The Feline Factor
written by Tabby

The world will soon be destroyed if I don't go in search of the mystical crystal, Callie, Tabby's pet cat, contemplated to herself as she dashed around the living room. Over the couch, under the couch, onto the chair, hide in the crack between the two shelves-- yes, Callie had mastered the route around the room.

You see, Callie, through her complex intelligence that all cats have, had recently found out that there was a pack of invading creatures out to destroy the world. The only way to stop the horde was to find the special mystical crystal.

I'd have to find the secret underground entrance, Callie yawned as she pulled herself out of the crack and scratched her paws on the couch. How nice that felt! And since she didn't have claws, she wouldn't get punished by Tabby for destroying the furniture. Not that Tabby would bother to punish her, anyway.

And then fight off the hordes of evil that guard it, the fluffy cat went on, running under the chair again and coming out on the top.

Then she laid down on the couch, pulling her tail comfortably around her. Maybe tomorrow, she decided as her tail began to twitch. Callie began nipping at it, and the horde of evil was the last thing on her mind.

* * *

Meanwhile, Fuzz, Friendly's cat, had also found out about the creatures out to destroy the world. We can't let that happen! he thought to himself. And the ponies will know about it too late to do anything.

Fuzz determinedly walked over to his nice, organized corner of the Bushwoolie hole. There were all his toys, lined up neatly on shelves. He sighed blissfully. Many a day he had passed away batting these old favorites around... the round stuffed pea, the roll of Christmas ribbon, the little green pom-pom. All of these he held dear to his heart.

But, he was going on an important mission. He could only pack one. He picked the stuffed pea, and threw it in his cat-sized backpack.

Next, he observed the bag of cat-food Friendly supplied him with. Fuzz himself didn't eat much, but the others he was planning on taking along with him probably would. He filled many sandwich bags with the crunchy X-shaped pieces and added them to the backpack.

With any luck, they'd be able to find fresh water along their journey; but in case of an emergency, Fuzz added several tightly-sealed bottles of water to the pack.

Fuzz glanced once more at his shelf of toys, then turned and ran out of the Bushwoolie hole. He had to gather up help.

* * *

Discreetly strolling through the streets of Dream Valley, Fuzz came across his first stop: Tabby's house. Long and lean as he was, he skillfully stretched up and turned the doorknob on the front door. Unlocking it was no problem; Tabby never remembered to lock it in the first place.

"Callie!" Fuzz called into the house. "Where are you?"

Callie heard the voice from her seat on the couch, and momentarily forgot about her whipping tail. She batted her eyelashes several times before she realized that they were supposed to be enemies. She let out a low growl instead.

Fuzz came bounding into the living room. "We've got to save the world from destruction!" he exclaimed. "You'll come along with me, won't you? I'll need all the help I can get."

Callie turned his back to him. "What do I care if the world is destroyed?" she sniffed.

"You wouldn't be around anymore," Fuzz suggested. "Nobody would." To himself he thought, Hmm, Callie gone. Actually, that wouldn't be half bad...

"Exactly my point," Callie sighed. "If we'll all be long gone anyway, why worry?"

"If you come, I'll let you play with my pea!" Digging into his backpack, he pulled out the precious object.

Callie's eyes gleamed for a moment. She had always envied Fuzz of that pea, but she never admitted it, being enemies and all. "A meager stuffed pea?" she laughed. "It'll take more than that to get me to go, mister."

"It'll be fun," Fuzz coaxed. "You've hardly ever been outside this house. Wouldn't it be nice to go on an adventure and see new lands?"

That made Callie stop and think. Actually, it was pretty boring around here. Tabby was much to loud for her liking, always shrieking out and squeezing her until Callie thought she'd explode. But then, since Tabby had gotten that Meowth of hers, she didn't pay as much attention to Callie anymore, which Callie really appreciated. Still, it would be fun to get out of the house for awhile.

"I'll go on one condition," Callie bargained. "I get to pick up the crystal first when we find it." It was a weak condition, but she had to come up with something to make it sound like she wasn't going willingly.

