My Little Pony Monthly Issue 37 (April 1, 2000)

Man-Eating Slug Monthly
Established June 1997
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Issue 37
April 2000

Index of this issue--

1. Letters to the Editor

2. April Fools' Day Fun Facts

3. The Lost Prince Chapter 3 (by Moonjumper)

4. The Merry Treat and Tabby Gossip Hour! (by Merry Treat and Tabby)

5. Ginseng and Sassafras Tea Chapters One and Two (by Sugarberry)

6. Spring Break (by Sugarberry)

7. The Ghost of Box Five Chapter 4 (by Masquerade)

8. A New World for Tamara (by Vixie)

9. The Insane Crossover Story Chapter Nine (by Tabby and Barnacle)

10. Easter Related Pony Names

11. Return to Atlantis Part Two: More Disco Furbys (by Tabby)

12. Princess Practice (by Sugarberry)

13. Answers to Easter Related Pony Names


Letters to the Editor Tell Sugarberry her story was great! I read the first few lines while telling myself I had homework to do, but I didn't stop reading the thing until I had actually read it all. *sweatdrops* I wonder if I can write a two page report in thirty minutes. That would mean I have to go! Toodles for now! Return to Atlantis Part One was excellent! ROTFL!!! I loved the Duracell versus Energizer part!!! LOL!! And then there's the never-ending INSANE Crossover Story!!!! This has turned out to be a TERRIFIC edition!! One of the best I've read and about the only one I've laughed so much in!! Keep it up, or you'll have to answer to ME!! ^-^ Love the newsletters-- thank you for all your hard work. Hi, Tabby, I was thinking of a new article you may be interested in placing in your newsletter. From what I have been told, there are more and more people from the old Dream Valley chatroom that are talking now on ICQ. I was thinking maybe you could start a column for people who wish to post their ICQ numbers so that others can find them to chat with. Anyway, it's just a thought.

Reply from the Editor-- If anyone would be interested in contributing to an ICQ (or other similar online chat programs) column as Baby Mischief suggested, please e-mail your number to to be posted in a future issue of My Little Pony Monthly. This would be a great way for more My Little Pony collectors to get in touch with you. Hi, I really think it's awesome how you do MLP Monthly. It's nice to know there are people like you in the world! =0) I love your newsletter and I'm writing a story that is turning out great! I'm going to send it to you when I'm done, if you don't mind?

Bulletin from the Editor

I am excited to announce an unexpected development concerning an e-mail I received from a published author! Chris Platt, who has written several of the Thoroughbred Ashleigh books, and now has her own series, Willow King, has donated six of her books to use as prizes in this and future My Little Pony Monthly issues. All of these books are autographed by the author herself. Ms. Platt was formerly a professional jockey and horse trainer, and the book Willow King was based on her experiences with a real racehorse.

Now, what must you do to win one of these books? For this April contest, we will be giving away an autographed Willow King book. A summary of the book goes as follows:

"Thirteen-year-old Katie Durham can't allow the newborn colt Willow King do be killed just because he has twisted legs. After all, one of her own legs is nearly an inch shorter than the other, and nobody killed her at birth! Feeling an immediate kinship with the imperfect colt, Katie successfully bargains for his life, but the real challenge is still ahead."

All you have to do to have a chance at the book is answer the questions contained in the April Fools' Day Fun Facts and send your response to me at

Correctly answered entries will then be placed in a drawing, and the lucky winner will receive the Chris Platt book. The deadline for entries is Saturday, April 15, 2000. Good luck!


April Fools' Day Fun Facts

Guess whether these statements are true or false, and test your pony knowledge! E-mail your answers to; if you think a statement is false, you must correct it to make it true. If all your answers are correct, you will be placed in a drawing for a chance to win an autographed copy of Chris Platt's Willow King book.

1. Chief was in the first group of Big Brothers.

2. Hasbro produced My Little Ponies for the first time in 1982.

3. Blossom, Snuzzle, Powder, Blue Belle, Butterscotch, and Minty were the original six ponies produced.

4. Crunch the rockdog was saved from a life of villainy by the Sunstone.

5. Sweetheart owned a cat by the name of Springfield.

6. Boysenberry Pie goes by the name of Blackberry Pie in England.

7. Summer Wing Ponies are actually baby Flutter Ponies.

8. A set of male Sea Ponies was produced in 1989.

9. Baby Tic-Tac-Toe was not Twinkle-Eyed like her mother.

10. Locket was only in one My Little Pony episode, Flight to Cloud Castle.

11. Merry Treat has yellow eyes.

12. Ace was the first boy admitted into the girls' clubhouse.

13. A doll of Danny was offered for a short while in a mail-order offer in 1987.

14. Rosedust is the queen of the Flutter Ponies.

15. Fizzy is portrayed as having a very confused personality in the cartoon series.

16. Bouncy has the symbol of a rabbit.

17. Magic Star and Truly were the first two rearing ponies.

18. "Firefly's Adventure" was one of the official titles of the first My Little Pony animated special.

19. Two versions of Windy the Rainbow Pony were made, one having a lavender body and one having a blue body.

20. The only thing Sundance seemed to be good at was jumping.


The Lost Prince
Chapter 3
by Moonjumper (

~* At a summer camp in Northern Pennsylvania *~

"And Molly is Cabin A's counselor." She pointed to a group of girls under the trees. "You will go with her... and..." The tall blond woman continued matching campers with counselors and cabins.

