“All right, maggots. In a shocking turn of events, you’re all still here. Since this is technically the second phase of your training, we’ll begin with another round of sparring. It’s my goal to have you familiarized with personal combat before you begin your duties with the Night Guard.”
Snips, Snails and Scootaloo all slumped in place. The bat ponies, on the other hoof, all exchanged confident glances. That is, except for Mist, who hung back behind the rest, gently rubbing at the bandages over her flank.
The night was windy and the sky still covered with clouds. Although his feelings fluctuated with his thoughts, Pip had a dire urge to fight somepony right now. He was glad he couldn’t see the moon, for he thought that looking upon it would cause him guilt for having such feelings.
Thunder Clash flew over the sparring circle and looked around the group. “Let’s see… Rumble, why don’t you and Specter take the ring?”
“I went up again him last time, sir!” Rumble moaned, rubbing at the eye that had once been black with bruising.
“I want to see if anything I’ve been teaching you has sunk into that thick head of yours. Get into the ring!”
Rumble flew out into the sparring ring and landed near the middle. Specter went out to meet him with a smirk upon his face. The pegasus and bat pony stared each other down in silent rivalry.
“One… Two… Three! Fight!”
The instant the fighting began, Rumble planted his hooves and began flapping his powerful wings. Wind picked up, swirling around them like he were threatening to create a tornado at any second. Specter took two steps back and waited.
The wind was swirling powerfully now, picking up dirt around the ring and knocking over weapons racks. Pip had to brace himself in order not to fall over. His back leg was still in pain, and standing on three legs made him wobbly. The low rumbling noise of the wind made it difficult to hear anything. From what Pip could gather of the situation, Rumble was going to try and blow Specter out of the ring without even needing to engage him in physical combat.
Specter began kicking at the ground, throwing more and more dirt into the air. Now it was practically a sandstorm, dirt and howling wind all around them. Some dirt got into Pip’s eye and stung him. He was forced to look away and close his eyes if he wanted to avoid that happening again.
Within a few seconds of him doing so, the wind died down. Pip hesitantly opened his eyes again and saw Rumble outside of the sparring ring with Specter proudly standing in the middle. By the shocked look on Rumble’s face, Pip was sure he had to close his eyes as well… and that’s when Specter made his move.
Despite Rumble losing, Thunder Clash flew over to him and nodded. “Good thinking, boy. Incorporating your special talent like that shows me you’re improving, if only slightly. Now get back in the ranks.”
Rumble straightened his dark gray and blue mane before shuffling back into line. Although Pip would have liked to comfort him, he noticed that Screech was glaring in his direction and he decided to glare back. Maybe it was the Star Spider poisoning, maybe it had been the terrible sleep… but Pip wanted to try sparring again. This time he wanted to do more than just win. He had a deep-seated need to prove he was better.
“Next up… Screech and-”
“Me, sir,” Pip volunteered, stepping forward.
Screech scratched at his chin as he flew out into the sparring ring. His red eyes were alight with bloodlust and smiled flashing his fangs.
“No,” Thunder Clash grunted. “Don’t be foolish, boy. You’re injured. Get back in line. The sparring isn’t for you tonight.”
“I want to do this,” Pip heatedly replied. “I don’t care that I’m injured. I can win against him any day.”
The hairs along Screech’s spine stood on end as his hissed in Pip’s direction. “You wouldn’t have been so lucky if that were a real fight, earth pony!”
“Hey,” Mist timidly offered. “Pip was the one that defeated that monster Star Spider, remember? He’s not as weak as you say!”
“Didn’t you tell Captain Phantom Shade you defeated it together?” Screech hissed. “Besides, it’s not like he walked away unscathed. I say it’s luck, not skill, that gets him through his challenges.”
“Why don’t you say that to my face?” Pip angrily shouted.
Marble grabbed him and pulled him back, confusion and bewilderment etched across her face. “Pip. This isn’t like you at all. Calm down.”
Thunder Clash snorted. “Enough! You bickering school-foals are starting to grate at my nerves! When I say no, I don’t mean try and persuade me, I mean no! Screech, you and Marble are in the ring!”
