• Published 9th Dec 2018
  • 419 Views, 16 Comments

New Neighton - FlyingSaucer



When the long dormant portal to a lost pony colony opens unexpectedly eighty-six years after vanishing without a trace, a small group of Lunar Guard is sent through on a mission to find answers.

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Chapter 3 - Departure

Rapid Advance yawned, blinking his eyes awake. Casting them about his overly cramped stall, he noted the form of his stallmate, Distant Voice, curled into a tight ball just across from him. He paused a moment, observing the sleeping stallion. Slowly, quietly, he managed to extricate himself from his bunk. Squeezing his bulky frame out of the stall, he began to make his way down the depressingly narrow stable hallway, and towards the (thankfully much larger) common room. His ears twitched, picking up a subtle clanking somewhere ahead of him.

Somepony must be up already.

Following the sounds, Rapid quickly made it to the threshold of the common room, and located their source. Moving quickly, if quietly about the empty room was the unmistakable reddish hued form of Watchful Eye. Rapid paused, watching the pony at work. He seemed to be focused on some sort of kettle on the far counter, his haunches swaying to and fro as if to some unheard beat. The large pony narrowed his eyes, trying to see exactly what it was the other stallion was working on. Then the smell hit him.

“Evening Watch. Err afternoon. Morning? Whatever the blazes it is. I smell coffee.” Rapid’s nostrils flared as if to punctuate his statement. The smaller stallion’s smooth moves came to an abrupt stop.

“That you do. It’s good stuff, too. If this doesn’t wake this herd of maniacs up, nothing in Equestria will.” Watchful Eye slapped something metallic with his hoof, then turned to face the corporal. He was grinning, and his large pink eyes seemed far too sparkly for this hour of the day.

“Don’t worry, I didn’t see you dancing,” said Rapid, moving around the table in the center of the room, “at least, I won’t remember seeing it if the coffee is good enough.” A small smile slowly formed on the large stallion’s muzzle. “As for the others, they’ll be up, coffee or not.”
Still grinning himself, if somewhat sheepishly, Watchful Eye raised an eyebrow. “Well that sounds ominous.”

“I can be a very ominous pony,” Rapid moved past the other stallion to sniff at the brewing coffee.

“Mmhmm.”

Rapid swiveled an ear as the smaller stallion sidled up to him. Together they stared expectantly at the pot. Several silent minutes passed.

“So, what do you think?” said Watchful Eye.

“Shouldn’t it be done by now?” Rapid said, sniffing at the pot again.

Watch rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean. This mission of ours.”

Rapid Advance snorted. “It’s all Nightwork.”

“Well yeah, it’s kind of what we do,” chuckled Watchful Eye, flapping his wings lightly for effect.

“Yes yes, I know. There is just something to be said about a stand up fight. I am not particularly suited to this sneaking business.”

“You don’t say.”

“That grin of yours is infuriating, you know.”

“I do.”

Rapid Advance glared, then turned back to the the pot, giving it one last sniff. “About time.”

Grabbing two small metal cups from a stack near the pot, he began to carefully to fill them.

“You know what I mean, Watch. There are some things I excel at. Others, not so much. If you want sneaky, Voice is your pony. My skills are suited more for direct approach. I am built to face problems head on, not hide from them behind a rock that is entirely too small to conceal me.” Rapid finished with a note of bitterness that could come only from experience.

Watchful Eye tried vainly to suppress a laugh.

“Oh, that was good. I don’t actually think there was anything out there that could have hidden all of you. But hey, it ended worse for the griffon. “

“That it did. See, the Griffonstone operation, that’s what I mean. The incident with the sentry aside, I was able to make a real difference there. Not with that sneaking nonsense. But with these,” Rapid stomped a hoof on the ground for emphasis, “they couldn’t argue with them.”

Watchful Eye took a sip of his coffee, keeping his eyes pinned to his friend. He seemed to be thinking.

“That’s true. I don’t want to think about how that business at the north wall would have ended if you hadn’t been there to do your thing. And Dista-”

“HE would have been just fine,” Rapid cut in abruptly, “he’s a tough little pony.”

An awkward moment of silence passed, and Rapid continued. “Just a shame we couldn’t take the place. I still think we could have, if we’d been given more time.”

“Maybe so. But would it really have been worth it? Especially with it turning out the idol wasn’t even there. What a mess,” said Watchful Eye.

“I suppose you are right. I still can’t believe those bird brains duped us. With the number of ponies we lost in that assault, we could have at least been allowed to to take the place, idol or no.”

“Not everypony shared your optimism Rapid. It was their capital after all. A royal residence, no less. Those weren’t ordinary griffon guards we were fighting. The whole thing was a bloody mess. Once we knew it wasn’t there, well, I think they made the right call to pull us out. The king and the idol were gone. Hay, they were never there in the first place. They led us by the reins.”

Rapid Advanced snorted, looking to his friend. “You’re right of course. You usually are. I just wish that hadn’t been for nothing. Nothing shouldn’t have a price that high.”

The pink-eyed bat stallion took another sip of his coffee, nodding slowly. “The Lieutenant?”

Rapid nodded in return.

“I know how you feel,” said Watchful Eye, before letting out a sigh, “and if that wasn’t bad enough, they still haven’t sent us a replacement. This would be a perfect time to introduce somepony, when we’re stood down like this. Give the others a chance to get to know them, that sort of thing. And poor Winter Sky, those two were close.”

Replacements,” Rapid spat, “No pony can be replaced. The LT least of all.”

Watchful Eye nodded, staring at his cup for a silent moment. Slowly, he raised it to eye level directly in front of the larger stallion. “To Guiding Star.”