"Great," Molly muttered as the group of girls eagerly came towards her. There was no way out now; she was stuck here for the summer. I know I'll hate this... With a sigh, she attempted to smile and led the girls to Cabin A.

Twenty minutes later after the girls had unpacked and chosen their bunks, Molly sat down on the floor near the door. There had been two fights, one a pillow fight and the other between the reddish-brown haired girl and the honey-colored hair girl. Now what, kumbaya?

"Okay, you all know my name; how about we go around and introduce ourselves and give our age?" Molly suggested, hoping to pass the time until supper quickly.

"I'll start!" a bubbly blond grinned. "My name's Sara; I'm nine and I love sports!" Sara was very exuberant.

The next girl had long, straight black hair and Asian features. She was the smallest in the group and looked to be the shyest as well. "I'm Ami and I'm eight," she said quietly. "And I like school," she said as an afterthought.

The reddish-brown haired girl smirked. "School?! Ha..." Seeing Molly's look, she smiled faintly and said, "I'm Marissa... nine." She looked bored with what she considered to be a child's game.

Molly watched her. She'll be trouble, she warned herself.

"I'm Ciara; I'm nine years old and I like to read and write stories." Ciara's honey-colored hair was pulled back by green butterfly clips that matched her bright green eyes.

"Taylor... eight." Taylor copied Marissa and Marissa grinned proudly.

"Jessica... nine." Jessica did the same, then flipped her sun-streaked hair over her shoulder.

"And my name's Lisa. I'm eight and Molly is the bestest cousin in the whole world!" Lisa had the same thick blond hair that Molly now wore in a ponytail.

Did she have to stay in my cabin? Molly shrugged. Things couldn't get any worse...

"All campers come to the Mess Hall! All campers-- supper time!!" the loudspeakers blared all over the camp. A stampede of girls knocked past Molly before she could move from the door.

Whatever happened to straight lines... grr. Molly stared after them, very irritated. One girl stayed behind. Ciara offered her a hand.

"I guess they're hungry?" A laugh hid behind her serious eyes.

Molly took Ciara's hand and smiled. "Thanks, ready to go?"

Ciara nodded and beamed. She's nice, the girl thought as they started, much more slowly than the others, towards the Mess Hall.

* * *
After supper, Diana, the director of the camp and Molly's aunt, announced that the team camping trip had been moved from Friday night to Tuesday night.

"Each team has a girls' cabin and a boys' cabin... Cabin A's with Cabin B's... Cabin C's with Cabin D's... and so on," Diana smiled at her restless audience. "So, tomorrow, during the third free time-- right after supper time-- all campers should pack a small bag. Your counselor will be able to tell you what to bring if you have any questions."

Diana stepped down and the sports director appeared to divvy the campers into teams.

* * *
Late that night, after lights out, Molly went outside and began to walk down the path to the soccer field. This is terrible... She kicked a stone and watched it skitter off the path into the forest. I want to go home... A single tear slipped down her cheek. Mom should've let me stay... but no, they had to separate all of us...

More tears came freely as Molly lay down in the slightly wet field, closing her eyes and calming down. It was weird how night had a way of relaxing her; when she was little, she'd always been afraid of the dark, but something had happened...

"Hey? You okay?" a voice came through the night.

Molly opened her eyes to see a camper above her. A camper? No, not a camper... she realized.

"Molly? Danny's little sister?" The guy sat down on the grass and jumped up. "It's soaking WET out here!"

Molly laughed. "Who... who are you?"

He grinned at her. "What? Not remember me, Tidbit?"

Molly stared at him. Tidbit? Only Danny calls me that...

"You really don't remember me, do you? It's me, Theo," he shook his head wonderingly.

"Oh! Theo!" Recognition lit Molly's eyes.

"What are you doing out here? Like I said, it's wet!" Theo raised an eyebrow.

"Don't do that," Molly said, suddenly remembering. She dashed back to her cabin abruptly.

"What was that all about?" Theo looked after her quizzically.

* * *
Molly yanked on her boots. Real smart, Molls... freak out for nothing... she grimaced.

"Can we go now? Can we? Can we??" Lisa bounced up and down, her hair flying wildly.

Molly had to smile; she'd been this excited on her first camp-out, too. "All right, get your backpack and I'll tell everyone it's time to go."

"I'm not going!" Marissa stomped her foot when Molly told her to get her bag. "You can't make me go... WAH!! Hey, put me DOWN!!!" Molly ignored her and carted Marissa outside the cabin.

Lisa grinned. "Marissa should've known after last night she can't say ‘no' to Molly!" She nudged Ciara and Ciara smiled back.

"Now, if you're finished..." Molly looked Marissa in the eye before continuing. "We should be meeting boys' Cabin B." She turned around to see Theo a few steps away with five boys. Oh, no...

"Hey Tidbit!" Theo's nickname caused the boys to snicker.

"Well, girls, meet your teammates," Molly rolled her eyes.

Both sides of girls and boys glared at each other, then looked to their counselors for approval.

"Shall we go?" Theo grinned, completely enjoying himself.

"Girls, let's show these guys the trail," Molly winked at her cabin.