"Fine," Fuzz agreed. "Now, we head over to Sugarberry's house."

* * *

Fuzz and Callie sat on Sugarberry's porch, staring up at the door. The last member of their team, if you could call it a team, lurked inside: Fluff.

Fluff was even worse than Fuzz, in Callie's mind. He made absolutely no acts of kindness towards her; even Fuzz was nice to her sometimes. Plus there was the fact that he was enormously fat. How could any cat eat that much? Callie shuddered at the thought. She ate only a few morsels of food at every meal.

Fuzz was concentrating hard on the doorknob. Sugarberry, unfortunately, was not scatter-brained like her friend Tabby was. The door was locked.

"Are we going to sit here all day?" Callie yawned.

Fuzz wordlessly slipped off the porch and inspected the small wire fence that Sugarberry had up around her flower bed. He swiftly snapped off a piece of the thin wire and bounded back up on the porch.

"A piece of wire." Callie grimaced. "It's filthy. Look at that gob of dirt on it."

"It'll do the job," Fuzz mumbled as he stretched up to the doorknob and inserted the wire into the keyhole. He began wiggling it around. Callie stretched out in a sunbeam on the porch and closed her eyes.

"Callie, get up!" Fuzz exclaimed a few minutes later. Callie frowned as she looked up. The sunbeam had been so comfortable. Then she saw the open door.

"I picked the lock with that wire," Fuzz said proudly.

"Do we have to take Fluff along?" Callie complained.

"He's my brother," Fuzz reminded her. "We can't leave him out."

"Why do I have to come, then? I'm not related to your scuzzy barn-cat family."

"Like you're any higher than barn-cat-class," Fuzz snorted and he walked through the door.

Callie began making up a fantasy world for herself. "My mother was a show cat; she won hundreds of ribbons. I remember looking at all of them when I was a little kitten--"

"A show cat," Fuzz smirked. "Why didn't you follow in her pawsteps? Or did she evict you from the house for being such a spoiled brat?"

Callie bristled her fur in anger. "A spoiled brat? Don't you dare call me that!" The truth of the matter was that Callie had been a stray. The first thing she remembered of her life was crying pitifully outside of a large building... that building. What was it? Who were her parents? A family had discovered and adopted her, but gave her away at a garage sale several years later. That's when Tabby had found her.

Callie stayed on the porch with her nose stuck in the air while Fuzz went to find his brother. Fuzz was wandering through the rooms in Sugarberry's house. Ah, there was Fluff, sleeping comfortably in a box sitting out in the kitchen. Fuzz sighed dreamily. He wished he had a box like that.

Anyway, he tapped on the side of the box. "Fluff! Get up!"

His fluffy gold brother just stirred in his sleep and grunted.

Fuzz reached into the box and whapped one of his paws on the fat cat's head. "FLUFF!"

That did the trick; Fluff slowly came to. "Fuzz," he said drowsily. "What're you doing here?"

"There's an evil horde about to destroy the world and we have to find the mystical crystal to stop them," Fuzz quickly explained. "Callie's waiting out on the porch to go with us."

"Callie?" Fluff's eyes shown with malice. "I've got a few things to say to that cat. Let's get going!"

* * *

The three cats walked south, as their instincts told them that's where the evil creatures were doing their work. They kept switching between fits of peace and fighting.

"Did you hear that Callie's mother was a show cat?" Fuzz poked his brother playfully.

Fluff chuckled. "Ha! Any show cat would be upset to have a daughter that looked like that!"

Callie looked down at her soft fluffy calico fur, then rolled her ears back and bared her fangs. "If my mother were here, she'd show you a thing or two! She may have been beautiful, but she sure had an attitude!" She paused wistfully for a moment, wishing she had known her mother.

"So that's where you got your personality from!" Fuzz said gleefully.

"And my father wasn't that nice, either," Callie continued. Hey, if she was making up a fantasy world, why stop?

Fuzz finally sobered up. "Now, if we meet up with anyone, we'll have to go by aliases."

"Aliases? Why?" Fluff asked.

"Because that's the way to do things," Fuzz sighed in exasperation. "I'll be Socrates."