Rapid smiled, lifted his own cup, and touched it to the side of his friend’s. “In memory still bright.”

Watchful Eye placed his own cup on the table, took a deep breath, and turned to face his friend once more. His grin had returned. “Well, we didn’t come away totally empty hooved. You did acquire quite a reputation. I think some of the Solar Guard are actually afraid of you.”

“You take down one Griffon royal guard single hoofedly and suddenly everypony is giving you funny looks. What a world.”

Watchful Eye chuckled. “Nightwork or not, I’m glad you are coming with us on this one, Rapid.”

A quiet moment passed, broken only by the sound of snoring from one of the closer stalls to the common room.

“Well,” said Watchful Eye, “I suppose it’s about time to wake up the foals.”

“That it is. If only to to put an end to that horrid noise.”

******

“You get the fillies, I’ll handle the colts,” said Rapid.

Watchful Eye nodded, heading down the long hallway that ran between the rows of stalls in the stable barracks. Rapid watched him for a moment, as he moved towards the stall housing the squad’s two mares.

The large bat pony began down the hall himself, stopping just a few doors in. Turning abruptly to the right, he rapped loudly on the door three times, and waited for a response. Snoring. He repeated the action, and listened.

“Zzzeeeeeeeeee” came the response from the other side.

Rapid Advance’s eyes quickly fell to a half lidded state. The speed at which these particular ponies could rob him of his patience never ceased to amaze him.

“I’m coming in, and you are getting up,” Rapid quickly popped the handle to the stall door and kicked it in with his foreleg, sending it flying open with a bang. “And who actually says ‘ZZZ’ when they are pretending to be asleep? Really.”

He glanced around the tiny darkened stall, his night-tuned easily discerning the details of the stall. It was clean, as any stall in a Lunar Guard stable barracks was bound to be. Even if it is the sort of clean you only get from guardsponies more interested in hanging posters than making their bunks.


Quickly his eyes fell upon the blanket-covered forms of Star Duster and Dawn Trotter, on beds against either wall. Noting their utter lack of movement, he stepped further into the tiny room. Suddenly, he found himself the target of a pair of fast moving pillows, striking his face from either side. Rapid was unamused.

“Do that again and I am going to tie both of your wings together. Into a nice bow.”

Finally, a mutual groan of complaint signaled the pair’s compliance, and Rapid Advance backed out of the stall, leaving the door open. Nodding in satisfaction, he headed a bit further down the hallway and across it, to the door of the stall he shared with Distant Voice. Easing the door open, the stallion entered, immediately noting the form of his stallmate still curled into a tight ball on top of his bunk. Rapid knocked on the nearby wall several times.

“Hey, Voice, time to be up.” No response. He moved up to the sleeping form of the tiny stallion and repeated himself, this time shaking the bed a bit. “Time to get up!” No effect. The form of the smaller pony stirred slightly, but didn’t rise.

“DISTANT VOICE!” he yelled. Still no effect.

How the hay can such a little pony be such a heavy sleeper?

“Alright,” he snorted, “I’ve had enough of this nonsense from you lot.” Reaching into the hooflocker near him, Rapid Advance rifled about.

“Aha!” he exclaimed, withdrawing the spiraled form of his stallmate’s bugle in triumph. The massive pony looked over the shiny horn, to the sleeping form of Distant Voice beyond.

“You’ve left me no choice, my little friend.”

With a deep breath, Rapid blew. What came out was quite possibly the loudest, most vile note to ever sound from a Lunar Guard signal horn.

Distant Voice’s eyes immediately shot open. The little pony launched straight into the air. A thud echoed through the tiny room as the unfortunate pony struck his head on the ceiling, crashing back down onto the bed in a tangled mass of wings and legs. Quickly the pony sprang back to all fours, back arched and wings spread wide, as in some vain attempt to appear threatening. His head and eyes darted frantically side to side, seemingly trying to make sense of the situation.

Rapid advanced blinked, then snickered. He tossed the bugle onto the bed immediately in front of the tiny, fierce looking pony, whose eyes instantly snapped to it.

“Good morning, Voice. You’ll need that.” Still snickering, Rapid Advance backed out of the stall, turned and began back down the hallway towards the common room. He didn’t get far before he heard it. A high-pitched, indignant wail echoed down the hallway behind him.

“RAPID ADVANCE!”

Rapid kept walking. One ear swiveled to the rear as he heard Watchful Eye, Sable Shield and Far out coming slowly up behind him. Immediately in front, the forms of Star Duster and Dawn Trotter were finally emerging from their pillow-infested stall.

“Ughh what was that horrible sound?” said Dawn Trotter, “my poor ears are crying.”

“That’s just your brain leaking out, Dawn,” said Star Duster, coming up behind him.

“Yeah, from spending too much time with you,” Dawn said, mid yawn.

Rapid moved past the pair, grinning slightly. Continuing on into the common room, he turned and watched the others filing in behind him. Star Duster. Dawn Trotter. Sable Shield. A frustratingly awake and cheerful looking Far Out. Slowly, the (mostly) tired looking bat ponies entered, shambling straight for the coffee. Watchful Eye came last, driving his herd towards caffeinated salvation.

“Get it while you can, won’t be time to make another properly,” said Watchful Eye, waving a wing in the area of the coffee, “and make sure to get something to eat too! We won’t be stopping by the mess hall!”

Rapid dropped to his haunches, observing the ritual. It was always the same, and never ceased to amuse him. The fact that several of these ponies didn’t even like coffee made it all the more entertaining to him.

Friendship is coffee beans, I suppose.