Lisa and Sara started running, leading the rest of the girls; the boys came more slowly, reluctantly following. They entered the forest and very quickly were ready for a break.

"Can we stop now? My feet hurt!" Marissa whined.

Theo looked at the rest of the group. Could use a rest, he thought. "Sure, let's stop here!"

Molly glanced back at the resting kids. Theo can handle them for a minute... She continued into the forest, looking for their camp site. She was only gone for about a minute when she noticed a strange thing; the forest in front of her was whirling together. What in the world? Molly reached out to touch one of the trees, but drew back and ran for the group.

Lisa looked up from the ants' nest she'd found. "You okay, Molly? Your face is pale." She studied her cousin's face carefully.

Ciara, Sara, and Ami hurried over and Marissa followed curiously.

"Something's wrong," Molly said, shaking her head, as if she could rid the image from her memory.

Theo laughed. "Sure." He turned to his group of boys. "Looks like they're trying to scare us guys! Who wants to come with me to see what ‘awful' thing is farther up the trail?"

The boys snickered again and two of them stood up. "We'll go!" one said, rolling his eyes. The other grinned and nodded.

Molly stared at them. What's wrong with them??

Ciara looked up at Molly. "I believe you," she whispered. Molly made a small smile.

"Let's go," Theo said.

Theo, his two boys, Lisa, Ami, Sara, Ciara, and Marissa followed Molly back to where she'd stopped earlier in the forest.

"See?" Molly felt like sticking her tongue out at Theo.

Theo stared, stunned. The two boys "oohed" and "ahhed" at the strange whirling.

"Can we go back now? I'm getting a strange feeling about this." Marissa's voice lost its usual sarcasm and self-confidence.

Molly took her hand and nodded. "Let's go back, Theo."

Theo barely nodded. It's so much like... His eyes widened. It can't be! But, then, it is! Theo stepped up to "it". He could almost see it, almost...

"Theo!!" Molly tugged him back, her voice small. "We've got a problem!"

Theo turned around. The whirling forest had surrounded them and was closing in fast. Marissa whimpered and the cocky boy eyed the forest, searching for a way of escape. There was none.

Ciara reached up and took Molly's other hand confidently. It will be better if we all hold hands... "Hold hands, everyone!!"

The rest looked at her, but did as she said. Theo nodded. She'd been "there", too. She wasn't scared of what was happening.

The forest closed in and Molly closed her eyes tightly. She peeked just as the forest swallowed them. They were suddenly thrown to the ground and a bright light pierced through the dark forest.

Theo was the first to stand and tugged the others up. They were "here". He smiled at Ciara, and she grinned back. Now I'm back home...


The Merry Treat and Tabby Gossip Hour!
by Merry Treat and Tabby ( and
with guest appearance by Nightshade

Tabby: Well, MT, you said we had a guest today on our gossip... oh! I think he just walked in the room, didn't he?

Nightshade: ::makes his entrance:: Hello, hello!

Merry Treat: Everyone, this is our friend, Nightshade!

Nightshade: ::waves timidly:: Eh... hi, everyone.

Tabby: So, all you mares out there, remember that there's a new stallion in town.

Merry Treat: Tabby!

Tabby: *giggles*

Merry Treat: ~rolls eyes~ Don't mind her, Nightshade. Come sit down with us.

Tabby: So, Nightshade, what are you doing here in Dream Valley?

Nightshade: ::shrugs:: I dunno, just hanging around.

Merry Treat: That's what most of us do, anyway.

Tabby: You train Pokèmon, don't you?

Nightshade: Yes, I do.

Merry Treat: How many do you have right now?

Tabby: Got any rare specimens?

Nightshade: Eh... they're all pretty rare, except for Raichu. Then again, no one could replace her. I've got about eight at the time. The others are on... vacation...

Tabby: So, Nightshade, have you been approached by any white pegasi lately?

Nightshade: Umm...I can't say that I have.

Merry Treat: Oh, I hope not... if you see Tiffany, walk the other way!

Tabby: Well, I know she's bound to show up eventually once she finds out about you. Especially since you're a pegasus and all.

Merry Treat: Just hope you don't, Nightshade. Tiffany's a flirt with all the guys, especially her boyfriend.

Tabby: But there aren't any pegasi stallions around besides you, and she has always thought pegasi were the superior breed.

Nightshade: Eh... but if she has a boyfriend, why would she flirt with everyone else? ::confused::

Merry Treat: Because she's Tiffany.

Tabby: She's a princess. She flirts with everyone. Besides, her current boyfriend hasn't bought her a diamond ring yet and she's offended by that.

Merry Treat: And she's thinking she can get one out of someone else.

Tabby: Exactly. *nods* Of course, you'll also have Tamara to deal with now, and...

Nightshade: Then if she's looking for one here, she's looking in the wrong place. I couldn't buy a ring if my life depended on it.

Merry Treat: At least Tamara's already got her eye on someone else, methinks...

Tabby: Well, yes, but she's still going to look at Nightshade.

Nightshade: ::sweatdrop:: How flattering.

Merry Treat: Just try to avoid Tiffany, and you'll be safe.

Tabby: Beginning to wish you'd never moved here, Nightshade?

Nightshade: Not really. It's been nice, so far...

Tabby: At least there's another new guy around, so you won't get all the attention.

