The Guardian of the Night

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.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/201940/the-guardian-of-the-night

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3. Bat Ponies & Special Talents

“… 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.

BAM! BAM! BAM!

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.

Pow!

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.

Pow!

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

Pow!

And then to another.

Pow!

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!

Pew.

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.

Snap!

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.

“One…”

Screech smiled wide.

“Two…”

SLAM!

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.

“One…”

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

“Two…”

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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