Eventually the diminutive form of Distant Voice appeared, wings still fully spread. Rapid watched the little pony glance cautiously around the common room, locking his gaze on the coffee pot. As if hit by some sudden realization, he flapped his wings and galloped full tilt towards the group.

******

Awake and satisfactorily caffeinated, the seven bat ponies went about the business of donning their barding and gathering belongings. Rapid Advance sat in the corner of the common room, fully armored save for his helmet, Distant Voice at his side.

“Sorry about that,” said Rapid.

“I don’t really think you are,” Distant Voice replied, somewhat cheekily, “hey, can you get that?” He gestured to his back with a hoof.

Rapid nodded, untwisting a a pair of straps that ran between the smaller pony’s wings. “Hmm probably not. It’s far too effective a technique. In fact, I may ask to borrow that thing for the others at some point.”

“First call in five,” said Watchful Eye, walking past the pair. The sergeant, now in full armor and kit, moved through the center of the common room. As each pony caught sight of him, their pace seemed to increase.

“Just about showtime,” said Distant Voice, quickly rising to his hooves.

Rapid nodded and followed suit, heaving himself off his haunches. He quickly popped on his helmet, and gave Voice’s partially donned helmet a solid thump for good measure, forcing it down over his eyes. “That it is.”

“Gahhh!”

Rapid snickered, moving to the center of the room. All around him ponies hurriedly went about the final stages of preparation. He couldn’t help but grin as he saw the forms of proper Lunar Guardsponies start to emerge all around him. A Lunar Guard geared for deployment was a rather different sight than the clean armored sentinels that most ponies were used to seeing; While the barding itself was the very same, over it was set and fastened an entire herd of accoutrements and field gear. While the exact specifics of how each pony carried some particular items was a matter of personal preference, the larger pieces were mostly the same. Over each set of barding was worn a large set of saddlebags. On top, and and typically woven between those, was a length of blanket, rolled or folded tight. While the saddlebags themselves were technically designed to house the guardspony’s blanket, most opted instead to wear it wrapped externally, and to carry more food in the bag instead. Hanging from the side of each pony, directly behind the saddlebags, was a metal canteen, clad in wool dyed Lunar Blue. Finishing off the look was a plumed helmet, each plume matching the colors of its owner’s mane and tail.

In a few short minutes, every pony present was standing fully armored, together in the center of the common room. Watchful Eye paced quickly back and forth, nodding here and there, eyeing each pony in turn.

“Well, that was quick,” he grinned, “everypony in line if you would.”

The six ponies quickly fell into line, facing Watchful Eye, who stood in the center of the common room. The chatter of ponies was replaced by the clink and creak of barding, and the heavy clopping of warshoes. The armored forms of the seven ponies reflectlected the dim light of the stable barracks in the strange purple hues that only the barding of the Lunar Guard could produce. The sergeant paused a moment, withdrawing a small of bit of paper from one of his saddlebags with his mouth. With a flourish, he extended a wing, impaling the top of the paper on the tip of his wing claw, before nodding.

“Now that everypony is hopefully awake, I’ll try to get through this immense muster list as quickly as I can.”

“Rapid Advance.”

Rapid quickly stepped forward, hiking his tail and lifting a foreleg. “Present.” Just as quickly, he stepped back into line.

“Dawn Trotter.”

The spunky grey stallion stepped forward, performing the same motion as Rapid. “Present!”

Quickly, the sergeant called the names of the remaining ponies. Seemingly satisfied he had accounted for everyone, he stuffed the little paper into the front of his barding.

“Well then, seems all the cookies are in the jar. No escapees either, that’s always a good sign,” he was met by a few snickers. “Before we head down to requisitions, a few things.” Watchful Eye turned, walking a short distance to a dark bag that was sitting unnoticed in a corner of the room. Taking the top of it in his teeth, he dragged it back to the assembled bat ponies.

Rapid looked at the bag curiously, quite confused as to how it escaped his notice. He watched as the sergeant fumbled with it a bit, before finally managing to get it open. The reddish stallion’s head vanished momentarily into the bag, before emerging with some kind of tube in his mouth.

“Thiffs,” Watchful Eye stopped, blinking, before dropping to his haunches and spitting the tube into his forehooves. “Ahem. This, is something you should never leave home without. Hopefully, we won’t need it on this one, but you know how quick plans can change. I sure wish we had it on the last one.” Suddenly, the tube was sailing through the air.

In one swift motion, Rapid had it in his teeth. Dropping it into a forehoof, he examined it. It was blue, and on its front was a large picture of a bat pony wearing sunglasses. Behind the pony, the sun, wearing a rather flustered expression. Above, in large lettering: ‘GRUMPY SUN’. “What?”

“Yeah, what?” echoed a perplexed looking Dawn Trotter. All Eyes turned to the little blue bottle in Rapid’s hoof.

“Sunblock!” said Watchful Eye. Extending both his wings, flapping them for effect. “For your wings. Remember Griffonstone?” An audible ‘Ohhhhh.’ of comprehension swept down the line of ponies. “The palace spa of all places had a bunch of it.”

Rapid Advance winced. He vividly remembered that pain. Working alongside the Solar Guard. Having to cover large distances in daylight. The awful, horribly toasted wings they all got from spending so much time in the air beneath that horrid, angry sun.

“Watch, you are a saint. Sable, be a dear and kiss him would you?”

“Wait WHAT?” yelled a blindsided Sable Shield.

Watchful Eye returned his head to the bag, withdrawing more bottles and tossing one to each pony in turn. He then paused, allowing the group to examine them.