Merry Treat: Oh? Who's the other new stallion?

Tabby: He's actually been back around in town for several months now. His name's Brightblade.

Merry Treat: Brightblade... Brightblade... can't remember if I've seen him.

Tabby: He supposedly went on a quest and saved Ponyland from an evil ogre. He's yellow with red hair-- the pony, not the ogre.

Merry Treat: ~shivers~ Brr! It's cold in here! ~pulls on a sweater~

Tabby: He's now taking over control of that old antique store across town.

Merry Treat: Ah, so that's who he is... I have seen him once or twice.

Nightshade: ::shrugs:: It's all news to me...

Tabby: Brightblade is only an earth pony, though. He's got a helmet with a unicorn horn, but that's all.

Merry Treat: A helmet with a unicorn horn?

Tabby: Yeah. He got that on his quest. It's not as good as the real thing.

Merry Treat: I imagine you would know that, yes.

Tabby: *rubs her horn self-consciously*

Merry Treat: I'm glad I don't have to worry about a horn... or wings... no offense, guys.

Nightshade: ::chuckles:: It's no big deal.

Merry Treat: Okay, good.

Tabby: Horns are cool!

Merry Treat: ~sweatdrops~ Yeah, they are; I'm just saying that I'm glad I don't have to worry about one...

Tabby: In other news, Sugarberry finally bought herself a Furby!

Merry Treat: Ah! You convinced her?

Tabby: She happened to be with me at Toys R Us last weekend, and I had to point out to her the Furby sale they were having. Only twenty jangles each for babies and adults!

Merry Treat: Oh! I wish I'd known about that... ~mutters~

Tabby: She had had her eye on a certain magenta and blue baby Furby, and thought she would buy that one. But she was just picking the baby up when she caught site of a different Furby up on the top shelf...

Nightshade: ::yawns:: I would go insane if I had to be a caretaker for one of those. No offense.

Tabby: It was a black and silver adult Furby, and Sugarberry fell in love instantly. She ended-up buying him instead of the baby.

Merry Treat: ~wakes up her own Furby with an evil grin~

Tabby: And his name's May-Lah.

Nightshade: ::headache:: I understand not a word you speak.

Merry Treat: How cute! Why don't you understand us, Nightshade? ~cocks head~

Nightshade: Furbys aren't my... forte.

Dah-Noh-Lah: Dum-dee-dee-dee-dee! Dum-dee-dee-dum!

Tabby: Hey, Dah-Noh-Lah! Big party, wah!

Nightshade: ::smiles and shakes head:: Silly ponies. Ack. Time has run out and the party begins relatively soon. Gotta go!

Merry Treat: Byes! ~waves~

Tabby: You didn't tell me he was on a time limit.

Merry Treat: He just has a party to attend. But, anyway, so...

Tabby: Mom has been calling me more frequently from Italy lately.

Merry Treat: Oh? What does she want?

Tabby: Still pestering me to get married.

Merry Treat: Maybe you should just tell her flat out that you don't want to.

Tabby: *sniffs and ignores the comment*

Merry Treat: ~pats her shoulder~ What's wrong?

Tabby: Nothing's wrong. That was a... sarcastic sniff. Or something.

Merry Treat: Ah, okay, ~nods, feeling like an idiot~

Tabby: If only Mom wouldn't pester me so.

Merry Treat: Hmm... ~thinks for a moment~ Why don't you just tell her the truth?

Tabby: What is the truth?

Merry Treat: That you haven't met that one special guy yet, and you would rather not get married until you do. She can't argue with that.

Tabby: *sits back in her chair and mutters about no one understanding*

Merry Treat: ~cocks head~ What's that, Tabby? You're mumbling...

Tabby: Well, maybe I have met that one special guy but nobody sees that yet. I still don't want to be pestered.

Merry Treat: Why don't you just tell her that?

Tabby: Oh, you don't understand! *huffs* Let's get off this topic.

Merry Treat: Well, the Chanseys at the Pokèmon Center have been planning something special for Easter.

Tabby: *sighs* It's just a gimmick to bring more baby ponies in. I don't like it.

Merry Treat: They'll be giving out hand-decorated Easter eggs to all the baby ponies that come in during the weeks before the holiday.

Tabby: Do you know how many baby ponies are going to be storming into the center now wanting an Easter egg? It's going to be a disaster! Who knows what havoc they'll wreak upon the place?

Merry Treat: Well, it is a cute idea. I don't think the baby ponies are as bad as you imagine them to be, Tabby.

Tabby: You don't know baby ponies like I do, Merry Treat.

Merry Treat: Sure, sure. ~rolls eyes~ How has Sugarberry's new kitten been getting on?

Tabby: Raptor? Oh, he keeps growing and he's been more playful than ever.

Merry Treat: He's such a cutie. I'm glad Sugarberry adopted him.

Tabby: And he likes to pounce on Fluff while he's sleeping. It scares Fluff to death.

Merry Treat: ~giggles~ Sounds like Fluff is having fun. Has he gotten into any trouble with Sugarberry?

Tabby: Well, there was the time last week when Sugarberry was baking a cake; and at one point she had her back turned, and Raptor jumped up on the counter and rolled several eggs onto the floor.

Merry Treat: Oh no! What a mess!

Tabby: Other than that, he's just a regular cute li'l kitten.

