• Published 22nd Sep 2014
  • 3,763 Views, 217 Comments

The Star Guard - Car Cloth



The newly formed Star Guard has been given an impossible task: purge the world of the Nightmare Forces once and for all. Can Captain Pipsqueak, an earth pony not gifted in magic, fight against the darkness? Only time will tell.

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A Journey of a Thousand Miles

Chapter 3
A Journey of a Thousand Miles

“Where is Luna?” Pip asked one of the Sun Guards as he galloped up to them. Despite his back leg hurting, Pip didn’t dare slow down. He had to talk to Luna about the darkness in his own dreams.

The Sun Guards pointed down a hallway and Pip rushed past without so much as a second glance. Once he was in the hallway, he recognized it as the path to the throne room. As he neared the door, two more guards slowly pushed it open. Pip galloped through with a nod to the guards and ran the long stretch to the throne itself.

Celestia and Luna were there, talking near the thrones. Pip ran past other ponies in the room, all of them waiting their turn to either speak with the princesses or get paperwork signed.

“Luna!” Pip breathlessly called as he drew closer. “I need to speak with you!” He came to a halt by her side, still shaken by the nightmare he had experienced. It hadn’t been the nightmare itself. It was the realization that the Nightmare Forces were in his dreams at all… He’d thought they had been purged.

“What is it, Pip?” Luna asked in concern.

Pip looked around at all the ponies in the room and suddenly felt self-conscious. What would it look like if the newly appointed Star Guard Captain was yelling about the Nightmare Forces invading his dreams? “Uh… can we speak privately?” he asked.

She nodded and turned to her sister. Celestia smiled to Pip and then turned her attention to the other ponies in the room. She took her seat on the throne and began to run business as usual. Luna and Pip took the opportunity to step out of the throne room and out onto one of the many balconies of the castle.

“Pip?” Luna asked.

“I was practicing in the dreamscape, just like you said, and…” Pip looked up at her with worry. “Suddenly… a dark voice was whispering to me. The same voice that spoke to me in the nightmare realm. It knew who I was and it threatened me. I think you’ll need to purge the Nightmare Forces from my mind as well.”

Luna sighed heavily. In the light of the mid-afternoon sun, Pip could see the truth of the matter. Luna was exhausted. She had been the host for the Nightmare Forces, transforming her into Nightmare Moon, and even once she was freed, it had left her weakened. Without much of a break, she was called upon to defend the dreams of all ponies…

There were dark spots under her eyes. Her wings drooped slightly, and even her mane waved slowly. “Pip… I’m sorry, I should have told you before. When you have a connection to all dreams, you will hear the voice of the Nightmare Forces while you sleep. It will always be there, no matter what.”

“But I was in Prince Blueblood’s dream… I wasn’t sleeping.”

Luna shook her head. “If you stay in the dream world too long, or while you are tired, you could fall asleep in the real world and then slip into your own dreams.”

“But-” Pip stopped himself. After a moment of thought he asked, “Does that mean you’ll always hear the voice?”

“Yes,” she said, woebegone.

“And now I will too? For as long as I have the Fragment of the First Night with your magic in it?”

“Yes.” Luna suddenly smiled. “But that’s okay. Pip, as long as we have each other the darkness won’t take hold.”

Pip felt his anxiety leaving him. “Yes. Together we can keep the darkness at bay.”

“You must not let the darkness get to you, Pip. I know that might seem hypocritical coming from me… but it’s the truth regardless. If you have confidence, it will not hurt you.”

He exhaled and nodded. “Of course. I’m sorry for bothering you like this, Luna. I’ll handle it, don’t worry. I’ll start helping you sift through the dreams. I won’t let you down.”

“Of course,” Luna stated as she rose to go back to the throne room. “Until then you should rest.”

---

“Squeaks!”

“Hm?” Pip asked, rolling over in his bed.

“Squeaks, get up!”