"Volstagg," Fluff said after a pause.

That sure sounds like Fluff, Callie thought in annoyance. After thinking about her alias, she finally declared, "Cassiopeia."

"Good choices," Fuzz said in approval. "Now we're all set to take out the evil forces."

And so, the team kept going.

* * *

"I'm so tired," Fluff complained. They'd been walking south for over a day now, after a night's sleep in a grove of trees.

Fuzz twitched his ears. "The evil horde is still a day or two's march from here. You can't give up now, Fluff!"

Callie yawned. "My paws are so worn-out. Can't we stop to rest?"

"We'll just go on a little further," Fuzz mumbled, and shot ahead of the two others. He stopped several yards away from them and sat on his haunches. "Look ahead," he instructed Fluff and Callie after they caught up with him.

Callie looked ahead on the flat plain. "It looks like a tent."

"Yes," Fuzz agreed. "The occupant might be an enemy. Fluff, you go and scout it out. Remember your alias!"

"Okay," Fluff said drowsily. "I'll be back in a little while." He strolled casually along, up to the tent.

Fuzz and Callie sat erect as they watched Fluff's progress. "Look at him," Fuzz groaned. "Anyone could hear those pawsteps coming."

Fluff looked right inside the tent. Callie shook her head. "He shouldn't have looked straight inside like that."

And then Fluff disappeared totally inside. "What happened?" Callie said in surprise.

"He went inside; anyone could see that," Fuzz mumbled. "It doesn't look like he was taken by force. Maybe it's not an enemy. We'll see if he comes back. He is supposed to report to us."

They waited. They waited some more. Callie yawned again. "He's not back," she said bluntly.

Fuzz nodded. "Yes. Very interesting. I'd better go see what's up. You come with me." He headed off, taking a more discreet route to the tent than his brother had taken. Callie hesitated a moment, then followed after.

Sitting with his ear to the canvas tent, Fuzz listened intently. "Can you hear anything?" Callie whispered.

"It sounds like Fluff... licking his lips!" Fuzz exclaimed. "I'm goin' in." He stormed through the door flap. There sat Fluff, eating ravenously from... a can... of cat food? Fuzz nearly gasped. Canned cat food! What a treat!

Sitting ahead of Fluff was a beautiful white long-haired feline, who wore a silver heart-shaped locket around her neck, Fuzz noted. She smiled as Fuzz walked in. "Are you Fluff's brother he told me about?" she questioned simply.

"Yes, but he was supposed to report back to us and not sit around eating all afternoon," Fuzz answered politely. "And he's supposed to be Volstagg, not Fluff." He glared at his brother. Even if this was a fellow cat, you never knew who would turn on them.

"Would you like something to eat, Mister..." the fluffy beauty trailed off.

"Socrates," he stated. "Just call me Socrates."

"You don't have to go by your aliases," the cat giggled. "Fluff already explained that part to me, too. You're Fuzz, of course."

Did he tell her everything? Fuzz wondered, but nodded in response to her question. It was too late to salvage the alias plan.

"And I'm Cataline," the new-comer declared, and graciously pulled out yet another can of cat food and placed it in front of Fuzz.

"Hey, Callie, come in here, and meet Cataline!" he yelled outside before digging into this fabulous treat. Fluff was still too busy eating his to have said anything, but he did look up and mumble something incomprehensible to Fuzz, as his mouth was full of food.

Callie strolled slowly into the tent. "What's going on here?" she demanded.

"Callie... you're the third member of the team?" The white cat blinked slowly.

"I suppose you could say that," Callie sniffed. "It's not very good manners to begin eating before me, though. I'm the lady, after all," she directed at Fuzz and Fluff.

Cataline was staring at Callie intently. "You look so much like... like..." she said slowly.

"Like what?" Callie said impatiently. She wanted to be fed, too... canned cat food!

"My daughter." Cataline wiped away a tear. "My only daughter. She was lost when only a few months old." She unlatched the locket from her neck and opened it, then stared down at one of the pictures. "Can it be possible?" she cried out joyfully.