Screech was already in position. He shot Pip one last glare before turning his attention to Marble. Although still concerned for Pip’s wellbeing, Marble let go of him and walked out into the sparring ring. With Screech being nearly all white and Marble being nearly all gray, the sparring ring almost looked like an incomplete painting; devoid of all color outside of the ponies eyes.
“One… Two…Three! Fight!”
Screech lunged, wild and reckless. Marble turned to try and buck him, but he was too quick. Before she knew what was happening, he had slammed her to the ground. When Marble attempted to stand, Screech savagely stomped down on her chest, winding her with a terrible cracking sound. Screech rose up to do it a second time, but Marble had suddenly gone berserk.
She struck upward into his gut with her powerful kick. When she stood up her once perfectly straight mane was frizzy, wild and untamed. The look in her eyes was primal. Screech hit the ground hard, but, surprisingly, it only made him laugh. He got up, still laughing, and lunged again.
Marble and Screech collided in the center of the ring, both acting without order or training; they were simply attacking each other like crazed animals. Screech slammed his head into her muzzle and Marble staggered backward only to unexpectedly buck him across the face, shattering a few of his teeth.
Right when it looked as both of them might be out for the count, Screech lunged again, slamming his body hard against Marble’s already bruised chest and sending her tumbling from the ring. Screech turned, spat a mouthful of blood to the ground, and smiled a crooked smile. “I win.”
Thunder Clash flew down and landed next to Marble. She was okay, but it was apparent she would be bruised all over in the morning. Screech limped from the ring and eyed Pip. “Still think you got what it takes?”
“Of course,” Pip replied. “You don’t scare me.”
Rumble and Scootaloo both turned to Pip and glared. “Don’t talk to him!” Scootaloo commanded. “You should be more concerned about Marble than fighting this guy!”
“Yeah,” chimed Rumble. “He’s insane! Don’t bother wasting your time with him!”
Screech took a step closer and stared at Pip, disregarding the other two ponies entirely. “Why don’t we settle this outside the ring?” he darkly whispered. “Sometime after training… out in the forest. Perhaps when we next have a new moon.”
Still gripped by whatever unnatural forces plagued him, Pip felt the need to accept this challenge. His heart was filled with bitterness and anger for being mocked… “I’ll see you there,” he replied.
“That was a terrible decision.”
“I’ll say. Awful. I can’t believe you said yes.”
Scootaloo nodded. “And I know terrible decisions. Have I ever told you about the time I tried to get a cutie mark in sumo wrestling? That entire experience pales in comparison to this one.”
Marble nodded her head as she continued to fold and re-fold her bed sheet. “Yup. Terrible. I thought you were better than that, Pip. You always seemed so level-headed in the midst of tough situations.”
Pip listened to his friends berate him as he stared up at the ceiling of the barracks. With the poison finally out of his system, he completely agreed with them. He had just got done talking to Equinox about how they should usher in a good example of comradery and what did he do? Start a fight with a bat pony. For no other reason than to fight him. Pip sighed.
Rumble flew over to Pip's bed and kept his voice low. “You should tell me where you’re going to fight him. I’ll totally root for you.”
“Grr…” Marble growled in irritation at the blankets. Her body was wrapped up in gauze and every time she took a deep breath she winced in sudden pain, making even the simplest of tasks difficult. Her hooves were shaking trying to fold the blankets just right.
“Do you need help with that?” Scootaloo asked, trotting over to the bed. “I can fold them for you.”
Marble stepped aside and motioned to the bed. Scootaloo pulled the blankets up, folded them back and then fluffed the pillow. It was a well-made bed, in Pip’s honest opinion. Marble glared at the entire thing and pulled all the blankets back down.
“Hey!” Scootaloo gasped. “It was done!”
“The blankets were wrinkled. And crooked.”
“Look, if you’re going to be crazy about it I’m not going to help you!”
“Maybe if you didn’t rush everything, the bed would have been made properly.”
Scootaloo forced a long frown. “I do not rush things!”
“You kinda do,” Rumble jumped into the conversation with a shrug.
