• Published 3rd Sep 2012
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Genealogy - (or the Mating Habits of Nocturnes Pegasi) - Georg



A trip to Ponyville turns into adventures in fashion, love, and romance that unfold like a kick to the head with the two most hapless Night Pegasi ever to work for Princess Luna.

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Chap. 2 - Midnight Train to Ponyville

Genealogy - (or The Mating Habits of Nocturnes Pegasi)
On a Midnight Train to Ponyville


Rarity decided the only thing more impenetrable than the night which surrounded their private car during the return trip to Ponyville was the uncomfortable silence surrounding her two dark traveling companions. She had attempted to break the silence by talking about the history of her family, the wonderful work she had done at the Carousel Boutique, her friends, a constant stream of questions about Canterlot’s night life, and finally gave up with a frustrated sigh.

“I just don’t understand you two! You act like you’re going to your own funeral or being thrown out of Equestria!”

Laminia looked up at Rarity with her glowing golden eyes and nodded. “More like exile.”

Pumpernickel nodded sadly in agreement.

“Exile?” exclaimed Rarity. “Why, in all the world would you think that? I know Ponyville is a bit small and rustic, but it’s simply filled with the absolutely nicest ponies you could imagine. What could make you possibly think Princess Luna was sending you off into exile?”

Laminia turned to look out the dark window at the distant moon. “I… don’t want to talk about it.”

The white unicorn sighed and shook her head. “Oh don’t be silly, you can’t say you’re being sent into exile and honestly not say why. It’s simply not done.” She turned her sultry gaze to the uncomfortable Night Guard sitting beside them and gazed deeply into his golden eyes. “Certainly you don’t think you’re being sent into exile too? What horrible crime could a handsome young stallion in Princess Luna’s loyal Night Guard have committed to be sentenced to the cruel fate of sharing a private car with two beautiful young mares?”

Night Guard Pumpernickel swallowed nervously before speaking in a deep tenor that raised little tingles all up and down Rarity’s spine. “I… had better not want to talk about it either.”

“Oh, pish posh. You have such a nice deep voice, why hide it the way you do? Is the Princess sending you to my lovely little town just because you have such a beautiful voice?” Rarity decided that even with his dark coat, he blushed well. And easily too.

“No ma’am.” He hesitated. “Do I really have that nice a voice?”

“Oh, it’s simply marvelous! You’ll have the mares in town lined up to meet you, with your exotic looks and the mystique of your background. A stallion in uniform is just sooo chic. Although…” She ran a hoof down his dark purple armor and frowned. “I’m not really in love with the lines of this… thing. Laminia, darling, we should be able to do something with the way this falls off the chest, it’s just so… antique. What do you think?”

The Nocturne mare turned briefly from her brooding to look, before returning to staring out of the train window at the dark landscape. “It looks fine.”

“Hm. I have never actually worked in metal. I suppose most of the protective quality of the armor would be in the enchantments though. Pumpernickel, do you think you could… actually that’s a rather novel name. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anypony named Pumpernickel before.”

The Night Guard seemed to sit a little straighter. “It’s Traditional.”

“Oh, you mean you were named after your father, and his father before him, and so on?”

“No, I mean all Night Pegasi in the clans receive their names from our Book of Tradition, where the names of all of the Nocturne in the Exodus were recorded. I am the fourth to carry the Name.” The handsome guard’s wings and ears drooped. “And probably the last.”

“My name,” said Laminia suddenly with an undertone of venom, “is not in the Book of Tradition. When I was adopted into my family, they saw my crippled wing and refused to Name me. I grew up my entire life in my family known only as ‘the cripple.’ It made me burn with anger, and gave me purpose. As soon as I was able, I left my clan and abandoned my family. The Royal Dressmaker took me into his own home and gave me an apprenticeship, and I wear the name I took proudly. Laminia. It means ‘The Lame One.’”

The Night Pegasus mare reared back on her hooves and extended her wings, a strong-looking set of rippled dark membranes that stretched across the train car, showing no flaw from root to tip. “The sister of my Princess, the one referred to in the noble Nocturne ‘Tradition’ as Tyrant and Cruel, Sunbinder and Incinerator, she was the one who laid her horn upon me and healed me, both body and spirit. I am unworthy to look upon her shadow, and she healed me. After all I did to her younger sister, she healed me, and forgave me.” The Nocturne mare tucked her wings back up and looked out the window into the darkness. “Do not speak to me of shame.”

Rarity sighed and turned to the Night Guard, who had seemingly frozen in place. “Do you think—”

Pumpernickel finally blinked. “I WASN’T LOOKING AT HER WINGS!”

* * *

Dawn was breaking as the train pulled into Ponyville Station, Celestia’s golden sun giving off a cheerful yellow light that brightly illuminated the early-rising ponies who crowded the streets. Rarity had managed to catch a few minutes of sleep on the train, but still moved much slower than her normal brisk pace. After a brief stop at the Golden Oaks Library to pick up Opalescence (and a few encouraging words for the brave little dragon that had been willing to cat-sit at short notice), the three of them arrived at Carousel Boutique. And promptly hit the first problem of the trip.

“Oh, but I insist Laminia stay here. I have a spare room that my sister Sweetie Belle normally uses when she is here, and it will allow us to talk about girl-things at all hours. If she stays at the hotel, you both will have to constantly make the long trek back and forth every time you forget a curler or need to change shoes. It just would not be right to treat you that way.”

“Ma’am, the Princess made it very clear that I should protect her Hoofmaiden at all times and at all costs. I’m going to need to have her housed in a secure location, like—”

“Like a prison,” exclaimed Laminia.