Callie looked into the locket. On one side, there was a picture of a handsome gray cat with white stripes, along with an elegant white cat which was obviously Cataline. Callie's eyes opened wide when she saw the other picture. It was... her! Yes, it had to be. It was a kitten with a scowling face, and fluffy calico fur.

"Oh, it has to be you!" Cataline embraced Callie lovingly. "Compare the picture with yourself. There are the gray and orange patches on your head, and the white stripe that cuts through it. Absolutely identical."

"Wow," was all Callie could say.

"What became of you after you were lost?" Cataline, now Callie's mother, prodded.

"How'd I get lost in the first place?" Callie wanted to know. "And can I have something to eat?"

Cataline laughed and presented her newly-found daughter with another can of cat food. Fuzz and Fluff listened in on the conversation in rapt attention.

"Now, let's see," Cataline started. "Your father was a barn-cat."

"A barn-cat?" Callie looked horrified.

Fuzz and Fluff both rolled over laughing. "Hee hee! You're half scuzzy barn-cat after all!" Fuzz choked out.

"Ah, but he was a dashing cat," Cataline said dreamily.

" ‘Was'?" Callie asked in alarm.

At that, Cataline sighed. "You see, he was just kidnapped--"

"Kidnapped?!" Callie's eyes flew open.

"We'll get to that part in due time; otherwise, nothing will make sense," Cataline said reasonably. "Now, your father and I took you to a party to meet all his relatives one night, in the barn he used to hang out in."

"A barn..." Callie said contemplatively. Was that the building she remembered?

"Unfortunately, you wandered off." Cataline wiped away another tear. "We only realized you were gone when we got ready to leave. We looked all over, but couldn't find a trace of you."

Callie sniffed. "It's such a heart-breaking story. What became of me? I hope I didn't get killed by some vicious beast."

Fuzz and Fluff started laughing once again. "Callie!" Fluff roared. "If you were killed by a vicious beast, you wouldn't be here wondering about it!"

Fuzz looked at his brother admiringly. "You actually showed some common sense there, Fluff," he commented.

Callie blushed sheepishly. "Oh... yeah."

"We heard the next day from a friend of ours-- he was an owl, but such a dear friend-- that he'd seen a family of ponies pick you up the previous night-- you must have gotten out of the barn. It was too late for us to do anything. The only link we had to you up to now was this photograph," Cataline said, showing Callie's kitten picture off again.

"It's amazing," Callie breathed.

"And that's your father, Charles-- or Charlie, that is." Cataline pointed to the other picture, showing herself and the gray-and-white cat. "It was taken on our wedding day."

"You said he was kidnapped. What's the story behind that?" Callie demanded.

"We'd found out about an evil horde of vermin that has a mystical crystal," Cataline explained. "They're going to use it to destroy the world."

"That's exactly what we're out wandering after!" Fuzz exclaimed.

"Really?... Ah, yes, Fluff did say you three were on a quest... well, Charlie had just about located the secret location. Just a few nights ago, he went out scouting... I was watching from a distance. And... he was captured by the rats."

"That's terrible," Callie said sympathetically. "Now, you said he was a barn-cat. What's your occupation... Mom?"

Cataline smiled. "I'm a show-cat," she said happily.

Fuzz and Fluff had frozen looks on their faces. "A... show cat?" they both stuttered.

"That is, until Charlie and I ran off to get the crystal back from those vermin," Cataline explained. "I do hope my owner will take us back in. It's rather fun being in shows."

Callie shot a triumphant look at Fuzz and Fluff. "Told ya my mother was a show cat," she said, smirking.

"Yeah," Fluff mumbled.

"Now, Callie, tell me about your background. Where do you live now? Who are these two handsome friends of yours?"

Callie sniffed. "They're not friends, Mom. They're acquaintances. I was only forced into knowing them because all our owners are friends."

"They look like fine gentlemen to know," Cataline chided her daughter. She turned to the two brothers. "Were you barn-cats?"

"Originally, yes," Fuzz answered. "We found nice homes in Dream Valley, though. I live in a Bushwoolie hole."

