The Guardian of the Night

by Car Cloth

First published

The Royal Guard has intensified their training regimen after countless attacks on Canterlot. After months of hard training, they only accept the best of the best. Pipsqueak signs up to join these elite soldiers in order to protect a certain princess.

The Royal Guard has intensified their training regimen after countless attacks on Canterlot. They’re tougher, better, faster, stronger – and, after months of hard training, they only accept the best of the best. The Night Guard, the elite soldiers trained to protect Princess Luna during the evening, are similar to the Royal Guard, only ten times tougher.

Undeterred by the challenges that await him, Pipsqueak (now a full grown stallion) signs up to join the most elite soldiers in all of Equestria... The Night Guard.

He isn’t doing it for the fame or glory. Pip is motivated by one goal and one goal only: to fulfill a promise he made as a foal. He will become the guardian of the night.

This story is technically a sequel to The Dream Stalker, but it is not necessary to read that story first in order to understand this one.

(Featured on Equestria Daily!)
(Artwork from stupidyou3 on Deviantart)

Boot Camp

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“Listen up, maggots. I’ll be your drill sergeant for the entirety of your training. My name is Thunder Clash, but you will address me as sir, do I make myself clear?”

“Sir, yes sir!” the new pony recruits shouted, barely in unison. What a gaggle of undisciplined school-foals.

“After I go through roll, you’ll have the blessing of signing up for the guard company of your choice. Relish that moment, because it’s going to be the last thing you decide on your own for a very long time. Are you maggots still following what I’m saying?”

“Sir, yes sir!” That time was even clumsier than the last. Thunder Clash snorted in disapproval. This was going to be a long year.

“Now, the majority of you weaklings would be best suited to serve in the Crystal Guard. It’s the easiest of the four guard companies as the Crystal Heart basically does your job for you. However, if you have any testicular fortitude whatsoever, I would urge you to sign up for the Sun Guard. Those who serve under Princess Celestia have their hooves full with magical disasters, dark magic, twisted monsters, and the occasional thief that thinks they’ll make it big by breaking into Canterlot Castle.”

“Does that happen often?” a random pony recruit asks from the crowd.

Thunder Clash slowly turned to face the crowd of ponies. He calmly removed his guard helmet and then flew above the ponies with only a few flaps of his powerful pegasus wings. “DID I GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO SPEAK!?” he lambasted the new recruits. “Never speak unless you are addressed! Do I make myself clear!?”

The timid recruits nodded their heads, this time in unison. “Sir, yes sir!”

“You are not super-special-knights-in-shining-armor here to protect the princesses. You are faceless-nameless-guards that will keep one thing in mind: a good guard is a silent guard. NOW REPEAT IT!”

“A good guard is a silent guard!” the recruits nervously chanted.


“A good guard is a silent guard!” the recruits shouted.

The irony of that chant wasn’t lost on Thunder Clash. He smiled to himself as he slid his helmet back into place. “Good. Now, the third option is the… Friendship Guard.” Thunder Clash could barely say that without vomiting. The newest princess may understand friendship better than anypony, but she sure didn’t understand the word intimidating. Who names their royal soldiers the friendship guard? Definitely not a warlord, that’s for sure.

“The Friendship Guard protects Ponyville and serves under the guard captain Flash Sentry. He’s a good pegasus. Trained him myself. The Friendship Guard itself, however… Out of the four guard companies it will be the weirdest assignment, and that’s all I can really say about it.”

“The last guard company,” Thunder Clash continued, “… Don’t even think about it. The Night Guard is the most difficult, the most challenging, and the most dangerous assignment. The monsters that come out at night are far worse than those that appear during the day. Just take the Ursa Major as an example. They only roam at night and it’s the job of the Night Guard to keep them out of Canterlot.”

One of the pony recruits raised their hoof into the air. Thunder Clash rolled his eyes, but was at least grateful that the pony was remaining quiet until called upon. “What is it, maggot?”

“I’ve never seen the Night Guard before… How-”

“That’s because the Night Guard is much, much smaller than any of the guard companies, which only adds to the difficulty. That’s why every single soldier in the Night Guard needs to be a squad of soldiers onto themselves. They are tough. Perhaps the toughest around.”

The new recruits began looking around, clearly trying to spot a member of the Night Guard. “Don’t bother,” Thunder Clash snapped. “The Night Guard sleeps during the day. Additionally, the vast majority of them are bat ponies. They’ll sooner fight you than engage in pleasantries. Now, time for roll. First up…” He glanced down at his roster and flew over to the first pony in line. “Marble Pie.”

She was an earth pony with a light gray coat, dark gray mane and bright purple eyes. Her cutie mark was a shattered boulder. “Yes, sir,” she said in a strong and very serious tone.

“Earth pony, eh? Says here you worked on a rock farm. Hopefully your head isn’t full of rocks. I take it you’re good and strong. You might be one of the ones that makes it all the way through boot camp. That is, as long as you can follow simple instructions.”

“T-thank you, sir.”

Thunder Clash walked over to the next pony in line and had to look down in order to make eye contact. “Dear Celestia, boy! Did you eat another pony before coming here?”

The unicorn before him was chubby. He had a grayish-green coat, dark orange mane and brown eyes. His cutie mark was a pair of scissors. “S-sir, no sir,” the recruit unicorn stammered.

“What’s your name? Snaps? What kind of name is that, boy?”

Some of the nearby guards began laughing under their breath.

The unicorn flushed with embarrassment. “It’s, uh, Snips, sir…”

“What was that?” Thunder Clash barked.

“Snips, sir. My name is Snips…”

“Ooohh. I see now. Scissors, snips… I see the connection. Either your mother has the power to see the future or she was wildly drunk when she filled out your birth certificate and you just followed suit.”

Snips slouched in place and kicked at the ground. Thunder Clash snorted. If the ponies couldn’t take a little verbal sparring they definitely couldn’t handle the pressures of being a royal guard. When he moved to the next pony in line he had to look up in order to make eye contact.

“Are you part giraffe, boy?”

The unicorn next to Snips had a long neck, a brilliant amber coat, a turquoise mane and dark brown eyes. His cutie mark was a snail. “I don’t think so, sir,” he answered the question as though it had been legitimate.

“Snails? Seriously? You name is Snails? Snips here might have had a drunken mother, but I’m pretty sure your mother hated you.”

Again, the guards around began laughing under their breath. The new recruits, on the other hoof, remained deathly silent.

“My full name is Snailsquirm,” Snails replied, his speech unbearably slow. “My mom said I was named after my grand-”

“I didn’t ask for your life story, boy!” Thunder Clash interrupted. “Keep your mouth shut and your head up and maybe, just maybe, you’ll make it through boot camp. Do you understand?”

“Y-yes sir…”

Thunder Clash glared at the unicorn before moving on to the next pony in line. This one was a pegasus. He liked pegasi. This one had a light blue-gray coat, a mane of dark gray and dark blue, and gray-purple eyes. His cutie mark was a black cloud with a thunderbolt coming out of it, almost exactly like Thunder Clash’s.

“Now, what do we have here? Your name is… Rumble? That’s a proper pony name!”

Rumble held his head high. “Thank you, sir!”

“Do you know which guard company you’re going to sign up for, boy?”

“I, uh, haven’t made up my mind just yet, sir.”

“Indecision is unbecoming of a soldier,” Thunder Clash narrowed his eyes. “You don’t have much time left. I hope you come to a decision soon.” Moving on to the next recruit, he smiled. Another pegasus.

“What do we have here… Your name is Scootaloo? Was your mother a zebra? Did she have a rhyming problem?”

Scootaloo cracked half a smile. “No, sir! I do not believe my mother was a zebra, sir!”

She had a soft orange coat, a light burgundy mane and purple eyes. Her cutie mark was a tire with flames coming off it. Thunder Clash raised an eyebrow. “And what guard company do you plan on entering? Hopefully you have a better head on your shoulders than Rumble over here. You’ve made up your mind, haven’t you?”

“Well… I, um, had been planning on joining the Crystal Guard but… after your speech I thought I might try one of the more difficult assignments.”

“That’s the spirit,” Thunder Clash nodded. “Perhaps I’ll see you in Canterlot yet.” He gave her a quick nod before moving onto the next recruit. Just like with Snails, Thunder Clash found himself looking up in order to make eye contact.

“Oh, a pinto earth pony,” he said. “You must be from Trottingham.”

The pinto stallion nodded. “That’s correct, sir.” He stood out from the crowd in almost every way. He was taller than all the ponies around him, and his coat was white but occasionally spotted with splotches of brown. His mane was long but scruffy and mud-brown in color, matching his eyes. His cutie mark was a downward pointed sword with a star next to it.

“And your name is… Pipsqueak?” Thunder Clash couldn’t help himself; he let out a single hardy laugh. The other guards also burst out laughing. Even the recruits couldn’t help themselves. “Pipsqueak? I take it back! Snails had a kind mother compared to yours! Pipsqueak! If only she knew how tall you would be, eh?”

“I’ve always been a little awkwardly sized compared to my peers,” Pipsqueak answered without a hint of embarrassment or shame. “But I’m a nameless-faceless-guard once I complete boot camp, isn’t that right, sir? My name has nothing to do with how good a soldier I’ll be.”

Thunder Clash stopped laughing and glared at the stallion before him. “Are you trying to get smart with me, boy?”

“No, sir. I just wanted to assure you that I’ll be just as good, if not better, than the other guards, regardless of my name. I’m ready to sign up for whatever you have in store.”

“Oh, you’re eager to sign up, huh? Think you’ll be great? Like this will be a piece of cake? Is that it?”

“I’m ready for anything, sir. I happily await your training.”

Thunder Clash hated the eager ones. “This isn’t a fairy tale, boy. This training is going to be hard work. The princesses aren’t going to recognize you. Heck, they barely remember my name. No, you’ll be invisible to them. If you signed up just to get close to one, you better pack your stuff now and leave.”

“Oh, I’m already close to one of the princesses, sir. You don’t need to worry about that.”

Now everypony stopped laughing. Those nearby inched in closer to better listen. “What was that?” Thunder Clash asked. “Did you just say you were friends with one of the princesses?”

Pipsqueak held his head high and nodded. “That’s right, sir.”

“Which one?”

“Princess Luna, sir.”

It became very quiet. Everypony was staring now. Thunder Clash glared. “Are you intentionally trying to rile me, boy? I live in Canterlot. I’ve lived there my whole life. I think I would have remembered seeing your speckled, lanky hide at one point or another if you were friends with Princess Luna.”

“Oh, I’ve never been to Canterlot, sir. I visit and spend time with Princess Luna in my dreams.”

Another long moment of silence.

Then, everypony burst into a cacophony of laughter. Even Thunder Clash was laughing. Was this stallion serious? Did he honestly just say that with a straight face? His dreams!? Oh boy! What a lunatic! I might have to throw him out right now on the grounds of insanity, Thunder Clash thought as he continued to laugh.

The only pony not laughing was Scootaloo. She nervously forced a few chuckles, but otherwise she remained silent.

No matter how long the laughter went on, Pipsqueak held his ground. Again, he didn’t seem embarrassed. He seemed more annoyed than anything else. When Thunder Clash regained control over his laughter, he asked, “Are you serious, boy? That’s your answer? You dream about Princess Luna and that’s why you’re friends with her?”

“I don’t dream of her,” Pipsqueak said in a calm tone. “I dream with her.”

Thunder Clash gave another snort of laughter. “Of course, of course. With her. Whatever you say. And when was the last time this happened?”

For the first time Pipsqueak suddenly seemed unsure of himself. “Well, to be honest, the last time we shared a dream was a few years ago… I’m starting to worry about her, sir. That’s why I signed up for the royal guards as soon as I was old enough.”

“Wait, so your dream mare-friend dumped you? I don’t think I’ve heard of a sorrier circumstance!”

Another loud roar of laughter. Pipsqueak maintained himself. He didn’t shy away or become red from embarrassment. Even if what he was saying was preposterous, at least he had the conviction to stand behind his statements with confidence. Thunder Clash could respect that, but he didn’t much care for this pinto stallion. He was going to be trouble.

“So,” Thunder Clash quieted the laughing ponies. “Are you here to try and woo a different princess? What guard company are you planning to join?”

Pipsqueak shook his head. “You don’t understand. I think Princess Luna might need me. I’m here to sign up for the Night Guard.”

“No, you don’t understand, boy. You don’t have what it takes to make it through the Night Guard training. I’m going to have to insist you sign up for a different guard company.”

“I appreciate your concern, but I have a promise to keep. I’m going to sign up for the Night Guard. Then I’m going to pass your training, sir. That’s just how it’s going to be.”

The new recruits turned and stared at Thunder Clash with wide eyes. In all his years of drill instruction, he had never met a young stallion with this much tenacity right out the gate. He knew plenty of stallions that developed a strong sense of self and determination, but it was rare to see it this young. It only reinforced Thunder Clash’s original assessment. This stallion was going to be trouble.

“Fine,” Thunder Clash capitulated. “Sign up for the Night Guard. But the moment you mess up, even just once, you’re gone. Understand me, boy? I’ll throw you from the training program and you’ll never be allowed back. Not while I still soar through the skies.”

Pipsqueak nodded. “I understand, sir. I’m ready.”

Night Guard Training

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“This is where the new recruits for the Night Guard sleep.”

Pipsqueak walked into the barracks with only a small bag of his belongings. The guard that showed him in was just barely containing his laughter. Pipsqueak ignored it. He knew what the guard was laughing about, but it wasn’t worth arguing. If nopony believed him, then nopony believed him. He didn’t come here to brag about his time with Princess Luna. He came to help her.

The barracks before him were separated into two large rooms. The room he was standing in was filled with bunk beds. He turned toward the door leading to the second room. “What’s in there?” Pipsqueak asked the giggling guard.

“That? Oh, the bat ponies sleep in there. Don’t worry. You’ll be meeting them once your training begins.”

“There are bat pony recruits?”

“That’s right,” the guard nodded. “They’re usually the only ones that sign up. Not many other ponies complete the training.”

Pipsqueak walked over to a far bunk bed and threw his belongings up on the top bunk. He liked sleeping higher up. He was closer to the moon then. “When does our training begin?” he asked the guard.

“Your training starts tomorrow.” With that, the guard left.

Now all alone, Pipsqueak slowly paced back and forth trying to think of what to do in order to pass the time. It was late afternoon. He had hours left in the day. If this were one of his dreams… he would be riding the high seas with Luna, or flying through a canyon of gems, avoiding the quarray eels that would jut out to grab them. It would be one amazing adventure after the next…

The door to the barracks suddenly opened and Pipsqueak turned to see who was entering. Much to his surprise, Scootaloo, Rumble, Snips, Snails and Marble Pie all came walking in. “Um, can I help you?” he asked.

“We joined the Night Guard as well,” Rumble informed him sheepishly. “There was no way I was being outdone by an earth pony from my hometown!”

“And our theory for success has always been to just to stay close to the strongest ponies. It’s worked for us so far,” Snails announced, motioning to himself and Snips. “If you think you’re strong enough to get through the Night Guard, you must be one of the strongest around!”

Marble Pie rolled her eyes. “Well, I joined the royal guards with the intention of sign up to the Night Guard long before you gave your little speech. I’m not with these guys.” She walked over to a random bunk bed and took the bottom bed.

Snips waddled over and smiled to Pipsqueak. “I’m so glad you and Snails had a worse name than mine. Now the drill sergeant will forget all about how terrible mine is.”

“No problem,” Pipsqueak awkwardly stated. “I’m glad I could help.”

Snails also walked over. He nervously glanced around before leaning in closer to Pipsqueak. He whispered, “Hey, I hate my name too. Snailsquirm is kinda weird. That’s why I shortened it to Snails. You could do it too. Pip isn’t so bad.”

Pipsqueak was about to reject the advice, but then he thought about it. He was much taller than most of the ponies around him. Pipsqueak was an ironic name for a stallion like him. Maybe Snails was right. “Pip does have a nice ring to it.”

“Yeah! You should do it! Take this time to reinvent yourself! You’re a member of the Night Guard now!”

“Well, we’re in training. We aren’t a part of the Night Guard yet.”


Pipsqueak nodded. Snails was right. He should reinvent himself. From now, he would be known as Pip! “Thanks, Snails. I appreciate it.”

Once Snails had wandered away, Scootaloo walked up to him and smiled. While everypony else was picking which bed was going to be theirs, she turned to Pip and muttered, “Hey, I believe you about Princess Luna. She came to me in one of my dreams too.”

Pip nodded. “She comes into all our dreams. That’s what she does as the Princess of the Night.”

“I… I don’t remember seeing her after the one camping trip I was on…”

“She tries to hide her interference,” Pip informed her. He knew. Luna had explained it all in great detail. “Princess Luna wants to help ponies solve their own problems, not just do it for them. That’s why she hides her presence.”

“Maybe that’s why you haven’t seen her in a long time,” Scootaloo commented.

“No… No, our time together was different. She wasn’t helping me. I was helping her. She would come and visit me and we would have adventures so that she had something fun to look forward to every night. So that she knew she was appreciated.”

Scootaloo shrugged and began slowly walking over to one of the bunk beds. “Maybe she just doesn’t need any more help.”

Pip opened his mouth to respond, but then he quickly closed it. He hadn’t thought of that. But… Luna didn’t say she ever wanted to stop. She said it was a way of relaxation. Ponies don’t normally reach a point where they never need to relax again… Something else had to be going on.

When he glanced around he noticed that, despite having thirty or more bunk beds in the room, Snips and Snails had picked the top and bottom respectively of the same bunk. Everypony else had picked a bed several beds away from each other. As Pip walked to the back of the room he turned and saw Marble Pie carefully unfolding and then re-folding the blankets on her bed.

“You said you came here hoping to join the Night Guard?”

Everypony else turned to listen in on the conversation. Marble Pie sighed and continued to fold and re-fold the blankets while she spoke. “That’s right.”

“Why? Did Luna visit you in your dreams as well?”

“No. Princess Luna never visited me in my dreams. It has nothing to do with the princess, actually. I just couldn’t stand working on the rock farm any longer. Maud, my sister, was already set to inherit everything and the day I shattered my father’s prized boulder in frustration was the day I realized I could put my special talent to real use.” Marble Pie glanced back at her flank and her shattered boulder cutie mark. “I have one powerful kick, and I found I like… destroying things.”

“That’s pretty awesome,” Rumble commented from the other side of the room. “I would kill to have a kick that could shatter boulders! Earth ponies are so cool sometimes!”

Marble Pie shrugged. “I know I could have signed up for something easier, but I don’t think any of you have a sister who’s known throughout the land as a warrior for the Princess of Friendship.”

Scootaloo suddenly ducked down by her bed, her eyes downcast. Rumble flew up near the roof, barely containing his enthusiasm for the conversation. “Oh, I know about having an amazing older sibling! My brother, Thunderlane… he would always rub his speed in my face! I had to train forever to just catch up and he teased me every step of the way! If Pip joined the Night Guard and I didn’t even try… Thunderlane would never let me hear the end of it! That’s why I had to sign up!”

“You shouldn’t have,” Marble Pie immediately commented in a disinterested tone. “They’re going to try and send us home. They’re going to be tough on us. You might not have the fortitude to make it.”

Scootaloo jumped up onto the top bunk with her wings beating as fast as a hummingbird’s. “What do you mean they’re going to try and send us home!? That’s not fair!”

“I mean,” Marble Pie finally finished making her bed, “they normally only take bat ponies for a reason. Even the captain of the Night Guard is a bat pony. We’ll be… targeted, that’s for sure.” Now that the bed was made to perfection, she carefully pulled back the blanket and slipped in. She tucked the blanket around her, avoiding as many wrinkles as possible.

“Are you going to bed now, Marble Pie?” Pip asked. “It’s the middle of the day.”

“Call me Marble,” she stated. “And yes. Good night.”

Pip didn’t sleep during the day. If he did, he would miss out on a chance of seeing Luna… and he didn’t want that. He would wait until the nightfall before sleeping and then he would be ready to start his training in the morning.



Pip jolted out of his bed, startled. Where was all that noise coming from!? It felt like he had only been asleep for a couple of minutes. Pip glanced outside and saw the moon rising. He had only been sleeping for a few minutes!

“Wake up, maggots! Time to start your training!”

Marble rolled out of her bed, refreshed. She was the only pony among the new recruits that had gotten any sleep at all. She straightened her long dark gray mane before folding and re-folding the blankets on her bed.

Pip shook off his fatigue, quickly made his bed, and ran to the door. The drill instructor, Thunder Clash, was already there. He was a dark orange pegasus with a short gold mane and tail. Almost every inch of his body had some sort of scar or marring. With his armor on, Pip couldn’t see Thunder Clash’s cutie mark, but Pip assumed it had something to do with thunder. His booming voice was enough evidence for Pip to make that assumption.

Rumble and Scootlaoo were the first to join Pip. Snips and Snails lagged behind as they were having difficulties just waking up. When they finally got their act together they got in line. Although Marble had been the first to wake, she was the last in line… but at least her bed looked amazing.

“That was pathetic,” Thunder Clash snorted. “I’ve seen corpses rise from their slumber faster than you lot!”

“R-really?” Snips and Snails both gasped, their faces alight with fascination.

Thunder Clash face-hoofed in sheer disbelief. “This is going to be a very long year,” he groaned under his breath. “Okay, listen up. Tonight is benchmark night! I hope you all like physical activity because you’re going to be doing a lot of it. Now get out there!”

Pip and the others ran out of the barracks and into the moon-washed training fields. Four obstacle courses had been set up and arranged side by side. Thunder Clash flew over to the starting line and motioned them all to follow. It was hard to see in the dark of the night but the drill instructor’s orange coat made him somewhat easy to spot.

When they made it to the starting line, Pip immediately noticed that there were bat ponies already waiting there. He glanced over at them and nodded. Not a single one acknowledged him. Pip continued to stare.

They all had black, leathery bat wings, tufts of fur on their ears, and slit-pupil eyes. Pip had seen bat ponies only occasionally in his life, and even then, it was mostly on Nightmare Night.

“Stand at attention!” Thunder Clash snapped, drawing Pip’s attention away from the group of bat ponies. Pip immediately stood tall and held himself with confidence. He could complete an obstacle course. He was ready for this.

Suddenly, a bat pony, clad in black and purple armor, landed before them. The bat pony was tall and regal, holding himself with purpose. His coat was dark gray, his mane black, and his slit-pupil eyes a bright gold. He spread his black leathery wings and then slowly folded them to his side.

“This is the captain of the Night Guard, Phantom Shade,” the drill instructor informed them. “He will be observing your benchmarks tonight and will occasionally check in with your training along the way. If, through some fluke, you are chosen for the Night Guard, Phantom Shade will be your commanding officer. Do you maggots understand?”

“Sir, yes sir!” Pip said in unison with the others.

Phantom Shade slowly gazed over the group with his haunting golden eyes. He stared at them as though seeing right through to their core. Everypony remained quiet as he slowly walked over to the line of ponies and began making his way through them. Phantom Shade stopped at Marble and narrowed his eyes. He leaned in close and deeply inhaled.

“This one is much older than the rest,” Phantom Shade stated in a slow, dark tone. His voice reminded Pip of his childhood nightmares. Marble shuddered at the sight of his fanged teeth so close.

“Earth ponies stay in their prime much longer than others,” the drill instructor replied confidently. “She still has decades of service left in her.”

“Hm.” Phantom Shade stepped away from the line. “These recruits need further culling, Thunder Clash. I think your standards are slipping.”

“I can’t stop them from signing up for the Night Guard. They’re young. They think they’re invincible. Give’em a few nights. Most of’em will be gone by then.”

“Get on with it then,” Phantom Shade commanded. “We’ll see how well they perform.”

Thunder Clash flew over to the line and nodded. “All right! Tonight you need to run through an obstacle course! The obstacle courses behind me are broken up depending on your breed. Pegasus ponies to the first obstacle course, earth ponies to the next, unicorn ponies to the third and bat ponies to the forth. Normally, you need to be able to run this obstacle course in two minutes flat. However, tonight you will have no time limit. All you have to do is simply make it to the end.”

All of the recruits exchanged confused looks with one another. Even the bat ponies seemed out of sorts. Thunder Clash continued.

“If you can’t make to the end of the obstacle course, you will be immediately reassigned to another guard company, do I make myself clear? You can take as long as you need, but if you give up, skip any obstacle, become stuck, collapse, or need me to carry you out, you will fail. No exceptions. Now, everypony line up in front of their respective obstacle course.”

“Um,” Scootaloo nervously raised a hoof.

“No questions!” Thunder Clash snapped. “It’s an obstacle course, for Celestia’s sake. It’s not that complicated! Even small animals can run through obstacles courses! Are you trying to say you’re dumber than small animals? Is that what you’re saying, recruit!?” He was glaring at Scootaloo now. She remained quiet and was clearly wrecked by indecision. After a few moments she hung her head and took her place in front of the pegasus obstacle course.

Pip stepped up to the earth pony obstacle course and nodded to Marble, the only other recruit with him. As he glanced around he realized that there were two ponies per obstacle course except for the bat ponies. They had six. Only twelve recruits for the Night Guard? Pip thought. I thought there would be more. No matter. I’ll have to make extra sure that I don’t fail. Luna needs as much support as she can get.

“Go!” Thunder Clash shouted.

Startled by the sudden command, Pip haphazardly rushed forward. The first part of the course was a tunnel and he quickly leapt inside.


Pip was now neck-deep in muddy water. He trudged through the thick goo, determined to try and complete the obstacle course in less than two minutes. Marble was trudging through the water as well, but it was much too dark to see her. Pip could only hear the splash of water as she struggled forward.

Once he completed the tunnel he stepped out into a long straight of physical obstacles. Walls to climb, tires to jump though, hurdles to leap across… and he could barely see any of it. Pip ran forward and nearly tripped over the first hurdle. It had been small and low to the ground. He suspected he could have stepped over it but, because of the low-light, he didn’t even realize it was there until it was too late.

“It’s too dark to see!” Pip heard Snips yell from the obstacle course over.

Pip tried to glance over to the unicorn track, but it was then the he noticed the walls between the courses. He couldn’t see the other recruits, but he could hear them if they were yelling.

“I can’t see anything either!” Snails complained.

Thunder Clash laughed from overhead. He was flying along, watching them all go through their course. “Do you maggots seriously have the stupidity to complain about the dark? What time of day do you think the Night Guard does their work? I’ll give you a hint; it’s not in the light of the mid-summer sun, sweethearts! Another complaint about the dark and I’ll carry you out right now!”

Pip leapt onto a wall in order to climb it, but he felt himself struggling. It was so difficult! Slowly he pulled himself over, but he unceremoniously fell to the ground on the other side. Pip got to his feet and took a couple deep breaths. He had climbed walls before! Why was this so much harder?

He glanced as his mud-covered and water-soaked hide. He must weigh nearly twice as much now. But, that was the point, wasn’t it? The muddy water at the start of the course had been to weigh them down.

Undeterred, Pip shot forward. He needed to make up for lost time. He jumped through the tires, but the moment he reached the other side he stumbled through a briar patch. “Eh!” Pip gasped in pain, jumping back to the tires. Thorns were now lodged into his leg, one even dug into his hoof.

Pip took a moment to pull the thorns from his leg before taking a step back. The rest of the course couldn’t be covered in thorny plants, right? It was too dark to actually see, but nopony would be that sadistic. He could jump over… in theory. Giving himself enough room to get a running start, Pip dashed forward and jumped off the last tire.

“Ah!” he cried out when all four legs slammed down into an ocean of flesh-cutting thorns. Slowly, painfully, Pip lifted one leg after the other and attempted to keep going.

“What’s wrong, dream-boy?” Thunder Clash yelled down to him between laughs. “Do you want to quit yet? Are you ready to go home and just dream of becoming a member of the Night Guard?”

Pip didn’t validate his taunts with a response. He pressed forward and grit his teeth with each step he took. It could have been bearable if it weren’t for the thorns in his hooves. Searing pain shot from his hooves all the way up to his spine. Each. And. Every. Step.

“AHHH!” Snips and Snails’ screams pierced the night. They must have just discovered the briar patch. Pip briefly wondered if the Pegasi had to deal with something similar to this…

The instant Pip discovered the end of the briar patch he let out an audible sigh of relief. He had to stop again in order to pull the thorns from his hooves, but once that was done he continued forward. Thorns were still in his legs, but they didn’t bother him nearly as much. He could live with those for just a bit longer.

Taking deep breaths, Pip began running at full tilt. It wasn’t until he slammed face fist into a pole that he realized something was there. Dazed, and now suffering from an agonizing headache, Pip squinted through the darkness and realized this was a pole with a hanging rope. Did he have to swing with it? Was there something in front of him?

He leaned forward and squinted even harder. There was a pit here… a pit with water. Pip listened hard. Animals were in the pit. Water dwelling animals. I don’t know what they put in this pit… but it can’t be good. I can’t afford to fall.

Grabbing the rope with his mouth, Pip gave it a good tug before backing up and jumping. The rope easily supported his weight, which was good, because he realized just then this wasn’t a swinging rope, it was a zip line rope. Pip zipped through the air, wind whipping passed him, until he reached the other side. Despite the extra weight from the mud and water, he never once lost his grip. I made it!

Struggling forward, Pip began running. He knew he might crash into something again, but he couldn’t afford to walk. Within a few short seconds he caught himself in a net of ropes. Confused, Pip realized it was tall wall that he had to climb over. He looked up to the sky and saw it had to be three stories high, at least.

Taking a deep breath, Pip started up the rope wall. One hoof and then the next. He had to climb all the way up and then all the way down. The extra weight really hurt him here. His legs were on fire by the time he reached the top. Pip pushed that from his mind. He couldn’t focus on that… not if he was going to finish this course. On the way down he used his mouth to help him maintain his balance. He was going to make it no matter what.

When he touched the ground he smiled. Letting go of the rope, he took off running and… he made it! He exited the obstacle course and came out on the other side! The drill instructor and Phantom Shade were both waiting there, along with Scootaloo and three of the bat ponies.

Pip quickly got into line next to Scootaloo and held his head high.

Thunder Clash snorted in laugher. “Are you proud of yourself, boy? By my calculations that took you ten minutes to complete! Five times longer than what you’re expected to do!”

Pip’s heart sank. He was in there for ten minutes!? Then again, it had felt like two hours had gone by when he was slowly stepping through the briar patch…

“Sir, sorry sir,” Pip said in a pained voice. “I’ll do better next time.”

“You better. If you ever fall below this benchmark you’re out.” Thunder Clash looked around, obviously waiting for the other recruits to finish. Much to Pip’s surprise, the last three bat ponies exited their obstacle course with small cuts and bruises across their bodies. Pip hadn’t expected any of them to take longer than ten minutes.

Not long after the bat ponies exited, Rumble exited his course in the same battered condition. He landed next to Scootaloo and puffed out his chest. “Sir, I’m back, sir!”

“Twelve minutes, recruit,” Thunder Clash snorted. “Don’t look so smug.”

Rumble immediately deflated.

Seconds later, Marble jumped out of the earth pony course. She didn’t look as beat up as all the other ponies, but she hadn’t been very fast either. Now the only ponies that were left were Snips and Snails…

Phantom Shade shook his head. “I doubt they have the physical prowess to finish the course. Call it. Remove them from the training.”

Thunder Clash shrugged. “I normally give the new recruits fifteen minutes before rushing in to save them. Besides,” he commented in a joking tone, “If worse comes to worst, the tall one can sustain himself on the fat of the other one.”

Phantom Shade was not amused.

Then, to the shock of everypony involved, Snips and Snails burst out of their obstacle course. Both were covered in thorns and one of them had bite marks on their flank, but otherwise they intact and whole. With wobbly legs they stepped forward and took their place in line. Phantom Shade glared at them in disgust.

Thunder Clash stepped forward and cleared his throat. “Well, that was marginally better than what I thought was going to happen, but I assure you it only gets worse from here. Out of the ponies before me, three of you finished the obstacle course in less than two minutes. Those ponies would be Equinox, Specter, and Scootaloo.”

A male bat pony and a female bat pony both held their heads high. Scootaloo, on the other hoof, hung her head in shame. Thunder Clash turned to glare at her.

“And the only reason the pegasus finished so quickly was because she ran along on the ground. Why do you think we separate the breeds, girlie? It isn’t for our amusement, I assure you! Since you failed to complete even one of the obstacles, I’m afraid I’m going to have to remove you from the Night Guard. Permanently.”

“What?” Rumble interjected. “That’s not fair!”

Silence,” Phantom Shade growled. Everypony stiffened after he spoke. “We made it perfectly clear before you started: if you couldn’t finish you were to be removed. How then, is it not fair? She knew the rules and she intentionally defied them.”

Thunder Clash and Phantom Shade turned to Scootaloo with judgmental stares. She steeled herself to their disappointment and took a deep breath. “Sir, I can’t fly, sir!” She had spoken loud enough that there could be no confusion as to what she had said.

Pip could hear snickering from the bat ponies, but he ignored them. He had known of Scootaloo’s problem his entire life. Everypony in Ponyville knew it. It was nothing to be ashamed of. But she should have tried harder to tell Thunder Clash before this point…

Phantom Shade turned to Thunder Clash with a scowl. “You allowed a flightless pegasus to sign up for the Night Guard?”

“I didn’t know,” Thunder Clash replied.

“Clearly some standards have slipped. We can’t have this.”

“H-hey!” Scootaloo shouted, drawing their attention. “You let earth ponies try out! Just because I can’t fly doesn’t mean I’m w-worthless!”

"You will not speak unless spoken to!" Thunder Clash immediately barked. Scootaloo nodded and muttered an apology. Once she was quiet, Thunder Clash turned back to Phantom Shade. “The girl’s got a point though. If we treat her as an earth pony there should be no problem.”

“Feh. You’re too soft on them,” Phantom Shade angrily stated as he turned away. “If these ponies are the only ones that are competing I’ll just take this moment to congratulate Equinox and Specter on their admittance into the Night Guard right now. Clearly no other ponies are up to snuff.”

The two bat ponies that had completed their course on time smiled to each other. Pip, again, ignored them. He wasn’t here to compete with the other ponies… he was here to help Luna.

“All right, maggots. Drop to the ground and give me push-ups. What? You thought the obstacle course was the only training for tonight? Well you thought wrong. You’ll all count in unison. One slip up and we’ll start over.”

Snails put his hoof in the air. Thunder Clash pointed to him.

“How many push-ups are we supposed to do, sir?”

“One hundred.”

Everypony looked up at Thunder Clash in dismay. One hundred push-ups! After running that obstacle course? Pip glanced down at his muddy, bloody and thorn-ridden legs. He only hoped they would hold together long enough to make it through the night.

Together, everypony dropped to the ground and began the long haul of push-ups. “One,” they said in unison. “Two, three…”

Bat Ponies & Special Talents

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“… four, five, six, seven-”

“F-five,” Snails gasped, lagging far behind the rest.

“Start over!” Thunder Clash commanded.

“Oh, come on,” one of the bat ponies suddenly shrieked in exasperation.

Pip honestly agreed with the sentiment. By his internal count, they had now completed one hundred and fifty push-ups, but they couldn’t get past the group count of twenty because Snails continually fell behind in the numbers. Pip’s legs felt like pudding.

Rumble collapsed to the ground, his coat soaked in sweat. “Sweet Celestia, kill me now,” he muttered under his breath as he gasped for air.

The captain of the Night Guard, Phantom Shade, watched them with a judgmental scowl.

Thunder Clash shook his head in disappointment. “As a drill instructor, nothing gives me more pride than altering a training program in order to keep up with how fast my recruits are growing. Tonight I alter the training program, not because of how competent you are, but because of how incompetent you all are. Since apparently counting is your bane, we’ll engage in an activity that requires none of that. Everypony jog in place. You’ll stop once the night is over.”

Certain he had seen enough, Phantom Shade said nothing to the recruits before turning and flying off into the night sky. Pip was glad he couldn’t read minds. He didn’t want to know what Phantom Shade thought of them all.

Some ponies were shooting Snails harsh looks. Snails was too busy gulping down air to notice. Pip, not to be the one to complain, immediately began jogging in place. His legs were weak but he willed them to keep moving. This wasn’t going to stop him from being one of the Night Guard. Not this. Not something as simple as moving his legs in a running pattern. He was going to get through this no matter what.


By the time the moon was about to set, and the sun about rise, everypony was half-heartedly jogging. Snips and Snails were both only occasionally lifting their legs fully off the ground and Rumble was practically just swaying side to side. Pip looked to the pony next to him. Marble was still doing well, though it was clear she had slowed down around hour two. Pip took pride in the fact that he could still lift his legs all the way up and all the way down, but he was hesitant to call his pace a jog. More like a brisk walk.

“All right, maggots. I’m done looking at your vacant, glassy-eyed faces. Get some rest. Tomorrow night I’ll see where you stand in hoof to hoof combat. Dismissed!” Thunder Clash immediately flew off after he gave the order, not even bothering to glance back.

Pip let out a sigh of relief and turned back to the barracks. The bat ponies left as a group, hissing at Snails as they went. Again, Snails didn’t even notice.

They hadn’t eaten all night and now Pip was famished. He hadn’t slept longer than a few minutes either… His mind was bombarded with thoughts of sleeping and eating, sometimes doing both at the same time, which he knew was impossible. Staggering into the barracks, Pip opted to sleep first. He didn’t even bother pulling the thorns out of his legs or clearing the sweat and mud from his body. He just collapsed on the bed and closed his eyes, falling asleep near instantaneously.


Pip knew dreams. He had spent too much time obsessing over his own not to recognize one when he was in it. Sometimes it was hard to spot, but even then he was only confused for a short while before figuring it out.

The green grassy meadows before him were a dream. Everything was too bright, too colorful, and too surreal not to be a dream. It was the middle of the afternoon and the sun was overhead. The hot sun. Pip squinted up at the orb. A very hot sun.

“Luna?” Pip called out. “Can you hear me?”

Nothing. No response.

He knew she wouldn’t answer. She only slipped through the dreams of ponies at night, not during the day, and even then she only had time for about three or four dreams a night. Pip sighed. He missed seeing her so much… Why hadn’t she bothered to explain to him she would be leaving? Why hadn’t she come back to assure him that it had nothing to do with him? Or maybe… it did have something to do with him. Maybe she had found some other pony to enjoy dream adventures with…

The sun was beating down on him. Pip wiped sweat from his brow and took a seat in the emerald grass. What if it were the Nightmare Forces again? What if they were haunting her dreams? What if she was in trouble? What if she were on the verge of becoming Nightmare Moon again? What was he doing here and not by her side? He wished he could make this training go by sooner… Pip desperately wanted to see Luna. He wanted to ask her if she was okay.

And why was the sun so very, very hot!?

When Pip looked up he was somewhat startled. The green grass was now a horrid shade of brown and the once pleasant atmosphere was replaced by heat waves and an overpowering tint of yellow from the sun. This is odd…

In the sky Pip could see the silhouette of Princess Celestia. He knew she was just a figment of the dream. Princess Celestia didn’t have the ability to travel through the dreams of ponies. Why was Princess Celestia here? He had never dreamed of her before…

Suddenly, the rays of the sun were so hot that they were literally starting fires. Pip jumped up and looked around, desperate to find a hiding place. There was no place to hide from the sun. Its rays touched everything and soon he was surrounded by a firestorm.

Pip tried to alter the dream; lucid dreams were typically within his power to alter. Not this dream. The fires raged on no matter how hard he thought of something else. What was going on?

Just as the fires were threatening to burn his very flesh, Pip jerked awake.


“Ah,” Pip breathed as he opened his eyes. He glanced out the window. The sun was setting. Almost time for more training.

“Dreaming?” Scootaloo asked.

Pip looked up. She was standing next to his bed. Had she been trying to wake him? “Y-yeah,” Pip stammered. He rolled out of bed and realized his body was stiff with pain. He hurt all over.

“Was it about Luna?” Snips asked from his bunk bed several beds over.

“No… It was just a nightmare.”

“I had a nightmare too,” Rumble admitted. “Must be from all the stress we’re under.”

Everypony was awake except for Marble. Even in her exhausted state last night she still managed to tuck herself into a perfectly made bed. Pip looked around the room. “Wait, where is Snails?”

“He went to grab food and water for everyone,” Rumble replied.

Pip realized again he was starving. His stomach growled in angry protest. “I hope he gets back soon…”

As if thinking about him somehow summoned him, Snails came walking through the door with bags of hay sandwiches and a tray of cups. His unicorn magic levitated everything, so it was easy for him to carry six pony’s worth of meals.

Everypony walked over and grabbed themselves a hay sandwich and drink. Pip inhaled his; not even bothering to taste anything that went down. Once he was done he was still hungry, but he could live without another. While everypony else ate, Pip took that moment to remove the thorns from his legs. He was bleeding slightly, but once he applied some pressure it stopped.

Pip glanced up once he was done. “Thank you, Snails.”

Snails turned his gaze to the floor. “No need to thank me… I’m sorry I’m not very good at counting real fast…”

“H-hey! Remember when Trixie came to town and she tried to fight that Ursa Minor?” Snips asked, clearly trying to save his friend from embarrassment by changing the topic.

Rumble snorted back a laugh. “Yeah, that was one of the funniest things ever! Although, I kinda felt bad for Trixie… Even after she came back and took over the town. I always thought she was really pretty.”

Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “She wasn’t that great,” she muttered under her breath.

Rumble’s voice woke Marble. The gray earth pony slid out of her bed, yawned, and then set to the task of folding and re-folding the blankets to perfection.

“That pony has a problem,” Scootaloo said between bites of her hay sandwich, watching Marble complete her task.


The door to the barracks suddenly burst open. Thunder Clash flew in and landed. “Up already? It seems you all are starting to learn. Now get into formation!”

Pip and the others quickly formed a line. Anypony that hadn’t finished eating had to throw their half-finished hay sandwich back on the tray.

“Everypony out to the back field!”

They ran out of the barracks and into the night. The back field was around the barracks and it took them only a minute of running in order to get there. Normally, a minute of running wouldn’t be so bad, but Pip felt it in his legs. They felt as though they were on fire.

The back field was set up for combat training. There were flat dirt sparring circles, weapon and armor racks, and a track to do laps. It was difficult to see everything with only the moonlight but Pip remembered seeing it once during the day.

The six bat pony recruits also filed out of the barracks to join them. Once everypony was in line, Thunder Clash paced through the air in front of them.

“Who here has had combat training?” he asked all of the recruits.

All of the bat ponies raised a hoof. Pip also raised a hoof. That was it. Thunder Clash gave Pip a very inquisitive stare. “You, boy? What kind of training?”

“Well, I knew I wanted to join the Night Guard so I read several books about earth pony sword and fighting stances.”

“So just the basics then? You’ve never been in a real fight?”

“No sir,” Pip replied.

“Oh, boy…” Thunder Clash landed and motioned for the six non-bat ponies to step to the side. He pulled them in close and sighed. “Look, I’m gonna give you a fightin’ chance so you better listen to what I’m about to tell you. A good warrior knows himself. A great warrior knows himself and his enemy. You don’t want your opponent to be that great warrior. That’s why a large part of combat is deception. If you’re strong, you want your opponent to think you’re weak. If you’re weak, you want your opponent to think you’re strong. Get into the mind of your opponent long before you fight them and you’ve already won, do you understand?”

Pip nodded along. The books he had read said similar things. Combat was a good deal psychological. Sometimes a more skilled opponent would lose if they doubted themselves or choose the wrong strategy for their opponent.

Snips and Snails stared at Thunder Clash with vacant expressions. Marble and Scootaloo looked like they somewhat understood and Rumble was too busy keeping an eye on the bat ponies to fully comprehend what Thunder Clash was saying.

Thunder Clash hung his head in frustration. He looked back up at the group and sighed. “Let me try and make things simpler for you. If your opponent is stronger, evade him and tire him out. If your opponent is temperamental, you want to irritate him and cloud his judgment with anger. If you opponent is struggling, don’t give him time to rest. Do you see now how knowing your opponent would help?”

“Sir, yes sir,” Pip replied.

Marble and Scootaloo nodded. “Sir, yes sir.”

“What was that?” Rumble asked, just then turning back to the group.

“The drill instructor was telling us to get to know the bat ponies,” Snips replied.

Snails nodded. “Yeah. You gotta be friends with them or something before you can beat them.”

Thunder Clash narrowed his eyes at Snips and Snails. “You know what? Nevermind. I’m going to enjoy watching the two of you in the sparring ring.” He turned to everypony else. “This will be your chance to show off what you got. I’m going to have everypony demonstrate their special talent. If yours is at all applicable to combat, you would be best served to show it now. As it stands, the bat ponies think you’re a pathetic lot of idiot weaklings. Don’t prove them right. Try to be as intimidating as possible when you’re out there.”

“Shouldn’t we not show off, according to your speech?” Scootaloo asked.

Thunder Clash turned to her and stared. “If you think you’re strong enough to take one of the combat trained bat ponies, then, by all means, hide whatever talents you may have and use them in the sparring ring.”

Marble sighed. “So, you think we fit into the ‘if you're weak make your opponent think you’re strong’ category?”

“I never specifically said that.”

Thunder Clash took to the air. He landed back in his original spot and motioned for everypony to reform into a line. “Before I set you to sparring, I want to see everypony’s special talent! Everypony is born with one and they can range from awesome and wonderful to downright bizarre. It’s important for tactical purposes to know each and every one of your talents. Rumble! You’re up first!”

Rumble flew out before the group and smiled. He opened up his feathery wings and firmly rooted his hooves into the dirt. He began flapping and within a matter of moments a powerful swirling of wind began to flood the area. The harder he flapped the more the roaring wind started to sound like a low rumbling, similar to that of thunder in a storm. Soon the wind was so powerful it was knocking over weapons racks, but it was obvious that Rumble was becoming exhausted.

“Enough,” Thunder Clash grunted. “That’s a good enough demonstration. Excellent work.”

“Thank you, sir!” Rumble breathlessly replied.

“Rust Wing! You’re up next!”

A bat pony flew from the group. Now that Pip was a little closer to the bat ponies, he could see this one, unlike the others, had a dark red hue to her wings instead of just being black. Her mane was short and also dark red, her coat a light gray and her slit-pupil eyes were a bright green. Her cutie mark was a single red bat.

“Well, get on with it,” Thunder Clash snorted. “Demonstrate your special talent.”

“I can smell blood, sir,” Rust Wing answered.

“All bat ponies can smell blood.”

“I can do it better.” She shot the group from Ponyville an odd look and half a smile. Pip remained calm. He knew what she was trying to do. It was exactly what Thunder Clash had just suggested they do. She was trying to get into their heads… make them afraid. It’s not going to work on me, Pip thought.

“All right, all right. That’s mildly useful. Could be good for tracking. Back in line.” Thunder Clash looked over the group and squinted at Marble. “You’re up!”

Marble trotted out into the moonlight and took a deep breath. “I need something to… destroy.”

Thunder Clash gave a single hearty laugh. “Now that’s how you start off a demonstration! You two, look lively! Bring out a few of those training dummies!”

Two of the bat ponies flew out training dummies and placed them next to Marble. She nodded to them and they flew back to their ranks. Once everypony was clear, she walked up to the first training dummy and bucked it.


In one powerful kick it shattered into splinters. Pip, and everypony else for that matter, stood in wide-eyed shock. Marble quickly ran over to the next training dummy.


Again, shattered. Splinters everywhere. Some even got into her mane, which was now wild and unkempt. She ran to another one.


And then to another.


And then to a nearby tree on the edge of the training field.

Pow! Crack!

The tree fell over, its trunk shattered.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Thunder Clash shouted. “I got it! Calm down, girlie! No more!”

Marble was taking in large gulps of air, her mane completely out of control and puffed out. She had an elated grin upon her face like Pip had never seen before. She really liked destroying things apparently.

Once she regained her composure, she quickly straightened her dark gray mane back down to perfectly flat and returned to her position in line. Her face was red with embarrassment.

“All right. Thank you, Marble. Extremely useful. Equinox, you’re up next.”

Pip paid extra close attention this time. Equinox had been one of the bat ponies that had finished the obstacle course in less than two minutes, after all. She had a dark gray coat, light blue mane and gold slit-pupil eyes. Her cutie mark was a circle; one half white, one half black.

She stood out in front of everypony with her head held proudly.

“Sir, my special talent is that I can see through daylight, sir!”

Pip and other Ponyville recruits exchanged confused glances. That was a special talent?

Thunder Clash noticed their confusion and decided to elaborate. “Bat ponies don’t have unicorn magic, can’t walk on clouds, and have no connection to the natural elements,” he began. “But they are strong, fast as lighting and, most importantly, they can see in the dark. Now, normally this also means they are blinded by intense light. The sun is bright enough that a bat pony cannot see during the day. Apparently, that isn’t the case with Equinox here.”

She nodded to Thunder Clash. “Yes sir.”

“Back in line. Very useful.”

As Equinox walked back to her place in line she gave Pip an odd glance over her shoulder. Pip awkwardly looked to his left and then his right. He didn’t know why she would be paying attention to him…

Thunder Clash gazed over the line of ponies. “Snips, you’re up next.”

Pip frowned. If Thunder Clash were to continue with his pattern of selecting ponies - one pony from the far left, one pony from the far right, the next pony on the far left, etc. - it would be Scootaloo’s turn to demonstrate… Was he intentionally trying to skip her?

Apparently, Scootaloo noticed this fact as well. As Snips was waddling out to demonstrate, she unceremoniously pushed him back into line and took the center stage. “I think you might have missed me, sir. I might not be able to fly, but I still have a special talent.”

Thunder Clash nodded. “Very well. Get on with it then.”

Scootaloo’s tiny wings immediately kicked on into overdrive. They were fluttering faster than most hummingbirds could handle. In a show of pure speed, Scootaloo ran to the track and then began zipping along one of the lanes. A light burgundy fire-shaped streak followed behind her as she ran. Her wings allowed her practically float, giving her the weightlessness needed to zip along the ground.

She ran two laps around the course in less than thirty seconds. When she returned she stopped in the middle of the sparring field with a smile upon her face. Dust from her running washed over all the recruits. “That’s a special talent,” she proclaimed.

Thunder Clash lifted an eyebrow. “I suppose that’s entertaining, but it isn’t useful for the Night Guard,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hoof. “You’ll be wearing heavy full plate armor, girlie. And winning races on the side isn’t going to help you defend Canterlot.”

Scootaloo laid her ears back in frustration. She was shaking with anger. Rumble nervously shifted in his spot, like he was tempted to run out there and try and protect her, but that would only make the entire situation worse.

“O-oh yeah?” Scootaloo forced herself to say through clenched teeth. “Why don’t I try wearing the armor right now?”

That piqued the bat ponies’ interests. All of them were staring at Scootaloo, ready and waiting to see if she could handle running with heavy full plate armor.

Thunder Clash landed next to her. In a quieter voice than usual he said, “Careful, girlie. It’s obvious you’re still tired from yesterday. You don’t want to do anything foolhardy and embarrass yourself, do you?”

“I can do it,” she stated loudly. “You’ll see.”

Thunder Clash sighed and motioned to the armor racks. “Then get on with it. Let’s see how fast you run with it on.”

Scootaloo wasted no time. She ran over to the armor rack and selected one shaped for pegasi. It took her a moment to carefully secure to her body, but once she was done she looked like a proper member of the Night Guard. However, even from where he was standing, Pip could tell the armor was weighing her down.

She began flapping her wings like before, only this time she was fueled by anger and determination. The wind being kicked up from her wings was even more intense this time around, rivaling that of Rumble’s. Once she was ready, Scootaloo took off running, the same streak of fire lighting up her path behind her.

Around the track she went, glaring the entire way. Twice she circled the track before coming back to the sparring fields. Another wave of dust washed over the recruits. Pip didn’t mind. He was still half covered in mud from yesterday anyway.

Scootaloo held her head high and smiled triumphantly, but she couldn’t stop herself from breathing raggedly as she did so. That had drained her energy completely, but she had done it. Maybe even faster than the first time.

“Well, color me impressed,” Thunder Clash snorted. “You can run in heavy full plate armor. A very useful talent after all.”

“Tha… thank you…” Scootaloo said between deep breaths.

“All right. Get back in line. Specter, you’re next.”

Again, Pip’s attention was set to maximum. Specter stepped out before the group. He had a black coat, light gray mane and like colored eyes. His cutie mark was the moon with the shadow of a pony cast over it.

Thunder Clash motioned for him to hurry up. Specter nodded and then unfurled his leathery wings. He flew up into the sky and sailed about the sparring fields. He wasn’t practically fast, nor very dexterous… but he was dead silent. Even when he flapped his wings, Pip heard nothing.

Very useful,” Thunder Clash commented. He took to the sky to get closer to Specter. He seemed impressed, even up close. “Quiet like the grave.”

Specter smiled. In a voice barely over a whisper he replied, “Yes sir.”

“Back in line then. Snips. Your turn. Quickly now.”

Snips waddled out onto the sparring field and Snails followed behind him. Thunder Clash glared at the taller pony. “What’re you doing, boy?”

“Um, can’t we do it together, sir?” Snails asked sheepishly.

“Together?” Thunder Clash balked. “Did I say this was a team demonstration? Do you two shower together as well? You shouldn’t need the other to demonstrate your special talent!”

Snips and Snails gave each other longing looks before separating. Again, Thunder Clash motioned for the pony demonstrating to hurry up.

Snips looked around nervously for a moment and then his horn began to glow with magic. The glow was becoming brighter and larger with each second he “charged” it up and, for a moment, Pip became very curious. He had never seen Snips and Snails special talent before. He didn’t even know how they got their cutie marks.

Snips closed his eyes and focused. The magic on his horn was becoming intense and he was struggling to maintain it. Thunder Clash flapped his wings and moved a few feet back, giving the young unicorn stallion room to use his magic. Suddenly, Snips released!


The magic sputtered out and nothing happened.

The bat ponies erupted into a fit of laughter. Thunder Clash face-hoofed as though he should have seen this coming. Snips forced a few laughs and then turned to face Snails. They both gave each other knowing looks before Snips eventually just scurried back into place.

Thunder Clash didn’t even acknowledge Snips’ talent. “Next up,” he sighed, “Screech. Get out here.” The bat ponies stopped laughing and one of them stepped forward.

Screech was an odd looking bat pony. He was thin, almost bone thin, with a light gray coat, white mane and red eyes. His cutie mark was a pair of bloody fangs. “Sir, I need some of those dummies as well…”

“You heard him,” Thunder Clash said. Two bat ponies quickly brought out some more dummies.

Screech smiled. Once everypony was watching he leapt at one of the dummies with lightning speed and crunched his fanged teeth down on the neck.


He bit right through the entire neck, severing the head of the dummy from the rest of the body. Pip hadn’t been frightened by Rust Wing, but he was actively becoming worried about Screech. He glanced to his side and saw he wasn’t the only one. Marble, Rumble and Scootaloo all had wide eyes. Although Marble had shattered dummies with her kicks, it didn’t feel quite as brutal as biting with enough force to decapitate them.

“Very good,” Thunder Clash praised. “I might need to order more dummies soon… All right. Snails, you’re next.”

Snails hesitantly walked out to the sparring ring and glanced up at Thunder Clash with a frown.

“Are you going to do the same thing as Snips?” Thunder Clash asked in exasperation.

“Y-yes sir.”

“Get back in line. We’ll all just pretend we saw that train-wreck of a demonstration again.”

“Yes sir.” Snails hastily shuffled back into line.

“Mist! You’re up!”

A smaller than average bat pony tepidly moved forward. Her wings flapped with each step, allowing her to barely touch the ground as she walked. Her coat was a dark brown, her mane white and her eyes amber. Her cutie mark was an owl made of mist.

“Sir,” she began in a sing-song voice, “My special talent is… hiding. Nothing else, sir.”

Thunder Clash shrugged. “A useful talent, even if it doesn’t lend itself to being demonstrated very well. All right. Pipsqueak, you’re up next.” Mist moved back to her place in line.

Pip moved out into the sparring ring and looked up at the drill instructor. “Sir, my special talent doesn’t lend itself well to be demonstrated either.”

Thunder Clash snorted back a laugh. “Let me guess, you’re special talent is dreaming?”

“Well, no, sir. You’re looking at it.”

“Son, if you’re trying to tell me your special talent is existing, I’m going to throw you from the Night Guard right now. You’re currently making Snips and Snails look good. You don’t want to be in that place, boy. You just don’t.”

The bat ponies began snickering. Pip cracked half a smile.

“Sir, no sir. I got my cutie mark the day I started to train for the Night Guard. The day I sent Princess Luna that letter promising her I would do what it took to defend her from the Nightmare Forces.” He glanced back at his flank. His cutie mark was a downward pointing sword with a star next to it. “I found I picked up sword fighting techniques rather quickly. I know I'm meant to be here, sir. It’s my destiny.”

Thunder Clash groaned. “All right, all right. You’re good at learning fighting skills. I suppose I’ll be the judge of that once we get to the actual sparring. Get back in line. I don’t have any more witty retorts for you.”

Pip nodded and stepped back in line.

“Last, but not least, Gloom! Gloom, show us your stuff!”

The last bat pony was tall, had a black coat, bright green mane and gray eyes. His cutie mark was three sound lines. He stepped out into the sparring ring and nodded to Thunder Clash. “Sir, I have better than average hearing. Better echolocation too.” His ears were even larger than the other bat ponies.

“Very well,” Thunder Clash motioned him back into place. “Now that we’ve seen everypony’s talent… We can finally move onto the sparring! Let’s see here… Pipsqueak, since you didn’t demonstrate a talent you can go first… and your opponent will be…”

Screech suddenly stepped forward. He flashed Pip a fang-filled smile. “Sir, I volunteer, sir!”

Thunder Clash hesitated for a moment. “Very well. Both of you take positions in the center of the ring here. In order to win, all you need to do is knock the other from the circle drawn on the ground. No flying and no biting.” He glared at Screech. The thin bat pony smiled up at him.

“I would never, sir,” Screech replied in an overly sweet voice.

Pip walked out into the sparring ring with doubt in his step. Out of all the ponies here, Screech was the last pony he wanted to spar with out the door. He had been hoping to see the bat pony in action before facing him.

Screech walked out to the sparring and stood directly in front of Pip. Screech’s red slit-pupil eyes were… disturbing. Pip bowed to him slightly. “Good luck.”

“You’re the one that’s going to need it,” Screech darkly muttered under his breath.

“On the count of three,” Thunder Clash announced, taking his spot at the referee point. All the other recruits gathered around the sparring circle. Pip took up a defensive stance. He needed to be prepared… had to watch Screech and get to know him before he attacked.


Screech smiled wide.



Screech lunged forward and slammed his head right into Pip’s. It had been so unexpected and sudden that Pip hadn’t braced for it. His vision momentarily went black and he staggered backward in pain.

“Screech, you dullard! You have to wait for the signal!”

The bat pony nodded. “I’m really sorry, sir! Just anxious! It’ll never happen again, sir!”

“It better not or else you’re outta here!”

Pip now had an agonizing headache. The headbutt had been right on the spot that Pip had run into that pole last night, making it all that more painful. He walked back to the center of the ring, his head throbbing with each step.

“We’re going to try this again!” Thunder Clash announced. “On the count of three!”

Screech leaned in close to Pip and shook his hoof.


“I did it on purpose,” Screech sinisterly whispered to Pip as their hooves parted.


Pip stared at the bat pony in disbelief. Why would he attack him like that only to have the match re-start? The answer suddenly became apparent to Pip. He was now at a disadvantage, even before the fighting started. Pip had a migraine of a headache and Screech was fresh and ready to go. Screech had done it to skew the odds in his favor.

“Three! Fight!”


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Screech rushed forward like a rabid dog let loose from its chain. Pip braced just in time to avoid being thrown on his back. Despite the fact that Screech was bone thin, he was surprisingly strong and, when they clashed, Pip struggled to stay on his feet.

Pip shoved the bat pony away and took up a defensive stance. He decided he would try to observe first. Screech, blindingly fast, kept their distance close and clashed with Pip again.


Screech smashed his skull against Pip’s in the exact same spot. Blood ran from Pip’s nose and his eyes began to water. His vision suddenly blurred and he felt himself slack for just a moment.

A moment was all Screech needed.

Screech turned, bucked, and sent Pip flying. The taste of dirt and blood in Pip’s mouth was a new experience for him. The books he read regarding combat never mentioned how to deal with the weakness of one’s own body while in the middle of a brawl. Pip intuitively knew Screech was going to attack the moment he let up, but Pip’s body couldn’t keep up with his thoughts. His body was tired and strained. Did he even have a chance of winning in this condition?

As Pip struggled to stand, Screech came up and kicked him across the face, further exacerbating Pip’s already debilitating headache. Screech grabbed Pip and threw him across the sparring circle. Pip hit the dirt hard and became winded. Why hadn’t Screech thrown him in the other direction? He would have won then…

Screech came running and Pip had to dig deep within himself in order to jump up. He clashed with Screech and held his own for the few seconds they grappled. Screech let go, took a step back, and then slammed Pip hard with the bulk of his boney body.