Slowly opening his eyes, Pip stretched and realized he didn’t have enough room to do so. Jumping up, startled, Pip saw Mist curled up in bed with him. “M-Mist,” he choked out. “What are you doing here?”

The bat pony rolled around, creating a burrito of blankets all around her body. “What do you mean? I was trying to wake you up! You were sleeping and I tried to talk to you, but you didn’t move… so then I just started shouting!” She gave him a carefree smile.

“And you felt the need to crawl into bed with me?” he asked, calming down. He placed his head back on his pillow and stared at her.

“It was warmer,” she replied with a snicker.

“Am I interrupting something?”

Pip turned and saw Marble standing at the foot of his bed. Again, he jumped up. Giving Marble an incredulous stare, he asked, “You’re here too?! Does nopony know the meaning of the word privacy?”

Marble shrugged. “At least I didn’t crawl into bed with you.”

“I told her it was warmer, but she refused,” Mist offered, nibbling on the blankets now snugly wrapped around her. Her fangs began ripping through the fabric.

“Besides, you should have gotten up hours ago, Pip. We’re all waiting.”

Pip slowly got off the bed and stretched his back and body. He still felt tired. “You were waiting for me?”

“Yeah,” Marble said, motioning him out of the room. “We’re the Star Guard now, remember? Like, we’re the whole team. There aren’t other soldiers secretly waiting in the background. It’s just us. So, if we’re not doing our job, nopony is.”

He nodded. Marble was right. Luna was tired and he needed to help relieve some of the stress. “Okay. I’m ready. Let’s go.” He turned to his nightstand to take the Fragment of the First Night, but he froze when he realized it wasn’t there. Caught in a state of panic, Pip frantically glanced around the room.

Much to his relief, Pip spotted the fragment on the other side of the room. It was hanging on a hat rack, now attached to a silver chain, like a pendant on a necklace. Pip hadn’t asked for this to be done, but he was grateful for it. Slipping the silver chain around his neck, Pip followed Marble out of his room and through the castle.

Marble led him to a courtyard where all the others were waiting. The courtyard was an elegant space meant for dinner parties, complete with statues and topiary sculptures. When Pip approached, he noticed that the others were just chatting and laughing, but the moment he got close, they were silent. The night was beautiful and quiet; only the sounds of crickets could be heard.

“So, are you ready to begin training us?” Rumble asked. “Training us to fight things in dreams or something?”

“I have something to tell you all first,” Pip replied. “I… discovered something when I was practicing with Luna earlier. Apparently the magic I have is weaker than hers and-”

“Obviously,” Specter interjected. Equinox glared at him. “What?” he blurted out. “It’s true. He just said so himself.”

Pip held up a hoof so that they would be quiet. “No, you don’t understand. Apparently I won’t be able to reach the dreams of ponies that aren’t close by. If we’re going to help Luna we’re going to have to travel.”

“Ahem.”

The group turned to face a bat pony by the name of Ghast. He had a dark brown coat, white mane and gold eyes. As the Captain of the Night Guard, he was clad in black and purple Night Guard armor, obscuring his cutie mark.

“Luna has sent me to inform the Star Guard that she will have armor ready for you by the next evening. She has asked that you travel to Hollow Shades first, in order to help the ponies there before moving on.” Ghast stared at the group for a moment before lifting an eyebrow. “I take it you were just about to train?”

Pip stepped up to Ghast and nodded. For a few months Ghast had been his instructor, and he remembered that the bat pony was a no-nonsense type of trainer. He spoke very little and was critical about everything. A perfectionist to the core. “We are about to train, and thank you for the message.”

Ghast looked from one pony to the other. “Well, let’s see it.”

“Er,” Pip nervously laughed. “There isn’t much to see. We’ll all take a seat and then I’ll activate the magic…”

Ghast was clearly unimpressed. He held back a laugh. “I see. I wouldn’t want to get in the way of your… sitting, then.”

