"Oh, my," said Tabby as she placed her forelegs companionably around Daffodil and Devilin's necks, "it looks like your daughters have fallen in love already at their young age. Soon you'll be planning the weddings and they'll be starting their families and la la la..."
Mother Daffodil looked at her daughter on the dance floor with concern in her eyes. "Do you really think my daughter is falling in love with Outback at her age?"
Devilin, being the calm one, said, "Do not worry, Daffodil; our daughters may have affections for those colts, but the way I see it, the colts are the ones that are head-over-heels with our daughters."
"I'm not sure that that is a good thing, either," Mother Daffodil said to Devilin.
"I was thinking that as well," Tabby agreed. "They could always convince the girls of an elopement... uh, I mean..." she quickly corrected herself as she realized this wasn't helping Daffodil's mood any. "Don't you trust your daughter to do the right things, even when it comes to love?"
"Yes, I trust my daughter explicitly."
"Then lighten up and let them play at having a little romance; it is Valentine's Day," Tabby said prosaically. "I never saw the sense in it myself, but it seems to be the commonly accepted behavior."
At this point, the stallions came back to their wives with glasses of punch in their hoofs to offer the mares. Ranger asked, "So what have you mares been gossiping about?"
"Is that the only thing you think we mares do is gossip?" Mother Daffodil asked.
"What else would mares be doing?" replied Ranger.
The other adults sensed that trouble was coming with Ranger's remark and stepped back. Mother Daffodil turned to her husband and dumped the glass of punch on his head, then walked off in a huff. After the initial shock of having punch poured on him had worn off, he ran to catch up to his wife.
"That took a lot of nerve to say something like that to his wife," Thomas observed. "He'll have to do a lot of sweet-talking if he doesn't want to sleep on the couch tonight."
Tabby shrugged. "Daffodil was a bit too sensitive; he was just saying it like it was."
"They have a very strong love for each other to stay mad at each other for very long," Salaries said.
Tabby turned her attention back to the students that they were supposed to be chaperoning. "This is a really tame party so far," she complained. "I thought I'd at least get to tell-off some miscreants for my trouble of being here tonight."
As the music stopped, the foals went to get themselves glasses of punch; at that point, a group of bad-looking colts entered the auditorium. As they looked around, the leader saw Wild Fire and said to the others, "Hey, guys, I see that filly that caused my little brother trouble at school. I think we'd better teach her a lesson about messing with my family." So the group of colts went over to Wild Fire, and the leader spoke to her. "Hey, filly, when you mess with my family, you mess with me."
Wild Fire, with Paintbrush beside her, turned around and stared at the colt. "And who in your family are you talking about?"
"My brother that you stopped from picking on that purple filly over there," the colt said, pointing to Baby Daffodil.
Close to laughter, Wild Fire said with a smirk, "And you are now getting revenge; you must really take the words 'revenge is a dish best served cold' literally."
The colt, seeing that Wild Fire was only amused, started getting angry as he yelled, "What is so funny!"
Unfortunately, Tabby had disappeared into the restroom. Devilin, however, heard the commotion and saw the colts harassing her daughter. As she arrived on the scene, she said in a commanding voice, "What is going on here?"
The fearless colt said in a rude voice, "Hey, you old bat, go bother someone else; I'm busy here."
Devilin's eyes began to glow a fiery read as steam came out of her nostrils and foam started bubbling out of her mouth at this insult. Wild Fire had never seen her mother so angry and took Paintbrush's foreleg to lead him away from the colts, as did Baby Daffodil and Outback. All the colts turned to see Devilin, and as they saw the half-crazed mare, the leader announced, "This mare is crazy; let's get out of here!" The group ran out the nearest exit; once they were gone, Devilin returned to her normal appearance.
The four foals came back to Devilin, and Outback said in amazement, "Mrs. Devilin, that was truly awesome how you scared the color right out of those bullies!"
"I agree with my cousin; that was very impressive," Paintbrush added.
Devilin smiled at the two colts and said, "Well, it is nice to be appreciated for one's talents."
Salaries, Thomas, and Tabby trotted up to the group. "Is everything all right?" Salaries asked.
Devilin, with a smile, said, "Nothing that I couldn't handle."
"And I missed it!" Tabby fumed.
Baby Daffodil, not seeing her family with the others, asked, "Where did my mother and father go?"
Salaries looked down at Baby Daffodil with a smile. "Don't worry your pretty little head; they will be here soon."
As if on cue, Ranger and Mother Daffodil came over; in Daffodil's hoof was a fresh glass of punch. "Ah, reloading the ammunition?" Tabby asked with a knowing look at the other mare. Mother Daffodil giggled, but Ranger frowned at the unicorn mare as the foals exchanged puzzled looks.
The music began again and the foals returned to the dance floor. This started a conversation between the adults about the new wave of music that the foals listened to these days and the wild dances they did. As the night came to an end, all the parents came to the auditorium to pick up their foals.
As the last attendee was gone, Thomas and Tabby were the first to leave their new-found friends. "We had best be on our way; we need to pick up Faline and Nymph from their grandparents before we go home," Thomas said by way of explanation. The others waved goodbye and wished them a good night.