For a third time Screech smashed his head into Pip’s and Pip felt his vision go black from sheer agony. Screech was attacking him in the same spot over and over again. He didn’t want to knock Pip out of the sparring ring… he wanted to knock Pip out cold.

Screech let him go and backed away, cackling the entire way. In a harsh whisper he asked, “What’s wrong, earth pony? I thought you were supposed to be strong. You’re nothing. This is your destiny? Don’t make me laugh.”

He kicked Pip again, knocking him back into the center of the sparring ring. Pip slowly picked himself up. Screech wasn’t going to end this without humiliating him first; that much was clear to Pip now. Screech was arrogant, bloodthirsty, ruthless and overconfident… He thought he had already won and now he was just toying with his “victim”.

Pip intentionally wobbled on his legs and took deep breaths. Screech smiled and prepared to launch into another attack. Backing up to the edge of the circle, Pip feigned dizziness and closed his eyes.

Screech, too ruthless not to take advantage of Pip’s supposed weakness, rushed forward. Just as Screech was going to slam into him, Pip opened his eyes, quickly turned, and kicked Screech to the side, sending him out of the sparring circle.

Pip had only hit the other pony once, but it was the only hit that truly mattered.

His sudden victory left the other recruits speechless. Pip had been thoroughly losing up until that moment. He understood why it might be shocking; nopony would know the victor if they guessed based on their appearance. Pip was bloodied and bruised and Screech had nothing but a scratch on him.

Screech easily jumped up and angrily launched himself at Pip, his fangs bared. Thunder Clash jumped between them and grabbed Screech, slamming him back to the ground like only an expert combatant could.

“You’ve lost, recruit!” Thunder Clash growled. “And when you lose you will return to your ranks! Do I make myself clear!?”

“Sir… yes sir,” Screech muttered hatefully. He shot Pip a glare with his blood red eyes.

“Then move it!”

Screech backed up and rejoined the other bat ponies on the outskirts of the sparring ring. Some of them snickered at his loss and he immediately hissed in their direction. The bat ponies once again became silent.

Once everypony was settled, Thunder Clash turned to Pip and nodded. “Good show, boy. A perfect example of tenacity.” He turned to Screech, “And how overconfidence can come back to bite you on the flank.”

He then turned to the rest of the recruits. “Never give up. The moment you do is the true moment you’ve lost, not the moment your opponent delivers the final blow. Do you understand me, maggots? I hope you all remember this match.”

Everypony nodded. Pip slowly limped over to his place in line. Snips, Snails and Rumble all gave him silent praise and head nods.

“Rest up,” Thunder Clash instructed Pip. “You’ll keep going till you lose. And that goes for all of you. Up next is Scootaloo and… Equinox. Show me what you’ve got so I can gauge your rough natural skill.”

Scootaloo was still winded from her demonstration. Her legs were shaking with each step and her tiny wings were so tired that they wouldn’t even remain folded at her side; they were limp and unfurled. Equinox, on the other hoof, looked perfectly fine. Better than fine, actually. She looked like she wasn’t even suffering from yesterday’s long hours of exercise.

Equinox and Scootaloo stood face to face in the center of the ring.

“On the count of three. One… Two… Three! Fight!”

And then it was over.

It had taken Thunder Clash longer to count down then it had taken Equinox to slam Scootaloo from the sparring ring. The pegasus had actually been so rocked by the sudden attack that she was still confused by the time she stood back up.

“Match goes to Equinox,” Thunder Clash stated. “Good job. Step back in line. One of you come over here and help Scootaloo find the line. Up next… Snails and Gloom.”

Pip watched Snails walked out into the sparring ring with an obvious aura of cowardice while Rumble helped Scootaloo back into line. It was then that Pip realized he was seeing double. His head felt like it was going to explode at any second.

Unsurprisingly, the match goes to Gloom.”

Had he missed the match? Squinting through his pain, Pip tried to focus on the sparring but found it difficult. At one moment he felt as though he might faint.

“Rumble, you’re up against Specter.”

Pip raised his hoof.

“What is it, boy?” Thunder Clash asked. All the recruits turned to stare at him. Pip took a deep breath before speaking.

“May I get a drink of water, sir?”

“Don’t lollygag about it. There’s a well by the barracks.”

Pip nodded and trotted away from the back field and all the way around the side of the barracks. It was the dead of night, the darkness all around him, and he had to tread carefully in order not to run into anything.

Every little sound was like an unrelenting drum in Pip’s head. Even his own heartbeat was causing him a steady stream of pain. The well wasn’t far and there was already water drawn when he got there. He slowly began drinking, trying to clear his head and rest his body. The cool water eased some of his tensions and soon the noises all around him weren’t so unbearable.

“-which is why the captain is worried.”

“Do you think it’s actually possible?”

Pip’s ears twitched. He could hear two ponies whispering to each other but it was too dark to see who or where they were. He glanced around. His hearing wasn’t anything supernatural… whoever was talking had to be close.

“I think it is possible… And the captain seems to believe it’s true.”

“But… Thunder Clash? He’s dedicated his life to serving Celestia and Equestria…”

“Exactly. He might have already turned.”

“So, the captain wants me to keep an eye on him?”

“Should be easy. He can’t see through the darkness.”

Pip squinted, but all he could see were silhouettes. “Is anypony there?” he asked aloud.

He heard a quick rustling of leaves and then nothing.


“Hello?” Pip asked again.


Had the voices been brought on by his terrible headache? No, he was sure he heard something… Who were those ponies?

Pip splashed himself with the water and woozily trotted back out to the sparring rings. When he finally got close enough he spotted Marble in the ring with Rust Wing.

Marble bucked with the same ferocity she had used on the training dummies but Rust Wing quickly stepped aside.


The Marble’s powerful kicks half-whistled through the air. Rust Wing kept her distance as Marble rushed in for another attack.


Another miss.

Pip took his place with the other recruits. He was feeling a little better now that he had the water in his system. He briefly contemplated telling Thunder Clash about the two ponies he had overheard but then he thought better of it. Perhaps he would mention something after tonight’s training.


Rust Wing jumped back and suddenly stutter-stepped on a patch of loose dirt. Marble saw her chance and seized it.


Her tree-shattering kick hit Rust Wing square in the side, sending her from the sparring ring and sliding a few feet across the dirt. She looked like she were in a great deal of pain, but she managed to stand up afterward and hobble back into line, holding her side the entire way.

“Marble takes the match,” Thunder Clash said with a hint of mirth in his voice. “If I had been a gambling pony I would have lost two of my bets this evening.”

Pip turned to the other Ponyville recruits. Rumble had a black eye and Snips and Snails both looked like they had been run over by a lawnmower. He suspected that none of them had won their matches.

“Pipsqueak! Get in there! You and Mist both won your matches!”

Exhausted, and still feeling the sting of the last fight, Pip stepped out into the sparring circle. Mist, the bat pony with the dark brown coat and white mane, trotted out into the ring, her wings fluttering just enough to allow her to practically glide along the ground. She had a cute smile upon her face, as though she were about to engage in a pleasant activity; like a picnic or beach run.

“Hit him in the head,” Screech darkly suggested, shooting Pip another glare. “It’s his weak spot.”

Pip walked up to Mist in the center of the ring and held out his hoof. “Good luck,” he said.

Mist replied in an overly cheerful voice, “You too!” She went out to touch his hoof with her own, when her entire demeanor suddenly changed. Her eyes went wide and her slit-pupils constricted into fine lines. “Y-you’re… b-bleeding.”

Pip reached up to his nose and felt the hot stickiness of his own blood. He thought he had washed this away at the well, but then he realized the bleeding just hadn’t stopped yet. Screech had really done a number on him…

“S-sir,” Mist turned to Thunder Clash, her legs shaking and her sing-song voice now quavering. “Sir, he’s b-bleeding.”

Thunder Clash frowned. “Of course he is, girlie. He just had his world rocked by a more experienced combatant. I’m surprised he doesn’t have multiple broken bones. What’s your point?”

“Sh-shouldn’t he, um… clean it up f-first?”

“What is this, ridiculous request night? First we have two ponies that want to demonstrate their special talents together and now we have a pony who doesn’t want to see any blood? I hate to break this to you, but when you enter real combat there’s going to be a lot of blood. A lot. Your blood, the opponent’s blood, some random monster’s blood… There’ll be enough blood to fill a Celestia-forsaken regulation sized swimming pool! Do you understand me, girlie?”

Mist slowly nodded and turned back to Pip. She kept her gaze downward, avoiding staring at him at all costs. Pip raised an eyebrow. He had been bleeding when he fought Screech… this couldn’t be a bat pony thing. What was she so worried about?

“On the count of three then. One… Two… Three! Fight!”

Pip’s body was too stiff and sore for him to move quickly. Instead he decided to take up a defensive stance and wait for her to come to him. Ironically, she did the same. Mist backed away and stared at him intensity, her legs still shaking. Pip and Mist circled the ring twice before Thunder Clash let out a loud groan.

“I have never needed to impose a time limit before, but so help me I will.”

Mist closed her eyes tightly and suddenly charged forward. Pip didn’t have the strength to move in time. Instead, he took the brunt of her charge and leaned into her. They were at a stalemate, just pushing against each other in an attempt to move the other in the opposite direction.

Soon, Pip’s position began to give. She was pushing him back, straight for the sparring ring line. Pip was leaning against her heavily; in part because he was pushing so hard and in part because he was so very, very tired. When he glanced down he saw her eyes were still tightly closed. Her whole plan was to simply push him from the ring, banking on her strength overpowering his.

At this moment, she was definitely stronger. Inch by inch Pip was getting closer to the edge. His breathing was labored. All he was doing was attempting to push her back and already he was at his breaking point. If he was going to attempt to win he had to think of something… something he could do with barely any energy left in him…

Suddenly, Pip stopped pushing against her and fell back onto his back. In one quick motion he planted his back legs on her stomach and used her forward momentum to kick her up and over his own body and out of the ring. She hit the dirt with a hard slam, but otherwise she was perfectly okay.

Pip let out a loud sigh. Again, he won, but his opponent walked away in a much better condition. At this rate he would be dead by the end of the evening.

“Pipsqueak wins again?” Thunder Clash snorted. “That makes three bets I would have lost… Mist! What kind of strategy was rushing forward with your eyes closed? That’s the fastest way to an unmarked grave if I ever saw one! You aren’t training to be a member of the vanguard; you’re training to be an elite warrior! Start acting like it for Celestia’s sake!”

Mist quickly picked herself off the ground and brushed herself off. She hastily nodded and trotted back to her spot in line, the entire time avoiding eye contact with everypony.

Pip had yet to pick himself off the ground. His body refused to move and his headache was now worse than ever.

“Get up, boy,” Thunder Clash commanded. “You’ll have time to rest when you’re dead.”

Now in a pool of his own sweat, Pip very slowly forced himself to get to his feet. He staggered back into line and Marble stepped a little closer in order to give him something to lean on. He gave her an appreciative nod.

It didn’t last long, however, as Thunder Clash motioned for her to get into the ring. “You and Gloom! Let’s go!”

Marble walked out and faced down the bat pony with the black coat and dark green mane. The two of them stared each other down and Pip could see from the sidelines they were whispering things to each other.

“One… Two… Three! Fight!”

Marble wasted no time. She immediately bucked, attempting to end the fight.


Gloom had moved out of the way and back up. Marble chased after him and tried again.


Gloom was at the edge now, only inches from being out of the ring. Marble reared back and-

An ear-shattering cry flooded the area. Pip covered his ears with his hooves and took a few steps back. It was coming from Gloom! He was shrieking at such a high pitch it was almost unbearable. Even Marble had to stop and cover her ears. Everypony had to cover their ears!

Now the tables had turned and Gloom rushed forward. He grabbed Marble and threw her down to the ground outside the ring. She was slammed on her back and rolled over in agony. Gloom smiled to Thunder Clash.

“Gloom wins,” he announced for himself.

Thunder Clash was rubbing at his ears. “And everypony lost a little bit more of their hearing this night,” he muttered as he flew over to Marble. “You okay, girlie?”

Marble nodded. She got up, brushed herself off and limped back into line, never bothering to utter a single word.

“All right, recruits. I’ve seen enough. I’m breaking you all into three groups depending on your raw talent and prior training.” Thunder Clash motioned for Specter, Gloom and Equinox to step forward. “The first group is going to be the ones that start with the more advanced training.” Thunder Clash turned to Pip and motioned him forward.

Pip stared at Thunder Clash in bewilderment. “Me, sir? I… I know I won those two matches, but… I don’t feel like I should going into advanced training… I barely know the basics, sir.”

“You only get better if you challenge yourself, son. You’ve convinced me you have the fire in your belly. Don’t disappoint me by turning your back now.”

Pip pathetically limped out to join the bat ponies. Specter and Equinox gave him questioning glances and Gloom completely ignored him. He was the most miserable looking of the lot. And he felt like it too.

“Marble, Mist, Rust Wing, Rumble and Screech will be in the standard training, while Snips, Snails and Scootaloo will be in the basic training.”

Snips, Snails and Scootaloo all nodded as though that were the most appropriate decision.

Thunder Clash continued, “For the next two weeks we will rotate. First day we’ll do physical exercises, second day combat training, third day physical exercises, fourth day combat training and so on. At the end of the two weeks we’ll have the obstacle course again. If you can’t achieve a score of eight minutes or less by then you’ll be removed from the Night Guard. Every two weeks that time will be reduced down until it is eventually two minutes, so don’t go thinkin’ that eight minutes is perfectly acceptable. Because it isn’t. Do I make myself clear?”

All the recruits nodded.

“Additionally, on nights that we have combat training you’ll be let out a few hours early. This time is for resting. I suggest you use it for such. ‘I’m tired’ is not an acceptable excuse for any activities we have in the future. If you need medical treatment,” he glanced over at Pip, “this is the time to receive it. Are there any questions?”

Snips raised a hoof.

Thunder Clash sighed before pointing to him.

“How do you train us and all the other ponies for the other guards at the same time?”

“It’s called discipline. Unlike you ninnies, I sleep exactly four hours and fifty-three minutes from late afternoon to early evening and regulate my diet to grass-vitamin-bars and oats. I train new recruits from early evening to late afternoon and then I do it all over again. Any other relevant questions?”

Everypony was silent.

“Then you’re all dismissed!”

All six of the bat ponies immediately flew off, some giving the Ponyville recruits dirty looks. Pip was too tired to feel slighted. While the other recruits slowly trotted off to barracks, Pip stayed behind to speak with Thunder Clash.

The drill sergeant gave him the once over and raised an eyebrow. “You here to quit on me, boy?”

“Sir, no sir,” Pip breathed.

“Good. What is it?”

“Two things, sir… The first thing is… Why do the bat ponies and all the other ponies have separate barracks? Wouldn’t it foster comradery to have us all together? I feel like me and the other non-bat pony recruits are constantly at odds with them… I know next to nothing about bat ponies… I have no idea why they dislike us.”

Thunder Clash shook his head. “That question is above my pay grade, son.”

“Well… can’t you suggest that to somepony? Maybe to Phantom Shade? If we’re all going to members of the Night Guard someday I would rather feel like they had my back as opposed to being at my back.”

Thunder Clash narrowed his eyes. “Listen here, boy. Do not. Rock. The boat. You eager ponies are all the same. You think you can come in here and change the system and everything will be friendship and rainbows. These standards and procedures have worked for decades. We’re here to shape you into warriors, not play out a hero fantasy. Understand? You’ll soon develop comradery once you all have faced your first test together.”

“Test, sir?”

“You’ll see soon enough,” Thunder Clash said with a knowing smile.

Pip nodded. Before he left he remembered the second thing he wanted to talk to Thunder Clash about. “Um, sir? When I went to get a drink of water… I think I overheard two ponies talking.”

“You think or you did hear two ponies?” Thunder Clash asked in annoyance. “Don’t be wishy-washy, boy. Say things like they are.”

“R-right. I did hear two ponies. They were talking about you. One of them said they were going to watching you. They suspected you had been turned, whatever that means.”

Thunder Clash stared at Pip for a long moment. “Is that all you heard?”

“Sir, yes sir.”

“Nothing else?”

“Well… Now that I think about it they mentioned a captain a few times, but I never heard a name.”

Thunder Clash nodded. “Good of you to bring this to my attention.”

“Sir, yes sir.”

“Get some medical treatment. That’s an order. You’re still bleeding from the nose.”

Pip reached up and touched his muzzle. He was still bleeding from the nose. “Sir, yes sir.”

“Now get out of my sight. I still have work to do.”


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Pip was dreaming again.

It was a pleasant dream. He was back in Ponyville, sitting in the town square and staring up at the night sky. In his old dreams Luna would meet him here and they would fly off to engage in all sorts of adventures only possible within the dreamscape.

He gazed at the moon. He liked the moon. It was the light in the darkness that guided ponies when they were lost. And the stars… always there to lend what little light they could. Without them, the night would be nothing but a vast void of darkness. Together, the moon and stars kept the night safe and wondrous. They performed their tasks without demanding notice or attention. Their selfless endeavor encouraged Pip to strive to be a better pony.

Suddenly, the moon and the stars faded away as the rays of the morning sun were cast upon the sky. Pip sighed. The sun was wonderful and glorious in its own right, but there was something he appreciated about the subtleness of the night that the day could not rival.

Pip watched the sun climb high into the sky. He knew if he joined the Night Guard he would never be able to see Princess Luna in his dreams again… He would always be sleeping through the day… and so would she. For a brief moment he almost regretted his decision.

“Hm?” he whispered aloud. Was the sun bigger than he remembered?

Pip stared at the orb in the sky, shielding his eyes from the direct rays and squinting. It was larger! And… it was getting bigger with each passing moment. Pip looked around the dreamscape Ponyville. All the dream citizens were sleeping. Nopony was the wiser. What was going on?

Much to his horror, he realized the sun wasn’t getting bigger at all… It was getting closer! With each passing second the heat in his dream was intensifying, it was almost unbearable! Pip glanced around in a panic. All water had vaporized from the flash drought and now the roofs of the houses were catching fire.

The sun got ever closer, destroying everything in its path. Again, Pip tried to alter his dream, but nothing happened. The sun marched on, regardless of what he thought or did.

With the sun so close, and the heat so intense, the very fabric of the world began to melt and break apart. Everything was disintegrating into ash, burning to its very core.

Pip suddenly opened his eyes and realized he was now awake… safe in the barracks. It was mid-afternoon and he noticed the hot rays of the sun were pouring through the window and landing on his face. Perhaps that was why he was having so many nightmares…

He picked himself up and slowly walked over to a bed near the center of the room, away from the light. Everypony else was sleeping. He didn’t bother to wake them. He didn’t want to wake them. He wanted to get some more sleep before training tomorrow.

Climbing to the top bunk of his new bed, Pip wrapped the blankets around his body before falling asleep.


“-seven, eight, nine, ten-”

“S-six,” Snails gasped.

“Stop!” Thunder Clash commanded.

Everypony groaned in frustration. Physical exercise was starting to become a test of patience for most of the recruits. Each time they messed up it was because of one pony, and Snails knew they hated him for it.

“Your body is your most valuable tool on and off the field. You must hone it to its peak if you want to survive the Night Guard.” Thunder Clash was pacing through the air, barely flapping his wings but still managing to travel at a descent clip. “You must also be in sync with your fellow Night Guard soldiers! If one of them fails you may all fail! Do you understand me, maggots?”

“Sir, yes sir,” Pip replied in unison with the rest.

“That is why you all should be pushing each other to be the very best! If one of you,” he glared at Snails, “is clearly lacking, it only means more heartache for the group!”

Thunder Clash suddenly landed and stood in front of Snails. The tall unicorn stared at his own hooves. “Snails! Always stand at attention when a commanding officer comes to speak to you!”

“Y-yes sir,” Snails stammered as he snapped to attention and held his head up.

“Are you done, boy? Is this the best you got?”

Snails’ lip quavered for a brief second. “No sir!”

“What if you and your group were fighting off a swarm of changelings, boy? What if you saw one sneakin’ in but you couldn’t get your slow tongue to relay that information fast enough? What then? Your whole unit goes down because you stuttered? Is that what you want?”

“No sir.”

“If you’re to be a part of the Night Guard you have to be dependable, boy! Are you dependable right now?”

“N-no sir...”

“Then what are you stillin’ doin’ here?” Thunder Clash asked, leaning in closer to Snails and narrowing his eyes. “Why don’t you face up to reality and realize you might not have what it takes to make it? I’m sure nopony but Snips is going to try and stop you if you walked off this field right now. What does that say about you, boy? Do you think that’s a good thing?”

There was a tense silence among the group as they watched Snails being chastised.

Snails couldn’t bring himself to say anything.

Thunder Clash continued, “Well? What’s it going to be, boy? You going to do us all a favor and leave?”

“I…” Snails was choking up. “I… want to s-stay, sir…”

“It doesn’t sound like you want to stay!”

“I… I w-want to stay, sir!”

Thunder Clash was practically breathing on him he was so close. “Then why can’t you count in time with the rest, boy!? I’m not asking much! I’m not asking for you to think! I’m asking for you to count at a normal speed!”

“I’ll… I’ll do b-better, sir!” Ironically, his speech was becoming slower the more nervous and choked up he became. Thunder Clash looked as though he may have aneurysm at any second from pure frustration.

“Boy, I will have you counting at every second of every day! You will count your push-ups, you will count laps, you will count sheep, you will count the oats on your tray when you eat breakfast! Do you understand me!? You will be counting till you get it right!”

Snails could only nod.

An actual member of the Night Guard descended upon them as Thunder Clash caught his breath. The bat pony soldier turned to Thunder Clash and nodded his head respectfully.

“Sir. You wanted to know what Phantom Shade was here, sir.”

Thunder Clash turned to the soldier and nodded. “That’s right. Take me to him.” He quickly glanced to Pip and the recruits before leaving. “You all get a drink of water. We start again when I get back.” He opened his feathery wings and took to the sky, following the Night Guard soldier to speak with Phantom Shade.

The moment Thunder Clash was out of earshot, everypony breathed a sigh of relief. They had been working hard for hours now.

Rumble turned to Pip, Marble and Scootaloo, waving them over. Once they were close he huddled them in a circle and whispered, “The drill sergeant is right. Snips and Snails need to go.”

“They said they wanted to stay,” Marble commented.

Scootaloo raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, but you’ve seen them! They really are going to hold us back. It’s because of those two that the bat ponies think we’re all drooling morons!”

“It’s because of those two we’ve been doing nothing but push-ups all night,” Rumble added.

Marble shrugged. “You all could stand to do a few more push-ups.”

“I’m sorry we’re all not super-strong earth ponies,” Scootaloo replied, rolling her eyes.

Rumble turned to Pip. “Why don’t you try and convince them to go? You know it would be better if they did. Better for us and them.”

Pip was taken aback. “Me? Why should I do it?”

“They joined the Night Guard because of your speech. They followed you because they thought you were strong. You should be the one to tell them they aren’t good enough.”

Scootaloo nodded. Marble just shrugged. “I’m not doing it.”

“C’mon, Pip. Just tell it to them like it is,” Rumble pleaded.

With a sigh, Pip slowly nodded his head. He stepped away from the huddle of ponies and slowly trotted over to Snips and Snails. He had no idea what he was going to say… Pip hoped the words would just come to him in the moment.

Snips was patting Snails on the shoulder. “It’s okay, buddy. I’m sure you’ll get it right eventually.”

“I can’t do anything right,” Snails gave a heavy sigh. “Even my talkin' is wrong.”

When Pip approached they both lit up with joy.

“Pip!” Snips said with smile. “Pip, please help Snails! We don’t know what to do!”

Snails nodded, also smiling. “Yeah! You’re smart! You know what the d-drill instructor likes! Help me get better!”

“It’s because he’s doing it on his own,” Snips immediately interjected before Pip could say anything. “When we work together we make the perfect unicorn! On our own… not so much… Please think of something!”

“You guys work best together?” Pip asked.

“Yeah! We always have, always will!”

Snails vigorously nodded. “If anypony can help us it’s you, Pip! Please!”

They both looked to him with big eyes and frowns. Pip sighed. When they had all been foals, Snips and Snails had been among the ponies to bully or pick on him for his small size… Pip found it ironic that now they would turn to him asking for help. If Pip wanted, this would be the moment to get revenge. Telling them they weren’t fit for the training… tell them they were every bit as worthless as the drill instructor tried to joke they were… telling them they were far beyond help…

But… the stars and the moon didn’t choose who they guided through the darkness. They were there for everypony to see; their light indiscriminate and equal to all.

Besides, what would Luna think if he cast these two aside when they came asking for help? Pip could never live with himself seeing the disappointment on her face.

“You two… said you work best together?” Pip asked again for clarification.

“Y-yeah,” they both answered.

“All right. I have an idea. When we’re counting, Snips counts for the odd numbers and Snails counts for the even numbers. There are so many of us I don’t think Thunder Clash can hear each pony individually, but he can hear when somepony is out of sync. That’ll give Snails long enough time to prepare for the next number, and as long as you take turns the count should sound equal the entire way through.”

Snips and Snails nodded along with each and every word. Once Pip was done, Snails smiled and nodded. “That might w-work!”

“In the meantime… You might just want to practice counting, like Thunder Clash suggested. I doubt this plan would work if he singled you out.”

“I will! I promise you!”

Pip nodded and returned to the other Ponyville recruits. Rumble was waiting, rubbing at his one bruised eye. When Pip got close he smiled.

“Are they going to resign?”

“No. They’re going to try and continue.”

“Aw, man,” Scootaloo breathed in frustration.

Marble glanced at the two unicorns and then back to Pip. “You motivated them to keep going?”

Pip nervously laughed. “Something like that.”

“That was kind of you, but when they fail it will be that much harder.”

“Maybe they won’t.”

“But you know they will. Though… I suppose, for the time being, they feel as though they are accomplishing something. Perhaps, when they fail, it will not be a total loss and this training will have given them the much needed confidence they both lack.” Marble went back to her position in line and waited calmly.

Thunder Clash sailed back to the group and circled them overhead. “Recruits! Form up!” His voice was harsh, much harsher than usual.

Pip got back in line and waited with the rest. They watched as they drill instructor began pacing in front of them like he always did.

“Go on then! Push-ups! To thirty!”

All the recruits dropped to the ground and began their push-ups.

“One, two, three, four, five…” they spoke in unison. Pip glanced over and saw that Snips and Snails were doing exactly what he had suggested. It was working. Thunder Clash continued to pace through the air in front of them, listening for a voice that was out of sync with the rest. He heard no such voice.

“… twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two…”

Thunder Clash turned to the group and raised an eyebrow. He watched them closely as they began nearing the end.

“… twenty-nine, thirty.”

All the recruits jumped back up and went back to their ready positions. Thunder Clash was speechless for a moment. As were Rumble, Scootaloo and the bat ponies.

“Am I imagining things?” Thunder Clash asked the group. “Did you maggots actually count to thirty together? Praise be to Celestia! I’ve finally brought you lot up to speed with an average school-foal! This must be a miracle! You can be taught!”

Despite their shaky legs, all the recruits began exchanging happy glances.

“Now it’s time to do laps!” Thunder Clash suddenly announced. “And after that we’ll be doing sit-ups! I hope that wasn’t a one-time fluke or else side effects may include rock-hard abs!”

Pip and the others reluctantly began their running, but at least now they weren’t all angry with Snails.


“Grab, turn, release. In that order! Do it now. Grab, turn, release!”

Pip watched the other recruits with interest. Thunder Clash was instructing the basic and standard combat training techniques. He and the other advanced recruits had to wait until Thunder Clash was done with the rest.

The other recruits were separated out and given plenty of space to work. Thunder Clash was making them run through drills. They were shadowing fighting, going through the motions as though they were facing an opponent but nopony was actually there. They mock “grabbed”, turned, and then mock “released” their pretend opponent.

“Grab, turn, release!” Thunder Clash shouted again. His sight suddenly fixated on Rust Wing. “You’re doing it wrong, recruit! Turn half an inch further before releasing!”

Rust Wing sighed and pushed her short red mane out of her eyes. It was sticking to her face with sweat. “Half an inch… whatever,” she grumbled under her breath, loud enough for everypony to hear.

Thunder Clash landed on the ground before her. She jumped to attention. “What was that, girlie? Do you have a problem with how I’m conducting this training session?”

“Sir, no sir!” she replied.

“Well then… Don’t be getting snippy like you know what’s best! You never want to cut corners in training! Maybe you cut corners in the heat of combat, maybe you cut corners when the job needs to get done, but you never cut corners here!” Thunder Clash took to the sky. “Who here knows what muscle memory is?”

Mist, Equinox and Specter raised their hoof.

“That’s it!?” Thunder Clash balked. “Only three of you!? Oh boy… Listen here, recruits! The whole reason we do these drills is to build muscle memory! When you repeatedly preform these drills they will become etched into your brain! Soon, you won’t even need to think about them happening; they will just happen on their own and your body will move accordingly!”

Thunder Clash landed again and pointed to Scootlaoo. “You. The fast one. Come at me.”

Scootaloo looked around. She even glanced behind her. “Wait, me?”

“No. The flightless pegasus behind you. Of course you! Stop making a fool of yourself and run at me! Try to knock me down!”

“A-are you sure, sir?” Scootaloo nervously asked. “Aren’t you kinda… old?”

Rumble snorted back a laugh, Snips and Snails covered their mouth with their hooves, and all the bat ponies began snickering an odd ke ke ke.

Thunder Clash narrowed his eyes. “I might be old, but I’ve still got kick left in me. Tell ya what. If you managed to knock me down, I’ll excuse you from the obstacle course coming up. How does that sound? Incentive enough? Run at me, girlie.”

“Is that offer open to everypony, sir?” Screech suddenly asked, his red eyes alight with barely restrained joy.

“No,” Thunder Clash snapped. “This is a onetime offer for this demonstration only. Hurry it up, girlie! I thought you were the fast one!?”

Scootaloo nodded and took a few steps back. She kicked her feet against the dirt and lowered her head, preparing to launch at the scarred drill instructor. Hey tiny wings came to life, buzzing with the intensity needed to allow her to run at high speeds. Once she was ready she sped forward.

Practically flying across the ground, Scootaloo reached Thunder Clash within the second.

Like a perfectly executed dance move, he laid his hooves on her, turned his body slightly, steering her with the motion, and then released. It had all happened so fast that Pip had almost missed it when he blinked.

Thunder Clash let her go sailing straight into an armor rack. She collided with the heavy metal, tripped over the wood and unceremoniously tumbled across the ground. She got up to wobbly feet and another round of barely suppressed laughter came from the recruits. Thunder Clash had used the exact same motion he had been drilling into them in order to throw off Scootaloo’s momentum and protect himself.

“See that, maggots? If I had to think about what I was going to do, she would have overtaken me. She’s a speedy thing. You don’t want to be bogged down in your own thoughts in the middle of combat. You want everything to happen naturally. Your body should move with the fluidity of water and that only comes from muscle memory. Which is why you don’t want to cut corners! You don't want your body to do the wrong thing in the middle of combat! The basics could save your life one day! Remember that!”

“Sir, yes sir,” the recruits shouted in unison. Scootaloo eventually made it back to her place in line, her mane and feathers ruffled and out of place.

Thunder Clash turned to the advanced recruits and glared. “You four won’t be pretending. You’ll pair up and take turns trying to knock the other to the ground. Specter, you’re with Gloom. Pip, you’re with Equinox.”

They nodded and immediately took their places on the other side of the training field, away from the other recruits. Pip stood opposite Equinox and smiled. Her dark gray coat and light blue mane were smooth and shiny in the moonlight, despite the rigorous training.

“Which do you prefer?” Pip asked her.

“I will attempt to block your advances,” she stated very formally.

Pip nodded. “All right.” Once she was ready, Pip ran at her with the intent to knock her down. When he got closer he slowed and braced himself for the eventual throw. She easily steered him and released, sending him passed her.

“Don’t hesitate,” Equinox snapped.

Pip walked back over to his starting position. “This is drill training. I didn’t think it was necessary to actually knock you down. We’re supposed to get into the habit of blocking incoming advances.”

“Unlike you, I’ve already had these drills burned into my mind and muscles. I can take whatever you got.”

“All right. I won’t hold back then.”

Once she was ready, Pip rushed forward. He already knew what she was going to do… which gave him a slight advantage. When he got close, instead of just rushing into her, he dove for her legs. She was obviously unprepared for the maneuver, and once he was under her, he jumped up and slammed his body up against hers, all within a single motion.

Equinox opened her wings and used them to prevent herself from tumbling to the ground. “What are you doing?” she hissed. “That wasn’t a part of the drill!”

Pip raised an eyebrow and took his position back across from her. “I thought you had already learned the drill and now you wanted to try this for real.”

“I figured you were going to continue a forward dash assault, not… whatever that was.” She flapped her leathery wings and landed back in the starting position.

“Make up your mind,” Pip half-laughed. “Either I’ll keep doing the drill or I’m going to try and really knock you down. I don’t think the enemy will use the same move over and over again in real combat, do you?”

Equinox stared at him with her gold eyes. She contemplated his words for a moment before coming to some sort of internal decision. “Perhaps you should be the one to block the attacks. You’re the novice here. This lesson was more designed for you anyway.”

“All right. I’m ready when you are.”

She nodded and rushed toward him. Pip barely had time to get his bearings by the time she was close. He tried to use the move Thunder Clash had demonstrated, but she was too fast and too strong for him to effectively use it. She slammed into him and he landed back against the dirt, winded.

“Again,” she snapped.

Pip got to his feet and quickly got into position. When they were both ready, she rushed forward and… knocked him down again. Pip got back to his feet and brushed himself off, slightly discouraged.

“Again,” Equinox stated, jumping back to her starting position.

Pip nodded. He knew the only way he would develop any sort of muscle memory would be to keep at this. Even if it was painful. This time, however, when she came in she slowed and allowed him to do the drill like it was supposed to be done. He grabbed, turned and released, sidestepping the attack. She turned and nodded to him.

"That was perfect. Again.”

They both got back into position and, again, she came at him slow enough so that he could practice the correct motions. Pip was grateful she was willing to take it easy on him. He was still sore from all the strenuous exercise.

“When did you start your combat training?” Pip asked as she came at him again. Once he managed to sidestep the attack she turned to him with a disinterested expression.

“Since I could fly. Everypony in Hollow Shades learns how to fight. It's a part of the schooling.”

Pip and Equinox took their positions again. “Hollow Shades? Is that a town? Like Ponyville?”

“Shouldn't we focus on the training?” she said with a forced yawn. “You aren't even in the proper stance anymore.”

“O-oh, sorry,” Pip muttered, moving to get the proper footing before continuing.

“Ah, Captain Phantom Shade,” Thunder Clash announced aloud. “How long have you been stalking us this evening?”

Pip and Equinox stopped their drill and glanced around. Pip didn’t see him and Equinox had to actually point before he knew where to look. Phantom Shade was standing on the roof of the barracks, staring down at the recruits with his seemingly all-seeing eyes.

Thunder Clash landed and looked up at the bat pony commander. “Are you content to watch or are you here for another purpose?”

Phantom Shade unfurled his wings and glided down to the back field. He landed next to the drill sergeant and examined all the recruits. “I’m disappointed in you, Thunder Clash. I still count twelve recruits. I’ve given you a few nights. Why are there still this many?”

“Well, they could be masochists,” Thunder Clash sarcastically offered. “Or stupid. Or they're actually here to do hard work. All three are legitimate answers.”

Phantom Shade ignored most of Thunder Clash’s statements. His eyes lingered on Snips, Snails, and Scootaloo.

“What trial did you have for them at the first elimination?”

Thunder Clash waved his hoof toward the distant training field with the obstacle courses. “The standard. You know how my training works. First two months obstacle course, next few months are team obstacle courses and the last few months are all the interesting tests. You know the ones.”

“Then you should change it. This elimination should consist of monster trapping.”

“What?” Thunder Clash could barely stop himself from laughing. “These recruits are far, and I do mean far, from being able to handle live monsters. No. We’ll be doing the obstacle course like at benchmarks. I’ve already got their average times and told them they have to beat the eight minute mark.”

Phantom Shade turned to Thunder Clash with a piercing glare. “Are you questioning my decision?”

“Oh, I wasn’t questioning your decision. I was just flat mocking your decision. That’s a terrible idea. I doubt even one of the recruits would make it through the monster trapping test. Heck, I don’t know if you would have made it through that test at the two week mark!”

“This isn’t up for debate,” Phantom Shade stated in a heated tone. “My word is final. They will take part in the monster trapping. Those that fail will be removed from the training.”

Silence settled over the training area like a thick fog. Thunder Clash and Phantom Shade glared at each other for a long time before the pegasus finally replied, “Of course, captain. It’ll be as you say.”

“Good,” Phantom Shade muttered darkly. “I would expect nothing less.”

Luna's Assignment

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Phantom Shade flew off into the night as stealthy as he arrived. Pip watched him go till he could see him no longer.

“What is the monster trapping test?” Rumble asked, drawing Pip’s attention. “Is it really as hard as you said?”

Thunder Clash snorted in annoyance. “Don’t worry your silly little heads about it. It’s not going to happen. Princess Luna would never sign off on such a drastic change to the training, especially nothing as dangerous as monster trapping.”

“But, what is it?” Snips asked. All of the recruits were staring silently. Even Pip was curious as to what made monster trapping so very hazardous.

Thunder Clash glanced between them and sighed. “Typically, we would let loose King Basilisks within the forest below Canterlot. The recruits would then gather them back up. Monster trapping is just a test to see how well you can catch a monster. The King Basilisks made the task dangerous.”

“King Basilisks?” Specter and Equinox asked in disbelief.

“That’s right. There is an area for them in the Hayseed Swamps. Princess Celestia and Luna have contained them there for generations.”

“What are they?” Snails asked.

Thunder Clash shook his head. “They’re distant cousins to the dragons. Six legs, scales of steel, eyes that glow in the dark, the size of a building, immune to magical effects… Meeting their gaze turns you to stone.”

“Like a cockatrice?” Snips and Snails asked with an excited smile.

“It isn’t a game!” Thunder Clash grunted. “They’re deadly! The cockatrice is nothing compared to their might! There’s a reason the princesses have prevented them from leaving the swamps!”

Snips and Snails slumped back in their place.

The rest of the recruits nodded. Pip couldn’t believe that Phantom Shade would want them to fight such a dangerous creature. He was surprised anypony had fought such a dangerous monster. The fact that the Night Guard was expected to deal with such monsters was a testament to their strength.

“But how-” Rumble began.

“Enough!” Thunder Clash cut him off. “No more talk of it! Return to your drills! I’ll be speaking with Princess Luna before the end of the evening.”

Pip’s chest tightened at the thought of somepony just going to speak with Luna. He almost asked Thunder Clash if he could go with him… but he knew that would be improper. There was a small piece of him that wished Luna would just come out one night to observe the training… just so he would have an excuse to speak with her…

Equinox waved her hoof through the air to get his attention. “We need to focus,” she told him. “Come on.”

He nodded and returned to his drills.


“That’s it for the evening!” Thunder Clash announced. “Now get back to the barracks! I have a certain Princess to see.” He flew off the moment he finished speaking.

Pip looked to the sky. There was still plenty of time in the night. He contemplated resting but, at the same time, he had a short amount of time to prepare for monster trapping… Hopefully Thunder Clash speaks with Luna and that all turns out to be a terrible misunderstanding. He practically lost a fight to Screech. What chance did he have against a monster of the Hayseed Swamps?

Marble trotted up to him and looked into his eyes. As though she knew what he was worried about, she stepped closer and whispered, “We cannot fight King Basilisks. We stand no chance.”

“I know,” Pip whispered under his breath. “I guess you were right about us being targeted…”

Rumble, Scootaloo, Snips and Snails eventually trotted over as well. They were tired, even from the shadow drills they had been performing.

“Pip, what're we going to do?” Rumble asked.

Pip was taken aback. “M-me? I don’t know what we’re going to do… Follow the drills, I guess. Learn what we can before the test.”

“We can’t learn what we need to learn in that short amount of time!” Scootaloo hissed. “It’s not fair that Phantom Shade would make us do that! We should complain to somepony or something!”

“Well, Princess Luna will put a stop to it,” Rumble nervously chuckled. “Right? She wouldn’t sign off on us doing monster trapping? She knows better. Right, Pip?”

They all turned to him. Pip hesitantly nodded. The Luna he knew would never needlessly put ponies in danger. They most likely had nothing to worry about. “I’m sure she’ll put a stop to this.”

“And if she doesn’t?” Marble asked. “What do we do then?”

“I… I don’t know. I don’t have any plan or idea for this.”

Marble narrowed her eyes. “The most dangerous aspect of the King Basilisk is its eyes. They glow in the dark, drawing ponies to look at them when they’re lost in the swamp late at night. Like moths to a flame… they are doomed long before they even know they are facing a monster.”

Rumble stared at Marble with a frown. “Are you trying to freak us out? Why would you tell us that!?”

“Bat ponies, though… they see in the darkness. They know the monster long before its gaze is set. Not only that, but they can fly with their eyes closed, relying on their hearing to guide them.”

“Yeah, thanks again, Marble. I’m sure I speak for everypony when I say it’s good to know we suck compared to the bat ponies.”

Marble sighed. “What I’m trying to say is… We don’t stand a chance unless we get the bat ponies on our side. We’ll need somepony to see in the darkness. Somepony to let us know where the King Basilisks are hiding.”

“The bat ponies hate us, and I highly doubt they’re going to get any friendlier!” Scootaloo said, glancing over her shoulder and staring at the other recruits. The bat ponies were also huddled together, whispering amongst themselves. Pip wondered what they were discussing…

“If we want a fighting chance at all, at least one of them will need to help us.”

“Well, you heard the mare,” Rumble said to Pip with a forced smile.

“Me? Again?” Pip asked. “Why is it always me? Surely you would be a better choice!”

“What makes you think that?”

“Well… you can fly! They can fly! You already have something to talk about!”

Rumble flapped his powerful wings and slowly nodded. “I guess I do fly…”

Marble shook her head. “Bat ponies respect strength. Pip, you’ve already proven yourself to be tenacious. I think your olive branch would be well received.”

Pip nervously laughed and glanced back over his shoulders. The bat ponies were staring at them… But who would he approach? Screech was out of the question… and the other five he knew next to nothing about. Maybe I should just approach them as a group… maybe they’ll want to make friends with us as well…

Taking a deep breath, Pip left the Ponyville recruits and slowly trotted up to the group of bat ponies. The bat ponies were whispering to each other but stopped once Pip got close. They eyed him suspiciously and said nothing.

“Um,” Pip awkwardly started. The words just weren’t coming to him. “Well…”

Mist flapped her wings and nervously moved a few feet away. “You aren’t bleeding anymore, right?”

“No, not bleeding. The medics took care of that a few days back.”

She immediately relaxed and landed back with the group of bat ponies. Screech didn’t care if Pip were bleeding or not. He glared and bared his fangs.

“Get out of here, earth pony. We’ve nothing to say to you.”

“I, um, came over here to… see if you guys wanted to work together… in the future.” Pip tried to pick his words carefully. He ignored Screech’s dismissive attitude. He knew Screech wouldn’t be helpful. This message was for the others. Perhaps one of them would take it to heart.

“You want us to help you,” Specter stated in low voice, almost a whisper. Sometimes Pip forgot he was standing there. He was so very silent.

“I figured we could help each other.”

“What could you possibly do to help us?”

Pip struggled to think of anything. What did bat ponies even want? “I’m willing to hear suggestions.”

“I told you this would happen!” Screech hissed, lowing himself into a fighting stance. “These ponies just want to use us! They’re just like all the others! All they care about is themselves!”

Gloom, the tallest bat pony among them, nodded. “I heard what they were whispering about,” he offered to the conversation, his large ears twitching. “They’re concerned about the King Basilisk. They just want us to help them see through the darkness. They want us to be their eyes.”

The group of bat ponies suddenly turned to Pip with glares. He held his ground, but he felt as though he were taking several steps back in terms of this relationship. He decided the best policy was an honest policy. “Look… We can’t see in the dark. We’ll be lost if we don’t have somepony to guide. We need your help.”

“Forget it,” Specter immediately replied. “We refuse to help.”

Pip looked into the face of each bat pony. Screech, Rust Wing and Gloom were equally as determined to send Pip away. Equinox was unreadable and Mist couldn’t stand to meet his gaze. “I don’t understand,” Pip said. “Why can’t we work together?”

Without warning, Screech lunged at Pip. The bat pony collided with him, sending them both tumbling to the ground. "Liars!" he hissed. "I'll bring you down before I help you! Mark my words!" Within a matter of seconds, the bat ponies had pulled Screech off and the Ponyville recruits had come to Pip's aid. Rumble jumped out ahead of him and was staring down the others.

“What was that for!? What are you, a bunch of lunatics!? We’re all on the same side here!”

“Leave us alone,” Specter commanded, taking to the sky with the other bat ponies. “You don’t bother us. We won’t bother you.” Gloom and Rust Wing had to pull Screech along, but eventually his need to assault Pip passed.

“We should report him!” Scootaloo said through clenched teeth. “That pony is crazy!”

“No,” Pip shook his head, getting to his feet. “Just leave him. I’m fine.”

Marble looked Pip over. “You’re dirty.”

“I’ll live.”

“Sorry he attacked you. I guess we need to bank on Luna denying Phantom Shade’s unreasonable demands.”


“What did Princess Luna say?”

Thunder Clash descended onto the training field with a hard scowl. “What have I told you about addressing commanding officers?” he snapped.

Snips hung his head. “Sir, sorry sir!”

“Hmpf. Let’s get started for tonight. Fifty sit-ups. Begin.”

Rumble raised his hoof. Thunder Clash glared at him.

“What is it, boy?”

“What did Princess Luna say, sir?”

All of the recruits were silent and staring. Thunder Clash hesitated. He knew they would never be satisfied until he gave them an answer.

With a long sigh he replied, “The monster trapping… was Princess Luna’s idea.”

Pip was momentarily dumbstruck. No… It couldn’t be… Luna would never suggest that! She would never have barely trained ponies fighting King Basilisks!

“She told me spoke with Phantom Shade about the assignment. That he had all the details and would be taking care of it according to her requirements. She assured me it was her wishes you engage in the monster trapping.”

No! That wasn’t like Luna at all!

“But, how’re we going to face a King Basilisk?” Rumble asked, his voice one of despair.

Thunder Clash snorted. “Maybe you’ll get lucky and they won’t bring out the King Basilisks for you. Luna didn’t tell me the details. She only told me Phantom Shade knew what to do.”

“But if they do?”

“Enough!” Thunder Clash snapped. “Everypony to their sit-ups! We’ve no time to second guess everything from the top! I’m sure whatever awaits you is within your capability! Princess Luna has never steered us wrong before!”

“Except when she became Nightmare Moon,” Snips muttered under his breath.

Everypony was dead silent after his comment.

Pip was torn. Should he trust that Luna and Phantom Shade had his best interests at heart, or should he doubt and call into question their decisions? He wanted to trust Luna so badly… but at the same time… he knew what struggles she had to go through on a daily basis. He knew she was chased by an unshakeable darkness.

When nopony moved to the sit-ups, Thunder Clash landed and stood before them. “Listen up. Everypony is afraid of conflict and battle. Everypony is afraid of failing. Of dying. The coward is the one who lets his fear control him. A real warrior controls his fear and pushes forward regardless.”

“A fool rushes in when he knows he’ll lose,” Equinox added. “Maybe we just don’t want to be fools.”

“Nopony is keeping you here, recruit. You can leave at any time. If the thought of facing a King Basilisk is too much, perhaps it would be best if you left now.” All the recruits began to nervously glance among themselves. Pip took a deep breath. He knew he couldn’t leave. He wasn’t going to be chased away by the mere thought of danger. They would have to remove his corpse from the jaws of the King Basilisk before he was ready to go home.

“I can tell you this,” Thunder Clash added, “I will do everything in my power to help you make it through the conflict. It’s my duty to prepare you for your job as a soldier. Whatever weakness the King Basilisks have will be thoroughly etched into your minds by the time of the test.”

“Are there any weaknesses?” Marble asked.

“Well… no.”

That was discouraging.

Thunder Clash continued, “But I know some good techniques that can change the tide of battle in your favor. You’ll know them all by then.”

Despite Thunder Clash's offer, nopony left the field. Even Snips and Snails decided to stay, though Pip was sure they were glancing in his direction. Pip suspected that if he had left they would have followed.

“Well, if nopony is leaving… Get to the sit-ups, maggots!”

They all fell to their backs and began the rigorous training the night had in store for them.


“Grab, turn, release!” Thunder Clash continued to chant. “Grab, turn, release!”

While most of the recruits were practicing their motions on their own, Pip continued to practice with Equinox. Although they didn’t speak much, he knew she was trying to help him. She was much too forgiving and accommodating in moments that she didn’t need to be. Pip didn’t mind. He did everything in his power not to anger her in an attempt to bridge this gap between them before the test.

“King Basilisks are slow on their feet! Maneuvering behind them is the only way to survive!”

Occasionally, while counting or chanting the moves they should be practicing, Thunder Clash would randomly spout information about King Basilisks. Pip found it useful but it would all mean nothing if he couldn’t find his way through the dark.

“King Basilisks chase wounded pray! Like bat ponies, they can smell blood!”

Pip was absent-mindedly going through his drills, trying hard to store all the information he could while thinking about this dilemma. The thought of a King Basilisk chasing after him while injured was a terrifying one… but that may be the only way to lure it to a cage…

“Hey!” Equinox called his attention. “You need to focus!”

“S-sorry. Just trying to think of ways to herd a-”

“I know what you were thinking. I just want you to focus. You need to get these drills right.”

“These drills won’t matter if I fail that test,” Pip stated earnestly.

Equinox dropped her fighting stance and stared at him in curiosity. “This… means a lot to you? The Night Guard?”

Pip nodded. “It means everything to me. This is all I’ve wanted since I was a foal.”

“Why?” she asked in a strained voice. “Why not join the Sun Guard or the Friendship Guard? You just don’t trust bat ponies doing the job? Is that it? Too frightened of us?”

“W-what?” Pip stammered. “N-no! Nothing like that! I just want to protect Princess Luna! I swear!”

Equinox stared at him a long time, deciding whether or not to believe him. Specter and Gloom suddenly turned their way.

“Equinox!” Gloom called out. “Don’t bother talking to him! Just do your drills!”

She turned away. “They're right. We’ve drills to do.”

“I want us all to join the Night Guard,” Pip told her as she walked back to her starting position. Even though she didn’t bother to acknowledge him, Pip continued talking regardless. “I just want Luna to be safe. We can do that together.”

She didn’t bother responding and they returned to their drills.


“Dismissed!” Thunder Clash announced. “And just in case any of you know how to read, I’ve placed a book containing the ecology of magical creatures in the barracks. Furthermore, if you dullards don’t know how to use an table of contents, the chapter on King Basilisks starts on page one hundred and thirty-three.”

Pip stopped his combat training and watched Equinox, Gloom and Specter fly off to the barracks. Now incredibly thirsty, Pip began his trot to the well. The thought of soothing water clouded all his thoughts. He never even saw the pony that grabbed him from behind.

“Eh!” he gasped as he was pulled backward.

Pip was pulled behind a tree and shoved into its hollow trunk. Much to his surprise and shock, Mist was the one shoving him around. She squeezed into the trunk with him and pulled down a branch to cover the hole, hiding them both from the outside world. Pip hadn’t even known this tree was hollow.

“Mist?” he asked in confusion. “What’s going on?”

“Shh, shh, shh!” she whispered in her normal sing-song voice. Pip opened his mouth to whisper a question but she practically shoved a hoof in his mouth to silence him. “I wanted to talk to you but I don’t want the others to see us!”

Pip attempted to nod but it was extremely cramped inside the trunk of the tree. He and Mist were both standing on their hind legs, but even then there was barely any room between them.

“I was talking to my sister and we think that you other ponies and us bat ponies should be working together. She says that King Basilisks are also attracted to magic use… So if your two unicorn buddies help us, we’ll all have a better chance of surviving!”

Pip awkwardly tried to agree with her, but she still had her hoof over his mouth and she was now snickering as though they weren’t both uncomfortably stuck inside a tree. Once she noticed he was trying to talk, Mist removed her hoof and motioned for him to keep his voice down. It was dark, but the moon was bright enough outside that the ambient light was enough to make out vague outlines, even within the truck of the hollow tree.

“Your sister?”

“Equinox! You know Equinox! Don’t tell me you forgot her name already…”

“Er, no… I just didn’t know you were related. I, uh, would love for us all to work together.”

“Good. Then she and I will help you guys see in the dark and you’ll get your unicorn friends to act as bait for us, deal?”

“Sure. It’s as good a plan as any. The… the other bat ponies won’t mind that you’re helping us?”

“I’m really good at finding hiding places,” she motioned to the tree around them, smiling a cute smile and rubbing the wood as though it were a cherished object. “We’ll sneak away from them long before they can say anything. And it’s all their fault anyway! They refuse to listen! They just think all the day-dwelling ponies are the same! You guys aren't like the ponies of the past!”

Pip was surprised. Hate them? “We don’t hate you… I barely know anything about you.”

“Oh, I know you don’t,” she snickered a quiet ke ke ke.

“Y-you do?”

“Yeah! You can see it in your eyes.” She leaned closer to him and stared. Even in the dark, Pip could tell her eyes were a shade of amber, but her… proximity… was now somewhat unnerving. Did Mist not understand the concept of personal space?

“Thanks?” he stated, his back now completely pressed up against the trunk of the tree. “Um… But what if there's blood involved?”

“B-blood?” she gasped, nearly jumping out of the hollow tree trunk. “What blood!?”

“Er, I meant… when we’re out there facing the King Basilisk… What if there’s blood then? Will you be… okay?”

Mist shakily tried to calm herself. She took deep breaths. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to… It doesn’t matter. Equinox will be there. She knows what to do. If there’s too much blood…” As she spoke she began sucking down deeper and deeper breaths. “If there’s too much blood… I’ll… I’ll…”

“Are you… afraid of blood?” Pip asked in disbelief.

Mist’s eyes became big and glassy with water. “Don’t tell the others,” she whispered. “I don’t want anypony to know… Promise me!”

Pip quickly nodded. “I promise.” Though they might already suspect...

“You better not tell anypony,” she stated, her voice quavering.

“I would never betray your confidence,” Pip earnestly replied. “But I don’t understand why you’re so embarrassed. I’m sure lots of ponies are afraid of the sight of blood.”

“But I’m a bat pony! It’s… embarrassing. It’s like an earth pony being afraid of oats! When I was younger… the other foals would bully me all the time…” Her song-like voice fluctuated with her emotions.

“Wait,” Pip suddenly connected the dots. “Are you saying…?”

She looked up at him with a frown. Pip hadn’t fully comprehended bat ponies drank blood until this very moment. That fact made their proximity even more unnerving. She didn’t look threatening, but Screech’s powerful bite suddenly took a turn for the sinister…

“Do you drink blood?” he asked, his curiosity overriding his fear of the answer.

“I eat fruit,” Mist replied, her eyes downcast. “I’m a fruitarian. Just the thought of drinking b-b-blood makes me want to-” she suddenly gagged. Pip held up his hooves and tried to calm her.

“It’s okay! You don’t need to think about it! I don’t want to hear about it, to be frank…”

She nodded and soon her normal care-free smile returned to her face. “Thank you! You’re so much nicer than the rest! Gloom and Screech ridicule constantly…”

Pip nervously shifted his weight from one hoof to the other. “Don’t mention it but… I should be getting back to the barracks.”

“Oh! Right!” Mist easily slipped from the tree and allowed him to exit. Pip jumped out and took a deep breath. She titled her head and waved to him. “Until next time, Squeaks!” She flapped her wings and took off into the night, humming to herself like nothing had ever happened. Pip brushed himself off.



The night of the test came too quickly.

Pip had read and learned everything he could about King Basilisks in the short amount of time he was allotted, but he didn’t think it was nearly enough. When he woke, his legs were weak and his heart already beating quickly. It wasn’t the thought of death that shook him… it was the thought of failing. He knew, in his heart of hearts, wanted this more than anything.

The other recruits looked about the same. They were white in the face and quiet the entire time they made their bed and ate their breakfast. Marble even folded and re-folded her blankets several times more than usual. Pip turned to watch the moon come up into the sky. He hoped Luna knew what she was doing.

When they walked outside, it felt like a death march. Nopony wanted to go, but nopony wanted to be the one that stayed behind. For a moment, Pip felt like a lemming.

Thunder Clash met them on the field and pointed them toward the forest in the valley below Canterlot. “Match, recruits.” It was the only command he gave.

They marched along the road, their steps in sync but heads hung low. Pip glanced up at the castle when it came into view. It was far above them, maybe fifty stories, but he liked to imagine Luna was there. And seeing it made her feel close.

They reached the edge of the forest faster than Pip expected. Or perhaps he couldn’t accurately judge time anymore. His mind was steeled to victory, no matter what sacrifice he had to make, but he honestly worried it would require just that.

“Whatever happens,” Thunder Clash began, “I just want you recruits to know I’ve been impressed by your determination.” It sounded like a last goodbye.

Waiting at the edge of the forest was Phantom Shade and ten of the Night Guard soldiers. They looked disinterested when Pip and the others arrived. Were they really so desensitized to monsters that King Basilisks didn’t bother them?

Phantom Shade turned to the recruits and looked them over, surprise written across his face. “Twelve still?” He turned to Thunder Clash. “Still?

Thunder Clash nodded. “I tried to give them the out. They stayed regardless.”

Phantom Shade moved closer to the group and glared. “You’re all prepared to take the monster trapping test?”

All the recruits solemnly nodded.

“Tsk,” Phantom Shade growled. “Did Thunder Clash not inform you of the previous monster trappings? Well? Did he or didn’t he?”

“He did, sir,” Scootloo replied indignantly. “We know what we need to do.”

“And none of you resigned? The thought of fighting King Basilisks not enough to deter you?”

The Night Guard soldiers exchanged confused glances. Pip raised an eyebrow.

The other recruits shook their heads. Phantom Shade, for the first time since Pip had known him, seemed mildly impressed.

“Pick yourselves up,” he commanded. “You’ve no King Basilisks waiting for you tonight.”

“W-what?” Scootaloo and Rumble asked at the same time.

“Princess Luna wants another type of monster captured. In order to pass tonight’s test you must find a Star Spider and bring it back alive.”

Thunder Clash snorted back a laugh. “Are you serious? That’s it? A Star Spider?”

All the recruits were holding their breath. Was this a joke?

“I’m very serious,” Phantom Shade replied. “Each recruit must bring a Star Spider back by morning.”

“You let all these recruits think you were going to make them fight King Basilisks?” Thunder Clash was now angry. “But you knew all along they were going to capture Star Spiders?”

Phantom Shade smiled. “Of course.”

Pip was in a state of disbelief. Phantom Shade had intentionally tried to frighten them into quitting! He had used Luna’s assignment to intimidate the recruits by making them believe they would face something far greater than they were capable of handling!

“Don’t think you’re out of the woods yet,” Phantom Shade continued. “Though Star Spiders are typically harmless, they are very attuned to dark magic. They shift forms when it’s near and become… larger. Princess Luna wants to see the condition of the Star Spiders near Canterlot and thought this might be a perfect opportunity to watch her new recruits in action.”

“Princess Luna is here?” Pip gasped aloud before he had a chance to think about what he was even saying.

Phantom Shade raised an eyebrow. “She’ll be watching your progress from the sky tonight. Pray you do not fail in front of her.”

Star Spiders

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“The Night Guard soldiers here tonight will patrol the skies,” Phantom Shade lazily stated. “Should you find yourself in trouble, simply call for help and somepony will remove you from harm’s way. However, should anypony be required to carry you out, you will be assigned to a different guard or removed altogether. We don’t need ponies that can’t handle themselves.”

Snails raised a hoof. Phantom Shade looked at him in confusion but motioned him to speak regardless.

“There are only ten guards… what if all twelve of us were in trouble?”

Thunder Clash quickly flew up and in front of Snails, stepping between the unicorn and the bat pony captain. “Nevermind the recruit. He’s got a history of counting problems. I don’t think he understood that you and I will be here as well.”

Pip smiled to himself. Thunder Clash might be scarred and old, but Pip knew he was a skilled soldier. He felt safer already knowing he would be in the sky watching over them.

A Night Guard soldier walked to the recruits and began passing out tiny cages on string. The guard threw the string around each recruit's neck so that the cage could hang at their chest, like a necklace with an oversized pendant. Pip examined his cage intently. Judging by the shape, the Star Spiders should be no more than a hoof in size.

“Each of you bring back one spider before the sun rises,” Phantom Shade repeated. “Now go.”

The group of bat pony recruits immediately shot off into the darkness of the forest. Pip and the others exchanged silent glances before trotting off into the woods after them. Pip had never been in this forest before… He had been to the Everfree Forest on a few occasions, but he hoped this forest would be nothing like that one.

