies shuffled on their hooves as Scoots ruffled her wings, while Sweetie returned to rubbing her horn.

“But that’s the cool part!” I hopped from hoof to hoof. “Besides, it’s not like any of the stories are real!”

“Oh, some of them are certainly real.” Dad chuckled darkly, making Diamond and Sweetie whimper.

“Dad!” Slugging him—even lightly—was like trying to hit steel, so my smile was a bit forced as I looked back at everypony. “He’s just messing with you. A few of the stories might be real, but it’s been years since anything weird happened.”

“Yeah.” Dad nodded. “Most of the ghosts are quiet nowadays.”

“Wait…. You said it was a curse before!” Scootaloo poked out of the pony pile and rolled her eyes. “Ghosts? Really? Is that all we’re dealing with? We’ve dealt with ghosts before, right guys?!” She yanked Bloom and Sweetie to their hooves.

“Yeah, ghosts are way easier to handle than curses.” Apple Bloom had a bit of fire to her eyes again as she looked out on the forest. “Friendly, too. Remember that time we tried to help that ghost pass on when we were trying to get our cutie marks?”

“You think we can play with them?” Sweetie gave a small smile.

“I might be able to rig something.” Apple Bloom hummed, rubbing her chin. “A hoof-made ouija board might not work, though. Ain’t there supposed to be a bunch of spells that go with it?”

“You girls are nuts.” Silver shook her head as she stayed next to Diamond, who was now biting her hoofnails.

“Are we missing something here?” Dad and I tilted our heads to the side.

“I take it we never told you about our stint as Cutie Mark Crusader Occultists?” Bloom was already digging through her bag.

“I think I would have remembered that one.” I shook my head.

Dad just blinked bemusedly for a few more moments before sighing. “Princess Twilight did warn me, I suppose….” With a chuckle, he finally started to hitch himself back into the harness again. “New rule, everypony. You girls are not to try and contact the dead while we’re here. If they want to talk, they will come to you.”

In an instant, three weapon-grade pouts were unleashed on him. “But—”

“No buts!” Dad made sure to keep looking ahead as we pulled into the air. “Some of the spirits in the forest are dangerous once they’ve been stirred up—way more dangerous than the wildlife. It took a long time for the thestrals here to make this park as peaceful as it is, and I would rather you girls not mess up their hard work.”

“Fine…” my three, overeager friends huffed.

“There’s plenty of other stuff we can do, girls.” I giggled, glancing about the various paths. “So where are we gonna pitch camp, Dad?”

Dad was silent for a moment. “Well… if you fillies want ghosts, the park ranger did mention that there were a few open spots at ground level.”

Wait. What?

“But you never let me explore down there!”

Dad shrugged. “I never let you go on the pilgrimage before this year, either, but you’re officially a teenager now. Things are different.”

“R-really?!” A warm and bubbly feeling filled me as I puffed out my chest at his words. “Screeheeheeheeheeheehee!”

“Eeyup….” Dad gave a rumbling chuckle as he led us into the long and spiralling descent. “Soon enough, you’ll get all rebellious on me, so I figure it’s best we do this now as a family.” The chuckle turned into a laugh. “I mean, if we don’t, there’s always the chance you’ll sneak down there all alone like I did. Your grandpa was beyond pi—” I nudged Dad hard seeing as Mom wasn’t there. “—peeved about that.”

“Yeah, he told me about that, but he never really told me what happened to you.”

“Oh, I got lost.” Dad let out a bark of laughter.

“I know that.” I gave a squeaky snort. “I meant what happened to you while you were wandering about.”

“Ah. Well, that is a tale. It’s not every day one survives meeting one of the Lost.”

“Dad, if this is one of your jokes—”

“Nope! I met an honest-to-goodness Lost. He was this real sweet colt that couldn’t have been more than seven. He was even better at making doe eyes than you lot, so I kind of ended up just babysitting him until I was found. Fun little guy, but I’m not really sure it was worth a month of being grounded. I didn’t even get to hunt any monsters.”

“Oh, Dad….” I shook my head. “How could you possibly be so insubordinate?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.” Dad grinned. “You’re thirteen now and that means your cooties are coming for you.”

“Dad!” My voice chose the worst time to crack, causing a cascade of giggles to pelt me from the back.

I would have said more, but the forest floor was approaching, and Dad and I needed to be careful with where we landed. Like the canopy above, the ground was littered with wooden pathways. We were hard pressed to find a patch of dirt that wasn’t constricted with roots, and the few places there were could barely fit a single tent for one—let alone all of us.

“Come on, come on….” Dad muttered, taking us around the nearest tree trunk another time. “The ranger said there was a good spot if we circled down the tree four spots right from the front of registration.”

“Uh, Dad?” I fidgeted in the harness next to him. “You took a left as we took off, not a right.”

“What?!” Dad groaned. “Really?” He muttered several bad dad words under his breath, so I slugged him for Mom again. “Oi! You don’t have to hit me just because your mother told you to if I misbehaved.”

That makes me blink. “But if I don’t I’m being insubordinate.”

For some reason, that made Dad and the girls laugh.

“What? I’m serious!”

They just laughed harder.

Huffing, I glanced upwards to only see the faintest outline of the buildings and branches above. “We should be going that way.” I pointed towards a tree in the distance. “I think….”

“You think?” Dad chuckled and my ears wilted. “Trust me, it’ll be better if we just fly up to get our bearings and fly back down. I don’t even think we even came down near any of the official trails.”

“W-wait! I-I think I just saw somepony!” Diamond pointed a shaky hoof towards a shadowy arch near some trees.




Sweetie, Scootaloo, and Apple Bloom leaned over the edge of the wagon.

“Girls!” Dad growled. “Remember the rules for the wagon!”

“Aww….” They heaved a group sigh, but nonetheless backed up into the wagon.

“You think it was a ghost?” I whispered to Dad as we climb.

“Probably.” He shifted in his harness. “I hope we didn’t bother it too much. That didn’t look like a part of the park many ponies passed through.”

“Cool….” I looked back down only to wince as one of my wings twinged. The good burn was slowly becoming the bad, and my wings were starting to feel like lead. “Eurgh…. I think I’m gonna reach my limit soon, Dad.”

“We’re almost there, Night.” Dad almost immediately slowed his pace for me. “Are you going to be able to help me pitch the tent?”

“I should be…” I groaned. “Don’t be surprised if I just fall face first into the dirt when I’m done, though.”

“I’ll make sure you make it to your sleeping bag.” Dad chuckled.

We circled up and up and up until we finally made it to the canopy again. Heading back to registration, we turned right instead of left this time, and began what would hopefully be our final descent of the night.

The girls' adrenaline had petered out on the climb up, and they were back in Luna’s realm—cuddling and snoring and yawning in the back of the wagon. Every glance back made me sleepier and sleepier until I actually jolted awake from a very sudden landing. Dad was panting heavily beside me, and my ears wilted at the realization that I’d actually dozed off on him.

“Get some—” Pant. “—rest, Night. I’ll—” Pant. “—get the tent set up on my own.”

“But Dahyaahayahayaaaaaghd…” My jaw actually cracked frown the strength of my yawn.

