The Guardian of the Night

by Car Cloth

Luna’s Second Assignment

Each night, during combat training, Thunder Clash started with the weaponless combat drills and then moved onto the weapons. Mist and Marble had gotten so good at the weaponless drills that they were now training with the other advanced recruits. Scootaloo moved up to the standard training, but Snips and Snails… Thunder Clash spent a good portion of the evenings yelling at them.

Combat training had also been upgraded to include wearing the Night Guard armor. After the first few nights of trying to use the claws while wearing the armor, Pip’s muscles felt as though they might catch fire. He pushed forward, however, and soon the ache didn’t bother him as much.

Tonight, Pip was practicing with the claws on his own. The claws were definitely an interesting weapon. They were heavier than the normal hoof guards, but sharp enough to easily slice into wood. Pip also realized they were good for bashing, if he avoided using the bladed edge.

“Pipsqueak! Keep up the pace, boy! Claws require that you don’t let up! If your opponent gets away from you, it’ll give them a chance to recover and retaliate!”

“Sir, yes sir,” Pip said between ragged breaths. He continued to slash at the wood post in front of him. He had been doing this for a few hours now… the post was nearly cut in half.

“Advanced recruits, listen up!” Thunder Clash yelled to them. “You lot stop your drills and go get your whetstone. Everypony here needs to learn proper weapon care! A good warrior cares for his weapon, and keeps it in tip-top condition!”

The other recruits were using practice weapons, wood versions or something less deadly than an actual weapon. They didn’t have to sharpen or clean their weapons afterward. Not yet, anyway.

Pip removed the claws from his hooves and trotted over to the whetstone crate. The whetstones were used for sharping the blades of the weapons. Pip hadn’t been very familiar with the sharpening process, and even cut himself the first time he attempted, but Equinox had been kind enough to show him how.

Each of them grabbed a stone and sat down to begin slowly honing their weapon.

“All right, you other recruits put your training weapons away! We’re done for the evening!”

The other recruits began stacking up their weapons and walking back to the barracks. Although Pip was tired, he didn’t want to put away his weapon dull. Unlike the other recruits, he technically had two weapons to hone. Equinox, Specter, and Gloom got up before Pip. They also wandered back to the barracks.

Pip looked around. He was alone on the training field. Focusing on his task, Pip managed to finish in no time at all. Placing the claws back on the rack, he began his trot back to the barracks. Out of the corner of his eye, Pip noticed that Gloom was standing by the edge of the back wall. Unable to quell his curiosity, Pip trotted over to see what was going on.

“Gloom?” Pip asked when he got close. “What’re-”

“Shh!” Gloom hissed.



Pip stopped himself from asking any further questions and listened. His hearing was nowhere near Gloom’s, but he could definitely hear two ponies arguing. Pip quietly got closer to the corner of the building and closed his eyes in order to focus.

“-you cannot be so blind. It’s obvious. We should prepare, and you know it.”

“Never. I speak with the sisters on a near weekly basis. If something was going wrong, I would have seen it!”

“I’ve been watching you, Thunder Clash. You’re so fervently faithful that it’s blinded you.”

“I know that you’ve been watching! The soldiers here aren’t your cronies! Does Princess Luna know? Does she approve of what you’ve done!?”

“Protecting Princess Luna is my sole job, Thunder Clash. Everything I do is for that, and that alone. Do you not trust her analysis on the situation? You don’t think she knows her kingdom and sister better than you?”

“The things you whisper are treason.”

“Yet you haven’t told Princess Celestia of my theories. I think, deep down, you know I’m right.”

“Enough of this! I will not speak further on this until there is solid proof. Everything else is just speculation!”

“Heh. Fine. Hurry and gather your recruits. The train leaves within the hour.”

Pip opened his eyes and caught a glimpse of Phantom Shade taking to the sky. Gloom pushed Pip back against the wall and glared. Thunder Clash followed quickly after Phantom Shade, but he broke away to head to the barracks.

“What was that about?” Pip asked under his breath.

Gloom snorted. “Apparently things are happening between the princesses.”


“Phantom Shade thinks something is wrong with Princess Celestia, weren’t you paying attention? I think Princess Luna put the idea in his head.”

Pip nervously shifted his weight. Something was happening with Princess Luna! The dreams everypony was having weren’t crazy! Which reminded him…

“Gloom…” Pip whispered. “Have you ever seen the sun?”

