"Always a teacher, eh, Lion? Hi, Big Mac."
Apple Bloom slipped into the tent, smiling. Through the swaying tent entrance, you could see Hotshot standing outside, staring into the distance.
Sergeant Lion turned to Apple Bloom, scratching his beard. "Hello, Apple Bloom. How are you doing?"
"Same as always. Though you look like that previous year has worked about tenfold on you."
Big Macintosh sighed. "May we continue?"
"Alright, General, keep your mane on."
On the fourth day, Sergeant Thunder had been trekking in the forest when he suddenly paused. "Something isn't right..." he stated. He looked around the area, his eyes coming down to rest on a pair of long, thin branches. With vines hanging off of them. It made them look like... oh no.
"JUMP!" he yelled.
He leaped into the air, along with five of the nine others. The floor suddenly rumbled and-
Like a giant Venus Flytrap, the leafy ground snapped shut, quickly encasing three of the other four on the ground in a pair of razor sharp leaves. One of the squad was unlucky and was standing on two of them as it snapped shut, and his body was almost ripped in half, each piece being taken by a separate piece, leaving a trace of blood on the ground and spattered across the leaves. While the other two struggled faintly, the fourth stood staring in shock. All the leaves- the ones on the ground and the ones with the ponies- retracted. As Thunder hit the ground, the sergeant in command of the group threw a large blade at one of the ones with a pony in it. It chopped clear through the blades before burying itself in a tree nearby.
His companions rushed to help the stunned and slightly damp pony as the other pony slowly stopped struggling. Thunder looked at the plant in question, glaring at it, before his eyes fell on the blade embedded in the tree. His eyes widened.
"Move along, now."
As they hustled along, the sergeant in command angrily confronted Sergeant Thunder. "Sir, what the hell was that about?"
"It is what you should expect from the Everfree. They specialize in guerrilla warfare, and often use the natural dangers of the forest against-"
"I know what the hell they use the plants for, thank you, sergeant. But why in the House's name did you leave Star Shot to die like that?"
"Because of your brave- though rather foolish- maneuver."
"Did you see where that blade landed? It almost cleaved a tree in half. If that tree contained a spirit of the forest, which nine out of ten of them do, the entire place would have been swarming with Wildings by the time we had recovered him long enough to be gone." said the Sergeant in an undertone. "That, and casualties happen. Had I or another pony saved him, we would have been witnesses to the rather unpleasant event of a pony who had been stunned into euphoria and apathy melt into a pile of goo by the plant's digestive juices. And, I don't think that would have been a very pleasant event, especially for morale. These are green troops, and you are a green sergeant. Am I right?"
He growled. "You are a heartless bastard. Do you even have a soul?"
He considered biting back with a insult of his own, but he sighed and said, "I leave my soul at home. I cry over the fallen when the day is done, not in front of the others. Imagine: the lieutenant that has been through it all, crying in front of my troops?" He turned back to the forest. "It's called iron self-contro- STOP!"
He skidded to a stop, as well as the others behind him. One nudged him, and he almost lost his balance, but he recovered it. The sergeant, however, was not as lucky, and he tripped over a branch, and, even as the squad watched, fell into the leaf- covered ground ahead. It gave away and he fell into a pit. There was a plop, and nothing else.
Some of the troops had come over to look at the pit, but he stopped him before they could. He peered his head in to see, just underneath the water, the sergeant, eyes closed with an expressionless face while a giggling spirit almost unwound his body into liquid.
And Sergeant Thunder had been six inches from falling in.
He watched him for a moment before he turned to the others, shaking his head. "And that is why you are always immediately suspicious of anything with more leaves than it should."
He sighed. "Let's move on. And do me a favor and don't look into the pit, please."
Thunder grinned as he came into view of a rather large tree with several orange and yellow blossoms in the canopy. Well, here it was. He turned to the others remaining. "Well, in order to defeat your enemy, you must know your enemy. Can anyone tell us what this is?"
Once again, silence. Thunder smiled. "I wouldn't expect you to, unless you've come from the Everfree regions. Alright then. This is what is commonly known as a Guardian Tree. Think like a command center for defenses in the area. And wherever there are Guardian Trees..." He moved a branch out of the way. "There are Wilding Ponies and, in some cases, Everfree Wraiths." He sighed. "As this is a scouting mission... give me a map, please?" One of the troops shakily produced a map and a short, red pencil. He grabbed it and, after making a few mental notes, marked out their path, as well as obstacles and dangers, and put a big red circle around where he estimated they were. He also noted where he thought that their camp was. He nodded to the scouts, who slowly began to back out of the tree they were currently in. For a moment, he stopped, staring, hypnotized for a moment, at the battle drills and rituals of the Wildings...
"Mmh? Oh, yes, of course."
He crawled out after them and, guiding the others, he began to stalk back towards the camp.
"And here you are." finished Apple Bloom. "But where are the other two?"
"Well, one was wounded enough where I thought a visit to the first aid tent would do him good, and the second... I don't know. He collapsed and started melting. Before I could determine what did it, he was dead."
At the mention of melting ponies, Apple Bloom's smiled had disappeared, to be replaced by a slightly disgusted look. "Ah ain't sure I should be here no more..."
"Don't worry, Forgemaster. It's not like your going to be on the front lines."
He took out a small dart and the map and presented it to him. "The tip was poisoned. With what, I don't know. I guess it activated what little of the plants digestive juices there was on him, though I'm sure that's just a side effect."
Big Macintosh sniffed it and looked over it. "Zebra make..."
"Exactly. There's a war camp somewhere around here, and I'm not so sure I want to attack the Guardian Tree with the possibility of being flanked."
Macintosh thought for a moment. Then he turned to the Sergeant, a small, grim smile on his face. "Ready to get rid of it?"
Sergeant Thunder's scarred face split into a large smile behind his beard. "As always, sir."