“No buts, soldier.” Dad ruffled my mane before starting to unhook me from my harness. “You’ve already done enough today.”

“Nuh-uh….” I mumbled as the harness was finally pulled off. I stumbled a bit without the support, but Dad steadied me with his hoof. Blearily blinking around, I tried to get an idea of where we landed and how I can help, but my eyelids could barely stay halfway open.

“Night….” Dad picked me up, and I feebly attempted to squirm out of his grip. “Please… go rest with your friends. I’ll be able to get everything set up on my own.”

“But it’ll take you forever!” I tried to stand when he set me down beside the wagon, but before I could get anywhere, he tossed the other girls all on top of me, and I was instantly assaulted with warm hugs and snuggles that made it impossible for me to move. Tired as I was, I was nothing but a fluffy, giant teddy bear, trapped in the middle of five fillies’ embraces.

I had no choice but to huff in defeat as Diamond squeezed me with all the strength her little earth pony body gave her.

“Comfy?” Dad chuckled as he started to dig our gear out of the wagon. I tried to stick my tongue out at him, but I just ended up yawning again instead.

It was so warm here… so comfy… so… sleepy….

“Ahhhhhh! So many bugs!”

I was roughly dragged from my wonderful dream of being captain of the Night Guard as Diamond Tiara almost ripped open the flap to my tent and dove into Dad’s sleeping bag.

Wait. Dad’s sleeping bag wasn’t covered with frilly princess stuff. Why was Diamond’s sleeping bag in our tent?

Blearily looking around, I realized the rest of the girls were poking out of their bags to grumble at Diamond. Was I in the other tent? I… I thought Dad and I would be sharing like usual….

“Night, why are there bugs in the bathroom?!”

“Bathroom?” My eyes were still only about half open as I looked out the open tent flap to see Dad rolling on the ground and roaring with laughter. “There aren’t any bathrooms out here.”

“What?!” Diamond’s shriek became even more banshee-like. “B-b-but— Your dad said—”

“It’s your own fault for believing me when I said I brought an outhouse.” Dad’s laugh became an avalanche. “I— I can’t believe you bought that!” Clutching his side, he pounded his other forehoof into the ground as he gasped for breath.

“Dad!” I huffed. “You said you wouldn’t play any pranks with the bug attractors!”

“I didn’t put them in your tent, did I?” He grinned at me as he finally rolled back onto his hooves. Tossing some wood on the campfire beside him, he let the fire spark and pop, idly poking it with a metal tong. “Besides, who expects bathrooms when they go camping?”

I rolled my eyes, but didn’t argue with him. He was totally right. I mean, seriously, Diamond? An outhouse?

“So what are we having for breakfast?” I wriggled out of my sleeping bag and headed towards the smaller tent Dad had erected to the side.

“See for yourself!” He nodded to me when I paused before the tent to look back. “We got one heck of a catch last night!”

I carefully nudged my head through the flap to meet the eight-eyed gazes of at least four spiders the size of my head. Two of them were sinking their mandibles into the corpse of a gigantic beetle, while the other two were busy wrapping up the remains of several other bugs in their silk for later.

“Score!” I pulled my head out and pranced in a circle around Dad. "That’s almost enough for the whole trip from just one night!”

“If they choose to stay there, that is.” Dad chuckled.

“You need any help cooking them?!”

“Hah! Sorry, Night, but I already did that to breakfast.” He pulled out a box from under his wing and lifted the cover to reveal another spider, boiled exactly the way I liked. “I’m kind of surprised you didn’t wake up when I dropped him in the pot.”

Aww… the scream is always the best part….

“Tell me you brought apples, Bloom,” Scootaloo whispered with all the subtlety of a Day Guard trying to get the drop on a Night Guard.

“Don’t worry, girls!” Dad held up several more pieces of tupperware. “I made sure to bring plenty of food for you in the wagon. You’re having fruit salads with some luna berries I found while gathering firewood.

“Oh! Oh! Oh!” I started hopping again.

“Yes, Night, I got you plenty for dessert.” Dad ruffled my mane. “I found some moonflower, too.”

“Woohoo!” I pumped my hoof and did a flip. “Come on, girls! Last one done gets latrine duty!”

“Yes!” Diamond cheered, hopping back and forth from hoof to hoof. “There is a bathroom! Where is it? Where is it?!”

“Through there.” Dad pointed past a piece of brush that bravely clung on in the gloom and Diamond bolted toward it with a squeak.

Leaves rustled, then dreams were shattered. “Noooooooo!”

“It’s a hole in the ground, ain’t it?” Apple Bloom smirked.

“Oh yeah.” I giggled like a loon under moon.

“We ain’t actually gonna have latrine duty, are we?”

“Hay, no!” I shook my head. “Dad’s always got that covered.”

“Oh, thank Celestia.” The rest of the girls sagged in relief.

“Actually…” Dad rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “…you are getting older.”

“Huh?!” I blinked a couple of times before blanching. “Oh, ew! Do I have to?”

“You’ll have to learn at some point.” Dad chuckled.

“But you could just show me how to do it.” I pouted at him full force.

“Ooof!” Dad clutched his chest. “Careful there, sport. You want to give me a heart attack?”

I turned it up to eleven.

“Ack!” Dad fell down on his knees. “Alright, alright… I’ll handle it… but we’re turning it into a lesson!”

“Where’s the toilet paper?!” Diamond’s voice wavered back from the latrine.

“You see that bush?” I called back, muffling my giggles with one hoof.


“Reach inside it!”


“Feel around!”


“And grab the softest leaves you can find!”


“Make sure you double check for bugs or they might crawl up your butt!”


Diamond’s wail of despair echoed far throughout the forest.

“Oooh….” I looked at the trail’s entrance with wide, sparkling eyes. The sign said this was the oldest, longest, scariest path in the park, and that only the bravest of ponies survived. “Let’s do the Test of Courage!”

Sweetie Belle eyed the big, bold, bloody, iron-colored lettering beneath it. “Warning: do not wander off the premarked path. All fillies, colts, pets, and day dwellers should be supervised by a responsible parent or owner at all times, and are not to be allowed allowed down this path during true darkness. Should a member of your group go missing, it is highly advised that you immediately report their absence to the nearest park ranger. Pregnant mares are advised—”

“Snore!” A fidgeting Scootaloo hopped atop her friend with a flap of her wings to look at the sign herself. “Jump to the part where it tells us what’s in there!”

“Scoots! Get off of Sweetie!” Bloom tried to drag Scootaloo back and promptly made a small, struggling pony pile.

“Hrmm….” With the sign free to read, Silver moved up to scrutinize the long, long list of hazardous warnings. She adjusted her glasses while doing so, leaning in to see better in the darkness. “Welp, I’m sold.”

“Yes!” I all but pranced in place. “What about you, Diamond?”

My best friend stared silently at the board.

“Diamond?” I poked her when it became clear she wasn’t responding.

After being unresponsive for several more seconds, there was a quiet meep.

“Is that a yes?” I leaned in and cocked my ear.

“D-do I have to?”