The bat pony snorted. “What kind of stupid question is that, earth pony? Or is this your attempt to get under my skin?”

“Have you seen the sun in your dreams?”

Gloom sighed. For moment, Pip thought he wasn’t going to answer. Finally, he replied, “Sometimes I have nightmares about being caught out in the sun. Then it burns me alive.”

“And it just happened recently?”

“Within the last few months, yeah.”

Pip was practically shaken with realization. But what was the conclusion? What was he supposed to do? Was Luna in trouble, or was there something wrong Princess Celestia? Bat ponies never see the sun… the fact that Gloom was dreaming about it meant powerful magic was involved. And only Luna could affect the dreams of others…

“Get out here, recruits!” Thunder Clash yelled from the other side of the barracks. “Everypony gather up!”

Pip and Gloom exchanged glances before galloping around the building and slowly trotting up with the rest of the recruits as they formed a line. Pip had the urge to run over to Thunder Clash, but he suppressed it. He didn’t have any solid proof outside of the dreams… and Thunder Clash already thought the dreams were silly. What sort of information would convince the older soldier?

“Listen up, recruits! Princess Luna has spoken with Captain Phantom Shade and is impressed to hear that earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns are still undergoing training.” Thunder Clash paced through the air in front of them. “She has requested that you all undertake another one of her special assignments. This one is designed to be started during the night and completed during the day.”

“What?” Gloom and Specter both asked. “That’s not fair! How’re us bat ponies supposed to-”

Silence!” Thunder Clash shouted. Both the bat ponies went still. “Let me finish! What have I told you about interrupting your commanding officer!?”

“Sir, sorry sir,” they both replied.

Thunder Clash snorted and went back to his speech. “Normally, I don’t start group training this early, but Princess Luna has the final say. This is a team assignment. You will all bring back a single object. If you fail, it is within Phantom Shade’s purview to release all, or none of you, from the training.”

Snips and Snails gave each other worried looks. Pip agreed with them. He knew who Phantom Shade would dismiss if he were allowed to.

“Apparently, I will not be traveling with you on this assignment. You will all be boarding a train and taking it to the Macintosh Hills. There, Phantom Shade will have the details of the assignment. You are to take your armor and weapons with you on this assignment, though Phantom Shade has assured me they shouldn’t be necessary.”

“Sir, yes sir,” the recruits answered in unison.

“Gather your things, recruits. You’re dismissed!”


Ka-clack! Ka-clack!

Pip listened to the sound of the train as he stared at the floor.

Ka-clack! Ka-clack!

The windows were covered with heavy black curtains and pinned around the side to block out all light. It was day, and most of the recruits were sleeping. Pip couldn’t seem to sleep with his mind so full of thoughts. He desperately wanted to think of a way to determine for sure what was happening.

Despite the darkness of the car, Pip saw one of the other recruits squirming in their bed. He squinted. “Marble?”

“Hmm,” she groaned as she tossed and turned.

“Thank goodness you’re awake,” Pip breathed in relief. He quickly got off his bed and sat next to Marble’s. “I need to talk to somepony.”

“Erm,” she grunted.

Ka-clack! Ka-clack!

“Marble, I need to find something. I need to find proof that only Princess Luna can change dreams. I need to show it to Thunder Clash. I need to convince him something is wrong. Luna could be in trouble or… something could be wrong with Princess Celestia. Are you listening, Marble? I need help.”

Marble rolled over in her bed and slowly opened her purple eyes. “Pip. Do you know what time it is? It’s practically noon.”

“I know, I know!” Pip said in a hushed whispered. He didn’t want to wake the others. “I’m sorry! I just really need a plan! I can’t sleep without a plan! I have to do something! I just have to!”

Marble sat up in her bed and stretched. “Eh. I was having trouble sleeping anyway. This bed was so poorly made.”

“So you’ll help me?”

She turned to him, her eyes half open. “What was that? Help with what now?”

“I need to prove to Thunder Clash that the nightmares everypony is having are Luna’s doing! She might be in trouble! Even the bat ponies are seeing the sun in their dreams, Marble! Doesn’t that mean something to you?”

“Okay,” she said, rubbing at her eyes. “Let’s just assume you’re right. Princess Luna is making those nightmares. So what? What does that tell us?”

“Luna wouldn’t normally make nightmares! Something has to be wrong! If we tell Thunder Clash he’ll do something about it!”