Within seconds of walking among the trees, Pip realized the two forests were far from similar. This forest had a broken canopy that allowed for the light of the moon to stream down in patches. The grass grew in waves and shades of green. Ferns that sparkled in the darkness would occasionally lighting the way. The insects and owls moved in rhythm, their cries and noises a harmonious natural symphony.

It was everything the Everfree Forest wasn’t.


Pip turned around and saw that Scootaloo, Rumble, Marble, Snips and Snails were all following him. “What are you guys doing here? Isn’t this an individual test?”

“They never said we had to do it on our own,” Rumble shrugged. He was flying between the trees, admiring the streaks of moonlight. “Besides, we’ll probably be able to find more spiders if we work together!”

“Guys, guys! I found one!”

Everypony turned to see Snips leaning low to the ground, one hoof outstretched. There was a tiny Star Spider on the leaf of a non-sparkling fern, slowly creeping along near the stem. Its body was a dark, purple-blue and on the top of its abdomen was a light-blue star-shaped marking. Snips slowly relaxed onto his rotund body and gently moved his hoof closer. The Star Spider lazily crept onto Snips' hoof and his eyes brightened with excitement.

“G-guys! I really got it! All by myself!”

Rumble’s mouth fell open in disbelief. “You? You were the first one to find one!?”

Scootaloo examined the tiny Star Spider on Snips’ hoof. “This is it? It’s so small! And not dangerous at all! Anypony could have caught this! A foal could have caught this!”

As his foreleg trembled with excitement, Snips turned to Pip and held out the spider in his direction. “Here. You take it.”

“What?” Pip laughed in disbelief. “No, Snips. You caught it. The spider is yours.”

“But… You helped me and Snails when we needed it.”

“You never have to repay me for that,” Pip said, distancing himself from Snips and the spider. “I didn’t help you for a reward.”

The look on Snips’ round face was too complex for Pip to accurately read. He seemed confused, or maybe angry, Pip really couldn’t tell. “But,” Snips said in a pained voice, “you want to be in the Night Guard so badly… This is your chance to go back and the test will be over!”

“You go back,” Pip tried to reassure him. “I’m sure I’ll find my own spider.”

“You won’t be angry with me?”

“Of course not.”

Snips smiled and pulled the spider close to his face in order to examine it. “I… I can’t believe I did it! Snails! Look! I did it! This is so amazing! I-” In his jubilation, Snips inhaled a bit too deeply and sucked the spider straight into his throat. “Ark! Ack-! Eck!” He was choking.

Snails rushed over and began whacking him hard on the gut. Although not an effective way of dislodging a blocked airway, on the third whack, Snips managed to cough up the spider regardless. It was now covered in saliva, and somehow still alive.

“You okay?” Snails asked.

“Would you hurry and place that spider in your cage before you accidentally eat it again!” Scootaloo chastised him.

Snips quickly nodded as he carefully placed the wet spider into his cage. Once everything was secure, he ran back to their starting location, waving to the rest of the recruits as he went.

Snails kicked at the ground. “Oh… Without Snips, how am I going to find a spider of my own?”

Rumble scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Did you see how easy that was!? If Snips can do it on his own, we can all do it on our own! Just pick a direction and start walking! I’m sure you’ll eventually spot one!”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo agreed. “I’ll catch you guys back at the starting area once I got my spider!” She immediately sped off into the darkness of the forest, not even bothering to look back.

Rumble and Snails both took opposite directions, Rumble in the sky, Snails bumbling through the tree trunks. All that was left was Marble. In the darkness her gray coat almost seemed a dark blue.

“Aren’t you going to rush off as well?” Pip asked.

“We can keep each other company.”

Pip nodded. They both trotted off into the darkness of the forest, not bothering to follow a certain path. The deeper they went the more enchanting the forest became. There were gold glowing caterpillars, owls with silver wings, and even trees with rainbow-colored leaves.

Although everything around him was wonderful and fascinating, Pip kept his gaze tied to the sky above. Phantom Shade said Luna would be here watching… Where is she? Why haven’t I seen her?

Marble broke the silence by stating, “Star Spiders grow when dark magic is active. I heard they have almost no limit to how big they can get.” Pip continued to stare at the sky, hoping to catch just a glimpse. Marble continued with, “Unlike most spiders, they only have seven eyes. Also, they only shed their exoskeleton at night. They don’t like bright places.”

Pip slowly turned to her and forced a laugh. “Marble… Why do you know so much about Star Spiders?”

“I was… very bored as a foal. I would sneak books out into the rock fields when nopony was looking and read instead of doing my work. I learned all kinds of things, not just about Star Spiders.”

“Is that why you knew so much about the King Basilisk as well?”

Marble suddenly stopped and carefully examined an ordinary fern. “Yes,” she replied absent-mindedly. “But reading soon became boring as well… just as rock farming and parties had become for me before that. I thought all of life was dull until I discovered my special talent.” She held out a hoof and gently nudged a sleeping Star Spider. It awoke and slowly began crawling about. Marble blocked its escape with another hoof and quickly captured it within the cage.

“Congratulations,” Pip said.

“Thank you. Do you want me to keep you company?”

“No, it’s fine. I’m sure I’ll get one eventually. We have all night.”

“As you wish.” Marble nodded to him and trotted off into the darkness. As she went, the light suddenly began to fade and Pip turned his attention to the sky. Dark clouds were being ushered in from overhead, blocking the light of the full moon. Pip figured tonight they would call forth the rain, but they would most likely wait until it was near dawn.

The forest became much darker now. The only light Pip had was from the occasional sparkling fern and glowing gold caterpillar. He continued his trek forward, his gaze going back to the sky. It was dark, but he knew he would be able to spot Luna’s enchanted mane should she fly over.

“Star Spiders don’t dwell in the sky.”

Pip recognized Mist’s unusual voice instantly. He turned in an attempt to find her, but it was too difficult for him to see. “Mist? Are you there?”

She flew close to him, a cute smile on her face. “Hey! I’m here to help you!”

Pip shrugged. “I don’t think I’ll need the help. We aren’t fighting King Basilisks so… I’m sure I’ll be okay.”

Mist began to prance along the ground, her wings flapping in sync with her steps, allowing her to semi-float. “We made a deal though! We were going to help each other!”

“Do you actually need help?” Pip glanced at her cage. It was empty.

“I found a spider earlier, but Gloom got to it first,” she practically sang. “It was my fault for announcing its location. He heard and he was just a tiny bit faster than me.”

“That’s… not very nice.”

Mist shook her head. “No way! Bat ponies have a motto: take what you can, when you can. You never know when you won’t have it anymore! Gloom was just following the motto.”

Pip nervously laughed. “That’s a very strange motto.” He wasn’t sure how he felt about that motto… How did it even come to be? That question troubled him.

“So, you don’t want any help?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Okay then…” Her fluffy ears hung down and she sadly flew off into the shadows of the trees. Had she wanted to him? Pip sighed to himself and continued forward. He turned left, and then right, and then curved around a group of trees. At one point he saw somepony flying overhead, but he realized it was just one of the Night Guard and nothing more. His heart sank the longer the night marched on. Where was Luna?

Whether through subconscious intention or pure coincidence, Pip found himself getting closer and closer to the base of the mountain, just below the Canterlot Castle. His hooves were killing him by the time he reached it. He didn’t know how long he had been walking but he suspected it had been a couple of hours, at least.

Looking around, Pip realized it was oddly silent. The melody of the owls and insects were not to be heard. There were no noises, actually. None that he could detect. Had all the other recruits captured their spiders?

A slight panic was now washing over him. How much longer did he have in the night? He still needed a Star Spider, but he couldn’t see through the darkness around him… Pip lowered his head closer to the ground and began walking like a bloodhound on the trail of a scent. Even with his eyes so close to the earth, he could barely see anything. I’m more likely to squish one than I am to find one!

A shadow of doubt came over him. Maybe he should have accepted that spider when Snips offered it to him… Pip shook his head. No! I’ll find one! I just have to keep looking! There has to be one around here! There just has to be!

The sound of flapping wings caught his attention. Pip looked up. “Hello?” he whispered. “Is… anypony there?” The thought of Screech sneaking up on him in the middle of the forest made him nervous. He backed up until his back was against a tree.

“Squeaks? Is that you?”

Mist! Pip’s anxiety left him. “Mist… What are you still doing out here?”

She flew up to him and landed by his side. Her ears were still low and her posture very slouched. “I can’t find any Star Spiders! I was… I was hoping you would still be willing to help me.”

You can’t find any? But you can see in the dark…”

“I think they all went to sleep or something… I’m not even finding other types of insects…”

Pip had to take a deep breath to calm himself. It was looking bad, but they could get out of this if they worked together… “Okay. We’ll try to find a Star Spider. Just stay close. Tell me if you see anything.”

Without warning, the area they were standing in was flooded by a light-blue glow. Pip turned to see seven eyes staring at him through the darkness. Seven light-blue glowing eyes. One eye was giant, perhaps the size of Pip’s head, and other six were all around it, slightly smaller, almost the size of a hoof. Pip and Mist were shocked and frozen in place.

The creature behind the glowing eyes was a giant Star Spider, roughly the size of two chariots. It took two steps from the darkness and stared at them with its unblinking eyes.

Mist slowly took a step back. “Um,” she whispered. “I don’t think this one is going to fit into our cage…”

Suddenly, the giant Star Spider attacked. It lashed out with its sharp, pointed leg and Mist just barely had enough time to dodge. Pip was startled into action, turning away from the beast and taking off through the trees. The spider rushed for him, nimbly flowing through the forest as though the trees were not an issue to move around.

Mist flew ahead, weaving back and forth. Pip tried to follow her, but soon she disappeared from his sight. He tripped over a root in the darkness and tumbled across the forest floor, cursing his lack of sight the entire way.

The Star Spider crashed over him and hissed an odd insect hiss. Two fangs uncurled themselves from the mouth of the spider. Pip stumbled backward in uncertainty. Was this monster poisonous?

The Star Spider rose up a sharp leg and thrust downward, attempting to puncture Pip’s body in one fatal blow. Mist dove from the darkness and collided with Pip just in time to save him from the leg of the spider, but not quick enough to avoid being injured herself. The Star Spider’s leg cut deeply into her flank, slicing open flesh across her cutie mark; the owl made of mist.

“Ah!” she gasped as she hit the ground, startled by the injury.

With its fangs at the ready, the Star Spider lunged forward. Pip, almost without thinking, got up and bucked at the head of the creature, his back hooves striking the spider in two of its seven eyes.

The monster hissed and reared back in pain. “Mist, let’s go!” he called for her as he took off into the forest. Mist didn’t get up. She sat on the ground trembling, her eyes fixated on her bleeding flank.

The Star Spider regained its composure and attempted to fang Mist. Pip slammed his body into the abdomen of the spider, throwing it slightly off balanced. It quickly turned and stabbed with its sharp legs. Pip dodged and rolled away, but once he was out of reach, the spider turned back toward Mist.

Mist was still paralyzed within her own fear. “Mist!” Pip called to her. “Mist, snap out of it! We have to go!”

She didn’t move, not even when the Star Spider loomed above her, its fangs ready. Pip rushed forward and dove for the legs. He got under the spider and jumped upward, toppling it over to its side before galloping to Mist.

“There’s so much blood…” she whispered in a soft breath.

The Star Spider easily got to its many feet and attacked with its fangs. Pip didn’t have time to carry Mist, and he certainly wasn’t going to outrun the spider with her on his back. He buckled down and stood over her. When the spider got close he bucked at it again; this time his back leg catching on the fangs as he did so.

He slammed the Star Spider in its largest eye, but the wound to his leg left him in a mild state of shock. The cut was burning so badly! Was it poison? Pip had no idea. All he knew was that this wound hurt more than any he had ever had before.

The Star Spider stumbled backward, its legs shaking and unsteady. Pip knew he had rocked it. If he was going to stop it from attacking he had to finish this fight. He ran forward, slid in close and bucked at its giant eye once again, careful not to cut himself a second time. The Star Spider groaned and collapsed to the ground, its many legs twitching as it went.

Pip hadn’t realized how deeply he was breathing until that moment. He had been in a state of pure adrenaline just a few seconds ago… everything had felt so slow, but now that he thought back, he realized the fight had happened within minutes.

“Mist,” he muttered as he turned back to face her. “Mist, are you okay?” Pip went to walk to her, but his back leg suddenly gave out. He fell to the ground. His whole body was becoming numb. “Eh…” Even his throat felt as though it were becoming stiff.

Mist finally ripped her eyes away from the wound. In a matter of seconds she realized what had happened. “Help!” she called out. “Help! Somepony help us!”

Two Night Guard soldiers, Phantom Shade and Thunder Clash all rushed to their location within moments of Mist yelling. Pip couldn’t move. He knew he was still breathing, but his lungs were on fire and he suspected it was only a matter of time before they were too stiff to work.

The first thing Phantom Shade noticed was the unconscious overgrown Star Spider. His eyes went wide as he approached it. “Princess Luna’s suspicions were correct,” he muttered to himself. “This proves it.”

“That proves nothing,” Thunder Clash growled. His eyes scanned the darkness until he noticed Pip on the ground. “Recruit? Are you okay? Pipsqueak?”

Pip couldn’t answer. He could barely see… his vision was fading to black…

“Princess Luna will want to see this,” he heard Phantom Shade command the Night Guard soldiers. “Bring it to her immediately.”

“Pipsqueak?” Thunder Clash asked him. His voice sounded so distant…

Pip's vision went black and soon after he could hear nothing.

The Curse of the Moon

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Pip opened his eyes and stared up at the dull gray ceiling. His heart was beating a million times a minute and his whole body was covered in sweat. He couldn’t remember the details, but he had been having terrible nightmares… Something about bats, the sun, always being small, failing out of the Night Guard… every insecurity he ever had all rolled into one.

Shifting onto his side, Pip realized he was in the infirmary. Morning sunlight was streaming through the windows. Most of the beds were empty but Pip could see a few ponies talking to the medics and getting their minor injuries tended to.

One of the medics spotted him and immediately trotted over. “Pipsqueak?” the medic asked. “Can you understand me?”

“Yes,” he answered in a rusty voice. His throat hurt.

“I’m glad to see you’re awake. How are you feeling? Can you move your legs?”

Pip rubbed his face and muzzle in an attempt to fully wake up. With effort he managed to move all his legs. He was still stiff, but the burning pain he felt before was gone. However, despite his physical health, Pip was still shaken by the unknown nightmares. Dread clung to his every thought.

“Seems like you’re recovering quickly. That’s good.” The medic, a unicorn, used her magic to begin scribbling some information down on a clipboard.

“Well I be okay?” Pip asked.

“It seems so. Star Spider poison differs in effects depending on the dark magic that made the spider monstrous. Since we don’t know why the spider got so big… I’m not entirely sure what the side effects will be. You will most likely feel strange emotions or experience phantom pains. However, all documented cases of Star Spider poisoning have confirmed that the side effects disappear after a week or so.”

“What about my leg?”

“You’ll have a scar, but otherwise you’ll be fine. We’ve already tended to the injury. Keep the bandages on for the next few days.”

“Where is Mist?” he asked, glancing around the infirmary. He didn’t see her.

“Mist?” the medic asked.

“The bat pony that was injured the same time I was… Where is she?”

“Oh, the bat pony. She was taken to the bat pony infirmary. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”

Pip nodded and leaned back against the bed he was on. The medic wrote a few more notes before placing the clipboard at the footboard. “I’ve recommended you stay here for the rest of the day and get some sleep. If you’re still feeling well by sundown we'll see about releasing you.”

The medic trotted off to another pony in the room. Pip sighed. He pulled the blankets over his body but he dreaded going back to sleep. The nightmares… he couldn’t even picture them, but the feeling of terror was strong enough to dissuade him from sleeping. He stared at the ceiling at an attempt to keep his eyes open.


Click. Click. Click-click.

Pip tossed and turned. His eyes slowly blinked open and he realized then he had fallen asleep. Nightmares… all he could remember was the fear from the nightmares… The details were fleeting… Luna had forgotten him, he couldn’t dream, a monster was chasing him… Pip leaned up in bed, shaking his head.

Click. Click. Click-click.

There was a constant flashing of lights in Pip’s face. It took him a few seconds to notice Featherweight was next to his bed. Featherweight leaned in close to him and whispered, “You awake, Pipsqueak? If the medics ask, I’m your cousin! They wouldn’t let me in here unless I was in the royal guard or family!”

Click. Click-click.

Featherweight was a slender cream coated pegasus with a two-toned brown mane and a feather for a cutie mark. He had a special camera around his neck, specialized for pegasi to take pictures and fly at the same time. He was repeatedly taking pictures of Pip.

“What are you doing here, Featherweight?”

“I heard there was a super-secret Night Guard training assignment last night and I had to be the first one to cover it. The moment I found out you were one of the Night Guard recruits I knew I had hit the jackpot!”

“What?” Pip was confused. Secret? He hadn’t know the assignment had been secret…

Featherweight leaned in close to him. “Tell me. What was the assignment?”

Click. Click.

“Um… It was just monster trapping…”

“What kind of monsters?”

Pip shook his head. If this was supposed to be a secret, should he even be talking to Featherweight? “I don’t know if I should say.”

“Oh, come up, Pipsqueak! We’re old friends, right? I won’t name you in the article I write! I’ll keep you anonymous!”

Featherweight had been his friend when Pip moved to Ponyville from Trottingham… but Pip had a duty to the royal guard now. If they felt the training should be kept under wraps, then he should adhere to their decision. “I’m sorry, Featherweight.”

“Okay, okay… I’ll ask you other questions. Tell me, on a scale of one to ten, how vicious are the bat ponies? Be descriptive.”


“Have any of them attacked you? Tried to drink your blood?” Featherweight kept his voice low, as to not bother the other patients, but his tone was one of excitement.

“Well… they aren’t like that… Some of them are actually-”

“Descriptive! Descriptive! Not many ponies are brave enough to train side-by-side with a bat pony! My readers would love to hear all about it! I heard they were killing machines… How many small animals have you found dead by the training grounds? Do they attempt to kidnap foals?”

Pip practically laughed. Was Featherweight being serious right now? “Where did you hear that? Bat ponies don’t try to kidnap foals. They might be a little aggressive, but they aren’t vicious.” Well, Screech not included… Pip shuddered at the thought of Screech. A lingering dread still haunted him. He couldn’t shake it and it felt unnatural.

“Are they a danger to society? I’ve heard they have an insatiable thirst for pony blood. Were you persuaded to join the Night Guard so that you could be a host for their feeding?”

“No, nothing like that!” Pip sat up fully and rubbed his head. He glanced to the windows. It was early afternoon. “Look, I don’t know much about the bat ponies, but I know they aren’t as terrible as you’re making them out to be.”

Featherweight sighed and pulled Pip close. “You gotta give me something interesting. Why don’t you tell me why you joined the Night Guard in the first place? Why not the Sun Guard? Everypony wants to serve under Princess Celestia, obviously. She’s clearly the most powerful and awesome princess of the four… Were you just so transfixed by the bat ponies that you wanted to train with them? Are you some sort of weirdo fanatic?”

Pip shoved Featherweight away, slamming him into the nightstand by his bed. “You know nothing about the princesses!” he hissed in anger.

Pip was taken aback by his own outburst. Before Featherweight could say anything, Pip held up a shaky hoof. “I’m sorry, Featherweight… I… I’m not feeling like myself right now…” He felt bitter, angry, confused… The very mention of Celestia being better than Luna caused his blood to run cold with hate. Pip took several deep breaths. He didn’t like being out of control of his own emotions…

Featherweight flapped his wings and flew to the other side of his bed. The medics had turned their way, but Featherweight waved to them as though everything were fine. “It’s okay, buddy. I’ll go get you a glass of water. Think about my questions, okay? Maybe about what you’ve learned about the bat ponies?” Featherweight flew off to the other end of the infirmary. Pip was glad he went. He really didn’t want to have a conversation with anypony right now.

Unfortunately, another pony had the audacity to approach him. This pony was wearing a heavy cloak and hood, hiding their body, cutie mark and face from sight. Pip could see the coat color; a dark gray.

“Hello?” he asked. “What do you want?”

“Pipsqueak. It’s me.”

It took him a few moments to recognize the voice. “Equinox? How… how are you here? It’s the middle of the day.”

“I can see through daylight, remember?” She stepped up close and looked him over. “Are you feigning some sort of injury to get out of training? You look perfectly fine.”

Pip stared at her for a moment, his throat tight with anxiety. The thought of returning to training hadn't hit him until this very moment. “Uh… Am I even allowed to go back to training?” he asked quietly, fearing the answer. The terrible dread that haunted his heart tightened its grip.

“Why would you ask such a thing?”

“I didn’t get a Star Spider… and Mist had to call for help.” Pip hung his head. “Phantom Shade made it clear. He didn’t want ponies that couldn’t take care of themselves.”

“Hm. I forgot you were unconscious through Princess Luna’s speech. Apparently you found something that excited her. She praised you and Mist for your bravery and investigative determination. She spoke of how we might all be needed to fight the darkness one day; to fight against dark magic. She said that your willingness to engage it made her proud. I don’t think Phantom Shade could remove you from the Night Guard after such praise.”

Pip was a storm of feelings. On one hoof he was glad to hear that he would be able to stay in the Night Guard, on the other hoof he was devastated that he missed out on seeing Luna… especially if she were speaking of him positively. “W-well, that’s great…”

“I came to thank you personally. For saving Mist. She's recovering quickly.”

“I’m sure anypony else would have done the same.”

Equinox shifted her weight from one hoof to the next. “Not everypony thinks as you do.”

Featherweight flew back, a glass of water in one hoof and a notebook in the other. He handed Pip the water and took a seat next to him. With a questioning glance he turned to Equinox. “Um, who are you? Me and my cousin need to talk some family talk.”

“I’m a recruit in training for the Night Guard,” she answered in a harsh tone.

“Oh? You’re training for the Night Guard? You should pull up a seat! Maybe you could answer some questions as well! Tell me, on a scale from one to ten, how vicious are the bat ponies?”

“Tsk,” Equinox hissed.

Pip tried to put himself between them. “Featherweight! No more! We don’t want to answer questions!”

“Don’t worry,” Featherweight laughed. “I realize now you might not want to describe so much gore. How about this; how barbaric are the bat ponies? Do they even know how to live in a civilized society?”

“This is your family?” Equinox asked Pip, barely containing her rage. “Do you think this ingrate would have saved Mist? I think not.”

“Ingrate?” Featherweight snapped. “Do you know who you’re talking to!? I’m a very important pony! I own a newspaper company!”

Equinox glared at the pegasus and flashed her fangs. “You’ll be a very sorry pony if you keep that tone with me.”

Featherweight fell back in his chair and pointed. “B-b-bat pony! Bat pony!”

Click. Click. Click-click.

Equinox backed away from the flashes of the camera. Medics and soldiers turned to see what was going on.

“How are you even here!?” Featherweight shouted, jumping up from the ground and taking to the air with his wings. “Bat ponies can’t be out during the day! Help! Somepony help! She threatened me! She’s going to drink my blood!”

Pip glared. “Featherweight! Stop it! You’re making a fool of yourself!”

Soldiers ran over with spears at the ready. Equinox glared at them and lowered herself into a fighting stance. Featherweight continued to point.

“See! She’s a bat pony! She’s come to feed on the sick!”

The soldiers hefted their spears and Pip could feel his blood running cold once more. “She’s a member of the Night Guard!” he barked. “It’s this pony who doesn’t belong here! He’s with the press! He snuck in! If you had any sense you would remove him!”

Startled by Pip’s outburst, the soldiers exchanged nervous glances before turning to Featherweight. The slender pegasus glared at Pip and took off flying for the door. The soldiers chased off after him, but stopped once they saw he was leaving for good. Equinox calmed down, but she kept herself tense and ready for anything.

One of the medics tepidly trotted forward and glanced between Pip and Equinox. Eventually the medic settled on Equinox. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave. There is a bat pony infirmary just next to this one.”

“She has to leave?” Pip asked in exasperation. “Why? She’s with me.”

“I’m s-sorry,” the medic stammered. “It’s the rules. She’ll make the other ponies nervous… and we don’t want to risk anything happening.”


“Forget it, Pipsqueak,” Equinox interjected. “This is how it always goes.” She threw her cloak onto Pip’s bed and spread her black leathery wings, no longer concerned who knew what she was. The other ponies in the room flinched at the sight of her and actively ducked down when she flew over to get to the door. Pip watched her go, pained he hadn’t been capable of setting this right.

“Seriously?” Pip asked the medic. “Bat ponies aren’t even allowed to be in here?”

“That’s the rules.”

Pip threw off his blankets and prepared to chase off after Equinox. The medic rushed to his side and blocked his path.

“What are you doing?” the medic asked, pointing to the clipboard. “You should rest for the remainder of the day! That’s the recommendation! Relax, or you might agitate the wound on your leg!”

Frustrated, Pip slowly got back into bed and remained quiet. The medic trotted off, not muttering another word. In his angry silence Pip realized the entire infirmary was stuffy and the air thick with disinfectant. He hated it. What’s wrong with me? It’s just the infirmary… No need to get angry. Pip rubbed at his chest. Maybe I should continue to rest…


“Oh gosh! He’s waking up!”

“Fluff his pillows! Fluff his pillows!”

“I did! Do you have the hay sandwich?”

“Got it!”

“Did we remember the juice?”


Pip opened his eyes and fought back the urge to vomit. He didn’t feel right… He immediately sat up in his bed and turned to the window. Late afternoon. He had only been sleeping for an hour or two. Why did everypony need to wake him?

“Pip! Are you okay? Is there anything you need?”

He turned to his left and saw Snails. “Um…”

“Are you hungry, Pip? Do you want a hay sandwich?”

Pip turned to his right and saw Snips. “What’re you guys doing?”

“We’re here to make you feel better!” they answered in unison.

“I’m here too.” Pip glanced upward and saw Marble at the foot of his bed. She was quietly standing and passively observing the scene.

“Should we get you a different kind of hay sandwich?” Snails asked, examining the one he was holding. “Do you not want it?”

“Um,” Pip looked at the food. He didn’t feel hungry, but he knew he should eat. “This is fine. Thank you.” He took the sandwich and began to munch on it slowly.

Snips jumped around on the right side of the bed. “Oh! Oh! Do you want me to get you a different kind of juice? I can!”

Pip cringed at the offer. “Guys… What’re you doing? I really appreciate you coming to see me, but the medics have the food and drink situation handled. I’ll be okay.”

“We want you to be your friend!” Snails replied in a desperate tone. He threw himself on Pip’s bed and hung onto his foreleg. “Please let us hang around you! We want to be recognized by Princess Luna and Phantom Shade too!”

“This isn’t how friends treat other friends…”

“This is how sycophants treat their master,” Marble sarcastically offered.

Snips and Snails both tilted their head in confusion. “Sy…co… phant?”

“Nevermind,” Marble sighed.

Pip shook Snails off his forearm. “Listen. I prefer if you just treated me as a friend. I’ll help you train if you want. You don’t have to do anything for me.”

“So,” Snips began, “you would be happier if we stopped fawning over you?”


Snails vigorously nodded. “Then that’s what we’ll do! Whatever you want!”

Marble face-hoofed. “I think this is as good as it’s going to get, Pip.”

Glancing around the infirmary, Pip realized the medics were all busy. He didn’t feel well, but he attributed it the constant interruptions to his sleep. “Actually… There is something you guys could do for me.”

Snips and Snails perked up. “Anything!”

“The medics don’t want me to leave just yet, but I feel fine. Would you two mind resting here in my place?”

“You mean, pretend to be you?”

“Yes. Exactly that.”

Marble shook her head. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? If they wanted you to wait-”

“I’ll be fine,” Pip snapped. He hated himself for getting angry so quickly… and then he hated himself more for hating himself. I just need to clear my head. I'll be fine then.

“All right. If you say so.”

Pip slid out of the bed and took the cloak Equinox had thrown at him. Snips and Snails crawled into his place and threw the blankets over their bodies. If a medic were to get close it would be obvious it wasn’t Pip under there. They were so awkwardly shaped, it looked as though there was a baby hippopotamus under the sheets.

“I’ll block everypony’s view,” Marble offered, stepping up to the bed. “I’ll see you tonight for training, Pip. We’ve combat training, if you recall.”

“Thanks, Marble. You’re the best.”

She nodded to him and Pip trotted out the front door.


Pip walked through the training grounds with a heavy step. His back leg hurt when he put too much pressure on it, but that was to be expected. He half-limped to avoid putting too much weight on it.

The sun was beginning its downward descent. It was dusk. Soon the moon would rise and they would begin their training anew. Pip wanted to find Equinox before then and apologize to her. He felt guilty about the situation in the infirmary. He should have sent Featherweight away the moment the pegasus had come back.

Much to his relief, he spotted Equinox out in the sparring circles. She was practicing her training all by herself. Pip remained quiet as he approached, careful not to interrupt her while she worked.

With each thrust, punch, buck and kick she got wilder and wilder. Her breathing was angry and her mane wild with sweat. She was so focused in her drills that she hadn’t even noticed Pip approaching.

“Have you been at this the whole time?” he asked. It had been hours since he saw her last…

Equinox stopped her drills and turned to him with narrowed eyes. “What does it matter?”

“I’m sorry about earlier. Featherweight isn’t really related to me. He’s just an old friend.”

“You should pick better friends.”

“I’m training to be in the Night Guard now. I think I already have.”

Equinox rolled her gold eyes. “Heh. Please. Spare me.”

Pip walked over to the sparring circle and stood at the edge. “Tell me about the bat ponies. I’m tired of not understanding why everypony is afraid of you all. I don’t see why there is so much animosity between us.”

There was a silence between them. Pip listened to the wind as it whistled by. He wasn’t going to leave without hearing what she had to say. He wasn’t.

Equinox mentally capitulated. She walked over to him and looked straight into his eyes. “Do you know the story of the two sisters? The story of the Mare in the Moon?”

“Vaguely,” Pip responded. He didn’t like to admit that Luna had once been Nightmare Moon. He hated that everypony secretly held it against her at some level. “What of it?”

“There is a legend that the bat ponies tell… a slight expansion to the tale of the Mare in the Moon. You see, Princess Luna had become bitter that the ponies shunned her glorious night, but that doesn't mean she didn’t have her own followers and guards. The old Night Guard, the guard that existed 1,000 years ago…”

Pip listened intently.

“When Princess Luna was consumed by the Nightmare Forces, her bitterness was spread among her followers… The legends of my people say that was when the first bat ponies were born. They were transformed by dark magic into creatures of the night.”

“When Nightmare Moon was defeated… the other ponies cast aside the bat ponies, claiming their blood thirst and aversion to the light was punishment for following the corrupted sister. The bat ponies were chased from the cities. They were hunted and banished to lands far away from all those who dwelled in the sun. The legends say bat ponies are cursed, you see. Cursed by the moon.”

Equinox continued, “Generations passed and Princess Luna was eventually forgotten by all those mortal… but the fear and hatred of bat ponies was not. The ponies of the day would see our fangs and wings and eyes… and they were frightened. No matter how the bat ponies acted, they were always considered cursed. Before Princess Luna returned, there were only two careers a bat pony could engage in: you either became a bandit in the Badlands or a fruit farmer in Hollow Shades. Anything else and you were shunned.”

“Now that Princess Luna has returned, there is one legitimate position a bat pony can fill in your sun-dwelling society. The Night Guard. Only Princess Luna cares for the bat ponies. Only Princess Luna knows what it means to dwell forever in night. She welcomed us into her service when no other pony would… I didn’t live through the time of one sister… But my mother and father did. They speak of the bad times and how they feared meeting other ponies on the road. They feared they would be attacked for being night-dwellers… for being bat ponies.”

Equinox suddenly glared at him. “Only the bat ponies truly fear the return of Nightmare Moon! If Princess Celestia were to banish Princess Luna to the moon again we would have nothing! We would be outcasts again! Left to rot on the outskirts of society! But what of you day-dwelling ponies? You ponies didn’t even remember Princess Luna after a few generations! Nothing changed for you! You have nothing to lose if Princess Luna were gone! Why are you even here? You don’t want to protect her like we do!”

Pip took a moment to mull over the story. “Is that legend true? About how bat ponies came to be?”

Equinox turned away from him and shrugged. “It’s an old legend. And history is written by the victors. Perhaps it was a cruel addition to give legitimacy to our banishment. Perhaps it was reality. I don’t know.”

“Are you truly banished? Or is this just a misunderstanding?”

“Did you see bat ponies in your town?” Equinox asked sarcastically. “Or bat ponies in Canterlot? In Trottingham? Where have you seen them?”

Pip immediately saw her point. Bat ponies were nowhere to be seen except in the Night Guard. “But now that you’re in the Night Guard, more ponies will come to see you for what you truly are. They won’t need to be afraid of you.”

“But they are. They always are. They always will be. That’s why we’re always separated. You must see it already. That everypony thinks we’re dangerous. My mother tried to convince me to live in the day with you ponies, but I was chased from town. Specter’s parents and older brother went out into the world in hopes of finding a new place for bat ponies… and they never came back. Gloom and Screech were raised in the orphan pens of the Badlands… Rust Wing was a guide through the forest until the ponies blamed her for the death of their chickens and pigs, then she was attacked and chased away. Too many examples to be a misunderstanding.”

The sun was nearly set now. The moon was on the rise. Soon all the recruits would be out here and then Pip would no longer be able to speak with Equinox so earnestly.

“Do you remember what Thunder Clash said?” Pip asked. “About truly losing the moment you gave up? You shouldn’t give up. Not yet. Maybe we’ll all become members of the Night Guard. Maybe Princess Luna will help the bat ponies come back to society. Maybe those bad days will be nothing but a distant memory.”

“You’re childishly optimistic. I like to be practical. I just want me and my sister to have a place in this world. You’ve earned my trust but I won’t back you on some crazy crusade.” She opened her wings flew off toward the barracks. Pip didn’t bother moving. The other recruits would be filing out to these fields any moment now. He would just wait and contemplate the difficult situation he found himself in.


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“All right, maggots. In a shocking turn of events, you’re all still here. Since this is technically the second phase of your training, we’ll begin with another round of sparring. It’s my goal to have you familiarized with personal combat before you begin your duties with the Night Guard.”

Snips, Snails and Scootaloo all slumped in place. The bat ponies, on the other hoof, all exchanged confident glances. That is, except for Mist, who hung back behind the rest, gently rubbing at the bandages over her flank.

The night was windy and the sky still covered with clouds. Although his feelings fluctuated with his thoughts, Pip had a dire urge to fight somepony right now. He was glad he couldn’t see the moon, for he thought that looking upon it would cause him guilt for having such feelings.

Thunder Clash flew over the sparring circle and looked around the group. “Let’s see… Rumble, why don’t you and Specter take the ring?”

“I went up again him last time, sir!” Rumble moaned, rubbing at the eye that had once been black with bruising.

“I want to see if anything I’ve been teaching you has sunk into that thick head of yours. Get into the ring!”

Rumble flew out into the sparring ring and landed near the middle. Specter went out to meet him with a smirk upon his face. The pegasus and bat pony stared each other down in silent rivalry.

“One… Two… Three! Fight!”

The instant the fighting began, Rumble planted his hooves and began flapping his powerful wings. Wind picked up, swirling around them like he were threatening to create a tornado at any second. Specter took two steps back and waited.

The wind was swirling powerfully now, picking up dirt around the ring and knocking over weapons racks. Pip had to brace himself in order not to fall over. His back leg was still in pain, and standing on three legs made him wobbly. The low rumbling noise of the wind made it difficult to hear anything. From what Pip could gather of the situation, Rumble was going to try and blow Specter out of the ring without even needing to engage him in physical combat.

Specter began kicking at the ground, throwing more and more dirt into the air. Now it was practically a sandstorm, dirt and howling wind all around them. Some dirt got into Pip’s eye and stung him. He was forced to look away and close his eyes if he wanted to avoid that happening again.

Within a few seconds of him doing so, the wind died down. Pip hesitantly opened his eyes again and saw Rumble outside of the sparring ring with Specter proudly standing in the middle. By the shocked look on Rumble’s face, Pip was sure he had to close his eyes as well… and that’s when Specter made his move.

Despite Rumble losing, Thunder Clash flew over to him and nodded. “Good thinking, boy. Incorporating your special talent like that shows me you’re improving, if only slightly. Now get back in the ranks.”

Rumble straightened his dark gray and blue mane before shuffling back into line. Although Pip would have liked to comfort him, he noticed that Screech was glaring in his direction and he decided to glare back. Maybe it was the Star Spider poisoning, maybe it had been the terrible sleep… but Pip wanted to try sparring again. This time he wanted to do more than just win. He had a deep-seated need to prove he was better.

“Next up… Screech and-”

“Me, sir,” Pip volunteered, stepping forward.

Screech scratched at his chin as he flew out into the sparring ring. His red eyes were alight with bloodlust and smiled flashing his fangs.

“No,” Thunder Clash grunted. “Don’t be foolish, boy. You’re injured. Get back in line. The sparring isn’t for you tonight.”

“I want to do this,” Pip heatedly replied. “I don’t care that I’m injured. I can win against him any day.”

The hairs along Screech’s spine stood on end as his hissed in Pip’s direction. “You wouldn’t have been so lucky if that were a real fight, earth pony!”

“Hey,” Mist timidly offered. “Pip was the one that defeated that monster Star Spider, remember? He’s not as weak as you say!”

“Didn’t you tell Captain Phantom Shade you defeated it together?” Screech hissed. “Besides, it’s not like he walked away unscathed. I say it’s luck, not skill, that gets him through his challenges.”

“Why don’t you say that to my face?” Pip angrily shouted.

Marble grabbed him and pulled him back, confusion and bewilderment etched across her face. “Pip. This isn’t like you at all. Calm down.”

Thunder Clash snorted. “Enough! You bickering school-foals are starting to grate at my nerves! When I say no, I don’t mean try and persuade me, I mean no! Screech, you and Marble are in the ring!”

Screech was already in position. He shot Pip one last glare before turning his attention to Marble. Although still concerned for Pip’s wellbeing, Marble let go of him and walked out into the sparring ring. With Screech being nearly all white and Marble being nearly all gray, the sparring ring almost looked like an incomplete painting; devoid of all color outside of the ponies eyes.

“One… Two…Three! Fight!”

Screech lunged, wild and reckless. Marble turned to try and buck him, but he was too quick. Before she knew what was happening, he had slammed her to the ground. When Marble attempted to stand, Screech savagely stomped down on her chest, winding her with a terrible cracking sound. Screech rose up to do it a second time, but Marble had suddenly gone berserk.

She struck upward into his gut with her powerful kick. When she stood up her once perfectly straight mane was frizzy, wild and untamed. The look in her eyes was primal. Screech hit the ground hard, but, surprisingly, it only made him laugh. He got up, still laughing, and lunged again.

Marble and Screech collided in the center of the ring, both acting without order or training; they were simply attacking each other like crazed animals. Screech slammed his head into her muzzle and Marble staggered backward only to unexpectedly buck him across the face, shattering a few of his teeth.

Right when it looked as both of them might be out for the count, Screech lunged again, slamming his body hard against Marble’s already bruised chest and sending her tumbling from the ring. Screech turned, spat a mouthful of blood to the ground, and smiled a crooked smile. “I win.”

Thunder Clash flew down and landed next to Marble. She was okay, but it was apparent she would be bruised all over in the morning. Screech limped from the ring and eyed Pip. “Still think you got what it takes?”

“Of course,” Pip replied. “You don’t scare me.”

Rumble and Scootaloo both turned to Pip and glared. “Don’t talk to him!” Scootaloo commanded. “You should be more concerned about Marble than fighting this guy!”

“Yeah,” chimed Rumble. “He’s insane! Don’t bother wasting your time with him!”

Screech took a step closer and stared at Pip, disregarding the other two ponies entirely. “Why don’t we settle this outside the ring?” he darkly whispered. “Sometime after training… out in the forest. Perhaps when we next have a new moon.”

Still gripped by whatever unnatural forces plagued him, Pip felt the need to accept this challenge. His heart was filled with bitterness and anger for being mocked… “I’ll see you there,” he replied.


“That was a terrible decision.”

“I’ll say. Awful. I can’t believe you said yes.”

Scootaloo nodded. “And I know terrible decisions. Have I ever told you about the time I tried to get a cutie mark in sumo wrestling? That entire experience pales in comparison to this one.”

Marble nodded her head as she continued to fold and re-fold her bed sheet. “Yup. Terrible. I thought you were better than that, Pip. You always seemed so level-headed in the midst of tough situations.”

Pip listened to his friends berate him as he stared up at the ceiling of the barracks. With the poison finally out of his system, he completely agreed with them. He had just got done talking to Equinox about how they should usher in a good example of comradery and what did he do? Start a fight with a bat pony. For no other reason than to fight him. Pip sighed.

Rumble flew over to Pip's bed and kept his voice low. “You should tell me where you’re going to fight him. I’ll totally root for you.”

“Grr…” Marble growled in irritation at the blankets. Her body was wrapped up in gauze and every time she took a deep breath she winced in sudden pain, making even the simplest of tasks difficult. Her hooves were shaking trying to fold the blankets just right.

“Do you need help with that?” Scootaloo asked, trotting over to the bed. “I can fold them for you.”

Marble stepped aside and motioned to the bed. Scootaloo pulled the blankets up, folded them back and then fluffed the pillow. It was a well-made bed, in Pip’s honest opinion. Marble glared at the entire thing and pulled all the blankets back down.

“Hey!” Scootaloo gasped. “It was done!”

“The blankets were wrinkled. And crooked.”

“Look, if you’re going to be crazy about it I’m not going to help you!”

“Maybe if you didn’t rush everything, the bed would have been made properly.”

Scootaloo forced a long frown. “I do not rush things!”

“You kinda do,” Rumble jumped into the conversation with a shrug.

“What? When!?”

Marble began folding the blankets again. “According to your own stories, you tried to rush your cutie mark. You rush to prove yourself at every opportunity, as if you have a chip on your shoulder. You always rush through your drills. You aren’t going to learn anything that way.”

“O-oh yeah? Well, er, you-” Scootaloo was obviously too frustrated to pick her words properly. She stammered like she was in stop-motion. “You, don’t, er, I mean- you’re just crazy!”

“Great come back!” Snips seriously stated, not a hint of sarcasm to be found.

The two mares silently glared at each other for a long while. Pip finally pulled himself off the bed and turned to them. “Come on, you guys. We’re supposed to be a team. We can’t be fighting like this.”

“Yeah! We should listen to Pip!” Snails nodded. “Pip knows what to do!”

Everypony in the barracks turned to him. Looking for an excuse to get out of this situation, Pip pointed to the window. “It’s almost time. We should get out to the fields if we don’t want Thunder Clash busting in on us.”

Reluctantly, they nodded. One by one, they filed out of the barracks and entered the main field for physical exercises. It was the earliest part of the evening, and the moon in the sky was beautiful and filling the space with light. Pip looked at the moon and sighed. If he was going to meet Screech for fighting it would be about two and half weeks. At least it’ll be after the obstacle course… If I’m lucky he won’t make it past that point.

“You have to pay attention to me! I’m a very important pony!”

The recruits all turned in unison at the sound of the strange and whiny voice. Pip immediately spotted Thunder Clash and Featherweight flying toward the field. Thunder Clash was clearly annoyed and Featherweight was fluttering around behind him, trying to get his attention.

“I have a press pass!” Featherweight shouted, holding up a tiny card he held in his hoof. “That means I’m allowed to be here! The public demands to know and I’ve come to document everything!”

Thunder Clash landed on the field, completely ignoring the pint-sized pegasus. He turned to the recruits. “What’re you all staring at? Get into line and stand at attention!”

Pip and the others quickly formed up, but Featherweight was not easily dissuaded. He landed and held his head high. “You better start answering my questions or else I might have to print a certain story about a certain soldier who failed a very important task and was relegated to drill sergeant ever since.”

The sudden tension was unexpected. Like watching a train wreck, Pip couldn’t take his eyes off the scene before him.

Thunder Clash slowly turned to face Featherweight. Thunder Clash was taller, clad in Sun Guard armor, more muscular, and scarred across his body. Featherweight had his camera, his press pass, and a notebook, and he was a hundred pounds soaking wet. The juxtaposition of the two pegasi standing so close was comical.

“You have exactly five minutes for questions,” Thunder Clash said with forced calm.

“Hm! That’s more like it!” Featherweight smiled and opened his notebook. “How many bat ponies have you trained before?”

“Hundreds,” Thunder Clash answered immediately.

“Have any of them attacked you?”


Featherweight waited for him to elaborate, but he never did. “Have any of them feasted upon your blood?”

Thunder Clash narrowed his eyes. “No.”

“Do you trust bat ponies?”

“The ones I’ve trained, yes.”


“Are you questioning my honesty, boy?” Thunder Clash hissed. “I’m not talkin’ to you for my amusement.”

“You’re not afraid they’ll turn on you?”

“I trust a soldier of the royal guard more than I trust my own mother. Doesn’t matter what they look like.”

Featherweight glared. He was obviously looking for different answers then Thunder Clash was providing. “Okay… What do you think of the noble Canterlot ponies claiming that the days feel as though they are getting hotter? Some say the temperature change is all in their heads. What do you say? Ep-!”

Thunder Clash had suddenly pulled Featherweight close by the camera around his neck. “Those are baseless rumors,” Thunder Clash darkly growled. “And you will not print anything to further those rumors. Because if you do, I will personally pluck each and every one of your feathers to make the smallest and limpest pillow Equestria has ever seen. Do I make myself clear?”

Featherweight nodded weakly. With a powerful shove, Thunder Clash separated himself from the other pegasus.

“Your time is up. If you have any further questions regarding the Night Guard I suggest you take it up with its captain.” Thunder Clash turned around and trotted off.

Featherweight flew toward Pip and hung his head. In a whisper he said, “Don’t tell him I’ve already printed stories about that, okay? You’re a pal, Pipsqueak.” Before Pip could agree, Featherweight took off back toward Canterlot, his wings flapping as fast as they could.

Thunder Clash trotted back, still seething with rage.

“I’m pretty sure it’s against the law to assault a journalist with a press pass just because you don’t like the questions he’s asking, sir,” Marble calmly stated.

“Well, if he didn’t want me to get angry he shouldn’t have threatened me with libel,” Thunder Clash replied in anger. “Besides, if he wants to take me before Princess Celestia, I'm more than ready to go. Now what did I say about standing at attention?”

The bat ponies funneled out of their barracks and flew over to rejoin the Ponyville recruits. They formed into ranks and Thunder Clash paced on the ground in front of them, his tail swishing in agitation.

“Listen up! One week from now we’ll have the obstacle course test! I’ve decided, after reviewing everything about you recruits, to practice some of the course every night before exercises until then. These obstacles are set up over there,” he pointed to the far end of the field, “and I suggest you take this seriously. Because of our last unexpected test, your time for the course is still set to eight minutes. Now, get out there, recruits!”

Pip and the others ran out to the training field. Just as Thunder Clash had said, there were a few obstacles set up for them to train with. Pip immediately recognized the earth pony obstacles by the light of the moon. There were hurdles, the zip line and the rope wall. Without any specific instructions, Pip went to the hurdles. The real obstacle course had walls on either side, making it darker than usual and difficult to see. He figured he could practice the line of hurdles and simply try and memorize them as opposed to relying on his eyes.

Scootaloo ran over to the earth pony obstacle course and began jumping the hurdles. With her wings, it came easy. Same with the rope wall. Her body was just lighter with her wings constantly flapping. Marble, although still wincing in pain occasionally, was easily clearing the course as well.

As Pip began to climb the rope wall, he took a moment to look over the other recruits. He saw Thunder Clash walk over to the bat ponies and stop Screech. Thunder Clash suddenly grabbed the bat pony by the muzzle and pulled him closer, examining his teeth and mouth.

“Zebra medicine never ceases to amaze me,” he muttered to Screech as he let him go. “You feelin’ okay, son?’

Screech rubbed at his jaw. “Of course.”

Thunder Clash turned to face Marble. “What about you, girlie? How is your recovery coming along?”

“Great,” Marble replied, hiding her sudden spikes of pain. “Nothing I can’t handle.”

Pip laughed to himself when he noticed Screech continuing to rub at his jaw. He suspected the bat pony was in the same boat as Marble; recovering, but still feeling the effects of the fight. Neither of them wanted to look weak in front of the other.

The bat pony obstacle course had hoops with thorny plants around the edges, pathways to crawl through and heavy objects to move. They also had a section where there was a tunnel made of bright glowing crystals. Pip watched the bat ponies try to go through. They either closed their eyes and ran into the jagged crystal sides of the tunnel, injuring themselves, or they kept their eyes open and were blinded by the time they came out the other side, hindering their performance for the rest of the course.

As Pip watched, he noticed that Equinox went through the tunnel with ease, thanks her to her special talent, and that Specter managed to fly through without injuring himself. Despite Gloom having improved echolocation, he still ran into the sides of the tunnel, which made Pip suspect something else was off with it… something specially designed to confuse bat ponies. Perhaps some sort of sound?

Pip got to the top of the wall and continued to watch them. Every other part of the obstacle course the bat ponies had down pat. It was just the light tunnel they had any real difficulties with. The bat pony who had the most difficulty with it was Rust Wing. Every time she flew through, she hurt herself further and further. First she chose to be temporarily blinded, which resulted in her running into the obstacles afterward. The second time she decided to close her eyes, which resulted in her slamming her head against the roof of the tunnel and almost knocking herself out cold on one of the larger crystals.

When Pip reached the ground on the other side of the rope wall, he heard Rust Wing speaking to Equinox. She was grabbing at her forelegs and pleading.

“Please help me with this! I’ll never be able to complete the course in less than eight minutes without your help!”

Equinox turned away from the other pony. “You know the law… I… I can’t. What if somepony finds out? You know some ponies consider it heinous…”

“They won’t! I’ll keep it secret! It’s dark! No other pony will see! Thunder Clash won’t even be able to notice!”

Equinox sighed, but she tensed once she realized Pip was listening in. “Can I help you?” she asked harshly.

Pip shook his head. “No. Sorry.” He trotted away from the bat ponies and shot them one last glance over his shoulder. Rust Wing was still continuing to plead with Equinox. What kind of help did she want? Was helping the other recruits against the rules? He didn’t remember hearing that… Pip turned to watch Snips and Snails complete their obstacles. Every step of the way, they ran together. Every obstacle they came across they helped each other. Thunder Clash hadn’t chastised them when they finished the obstacle course last time…

Pushing it from his mind, Pip went back to the beginning of his obstacle course to start again.

“This is a piece of cake!” Scootaloo said as he approached. “I’ve already done this twice! I’m sure I’m going to ace this when it comes time!”

“I hope so,” Pip said. “But the worst parts of the real obstacle course aren’t even here. There is an entire run of thorny plants in the real obstacle course… and a swim through muddy water.” The thorns had definitely been Pip’s downfall the first time.

“Thorns?” Scootaloo asked, her voice quavering. “Really?”

“Yeah. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget the briar patch…”

Scootaloo nervously laughed. “Yeah, well, I’m sure I’ll do great at those too! Don’t you worry!”

“I never said I was worried.”

“Oh… Well, I’m not either. Pfft. I got this.” Scootaloo turned and began running through the mock course again. Pip watched her go. Now he was worried.


Time quickly flew by within a routine.

One night he would get up, practice the obstacle course and do his physical exercises. The next night he would run combat drills and then rest. Then he would repeat. Thunder Clash said that, if they passed tonight’s obstacle course, they would start moving on to more complex training, like weapon and offensive stances, and team maneuvers… but first they had to get through tonight.

Like the first night he joined the Night Guard, all the recruits were lined up in front of the four obstacle courses. Pip had hung back to make sure his leg was feeling up to the task of running tonight. It felt as good as new. Whatever the medics had done had worked wonders. Except for the thin white scar along the length of his back leg, nopony would ever know his leg had been sliced open.

Pip trotted out into the night and watched the sky. No sign of Luna. He was beginning to think she was avoiding him. He sighed. What if Scootaloo had been right? What if she didn’t want to see him anymore? What if he was pining for a pony who didn’t want to return his loyalty and affection?

Pip had been so lost in his own thoughts that he ran into one of the bat ponies. Rust Wing hissed at him and glared. Pip took a step back. “S-sorry about that…” His eyes quickly spotted an unusual fact about her flank; she had two cutie marks. She had her normal cutie mark, the red bat that symbolized her ability to smell blood, and a second mark… a circle, one half black, one half white. Equinox’s mark.

Rust Wing quickly pulled her red tail up and over her flank, blocking the marks from Pip’s sight. “What are you doing!?” she growled. “Get out of here!”

Confused, Pip trotted away. Before he was too far to see, Pip glanced over at Equinox. He spotted her cutie mark on her flank; a circle, one half black, one half white. Pip shook his head. Maybe I was just seeing things…

Thunder Clash flew overhead and landed in front of the recruits. He smiled and nodded to them all. “Listen up! Tonight is a big night! You must make it through your assigned obstacle course within eight minutes or else you will be removed from the Night Guard! Remember that the target time is two minutes, so if you can do better than eight minutes I suggest you do so! Mediocrity will not be tolerated for long! Does everypony understand?”

“Sir, yes sir!” they shouted in unison.

“Then, get ready.” Thunder Clash flew up into the sky. “Go!”

Pip, Marble and Scootaloo ran for their obstacle course as quickly as possible. Just like before, the course started with a tunnel. Pip jumped in.


It was too dark to see, but he trudged through the muddy water regardless. He could hear Marble trudging forward as well, but Scootaloo’s voice caused him some distress. She was panting and gasping for air. Pip stopped and heard Marble continue forward, passing him and exiting to the course.

“Scootaloo?” he whispered.

“P-Pip! I can’t move! The mud… it’s too thick!”

Pip tensed. Pegasi had no connection to the land like earth ponies did. The natural elements of the world bent to aid him in whatever he was doing, but they were hindering Scootaloo… She might not make it out of the tunnel within eight minutes if this kept up.

Pip turned around and trudged back toward her. He got close and whispered, “Hang onto my neck.” She wrapped her forelegs around him and he pushed forward, carrying her now heavy body through the muddy water. It was difficult to pull himself and Scootaloo out of the water, but he managed to do it.

The obstacle course was just as dark as it had been last time, but once Scootaloo was off his back he started forward, trying to picture the hurdles in his head. He managed to jump over most of them, but with two he wasn’t as lucky. He tripped and stumbled, but he suspected he was doing better than last time. Although… I didn’t have to carry Scootaloo the last time… Once complete, he climbed the wooden wall and managed to dismount without falling.

Soon he found his way to the tires. He jumped between them, stopping once he reached the end. Scootaloo ran into him from behind and shook her head.

“What’re you doing?” she hissed under her breath. “Keep going!”

“This is where the briar patch is,” he informed her in a whisper.

“It… it is?”


“Is it long? Are there many? Thorns, I mean?”

Pegasi also weren’t as sturdy as earth ponies. They were typically lighter, for flying, which meant that they didn’t do well with things like slight blood loss or painful physical exertion. Pip closed his eyes and tried to think. There was no way he could carry Scootaloo across… just the thought of it made his hooves hurt.

“Pip?” she whispered urgently. “This is timed, Pip!”

He opened his eyes and nodded. “Step back.” Once she was out of the way, Pip grabbed one of the tires with his mouth and threw it out in front of him. He then grabbed a second tire, jumped to the one he had thrown, and did it again. He made tire stepping stones through the sea of flesh-cutting plants; perfect for him and Scootaloo to cross upon.

“Quickly!” he called out to her. “Jump across! Careful! Try not to slip!”

She jumped from the first tire and Pip jumped from the second to try and clear the thorns. He didn’t. His legs slammed into the plants at the very edge and he bit back the urge to cry out.

“Pip? Are you okay?” Scootaloo urgently whispered.

“I’m… I’m fine,” he breathed, carefully stepping out of the plants and pulling the thorns from his hooves. Scootaloo made the last jump with her wings. They buzzed with enough power to let her sail out of harm's way.

“C’mon! We need to hurry!”

They both turned to run but Pip was cautious of the pole up ahead. Scootaloo, on the other hoof, was not. She slammed into it and Pip bit back an apology for not warning her. “It’s the zip line,” he whispered. He grabbed a hold and suddenly felt her weight added to his own as she clung to him.

“Hold on!” she whispered.

Her wings buzzed into overdrive, sending them flying down the rope at top speeds, much faster than if they had just ridden it naturally. So much faster, in fact, that they crashed into Marble at the end of the rope, slamming her into the ground and tumbling over her.

“Sorry, Marble,” Pip groaned as he got up. “Let’s go!”

Marble, Scootaloo and Pip ran for the last obstacle in the course, the rope wall. The fearsome rate at which they had zipped down the rope line had actually dried most of Pip’s coat and removed large chunks of the mud. Not only that, but he could already feel a slight difference in his strength from all the training they had undergone. It wasn’t much, but the psychological confidence it gave him was enough to give him a second wind while climbing.

All three of them made it over the wall, but Pip was the first. He ran to the exit and immediately took his place in line. The only other ponies that had beaten him to the finish were Specter and Equinox, both of whom looked as though they had been there for a while.

Pip immediately turned to Thunder Clash. “Well?” he asked in a shaky breath.

“Is that how you address your commanding officer?” Thunder Clash snorted.

“Sorry, sir.” Pip held his head up high. “Did I pass, sir?”

“Four minutes, recruit,” Thunder Clash grunted. “A vast improvement over your last time. I’m starting to think you were holding back on me.”

Scootaloo was the next to exit. She ran to Pip’s side and smiled. “I’m back!”

“Is that how you address your commanding officer?” Thunder Clash repeated in irritation.

“Er… Sir, I’m back, sir!”

“Four minutes, twenty seconds,” he informed her. “Much better than I thought a pegasus pony could handle on an earth pony course.”

Marble was the next to join them, only a few seconds behind Scootaloo. From the bat pony course, Pip could see that Rust Wing, Gloom and Screech all exited at the same time. They had hit the five minute mark.

Pip turned to the pegasus track. Where was Rumble? He then glanced back to the bat pony course. Or Mist? The unicorn track… Pip turned there last and wondered. He hadn’t heard Snips or Snails cry out this time… were they okay?

Suddenly, a shadow passed over the moon, drawing Pip’s attention. Phantom Shade landed in front of them, his eyes dead set on the bat ponies. Thunder Clash raised an eyebrow at his presence.

“Phantom Shade… What’re you doing here tonight? I thought-”

“I came by to see which recruits would be staying,” he quickly interrupted Thunder Clash. “But I spotted something disturbing while I watched from the shadow. Now I’ve come to correct a mistake.”

Phantom Shade quickly trotted over to the group of bat ponies and motioned for them to step aside. He singled out Rust Wing, and she cowered away from him, her eyes glued to the ground.

“You know what you've done,” Phantom Shade stated without hesitation. “You know the law. I won’t have bat ponies like you causing our kind, or this guard, undue scrutiny and mistrust. Now tell me; who was your accomplice?”

Pip and the others watched without comprehending. What was going on? Even Thunder Clash seemed confused. “What’s going on, Phantom Shade? What is this all about?”

Phantom Shade ignored him and continued to glare down at Rust Wing. She continued to evade meeting his eye and said nothing.

“You won’t say?” he asked.

Rust Wing shook her head.

“Tsk. Very well. I might not be able to punish them, but I’m sure your dismissal will be message enough. Pack your things and leave. You’re no longer part of the Night Guard training.”

Rust Wing suddenly looked up at him, tears in her eyes. “Wait! Please don’t make me go! I have nowhere else! It won’t happen again! I promise! It was only a bat pony! They gave me permission and-”

“Silence!” Phantom Shade hissed in his usual dark tone. “What you’ve done isn't just bending the rules, or finding a loophole. It’s a crime. It’s forbidden. I will not tolerate it in the Night Guard; I told you all as much before you signed up. You gave me your word this would never happen. But here we are. You brought this on yourself.”

“Please!” Rust Wing pleaded again. “I don’t know what I’ll do!”

“This isn’t a charity,” Phantom Shade said, turning his back on her and trotting away. He seemed conflicted and Pip could hardly stand to watch what was going on.

“Sir!” Pip called out. “If she was getting aid from one of the other bat ponies… she shouldn’t be kicked out for that, sir! I helped Scootaloo! Snips and Snails help each other all the time! If you’re going to kick Rust Wing out for that, you’re going to have to kick us all out!”

The bat pony recruits turned to him in shock and surprise. Pip held his ground. He didn’t know what was going on, but helping each other wasn’t against the rules. Why did Rust Wing have to go?

“You don’t understand, boy,” Phantom Shade responded, not at all swayed by his argument. “It’s beyond your comprehension. Keep to yourself. This doesn’t concern you.”

Thunder Clash walked up to Phantom Shade and quickly whispered something to him. Phantom Shade replied and the two shared a moment of silent understanding. Finally, Thunder Clash nodded.