“So, uh, how do we put this stuff on, anyway. ” asked Far Out. “It’s all super goopy and stuff.”

Watchful Eye looked her straight in the eye, saying nothing. She looked back. Several awkward moments passed as the two stood stock still, staring at one another, silent and unblinking.

Finally, Watchful Eye blinked. “Oh. I thought it was a spray.”

“The Spa he says,” Rapid shook his head.

“Sooooo...” said Star Duster, “Who’s oiling up the Captain?”

******

With a loud ‘thud’ the heavy wooden door to the Tower of the Moon began to swing open. Behind it, shielding their eyes from the invading sunlight, stood the seven armored bat ponies. Around them the familiar pale light of the tower interior was replaced by the obscene brightness of the noonday sun. Rapid took a deep breath, steeling himself for what was to come.

“Stars above!” he winced, closing his eyes completely, “too bright.”

“I wish there were stars above,” said Distant Voice.

“I hate this already,” said Star Duster, stamping a hoof.

“Pretty sure the sun hates you right back,” added Dawn Trotter.

“I hate Star Duster too,” Sable Shield chimed in.

Far Out just smiled.

Watchful Eye sighed, bringing a forehoof to his face. “We haven’t even set one hoof out of the Tower and it starts.” With a snort and a motion of his head, he lead the others through the door and onto the cobblestones of the palace courtyard. Stopping, he turned, and without saying a word, began to pull, push, and nose the various straps and buckles of his charges. Finding one of Star Duster’s barding straps loose, he took it in his teeth, pulling it tight.

Star Duster rolled his eyes. “Thanks mom.”

Watchful Eye glared at him, moving back to his original position. Taking a deep breath he turned, as if to address the group again, but stopped, blinking. “Oooh.”

“Oooh?” Asked Rapid, confused.

Watch said nothing, just pointed with a hoof, directly up and behind the group. Rapid Advance cocked his head, then turned to see what the sergeant was pointing at. “Oooh.”

The Tower of the Moon rose high into the fierce, blue sky of the Equestrian noon. It shone with an almost unearthly light, a shimmering spire of pearl and silver, topped with a dome the color of the midnight sky. The dome itself shone in a nearly supernatural way, an island of pure starlight, standing tall and proud, in seeming defiance of the overpowering rays of the noonday sun. But beneath the starlit dome, taking in those very rays of sunlight, and shining with a radiance that surpassed all else on the Tower, was a great crystal set in silver, hewn into the shape of a crescent moon.

“Wow,” said Star Duster, having turned to see for himself, “I..I’ve never seen the Moon Tower in this kind of light before.”

“Me either,” said Watch, coming out of his stupor, “it must be the lack of clouds.”

“And the fact we are never up at noon.” added Dawn Trotter.

“Well then,” said Watchful Eye, tearing his eyes from the tower, “now that we can mostly see, we are heading to requisitions. Going skyside, at the route step.” With one swift beat of his bat-like wings, he was airborne.

Rapid watched his friend ascend a moment, then launched himself into the air. Around him he heard the sound of beating wings, and knew that his comrades had done the same. Within a few short moments, he had caught up to Watch, and pulled alongside him.

The sergeant glanced back, seeing Rapid on his wing. “After we get our gear, Captain Winter is waiting for us in the room with the doorway. Portal. Whatever the hay that thing is.”

“I figured as much,” Rapid nodded.

“Along with a special mystery guest, who is totally not Marshal Prominence.”

“The Marshal himself there to see us off? Should I feel flattered, or terrified?”

“A bit of both, probably,” Watch squinted his eyes, turned to a new heading, and began to descend. His maroon mane blew back as he did, and his tail whipped in the airflow behind him. “Honestly I am surprised how well everyone is handling this after what we learned last night.”

Rapid Advance followed, and could see their destination approaching below. The magical requisitions building was a medium sized, heavily built structure sitting well away from the Palace and Towers proper, though still within the walls of the palace compound. Housed within were the stranger, rarer, and more esoteric items and artifacts employed by the Guard, and many of the most dangerous. Due to the unpredictable, and often combustible, nature of such items, the form and location of the building made perfect sense to him. “They’ve probably already forgotten the scary part.”

Watchful Eye chuckled. “Probably so.”

“I didn’t,” said Distant Voice, seemingly out of nowhere.

Both ponies snapped their heads to the space between them. Where a scant second before had been empty air, now flapped Distant Voice. His wings beat visibly harder than the other’s as he kept pace.

“Sneaky little pony,” snickered Rapid Advance.

Distant Voice returned a grin, then looked to Watchful Eye. “Sarge, I am definitely nervous about this. I know Dawn is too. But what Captain Winter said is true, it’s been like 80 years since whatever happened, happened. That’s an entire lifetime ago. I guess what I mean is, having thought about it, I am more excited than nervous. We are going to another planet! But more than that...” Voice’s eyes grew large, and to Rapid, it seemed that they began to sparkle. “We are getting the chance to solve one of the biggest mysteries in pony history! The lost Colony! If we can find some answers, that would be like learning the fate of Discord, or finding the wreck of the Ardent Heart!” He clopped his forehooves together in excitement. “And all on an entirely new planet!”

“I am noticing a theme here,” Watchful Eye smiled, glancing to the ringed planet adorning the small pony’s flank. The trio flew on a few moments more, descending as they went. Quickly they came upon their destination, the main entrance of the Magical Requisitions building. Six pairs of hooves hit cobblestones in near unison, the clack of metal warshoes on stone loudly announcing their arrival. Shortly after, more shoes hit stone as the remaining ponies joined them.