Merry Treat: I'll have to stop in and visit him again sometime.

Tabby: Hey! I've forgotten to mention some of the most important news concerning My Little Pony Monthly.

Merry Treat: Sugarberry's novel? You're right!

Tabby: We've been given exclusive rights to reprint Sugarberry's new mystery novel in this very newsletter!

Merry Treat: It's titled Ginseng and Sassafras Tea. We'll be printing two chapters of it in the newsletter each month. It's really an exciting book.

Tabby: In other news, you know that Clever Clover has run off on another quest or something?

Merry Treat: I heard about that! He went to the Flatlands, right? What exactly is he doing this time?

Tabby: *shrugs* I'm not sure. I know I wouldn't go to the Flatlands any more than necessary. But when I was at Sugarberry's last night, a call came in from him on the phone.

Merry Treat: Well, what did he say?

Tabby: It was the strangest thing. I was only hearing Sugarberry's end of the conversation, and she suddenly began advising him to "look in the baby pony department by the diapers" or something like that.

Merry Treat: ~opens eyes wide~ What is that pony doing out there?

Tabby: Then she said something about talcum power, so I guess that was all it was about. Still, Cleve Clove gets into weird things.

Merry Treat: You can say that again! ~nods~ I can't wait ‘till he gets back and we can find out what his adventure was like.

Tabby: Progress on the toy museum Spike and I are setting up is going well.

Merry Treat: You've been busy with that a lot lately. How much longer until it will be open to the public?

Tabby: Well, Spike has been busy building lots of shelves for the place. I've been setting my items up. He doesn't trust me with handling his toys, though.

Merry Treat: That will be a lot of toys when you're through. What are you going to charge for admission?

Tabby: Oh, maybe five jangles or so. I didn't want to give the baby ponies a discounted rate, but Spike thinks it would be best to offer one.

Merry Treat: ~shakes head~ Not all baby ponies are bad, Tabby. Look at Baby Noddins! She idolizes you!

Tabby: Isn't it terrible? I can't stand it. She's always coming to see me at the Pokèmon Center. I can't see what she admires so much about me.

Merry Treat: That's true; you're never very nice to her.

Tabby: *glowers* That's because she annoys me.

Merry Treat: I bet you could be great friends if you'd treat her nicely.

Tabby: Besides, the ruined the My Little People doll I gave her for Christmas.

Merry Treat: It was her friend Baby Falling Leaves that got marker all over it, wasn't it?

Tabby: But still! She's only a baby pony, and I can't stand any baby ponies!

Merry Treat: ~giggles at Tabby's discomfort~ Well, anyway, I've heard that Friendly has been excelling in his college classes.

Tabby: Yes, in his computer programming class.

Merry Treat: It turns out that Friendly knew more about computers than the stallion teaching the class, so the other students got a petition going to make Friendly the teacher as well!

Tabby: The officials are a little skeptical of letting a Bushwoolie teach the class, but they did put Friendly in charge.

Merry Treat: He's very intelligent for a Bushwoolie. I think he'll do just fine.

Tabby: Yes, you'd be amazed by how much he knows about computers. I remember those days in the past when I'd sit for hours on end in his Bushwoolie hole watching him play those cool computer games of his. *sighs in remembrance*

Merry Treat: Doesn't he still play them?

Tabby: He does, but I don't have much time any more to visit him beyond the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe. I have more things to do in life now, I guess.

Merry Treat: Speaking of the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, I think that's our cue to sign-off.

Tabby: That's right! But before we go, remember everyone, all our authors love hearing from their fans! Be sure to e-mail them with your comments on their stories in the newsletter this month!

Merry Treat: Definitely! You should find their e-mail addresses under the title of their work.

Tabby: Exactly. So, with that said, goodbye!

Merry Treat: Until next month! ~waves as she and Tabby dash out the door~


Ponyland Publishing Company has given My Little Pony Monthly the exclusive right to reprint Sugarberry's new novel, Ginseng and Sassafras Tea, in monthly installments beginning with this issue.

Ginseng and Sassafras Tea
by Sugarberry (


Nearly invisible amidst the dense green foliage of the bushes, a lone stallion stood stiffly with dark eyes glaring, watching the intruders in his domain. His family legacy had been plundered because of the infringement of these ponies-- oh, maybe not these particular individuals, but more of their kind, probably from the town. He silently watched as they passed his concealed position; then he melted into the underbrush with the stealth and furtiveness of a panther.

Chapter One

Anyone watching the aqua blue stallion coming down the forest path might have mistaken him for the Pied Piper as he was followed by a group of no less than six rambunctious young ponies of various ages. They all seemed to be having a grand time by the amount of laughter that echoed off the tall, stately trunks of the assorted maples, elms, cedar, and oak trees that decorated this region.

"Uncle Hood, are you sure that sprites live in these woods?" spoke up a petite rose-colored foal, her head turned up to catch the eye of her adult companion, causing her magenta mane to drag in the path.

"Well, Blush, I've never actually seen a sprite around here," admitted Hood, "but I've found signs of the little creatures often enough."

"What signs?" asked a little orange colt disbelievingly. Although there was no outward appearance to attest to the fact, he was Blush's twin brother.

Hood stopped, and surveyed the trees along the path before replying. Seeming to find his answer in their leafy canopy, he spoke. "Their caps, Crush. Their own midget caps."

