The Guardian of the Night

by Car Cloth

Star Spiders

“The Night Guard soldiers here tonight will patrol the skies,” Phantom Shade lazily stated. “Should you find yourself in trouble, simply call for help and somepony will remove you from harm’s way. However, should anypony be required to carry you out, you will be assigned to a different guard or removed altogether. We don’t need ponies that can’t handle themselves.”

Snails raised a hoof. Phantom Shade looked at him in confusion but motioned him to speak regardless.

“There are only ten guards… what if all twelve of us were in trouble?”

Thunder Clash quickly flew up and in front of Snails, stepping between the unicorn and the bat pony captain. “Nevermind the recruit. He’s got a history of counting problems. I don’t think he understood that you and I will be here as well.”

Pip smiled to himself. Thunder Clash might be scarred and old, but Pip knew he was a skilled soldier. He felt safer already knowing he would be in the sky watching over them.

A Night Guard soldier walked to the recruits and began passing out tiny cages on string. The guard threw the string around each recruit's neck so that the cage could hang at their chest, like a necklace with an oversized pendant. Pip examined his cage intently. Judging by the shape, the Star Spiders should be no more than a hoof in size.

“Each of you bring back one spider before the sun rises,” Phantom Shade repeated. “Now go.”

The group of bat pony recruits immediately shot off into the darkness of the forest. Pip and the others exchanged silent glances before trotting off into the woods after them. Pip had never been in this forest before… He had been to the Everfree Forest on a few occasions, but he hoped this forest would be nothing like that one.

Within seconds of walking among the trees, Pip realized the two forests were far from similar. This forest had a broken canopy that allowed for the light of the moon to stream down in patches. The grass grew in waves and shades of green. Ferns that sparkled in the darkness would occasionally lighting the way. The insects and owls moved in rhythm, their cries and noises a harmonious natural symphony.

It was everything the Everfree Forest wasn’t.


Pip turned around and saw that Scootaloo, Rumble, Marble, Snips and Snails were all following him. “What are you guys doing here? Isn’t this an individual test?”

“They never said we had to do it on our own,” Rumble shrugged. He was flying between the trees, admiring the streaks of moonlight. “Besides, we’ll probably be able to find more spiders if we work together!”

“Guys, guys! I found one!”

Everypony turned to see Snips leaning low to the ground, one hoof outstretched. There was a tiny Star Spider on the leaf of a non-sparkling fern, slowly creeping along near the stem. Its body was a dark, purple-blue and on the top of its abdomen was a light-blue star-shaped marking. Snips slowly relaxed onto his rotund body and gently moved his hoof closer. The Star Spider lazily crept onto Snips' hoof and his eyes brightened with excitement.

“G-guys! I really got it! All by myself!”

Rumble’s mouth fell open in disbelief. “You? You were the first one to find one!?”

Scootaloo examined the tiny Star Spider on Snips’ hoof. “This is it? It’s so small! And not dangerous at all! Anypony could have caught this! A foal could have caught this!”

As his foreleg trembled with excitement, Snips turned to Pip and held out the spider in his direction. “Here. You take it.”

“What?” Pip laughed in disbelief. “No, Snips. You caught it. The spider is yours.”

“But… You helped me and Snails when we needed it.”

“You never have to repay me for that,” Pip said, distancing himself from Snips and the spider. “I didn’t help you for a reward.”

The look on Snips’ round face was too complex for Pip to accurately read. He seemed confused, or maybe angry, Pip really couldn’t tell. “But,” Snips said in a pained voice, “you want to be in the Night Guard so badly… This is your chance to go back and the test will be over!”

“You go back,” Pip tried to reassure him. “I’m sure I’ll find my own spider.”

“You won’t be angry with me?”

“Of course not.”

Snips smiled and pulled the spider close to his face in order to examine it. “I… I can’t believe I did it! Snails! Look! I did it! This is so amazing! I-” In his jubilation, Snips inhaled a bit too deeply and sucked the spider straight into his throat. “Ark! Ack-! Eck!” He was choking.

Snails rushed over and began whacking him hard on the gut. Although not an effective way of dislodging a blocked airway, on the third whack, Snips managed to cough up the spider regardless. It was now covered in saliva, and somehow still alive.

“You okay?” Snails asked.

“Would you hurry and place that spider in your cage before you accidentally eat it again!” Scootaloo chastised him.

Snips quickly nodded as he carefully placed the wet spider into his cage. Once everything was secure, he ran back to their starting location, waving to the rest of the recruits as he went.

Snails kicked at the ground. “Oh… Without Snips, how am I going to find a spider of my own?”

Rumble scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Did you see how easy that was!? If Snips can do it on his own, we can all do it on our own! Just pick a direction and start walking! I’m sure you’ll eventually spot one!”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo agreed. “I’ll catch you guys back at the starting area once I got my spider!” She immediately sped off into the darkness of the forest, not even bothering to look back.

Rumble and Snails both took opposite directions, Rumble in the sky, Snails bumbling through the tree trunks. All that was left was Marble. In the darkness her gray coat almost seemed a dark blue.

“Aren’t you going to rush off as well?” Pip asked.