“Well…” I wilted. “You don’t have to go, but then none of us would be able to either. Dad might be the best guard around, but even he can’t be two places at once.” I kicked the sign. “Stupid sign. I’m a big filly. I bet I wouldn’t need Dad watching me.”

“Why don’t we just ignore it?” Scoots huffed.

“No.” Dad finally spoke from the shadows. “I’m not splitting us up like that.” He patted me on my withers. “If you want, I’ll watch Diamond and let you all take one of the intermediate level hikes on your own, but Morning would kill me if I let any of you take the Test of Courage by yourselves.”

“It won’t be the same….” I tried not to slump, but it was hard.

“Aww….” The other crusaders pouted.

Diamond bit her lip. “Okay, fine! I’ll do it! Just stop making me feel like I’m kicking a box of puppies!”

“Yay!” Sweetie, Scoots, and Bloom instantly brightened up, but Silver and I moved over to give Diamond a hug.

“You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.” I was gentle but firm as I spoke.

“I’ll be alright….” A small shudder ran through Diamond as we held her. “I mean, we’ve got your dad to protect us. Just… stay near me? Both of you?”

“Of course.” I squeezed her tighter. “I was planning on doing that anyway.”

“Really? Why?”

“Because if this morning taught me anything, it’s that you don’t know how to camp.”


“So that means you’re the weakest link.”

“I’m the— What?! I am not!”

“Are too! Any predator we run across is gonna sense all that nervousness and go straight for you if they’re hungry!”

“N-no they won’t!”

“Yes, they will!” I huffed. “And don’t even get me started on what some of the more nasty ghosts might do if they get a taste of your fear.”

“Eeeek! B-b-but you said nopony’s disappeared in years!”

“Smooth, Night. Smooth.” Silver’s stink eye could kill at fifty paces.

“What?” I almost took a step back at her heated glare. “Just because there hasn’t been an accident, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a danger!” I glanced back at Dad for some sort of back up.

“Huh?” For some reason, Dad was grinning stupidly as he watched me and Diamond. “Oh! Yes, the warnings exist for a reason. No matter how safe the rangers make the park, there’s always the chance something will wander in from another part of the forest.”


Silver frowned. “That’s no reason to scare Diamond even more.”

“She isn’t scaring me….” Diamond suddenly pushed away from me with a huff and glared at the entrance to the trail. “I— I refuse to be scared of you! Stupid trail! You hear me?!” Her gaze suddenly turned on me, and it was as fiery as the sun. “And you. I. Am. Not. The. Weakest. Link.” She punctuated each word with a not-so-dainty poke to my chest before turning and almost slapping me with her tail as she barged ahead of us.




Sweetie, Scoots, and Bloom were the first to recover, followed quickly by my Dad who roared with laughter.

“Way to go, champ! You really know how to light Diamond’s fire!”

“I— Uh— What?” I put my hoof to my cheek to feel the slight sting of her tail. “What did I do?”

“You guys coming or not!” Diamond was stopped just at the edge of sight and was tapping her hooves impatiently.

Dad continued chuckling as he shepherded us together before following after Diamond. “Pro tip for you, sport. Never call a mare weak.”

“I just wanted to look out for her!”

“That’s what they all say.” Dad winked.

“What do you mean by that?”

“I said it to your mother, too.”

“Can you start making sense?!” I let out a little whinny and a snort. “Why would you ever call Mom weak?”

“Same reason you just said it to Diamond.”

“But Mom is tall and strong and brave!”

“And that has nothing to do with why I said it.” Dad was grinning like somepony who’d spent their whole lives eating nothing but horseapples.

“Wha— Buh— Argh! Whatever!” I rustled my wings as everypony else giggled at our exchange, and cantered ahead to where Diamond was waiting.

“Sorry!” The apology was vomited out before I even realized I’d opened my mouth, and I squirmed in the shadows as I waited for a response.

“For what?” Diamond grumbled as she glared out at the roots around us. “You were right.” She flicked her tail at me. “Were. Right. Now I’m gonna prove you wrong, because I have just as much Junior Guard training as the rest of the girls. The only one here with any right to be stronger than me is you.”

“Sweet Luna….” I looked briefly to the heavens. “Diamond, you’re not making sense. That has nothing to do with the fact that you’ve obviously never gone camping before.”

“I have too!”

“It’s not real camping if there’s bathrooms that deserve to be called bathrooms.” I couldn’t help rolling my eyes.

“Well— I— Uh—” She faltered, cheeks flushing black. “It was on one of Dad’s business trips, okay?! It’s not my fault we went to one of those places that has all the conveniences of home. There weren’t trees as big as skyscrapers or giant pony eating spiders or ghosts or anything like that.”

“Heh….” I rubbed the back of my head. “I suppose Hollow Shades is a bit more… wild than most ponies are comfortable with. Look, I’m sorry if I said something stupid trying to make you feel better. You were scared, and I thought you might feel safer knowing I was there. It’s what guards do, you know?”

“You’re not a guard yet.”

“So? That doesn’t mean I can’t act like one.”

“A real knight in shining armor would never call his princess weak.”

“To her face.” I snorted. “But this isn’t a story, and you’re not a princess that gets kidnapped by a dragon every other week.”

“That’s not the—”

“Having fun, girls?”

“Sir, yes, sir!” I immediately snapped a salute while Diamond yelped and shot straight up into the air.

“How long have you jerks been listening?!” Even clutching at her heart and gasping for air, she managed to glower at the others.

“Long enough.” Silver adjusted her glasses. “We didn’t want to ruin the moment.”

“Couldn’t have gotten much sappier, though,” Scootaloo grumbled. “Seriously, you two. Just shut up and ki—”

“Kindle your friendship already!” Sweetie half-slugged half-shoved Scootaloo to the side.


“You two all good now?” Apple Bloom shot Scoots and Sweetie a look and stepped forward.

“Mhmm.” We both nodded meekly.

“Good!” Dad let out a rumbling laugh. “I was worried I’d have to resort to a never ending stream of dad jokes to get you both to unite against me. You know, be the villain?” He sucked in a few hoarse, gravelly breaths and reached out towards me. “Night, I am your father.”

I rolled my eyes. “Sehr lustig, Vater.”

“I’m totally hilarious and you know it.” Dad bared his fangs in a grin so smug that I could have sworn I heard Sergeant Smile’s sneeze from here.

And so—much like Mom told me to if Dad got too full of himself—I led the girls in an assault.

“Ah! Oof! Ow! Okay! I get it! I get it! I’m only mildly laughable with a side of groans!” Dad pretended to fall back under the onslaught of sticks and stones that we bombarded him with. Shielding himself with one hoof, he laughed off our attempts at pelting him, and he counter-attacked by swooping me into a hug as soon as we were all out of ammunition

“Join the dark side, Night! We have cookies!”

“Never!” I fought bravely to free myself from his noogies. “Last time I fell for that trick, you baked them gluten and sugar free!”

“You monster!” My friends instantly came to my rescue as they tackled Dad from all directions.

We rolled a few feet further down the path before stopping in a dirty, panting mess, and Dad let us lie there for a minute or two before pulling us all to our hooves and dusting us all off.

“Alright then, girls. That’s enough funny business for now. Moonlight’s wasting, and we don’t want to disturb the forest too much.”