Cataline raised her eyes. "A hole?"

"Quite well furnished," Fuzz continued. "Bushwoolies are good at making underground homes. I have my own shelf for toys."

Cataline nodded in satisfaction. "Are you owned by a Bushwoolie as well, Fluff?" she asked the other brother.

"Nope, I live with a pony," Fluff said. "In a house with boxes... I love boxes." He sighed happily.

"And Callie." Cataline looked at her daughter.

"I'm owned by a pony in Dream Valley as well-- she's a unicorn, though; not a lowly earth pony like Fluff's is," Callie said, in a desperate attempt to sound better than Fuzz and Fluff.

"Is she the one that found you by the barn?"

"No, actually, the ones that found me there gave me away at a garage sale a few years later. Tabby got me then."

"Does she care for you well?"

"As long as she leaves me alone." Callie shuddered. "She's too loud for my liking. If she keeps my food and water dishes supplied, I'm happy."

"With the background info all filled in, let's get to work on recovering the crystal," Cataline said briskly.

"That's right!" Fuzz said. "Where did Charlie think the entrance to the secret tunnel was?"

Cataline ducked out of the tent and pointed further south, where the cats could make out a grove of trees. "In there somewhere. Ever since he was kidnapped, I've been too scared to do anything on my own. But with you three on my side now, maybe we can do something." She smiled.

"We'll head out tomorrow," Fuzz decided. "If we hurry, we can get this thing wrapped up by tomorrow at this time. Then we can go back home."

"Sounds good with me," Fluff said as he curled up on a pillow strewn on the floor of the tent.

* * *

Fuzz woke up bright and early the next day-- yes, it was going to be a big day. "Fluff! Callie! Cataline!" He roused all his friends. "We gotta head out."

"I don't wanna get up." Fluff snuggled deeper into the pillow.

"I never wanted to come on this adventure anyway," Callie mumbled drowsily. "At least let me sleep."

"Mmmm," Cataline mumbled.

Everyone eventually got up though, and had a breakfast of more canned food. Cataline led the way to the tree grove.

* * *

"Here we are," Cataline announced. The four cats stood at the tree grove, with bushes on the outskirts. "Charlie was sure it was around here, but hadn't located the precise location yet."

Fuzz was the most intelligent of the group. He twitched his ears. "Hmm..." he mumbled to himself, poking into the bushes.

"Finding anything?" Fluff asked.

"Ahh... yes... here!" Fuzz cried out triumphantly. "Look. There's a hole leading underground here." He pushed the bushes aside to reveal a well-concealed hole.

"Well, let's get going," Fluff said, plunging straight down into the hole.

"It's definitely where the vermin are," Cataline said. "It's giving off strong vibes."

The rest of the group was more cautious going down than Fluff had been. Callie distastefully wiped dirt off of her fur that was dropping down on her from the dirt tunnel. However, they had forgotten about Fluff, who was no longer in sight.

"Look, there's a door!" Cataline exclaimed quietly. It wasn't a dead end, though; the tunnel kept going. The door was wooden, and strangely enough, it was attached to the dirt tunnel as well as it would have been to any other solid surface.

"What do you think is inside?" Callie questioned.

Fuzz tried the knob. "It's locked, but that isn't really a surprise," he said. "I sure hope none of the vermin are in there; they would have heard the knob rattle."

"Maybe it's Charlie!" Cataline said hopefully. She rapped on the door. "Hello! Is anyone in there?"

A muffled reply came, but not loudly enough to make out the words. However, Cataline perked up. "That's Charlie, all right! I'd recognize his voice anywhere!"

"But it's still locked," Callie wailed.

"No problem." Fuzz whipped out the piece of wire that he'd used to break into Sugarberry's house from his backpack. In just a few seconds, the door swung open.

Cataline immediately rushed in. "Charles!" she joyfully cried out. And it was him, all right-- his paws tied together, and a cloth tied over his mouth, but it was still him. Cataline quickly had her husband free.

"Oh, Cataline, it's wonderful to see you again," Charles declared sincerely. He quickly sprang to his paws again. "But, first we have to attend to the vermin. We'll have to hurry; there's not much time left." He ran out the door, only to see Callie.