“What if Princess Celestia is making the nightmares?”

“She can’t,” Pip shook his head. “Only Luna can!”

“How do you know?”

“She told me so!” Pip ran a hoof along his brown mane in frustration. “But when I tried to talk to Thunder Clash about this, he didn’t want to hear it! Then I heard him having an argument with Phantom Shade! He doesn’t want to think anything is wrong!”

Ka-clack! Ka-clack!

“Maybe some book will have documented the powers of the sister's?” Marble shrugged. “I just don’t know how that piece of information will be enough to convince somepony that something is wrong.”

“If you knew for certain that Princess Luna was controlling your nightmares, would that convince you?”

Marble slowly nodded. “Yes, I suppose I would think something strange was going on. You’re sure the bat ponies are also having the sun nightmares?”

“That’s what Gloom said! He was having those nightmares too! Don’t you see, Marble? Something is happening! What if the princesses need our help?”

Marble motioned for him to keep his voice down. “I’m sure there are more qualified ponies than us that can help the princesses.”

“Well, that’s why I want to tell Thunder Clash!” Pip nodded in excitement, inching closer to Marble’s bed. “He’ll be able to help them!”

“Okay… Why not ask the princesses themselves? There can be no greater authority on the matter.”

Pip simultaneously nodded and frowned. “But, er, I would love to talk to Luna, but… I haven’t had the chance since we joined the Night Guard training…”

“Why not ask them at the Summer Sun Celebration? The princesses will be there, walking through the party grounds. At least, that’s what they did all the years before.”

“But… that’s not for a few months! Don’t you think we should do something sooner? What if we wait too long and-”

“You could go to Canterlot yourself and request an audience.”

Pip thought over the suggestion. “But, we’re not allowed to leave the training grounds or surrounding forest without permission.”

“You’re always allowed to quit,” Marble shrugged. “Then you could go wherever you wanted.”

The idea of quitting the Night Guard made Pip anxious. “But, what if they refuse to see me? Or they don’t tell the truth because they’re influenced by dark magic or something? Wait! Dark magic! Don’t you remember the Star Spiders, Marble? The last assignment Luna sent us on? One of them was giant! The one closest to the Canterlot Castle! They get bigger when they’re close to dark magic! Don’t you see? Something is going on!”

Marble stared off into the darkness of the train car, contemplating everything Pip was whispering about.

Ka-clack! Ka-clack!

“It was just one spider,” Marble eventually commented. “It could have been left over from the last time darkness attacked Canterlot. I still think there can be an innocuous explanation for this all. Perhaps Princess Luna is subconsciously giving ponies nightmares. So far, the only ponies that have had these nightmares were sleeping during the day, the same time Princess Luna is sleeping. Maybe we’re sharing her dreams?”

“But if I found out for sure,” Pip said. “If I knew for certain Luna was intentionally giving us nightmares? That would be enough?”

“Nothing bad has happened yet,” Marble shrugged. “Why are you so worked up? We train in the valley beneath Canterlot. We’ll know the moment something big happens. Otherwise, it’s been business as usual. No monsters. The princesses aren’t missing. No Nightmare Moon. Why are you so determined to figure this out?”

Pip stared at her through the darkness. For a moment he was at a loss for words. “I just… feel like something is wrong, Marble. I feel like I should be doing something about it. Like… it’s important.”

“All right, Pip. I’ll help you. We can ask Thunder Clash for permission to visit Canterlot when we get back, or we can wait for the Summer Sun Celebration. Either way, we can talk to the princesses and ask about the nightmares.”

“Thank you!” Pip said, wrapping his forelegs around Marble for a hug. She was awkward about the event and gently patted him with one hoof. When Pip withdrew he gave her an odd look. “Is that- er, are you… keeping the war hammer in the bed with you?”

Marble leaned against the bed in a defensive posture. “Sebastian stays with me at all times!”

Pip nodded and slowly back away. “Whatever you say, Marble.” He crawled back into his own bed and quickly tucked himself under his blanket. He felt mildly better now, but his mind was still focused on all the facts.

Ka-clack! Ka-clack!

Marble was right. Nothing bad had happened yet. But he knew that there were dark forces in Equestria that only needed a moment of weakness before they could latch hold. A single weak moment… Pip knew he would never forgive himself if he let Luna down. He was going to try and help her, no matter what.


“Where are we?”