Marble began folding the blankets again. “According to your own stories, you tried to rush your cutie mark. You rush to prove yourself at every opportunity, as if you have a chip on your shoulder. You always rush through your drills. You aren’t going to learn anything that way.”
“O-oh yeah? Well, er, you-” Scootaloo was obviously too frustrated to pick her words properly. She stammered like she was in stop-motion. “You, don’t, er, I mean- you’re just crazy!”
“Great come back!” Snips seriously stated, not a hint of sarcasm to be found.
The two mares silently glared at each other for a long while. Pip finally pulled himself off the bed and turned to them. “Come on, you guys. We’re supposed to be a team. We can’t be fighting like this.”
“Yeah! We should listen to Pip!” Snails nodded. “Pip knows what to do!”
Everypony in the barracks turned to him. Looking for an excuse to get out of this situation, Pip pointed to the window. “It’s almost time. We should get out to the fields if we don’t want Thunder Clash busting in on us.”
Reluctantly, they nodded. One by one, they filed out of the barracks and entered the main field for physical exercises. It was the earliest part of the evening, and the moon in the sky was beautiful and filling the space with light. Pip looked at the moon and sighed. If he was going to meet Screech for fighting it would be about two and half weeks. At least it’ll be after the obstacle course… If I’m lucky he won’t make it past that point.
“You have to pay attention to me! I’m a very important pony!”
The recruits all turned in unison at the sound of the strange and whiny voice. Pip immediately spotted Thunder Clash and Featherweight flying toward the field. Thunder Clash was clearly annoyed and Featherweight was fluttering around behind him, trying to get his attention.
“I have a press pass!” Featherweight shouted, holding up a tiny card he held in his hoof. “That means I’m allowed to be here! The public demands to know and I’ve come to document everything!”
Thunder Clash landed on the field, completely ignoring the pint-sized pegasus. He turned to the recruits. “What’re you all staring at? Get into line and stand at attention!”
Pip and the others quickly formed up, but Featherweight was not easily dissuaded. He landed and held his head high. “You better start answering my questions or else I might have to print a certain story about a certain soldier who failed a very important task and was relegated to drill sergeant ever since.”
The sudden tension was unexpected. Like watching a train wreck, Pip couldn’t take his eyes off the scene before him.
Thunder Clash slowly turned to face Featherweight. Thunder Clash was taller, clad in Sun Guard armor, more muscular, and scarred across his body. Featherweight had his camera, his press pass, and a notebook, and he was a hundred pounds soaking wet. The juxtaposition of the two pegasi standing so close was comical.
“You have exactly five minutes for questions,” Thunder Clash said with forced calm.
“Hm! That’s more like it!” Featherweight smiled and opened his notebook. “How many bat ponies have you trained before?”
“Hundreds,” Thunder Clash answered immediately.
“Have any of them attacked you?”
Featherweight waited for him to elaborate, but he never did. “Have any of them feasted upon your blood?”
Thunder Clash narrowed his eyes. “No.”
“Do you trust bat ponies?”
“The ones I’ve trained, yes.”
“Are you questioning my honesty, boy?” Thunder Clash hissed. “I’m not talkin’ to you for my amusement.”
“You’re not afraid they’ll turn on you?”
“I trust a soldier of the royal guard more than I trust my own mother. Doesn’t matter what they look like.”
Featherweight glared. He was obviously looking for different answers then Thunder Clash was providing. “Okay… What do you think of the noble Canterlot ponies claiming that the days feel as though they are getting hotter? Some say the temperature change is all in their heads. What do you say? Ep-!”
Thunder Clash had suddenly pulled Featherweight close by the camera around his neck. “Those are baseless rumors,” Thunder Clash darkly growled. “And you will not print anything to further those rumors. Because if you do, I will personally pluck each and every one of your feathers to make the smallest and limpest pillow Equestria has ever seen. Do I make myself clear?”
Featherweight nodded weakly. With a powerful shove, Thunder Clash separated himself from the other pegasus.
“Your time is up. If you have any further questions regarding the Night Guard I suggest you take it up with its captain.” Thunder Clash turned around and trotted off.