“We can keep each other company.”

Pip nodded. They both trotted off into the darkness of the forest, not bothering to follow a certain path. The deeper they went the more enchanting the forest became. There were gold glowing caterpillars, owls with silver wings, and even trees with rainbow-colored leaves.

Although everything around him was wonderful and fascinating, Pip kept his gaze tied to the sky above. Phantom Shade said Luna would be here watching… Where is she? Why haven’t I seen her?

Marble broke the silence by stating, “Star Spiders grow when dark magic is active. I heard they have almost no limit to how big they can get.” Pip continued to stare at the sky, hoping to catch just a glimpse. Marble continued with, “Unlike most spiders, they only have seven eyes. Also, they only shed their exoskeleton at night. They don’t like bright places.”

Pip slowly turned to her and forced a laugh. “Marble… Why do you know so much about Star Spiders?”

“I was… very bored as a foal. I would sneak books out into the rock fields when nopony was looking and read instead of doing my work. I learned all kinds of things, not just about Star Spiders.”

“Is that why you knew so much about the King Basilisk as well?”

Marble suddenly stopped and carefully examined an ordinary fern. “Yes,” she replied absent-mindedly. “But reading soon became boring as well… just as rock farming and parties had become for me before that. I thought all of life was dull until I discovered my special talent.” She held out a hoof and gently nudged a sleeping Star Spider. It awoke and slowly began crawling about. Marble blocked its escape with another hoof and quickly captured it within the cage.

“Congratulations,” Pip said.

“Thank you. Do you want me to keep you company?”

“No, it’s fine. I’m sure I’ll get one eventually. We have all night.”

“As you wish.” Marble nodded to him and trotted off into the darkness. As she went, the light suddenly began to fade and Pip turned his attention to the sky. Dark clouds were being ushered in from overhead, blocking the light of the full moon. Pip figured tonight they would call forth the rain, but they would most likely wait until it was near dawn.

The forest became much darker now. The only light Pip had was from the occasional sparkling fern and glowing gold caterpillar. He continued his trek forward, his gaze going back to the sky. It was dark, but he knew he would be able to spot Luna’s enchanted mane should she fly over.

“Star Spiders don’t dwell in the sky.”

Pip recognized Mist’s unusual voice instantly. He turned in an attempt to find her, but it was too difficult for him to see. “Mist? Are you there?”

She flew close to him, a cute smile on her face. “Hey! I’m here to help you!”

Pip shrugged. “I don’t think I’ll need the help. We aren’t fighting King Basilisks so… I’m sure I’ll be okay.”

Mist began to prance along the ground, her wings flapping in sync with her steps, allowing her to semi-float. “We made a deal though! We were going to help each other!”

“Do you actually need help?” Pip glanced at her cage. It was empty.

“I found a spider earlier, but Gloom got to it first,” she practically sang. “It was my fault for announcing its location. He heard and he was just a tiny bit faster than me.”

“That’s… not very nice.”

Mist shook her head. “No way! Bat ponies have a motto: take what you can, when you can. You never know when you won’t have it anymore! Gloom was just following the motto.”

Pip nervously laughed. “That’s a very strange motto.” He wasn’t sure how he felt about that motto… How did it even come to be? That question troubled him.

“So, you don’t want any help?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Okay then…” Her fluffy ears hung down and she sadly flew off into the shadows of the trees. Had she wanted to him? Pip sighed to himself and continued forward. He turned left, and then right, and then curved around a group of trees. At one point he saw somepony flying overhead, but he realized it was just one of the Night Guard and nothing more. His heart sank the longer the night marched on. Where was Luna?

Whether through subconscious intention or pure coincidence, Pip found himself getting closer and closer to the base of the mountain, just below the Canterlot Castle. His hooves were killing him by the time he reached it. He didn’t know how long he had been walking but he suspected it had been a couple of hours, at least.

Looking around, Pip realized it was oddly silent. The melody of the owls and insects were not to be heard. There were no noises, actually. None that he could detect. Had all the other recruits captured their spiders?

A slight panic was now washing over him. How much longer did he have in the night? He still needed a Star Spider, but he couldn’t see through the darkness around him… Pip lowered his head closer to the ground and began walking like a bloodhound on the trail of a scent. Even with his eyes so close to the earth, he could barely see anything. I’m more likely to squish one than I am to find one!

A shadow of doubt came over him. Maybe he should have accepted that spider when Snips offered it to him… Pip shook his head. No! I’ll find one! I just have to keep looking! There has to be one around here! There just has to be!

The sound of flapping wings caught his attention. Pip looked up. “Hello?” he whispered. “Is… anypony there?” The thought of Screech sneaking up on him in the middle of the forest made him nervous. He backed up until his back was against a tree.

“Squeaks? Is that you?”

Mist! Pip’s anxiety left him. “Mist… What are you still doing out here?”

She flew up to him and landed by his side. Her ears were still low and her posture very slouched. “I can’t find any Star Spiders! I was… I was hoping you would still be willing to help me.”