“Like a hotel!” shouted Pumpernickel right back.

“So you can lock me up?”

“No, so I can protect you!”

Rarity tried to ignore the ‘discussion’ while she traveled to the kitchen to prepare a proper breakfast the way a good host should. It was difficult, very difficult indeed to ignore the shouting from the other room, and although it was impolite to interrupt guests, after a long time she finally gave up and called out to them.

“Do… um… Pegasi of your type drink orange juice?”

“Yes!”
“No!”

She sighed and finished arranging the the breakfast things in the kitchen before going back to make up the spare room, leaving her guests to their disconcerting activity.

Later, when she came back to the kitchen, both Night Pegasi were arranged in opposite corners of the room, each with their own breakfast plate but wearing nearly identical glowers.

“I’ve put Sweetie Belle’s things into the closet, and the room should be all ready for you, Laminia, dear. Has your valiant and handsome companion given up yet?”

“No,” they both grudgingly said at once.

“He’s not handsome, he’s a pigheaded fool with rocks for brains and a helmet two sizes too small,” snapped Laminia, taking her vengeance on a piece of fried haycon.

“Well you’re a… something else,” replied the Night Guard weakly, carrying his dishes over to the sink.

“Well, I know what will get us started.” Rarity walked over to Pumpernickel and began looking his armor over with a calculating eye. “I think the main theme of our… theme should really start with the Night Guard, since they are the most widely-seen of Princess Luna’s representatives. If you would be so kind as to step out of those things and hang them on one of the dummies in my creativity room, we can get some proper measurements from both of you.”

Pumpernickel held a hoof to his breastplate. “You mean get undressed?”

“Well, in your case it would be unarmored, but yes.”

The Night Guard mumbled a bit, casting a nervous glance around the room in a futile search for an excuse before suddenly perking up with a look of relief.

“No, I can’t do that. I’m on duty.”

Rarity simply lowered her eyebrows and looked him straight in the eye.

---

Later, the three of them gathered in Rarity’s creativity room where the unicorn examined her newly armored dressmaker dummy. “Yes, I can see now why they kept that dreadful seam, it would be so much more difficult to remove if they made it in one piece. How are you coming with the measurements, dear?”

“Just… fine… hold still!” Laminia wrapped the measuring tape around the now-naked Guard’s hind leg and struggled to hold it immobile.

“That tickles! Hey!” There was a ‘whomp’ as Pumpernickel’s membranous wings opened up to full extension inside the room, and Rarity gasped.

“No!” she cried, and darted over to help Laminia with her unwilling subject. “Don’t use the tape like that, you’ll stretch it! Here, let me. Actually, can you hold your wings open like that for just a bit, I need to measure… oh pegasus wings are so similar but you can see the differences here… and here. Oooo, and these are so soft and warm too. You know, I’ve never seen a Night Pegasus before, other than the two who brought Luna’s chariot here on Nightmare Night. I always just thought your appearance was an illusion from enchantments on the armor.”

“No. They’re real. Eep! Careful.” The Guardpony seemed to be taking an abnormal interest in a point on the wall far away from the two fashion ponies measuring his wings. “Luna made our… ancestors on the original… Nightmare Night, about… a hundred… survived.” snort “Careful, I’m ticklish. We just don’t mix well with other ponies.”

“But darling, a thousand years? With such a small population, you could have died out.”

Laminia snorted and waved one hoof. “I think they mix a little too well with other ponies. The stallions seem to think it’s their job to play stud to every kinky and twisted mare in Equestria. It gets a bit complex when more than one generation passes between their little nighttime visits and the birth, but the Nocturne families are willing to adopt any of their by-blows no matter where they are born.” She extended a flawless wing and regarded it bitterly. “Or whatever condition they are born into.”

Whatever Rarity was going to say in response was lost as the front door of the boutique banged open and a cascade of fillies burst into the shop.

“Rarity, tell Scootaloo that—”
“Don’t listen to her, I didn’t—”
“I still think we need to—”

All three fillies froze in place, looking at Rarity and the two exotic golden-eyed Nocturne. For a brief moment, Pumpernickel thought it seemed as if the foals were considering setting up a ticket booth and selling admittance to a petting zoo.

See the naked Night Pegasi in their natural habitat. Pegasi chow 3bits

He blushed and looked around for something to hide behind, settling on shifting positions to hide behind Laminia while looking back at the fillies. The uncomfortable silence was broken as the small orange pegasus filly broke out of the group and charged forward at him with a happy shout.

“Awesome! Rarity, where did you find them! They’re so cool! I’ve heard about them and saw ‘em at Nightmare Night, but Silver Spoon said they were just illusions over the normal Guard armor for that one night but I knew they were real because they didn’t flap like normal pegasi because their wings are jointed differently so they can fly stronger than pegasi but they don’t have the stamina for long trips and they can fly through wetter weather than pegasi because their feathers don’t get wet and stick together but—”

Laminia put one hoof on top of the hyperactive pegasus filly. “Breathe, little one. Breathe. What is your name?”

“I’m Scootaloo and those are AppleBloomandSweetie and is that real Royal Guard armor?! The filly buzzed over to the armored dressmaker dummy and zipped around it a couple of times like a bumblebee around a flower. “Ohcoolohcoolohcool! CanIwearit, ohpleasepleaseplease??”

Pumpernickel managed to keep Laminia between him and the over-enthusiastic young pegasus as he backed for the door. Unluckily for him, he had forgotten that there were two other young fillies in the boutique.

“Hey mister! Are you out crusading for a cutie mark too?” One small hoof poked him in his blank flank from behind, and he recoiled across the hallway. In less than one step he managed to trip over the last filly and tumble, winding up in a pile on the floor.