Salaries asked Ranger and Mother Daffodil to take their foals outside while they checked for any stragglers that might be left behind; when the other couple was gone, Salaries said to his wife, "Devilin, do you sense any foals in or around the school?"
Devilin closed her eyes and scanned the school with her spirit energy; when her eyes opened again she confirmed, "I cannot sense any more foals in the area."
"Then let us leave this place and take everyone home."
Then the two spirit ponies went outside to join the others, and they all set off to take the colts to their homes. As they reached Outback's house, the adults along with Wild Fire and Paintbrush gave the foals breathing space to say their goodnights to each other. As Outback looked at Baby Daffodil, he said, "I really enjoyed being with you at the dance."
"Yeah, I liked being with you, too, Outback."
As the two stared at each other, Outback then took Baby Daffodil's forelegs and placed his lips on her lips and gave her a romantic goodnight kiss. After the kiss, Outback said, "Goodnight, Daffodil."
A blushing Baby Daffodil stammered, "Go- goodnight, Outback."
With Outback delivered to his house, the next stop was at Paintbrush's. The parents gave Paintbrush and Wild Fire the same courtesy of allowing them space. As Paintbrush gazed at Wild Fire, he said, "Wild Fire, I enjoyed our time together and I think that you are a wonderful dancer."
"I enjoyed it as well."
Paintbrush then took Wild Fire's forelegs and placed his lips on her lips and gave her a romantic goodnight kiss. "Goodnight, my ballerina."
"Goodnight, my Prince Charming," replied Wild Fire. Paintbrush went inside his house, and Wild Fire headed back to rejoin the others. Then they returned to their own places of residence to get a good night's sleep.
* * *
Three days came and went, and then there was only one day remaining before the spirit ponies and the Fairfaxes would leave for the underworld. Salaries called his wife and daughter to the living room and announced, "We are going to have to tell Ranger, Daffodil, and Baby Daffodil what we are planning to do tomorrow, so that they can help us keep any curious ponies in the dark about our whereabouts while we are gone, and they can keep a eye on the spirit devices."
"Are we going to have to give them a key to our home?" asked Devilin in a protective manner.
"Yes, my love, they will need to be able to get in the house to check on the spirit devices and make sure that they are all accounted for."
"And what if a certain mare decides to try one of the spirit devices out?"
"I will tell them that the devices are very dangerous and that they are not to touch them in any way."
Then Devilin rolled her eyes in the air and said, "Oh, yeah, that's going to stop her, all right."
Salaries walked over to his wife and gave her a gentle kiss on her nose. "Anyway, my love, they will be too busy keeping an eye on our journey to worry about using anything else."
Devilin stared up at her husband and yelled, "Keep an eye on our journey?!"
"I will explain everything when they arrive," replied Salaries, going to the phone to call their good neighbors and friends.
It was only a few minutes before the front door suddenly opened and Ranger, Mother Daffodil, and Baby Daffodil arrived and joined the spirit ponies in the living room. Ranger laid the Orb of Creation (which had been given to them as a Christmas present from the spirit ponies) on the coffee table and said, "Here is the Orb of Creation you asked us to bring." As he got comfortable in his chair he asked, "So what's the big emergency you need our help with?"
Salaries stood up as he faced his dearest friends and said with a concerned voice, "I have called you all here to tell you that my family and I, along with Thomas and Tabby, are going on a very dangerous journey, and we do not know if we will survive."
Mother Daffodil asked with a shocked look on her face, "What kind of danger, and why are Thomas and Tabby going with you?"
Salaries, sensing that Mother Daffodil's question about Thomas and Tabby was more about hurt feelings that they were not asked to help than for curiosity, said with compassion, "The danger is an evil so great that it threatens Ponyland and the universe itself; the reason we are taking the Fairfaxes with us is because it was foretold that Tabby would be the key to our success. I decided, however, that it would be wise to have a backup; and that is why I called all of you here and asked you to bring the Orb of Creation."
Then Salaries walked over to the orb and said, "The figures here that you all admired at Christmas are more than just decorations; they are spirit devices that can physically allow a pony to enter any time or place in the past or present that the pony chooses, just by taking one of the three figures off and placing it around his or her neck like an amulet." Salaries pointed at the Earth, Unicorn, and Pegasus figures.
Ranger said as he pointed to the fourth figure, "And what is the purpose of the Unipeg figure?"
"The Unipeg figure, as you call it, is the anchor for the other three figures that allows the users of the figures to return to the exact time and place in which they left." Salaries took the three figures off the base of the Orb of Creation and went over to the family. "The Earth pony figure is the symbol of wisdom and strength." Then he place the figure around Ranger's neck. "The Pegasus pony figure is the symbol of love and courage." This he placed around Mother Daffodil's neck. "And the Unicorn pony figure is the symbol of cunning and vitality." And he place the figure around Baby Daffodil's neck. Then Salaries stepped back and said, "As the Unipeg figure is the anchor for the three figures you now wear, thus you three shall be the anchor for us and the Fairfaxes as we go on our journey."
Mother Daffodil asked, "And in what way are we to be your anchor?"