Crush kicked at the blanket of twigs and leaves on the path and scowled. Uncle Hood had gotten the best of him more than once; he wanted to make sure there were no obvious loopholes now.

Laser, the oldest colt in the group surrounding Hood, grinned knowingly, remembering the day his uncle had baited him with this same piece of information. He kept his mouth shut, however. Let Uncle Hood weave his spell of magic for Blush and Crush and the others.

"Could you find one today, Uncle Hood?" pleaded Blush as she bounced excitedly. "Please?"

Seeing his big sister so enthusiastic, Puzzle-- a mint green toddler following close on Hood's heels-- began begging, too. "Sprite cap! Sprite cap!"

Lacewing, Laser's tomboy younger sister, demanded attention. "There are no such things as sprites." She frowned at her uncle. "You are just teasing."

At this news, Crush found verification of his doubts. "I knew it!" he cried. "You're making this all up!"

Smiling mysteriously, Hood quietly asked, "Would you believe me if I found one? A cap, I mean," he clarified.

"I believe you already," firmly stated Dewdrop, the only foal in the group not related by bloodlines. She was a delicate cream-colored beauty with a cascade of curly sky-blue mane. She gazed trustingly at Hood.

"Thank you, Dewdrop," Hood said formally. "You come up to the head of the group."

Turning to the rest, he directed, "Follow us. But watch your step. You don't want to squash a sprite!" To Dewdrop, he confided, "Think sprite-ish thoughts. That will help us to find a cap."

The now silent group moved cautiously down the path. Each of the young ponies peered intently at the ground, while Hood seemed more engrossed in the leaves overhead. After several minutes, he muttered under his breath, "Finally! An oak tree." Leading the still-entranced ponies past the trunk of the oak, but remaining under the spreading branches, Hood suddenly stopped and raised a hoof. Without a word being spoken, every motion ceased, and all eyes were on Hood.

"What is it, Uncle Hood?" Blush asked cautiously.

Hood's hoof went to his lips as he whispered, "Be quiet. I sense that a sprite has been close by."

Even Crush was drawn into the suspense; and Puzzle, young as he was, sensed the wonder in the air.

Slowly, Hood knelt in the decaying oak leaves scattered about and held out his hoof over them, moving it back and forth, as if honing in on some invisible signal. When all seemed right, he lowered his hoof and moved several oak leaves aside. Then, reverently, he picked-up a small, brown cap from the rich dark soil. Holding the cap in his hoof, he cast his glance on each pony one-by-one. Then, in a deep and sonorous voice, he said, "This, children, is the cap of a sprite."

Laser felt his skin crawl just like the first time he'd heard his uncle intone those words. He shook himself to shed the eerie feeling.

Lacewing stepped forward, breaking the spell. "Are you sure about this, Uncle Hood?" she asked suspiciously. "I've seen..."

But before Lacewing could finish, Laser clamped his hoof over her mouth, and wagged his head to keep her silent. Puzzle, meanwhile, stood in open-mouthed amazement.

"Can I touch it?" Blush asked.

"Yes, but gently," instructed Hood.

The foal bent close to the cap, and touched it quickly, then jumped back. "It feels wet," she worried.

"Of course it's wet on the forest floor," chided Crush. "No sunshine ever gets down there."

Dewdrop approached the diminutive cap and gazed on it quietly before asking permission to hold it. Hood placed it on her extended hoof where she cradled it tentatively.

Blush had been thinking things through, and asked curiously, "Why did the sprite leave his hat here, anyway?"

"Yeah," Crush added. "He'll be in big trouble with his mom for losing it!" This statement was made with the assurance of a colt who had been there, done that.

Solemnly, Hood enlightened his captive audience. "The sprites sleep under the leaves at night; oak leaves are their favorite blankets."

"Blankie," cooed Puzzle, who still shared a special attachment to a silky soft blue blanket that had comforted him since birth.

Hood smiled at his nephew. "Yes, Puzzle, these leaves mean as much to the sprites as your blue blanket does to you."

"So where are the sprites now?" queried Dewdrop.

"That's the sad part," declared Hood. "When they are asleep under the leaves, and ponies come along the path, the sprites run to escape being trampled, and lose their caps in the process."

"Oh, that's horrible!" sniffed Dewdrop.

"Poor sprites!" agreed Blush.

"How come I've never seen one?" demanded Crush.

"You're too noisy," said Blush. "They'd here you from miles away."

"Good point," smiled Hood. "Now, remember that your parents asked each of you to stop going into the forest alone?"

"That really stinks!" complained Crush, who loved to play pretend games in the cool confines of the shaded and magical forest. He had spent many a happy hour fighting dragons, finding unknown species of animals, and stalking villainous bad guys in this haven.

Hood patted the upset colt on his head. "The reason for that is to protect the sprites," Hood explained. "If you stay off the paths, the sprites will get their rest and feel better. As it is, they are getting cranky from lack of sleep."

Crush scoffed. "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard!" But Puzzle yawned deeply, which gave Hood the chance to direct his troupe homeward.

Everyone was pensive as they continued on their way. Soon they left the forest behind for a meadow with only a scattering of new growth trees interrupting the expanse of grass and wildflowers. Queen Anne's Lace, Chicory, Spotted Knapweed, and Black-eyed Susan created a vibrant palette of color and a pleasing fragrance.