“Luna’s finest,” sighed Laminia. “True models of grace, beauty, and bravery.”

“Sorry about that, Mister,” came a muffled voice from under Pumpernickel as he stumbled to his feet. A small white unicorn stood up from where she had been squished against the wall and shook her head. “I’ve never seen anypony like you two before. Are you two married?”

Laminia broke out in laughter while Pumpernickel blushed and mumbled, “No. I’m not…” His voice dropped into an unintelligible bass mumble and he looked away.

“Oh!” the small yellow earth pony with the big bow in her mane hopped up and down. “I know! He’s one of Luna’s Night Guard! That’s his armor! Is Luna here again? She’s cool!!” She stopped her bouncing and eyed Pumpernickel carefully. “Are you sure yer’ a Night Guard? You ain’t got no cutie mark.”

“Girls!” scolded Rarity. “That’s a simply horrible thing to say about somepony. He is indeed a Royal Guard for Princess Luna, sent here personally to protect her Royal Hoofmaiden, Laminia.”

“Why did you make him take his armor off then, sis?”

Laminia made a point to look at the guard through lowered lashes and lick her lips before uncurling her wings and giving them a lazy flap. Pumpernickel blushed an even deeper shade of red and backed up into the wall.

Unfortunately for Laminia, the action also drew the attention of several small fillies.

“Oooo.”
“I love your wings! They’re so cool!”
“Hey Miss, you have a funny-lookin’ cutie mark. I ain’t never seen one like that before.”

The Nocturne mare shifted her wings to cover her cutie mark and looked away. An experienced pegasus would recognize the motion as an indication of embarrassment. The earth pony filly Apple Bloom plowed onward.

“We’re the Cutie Mark Crusaders! We’re going to keep crusading all around and try everything we can think of until we can find our cutie marks. How did you get your cutie mark?”

Pumpernickel hurried forward and patted the cute filly on the head. “Please don’t bother her about that. She probably doesn’t want to talk about it. Some of the Nocturne don’t have cutie marks until we get older, and occasionally they aren’t exactly nice stories.” He indicated his own blank flank. “Take me for example. I still haven’t gotten my cutie mark because I have never found out just what my special talent is.” He mumbled, “Either that, or the ‘Originator of Bad Ideas’ cutie mark is invisible.”

Laminia shot the Night Guard a spiteful look, then defiantly pulled her wings forward to reveal the mark on her flank to the fillies, showing what appeared to be part of a deep red Hearts and Hooves day heart, brutally ripped in half.

“You three all have families who love you, right?” All three little heads nodded. “Well, the family I grew up with didn’t. I was despised by them, and angry about it all the time. When I left my family and moved in with the Royal Dressmakers, it was the happiest day I had ever had to that point. Yet it felt as if my heart was being ripped in half. So that’s my special talent. Tearing others’ hearts in half.”

It was a considerably less active and cheerful group of Crusaders who trotted out the boutique a few minutes later. Rarity barely let the door close behind them with a tinkle of the bell before turning on Laminia with outrage.

“I have never! Ever in my life! Been so angry at the way somepony has treated my sister!” The Night Pegasus mare stared coldly back without a word while Pumpernickel considered just how many minutes of vicious bloodshed he had left before the inevitable end of his career in the Royal Guard.

“My own sister! Her and her little friends have been so traumatized over their lack of cutie marks that they have just run rampant all over town, trying every imaginable thing. They even baked—” Rarity’s voice almost cracked with terror “—cookies.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” Laminia said in a bitter voice that contained no remorse. “That’s my special talent; making people I care about feel horrible. My original parents who were just expecting a ‘normal’ pegasus, my adopted family who saw me as some defective freak, and my second adoptive family, the Pins.”

Pumpernickel frowned in frustration. “When we left Canterlot, Rusty and Safety were crying and carrying on like you had been born into their family. That certainly doesn’t seem like they want you to leave.”

“They don’t know about… Luna,” mumbled Laminia. “I’ve never told them.”

“Oh,” said Pumpernickel with a puzzled look. “Does that explain it?”

“Explain what?” asked Rarity.

“Well,” started Pumpernickel, until he glanced over at the thunderous expression on Laminia’s face. “I had better not want to talk about it,” he finished weakly.

“Well, if you’re not going to tell,” pouted Rarity, turning on Pumpernickel as a convenient place to vent her rage, “and you’re just going to upset my friend, you can just go outside then! Shoo!”

“Fine!” snorted Pumpernickel as he trotted to the door.

“Fine!” said Laminia with a sniff. “Be that way.”

Pumpernickel stomped out the boutique door and slammed it behind him. It made a nice solid slamming noise, even with the little ‘tinkle’ of the bell on the other side. “See if I care,” he grumbled.

Then he looked up.

Ponyville was a fairly small town. Like most small towns, news traveled fast, even faster than the fastest pegasus in Equestria. And ‘news’ in this case could be boiled down into two words: Night Pegasi. Apparently a sub-category was: Handsome Exotic Young Stallion Night Pegasi Royal Guard, Single, Seeks Beautiful Mare. Check Out His Wings At The Carousel Boutique.

All he could see was mares. There were mares out walking, mares out talking, mares out admiring the flowers, mares delivering letters, exchanging letters, exchanging gossip, watching butterflies or clouds, and even a number of mares just… out. And once the door had slammed, they all turned to look at him.