“Hey, you didn’t have to fight your way through the dreamscape,” Specter said, flying to Pip’s side and glaring. “You don’t even know what it’s like. We were caught in a conglomeration of nightmares. Shattered sun, undead dragon. It’s nothing like what you imagine.”

Ghast mulled over the information. He bowed his head slightly to the group. “My apologies; I hastily made assumptions. Princess Luna said this was a matter of grave importance, and it seems it is. I’ll leave you to your work.” With a quick turn on his hooves, Ghast trotted back into the castle.

Specter turned back to Pip and lightly smacked him on the shoulder with the back of his hoof. “I thought you were used to bat ponies by now. You can’t go acting all weak. If any bat pony asks, you say you’re an unmitigated powerhouse of awesome, you got that? None of this wimpy talk about sitting around. We’re fighting Nightmare Forces, not taking a stroll through the park.”

“Sorry, I just wanted to tell it like it was,” Pip earnestly replied. Specter flew back to the group and Pip stepped up to address them. “With my fragment we’ll all be able to venture into the dreamscape, but we’ll have to go together and our bodies will remain motionless, so, sit down.”

“What if someone happens upon our bodies?” Rumble asked in confusion.

“Er, I don’t know. You may wake up?”

Rumble nervously rubbed at his mane. “That’s not very reassuring…”

Pip looked around. “No one is going to bother us here in this courtyard. Just close your eyes and relax.” Pip waited until they had all complied. Although he had never taken others with him, he assumed it was much like what Luna had said to him. He would just imagine the magic blanketing them all.

And it did.

As he used the fragment, he could feel it move outward in a wave. Anypony inside its effect could be brought in with him… like an expanding bubble of magic that pulled them into the dreamscape. Pip suspected that, if he had been a unicorn, he would be able to focus the magic and use it differently. But, since he wasn’t a unicorn, he would be stuck with his limited application of the magic.

As it had been with Luna, Pip found himself in the nebulous world of the dreamscape, staring down at a Canterlot covered in wind and sand, and devoid of colors. The lights that represented dreams were glowing brightly, some brighter than others. Somehow, though Pip hadn’t known before, he knew which ones were Pinkie Pie’s and Prince Blueblood’s. He could somehow sense their presence.

Pip trotted through the air toward the dream Luna had first brought him into. The others followed, but, in their awe, they said nothing.

Once the light of the dream washed over them, Pip could see that this dream was very different from the one before. It was… a land of candy. It looked like a house and silo, but it was all made of sweets and confections. Muffins, cupcakes, lollipops… Even the clouds looked like cotton candy.

Specter looked around in mild disgust. “What whack-job has a dream like thi-”

“Pinkie Pie,” Marble instantly replied. “We’re in Pinkie Pie’s dream.”

“Is that Marble I hear?!” Pinkie Pie shouted all the way from the other side of the dream. She happily jump-skipped over the taffy-bushes, smiling the entire way. “Marble! Marble, there you are! I can’t believe it!”

When the two sisters collided, Pinkie wrapped her forelegs around Marble and squeezed. Marble returned the embrace and, to Pip’s surprise, genuinely smiled. “I’ve missed you, Pinkie. Life isn’t the same without you.”

“I thought you hated my constant parties?” Pinkie asked, parting from her sister, tears welling in her eyes.

“I’m not a fan of your parties, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t missed you.”

“Where’s Maud? Limestone? Aren’t they with you?” Pinkie began dramatically looking around. “Are they hiding? Are we playing hide and seek?! And you didn’t tell me!” Before anypony could reply, she zipped away in a flash, disappearing to a hiding spot within the dream.

“She didn’t know we weren’t a part of the dream?” Scootaloo asked, staring at the gingerbread farm. “You would think it’s obvious we’re in a dream with this kind of imagery.”

“Most ponies don’t know they’re dream when it’s actually happening,” Pip replied. It was true for most of his life before Luna began visiting him. In one of his dreams he had been chased by a giant elephant, running so that he couldn’t be crushed. It was obviously preposterous, now that he looked back on it, but when he had been dreaming… it felt so real.

