Pip stared at the pegasus obstacle course intently. When was Rumble going to emerge? Even though Pip barely knew Rust Wing, he felt a sense of loss with her gone, and he didn’t want Rumble to go as well. Pip had secretly hoped they would all become members of the Night Guard, but now that could no longer happen.
“What kind of obstacles are on the pegasus course?” Pip whispered to Scootaloo.
“Really?” she sarcastically asked. “I was the one that ran along the bottom, remember? I have no idea what the pegasus obstacles are.”
“Right,” he sheepishly replied. “Sorry about that.”
In order to take his mind off the situation, Pip turned back to Phantom Shade and Thunder Clash. They were continuing their conversation in whispers. Both of them looked angry, however, like they were having an argument. Pip was curious about their conversation, but he couldn’t hear a thing.
Suddenly, Mist exited from the bat pony obstacle course. She wobbled through the air, half blind, but managed to land in formation regardless. Mist glanced over with squinted eyes to see who all had made it, and gave Pip one of her cheery smiles when their gaze met.
Thunder Clash pulled himself away from his conversation with Phantom Shade to shout, “Six minutes and forty seconds!”
Marble lifted a single eyebrow. “I wonder how he keeps track of time so accurately,” she muttered aloud.
Pip turned back to the pegasus course. Come on, Rumble… What’s taking you so long? The time dragged on as Pip waited. In the obstacle course he felt as though he had done everything in under a minute, that’s how fast time had been flying. Now that he was just waiting, it felt like an eternity.
As if thinking about him somehow summoned him, Rumble emerged from the course with a wide smile upon his face. Although his coat, feathers and mane were partially singed on one side, he landed amongst the group with his head held high.
“Seven minutes and ten seconds,” Thunder Clash announced. “You only managed to beat Snips and Snails, boy. What sort of reality do you live in where everything average is suddenly an epic accomplishment? Wipe that smile off your face!”
Rumble whipped his head to the side and stared at everypony that had made it before him. “R-really? I only beat Snips and Snails? Hey, wait! There’s still one bat pony! I beat her!”
Scootaloo patted Rumbled on the shoulder and shook her head. “No, no, no. She finished so long ago that Phantom Shade had time to scold her for cheating and she was able to fly off in order to gather her things. That’s how long we’ve all been waiting for you.”
“What? Pfft. No way.” Rumble turned to Pip and Marble. They both nodded their heads. “Wait, really? Really? I was that slow?” Rumble hung his head in shame.
Everypony turned toward the unicorn obstacle course. The end of the course was completely destroyed, bits of wood and rope now raining down everywhere. Pip had to shield his eyes from the debris but he kept his attention on the course. It was a complete, unmitigated, mess.
Thunder Clash and Phantom Shade both jumped forward, seemingly ready for a fight. Both of them dropped their jaws in amazement when they spotted Snips and Snails staggering from the mess. Snips had tiny alligators hanging on his pudgy flank by their razor-sharp teeth, and Snails was missing a good portion of his tail, as though it had been violently ripped out.
They both bumbled their way to the formation line before turning to Thunder Clash.
“We’re here, sir,” Snails slowly muttered.
“Yeah, we’re here,” Snips followed his statement by face-planting on the ground. He had passed out. The alligators continued to wiggle and growl. Up close, Pip could see the alligators were no bigger than an average house cat.
Thunder Clash snorted in disbelief. “I can’t believe I’m still stuck with you nincompoops.”
Phantom Shade frowned. “First Rust Wing and now this? I don’t care what you say, Thunder Clash. You’re getting soft. These unicorns would have never made it with the group I trained with.”
“You can’t underestimate tenacity,” Thunder Clash shrugged. “Besides, the Night Guard could use some unicorns. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times… some things can only be dealt with by magic.”
“The Night Guard doesn’t need these unicorns,” Phantom Shade said in disgust. He turned away, and spread his wings. “I’m off to make sure Rust Wing has her things packed. Don’t disappoint me, Thunder Clash. You’re already on thin ice as far as I'm concerned.” Phantom Shade took to the sky, flying off in the direction of the barracks.
Snails turned to Pip and smiled. “We made it!”
“Yeah… Just barely.” Pip looked down at the alligators and cringed away. They were still growling.
Scootaloo pointed to creatures and glared. “Aren’t one of you going to remove those things!?”
Rumble haphazardly jumped to Snips and grabbed one of the alligators. He began yanking, but the jaw of the tiny reptile was fixed. Thunder Clash flew over and pushed Rumble aside.