Beyond the meadow sat the village of Woodland where the ponies had their homes. As they neared the first house, the tired and hungry youngsters revved-up their trot. It would soon be lunchtime and Crush goaded his playmates to top speed. "Last one home's a rotten egg!" Puzzle squealed in dismay as the older foals ran on ahead, while his little hooves raced frantically to keep pace.

Laser, on the other hoof, held back to keep stride with his uncle. When the others had gained enough distance ahead so as not to overhear his conversation, Laser spoke. "The sprite cap story was as good as ever, Uncle Hood."

"And thanks to you shushing Lacewing, the littlest ones don't need to know for several years yet that those brown caps are nothing but the tops of the acorn seeds off the oak tree."

"But why did you add that part about us pestering the sprites so much that we have to stay out of the forest?" pondered Laser.

Hood didn't answer immediately. He sized up his nephew besides him and considered what amount of the truth to share with this serious-minded colt. When Hood finally responded, his words were spoken more seriously than Laser had ever heard him speak before. "There is a danger lurking in the forest, Laser, a danger that we don't yet understand. And until we do, the forest is off-limits to you and your friends. Do you understand?"

Laser looked up at his uncle with wide, round eyes. He intuitively knew this was a grave moment and that Uncle Hood was counting on him. "Yes, Uncle Hood. I understand."

Chapter Two

Blush, Crush, and Puzzle had disappeared into their home by the time Hood and Laser entered the heart of the village, and Dewdrop could be seen just opening the gate into her front yard across the road from a cozy white house with blue trim that was home to Laser, Lacewing, and their parents, Checker and Moonglow.

Moonglow was just coming out the door when Hood and Laser arrived. "Run in and wash up for lunch, Laser. Lacewing is already at the table." She watched as her son hungrily went indoors. Looking intently at her brother's face, she asked anxiously, "Did you see anything suspicious?"

"No, Moonglow. Everything was quiet today."

"No sign of anyone being there who shouldn't be there?"

"No. Not a clue. Except..." Hood reflected for a moment.

"What is it?"

"Nothing, really. I just felt like we were being watched."

Moonglow groaned. "What's happening around here, Hood? This was the most peaceful place before... before these..." Her voice trailed off.

Hood hugged his sister to him. "We'll find out who is behind this, Moonglow. And remember, you're not to worry so much. That foal you're carrying needs you to take care of yourself.

Moonglow forced a smile. "You're right, Hood. And I do try not to worry. It's just sometimes I feel so helpless." She sighed deeply as if to purge her emotions. "Join us for lunch?"

"Why do you think I'm still standing here?" Hood teased her.

"Well, excuse me!" Moonglow smiled. "Please come in!"

Hood and Moonglow were no sooner seated at the table where Laser and Lacewing were still munching on their sandwiches when Lacewing broached the sprite subject with her mother.

"Mom, Uncle Hood told us that sprites live in the forest."

That remark caused Moonglow to choke on her first bite of sandwich, but she was smiling when she reappeared from behind her napkin. "Oh, really?"

"Yes, and he says that the little caps from the acorns are really sprite caps."

"Well, Lacewing, your Uncle Hood knows a lot more about that sort of thing than I do."

"But Mom, those brown things are just part of the acorn. There are no sprites."

Moonglow looked to Hood for guidance. But it was Laser who provided the answer. "The sprites pick them up after the acorns fall and use them for their caps, just like you use cornhusks for your precious little dolls."

"Oh." His reply seemed to make sense to Lacewing, so she went back to eating.

When dessert was finished and the foals had begun washing the dishes, Hood announced that he, too, had to be leaving. "I've got a delivery of ice cream due at the shop this afternoon." Hood ran an ice cream parlor on Main Street, which partially explained his popularity with the younger set of Woodlawn.

"Who's running the shop now while you're off loafing?" wondered Moonglow as she walked Hood to the door.

"Drumstick. I'm sure going to miss him when college classes start again this fall."

"Lacewing has a crush on him, you know."

That caught Hood off guard. "She's rather young for that sort of thing, isn't she?" Hood could be very protective where his nieces and nephews were concerned.

Moonglow giggled. "At her age, having a crush simply means that she thinks he's nice. You know, kind of like Dreamy when she followed you around during your high-school days."

"Dreamy? That little scatterbrained pony? After all these years, you're telling me that her incessant annoyance was because she had a crush on me?"


"Weird!" exclaimed Hood. Suddenly, his expression changed to one of concern. "Moonglow, you look awfully tired. Maybe you should lie down and rest."

"I am rather sleepy." She looked toward the kitchen. "Want two helpers at the shop this afternoon?"

"Sure. Why not? I can teach them the ins and outs of ice cream tasting! But you have to promise to take a nap," Hood urged.

"I will," Moonglow promised. "Just don't let the kids eat all the profits!"


Spring Break
by Sugarberry (

Two slim ponies walked briskly down the path, but not so quickly that they couldn't carry on an animated conversation.

"So how are you going to fill-in your time once you're home?" the brown filly asked of the dark lemon stallion.

He shook his light green mane to catch the gentle spring zephyr that laced the March air and laughed. "Certainly nothing educational. I might try some hiking and fishing, but mostly I'll just be goofin' off. How about you?"