“Alright, after me,” said Watch, heading to the nearby door. It was an imposing wooden affair, clad in shining steel. “And don’t touch anything that isn’t given to you by myself or somepony that knows what they are doing. This place is built to handle mishaps, but I don’t know if it can handle all of us.” He rapped heavily on the door three times, and waited. A moment later, a small rectangular panel in the door slid open, and a pair of curious eyes appeared within it.

“Magical Requisitions. State your business,” came a voice from the other side of the door.”

“Sergeant Watchful Eye. Here on behalf of Captain Winter Sky, fifth company, Second Canterlot Lunar Guard regiment. Special assignment. Came to pick up the toys.”

“One moment.” The eyes vanished from the door.

Rapid Advance sighed. He had very little patience for this routine. “This is ridiculous.”

“This is the part they don’t put on the posters.” said Watchful Eye, still staring at the door. “This stuff is normally handled on the regimental level, so we’d never have to come here ourselves. Normally. We, however, have been summarily exiled from normalsville.”

“Oh hey, Normalsville, I’ve been there,” said Far Out, standing in the very back of the group.

Rapid craned his neck around to look at the mare, having nearly forgotten she was with them. She’d been even more quiet than usual since they’d gotten up. Nervous perhaps, in her own way.

“Really nice place, but kind of boring,” she added.

With a loud metallic pop, the wooden door swung inwards, revealing the gold armored form of a Solar Guard unicorn. “Hello sergeant.”

The stallion quickly glanced about the other members of the group. “...And friends!” He stepped aside, motioning them forward with his head. “You are cleared, welcome to Magical Requisitions. The group began to move through the door in pairs, lead by Watch and Rapid. As Rapid filed past the unicorn, he leaned his horned head close, and raising a hoof to his mouth began to whisper. “We call it the Boom Room, but that’s just a nickname. Please help us keep it that way.”

Rapid glared at the unicorn, continuing on his way. The group continued forward, Watchful Eye in the lead. The door behind them began to creak, and with another loud pop, was sealed once more. The oppressive light of the sun was gone, replaced by a much more tolerably (though still a bit much for a bat pony) lit castle interior. Rapid sighed in relief. He wasn’t alone. As the group moved further into the building, the large stallion examined his surroundings. The building was sturdy enough, and quite simple by palace standards. While the floors were polished stone, and the occasional inset pillar or tapestry passed by on the wall, none of it was as ornate or richly decorated as could be found in the Guard Towers, or the Royal Palace proper.

The group approached a set of stairs, and Rapid’s eyes adjusted enough to make out the colors surrounding him. White, tan and teal seemed to dominate, along with a strange smattering of purple. Upon the wall, flanking the staircase he was about to ascend, was carved a symbol: A particular six pointed starburst that Rapid immediately recognized as the element of magic.

“What we want is on the second level,” said Watchful Eye, now moving up the aforementioned staircase. Once clearing the staircase and following a few rather obvious pieces of signage, the seven ponies found themselves at their destination.

Squeezing through one last open doorway in pairs, they found themselves in a large room. Directly before them, a large counter ran its entire length, and behind it was located a rather impressive array of silver shelves. Also behind the counter, eyeing them all curiously, was a very blue unicorn mare.

“Well now,” she said, “What do we have here? A bewildering bundle of bats, that’s what.” She leaned over the counter, narrowing her eyes as she inspected the group more closely. “Isn’t it past your bedtime?”

“Yes,” said Watch, rolling his eyes, “We’re here for our stuff. Requisition order should be under Winter Sky.”

Rapid Advance watched the mare. She continued observing them, as if considering the sergeant’s words. She wore no armor, which seemed to make her far bluer than she had any right being. Her mane, also blue, was of medium length and hung to one side. What he could see of her eyes, nearly hidden behind her narrowed eyelids, appeared to be yellow. She seemed vaguely familiar to him.

“What?” said Dawn Trotter, looking uncomfortable.

“What indeed,” replied the mare.

“Is something wrong?” said Rapid.

“Hmm, no. I just can’t remember ever seeing any of you batbrains roaming around in the day like this. At noon. In packs.”

Star Duster sighed. “Can’t we just have our stuff?”

“I suppose supply ponies wouldn’t see much of us, it’s true,” added Rapid Advance, “Though my fri-

“SUPPLY PONY!” the mare glared, her head snapping to the large stallion, “I am not a supply pony!”

“Well that would explain why she isn’t giving us our supplies,” said Sable Shield, glaring right back.

“Well,” said Watchful Eye, “you are in Requisitions. Behind the counter. You aren’t wearing barding and you are supposed to be giving us supplies. Are you suuuuree you aren’t a supply pony?

The mare snorted, jumping onto the counter. She pressed her face against a startled Watchful Eye’s and stomped a hoof. “Twilight Guard. First regiment, first company, second squad.”

“Twilight Guard?” came the confused response of several bat ponies in unison.

“First company?” Added Sable Shield, her tone having changed to something that could almost be mistaken for respect.

Rapid took a better look at the mare, now fully visible on the counter with her face still pressed to his sergeant’s. He looked to her flank. A gem of some kind, wreathed in some rather intense looking magical flames. Suddenly, he remembered.

“I recognize you,” said Rapid, “you’re Azure Arrow.”

“What?” said Watchful Eye, backpedaling quickly, running rump first into Star Duster.

The feisty unicorn’s expression abruptly changed, and she wheeled to face Rapid Advance. “Oh, so you’ve heard of me,” she grinned.

“Yes, I am pretty sure most guardsponies in Canterlot have,” said Rapid, “it’s hard to miss the explosions. What in Equestria is one of the Twilight Guard, let alone one of their masters of offensive spellcasting, doing behind a supply counter?”