Salaries smiled at the mare as he said, "You three shall use the Orb of Creation to view our journey by focusing your thoughts on my family and the Fairfaxes in the here-and-now. If I see trouble that we cannot get out of, I will call you for help by saying, 'Guardians, protect us'. With the figures you are wearing, you need only to focus on coming to where we are and the Orb will instantly transport you. You must then physically touch the ones you wish to protect while at the same time focusing on the Orb, and you and whoever your hold will be instantly transported back."
"That sounds outrageous!" Baby Daffodil said with excitement. Wild Fire smiled at her friend's burst of enthusiasm, but Mother Daffodil gave her daughter a stern look which made her close her mouth.
Ranger asked, "When is this journey beginning?"
"Tomorrow afternoon," replied Salaries.
Mother Daffodil asked, "And how long will you be gone?"
"If everything goes smoothly, about two weeks at the most." Salaries, glancing at his wife, added, "And because our house is full of spirit energy and the Orb of Creation would be its strongest here, we will need you three to stay here while we are gone; so bring whatever necessities you may need for a long stay."
Devilin went into shock as she heard her husband's words, and her heart began to race as she held in the anger she felt; she kept it reigned-in so the others would not think that they were not wanted.
Ranger said to the group, "We better get home, then, so we can get ready for tomorrow."
All the ponies got up and went to the front door; once the visitors were gone, Devilin closed the door and said to her daughter as her eyes began to flame up, "Wild Fire, would you be a dear and go play in your room?" Wild Fire, seeing her mother getting ready to blow her top, trotted obediently upstairs; and once their daughter was out of sight, Devilin turned to her husband and yelled, "It was bad enough when you said that they were coming occasionally into our house, but you had to tell them to come and live here while we are gone without discussing it with me first!"
Salaries, being a quick thinker, said to Devilin as he stood between his wife and her sword, "I know you are angry with me and wish to do bodily harm to me with your sword- and of course you have all the right to do so- but before you do, please let me explain."
Devilin, deciding to give her husband the benefit of the doubt, said with a little sarcasm, "Go ahead and explain, but it better be good."
"The reason I told them to stay at our house is because I felt at the time that the odds of our survival would be greatly increased if the Orb of Creation was in a place where the spirit energy would be the strongest; and that place happens to be in our house. If you still wish to hurt me for wanting to give you and Wild Fire the best chance of survival, I will not stop you."
The fire in Devilin's eyes began to die down as she said, "I do not wish to hurt you, my husband; I just would have preferred that you discus matters like that with me first."
Then Salaries walked to his wife and gave her a loving embrace as he said, "And I truly apologize from the depth of my heart for not discussing it with you first, my love; please forgive this impertinent stallion."
While Salaries held Devilin, Devilin looked at her husband with a half smile and said, "I will try, but if anything is out of place when we get back, someone's head will roll- and I am not talking figuratively." Then Salaries and Devilin released their hold on each other and for the rest of the day prepared for their journey beginning on the morrow.
* * *
The next morning found the three spirit ponies finishing up their preparations when the doorbell rang. "Come in; the door is unlocked," said Salaries.
Ranger, Daffodil, and Baby Daffodil walked in. Mother Daffodil said, "I hope all of you had a pleasant night's sleep for your journey."
"Yes, we slept pleasantly," said Salaries.
Mother Daffodil asked Salaries, "Salaries, you and Devilin are of equal strength, aren't you?"
"Yes, I am as strong as my wife is," said a curious Salaries.
Mother Daffodil asked as she gave Salaries her puppy dog eyes, "Then would you be a dear and get a couple of things that we left in the entrance hall at the front door of our house?"
Seeing Ranger's look of disbelief at what his wife was asking, Salaries turned to Mother Daffodil and said, "It would be my pleasure." So Salaries went to his neighbor's house with Ranger going along to help.
"My wife has told me about how super-strong your wife is, but I also know how much Daffodil likes to exaggerate the truth; I think you will need my help after you see what my wife wants you to carry," Ranger explained as he opened the door.
Sitting in the hallway were two steamer trunks; as Salaries looked them over he said, "This does not look too difficult" He picked up one of the trunks and laid it on top of the other; then, finding a piece of rope, he tied the trunks together and placed them on his back. Ranger looked on in disbelief at the ease Salaries had done the job. Then Salaries, with the trunks in hoof, went back to his house. Ranger walked beside him, still in shock at seeing such a feat of strength.
As they reached the house and went inside, Salaries saw Thomas and Tabby sitting in the living room talking to his wife and Mother Daffodil. After putting the trunks down, he went to greet them. When he saw Thomas, he saw that stallion was wearing the bronze medallion of Lamachus. "I see that you are wearing your ancestral medallion," Salaries addressed him.
"You know of this medallion?" Thomas asked, touching it possessively.
"Oh yes, I know of it and the many secrets that lie within it, including the origin of its creation; and when we defeat the great evil, I will tell you everything I know."
"There! Now you have more incentive than ever to survive this mission," Tabby said.
"If you truly know more about the medallion and its powers, I hope you can share your knowledge with me at a more convenient time," Thomas said politely, hiding how excited he actually was at the prospect of learning the talisman's history.