Featherweight flew toward Pip and hung his head. In a whisper he said, “Don’t tell him I’ve already printed stories about that, okay? You’re a pal, Pipsqueak.” Before Pip could agree, Featherweight took off back toward Canterlot, his wings flapping as fast as they could.
Thunder Clash trotted back, still seething with rage.
“I’m pretty sure it’s against the law to assault a journalist with a press pass just because you don’t like the questions he’s asking, sir,” Marble calmly stated.
“Well, if he didn’t want me to get angry he shouldn’t have threatened me with libel,” Thunder Clash replied in anger. “Besides, if he wants to take me before Princess Celestia, I'm more than ready to go. Now what did I say about standing at attention?”
The bat ponies funneled out of their barracks and flew over to rejoin the Ponyville recruits. They formed into ranks and Thunder Clash paced on the ground in front of them, his tail swishing in agitation.
“Listen up! One week from now we’ll have the obstacle course test! I’ve decided, after reviewing everything about you recruits, to practice some of the course every night before exercises until then. These obstacles are set up over there,” he pointed to the far end of the field, “and I suggest you take this seriously. Because of our last unexpected test, your time for the course is still set to eight minutes. Now, get out there, recruits!”
Pip and the others ran out to the training field. Just as Thunder Clash had said, there were a few obstacles set up for them to train with. Pip immediately recognized the earth pony obstacles by the light of the moon. There were hurdles, the zip line and the rope wall. Without any specific instructions, Pip went to the hurdles. The real obstacle course had walls on either side, making it darker than usual and difficult to see. He figured he could practice the line of hurdles and simply try and memorize them as opposed to relying on his eyes.
Scootaloo ran over to the earth pony obstacle course and began jumping the hurdles. With her wings, it came easy. Same with the rope wall. Her body was just lighter with her wings constantly flapping. Marble, although still wincing in pain occasionally, was easily clearing the course as well.
As Pip began to climb the rope wall, he took a moment to look over the other recruits. He saw Thunder Clash walk over to the bat ponies and stop Screech. Thunder Clash suddenly grabbed the bat pony by the muzzle and pulled him closer, examining his teeth and mouth.
“Zebra medicine never ceases to amaze me,” he muttered to Screech as he let him go. “You feelin’ okay, son?’
Screech rubbed at his jaw. “Of course.”
Thunder Clash turned to face Marble. “What about you, girlie? How is your recovery coming along?”
“Great,” Marble replied, hiding her sudden spikes of pain. “Nothing I can’t handle.”
Pip laughed to himself when he noticed Screech continuing to rub at his jaw. He suspected the bat pony was in the same boat as Marble; recovering, but still feeling the effects of the fight. Neither of them wanted to look weak in front of the other.
The bat pony obstacle course had hoops with thorny plants around the edges, pathways to crawl through and heavy objects to move. They also had a section where there was a tunnel made of bright glowing crystals. Pip watched the bat ponies try to go through. They either closed their eyes and ran into the jagged crystal sides of the tunnel, injuring themselves, or they kept their eyes open and were blinded by the time they came out the other side, hindering their performance for the rest of the course.
As Pip watched, he noticed that Equinox went through the tunnel with ease, thanks her to her special talent, and that Specter managed to fly through without injuring himself. Despite Gloom having improved echolocation, he still ran into the sides of the tunnel, which made Pip suspect something else was off with it… something specially designed to confuse bat ponies. Perhaps some sort of sound?
Pip got to the top of the wall and continued to watch them. Every other part of the obstacle course the bat ponies had down pat. It was just the light tunnel they had any real difficulties with. The bat pony who had the most difficulty with it was Rust Wing. Every time she flew through, she hurt herself further and further. First she chose to be temporarily blinded, which resulted in her running into the obstacles afterward. The second time she decided to close her eyes, which resulted in her slamming her head against the roof of the tunnel and almost knocking herself out cold on one of the larger crystals.
When Pip reached the ground on the other side of the rope wall, he heard Rust Wing speaking to Equinox. She was grabbing at her forelegs and pleading.