“Captain Phantom Shade is right. Rust Wing, you know the law. Grab your things from the barracks. You’re no longer a part of the Night Guard training.”

Rust Wing hid her tears with her mane and flew off into the night, never bothering to look back. Pip watched her go until she was out of sight, hidden by the darkness. He glanced to Equinox who, avoided his stare.

And now they were down to eleven recruits.

Where are Mist, Rumble, Snips and Snails? Pip nervously wondered. They don't have much time left.

Summer Sun Nightmares

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Pip stared at the pegasus obstacle course intently. When was Rumble going to emerge? Even though Pip barely knew Rust Wing, he felt a sense of loss with her gone, and he didn’t want Rumble to go as well. Pip had secretly hoped they would all become members of the Night Guard, but now that could no longer happen.

“What kind of obstacles are on the pegasus course?” Pip whispered to Scootaloo.

“Really?” she sarcastically asked. “I was the one that ran along the bottom, remember? I have no idea what the pegasus obstacles are.”

“Right,” he sheepishly replied. “Sorry about that.”

In order to take his mind off the situation, Pip turned back to Phantom Shade and Thunder Clash. They were continuing their conversation in whispers. Both of them looked angry, however, like they were having an argument. Pip was curious about their conversation, but he couldn’t hear a thing.

Suddenly, Mist exited from the bat pony obstacle course. She wobbled through the air, half blind, but managed to land in formation regardless. Mist glanced over with squinted eyes to see who all had made it, and gave Pip one of her cheery smiles when their gaze met.

Thunder Clash pulled himself away from his conversation with Phantom Shade to shout, “Six minutes and forty seconds!”

Marble lifted a single eyebrow. “I wonder how he keeps track of time so accurately,” she muttered aloud.

Pip turned back to the pegasus course. Come on, Rumble… What’s taking you so long? The time dragged on as Pip waited. In the obstacle course he felt as though he had done everything in under a minute, that’s how fast time had been flying. Now that he was just waiting, it felt like an eternity.

As if thinking about him somehow summoned him, Rumble emerged from the course with a wide smile upon his face. Although his coat, feathers and mane were partially singed on one side, he landed amongst the group with his head held high.

“Seven minutes and ten seconds,” Thunder Clash announced. “You only managed to beat Snips and Snails, boy. What sort of reality do you live in where everything average is suddenly an epic accomplishment? Wipe that smile off your face!”

Rumble whipped his head to the side and stared at everypony that had made it before him. “R-really? I only beat Snips and Snails? Hey, wait! There’s still one bat pony! I beat her!”

Scootaloo patted Rumbled on the shoulder and shook her head. “No, no, no. She finished so long ago that Phantom Shade had time to scold her for cheating and she was able to fly off in order to gather her things. That’s how long we’ve all been waiting for you.”

“What? Pfft. No way.” Rumble turned to Pip and Marble. They both nodded their heads. “Wait, really? Really? I was that slow?” Rumble hung his head in shame.


Everypony turned toward the unicorn obstacle course. The end of the course was completely destroyed, bits of wood and rope now raining down everywhere. Pip had to shield his eyes from the debris but he kept his attention on the course. It was a complete, unmitigated, mess.

Thunder Clash and Phantom Shade both jumped forward, seemingly ready for a fight. Both of them dropped their jaws in amazement when they spotted Snips and Snails staggering from the mess. Snips had tiny alligators hanging on his pudgy flank by their razor-sharp teeth, and Snails was missing a good portion of his tail, as though it had been violently ripped out.

They both bumbled their way to the formation line before turning to Thunder Clash.

“We’re here, sir,” Snails slowly muttered.

“Yeah, we’re here,” Snips followed his statement by face-planting on the ground. He had passed out. The alligators continued to wiggle and growl. Up close, Pip could see the alligators were no bigger than an average house cat.

Thunder Clash snorted in disbelief. “I can’t believe I’m still stuck with you nincompoops.”

Phantom Shade frowned. “First Rust Wing and now this? I don’t care what you say, Thunder Clash. You’re getting soft. These unicorns would have never made it with the group I trained with.”

“You can’t underestimate tenacity,” Thunder Clash shrugged. “Besides, the Night Guard could use some unicorns. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times… some things can only be dealt with by magic.”

“The Night Guard doesn’t need these unicorns,” Phantom Shade said in disgust. He turned away, and spread his wings. “I’m off to make sure Rust Wing has her things packed. Don’t disappoint me, Thunder Clash. You’re already on thin ice as far as I'm concerned.” Phantom Shade took to the sky, flying off in the direction of the barracks.

Snails turned to Pip and smiled. “We made it!”

“Yeah… Just barely.” Pip looked down at the alligators and cringed away. They were still growling.

Scootaloo pointed to creatures and glared. “Aren’t one of you going to remove those things!?”

Rumble haphazardly jumped to Snips and grabbed one of the alligators. He began yanking, but the jaw of the tiny reptile was fixed. Thunder Clash flew over and pushed Rumble aside.

“Don’t hurt yourself, boy. Clearly you don’t know your animals.” Thunder Clash gently stroked the alligator and patted it on its head like a domesticated pet. The alligator slowly relaxed its jaw and stared vacantly in two directions, one eye to the left and one eye to the right. Thunder Clash repeated this trick with the last alligator and sent them both on their way out into the night.

Having freed Snips’ flank from the biting terrors, Thunder Clash began pacing the air in front of the recruits. “Listen up!” he shouted. “We’ve no need to dwell on the past! Rust Wing is gone and we will speak no further on the issue! However, from this night forth, we’ll be doing the exercises while wearing the required Night Guard armor. The armor is heavy, but your body needs to get used to the weight if you hope to carry out your duties on a nightly basis. You’ll be expected to run in the armor, fight in the armor, carry injured ponies to safety in the armor, and sleep in the armor if that’s what your princess asks of you! Does everypony understand!?”

“Sir, yes sir!” they answered in unison.

“Good. You’re all dismissed.”

Before Pip could walk over and ask the bat ponies what had happened, they all took off toward the barracks. He was about to chase after them when Marble held out a hoof.

“Help me carry this one?” she asked, motioning to Snips.



Pip and Marble gently placed the unconscious unicorn upon his bed. They were lucky he had picked the bottom bunk. He was remarkable dense for a pony, and weighed more than Pip had expected.

Snails immediately began caring for his friend. Although Snips wasn’t terribly injured, he did have puncture wounds from the alligators all over his flank. Rumble flew over and immediately approached Snails.

“What was that? That explosion at the end? You guys never do anything with magic! Ever!”

“Well,” Snails rubbed at his mane and contemplated for a moment. “That is our special talent. We can use more advanced magic when we’re together.”

“Seriously?” Scootaloo balked. “You need another pony for your special talent? That would be so frustrating!”

Snails shook his head. “N-no, it’s not frustrating. We knew the moment we became friends in grade school. It was like… meeting your other half. We’re meant to do things together. We make the perfect unicorn.”

Rumble immediately burst into laughter. He held onto his sides and flew through the air around the bunk bed. “You two!? A perfect unicorn? Hahaha! That’s great!”

“What spells do you know?” Marble asked, not a hint of mirth for the situation.

Snails shrugged. “Well… We’re not very good at the spells… We have that explode-y one. Oh! And we have one that rearranges everything in the room so it’s a mess. We tried to learn this one spell to turn things into other things, but all we managed to do was turn things into puppy-dogs’ tails…”

Scootaloo cringed in disgust. “Seriously?”

“Well, they weren’t real. Just, er, that’s what everything we tried to transform looked like.”

Rumble was still laughing. He could barely contain himself. “They have a spell that makes a mess! Hahaha! How useless is that!? Haha!”

Tired, and unsure of what else to do, Pip wandered back to his bed. Marble followed him. She stopped on the opposite side of his bunk. “What happened with the bat ponies tonight?” she whispered. Rumble’s laugh was still ringing throughout the barracks.

“I don’t know,” Pip earnestly answered. “I was going to ask them, but they all took off. I guess I'll speak to them about it tomorrow. After training.”

“I thought you had been conversing with them outside of training for a while now.”

“I have, but they never mentioned anything that would explain what happened tonight.” Pip took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “Hey, Marble. Would you mind helping me mend things between the bat ponies and us?”

Marble slowly blinked. “I think you’ve come to the wrong pony.”

“What? You’ve been a great friend to me so far. I'm sure you could think of something.”

“I’ve been a loner all my life. I have a sister who throws parties for a living and still I don’t go out to have fun. I usually find everything to be dull. These aren’t qualities you want when forming bonds with others.”

Pip waved his hoof dismissively. “I think you’re too hard on yourself. We’re great friends!”

“I think you’re childishly naïve.”

“R-really? You think I’m naïve?”

“You just assume everything will work out in the end. It usually doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong… Naïveté can also be a charming quality. In foals. But yes. I think you’re naïve.”

Pip sighed and turned to the rest of the room. Rumble and Scootaloo were now engaged in a mild argument.

“Rainbow Dash could definitely beat Thunderlane in a race! I can’t believe you would even say otherwise!”

Rumble rolled his eyes. “My brother is in the Wonderbolts.”

“So is Rainbow Dash!”

“Yeah, but he’s also been training. I’m sure Rainbow Dash doesn’t have time, what with all her world-saving or whatever she does as an element bearer.”

“You obviously don’t know Rainbow Dash very well! She can make time!”

Pip wasn’t even sure how they managed to go from laughing at Snips and Snails to arguing over who was the fastest pegasus. Maybe they aren’t the best examples of how to make friends… Pip suddenly thought back to his time in Ponyville. “Hey, Scootaloo? Are you still good friends with Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom?”

“Yeah, of course,” she quickly responded. “I write letters to them all the time.”

“Where are they? Back in Ponyville?”

“No. Apple Bloom started her own branch of the Apple family out in the Crystal Empire and Sweetie Belle travels all over the place signing in concerts. I was going to join the Crystal Guard in order to be closer to Apple Bloom, that way when Sweetie Belle came by to do a concert we could all be together again, but then I decided that maybe I should go out and do my own thing. Both Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom did.”

That didn’t help Pip. He turned back to observe the two unicorns. Snails was tenderly caring for Snips, making sure to treat every wound. “What about Snips and Snails?” Pip asked Marble under his breath. “They’re good friends.”

“Did you seriously just suggest Snips and Snails would be competent diplomats?” Marble said with a chuckle. “I think you might have hit your head during that obstacle course.”

“Yeah… You’re right. I completely forgot how weird they were acting with me before. And how weird they act with everypony besides each other.”

Marble shrugged. “Why not invite the bat ponies to accompany you to the Summer Sun Celebration? I know the trainees are given those two days off, and everypony in Canterlot stays up all night to watch the sunrise. It might get the other ponies to see that bat ponies aren’t vicious.”

At first Pip completely dismissed the idea. A celebration of the sun? The one thing the bat ponies couldn’t stand to be in? But the longer Pip thought about it the more he felt it was a good start. “Yeah… The Summer Sun Celebration is always so cheerful and festive…”

“And all the princesses will be there. Nopony would dare make a big scene, or else Princess Luna would have them removed.”

“Wow. Marble, you’re a genius! I knew you would be great at this!”

She shook her head. “I’m not going.”

“What?” Pip asked in disbelief. “Why not? It was your idea.”

“I don’t like parties. I would much rather stay here. You will enjoy the Summer Sun Celebration a lot more than I will.”

“Are you guys talking about the Summer Sun Celebration?” Rumble asked, butting into their conversation. He flew overhead and landed on the nearest bunk. “I totally had a nightmare last night that everything caught on fire at the Summer Sun Celebration. How weird is that?”

Pip looked up at Rumble and nervously raised an eyebrow. “You had a nightmare involving the sun?”

“Yeah. It was crazy. Like I said, everything was on fire.”

“I had a similar nightmare,” Pip muttered more to himself than anypony else.

“I’ve had a few nightmares about the sun burning everything since we’ve started our training,” Marble shrugged. “Seems natural that a group of day-dwelling ponies would have anxieties about never being awake during the day again. These nightmares might just be those anxieties manifesting themselves.”

Pip stared intently at the bunk in front of him without truly seeing anything. Luna had told him all about dreams and nightmares, and all about her powers to control and manipulate them… If so many ponies were having nightmares about the sun, why wasn’t she doing anything about it? It would be extra weird if every pony in the Night Guard was having nightmares about the sun suddenly catching the world on fire…

“Scootaloo,” Pip called to her. “Have you had any nightmares lately? Any nightmares about burning, or the sun getting to close, or the Summer Sun Celebration?”

Scootaloo was crawling into her bed as Pip asked the question. She turned to him and shrugged. “Yeah. A couple times. Why do you ask?”

Scootaloo as well? “Snails, have you had any nightmares? Involving the sun?”

Snails nodded. “Yeah.”

“Do you know if Snips has as well?”

“Yeah, he has.”

Everypony here? That’s too many to be a coincidence. What’s going on? Marble waved a hoof in front of his face. “Are you all right, Pip?”

“I, uh, am just thinking about things.” He smacked himself in the face with his hoof. Of course! Luna was sleeping during the day! She couldn’t help ponies with their nightmares then! Whatever was going on couldn’t involve her! Right? “Nevermind,” Pip said aloud. “I was just being silly. For a moment I thought something strange was going on.”

Marble trotted over to her bed. “I wouldn’t put too much thought into your dreams. I’m sure it’s nothing.”

Pip dwelled on her words for a long time. He slowly crawled into bed and listened to the others do the same. He stared at the ceiling and watched as the first rays of the morning sun came through the far window. Pip was certain everypony had quickly gone to sleep, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself from thinking.

He had a good deal of himself invested within his dreams. It was only because he met Luna within his dreams that he even signed up for the Night Guard in the first place. The ability to walk through and control dreams was one of her many extraordinary talents. The fact that all the ponies here had similar nightmares bothered him. It was important. He knew it was. But why? Was something happening to Luna? Was she sending them all a message?

Although Luna slept through the day, he knew it had to be her behind it all. It had to be Luna. She was making the nightmares. It had to be.

Nendum Sanguinem

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Completing five sets of ten push-ups while wearing heavy plate armor was exhausting.

Pip was gasping for breath at the end of it all, barely able to continue counting. Thunder Clash flew amongst them, scanning everypony to catch those who were shirking their exercises.

The Night Guard armor was purple and black in color scheme. It consisted of a helmet, neck guard, saddle guard, chest plate, and heavy hoof guards on each hoof. The chest plate was decorated with a single blue eye design, meant to represent Luna’s watch over the night.

Every piece of the armor weighed more than Pip thought it would. When he had imagined himself wearing it, he never imagined buckling under its weight. Just gotta train harder.

A distant roar filled the night air.

The recruits looked up and around. Thunder Clash shook his head. “Don’t worry your heads about it. That’s the cry of an Ursa. Most likely an Ursa Minor, calling for its mother. Unlike you sorry lot, the real Night Guard will take care of it.”

Snips and Snails collapsed on the ground and gave each other worried glances. Pip hadn’t yet moved to Ponyville when the Ursa Minor had been a problem, but all the foals in school would talk about it for hours on end. It had taken Twilight Sparkle herself to remove it from town. Pip could only imagine how dangerous a creature like that could be.

Another roar, this time louder.

The bat ponies began nervously scanning the darkness. “Are you sure the Night Guard will handle it?” Gloom asked, his large ears twitching. “It sounds close...”

“This is the natural time of year that the Ursas are active. They typically stay within forests, so there shouldn’t be much for you rookies to worry about.”


Even Pip crouched down, fearful that an Ursa could jump out of the darkness at any moment. Thunder Clash didn't cringe or flinch away from the roaring, but he did look concerned.

“Listen up, recruits. Go back to the barracks. Consider this your lucky night. You only had to do half of your exercises.”

The Ponyville recruits sighed in relief and immediately began removing their armor. Pip took this moment to trot up to Thunder Clash. The drill sergeant was staring up into the sky, his eyes scanning the area for other ponies.

“Sir, can I have a word with you?” Pip asked.

“I told you not to worry about it, boy. The Night Guard will protect you. Just go back to the barracks and rest.”

“No, that’s not why I wanted to talk to you…”

“What is it? Spit it out.”

Pip nodded. “Well, it might seem a little strange but… have you been having any nightmares lately? Involving the sun?”

Thunder Clash suddenly turned his full attention to Pip. “Has Phantom Shade been whispering his theories to you, boy? I told him I would break his wings if he went around spittin’ his mutinous ramblings to my recruits. Well!?” Thunder Clash barked. “Did he?”

Pip vigorously shook his head. “N-no sir! I haven’t been speaking with Phantom Shade at all! I just, er, me and the other recruits-”

“Listen to me,” Thunder Clash hissed, interrupting Pip. He lowered his voice when he realized some of the other ponies were watching. “Princess Celestia has never failed us. Whatever things you think you’re seeing, it doesn’t concern her. You get me?”

“I never mentioned Princess Celestia, sir.”

“Princess Celestia and the sun are practically one in the same. Think long and hard before you going around claiming everything is some sort of sign. I won’t take kindly to it. Now get out of my face. I’m going to make sure the soldiers charged with this area know what’s going on.” Thunder Clash opened his wings and took to the night sky. Pip watched him go, slightly confused. When Pip turned he realized everypony else had already gone.


Pip ducked his head and walked over the armor racks. He quickly removed his armor and galloped back toward the barracks. Before he reached the door he spotted three silhouettes of ponies flying off toward the forest. Since Scootaloo couldn’t fly, and Rumble wasn’t three ponies, Pip figured it was the bat pony recruits. He changed course to follow them.

Much to his surprise, he watched the three ponies fly into the forest itself, straight toward the roars. Pip stopped at the tree line and listened. He could hear the sounds of trees cracking and birds taking to the sky. The longer he listened the more he realized there was much more than just one beast wondering the forest tonight.

With a heavy sigh, Pip ran into the forest after the bat ponies. It was a terrible idea to be wandering around in the forest with Ursas walking about. Additionally, Pip still didn’t know why Rust Wing had been removed from the training, and he was hoping one of the bat ponies would be willing to explain it to him.

The forest was dark, but it didn’t take long for Pip to run across the glittering ferns. They helped him make his way without tripping and falling over every root and rock. As he continued forward, Pip worried he may be getting lost. He thought the bat ponies had gone this way, but how was one supposed to track a creature that flew? He had no idea… I hope I don't run across any more giant Star Spiders. Then again, this is pretty far from where I found it.

“Keep your voice down, keep you voice down!”

Pip turned toward the voice echoing through the trees. Much to his displeasure, he recognized Screech’s tone and rasp. Galloping toward the voice, Pip quickly came upon a small clearing within the trees. Screech, Specter and Gloom were sitting upon branches on the edge of the clearing.

Gloom pointed. “I told you I heard something following us.”

“What are you doing here, earth pony?” Specter asked. “It’s dangerous in the forest right now.”

Pip trotted out to stand in the middle of the clearing. He could see better there, with the light of the moon flooding the area. “I came out here to tell you guys the exact same thing. It’s really dangerous out here. You don’t want to be caught by the Ursas.”

The bat ponies began laughing. Specter acted as the group’s spokespony. “Well, thank you very much, mother. We had no idea.”

“Maybe we should all go back together. So you don’t get hurt.”

“Was that a threat?” Screech suddenly interjected.

Pip shook his head. “What? No, of course not. I just don’t want you guys to-”

“What do you care?” Gloom snapped. “All you day-ponies just need to worry about yourselves.”

Specter nodded. “Maybe you would have gotten a better time on your obstacle course if you weren’t always helping all the other weaker ponies.”

“How did you…?” Pip’s voice trailed off.

“It was obvious. You finished in time so close together, both of the other ponies had your scent on them, you continually go out of your way to help the two unicorns… Maybe you would have impressed Phantom Shade by now if you weren’t so concerned with everypony else. You’re only going to get yourself removed from the training. And for what? To force the other ponies into your debt? Do you want them to owe you a favor or something?”

“What? I would never force them to do something they didn't want to do. And helping each other isn’t going to get us removed. ”

“Tell that to Rust Wing,” Screech said with a cruel smile.

Gloom nodded. “And it could have been two of us that went home…”


Everypony stopped talking and looked around. That time the roar sounded close… really close. Pip gulped. “Um… Why don’t we all go back now?”

Screech jumped down from his branch and motioned for Pip to go. “Leave us. We don’t want to look at your dirty, spotted hide any longer. We came out here to watch the Night Guard fight the Ursas and we aren’t leaving till we see it.”

“If the Night Guard catches you out here, you might get into trouble. I’m just looking out for you guys.”

Screech glared. “Ya know, if you don’t want to wait for us to fight, you could have just said so. No need to come out here like you’re concerned or under the guise of helping us. It makes me hate you that much more when you lie about it… when you make it seem like you’re on some sort of high ground.”

“W-wait,” Pip said, backing away from the bat pony. “Hear me out. How about we just say we had a fight and you won. That way we can get passed this, and you guys can consider going to the Summer Sun Celebration with me. You can even see the princesses! It’ll be a lot fun!” Pip forced a laugh. He felt pathetic, but he hoped what he was saying was sinking in. Maybe Marble is right... I feel like a foal right now...

The bat ponies were silent for a moment.

But then the silence was broken by Gloom and Specter bursting into laughter. Both of them were grabbing their sides and throwing back their heads. Screech just half smiled.

“I think he’s asking you out on a date, Screech!” Gloom said between laughs.

Specter nodded and smacked Gloom. “You said it! Maybe he isn’t lying! Maybe he’s just confused!”

The two of them continued to laugh and Screech had to turn back to them with a glare. “Shut your faces! I don’t want to get caught out here because of you hyenas!”

The two quelled their laughter, but they continued to snicker under their breath from time to time. Screech turned back to Pip, no longer amused. “Ponies keep trying to tell me to help everypony else, but all I see is a bunch of ponies trying to use me for their own gains. I don’t need help. Why should I help others?” Screech slowly advanced and unfurled his wings.

Pip took another step back. “We don’t need to fight,” he breathed.

“Heh. All of life is fighting! You fight to get to the top, you fight to get what you want, you fight to stay alive when enemies come calling… and you fight for what you believe in. If you can’t or refuse to fight, why should I even bother listening to you? Even the Princess of Friendship,” he spat those last words, “fights those who oppose her! If there’s one thing I learned from the Badlands… it’s that the best fighters always get what they want. And I want you out of here.”

Without warning, Screech lunged. He slammed Pip into a tree and quickly took to the sky afterward. In the sparring ring he wasn’t allowed to use his wings or fangs… but this wasn’t the sparring ring. Pip shook his head and turned to Specter and Gloom for assistance. They smiled back at him, content to watch the fight from the tree branches.

Realizing he would get no help, Pip braced for Screech to attack again. The bat pony dove for him, but Pip remained calm. He grabbed Screech as he came in, turned slightly, and used Screech’s momentum against him, just like Thunder Clash had drilled into his head, night after night.

Screech slammed against the ground and slid a few feet through the dirt. Specter and Gloom laughed, which surprised Pip. They weren’t really backing Screech… they just wanted to see a fight. It was then that Pip realized they might not even be friends themselves. They may just consider each other acquaintances; other bat ponies with the same career goal.

Screech jumped up, turned around and lunged again. This time it was fast, too fast for Pip to catch. Pip hit the ground on his back, winded. Screech slammed his head down, but Pip had been hit too many times with that specific attack not to know when to turn his head to lessen the damage.


It still hurt, but Pip's muzzle wasn’t broken this time. His vision blurred for amount, but nothing Pip couldn’t handle. He kicked Screech off his body and, before Screech could take to the air, bucked him into a nearby tree.

Anger flashing in his eyes, Screech pushed off the tree and ran forward. Pip volted out of the way, but Screech had been expecting that. The bat pony turned around, flapped up into the sky and slammed down on Pip’s back, sending them both to the ground.


As Pip was momentarily stunned, he briefly caught a glimpse of Screech’s white fangs in the moonlight. The searing pain in his neck and shoulder was all he could focus on after that. Pip kicked upward, attempting to send the bat pony flying, but Screech held fast. The grip with his fangs was so intense that Pip thought the bones in his shoulder might shatter.

Then Pip began to feel light-headed and his kicks became weaker and weaker…

Screech suddenly let go of him and backed away, his muzzle stained with blood. The moment he let go, Pip felt a little better, but he still felt weak. It didn’t help that his muscles were also still aching from the exercise before. Pip slowly got to his feet and saw that the white of his coat was now crimson along his leg and chest.

“Let’s see your special talent in action, shall we?” Screech laughed.

Before Pip could focus on the fighting again, Screech rammed into his side and smashed him against a nearby tree. Pip slumped to the ground, unable to stand. He looked up and noticed the change in Screech’s flank. Next to his own cutie mark, a pair of bloody fangs, was another cutie mark… Pip’s mark. The sword and star.

Screech took a step closer and looked down upon Pip with a cruel smile. “Break his leg, Screech!” Gloom cheered. “He’ll be in the infirmary for a while after that!”

Screech reared up to slam him, and Pip had to look away, bracing himself for the pain he knew was soon to come. But it didn’t. After a long moment, Pip turned and looked back at the bat pony. Screech was still standing there, on his hind legs, but the look on his face was one of internal conflict.

“What’s wrong?” Specter asked.

Gloom jumped down from the tree. “Screech?”

Screech took a few steps back and lowered himself down to all fours. “I… don’t feel right… This isn’t right…”

Gloom softly laughed as he stood by Screech’s side. “Hehe… What did I tell you about drinking the blood of ponies with strong talents? They mess with your head. This is just like that time we raided that merchant… All you wanted to do was sell oranges after we attacked him.”

“What’re you guys doing!?”

Pip glanced upward and saw Equinox and Mist land in the clearing. Equinox immediately rushed over to stand between Pip and Screech.

“Are you insane!?” Equinox shouted. “I told you to leave him alone!”

Specter jumped down from his tree branch and joined everypony else in the clearing. “Calm down, Equinox. He’s still fine. A little low on blood… but fine.”

“Didn’t you all see what happened to Rust Wing!? Is that what you want to happen to you as well!?”

Mist eyed Pip with tiny frown. She looked as though she wanted to comfort him, but she kept her distance.

Specter shook his head. “We’ll be fine. If he tries to report Screech… Gloom and I will say he’s making it up. Isn’t that right, Gloom?”

Everypony turned to Gloom. He was staring at the forest with wide eyes and trembling legs. Without answering Specter’s question, he slowly began to take a step backward. “It’s here…” he muttered.

Suddenly, smashing through the trees and onto the edge of the clearing, was an Ursa Minor. Its space-like translucent body loomed over them, and its red and yellow eyes scanned the forest, taking everything in. The Ursa wasn’t as much a baby as it was a teenager… An adolescent on the prowl for the first time in its life.

Everypony in the clearing was stunned. An Ursa could eat a pony in a single bite, if it were so inclined. Unexpectedly, Speech jumped forward. “Go! I’ll keep it distracted!” He flew up to the creature and slashed at one eye with the tip of his wing. It wasn’t enough to blind the star-bear, but it was enough to cause it irritation.


“What’re you doing, Screech!?” Gloom shouted as he took to the air. “Get out of there!”

Screech dodged the Ursa’s attempts to slash him. Equinox also jumped into the fray, but Mist did not. When Pip looked around for Specter, he realized the bat pony had silently slipped away, not making a single sound.

Mist rushed over to Pip. When she got to his side, she stopped and began nervously prancing in place. She was staring at the blood on his neck, shoulder and foreleg like it would jump off his body and eat her. Pip struggled to stand and was nearly crushed when a tree trunk went sailing overhead at frightening speeds.

Screech and Equinox were fighting the Ursa Minor, attempting to keep it away from the others. They swooped and attacked before pulling out of reach. Since the bear couldn’t fly, they were at an advantage.

Equinox turned to Screech with a look of confusion. Clearly this was not Screech’s modus operandi. She didn’t have time to question it, however, and instead yelled back to her sister, “Run! Take Pip and run!”

With a forced gulp, Mist took one step closer to Pip and stared at him in fright.

“Please, Mist,” Pip asked. “I don’t think I can run right now…”

Mist held out a hoof but immediately pulled it back when Pip took a step closer. “I… I’m sorry!” she shouted as she turned away and flew through the forest at top speeds. Pip watched in disbelief as she went. She left me? She actually left me?


The Ursa swung with its paw and clipped another tree, lifting it from the ground and tossing it through the air. With the tree gone, Pip could see another Ursa Minor in the distance. Was this some sort of mating season? Were all the bears out and about right now? Where was the Night Guard?

Suddenly, shadows cast by the moonlight informed Pip that the Night Guard was overhead. Equinox noticed it too. She glanced up to the sky and saw that soldiers were beginning to deal with the Ursa problem.

“Screech! If we don’t leave soon they’ll see what you’ve done! We have to go!”

Screech flew around the head of the creature, attempting to strike it in its wounded eye again. “You go! I’ll handle this!” He finally managed to strike the creature in the wounded eye once more, just as Pip’s cutie mark faded from his flank. Once it was gone, Screech backed away from the monster like he was truly seeing it for the first time. Without a second glance back, he flew from the clearing at top speeds.

The Ursa Minor, with Screech out of the picture, turned its attention to Equinox. It slashed through the air, nearly cutting a wing from her body. She turned to Pip and then to the monster and attempted to draw it away. She began slowly flying backward, taunting it as she went.

“Your mother was a badger!” she called out. “You’ll never catch me, beast!”

Pip began hobbling away, attempting to distance himself from the monster should Equinox give up and fly off. He turned back to the sky. It seemed as though the Night Guard were busy dealing with the other Ursa Minor. Of all my luck…

“Help! Somepony help!”

Somepony was crying out in the forest just ahead of him. Pip braced himself for the worst. Was there another Ursa Minor ahead of him as well? His question was answered, however, when he saw Scootaloo being carried through the air by a determined Mist. Scootaloo was thrashing about, attempting to knock Mist’s grasp, but she just wasn’t able to.

“Help!” Scootaloo cried out again. “I’m being abducted! Somepony get this crazy bat off me!”

Mist let go of Scootaloo only a few feet from Pip. Scootaloo would have crashed hard had it not been for her tiny buzzing wings. She landed gracefully and shot Mist as look that could kill.

“When I get my hooves on you-”

Mist shook her head and pointed. “Ursa Minor! Run!”

“What?” Scootaloo turned around and saw an angry Ursa Minor rampaging toward her. Pip’s heart sank. Where was Equinox? What were they going to do? It was then that Scootaloo spotted him. With very little time to act, she ran to his side, hefted him onto her back and began racing forward, her wings buzzing in overdrive. Pip wrapped his forelegs around her neck and held on for dear life.

Even with Pip’s weight, Scootaloo was remarkably fast. She ran across the ground with a sure footing and amazing dexterity. However, the Ursa Minor was gigantic. With each step it covered massive ground. Its slow run was enough to keep up with Scootaloo, who was now raggedly breathing just to maintain her speed.

Through the tree line, Pip and Scootaloo spotted the reflection of the moon off a river. Scootaloo immediately turned toward it and began running at full tilt. The Ursa Minor followed, smashing trees and shrubbery out of its way as it rampaged.

“Scootaloo! Not the river!” was all Pip could yell in time.

Scootaloo slid to a halt before colliding with the water and made a sharp ninety degree turn to run along the bank. What was she thinking? Pip thought. He was too weak to carry her through the water and she wasn’t the greatest swimmer, at least not during the obstacle course… and the Ursa was so big it could have stepped over the river to other side with ease… If she had jumped into the water they would have surely been caught!

With deep breaths, Scootaloo began to pick up speed once again. The Ursa smashed through the trees and continued after them along the bank of the river, roaring as it went. The monster was angry; angry about the damage to its one eye.

Just as Scootaloo’s breathing bordered on the extreme, Mist jumped from the shadows of the trees and pointed to a spot behind a large bush. Without thinking, Scootaloo jumped to that point. She and Pip fell. There had been a large hole on the other side of the bush; large enough to comfortably fit four ponies, but the opening was small enough that the bush hid it from sight.

The Ursa Minor rampaged passed them, rushing down the river without bothering to carefully examine anything. Scootaloo and Pip stared at each other for a long time as they took deep gulps of air. Pip wasn’t nearly as exhausted as Scootaloo, but his heart was still beating hard regardless.

“I think we made it,” he muttered once the stomping overhead became a distant sound.

Scootaloo nodded, still trying to catch her breath.

“Are you guys okay down there?” Pip heard Mist ask.

“Yes,” he called up. “Thank you.”

“Come up and wash yourself off!” Mist squeaked.

Scootaloo began laughing between breaths. “I can’t believe… we did that…”

Pip nodded to her. “That was all you. I was just dead weight.”

She laughed again. “I had no idea why that weird bat pony started carrying me away… I’m glad she did… You look messed up…”

With a snort of laughter, Pip picked himself up and slowly climbed out of the hole. The bank of the river was a complete mess. Everything was either knocked down or destroyed completely. Pip sighed and walked up to the water. There was silt and tree breaches in it, but he jumped in regardless.

The cooling sensation of the water eased the pain of his shoulder, but the silt scratched and stung at the same time. He quickly got back out, thankful he was no longer covered in his own blood.

Mist was there waiting for him, smiling as she watched him approach. “I’m so glad you’re okay!” she said in her usual sing-song voice.

Scootaloo jumped out of the hole and half rolled herself to the bank of the river. Her legs worked just as well as jelly. Once in the water, she began wiping Pip’s blood off her back and feathers. “I’m okay too,” she sarcastically called out to Mist. “Just in case you were wondering!”

“Oh, I know you’re fine,” Mist laughed. “That’s why I got you to save Squeaks!”

Scootaloo frowned. “Squeaks? That’s a terrible nickname! Seriously! The worst!”

Mist frowned and hung her head. Pip shook off the water like a wet dog. “It’s okay, Mist. I don’t mind. Thank you. I appreciate you bringing Scootaloo.”

“Are you feeling okay?” Mist asked, flying over to him and examining his body. “Nothing feels strange?”

“N-no… Should it?”

“Well, it looks like a bat pony bit you… I just want to make sure you didn’t catch a disease.”

Scootaloo stopped splashing around in the water and stared at the other two in shock. “Pip!? You were bit!? By who? What happened!? And, er, diseases!? What did you say about diseases!?”

Mist shrugged. “He could have caught Cutie Pox.”

Scootaloo took a few moments to let that sink in. “Cutie Pox?”

“Yeah. It happens sometimes when a pony gets bit by a bat pony. Cutie Pox.”

Scootaloo pulled herself from the river and slowly walked over. She looked terrible. Pegasi with wet wings always looked sad and pathetic. “Wait a minute… My friend Apple Bloom got Cutie Pox once… I thought she got it from mixing a potion with the Heart’s Desire flower.”

Mist dismissively waved her hoof and snickered. “Oh, the Heart’s Desire flower just gives you the worst possible interpretation for what your heart desires! I should know! I have eaten, like, five of them!” Mist continued her soft ke ke ke snicker. “The first one I ate because I wanted everything to taste like mango. Then, after about a year, I really started to dislike the taste of mango… so I ate another one to get a different taste, but then everything tasted crazy and terrible! You can see where this is going. It wasn’t until after the fifth flower that my sister got the cure for it.”

Scootaloo began laughing. “That would make sense… Twilight Sparkle did run around town talking about how Cutie Pox had once been some weird disease that randomly disappeared generations ago… Wait, bat ponies can spread Cutie Pox!? How do you guys drink blood without infecting everypony!?”

Mist looked taken aback and embarrassed at the same time. “Er… Well… maybe not all bat ponies drink blood… and… er… The ones that do, drink pig and chicken blood!”

“Really?” Scootaloo asked. “They don’t drink pony blood?”

“It’s forbidden… At least, it is in Hollow Shades. I know the bat ponies in the Badlands do it from time to time.” Mist slowly tapped her two front hooves together. “Phantom Shade told us if we ever drank the blood of another pony while working, or training for, the Night Guard, he would throw us out. He said other ponies would think we’re evil and not trust us.”

“I just assumed you drank pony blood,” Scootaloo awkwardly stated. “I guess you know what they say about assumptions.” She left the ground and went back to the river. Now that it was running clear, she wanted to get rid of the dirt in her coat.

Mist turned to Pip and lowered her voice. “I’m sorry Screech bit you. He did it to get the vitality of your blood.”

Pip placed a hoof on his shoulder injury to keep it from bleeding. “What is that? What are you referring to?”

“If a bat pony drinks directly from the source of another pony, they can temporarily have access to that pony’s special talents and abilities.”

Pip looked at Mist in shock. He had no idea bat ponies could do that! That was… an amazing ability, but he understood why other ponies would find it frightening. But why had they kept it a secret? Pip pushed it from his mind. It wasn’t the bat pony’s fault they drank blood. It was just in their nature. But… how was he going to convince others of that? I am terrible with words…


The roars of the Ursa Minor’s worried him. “Mist… We should get going. We need to find Equinox.”

“Hm,” she nodded with a smile. “Let’s go!”

Weapon of Choice

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Equinox opened her eyes and stared, unseeing, into the forest. It took her a few moments to realize she was on the ground. She slowly got up, unable to remember how she got here. There was the Ursa… and she was flying… and then it attacked her…

Panic gripped her. Equinox immediately glanced at her backside. If her wings were damaged beyond repair, she would be useless. She had no magic, no extraordinary strength… if she couldn’t fly, she might as well be an earth pony. An earth pony with no connection to the elements. An earth pony that all the day-dwelling ponies distrusted.

She slowly unfurled her wings and looked them over. They were sore, but the wings themselves were still intact. Equinox let out a small sigh of relief. In her half second of panic she had concocted a crazy plan to live life as a day-pony in disguise. With her ability to see in the daylight, she might be able to hide her bat-like qualities… But then who would look after Mist?

Equinox took a deep breath. She had to get back to Mist. Her younger sister was touched, there was no other way to put it. Something had always been wrong with her. But… she was a gentler soul than all the others around her. Equinox needed to be with her, to protect her.

A roar from an Ursa sounded in the distance.

Equinox glanced upward and saw that her fall had been broken by the thin branches of two trees. As she tried to decipher the angle at which she fell, two of the Night Guard flew overhead. Although it was dark, Equinox knew they had spotted her; their slit-pupil eyes able to pierce through even the blackest of nights.

The two soldiers broke apart, one to deal with the Ursa and one to investigate Equinox’s presence. Equinox knew that getting caught meant trouble, but she was too sore to outrun one of the Night Guard. She would try and talk her way out of this, if need be.

The bat pony that landed before her was clad in Night Guard armor. He had a bow and quiver strapped around his body, and, strangely, a small whistle on a string around his neck. Equinox couldn’t see the soldier’s cutie mark, but she could see his eyes. They were a very pale gold. She had seen them before…

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” the soldier asked.

Equinox stepped forward. “I was wandering the forest when an Ursa unexpectedly attacked me. I thought it was the Night Guard’s duty to take care of those things. Shouldn’t you be doing your job?” Equinox didn’t want to start a fight, but she did want to pressure the stallion into leaving without inquiring about her further. Guilt seemed like a good tactic.

“Equinox?” the soldier asked, taking a hesitant step forward.

She defensively held her foreleg up. “Yeah? Do I know you?”

“It’s me, Pale Dusk. I would see you sometimes in-”

“Pale Dusk? This is where you went to?” she asked in disbelief, cutting him off. “I thought you had run off to join your uncle and aunt in the Badlands!”

He shook his head. “Why are you so far from Hollow Shades?”

“I…” Equinox hesitated. “I’m here training for the Night Guard.”

“Really?” Pale Dusk asked with a smile. “Wow, your timing couldn’t have been better. I’m sure Captain Phantom Shade was ecstatic to see you.”

Equinox was glad he was excited to see her. This meant he most likely wasn’t going to report her to Thunder Clash. “I don’t think Captain Phantom Shade cared about my presence one way or the other. All he seemed to care about was that I passed the courses.”

“Really? Does he know of your special ability?”

“I… I don’t know. I’m sure he does. Why? What does my special ability have to do with anything?”

Another roar cut through the night air.

Pale Dusk turned his attention to the forest. “I’m sorry, Equinox. I don’t have much time to talk. Can you make it back to the barracks? Do you know where it is?”

“I can manage.”

He jumped into the air and nodded. “All right then. I look forward to seeing you in the Night Guard.” Pale Dusk flew off to meet back with the others.

Equinox didn’t want to squander her opportunity. She took to the sky and flew low along the canopy of the trees. As she went, she tried to keep close to the shadows, just in case Thunder Clash was out and about. Her thoughts quickly drifted back to Mist. I hope she made it out of the forest all right.


“So, does a pony lose their special talent when a bat pony, ya know…?”

“Nope!” Mist excitedly whispered.

“What if they drink from multiple ponies? Do they get multiple talents?”

“Nope! Only one at a time!”

Pip rubbed at his sore and irritated shoulder. “How long does it last? The extra talent?”

“Five… maybe ten minutes? Sometimes less?” Mist shrugged. “It just depends.”

They were slowly making their way through the forest. Equinox should be around here somewhere… Pip was determined to make sure she was okay before turning back. Mist was also in the same boat. Scootaloo, on the other hoof, was more interested in getting back, but she tagged along regardless. Scootaloo was up ahead, quickly scouting the area while Mist and Pip discussed things.

“Why did Screech act so different afterward? What happened?”

Mist tilted her head from side to side. “Well, sometimes your talent really permeates your vitality. Do you know what I mean?”

“No. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Well, for example, maybe your special talent is, er, making clothing! But that could be anything… making lots of clothing, making punk rock clothing, making sturdy and practical clothing… but the pony with that talent most likely has a preference. Say, high fashion clothing! That preference, if it’s strong in the pony, then influences the bat pony! Even strong personal desires will affect the bat pony!” Mist snickered in her normal ke ke ke way.

“What’s so funny?” Pip asked. He hadn’t thought this discuss warranted laughter.

“Your talent is to defend and protect ponies! You say it all the time! Just imagine what would have happened if Princess Luna showed up! Could you imagine how weird Screech would have been acting? How he would have constantly fawned over her?” Mist could barely control her snickering now.

Pip flushed with embarrassment. “W-what? I don’t constantly fawn over her!”

Mist smiled and snorted. “Sure you don’t!”

“Hey! I thought bat ponies liked Princess Luna as well! There’s nothing wrong with liking her!”

“I’ve never met her… and I certainly don’t think about her all the time!”

Pip nearly tripped over a root in the dark. “W-well, there’s your problem! I’m sure you would think of her from time to time if you had actually met her! She’s amazing! She watches over the night and faces the nightmares so that other ponies don’t have to! She’s basically given up her entire life simply to raise and lower the moon! It’s not like she can leave Equestria, not with her responsibility! And she doesn’t demand anything from us ponies for it!”

Mist lifted an eyebrow and allowed him to continue.

“She’s an alicorn, so I’m sure that, if she wanted, she could be doing any number of other things! Princess Luna never even really gets to see her subjects outside of their dreams… she works while they sleep and she retreats during the day, out of sight. She’s so magnificent and beautiful and magically talented… who wouldn’t look up to her?”

“Pip, are you talking about Princess Luna again?” Scootaloo shouted from the clearing up head.

“Oh, come on! I don’t talk about her that often!”

Scootaloo glanced back and sarcastically quipped, “I’m pretty sure she could have filed a restraining order by now and nopony would have questioned it.”

Ke ke ke!

With a long sigh, Pip decided to remain quiet. He didn’t understand why more ponies didn’t appreciate everything Luna did for them. Princess Celestia had the Summer Sun Celebration, but what did Luna have? Pip smiled to himself. Well, I guess she has Nightmare Night… But that isn’t the same thing. The Summer Sun Celebration is a festival to recognize how amazing Celestia is! Luna’s holiday only focuses on the time she wasn’t even here… the time she was Nightmare Moon.

“Oh! Look! There goes my sister!”

“What?” Scootaloo and Pip both asked.

Mist pointed to the night sky. “She just flew by. I think she’s heading back to the barracks!”

Scootaloo groaned. “Now we have to walk all the way back!?”

“Yeah, looks like it.” Pip didn’t mind walking. He was just glad Equinox was all right.

“We better hurry,” Mist muttered, staring up at the sky. “We don’t want to be caught out here when the sun rises…”

“Why?” Scootaloo asked. “The Ursas won’t be out then, and we’ll be able to see-” Scootaloo stopped herself too late. “Nevermind,” she quickly snapped.

Pip rotated his shoulder. He was still sore. “Why don’t you guys go back? I’m only slowing you down.”

“I did not get dragged out her to rescue your sorry hide, only to have you send me away,” Scootaloo stated angrily. “We are going back together whether you like it or not!”

“Yeah! I didn’t drag Scootaloo out here just to leave you two alone!” Mist happily added. “Besides, what if an Ursa comes back?”

“All right, all right,” Pip said. “Let’s go.”


By the time they spotted the barracks, the moon had almost completely disappeared beyond the horizon. The sun was threatening to rise from behind the mountains at any moment, and the sky was awash in blues and purples. Once they determined that nopony was watching, Pip, Scootaloo, and Mist all ran from the forest and out across the training field. By the time they reached the barracks, the dawn had officially commenced.

Staying within the shadows, Mist quickly entered the barracks. Pip and Scootaloo glanced around one last time before they entered. Out of the corner of Pip’s eye he spotted the other guard trainees walking out onto the exercise field. They looked so much happier than the Night Guard trainees…

Once inside, Pip quietly trotted over to his bunk and crawled into it. Scootaloo was already in her bunk by the time he glanced around again. Hopefully Thunder Clash never knew we were missing… Pip placed his head on the pillow and closed his eyes.

“Pip! Pip, wake up!”

“Hm?” Pip asked.

“Wake up! It’s time for training!”

“No it’s not,” he grunted, rolling over. “I just went to bed…”

“But it is! Wake up!”

Using every ounce of willpower he had, Pip opened one eye to glance out the window. The sun was setting. Pip jerked up in his bunk and stared in disbelief. It hadn’t felt like he had slept at all!

“Oh… You’re bleeding.”

Pip saw Snails standing next to his bunk. The unicorn was frowning and pointing to Pip’s shoulder. He glanced down and saw the bite wound from Screech had opened up. His blankets and pillow were stained with a dark red smear.

“It’s nothing,” Pip tried to reassure him, but his head was light and he felt as though he may faint.

“I have bandages and gauze,” Snails offered. “I got them for Snips. Do you want them?”


Snails used his magic to guide the bandages and gauze. Pip didn’t have to lift a hoof. He waited till they were tightly secured before jumping down to the floor.

“What are you guys doing?” Rumble asked from across the room. “Thunder Clash is going to bust in here if we don’t get out there!”

They all trotted from the barracks and went out to the back field. The bat ponies were already waiting there, but even in his light-headed state, Pip recognized that one of them was missing. He took his place in line next to Gloom and attempted to squint through the darkness. Screech was the one missing.

Thunder Clash flew down and landed in the center of the sparring ring. Around the edge were various types of weapons the soldiers in Equestria were issued. Before he began the lesson, Thunder Clash cleared his throat.

“Due to circumstances that we don’t need to discuss, our training group has been reduced by one. Screech will no longer be training for the Night Guard. Now that everypony is aware… I have something else I want to say.”

Pip glanced back to the bat ponies again. None of them seem bothered by the announcement that Screech would no longer be training.

“I understand I stress to you the need for combat excellence and physical strength,” Thunder Clash continued. “However… There is a big difference between ponies and other creatures. I should have stressed this point earlier, and for that, I apologize. Let me explain.”

“I told some of you the first half of a sentence my instructor used to drill into my head. I told you that a good warrior knows himself, and that a great warrior knows himself and his enemy. The last part to that phrase is… and a master of war need never fight at all. I used to think that was namby pamby nonsense. Until I saw it in action.”

“Ya see, recruits, if you’re smart enough, you will have won the battle before it even begins. A true master of war is so far ahead of the rest, that they can plan out the moves and find a victory long before his opponent even knows they’re fighting. Those well-versed in conflict will always have the option not to engage in combat if they don’t want to.”

Pip hung his head. He felt as though Thunder Clash were talking directly to him. Did Thunder Clash know? I should have tried harder to avoid fighting with Screech… If I had been better that wouldn’t have happened…

“But,” Thunder Clash recaptured Pip’s attention, “Equestria isn’t just inhabited by ponies. Equestria is a land where emotions and thoughts give rise to power. Some enemies are nothing more than darkness itself. Some enemies are made and born from hate, and you will always need to fight them, lest you become part of them.”

“What I’m trying to say is this: you should always seek to avoid fighting with ponies. Save your fight and energy for the real enemies. Save it for the darkness incarnate. Everytime you fight your fellow pony you give rise to anger and vengeance. If everypony followed through with their revenge, there would be a world with no ponies, do you understand me? It’s easy to start a conflict. It takes a master to end one.”

Snails lifted a hoof into the air.

Thunder Clash reluctantly pointed to him.

“So, does that mean we should all harness the power of friendship, sir?”

The bat ponies began laughing. The Ponyville recruits did not. They had seen the “power of friendship” in action one too many times to just laugh it off as a joke…

Thunder Clash shook his head. “I’ve had lots of good friends in my time, and never once did my feelings for them manifest into glorious rainbows of ultimate power. No, the whole reason I’m training you is because we need to rely on a source not so arbitrary. Leave the friendship powers to the Princess of Friendship. Do you maggots understand!?”

“Sir, yes sir!” they responded.

“Good. Now we can move onto tonight’s lesson…” Thunder Clash flew over to the weapon racks and began removing various types of weapons, throwing them into the sparring ring. While everypony waited for him to finish, Pip turned to Gloom.

In a low whisper, that he knew Gloom would be the only one to hear, Pip stated, “I’m sorry about Screech.”

“Why?” Gloom immediately responded under his breath. “You got a masochist streak in you?”

“Er, no. I thought you and he had grown up together.” At least, that's what I remember Equinox telling me...

“So? What does that matter?”

Pip glanced at him in confusion. “You don’t care at all? That he’s gone?”

Gloom snorted in hushed laughter. “You gotta take what you can, when you can. I’m not going to lose sleep over Screech. He’s insane. Always has been. Why would I go out of my way to help him?”

Pip didn't respond. Gloom glanced to him with a shrug.

“Screech didn’t say, but his special talent made it so he saw pony’s memories when he drank their blood. He would get confused by which ones were his and which ones were from other ponies. It messed with his already fragile mind. He’s just a ticking time bomb of violence. It’s better he’s gone. Thunder Clash has done us all a favor; I’m sure Screech would have snapped one day and turned on us all. Don't ever bother apologizing.”

“All right, recruits,” Thunder Clash motioned them close. “Everypony gather in so you can see.”

Pip walked forward, but his mind dwelled on other matters. His life in Ponyville had been near ideal. He was never hungry, he had a good school, and he was loved by his mother and father… Plus, Princess Celestia and Twilight Sparkle watched over him during the day. At night, Princess Luna would wander the dreamscape with him. She protected all the ponies that slept through the night…

What did the bat ponies have? During the day they were sleeping. During the night they were awake and unable to see Luna. Who was there to help them? Did the princesses even know about how bad it was in the Badlands? With a name like Badlands you think everypony would know. Screech literally had nopony there for him. Not even a pony to watch over his dreams...

“Pipsqueak!” Thunder Clash snapped. “Are you paying attention, boy?”

“Er, no sir,” he quickly replied. “What’s going on, sir?”

“Weapons. Look at them. Pay attention.”

“Sir, yes sir!”

Thunder Clash glanced back down to the weapons in front of him. “Now, the style of fighting I will need to train you in will depend greatly on the weapon you choose. Each weapon is a unique piece of equipment. Do not expect to be a master at the halberd if you train using a sword, and vice versa.”

“From my experience, certain races of ponies do better with certain types of weapons. Myself, being a pegasus, have found the spear to be the easiest to wield. It is inherently a distance weapon, meaning its best when not in close combat. Throwing a spear, or thrusting with a spear behind troop lines, is the most efficient. With pegasi, you can throw the spear, retrieve the spear, and then fly away from the enemy to attempt it again. You can also charge with it. Given that pegasi can fly upward, you will almost always have enough room to get a good speed on your charge, unlike grounded ponies.”

He continued with, “The halberd is an expert’s version of the spear. It isn’t meant to be thrown… it’s meant to disarm and cut down opponents. The hook of the halberd can be used to effectively control your opponent, or draw them in close for physical combat. Almost everypony in the Sun, Friendship and Crystal Guard uses either a spear or halberd, and with good reason. They are effective weapons.”

“The next set of weapons are the heavy ones, like axes. Axes are bulky and meant to cleave flesh. The point of an axe is to end a fight in a single blow. There is little finesse with an axe. It’s raw power in weapon form. The war hammer, or maul, as some call it, is the expert’s version of the axe. It’s a heavy weapon meant to smash. Mauls break the opponent’s armor, as well as their bones. It, like the axes, can end a fight quickly, if you manage to connect with your target.”

“The last three weapons are harder to train with, but are some of the most effective. The bow and arrow are the choice of bat ponies. Since bat ponies can see through the darkness, they can shroud themselves in it, and snipe their opponents, who are often unable to return fire. Additionally, because bat ponies can fly, they can find a perch with which to shoot much easier than a grounded pony.”

“These here,” Thunder Clash motioned to a pair of heavy looking hoof guards, “are referred to as claws. They are bladed hoof guards, used for close combat. Wielded by the right pony, they can be devastating. Used by an amateur… Well, let’s just say that getting close to the enemy is sometimes a work of skill all on its own.

Thunder Clash motioned to the last set of weapons. “The sword and knife are skill based weapons. They require intensive training and I’ve only ever seen unicorns able to wield them effectively. They require precision and grace. This one here is specifically for unicorns. See how it has no handle? Unicorn magic can hold it without fear of being cut… and any enemy that tries to take the weapon from you is a sorry opponent.”

Snips and Snails leaned in close to get a better look.

“Now, if you were in the other guards, I would tell you to all start training with the spear. However, since you will be sent on solo missions from time to time, or be expected to handle yourself rather than in a squad, you can choose your own weapon. Pick the one that’s most suited to your fighting type. We have all night. Try them all if you wish.”

Pip glanced at the weapons. Hmm…


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Scootaloo immediately grabbed the spear. Thunder Clash pointed to the far end of the training field. “Stand over there and get a feel for it. I’ll be around to run through drills with each of you, to see if you made a suitable choice.”

Scootaloo eagerly ran over to her designated area, never bothering to look back. Mist hesitantly turned to Equinox. The two of them shared a silent moment before Mist stepped forward and picked up the bow and arrow.

“I also want to train with the bow,” Specter stated.

Thunder Clash pointed to the other weapon racks. “Then get one, boy. The targets are already set up.” The south side of the field had hay bales with circular targets pinned over them. Specter immediately flew over, grabbed a bow and arrow, and left to practice. Mist hesitantly followed after him, glancing back at her sister as she went.

Equinox stepped forward and picked up the halberd.

“You ever held one of those, girlie?” Thunder Clash asked.

“Yes. My father trained me with one.”

“Oh? Who is your father? Is he in the Night Guard?”

“No, you wouldn’t know him,” Equinox quickly replied. She flew off with the halberd, not bothering to wait for Thunder Clash to inquire further.

Gloom trotted forward and took the axe. He hefted up onto his shoulder and waited for Thunder Clash to point him to a location. Gloom was given a near corner by the weapon racks. Rumble, on the other hoof, didn’t wait at all. He grabbed a spear from the rack and selected his own area to train.

Marble leaned over the war hammer and gently caressed it. Thunder Clash glared at her. “Take the weapon, girlie. No need to make out with it.” She nodded in acknowledgement and took the war hammer. He pointed her away, leaving Snips, Snails, and Pip without a weapon.

Snips and Snails gave each other wide smiles before using their magic to take the sword and knife. They floated the weapons together, their magic auras combining to move them through the air. Thunder Clash took a nervous step back.

“Those are real weapons, not the training versions! You two stand way over there, you understand me?” The two unicorns ran off. “Keep going!” Thunder Clash yelled after them. “Stay there till I come to speak with you!”

Pip gleefully walked over to the weapons rack and selected a sword. He had always wanted to wield one! The handle, however, was too short to be used with hooves… Pip grabbed it with his mouth and trotted to his own corner of the field. While everypony else was busy getting a feel for the weight and handle of their own weapon, Pip attempted to swing the sword.

It was difficult, and after only a few swings, Pip was having trouble breathing. One swing, two swing… then Pip had to take a rest. The sword itself was light, he didn’t understand why he was having difficulty. Perhaps I need to train with it more!

“What are you doing, boy?”

Pip turned around and saw that Thunder Clash had come to see him first. He placed the sword on the ground and motioned to it. “Practicing with the weapon… like you instructed, sir.”

Thunder Clash flew close to him and angrily frowned. “No, boy! I meant, why are you using a sword?”

“Er, well… I've always wanted to fight with one. I use one all the time in my dreams.”

“Your dreams?” Thunder Clash grunted loud enough that some of the other recruits began laughing, even from their positions across the training field. “Anything is possible in your dreams, son! You could wield sponge and it would be just as effective! Practicing in your dreams and practicing while awake are definitely not interchangeable! You need to learn to face reality!”

Again, more laughing. Now everypony could hear. Pip began to slowly lower his head in an attempt to disappear from sight.

“Pick up your sword and hack at that post over there.”

Pip glanced at the wooden post on the very edge of the field. It had hack marks in it already, but it was still a large log. He grabbed his sword and ran to the post. Pip struck the log with the bladed end and added a hack mark of his own. Thunder Clash motioned for him to continue. Pip attacked again, trying to remember what he read about sword fighting. And then he attacked again. And then he needed to take a break to catch his breath.

Thunder Clash flew over to Pip and unceremoniously knocked the sword from Pip’s mouth. “Do you see your problem, son? Well? Can you even articulate why this will never work like you want it to?”

“Umm… I don’t understand the problem, sir. What problem?”

“The second most important rule of personal combat is that you need to breathe. Your muscles and mind need the air, boy! You can’t wield a weapon in your mouth if it’s going to restrict your airflow! You’ve only just begun, and already you're struggling to catch your breath!”

Pip glanced down to the sword. Now that he thought about it, he felt a lot better once he was breathing fine. He hadn’t even realized. “But… my cutie mark… I have a sword. You don’t think that means I should-”

Thunder Clash face-hoofed in frustration. “Your cutie mark is a metaphor, son! You think I wield lightning bolts while I’m in combat? No! Of course not! You think the Captain of the Crystal Guard uses a shield as his sole weapon in combat? Of course not!”

Again, Pip hung his head. “Er, r-right. Sorry sir.”

“Do you know the history behind your mark, boy? What it signifies?”

Pip shook his head. He had always thought cutie marks were a near direct representation of what a pony was good at. If there was a picture of ice cream, they were good at making ice cream. Then again… there were many ponies with very unusual cutie marks. Like a pony with bubbles, and another pony with a picture of a spoon. Maybe he hadn’t given cutie marks enough thought.

“During the time of war between ponies, there were marks and symbols among them that signified things,” Thunder Clash began. “A sword that pointed downward signified fealty.”

“Fealty, sir?” Pip asked.

“Fealty is the loyalty and allegiance a pony feels for another pony or cause. It means you’ve thrown your lot in with another and follow their lead. By contrast, a sword that was pointed upward signified an open challenge to rule. It meant the pony holding the sword would vie for total control.”

“I didn’t know that.” Pip looked back at his mark. Why did his cutie mark have to be so amorphous? “Shouldn’t my mark be more like a shield? I want to protect ponies. I even got it when I decided I would sign up for the Night Guard. I want to protect Luna.”

Princess Luna,” Thunder Clash corrected. “And there is a difference between a sword and a shield, boy. Not to bombard you with metaphor, but… a shield shares the fate of its wielder. A sword can be sacrificed for the battle. I'm no expert on cutie marks, but there is deep and ancient magic embedded in them, son. Don't think they're so simple to understand.”

Pip sighed. He glanced back down at the sword. He had always liked to imagine himself wielding one… like a classic knight or honor guard. “You don’t think I could eventually train to use one, sir?”

Thunder Clash snorted. “Look, if you had all the time in the world, I’m sure you could become skilled. I’ve known many a unicorn that has demonstrated deadly skill with the sword. However, you’re simply an earth pony.”

“What?” Pip asked in shock.

“Don’t get yourself in a tizzy, boy. I’m just telling you like it is. If you wield the sword in your mouth, you’re exposing your face and eyes to additional danger, especially if the opponent parries or ripostes an attack. What would you do if you were blinded via blade, boy? At best, you would lose the conflict. At worst, you would be killed.”

Pip slowly nodded.

“I know you have your heart set on some fantasy, but you need to get your head out of the clouds. I would be a terrible instructor if I didn’t advise you to get a different weapon.”

“Sir, yes sir.”

Thunder Clash motioned to the other recruits. “Why don’t you observe them with their weapons before deciding? Marble is also an earth pony. Why not speak with her?”

Pip picked up the sword and trotted back over to the weapon’s rack. Gloom, who had obviously been listening to the entire conversation with his enhanced hearing, smiled to him. “Them’s the breaks. It’s too bad… I’m sure Princess Luna would have loved a stallion who wielded a sword.”