“Isn’t it daytime right now?” Sweetie squinted up through the darkness.

“It’s just a phrase, Sweetie.” Dad chuckled. “It is still most definitely day time.”

“Daytime in the darkness, how wonderful.” Silver rolled her eyes.

“Isn’t it?!” I grinned like a loon under moon. “But yeah, Dad’s right. Enough horsing around, girls! We haven’t even gotten that deep into the trail yet!” I grabbed Diamond and started dragging her down the trail with me. “Me and DT got point!”

“You heard your Platoon Commander, girls!” Dad laughed as he lifted himself into the air. “Buddy up and stay in sight of each other! I’ll watch over you all from up here!”

The trail had started near our campsite at the midpoint between two of the massive trees that made their home in Shadow’s Reach. There was actual dirt to plant the tents in there, as well as flowers and shrubs to forage food from. It was the lone and gnarled offshoot of one of the roots of the tree in the distance that marked the beginning of our journey, though, and we had to carefully navigated up the narrow path for a while, being cautious not to take the wrong route whenever the roots from other trees crossed us to create other branches we could take.

Thankfully, we had signs to point us the right way, so Diamond and I had no problem with staying the course.

As we crawled our way towards the tree in the distance, the root we were on slowly grew until we could peer off the side and down into darkness if we wanted to. The tangle of roots from the tree we were heading towards arced both above and below us, casting us in shadows and making me feel like I was in that one painting I always loved to stare at when Dad had duty in the west wing of the castle.

What was it called again?

Eh… doesn’t matter.

“Eeep!” There was the snapping of wood, and Diamond suddenly started hopping from hoof to hoof like the ground was made of lava. “Night! My hooves just went crazy!”

“Did you step on a loose bit of bark?” I glanced towards where she’d been standing.

“No! It was like when we entered the park but ten bajillion times wor— Sweet Celestia, what’s that?!”

A loud and decrepit creaking filled the air, and I whirled to see what she was pointing at. Off in the distance, an enormous shadow was starting to move. What had looked like nothing but more roots was slowly starting to rise as two glowing orbs that may or may not have been eyes flickered to life.

“Woah! That’s a titanic octocreeper! I didn’t realize one was sleeping so close to us!” I hopped from hoof to hoof. “Do you know how lucky we are right now? There’s only like five octocreepers that big in existence, and they sleep for years at a time between feedings!”

“That’s, uh… great, Night. We don’t have to worry about it eating us, do we?” Diamond was huddled close to me as we watched the octocreeper reach out its tendrils for one of the trees and began to climb it.

“Nah!” I laughed, and waved away her silly fears with a hoof. “You think that thing would even bother with meals that small? It’s heading up for the canopy to bloom for a bit and get some light. We’ll have to see it on our way home if it’s still up there.”

“The canopy?” Diamond gulped, looking skyward. “How the— Night, there’s no room for it to go above the canopy without tearing a way through! What if we get caught in an avalanche of wood?!”

“Well, it’s not called an octocreeper for nothing.” I grinned. “Have you ever seen just how flexible octopuses are?”

“I—” There was a deep breath. “I’m just going to trust you on that one,” Diamond sighed. “My hooves are still tingling like crazy, though.”

“Not much I can do about that.” I walked a little ahead to go beneath the next arch. “Well… except maybe give you a ride. Are you having any trouble walking?” I turned back to look at Diamond only to nearly jump out of my coat.

“Screeeeeeee!” I hissed at the hundreds of brilliant eyes staring out from the shadows of the arch, and the long, sharp claws reaching out for Diamond Tiara froze.

“Diamond. Run. Now.” I kept my eyes on the eyes. Where was Dad? Where was Dad? Where was Dad?!




“No! Not that way!” I surged forward as she turned around and ran straight into the clutches of whatever thing was in the tree.

“But you said run!” Diamond wailed as she flailed for freedom.

“I thought it was obvious it was behind you!” I roared as loud as I could, hoping Dad would hear and know something was wrong.

“Pony….” There was an otherworldly reverberation as the thing spoke, and it reached its other arms towards Diamond.

“Eeek! What are you doing?!” She bucked at the closest limb. “Unhoof me right now or I’ll have my Daddy sue the pants off of you! Night! Help! I think it’s going to—”

The other claws surged forward, and Diamond was suddenly the subject of a lot of petting and ear scritches. It was my turn to freeze, unsure of what I was seeing. I wanted to charge in and save Diamond, but every instinct I had was suddenly screaming that would be a very bad idea.

It— It wasn’t hurting her. Right?

There was no reason to make it mad?

“Pony….” There was much humming and cooing as a bunch of different voices lavished Diamond with affection.

“Night! What are you doing?! Help— Ooooh yeah… right there… that feels great….” Diamond pushed her head into the palm of one of the claws as it scratched her ears a certain way. “I mean, help me!”

“I… don’t think it’s dangerous….” I took a step back. “Dad would have done something if it was. I think… I think it just wants to make friends with you.”

“Well, we can’t stay here forever!”

“I know! I know!” I barked, deciding it was better to risk it and flying up to the… whatever this was. “Umm… look, Mister Eye-thingy?” I squirmed as all its eyes all suddenly turned on me.


“Ahaha, yes.” I rubbed the back of my head. “I… umm… well… we, uh, need to get going? So if you could let my friend Diamond go, I’d be ever so thankful. We kinda need to make it to the end of the path and back before true darkness sets in, so would you mind letting us go ahead? I promise we can play some on the way back.”


One of the claws reached out slowly to give me my own ear scritches before the rest lowered Diamond to the ground and she cantered to safety. The arms seemed to wilt at this, so I flew up to one and gently patted it.

“Sorry…. You kind of scared her.” And me, but there was no way I was saying that out loud. “We really will be back in a bit, though. Maybe she’ll be calmer by then.” I smiled as best I could. “There should be a couple more fillies coming up from behind us, though! Friendliest bunch I’ve ever met! I’m sure they’ll love to make friends with you!”

“Pony…?” The eye-filled, shadowy arch creaked as it arched upwards like an eyebrow.

“Yes, really! And if they don’t then I’ll tell them off for it when we meet them on the way back!”


Without warning I was swept up in a hug and petted again.

“Screeeeeee…” I crooned, “I mean, you’re welcome!” I extracted myself from the claws and flew back to Diamond Tiara, waving back at the thing as we went ahead.

“You’re pure evil, you know that?” Diamond glanced back with a shiver and sidled up beside me. “You basically just fed the others to that thing without a second thought.”

“It’s friendly!” I hastily looked back just in case, my ear flicking for screaming fillies.

“It’s also absolutely terrifying, and they don’t know it’s friendly,” Diamond huffed.

“Should we go back then?”

“No!” Diamond’s hoof shot out to clutch my foreleg. “If it gets out of hoof, your Dad will intervene.”

“Yeah….” My ears wilted. “He will.”

“Something wrong?”

“I’m a little worried about the fact that he didn’t help us. I mean, if he knew it was there and that it was harmless, why didn’t he warn us?”

“Because it’s a test of courage?” Diamond arched her brow at me. “It’s literally in the name.”