“So, what?” Scootaloo asked, trotting around the dreamscape. “We just imagine things and then they’ll happen here or something?”

“Yeah, that’s the idea.”

“Well then, stand back everypony! I got this!” Scootaloo dramatically cleared a space around her. “I’ve got years of experience from when I was trying to get my cutie mark!” She motioned to her mark, a tire with flames coming off it. Scootaloo closed her eyes and concentrated.

At first there was nothing, but, slowly, a portion of the dream began to warp. Suddenly, a watermelon appeared! Scootaloo opened her eyes and smiled, inhaling deeply, as if she had been holding her breath. “See!”

Just as suddenly as the watermelon had appeared, a small portion of it exploded outward, spraying its red and black contents in a short burst. It then deflated like a sad balloon, unmoved from its spot.

Everypony stared at the dilapidated watermelon.

“Was that supposed to-” Rumble began.

“Yes,” Scootaloo said with a look of irritation.

“Even the-”

“Not. Another. Word.” Scootaloo glared at him. Rumble just smiled and nodded.

As the ponies began to break apart in order to practice, Equinox turned to Pip with a questioning look. “Why teach us this? I remember the nightmare world. The Nightmare Forces are more powerful. They prevented the alteration of dreams.”

“We’ll still have to search through dreams in order to find the nightmares,” Pip explained. “Also, if we can help the ponies dreaming, we should. That’s what Luna does every night. Plus, fear only gives the darkness more power. If you feel you have control, you won’t be as fearful. We’re here to help, not make the situation worse.”

Equinox turned her attention to her skeletal wing and frowned. She tucked it close to her side and returned her attention to Pip. “I suppose that makes sense. I’ll… be over there, by the pop-tart outhouse, if you need me.” She slowly walked away, her gaze unfocused. Pip watched her go, unable to think of anything to say.

---

The entire time the others attempted to manipulate the dreamscape, Pip tried to focus on feeling the undercurrent of dark magic. Luna seemed to know where and when the Nightmare Forces would strike… He needed that ability as well if he was going to help. The problem was that he couldn’t really sense anything. Unlike altering the dreams, which had come naturally, he couldn’t seem to get the hang of this.

After a while, Pip became anxious. He didn’t want to stay too long in the dreamscape, for fear of his body falling asleep in the real world.

“Guys, uh-” he began.

Mist suddenly flew over to him and smiled. “Squeaks! I think I got the hang of it!”

“Where have you been this entire time?” Specter asked when he spotted her. “You flew off an hour ago and never told anyone where you went!”

Ignoring Specter’s concern, Mist picked Pip up from his sitting position and moved him out into the open candy field. “Do you ever change yourself in these dreams?” she asked with a smile.

“Sometimes I’m a pegasus,” Pip admitted.

“Because pegasi are the best,” Rumble chimed in from the other side of the field.

Pip laughed. “Yeah, something like that.”

“Perfect! Do you think you could, uh, change yourself into a bat pony?”

Pip lifted an eyebrow and slowly nodded. “Well, yeah.”

Mist smiled and anxiously waited. Pip shrugged and willed the magic to make it so. He grew leathery wings and fangs, and his ears became longer and fluffier. Although he couldn’t see it, he knew his eyes had altered to become slit-pupils.

Mist gleefully clapped her hooves together. Specter imagined a pair of black sunglasses over his eyes and smiled. “Radical,” he told Pip.

“What have you finally gotten ahold of?” Equinox asked Mist as she trotted over.

Suddenly fidgety, Mist shook her head. “Oh, uh, I just got the hang of the dreamscape, is all. And I just wanted to see Pip as a bat pony.”

“Hm,” Equinox replied skeptically.

Pip opened his leathery wings before tucking them back to his side. “Look, I actually wanted to say that we should stop for right now. We can’t be in here too long or we might fall asleep.” When the others nodded, Pip withdrew from the dreamscape, taking everypony with him, as he was the source of the magic keeping them there.