Pip ignored him and trotted off to see Marble, but his mind still replayed the worlds in his mind. When he got close, Pip realized Marble wasn’t even practicing with her weapon. She was just sitting down and holding it in her lap.

“Marble?” Pip asked when he got close. “What’re you doing?”

She stroked the war hammer. “I’m trying to think up a suitable name.”

“N-name? For what? You aren’t talking about the maul, right?”

“Well, I’m not talking about the dirt. What else do you think I would be trying to name?”

Pip nervously laughed. “Um… It’s just a weapon. I don’t think you need to name it. Its feelings aren’t going to be hurt.”

“Look,” Marble snapped, “If my sister, Pinkie, can treat her pet alligator like a pony, and my other sister, Maud, can have a rock she named boulder, then I can name the weapon I bring with me into combat!”

“Okay, okay… You can name it whatever you want.”

Marble stroked the weapon again. “Maybe… Wendell… Or Francis…”

“Are you sure it’s a boy?” Pip sarcastically asked.

Marble shot him a glare and frowned. “Let me have this, and I won’t bother mentioning how weird your dreams and delusions are any further.”

“Sounds like a reasonable deal.”

“Good.” Marble hugged the weapon close. The handle of the war hammer was just as long as the halberd, but the head of it was a heavy piece of forged metal, nearly the size of a pony's head. One end was flat and the other a wedge.

“So, uh, Marble… Why don’t you show me that war hammer in action? Thunder Clash thinks I need to find a different weapon and-”

“All right,” she said, cutting him off. Marble stood up on her hind legs and held the war hammer close. Since the handle was so long, unlike the swords, there was enough room to grip it with the hooves. Marble motioned for Pip to move back and then walked over to one of the training dummies. She hefted the war hammer over her shoulder and then swung it around, the head of weapon colliding with the training dummy.


The training dummy exploded, much like when Marble kicked one before. After swinging, however, she was left off-balance, and nearly tumbled to the ground. The weapon was heavy. Pip was surprised Marble could hold it at all. But then again, she had always been extremely strong for a pony her size.

Marble’s mane was slightly fritz when she regained her composure. She hefted the war hammer over her shoulder again and smiled wide. “I think Sebastian is my soulmate.”

“Er, Sebastian? And did you just say soulmate?”

“Yes. His name is Sebastian. A proper name for a proper weapon.”

“Umm… Okay, but… Don’t you think a war hammer should have a name like, Bone Smasher, or Destructor? Isn’t Sebastian a little… um, not intimidating?”

Marble glared. “We had a deal.”

“All right, all right. Sebastian it is.”

Now done with her demonstration, Marble took a seat on the ground and began gently clearing away the small pieces of training dummy that were left over on the maul. Pip longingly glanced over at Snips and Snails. They were using their unicorn magic to wield the sword and knife. They were terrible, but there was a small piece of him that wished he could join in.

“Well?” Marble asked, pulling his attention back to the situation before him. “Don’t you want one of Sebastian’s brothers for your own?”

“No, thanks,” Pip stated. He didn’t want a weapon he wouldn’t be able to control. He knew Marble was physically stronger than he was, and she was having problems handling it. “I’m going to go see how Mist and Specter are doing with the bow and arrow.”

Marble nodded to him as he left. Pip glanced at Gloom as he walked by. The axe was nearly as heavy as the maul. Pip already knew he didn’t want it.

The archer lane on the training field was short, which only added to the ridiculousness of the current situation. There were arrows everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except for the actual targets themselves. Mist and Specter were standing at the firing line, both with the bows in their hooves. They took aim and released, but the arrows went flying, landing far beyond where they should.

Pip trotted up behind them, careful not to get anywhere near the path of the arrows. He watched Specter curiously. He thought the bat pony would be better than this. Mist took aim again and released. The arrow hit the very far edge of the target.

“Ffff- YES!” Mist excitedly called out. In her joy, she dropped the bow to the ground and began to prance in place. “I got it! I got it!” she sang.

Specter groaned in irritation. “Keep it to yourself. We all know you wouldn’t be dancing like that if you actually hit a target.” Specter mocked as though he were frightened. “Oh no!” he cried, imitating Mist’s voice. “B-b-b-b-blood!”

Pip was ready to jump in and tell the bat pony off, but Mist just smiled. “I think somepony is jealous,” she said in her sing-song tone, holding her head high. “Wouldn’t you agree, Squeaks?”

Specter turned his head and suddenly noticed Pip. “Heh. What’re you doing here, earth pony? Come to use the bow after you failed with the sword?”

“I was thinking about it,” Pip stated.

“Really?” Mist asked. “You want to be a super-amazing-archer, just like me?”

Specter groaned again.

“Do you mind if I try?”

Mist picked up the bow and gave it to Pip. “Sure!”

Pip took his place at the firing line and stood up into position. It was a composite bow, made of high quality materials. Unlike simple bows, the composite bow had more power behind it, but they were difficult to properly make. Pip had never wielded one, but he had read about them in his books.

He notched an arrow and drew back the string. When he released, the arrow went flying.


Right passed the target.

Specter laughed. Mist began to hum. Frustrated, Pip took another arrow. He notched it and fired again.


This time it was closer, but the arrow still missed.

Pip could feel his blood pressure raising. He knew being calm was important for combat. A frustrated, angry, or depressed fighter only endangered himself. Pip angled the bow down. He knew he would miss constantly if he attempted to use it in battle. His lack of night vision made it next to impossible for him. What if he were aiming for a target twice the distance of these targets? They were already close, and he still missed…

“No?” Mist asked. “You aren’t going to be an archer like me?”

“I don’t think I have the patience for it,” Pip earnestly replied.

“Oh. That’s all right. Maybe, when we’re both in the Night Guard, we’ll be assigned as partners! Then I’ll be able to back you up with my arrows!” She smiled as Pip returned the bow.

Specter notched an arrow and fired. It hit the outside ring of the target. “I wonder what would happen if you didn’t show any aptitude for any of these weapons,” he wondered aloud. “It would be surprising, considering what you said your special talent was.”

Pip was starting to think he knew his special talent less and less. He had always been good at learning and retaining things about the Night Guard… Why was he having so much trouble now? Disheartened, Pip wandered over to Equinox.

Unlike all the other ponies, who were trying their weapons out for the first time, Equinox was wielding hers like a professional. Her stance was impressive and her focus tight. When Pip neared she stopped.

“Can I help you with something?”

“I’m trying to find a weapon I would be suitable at.” Pip wandered over and took a seat. “I’m just going to watch for a few minutes, if you don’t mind.”

She nodded to him and returned to her drills. The halberd was a long weapon, like the spear and war hammer. Equinox wielded it while standing on her hind legs. Her wings flapped when she needed to move around quickly, making her agile, despite the extra weight of the weapon. Unlike the axe and war hammer, it was made to be lighter, and Equinox thrust and turned it with ease.

“You tried using the sword?” Equinox asked between drills.

“Yes,” Pip responded in a low voice. “But Thunder Clash thinks that would be a bad idea.”

“I can see why.”

“You think so too?”

“You’re an earth pony. I don’t see many earth ponies with swords.”

“What weapons do you see earth ponies with?”

“Spears, mostly,” Equinox answered in between another drill. When Pip didn’t respond, she stopped all together. “What’s wrong? You seem off tonight.”

“It’s nothing,” Pip replied, trying to conceal his odd emotional state.

“Hm. You’re a terrible liar. Why don’t you stand around my sister for a few minutes? She has exuberance to spare.”

“I already tried that. Thanks though. I guess I’ll go see how well I do with the spear.”

Pip left with a heavy sigh. Scootaloo and Rumble were using the spears, but when he approached he saw that Rumble was clearly suited for it. He threw the spear with ease, and was a natural at dive-bombing to retrieve it. Scootaloo, on the other hoof, was struggling just to do basic movements. Standing on her hind legs and using it was difficult; she was obviously used to running on all fours.

As Pip approached, he saw Thunder Clash nearing as well. The drill instructor nodded to Rumble. “Keep up the work, boy. You’re doing excellent.”

Rumble puffed out his chest and nodded. “Thank you, sir!”

Thunder Clash landed next to Scootaloo with irritated expression on his face. “Don’t force it, girlie. You’re clearly having a difficult time. Why not try something else?”

“No!” she quickly snapped. “I got this! You’ll see! If all the other pegasi can do it, I can do it!”

Thunder Clash, barely suppressing his anger, flew over to Scootaloo and ripped the spear from her hooves. She was taken aback and mildly hurt.

“Apparently, tonight is the night of hard knocks,” he said, tossing the spear to Rumble. “I hate to be the one to break this to you, Scootaloo, but you aren’t like all the other pegasi! That’s just a fact you’re going to have to own!” Thunder Clash turned to Pip and glared. “The two of you really need to face reality. Come with me.”

Scootaloo glanced at the spear and then back to Thunder Clash. “Me?”

“Yes! The both of you!”

Pip and Scootaloo followed Thunder Clash all the way back to the weapon racks. He landed next to the rack with the claws and pointed to them. “Put these on.”

“But-” Scootaloo began.

“Put these on!” Thunder Clash shouted, cutting her off.

“Sir, yes sir!” Pip and Scootaloo replied together. They quickly did as they were told, and secured the claws to their hooves. They were heavy, but Pip could still trot around in them. He glanced back to Thunder Clash.

“Why these? I thought you said they can be tricky…”

“I know what I said,” Thunder Clash barked. “But listen up for a few seconds and maybe you’ll learn something!” He got close before continuing. “The claws are weapons for close combat. Pip, you’ve displayed a natural flare for personal engagements. That’s what you’re good at, son. Don’t try and overthink a good thing.”

He turned to Scootaloo. “The claws are difficult because sometimes it’s hard to get in close to your enemy. They can try and attack you while you’re still at range. However, if you’re fast enough, you can close the distance in no time. Do the two of your understand what I’m trying to tell you?”

Pip and Scootaloo exchanged nervous glances. Pip had never considered a weapon like the claws. He hadn’t read many books about training with claws either.

“Won’t these get in my way, sir?” Scootaloo asked.

“That’s the whole reason we train, recruit. To get you used to the feel of the weapon on your body. By the time you’re done, you should be adept at using them.”

Scootaloo nodded. “I’ll try my best, sir!”

“As will I,” Pip added.

“Good,” Thunder Clash said in a happier tone. “Then I’ll also have to order you two special armor. You see, close combat allows for you to take advantage of not just your hooves. Those that specialize in the claws are also equipped with spiked shoulder guards for slamming and bashing their opponent. Your body is your weapon. It will be extra important for you two to maintain yourselves and your health.”

“Sir, yes sir!” they replied.

“Good. Now, let’s gather everypony up so we can hand out the training versions of these weapons.”

Pip began to remove his claws but Thunder Clash shook his head.

“Not you, boy. You and the other advanced recruits will train with the real things. Keep them on and practice on one of the dummies.”

“Sir, yes sir,” Pip replied.

Tonight was going to be a long night, but now he was looking forward to it.


With the wind at his back and the stars in the sky, Pip slowly sailed across the moonlit waters of the calm sea.

It was a dream. He hadn’t had one in a long time, but here it was. Finally, a lucid dream he could control. No sun falling, no dreamless sleep… he had been waiting for this night.

Pip wandered out onto the deck of the ship and smiled. In his dreams he was a pegasus, one white wing, one brown wing. Not because he secretly wished he were a pegasus, but because he liked to fly alongside Luna in his dreams. She wasn’t here, however, and so the wings were pointless.

The ship creaked as it sailed across the water. Pip could smell the sea salt and, in that moment, he was happy. He glanced at his belt and saw a treasure map, compass, and sword. The sword… Pip immediately removed it from his dream. Doing so caused the depression to return. He couldn’t wield a sword like in all his dreams… He was an unskilled earth pony.

Pip had experienced this dream hundreds of times. Here, when he had been younger, he had pretended to be Pipsqueak the Pirate, the swashbuckler with a heart of gold! He had been a master with the sword and an expert treasure hunter! Pip laughed to himself and leaned against the mast of the ship. Those were the best of times.

But now… he realized why that was ridiculous. A pirate with a heart of gold? Pirates were nothing but thugs on the water, out to take the property of others… not secret heroes in disguise. And he would most likely never be able to properly wield a sword.

Luna hadn’t thought it was ridiculous.

She had pretended to be a pirate as well. She had been Luna the Scallywag, the first mate with an eye for treasure!

Pip sighed and turned his attention to the moon. It was so bright and beautiful…

“Luna,” he said aloud, even though he knew she wasn’t really listening. “I need to talk to you, Luna. I hope you don’t mind… Tonight I have fears of my own to tell you. I know I promised I wouldn’t ever be the one to cause you to fret, but… I don’t know who else to talk to.”

The moon was silent, and hung in the sky like a perfect luminous backdrop in a masterpiece painting.

“When I first joined the guard a few months ago, I had been so certain this was the path to take to see you again. Our time together… I don’t think I could have ever been happier. I know this might be selfish of me but… but I want to experience that again. I want to see you like I used to see you. I want everything we had before, and more.”

The ship creaked with the gentle waves.

“But the others… the others think I’m foolish for clinging to these past experiences. Foolish for wanting to replicate them in real life… Now I feel uncertain, like maybe I didn't understand what I was here to do. Each day my confidence seems to be worn down. I thought I would be the best, and it hurts to realize I'm struggling.”

“The closer I get to you, the further away you seem, Luna. I haven’t seen you once since training. Not in the waking world… not in my dreams. I feel like it all might have been a dream. A dream I can’t ever obtain again. A dream lost with my childhood.”

Pip pushed away from the mast and walked up to the side of the boat. He looked out across the vast waters. The moon was reflected on the surface.

This had always been his favorite dream, but now he felt nothing but loneliness and shame. Loneliness, because Luna wasn’t by his side. Shame, because this was a fantasy that all the others looked down on him for having.

What did non-naïve ponies dream of? Did they dream of taxes? Of death? Or sorrow? He didn’t know. All he knew was that he still enjoyed this, and that, somehow, was wrong.


Pip took a deep breath and turned his attention back toward the sky. The others couldn’t see what he dreamed about! Perhaps they thought he was foolish, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t still enjoy this guilty pleasure. He would ride the waves as a swashbuckler with a heart of gold whether they liked it or not! In his dreams he would be happy.


I hope I haven’t seen you here for the last time, Luna…

And… thank you for listening.

Luna’s Second Assignment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shh!” Gloom hissed.



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

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

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

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

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

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

“The things you whisper are treason.”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“Have you seen the sun in your dreams?”

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

“And it just happened recently?”

“Within the last few months, yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sir, sorry sir,” they both replied.

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

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

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

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

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


Ka-clack! Ka-clack!

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

Ka-clack! Ka-clack!

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

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

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

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

“Erm,” she grunted.

Ka-clack! Ka-clack!

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

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

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

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

“So you’ll help me?”

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

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

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

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

“What if Princess Celestia is making the nightmares?”

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

“How do you know?”

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

Ka-clack! Ka-clack!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ka-clack! Ka-clack!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ka-clack! Ka-clack!

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


“Where are we?”

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

Snips glanced around. “It looks weird.”

Snails nodded. “It smells weird.”

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

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

Specter and Gloom frowned. Phantom Shade ignored them.

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

Specter raised a hoof. Phantom Shade motioned to him.

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it?” Phantom Shade asked him.

“You’re sure it’s safe?”

“So Princess Luna says.”

“Where are we, sir?”

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

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

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

“It’s not that, I just-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you sure?” Pip asked.

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

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

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

Ke ke ke! “I’ll say!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t believe that worked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everypony stopped and listened.


“Nope,” Snips said.

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

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

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

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

A Fragment of the First Day

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Pip and the others backed away just in time to avoid being bitten by a crocodile, one made entirely of stone. Pip knew what this was; a cragadile. The monster was slightly larger than a chariot and twice as wide. Its stone hide matched the stones scattered about the ravine. Everything about it was made of stone. Even its teeth were made of stone!

“Marble, what’s going on?” Pip asked, keeping his attention on the monster.

“Look out!” Rumble suddenly shouted.

Pip, startled, jumped when he heard stones falling behind him. He whipped around and saw there was a lot more than one cragadile. By his count, there were four now lumbering toward the group.

“Specter! Mist!” Pip called out to them and pointed. The two bat ponies quickly readied their bows and arrows and began firing.

Plink! Plink!

The arrows didn’t injure the monsters, but they did draw the cragadile’s attention skyward. Pip motioned for the grounded ponies to run by. Scootaloo and Marble didn’t need to be told twice. Snips and Snails, on the other hoof…

Snails attempted to run by, but hesitated just long enough for one of the cragadiles to take notice. The rock-beast snapped with its massive jaw and caught Snails by the body. If it weren’t for the armor, Pip was sure Snails would have been crushed.

“H-help!” Snails cried, his breath shallow.

“Sebastian,” Marble muttered, readying the war hammer, “it’s time for some action.” She rushed forward and swung the war hammer with all the force she could muster. At the end of its arch the hammer collided with the back part of the cragadile, the one holding Snails. The blow shattered the monster’s back leg and tail; its body acting much like the rock it looked to be made of.

The cragadile screamed, releasing Snails from its hold. The other cragadiles turned to swarm Marble, but Pip would have none of that. He lunged for the nearest one and jumped onto its face and maw. Using his claws, he tried to cut the beast, but it wasn’t working. The claws broke and scratched the stone, but they weren’t heavy enough to shatter or destroy it.

The cragadile threw Pip from its face, sending him crashing to the floor of the ravine. Rumble immediately landed and began flapping his wings. The wind picked up and suddenly there was a mini-sandstorm in the ravine. Pip had to close his eyes.

As Pip got up he shouted, “Rumble! Stop! It won’t affect them!”

Sure enough, the cragadiles were too heavy to be affected by the wind, and the dirt didn’t seem to agitate their eyes in the least bit. When the wind died down, Pip opened his eyes once more. Rumble hefted his spear and flew forward, attempting to do what Pip had; prevent them from all focusing on Marble. He jammed the spear into the side of a cragadile, but when he attempted to pull it out, the weapon was stuck. The cragadile didn’t even seem to notice. It was more preoccupied with how close Rumble was. The creature snapped at him, but Rumble managed to take to the sky.

Marble jumped away, placing her back against the ravine wall. The cragadile with the shattered leg hobbled off, but the other three were still driven by hunger. Another cragadile went for Marble, but she swung her war hammer just in time to collide with its mouth. The monster’s stone teeth shattered into pebbles, but while Marble was recovering from the swing, another cragadile went for her.

Equinox swooped in at the last moment and expertly punctured her halberd through the top of the rock jaw, the head of the weapon now in the creature’s mouth. It roared in frustration, but Equinox held on.

“Run!” she shouted to Marble.

Plink! Plink!

Specter and Mist were attempting to shoot the monsters in their eyes, but their aim was too poor. The arrows harmlessly bounced off the stone hide of the cragadiles.

Marble ran from the wall and the last cragadile lunged to grab her. Scootaloo raced up and attempted to slash it in its yellow eyes, but the monster easily knocked her aside with its rock tail. The monster was overtaking Marble, but, surprisingly to Pip, Gloom swooped in and attacked with his heavy axe.


He smashed the monster with enough force to leave a fissure in the hide, but not enough to fully incapacitate it. The creature reared up and snapped at him, grabbing him by the leg and pulling him down to the ground.

Gloom turned to the monster and took a deep breath.

“Wait!” Pip shouted, but it was too late.

Gloom let out an ear-shattering shriek that only became worse as it echoed off the walls of the ravine. Everypony had to cover their ears, but it wasn’t his hearing that Pip was worried about. He glanced up at the walls and saw they were trembling with instability.

“There’s going to be a rockslide!” Pip yelled out, but he couldn’t even hear himself, his ears were still ringing from the pain of the shriek.

Rocks began raining down into the ravine as the walls began to crumble. Since nopony could hear, Pip had to get Scootaloo’s attention through waves. He pointed to Snails and then ran forward to help Gloom.

The cragadile, now enraged by the crack in its hide, turned its attention to Pip as he helped Gloom. Pip tossed Gloom mostly onto his back and began to run, but with the armor, the claws and the weight of another pony, his running was far from fast. The cragadile was easily keeping pace.

Rocks were showering down, filled the ravine as he ran. Pip had to quickly sidestep a falling boulder, but that didn’t stop him from pushing forward. Scootaloo raced by with Snails on her back, and even Snips was managing to pull ahead of him. Mist, Equinox, Rumble and Specter had taken to the sky, but they kept with the group overhead.

To Pip's horror, the path up ahead was now blocked by a large rock. Pip had to skid to a stop, nearly running to Scootaloo, and he knew he only had seconds before the Cragadile would be on top of him.

Without needing to be prompted, Snips and Snails combined their magic and-


Well, Pip imagined the sound of the boom, as his ears were still ringing.

A cloud of dirt and dust now filled the ravine and Pip ran straight into it. The cragadile chased him, but it wasn’t long until Pip managed to shake the beast while under cover of the boulder debris. Coughing from the dirt now in his mouth and lungs, Pip continued forward in an effect to get fresh air. Thunder Clash’s advice about needing to breathe rang in his ears. He didn’t want to stay here long.

Running forward, Pip eventually made it to a clear area of the ravine. Relief washed over him. He hadn’t realized how tense he had been until he relaxed. All his muscles felt sore, like he had just done a full-body workout.

Marble, Scootaloo, Snips and Snails were all waiting for him. Pip trotted up and gently slid Gloom off his back. The flying ponies also flew down to regroup. Luckily for Pip, the ringing in his ears was dying down. It was still difficult to hear anything soft, but talking was no longer a problem.

“Snails? Are you all right?” he asked.

The tall unicorn nodded and stood up. His armor had greatly protected him. It was slightly bent inward, however, and it was obviously causing Snails pain.

“You should take that off,” Pip suggested.

“What?” Rumble snorted. “What if there are more cragadiles here? He doesn’t want to be walking around without his armor! It saved his life!”

“He also can’t go around wearing something that’s actively harming him! What if it restricts his breathing, or cuts into his hide? We should just take a few moments to try and fix it.”

“It’s not like we have a forge here,” Rumble frowned. “Who’s going to fix it for him?”

“Ahem,” Marble said, straightening and flattening her gray mane. “Sebastian thinks he can do it.”

Rumble rolled his eyes. “We’re supposed to do this assignment as quickly as possible. We can’t stop to fix armor!”

“We have until the end of tomorrow night,” Pip stated. “That’s plenty of time.” He turned and saw there was a smooth area in the ravine up head. “We’ll rest there.”

Although Rumble looked disgruntled, he eventually gave in and flew over to the smooth area in the ravine. It was a small plateau, made of one rock half buried in the ground. All the recruits took a moment to rest there. The cool feeling of the rock did wonders for Pip’s muscles.

“Are you okay?” Marble asked Gloom.

The bat pony slowly nodded. He glanced at his back leg and left wing. They were both bloody and bruised. A small portion of his wing had been ripped.

“You need to have that looked at,” Equinox said, frowning at the sight. “If you don’t stitch it back together, it’ll heal apart and then you’ll have trouble flying.”

“Hm. Seems I forgot my emergency stitches,” Gloom sarcastically replied. “I’ll be fine until tomorrow. Don’t trouble yourself with it.”

“Suit yourself.”

Snails removed his armor and took a deep breath. His chest and back were badly bruised. Using his magic, Snails levitated the armor over to Marble. She looked it over with a critical eye.

“Sebastian thinks he can fix this.”

Equinox leaned in close to Pip and Scootaloo in order to whisper. “Who is Sebastian? I don’t hear anything when she says he’s talking.”

“That’s good. It means you’re sane,” Scootaloo quipped.

Pip awkwardly laughed. “Uh, it’s just the name she gave her war hammer.”

Equinox looked back at her halberd. It was scuffed and slightly dinged from the conflict with the cragadile. Most weapons weren’t designed to fight monsters made of stone… “I’ve never named any of my weapons.”

Tink. Tink. Tink.

Very carefully, and slowly, Marble began gently hammering the dents in the armor back into position. Scootaloo’s eye twitched. “Seriously!? You have a huge hammer! Just knock that armor up a few times and be done with it!”

Rumble nodded. “Yeah! Come on! We don’t have all night! You’re going to make this take twice as long as it needs to take!”

Tink. Tink. Tink.

Marble ignored them. She continued with her task, determined to find perfection. The other recruits sighed. Specter rolled onto his side and suddenly his stomach began to growl.

“I should’ve brought something on the train with me,” he groaned aloud.

Pip rubbed at his stomach. He was also very hungry. Not much I can do about it now.

“Hey,” Mist said, becoming the center of attention. “I smell fruit!”

“Don’t jest,” Specter snapped.

“I’m not! Don’t you smell it?”

Everypony sniffed the air. Pip hadn’t realized until now, but there was something sweet about the air around them. He never relied much on his nose to find food. All his life food had just been provided for him.

Mist flew upward and out of the ravine. “Be careful!” Equinox called after her. Mist began humming, her voice echoing down to the ponies below. After a few minutes, the recruits heard her squeak in delight.

“I found them! I found night strawberries!”

Pip exchanged a confused glance with the other Ponyville recruits. Night strawberries? What’re those? Mist flew back into the ravine with a small pile of fruit in her forelegs. She quickly passed them out to each recruit. Pip looked his over carefully. They were the same shape and size of normal strawberries, but instead of being red, they were black, and instead of the seeds being dark, they were white. The night strawberries looked like succulent pieces of the night sky.

Pip ate one. They tasted like… pungent grapes. Pip enjoyed them, and quickly gobbled up all the night strawberries Mist had given him. All the recruits did. Without needing to be asked, Mist flew up and gathered more. She brought them back and passed them out.

“Wow,” Snips said, smacking his lips as he ate another. “I didn’t think fruit this delicious could grow around here! I haven’t seen any water!”

“Night strawberries don’t need water. All they need is starlight and fertile grounds,” Mist informed them.

“I haven’t had these in years,” Specter announced in between eating.

Gloom nodded. “Yeah. The last time I had these… I was just a foal.”

Pip turned to Snips and Snails once he was done eating. “Hey, I just wanted to tell you guys thanks. That was quick thinking back there in the ravine. If you had been any slower, we might have been eaten by the cragadile.”

Snips and Snails flushed. “It was nothing!” Snips said, dismissively waving his hoof.

“Yeah, nothing!” Snails added.

“I dunno,” Rumble cut in on the conversation. “I think it was pretty cool. Exploding things like that… That’s an awesome talent!”

“Used to get us in trouble all the time in Ponyville,” Snips shrugged. “Apparently you aren’t supposed to use it on buildings.”

“Or mailboxes,” Snails added.

“Or lampposts.”

“Or small animals.”

Mist suddenly frowned, and her eyes welled with water. “A-animals?”

“Don’t worry,” Snips said, trying to calm her. “It doesn’t work on animals! We only tried. Once! Only once!”

Gloom and Specter began laughing. Scootaloo smiled and said, “I bet Rainbow Dash would love to hear that we encountered four cragadiles! She’ll be so impressed!”

Tink. Tink. Tink.

“I doubt Pinkie will be as impressed,” Marble added, occasionally taking a break from her hammering to eat a night strawberry. “But I’m sure she’ll love to hear about the night strawberries. She’s always interested in finding new things to make sweets out of.”

“You know what else was cool?” Rumble flew up into the air, fueled by his excitement. “When Equinox slammed her halberd right through that cragadile’s mouth! It was so awesome! I wish I hadn’t got mine stuck… I should have tried what you did.”

Equinox shrugged. “I’m sure any soldier would have done the same.”

“But not with as much flare!”

Gloom turned to Specter and snickered. “What’s your excuse, huh? Aren’t you one of the captain’s favorites too? Why weren’t you cuttin’ up cragadiles with your bow?”

“Ah, shut your face,” Specter said, leaning back and relaxing. “I’ve never used a bow in my life.”

Gloom snorted and began laughing.

For some reason unknown to Pip, Specter started laughing as well. The bat pony grabbed one of his night strawberries and threw it at Gloom. Soon they were in a mini war of fruit. Not wanting to be left out, Scootaloo, Rumble, and Snips all began throwing fruit as well. It was a shame, because the night strawberries were so good, but it was also funny to see a pony unexpectedly hit in the face with one.

Pip glanced up at the sky. Soon it would be dawn, and they still hadn’t reached their destination. “Marble? Are you almost done?”

Marble nodded.

Tink. Tink.

“Done,” she replied. She held up the armor for everypony to inspect. It looked fixed. Pip might not have even known it was damaged. Snails happily fitted himself back into it.

Pip looked around. “What’re you bat ponies gonna do when the sun rises?”

“We’ll find a place to hide?” Gloom shrugged, wiping the strawberry juice from his coat. “I used to live in the Badlands. Sometimes we would have to find shelter out in the wilds. Don’t worry; I know what I’m doing. Plus, Mist is good at finding weird spots. Her special talent is hiding, remember?”

“All right. The rest of us will continue forward. We’ll meet you back here once the assignment is complete.”

Gloom nodded. Equinox suddenly perked up. “I’m going with you. I can see in the day.”

“Sure,” Pip said.

Mist, with both her cheeks stuffed full of night strawberries, turned to her sister with a tiny frown. Equinox placed a hoof on her shoulder. “I’ll be all right. Just stay with Specter and Gloom. We’ll be back here by nightfall, I’m sure.”

Mist forcefully gulped down the night strawberries. “But… are you sure you’re going to be okay?”

“I’m sure. The others will be with me.”

“All right…” Mist turned her attention to Pip. She quickly gathered up some of the night strawberries and flew over to him. “You’re going to be careful too, okay? Here. Take this strawberry.”

Pip motioned to the small pouch on his armor. It was meant to hold a canteen, but right now it was empty. Mist placed a single strawberry in it. Then she placed another. Then she dumped in all the strawberries, until the pouch was overflowing.

“Okay, I think I have enough,” Pip laughed.

“No,” Mist hastily said, forcefully placing a strawberry into Pip’s mouth. “You can never have too many strawberries. I don’t want you to get hungry while you’re gone.”

Pip chewed and swallowed the strawberry. When he opened his mouth to thank her, she threw her forelegs around his neck and squeezed. Her hug left him slightly breathless.

“Thank you,” he choked out.

“I’m counting on you not to let anything happen to my sister,” she whispered.

“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Pip nervously laughed. “She might have to rescue all of us, not the other way around.”

“Some things can’t be beaten with combat skills alone.”

Pip didn’t really know what she was trying to say, so he just nodded. He would try and make sure nothing happened to the others, no matter who they were.

“Um,” Pip muttered. Mist had yet to let go.

“Get a room!” Rumble suddenly jeered.

Embarrassed, Pip separated himself from Mist and nodded to her. “Yes. Well. I will do that. Thank you. Good bye.” He awkwardly walked away, very aware of all the snickers and staring.

Once Specter, Gloom and Mist turned down the ravine to find a place to sleep, Pip motioned for the rest of the recruits to continue forward. Nodding, the other recruits fell in line. Hopefully it isn’t far.

The dawning of the sun made Pip’s eyes hurt. He had gotten used to the night, and had to squint through the brightness for a while afterward. The ravine was mostly shady, however, which he was grateful for. Exhaustion started to set in as they continued. It felt like the ravine when on forever.

Equinox played the role of scout now that Specter was out of the picture. It was hard to spot cragadiles, but, fortunately for them, they never ran across any more. As the sun got higher in the sky, Pip began to worry. They were about to reach the point of no return…

“Look!” Marble suddenly gasped.

Pip looked up. Tucked at the very back of the ravine, sandwiched between two hills, was a building made of white limestone. It was hard to see from any angle but directly within the ravine, and Pip suddenly understood why they had to take the path they did.

When they got closer, Pip realized the building was ancient. There were cracks and mold and vines… and there were statues outside. Statutes of alicorns rearing back on their hind legs. Most of the statues were smashed or missing, but the ones that remained were weathered and beaten.

Pip was in awe. The masterwork craft that went into the details of the statues were apparent, even in their current state of disrepair. He turned his attention to the front door and saw it was massive. The other recruits turned to him.

“Well?” Rumble asked. “Aren’t you going to go in?”

Pip glanced at the others. They nodded. “All right,” Pip said. If Luna said it was safe… I’m sure it’s safe.

Slowly, hesitantly, Pip made his way up to the door. Standing at the base, he realized the door was way too big for pony-kind alone. A dragon could walk through here, he thought. Gathering his strength, Pip leaned on the door and pushed it open.

The door scraped along the stone floor as it slid inward. Pip only had strength to get a space large enough for him to squirm through. Once inside, he looked around with a curious gaze. There were statues in here too. Statues of alicorns, dragons, griffons, changelings, and even a draconequus. The ceiling was covered in murals made of carvings. The pictures seemingly told a story, but so much of the roof was damaged or corroded that Pip could no longer tell what was happening. Something about alicorns… dragons… the sun and the moon…

Pip could hear his hoofsteps against the white limestone floor. Other than that, it was silent. He turned in circles, and realized there were several doors here, but no marble-sized stones that he could see. I guess we’ll need to investigate the place.

He peeked his head outside. “Guys, I think it’s safe!”

Rumble, Scootaloo, Marble, Equinox, Snips and Snails all galloped up to the building. They each made their way inside, just as in awe as Pip was. Why had this building been abandoned? Pip laughed to himself. He supposed it was out in the middle of nowhere… surrounded by terrible territory. But why was it built in the first place?

“The rock here is ancient,” Marble commented aloud.

“I’ll say,” Scootaloo said, kicking one of the walls with her bladed hoof guards.

Rumble flew up close to the ceiling and examined the mural. “Wait, weren’t we supposed to get something from here?” he asked absent-mindedly.

“Yeah, we need to find a white marble,” Pip told him. “I think we should investigate some of these rooms. Come on. We should stick together, just in case something is lurking here.”

They nodded and began traveling close together. Pip turned to the door that led further into the building. It, like the front door, and all the other doors, was just as huge. They slowly opened it and walked in.

Pip practically gasped at the sight. The room was awash of color and light. The roof was nothing but a circular window, allowing the rays of the sun to shine in. That wasn’t where the light was coming from, however. The brilliant shine that Pip saw was emanating from feathers on the floor. They were glowing with their own inner spark.

The recruits inched forward. The room itself was large and circular, enough room to fit a small audience. The feathers were in a pile in the center of the room, but when Pip got closer, he saw they were moving in time with breath. Pip motioned for the others to stop, but it was too late.

The feathers unfurled themselves and a gigantic serpent rose up from underneath. The feathers were the serpent’s wings; multicolored like the rainbow and sparkling with light. The serpent itself was coiled around on the floor, nearly a hundred feet long. It yawned a roar, exposing the contents of its fang-lined mouth.

All of the recruits were stunned in place. Pip hadn’t ever expected something like this. What were they going to do? It could eat them whole! In that moment of panic, Pip took in a few extra details. The serpent was old. Its dull green scales were most likely once a beautiful jade. Now they were flaking. Its thin wings were most likely once full and lustrous beyond compare. Now they were molting. Its eyes…

The creature turned its attention to the group.

Its eyes were milk white. Blind.

“I don’t think it’s seen us yet,” Pip whispered. “Everypony slowly-”

“I needn’t mine eyes to see thee, Son of Terra,” the serpent’s voice echoed across the room, reverberating off the walls, giving his words a slight rumble as he spoke. The serpent bowed its head to get closer to the ponies and Pip could barely believe what he was seeing.

“Get back,” Equinox told the group, hefting her halberd. “It’s a dragon!”

Marble shook her head and whispered, “No, put your weapon away… It’s not a dragon.”

Equinox back up toward the door. “How do you know?”

“I knew a dragon in Ponyville,” Pip muttered under his breath. “This isn’t a dragon.”

“It’s a Quetzalcoatl,” Marble breathed in disbelief. “I thought they were no more…”

The serpent took in a deep breath. Its head was larger than all of the recruits put together. “Doth my senses deceive me?” the Quetzalcoatl asked. “It hath been millennia since the Kind of Equinis visited these hallowed grounds. Not since the Keeper of the Sun came, searching for a Fragment of the First Night for to gain a connection with the moon that she might control it… Wherefore hast thou come unto this place?”

Marble bowed before the creature. Snips and Snails followed suit. Pip was still in mild shock. Why hadn’t Princess Luna told them they would meet something like… this!?

“Um…” Pip lamely began.

“Who are you!?” Scootaloo unceremoniously interjected.

The Quetzalcoatl laughed, but in doing so it lost its breath and began to cough. Pip could tell it was on its last leg, metaphorically speaking.

“If thou camest hither, knowing not my name, then it mattereth not. Thou hast come for another purpose. I would that I know this reason, Daughter of Nubis.”

“We came here as a test,” Pip tried to explain. “We’re looking for something… Um, something to bring back to Princess Luna… Maybe you know her?” Pip knew Luna was old, but did it compare to this Quetzalcoatl? He had no idea.

“A test?” the Quetzalcoatl asked. “Perhaps a test of loyalty and intentions? Only those free of ill will and avarice can walk amongst these walls.”

“We need a marble,” Snails said, his speech drawn out with his nervousness.

“A marble? Thou wouldst not find such here: I keep no trinkets, Son of Amicitia.”

Pip shook his head. “Are you sure? Luna said we would need to bring back a white marble… Surely there has to be one here!”

The Quetzalcoatl pondered Pip’s statement for a long moment. “A white marble?” it asked. “Perhaps thy princess meant for thee to bring unto her one of the sole treasures that still rests within this place, Son of Terra. A Fragment of the First Day.”

“I… don’t understand,” Pip shook his head. “What do you mean by a fragment of the first day?”

Moving very slowly, the Quetzalcoatl uncoiled itself and moved aside. There, on the floor, were small marble-shaped stones. There were two kinds; ones that were glowing white and others that were sucking in all the light around them, like tiny voids. Pip stared at the stones. They were wondrous.

Rumble inched closer to get a better look. “What are those?” he asked aloud.

“These art fragments, Son of Nubis. Fragments of the First Day and Fragments of the First Night. They fell to the earth when the very first rays of light pierced the darkness and gave wake to time.”

Scootaloo could barely contain herself. “But, er- you’re just sitting on them!? Why would you do that!? Why are you keeping them here!? You should go give these to Princess Celestia or Princess Luna, or some other pony who could put them to good use!”

Scootaloo,” Marble hissed under her breath. “Mind your manners!”

Again, the Quetzalcoatl laughed. The laughing winded him, however, and soon the serpent had to stop to catch his breath. “Many hath come to claim a fragment: they are not for the Kind of Equinis only, but are for all. For one kind to have all the fragments would be an impermissible excess. I ensure that only the proper amount leave in their due time.”

“Will you allow us to take one?” Equinox asked, her eyes never leaving the pool of fragments.

“I will allow thee to take one, Daughter of Malum.”

“What do they do?” Pip asked, his eyes drawn to the fragments of the first night. They were absorbing all light. They were beautiful.

“They give unto thee a connection with the day or the night. The magic which resideth in them is not o’erwhelming, but specialized. For thy princess, one of the Caeles, ‘twould be a mere drop in an ocean of power.”

Marble turned to Pip with a worried look upon her face. “Pip… You don’t want one of the Fragments of First Night, do you?”

“I don’t even know what they would do,” Pip earnestly admitted. He thought over her question and eventually turned away. He didn’t need magic to have a connection to the night. He already had one.

Pip turned to the Quetzalcoatl. “Please, sir. Can we have a Fragment of the First Day?”

“So be it, Son of Terra.”

The Quetzalcoatl gently picked up one of the white stones and handed it to them. Equinox flew forward and placed the stone within the velvet bag that Phantom Shade had given her. The Quetzalcoatl then coiled itself over the fragments once again. It seemed tired…

“Thy test is complete. Mayest thou, and thine companions, carry this safely unto thy princess, for thou shalt not have another.”

Now dismissed, Pip and the other recruits quickly retreated out of the building and back into the ravine. The doors closed behind them with the aid of powerful magic. Pip glanced back over his shoulder, confused.

This was their test? Why hadn’t Luna sent her actual guards to this place? Pip already knew the answer. They couldn’t venture into the light. But why didn’t she go? This seemed like too important a task to be left in the hooves of recruits…

Everypony was silent.

Then Rumble and Scootaloo both began laughing and dancing around. “That was awesome!” Scootaloo shouted. “I can’t wait to tell Rainbow Dash!”

“Yeah! My brother is going to be so jealous!” Rumble said. “That was like a mini adventure, you guys! An old-school adventure! Like in all the stories and stuff!”

Marble smiled. “Yeah, it kinda was.” She turned to Pip. “Maybe your princess is trying to give you what you want after all.”

Pip hadn’t thought about it like that… Had Luna given them this task because she knew they would like it? Pip laughed to himself. He couldn’t wait to get back to tell the others.

It really was like a mini adventure.

And Then There Were Eight

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The walk back was slow. Everypony was fatigued. Pip hadn’t slept since the train ride, and even then, it had been poor sleep at best. Additionally, although the sun wasn’t directly cast upon them, it was still hot. Pip found himself panting and sweating more than he had in a long time.

Equinox had the worst of it. She was obviously not accustomed to such weather. She fell behind, even further than Snips and Snails, and occasionally they all needed to stop and allow her to catch up. Pip knew they needed to press on. They had to make it back to the train before the end of the coming night and, at their current pace, they would only just barely make it.

“Gah… We should have asked that Quetzalcoatl to fly us back,” Rumble loudly groaned.

Scootaloo nodded. “Yeah. We definitely should have done that. Maybe we can turn around and still ask him?”

“Didn’t Princess Luna warn us about going into the ruins at night?” Snails asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Snips muttered. “That’s why the bat ponies couldn’t come… What do you think would have happened if we had entered the ruins at night?”

All the recruits looked over their shoulder and down the ravine. Pip hadn’t given that question much thought, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to sate his curiosity. Walking back at this point was out of the question. Even if the Quetzalcoatl agreed to fly them, they would never make it in time.

“Let’s keep going guys,” Pip tried to encourage them. “We’re almost there.”

“I don’t think you can accurately gauge distance,” Marble stated.

“My cutie mark isn’t a measuring stick, that’s for sure.”

She snorted. “You get feisty when you’re tired.”

“Sorry,” Pip muttered. “I just don’t want to fail this. I feel like I just barely passed Luna’s last assignment…”

The recruits continued forward, regardless of their exhaustion. It wasn’t long until the sun set and the moon began to rise into the sky. Pip felt better then. The dropping temperature was pleasant and the familiarity with his surroundings a comfort. Equinox also seemed better. She managed to fly up to the group and trot along without falling behind.

Invigorated by his second wind, Pip picked up the pace.

Clack! Ka-clack!

A small stone had fallen from above and bounced off the rocks of the ravine floor. Pip glanced upward and froze. The other recruits glanced upward as well.

Pip had never met any bat ponies outside of his Night Guard training… seeing so many of them on the edge of the ravine worried him. By his count, there were at least twenty. He hesitantly took a step forward.

“Who goes there?” he asked, trying to imitate what he thought a royal guard would ask in this situation.

“Aren’t ya a little out yer jurisdiction, guard?” one of the bat ponies in the group asked. He flew off the edge of the ravine and down to the ground. The other bat ponies waited, their gold, red and gray eyes watching the situation intently. At their angle, their eyes gleamed like that of a cat’s.

The bat pony in front of Pip had a black coat, dark blue mane, and gold eyes. His cutie mark was three purple drops of liquid and he wore minimal leather armor to protect only his most vital spots. His coat was scarred, especially around the neck, and at his back was a bow and quiver. Pip suspected they all had bows and quivers.

“These are still lands inside the borders Equestria,” Pip stated.

“Aye, but far from where the Night Guard keeps its company,” the bat pony replied with a half-smile.

“I didn’t know they started accepting day-ponies,” one of the random other bat ponies above called down. “Have you ever seen that before, Hemlock?”

The bat pony in front of Pip, Hemlock, shook his head. “Nope. Not till now. I suppose it was inevitable. The princess is a day-pony at heart, after all.”

Equinox flew forward and stood next to Pip. “What’re you doing here?” she demanded. “Prowling the night and looking for stray ponies?”

The bat ponies up above began snickering. Pip didn’t like the look of this. He covertly glanced back at the other recruits. They were clearly tired. And the bat ponies were not. If the six bat pony recruits Pip had interacted with were telling as to how all bat ponies lived, then these bat ponies would be at least familiar with combat and strife. The situation only got worse when Pip realized they had the advantage of, not only numbers, but the terrain as well. The bat ponies could rain down arrows into the ravine, and only Rumble and Equinox could fly…

“Oh? They do still let bat ponies into the guard,” Hemlock laughed. He leaned in closer to Equinox and smiled. “Why don’t ya ditch these foals and join us, sweetie?”

She rolled her eyes. “You lot look like a gaggle of mange-ridden outcasts. I think I would, literally, rather run with foals.”

Hemlock took a step back and chuckled darkly. “I was trying to spare ya the fate of your companions, but I guess we’ll have to take yer expensive lookin’ armor and weapons as well.”

The bat ponies and recruits all tensed, moments away from attacking.

“Wait!” Pip blurted out, suddenly struck with an idea. “Equinox, just give them the gemstone. I think that should be enough to buy us safe passage.”

“What?” Equinox gasped, giving him an incredulous look. He stared at her for half a second, just long enough for her to catch onto his impromptu plan. “I mean, er, are you sure?”

“Very sure.”

Hemlock suspiciously glanced between them. “Enough of this. There is no buying safe passage. Give me everything ya got, or-”

Equinox removed the Fragment of the First Day from the black velvet pouch. The stone’s brilliant light flooded the area, forcing Pip to blink a few times in order to recover. Hemlock and the other bat ponies immediately cried out in shock and pain, their sensitive eyes suddenly blinded.

“Equinox, take care of this!” Pip said, pointing to the bat ponies on the ridge above them.

She nodded and flew up, the Fragment of the First Day within her hooves. The band of bat ponies dispersed, fleeing in multiple directions. Most ran, but some took to the skies, wobbling about and flying higher and higher into the sky, some even running into each other.

Before Hemlock could fly away, Pip rushed him. With his opponent blinded, it was easy for Pip to outmaneuver him. He bashed Hemlock across the muzzle using the side of his claws and then quickly knocked him to the ground. Once he was down, Pip pinned him.

Equinox landed back in the ravine and tucked the Fragment of the First Day back into its velvet pouch. The light was contained, though Pip didn’t know how. It was a simple velvet bag... wasn’t it? The light was so radiant, it was hard to imagine it could be contained by anything.

Equinox trotted, along with the other recruits, over to Pip and the bandit. The moment Hemlock regained his sight, he glared at them. His nose was bloody and he squinted through one eye that was now swollen.

Marble shrugged. “He’s just a brigand.”

“Eh, let’s just rough him up a little and be on our way,” Scootaloo casually remarked. “It’s not like we have anything to secure him with. Unless you want to use our armor straps.”

“Our armor straps…. That’s a good idea,” Pip said, mulling it over.

Equinox raised an eyebrow. “You honestly want to bring this thug in?”

“Well, isn't that part of the Night Guard’s duties? Aside from protecting Princess Luna, I mean. Helping other ponies? He was going to try and rob us. He should be brought before Captain Phantom Shade. If we let him go, he’ll just go back to doing what he had been doing in the first place. Mugging ponies.”

“We let, like, twenty other bat ponies get away,” Scootaloo shrugged. “We going to hunt them all down too?”

“Well, we can’t fly… So we’ll just have to be satisfied with one bandit off the roads for now.”

Rumble nodded. “Yeah. You got a point.” He removed the strap securing the heavy armor in place and tossed it to Pip. Without the strap, the armor was more of a hazard than a boon, but they didn't have many other options. Snips and Snails also removed their straps. Before Pip did anything, Hemlock snorted in disgust.

“Hey, why don’t we make a bargain? I got bits. Lots of gold bits. How about I give’em to ya, and ya let me go. Deal?”

“We already got the straps ready,” Scootaloo quickly replied. “No turning back now. We’re kinda on a tight time-table. Rumble, think you can manage to drag this guy along?”

Rumble nodded. “Yes, ma’am!”

One strap for the torso, securing the forelegs and wings, another strap to haul him, and the last strap for the mouth. It was difficult securing the mouth when Hemlock tried to bite them. Equinox was eventually forced to use the Fragment of the First Day one again. Rumble happily hauled the bound bat pony, but the extra weight and time needed to deal with the bandits only made Pip anxious.

They continued forward until they arrived at the smooth stone they had rested on the night prior. Specter, Gloom and Mist were waiting for them. Mist immediately perked up and waved to the group. Her cheeks were stuffed full of night strawberries.

Specter flew over and examined the body of the bandit before turning to Pip. “What is this?”

“He tried to rob us,” Pip shrugged. “But we have more pressing matters. We all need to be flown up out of the ravine. The way here is blocked from the rockslide, and we can’t handle the cragadiles. Too many of us have problems with our armor.”

Specter turned back to Gloom. “His wing got worse through the day,” he whispered to Pip. “He isn’t flying.”

“Carry him up too, then.”

“All right.”

One by one, Specter, Mist, Equinox and Rumble flew all the grounded ponies to the top of the ravine. Once Pip was up, he took a moment to look around. It was nothing more than a vast wasteland of hills and weeds. The crack that was the top of the ravine looked slight, but Pip knew if they followed it, they would eventually reach the old trail back to the train tracks.

The ups and downs of the hills made the trek above the ravine longer. And more tiring. Pip felt his stomach and chest aching with the need to sleep. Nopony spoke. They were all too busy funneling the last of their strength into the walking process. Pip’s heart sank when he saw the moon nearing its final descent. We’re simply taking too long…

Pip glanced back to Equinox, Specter, Mist and Gloom. He motioned for them to get close. “Guys, we’re not going to make it at this rate.”

“Oh, really?” Specter sarcastically quipped. “You mean our unicorns aren’t adept at manipulating time?”

“I want you four to go back to the train. Specter and Mist can carry Gloom. You guys have had a chance to rest. I’ll send Rumble with you so he can carry the bandit. He’s a strong flier. Equinox, do you think you can make it?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

Pip sighed. “They said this was a team challenge. We’ll all pass if you guys go… and if the rest of us are caught out in the sun, it won’t matter.”

Specter and Gloom stared at Pip for a long moment before agreeing. The bat ponies left as a group, including the bandit, Equinox flying point. Pip knew he was stretching his luck with this… he could see Phantom Shade being angry with the “loophole” that Pip was trying to use, but there was no other way. If they wanted to technically succeed, this was how to do it.

As the night slowly began to wane, Pip felt his eyelids becoming heavy and his body barely responding to his demands. He desperately wanted to sleep. It was all he could think about by the time they reach the faded path. Half way from the ravine to the train, the sun rose. With a heavy sigh, Pip hung his head and continued forth.

Bathed in the light of the early morning, Pip and the other recruits made it back to the train. There were no bat ponies waiting for them outside, of course, but at least the train was still there. Pip and others dragged themselves into the passenger car and practically collapsed. Once the door was shut, and the light blocked, Phantom Shade entered their car. The train started shortly afterward.

“You’ve taken your sweet time, recruits.”

“But we’re reporting for duty!” Snails happily offered.

Phantom Shade ignored him. “Your assignment has been determined to be a success. The brigand you captured will be brought before the princesses. Now, get to your bunks. You’ve delayed us enough as it is.” The bat pony captain left them after his statement. Pip didn’t care. All he cared about was that he had passed. Slowly, mustering the last of his energy, Pip crawled into his bunk. It was time to sleep…


“Boy, how is it you’re still twice as wide as you are tall?”

“I-I don’t know, sir,” Snips breathed between push-ups. “I’ve always been this way.”

“And you,” Thunder Clash said, turning to the Snails. “Are you sure your father wasn’t a broom? How is it that everypony else looks like they’re puttin’ on muscle and you two still look nearly the same?”

Snails grunted with each push-up. “I dunno, sir!”

“Tomorrow night you’ll have to complete the obstacle course in less than two minutes. After that it will become a part of your nightly exercises. We will start with the course, which will you always be expected to complete in two minutes, do your exercises, and then do it again before the end of the night. Do you understand me, recruits?”

“Sir, yes sir,” everypony replied.

Thunder Clash flew over to Mist and rubbed his muzzle for moment. She noticed his stare and, despite breathing hard from the work, muttered, “Am I broom-like, sir?”

“You’re middling, recruit. Nothing too good, nothing too bad. Don’t become complacent just because I don’t focus my attention on you, understand girlie? Maintaining your physique is now a life style. You can’t slack once you’ve become a member of the Night Guard. Your life depends on it.”

“Sir, yes sir,” she muttered between breaths.

“All right, enough of this,” Thunder Clash shouted. All the recruits stopped, but Rumble was the one to sigh a long sigh of relief. Thunder Clash narrowed his eyes. “Son, it only goes uphill from here. Like all proper training programs, we steadily up the intensity.”

“I didn’t complain, sir,” Rumble huffed, standing up. “I’m ready for more!”

Scootaloo snorted back a laugh as she stood. “Uh-huh,” she said under her breath. “Why don’t you do another fifty more?”

Rumble turned to face her, a half-smile on his face. “I can do it.”

“Sure ya can.”

“You wanna watch me when we get back to the barracks?”

“I bet I could do more.”

“You’re on.”

Thunder Clash watched them whisper to each other and rolled his eyes. “You all are dismissed!”

All the recruits began heading back to the barracks, Rumble and Scootaloo ahead of the pack, eager to demonstrate which of them was the better at mundane exercise. Pip took this moment to trot over to the bat ponies. The last few days had gone by in a haze for him, the lack of sleep had taken its toll, but now he wanted to thank them. Their efforts in their group assignment had been invaluable.

“Guys!” he called out. “Wait up!”

All four of the bat ponies turned and watched him approach. Pip looked between them and nodded.

“Hey, I just wanted to thank you guys for helping during the assignment.”

Mist vigorously nodded. “No problem!”

“I told you I would help you,” Equinox shrugged. “I didn’t think my help would come as a surprise after that.”

Specter shrugged. “I guess we did okay as a team.”

Pip turned his attention to Gloom. “How's your wing? Has it gotten better?”

“Heh. The medics said it had gotten mildly infected,” Gloom admitted. “But they had zebra medicine to help. I can fly, just not very well.”

“Do you think you can make it through the obstacle course tomorrow night?”

Gloom shook his head. “I doubt it. I already got my stuff packed. It was a good run, but like everything else in my life, I guess it’s going to quickly come crashing down.” With a swish of his tail, Gloom quickly turned and began making his way back to the barracks.

“Is Gloom going to make a full recovery?” Pip asked Equinox.

She shrugged. “I dunno. Specter?”

Specter was busy rubbing at something on his black coat, barely paying attention to what was going on. “Huh? What now?”

“Gloom isn’t going to pass the obstacle course tomorrow. Do you even care? Do you even know if his wing is going to recover?”

“He said it'll be fine eventually,” Specter said with shrug. “Can't fly too good right now, though.”

“Why don’t you guys just help this one time?” Pip suggested. “Equinox, you’re already so good at the obstacle course, why not aid him to the end until his wing is better? You know he can finish it normally otherwise.”

Equinox snorted. “Bat ponies don’t usually help and help alike. It’s just seen as weak… Even my mother said as much. The only way to help is to give your blood, your vitality... And we all saw what that got us.” She looked away, bothered by some deeper internal conflict.

“Look,” Pip began, “I help Scootaloo. Snips and Snails help each other. Gloom actually helped Marble when we were fighting those cragadiles! There’s no reason you guys have to be the way you are. You aren’t in the Badlands or Hollow Shades anymore. You’re in training to become one of the Night Guard. We don’t have to fight each other.”

“Fine,” Equinox snapped. “I'll speak to him about it. Don't go around telling everypony, though. And I still don’t understand why you’re so obsessed with us all passing. You make it seem like your own ability to pass is somehow determined by us passing.”

“I…” Pip didn’t really have a good explanation for it. He just… didn’t want them to fail. He didn’t want anypony to fail.

Equinox and Mist both turned back to the barracks. Specter hung back and, once the other two were out of hearing distance, turned to Pip. “Hey, you’re a weird day-pony, but nowhere near as bad as my brother always made day-ponies out to be.”

Pip awkwardly nodded. “Okay…” He didn’t want to spurn Specter’s attempt to communicate with him, but at the same time, he didn’t know what he would say. Words…

“If we all, ya know, pass this next set of tests… We should get together and play a few rounds of pirate’s dice.” Specter deviously smiled. “Maybe with some bits involved.”

“I’ve never even heard of pirate’s dice before.”

“Oh, then we definitely need to play with bits,” Specter said with snicker. “I won’t be too hard on you the first few rounds, I swear.”

“I’ll try,” Pip said.

“That’s the spirit!” Specter punched Pip on the shoulder and flew silently back to the barracks. I'm going to be a broke pony.


Another night, another obstacle course challenge.

Pip was ready this time, however. He knew what he needed to do, and exactly how he was going to do it. Scootaloo was next to him, eyeing the course with fierce determination. Marble was… mildly interested, at best. Pip suspected that, if he could read her thoughts, she would somehow be thinking of Sebastian. Her creepy obsession with the war hammer was beginning to worry Pip. Then again, he had heard of worse things to become obsessed with…

Thunder Clash was pacing the sky above them. Phantom Shade was with him. It was going to be one of the careful scrutiny nights. It didn’t matter. Pip was ready. He could feel it in his bones. Tonight was a good night to do things.

“All right, maggots. You know the drill. Run to the end in less than two minutes. Fail to do so and you’ll be removed. Let’s get this over with.” He flew down and motioned to the course. “Begin!”

Pip, Scootaloo and Marble ran for the course. First the tunnel.


Scootaloo grabbed onto Pip and he trudged through the muddy water without skipping a beat. When they got out, they ran for the hurdles and small walls. Marble was slightly ahead of them, but only slightly.

Next the tires… They jumped though them with ease, Pip grabbing one tire as he went, Scootaloo grabbing another. They threw them into the sea of thorns and jumped across. This time, unlike all the others, Pip made it across without injury. Although it was a small victory, Pip felt like shouting with glee. The briar patch had been the worst part of the entire course…

The zip line came after. Marble got onto a rope first, Pip got on to another rope second, and Scootaloo zipped them across like they were being propelled by a Sonic Rainboom itself. Landing on the other side, they jumped onto the rope wall and began climbing. Scootaloo got up first, then Pip, then Marble. They dropped the last half of the wall and then made an all-out charge for end.

Complete! They had done it!

Panting, but not out of breath or severely injured, Pip took his place at the end line. Marble and Scootaloo were next to him.

Thunder Clash gave them a slow clop. “Wow. You foals have finally graduated into real mares and stallions. Congratulations.”

Phantom Shade nodded to them. “It’s taken you long enough, but I suppose late is better than never.”

As Pip was taking in his victory, he glanced around, his mind racing with all kinds of information. Specter was the only other pony here. No Gloom, Equinox, Mist, Snips, Snails or Rumble… When Pip turned back he stared at Phantom Shade. The bat pony captain… Pip hadn’t forgotten his need to get a night off to investigate in Canterlot, but it suddenly struck him that perhaps he should approach Phantom Shade with his worries, considering how close Phantom Shade was to Luna herself.

“Where are the other recruits?” Thunder Clash asked, glaring at the courses. “They don’t have much time left…”

Phantom Shade stared at the bat pony course, his gold eyes squinting as though he were watching something everypony else wasn’t. Pip shifted his weight nervously. He hated this feeling of waiting. It ate at his very soul.

“There we go,” Thunder Clash said with a hint of relief.

Mist flew out of the obstacle course, followed by Gloom and Equinox.

“Cuttin’ it close,” Thunder Clash yelled to them.

“Too close,” Phantom Shade remarked.

“And there’s Rumble. That fool of pegasus finally got his oversized wings to work for him.”

Pip turned and smiled. Rumble flew over to the line and suddenly hung his head. “I’m so sorry, sir!” he said between gasps. “So… sorry…”

“Of all the-” Thunder Clash stopped himself short and face-hoofed. “The one time you actually make it and this is how you come out? Stand proud, boy! What’s wrong with you?”

Rumble smiled and held his head up. “R-really?”

“Don’t push my buttons, boy!” Thunder Clash suddenly barked. “I’m not going to sit here and butter you up all night!”

“Sir, yes sir!”

Phantom Shade turned to the drill instructor and motioned to the obstacle course. “That’s time. The wonder twins have tried my patience for the last time. Give them the news when they finally make it out.”

Pip turned to look at the unicorn course. Phantom Shade was right. Snips and Snails were nowhere to be seen. Scootaloo frowned. “Wow,” she muttered to Pip. “I kinda thought they would be here till the end. Like a terrible mold you can never get rid of, no matter how well you clean your bathroom, ya know what I mean?”

Marble shrugged. “Is this the moment that I say I called it? Because I did.”

Rumble nudged Scootaloo and Pip. “I totally made it, you guys!”

His focus still on the unicorn course, Pip continued to stare. Snips and Snails had gotten much better since the first days of the training. They were leagues above themselves in terms of growth. He was sad to know they would be going.