“It’s still a jerk move.” I kicked the pathway. “You could’ve been hurt if you struggled too much….”

“He probably trusted you to handle it.” Diamond set a hoof on my withers. “I… I know I did.”

“Thanks.” I gave her a half-hearted smile, still glancing backwards every-so-often.

“So, is that all?” After several minutes without any screams from behind us—when we were far out of earshot from the clawed monstrosity—I finally let myself relax again. “I mean, if that’s the only thing we need to be scared of out here, it’s actually a little disappointing.”

“I will be perfectly happy if that’s the only monster we find,” Diamond huffed.

“I’m pretty sure it was a ghost and not a monster.” I rustled my wings. “Maybe? I don’t know actually…. I’ve never heard of a creature like that before.”

“And ghosts aren’t monsters?”

“According to the park mandates?” I shook my head. “No, they’re not. The rangers here are supposed to help any spirits they find pass on, and if they can’t do that, they’re supposed to make them as comfortable as possible.”

“Why in Equestria would they do that?”

“You know, I never thought to ask Uncle Spirit Chaser that?” I tilted my head and hummed in thought. “I wonder if Dad— Aww, horseapples.”

As we rounded a bend in the trail, we came down upon not just an arch but a series of arches—all so close together that they basically made a cave. Clumps of dirt and rock had settled in the crevices between the roots to further block out the light until even I had trouble seeing.

“So how far in that can you see?” I tentatively tossed a stick through the entrance.

“I can’t.”

“Well, that sucks.” I squinted, trying to spot any signs something inside would jump us. “I guess this explains why the sign was so adamant about day dwellers having a thestral escort. You want me to carry you through?”

Diamond bit her lip. “Maybe we should wait for Sweetie Belle.”

“If you want to, we can do that.” I shrugged. “I’m not sure how long the tunnel will be anyways. I think we might have wound up pretty far ahead of them, though. We haven’t heard any of their antics in over an hour.” I frowned. “Actually… we haven’t heard from Dad in a while either. I’m really starting to think something happened to somepony behind us. We should probably go back.”

“We’re so close, though….” Diamond stopped glaring at the darkness for a moment to glance at the tree trunk looming in the distance.

“Eurgh….” I messaged my temple. “We really, really are. I don’t want to go back without finishing!”

Was it worth getting in even more trouble to finish? Dad would probably be mad that I didn’t notice we’d gotten separated sooner.

“I guess we don’t have a choice….” I sighed. “Let’s head back, Diamond. We could go on ourselves, but I’d have to carry you through the cave, and there’s no guarantee that nothing will go wrong while we’re in there. I don’t want to risk us getting wounded in a place that nopony can see from the air.”

“If you say so….” Diamond eyed the darkness wistfully. “You— You think we could come back tomorrow? The trail really wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be.”

“You know we have to head out early tomorrow to make it back in time for school starting on Monday.”

“This sucks.”

“Tell me about it.” I shot one last look at the cave as we left. “At least we probably won’t be in as much trouble as the others. We just accidentally wandered ahead. They had to have done something way stupider to distract Dad long enough to allow us to do that.”

“What do you think it was?” Diamond frowned.

“I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that if they woke up a monster, it ended up way more afraid of them than they ever were of it.”

“Is that because of the girls, or is that because of your dad?” Diamond arched her brow at me, and I burst into a fit of giggles.


“I swear… if your sisters don’t ground you for at least a month, I’m going to call in that favor the princess owes me and get it made a royal decree.” Dad was pacing back and forth as Diamond and I entered the camp, the rest of the girls arrayed before him in a line—completely covered in tree sap.

“We’re really sorry, Mister Mettle….”

“Who in their right, bloody minds chases after a titanic, sunblasted octocreeper?!” Dad threw up his hooves so hard it made us all flinch back. “Night and Diamond are out there on their own because of you lunatics! What if something happens to them before the rangers find them?!”

The ranger we’d met on our way back tried to nudge me forward, a stoic frown marring his face as he remained silent. My legs were frozen, though—locked up at the sight of Dad violently stomping the ground as he stalked back and forth.

“And if that wasn’t enough, the minute the octocreeper was clearly out of your reach, you chose to galavant deeper into the forest!” Dad’s tail flicked like a whip. A cracking sound filled the air. A growl lurked in the back of his throat.

“We thought we saw somepony!” For a moment, Scootaloo managed a bit of defiance, but it quickly melted under the glare Dad gave her.

“That isn’t a reason to ignore me when I’m yelling for you to stop!” Dad stopped his stomping to turn and flare his wings before Scoots, casting her in shadow.

“Dad, stop….” I murmured, finally managing to take a step forward.

“If you had listened to me then, we could have caught back up to Night!”

“Dad, I’m right here….” My ears folded back.

“You lot need to start listening to the rules I set. Honestly, I’m starting to wonder if I should bring you on these trips with me and—”

“Dad!” My voice cracked so high that I doubted my friends could hear it.

Dad flinched, ears splayed back for a moment at my screechy squeak. He peeked back at me the same way he peeked back at Mom whenever he got caught sneaking us cookies, and when I scowled at him with my best Mom face, his wings wilted faster than a moonflower left in the sun.

“Oh, thank Luna, Night….” In an instant, he pounced on me—the rest of my friends quickly following—and I was subjected to corporal snugglement.

“Dad! Quit it!” My anger was quickly fizzling as he nuzzled me with wild abandon.

The ranger finally coughed to get everypony else’s attention—wordlessly shoving the still hesitant Diamond forward—before nodding to Dad and taking off without a sound. The poor filly was dragged into the lion’s den with a meep, my friends assaulting her with as much friendship as they’d given me.

“I’m was so worried, Night….” Dad’s forelegs held me so tight that there were stars in my eyes and my bones were creaking, but I wouldn’t give his hug up for all the world.

“I-I’m so sorry!” Whatever spark he’d lit by yelling at my friends was gone now, and I latched onto him, sniffling uncontrollably. “Please don’t be mad at everypony else! It was my fault for not noticing you fell behind!”

“Oh, Night….” Dad ran his hoof through my mane. “Your friends did something incredibly stupid and dangerous. You know I can’t just let that slide.”

“B-b-but you’re only this mad at everypony because I made a mistake! If I’d kept a better vigil, then we wouldn’t have gone too far ahead, and you wouldn’t be threatening the others, and—

“Shhhhhhhh….” Dad silenced me with a massive forehoof and pulled me back to his chest. “I— I was overreacting when you got back, Night. I was scared you might never come back, and angry at myself for not taking two—” The word that followed was lost as I sniffed loudly. “—ing seconds to signal you and Diamond to stop.”

He heaved a sigh that left him feeling… tiny… next to me. “I was taking it out on your friends, and I’m sorry about that, but I still meant what I said. Your friends have got to learn that I lay down rules for a reason. If they can’t learn that, then they shouldn’t come with us on trips like this.”

My friends had fallen quiet as Dad spoke, all of them coming in contact with me in one way or another.

“You know I’m right, Night. This is exactly why the guard has a chain of command.”

I flinched at his words, burying my head deep in his chest to try and drown the truth out.