"And where are Wild Fire and Baby Daffodil?" Salaries asked Devilin, noticing that the foals were not present.
"They are playing in Wild Fire's room until we leave," responded Devilin.
Salaries turned to the group and said, "Then let's make a final check and head out. Is my backpack packed and ready to go, my love?"
"It is ready and sitting on the entrance hall table," replied Devilin.
"Is there anything you two need to do before we leave?" Salaries asked, turning his attention back to the Fairfaxes.
"Everything is under control; Faline and Nymph are staying with my parents, and Elaine will be helping Marina at the clinic," Thomas announced.
Tabby smirked. "Thankfully my mom and dad are away on vacation, or there would have been a fight about who got the girls. Now," and Tabby pulled out her new cell phone, "I understand that there's probably going to be roaming fees when we get to the underworld, but is it going to be a problem calling the girls every night at least? I promised them I would, you see, because they didn't want us to go... or at least, not without them," Tabby prattled.
"I see no problem with your staying in contact with your daughters on our journey," Salaries said. "May I please see the device you will be using to contact them?" Tabby hoofed the phone over to him; Salaries inspected it and popped out the batteries, replacing them with crystal cylinders. "These crystals I am replacing your batteries with will allow you to stay in contact with your daughters, even if we are in the underworld itself.
Tabby took the cell phone back and looked at it in amazement. "Cool! Thanks! But how do these crystals charge?"
But Salaries had already gone over to the ponies who had been a part of his family's life every since they had arrived in Dream Valley. "Do you two have any questions on what to do when I summon for help?" he asked Ranger and Daffodil.
"No, my wife and I feel confident that when the time comes to give our support, we will be ready."
Tabby, being a curious mare, interrupted, "And what type of support are they going to give?"
Salaries turned to Tabby and explained to her and Thomas about the Orb of Creation and what was expected of Ranger, Daffodil, and Baby Daffodil.
"Oh, we'll be fine. I won't need rescuing," Tabby said with a wave of her hoof. "Hey, if this Orb can take a pony back in time, why can't we just use it to go back and stop this great evil before it became a threat?"
"Remember the time that you and Merry Treat found that time machine and altered the past, thinking that nothing bad would come of it?"
"It is somewhat disturbing that you know so much about me," Tabby informed. "But yeah, that whole alternate future thing really sucked. I still can't believe you would have married Merry Treat," she said, rounding on her husband.
"I didn't do anything," Thomas defended himself. "You have only yourself to blame for any changes that happened, which is exactly why you shouldn't be playing with time travel."
While they were fighting, Salaries asked his wife, "Devilin, would you please call the foals to the living room?" So Devilin called them down, and within a few minutes the fillies followed her into the living room.
With everyone present, Salaries and Devilin went to the mantel and took their swords down. With sword in hoof, Salaries addressed them all. "All right, it is time that we five head out to meet our destiny, while you three watch over us." As they started out the front door, Salaries gave Ranger's family some last minute advice. "Even though watching us may become boring, it is very important that all of you stay vigilant."
"I promise you that we will not wave from our responsibility," Ranger said as they waved goodbye to the travelers until they were out of sight.
Baby Daffodil asked as her mother shut the door, "Do you think we will ever see them again?"
Daffodil looked at her daughter and smiled as she said, "From what I have seen of our friends, it will be the great evil that will not be seen around here again; and talking about seeing, why don't we watch them on the Orb of Creation?" And as the family assembled around the orb they began to see their friends as they journeyed to the underworld.
* * *
"My hoofs hurt!" complained Tabby. "How much further do we have to go?"
"You can't be worn out already; we've only gone two miles out of Dream Valley," Thomas pointed out. "Did you think the underworld was this close to our back door?"
"Sometimes you'd wonder," said Tabby cryptically.
"Are you sure this was the mare in Wild Fire's dream?" Devilin asked her husband.
"Queen Kaliope saw something special in Tabby to bestow her powers on her. I sense a great destiny ahead of her; we just need to be patient," Salaries said.
"Well, I am not planning on listening to her complain about her hoofs all the way to the underworld." With that said, Devilin dropped behind to walk beside Tabby; as she came face-to-face with the other mare, her eyes began to glow and Tabby was levitated into the air.
"Oh! I'm feeling quite light-headed!" Tabby protested. "What are you doing, Devilin! Put me down!" She descended on Devilin's back.
"Just lay on my back until we get to our first destination," Devilin instructed curtly.
"I can walk," said Tabby haughtily, not wanting to look weak in front of the others. "You don't have to carry me like a baby pony."
Salaries came over to the two mares and said to Tabby, "There is no shame in getting help if you are truly hurt." He inspected Tabby's right back hoof and drew our a very sharp bloody rock.
"I'm sorry, Tabby," Thomas said, instantly repentant as he saw there had actually been something behind his wife's complaints. He kissed her nose as Salaries healed her back hoof. "I thought you were joking."
"I have healed your hoof," Salaries said, stepping away, "but to play it safe, I do not want you to leave my wife's back. That is an order, not a request."
Tabby looked at Salaries and saluted. "By your command, general," she said in a military voice.
