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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19. Phantom Shade's Training

“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.

“Ah!”

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.

Pipsqueak

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!

 
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