“I’m off,” Phantom Shade said to Thunder Clash.

Pip turned back to them. If he was going to talk to talk to Thunder Clash and Phantom Shade, he knew he should do it now, while they were still here...


View Online

“Captain Phantom Shade!” Pip yelled out.

The bat pony stopped and turned. Pip trotted over to him. Thunder Clash, obviously interested in what was happening, moved closer.

“What is it, recruit?”

“I wanted to talk you and Thunder Clash for a moment,” Pip replied. “First, I was wondering what it would take to get a night off so that I can travel to Canterlot.”

Thunder Clash sighed, “You can get time off. Just make it one of the combat training nights.”

Pip nodded. “And I wanted to talk to you both about something that’s been bothering me… Me and the other recruits were having strange nightmares and-”

“The princesses are aware,” Phantom Shade cut him off and turned to glare at Thunder Clash. “Have you been discussing this with them?”

Thunder Clash narrowed his eyes in irritation “If I had, why is he coming here to ask about it? Don’t worry about it, son. Just know that steps are being taken to handle the situation.”

“What situation?” Pip asked. “Is something wrong with Luna?”

Phantom Shade sneered, “If she were, she has competent ponies to turn to, not recruits. You needn’t worry about her.”

“But the nightmares-”

Listen,” Phantom Shade growled. “I appreciate recruits who want to go above and beyond when it comes to their duty. That bandit, for example. Equinox told me it was upon your insistence that he was brought in. An attitude like that showcases you hardworking, earth pony ethic. However, that does not mean you are some sleuth, sniffing out a mystery. Let the guards handle this.”

“But, er, Luna and the dreams,” Pip tried to explain.

Princess Luna,” Thunder Clash corrected.

“R-right, Princess Luna… She can control dreams! Don’t you think that means she’s in trouble? Or, at the very least, warning us about something?”

Phantom Shade glared. “There can be other explanations, recruit. Or are you trying to imply she has reestablished her connection with dark forces?”

“Well, she was Nightmare Moon for a thousand years! That’s more time spent as Nightmare Moon than not, and-”

“And she won’t become Nightmare Moon again,” Phantom Shade practically shouted, drawing the attention of the other recruits. He cleared his throat and lowered his voice. “You don’t know me, recruit, so I will tell you something personal. I want the bat ponies to be successfully integrated into all of Equestria. I want to get rid of these negative stigmas, especially the ones linking us to Nightmare Moon. Nothing frightens me more than Luna being banished, and our first useful role in modern Equestria society being taken from us.”

Thunder Clash snorted back a laugh. “And I’m the pony who is fervently devoted to the point of being blinded, eh? Phantom Shade, you never cease to amuse me. You almost sound as if you would parade her corpse around and say it was still alive, if that’s what it took.”

Phantom Shade was not amused. In a harsh tone he muttered, “Even after the sister’s called their meeting… You still deny. At least I had the common sense to listen. Your stubbornness and short sightedness will be your undoing, mark my words.”

The two older ponies glared at each other and Pip wasn’t entirely sure what was going on between them. In an attempt to bring the conversation back to what he wanted, Pip said, “But, maybe something else should be done to-”

“What did I tell you about being too eager?” Thunder Clash suddenly said, turning to him. “Just mind your own business and do your training. You’re dismissed, recruit!”

Pip backed away, knowing they weren’t going to listen. He was glad he hadn’t brought up the reason for going to Canterlot. He suspected Thunder Clash might have rejected his request completely… Doesn’t matter. I’ll just bring them solid proof and then they’ll have to see what’s going on!


“What the-” Thunder Clash yelled out.

Snips and Snails had, once again, exploded their obstacle course. The two unicorns came walking out, this time not covered in tiny alligators. Both of them looked proud of themselves, even as Thunder Clash flew over with a frown on his face.

“You’re too late, recruits. If you aren’t capable at this point of the training it’s our policy to demote you to one of the easier guard units. That, or you can leave. The choice is yours.”

Snails frowned. “We didn’t make it?”

“No,” Thunder Clash sternly responded.

“It’s okay, Snails,” Snips replied, patting the taller unicorn on foreleg. “We gave it our all.”

Snails nodded. “Yeah. I guess you’re right.”

“Pack your things,” Thunder Clash said, motioning them to the barracks.

Pip galloped over to meet them at the door. The two unicorns nodded in unison. “Are you guys okay?” he asked. “You’re not upset?”

“No,” Snips replied. “Snails and I decided we’re going to join the Friendship Guard instead. I think we'd be better suited there, and we can’t wait to get back to Ponyville to tell everypony of all the amazing things we’ve done!”

Snails nodded. “Yeah. It’ll be amazing. Thanks, Pip. We’re going to miss you. Tell Princess Luna hi for us when you see her, okay?”

Pip laughed to himself. “Sure, guys... No problem.”


“So, Squeaks… Have you ever played pirate’s dice before?” Mist asked, gently nudging her dice around the table.

Pip shook his head.

The bat pony barrack room was much darker than the other barracks. The windows had heavy curtains, though they were currently open to allow the moonlight, and even the walls were painted a dark shade of gray. Pip found himself glancing around the room more often than not, curious to find something that would be shocking. He found no such thing.

“Have any of you played?” Mist asked the other Ponyville recruits.

Rumble looked at his five dice and frowned. “No.”

“Just tell us the rules,” Scootaloo said impatiently.

“Okay, okay,” Mist said, her voice and mannerisms bursting with excitement. She flailed her forelegs around and haphazardly motioned to the table. “We’re all going to get five dice, and then we have cups, and then we put the dice in the cups, and-”

“Oh, so this is liar’s dice,” Marble interrupted. “I’ve played that before.”

“Me too,” Rumble said. He suddenly frowned. “Well, not really. I just watched my brother play it with the other Wonderbolts when they came over to our house. It looked fun, though.”

Scootaloo nodded. “Yeah. I’ve played it.” She reached out and scooped up five dice. “These aren’t loaded, are they?”

“Wait, so we were all playing the same game, even though we’re from different places in Equestria?” Rumble asked, dwelling on that thought. “That’s pretty awesome. I guess it’s a small world after all, huh?”

“Squeaks?” Mist said, drawing Pip’s attention back to the table. “You’ve played too, then?”

“Er, no. I’ve never played. What're the rules?”

Equinox motioned to Scootaloo and Marble. “You two play a quick round. Show him how it’s done.”

Marble shook her head. “I think somepony else should do it.”

“Heh, afraid of losing?” Scootaloo taunted.

“No, quite the opposite, actually. I don’t want you to feel bad when you lose in front of everypony.”

“Oooohhh,” Specter drew out the word and rubbed his hooves together, obviously delighting in the situation. “Are you going to let that stand, Scoots? You gotta defend yourself or else she’s going think you’re weak!”

Scootaloo, easily goaded, glared. “I can win at stupid liar’s dice. It’s practically a game of chance anyway!”

Marble rolled her eyes. “Pip. You might want to pay attention. I’ll teach you some good pointers.”

Pip nodded and got close to Marble. The table they were all sitting at was oval in shape, a place to eat for the recruits. The chairs they had were uncomfortable, and they didn't have enough, some of the recruits had to sit on boxes. Pip had a small chair that didn’t fit his larger frame. He awkwardly teetered on it.

Scootaloo took five dice and Marble took five dice. They placed them in their cups and shook. Each slammed down on the table hard. Rumble, Gloom and Specter moved in close to see what Scootaloo had. Mist and Equinox got in close to see what Marble had.

“You start,” Scootaloo demanded.

Lifting her cup, Marble examined her dice. In a low whisper she said, “Liar’s dice is a probability game. You play by guessing how many of one number is on the table, each player taking turns until a bluff is called. See my dice here?”

She had a 3, 2, 5, 5, and 6.

“The trick is to remember you’re guessing for the whole table, not just the opponent’s dice or your own dice.” Marble looked up at Scootaloo. “My guess is that there are two fours.”

Pip was confused. She didn’t have any fours. Why would she guess that?

Specter, Gloom and Rumble all glanced down at Scootaloo’s dice. “Three fours,” she answered almost instantly.

Marble half-smiled and turned back to Pip. “So, it’s very likely that with five dice you’ll roll doubles. After the first pony guesses, the next pony can increase the amount or the number on the dice. Since Scootaloo is brash and impulsive, she just assumed I would have at least one four if I were guessing with fours.” She again returned her gaze to Scootaloo. “I’ll call that a bluff.”

“Er, really?” Scootaloo asked.

Specter smacked her on the back and began laughing. “I can’t believe she got you on the first round!” Scootaloo revealed her dice. She had two fours, but since there weren’t three on the table, she had lost.

Marble elaborated, “Now she loses one of her five dice. The pony with dice at the end of the game is the winner. You can also call spot on, meaning you’re guessing the exact number on the table. See? Simple enough.” Pip was mildly interested in the advice, but more interested in the fact that Marble was using Thunder Clash's war lessons for a dice game.

“Let’s go again!” Scootaloo angrily shouted. “I got this!”

They shook their dice and slammed the cup on the table. Marble glanced up at Scootaloo. “You’re first.”

“Then I think there are three fives on the table.”

Marble had a single five under her cup. “I’m going to say this is spot on.”

Mist began jumping up and down with the aid of her wings. “This is so exciting!”

“Eh, I’ve seen better parties,” Marble said, glancing over at Scootaloo’s dice. Marble had called it. Scootaloo had two fives. Mixed with Marble’s single five, there were three. Exactly spot on. “I played this once with Pinkie Pie when she was experimenting with games. Half way through, she forgot the rules and suddenly started playing Yahtzee without informing me. I’ve never taken drugs, but I imagine the confusion I felt in that moment is what it feels like to be high.”

Scootaloo slammed her face against the table in frustration. “How did you know I only had two!? You have to be cheating!”

“Well, you see, there’s a certain percentage chance that-”

“No, I mean, how did you know!?”

“I didn’t. I just guessed.”

“Arg!” Scootaloo tugged on her mane growled into the table. “It’s always like this with you! You’re insane, I swear it! The craziest pony I know!”

Marble sighed. “This is why Sebastian is my new favorite recruit.”

Pip was taken aback. “Really? Even over me?”

Marble had to think about it for a moment. Pip frowned. It’s a tossup between me and inanimate object? I think I’ve hit new lows. “I guess you don’t complain as much as Sebastian does…” Marble eventually muttered. “And you have better stories… I guess you’re still ahead.”

“Oh. Thank you for that ringing endorsement,” Pip sarcastically muttered.

Specter couldn't stop himself from laughing. He had been cackling the entire time, amused by Scootaloo’s frustration and Marble’s utter victory. “Scoots!” he said between laughs. This was the loudest Pip had ever known Specter to get. “Scoots, you’re my new favorite day-pony! The look on your face!” He continued to laugh. “Priceless!”

Gloom slammed his hooves on the table. “Enough watching! I want to play!”

Marble pushed away from the table. “I’m going to go. I’ve already tried the whole party scene. It doesn’t work for me.” She trotted off before anypony could disagree.

“I’m going too!” Scootaloo growled. She angrily hopped off her chair and began to flounce off. Specter held up a hoof and tried to calm his laughing.

“Oh, come on! Don’t be like that! Stay! We were having so much f-f-f-” he burst into laughter again, cutting himself off.

Rumble left the table and wandered over to Scootaloo. “I’ll go with you, if you want.”

“No, I mean it!” Specter finally got his laughing under control. “Stay! I want you guys to stay! We’re like, the top recruits right now! Getting into the big leagues, ya know? Besides, Scoots… I didn’t think you walked away from a challenge!”

Scootaloo turned around, a determined look on her face. “You're right, I don’t! I’m going to win at this game if it’s the last thing I do, Celestia be my witness! That’ll show Marble!”

Rumble nervously rubbed his mane. “You sure? We could just go out back and hang for a while or something.”

“C’mon, Rumble!” Scootaloo dragged him back to the table. “We’re doin’ this tonight!”

Pip half-heartedly listened as he stared at the table. Once the night was over, he was going to head to Canterlot and investigate the library in an attempt to prove, once and for all, it could have only been Luna to manipulate dreams.

Mist and Equinox sat on either side of him for the game. “Don’t look so sad,” Mist told him. “Equinox and I like you better than any of the things we have!”

“Thanks,” Pip muttered. At least I got that.

Although Pip wasn’t very good at the games, the time in the bat pony barracks was some of the most enjoyable he had experienced since joining the Night Guard. He played until daybreak, but it hadn’t felt that long at all.


The chariot ride to Canterlot was pleasant. Pip had flown so many times in his dreams that being up so high didn’t bother him. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he knew there was a possibility he could plummet to his death, but he tried not to dwell on it.

The sight of the Canterlot Castle in the brilliance of the morning light was breathtaking. The castle city below was also a sight to see from the sky, and he enjoyed every moment of it. Once the chariot landed, Pip wasted no time trotting straight for the castle. If there was any place to investigate alicorn magic or the two sisters, it would be in the Canterlot Library.

The market of the city was bustling, but Pip didn’t even bother to look. As he trotted, a few of the Canterlot ponies turned twice to get a better look at him.

“A pinto stallion? He must be from Trottingham,” he heard a mare say to another.

“We don’t get many visitors from Trottingham!”

“It’s such a lovely city! We should take a vacation there!”

Pip ignored them and found himself on the steps of the Canterlot Castle in no time. The royal guards there, clad in the gold Sun Guard uniform, nodded to him. He nodded back and continued inward.

A small portion of the castle was open to the public, or so Marble had informed him; most of the library, the front half of the gardens, and the courtroom. The hallways and decorations were immaculate, completely free of dust and stains. Pip laughed to himself, his eyes wide as he wandered. So this is what it’s like to be in the castle… It was everything he had hoped it would be.

Although Pip had never been to the castle, the library wasn’t hard to find. He quickly galloped in and began glancing around. There were hundreds of books… more than Pip had ever been expecting. Slightly intimidated by the daunting task, Pip walked over to the first bookshelf and began glancing at the books. The first one was titled:

An Absolute Guide to Magic Spells

Would what he was looking for be in that book? Pip nervously took it off the shelf. Was Luna’s dream-walking ability a magic spell or would somepony classify it as an innate ability? Oh, sweet Celestia… If I have to comb through every book… This could take a lot longer than one day. Pip tried to calm himself. Not all the books could be about magic, right? He placed the book on a nearby table and glanced at the next title. It read:

An Abundance of Magic: A Guide to Unusual Spells

What the? Pip frowned. Wouldn’t the absolute guide cover all the spells? Did there really need to be another book for unusual spells? Pip had no experience with magic outside of being with Luna. He didn’t know how they were classified, what it even meant to be a spell, or how he would know what book would be the correct one to search through.

Pip began looking around. He spotted two unicorns reading through a few texts down one of the many aisles of bookshelves. He trotted over to them and smiled. “Hello.”

The male unicorn of the duo had three jets for a cutie mark, a gray coat and dark gray stylized mane. He was wearing tiny spectacles on his nose and glanced over them with a lifted eyebrow. “Yes? Can we help you?” He unnecessarily drew out each word as he spoke.

“Um, do you happen to know where I can find a book about, er, alicorn magic or… dream magic?” Pip asked.

The unicorn slowly frowned. “Whatever would you need a book about magic for?”

“Hush, dear,” the female unicorn of the two responded. She was a pale yellow in color, with a purple and white mane. Her cutie mark was three dollar signs, and she held her head high at all times.

“Forgive my husband, Jet Set,” she said, her speech equally as drawn out as her husband’s. “We’ve been in this dreadful library for far too long and I think it’s starting to play tricks on his mind.”

“Yes, you’re quite right, Upper Crest,” Jet Set responded. “That was terribly rude of me. Go on then, what were you asking?”

Pip nodded. “Alicorn magic? Dream magic? Have either of you ever run across books like that?”

They both shook their heads. “No,” Upper Crest replied. “I can’t say that I have. I’m sure the library will have something, however. Princess Twilight Sparkle was seen here just the other day, stocking some of the shelves with her latest tomes.”

Pip hung his head. “Thank you for your time,” he muttered.

“Are you new to Canterlot?” Jet Set asked. “I’ve never seen you in the library before.”

“I’m just a Night Guard trainee,” Pip shrugged. “I don’t live around here.”

“The Night Guard?” Upper Crust said, lifting her eyebrows in curiosity. “Do you know the Captain? Phantom Shade, I believe his name was?”

“Yes,” Pip replied.

Jet Set smiled. “Oh, most fortunate for us! We just recently met Phantom Shade at one of the evening soirees here at the castle! I had never met a bat pony before, but he was such a gentlecolt, I had to get to know him. Do tell him that we spotted you in the library, hmm? Tell him we spoke well of him?”

Upper Crust nodded. “Oh, do. It’s so good to get to know exotic ponies from time to time. You will be a dear and tell him?”

Pip forced a smile. “Sure. I’ll tell him I saw you.”

“Very good,” they both replied.

With a heavy sigh, Pip turned back to the library. He would just have to do his best to search through until he found what he needed…



The library wasn’t open to the public at night. Soon it would close, and Pip hadn’t found anything. Not a single thing. His table was piled high with books, but he just couldn’t read through them in time. Scanning the table of contents was simple enough, but so many things about magic were grouped into categories, it was hard to tell if it included or excluded what he wanted to know.

An entire category of magic dedicated to night spells? Would that have things about dreams? Apparently not. Night hadn’t referred to the time of day, but the name of a pony, which only left Pip even more confused.

Frustrated, Pip began galloping down the aisles, looking for anything that might catch his eye. He stopped when he spotted a door at the back titled:

Twilight Sparkle Wing

Stocking in Progress – (RESTRICTED) Not Open to the Public

Pip trotted closer and hesitated. Princess Twilight Sparkle was an alicorn… and she had kept extensive notes on everything she ever did. She probably could have been the Princess of Knowledge had the whole friendship thing not come up.

He glanced around. Nopony was nearby. Maybe this section of the library would contain the information he needed…

The Book of Alicorns

View Online

Pip pushed the door in an attempt to enter the Twilight Sparkle Wing. It was locked. Of course it is, Pip thought to himself with a laugh. It’s not open to the public… For a moment, Pip almost took the inconvenience as a sign. Maybe he shouldn’t be doing this. But he didn’t want to give up that easily.

Glancing around the library, Pip made sure nopony was watching as he trotted over to the nearest window. The glass itself had swirly decorative frosting and etchings, the added detail bordered on gaudy, but the best part about the window was that it could be opened. Pip shoved it upward and, surprisingly, had to strain in order to get it open enough to jump through. Once outside, he shut the window behind him and cautiously trotted through the shrubbery. He circled around until he made it to the outside of the new wing that had been added to the library.

The sun had almost set, making it difficult to see, but he eventually spotted a window that was slightly cracked open. It was on the second story of the new wing, but, luckily for him, there was a tree nearby. He climbed to the highest branch and leapt for the window, the force of his jump raining leaves all over the once pristine landscaping.

Half dangling on the window sill, Pip used his strength to force open the window. This one, thankfully, had been much easier than the last. He pulled himself up and jumped into the library. Pip took a moment to look over his shoulder. He knew Thunder Clash’s training had to be paying off. He didn’t even feel winded.

Pip turned his attention back to the library. Although this was the height of a second story, it was more of a loft and balcony overlooking the first floor. Pip was standing next to a comfortable looking chair that was occupied by a sole book. Had someone been reading here and forgotten to close the window when they were done? It didn’t matter. All that mattered now was that he was inside.

He trotted down the stairs and began scanning the bookshelves. There were hundreds of books here as well… Pip sighed. Still determined to complete his task, he began reading the titles. If he removed them from the bookshelf, he knew he would need to replace them in the exact same spot as before, lest his illicit activities be discovered.

Title after title… nothing was calling to him. Nothing looked like it would help. If there wasn’t the right book here, then he would never find it. He didn’t know of many libraries and, the few he did know about, were far away.

Pip trotted around an aisle and noticed boxes upon boxes of books that had yet to be put away. He immediately began rummaging through them. Unlike the ones on the shelf, he suspected that he could get away with moving these. Glancing through the contents of each one concerning magic, Pip found that time was just slipping by.

When the night was fully upon the castle, glowing crystals came into effect to offer minimal lighting. Pip had to sit around them and squint, but it was all for naught. None of the books he was glancing through had anything relevant to offer him, though some were fascinating in their own right. I didn’t know ponies could be turned into potted plants…

Three whole boxes worth of searching and nothing was found. Pip hung his head and sighed. Pushing the boxes to the side, he got up and went for the shelves again. Out of the corner of his eye, Pip noticed a desk at the far back of the room. It was piled high with papers, scrolls and open books.

Pip wandered over to it and began looking over the paperwork. Most of it had to do with the theory that magic was somehow tied to emotions. Friendship, love… there were so many sources and examples of Equestrian magic being based on the purest form of affection, that it was hard to see anything else. Even though that was mildly interesting, it wasn’t what Pip was looking for. He gently pushed some of the paperwork aside and searched deeper. His attention was pulled into full focus when he read the title of a certain book:

The Book of Alicorns

He gently removed it from the stack and frowned. It was a bound book, but there were loose papers and scroll fragments stuffed within each and every page. Pip slowly opened the book.

Written by Twilight Sparkle

Flipping through the pages, Pip realized it was completely written in her hoof-writing. Half-way through the book, however, her writing stopped. The book wasn’t complete. Pip took a moment to study it more in depth. The loose paperwork and scroll fragments were information about alicorns from all kinds of sources. Some were letters, some were pages from old books, and others were rubbings of old murals…

Pip realized then that Twilight was just collecting information and compiling it all into a single book. She hadn’t finished and Pip suspected she had turned her full attention to her other project: the theory of emotions and magic.

Click. Creeeeaaak.

Pip froze and his heart jumped into his throat. In that fraction of a second he realized several facts he hadn’t taken into account. The Night Guard protected the castle at night. They patrolled the halls. He didn’t even need to see who entered; he already knew it was one of them.

In this moment of shock, Pip realized he needed to make a choice. This was the book he had been looking for… but if the guards found him he would be in trouble. He had broken in to an area. What would Phantom Shade say to him? What would Phantom Shade ultimately do? Pip didn’t want to find out… and he also didn’t want to leave the book. Taking the book would be a theft, but if Luna needed him, this was the key to her aid...

Torn, but still determined, Pip quietly closed the book and picked it up with his mouth. It was huge book, considering all the paperwork crammed inside, and Pip could only just barely hold on without damaging it. He slowly walked around the bookshelves and listened for the patrolling guard.

He could hear the soft clop of the guard’s hooves. Pip tried to walk in time with the guard and made his way to the other side of the library. Slowly climbing the stairs to the loft and balcony, Pip made his way back to the window. When he was sure the guard was on the other side of the wing, he glanced outside. Nopony there. At least, not yet.

Pip got up onto the window sill and jumped to the ground. The shock of the impact on his legs caused him to groan in pain, but he forced himself to remain relatively quiet. Taking deep breaths, Pip began slowly making his way back around to the main library.

“It’s weird tonight,” Pip heard somepony say.

Pip froze.

“Yeah,” a second voice replied. “It’s because of that Discord. That fountain of jelly was his doing. I think he just wanted to see the maids get their saddlebags in a twist.”

The voices were coming toward him! Pip backed up and began making his way in the other direction. He didn’t know the castle, so now wasn’t the time to be trying out different paths, but he had no other choice. He quietly trotted over to another window and looked in. Empty. He opened it up, slipped inside and closed it behind him, thankful it had been unlocked.

Once there, he dropped the book and felt his chest. His heart was racing. I can’t believe I stole a book from Twilight… What was I thinking!? I have to return it! This isn't right! Pip picked the book up and started making his way for, what he thought, was the hall back to the library. Pip froze halfway. But… the book might contain all the answers I need… He mentally kicked himself. I’m not stealing it if I’m just borrowing it… I’m not stealing it if I’m just borrowing it… I’m not stealing it if I’m just borrowing it, he chanted to himself over and over again as he turned away from the library.

Twilight always let me borrow books as a foal! She never said no! She wouldn’t have said no this time! Pip felt himself emotionally torn. He knew this was wrong! He was suddenly the thief that Thunder Clash had talked about the first day of boot camp! Him! A thief!

“What do you want to do about it, Captain?”

Pip, about to round a corner, again froze. Captain? He already knew who it was. Phantom Shade. He was here. Of course he’s here… He’s the captain of the Night Guard! Pip backed up again and decided for a different route. His only guiding force was that he needed to get back to the front of the castle.

He turned down another hallway and found several doors on either side. The clopping of hooves coming his way caused him to panic once again. Turning to the nearest door, he jumped inside. It took him a moment to realize he had entered some sort of equipment room. There were personal lockers, Sun Guard armor hanging on the walls, and benches for ponies to sit.


The guard coming his way was opening doors to check the rooms. Pip couldn’t leave, or he would be spotted. Bat ponies could see in the dark. But, if he stayed here, he was going to get caught… and now he had a stolen item on him as well!


The guard was getting closer! Pip ran over and grabbed one of the sets of Sun Guard armor. It was ill-fitted, but he didn’t need to wear it for real. He threw it over his back and sat at the bench. Dropping the book to the ground, Pip picked up a nearby spear and realized it was broken, the handle was cracked. Didn’t matter. All he needed it for was a prop.


The door to the room opened and Pip turned away so that his back was facing the guard. Although Pip was white with brown spots, his forelegs were purely white, much like most of the Sun Guard.

“What’re you doing here?” the guard asked in a surprised tone.

“Gotta sharpen my spear,” Pip said, trying not to sound too suspicious. “You remember how Thunder Clash drilled everypony about proper weapon care. The captain agrees with him, and I don’t want to get yelled at again for putting my equipment away dull.” He ran his hoof over the spearhead, trying to imitate the sound of a whetstone sharpening metal.

For a moment, the guard was silent.

Please, please, please buy this.

“Yeah, he did used to yell at us a lot about that,” the guard laughed. “Just hurry it up, huh? Nopony is supposed to be here at this hour.”

“S-sorry about that,” Pip stammered, almost choking on his own words. The guard left, and Pip couldn’t have been more relieved. He quickly removed the armor and picked up the book. Several random sheets of paper slipped out and Pip had to take the time to gather them back up. Every second he was in the castle was another second removed from his lifespan due to stress. He desperately wanted to escape.

Pip didn’t want to drop any more papers either. He couldn’t risk it. Glancing up to the equipment in the room, Pip spotted a few satchels hanging near the door. He galloped over to them, grabbed one and threw the book and the paperwork inside. Oh sweet Celestia... I've stolen again... What have I become!? I'm practically a kleptomaniac! With the satchel over his shoulder, Pip trotted out of the room and began making his way once again.

Every echo in the hall caused Pip to jump. The fear and anxiety was getting to him. He turned to the nearest window and looked out. Canterlot Castle was perched out above a valley, half of the castle practically suspended in the air. The window before him overlooked the beginning of the drop before the plummet to the valley floor and the forest below.

Pip could see a flat ledge below him. It wasn’t too far… he suspected fifty feet or so… and it looked as though a pony could climb down to it from the city…

Opening the window, Pip pulled the satchel off his shoulder and tossed it to the ledge. For a half second he thought he had misaimed, but, to his relief, the satchel landed on the ledge, its fall broken by the branches of a tree. Now, even if he were caught, he wouldn’t have the damning evidence on him. I'm even thinking like a criminal... I hope Luna will forgive me...

Looking around outside, Pip made a mental note of how to get back to the entrance. He closed the window and began making his way there. When the front door came into view, Pip almost forgot himself and rushed forward.

“Is that everything?” he heard a guard ask.

Pip jumped behind the edge of a staircase and watched as some of the Night Guard were hauling in boxes and small cages full of animals. Once they went by, Pip took the opportunity to make a break for the exit. As he ran through the front door, his hoof slammed into the doorframe and made an odd clack sound.

“What was that?”

Pip dashed for the garden outside and ran behind the trees at full tilt. Surprise and happiness washed over him when he saw the front gate was open. He had half been expecting to jump the wall… Pip ran out the gate, making him officially in the city of Canterlot and ridding his mind of anxiety. He leaned against the outside of the wall, moving to slouch behind some bushes. He needed time to get his heart rate under control. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.


Pip quickly opened his eyes. Had someone flown over here?

“What are you doing?”

Pip recognized the dark and slow tone. Phantom Shade. Panic-stricken, Pip slowly got to all fours and walked out from behind the bushes. Being outside the castle gates wasn’t against the law, right? He could be there… even if it was weird… But how had Phantom Shade known? How had he found Pip in the first place?

Phantom Shade glared at him, his piercing gold eyes seemingly seeing right through the heart of the situation. “Well?” Phantom Shade barked.

Pip opened his mouth, but no words came out. His throat was dry and he knew whatever he was going to say would be incriminating. Just staring into Phantom Shade’s eyes caused him to freeze up. The bat pony knew. He knew.

“Answer me,” Phantom Shade said through clenched teeth. “Or so help me, I’ll-”

“Captain Phantom Shade! There you are… I need to give you a few more instructions.”

Pip also recognized that voice. He immediately perked up and turned. It was Princess Twilight Sparkle, in all her magical glory. Her purple and pink mane waved and glittered as though caught in a perpetual wind that only she could feel. On her head rested a tiny spiked crown.

Phantom Shade bowed to her. “Princess, I will-”

“I’m sorry I’m demanding so much of you when I know your job is to protect Luna,” Twilight said, interrupting the captain and nervously laughing. “But I promise it won’t be much! I just want to make sure my books are cared for while I’m gone. They’re very important to me.” Within seconds she spotted Pip. “Oh! Pipsqueak! I haven’t seen you in a long while! How are you?’

Pip couldn’t bring himself to look her in the eye. He had stolen her book! Stolen it! If he had known he would see her, he could have just asked! Now he was thief! Asking now… he would have to admit what he had done… And it was eating at his soul! There were no words he could find to accurately express his conflicted emotion state.

Twilight waited for a few moments before turning back to Phantom Shade with an awkward shrug. “Am I… er, interrupting something?”

“I-” Phantom Shade began.

“Oh, Phaaaantom,” a mischievous voice rang out into the night.

Pip glanced up and was surprised to see the draconequus, Discord, sitting on the edge of the outer wall. He smiled down to Phantom Shade, who did not return the gesture.

“Are we still making requests?” Discord asked, suddenly teleporting next to the captain. “Because Fluttershy tells me that her animals are going to need very particular care. You don’t need to worry about the day ones, but the bats,” Discord heavily stressed the word, “do need to be watched. You like bats, don’t you, Phantom?” Discord grabbed one of Phantom Shade’s leather wings and pulled it out, poking at the edges and smiling sweetly.

Phantom Shade was barely maintaining a thin veneer of calm. A very thin veneer. “I shall take care of it,” he spat.

“And the books,” Twilight added with an embarrassed laugh. “I was hoping somepony would be able to check them once a week. I’m sure it wouldn’t take a guard very long… It only takes me about an hour to check over the books when I do it. And we’ll be back before Nightmare Night, so it won’t be for too long!”

Discord released the wing of the bat pony and floated over the group. He glanced at Pip. “And who is this pony? Is he one of the guards? What’s wrong?” he asked Pip. “Why the long face?” Discord’s chaotic magic made Pip’s face droop slightly. “Has anyone ever told you that you look like a horse?” Discord laughed at his own joke.

Pip shook away the odd magical effect and still couldn’t find the words to say.

Phantom Shade glared at Pip. “Leave,” he commanded. As Pip began to go, however, the bat pony watched him with his piercing gold eyes the entire way.

“Goodbye, Pipsqueak!” Twilight called after him, but Pip didn’t have the heart to reply. He half-heartedly waved as he continued to gallop.


It was the end of the night, and just before the dawn, when Pip got back to the barracks. He gingerly carried the satchel inside with him, hoping Thunder Clash wouldn’t stop and ask him what it was or what was in it.

“Arg!” he heard Scootaloo yell in a frustrated tone from the bat pony barracks room.

“You’re seriously the worst at this game!” Specter’s voice rang afterward, followed closely by his laughing.

Pip was happy they were all distracted with the pirate’s dice game. He quickly trotted over to his bunk and-

“What’re you doing?”

“Urk!” Pip slowly turned his gaze to Marble, who was sitting on her bed with a bored expression. Of course. Marble never played the games. “M-Marble… It’s you!” he lamely commented. “Er, how are you? Good? Good.”

“You brought something back from Canterlot?” she asked, eyeing the satchel.

“No. I mean, yes. Yes. This satchel. I brought back this satchel.”

Marble slowly lifted a single eyebrow.

Pip couldn’t take it; he went over to her and collapsed onto the edge of her bed. In a single breath he unloaded, “I stole a personal book from Twilight Sparkle’s wing of the Canterlot library and I know I shouldn’t have done it but I made the decision to regardless.” He took a breath afterward and felt better. He would give the book back, but Luna’s safety was more important to him than even his reputation or integrity.

“That’s interesting,” she slowly said. “Why?”

“It has the information I need. I’ll give it back, I swear.”

“Are you going to show me?”

“The book?”

“The information,” she dryly replied, as though it were obvious what she had been asking.

“Oh, er, I haven’t found it yet… In the book, I mean. But it’s in the book, I know it is! It’s all about alicorns! All I have to do is read through it and then I’ll be able to convince everypony! It even has bits of other books! And letters! And pictures! If this book doesn’t have it, no book will!”

Marble nodded. “All right. Good luck with that.” She rolled over on her bed and lied down.

“You’re just going to go to sleep?” Pip asked. “You don’t want to look at the book with me?”

“Thunder Clash told us we’re going to be working with live Quarray Eels starting tomorrow. In order to better prepare for monster attacks. I think I’ll need my rest for that. I think you will too.”

Pip couldn’t believe how very apathetic everypony was toward what was going on. “All right. Once I find the information I’ll show it to you, okay?”

“Sure,” she replied.

Pip slowly walked back over to his own bunk. He was also tired… He crawled into bed and hid the satchel under the blankets. He would read it when he woke.

Phantom Shade's Training

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“Quarray Eels are vicious creatures that live in caves, canyons and gorges. They’re flesh eaters, which means that, for the safety of pony kind, their locations and population are monitored and controlled. Well, as much as possible. The Sun Guard’s final test involves subduing a Quarray Eel as a part of a squad. By the end of your training, you all will be expected to deal with a Quarray Eel in a team of two.”

Pip and the other recruits exchanged nervous glances. The warm winds of late spring washed over them as they stood amidst the trees of the forest. They were standing before the mountain that held Canterlot and Pip couldn’t help but feel nervous, not just for the task before them, but because he now knew how dangerous this forest could be.

“Now, like with all enemies, knowing them is the key,” Thunder Clash said matter-of-factly. “Quarray Eels only travel when they’re young. Once they reach adulthood, they settle into a cave, or hole, or whatever rock-haven they can find, and generally don’t leave it. Meaning, the best way to save yourself from one is to run. Once you leave their nest, they typically won’t follow.”

“The Quarray Eels that infest the base of this mountain are dangerously close to pony-inhabited spaces. As a part of the Night Guard, you will need to be the ones that control their population. Every year, around the middle of spring, you will need to venture into their caves and remove the eggs. The creatures aren’t nocturnal, meaning they’ll be asleep when you traverse their nest.”

Thunder Clash pointed to the holes in the base of the mountain. “Tonight you won’t be fighting any eels, nor gathering their eggs. We’ll be practicing the motions and waking a Quarray Eel for you to understand how dangerous they are. Tomorrow night, however, you will be gathering eggs. Most of these caves have been cleared out… all except for the last four on the end. The last four are for you all. Do you understand me, recruits?”

“Sir, yes sir!” they all replied.

Scootaloo was about to blurt something out when Rumble and Marble gave her a preemptive shake of their heads. She sighed, took a deep breath, and raised a hoof.

“What is it, recruit?” Thunder Clash asked.

“Why don’t we just smash the eggs, if they’re so dangerous?” she said, angrily motioning to the caves. “If they eat ponies they shouldn’t even be here!”

Thunder Clash shrugged. “That decision is above my pay grade. Princess Celestia insists we try and be as gentle with the wildlife as possible. Including, for some reason, the monsters. We remove the eggs and place them in Ghastly Gorge or Galloping Gorge, far from ponies.”

Rumble raised a hoof. Thunder Clash pointed to him. He took a breath and said, “Won’t the Quarray Eels die without their mothers?”

“Unlike ponies, Quarray Eels are born with everything they need to survive. Right from the egg they’re dangerous.” Thunder Clash rubbed his hooves together. “Now, are you ready for your training?”

“Sir, yes sir!” they responded.

Thunder Clash flew over to a pile of large rocks and pointed to them. “Good. All of you pair up and get over here. You will carry this rock from this side of the clearing to the other side of the clearing without dropping it, letting it drag along the ground, or making much noise. If you do any of those three things, you’ll be starting again!”

Pip trotted over to the rocks and began examining them. They were twice as large as a pony and oval shaped, though just barely. Picking one up would be a hassle all its own.

“Scoots!” Specter said, flying over to Scootaloo. The bat pony wedged himself passed Rumble and smiled to her. “We should be partners.”

Scootaloo shrugged. “Sure. Whatever. Help me pick up one of these rocks then.”

Rumble watched them for with frown. Pip was about to offer to be his partner when Mist suddenly jumped out from behind one of the rocks.

“Squeaks!” she shouted.

He jumped at her sudden appearance. Pip hadn’t noticed her hiding there at all. “Yeah?”

“You and I can do this!”

“Well, er…” He glanced to Rumble and saw he was partnering with Marble. With a shrug he nodded to Mist. “Okay.”

“Normally,” Thunder Clash shouted to them as he flew overhead, “bat ponies would fly the eggs out. All you grounded ponies need to be extra careful with the rocks. As little sound as possible. Quarray Eels have excellent eyesight and poor hearing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t wake them.”

Pip got on one side of the rock and Mist got on the other. With some effort, and awkward maneuvering, Pip got the rock on his back and Mist grabbed the side, flying along to support it. The rock was heavy. Painfully heavy. Mixed with it resting on the metal armor, it was killing his back. He walked forward, but kept his pace slow to keeping the sound of his hooves from being too loud.

Rumble and Marble easily picked up their rock and began trotting to the other side of the clearing. They were both strong, and the task almost looked effortless. Gloom and Equinox opted to carry their rock through the air, but the harsh, accelerated flapping of their wings was, ironically, the loudest of the bunch.

“Go back,” Thunder Clash told Equinox and Gloom. “You sound like two hummingbirds fornicating! I said, do it quietly!”

Pip surely and steadily walked the rock over to the other side of the clearing. Mist was helping, but he suspected he was doing more than half the work. Once to the other side, he dropped the rock and took a breath. Marble and Rumble was waiting by their rock while Specter and Scootaloo was still slowly inching along.

Scootaloo could barely support the weight, and Specter, although completely silent, didn’t look like he was helping much. “You got this, Scoots,” he encouraged her, as if knowing she was doing all the work. When she glared up at him, he snickered.

Specter and Scootaloo were so slow, Gloom and Equinox managed to go back and cross the entire clearing before them. Once everypony was done, Thunder Clash drew their attention. He picked up a rock and tossed it up and down with his hoof. “Now, watch carefully.” He threw the rock into one of the cave. The rock bounced off the stone in the cave, clacking loudly as it went.

Clack! Ka-clack!

Nothing happened. Gloom and Specter had to hold in laughs. Thunder Clash sighed.

“Let’s try this again…” He picked up another rock and threw it in, this time with power behind it.

CLACK! Ka-clack!

A large burgundy eel suddenly shot out of the cave, exposing its head and half its snake-like body. It angrily snapped into the darkness, crunching through a tree trunk in its fury. The Quarray Eel quickly withdrew after the attack, its yellow eyes coming to rest on the ponies. Although they were close, the Quarray Eel didn't bother leaving its nest.

“Did you see that?” Thunder Clash asked. “That’s why you need to be quiet. Now, for the rest of the evening we will be going over everything I taught you. Take it to heart, tomorrow night you will be expected to get them eggs. Are you listening, recruits?”

“Sir, yes sir!”


By the light of the breaking dawn, Pip read Twilight’s book. Much to his disappointment, the writing in the book, the portion Twilight had personally composed, was nothing more than an account of her time as an alicorn. She wrote of the transformation, how she became taller, her horn longer, and her wings growing larger with the years… They were interesting details, and Pip liked to briefly fantasize about what it would be like if he were an alicorn, but it didn’t help him now.

Pip instead had to examine through the many loose papers inside the book. For the most part, they were slipped into the book in accordance with where they came from. The first few papers were scroll fragment discussing various alicorns Pip had never heard about. Although he was no official expert, he had always been fascinated by the princesses. He was sure he would have heard of some of these alicorns if they ruled over territories… but he hadn’t heard of even one of them.

He skipped over the scroll fragments for the time being and saw that there were also pages from a journal here… When Pip examined the journal pages closer, he realized they were written by Celestia and Luna themselves, with Twilight’s notes scrawled along the margins. Pip sat up in his bunk and happily began reading.

The text of the journal pages was almost completely faded by age, but Twilight’s notes were crisp and new. She wrote:

Luna’s Journal Entry #4

Luna recalls playing hide-n-seek with her sister and mother.

Pip gently touched the page with his hoof. He wished he could read the actual text of that experience. Twilight’s account made it seem so cold and lifeless… he wondered what Luna thought of it. He continued to read through the paperwork.

Celestia’s Journal Entry #10

Celestia recalls the castle being built for her and Luna, and mentions that she wishes her parents were there to help.

Celestia’s Journal Entry #14

Celestia mentions she still hasn’t heard from her mother and father, and how her magic continues to surprise her.

Celestia’s Journal Entry #23

Celestia has her first vision in her sleep. See note: visions.

Pip stared at the journal page for a long moment. Visions? He began flipping through the book, looking for Twilight’s note about visions. It was easy to find. Twilight’s hoof-writing was distinct. It read:

(NOTE) Celestia’s Visions

Apparently, Princess Celestia has visions in her sleep. They are vague and hard to interpret. Her first vision was a sign of terrible things to come. It wasn’t until Discord arrived that it was proven right.

Her second vision was of something important disappearing. She kept everything close at hoof, but what the vision meant was the Crystal Empire, not an object.

Her third vision was that nightmares were coming… but she didn’t realize what that meant until Luna had become Nightmare Moon.

Her fourth vision was that she would train the new alicorn of friendship. Every talented unicorn she met, she assumed would be the one she was looking for – she incorrectly guessed Starswirl the Bearded and Sunset Shimmer – but it wasn’t until she found me that she was proven correct.

Her most recent vision was of Lord Tirek.

Celestia’s visions seem to need to be interpreted, and only happen while she sleeps. Further research is required, but, unfortunately, Celestia has no control over these visions. They happen randomly, and, occasionally, she has mistaken innocuous dreams for premonitions, resulting in some confusion.

Pip placed the paperwork back in the book. It was now his theory that Celestia and Luna both had such substantial magic that, when they slept, they tapped into something ancient and arcane. He suspected Luna had the power to walk through dreams and Celestia had occasional precognition. He was getting so close… he could taste it.

Pip yawned. The sun was up and he knew he needed to rest. Tomorrow would be a busy day…


“You have got to partner up with him, Pip. He’s driving me insane! He never talked before and now he just won’t stop.”

Pip laughed, “I guess I’ll try and pair up with Specter.”

“Thank you,” Scootaloo said with a sigh of relief. “I’m afraid he’ll wake up the Quarray Eels with his constant yammering!”

“So you want him to wake up the eels with me instead of you?” Pip asked, slightly miffed.

Scootaloo dismissively waved away his concern with a shake of her hoof. “I’m sure he’ll be quieter around you! He doesn’t laugh quite as much.”

“I guess that’s true…”

The walk to the base of the mountain was a long one, but Pip didn’t mind. Walking was easy these days. Working out, running obstacle courses, carrying boulders, and fearing monster attacks were a constant drain on his willpower and stamina. Walking, however… Walking was nice.

Thunder Clash was already waiting for them by the caves. He glared as the recruits neared. “Took you slugs long enough,” he said. “All right, you know what’s going to happen. Everypony pair up and choose a cave. You’ll need to retrieve the eggs from within. Remember what we talked about yesterday. Quietly go in and quietly exit. Members of the Night Guard should be here any minute to take away the eggs you gather. This is a simple task and these are simple instructions. Don’t look like a fool by botching this.”

Before anypony else was ready, Pip turned to Specter and nodded to him. “You wanna team up with me?”

Specter glanced over to Scootaloo and then back to Pip. “I guess. You’re nowhere near as interesting, but at least there’s a better chance of succeeding with you.”

Scootaloo gave Pip and silent thankful smile.

“Hey, Squeaks!” Mist suddenly said, flying over to him. “Are we going to work together again?”

“Oh, sorry, Mist. I’m going to team up with Specter.”

“Um… Okay…” She slowly flew off, drifting between the other recruits.

Thunder Clash pointed to the caves. “Get to it! We don’t have all night! After this, we have to go through combat moves that involve monsters!”

“Sir, yes sir!” the recruits answered.

Everypony got closer to the caves and peered in. It was too dark for Pip to see anything. He turned to Specter, who gave him a reassuring nod. Pip looked back at the other groups. Gloom and Marble were ready, Mist and Equinox were chatting amongst themselves, and Rumble and Scootaloo looked determined to get this over with.

Now that they were closer to the caves, Thunder Clash lowered his voice. “Okay, recruits. Go inside, carry out the eggs, and come back. Quarray Eels usually lay one to three eggs. Don’t miss any. Hey! You two!”

Pip turned his attention away from the cave and looked up. Thunder Clash was pointing at Rumble and Scootaloo with a look of irritation.

“Each of you pair up with a bat pony!” he said in a harsh whisper. “It’s dark in those caves! Are you trying to fail? Because it sure seems like it!”

Rumble and Scootaloo sheepishly walked over to Equinox and Mist in order to switch partners. Once they were done, Thunder Clash pointed them back at the cave.

“Now go,” he commanded.

Specter and Pip ventured forth into the cave. With the silent Specter by his side, Pip figured this would be an effortless task. He could practically carry the boulder by himself, and now Specter could lead him through the dark…

The bat pony guided him with gentle nudges to the shoulder. The cave was so dark, Pip had to trust the other pony, and went wherever he motioned. When they were deep enough, Pip could hear the steady breathing of the adult Quarray Eel. Fearful of waking it, Pip tried hard to tread lightly and breathe softly.

“Here,” Specter whispered to him, his volume almost inaudible.

Pip stopped and felt the area. They had two eggs. Lucky them. He crouched down and very carefully lifted the egg onto his back. It felt… weird. The shell itself was leathery and he could feel the giant worm-like body through it. The baby eel twitched slightly inside and Pip frowned.

“You got that?” Specter whispered.

The egg was lighter than the rock, but it was still the weight of two ponies. Despite that, Pip knew he could make it to the outside of the cave with ease.

“Yeah, but, will it fall?” he asked in a hushed whisper.

“I gotcha.”

Specter lightly grunted and hefted the second egg up on top of the last. Because of their leathery shells, they could be somewhat shaped and stacked. Specter flew above, holding most of the weight of the second egg while simultaneously balancing both on Pip’s back. The two of them began to slowly make their way back out.


The sharp yelp of fright caused Pip to tense.

“There are more of them!”

Specter swore under his breath. Something was happening outside of the cave, but they couldn’t rush out themselves or else they would drop the eggs and most likely wake the Quarray Eel. Gritting his teeth, Pip began moving forward again, this time quicker than before. Although he was slightly louder, it was a risk he was willing to take.

When he neared the end of the cave, Pip could hear the sounds of struggle and combat. He pushed himself the last few feet, his hooves echoing off the cave floor, and when he emerged he saw the problem. There were three baby Quarray Eels that had exited the cave. Though they were juvenile, they snapped with teeth and voracity.

Now that they were outside, Pip knelt, dropped the eggs and galloped toward the baby eels. They were attacking Mist and Scootaloo, the two that had been the unlucky duo to find them. Before Pip even arrived, Thunder Clash had dove down from the sky and caught one eel with his spear, impaling it through the throat below the skull.

Scootaloo and Mist were teaming up on one, but the last baby eel was threatening to catch them with its teeth while they were focused on it. Mist shot an arrow, but it missed. Scootaloo charged forward, heedless of the danger, and slammed into the baby eel, cutting at its fresh scales with her claws. While she was distracted, the other eel lunged for her, biting down deep into her flank, right below the armor, and drawing blood.

“Ah!” Scootaloo gasped.

Pip clashed with the biting eel, running his claws along body of the beast. An arrow, shot by Specter, clipped Pip on the back of his leg, cutting some of his coat clean off. Although the sudden pain startled him, Pip finished the beast he was fighting with before turning his attention to Specter.

“Get back!” Thunder Clash shouted.

Suddenly, an adult Quarray Eel lunged outward from the cave, its fanged maw open and ready. Pip tried to move out of the way, but the eel bashed into him as it shot by, knocking him to the ground and nearly rending him unconscious.

The eel had been aiming for Scootaloo, but Thunder Clash, at the last moment, pushed her from harm’s way. He didn’t, however, get himself out of the way in time. The fangs of the eel’s lower jaw sliced into his underbelly, cutting deep enough to send him to the ground clutching the bloody wound in agony.

Pip tried to get up in time to help, but the eel was much too fast and his vision was spinning. The eel pulled back and lunged again, intent on finishing the pony whose blood it had just tasted.

Whistle! Plock!

An arrow from the sky pierced the eye of the eel, rupturing it. The eel thrashed its head in uncontrolled rage and its roar echoed throughout the forest. The other adult eels were waking, just as the other recruits were exiting their caves. Galloping and flying away, they all had to scatter to avoid becoming prey.

Whistle! Plock!

Another arrow. This one expertly landing directly on top of the other.

Pip glanced upward and saw Phantom Shade and two other members of the Night Guard. Phantom Shade notched another arrow and motioned to the bat pony flying by his side. That bat pony readied his halberd and waited. Phantom Shade loosed the arrow with amazing accuracy. It pierced the other eye of the eel and the solider by his side dove down and followed up the strike by thrusting the halberd in after the arrow, deep into the skull. The bat pony twisted when he pulled the halberd loose before taking to the sky.

The Quarray Eel crashed to the ground in its death throes, blood weeping from both its shattered eyes. Scootaloo had dragged Thunder Clash to safety, limping and bleeding the whole way, and Pip galloped over to them to see if there was anything he could do. The drill sergeant was breathing heavily and his eyes were tightly shut. His underbelly had been cut deep, and it was a miracle his insides weren’t all over the ground. It came at no surprise to Pip that Mist was nowhere to be found.

Phantom Shade landed heavily next to them, his gold eyes locked onto Thunder Clash. After a moment of examination, Phantom Shade sneered, “I knew you were weak. What did I tell you about waiting to do this task? You’ve lost your touch, Thunder Clash. You brought this on yourself.”

The pegasus soldier opened his eyes in a contemptuous glare. Pip turned to Phantom Shade in disbelief. “He’s hurt, sir. Shouldn’t you bring him to the infirmary?”

Phantom Shade motioned to the other Night Guard soldiers. They flew down and began administering temporary medical assistance before moving him to get real aid. Thunder Clash never said anything, but Pip could swear he heard the grinding of teeth.

As they flew Thunder Clash away, Scootaloo nervously shifted her weight. “What’re we going to do without him?”

“Feh,” Phantom Shade snorted. “I will have one of my abler soldiers come and finish your training.”

“What about Thunder Clash?” Pip asked. “Will he be okay?”

“You needn’t worry about Thunder Clash. He’s been through worse.”

“What should we do now, sir?”

“Return to the barracks and stand at ready. I’ll have my soldier meet you there.”


Pip and the other recruits silently waited at the barracks. They had been concerned for Thunder Clash, especially Scootaloo, who seemed to blame herself for his injury. They didn’t wait long, however, until Phantom Shade and the guard with the halberd arrived, the guard that had finished the Quarrary Eel after Phantom Shade had blinded it.

Phantom Shade landed and stepped forward. “From this night on you’ll answer to Ghast. He’s one of my best soldiers and if he doesn’t think you’re up to snuff then you aren’t. I’ve given him my instructions to carry out the rest of your training. From this night on all nights will be the same. Physical training, followed by combat experience, and completed by monster training.”

Pip raised a hoof. Phantom Shade glared at him before motioning for him to speak. “There won’t be any time to rest?” Pip wasn't as concerned with resting as much as he was getting time to read the book he had taken from Canterlot. He needed to examine the contents. He needed time.

“If you do everything correctly, you’ll have time to rest at the end of the night,” Phantom Shade curtly stated. “And rest shouldn’t be the first thing on your mind, recruit. You need to be ready and I expect you to keep up with Ghast. Do I make myself clear?”

“Sir, yes sir,” the recruits answered.

“Good.” Phantom Shade turned back to Ghast. “Report to me weekly.”

“As you say,” Ghast replied in an emotionless tone.

Phantom Shade, without a glance back, took to the sky, leaving the recruits alone with his soldier. Pip and the others turned to stare at their new instructor. Ghast had a dark brown coat, white mane and gold eyes. His armor obscured his cutie mark.

Ghast scanned them all for a quick moment. “Captain Phantom Shade doesn’t think you’ve been dealing with monsters enough in your training. He wants you to get better, for the glory of the Night Guard, so you’ll need to be alert. I hope Thunder Clash advised you well. My theory is that personal experience is the only successful trainer.”

Pip and the others were silent. Ghast motioned his head toward the forest.

“Tonight you will run, not fly, to the waterfall in the river. Then you will run back, avoiding any creatures of the forest, lest you disturbed them and draw their ire.”

“But,” Gloom began, “the night is already half way over. What if the sun rises?”

“Then you were too slow,” Ghast calmly replied. “Perhaps one of your day-pony friends can help you then.”

Mist, Gloom and Specter frowned.

Ghast continued, “I suggest you start now.”


Pip got back to the barracks just before the rising of the sun. He had just barely made it, due to the fact that he constantly tripped in the darkness and that the quickest path had been blocked by Ursa Minors. Ghast had followed them overhead, watching with a critical eye, but he had said next to nothing. It was a stark contrast between how Thunder Clash had done things. Thunder Clash didn’t hesitate to tell you whether he thought you were doing it right or wrong; he would just tell you.

Sore and tired, Pip crawled into his bunk. He removed the book from its hiding place and began glancing through it again. His eyes were heavy, however, and soon he realized he wouldn’t be able to read much tonight. He flipped through a few pages but stopped once he came to a thick collection of papers. They were letters.

Pip shuffled through them, wondering why they were there in the first place, when he spotted one that made him catch his breath. It was his own letter. The letter he had personally written to Luna when he was just a foal. It read:

Dear Princess Celestia,

I promised Princess Luna I would be her Guardian of the Night, but I’m not old enough to move to Canterlot yet. Could you please watch over Princess Luna until then? I’m afraid she might be having nightmares and she doesn’t have a princess that will help her unless you’re there to wake her up.

I will see you once I become a royal guard.


He held the letters close and found it was hard for him to breathe. Luna…

“Pip? Are you going to sleep?” Marble asked, eyeing him curiously.

Pip hastily shoved the letters under his mattress. “Y-yeah. I am. You don’t need to worry about me.”

“All right. Good night then.”

Pip thought wishing him good night was ironic, but he didn’t say anything. He was too busy thinking about his promise. Why was it taking him so long to solve Luna’s mystery? He had to buckle down and get this done. He had to help her, even if it meant cutting an hour of his sleep off every day.

He would comb through this book no matter what!

Summer Sun Celebration

View Online

Pip coughed and wheezed as he continued his run around the track. His eyes were burning; a side effect of the Tatzlwurm poisoning that was in the air. Enough Tatzlwurm poison would cause a pony to become gravely ill, but tiny amounts mixed with other components made it a semi-irritating mist. According to Ghast, if they were exposed to it long enough, they would eventually build up immunity, but Pip was very skeptical.

Every night they had to endure the sting of the poison while they went through their training. The exercise was the worst part. Breathing deeply resulted in Pip’s lungs aching, and he coughed nonstop, hindering his ability to perform. However, the pain wasn’t unbearable, but it was still strenuous.

“Once you’re done, begin your combat maneuvers,” Ghast said, watching them form the sky.

Pip ran over to his designated area and equipped his claws. Phantom Shade’s training program included different dummy posts for the recruits to fight. Pip and Scootaloo had to attack a dummy that was covered in the hide of some spiky monster. Pip wasn’t sure what the monster had been when it was alive, but, given the scales, he suspected it had been some sort of lizard or dragon.

The scales were sharp and jagged. Mixed with the spines, it was a hazardous ball of pain for anypony trying to touch it, much like a cactus. There was a single hole in the hide, however. The point of the combat dummy was to attack the tiny space without accidentally striking the rest of the hide. Pip had accidentally hit the hide a few times, and while his claws protected his hooves, he would sometimes clip his legs, resulting in a minor injury.

The spikes weren’t too large, so all injuries were kept to a minimum, but Scootaloo was starting to develop scars from the amount of times she cut herself, albeit tiny scars.

Pip attacked the dummy, still coughing from the poison. He struck at the hole and smiled. Scootaloo, working on the other side of the dummy, was running back and forth, attacking the dummy twice as often as Pip was, though her hit percentage was less.

While everypony went to their own dummy, Ghast called up Scootaloo. Every night he would spar with each of them one on one, though he didn’t really hold back. He told them it was to practice their combat with a competent opponent, but the weaker of the recruits just got themselves hurt.

Scootaloo removed her claws and wore normal hoof guards while Ghast used a practice halberd. She rushed up to him, but her wounded flank came back to haunt her in terms of speed. She was slower than normal and Ghast easily hit her aside with the full force of his practice halberd. Scootaloo was slammed to the ground. Afterward, she could barely move one of her forelegs.

“Get up,” commanded Ghast. “Again.”

Pip knew Scootaloo wasn’t anywhere near Ghast’s level, but she didn’t quit. She got back up, her flank injured and her foreleg stiff, and charged again. She was much too slow and Ghast used the hook of the halberd to trip her up and send her back to the ground.

With a heavy sigh, Pip looked away. It had been like this every night since Thunder Clash left. Pip hadn’t realized how much he was going to miss the old soldier but… the pegasus had always had a thing or two to tell them when they were training. But Ghast… Ghast didn’t have much to say at all.

“Why don’t I take tonight’s training?” Equinox interjected after Scootaloo was thrown to the ground for yet another time. Equinox was the only pony among them that really succeeded at the sparring with Ghast.

“All of you will need to be prepared for the harshness of battle,” Ghast calmly replied. “Some need to learn it more than others.”

“She’s not ready for this level of training.”

“She should be.”

The training field was tense and Pip turned to Scootaloo. Her eyes were downcast and she refused to meet anypony’s gaze. The bat pony commander motioned for her to get up and go again. Perhaps she was just stubborn, or maybe she didn’t know better, but Scootaloo got up and took a deep breath. She charged again, but the result was same, only this time she had a bloody nose to go with her wealth of injuries.

Pip looked away and continued with his own training. Each night it was like this, but he assumed this would eventually get them better, even if he preferred Thunder Clash to Ghast. It was a shame, Pip couldn't even talk to the drill sergeant anymore, as he had been moved from the infirmary to Canterlot in order to have his injury looked at. I just need to stay focused.


It was difficult to cut time away from sleep when he was being pushed so hard, but Pip refused to find an excuse. Although, he didn’t always get an hour of reading… some nights he fell asleep on the book, waking up in a sea of papers and notes. Other nights he had been so sore that he could barely turn the pages.

“Pip, you going to play games with us tonight?” Rumble asked as he turned to go into the bat pony barracks.

Pip shook his head. “No, thanks though.” The other recruits spent their time unwinding, which was probably healthier, but he just could afford to slack off now.

Rumble shrugged and trotted off to have some fun. Marble took her place on her bunk sighed. “Are you going to stay here during the Summer Sun Celebration as well?” she asked.

“Maybe,” Pip replied, trying to read while he spoke to Marble.

“You need to relax, Pip. You seem stressed.”

“I’ll be fine,” Pip said, dismissively waving away her concerns. “I’ve seen the sun rise a millions times.”

“You said you wanted to bring the bat ponies, remember? Are you not going to take them?”

Pip looked up from the book and frowned. He did want to take them. If they saw how wonderful and fun it was, surely they would feel like the day-ponies weren’t so bad. “Yeah… I guess I did say that. Fine… Fine, I’ll go.”

“You should remind them. Almost all of the Night Guard bat ponies have the evening off so they can go visit Hollow Shades.”

“When is it again?” Pip asked, turning his attention back to the book. He had time. He would talk to them about it later.

“Next week.”

“Oh, okay.” He began reading when his mind suddenly put everything together. “Wait, what?”

“The Summer Sun Celebration. It’s next week.”

“Already!?” Pip could hardly believe how quickly time had flown by. The rigid monotony of Ghast's training had worn away his ability to distinguish one day from the next. What was he doing!? He was wasting time! He needed to get his stuff together! “Oh, geez…” He brought the book up to his face and tried to force himself to read faster. Pieces of paper fell out and landed on his bed, but he couldn’t look away for fear of losing time.