The ponies began their journey once again, and by evening they found themselves in front of a thicket of huge, sharp thorns. "We won't be able to get through that," Thomas said, inspecting the hedge. "We'll have to look for a way around."
"Do not fear, my friends; the thorns will not hurt us," Salaries said to the group. He turned to Wild Fire and Thomas and added, "At this point of the journey, I will need you two to ride on my back as Devilin and I run through the thicket."
"I was voted player of the year on my college track team, so I think I can keep up with you," Thomas challenged, feeling foolish now for baulking at the thorns when the spirit ponies were undaunted.
"We are not questioning your athletic abilities," Salaries clarified, "but to make it through the thicket, we must run at the speed of sound or the thorns will close up on us and we will die. We spirit ponies have the ability to travel at the speed of light."
"I confess I can't beat that," Thomas said in submission. He picked up Wild Fire and, holding her in his forelegs, said, "Beam us up, Scotty."
"Oh, I know this is going to be a fun adventure!" Tabby exclaimed, clapping her hoofs together in glee.
Salaries levitated the two onto his back, and once they were settled he said to his daughter, "Wild Fire, I want you to create a spirit shield like the one you used on the fireball when you were with Baby Daffodil."
Wild Fire's eyes opened wide as she wondered how her father had found out about that incident. Back at the spirit ponies' house, Mother Daffodil was also surprised at the news. "Daffodil, when your father comes to take over the watch, you and I are going to have a serious talk about that fireball."
Baby Daffodil wished she was somewhere else right then as she looked at her mother, knowing of the scolding she was going to get from withholding the incident from her parents. For now, she turned her head back to the orb.
Wild Fire was preparing to create the spirit shield; as her horn glowed, a blue orb began to engulf the ponies. Thomas and Tabby looked at it in awe as it surrounded them, but the spirit ponies were not as impressed. Salaries and Devilin galloped a mile back from the thicket to get a good start; as they were getting ready to run back right on through the thorns, Salaries cautioned, "Hang on tight; we do not want to lose anyone." Tabby wrapped her forelegs around Devilin's neck and Thomas gripped Salaries with one hoof while holding on to Wild Fire with his other.
Then Salaries and Devilin began their run; as they reached the required speed, they cracked through the thicket and went straight on through. Thomas and Tabby looked behind them as they saw the thorny vines grow back as fast as the spirit ponies ran. After thirty minutes, they reached the end of the treacherous thicket and were safe... for the time being. Wild Fire, feeling the stress of keeping the spirit shield up for so long, fell back into Thomas' forelegs, exhausted.
"Lay Wild Fire on my back and I will levitate you to the ground and then levitate Wild Fire on your back," Salaries instructed. "She is too exhausted to walk the rest of the way." With this done, Salaries turned to face the others and said, "I am going to fly ahead to set up camp for the night; my wife will guide everyone to the location." He spread his wings and took to the air, and the others went with Devilin.
After an hour of walking, Thomas asked their guide, "With the speed you and Salaries ran through the thicket, I wonder how far we've come?"
"We have come one thousand miles from where the thicket began," replied Devilin.
"Amazing!" Thomas marveled.
"I could have run that far, easy," Tabby said, tossing her mane.
Another hour passed before they finally reached the camp site. Thomas, smelling the aroma of outdoor cooking, could not believe his eyes as he saw two large tents set up and all the necessities needed for camping. "Where did all this camping gear come from?" Thomas asked of Salaries.
"Isn't it something what you can stuff in a backpack these days," Salaries smiled.
Devilin, seeing that Tabby had dozed off on her back, was about to knock the unicorn off onto the ground, but Salaries gave her a reprimanding look. Instead, Devilin used her muzzle to wake Tabby up and then said with a little sarcasm, "Time to get up, sleeping beauty." Then she levitated Tabby off her back and onto the ground.
"Oh, it's getting late! Or are we in a different time zone?" Tabby said, ready for action as she groped around for the cell phone. "I better call the girls." She excused herself and sat down on a large rock while she carried on the conversation with her family.
"Time to chow down, everyone," Salaries called out a short while later.
"Okay, Faline, we'll take care of that when we get back," Tabby chattered. "But I guess we have to go eat now. So be good girls and don't give your grandparents any problems, okay? Goodnight, sweetheart. Love you." Then she pranced over to rejoin the group at the campfire.
After being assured by his wife that everything was fine at home, Thomas turned to the matter closer at hoof. "How much further is the underworld?"
Salaries pointed his hoof out towards the wasteland before them. "It will be a three-day journey across this wasteland before we reach the entrance to the underworld."
"Why don't you carry us on your backs again and run like crazy like you did through the thicket?" Tabby asked curiously.
"In this place, evil is at its strongest and everything around us could be a deadly trap. Even with our speed, it would be too dangerous to run across blindly.
"Oh, that's just wonderful," Tabby said in a frustrated voice. After dinner, the group decided to call it a night and went to their tents to sleep.
* * *
As the sun began to rise to a new morning, Tabby slowly started to wake up. As she opened her eyes and they started to focus, she saw a small pair of eyes staring back at her. The startled Tabby let out a piercing scream which woke up Thomas and caused the spirit ponies to run out of their tent.