My ears perked.

“I suppose I can give everypony one more chance. Nopony was hurt, and I know not having them would make you miserable.” His smile was tiny when I looked up at him. “Going with just me and your mom just doesn’t cut it anymore, does it?”

No! Not true! I loved everything we did together!

Biting my lip so hard I drew blood, I tore my gaze away from his.

I just— I loved doing stuff with my friends too.

“Now, we’ve all had a rough day.” Dad unfurled his wings to wrap us all in an enormous hug. “I think it’s time we just let all the drama drop for now. You fillies came out here to have fun, so that’s exactly what we’re going to do for the rest of the night. I have marshmallows and chocolate for some smores, and I have a couple instruments for campfire songs. I’ll let you all stay up way past bedtime to tell scary stories and gossip about colts and whatever else you want to do.”

His gaze hardened. “But! You all have to promise— No, Pinkie Promise! Pinkie Promise me that none of you will leave the campsite until we leave tomorrow. I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night to find any of you out hunting ghosts or something.”

My friends and I all glanced between each other before dutifully starting the motions. “Cross my heart and hope to fly! Stick a cupcake in my eye!”

From somewhere deep in the woods, there was the tiniest giggle.

About halfway through the motions, Dad cut off me and Diamond with a hoof. “Not you two. You didn’t do anything wrong today, and I trust you won’t disappoint me by running off in the middle of the night.”


I should have been more happy—really I should have—but all my warm fuzzies kept getting eaten by this stupid gnawing feeling as Dad scrutinized everypony else.

“And when the train set out from Appleoosa, it vanished into the night without a trace.” Silver’s face flickered with shade as she looked at us over the crackling fire. “Drivers gone. Cargo gone. But worst of all—” She leaned forward like a cobra about to strike. “—was the fate of the greedy Baron Black Gold.”

“W-what could be worse than mysteriously vanishing?” Diamond managed to peak out from under my wing finally. She’d retreated there ever since Scoots told the first story, and had refused to leave during both Bloom’s story and Sweetie’s.

Thankfully, Silver really wasn’t that good at being scary.

“Without the oil he promised his investors, his company’s stocks plummeted farther than he had to dig for oil! His family lost millions!”

“Noooooooo!” And there Diamond went, nuzzling into my shoulder again.

“Really, Silver?” Scoots rolled her eyes and savagely tore into her crispy black marshmallow.

“Didn’t you say they were billionaires?” Sweetie tilted her head. “Why would anypony care if they lost millions.”

“Forget the money!” Apple Bloom crossed her hooves over her chest. “Why would anypony find that scary?”

“Millions, Night. Millions!” Diamond clutched me harder, and I sighed.

“Okay, girls, I think that’s enough scary stories for now.”

“What?!” There was a chorus of protests.

“But you haven’t had your turn yet!”

“Yeah! You’re bound to know something beyond scary!

“I wanted to hear one of yours!”

I briefly glanced down at Diamond. “I’d rather keep my foreleg if that’s alright, and the last thing I want is to give any of you nightmares.”

“Eurgh… Diamond!”

“I’m worried about more than Diamond, Scoots.” I shook my head. “To be honest, all your stories were kind of—” I bit my lip.

“Boring.” Dad gave a fanged grin, and I shot him a glare. “Sorry, Night, but you know it’s true. It takes a true creature of the night to hunt in the places any sane day dweller fears to tread.”

“So we’re all just loons under moon?” I gave a squeaky snort.

“Ha!” Dad roared with laughter. “You have to be to take on some of the beasties we’ve found during the years. Now, let me tell you all a tale—a true tale, mind you—of a little filly named New Moon and her shadow, He Who Walks Behind.”

“Oh, no…” I whispered, pulling Diamond closer to me. “Plug your ears, Diamond. This one’s going to get bad.”


“Trust me. You don’t want to hear this one. It had me wetting the bed for a week after I first heard it.”


That did the trick. Now, if only I could warn the rest of my friends before it was too late. Sadly, they were all giving Dad their full attention, and the story was getting into the swing of things. There was nothing I could do but watch, wait, and listen, offering a bit of comfort when the story became too much.

“And so the colony of Ebonwood was swallowed in the darkness of He Who Walks Behind.” The deep, gravelly avalanche that was my Dad’s voice rolled over us in waves. “It’s said that unsuspecting travelers still stumble upon the town under the shade of a new moon—never in the same place twice—as it travels the realm of shadows with its master. For those few souls desperate enough to take shelter there… once He Who Walks Behind has touched you, you can never escape his grasp….”

Dad ended with a deep, dark chuckle that sent tingles down even my spine, but I had to be strong for everypony else. I mean, my wings were already shivering violently from the five ponies taking shelter beneath them. It wouldn’t really help things if I joined in on our little quiver dance.

“You done having fun?” I scowled at Dad, trying hard to resist the temptation to scratch my wings. With everypony taking shelter under them, they were getting hot and itchy and smelly and— Dear, sweet Luna, I wanted to run my fangs over them so bad!

“Perhaps I did overdo it.” Dad chuckled. “I didn’t start out thinking I’d tell that story. It just kind of happened after hearing your friends…”

“…spout lousy excuses for scary stories?” I snorted. “That doesn’t mean you should go all out on them.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Dad heaved a sigh. “I wasn’t going to go easy on them just cuz they’re day dwellers, though. I mean, your mother isn’t scared of that story.”

“Mom doesn’t count! She can beat up most of the Dawn Guard while carrying twins!”

“She sure can!” Dad laughed and waved a hoof. “She’s why you never underestimate a day dweller! Your friends will all be fine in the morning. Trust me.”

“They better be,” I growled, unfurling my wings to poke them. “Come on, girls. Bedtime.”

“Is it over?” Sweetie risked opening an eye and perking an ear.

“Yes, it’s over.” I smiled. “Do you guys want some more s'mores before the fire dies? I can toss another log on if you’d like.”

“That’d be coo— Aaaaahyaraaahaaa….” Scootaloo yawned so wide I could see the back of her throat.

Apparently, Dad was right. There was barely a hint of a quiver to her anymore, and she looked like she was ready to drop.

“Mrrrgmff…. Nevermind…. I think I’m gonna just hit the hay.” She glanced into the comforting shadows of the forest. “If I can get to sleep, that is….”

Okay, maybe she was just too tired to show her fear. I was so gonna slug Dad if he gave them nightmares.

“I’m pretty beat too.” Apple Bloom picked up Diamond Tiara—who had fallen asleep at my side shivering, her ears splayed so airtight upon her head that she couldn’t possibly hear Dad. “I reckon we should all just turn in for the night.”



“Mrrrgmff… bathrooms….”

I giggled as Diamond twisted on Bloom’s back and finally locked somepony else in a vice grip.

“She’s cute when she’s asleep, ain’t she?” Dad grinned wolfishly as the rest of the crusaders trooped off.

“Yeah….” I poked the fire a little more, determined to get the last few embers before turning in myself.

“If you don’t mind… there’s one last thing I want to show you before we hit the sack.” Dad rubbed the back of his head.

“Now?” I cocked my head. “But it’s the middle of true darkness.”