Once everypony was out, they all opened their eyes to glance around the courtyard. It was still night. Time in the dreamscape was illogical. Sometimes only a few seconds of time in the real world passed while at other times it would be hours.

“All that dream stuff has made me hungry,” Rumble announced. “I say we go get something to eat.”

“Where would we eat at this hour?” Marble asked, glancing up toward the moon. “Everything is probably closed.”

Rumble flapped his wings and took to the sky. “You obviously don’t know about the best donut shop in all of Equestria! It’s always open!”

---

Ding-ding!

“Rumble! Ha, ha. Long time no see.”

“Hey,” Rumble called out as he entered the donut shop. “I knew you’d be open!”

Pip entered with the rest of the Star Guard and examined the empty donut shop. It was spacious and smelled of sugar, much like Sugar Cube Corner. The bat ponies, except Equinox, blinked back the light and took a seat at the table in the furthest corner of the room. Pip walked up to the counter with Rumble.

“Hey, Pony Joe. Another donut,” said a familiar gruff voice.

Joe, the unicorn behind the table with the donut cutie mark, frowned. “Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”

“Another donut! Extra sprinkles!”

Pip could hardly believe it. Thunder Clash, his old pegasus drill sergeant, was the sole patron in the donut shop. The old pegasus had a dark orange coat, short gold mane and tail, and, now that he wasn’t wearing his armor, Pip could see his cutie mark, a black cloud with two lightning bolts colliding. Every inch of him was covered in some sort of scar or blemish.

“Thunder Clash?” Pip asked, trotting up to him.

“Hm? Pipsqueak?” he replied, turning to Pip and placing his cup heavily on the counter. “What’re you doing here, son?”

“Er, I was just about to ask you the same question. Aren’t you supposed to be training the new crop of guards?”

Thunder Clash sighed and shoved another donut in his mouth. After he was done chewing he shrugged. “I hung up my hat. Quit. After so many years you get the hint. You aren’t young anymore. Gotta move on.” He angrily glared at the clock. “Gotta slowly pass the time until you got none left. Wastin’ everypony’s space. Wastin’ air. That’s what you need to do when you’re not cut out for the fight anymore. That’s your great exit.”

Pip nervously laughed. Thunder Clash wasn’t even really talking to him as much as he was talking to the clock. “R-right.” Taking this opportunity to step away, Pip ran into Marble. Pushing her down the length of the counter, he got out of earshot of Thunder Clash.

“What’s wrong with Thunder Clash?” Marble asked, glancing over at the pegasus.

“He seems upset about his age.” Pip shrugged. “I don’t think we should bother him.”

“Yeah, he’ll die faster that way.”

Pip was taken aback. “I… didn’t want him to die.”

“You wouldn’t want anypony to die.”

“Yeah. So? What are you even talking about anyway? He seems perfectly… healthy.” Pip and Marble took a moment to observe the old drill instructor. Thunder Clash threw back his drink and slammed it on the counter.

“Another,” Thunder Clash commanded Joe.

“Wasn’t he on a carefully controlled diet before?” Marble whispered to Pip.

Pip nodded. “Yeah.”

“Uh-huh. You don’t see what’s going on here? He feels old and useless and just wants to get things over with. It happens to a lot of older ponies who worked hard all their lives. The instant they have nothing to do… Bam. They die within a few short years. Sometimes just months, if they drink hard enough.”

Pip rubbed the fragment hanging on his chest. It was such a sad thought to think that Thunder Clash would just waste away at a donut shop or bar somewhere… He didn’t deserve that. “Marble, what’re we going to do?”

She looked at him with a lifted eyebrow. “We? It isn’t our job to help him out. He’s a big stallion. He can take care of himself. If he wants to drown his sorrows, let him.”

“He’s not so far gone that he can’t do anything,” Pip shrugged.