“Please help me with this! I’ll never be able to complete the course in less than eight minutes without your help!”
Equinox turned away from the other pony. “You know the law… I… I can’t. What if somepony finds out? You know some ponies consider it heinous…”
“They won’t! I’ll keep it secret! It’s dark! No other pony will see! Thunder Clash won’t even be able to notice!”
Equinox sighed, but she tensed once she realized Pip was listening in. “Can I help you?” she asked harshly.
Pip shook his head. “No. Sorry.” He trotted away from the bat ponies and shot them one last glance over his shoulder. Rust Wing was still continuing to plead with Equinox. What kind of help did she want? Was helping the other recruits against the rules? He didn’t remember hearing that… Pip turned to watch Snips and Snails complete their obstacles. Every step of the way, they ran together. Every obstacle they came across they helped each other. Thunder Clash hadn’t chastised them when they finished the obstacle course last time…
Pushing it from his mind, Pip went back to the beginning of his obstacle course to start again.
“This is a piece of cake!” Scootaloo said as he approached. “I’ve already done this twice! I’m sure I’m going to ace this when it comes time!”
“I hope so,” Pip said. “But the worst parts of the real obstacle course aren’t even here. There is an entire run of thorny plants in the real obstacle course… and a swim through muddy water.” The thorns had definitely been Pip’s downfall the first time.
“Thorns?” Scootaloo asked, her voice quavering. “Really?”
“Yeah. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget the briar patch…”
Scootaloo nervously laughed. “Yeah, well, I’m sure I’ll do great at those too! Don’t you worry!”
“I never said I was worried.”
“Oh… Well, I’m not either. Pfft. I got this.” Scootaloo turned and began running through the mock course again. Pip watched her go. Now he was worried.
Time quickly flew by within a routine.
One night he would get up, practice the obstacle course and do his physical exercises. The next night he would run combat drills and then rest. Then he would repeat. Thunder Clash said that, if they passed tonight’s obstacle course, they would start moving on to more complex training, like weapon and offensive stances, and team maneuvers… but first they had to get through tonight.
Like the first night he joined the Night Guard, all the recruits were lined up in front of the four obstacle courses. Pip had hung back to make sure his leg was feeling up to the task of running tonight. It felt as good as new. Whatever the medics had done had worked wonders. Except for the thin white scar along the length of his back leg, nopony would ever know his leg had been sliced open.
Pip trotted out into the night and watched the sky. No sign of Luna. He was beginning to think she was avoiding him. He sighed. What if Scootaloo had been right? What if she didn’t want to see him anymore? What if he was pining for a pony who didn’t want to return his loyalty and affection?
Pip had been so lost in his own thoughts that he ran into one of the bat ponies. Rust Wing hissed at him and glared. Pip took a step back. “S-sorry about that…” His eyes quickly spotted an unusual fact about her flank; she had two cutie marks. She had her normal cutie mark, the red bat that symbolized her ability to smell blood, and a second mark… a circle, one half black, one half white. Equinox’s mark.
Rust Wing quickly pulled her red tail up and over her flank, blocking the marks from Pip’s sight. “What are you doing!?” she growled. “Get out of here!”
Confused, Pip trotted away. Before he was too far to see, Pip glanced over at Equinox. He spotted her cutie mark on her flank; a circle, one half black, one half white. Pip shook his head. Maybe I was just seeing things…
Thunder Clash flew overhead and landed in front of the recruits. He smiled and nodded to them all. “Listen up! Tonight is a big night! You must make it through your assigned obstacle course within eight minutes or else you will be removed from the Night Guard! Remember that the target time is two minutes, so if you can do better than eight minutes I suggest you do so! Mediocrity will not be tolerated for long! Does everypony understand?”
“Sir, yes sir!” they shouted in unison.
“Then, get ready.” Thunder Clash flew up into the sky. “Go!”
Pip, Marble and Scootaloo ran for their obstacle course as quickly as possible. Just like before, the course started with a tunnel. Pip jumped in.