“I don’t know… I’ve never been here before.”

Snips glanced around. “It looks weird.”

Snails nodded. “It smells weird.”

Before Pip could add to their conversation, Phantom Shade landed near the train. It was early evening, but later than they would have normally started their training. The train was parked near a grouping of brown and rocky hills, out in the middle of nowhere, without a station in sight. The area around them looked as though, once upon a time, it had been lush and beautiful. Now, however, it looked like it hadn’t rained in years.

“Consider yourselves lucky,” Phantom Shade spoke to them, drawing Pip’s attention. “Princess Luna has asked that you recruits specifically undertake this new assignment of hers. She’s excited to finally have day-dwelling ponies in her guard and I believe she made this test just for you.”

Specter and Gloom frowned. Phantom Shade ignored them.

“This will be a simple assignment, just like the last. All you have to do is follow the trail here until it ends at a ravine. Travel along the ravine until you reach the ruins of a building. Within the building are small stones, the shape and size of marbles. Bring Luna one of the white stones and you will have passed her assignment. If you cannot, then I will have the pleasure of culling this group down to the finest.” Phantom Shade sounded very serious about the endeavor, despite the task not sounding hard at all.

Specter raised a hoof. Phantom Shade motioned to him.

“Thunder Clash said this needed to be completed during the day. Why?”

“Apparently,” Phantom Shade began, “you cannot enter the ruins of the building during the night, for reasons unknown to me. Princess Luna has instructed me to tell you to enter the ruins after the sunrise, and leave the ruins before nightfall.”

Rumble turned to Pip with his eyebrow lifted. “Is he serious right now?” Rumble whispered. “This sounds way too easy.”

Phantom Shade flew over to Equinox and gave her a black velvet bag connected to a sting. He flung it around her neck. “Put the rock in this pouch and bring it back to the train. You’ll have till tomorrow night to get back here. Do not disappoint me or Princess Luna.”

Pip looked around. There were technically other Night Guard soldiers on the train, but not many. Additionally, if something were to happen during the day, none of them would be able to come to their rescue. Pip put his hoof in the air.

“What is it?” Phantom Shade asked him.

“You’re sure it’s safe?”

“So Princess Luna says.”

“Where are we, sir?”

“These are the Macintosh Hills, just south of Appleloosa. They were once a prosperous land. Now they house nothing but ruins and forgotten secrets.”

“But, you’ve never been here before?” Pip asked nervously.

Phantom Shade narrowed his eyes. “Do you not trust your princess, earth pony? If she has faith in you, why not have faith in yourself?”

“It’s not that, I just-”

“You’re more than welcome to get back on the train,” Phantom Shade dismissively stated, cutting him off. He flew up into the night sky and pointed toward the trail they were to follow. “Otherwise, I suggest you get going. Apparently, your destination is far.”

Pip didn’t try to speak any longer. He, like the other recruits, simply nodded and began their trek. The trail they followed led uphill, then downhill, then uphill again. Those who could fly were having an easier time of the journey, but already Pip knew this was going to be a dreadful walk.

The Macintosh Hills were brown, dark red with clay, and filled with rocks. The scenery was nothing to write home about, and the only things that dotted the landscape were dead, rotting trees. It was a woebegone landscape, and the hills stretched on forever in nearly every direction. No matter which way Pip glanced, he couldn’t see the end of them.

“What’re you worrying about?” Gloom asked, flying by. “You think we’ll get mugged by bandits?”

“Bandits?” Rumble suddenly interjected. “Are there really bandits here?”

“Oh, I hope there are,” Scootaloo said with a devious smile. “I cannot wait to try out these claws! Any bandits that stop us are in for a world of hurt!”

Gloom snorted. “Occasionally bandits come out this way. These hills boarder the Badlands. If we travel east we might be able to reach them…”

“Nobody wants to go to the Badlands,” Marble stated.

Mist nodded as she did loop-da-loops through the air. “Yeah! Nopony wants to go there!”

Gloom shrugged. “Yeah. I guess you guys are right. Not even I want to go back there.”

“This trail isn’t very visible,” Pip commented aloud. This entire assignment felt weird to him; like they were walking into a trap, or into a far more difficult situation than they realized.

Specter flew down and alongside Pip. “You know what we could do… Just pick up a white rock, smooth it out to be about the size and shape of a marble, and then turn that in.”

Snips and Snails both shook their head. “That’s cheating!” Snails said.