“Oh, well.” The mare jumped down from the counter, immediately in front of Rapid Advance. Standing, she craned her neck back to face him. “Gosh, you’re huge! Like, massive!”

Rapid looked down to face the mare. “Err yes, so I am told. But my question?”

Azure Arrow blinked. “Oh, yeah! Well...” the mare turned, and began to pace, “see, you remember that demonstration thing we were going to do on the parade grounds, like a week ago, with the 3 guard branches? The one that got canceled?” Rapid nodded. “Well you see, it seems I got a bit uh, ambitious at the practice for the Twilight Guard spell expo. Kinda blew up the field. And a tower. And sorta singed the tip of the Marshal’s tail.”

“That was you?” Star Duster added incredulously.

“Yeah! The only reason everypony doesn’t know it is because Prominence doesn’t want it to get out that he’s got a tail extension in now. What a princess.” the mare snickered.

The room was silent. The bat ponies eyed the blue mare in a mixture of fear, awe and abject confusion.

“WAIT!” the mare shouted suddenly, whirling back to face Rapid Advance. “I recognize you too!” In an instant, all eyes in the room were firmly pinned on Rapid Advance.

You recognize me?”

“Yeah! You’re the guy that stomped that huge griffon all by yourself, at the Griffonstone keep fight! No magic or anything, just BAM BAM BAM!

“You saw that? how? From what I recall, the Twilight Guard wasn’t present for that particular piece of savagery.”

“We weren’t. At least, not officially,” Azure Arrow grinned, “Who do you think blasted that wall open? Star Throwers can’t make holes like that.”

“Oh.”

“Well then!” Azure Arrow whirled and lept back over the counter. “You ponies seem alright! Gimme’ just a minute, I’ll go get your stuff.” She cantered towards the back of the room, and disappeared into the mass of shelving.

“What the hay was that?” asked Watchful Eye.

“Unicorns,” said Sable Shield, shaking her head.

Ten minutes later, Azure Arrow returned, floating a large bin behind her in her in an aura of unicorn magic. Depositing it on the ground immediately behind the counter with a loud thud, she began levitating several bags from within it, dropping them on the counter top.

“Whew,” she sighed, levitating a list from the bin. “Okay then let’s see... twelve Nightflame stones, twenty-four enchanted dressings, a crystal spyglass, fourteen Smokestones, a Scroll of Distress...eight vials of-” Azure stopped speaking, continuing to read the list.

“What the hay. I don’t even want to know where they are sending you with this stuff. Some Spectre stuff too, you sneaky little bats.” Azure pushed the bags towards the opposite side of the counter, and nodded to Watchful Eye. The sergeant scrambled forward, taking possession of the bags. Quickly and with great efficiency, he went about removing contents and stuffing them into various other bat pony saddlebags.

Azure turned once more to Rapid Advance. “I can’t really picture you as the stealth type.”
“I’m not. I am more...” Rapid paused a moment, “let us just say I prefer the direct approach to problem solving.”

A knowing grin formed on the muzzle of Azure Arrow. “Me too.”

******

“She was an interesting pony,” said Far Out, nodding as she beat her wings. The group of bat ponies, after finally receiving their supplies, had made their way back out of Magical Requisitions and were now flying meet their Captain. They passed quickly over the shining white city, weaving casually between its many spires and domes, and drew near to the large mountain face that dominated its rearmost portion.

“Interesting isn’t the word I would use to describe her,” said Sable Shield.

“Interesting is the word I would use to describe her reaction to Rapid,” added Dawn Trotter, to a chorus of chuckles.

“Alright,” said Watchful Eye, “We are going groundside. We have to walk the rest of the way. This door, gate, portal, whatever it is happens to be inside the mountain.”

Without being told, the squad of ponies began to close formation. They formed tightly on Watchful Eye as he descended towards a large public square.

“Down in three, two, one..” said the sergeant, immediately followed the the loud, clacking of hooves on stone, “and here we...”

Watch paused. All around the group of bat ponies, standing stock still, was a large group of normal city ponies. Moments before, they had been going about their normal business in the large open area of the square. Now, they stood staring, all eyes locked on the group of that had just landed in their midst.

“Uh?” said Distant Voice, backing up slightly. “Hello?”

“They must not be used to seeing us during the day,” said Rapid, glancing around at the mass of staring eyes.

“Or seeing us at all,” added Watch with a sigh, “okay, let’s keep going.”

He lead the group forward, and somewhat awkwardly, they fell into line. Two by two they made for a structure halfway across the square, set into the stone of the mountain face and flanked by a pair of Solar guardponies. As they crossed the distance, the scene repeated itself, with each new pony that noticed the group stopping to stare as they passed.

“This is so awkward,” said Sable Shield.

“Nah, its cool,” added Far Out, “it’s like, being in a parade or something. But without a rad float. I wish we had some beads to throw.”

“You can just throw our dignity instead, Far,” said Star Duster, “We’re always throwing that away.”

“That’s my dignity you are always throwing away, Star,” said Watchful Eye, “You never had any.”

A chorus of “Ohhhhhh!” rose from the marching bat ponies, as well as some snickering.

Star Duster snorted.

“Is it true you are all vamponies?” came a voice seemingly from nowhere. Rapid Advance blinked, turning his head towards the sound. Trotting beside him was a small green earth pony colt. “Do you drink blood? My mom says bat ponies drink blood.”

“...What?” said Rapid, eyeing the colt incredulously, “why on Earth would she tell you that?”

“So you don’t?”