Marble laughed to herself as she cleaned Sebastian. “Aren’t you overreacting? You look like a complete mess over there.”

“You don’t understand, Marble! Something is going to happen! Don’t you see all the signs? Giant Star Spiders? Nightmares? Princess Twilight Sparkle and her entire council leaving for something mysterious?”

“Princess Twilight Sparkle had this trip planed for months,” Marble causally remarked. “She’s the Princess of Friendship, Pip. She’s practically a diplomat. They need her to-”

“But she’s gone during the Summer Sun Celebration?” he interrupted. “It’s suspicious!”

“If you want to see a conspiracy, you’re going to see a conspiracy everywhere.”

Pip put the book down glared. “And if you don’t want anything to be wrong, you aren’t going to see anything wrong.”

Marble shrugged. “All right, keep with your investigation. I just don’t want you to get disheartened if it all turns out to be harmless coincidence.” She turned her attention back to her weapon.

With a heavy breath, Pip got off his bunk and wandered over to the bat pony barracks. He opened the door into the darker room and trotted in. The other recruits were busy playing dice, laughing and playfully throwing things at one another when they lost.

Gloom’s ears twitched and he looked up at Pip. “You finally going to join us?”

“Er, no, I was just coming in here to remind you guys about the Summer Sun Celebration. I was still hoping you all would go and see how amazing it is.”

Mist suddenly smiled and nodded. “Yes! I’ll definitely go!”

“Well, if Mist is going, I’m going,” Equinox stated.

Rumble nodded. “Who doesn’t go to the Summer Sun Celebration? It’s the biggest bash of the year! I always go!”

“Me too,” Scootaloo interjected. “Plus, Sweetie Belle is going to be singing in a concert this year. I’m not going to miss that!”

Specter perked up. “Well, it’s not like I have family in Hollow Shades. I’m going too.”

Everypony turned to Gloom. He frowned. “I don’t want to go. It’s a celebration of the sun. That sounds like a terrible idea.”

“You don’t have to stay for the sunrise you wuss,” Scootaloo jabbed. “You can leave before.”

Specter snickered. “You just got called a wuss by a day-pony! You gonna let that stand?”

Gloom rolled his eyes. “Fine. Whatever. I’ll go. Not like I have any family to visit either. But if it’s boring, I’m leaving immediately.”

“Great,” Pip said. “We’ll go together. It’ll be fun.”

“I’m not going to hold my breath,” Gloom sarcastically commented.

Pip ignored him and quickly turned back to return to his book. Mist quickly flew up out of her chair at the table.

“Do we need to bring anything special?” she asked in her sing-song voice.

“Er, no,” Pip replied over his shoulder. “They have food and stuff at the celebration. All you have to do is show up.”

“Oh, okay.” She waved to Pip and he waved back, happy she was so excited about going. “See you there,” she called out as he exited.

“All right,” he replied.


WELCOME TO THE SUMMER SUN CELEBRAAATIIIOOON!” an announcer boomed over the speaker system, loud enough to reach Pip’s ears up above Canterlot in a sky chariot. He glanced down at the giant crowds gathered in the city. There were spot lights, streamers, confetti, and balloons swirling through the night air, swaying with the breeze like they were dancing to the steady beat of music in the background.

There were hundreds of ponies – thousands of ponies – all dancing and partying in huge groups. Pip couldn’t believe how packed the streets of the city were… it was even hard to find a location for the chariot to land. Once they finally touched down, Pip jumped out with the other recruits and stood in awe.

Cups of confetti and glitter were heaped over them. Pip laughed at how much he sparkled when lights passed over but he took the time to clean off the satchel around his neck. He had brought the book along with him so that he could read at every possible moment. Gloom loudly groaned. “I already hate this place.”

Mist happily watched herself glitter in the artificial light and Rumble laughed at Gloom’s disgruntlement. “Lighten up!” Rumble said, patting the bat pony on the shoulder. “It’s fun!”

Equinox glanced around and squinted. The ponies that were throwing glitter and confetti looked tipsy and they randomly threw another cup worth of confetti all over them. “Woo!” the ponies shouted. “Summer Sun Celebration!”

“Thanks,” Pip muttered, amazed the ponies could be this far gone when the celebration had just begun not but hours ago.

Scootaloo began pushing all the recruits forward, right toward the crowds. “C’mon, you guys! We need to go! We don’t want to miss out on Sweetie Belle’s concert! Go, go, go!”

The moment they began pushing through the crowds, ponies gave them odd looks. More than once, a pony stopped and pointed at the bat ponies, muttering things that Pip couldn’t hear due to the music. Pip looked around. Were Specter, Mist, Gloom and Equinox the only bat ponies here?

“Marble, why-” Pip stopped himself. Marble hadn’t come with them. He frowned.

“What?” Equinox asked. “Did you just call me Marble?”

“Er, no… I wanted to ask her why the Night Guard wasn’t here. She usually knows those kinds of things.”

“Some of the Night Guard are here, but this is a celebration of the sun. Instead of switching guards during the middle of celebration, they just assign some of the Sun Guard to pull duty during the evening. Plus, it’s a semi-official vacation time for most of the bat ponies. We don’t celebrate the rising of the sun, but every bat pony foal knows this is the time of year when they can see their Night Guard family members again.”

Pip nodded. It was a shame that more bat ponies weren’t around… would make this a lot less awkward.

“We should get some food!” Mist blurted out, pointing to rows and rows of food stands that lined the nearby streets.

A mare and her foal suddenly gasped after Mist’s declaration. The mare grabbed her child and fled through the crowd. The other ponies nearby stared at her with wide eyes and frowns.

Mist nervously laughed. “Fruit! We should get some fruit!”

The crowd of ponies slowly nodded and turned back to their partying. One stallion even handed another two bits. “I told you they eat fruit!” the winning stallion said with playful smile.

“We don’t have forever!” Scootaloo said. “Let’s hurry if we’re going to do this!”

They walked over to a nearby stall. Much to Pip’s delight, it was an apple stall from Sweet Apple Acres. Big Mac was behind the stand, nodding to all those that went by. Mist flew over and licked her lips at the sight of the red fruit.

“Hello, Big Mac. Doin’ well?” Pip nodded to him.

Big Mac nodded back, “Eeyup.”

“Can we get some apples?”


Pip reached for his satchel to remove some bits. Since he hadn’t been playing pirate’s dice lately, he actually had money to spend. He removed the few bits he needed and placed them on the stand. Big Mac removed a small basket of apples and gave it to Mist.

“Thank you,” Pip said to the laconic stallion.


Mist quickly began biting into an apple, happily humming to herself as she did so. Equinox and Specter also grabbed an apple, but Gloom turned away from them with a snort. Scootaloo pointed to the crowd.

“We need to get through this! We’re going to be late for the start!”

The ponies that could fly took to the sky, which was much clearer than the streets, leaving Pip to follow Scootaloo through the sea of ponies. Mist hung close, flapping along and grabbing another apple.

“These are so good!” she praised, licking at her hoof when she was done.

“You should try the zap apples,” Pip commented. “Especially if you like these. There’s nothing like them.”

“Zap apples? I’ve never even heard of them…”

“I think they’re unique to Ponyville.”

Mist happily clopped her hooves together. “Will you take me there to try them one night?”

Pip looked up and nodded to her. “Yeah. Of course.”

Although the crowd was thick, it wasn’t long until they reached the gated off area of the stage. There was room for a close audience and near audience, but since the stage was outside, Pip was sure everypony would be able to hear the performance, even if they couldn’t stand right next to it. Scootaloo raced up to the gate and was stopped by a large diamond dog.

“We’re full up,” the diamond dog grunted. “You’ll have to stay out.”

“Hey!” Scootaloo barked. “Don’t you know who I am? I’m Sweetie Belle’s best friend, Scootaloo! I always have a place to sit in her concerts! Check your list, buddy!”

The bulky diamond dog had to turn and scratch his head. He began slowly reading through the list of approved ponies when another bouncer flew over to him.

“Are these guys giving you trouble?”

Pip looked up and was taken aback. “Screech?”

The rest of the recruits turned their attention to Screech and were almost as surprised as Pip. The bat pony was thin for a bouncer, but his red eyes and bloody fang cutie mark did make him look frightening. When a mare tried to walk through into the concert, Screech hissed at her, causing her to back away trembling.

“What’re you doing here?” Scootaloo asked.

“I work here,” Screech immediately responded. “What’re you guys doing here?” The diamond dog tapped Screech on the shoulder and pointed to a name on the list. Screech looked it over and nodded. “Ah, so you’re buddy-buddy with the lead singer, eh? Get in then. She has a small box reserved for her friends.”

“Now that’s more like it,” Scootaloo said, holding her head high and trotting into the concert area.

The other recruits followed but Screech stopped Pip halfway through. Mist and Rumble turned back to him, but Pip waved them forward. He doubted Screech wanted to fight and he actually wanted to speak with the bat pony.

“Hey,” Screech began. “I need to get something off my chest.”

“Okay,” Pip replied.

Screech landed in front of Pip and stared at him for a moment. The diamond dog continued to watch the gate, enforcing the rules while the bat pony was busy. “You day-ponies have it good,” Screech suddenly stated.

Pip nodded. “Yeah. I guess we do.”

Screech was silent for another moment. “I thought… everypony was secretly like me, ya know? And I thought I was tough-stuff every time I got into a fight. And... I never told Thunder Clash but, my special talent-”

“Gloom told me,” Pip said.

“Good,” Screech immediately spat. “I don’t feel like makin’ it public. All I’m tryin’ to say is… When I would bite others while fighting, all I would get was memories of more fighting. When I bite others, like the day-pony merchants, they were always scared, so their memories were always... painful. So it was just memories of fighting and feeling life or being beaten, and knowing pain. That's all I could remember, because those thoughts filled my head. I’d get confused, but I thought it proved I was right. Everypony was secretly like me.”

Pip was taken aback. He didn’t think Screech was capable of being to… articulate.

“Your blood was delicious,” Screech emphasized the word and Pip nervously took a step back with a forced laugh. “Apparently, you lived a stress-free life in a happy-go-lucky town and realized your goals at a young age. Your memories were free of strife and hunger, and for a while afterward, I was jealous. But then I realized most of you day-ponies have a happy-go-lucky life... at least the ones in your hometown.”

“That’s true,” Pip replied, regaining his composure. “Ponies in Ponyville are very accepting. We have the Princess of Friendship there after all and-”

“I get it, I get it,” Screech said, cutting him off. “That’s why I figured I would weasel in on all your bliss and take some for myself. I want some of it. I’ve always wanted everything I never had. Stability, comfort, the best things… If working in your day-pony society will get me that… Well, Rust Wing and I have been doin’ this for the last few months. It’s been better for us.”

“You and Rust Wing? Where is she?”

“She works the back, keeping the ponies from sneakin’ in. She’s got a good nose for that, ya know?”

Pip smiled. “Well, I’m glad we can be friends.”

Screech snorted out a single laugh. “Friends? Don’t make me laugh. We’re not friends. You’re some privileged day-pony I still don’t much care for. All I was trying to say was thank you for the realization. And… I apologize,” he said the word with some difficulty, “for what happened. I hate having all these weird thoughts in my head.”

“Fair enough,” Pip reluctantly stated, subconsciously rubbing at his shoulder. Pip couldn’t find the words to apologize to Screech. He wanted to be the better pony, to always have the wise solution to things, but he wasn’t there, apparently. Pip had always been afraid of giving into anger and hate… He knew what it had done to Luna. He didn’t want that for himself… He was supposed to be better than that for himself and Luna.

The shrieking of the crowds told Pip the concert was about to start. Screech stepped out of the way and waved him forward. “Get out of here,” he curtly stated. Although Screech was honestly trying, Pip could still hear the hint of anger in his voice. He hoped the bat pony would be okay. He was grateful that Sweetie Belle had been willing to hire him and Rust Wing. That fact made Pip think that maybe Equinox was wrong about that curse. Maybe it wasn’t a curse at all.

The concert was blasting by the time Pip made it to the group. Sweetie Belle was up on stage, dressed in an extravagant silver gown that, no doubt, had been sewn together by Rarity herself.

Pip joined the other recruits in a special box area that was near the stage. The box had nice seating, a small bar for drinks and a table full of hors d'oeuvres. With the music going, Pip took a seat and pulled out the book. He would read it while listening to the music.

“Hey, Squeaks!”

He looked up and spotted Mist flying above his table. He smiled. “Mist.”

“Did you want to dance?”

Pip pulled the book closer and nervously laughed. “W-well, not right now. Thank you, though.”

Mist nodded for an extended amount of time. She dismissively waved her hoof. “Yeah, who can dance with their muscles still aching from training? Pfft. Not me. Definitely not me. Oh! I know! Drinking things! That’s something!” She turned to the bar area with a renewed smile and cheerful laugh. She flew off, swaying in time with the music.

Pip tried to stop her, but he was too late. She was already ordering. When Pip brought his attention back to his table he jumped. Specter was sitting next to him.

“You’re so boring,” Specter said with a sigh.

“Me?” Pip defensively asked. “You’re the guy who didn’t talk for the first few months of training!”

Specter laughed. “Hey, if I had known how similar Scoots was to my brother I would have come around a lot sooner.”

Pip frowned. “Well, I’m sorry I’m boring, but I’m trying to solve an important mystery.”

“Does solving the mystery require you to wear a chastity belt?”

Pip flushed with embarrassment. Before he could say anything more, Mist returned to the table with two drinks. “Look! They had orange juice! I like orange juice! Everypony likes orange juice!” She placed one in front of Pip and then sat down at the table. She stuck her tongue out at Specter. “None for you!”

Specter sighed and flapped off. He took a seat at the corner table, all by himself. Everypony else was dancing.

“Aren’t you going to try it?” Mist asked, pointing to the cup.

“Yeah,” Pip said, sipping the orange juice through the provided straw. It was freshly squeezed. When he was done, he turned to Mist. “Hey, I’m sorry I’ve been so distant lately… I’ve just been busy trying to read through this book.”

“Is it important to you?” she asked, glancing at it.

“Yeah. I need to know something. I need to know for sure whether Luna is the only pony who can control dreams.”

“If it means a lot to you, I’ll help.” She moved over and opened the book so that it was between them. She continued to slurp her orange juice, glancing at the pages.

“Thank you,” Pip breathed. “That means a lot.” Although Pip hadn’t been focused on it before, now that Specter brought it to his attention, Mist had been trying to spend more time with him lately. Most of his life he had been singularly dedicated to one thing… and Pip wasn’t a very good multitasker. I can’t even read a book properly on my free time, he thought. Making new friends and forging relationships just hadn’t been a priority.

And a small part of him always imagined that the only friend and relationship he needed was with Luna… but that was ridiculous. It was a foal’s fantasy. His relationship with her had always been one of a platonic nature. Plus, Luna would live a long time, and he wouldn’t, further distancing them. But… he could wait until after all this mess to think about these things. Now wasn't the time.

“Mist, thank you for the orange juice,” he said. “I appreciate it.”

“Mmhmm,” she replied, her focus on the book.

“I hope you’re enjoying the Summer Sun Celebration.” Pip took a sip of his orange juice.

Mist pushed the book back. “I found it.”

Pip nearly spit his juice all over the pages and papers of the book. “W-what?” he choked.

“Right here. See? This paper. It talks about Luna and her father. Read it.”

Pushing his drink aside, Pip stared down at the paper. It was an old piece of paper, the contents faded, with a translation attached, though it wasn't written by Twilight Sparkle… it looked like a completely separate pony had translated the page years ago. The translated papers themselves were yellow with age. It read:


It is fortunate that Luna enjoys rising the moon. She seems to have the ability to stalk the dreams of others. It is a powerful and useful ability, unique to her and her father. It is a shame Celestia does not share in this gift. Instead of getting both abilities, Celestia instead took after her mother.

Pip stared at the paper in amazement. This… was exactly what he had been looking for. “Mist! You did it!” he exclaimed.

Mist smiled. “Yay!” She then looked around in confusion. “Is this some sort of day-pony game? Taking turns looking through a book?”

“No,” Pip said, getting up from the table and shoving the book and the note back into the satchel. “No, it’s not like that all… This means that Princess Luna was the one altering our dreams. It means she’s in trouble! And-” Pip looked around the celebration, “-and tomorrow is the day of the summer solstice…”

Mist lifted an eyebrow. “Princess Luna is in trouble? Are you sure?”

“She has to be! I have to go see her, Mist! I have to go see her right now! Nopony can deny something is wrong now! They’ll have to see!”

“Isn’t she in her castle?”

“I guess so?” Pip said. This was the Summer Sun Celebration… the princesses could be walking around, but the castle was the first place he was going to start. He turned to the other recruits. He wished Thunder Clash was here. Pip knew he would help. And Marble… he wished she were here too. What if Nightmare Moon was back? What if Celestia had been taken over by the Nightmare Forces and was holding Luna prisoner!? He needed all the help he could get!

Pip galloped over to the other recruits. They were all here. All expect Gloom. “Guys,” he said, pulling them away from the stage. “I have proof! Luna is sending us a message in our dreams! Those nightmares, remember? I need to go see her!”

Scootaloo, Rumble and Equinox looked confused. Scootaloo raised an eyebrow. “Why don’t you go to the castle then? I’m sure she’s there.”

“You won’t come with me?”

Equinox stepped forward. “I’ll go.”

Mist nodded. “Me too!”

Rumble and Scootaloo shrugged. “Give me a couple minutes until Sweetie Belle is done and then we can go.”

“But-” Pip could barely contain his frustration. “You just catch up with us.” He didn’t want to wait around for people to gather. He had his evidence! It had taken him forever to get it! Now wasn’t the time for more waiting!

Pip turned and began galloping out of the concert area. Equinox and Mist followed after. Specter saw them on their way out and also decided to fly along with them.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“I need to see Luna,” Pip told the bat pony.

Specter nodded. “Trying to prove me wrong about being boring, are you?”

Pip laughed, but he pressed forward. When he reached the crowd of ponies he began pushing his way through them. “Excuse me!” he shouted, nudging ponies to the side. “I need to get through!” He knew he had to get there quick, but he wished he had taken his armor and weapons with him…

The wall around the castle was packed with ponies, but he managed to make his way there. At the gate were two guards, and in the gardens of the castle were high-scale parties with only the most socially elite present. Pip stopped at the guards and looked from one to the other. They were in the Sun Guard, both of them earth ponies.

“I need to see Princess Luna,” Pip firmly stated.

“Sorry,” the guard said. “But nopony can see the princesses right now. They aren’t feeling well. They’re going to rest until it’s time to raise the sun.”

Pip grit his teeth. If that wasn’t proof enough, he didn’t know what was. “Luna is in trouble,” he said. “And I need to see her. With or without your permission.”

King Basilisks

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“Are you threatening us?” the Sun Guard asked.

Equinox suddenly flew between them and lightly smacked Pip around. “Nevermind him,” she told the guards. “He’s had one too many drinks tonight. He gets very rowdy and impulsive. He has no idea what he's talking about.”

“But-” Pip tried to speak.

Mist pushed him back. “So impulsive!” she chimed in.

The two bat ponies pulled Pip a few feet back. Specter joined them, but was confused. “I thought we were going in there to see Luna?” he asked in a hushed tone. The Sun Guard watched them with suspicious glances, but otherwise returned to their duty.

“We cannot bust in,” Equinox hissed under her breath. “Do you want to fight all the guards just to see her? Think!”

“If they would just listen!” Pip said in exasperation. “This is important and-”

“So we’ll sneak in, or something else,” Equinox interrupted. “Not make us seem like the problem!”

Mist smiled. “Oh! Maybe Equinox and I can talk to them! We’ll get them to let you in because we have feminine wiles.” She snickered her ke ke ke. The two female bat ponies flew back to the guards. Specter shook his head.

“Mares, am I right?” he said to Pip. “I was totally down with powering through like a boss.”

Pip sighed. “I just don’t want to wait any longer. This is too important to sit around and wait for bureaucracy to get its stuff in order.”

“Oh my! Are those bat ponies?”

Specter and Pip turned back to see what was going on. Much to Pip’s surprise, he spotted Jet Set and Upper Crust among the ponies inside the castle gardens. They trotted up to the gate and smiled.

“Oh, look,” Jet Set said, pointing to Pip. “It’s that Night Guard trainee we met in the Canterlot library. These must be other trainees.”

Upper Crust nodded. “Yes, quite! Guards, please let them through. I wish to introduce them to Fancy Pants!”

The guards both turned to Pip. He sheepishly smiled to them and waved. As one of the guards pushed open the gate, he glared. “We’ll be watching you. If you make even a slight commotion, you’re outta here.”

Specter, Mist, Equinox and Pip stepped through the gates of the Canterlot Castle and admired the party. It was a completely different scene in the Canterlot Castle gardens than it was in the screaming crowds and confetti. Everything in the gardens was subdued and proper.

“Fancy Pants!” Jet Set called out. “Fancy Pants! You must meet my new friends! They are Night Guard trainees!”

A white unicorn at the center of the party happily trotted over to see what all the fuss was about. Pip turned to Equinox and then glanced back at the guards. They were still watching. “I need to get inside the castle,” he told her.

A gaggle of social elite ponies gathered around Pip and the other recruits. There was pointing and gasps and excited murmuring all around. Pip nervously waved to them. He had never been the center of attention like this before.

Another white unicorn trotted up, this one slightly primmer than the rest of them. He had a blonde mane and puffed chest, looking down on everypony with a condescending smile. “Oh, yes,” the unicorn said, eyeing the bat ponies. “They are just like Captain Phantom Shade. I know him well. I take it you all are from Hollow Shades?”

Before anypony else could speak, Equinox moved forward. “Yes, we’re all from Hollow Shades. This is our first time in Canterlot, actually. We’ve never seen such an amazing and impressive structure such as this castle. I’m sure only the most important ponies live here.”

The white unicorn smiled wider. “Why, of course, dear. You are correct. I am Prince Blueblood, distant cousin to Celestia herself. I reside in the castle.”

Equinox swished her light blue mane and smiled. “I’m sure it’s lovely inside. Much better than walking around in the mud outside.”

All of the socialites glanced at the ground, nervously checking their hooves for unnecessary amounts of dirt and mud. Prince Blueblood nodded and swished his blonde mane from one side to the other. With a smile he motioned for the party to move indoors. “Come now, we’ll have a tour before the rising of the sun!”

The other ponies nodded, whispering to themselves in excitement. Everypony followed the prince into the castle. Mist flew up to the front of the crowd and began flying along with a hum. “How very amazing!” she said, pointing to a random statue. “We don’t see many of those in Hollow Shades!” Her sing-song voice carried over the crowd and made the socialites chuckle.

“How quaint Hollow Shades must be!”

“Very rustic, no doubt!”

“I would pay for a decent picture!”

Pip turned to Equinox with a lifted eyebrow. “You guys haven’t seen a statue before?” he asked under his breath.

Equinox rolled her eyes. “You’re quick when you’re in a tight spot but you aren’t very quick on the uptake, are you?” Pip stared at her in confusion. Equinox sighed. “Of course we have statues in Hollow Shades. This is called a distraction. As in, now we’re inside and now everypony thinks Mist is a charming bat pony who must be shown the finer things in life.”

Pip turned back to Mist. Sure enough, the elite of Canterlot were delighting in pointing out the artwork and architecture style of the building, telling her where and when things were made. Mist played along. She nodded, smiled and gasped as though she were completely enthralled.

Equinox turned to one of the many gawking ponies. “Where is the nearest restroom?”

They pointed to a hallway and Equinox nodded, taking Pip with her. Specter tagged along, silently disappearing from the crowd like he had never been there in the first place. When they were in the empty hallway, Equinox turned back to Pip.

“Now where?” she asked.

“Um,” Pip looked around. He had no idea.

Specter pointed out the window. There were large towers at the far back of the castle. Pip nodded and the three of them galloped onward. For the most part, the castle was empty, but well-lit. Most of the guards were outside, walking through the gardens and watching the many guests who were in attendance.

“Hey! What’re you doing here?” a guard called out from a hallway they galloped passed. Pip ignored him. He wasn’t going to stop and he didn’t care to explain. What if something terrible was happening right this moment?

The guard galloped after them, but Specter and Equinox also maintained their course, not bothering to stop or turn back. “Stop!” the guard called out. “Somepony stop them! They’re heading for Celestia’s tower!”

Pip skid and turned down the next available hallway, making his way for the other tower. He wanted to thank the guard for the heads up, but he decided against it. He was too busy maintaining his breathing to give a sarcastic quip. Specter tossed down a decorative suit of armor as they ran, nearly tripping the pursuing earth pony guard. He snickered as he flew, obviously enjoying the crazy ride.

The door of the tower was right ahead and, standing there waiting, were two Sun Guard unicorns. They used their magic to draw blades as Pip and the others galloped close. Pip slowed to a halt in front of the doors. Now, whatever he did, Luna was sure to hear.

“Stand back!” he told them. “I’m here to see Luna!”

Equinox and Specter landed next to him, but their focus was more on the guards that were now galloping down the halls to join them in front of Luna’s door.

“Stand down, intruder!” one of the unicorns commanded. “What is the meaning of this?”

“I have proof something is wrong with Luna! Look, right here!” Pip pulled the book out of his satchel and placed it on the ground in front of him. There were more guards now, all holding their spears at the ready. Pip flipped to the page with the loose note from Starswirl the Bearded. “She’s in trouble!”

The guards exchanged worried glances. Pip felt some joy at the fact they were listening. He was finally going to get to see Luna!

“What is the meaning of this?”

Pip turned the familiar voice. It was Phantom Shade. He flew over the guards and landed squarely in front of Pip, giving him an incredulous look. “What are you doing here?” he hissed.


Just as he was about to answer, the door to Luna’s tower swung open. The princess of the night, in all her regal majesty, stepped out into the hallway. Her dark blue coat and starry-night mane matched the sky outside perfectly. Turning her attention to Pip, her cyan eyes widened with recognition.

“Pip,” she spoke, hesitation in her voice. “What’re you doing here?”

“Forgive me, Princess,” Phantom Shade immediately spoke. “I should have stopped this pony long before he got to you.”

“What is going on?” Luna asked, not to Phantom Shade, but to Pip. “Why have you come here?”

He stepped forward, barely able to contain his elation. “Luna! I saw all the signs and I know you need help! I came here as quickly as I could, as soon as I knew for sure! Is it the Nightmare Forces? Is it something else? What can I do?”

Phantom Shade pushed him back and stood between them. “How dare you barge in here uninvited,” he snapped. “Explain yourself!”

Still addressing Luna, Pip began, “The mission with the Star Spiders and the mission to retrieve the Fragment of the First Day… I know you gave them to us on purpose, Luna! But why? Why give us those nightmares? What are you trying to tell us?”

“Those nightmares were caused by Princess Celestia, fool,” Phantom Shade immediately replied, pushing Pip further away. “Princess Celestia is now plagued by the same darkness that once took Princess Luna! She asked for you to retrieve the Star Spiders so that she could convince Princess Celestia that the Nightmare Forces were close by! She asked you to bring her a Fragment of the First Day because Princess Celestia suggested she have one! It isn’t Princess Luna who is in trouble, it’s Princess Celestia!”

“But-” Pip turned to the book on the ground and pointed to the page. “It-it can’t be! Look! I have proof! Only Princess Luna can alter dreams! It was definitely Princess Luna who sent us those nightmares! It had to be!”

Phantom Shade quickly snatched the paper. “It was you who snuck into Canterlot Castle,” he said with a glare. “You stole this book from Princess Twilight Sparkle.”

“I did!” Pip blurted out. “And I don’t care if you have to lock me up for it! Just read the paper!” Pip pushed it toward Phantom Shade, frustrated that the bat pony captain was more concerned with lambasting him than he was over Luna’s safety.

Phantom Shade read the paper. Then he read it again. A look of conflicted confusion came over him. He slowly turned to Luna and held out the paper. Without a word, he gave it to her. Using her magic, Luna levitated the paper up so she could read it.

Everypony in the hallway was silent. Luna read slowly.

“Is this what you’ve based your worry on, Pip?” she asked him, placing the paper back in the book and closing it.

“Y-yes, of course!” he said. “I knew already, because of all things you told me about when we shared dreams together… but I needed proof to show everypony else!”

“Your concern is misplaced,” she said, her brow furrowing. “You have forgotten that my sister holds a Fragment of the First Night. Sometimes her subconscious thoughts slip into the dreams of ponies while she is waking. Why do you think that only ponies sleeping during the day had these nightmares?”

Phantom Shade noticeably relaxed. He turned to Pip and shook his head. “You broke into the castle twice, and for what? To try and rally the soldiers against Princess Luna!?”

“No!” Pip immediately responded. “It’s not like that! The Nightmare Forces are ancient dark magic! They feed on… er… nightmares… and they get stronger all the time! I just wanted to protect Luna!”

“You aren’t protecting her by causing a panic!” Phantom Shade hissed. “You aren’t protecting anypony that way!” He turned back to Luna bowed his head. “Forgive me, Princess. This is ultimately my fault. I should have kept a better eye on the trainees and I shouldn’t have ever encouraged them to go above and beyond at this point in their career.”

“No need to apologize,” Luna said, levitating the book and giving it to Phantom Shade. “The book can be returned to Twilight Sparkle’s library and nopony was hurt, after all. Everything is as it should be.”

“I will have him placed in the dungeon until a trail can be held,” Phantom Shade said, motioning to Pip.

Pip hung his head and felt his legs become weak. He had been so sure. Now everything was so unclear and fuzzy…

“No need,” Princess Luna said, walking passed them and slowly heading toward Celestia’s tower. “There are no facts in dispute, and I know Pip had nothing but the purest intentions.”

“But this cannot go unpunished! This kind of behavior is unbecoming of a solider!”

Luna nodded. “You’re right, Captain. I think Pip would be best served to go back to Ponyville and think about what he’s done. You said you were to blame, Phantom Shade, but I fear this is somewhat my fault as well. I should have never given a young foal the impression that he needed to saddle my problems as his own.”

Phantom Shade nodded. “These other two aren’t really apart of this,” he stated, motioned to Equinox and Specter. “I’m sure the earth pony bamboozled them into this whole ordeal.”

Pip didn’t offer a response. He didn’t have any words for the situation. There was nothing to say, really. He just stared at the floor and allowed them to continue on with their disappointment and anger. Luna… She regrets ever sharing her dreams and worries with me… That’s why she never returned… that’s why she avoids me.

“You are the captain of the guard, Phantom Shade. I trust your judgment on the matter. You may handle it as you wish. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go visit my sister and make sure she is okay.” Luna continued without a second glance back.

Phantom Shade pushed Pip and pointed him toward the door. “You heard the princess. Leave. Take your things from the barracks.”

Pip nodded and did as he was told. He slowly walked from the castle, his head low to the ground and his legs heavy.


“And you two,” Phantom Shade hissed, turning to Equinox and Specter. “You two are my most promising recruits! How could you!? What was even going on in your heads!?”

Equinox glared. “He had proof and he was utterly convinced! If something really was happening with the princess, wouldn’t you want to know?”

“He could have told me. This didn’t need to happen.”

“Of course, Captain,” Specter replied. “Sorry, sir.”

Phantom Shade practically hit them with his hoof in frustration, but he restrained himself. “Get out of my sight! I will dock your pay and see to it that Ghast gives you extra training! No more of this foolishness! None!”

Equinox and Specter slowly retreated back, bowing their heads. When Phantom Shade turned away, so did they, taking to the sky and flying out of the castle. Equinox immediately began scanning the ground for Pip, but she didn’t see him. He couldn’t have gone too far…

“I thought we were going to stumble upon something crazy,” Specter suddenly told her. “I guess he was the only thing crazy around here, huh?”

“Shut your face,” Equinox growled. “I don’t want to hear it right now.” Specter instantly became silent. They flew around the castle, but Equinox couldn’t spot Pip. There were hundreds of ponies…

Mist spotted them from the ground and flew up to meet them, a trouble-free smile on her face. “Where’s Squeaks? Did he finally get to speak with Luna?”

“He got thrown out of the Night Guard training and now Princess Luna regrets ever visiting him in the first place, apparently,” Specter said with a causal shrug. “Worse things have happened.”

Mist held her mouth open in a silent gasp. “What?” she eventually said. “R-really? And where is he?”

“Eh, we’re looking for him. I’m sure he’s sulking around here somewhere.”

“You guys just let him go off on his own?” Mist asked as turned her head wildly from side to side, scanning the ground. “By himself?”

“He just needs some time to cool off. He’ll be fine,” Specter said, dismissively waving a hoof.

Mist suddenly pushed him, much to Equinox’s surprise. “How could you? You shouldn’t have left him! Not alone!”

Specter began laughing. He brushed himself off and shrugged. “What? I’m not his mother. What did you want me to do?” He lifted an eyebrow. “What is this? Are you… crying?”

“This was important to him!” Mist said, wiping at her eyes. “He talked about it all the time! I know you’re too cold to care about anypony else, but you could have at least tried to be there for him! He would have tried to be there for you!”

“Well, if he hadn’t cared so much he wouldn’t be in this position! This is what happens! Maybe he should have-”

“Stop it!” Equinox snapped. “Mist is right. We shouldn’t have left him like that. Let’s just try and find him.”

“We don’t have time to look for him,” Specter stated. “It’s almost time for the sun to rise and we need to get back to barracks. Where is Gloom, anyway? He should go with us.”

The three bat ponies scanned the sky. Equinox spotted Gloom on one of the far mountain sides, well above the city. They flew to him and hovered in the air, but the powerful wind made it difficult. Gloom said nothing, his attention focused on something else entirely.

“Gloom,” Equinox stated. “You should go back with the others. It’s almost daybreak. I’m going to stay and look for Pip.”

“Do you hear that?” Gloom asked them, his voice low and his ears twitching. “That sound… on the wind…”

They all waited and listened. One by one they shook their head. Equinox heard nothing. “What is it?”

“I dunno… It keeps getting louder. You can’t hear it in the party because of the music, but I can hear it just fine here.”

Equinox sighed. “That’s great. Whatever. Just get back to the barracks. It’s almost daybreak.”

The bat ponies nodded and flew off toward the barracks. Equinox turned her attention back to the massive party. She would need to get the other day-pony recruits to help her search if she were going to find him…


Pip wandered aimlessly through the trees of the forest. It took a long time to walk back to the barracks without taking a sky chariot. He had taken a longer route, one all the way around the other side of the mountain. All he wanted was time to think, and the walking gave him all the time he needed.

The sun had come up a while ago, just like it always did, day in and day out; no problems, no disaster, no nightmares. The Summer Sun Celebration continued like it did every year. Everypony happy. Everypony celebrating the summer day until nightfall…

Pip sighed and glanced up to the sky. Where were the moon and the stars when he needed them now? Where was the guiding light he had trusted since he was a foal? He hated doubt. He hated not knowing what to do. When he had a goal, everything was simple and all a matter of willpower. When he had no goal… everything was confusing and blurry. What was he supposed to do now? He thought he had been doing everything right up until a few hours ago.

Pegasi flew en masse away from the celebration and Pip wondered what sort of amazing stunt was being performed. He looked away with a sigh.

Everything had been simpler with Luna in his dreams. Those adventures were fun and his purpose so clear…

The Wonderbolts flew by overhead, soaring at incredible speeds toward Canterlot. They were fast. Much faster than any earth pony. Pip had never really been too attached to whether or not he had been an earth pony until recently. Everypony kept calling him that, kept reminding him he was less of pony because of it. No super useful magic, no flight… just… an earth pony.

Sure, he had a special talent… but what good was it, really? What good was it if he couldn’t even join the Night Guard? What good was any of it…? Why hadn’t the ancient magic that dictated cutie marks given him something useful?

Pip looked back up at Canterlot. There were a lot of lights and magic being used now… He was sure he was missing out on something breathtaking. Oh well. The barracks were close and soon he could take a train back to Ponyville.

His hooves hurt by the time he made it to the barrack’s door. It was late afternoon and he imagined the bat ponies were sleeping. With a heavy heart, he walked into the building. Maybe Marble would be sleeping. Then he wouldn’t have to tell her what had happened.

The door creaked open and he slowly trotted inside. She was sound asleep. Pip wandered over to his bunk and began quietly packing his things. He didn’t have much, but he paused when he felt under his mattress. Pip pulled out the letters he had found in the book of alicorns. He had forgotten that he had quickly shoved those away when Marble had been talking to him.

Pip ripped up his letter he had written Luna. He didn’t want to read it again. Not now. Not ever. He threw the pieces to the floor and sighed. If he could, he would burn them. Rocked by depression, Pip leaned onto the bunk and took deep breaths. Trying to take his mind off everything that was happening, Pip glanced at the other letters.

They were inane ramblings. Just letters from one princess to another. He snorted back a laugh. If he had been given these letters a year ago, he would have been more than happy to read them. Now… now he could barely muster the energy to care. Besides, what did it-

Pip paused.

He stared at the letter he had flippantly flipped to and slowly took it all in. It read:

Dear Princess Mi Amore Cadenza,

I will definitely try that new cake recipe! I have already given it to my chef in order to prepare. Thank you so much.

As for your concerns – I have enclosed a gift to better help you locate the creatures that dwell in the frozen north. You say they only appear after sundown, which leads me to believe that this Fragment of the First Night will better help you sift through the darkness. There is no need to return it – the object brings back unpleasant memories of a time when my sister wasn’t with me. I hope it helps.

Take care,


The door slammed open and Pip jumped up, tense and ready to go. It was Scootaloo, hysteria in her eyes. “Pip!” she yelled between deep breaths as she ran into the barracks. “Pip, here you are! We need to get out here! Hurry! We need to go!”

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“The King Basilisks, Pip! They’re here! Like... all of them! Hurry! Hurry we have to go!” Scootaloo rushed over to Marble and shook her awake. “We have to tell the bat ponies! We have to drag them out of here! The King Basilisks are everywhere! All around the mountain! Quickly!”

Pip felt his chest tighten. The King Basilisks!? Here? In Canterlot!? Something dubious was going on! Luna lying to him, and now this? “Scootaloo, we have to get our armor on and go help!”

Marble slowly sat up in bed and rubbed at her mane. “What’s going on?” she asked.

“We can’t fight them!” Scootaloo shouted. “Don’t you remember what Thunder Clash said about them!? They’re crazy! And way scarier in real life than what we read about in the books! If Rumble and I hadn’t been out searching for you, I’m pretty sure we would have been in the heart of the party when they attacked! So many ponies turned to stone!”

“We have to try! It’s what being a part of-” Pip stopped himself. He wasn’t a part of the guard anymore. “It’s what being a good Equestrian citizen would do!”

“But, they’re King Basilisks! We haven’t even finished our training!”

Marble looked from Pip to Scootaloo and then to Sebastian. “Whelp, I guess you were right, Sebastian. I guess we do have to do some fighting today.” She jumped off her bunk and began strapping into her armor. Scootaloo stood gaping at her. Pip took this moment to run over to the bat pony barracks. He slammed open the door and ran in, trying not to let too much light seep in.

“Guys!” he yelled. “Wake up!”

Specter and Mist sat up, but Gloom was already awake. “I heard everything,” Gloom informed him. “I’ll let the others know.”

“Good,” Pip breathed, turning around. Wait, where is Equinox? He ran out into his barracks and saw Scootaloo and Rumble were both getting their armor secured into place. “How many King Basilisks are there?”

Rumble shook his head. “I saw at least ten! It’s crazy, Pip! I have no idea why they’re here but… but the ponies at the Summer Sun Celebration were caught off-guard! It was insane!”

“What about Celestia and Luna? Where are they right now?” Pip asked, pulling his own armor over his body and equipping his claws.

“I don’t know,” Rumble admitted. “I was too busy looking for you when the monsters suddenly began walking up! Just looking them in the eye causes you to turn to stone!”

“They’re both missing?” Pip asked, finally getting everything into place. What was going on?

Marble was set and galloped toward the door. “We don’t have time to waste! The Night Guard won’t be able to fight the King Basilisks until nightfall, if night even comes, apparently... We have to do something until they arrive!”

Pip nodded, taking off after her. Scootaloo and Rumble followed closely behind. All four of them began making their way to the main road to Canterlot, but it such a long run up… Pip’s hooves were already hurting and they didn’t have time to spare!

Marble motioned with her head when they hit the main road. There were statues of ponies, rabbits and birds. Some of the statues were smashed, the stone pieces littering the walkway.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Rumble asked, his eyes glued to the smashed bits of stone. “We could still turn back!”

“What do you think Thunder Clash would say if he heard you talking like that?” Marble asked between breaths.

“He would give me some encouraging speech,” Rumble said. “And then he would follow it up by insulting my mother or something…”

Pip wished Thunder Clash were here. He would know what to do!

On the road ahead was an abandoned sky chariot. Scootaloo suddenly burst forward, passing them all and grabbing the front of the chariot. Normally it took two pegasi to fly, but Scootaloo grabbed it by herself. “Get on! You’re all too slow!”

Pip, Marble and Rumble jumped onto the chariot and off Scootaloo went. She was running at high speeds, much faster than some pegasi could fly. Pip had to hold on to the sides in order to avoid tumbling out the back. They raced up the road toward Canterlot, and soon the glorious city was in their sight.

Well, the shattered gateway came into sight. And so did one of the King Basilisks. It was gigantic, the size of a small building. Its scales were dark gray, its eyes, though not looking at them, were bright gold and glowed, even in the light of the day. It had six legs with claws the size of farming scythes and looked like it were part dragon, part iguana. It lumbered about, smashing at the buildings and digging at them in an attempt to ferret out ponies. The statues that littered the area around it were numerous…

Scootaloo screeched to a halt and practically froze. What were they going to do about it? It was massive!

Slowly, but very deliberately, the monster began turning toward the group. Pip, knowing that the eyes would spell certain doom, immediately turned to Rumble. “The wind!” he said, panicked. “Do your thing!”

Rumble nodded. He jumped off the chariot and began flapping his wings, causing his powerful windstorm to pick up all around them. Pip kicked up the dirt, much like Specter had during the sparring, and Pip lowered his helmet to try and protect his eyes. There was nothing for the King Basilisk to use as protection, however, and it closed its eyes to shield itself from the stinging dirt.

Barely able to see, Pip rushed forward and attempted to attack it. He slammed into the creature’s leg but was bounced back by the sheer fortitude of the scales. They were like stone, or metal… Pip backed away just as the creature attempted to bite him. The King Basilisk had a mouth full of fangs and jagged teeth. Its tongue lashed about like a whip and its nostrils flared with excitement. It could smell him… Most importantly, it could smell blood.

Pip cut himself on the leg and began galloping away. Rumble maintained the wind, to keep the creature’s eyes shut, and Scootaloo ran toward the building the King Basilisk had been breaking. “Run!” she screamed between deep breaths. “Run!”

The ponies inside the building began fleeing as quickly as possible, keeping their eyes closed as they stampeded through the sandstorm. Marble, however, ran up to the King Basilisk and slammed her war hammer hard onto the small joints of its claws. The creature yelped and turned, lashing its massive tail out to hit her. It slammed against her armor, but the size difference and force sent her flying regardless.

Pip turned back and ran along the edge of the mountain; to his left was a sheer drop into the valley below, and to his right was the King Basilisk. Rumble’s powerful wind almost knocked him off at one point, but the additional weight of the armor finally came in handy.

“Pip!” he heard Equinox cry. “Pip!”

He turned around and glanced upward. Equinox was flying above him and suddenly pointed to the sky. Pip could hardly believe what he was seeing. It was Luna and… and some horrible, twisted, nightmare version of Princess Celestia. Her mane was white hot and her eyes were pools of light. They were fighting in the air like only powerful alicorns could. They clashed, and with each blow there was a wave of magic and a pulse of power. But… but how could that be? Pip was confused. Everything he had learned recently…

No. It didn't matter. All he knew was evil was lurking here and he needed weed it out.

“Arg!” Pip groaned as the weight of the King Basilisk slammed into him. He had forgotten he was still bleeding, drawing the beast’s attention. Bracing himself against the ground, Pip tried to stop himself from sliding off the edge of the mountain, but he knew that was impossible. The King Basilisk thrashed and turned its head, trying desperately to grab Pip in its jaws, only adding to the stress of slowly inching toward the drop off the mountain.

Pip bashed his armor against the creature, but it was no use. The monster continued forward, blind and oblivious to the fact that it would fall to its death as well. “Scootaloo!” Pip called out, leaning away from the monster’s maw. “Scootaloo, ram it!”

She turned and kicked her wings into overtime, though it was clear she didn’t have much energy left in her. At top speeds she rammed the King Basilisk, throwing what little weight she had into its forward momentum. Pip let up at the same time and allowed it to charge forward, straight off the edge.

Pip went with it, unable to get out of the way in time. The creature grabbed with its sharp claws, attempting to find solid ground, but all it connected with was Pip’s back leg, right along the scar from the Star Spider attack. The pain was sharp, but the sensation of falling was all Pip could focus on.

Equinox swooped in just in time, grabbing him by his armor and flapping her wings in order to slow his descent. Rumble quickly flew down as well, taking Pip back to the ledge. The ground of the forest below trembled with the suddenly impact of the King Basilisk, its insides rupturing against the earth like the contents of a water balloon. It was a very long drop.

Regaining his composure, Pip looked at the city. There were more King Basilisks, and up in the sky he could see the Wonderbolts trying to fly ponies out, avoiding the gaze of the King Basilisks at all costs. Then there was the fighting above him… Princess Celestia and Luna…

“What’re we going to do, Pip?” Scootaloo asked, gasping for air after so much running.

Pip needed time to think. Fighting through more King Basilisks was suicide, but they needed to help the citizens of Canterlot...

The Guardian of the Night

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“We need… to help the ponies still trapped in Canterlot escape,” Pip finally stated. That’s what Luna would do.

“That’s great,” Scootaloo sarcastically commented between breaths. “But how are we going to that?”

“We’re going to have to draw the King Basilisks away so the ponies can run. Just like we did here. We’ll be the distractions.”

Rumble flew to Marble in order to help her get up. She was bashed, but still functioning. The two of them trotted over and nodded, signifying their commitment to keep going. Pip motioned for them to start heading forward, though he wasn’t sure how he would handle the King Basilisks.

Pew! Pew-Pew!

Flashes of magic shot into the sky from the concert stage, clearly the work of unicorns trying to fend off the monsters. The more magic they used, however, the more excited the King Basilisks became. Two of them turned toward the stage and began lumbering that way, shaking the streets of Canterlot as they walked.

A small group of ponies tried to run out between the monsters, but they became stone statues the instant they turned their heads, frozen in place, mid-run.

“Sweetie Belle,” Scootaloo suddenly gasped. She didn’t even wait for anyone to reply, she took off running the moment she realized who was in trouble.

“Wait! Scootaloo!” Pip tried to call her back, but the pegasus pony was already long gone. He turned to Rumble and Equinox. “Marble and I will try and steer them away. You have to go tell the unicorns to stop using their magic!”

Equinox and Rumble nodded and flew off toward the stage. Pip and Marble ran up behind the dragon-like King Basilisks, both injured from the fight before. Marble was sore and Pip’s back leg was bleeding terribly, and putting his weight on it was agonizing.

With a powerful swing, Marble smashed the tail of the King Basilisk she was standing behind, crunching the tip of the spine located within. It turned back, anger fueling its quick movement, and lunged. Marble jumped away and began running through the street.

Pip didn’t have to engage his. The blood on his leg was enticing, and the beast turned just to see the source of the smell. Before Pip locked eyes with it, he turned and began running. His back leg, however, gave out under him, causing him to fall. His “wounded animal” mannerisms piqued the interest of the King Basilisk, and it walked its way over, its claws digging into the cobblestone roads.

Miscalculating the speed of the King Basilisk, Pip only managed to stand before the beast was on top of him. Using one of its six legs, the King Basilisk clawed at Pip, tossing him to the air and sending him crashing to the ground, rattling in his own armor. Dazed, Pip could hear the King Basilisk breathe deep as it rushed for him again.

Struggling to stand, Pip realized his leg would never be able to carry him in his current condition. He cut the straps of his armor with his claws and began moving forward, shaking the armor off as he went. All Pip had left were his helmet and weapons, and he heard his armor crumple under the weight of the pursuing King Basilisk.

Running as fast as his injured leg would allow, Pip kept his gaze forward. The King Basilisk slammed its body against the nearby buildings and began collapsing them. The debris rained down on Pip, but as long as he stayed well ahead of the King Basilisk, he knew he wouldn't get trapped.

“Nothing will stop the heat of the eternal day,” the nightmarish version of Celestia cackled. “Its warmth gives me strength! All hail Infernal Flare!”

Pip could barely see what was happening as he ran through the streets of Canterlot, but he could see Luna circling the sky. She raised her forelegs up and soon the moon appeared in the sky, eclipsing the sun. The bright ring of the corona was the last light Pip saw before the blanket of the night swept across the land.

Oh no… The darkness made it nearly impossible to see. Pip jumped over debris from the falling buildings, but his hoof caught on a jagged edge and he tumble to the ground. A wall crashed down in front of him, creating a dead end.

Pip stood, but it was too late. He was trapped. He could turn around and risk being turned to stone, or he could wait and be eaten. Pip pushed up against the wall in an attempt to push it down. It was too heavy, and the steps of the King Basilisk were drawing ever near…

“Pip!” Marble called out. “Get down!”

He ducked, not daring to turn around and look. Without warning, Marble sailed in from above, Sebastian at the ready. She smashed the wall blocking the road, but her forward momentum caused her to keep going and roll to the ground. There were now growling and roars from the King Basilisks, and Pip snuck a quick glance to see how many there were.

Marble had led her King Basilisk behind Pip's. She had jumped into Pip’s King Basilisk and allowed the one chasing her to cut into the other King Basilisk flesh with its claws, resulting in the two monsters fighting.

“Everypony still in their houses!” Marble yelled. “Run! Now’s your chance! Run!”

Citizens that had walled themselves up began pouring from their homes and galloping down the street. Pip and Marble turned back around and tried to keep to the alleys in order to get back to the stage area. Up above, Pip saw the two sisters still clashing, Celestia’s bright white mane a tiny sun all its own. He also caught a glimpse of two bat ponies and a small squad of Sun Guard pegasi.

They galloped into the concert area and saw that the unicorns had all left. All except for Sweetie Belle. She was standing next to a stone version of Scootaloo, tears streaming down her face. Equinox was there, glancing all around. The glowing eyes of the King Basilisks pierced the darkness like enchanting stars, beckoning ponies to gaze upon then. Equinox didn’t look, but counting the glowing auras all around them, Pip suspected they shouldn’t stay here for long.

“We gotta go,” Equinox told Sweetie Belle, parroting Pip’s unspoken thoughts.

“We can’t leave Scootaloo!” Sweetie Belle said, hugging her stone friend. “She saved us! I can’t leave her!”

“You’ll both be stone if you don’t go now! The King Basilisks are sure to return!”

Rumble came soaring in. He landed and his expression turned to dread when he spotted Scootaloo. He galloped over and examined her. “What’re we going to do? Is there a way to fix this?”

Pip had to sit. His back leg was throbbing in pain. He shook his head. “I… I think so… But we can’t panic now. We have to keep it together. If we’re all turned to stone, who will help Scootaloo? Nopony.”

“But… But what can we do? More ponies are being turned to stone! And now it’s dark! Nopony is going to escape now!”

A blue and yellow thunderbolt streak lit up the sky above them, and Pip’s attention was immediately drawn to it. “What was that?”

Rumble glanced up and frowned. “It’s Captain Lightning Dust. She’s rallying the last of the Sun Guard to try and fight the King Basilisks until the Night Guard arrives.”

“They could be hours,” Equinox interjected. “They’re all the way in Hollow Shades! They’ll never make it in time to help the ponies still trapped here!”

“Rumble,” Pip said, suddenly struck with an idea. “Your brother is in the Wonderbolts, right? Fly up there and convince them to start a sandstorm, like yours, only larger. Anything to keep the King Basilisks from staring at the ponies. Then try and talk Captain Lightning Dust into guiding the last of the ponies out of the city!”

He nodded, gave one last look at the stone Scootaloo, and then took to the sky. Pip watched him go, hoping it would be enough to save the citizens of Canterlot.

“What’re we going to do?” Equinox asked.

Marble nodded. “Yes. What are we going to do?”

Pip took a moment to think. “Something is… wrong.”

Equinox practically started laughing. “Oh really?” she sarcastically asked. “I hadn’t noticed.”

“No, not like that! I mean… something is wrong about this whole thing. Luna… she lied to me and… and-”

“What is your problem?” Equinox asked in disbelief. “Why are so obsessed with her? Even after everything we learned! Get yourself together! Do you ever think about anything else?”

She grabbed him and jerked his head to the side in order to make him stare upward. She pointed to the sky, right were Luna and Celestia were clashing; the two titans of the day were at each other’s throats.

“There she is, Pip! Do you want to talk to her now? I think she might be a little busy!”

Pip pulled away. “Look, I have nothing to lose and it’s not like a single earth pony is going to make the difference! I need to search the castle! I’m sure there are ponies stuck there regardless… You can come with me, or you can do your own thing, I don’t care.”

The wind began to pick up and Pip saw the Wonderbolts swirling through the air. Using the wind as a distraction, Pip took to the street. He half-limped, half-galloped to the Canterlot Castle. Much to his surprise, Marble kept up behind him… and so did Equinox.

As he galloped through the gates, Pip realized there were King Basilisks here too. A portion of the wall had been smashed and the gardens torn apart. There were stone ponies there, like decorations, lining the garden hedges.

Three ponies sailed down from the sky; Mist, Specter and Gloom, all dressed and ready for a fight. Pip skid to a halt in front of the castle doors and smiled to them. “You guys made it,” he breathed.

Pip felt tremors beneath his hooves.

“Something’s close,” Gloom suddenly growled.

Before Pip or any of the others could react, a King Basilisk burst through the wall of the castle, its many claws extended and its mouth wide open.

“Mist!” Equinox gasped. She dove forward and shielded her sister with her body. One of the monster’s claws cut across her back and side, completely shredding her left wing and tearing into her unprotected flesh. Unlike the others, who had gone back to the barracks to equip, Equinox was wearing no armor.

Pip just barely managed to jump out of the King Basilisks path, sliding across the garden grass. Marble took this opportunity and blindly swung with Sebastian. Although her eyes were closed, her aim was true. She smashed down on the monster’s eye, squishing it inward and preventing its evil gaze from turning anypony else to stone.

“This way!”

Looking up, Pip was relieved to see the pegasus drill instructor, Thunder Clash, flying inside the castle.

“Quickly!” he shouted to them. “Before the beast gets you all!”

Gloom flew over and grabbed Pip, helping him up and pushing him into the castle. Marble ran with them, but Specter, Mist and Equinox were on the other side of the King Basilisk. Pip couldn’t see where they were or what they were doing. Equinox... I hope she's okay...

It didn’t matter though; the King Basilisk made its choice and decided to pursue Marble and the others. The instant Pip got into the castle, the King Basilisk was on his tail, lunging forward and smashing the walls in its wake. Thunder Clash, Gloom, Marble and Pip began running the halls as fast as they could, but the creature wouldn’t relent. It smashed through pillars and shattered windows with its earthquake-like steps.

“Some ponies are calling for help from below,” Gloom suddenly informed them.

Thunder Clash nodded and pointed to an area up ahead. “The dungeon! Quickly! Jump down the stairs! The beast cannot follow us down such a narrow stairwell!”

Pip didn’t think that was the greatest idea. They would be trapped, and it was never a good idea to be trapped… Despite his feelings for the matter, Pip listened to Thunder Clash. His back leg was threatening to give out on him at any second, and he needed the rest.

He leapt into the stairwell and completely lost his footing on the stairs. He crashed downward, rolling to the bottom and slamming his ear against the stone of the floor, rupturing something inside and becoming disoriented. Thunder Clash and Gloom flew down and Marble easily jumped the steps with grace.

The King Basilisk slammed at the entrance of the stairwell, cracking the doorframe and wall. It began frantically clawing its way inward, like a bloodhound fresh on the scent of a fox, digging at the hole of its den.

There was a single Sun Guard soldier and one prisoner locked in the cells of the dungeon. Thunder Clash turned to the solder. “You were calling for help?”

“S-sir!” the soldier choked, pointing to the ever-nearing King Basilisk. “I-I was calling because t-there was a m-monster pacing the door outside! It left and then y-you came in, s-sir!”

“Get ahold of yourself, Glass Cutter!” Thunder Clash yelled. He pulled the soldier close and pointed to the monster. “We have bigger problems and you need to keep your wits about you!”

“I-I don’t want to die, s-sir! It would be a sh-shame to die now! I’ve just m-married, sir!”

“It would be a shame to die untested,” Thunder Clash quickly snapped. “Remember your duty!” The drill sergeant suddenly clutched his side. Under his Sun Guard armor was bandaging. The white gauze was stained slightly with a spot of red. As if making a mental note to ignore it, Thunder Clash suddenly let go and took a deep breath.

Pip pulled himself off the floor of the dungeon. The ringing in his ear just wouldn’t stop, and the warmth of his own blood was coating the side of face and muzzle. Gloom flew around the dungeon in a matter of seconds.

“There’s no other way out of here!” the bat pony yelled. “The King Basilisk is going to dig its way in and eat us all!”

“What?” the prisoner yelled.

Pip and the others turned to see Hemlock, the bandit bat pony. He was pacing inside the cell, his eyes wide with fright. “You have to get me outta here! Please!”

“Marble,” Pip breathed. “You got this.”

Hefting her war hammer, Marble smashed the wall near the cell, shattering a small hole for the bat pony to crawl through. The King Basilisk inched forward, however, getting further down the stairwell. Its tongue lashed about, feeling its surroundings since it couldn’t get a good view with its one remaining eye.

“Praise ya all!” Hemlock said, gulping down air. “Now ya guys are gonna defeat this monster, right? Ya been trained for this?”

Pip and the others exchanged nervous glances. Marble rubbed her war hammer. “Sebastian isn’t afraid of being tested.” She turned and charged toward the mouth of the King Basilisk. She smashed down with her hammer, connecting with its squirming tongue and crushing a chuck of it off.

The King Basilisk couldn’t back up fast enough to scream in agony. Unlike its hide, which was as tough as iron, its tongue had squished like any other tongue… The monster wasn’t deterred, however. It stayed at the doorway, yelling and growling. At this rate, it would call others… Pip knew. This place would be swarming.

Gloom and Hemlock were whispering to each other in the back, both angry and verging on flat yelling. Pip couldn’t hear very well… the ringing was drowning out half of everything.

“You could save us,” Gloom suddenly shouted. “Just go up there and do it! We let you go! We saved you from being turned to stone! Repay the favor!”

“Yer nuts if ya think I’m goin’ up there! I’m no warrior!” Hemlock shook his head. “I’ll be eaten for sure! I’ll-”

Gloom suddenly turned and bucked the other bat pony, practically knocking him out in one unexpected blow. Before anypony else could ask what he was doing, Gloom bit down on Hemlock’s leg, drawing blood and drinking it in.

“Recruit!” Thunder Clash yelled. “What’re you doing!? You know the-”

The bat pony flew passed Thunder Clash with a determined look. He leapt up the stairs and entered the hallway with the screaming King Basilisk, his eyes firmly closed. Screeching slightly, to use his enhanced echolocation, Gloom easily dodged the monster’s attacks. Right as the creature was about to smash everything around it, Gloom dove and bit down on the monster's other eye, piercing its flesh with his fangs.

The King Basilisk growled and then slammed to the ground, twitching.

Hemlock rubbed at his muzzle and pointed. “Go! That poison won’t last long!”

Pip and the others ran out of the stairwell and beyond the paralyzed King Basilisk. Thunder Clash pointed them to a room and they ducked into it. They all took a moment to catch their breath, yet again. It was stressful running frantically from one area to another… like a deadly game of hot lava monster.

“Sacré bleu!” Gloom shouted, glancing at his foreleg. A fleur-de-lis cutie mark had suddenly appeared.

Marble turned to Hemlock and shook her head. “You’re diseased!”

Hemlock nervously laughed. “He forced himself on me! I’m the victim here!”

“Both of you are incompetent!” Thunder Clash shouted. “We have to get ourselves in order if we’re going to help the princesses!”

“Thunder Clash, I think something is terribly wrong with what’s going on!” Pip said. “I want to search the castle! I want to know what’s really happening here!”

“Shouldn’t we focus our energy on trying to defeat Infernal Flare before Luna has to banish her to the moon or something?” Marble asked.

“I know something is wrong with this situation!” Pip pleaded. “Please, listen! Luna would never lie to me! She did! I don’t why… and she’s still the only one that could have altered our dreams! I must know what is happening! I have to get to the bottom of this!”

A woodworking tool suddenly appeared on Gloom’s neck and he promptly began disassembling a nearby desk and carving the wood with his hooves.

Thunder Clash nodded. “All right. If you feel that strongly about it, we should at least try. Besides, all we have are two earth pony trainees, a bandit, an old, injured soldier, and a bat pony trainee in desperate need of treatment.”