"Felina!" he exclaimed. "It's you!"

"Felina?" Callie stuttered in confusion.

"That's right; I've finally found our daughter," Cataline said proudly.

"What about the Felina thing?" Callie demanded.

"That's what we named you originally," Cataline explained. "I forgot to mention that, didn't I? Your pony owners obviously renamed you Callie, but that's fine with us."

The reunited family was getting rather sentimental, and Fuzz was feeling left-out. "Fluff is gone!" he suddenly exclaimed.

Callie jumped back to the present quest. "That's right! We haven't seen him since he started down the tunnel!"

"I wonder why there weren't any guards..." Cataline mused.

"There weren't any guards?" Charlie questioned. "That is strange. We'll make introductions later," he directed at Fuzz, "but I'm assuming Fluff is on our side, so we've got to find out what happened to him.

The four dashed down the tunnel, and they became aware of a noise, growing louder as they went. It sounded like... music?

"I've been hearing that sort of noise a lot since I got locked up in there," Charlie commented.

They suddenly stopped as an amazing sight met their eyes. The tunnel sloped down slightly, and opened into a round cavern. In the middle was a pedestal with a glowing purple crystal placed on it. But there were rats in linen tunics covering the place... some were singing, some were playing instruments, some were sitting on the sidelines tapping their feet to the beat of the music, and some were dancing just for the fun of it.

But that wasn't the most amazing thing. Fluff was right in the middle of the group, swaying back and forth as if they were all old friends!

Callie and Cataline gasped. Fluff looked up to where they were and waved. "Hey, come on down!" he shouted. "This party's fun!"

Then they saw an underground lake, and in front of it, a stone stage was set up. A mysterious-looking fox was standing there, singing in a loud, clear voice. "Running off in search of treasure, la la la la la la la la! Going to find it in large measure, la la la la la la la la!" The fox was a bluish-black color, and wore a dark cloak. He looked to be having as much fun as the rats.

The four cats looked at each other, bewildered. What in the world was going on here?

"Ah-hem, excuse me." Charlie stepped down into the circle of merry-making rats... and Fluff. "Would someone care to explain what's going on here?"

Fluff looked around, and blinked slowly. "Some of the rats are performing their songs, and the rest of us are just having fun."

"What about the crystal that you're going to destroy the world with, rats?" Charlie gestured towards the crystal.

The rats began looking at each other. "He's the one we captured, isn't he?" one of them whispered. "Do you think he likes our music like this fat guy does?"

A darker brown rat in a green outfit stepped forward and looked at the crystal. "Oh, that. Nobody liked our music, and we were getting fed up with it. We got the crystal with the help of Steele over there-- he's a Marlfox, by the way--" He pointed at the fox on the stage. "--and were going to destroy the world with it." He shrugged nonchalantly.

"You shouldn't destroy the world because somebody doesn't like your music," Charlie said sternly. "But why'd you take me prisoner?"

The dark rat paused. "Well, a few of the rats were above ground a few nights ago, and ran across you. They were able to capture you easily, and locked you up in that room. The rest of us figured, ‘Hey, why not?' "

Fuzz jumped down next to Charlie, which made the rats gasp. "There's more of them!" some of the rats exclaimed. Cataline and Callie saw that they were spotted now, and they both waved and smiled at the group below.

"Who were you having listen to your music, anyway?" Fuzz wondered. "It is pretty good." He tapped his paws to the beat.

"Oh, woodland critters-- squirrels, mice, hedgehogs, that sort of thing," the rat said, shrugging. "They just ran off after we started playing. We never did try it on cats, though."

"I think I have an idea!" Cataline called down to the group. By this time, most of the singing and dancing had stopped, and all eyes were on the cats. "First, promise you won't destroy the world!"

The fox, who had been across the room before, suddenly materialized next to Charlie and Fuzz. "Hey, if you guys like the music, we'll forget the crystal," he said agreeably.