It was Traditional for all male Night Pegasi to go into the Guard Academy. It was also Tradition that no Night Pegasus who survived training had ever failed to pass. Pumpernickel had come as close as anyone. Closer. The trainee armor that all Academy recruits wore day in and day out was not simply plain steel armor; unbeknownst to the recruit, it carried a special enchantment that made it heavier whenever the wearer was shouted at. Punishment marches had put real muscles in Pumpernickel’s strong flanks, sentry detail had rounded out his forelegs and neck, and combat training had built his wingpower up. But somehow, instead of the overweight armor making him feel dejected and drop out, the additional weight had become a comfort to him. As he progressed through training, the pinching and pressure was the comfort of a welcome friend. And by graduation, two or three friends. He had only panicked once during training, and that was in the middle of a nightmare after a very long march. In the nightmare he had been racing into a classroom, but when he flung open the door, he found himself standing naked in front of all of his armored classmates.

This was far worse.

-----

Rarity levitated the latch closed on the front door and flipped the sign over to ‘Closed’ as soon as the guard left. “Really!” she huffed. “Slamming my door like that. The nerve! I had thought the Royal Guard of all ponies was trained in proper manners.”

She turned back to Laminia with a forced smile. “Now that we’re alone, dearie, I have to tell you I’m still upset. You say your old family was simply ghastly, but you must consider those around you before you talk. Childhood is such a traumatic time of life, and trying to dump your feelings on little children is just not done.”

Laminia drooped. “You’re right. I was just feeling—spiteful.”

She looked up as a white unicorn hoof patted her on the shoulder. “I assure you, everything will turn out fine. But only if you apologize to my sister’s little friends. I’m certain they will probably just try to turn it into some sort of dangerously insane plan to get their cutie marks.” Rarity glanced over at the front door which had begun to rattle as somepony was trying the handle rather enthusiastically. “You would think Princess Luna would have assigned a more competent guard for your visit.”

“Oh he’s not that bad,” said Laminia with a pause. “He has—a cute flank.”

“But a Royal Guard, and no cutie mark yet? I know all about late bloomers, but really! I’m afraid he may be a bad role model for my sister and her little friends. Imagine if it takes as long for them to get their cutie marks as him?” She shuddered. “Ponyville might be nothing more than a smoking crater.”

Rarity looked over the armored dressmaker dummy and got out her chalk. “At least he’s proportioned well for our project. Do you think a Royal Guard’s armor should be cut far enough forward to show their cutie mark, or back far enough to protect that cute flank of hi—” The unicorn had a brief coughing fit and went to get a glass of water, oblivious to the frantic pounding on the strong front door of her shop.

---

Luna’s moon had climbed into the sky by the time a ruffled and irritated Pumpernickel returned to the Carousel Boutique. It took almost a half-hour of gentle tapping at the door before his counterpart finally unlatched the door and let him in.

“I hope you’re happy,” growled Pumpernickel as Laminia latched the door behind him. “How is your project with Miss Rarity coming along? Oh, wait. Don’t answer that, I’m not supposed to ask.”

Laminia flicked her wings open and closed before looking away from him. “She fell asleep a few hours after you left, got back up, took another nap, got back up, and she’s back in bed now. Our project is a horrid mess like most projects at this point. We must have a dozen drawings of things that should never see the light of the moon.”

She sighed and looked over Pumpernickel’s sagging eyes. “At least I got a nap. What’s wrong with you, stay out all day in the neighborhood bedrooms?”

“I wish. I mean…” He blushed and moved to the dressmaker dummy to begin yanking his armor from it. “There must have been dozens of them! I’ve never felt so outnumbered. I felt like a… winged goat in a petting zoo. Oh heavens above, they all wanted to see my wings. I could have just died of embarrassment right there. And this purple unicorn kept trying to… I don’t want to talk about it.”

A faint chuckle escaped from Laminia. “I’m sorry.”

“No you aren’t.” Pumpernickel slammed his helm on viciously, then blinked in pain. “Ouch.” The rest of his armor was donned much more carefully. “How much flying training do you have? With your new wings, that is.”

“A little.” She extended her wings and gave a gentle flap, while Pumpernickel looked away. “Princess Luna arranged me to have a few sessions with the foal trainers. My adoptive family are earth ponies, so they were not much help.”

“Well, then,” he said while opening the door. “Looks like we can start your flying practice by taking in the night life in town.”

Five minutes later, they landed on the top of the giant hollow tree that served as a library and looked down into the dark streets. “Well, that didn’t take long,” panted Laminia. “If the mayor hadn’t left her porch light on, the library would be the only light in town.”

A voice filtered up through the tree branches. “Hey, can you keep it down up there? Some of us are trying to—oh, it’s you.” A light purple unicorn trotted up the library stairs and looked at the Night Pegasi perched on her balcony with bright, happy eyes. “I was hoping you would stop by, we didn’t get much of a chance to talk today—”

“Yes we did,” mumbled Pumpernickel.

“—and I have a few more questions. Oh, and this must be your lady friend you were talking about.”

Despite her fatigue, Laminia’s wings popped up. “No! I mean—”

“She means I’m her guard, nothing more,” said Pumpernickel quickly. “I’m assigned to her as long as she’s working for…” He trailed off and looked at Laminia. “Princess Luna didn’t say anything about your job with Miss Rarity being a secret, correct?”

“Oh everybody knows about that,” bubbled Twilight Sparkle. “Princess Luna wants to redesign her court’s look, and she hired Rarity for the project. And she is working with a designer from Canterlot, all hush-hush and secret. So, who’s your friend? Is she the designer?”

“Pardon me,” said Pumpernickel apologetically. “I thought you two knew each other already. Laminia, I would like you to meet—”

“Twilight Sparkle, bearer of the Element of Magic and Princess Celestia’s private student,” said Laminia with no small measure of awe. “I thought you would be older. I mean—I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Oh, it’s really nothing.” Twilight blushed. “I mean—would you like to come downstairs and have some tea? I was just up doing a little late-night studying.”