“You could always make him a member of the Star Guard,” Marble suggested. “You don’t need your physical prowess in the dreamscape, apparently.”

Pip shook his head. “No… No, I can’t do that.” The only pony that he had actually feared for in the nightmare realm had been Thunder Clash. The older pegasus had been so concerned with the dead soldiers in his nightmares that he couldn’t even look up. No… Thunder Clash couldn’t be allowed to go with them into the dreams. Pip was too afraid of what would happen if the Nightmare Forces got to him.

With a swish of her perfectly straight tail, Marble turned to go sit down with the others. “Well, it’s your choice.” She trotted away, not very concerned one way or the other.

Torn between what would be for the best, and what he wanted to do, Pip finally trotted back up to Thunder Clash. “Sir… You quit training the guard?”

“That’s right,” Thunder Clash snapped. “Did it take you that long for my words to sink into your thick skull? No wonder you wouldn’t stop lookin’ for Luna.” He threw back another cup.

“Then, I was wondering… Would you be willing to finish training us? The Star Guard? As we… travel around Equestria and help the ponies from within their dreams?”

Thunder Clash turned to him with a glare. “So, when I say I quit cuz I’m too old, you suddenly want me to train you regardless? How does that make up for the old part, boy? It doesn’t. Leave me. I don’t got it in me anymore.”

“Luna said we needed somepony with experience.” Pip shrugged. “Isn’t old just another word for experienced?”

“Look, son. You can just maintain your exercises for the rest of the year. Every other night we worked on muscle and tone for the entire night. The other nights we worked half the night on skill with weapons. That’s basically forty-five hours a week, on average, of training.”

“R-really? We did forty-five hours every week of training?” Jeez… I didn’t think it was that much. Never seemed like it.

“Time flies when you’re having fun, eh?” Thunder Clash snorted. “But seriously. Just get somepony else to train you with weapons and you’ve as good as replaced me. And, if Luna put you in charge of a Guard, she most likely doesn’t think you need any more training.”

“Well… It’s more of a dire circumstance thing,” Pip admitted with a forced chuckle. “I certainly think we could use some more training. Especially if we’ll be traveling. We aren’t going to stay in Canterlot the whole time.”

“Are your ears filled with donut?” Thunder Clash asked. “I said I’m too old. I don’t think I could have said it any simpler.”

Pip could hardly believe his ears. This didn’t sound like the Thunder Clash he knew. “So, that’s it? You’re done? You’re just going to throw in the towel?” When Thunder Clash didn’t answer, Pip turned to leave. “Huh. I guess Marble was right. You did come here to waste away until you die.”

He turned and left Thunder Clash. Before he got to the table, Thunder Clash had turned back to him.

“Don’t you say something like that and walk away, boy!”

“I just thought you were one to go out with your boots on, sir,” Pip replied. Everypony else in the donut shop was now silent and watching, even Pony Joe.

Thunder Clash, frustrated, flew up from his seat. The full length of his underbelly had a long fresh scar from the Quarray Eel incident, though it was hard to spot among all the other scars. For once, he seemed at a loss for words.

“We could use your help,” Pip finally said, breaking the silence. “Not an excuse.”

His anger was apparent from the way he flapped his wings. Seething, Thunder Clash slowly landed next to Pip and glared. “You say you need help, but I could end up being the burden that fails the whole mission.”

“Yeah, well, what if you just happen to save everypony with your expert knowledge? We could play this game till the sun rises. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but if you want to keep making up reasons, then do it on your own time. We have things to do.”

Pip took a step back, but Thunder Clash placed a hoof on his bad shoulder. Pip bit back the cringe of pain. “Look, boy… You shouldn’t…” He trailed off, conflicted. “Nevermind. Listen, I need to think about it.”

“We’ll be leaving tomorrow for Hollow Shades,” Pip informed him. “If you want to go, just be at the train station.”

Thunder Clash stared at him for a long moment. “Fine. If I’m there, I’m there.”

Pip smiled. “All right then.”

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