"Is everyone all right?" Salaries asked as they opened the flap to the couples' tent.
"There was a microscopic flutter pony in here!" a hysterical Tabby reported. "And it was looking at me! Flutter ponies don't grow that small!"
As the others listened to Tabby's wild story, Wild Fire heard movement coming from behind them. She turned around and saw a cup moving across the floor. Wild Fire gave her mother a tap on her leg to get her attention.
"Is there something you need, my little flame?" Devilin asked.
Wild Fire pointed at the cup. "See that cup, moving on its own?"
Devilin saw it and walked over to it as it headed towards the entrance of the tent. She placed her hoof on top of it and then called the others over. "I believe Tabby's flutter pony is under this cup." She lifted it up to reveal a tiny yellow flutter pony with orange mane and tail and a symbol of a glowing sun.
The tiny flutter pony, seeing herself surrounded by large ponies, said in a small voice, "Do not harm me; I have come as a friend."
"We will not harm you, Fairy Flutter, but aren't you far from Fairy Mountain?" Salaries asked kindly.
The Fairy Flutter, seeing the pegasus pony seemed to know of her kind, flew up to Salaries and landed on his muzzle. "I see that you have heard of us, so you should know why I am here."
"The only reason a Fairy Flutter would be in this Godforsaken place is that you all must have heard of the great evil that threatens to destroy all goodness in the universe," replied Salaries.
"You are very knowledgeable for a mortal," the Fairy Flutter said, seeing that the Pegasus knew a great deal of her kind.
"I am not a mortal," Salaries said, smiling at the Fairy Flutter's observation. "I am a spirit pony; my name is Salaries and the one who had her hoof on your cup is my wife Devilin; and this little darling is my daughter Wild Fire. And these are our friends, Thomas and Tabby."
"I am Sun Glow and it is a great honor to meet the two spirit ponies who dared to risk destruction to be together." Then Sun Glow glided to a table that was sitting in the tent as she added, "But I should have figured that you were no mortal, for a mere mortal could not have held me so easily in that cup." Then she looked at Tabby and Thomas. "But I do not know of any spirit ponies named Thomas or Tabby."
"That's because we're mortals!" Tabby said brightly. "We're the real deal."
Sun Glow, becoming a little confused, turned to Salaries and asked, "Why would you bring mortals to such a place?"
Salaries told Sun Glow about Wild Fire's dream and how Tabby was a key player in the success of their mission. At the end of the story, the ponies heard a low growling noise and turned towards Tabby.
"Well, it is getting late and we haven't eaten any breakfast since we got up," Tabby insisted, trying to cover up her embarrassment.
Thus reminded, the ponies went outside the tent to start preparing breakfast. After a short while they all sat at the picnic table with their meal and continued their conversation. "Now, don't take this the wrong way or anything, Sun Glow," Tabby chatted, "but you're awfully small- not saying that being small is a bad thing- and what are you going to be able to do against this great evil?"
Sun Glow did not take any offense, but said in reply, "Do you see that huge rock over to your right?" Those in the group turned to look at the boulder as Sun Glow took to the air and landed behind it. The huge rock began to tremble as it lifted off the ground and soared into the air. Tabby, Thomas, and Wild Fire were amazed, but Salaries and Devilin were not surprised. "So what do you think?" Sun Glow asked as she set the boulder down and returned to the table.
"Good show, I say!" Tabby exclaimed, wanting to pat Sun Glow on the back but not being able to due to her size and fragile-looking wings. "Welcome to the team."
As they finished eating and got ready for their continued journey, Salaries opened his backpack and faced the mouth of it to the camp site; like a vacuum cleaner, it sucked all the camping gear back inside.
"So that explains it!" Thomas exclaimed. "I'd like to get my hoofs on the magic you use, just for the convenience of camping!" Salaries just looked at Thomas with a smile as they headed on their way.
After two days of traveling across the wasteland and finding no traps, deadly or otherwise, Tabby was feeling a bit disappointed over the lack of adventure. She asked Salaries in a sarcastic tone, "I thought you said we were going to run into traps out here; so where are they?!"
As if on cue, the ground began to rumble as hordes of skeleton warriors came at them from both sides. Just as they were about to overrun the whole ragtag group, Wild Fire, out of pure instinct for survival, created her spirit shield which surrounded the group just at the moment of attack. As the skeleton warriors clawed and mashed their weapons against the shield, Wild Fire felt the strain of the continuing onslaught and began to weaken. "Someone better do something quite, for I feel that my shield is weakening and I don't know how much longer I can keep it up."
Salaries, thinking fast, said to Sun Glow, "I need you to fly high in the sky and find a skeleton warrior with a red jewel in his chest. He should be the warrior furthest from the battle. When you find him, pull the jewel out."
"How will I get out of the spirit shield?" asked Sun Glow.
"The shield will not stop you, only that which Wild Fire deems harmful."
So Sun Glow took flight and began her search. As the Fairy Flutter carried out her duty, Salaries saw that the spirit shield was beginning to flicker and Wild Fire was becoming more and more exhausted. "Wild Fire is too weak to keep the shield up any longer!" Salaries announced just as the filly began to drift into unconsciousness.