“Yeah!” Snips added. “I’m sure Princess Luna would know!”

Marble, ignoring the others, turned to Pip. “I don’t think anypony has traveled this trail in a long time. But, if you look at the rocks here, you can tell this was pony-made. The worked quality on the edge of the stone suggests it used to be a cobblestone path.”

“Are you sure?” Pip asked.

“I used to live on a rock farm. I’m sure.”

Mist suddenly began snickering. “Wait… what would you even farm on a rock farm? It’s not like you can plant more rocks. It takes thousands of years for a rock to form! Or volcanoes! Are you saying you mold molten magma?”

Equinox shook her head. “Don’t even try to understand the day-ponies, Mist. They do weird things sometimes.”

Ke ke ke! “I’ll say!”

All the recruits settled down as they continued to walk. Hill after hill after hill… Pip began to wonder if they even had the right path. Finally, as the moon was beginning its descent, they reach an area between two large hills. It was a ravine; a crack in the ground smaller than a canyon, but wide enough for ponies to walk along the bottom. The ravine had most likely formed through the erosion of a river, but the ravine was now dry… nothing more than a barren crag-filled crack in the earth.

“Specter,” Pip called out to the bat pony. “Why don’t you scout up ahead?”

The bat pony laughed. “Why don’t you scout up ahead, earth pony? I’m pretty sure if we lose you, it won’t be as big a loss.”

Pip sighed. “Your special talent is being quiet, right? If there’s something up ahead, there’s a better chance you won’t get caught.” Even wearing the full plate armor, Specter was still supernaturally quiet.

Specter crossed his forelegs over his chest and hovered in place with his wings. Pip was getting tired of the bat ponies being so very difficult about everything. Why didn’t they want to help? Right… They’re all taught to think that you have to take what you can, when you can… Not very helpful in a group setting.

Pip decided to try a different approach. “Are we going to have a problem?” he yelled up to Specter. All the other recruits looked at him oddly. Pip rarely raised his voice.

“And what if we are?” Specter asked, lifting an eyebrow.

“Why don’t you come down here and find out?”

Pip didn’t want to fight any of the other recruits. Especially not after the speech Thunder Clash gave. But… the bat ponies were continually difficult about everything. They didn’t trust him, they didn’t trust or like each other, they didn’t even like their own home towns! Everything was confrontational with them! It was like that was all they knew! Constant conflict!

Specter nonchalantly flew forward. “Fine. Don’t get your saddlebags in a twist. I’ve got this.” He silently disappeared around a curve in the ravine.

I can’t believe that worked.

Marble turned to him with a knowing glare. “Really? You stooped to his level?”

“I didn’t know what else to do,” Pip shrugged. “I’m not the best with the words.”

“Good idea to have a scout, though,” Equinox added to their conversation. “We don’t want to be caught by surprise.”

They all waited silently for Specter to return. Before long, the bat pony reappeared and pointed further into the ravine.

“It’s fine,” Specter announced. “The ravine gets really narrow for a few hundred feet and then it opens up into a large area. I didn’t see anything threatening.”

Pip motioned for everypony to start marching forward. When they were all moving, their armor clinked loudly, echoing off the walls of the ravine. Pip was worried. Anypony would be able to hear them… plus, he wasn’t entirely sure about the integrity of the ravine walls.

Glancing upward, Pip saw that the walls of the ravine were nearly forty feet tall. They were narrow and jagged. He suspected he might be able to climb out, if needed. The ravine continued to narrow until they were forced to walk in a single-file line. Pip could hear his armor scratching against both sides of wall at certain points. Any narrower and they might not have been able to make it without flying over…

However, the ravine did eventually open up, just as Specter had said. The open ravine looked like a dead river. The marks of where the water used to flow were still intact. Rocks lined the bottom of the ravine walls and Pip motioned for the other recruits to walk slowly and carefully. Anything could be hidden here, especially behind the rocks.

Gloom suddenly perked up. “Hey, do you guys hear that?”

Everypony stopped and listened.


“Nope,” Snips said.

“Yeah, I don’t hear nothin’,” Snails added.

Gloom’s gaze darted around the area. “Something is… breathing.”

Pip also glanced around. He didn’t see anything. At least, nothing out of the ordinary. Just… rocks. So many rocks.

Marble suddenly pointed to one of the many piles. “There! That’s it! Everypony back away!”