“Pourquoi moi!?” Gloom shouted in frustration.

“Don’t count me in this,” Hemlock said, shaking his head. “I’m not part of it!”

Marble glared. “Watch Gloom and stay in this room. If you two keep quiet, and stay to the back of the room, the King Basilisks most likely won’t find you. If you leave, you could get caught by one, or worse, get caught by Infernal Flare. You wouldn’t want any of that, would you?”

Hemlock quickly shook his head. “I got ya, I got ya… I’ll stay here. I’ll watch’em.”

Pip nodded and he slowly opened the door. The outside was filled with the sounds of monsters, but he could just barely tell they were there. What mattered most, however, was that he didn’t see any monsters in this hallway. Pip exited the room and began running toward the towers of the sister’s lived in. He would start with their rooms and then move on…

Thunder Clash pointed to the tower in front of them. “That’s Princess Celestia’s!”

“Marble,” Pip said, addressing the other earth pony. “Search the tower. Thunder Clash… Mist, Specter and Equinox are somewhere here. You should find them.”

The older pony snorted. “And what makes you think I shouldn’t go with the trainee on this potentially dangerous mission?”

“You’re injured,” Pip earnestly replied. He forced himself not to limp in front of Thunder Clash as they ran, despite the biting pain. He didn’t want the other pony to know.

Thunder Clash grunted in acceptance and flew off in order to find the others. “I’ll be back with them,” he called out. “No telling what we may find when dark magic is involved.”

The instant Thunder Clash was gone, Pip slowed his pace and took the majority of his weight off his back leg. He made his way for Luna’s tower, hoping beyond hope there was some explanation for what had happened. Any explanation would do.

When he glanced over his shoulder, Pip saw the fighting in the sky was raging with all the intensity he would expect from the two sisters. Infernal Flare could breathe fire with ease, and Luna only just managed to dodge her attacks. The total eclipse of the sun made everything seem sinister. The Wonderbolts and the remaining Sun Guard were trying their hardest to contain the King Basilisk threat, but it was clear they were slowly losing. If only the Night Guard could get here faster…

Pip spotted Phantom Shade in the distance, but turned away. He suspected the bat pony captain would not want him investigating Luna. Hopefully Phantom Shade hadn’t seen me...

Pushing open the door to the tower, Pip slowly began making his way up. After a few steps, he shook his head. Now wasn’t the time to lollygag! Time was of the essence! Despite the pain of his leg, Pip ran up the stairs. He suspected this wasn’t good for his leg in the long run, but he was willing to make that trade.

He got to the top, winded, but ready. Pushing open the door, Pip entered Luna’s personal chambers. The room was… just how he imagined it. Beautiful. Elegant. It was sparse, with only a bed, a mirror, a dresser and a balcony at the far end with a telescope. He ran inside and began looking around.

Pip checked everywhere. He checked under the bed, on the balcony, under the rug… he even threw the pillows around, and still he found nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

Frustrated, Pip glanced around the room again. Something had to be here. But… what if Equinox was right? What if he was just… obsessed? No! He hated the doubt! Now wasn’t the time for doubt! There were too many signs! Too many questioning moments! He would follow this through to the end!

Pip turned his attention to the walls and began yanking off any and all decorations. No curtains, no pictures! When he got to the mirror, Pip pulled and found it slightly stuck in place. He yanked it to the side and it revealed a small stairway up into the dome of the tower; the very top.

Chills ran down his spine. Pip glanced over his shoulder before beginning his ascent. It made him nervous to go alone… which was an odd feeling considering he had always imagined himself alone when he imagined himself do anything. Well, himself and Luna.

He made his way up, and the stairs spiraled into the dome. They ended in a new room; a room at the very tip-top of the tower. Sitting there, waiting like she knew, was Pip’s worst nightmare: Nightmare Moon. But… in that brief flash of recognition, he realized something was different about her. She was twisted; her neck elongated, her wings tattered, her mane and tail a mess of star clusters and voids… She was sitting on a makeshift throne of broken furniture, and banners hung haphazardly on the wall; banners of an upward pointed sword.

Pip had been so stunned by her appearance that he barely noticed the body of Celestia on the floor near the edge of the room. She was… sleeping. Or unconscious. Pip wasn’t sure, but he suspected she was still alive due to her flowing mane.

“Greetings,” the nightmare muttered in a calm and confident voice, despite her ragged and somewhat manic appearance. It was then that Pip noticed her long alicorn horn was glowing constantly, bright magic bursting forth, though he saw no magic in the room.

“You… It… it really was you all this time,” Pip felt his heart drop and his body become heavy. He knew the darkness plagued Luna every step but… but why Luna? “Why?” Pip asked, deciding he would get his answers since he had the offending party right in front of him. “Why Luna? Why the princess of the night? Why not somepony else!? Why not take Celestia!? Princess Twilight Sparkle!? Anypony else!? Why her!? Why hurt her!?”

The tattered creature before him laughed and smiled. Her teeth were rows of fangs and her eyes had pupil-slits, just like the bat ponies. “You take it so personal, but I assure you I would have taken her father had he still be here. No, I need Luna because of her dream stalking ability, nothing more. Do you think the name Nightmare Forces was made on a whim? Foolish child… I draw power from the terrors of your sleep, and grow in your mind when bitterness will not let go.”

“We all have nightmares and bitter feelings,” Pip curtly responded.

“And your nightmares give me strength,” she replied with a smile. “But… I only gain that strength when my essence haunts your dreams. Once upon a time, I infested every life and every pony… But ever since the Guardian of the Night purged my essence from your dreams, I have been confined to only a few vessels, the ponies he missed, or the ones I have tainted… Only ponies I have infected can be my... host.”

Pip perked up. The Guardian of the Night? “Who…?”

“The first alicorn to rule the evening and control the moon. He tasked himself with vanishing the Nightmare Forces. He walked from dream to dream and defeated nightmares himself, helping ponies overcome their fears and draining my strength. But… he never could complete his task. He missed a few ponies… and I have been forced to settle with what I have.”

Taking a deep breath, Pip stepped forward. “The Elements of Harmony defeated you before!”

“I am only ever defeated when fought in the realm of the pony’s nightmares. Why do you think Luna could never shake me? There is no pony else who can walk through dreams, and she cannot overcome her own nightmares. Her father has long past… who is left?” Nightmare Moon nodded to him, the magic on her horn continuing to flare and pulse with power.

“Nopony will stand for this,” Pip said, half laughing. “When Princess Twilight Sparkle returns, you won’t stand a chance! Now that I know more about you, I’ll tell the others! They’ll think of something to get rid of you! Twilight always finds a way!”

Nightmare Moon sneered, “Is that so? Tell me, who all knows of me?”

Pip opened his mouth and then closed it. Nopony. Nopony knew.

“After my defeat both times, I have come to learn a few things. They say a true master of war never has to fight at all… and I’ve found that to be true. Deception is just as viable. When I took Luna I forged my illusions to look just like her… Before Celelstia could suspect, I whispered terrible things into her sleep, controlling her dreams and making her see visions of the future… A future where she is corrupted.”

“Then,” Nightmare Moon continued, “I gathered evidence of her corruption, while simultaneously hiding my own. The Star Spiders… were my doing. But that wasn’t what Celestia thought. I think she tried to outdo me when she suggested I retrieve a Fragment of the First Day. I don’t know if she suspected my dark presence, or if she was honestly concerned about her eventual turn… but it did not matter. I had pawns to gather the fragment for me, and so you did. I whispered terrible nightmares to the ponies that slept during the day, making them doubt and feeding my power… I instilled within the day-ponies a fear the sun… the more I whispered, the more fear I spread… until the only thing any pony could imagine was Celestia’s eventual turn. They wanted to see it, so that is all they saw.”

Pip glared. “So what is happening outside? What was I watching out there…?”

“It’s nothing more than a farce, a sham, a spectacle.” Nightmare Moon laughed to herself. “I pride myself on my performance this time around. When you came to see Luna, when you almost convinced them something was wrong, I thought I had played her perfectly. Concerned. Caring. Not too harsh. What gave it away? Why did you persist? Are you that stupid? Or was there something else?”

“Celestia no longer has a Fragment of the First Night. You lied yourself into a corner.” The dark alicorn laughed, but Pip decided to push. “Why tell me this? Do you just want somepony to appreciate everything you’ve done?”

“What’s going on here?”

Pip turned and saw Phantom Shade standing in the doorway. The bat pony captain was wide-eyed and breathless. Pip hadn’t heard him walk up, but he blamed it on his shattered ear still ringing.

Nightmare Moon ignored the bat pony and turned to Pip. “I told you this because I want you to join me.”

Pip instantly laughed. “You know that would never happen.” He inched closer to Phantom Shade. “We’ll never stand idly by while you do this.”

“Oh? I don’t think you understand how thoroughly I’ve won this time around.” She smiled wide and leaned down, her fangs white and obvious against her black coat. In a dark whisper, that Pip could barely hear, she said, “I’ll let you in on a secret. Because I wasn’t defeated in one night this time, I have undone all of Luna’s father’s work. I have placed a piece of my essence in the dreams of Equestria, haunting each pony and manifesting as their darkest fears and desires. It took Luna’s father a lifetime of hunting me… and she is nothing compared to him. Should I fall, even tonight, I will rise again in another pony. Any pony. Forever. No longer do I need to hunt Luna.”

“Celestia…” Phantom Shade muttered, glancing at the body of the white alicorn. “I can’t believe Thunder Clash was right…”

“Don’t be so concerned, Phantom Shade,” Nightmare Moon spoke in a calm, almost delighted manner. “This will work out for you… Don’t you see? I’ve set it up perfectly for everything you could have wanted. Who do you think is going to drag the King Basilisks from the city? Hint: it won’t be the Sun, Crystal or Friendship Guard. The bat ponies will be the heroes here. And Luna will be their queen. The one pony to control both the sun and moon. And, in a few centuries, the ponies will forget about Celestia, just as they forgot about Luna.”

Pip laughed a single laugh. “So you’re just going to banish Celestia to the moon?”

Nightmare Moon tossed her head back and cackled. “No! No, of course not! I’m going to take a page out of Celestia’s playbook and send her somewhere equally as ironic!”

“The… sun?” Pip breathed in disbelief.

“Of course,” she continued to laugh. “No place is as fitting. Do you suppose she will stain the sun, like I stained the surface of the moon? Or do you think the blazing heat will purify her?”

Phantom Shade hung his head and glared at the floor. “I can’t believe it… I’m so sorry, Princess. I should have been more diligent.”

“Do not fret, Phantom Shade. I have a way for you to redeem yourself. Step closer.”

“You’re nothing but darkness incarnate,” Phantom Shade hissed. “I don’t want what you have to offer!”

“Isn’t darkness a friend of the bat ponies? Or would you rather Luna be banished to the moon again? Is that what you want? For everypony to be right about how evil Luna is? About how evil bat ponies are?”

Phantom Shade stared at the floor for a long while, his eyes shifting from stone to stone. Pip shook his head. “You can’t be serious… Of course you wouldn’t join her!”

“Can you… can you lift the curse of the moon?” Phantom Shade asked, turning his gaze back to her.

“All will be within my power,” Nightmare Moon replied.

“Don’t! She’s lying!” Pip said, placing a hoof on Phantom Shade’s shoulder. The bat pony pulled away, but he did not meet Pip’s gaze. Slowly he trotted over to Nightmare Moon’s side, hanging his head in resignation.

“Just… all I ask is that you lift the curse, and my loyalty will be with you…”

“No!” Pip ran to stop Phantom Shade, but the nightmare alicorn slashed at him with her horn. It cut him across his chest and sent him tumbling to the ground. It wasn’t a painful wound, not like his ear or leg, but he was surprised. Why didn’t she use magic? Of course… she was too busy using magic to power the illusions outside… the illusions all the other ponies were watching and thinking were reality… She couldn’t break her focus, and this heavy magic use was a constant drain.

Pip slowly got up. He watched in horror as Nightmare Moon offered her foreleg to Phantom Shade. The bat pony bit down onto her flesh, and soon his appearance became… twisted. His wings became larger, his mane wild, and jolts of magical energy coursed over his body. Pip could barely believe it.

“I’m going to ask you a second time,” Nightmare Moon said sweetly. “And I don’t do this often. Luna has such affections for you, it’s the least I can do for her. Will you join me, Pip? Will you use your obsession and dedication for my cause instead of Luna’s? Will you fight my enemies? Be my sword?” When he didn’t answer right away, she continued with, “Just imagine it, Pip. You could live forever by my side. Dream and be whoever you wanted. You think Luna wants some pony with no magic, no greater powers, no awe-inspiring destiny? Join me, Pip. Become Nightmare Star and serve by my side. We can have the relationship you could never have with Luna.”

While she was saying all the right things, and telling him everything he wanted to hear… Pip knew better. He knew what this was. “You’re everything Luna isn’t,” he replied in a condescending tone. “Even if I were to live a thousand lifetimes in her shadow, that shadow would be more glorious than the empty void you promise.”

“Oh, sweet Celestia…”

Pip glanced over his shoulder. Thunder Clash was now in the room, just as surprised as Phantom Shade had been. Pip knew that Mist, Equinox, Specter and Marble were most likely on their way up the stairs now.

“You won’t be hiding your presence much longer,” Pip taunted. “Not when all these ponies know you’re here.”

“Phantom Shade,” Nightmare Moon lazily spoke, turning her attention to her empowered bat pony captain. “Show them the power of the Nightmare Forces.”

“You didn’t,” Thunder Clash said, turning to Phantom Shade with an incredulous stare.

“I guess we end this tonight,” Phantom Shade stated.

Nightmare Fuel

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Without waiting for prompt, Thunder Clash sprang forward and collided with Phantom Shade. The bat pony half-laughed and easily threw the pegasus aside, his strength peaking at new heights.

“Stand down, you old fool,” Phantom Shade commanded. “Wasn’t it you who told me certain things can only be dealt with magic?”

Thunder Clash got up, his bandages crimson, and snorted. “Phantom Shade, you manipulative dog…”

Nightmare Moon growled in frustration. “You ingrate. If you turn on me now, you will never see that curse lifted.”

Phantom Shade turned around and glared. “Funny how the forces of darkness always assume ponies want what they have to offer. There is no curse, and you would have delivered me nothing. I said what you wanted to hear… and now I have the power of an alicorn.”

Marble, Specter, Mist and Equinox entered the room, making the space feel smaller than it was. Phantom Shade didn’t wait to explain to them what was happening. He pulled his bow and shot once, accidentally snapping the string with his new strength. The arrow practically teleported across the room in its speed, piercing through the tattered wing of the nightmare creature, barely slowing as it completely exited the other side of the flesh and impacted heavily into the back wall.

“Tsk,” Nightmare Moon spat. “To face me is to face oblivion. I will never forget this insubordination, and you will suffer for it.”

“Oh, we’re doing this now?” Marble suddenly asked, holding Sebastian at the ready. “Because I think we all know what needs to be done.” She swung with her hammer in a wide arch, almost hitting others, but somehow she managed to get it just right. Nightmare Moon, however, easily moved aside and riposted with her horn. Despite her magic being tied up in the illusions, she effortlessly slashed along Marble’s foreleg and knocked her aside.

Mist pulled her bow and tossed it to Phantom Shade, who notched another arrow. Specter shot one of his own, but Nightmare Moon was fast enough to move out of its path. Equinox galloped over to Pip and Thunder Clash. When she neared, Pip realized her left wing was completely shredded, the only part remaining was the bone and muscle of the joints. The flesh wounds on her side looked hastily tended to, but she paid them no mind.

“We should get out of here! We need to tell everypony what's really going on!”

Thunder Clash nodded and Pip agreed.

They went to leave, but Nightmare Moon had other plans. She charged forward as Phantom Shade loosed another arrow. The arrow pierced right through the side of the nightmare’s neck, but that did not derail her path. She impaled Phantom Shade with her horn, right through his gut below the ribcage. In one powerful shake, she slammed him against the fall wall. Nightmare Moon stood up onto her hind legs in order to deliver a finishing blow.

Pip jumped at the monster, cutting her legs with his claws. Specter shot an arrow from behind her and it impacted on her back, half the arrow sinking into her flesh. Thunder Clash swooped in and grabbed Phantom Shade, pushing him to the side in order to protect him.

With a powerful few beats of her wings, Nightmare Moon flooded the room with gale force winds, knocking all ponies down. She laughed as the injuries that had been dealt began to slowly heal. Even the arrow slowly removed itself.

Phantom Shade picked himself up and the magic crackling over his hide began to flare. Although he was gravely injured, he stood his ground and activated the alicorn magic he temporarily had access to. But… he had no horn to hone and focus the energy… The magic flared, uncontrolled, and burst outward, ripping through his coat and body and leaving large open wounds that reminded Pip of a toy that had lost its stitching along the seams.

The magic shattered Phantom Shade’s armor and flooded the room with a dark void of power. It wasn’t some or a part of the total magic he possessed… it was all of it. All the magic at once, suddenly warping everything it touched. Pip watched as Nightmare Moon doubled over in pain from the pulse, but soon his vision went black with pain and confusion…


Pip opened his eyes and was met with an odd sight. All was dark. There was no light, just… black. He stood and tried to squint through the void. Nothing. He could see nothing. Was he blind? Was something happening? He tried to focus, to see if this was a dream, but his concentration was broken by an eerie voice.

“Pipsqueak… What are you doing, child? What are you attempting to accomplish?”

The dark and threatening tone gave Pip pause. Where was he? How could he get out of here? Pip galloped forward, limping on his bad leg.

“Fear, doubt, bitterness, hate… They cannot be outrun. Cannot be outfought. When the first rays of the light pierced the darkness, the fear of darkness was born. Before the light, there was nothing to compare… only oblivion. I represent that oblivion. That fear that one day the light will fail.”

These were the voices that whispered to Luna. These were the forces that plagued the lands and brought ponies down to a pit of despair. And… they weren’t lying. Pip knew the whispering was true. He couldn’t outrun the darkness. He stopped and looked around, trying to find the moon, but there was nothing.

“You are weak. Like a single grain of sand on a beach, your life is insignificant. Whatever you hope to accomplish, somepony else has already accomplished it. You want to be a guard? Thousands of others have lived that life, some far better than you can ever hope to rival.”

Pip froze. He knew that too. It was true. There were hundreds of guards. Maybe even thousands. And there would be thousands more. His life… it had been lived by other ponies before him… His mouth felt dry. He wasn’t unique. He really was just… a grain of sand on a beach.

“Luna is powerful and her life epic in scope and circumstance. She doesn’t need you. You are but a footnote in her journal. You can never hope to rise to her level, and you know it. She is literally your better in every way.”

That was true too. He was nothing compared to Luna. She was magical, powerful, long lived… Pip knew he was none of those things, and he never would be.

“What is the point to your life, child? There is none. You live life for somepony else. You base your worth on what you can do for them. You have nothing of your own, and you’ve done that because you know you are insignificant. Your short life will be over and done with in the blink of an eye. And then nopony will care. Nopony will even remember.”

“Luna would remember,” Pip offered in a weak voice. “And… I don’t want to hear anymore. I know what you are. I’ll fight you until my last breath.”

“Will you?” the dark voice said, a hint of mirth in its words. “Then fight me. It is just the two of us in this nothingness. Fight me. Let me taste your mettle.”

Pip looked around. He was surrounded by darkness. He flailed and bucked and attacked but… nothing. There was nothing corporeal to fight. Just… uncertainty. Just weakness. That’s all this darkness was. He felt foolish for even trying.

“Such skill,” the darkness mocked. “But what could a small foal, like yourself, ever really hope to achieve?”

Pip looked down. He was tiny, a foal, just as he had been when he was younger. So small, so pathetic…

“I am eternal. You are not. Rest, child. Leave the fight to those who can handle it. Rest your head and sleep. Close your eyes and accept that you can never be anything more than a dot upon the page of time.”

The truth of the conversation rocked Pip. These weren’t false promises or gimmicks. This was… reality. He would never be the best. He was nothing. Everything he hoped to do could be done by somepony else… and better.

Pip sat down. Sleeping would be easy. If he was sleeping, he could be dreaming… and in his dreams there was no judgment or pain or reality… Within in his dreams, he could be the best. But…

The stars didn’t cease to twinkle because they couldn’t be as glorious as the moon, nor were they swallowed up by the darkness of the night… they were there to light up the night and bring guidance to all those who were lost. Nameless, faceless… they stood in the sky and asked for nothing in return. Thousands of them… they weren’t unique on their own, but the role they played for the ponies gazing upon them was. They were everything Pip wished he could be. They had been, and always will be, his guiding light.

“Never,” Pip suddenly said aloud, standing back up. “Never. I will never stop. I may not be able to fight you with my hooves, but I shall never give in.”

“There is no fighting fate, only denying.”

“There may be things I cannot change,” Pip said, rage building within his conviction. “But that doesn’t mean I’m doomed to fail! It doesn’t mean I can’t transcend some parts of life! It doesn’t mean I should stop! You will have to rend the meat from my bones before I quit! Do you hear me!? You’re nothing! You say you’re eternal, but you only exist because of the light!” Pip slammed his hooves down in frustration and suddenly the darkness all around him shattered like he were standing within a fragile snow globe.

The darkness gone, Pip could then see where he was. And it startled him.

He was in a vast nightmare wasteland, standing on the edge of an island in an ocean of blood and bile. The sun in the brick-red sky was shattered open like a broken marble and, from it, came the boiling blood that made up the ocean. The ring of fire from the sun scorched the sky and pulsed like a dying heartbeat.

Pip was speechless. It took him a long moment to take everything in. The island was large, he could not see the end, but somehow he knew it was isolated. The surreal feeling he got from the surroundings told him this was the dreamscape he was used to. Phantom Shade had somehow created this nightmare… it was a patchwork of horrors and fears from all the ponies that had been struck by his burst of magic.

Pip knew Phantom Shade had no control over the magic. This was an accident spawned from the Nightmare Force’s influence.

Laughing from above drew Pip’s attention. He glanced up and saw Nightmare Moon flying over the island before turning up and disappearing into the sky. She had exited the nightmare… Pip took a deep breath. The Nightmare Forces drew power from nightmares. He had just been trapped in one himself, which meant the others were here too.

Nightmare Moon had been wounded by Phantom Shade’s blast… If they didn’t get out of this nightmare soon, she would gather power from their nightmares and recover. If they had any chance of defeating her tonight, they would need to escape, and quickly.

Pip ran forward, determined to find the others. The island was covered with dead trees and scorched earth. The smell in the air was that of cooking meat and the copper of blood. Pip knew the others would face darkness like he did… If they had help, they could escape it sooner.


“I’m sorry,” Thunder Clash responded.

Weaving through the dead and rotting trees, Pip jumped over a small rivulet of blood and bones before reaching a battlefield. The field was littered with pony bodies, their corpses still wearing their Sun Guard armor. Looming over the battlefield was an undead dragon, animated by dark magic. It smashed and wrecked and destroyed everything in its path, including homes and countryside’s… Even in this dreamscape, Pip could feel himself frightened by its visage.

The skull of the creature was exposed, and its vacant eye sockets were like looking at death itself. Thunder Clash was standing in the battlefield, stopped over the soldiers that had fallen there.

“Help us,” the soldier at Thunder Clash’s hooves muttered.

“I’m sorry,” was all Thunder Clash could mutter in response.

The soldiers looked like they had died years ago… their coats sliding off their atrophied muscles, stiff with rigor mortis, and the lower portion of their bodies purple with the pooled blood that had collected there. The only soldier that didn’t look like a rotting corpse was the one in front of Thunder Clash, who was a pretty white pegasus with a silver mane. Thunder Clash couldn’t seem to look away from her, even as the undead dragon raged all around him.

“Stay with me,” the white pegasus muttered. “I’m cold…”

Thunder Clash knelt next to the body and pulled her close.

Pip walked up slowly and saw her eyes were faded and sunken in. She was dead. Was Thunder Clash’s nightmare to relive a terrible memory from his past? To relive the memory shaded in nightmarish horror? Pip knew the real memory couldn’t have been this terrible… it was the work of the Nightmare Forces. They were trying to make everypony give in to despair.

“Thunder Clash…” Pip spoke, unable to find anything to say that would be adequate.

He didn’t respond. Thunder Clash held the body of the pegasus, even as it continued to waste away in his arms at rapid rates. Soon the body was nothing more than ashes… but still he remained.

The ashes reformed as the white pegasus and she stumbled to the ground in front of him again, repeating the death cycle for Thunder Clash to witness.

“Why?” she asked.

“Thunder Clash,” Pip tried to get his attention.

The drill sergeant continued to ignore him. Pip jumped when somepony touched his shoulder. It was Phantom Shade. The bat pony pulled Pip to the side and shook his head.

“Move on. He’s too stubborn to leave her.”

Pip glanced over his shoulder and stared at Thunder Clash. “His nightmares will give power to Nightmare Moon.”

“One nightmare left will not give much,” Phantom Shade commented. “I will go to find Celestia. I know she is here. You find the others and leave this place. We all must hurry if we are to stop Nightmare Moon.”

“Time passed oddly in the dreamscape,” Pip informed him. “This could only be a few seconds, or it could be hours. We have no way of knowing.”

“Better to error on the side of safety,” he spoke in a dark calm.

Pip stared at him for a moment. “You escaped your own nightmare? Like me?”

“When you know your time is nigh, there isn’t much else that frightens you.”

“Will you… be okay?” Pip realized this dream version of Phantom Shade was bleeding from the puncture wound Nightmare Moon had given him, and his skin and coat were ripped open like a torn doll. His cutie mark was a single gold eye with a slit-pupil. Phantom Shade smiled slightly.

“That doesn’t matter now. What matters is that we stop Nightmare Moon. Do you understand me?”

Pip nodded. “I agree.”

“Find the others,” Phantom Shade commanded.

“Sir, yes sir.”

The bat pony flew off toward the shattered sun, and Pip gave Thunder Clash one last look. Thunder Clash was determined to stay… the look on his face said he would never go as long as the white pegasus was there. Pip sighed, he never wanted to let anypony go, but he knew that if he were to help the others, he would have to hurry.

Running along the nightmare island, Pip spotted a terrible sight in the distance. There was a smashed and ruined home; the walls were crumbled, and there was a desecrated silo in the distance. When he got close, he realized who this nightmare belonged to.

Marble was rocking back and forth in the shattered house, trying desperately to fold a blanket with trembling hooves. Standing by Marble’s side was an older mare, light gray in coat and dark gray in mane, who was scrutinizing every moment of Marble’s folding. On Marble’s other side, was a twisted, nightmarish version of Marble. It had a mangled mane, jagged teeth made jagged from being smashed, and lacerations across all four of its legs.

“So much order… could be made better with destruction,” the twisted version of Marble whispered.

“Marble, you need to fold it again,” the old mare said.

Marble nodded. “Of course. Again. I’ll do it again.”

Pip galloped up to the house, his leg still bothering him. He tried to alter the dream, but just like the nightmares with the sun, he couldn’t. He was thankful, however, that he was no longer a foal.

“Marble!” he called out. “Marble! It’s just a nightmare!” Pip stopped next to her and smiled, but… Marble didn’t seem to see him. She continued to fold the blanket.

“Good ponies make the house clean and proper,” the older mare muttered.

“Yes, mother,” Marble responded.

“You aren’t a good pony,” the nightmare whispered. “Good ponies don’t like destroying things. Good ponies like order. Harmony. They don’t like destruction. Discord.”

Marble wiped the sweat from her brow and continued to fiddle with the blanket. Pip laughed to himself and took a step closer to Marble. “Don’t worry, Marble. You don’t have to do this any longer. It’s just a nightmare. C’mon. We should go.”

She shook her head, finally acknowledging his presence. “Pip. I have things to do. I… I want to be a good pony.”

Marble’s mother was a very prim mare with her hair pulled back in a tight bun. She stood straight and watched with a judgmental stare.

“Marble, it’s just a stupid blanket. Leave it,” he tried to tell her.

“Good ponies do their chores!” she barked.

“Or you could break everything like you know you want to,” the nightmare whispered. “Break it. Destroy it. Free yourself from the constraints of order and do what you want. Your fate has been decided for you… and fate has decided you will be destruction.”

Pip didn’t have time for this. He hadn’t known Marble was so upset by her cutie mark and ability to destroy but…

He took the blanket and ripped it in half. The shock Marble had was more than he had ever seen from her. She jumped up, enraged, and grappled him to the ground. Mercilessly, she slammed her hoof across his face in one powerful punch.

“Break him like you break things,” the nightmare whispered. “You cannot hide your monstrous side!”

Marble raised her hoof to do it again, but she held her stance, conflicted. In that second she frowned. “Pip… The nightmares are right… I’m a monster…”

“You know they’re nightmares?” Pip asked, rubbing at his muzzle. The blow had hurt, but he knew this was all a dream. “If you know… don’t listen to them!”

“But… they’re true, Pip. They’re true. It’s why I had to leave home… Good ponies don’t want to destroy… I can’t give in. I have to have order or else I’ll become a nightmare myself…”

Pip stared up at her. “You know that’s not true, Marble. Everything ends. Destruction has its place… Like these nightmares. They need to be destroyed. Please, Marble. You must know I don’t think you’re a monster.”

“I know,” she said with a long exhale. “I… I sometimes just worry… that I could be consumed by darkness. I thought I knew how to stop it. I would just… keep to myself, and keep everything in order. Like my mother… Sometimes I can’t help but go overboard, in both directions, and that frightens me.”

He smiled as she got off him. The destroyed farm fell into the ocean of blood, breaking the island by crumbling a portion of it. The nightmare visions shattered.

Marble closed her eyes and soon her body in this dreamscape disappeared. She had awoken in the real world. Pip could join her, but he turned to find other ponies still caught within the twisted nightmare.

“Weirdo! Weirdo!”

Pip followed the cruel and mocking voices. Everything in the nightmare world was more sinister than the real world… even the voices of what he knew were foals somehow sounded like death threats.

Much to his shock and surprise, he ran across a group of school children and a foal version of Equinox. The foals around her… they were earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns. Not bat ponies.

“Weirdo! Weirdo!” the kids jeered.

Her fluffy ears were turned down and her lip quavered. The foals began throwing things. Rocks, sticks, leaves. Everything was fair game. Equinox just let them, her eyes downcast. Pip was about to charge out and stop this weird child-like nightmare when another stallion stepped out to help her. A pinto stallion, like Pip. Only this stallion was a unicorn… clad in Crystal Guard armor with a halberd at his back.

The pinto stallion stepped between Equinox and the foals and shooed them away. Pip watched, confused, because he thought this was a nightmare world. The pinto stallion picked up Equinox and tossed her in the air like only a loving parent could. Then, like a shift in the wind, the stallion turned and handed Equinox off to a bat pony mare.

“I can’t keep her. You take her,” the pinto stallion said in a cold tone. “She isn’t welcome back.”

The bat pony took Equinox. Reaching for the stallion as he disappeared, Equinox began to cry. “Come back!” she said. “Don’t leave!”

Pip had seen enough. This was a nightmare. He jumped out and ran over to Equinox and the mare bat pony. He grabbed Equinox away from the other pony and shook his head. “Stay back, nightmare,” he commanded.

Equinox looked up at him and suddenly smiled. “You came back!”

“I…” Pip caught the words in his throat. “Y-yes… Yes. I did. No need to fear.”

The bat pony mare hissed and disappeared. Pip placed Equinox down and she stared at him for a long moment. “You’re not my father,” she said in an accusing tone. “Why did you lie to me?”

The ground beneath Pip began to rumble, and he knew he was running out of time. “Equinox,” he spoke very deliberately. “This is a nightmare. We have to escape. Everypony is depending on us. We’re the only ones who know of the danger.”

“But… But you’re going to make fun of me as well,” she said, her foal-state taking over. “Everypony who knew always did… even though it was so obvious… My cutie mark… my special talent. How can anypony not know?”

Pip shook his head. “You’re lucky, Equinox. You’re the only one I know who can enjoy both the splendor of the day and the mystery of the night. Why would anypony make fun of you for that?”

“My mother made me pretend I had a bat pony father… but he resented me and doted on his real daughter, Mist… and my real father taught me of fighting and honor… but then he had the audacity to send me back to my mother. He said I would happier there… What does he know, Pip? Maybe… Maybe I wanted to be a day-pony, like him… Maybe I wanted to stay… Why wouldn’t he just let me stay with him?”

The ground began shaking again. This nightmare wasteland was intensifying… Was Nightmare Moon doing something to it? Pip knew they didn’t have much time… “Equinox, you gotta pull it together. You’re the sanest, best pony I know. If I can make it through the maze of nightmares, you can too. I need your help, Equinox. I can’t do this all on my own. Please, Equinox. Please believe me.”

Equinox nodded, no longer a foal. She looked very serious and determined as she turned her attention to the blood-red sky. She touched her shredded wing. “Pip. We cannot leave without Mist. You made a promise to Luna… I made a promise to my sister. Help me, and let’s end this together.”

“Definitely,” he said. Pip already suspected where she would be.

Blood made him queasy, but not like Mist… He turned his attention to the vast ocean of bubbling red. Just as he suspected, there was a small rock on which she was trapped. Mist was crying for help, unable to fly. Pip pointed to her and Equinox nodded.

The ground was splitting apart now; hot vapors spraying out and up into the sky. The ground was threatening to open and swallow them all, perhaps even trapping them within this night terror…

Equinox couldn’t fly, so they jumped into the blood ocean and began swimming for their destination. Although the blood boiled around them, Pip couldn’t feel the heat. He pushed forward, trying not to see that the blood was filled with squirming centipedes and worms. Everything about this place was a nightmare inside a nightmare… the corrupted magic giving birth to new fears.

Pip and Equinox made it to the island as the nightmare world split in two, draining the blood into a deeper, darker abyss; a chasm. The rushing blood was pulling everything and anything toward the crack. Equinox was caught in the undertow, being pulled into the vast hole. She tried to swim, but she wasn’t used to her broken wing, and her swimming was now chaotic. Equinox splashed and began falling toward the abyss. Instead of becoming trapped, she disappeared, waking from the nightmare and leaving it all behind.

“Mist!” Pip called out, barely hanging onto the ledge of the rock. “Mist- arg!” The blood was washing over him and attempting to pull him down. He was covered in the sticky life fluid, barely able to see as his head was constantly pulled beneath the surface.

“Mist! It’s a- arg…. It’s a nightmare!”

She stared at him in petrified terror. She shook her head, backing away, her legs trembling and her eyes glazed over with tears. “P-Pipsqueak… I-I can’t…”

“Please!” Pip held up his hoof, hoping she would take it. “It’s a nightmare- erg…” He spit a mouthful of blood out, nearly gagging from the writhing of the insects intermingled with it. “Please! We need to go!” If she didn’t take his hoof and realize this wasn’t real… He would have to leave her, just like he was going to have to leave Thunder Clash and Specter…

She cringed away. “Pipsqueak… I’m afraid… I’m afraid of dying… I’m afraid of losing myself…The blood… it brings back to many terrible memories…”

“It can’t hurt you…” Pip said between gasps. The gaping chasm that was pulling everything in was widening. Soon the rock Mist was on would be tumbling in. In one last ditch effort, Pip decided to try something else. “M-Mist! I need your help, Mist! I’m going to fall unless you take my hoof!”

“I can’t!”

“I’m going to fall! Please help me!”

“The blood!”

“Just this one time, Mist! It’s all I ask! I’m begging you!”

Pip’s hold the rock failed him. He slipped and began to fall, but Mist lunged forward, just in time. She wrapped her forelegs around him and held him close, despite the blood. Her eyes were pressed tightly shut, and she hugged him. “It’s just a nightmare!” she proclaimed in sudden realization. “We have to escape!”

Pip felt his consciousness exiting the nightmare…


He awoke on the floor of the tower. Slowly he opened his eyes, realizing then that anypony that escaped was just waking at the same time as well. His gut told him barely any time had passed… mere minutes, at the most…

Nightmare Moon was laughing, content in her victory. Pip gazed around the room, trying not to draw attention to himself. Specter and Thunder Clash weren’t moving. Phantom Shade wasn’t awake and he was currently bleeding out, soaking in his own blood… Was he still in the nightmare? Did he become trapped? Had he found Celestia?

Marble and Mist both got up and Nightmare Moon lifted an eyebrow in surprise. “Oh? Two tough little fillies going to keep up the good fight?” Marble and Mist took up combat stances, but they were drained and weak from the dark magic of the nightmare. Fortunately, Nightmare Moon looked equally as drained and wounded. Phantom Shade’s magic had done a number on her…

Pip glanced to Equinox, who was right by his side. She stared at him with her gold eyes, the two of them having a silent moment, taking in the same facts. Two earth ponies, two bat ponies. All weak. All drained. They had no magic, no alicorn on their side… But Pip had a plan. And he suspected Equinox knew that plan as well.

“Equinox… You’re the only one,” Pip breathed to her under his breath. His one good ear heard the smash of a war hammer and the sound of battle. Mist and Marble were giving it their all, risking everything. “Do you understand what I mean?” Pip asked Equinox as he slowly picked himself up.

She nodded. “Are you sure you want me to do that?”

“Very sure,” he said with a forced smile.

When Pip turned his attention to the fighting, he saw Marble being thrown into the stone wall, cracking it with her impact. Mist had grabbed Specter’s bow and was firing it, but Nightmare Moon was now laughing in triumph.

Equinox would need a distraction. Pip didn’t mind doing that. It was the least he could do. Mist fired another arrow and Pip took up an offensive stance. Equinox remained on the floor, feigning her entrapment within the nightmare world.

Nightmare Moon turned her attention to Pip and gave a cruel smile. “You have no Elements of Harmony, no magic… What do you plan to do, child?”

Pip had no answer. He wasn’t really good with words anyway.

He galloped toward Nightmare Moon. Mist shot an arrow to try and distract the nightmare, but the nightmare instead took the hit of the arrow to the leg in order to better deal with Pip. When Pip got close, Nightmare Moon smashed him across the face with her hoof guards, breaking his muzzle and agitating his already ringing ear.

Pip fought through the pain and cut at her with his claws. Nightmare Moon bucked him away, sending him crashing to the floor. Pip angled himself so that he was on the opposite end of the room from Celestia. He faced Nightmare Moon with a glare.

“I would hate to have to kill you,” Nightmare Moon earnestly said. “It will upset Luna.”

With a deep breath, Pip rushed forward again. Mist let another arrow fly, hitting Nightmare Moon in the body just below her wing. Pip jumped up and cut at her wings. The dark alicorn threw him to the ground again, this time with a sickening crack. Dazed, momentarily blind, and sick to his stomach, Pip got up again.

Half-galloping, half-limping, Pip didn’t stop. Nightmare Moon was no longer amused. She lowered her head in a threatening manner. When he got close, Pip tried to attack, but she was much too fast. She impaled her horn through his shoulder and slammed him back to the ground, right on his injured ear, shattering its ability to hear anything, even the ringing.

Nightmare Moon shook him off and he crumpled to the floor. It had been a pathetic fight at best, but in his blurred vision, he knew Equinox had managed to do what she needed to.

“Mist, close your eyes!” Equinox shouted, standing over the body of Celestia. Powerful magic crackled over Equinox’s coat. On her flank was her cutie mark… and a cutie mark of the sun.

The Star Guard

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“Don’t!” the nightmare cried.

But it was too late.

The magic coursing over Equinox surged and flared. Like Phantom Shade, she had no horn to control the flow and it erupted outward. A bright glorious light filled the room and shook the tower. Pip had to shield his eyes with a hoof, but the heat was intense he felt as though he could dehydrate within moments.

Just like with Phantom Shade, Pip felt his mind become fuzzy and disorientated…

When the heat subsided, he opened his eyes. He was outside, in a beautiful emerald green field on the outskirts of Ponyville. The sudden shift left him momentarily started, but he calmed when he realized this was… a dream? Celestia has no power over dreams… does she?

The cool breeze and pleasant melody of the birds caused Pip to relax. What was this? He slowly got up and glanced around. It was an empty field. No other ponies.

Suddenly, an ominous shadow was cast over him. Pip glanced up and saw a silhouette of dragon flying through the air, blocking the sun. The dragon… it was black and twisted. A nightmare creature. Behind him flew other dragons… their bodies covering the sky like a swarm of locusts.

Pip shook his head. This wasn’t a dream. It was a vision. When the nightmare dragon passed over, it breathed a darkness that rotted the planets and ended the melody of the birds. But, just as quickly as the vision started, Pip felt himself waking. He left the vision partway through; thankful he didn’t have to deal with something like that.

When he opened his eyes, he saw the floor of the tower was cracking and crumbling. Before he could react, it gave out under him and everypony in the room fell through to the floor below, smashing down into Luna’s chambers.

Coughing back the dust and debris particles, Pip tried to stand. He couldn’t. His shoulder was in agony, his back leg wouldn’t respond and he didn’t have any energy left. One pony got up, however, and Pip’s heart sank when he saw her.

Nightmare Moon stood from the wreckage of the tower and tossed the rocks off with her tattered wings. She teetered from side to side, shaking her head as though hearing voices no other pony could. “No,” she hissed to herself. “No!”

Pip couldn’t move, all he could do was watch as Nightmare Moon fought some sort of inner conflict unseen by anypony else.

“You need me!” Nightmare Moon cried. “You’re nothing without me!” Her face contorted in pain and she defiantly slammed her hooves down on the stone floor. Cracks began appearing in her hide and they sizzled and hissed, breaking apart like glass. She slammed her hooves down a second time and the armor and façade of Nightmare Moon shattered, revealing Princess Luna.

Weak, and wobbling on her legs, Luna took a moment to compose herself. Her mane was light blue and plain, like a normal pony’s, a result of her weakened state. She immediately turned her attention to her sister. Luna slowly walked to Celestia’s side and magic flared from her horn, breaking whatever enchantment kept the other alicorn from waking.

The pieces of the Nightmare Forces that were still on the floor began to disintegrate into smoke and Luna crushed them as she trotted by. Once Celestia was moving, Luna turned her attention to Pip. She trotted over and gave him a look of worry.

“Pip…” she spoke lightly. “You’re hurt. You need to rest. Sleep, Pip.”

This time, Pip didn’t mind the suggestion to sleep. He nodded and gently rested his head against the cold stone. Everything would be fine… He could rest.


The sound of a creaking ship brought Pip out of his deep slumber. He hadn’t realized how tired he was, or how sore his muscles and injuries were. When he looked around, he saw the glorious waves of the ocean all around him and his boat, the full moon hanging in the sky to greet him.

Pip got to all fours and looked around. This was his ship in the dreamscape. His favorite dream to share with Luna. And this time it was complete; his favorite princess was standing at the far end of the ship, her gaze fixated on the moon above.

“Luna!” Pip gasped. He ran to her, the dream version of his body working at full capacity. Luna turned to him and smiled as he collided with her. Embracing her in a hug, Pip closed his eyes and allowed the love and nostalgia to fill his being. He missed seeing her here, and he thought it might never happen again…

“Pip,” she slowly replied, holding him close. “I’m relieved to know you’ll make it.”

“Make it?” Pip asked, parting from her with smile he couldn’t control. “Of course we made it! We defeated the Nightmare Forces! You’re okay!”

Although she was still smiling, her expression became somber. Pip took note of her mane. It was the night sky once more. “Pip… They didn’t know if you would wake. You’ve been asleep for- well, it doesn’t matter. I managed to reach you, Pip. And it means the world to me.”

“It means the world to me too, Luna,” Pip earnestly stated. “Thank you. Thank you for not forgetting about me.”

“I will never forget about you, Pip. Rest assured, it couldn’t happen even if I wanted it to.”

Pip took a deep breath and allowed the smell of sea salt to fill his nose. The moonlit waters gently lapped against the side of the boat. Weather so perfect it could only happen within the dreamscape. “Luna, why did you stop visiting me?” he asked, though it pained him to do so. He didn’t want to ruin this moment, but he desperately wanted to know. “Had I done something wrong? Did I upset you?”

She shook her head. “Of course not. I… I thought I needed to handle all my problems without relying on others. I didn’t want to trouble you. I thought it was selfish of me to put such a burden on a foal. It wasn’t your place to keep me safe from the Nightmare Forces. I should be able to do it myself.”

“It’s no burden. I never realized it until recently, but… it gives me purpose. Knowing that I can do something, like fight the darkness… I’m happier helping you than I ever was before.”

There was a silence between them as they turned their attention to the waters. The silence and comfort couldn’t last, however. Keeping his gaze on the water, Pip asked, “Is everypony okay? Did they make it?”

“Who are you referring to, Pip?” Luna asked.

“Well, lots of ponies, really… Scootaloo?”

“She will be fine. The effects of petrification can be reversed.”


Luna sighed. “She will never fly again, but she lives.”

“Thunder Clash?”

“Many things have tried to kill Thunder Clash. It is a wonder he is still with us.”

Pip perked up. “Luna! I need to tell you something before I forget… In the fight against Nightmare Moon, when Equinox used Celestia’s powers, I dreamed of dragons. One of them looked like it was possessed by nightmares. It was a vision, Luna.”

The princess of the night furrowed her brow. “You’re sure, Pip?”


“Then I, yet again, underestimated the Nightmare Forces. I thought only ponies had pieces of the darkness planted in their dreams… I hadn’t even considered other creatures. This… This is a grave matter I will have to discuss with Celestia. The Nightmare Forces are already taking hold in Equestria. They surfaced in other ponies mere days after the conflict in Canterlot.”

Pip hated seeing her so worried. “Luna, do you have to go soon?”

Luna smiled. “We have all the time we need.”

“Then I say we wait to worry. Tonight we can just dream.”

She looked to the boat. In a playful tone she asked, “Shall I be Luna the Scallywag?”

Pip laughed in slight embarrassment. “No… No, I think I’m ready to move on. Being a pirate with a heart of gold will always be my favorite dream from when I was a foal. But I recently witnessed nightmares and darkness… I would rather enjoy everything a real dream can offer. I want to fly with you, Luna.”

She nodded and unfurled her wings. “I would like that.”

Altering the dreams to suit his needs, Pip imagined wings; one white, one brown. They took to the sky and flew upward, never bothering to angle back to the ground. They just flew higher and higher; passed the clouds, passed all reasonable heights, and into the realm of the heavens themselves.

Gliding and sailing, they danced through a sea of stars and colorful nebulas. The rainbow speckles of dust and the celestial bodies of far-off places surrounded them. Pip flew through the lights of an aurora borealis and Luna twirled along the rings of a nearby planet. It was a dream, and all was whimsical and happy.

Although they didn’t speak, Pip knew this was where they belonged. In the night sky, together, calling this place home like only the moon and her stars could.

Pip could have stayed in this moment forever, but soon he felt the need to wake. He nodded to Luna as they continued to fly, and she nodded back. They sailed toward the sun and Pip let its light envelop him into consciousness.


“Oh! I think he’s waking!”


“I wouldn’t have said it unless I meant it!”

“That’s not true. You tried to fake us out yesterday.”

“Oh… Yeah. Well, I’m not faking it this time! He moved!”

Pip blinked his eyes several times and took a deep breath. He had a sharp pain in his chest and immediately caught his breath. Real life was much different than his dreams…

“Pip!” Scootaloo said, jumping into his field of vision. “You’re awake, right? Tell them I’m not lying!”

Specter pushed his way into Pip’s line of sight and half-smiled. “There he is. The sleepy-head is finally with us.”

Confused, Pip sat up and looked around. He was in a hospital of some sort. It definitely wasn’t the infirmary back at the barracks. When his vision became clear he realized the other Night Guard trainees were here with him. Marble, Rumble, Gloom, Equinox… and Mist was curled up at the end of his bed, smiling. There were cups and dice all over his blankets. Had they playing games while he was sleeping?

“Where am I?” he asked in a rusty voice.

“The Canterlot hospital,” Marble answered very matter-of-factly.

“How long have I been here?”

“A while,” she answered not very matter-of-factly.

“It’s been a little over a week,” Equinox told him. “Don’t worry, you haven’t missed much.” Unlike the others, Equinox looked like she had travelled a mile through nightmares. Her hide was scarred all over with jagged lines, the scars from using the alicorn magic. Her left wing was missing its webbing, only the bone outline of it was left. Despite her appearance, she held herself with confidence, but Pip could see a sadness in her that wasn't there before.

Specter snorted and looked at Equinox like she was crazy. “Hasn’t missed much? Where were you when a nightmare creature showed up in the Crystal Empire?”

Equinox turned to him with a glare. “I was going to save any shocking information until he was feeling better, Specter.”

“It’s not that shocking, but it’s definitely something he missed.”

Pip shook his head. “Were any ponies hurt?”

“The crystal heart was able to take care of it,” Equinox quickly explained, trying to downplay the entire event. “Don’t worry.”

That information disturbed Pip. The Nightmare Forces had dug their claws into the minds of ponies, just like Nightmare Moon said… Maybe she had been right. Maybe her victory really was inevitable if Luna was the only one capable of fighting them. Luna couldn’t walk through all the dreams in one night. She couldn’t catch the nightmares before they manifested fully in the ponies they infected…


Everypony jumped. There were two unicorns as the far end of the room attempting to mend a broken portion of the wall. A chunk had slipped and smashed into tiny fragments, but otherwise everything was as it should be. Pip breathed a sigh of relief.


“Hm?” he asked, turning back to the group.

Equinox was looking at him oddly. “I asked if you wanted to play a round with us.”

“You did?” Pip asked, glancing at the dice. “Sorry, I didn’t hear.” He touched his ear and felt it was bandaged up. There was a deafening pressure over it. He suspected it would never work again.

“Well?” she asked.

“Yes, of course I’ll play with you guys.”

Scootaloo gave him a sly smile. “I’m getting better at this game, I’ll have you know. We’ve had plenty of time to practice, what with you being all wounded and the guard ponies taking care of everything in Canterlot.”

“I’m glad you’re okay, Scootaloo,” he said with a laugh. “How did they-”

“Shush, shush!” Scootaloo hissed. In a voice imitating Thunder Clash she said, “We aren’t to speak of it.”

Mist gathered dice and a cup before squirming her way up to Pip’s side. She rolled onto her back and continued to smile as though this were the most joyous activity anypony could be engaged in. “I’m going to play next to you,” she told him.

“Of course,” he replied.

The other recruits began getting ready for the game, Scootaloo boasting she would beat them all this time around. Marble rolled her eyes and Specter laughed.

Mist leaned in closer to Pip and whispered something into his bad ear. He turned to her. “What was that?”

She wrapped her forelegs around his neck and whispered into his other ear, “I wanted to thank you.”

“For what?”

Ke ke ke!

“Kiss her already,” Specter suddenly said, propping himself on the bed and watching everything that was happening with an amused smile. Scootaloo suddenly jabbed the bat pony with her foreleg.

“You’re ruining the moment!”

“You could kiss me and we could set the mood,” he said, leaning in closer to her. Rumble grabbed a pillow from the nearby bed and threw at Specter’s face. The bat pony grabbed another pillow and threw it back.

“Oh, that how we going to play?”

Gloom smiled in delight. “Finally!” He tossed a pillow at Marble and soon it was an all-out pillow-brawl with all the ponies in the room, including the two unicorn workers. Everypony, that is, except Mist and Pip.

Despite the chaos raging all around them, including Marble smashing a few random things in the room when nopony was watching, Mist and Pip stared at each other.

“Aren’t you,” Mist awkwardly began. “I mean, don’t you… love Luna?”

Pip took a breath and held it. He loved Luna. But would Mist understand what that meant? Luna was long-lost family, a piece of himself, an unequalled confidant… and she had dictated the relationship. It was pure, chaste. Pip wouldn’t have stopped her from making the relationship more, but he would never broach the subject. He could live with loving her like this, and he knew she loved him just as much. Would Mist… be okay with that?

“Mist…” he muttered under his breath. “I do love Luna. But-”

“How do you measure the worth of a pony?” Mist asked him, cutting him off. “Is it what they’ve done? What they can do?”

Pip didn’t know where these questions came from. “I guess I don’t know… It’s a complicated questi-”

She placed a hoof over his mouth to silence him. A pillow flew by overhead. Mist leaned in closer and removed her hoof. She gently kissed him and pulled away before he could fully return her affections. “I’ll show you,” she whispered in a very serious tone, unlike her normal sing-song voice. “Maybe I want you to talk about me like you talk about Luna. Maybe I want to be better, just to catch your eye, just to show you my worth can be just as much.”

“Mist…” Pip could hardly believe it. He had always assumed, with ponies as great and magnificent as the alicorn princesses, that nopony would consider him much. He was just an earth pony. “You don’t have to change yourself.”

“Not change,” she said with a laugh. “I need to be better. I’m already pretty amazing, but I want you to see that I can be just as worthy of affection!” She was smiling now, her happy tone returning. “You’ll see! I’ll be the princess of bats!” She quickly kissed him again, a mischievous and flirtatious look in her eyes.

He laughed and she held him close, nuzzling into his neck. His shoulder hurt, but he didn’t push her away. The warmth of her presence was worth the sting.

“Hey! Hey! No fair! It’s now all of you versus me!” Specter was cowering in the corner of the room with the others over him, bashing him playfully with pillows. They stopped, but the moment they did, Specter threw a single pillow at Rumble and flew away, quickly flapping his wings and exiting the room at high speeds.

“Why you-” Rumble burst out of the room after the bat pony. Scootaloo chased after the other two, carrying a pillow in her mouth.

The two unicorn workers shrugged and went back to fixing the wall.

Marble trotted back to the bed and sighed. “I didn’t feel like playing pirate’s dice anyway. I guess this works out for everypony.”

Equinox nodded and sat down next to the bed. “Yeah. We should probably be getting ready regardless.”

“Ready?” Pip asked.

“Yeah, apparently Luna knew you would be waking today, so she called together some meeting that’s to be taking place tonight.”

Pip immediately glanced toward the windows. They were covered with heavy curtains. “What time is it?”


“What’s happening tonight?”

Gloom joined the conversation, brushing himself off. “Apparently it’s some address to the public. After the whole nightmare thing in Canterlot, ponies were upset. Then the Nightmare Forces sprang up in the Crystal Empire and now everypony is afraid nightmares will be showing up everywhere, demanding Princess Luna and Celestia do something about it. Princess Twilight Sparkle was called back from her trip and Princess Cadance was called in as well. Everypony wants to know who will handle the nightmare threat.”

Pip snorted. “Wow. Who is going to handle the nightmare threat?”

“Luna?” Gloom shrugged. “She has dream powers, remember?”

Pip nodded. Could she do it all her own? He would just have to speak with her at this address…


The halls of Canterlot Castle were packed with ponies and delegates from all over Equestria. It was early evening by the time Pip managed to walk into the main hall, accompanied by the other Night Guard trainees. There was a place saved for them near the front, near the thrones of the princesses, and Pip quickly limped his way over. The nurses at the hospital were reluctant to let him go, but he didn't want to miss this address.

All four princesses were here. They were standing before the crowd, silent and regal. The ponies gathered were agitated and confused. They were murmuring things to themselves about the nightmares and the impeding threat. Next to the princesses were their guard captains. Shining Armor, Lightning Dust, Flash Sentry and… Ghast. Pip eyed the bat pony and wondered where Phantom Shade was. It occurred to him then that he hadn’t asked about the bat pony…

After Pip took his seat, Princess Luna stepped forward. The crowd became silent.

“Citizens,” she said, her voice echoing off the walls and reaching everypony, even those located in the very back. “We've called you here tonight because of the growing concerns. We-”

“Are all the princesses at risk?” a pony from the crowd shouted.

“Who else will turn?”

“Who is going to stop this?”

“Please,” Luna pleaded. “Remain calm. We have contemplated this threat for a long while.”

“Who is going to protect us from the nightmares? What if one appears in Manehattan!? We don’t have any ponies there that can stop them!”

“What if one appears in Appleloosa? We have barely anypony there! The nightmares would destroy everything lickity-split!”

“What if the princesses turn right now?”

The crowd of ponies began frantically whispering to themselves. Pip understood their frustrations. There was a lot of destruction from the King Basilisks and some ponies most likely lost their lives… But on the other hoof, who was going to stop more of these nightmares from showing themselves? Once they formed, only power equal to the alicorns seemed to be enough to defeat them. It all came back to Luna… She could do what her father once did. She could have to hunt down all the pieces of the Nightmare Forces and stop them before they grew into something powerful.


All by herself? The Nightmare Forces weren’t toying around. If one already appeared in the Crystal Empire… they were on the brink of disaster. Luna couldn’t do it all. She just didn’t have enough time in the day.

Citizens,” Luna shouted, quieting the crowd. “I know we have called you here many times in the last few days. Some days to honor the fallen, some days to honor the brave bat ponies that saved Canterlot from the King Basilisks. Tonight, however, we are here to announce our plans for the future. Your princesses have contemplated the current threat and have come to a realization. I, as your princess of the night, will purge the nightmares while you sleep and, hopefully, prevent them rising in the waking world.”

“Only you? Is that enough?”

Luna shook her head. “No. It isn’t enough. Which is why I have decided to form a special guard force to help me in this endeavor. Pipsqueak, can you please join me?”

The crowd of ponies began exchanging confused looks. Pipsqueak ducked down, baffled. What could Luna want with him right now? Equinox nudged him.

“She called you.”

Pip nervously nodded and got out of his seat. The ponies in the room eyed him as he trotted up. If he had known he was going to be in front of everypony, he would have attempted to cover all his bandages and wounds. As it was now, he looked like a waking mummy.

When he reached Luna, Pip bowed deeply. It was a formal setting and he knew he should be formal. “Princess?”

“Pipsqueak,” she spoke in a soft voice, directly to him and him alone. “All those years in the dreamscape together… You are the only other pony that knows my secrets and how the dreamwalking ability works. You have experienced both dreams and nightmares and have firsthoof knowledge of their power. You were one of the ponies to face down Nightmare Moon, and the only one who saw it coming ahead of time. Your loyalty is without question, which will be needed for this task.”

“But,” Pip whispered. “I have no magic, Luna. I can’t do what you do.” She spoke again, but he couldn’t hear it. He glanced up at her and leaned in closer to better hear.

“If I asked you to fight for me, would you?” she asked.

“Of course,” he replied. “If you need me to fight the nightmares, I will. I just don't know how I will do it...”

“Good.” Luna turned to address the ponies in the crowd. “The Nightmare Forces are a threat to us all and more powerful than ever. Pipsqueak, will you lead the new guard, the Star Guard, against the nightmares? Will you fight the forces before they take form in the waking world? Will you help all ponies, not just the ones that sleep at night?”

“Yes, Princess,” he answered, unsure of what she wanted from him. How would he do that? How would he help them?

“Do you swear to uphold the good name of Equestria? To value honor, kindness and friendship? To pursue laughter and integrity? To be generous, and all that implies?”

“I do, Princess.”

Celestia levitated a small hoof-sized box over to Luna. She took it and turned back to Pip. Luna opened the box and revealed a Fragment of the First Night. It was a tiny orb, a tiny void, sucking in all nearby light. Pitch black and beautiful.

Luna touched the Fragment of the First Night with her horn and ignited her magic. There was a flash and soon the fragment changed… She levitated it to Pip and he held out a hoof to take it.

No longer was it just a dark void. At its center was a tiny crescent moon. Just like Luna’s cutie mark.

“I have placed a piece of my magic within that Fragment of the First Night,” Luna spoke to Pip and the whole crowd at the same time. “With it, you will be able to enter the dreams of others and purge the nightmares within.”

Pip stared at the Fragment of the First Night and took a deep breath. This was a great honor and responsibility. And it was a precious gift. Luna had told him all about her power, and now he understood why she had asked him up here and not somepony else.

Luna's magic could connect the dreams of others and take ponies through multiple dreamscapes… If Pip was to lead a guard, he would be taking other ponies with him into the dreamscape and helping others overcome the Nightmare Forces. But… if she had sacrificed a portion of her magic… It meant her power, and the power in the orb, would be weaker than Luna at her peak.

But Pip would trust Luna knew what she was doing. Perhaps it was better for more ponies to search dreams than to be the most powerful pony in the dream.

“You’ve not much time to get ready,” Luna spoke to him. “The Nightmare Forces are already active and we must move quickly. I know you haven’t had much time to recover, but there are thousands of ponies and thousands of non-ponies. And… the bat ponies, Pip. They must be cared for as well. I need ponies to walk the dreams of the day.”

Pip nodded, holding the fragment close. “You can count on me.”

Luna smiled. “Then you are hereby Pipsqueak, Captain of the Star Guard, the Guardian of the Night.”

The crowd cheered, showing their approval for this plan. The other princesses and other captains bowed to him, and he bowed back. Pip turned around and glanced at the other recruits. They smiled and nodded, all of them showing their support. Even Thunder Clash waved to him from the crowd.

Pip didn’t know if he was physically ready, he had only completed half the Night Guard training, but he knew he couldn’t turn back now. If Luna needed him to be her sword, he couldn’t ignore her call. He had made a promise, after all. A promise he intended to keep.