It was too dark to see, but he trudged through the muddy water regardless. He could hear Marble trudging forward as well, but Scootaloo’s voice caused him some distress. She was panting and gasping for air. Pip stopped and heard Marble continue forward, passing him and exiting to the course.
“Scootaloo?” he whispered.
“P-Pip! I can’t move! The mud… it’s too thick!”
Pip tensed. Pegasi had no connection to the land like earth ponies did. The natural elements of the world bent to aid him in whatever he was doing, but they were hindering Scootaloo… She might not make it out of the tunnel within eight minutes if this kept up.
Pip turned around and trudged back toward her. He got close and whispered, “Hang onto my neck.” She wrapped her forelegs around him and he pushed forward, carrying her now heavy body through the muddy water. It was difficult to pull himself and Scootaloo out of the water, but he managed to do it.
The obstacle course was just as dark as it had been last time, but once Scootaloo was off his back he started forward, trying to picture the hurdles in his head. He managed to jump over most of them, but with two he wasn’t as lucky. He tripped and stumbled, but he suspected he was doing better than last time. Although… I didn’t have to carry Scootaloo the last time… Once complete, he climbed the wooden wall and managed to dismount without falling.
Soon he found his way to the tires. He jumped between them, stopping once he reached the end. Scootaloo ran into him from behind and shook her head.
“What’re you doing?” she hissed under her breath. “Keep going!”
“This is where the briar patch is,” he informed her in a whisper.
“It… it is?”
“Is it long? Are there many? Thorns, I mean?”
Pegasi also weren’t as sturdy as earth ponies. They were typically lighter, for flying, which meant that they didn’t do well with things like slight blood loss or painful physical exertion. Pip closed his eyes and tried to think. There was no way he could carry Scootaloo across… just the thought of it made his hooves hurt.
“Pip?” she whispered urgently. “This is timed, Pip!”
He opened his eyes and nodded. “Step back.” Once she was out of the way, Pip grabbed one of the tires with his mouth and threw it out in front of him. He then grabbed a second tire, jumped to the one he had thrown, and did it again. He made tire stepping stones through the sea of flesh-cutting plants; perfect for him and Scootaloo to cross upon.
“Quickly!” he called out to her. “Jump across! Careful! Try not to slip!”
She jumped from the first tire and Pip jumped from the second to try and clear the thorns. He didn’t. His legs slammed into the plants at the very edge and he bit back the urge to cry out.
“Pip? Are you okay?” Scootaloo urgently whispered.
“I’m… I’m fine,” he breathed, carefully stepping out of the plants and pulling the thorns from his hooves. Scootaloo made the last jump with her wings. They buzzed with enough power to let her sail out of harm's way.
“C’mon! We need to hurry!”
They both turned to run but Pip was cautious of the pole up ahead. Scootaloo, on the other hoof, was not. She slammed into it and Pip bit back an apology for not warning her. “It’s the zip line,” he whispered. He grabbed a hold and suddenly felt her weight added to his own as she clung to him.
“Hold on!” she whispered.
Her wings buzzed into overdrive, sending them flying down the rope at top speeds, much faster than if they had just ridden it naturally. So much faster, in fact, that they crashed into Marble at the end of the rope, slamming her into the ground and tumbling over her.
“Sorry, Marble,” Pip groaned as he got up. “Let’s go!”
Marble, Scootaloo and Pip ran for the last obstacle in the course, the rope wall. The fearsome rate at which they had zipped down the rope line had actually dried most of Pip’s coat and removed large chunks of the mud. Not only that, but he could already feel a slight difference in his strength from all the training they had undergone. It wasn’t much, but the psychological confidence it gave him was enough to give him a second wind while climbing.
All three of them made it over the wall, but Pip was the first. He ran to the exit and immediately took his place in line. The only other ponies that had beaten him to the finish were Specter and Equinox, both of whom looked as though they had been there for a while.
Pip immediately turned to Thunder Clash. “Well?” he asked in a shaky breath.
“Is that how you address your commanding officer?” Thunder Clash snorted.
“Sorry, sir.” Pip held his head up high. “Did I pass, sir?”