“And that’s exactly how I know where to go.” Dad looked off into the woods. “There’s somepony I want you to meet. He’s been waiting thirteen years to meet you, and I’d rather not make him wait another year.”

“You’re not making sense….” I squirmed, following his gaze.

“You’ll understand if you come with me.”

“But all the super dangerous stuff is out and about right now!”

“Yes, but I know that you’ll stick to me like glue because of that.” He smiled and ruffled my mane. “Trust me. I’ll keep you safe.”

“Well…” I glanced back at the tent with my friends and tried to count just how many of them were snoring. “Alright, then… but this better be good!”

“Oh, you have no idea.” Dad’s smile really helped ease all the butterflies in my stomach.

We flew silently through the forest, Dad keeping us well above the ground. His eyes traced the roots below like an owl seeking prey, and we glided swiftly along a path that seemed to have no rhyme or reason. I followed as close as I could, making sure to stay in his skein, but every so often he’d suddenly turn, and I had to scramble for a few moments to catch up.

There were no words between us save for the occasional click or whistle, and those were made at frequencies most animals didn’t bother with. Dad would rumble out with a muted avalanche and I’d call back with silently shattering glass. Every so often, I’d glance back towards camp, but I could never afford to do so for long with the speed we darted through the shadows at. As quiet as we were, the sounds of the forest pressed down on us as we continued our journey to Luna knew where.

Will-o-wisps danced through the air, their mad giggles and whispers drifting in from all sides. Below us, I saw things stalking about in the shadows—hidden and unclear—and I shivered at the occasional growl or snarl, wondering if we’d been noticed. Once, Dad had dived for cover at the loud and terrible shriek of something in the air above us, and we’d had to wait a few minutes until the shadows of two enormous dire hooters passed over us.

I was worried we’d end up going so far that I’d lose sight of camp, but Dad finally descended without warning, taking us into a hidden burrow between some roots. As we landed, I looked to him and opened my mouth, only to hastily close it as he shook his head and held up a hoof. With one last look outside, he shoved a nearby boulder into the entrance to block it, and finally nodded that it was safe to talk.

“Where are we?” I took a hesitant step forward to see a collection of pools in the room.

“A place many would fear to tread.” Dad nudged me forward.

“That isn’t helpful!” I tried to backpedal and met a solid wall of Dad.

“I promise it’s safe as long as you stick to looking in the pools that have those piles of rocks near them.”

“What happens if I look in the other pools?”

“I make sure you look away before it’s too late.”

“And if you don’t?”

“Then I’d have another reason to come here.”

“Oh….” I looked out at the pools again, and crept up to one to look at the pile of stones. “So these are—”

“Yes.” Dad’s voice cracked as he looked over all the ponds. “Please don’t look in the empty ones. I don’t want to have to add another mound to this place.”

If I squinted at the centermost rock, I could read the words carved into the stone. “Silver Fang….” My ears wilted. “‘His smile was as bright as the moon, lighting up the lives of all he touched. May the Nightmother grant him peace and pleasant dreams as he begins his final slumber.’”

Peeking into the pool, I found it was crystal clear and still as stone. Even in the shadows, a reflection waited for me, but the pony I saw wasn’t myself.

There was a colt no older than four staring back at me.

Blinking at me blearily, he gave a tiny adorable yawn, all curled up like a cat. His little fangs had just come in and were needle sharp, but the sight only sent a pang through my heart.

“Did he even get the chance to go on his first hunt?” I held out my hoof, getting it as close as I dared to the water’s edge.

“Papa was gonna take me later….”

I jumped as the colt spoke, but he turned his back to me, flinging his membranous wing towards me and splashing water everywhere. When the pool cleared, he looked to be sulking far off in the distance.

“Careful with what you say, Night.” Dad laid a hoof on my withers.

“Sorry….” I tried not to wilt. “Which… which one has your friend?”

“He’s over there.” Dad gestured towards the center of the burrow. “Do you want a little time first? I remember what it was like when Comet first led me here.”

“Comet?” My first few steps were slow and cautious. “Is that his name?”

“Eeyup.” Dad pulled ahead as he picked out the right pond. “Comet Blaze. He found me out in the forest when I was lost as a kid and led me here. Said these places were routinely visited by rangers, especially when anypony got lost.”

“You didn’t try to—”

“I’m here, aren’t I?” Dad chuckled. “No, Night. I didn’t look. Comet warned me about the pools well before we got here. He’s such a bright little guy…. He made sure I knew he couldn’t save me if I let my curiosity get the best of me.” He bit his lip. “Some ponies… some ponies weren’t so lucky.”

“He sounds like a good friend.”

“He is. I really wish I could visit him here more often, but between my job and Morning and you…” Dad shook his head as he reached his goal, looking into the pond before him and smiling. “Hey, Comet! You awake? I brought a friend to meet you.”

“Mettle! Mettle, Mettle, Mettle, Mettle! I thought I heard you come in! Gosh, it’s been like, ages! I was starting to think you weren’t coming back!”

“It’s only been a year, Comet.”

“A year is forever when you're a foal!” There was a splash, and a head poked out of the pool. Big, round, moon-like eyes pouted up at Dad with all the force of a meteor as Comet treaded the water with his wings.

“Sorry…. You know I’d visit more often if I could.”

“It’s okay! I got to see Moony and Maria a lot this year! They felt all bad they didn’t get to see me last year.”


“Yeah! My new nephew!” There was another splash as Comet zipped out of the water to do a loop. “I’m like a super-mega uncle now!”

“A couple more generations and you’ll make it to mega-ultra-uber uncle.” Dad grinned.

“Huh?!” Comet gasped and did a spit take, spreading an impressive spray of water over the floor. “It goes that high?!”

“It never stops as long as your family keeps growing.” The grin grew. “Speaking of which, I think it’s time you finally met my daughter.”

“Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Really?! Where is she?! Where is she?!”

“I’m, uh… here….” I poked out from behind Dad. “Hi….”

“Hi!” He zooped down and hovered before me, holding out a sopping wet hoof that was dripping way more water than it should. “I’m Comet Burst! I’ve heard so, so much about you!”

“You have?” I held out my own hoof, but didn’t actually try to shake.

“Uh-huh! Mettle talks about you all the time when he’s here! He’s such a cool dad like that!” He puffed out his chest. “Not as cool as my dad, though! Mom says he died making sure Princess Luna knew somepony loved her, and everypony knows Princess Luna is best princess, so that makes him like, basically the best guard ever!”

I blinked. “But my dad’s the best guard ever.”

“No, my dad is!”

“No, my dad is!!”

“No, my dad is!!!”

“No, my dad is!!!! You can tell because Princess Luna keeps trying to steal him back from Princess Twilight! He’s her favorite!”

“He works for Princess who? Why would he give up working with the Princess Luna?!

“Because he’s so darn awesome that even Princess Luna can’t stop him from doing what he wants!”

“You’re just making that up! I bet there isn’t even a Princess Twinkle Shine!”

“It’s Princess Twilight! And am not!”

“Are too!”

“Am not!”

“Are too!”

We both scowled at each other for a few moments before breaking into giggles.

“Agree to disagree?” I held out my hoof again.