“Thank you, but—” started Pumpernickel, only to be interrupted by Laminia.

“Yes, we would be glad to. Wouldn’t we?”

She has far too sharp elbows, and entirely too much knowledge of where the Night Guard armor does not cover, thought Pumpernickel. “Well, I suppose we can complete our exercises later. Yes, we would be honored.”

Laminia gave a little gasp of pleasure when they descended the staircase and she caught a look at the books scattered about the library tables. “Where did you get these?” She waved a hoof at the pictures of family crests and emblems of ancient empires that graced the pages of many books in their disordered piles.

“Oh, I was researching just what symbols had been used on royal seals and such for the last few centuries. There are all kinds of examples using the sun, but very few with lunar—”

Pumpernickel resigned himself to being a fifth hoof while the two mares were vigorously chatting and leafing through books. After gathering up a cup of tea, he settled down in front of the entranceway to the library to read a book he had randomly selected from the shelves. At least he did not have to stand at attention and stare off into space like so many of his compatriots.

* * *

“That’s one blueberry muffin, one raspberry Bismarck, and a sunflower seed cake, coming up!” A brilliant pink pony trotted back to Sugarcube Corner’s kitchen with their order while Twilight Sparkle took a deep drink of coffee.

“Wow, I haven’t pulled very many all-nighters since Canterlot. Do you think we found enough drawings to help with the design?”

Laminia nodded and patted the bulging purple saddlebag she had borrowed. “Oh yes, I think we can get a good start with this. I can’t thank you enough, Twilight Sparkle.”

“Ooo!” The pink pony seemed to just pop up at the end of the table with a huge grin. “Does that mean we can have a Thank You Party? We can have cake, and ice cream, and soda, and games! We just can’t have Thank You cards because Thank You cards for a Thank You Party is too meta. Who are your new friends, Twilight?”

“You must be Pinkie Pie,” said Laminia. “Bearer of the Element of Laughter, famous baker, and winner of the Least-Likely-To-Assassinate-Princess-Celestia award.”

“Ooo, you’re good.”

Twilight coughed gently. “Pinkie Pie, this is Laminia, daughter of the Royal Dressmaker Rusty Pin. She’s helping Rarity with Princess Luna’s wardrobe update. And her Royal Guard, Pumpernickel.”

The pink pony’s blue eyes grew large. “Oooo!! You two haven’t had your Welcome to Ponyville Party yet! We can have it right here at Sugarcube Corner, and have cake, and ice cream, and soda, and—”

Twilight stuck a hoof in Pinkie Pie’s mouth before levitating her coffee cup up for another drink of coffee. “Can we get breakfast first? We’ve been up all night doing research.”

“Right!” Pinkie pulled a plate with plentiful pastries from the posterior position of the table top and tipped them towards the purple placemats by the tired ponies. “That’s three tasty pastries for Twilight and her two perky pony pals. That’s ten bits plus tip.”

Pinkie scooped up the bits and grinned at the two Night Pegasi as they all started eating. “So do you want a surprise party, or a planned party, or a spontaneous party that just explodes all over without any planning at all?”

Pumpernickel spotted a slight motion near the floor and traced it from a long string tied to one pink leg, leading all the way back behind the shop counter to a suspiciously large cannon-like object under a colorful tablecloth. “I think—perhaps a planned party.”

“Cool!” Pinkie whipped out a notebook and a pencil. “Foalsitting, party, party, party, foalsitting, party, party, party, party, party, foalsitting, party, party, got it! Two o’clock, the day after tomorrow?”

Pumpernickel looked at Laminia, who nodded. “Yes, honored Element Bearer. We should be free and awake at that time.”

* * *

Pumpernickel dropped off his charge at the door to the Carousel Boutique, hopeful for a morning of non-eventful standing around outside the building and doing nothing. He was already starting to droop. Although it was only midmorning, his sleeping experience at the hotel last night had been more of a ‘brief napping with periodic bursts of aggravation’ time. Again. At least guard duty this time did not involve having his tail stuck in the door. That was a career experience he had no desire to repeat.

By the time noon rolled around, Pumpernickel had begun to yearn for the nights of just standing in front of a door in the castle. The sun was hot, the village was noisy, and every few minutes it seemed as if another random mare found some excuse to stop by and talk. On the positive side, he had collected no end of recipes and gossip; on the negative side he had collected no end of recipes and gossip. Plus a few not-so-subtle hints on just what windows might be open in town late at night if a certain somepony might be flying by. He was not sure if he should be resentful that he had Laminia to guard at night, or if he should be kissing her hooves in appreciation for the excuse to avoid endless window-hopping.

Under normal circumstances, he would have taken a break or two during the morning to get a drink, but that would mean leaving his charge unguarded, since he had nopony to relieve him. And the concept of relief was beginning to make itself quite known, even without a drink that morning. Still he remained on guard, ever alert, ever vigilant, serving Princess Luna’s will by—

“Hi Pumpernickel!” Twilight Sparkle smiled cheerfully as she trotted up to the startled stallion, a number of items wrapped in her violet levitation aura trailing in her wake. “I brought you some lemonade. You were starting to look a bit faded in the sun. Rarity and I are going out for lunch at Gustav’s. Would you like to come along?”

Nearly half of the lemonade was gone by the time Pumpernickel took a breath to respond. “Ahh. I would love to, but I’m on duty. Thank you for the lemonade, though.”