“Four minutes, recruit,” Thunder Clash grunted. “A vast improvement over your last time. I’m starting to think you were holding back on me.”
Scootaloo was the next to exit. She ran to Pip’s side and smiled. “I’m back!”
“Is that how you address your commanding officer?” Thunder Clash repeated in irritation.
“Er… Sir, I’m back, sir!”
“Four minutes, twenty seconds,” he informed her. “Much better than I thought a pegasus pony could handle on an earth pony course.”
Marble was the next to join them, only a few seconds behind Scootaloo. From the bat pony course, Pip could see that Rust Wing, Gloom and Screech all exited at the same time. They had hit the five minute mark.
Pip turned to the pegasus track. Where was Rumble? He then glanced back to the bat pony course. Or Mist? The unicorn track… Pip turned there last and wondered. He hadn’t heard Snips or Snails cry out this time… were they okay?
Suddenly, a shadow passed over the moon, drawing Pip’s attention. Phantom Shade landed in front of them, his eyes dead set on the bat ponies. Thunder Clash raised an eyebrow at his presence.
“Phantom Shade… What’re you doing here tonight? I thought-”
“I came by to see which recruits would be staying,” he quickly interrupted Thunder Clash. “But I spotted something disturbing while I watched from the shadow. Now I’ve come to correct a mistake.”
Phantom Shade quickly trotted over to the group of bat ponies and motioned for them to step aside. He singled out Rust Wing, and she cowered away from him, her eyes glued to the ground.
“You know what you've done,” Phantom Shade stated without hesitation. “You know the law. I won’t have bat ponies like you causing our kind, or this guard, undue scrutiny and mistrust. Now tell me; who was your accomplice?”
Pip and the others watched without comprehending. What was going on? Even Thunder Clash seemed confused. “What’s going on, Phantom Shade? What is this all about?”
Phantom Shade ignored him and continued to glare down at Rust Wing. She continued to evade meeting his eye and said nothing.
“You won’t say?” he asked.
Rust Wing shook her head.
“Tsk. Very well. I might not be able to punish them, but I’m sure your dismissal will be message enough. Pack your things and leave. You’re no longer part of the Night Guard training.”
Rust Wing suddenly looked up at him, tears in her eyes. “Wait! Please don’t make me go! I have nowhere else! It won’t happen again! I promise! It was only a bat pony! They gave me permission and-”
“Silence!” Phantom Shade hissed in his usual dark tone. “What you’ve done isn't just bending the rules, or finding a loophole. It’s a crime. It’s forbidden. I will not tolerate it in the Night Guard; I told you all as much before you signed up. You gave me your word this would never happen. But here we are. You brought this on yourself.”
“Please!” Rust Wing pleaded again. “I don’t know what I’ll do!”
“This isn’t a charity,” Phantom Shade said, turning his back on her and trotting away. He seemed conflicted and Pip could hardly stand to watch what was going on.
“Sir!” Pip called out. “If she was getting aid from one of the other bat ponies… she shouldn’t be kicked out for that, sir! I helped Scootaloo! Snips and Snails help each other all the time! If you’re going to kick Rust Wing out for that, you’re going to have to kick us all out!”
The bat pony recruits turned to him in shock and surprise. Pip held his ground. He didn’t know what was going on, but helping each other wasn’t against the rules. Why did Rust Wing have to go?
“You don’t understand, boy,” Phantom Shade responded, not at all swayed by his argument. “It’s beyond your comprehension. Keep to yourself. This doesn’t concern you.”
Thunder Clash walked up to Phantom Shade and quickly whispered something to him. Phantom Shade replied and the two shared a moment of silent understanding. Finally, Thunder Clash nodded.
“Captain Phantom Shade is right. Rust Wing, you know the law. Grab your things from the barracks. You’re no longer a part of the Night Guard training.”
Rust Wing hid her tears with her mane and flew off into the night, never bothering to look back. Pip watched her go until she was out of sight, hidden by the darkness. He glanced to Equinox who, avoided his stare.
And now they were down to eleven recruits.
Where are Mist, Rumble, Snips and Snails? Pip nervously wondered. They don't have much time left.