“No, of course not. That’s just silly. Do you see any fangs?” Rapid smiled for effect.

The colt narrowed his eyes, studying the bat pony intently. “Hmmm.”

“Well?”

“But my mom said. She said bat ponies are selfish blood suckers. She never lied to me before!”

Rapid gave the colt a suspicious look. “And has your mother even met any bat ponies?”

“Yeah! Her old coltfriend was a bat pony.”

Watchful Eye, who stealthily had one ear turned towards the ongoing conversation, burst into laughter.

Rapid paused a moment, before it hit him as well. He shook his head. “Ah. Well.”

“I gotta go now! Bye!” said the colt, and just as suddenly as he had appeared, he was gone, trotting off into the crowd.

Several awkward moments later, a still snickering Watchful Eye brought the group to a halt. In front of them, a large, heavy, but somewhat simple looking set of metal doors stood set into a stone building, which was itself set into the mountainside. On either side of the doors stood a member of the gold armored Solar Guard. The pair offered him a curt nod. Slowly, the doors began to open.

“Seems we are expected this time at least,” he grinned. Passing through the doorway, the bat ponies found themselves in a large, dim hallway that seemed to descend endlessly into the mountain. It’s only light came from a high row of distantly spaced torches. Still in pairs, the group began to head down. And down. And down again.

It didn’t take the bat ponies long to realize the hallway didn’t stretch quite as far at it had seemed. Quickly, they came upon another large doorway. More sturdily built than the last, it seemed to be entirely of metal construction, and in the center it bore a strange symbol: Something resembling two concentric circles with a star in the center. Briefly examining the door, and noting the presence of nopony guarding it, Watchful Eye knocked three times.

Immediately, the door was enveloped in a golden aura of magic, and swung slowly open.

The group stepped through. Within, their destination. An immense room of grey and white stone, bustling with ponies. Guard ponies of all variety moved to and fro, moving from strange structure to strange structure. Boxes of equipment were scattered everywhere. On the far wall, a set if stairs led up to what seemed to be a series of observation or control platforms of some variety. These contained even more ponies, some of which appeared to be members of the Twilight Guard. Dominating the center of the room was a large circle of polished blue stone, slightly raised above the level of the surrounding floor. Within the larger blue circle, was set a smaller purple one. Beside the mysterious stone circles stood two ponies. One a tall, regal unicorn stallion, white coated and armored exquisitely in gold. The other, shorter, a grey coated bat pony stallion of the Lunar Guard, wearing armor nearly identical to their own. The two ponies that awaited them.

“Let’s go,” said Watchful Eye, “form a line on me once we get to them.” The group nodded. Together, they marched the remaining distance across the room, and took position directly in front of the waiting officers. Stepping forward, the sergeant raised his foreleg and tail in salute. “Cookie squad, all present and accounted for.”

Rapid Advance glanced between the ponies standing before him. The Lunar guardspony he recognized immediately as his own Captain, Winter Sky. Beside him, the unmistakable form of the Marshal of Equestria, Prominence.

“Thank you, Watch,” said Winter Sky, eyeing the ponies in front of him. “everypony nervous?”

In unison, the bat ponies nodded. Rapidly.

“Well that’s a good sign.”

“Indeed it is.” added the Marshal, stepping forward. “At ease, all of you.”

The bat ponies relaxed, their eyes still fixed on Prominence.

“Shortly, you will all be stepping through a doorway to another world, in an attempt to solve a mystery that has baffled ponies for over eight decades.” Prominence paused, giving his words a moment to sink in. “I don’t need impress upon you how important this is, or how dangerous it could be. The Princess has faith in you all, and as trained members of Her Majesty’s Lunar Guard, I do as well. That being said, I have made a few arrangements to increase the likelihood that this endeavor will yield some sort of answers.”

Prominence lit his horn. Behind him, a strange object rose, enveloped in the unicorn’s golden magic, and floated towards the assembled ponies. It paused in front of him.

“Such as this.” Prominence gestured towards the object floating before him. It resembled some sort of large bulbous creature, like a parasprite with too many eyes and wings. Each “eye” looked to be some manner of gemstone, some larger than others. Its wings, like the body of the thing, appeared to be made of polished brass, or even gold. “A rather ingenious magical construct, this. The very same we used to observe the far side previously. An impossibly complex piece of physical spellcraft, it is capable of magical flight, scrying, and a host of other things. Some of the spells used in its construction are beyond the ken of even the most powerful unicorns in Equestria, devised and executed by Princess Twilight herself. Only two exist.”

Prominence floated the construct to Watchful Eye. He paused, looking at the Marshal, before taking it with great care.

“That one, at least for now, is yours. I have instructed your Captain in its use.”

“The Marshal has been kind enough to instruct me on many things pertaining to this assignment,” added Winter Sky.

“Indeed,” said Prominence, looking down the line of ponies, “I have briefed Captain Winter on everything we know about New Neighton, what transpired there, and of course, the Doorway itself.” Prominence gestured to the great stone circle on the floor behind the assembled bat ponies.

“Good luck, Cookie Squad. May the stars guide you, the Moon watch over you, and the Sun welcome you home,” Marshal Prominence nodded to the assembled ponies, before looking to Winter Sky, “You may proceed when ready Captain.”

“Very well. Thank you Marshal Prominence. Cookie, follow me, and stay close,” said Winter Sky, gesturing for the others to follow.

Rapid Advance snorted, nearly rearing in excitement. Finally.

Oh. Oh. OH,” said Distant Voice, “we are actually doing this.”

“Seems so,” said Dawn Trotter.

“I’ve gotta pee,” added Star Duster, followed immediately by a loud THWACK.