You can’t find any? But you can see in the dark…”

“I think they all went to sleep or something… I’m not even finding other types of insects…”

Pip had to take a deep breath to calm himself. It was looking bad, but they could get out of this if they worked together… “Okay. We’ll try to find a Star Spider. Just stay close. Tell me if you see anything.”

Without warning, the area they were standing in was flooded by a light-blue glow. Pip turned to see seven eyes staring at him through the darkness. Seven light-blue glowing eyes. One eye was giant, perhaps the size of Pip’s head, and other six were all around it, slightly smaller, almost the size of a hoof. Pip and Mist were shocked and frozen in place.

The creature behind the glowing eyes was a giant Star Spider, roughly the size of two chariots. It took two steps from the darkness and stared at them with its unblinking eyes.

Mist slowly took a step back. “Um,” she whispered. “I don’t think this one is going to fit into our cage…”

Suddenly, the giant Star Spider attacked. It lashed out with its sharp, pointed leg and Mist just barely had enough time to dodge. Pip was startled into action, turning away from the beast and taking off through the trees. The spider rushed for him, nimbly flowing through the forest as though the trees were not an issue to move around.

Mist flew ahead, weaving back and forth. Pip tried to follow her, but soon she disappeared from his sight. He tripped over a root in the darkness and tumbled across the forest floor, cursing his lack of sight the entire way.

The Star Spider crashed over him and hissed an odd insect hiss. Two fangs uncurled themselves from the mouth of the spider. Pip stumbled backward in uncertainty. Was this monster poisonous?

The Star Spider rose up a sharp leg and thrust downward, attempting to puncture Pip’s body in one fatal blow. Mist dove from the darkness and collided with Pip just in time to save him from the leg of the spider, but not quick enough to avoid being injured herself. The Star Spider’s leg cut deeply into her flank, slicing open flesh across her cutie mark; the owl made of mist.

“Ah!” she gasped as she hit the ground, startled by the injury.

With its fangs at the ready, the Star Spider lunged forward. Pip, almost without thinking, got up and bucked at the head of the creature, his back hooves striking the spider in two of its seven eyes.

The monster hissed and reared back in pain. “Mist, let’s go!” he called for her as he took off into the forest. Mist didn’t get up. She sat on the ground trembling, her eyes fixated on her bleeding flank.

The Star Spider regained its composure and attempted to fang Mist. Pip slammed his body into the abdomen of the spider, throwing it slightly off balanced. It quickly turned and stabbed with its sharp legs. Pip dodged and rolled away, but once he was out of reach, the spider turned back toward Mist.

Mist was still paralyzed within her own fear. “Mist!” Pip called to her. “Mist, snap out of it! We have to go!”

She didn’t move, not even when the Star Spider loomed above her, its fangs ready. Pip rushed forward and dove for the legs. He got under the spider and jumped upward, toppling it over to its side before galloping to Mist.

“There’s so much blood…” she whispered in a soft breath.

The Star Spider easily got to its many feet and attacked with its fangs. Pip didn’t have time to carry Mist, and he certainly wasn’t going to outrun the spider with her on his back. He buckled down and stood over her. When the spider got close he bucked at it again; this time his back leg catching on the fangs as he did so.

He slammed the Star Spider in its largest eye, but the wound to his leg left him in a mild state of shock. The cut was burning so badly! Was it poison? Pip had no idea. All he knew was that this wound hurt more than any he had ever had before.

The Star Spider stumbled backward, its legs shaking and unsteady. Pip knew he had rocked it. If he was going to stop it from attacking he had to finish this fight. He ran forward, slid in close and bucked at its giant eye once again, careful not to cut himself a second time. The Star Spider groaned and collapsed to the ground, its many legs twitching as it went.

Pip hadn’t realized how deeply he was breathing until that moment. He had been in a state of pure adrenaline just a few seconds ago… everything had felt so slow, but now that he thought back, he realized the fight had happened within minutes.

“Mist,” he muttered as he turned back to face her. “Mist, are you okay?” Pip went to walk to her, but his back leg suddenly gave out. He fell to the ground. His whole body was becoming numb. “Eh…” Even his throat felt as though it were becoming stiff.

Mist finally ripped her eyes away from the wound. In a matter of seconds she realized what had happened. “Help!” she called out. “Help! Somepony help us!”

Two Night Guard soldiers, Phantom Shade and Thunder Clash all rushed to their location within moments of Mist yelling. Pip couldn’t move. He knew he was still breathing, but his lungs were on fire and he suspected it was only a matter of time before they were too stiff to work.

The first thing Phantom Shade noticed was the unconscious overgrown Star Spider. His eyes went wide as he approached it. “Princess Luna’s suspicions were correct,” he muttered to himself. “This proves it.”

“That proves nothing,” Thunder Clash growled. His eyes scanned the darkness until he noticed Pip on the ground. “Recruit? Are you okay? Pipsqueak?”

Pip couldn’t answer. He could barely see… his vision was fading to black…

“Princess Luna will want to see this,” he heard Phantom Shade command the Night Guard soldiers. “Bring it to her immediately.”

“Pipsqueak?” Thunder Clash asked him. His voice sounded so distant…

Pip's vision went black and soon after he could hear nothing.