The young violet unicorn trotted inside, and was back out within minutes with her fellow unicorn mare, who wasted no time before apologizing. “Oh Pumpernickel, I’m so sorry. I simply did not realize you were outside, dear. Standing out here in the sun like this, you must have been dreadfully parched.”

He put down the empty lemonade container, resisting the urge to try and lick out the last few drops of the delectable beverage. “Oh, don’t worry about me. We do this kind of thing for a living.” He glanced back into the building as Rarity latched the door. “Is Laminia not going with you?”

“Oh heavens no, the poor dear staggered off to the bedroom an hour ago. She was simply exhausted from all the flying around last night and her research with Twilight here.” The white unicorn paused, one hoof held halfway to her mouth. “Oh, I suppose your sleeping schedules do not quite mesh up with our little town just yet. Why don’t you go get some sleep, and you can come back to guard here tonight after sundown,” she said as he gave a look of concern and started to shake his head. “You can’t expect to just sit out here on the doorstep all day and night.”

She got a thoughtful look that sent a chill up Pumpernickel’s spine. “Although I suppose we could build you a cute little guardhouse outside my door, but to do that, we would need a changing of the guard ceremony, and a few more handsome young guards such as yourself. You simply must know Luna could not possibly expect you to be here all of the time.”

“But in the event she is killed or injured, your dead body had better be in front of her. Or it will be. Do I make myself clear?”

He swallowed. “I think she does.”

---

After giving in to the inevitable and returning to the hotel, Pumpernickel spent another uncomfortable afternoon trying to sleep. He tossed and turned for what seemed like hours before sheepishly opening his luggage and removing a small rag-stuffed bundle, but even the doll he had slept with for years as a foal did little to alleviate his sleeplessness.


“Oh, come on in, Pumpernickel,” said Rarity when he knocked on the boutique door that evening. “Laminia is still out cold, the poor dear. I haven’t heard a peep from her all afternoon.”

“Peep,” sounded a frazzled voice from the back room, followed by the slow arrival of said bedraggled Night Pegasus mare.

“Oh my! Forgive me for saying this darling, but you look simply awful. Have you been sleeping well?”

A smothered grunt was her only response as the groggy Laminia shuffled across the floor and vanished into the kitchen. Before long, the rich smell of coffee filled the workroom, and soon afterwards a much more active designer made her appearance. Sensing his cue, and not wanting to be a volunteer dressmaker’s dummy again, Pumpernickel casually wandered back to a more shaded and comfortable spot inside the boutique front door and settled down with a book.

* * *

“Tonight I wanted to work on your flying endurance. I had a couple clouds up here for markers—” Pumpernickel looked around the empty night sky “—but somepony must have put them away.” The two of them hovered above a low hill outside of town above the gurgling river. It had been a relatively short flight, and Laminia seemed to be getting a better sense of her wings. At least she was not flailing through the air like a foal anymore.

“Good,” panted Laminia as she hovered in place next to him. “I didn’t feel like flying anyway.”

“Hey!” The guard threw out his chest and frowned. “Princess Luna assigned me a task, and I intend on doing it to the best of my abilities.”

“Not much there,” grumbled Laminia.

“What? Look, the Night Pegasi in the Royal Guard have been considered almost ceremonial token members for centuries. Princess Celestia almost never went anywhere at night, so all we did was stand around the castle and look ominous in the dark. Now we have a chance to show the world that we are… Luna is… I don’t know.” He drooped. “Don’t call us useless.”

“Useless,” whispered Laminia. “Useless, useless, useless.”

‘Shut. Up,” muttered Pumpernickel from between gritted teeth.

“I know why Princess Luna can’t stand to see my face. So why did she pick you to accompany me? Blank flank.”

“Don’t call me that. Just… don’t.”

“Youngest Night Guard in the force stuck out in the middle of nowhere guarding a nopony. Did you bang somepony you shouldn't have? Somepony important?”

“Since we don’t have any clouds for markers,” growled Pumpernickel through clenched teeth. “We’re just going to have to fly laps. From the reservoir over to the library and back a few times should do it.”

“Maybe you even tried to make it with—Her?”

“Shut. Up.”

“Ooo, touchy. Sounds like I hit a nerve.”

“Just. Get flying!”

Laminia flapped laboriously in the direction of the Ponyville reservoir, closely followed by her armored Night Guard. Despite her lack of breath, the mare continued to taunt her guard in between wheezing pants and gasps.

“Pumper…pant nickel…pant and…pant Celestia…pant sitting…”

“You’re the useless one,” growled Pumpernickel. “You can’t even fly across town without panting for breath. Some pegasus you are.”

“Inna… pant tree… pant pant Oh, stars!” Laminia angled downwards and glided to a clumsy landing on the top of a hill that sloped down in the direction of the glittering river. Pumpernickel wordlessly touched down next to her and waited while the other Nocturne was noisily sick into the bushes. Once she was done, she glared at her torturer. “How can you fly like that with all that steel wrapped around you?”

He shrugged his broad shoulders. “Practice.”

It took four more stops before the pair of pegasi made it to the reservoir. Laminia dropped like a stone onto the water’s edge, greedily sucking in the cool water and seriously considering just diving in.

“No,” said Pumpernickel emotionlessly as if he could read her mind. “You’ll cramp up. We nearly lost two Academy Cadets during our first forced flight because of that.”

“Oh joy. Look, my wings are bushed. Can we just walk back? See?” Laminia spread her wings out and held them at full extension. To her vast disappointment, the guard looked them over without his previous shyness.

“No trembling, no shaking. You are stronger than you think you are. And still you complain constantly like a foal.” He shook his head. “You make so much of Princess Celestia healing your wing, but you refuse to fully make use of the gift which you were so generously given.” The guard looked away and extended his own wings. “Now, we shall return to the city.”