“Ow.”

“Everypony, get as close to the center of this inner circle as you can. Avoid the edge,” said Winter Sky. His squad quickly took the ordered positions, clustering towards the center of the innermost circle.

Rapid took a deep breath. He took position next to Distant Voice, just across from the Captain. Being where he was supposed to be, the large pony returned to examining the portal in detail. On the polished stone beneath him, he could now make out a series of grooved lines, traveling off in many directions. Interrupting these lines at various points were carven symbols, only a few of which he could recognize. A star here, a crescent moon there. A spell grid, he realized. Towards the outer edge of the inner circle, the lines seem to flow together, winding around perimeter in a tight spiral. At even intervals around this spiral were larger symbols, many of them being suns and starbursts of various sorts. Beyond them, lay the larger blue outer circle. It was divided into sections almost like a cut pizza, with its own deep network of carven channels flowing around it, and inwards to the center. The criss-crossed lines of the outer circle formed a grid pattern, and upon each ‘tile’, roughly the size of a pony, were yet larger symbols. These he did not recognize, and appeared to be rune based sigils of some sort. Scattered all about the blue outer circle, and set into the floor in every direction, were a multitude of what looked like tiny gemstones.

“It’s so pretty,” said Far Out, who seemed to be sizing up the portal as well.

“Everypony ready?” asked Winter Sky. Slowly, one by one, each member of Cookie Squad looked to him and nodded. He then looked to Watchful Eye. “We good?”

“Yes sir!” said the sergeant, “cinched, pinched and chomping at the bit!”

Winter Sky nodded, then turned to face the Marshal. “Good to go!”

Prominence, now standing well outside of the outer circle, simply returned the nod. He spun about and gestured to an unseen pony somewhere on the platforms behind him.

The room began to hum. Quietly, lowly at first. A faint glow began to come from the little gemstones scattered about the outer circle.

“Show time,” said Watchful Eye.

A bluish-green light began to spread through the lined channels of the outer circle, flowing towards the center. As it did, each tile that it passed came to life, the sigil on its surface glowing brightly. Quickly the light advanced through the outer circle. Upon reaching the border of the inner circle there was a flash, and the little stones within the outer circle flared into countless points of light, closely resembling a starry sky.

“Oh wow,” said Dawn Trotter, staring at the spectacle with mouth agape.

The light then began to snake into their own circle. The countless smaller channels began to glow, and each small symbol began to light in turn. The instant the light reached the starburst symbol which marked the center of the innermost circle, there was a brilliant flash of pink light. A shimmering, translucent dome of energy rose from the perimeter of the inner circle, covering it completely.

“Whoa,” said Watchful Eye, slowly spinning in place, eyes transfixed on the shimmering dome.

Winter Sky nodded. “As expected so far. Here it comes.”

A loud crack, vaguely resembling thunder, sounded. The dome ceased being translucent, and the pink tinged view of the portal room vanished, replaced by a whirling maelstrom of magical energies. Just as quickly as it had appeared the maelstrom calmed, and the bat ponies could see nothing but a gently shimmering wall of pink energy. For the time being, nothing seemed to exist beyond the dome.

“Umm,” said Distant Voice, concern clearly evident in his voice.

Rapid Looked down, giving the small pony a gentle pat on the withers. “I am sure it’s normal. You know how magic is.” He turned to Winter Sky.

“It is,” Said Winter Sky, “I have no idea how it works, actually, but I do know what it’s supposed to do. So far, so good. In a moment, we should be able to see through it again.”

As if on cue, the color of the dome began to soften, and details began to become visible through it in all directions.

“Is that a tree?” asked Star Duster, who was leaning forward and squinting.

“Trees,” corrected Sable Shield, standing close beside him.

“It’s hard to see much detail but that definitely isn’t the room we were just in,” said Dawn Trotter.

“We are technically still in that room,” said Winter Sky, “and we will be until we pass through this barrier.”

“What,” said Sable Shield again.

“Wait so, like, we are in two places at once? That’s so cool!” said Far Out, drawing some curious glances.

“No, no, we aren’t,” said Winter Sky, “at least, I don’t think so?”

Suddenly, the light within the channels and symbols beneath them changed color, taking on a pink hue.

“Alright, that’s the signal. Get ready, and don’t move,” said the Captain. Seven concerned pairs of eyes snapped to him in an instant.

An unearthly noise came from every direction, and the dome of magical energy began to contract. It closed in slowly at first, before suddenly rushing inwards, seeming to collapse. Rapid Advance closed his eyes, crouching defensively, expecting to to be crushed into magical paste. Instead, for an instant, everything went white. Terrible, blinding white. In that split second he felt as if he were falling, flying, and being crushed all at once. Then, nothing. He was still standing. The blinding light was gone. He rose back to his full height, and opened his eyes.

The first thing he noticed was the the stone he stood upon. No longer the beautifully polished purple of just a second before, now it was dull, pitted, and riven with small cracks. A gentle, but constant breeze could be felt, and all around the accompanying sound of wind moving through leaves. The light was different too. This wasn’t the light of a pony interior, but open moonlight. Unusually bright moonlight.

“THERE’S TWO OF THEM! WHY IS THERE TWO OF THEM?!” came an alarmed sounding voice.

Looking to it, Rapid saw the wide-eyed form of Star Duster, pointing animatedly into the sky, at something directly to his rear.

“Two of what?” the large pony said, turning to look where the agitated stallion was pointing. He froze. Directly behind him, high in the sky above distant, darkened treetops, hung an enormous, unrecognizable moon. Just below and behind it, and roughly a third its size, hung a second.

******