“Don’t hurt yourself, boy. Clearly you don’t know your animals.” Thunder Clash gently stroked the alligator and patted it on its head like a domesticated pet. The alligator slowly relaxed its jaw and stared vacantly in two directions, one eye to the left and one eye to the right. Thunder Clash repeated this trick with the last alligator and sent them both on their way out into the night.
Having freed Snips’ flank from the biting terrors, Thunder Clash began pacing the air in front of the recruits. “Listen up!” he shouted. “We’ve no need to dwell on the past! Rust Wing is gone and we will speak no further on the issue! However, from this night forth, we’ll be doing the exercises while wearing the required Night Guard armor. The armor is heavy, but your body needs to get used to the weight if you hope to carry out your duties on a nightly basis. You’ll be expected to run in the armor, fight in the armor, carry injured ponies to safety in the armor, and sleep in the armor if that’s what your princess asks of you! Does everypony understand!?”
“Sir, yes sir!” they answered in unison.
“Good. You’re all dismissed.”
Before Pip could walk over and ask the bat ponies what had happened, they all took off toward the barracks. He was about to chase after them when Marble held out a hoof.
“Help me carry this one?” she asked, motioning to Snips.
Pip and Marble gently placed the unconscious unicorn upon his bed. They were lucky he had picked the bottom bunk. He was remarkable dense for a pony, and weighed more than Pip had expected.
Snails immediately began caring for his friend. Although Snips wasn’t terribly injured, he did have puncture wounds from the alligators all over his flank. Rumble flew over and immediately approached Snails.
“What was that? That explosion at the end? You guys never do anything with magic! Ever!”
“Well,” Snails rubbed at his mane and contemplated for a moment. “That is our special talent. We can use more advanced magic when we’re together.”
“Seriously?” Scootaloo balked. “You need another pony for your special talent? That would be so frustrating!”
Snails shook his head. “N-no, it’s not frustrating. We knew the moment we became friends in grade school. It was like… meeting your other half. We’re meant to do things together. We make the perfect unicorn.”
Rumble immediately burst into laughter. He held onto his sides and flew through the air around the bunk bed. “You two!? A perfect unicorn? Hahaha! That’s great!”
“What spells do you know?” Marble asked, not a hint of mirth for the situation.
Snails shrugged. “Well… We’re not very good at the spells… We have that explode-y one. Oh! And we have one that rearranges everything in the room so it’s a mess. We tried to learn this one spell to turn things into other things, but all we managed to do was turn things into puppy-dogs’ tails…”
Scootaloo cringed in disgust. “Seriously?”
“Well, they weren’t real. Just, er, that’s what everything we tried to transform looked like.”
Rumble was still laughing. He could barely contain himself. “They have a spell that makes a mess! Hahaha! How useless is that!? Haha!”
Tired, and unsure of what else to do, Pip wandered back to his bed. Marble followed him. She stopped on the opposite side of his bunk. “What happened with the bat ponies tonight?” she whispered. Rumble’s laugh was still ringing throughout the barracks.
“I don’t know,” Pip earnestly answered. “I was going to ask them, but they all took off. I guess I'll speak to them about it tomorrow. After training.”
“I thought you had been conversing with them outside of training for a while now.”
“I have, but they never mentioned anything that would explain what happened tonight.” Pip took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “Hey, Marble. Would you mind helping me mend things between the bat ponies and us?”
Marble slowly blinked. “I think you’ve come to the wrong pony.”
“What? You’ve been a great friend to me so far. I'm sure you could think of something.”
“I’ve been a loner all my life. I have a sister who throws parties for a living and still I don’t go out to have fun. I usually find everything to be dull. These aren’t qualities you want when forming bonds with others.”
Pip waved his hoof dismissively. “I think you’re too hard on yourself. We’re great friends!”
“I think you’re childishly naïve.”
“R-really? You think I’m naïve?”
“You just assume everything will work out in the end. It usually doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong… Naïveté can also be a charming quality. In foals. But yes. I think you’re naïve.”
Pip sighed and turned to the rest of the room. Rumble and Scootaloo were now engaged in a mild argument.
“Rainbow Dash could definitely beat Thunderlane in a race! I can’t believe you would even say otherwise!”
Rumble rolled his eyes. “My brother is in the Wonderbolts.”
“So is Rainbow Dash!”
“Yeah, but he’s also been training. I’m sure Rainbow Dash doesn’t have time, what with all her world-saving or whatever she does as an element bearer.”
“You obviously don’t know Rainbow Dash very well! She can make time!”
Pip wasn’t even sure how they managed to go from laughing at Snips and Snails to arguing over who was the fastest pegasus. Maybe they aren’t the best examples of how to make friends… Pip suddenly thought back to his time in Ponyville. “Hey, Scootaloo? Are you still good friends with Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom?”