The return trip was made in silence, other than the strenuous panting of the Nocturne mare and a few subvocalized curses. Once they made it to the library, Laminia glided to the window and vanished inside with a petulant flick of her tail, showing no inclination to returning to her flying lessons for the night.

It’s probably for the best, thought Pumpernickel. If I have to put up with that kind of abuse all night long, I may just drop her in the water and watch her drown.

He remained out on the balcony for the rest of the night, grateful for the relative quiet. This small town was so different from Canterlot. In the city there were always noises in the night. The throbbing noise of dance clubs. Wagons clattering through the well-lit streets. Late night revelers wandering in search of a place to throw up. Here there was none of that. Only the sounds of insects, and the far-away mating calls of a hydra.

As Celestia’s sun made its appearance and the town began to show signs of life, he decided to remain on his shaded perch. He had to admit, daylight guard duty was a lot more tolerable under the leafy branches of the library. It gave him a nice view of the area and allowed him to remain concealed in the shadows from any hostile who might want to assault his charge. And protection from lonely mares too. He watched Laminia trot across the street to the boutique and vanish in the door with a sense of relief. Another successful night. No more insults. No stress. If the rest of his sentence in this small town continued this way, exile might not be so bad after all.

The noise of the library window opening brought him to a tense alert state until he heard an unfamiliar young voice proclaim, “Twilight! You have a visitor!” He turned to look, blinking in the bright sunlight as he came face to face with a very young purple dragon with a soft, green ridge down his back.

“You aren’t Twilight,” Pumpernickel said in a perplexed tone.

“No, I’m Spike, her Number One Assistant. Pleased to meet you.” The little dragon stuck out a claw and shook his hoof with more respect than any fully adult noblepony he had met in Canterlot. “I take it you’re one of the Guardsponies who are protecting Princess Luna’s fashion designer?”

He frowned and waved in the general direction of the boutique. “The only one. I think the Princess is trying to limit the number of guards her ‘designer’ drives insane. Mares!“ Pumpernickel gave a sigh of frustration. “Are they all like that?”

Spike chuckled. “Welcome to Ponyville.”


The morning passed uneventfully while Pumpernickel watched the boutique from the library balcony, with lemonade and snacks close at hoof courtesy of Spike. He was beginning to think the key to guard-ing was not to ever actually talk to the annoying guard-ee. If he could find a telescope large enough, he might even be able to carry out his duties from Canterlot. The ‘Closed’ sign on the latched boutique door kept away anypony who might pose a threat, and since he had been ordered not to interfere with the creative process, this was about the best spot to not-do that from.

At noon, he took it upon himself to escort Twilight Sparkle to her appointment at the boutique, remaining carefully outside while she retrieved Rarity and left for their lunch date. However, his plans for making an escape to the hotel for some more attempted sleep were thwarted by a yawning female Night Pegasus who accompanied the two other mares to Gustav’s.

By all the normal rules of protective service, it would be his job to accompany them to the public restaurant and stand close to the table while doing his ‘Guard thing’: Stand, look suspiciously at anypony who approached closely, try not to look like you were listening. Oh, and fling yourself at anypony who became a threat.

It soon became apparent this was anything but a normal situation.

For starters, by amazing coincidence, the table they had reserved seated four. Not four comfortably, but four closely packed together with a flowery centerpiece and romantic music playing in the background. Then there was the food. Four orders of ‘la spéciale‘ had been sent to the kitchen before the mares had even been seated. And last, a bottle of fine apple wine, which he at least was able to turn down, being as he was on the job. It took very little time to realize the two unicorns were not only ‘In’ on the sappy romantic scheme to get the two Nocturne together, but were the instigators behind it.

While the entire episode seemed horribly scripted for the two unicorn mares, he and Laminia were stuck with flailing along improvisational style. It probably would have been easier if the two unicorns had not giggled like little fillies every time he had to speak with his charge or pass the butter. Pumpernickel was sorely tempted to take the leftover wine back to the hotel for immediate consumption, if not for the absolute certainty that the decision would come back and bite him in the flank about five minutes after the cork had popped. Although when he had finally escorted Laminia back to the boutique and returned to the hotel to turn in for the day, he had some very serious second thoughts about that decision.

Sleep evaded him yet again, the little afternoon noises of the hotel continuing to constantly grate along his ears and up his spine. If somepony was not running a vacuum cleaner, then some other pony was pushing a creaky cart, or little foals were running screaming through the halls. The maids had at least quit knocking on the door and popping in for any little excuse; there were so many towels in his bathroom there was almost no space to take a shower.

---

Pumpernickel settled back down on “his” library balcony as the sun had just reached the horizon, mildly upset that the town librarian was already there and setting up her things next to a well-worn telescope. He chided himself firmly.

She isn’t the librarian, she’s the sole student Princess Celestia has taken since… ever. She’s not only the bearer of the Element of Magic, but has a direct line of communication back to both Princesses. Screw up here and Luna will… that is Princess Luna will know before you could drop off the balcony dead. So focus!

“Good evening, Twilight Sparkle. I apologize for interrupting your nighttime celestial observations. I will relocate elsewhere.”

“Wait,” she called out as he spread his wings. “Just… You’re fine here. I have some more questions for you, if you don’t mind. If you want to answer them. Please?”

Sucker! his inside voice taunted him. This won’t end well.

Reluctantly, he plunked down on the balcony and tried to split his attention between the inquisitive unicorn and the door to the boutique: Both seemed to be items that could prove life-threatening at any moment, plus it kept the one portion of his anatomy the curious young unicorn had not examined carefully pressed against the cool balcony floor and out of sight.