"Then we'll have to fight the skeletons head-on," Thomas said boldly.
"We must use our powers to keep these warriors at bay, and since Wild Fire is in no condition to protect herself, we must keep a tight circle around her," replied Salaries. The others circled around Wild Fire and prepared for battle.
* * *
Meanwhile, back in Dream Valley, a worried Baby Daffodil said to her parents, "We have to do something!"
Mother Daffodil put her forelegs around her daughter and said with regret, "Honey, if we transported into the battle without the others knowing we were coming, we would accomplish more harm than good. We must wait until Salaries calls for us."
"Your mother is right, Daffodil; we must trust in our friends and believe that no matter how overwhelming the odds look, our friends will always come out on top," Ranger added.
Baby Daffodil turned back to the orb and placed her front hoofs on it. "It will be hard, but I'll try."
* * *
Back at the battle, the spirit shield faded until it was completely gone. As the skeleton warriors came at the ponies, each pony yelled out the power they were going to use like a war cry.
Devilin swung her sword Hell Fire from left to right as she screamed, "Fire Blade!" The sword threw out a powerful blade of fire that ripped through a dozen or more skeleton warriors at the same time.
Salaries took his own sword, Revenging Angel, and lifted it above his head while yelling, "Fire Storm!" A light of pure energy flew out of the sword's point which in turn caused a shower of meteorites to bombard numerous skeleton warriors.
Thomas, with his ancient medallion, called out, "Tidal Wave!" He stood with the palms of his hoofs raised upwards as if pulling water out of the ground. Then, with a flick of his wrist, the power of the attack created a wall of water which towered directly over the skeleton warriors and abruptly smashed down on top of them with great force.
Tabby, with eyes aflame, screamed, "Seer Attack!" She threw back her head as waves of potent psychic flame shot out of her unicorn horn and towards the skeleton warriors. As the wave impacted the warriors, they shattered into piles of bones.
As the ponies were performing their attacks, Sun Glow was still searching for the skeleton warrior with a red jewel in his chest. She was about to give up and go back to help her friends when a red flash of light caught her attention. Flying closer to where she had spotted the red glow, she saw a well-armored skeleton warrior with the glow emanating from deep within. She was not deterred by the danger of this mission, as she knew that if she did not get the jewel her friends would surely perish. She began flying as fast as she could in a beeline towards the jewel; as she got close enough, she rolled herself into a ball. Before the warrior knew what was happening, Sun Glow pierced the armor and began to tug on the red jewel within the skeleton's chest cavity. As she was doing this, the skeleton pulled out his dagger and began to stick it through his chest at the Fairy Flutter. As Sun Glow dodged the point of the dagger, she flew up and kicked the jewel lose with her back hoofs; as it fell, she scooped it up and barely missed being impaled by the dagger. She soared out of the skeleton warrior's chest, and since their leader no longer had the jewel that gave him his power, the skeleton warriors' attacks slowed and they started falling apart. Before long, the ground was littered with lifeless piles of bones.
"The Skeleton King was more of a challenge than these boneheads," Tabby declared brashly as she kicked at the bones around her.
"I can't believe you're comparing a single Skeleton King to a horde of marauding skeleton warriors," sighed an exhausted Thomas.
"So where to now?" Tabby asked brightly, ignoring her husband's remark.
"We wait for Sun Glow to return, and then we head towards the setting sun," replied Salaries.
Within a few minutes, Sun Glow had returned with the red jewel in her hoofs. "What do we do with this thing now?" she asked Salaries.
Salaries took the jewel in his hoof and looked at his wife. "Devilin, are you ready?" He tossed it into the air while Devilin lifted up her sword and with a swish of her blade she smashed the jewel into a million pieces. "The jewel cannot be used for evil purposes again."
The grouped traveled on to the entrance to the underworld; and as day turned into night, Salaries halted the group. "We will make camp here." He faced the backpack in the direction he wished to set up camp and opened the lid of the pack; as he did, camping gear shot out and set itself up. He turned back to his companions. "After dinner, we should all go directly to bed and get a good night's sleep, for tomorrow we enter the underworld."
"Oh, that thought makes for pleasant dreams," Tabby said under her breath. But the ponies ate their meal and went to sleep as directed.
The next morning when the ponies gathered at the breakfast table, Salaries said, "My friends, before we start the journey to the underworld, I wish to say that the courage and the willingness to put yourselves in harm's way for one another has shown me that you all are a power to reckon with; and the great evil will soon know that his time is at an end."
As Salaries finished his speech, the ponies felt more confidence in themselves which gave them a more positive feeling of success. "Woohoo! He's goin' down!" Tabby cheered.
But then Salaries looked at them and said in a serious tone, "Ponies, I need your full attention, for my wife has lived in the underworld and knows what to expect from it. I have asked her to give us any information that would help in our fight with the great evil."
Devilin was about to speak, but Thomas interrupted as he was wondering about her connection to the underworld as the Fairfaxes hadn't been given the entire story of the spirit ponies' background. "If the underworld is the home of evil, how is it that you have been there?"