“Sure!” He tried to hoof bump me, and as his hoof went through mine I suddenly felt like I was submerged in the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean. My breath froze in my lungs and my heart skipped a beat, but as quickly as it came it was over. “Ooof! Sorry! Sometimes I forget that I’m… you know.” He waved a hoof.

“It’s—” I coughed violently, the sensation of ice and water in my lungs very fresh in my head. “—fine. Is that what it was like when you…”

“Night.” Dad frowned.

“Hey! You asked me once, too!” Comet laughed, sticking his tongue out at Dad. “It’s not that big a deal. Everypony asks that.”

“It’s disrespectful.” Dad harrumphed before cracking a small grin. “But I suppose you’re not as touchy as some of the others.”

“Hah! That’s cuz I’m like a bajillion years old by now!”

“A bajillion year old foal.” Dad let out a rumbling chuckle.

“Who wouldn’t want that? Being a foal is the best!” Comet zooped through a few more loops. “I get to have fun, and goof off, and everypony who visits brings me candy! Most of the adults here are big grumpypants, and they never get any visitors because of it!”

A sudden frown marred his face. “I’ve been here a thousand years, and my family still hasn’t forgotten me. I know I have it as good as it gets for a ghost, so what’s the point in being sad? I might as well make some ponies smile.”

“A bajillion years indeed.” Dad nodded, humming. “Have you given any more thoughts to moving on?”

“No!” Comet gave an tiny snort and indignantly stomped a hoof. “You know why I won’t, so stop asking!”

“Sorry….” Dad winced. “Have Moony and Maria been pushing it too much?”

“A little….” For the first time, Comet’s perky ears wilted.

“Well, I know you, and if you still think staying is the right thing to do, I won’t push it.” Dad held a hoof out to Comet, and the little guy flew in to nuzzle it. The contact lasted a good few seconds, but Dad didn’t even flinch.

More undeniable proof he was the toughest, coolest dad out there.

“So, umm…” I squirmed a little as I tried to find the words. “Sorry if this seems rude, but… why don’t you want to move on? If you’re actually happy and content and able to let go, don’t you think you should? The rest of your family probably misses you….”

“But I can’t go just to make myself happy! I have my mission to think of!” Comet puffed out his chest and looked into the distance—a certain fire in his eyes that not even the water logging him down could quench.

“Your mission?” I blinked.

“Yuh-huh!” He pumped a hoof. “I can’t just move on when ponies still get lost sometimes! I gotta stay here if I’m gonna stop other ponies from ending up like me! I mean, without me, your dad might’ve ended up Lost too! He wouldn’t have gotten to grow up or meet your mom or get married or have you! As long as I’m here, I can help ponies just like my dad helped Luna!”

The fire in him flickered as he wilted for a second.

“As long as I’m here, nopony has to feel lost or alone or sad.”

Dad nudged me hard, and gestured to Comet, but I hardly needed him to give me a hint.

“That sounds like a pretty big duty to take on all by yourself.” I smiled. “I bet your dad would be proud.”

“You think so?!” Comet pranced in circles. “Everypony always says that, but sometimes I think they say it just to get me to move on.” He squinted at me. “Wait a second…. That’s not why you’re saying that, is it?”

“No!” I shook my head furiously. “I think it’s really amazing that you’re so dedicated to staying behind!” I kicked the ground. “It must get kinda lonely, though…. Are any of the other Lost like you?”

“Not really,” he huffed. “There were a few over the years, but they never stick around for more than a century or two.” Blowing a raspberry, he pouted and crossed his hooves before him. “Pansies.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” I shivered a little at the thought of bumping hooves with him again, but held my hoof out anyways. “I kind of know what that’s like, though. Me and my friends are all in the Junior Guard, but I get the feeling they only stick with it to make me happy. They don’t actually want to serve like I do.”

“It sucks, doesn’t it?!” He flew down to hoof bump me again, and I used all my training not to shiver. “That’s why your dad’s so cool. He gets it. So do you! Like, Moony and Maria are nice, but nopony in my family has been a guard in forever.” He sighed. “I wish they could get why I stay….”

“Sometimes family doesn’t have to understand.” Dad rumbled.

“I know, I know!” Comet pouted. “I figured that out like half a bajillion years ago. Doesn’t stop it from being annoying.”

“Well… I can’t promise to help you forever like you want.” I squirmed knowing Dad was probably giving me a look for that. “But I can promise to be your friend for as long as I can….”

“Really?” His already perky ears perked so much they seemed to pop. “It’d mean a lot if you came with Mettle every year. Most ponies I save don’t ever want to come back, but it’s like, the best thing ever when they do.” He grinned. “Stuff like that always makes my mission worth it.”

I looked at Dad, and he nodded.

“I’d love to.” I smiled.

“Screeheeheeheeheeheehee!” Comet zooped through a few more loops before tackling me with a full on hug. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

“Screeeeep!” Staying still for a hoof bump was one thing, but a full on hug had me jumping right out of him.

“Hah! What are you? Afraid of a little water? Because I got news for you!” He leaned in and poked a hoof through my chest. “Tag you’re it!”

“Wha— Hey!” I scowled, trying to shake myself dry of water that wasn’t even there.

He wanted to play? Then we’d play.

“It. Is. On!” I darted after him only to swerve as he retreated into the wall for safety. “Bwuh?! No fair!”

The only answer was an otherworldly giggling from all sides.

“I thought you had honor!”

“I do: when it matters!” He poked out of the other side of the burrow to stick his tongue out at me. “After the first few centuries, you learn you don’t need it all the time.”

“Heresy!” I charged, but he quickly ducked back in the walls.

“Hey! I’m not wrong! Your Dad’s told me stories about when he was Princess Luna’s personal guard!”

“Oh, yeah! Well…” I really had no good response to that.

“Aww, come on! Your dad put up a way better game than this when we first met.” He poked out of his pool to pout at me. “But fine…. I guess I can stay out of the walls.”

“And the pools, and the roots, and me.” Dad chuckled. “Don’t even try it, Comet.” I know all your tricks.”

“Aww… way to suck the fun out of it!” Comet turned an even bigger pout on Dad. “That just makes it normal tag!”

“Normal tag is all we can play, sport!” Dad laughed. “Besides, you know you still have fun with it.”

“Fine.” Comet splashed me with water as he burst from his pond again. “But I better get twice as much candy when you leave! You always played the hard way.”

“Maybe next year we can teach her how.” Dad reached into his saddle bags to toss some mango salt water taffy into Comet’s pool. “Morning should hopefully be with us then, provided we can get a foalsitter for the twins.”

“Cool! She always did— Foalsitter?! Twins?!” Comet pointed a very accusatory hoof. “Mettle!”

“Yeah! I’m gonna be a sister!” Between his flabbergasted face, and the questioning looks he was shooting Dad, I saw my chance and took it. “Also, tag you’re it!”

“Hey! No fair!”

“So? Who was it who went into the walls?”

“That’s different!”





As I darted about to avoid Comet’s pursuit, Dad settled to the ground and watched on, roaring with laughter all the while.

“That’s my girl! You giggle at that ghostie!”