“The Royal Guard is always happy to assist with Her Highness’ personal servants. Friends. Yes, friends,” he corrected.

“Well, I’m a little worried about your marefriend, Laminia.” Pumpernickel almost lunged to his hooves, but he converted the lurch into a general shuffling of limbs as if getting more comfortable on the hard floor.

“She’s not my marefriend. She’s an assignment. A very difficult assignment. When this is all over, she will go back to serving at the right hoof of Princess Luna, and I will get a new assignment.” Probably counting penguins.

“Oh. Well. At the restaurant yesterday, I couldn’t tell if she liked you or hated you. I know she constantly tries to get under your skin when you’re around, but she never even talks about you when you’re not in the room. Do you know how she was selected for this honor?”

Now that one he could answer honestly. “No. The Princess does not inform her Guards of the reasoning behind her decisions. Ours is not to wonder why…”

“Ours is but to do and die,” completed Twilight Sparkle. “I didn’t know you were a fan of Alfred Lord Whinnyson’s poetry.”

Seeing an opportunity to move the conversation away from his crazy charge, Pumpernickel grabbed the thread of discussion firmly and began to drag. “Yes, I read a lot when I was growing up. At one point, I even memorized every foals’s story in our entire Book of Tradition. That was a few years ago when I was frustrated with my family and briefly considering moving out.” He sighed. “I miss my family.”

“Well, I’m sorry about what happened at the restaurant. Rarity got some crazy idea that you and Laminia were—a pair.”

Nitro and Glycerine. Powder and Fire. Glass and Minotaurs. “No, just a guard and his assignment. I don’t think she likes me very well. I don’t think she likes herself very well either. The only thing I think she likes is Luna, and she’s a little… scary there.” Pumpernickel blinked as he realized what he had just said. “Don’t spread that around please. We are not supposed to have opinions about our charges.” Or depressing feelings that match theirs so well.

“She’s a little high-strung for a Royal Hoofmaiden, isn’t she?”

Think cool. Calm. Royal Guard. “I couldn’t say that, Ma’am.”

“Well, you know I spent quite a few years with the Princess, and I’ve dealt with a lot of Royal Guards, including some of the Night Guard. You seem to be fairly competent, but a little emotionally immature to be out on your own without supervision. So why were you assigned here?”

A faint trickle of sweat began to drip down Pumpernickel’s face. “You’d have to ask Princess Luna, ma’am.”

“Another Appeal to Authority fallacy in your argument. Now we’re getting somewhere.” Twilight settled back with a contented look. “I really could just ask her, you know.”

“Yes, why don’t you,” he said bitterly, looking back to the boutique. “Please tell me when you find out. I would just love to know myself.”

At least that shut her up. There were a few hundred ideas he had developed about just why he wound up here, most of them involving a horrible conspiracy among the Fates and some horrid insult he had inadvertently made to them. None of them made any more sense than just plain bad luck, though.

If she just wanted him out of her sight, Princess Luna might have sent him out of Canterlot on any number of other simple tasks compatible with his limited skills. There were always embassies and trade delegations that needed guards in far-off sections of Equestria, some of which even had penguins to count. If she had considered the simple task of guarding Laminia in this peaceful town as unscrew-upable, he certainly was proving her wrong. If she had really thought there was a threat here, she would have sent more than just one guard, and if there were no threat here, why send him at all?

There was no way Laminia had requested him specially for this assignment. She was a rude and annoying mare who seemingly not only hated him, but everypony. Well, except Luna. Princess Luna! Oh buck it, not worth worrying about.

As the night darkened to a proper shade and the moon rose to bathe the town in a soft silvery glow, Pumpernickel found himself facing some uncomfortable thoughts. If Laminia hated him so much, why did she not simply ask Luna to assign another Guard? Or several. Even the lowest assignments inside Canterlot always came in pairs, at a bare minimum. He most certainly was not the equivalent of two experienced Guardsponies, probably closer to a quarter, if that. And there was no way he was going to actually ask Princess Luna. The entire Night Guard had gained an unofficial motto after Luna returned: Don’t Poke the Ursa.

A sudden movement in the town caught his eye, a single snow-white pegasus dropping gently from the sky to land next to the boutique door. At first he thought it was a Day Guard due to his short cropped orange mane, but he wore no armor except a rather new-looking brown vest and a floppy brown hat that concealed his eyes. The white pegasus just stood there in the middle of the street, with his back to the boutique door as if he were waiting on something. Then the door opened by itself. And closed.

“Twilight. Call the guards. Now.”

“What?” The purple unicorn turned from her telescope to find the balcony empty, with only a few scraps of paper blowing in the breeze of the Night Guard’s abrupt takeoff.

---

Princess Luna closed the door to the Carousel Boutique with a quiet click, allowing the invisibility spell to fall from her like a heavy load being set down. It was quite a strain to carry for any length of time, but she did not want her unexpected appearance in town to unduly disturb her subjects. It had been days since she had set her designers off on their little task, and not one word.(*) Not even a note, or even a doodle. Quite discouraging, and a bit of surprise Royal Legtwisting was most definitely in order. After all, she was the one paying for the work.

A fairly loud thump sounded from behind her, outside the door where her disguised Royal Guard, Redoubtable, was supposedly standing watch. She turned back to the sturdy front door of the boutique, intending to crack it open just a bit to see what was going on, when it suddenly exploded off its hinges and smashed her into the wall.


(*) Luna never had very much luck gardening. She was constantly digging up the seeds to see if they had started to sprout yet.