Devilin looked to her husband for help, and Salaries spoke again. "My wife was a slave of these evil creatures we are going to fight and was put through horrible torture so that she would do their bidding. It wasn't until I found her that she became free of this evil; and if anyone has any reason to destroy it, it is my wife."
Salaries gave Devilin the floor again. She stared silencingly at Thomas and then addressed the group, "Any more questions about my integrity before I begin?" No one responded, so she went on. "As I was saying, what I am about to tell you will make the little skirmish we had with the skeleton warriors a day in the park." She gave a dramatic pause before she told the others what horrors they would come up against in the underworld. "As we reach the entrance, there will be two rock giants which stand guard to stop anyone who is not of pure evil. Since I was a servant of the great evil and the rock giants have a brain the size of a pea, I feel that I can get us past them by having everyone pretend to be spirit slaves. Once we are inside, however, there will be many unseen dangers and you will hear horrible cries of suffering and see horrific tortures being performed. If any of you have weak constitutions, I suggest that you keep your heads down and your full attention on me. As I take you all through the underworld, you will need to follow my directions to the letter without questions or hesitation if you wish to survive." As she finished her discussion, Devilin asked the group, "And if anyone has any questions or doubts, ask them now; for when we enter the underworld, our minds must be on the mission. We will not get a second chance if we fail to succeed."
Tabby waved her foreleg in the air like a school filly and Devilin asked, "Tabby, is there something you would like to say?"
"Yes, I was wondering, how are Thomas and I going to pass as spirit slaves if we're not spirit ponies?" Tabby asked, proud of coming up with an intelligent-sounding question.
"You and Thomas carry the ancient powers of your ancestors which reacts like our spirit powers; it should fool the others long enough to get you through the gates of Hades," replied Devilin.
"And what about me?" Sun Glow asked. "Surely I can't fool anyone into believing that I'm a spirit pony!"
Devilin smiled at the tiny pony and said, "Your kind has always interfered in the evil spirits' affairs and have become a thorn in their hoofs; to have a Fairy Flutter as a slave is a treasure for any evil spirit."
Sun Glow, feeling proud that her kind had caused such trouble for the evil spirits, just smiled at Devilin in delight.
"And what should we expect to find in the interior of the underworld?" Thomas asked, curious.
"Being that all of you are supposed to be new slaves, it would be dangerous to tell any of you about the interior; it could cause you to become cautious in certain areas and make the other evil spirits suspicious," Devilin explained. "If there are no more questions, I suggest that we get ourselves ready."
So the ponies went to prepare for the last leg of their journey; and as they began their march through the wasteland, Devilin said in a low voice to Salaries, "That was quick thinking to tell them that I was a slave, but I would have never expected such a devious lie to come from you, my husband."
Salaries looked at his wife and said with a smile, "I have learned from the best, my love."
Then they began to hear ghostly wails in the air; the closer they got to the gate, the louder the unnatural cries became. Tabby was starting to get unnerved. "What is Ponyland is making all those horrible sounds?"
"They are the cries of tormented souls doomed to suffer for all eternity," replied Devilin.
"Oh. That's nice," said Tabby.
As they reached the outskirts of the entrance, just out of sight of the guards, Salaries took his backpack off and began to pull out chains, shackles, and a small cage. "I need everyone to put these shackles on their legs and necks, except for Sun Glow, who will be put in this cage." As the ponies did what Salaries asked of them, Devilin took out a black leather outfit with two red pitchfork symbols crisscrossing the chest. Putting the outfit on herself, she pulled out a long bull-whip with a small metal spiked mace at the tip.
Tabby's eyes narrowed as she saw Devilin in her new ensemble. For some reasons, stallions got googly-eyed over mares that pulled on tough-looking black leather. "Don't get any ideas," she said irritably, smacking her husband on his head.
"Any ideas about what?" Thomas protested.
"You were looking at Devilin."
"I was... and so were you."
"Well, you had better stop looking at her, that's all."
Salaries, also seeing his wife as she approached, walked over to her and hoofed his wife the cage with Sun Glow in it. "Devilin, tell me truthfully, do you have any second thoughts about entering the underworld after all these years?"
"Do not worry, my husband; it will be a piece of cake, as the mortals say," replied Devilin as she gazed into her husband's eyes.
Salaries gave his wife a kiss and went to chain himself with the others. "All right, everyone, remember what Devilin said back at the camp. When she gets us through the entrance, there will be sights and sounds that will make your skin crawl and your stomach turn. Keep your heads down and your full attention on Devilin's directions."
Devilin picked up the lead chain and began walking toward the entrance. As they arrived, two giant figures that had at first looked like statues began to move toward the group. One of the rock giants said, "Who dares to enter the realm of the damned?"
Devilin, looking fierce, said in her most evil sneer, "I am a Slave Hunter and I have some slaves for the master, so let me in, you pebble-brained idiots!"
"I wish you evil spirits would quit insulting us all the time," the other rock giant said as they opened the entrance gate to the underworld to let Devilin and the others in.
"I hope this isn't going to be a one-way trip," Tabby said in a low voice as they crossed the threshold.