"Good," Cataline said. "I think the problem here is that you picked the wrong kind of audience. Woodland critters are supposed to be scared of vermin like you... maybe you should try out your act in Dream Valley."

"Dream Valley? That's the place up north," the Marlfox said. "It's inhabited by ponies. Are you saying they'd like our music?"

Cataline smiled winningly at him. "It's worth a try, isn't it?"

The rats and fox all began nodding to each other and smiling. The general consensus was, "Yeah, sure, let's do it!"

"Chuck that crystal into the lake, would you?" Steele instructed the dark rat, who appeared to be the leader of the rats.

"Wait a sec, wait a sec!" Callie suddenly leaped down into the rats. "When we came questing down here, Fuzz said I'd be the first to pick up the crystal. So I get to chuck it in the lake." She made her way to the pedestal, and picked up the crystal.

"It's pretty," she said.

"The sooner it's gone into the lake the better," Fuzz warned. "It wouldn't be good for anyone else to find it."

Callie finally consented. She tossed the crystal into the lake. It made a plop, and disappeared into the murky depths.

"Well, that's done," Cataline said happily, who had made her way down to the other cats.

"Umm..." Callie started. "You'll be able to talk English to the ponies, won't you?"

Steele rolled his eyes. "What're we talking in now, miss? Of course we'll use English."

"Just making sure," Callie justified herself. You see, all animals in Ponyland can understand and speak English; but in the cats' cases, they never talked in it, except to fellow animals.

The lead rat bowed low before Charlie and Cataline. "I'm known as Joseph. Steele is the lead singer for our songs, but a lot of us do backup singing."

"Yep, I think this is gonna go real well with the ponies in Dream Valley," Fluff said contentedly.

And the happy group went off to Dream Valley, chattering all the way.

"I never did let you play with me pea, did I?" Fuzz said, coming up to Callie's side.

Callie sighed. "That's okay... there really wasn't enough time."

"Maybe I can visit you at Tabby's house sometime," Fuzz suggested. "Then you can have fun with it."

Callie smiled back at him, which was definitely a change in behavior. "I'd like that," she said.

Then Callie went over to her parents. "Where do you live? Will you ever be able to visit me?" she prodded.

"We're owned by someone in Friendship Gardens," Charlie said. "But we'll try to make it over to Dream Valley whenever we can."

"We'll do anything to see our daughter," Cataline said, hugging Callie again.

* * *

"I'm so glad Fluff's back home!" Sugarberry exclaimed delightedly a few nights later at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, while gathered there with some of her friends. "It's so weird how he just showed up on my porch in perfect condition last night."

"Same thing with Callie," Tabby mused. "At least Tarquin didn't run off like that," she added, indicating her Meowth Pokèmon.

"Fuzz back too, yeah, yeah!" Friendly said happily.

"Hey, everybody! Look at this!" Clever Clover came running over to their table, waving a flier in the air excitedly. He set it down on the table.

"The Steele Rats," Thomas read off the flier.

Tabby opened her eyes wide in alarm. "Rats are starting up singing groups?"

"The lead singer is a Marlfox, though," Clever Clover went on. "From what I've heard, they're not evil; that's good--"

"A Marlfox?" Tabby interrupted him. "I simply love Marlfoxes!" She sighed happily.

"I'm going to have to see this," Sugarberry giggled. "A rat singing group, lead by a fox."

"Are they performing somewhere or something?" Tabby prodded.

Clever Clover picked up the flier again. "They're putting on their first live performance in Dream Valley two nights from now. Admission is three jangles for adults, teenagers, and babies."

Tabby nodded approvingly. "Having the babies pay the full admission as well. Good thinking on the rats' part..."

* * *

Callie crawled under Tabby's couch. Yes, she was back home. But, she actually had something to do under the couch this time.

She looked down at the silver locket she was holding in her paw. Yes, her mother had given the locket over to her, so she'd be able to keep a picture of her parents even if they might not see each other for awhile.

That's why Callie was under the couch. She was hiding the locket there, so Tabby wouldn't find it.

And Callie sighed dreamily. She hoped she'd see Fuzz again soon. He actually wasn't that bad of a cat...

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