“Yeah, of course,” she quickly responded. “I write letters to them all the time.”
“Where are they? Back in Ponyville?”
“No. Apple Bloom started her own branch of the Apple family out in the Crystal Empire and Sweetie Belle travels all over the place signing in concerts. I was going to join the Crystal Guard in order to be closer to Apple Bloom, that way when Sweetie Belle came by to do a concert we could all be together again, but then I decided that maybe I should go out and do my own thing. Both Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom did.”
That didn’t help Pip. He turned back to observe the two unicorns. Snails was tenderly caring for Snips, making sure to treat every wound. “What about Snips and Snails?” Pip asked Marble under his breath. “They’re good friends.”
“Did you seriously just suggest Snips and Snails would be competent diplomats?” Marble said with a chuckle. “I think you might have hit your head during that obstacle course.”
“Yeah… You’re right. I completely forgot how weird they were acting with me before. And how weird they act with everypony besides each other.”
Marble shrugged. “Why not invite the bat ponies to accompany you to the Summer Sun Celebration? I know the trainees are given those two days off, and everypony in Canterlot stays up all night to watch the sunrise. It might get the other ponies to see that bat ponies aren’t vicious.”
At first Pip completely dismissed the idea. A celebration of the sun? The one thing the bat ponies couldn’t stand to be in? But the longer Pip thought about it the more he felt it was a good start. “Yeah… The Summer Sun Celebration is always so cheerful and festive…”
“And all the princesses will be there. Nopony would dare make a big scene, or else Princess Luna would have them removed.”
“Wow. Marble, you’re a genius! I knew you would be great at this!”
She shook her head. “I’m not going.”
“What?” Pip asked in disbelief. “Why not? It was your idea.”
“I don’t like parties. I would much rather stay here. You will enjoy the Summer Sun Celebration a lot more than I will.”
“Are you guys talking about the Summer Sun Celebration?” Rumble asked, butting into their conversation. He flew overhead and landed on the nearest bunk. “I totally had a nightmare last night that everything caught on fire at the Summer Sun Celebration. How weird is that?”
Pip looked up at Rumble and nervously raised an eyebrow. “You had a nightmare involving the sun?”
“Yeah. It was crazy. Like I said, everything was on fire.”
“I had a similar nightmare,” Pip muttered more to himself than anypony else.
“I’ve had a few nightmares about the sun burning everything since we’ve started our training,” Marble shrugged. “Seems natural that a group of day-dwelling ponies would have anxieties about never being awake during the day again. These nightmares might just be those anxieties manifesting themselves.”
Pip stared intently at the bunk in front of him without truly seeing anything. Luna had told him all about dreams and nightmares, and all about her powers to control and manipulate them… If so many ponies were having nightmares about the sun, why wasn’t she doing anything about it? It would be extra weird if every pony in the Night Guard was having nightmares about the sun suddenly catching the world on fire…
“Scootaloo,” Pip called to her. “Have you had any nightmares lately? Any nightmares about burning, or the sun getting to close, or the Summer Sun Celebration?”
Scootaloo was crawling into her bed as Pip asked the question. She turned to him and shrugged. “Yeah. A couple times. Why do you ask?”
Scootaloo as well? “Snails, have you had any nightmares? Involving the sun?”
Snails nodded. “Yeah.”
“Do you know if Snips has as well?”
“Yeah, he has.”
Everypony here? That’s too many to be a coincidence. What’s going on? Marble waved a hoof in front of his face. “Are you all right, Pip?”
“I, uh, am just thinking about things.” He smacked himself in the face with his hoof. Of course! Luna was sleeping during the day! She couldn’t help ponies with their nightmares then! Whatever was going on couldn’t involve her! Right? “Nevermind,” Pip said aloud. “I was just being silly. For a moment I thought something strange was going on.”
Marble trotted over to her bed. “I wouldn’t put too much thought into your dreams. I’m sure it’s nothing.”
Pip dwelled on her words for a long time. He slowly crawled into bed and listened to the others do the same. He stared at the ceiling and watched as the first rays of the morning sun came through the far window. Pip was certain everypony had quickly gone to sleep, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself from thinking.
He had a good deal of himself invested within his dreams. It was only because he met Luna within his dreams that he even signed up for the Night Guard in the first place. The ability to walk through and control dreams was one of her many extraordinary talents. The fact that all the ponies here had similar nightmares bothered him. It was important. He knew it was. But why? Was something happening to Luna? Was she sending them all a message?
Although Luna slept through the day, he knew it had to be her behind it all. It had to be Luna. She was making the nightmares. It had to be.