The monotone colored pony lowered her head as if in sorrow. "I guess it all depends on if Mom and Dad are glad to see me or not."

"How could they not be glad to see you?" The stallion looked at his friend in amazement. "They'll spoil you rotten."

"Is that how your folks will treat you over semester break, Prime?" she asked, lifting her head to face him.

"Well, Mom always bakes all my favorite foods, and Dad has me help him with some project around the house so we have plenty of time to talk, and relatives and friends will be dropping in to visit," Prime shared. "The only problem is that the time goes by way too quickly."

Both ponies fell silent as Prime thought ahead to a busy week at home away from Pony Pride University while Chocolate Chip looked ahead with dread to an uncertain homecoming. Her brother had convinced her to try to patch things up with her parents during her spring break from college. But the closer to Neighberry she got, the tighter the knots in her stomach contracted.

If she hadn't been feeling so low, Chocolate Chip would have been enjoying the passing landscape that she and Prime, her classmate at Pony Pride in Dream Valley, traveled through. The weather had been mild so the hills were already tinged with green, although the trees were still barren. An occasional squirrel raucously scolding from the branch of a tree and the sudden hopping of a frightened rabbit escaped Chocolate Chip completely as she lost herself in painful memories and anxious expectations.

"Chocolate Chip? Are you there?" Prime asked teasingly.

His words slipped into her thoughts and she turned a startled face to her companion. "Did you say something?"

Laughing, Prime enlightened her. "I asked, ‘Have you made a decision on your major yet?' "

"Actually, I think I'm leaning toward teaching," she responded, trying to shake her apprehensions. "But at what level, I don't know."

"Great! Maybe someday we'll be teaching at the same school." Prime, in his sophomore year, was planning on getting a master's degree and teaching college mathematics.

"Teaching elementary might be fun, but I haven't had much experience with baby ponies," Chocolate Chip mused. "Maybe I'll teach high school."

"You'll be great at whatever you do," Prime complimented her.

They had just crested the top of a hill, and both of them stopped to take in the view of Neighberry spread out over the gently rolling countryside. Chocolate Chip swallowed hard. "I guess we're almost there."

She suddenly felt weak in the knees like she couldn't go on, but Prime took off down the sloping path. "Beat you to the bottom," he called. Chocolate Chip mustered all the courage she could, and ran down the hill behind him. She was panting when she finally reached him at the edge of town where a wayside was laid out with picnic tables and covered shelters.

Slumping onto a wooden bench, she glowered at Prime, but his attention was focused across the park-like rest-stop. "Is this someone you know?" he asked.

Chocolate Chip followed his gaze, and settled on a rose-red stallion crossing the early spring grass. "Wishbone!" she squealed, and found renewed energy to race to meet him. "You were watching for me!"

The colorful golden-maned stallion embraced the drab filly and swung her in a circle around him. "You made it, Chockie!"

"Thanks to Prime," Chocolate Chip pulled the stallion to where her companion stood. "Prime, this is my baby brother, Wishbone. He's a senior in high school." She grinned at the two ponies before her. "And Wishbone, this is a classmate from Pony Pride."

"Nice to meet you," both said, and shook hooves.

"Prime's on his way to White Pine," Chocolate Chip continued, referring to the next town to the south.

"White Pine," Wishbone snickered. "We just beat them at the basketball tournament last week."

"What can you expect when their best player graduated two years ago?" Prime countered.

"Spare me, please!" Chocolate Chip rolled her eyes expressively. "If you two start talking sports, Prime won't get home before nightfall."

Prime flashed a grin at Chocolate Chip. "Thanks for reminding me. You know how moms are-- they worry themselves sick if a pony isn't home when he's supposed to be."

"You won't forget to stop and pick me up on Saturday, will you?" she asked.

"Of course not. I'll leave White Pine after breakfast. Shall we meet here or at your house?"

Wishbone interjected an idea. "Why don't you come by the house now so you'll know where it is. By Saturday, we could be getting more snow dumped on us... spring can be unpredictable, you know."

"Oh, isn't my little brother getting responsible!" Chocolate Chip teased, and punched his shoulder. "You sound just like Sugarberry!"

The trio set out for the far side of town where a solid square two-story house sat gleaming white in the midday sun. "Well, there it is!" Chocolate Chip gulped and added glumly, "Home, sweet home."

"I guess this is goodbye until Saturday. I'll swing by here on my way through." And with a wave of his hoof, Prime was gone on his way.

Chocolate Chip looked after him in dismay. It was as if her only link to Dream Valley was deserting her, and she was afraid she'd somehow be lost to it forever.

Wishbone took her hoof and tugged her toward the house. "Lollipop took over your old room because it's bigger, so your stuff is in her old room," he enlightened her to the reorganization that had occurred.

Still holding on to her as if he feared her sprinting away, Wishbone led her up the front steps and opened the door. "Welcome home, Chocolate Chip," he bowed regally.

"Thanks, Wishbone," she smiled and tosseled his mane as she walked through the door. Her eyes roved across the foyer and through the doorways to the other rooms, and she found that outwardly things were basically the same as when she left. Was that a good sign, or a bad one? she wondered silently.

Wishbone let the door slam behind him, and Chocolate Chip jumped. "Where's Mom?" she asked.

"She's at work yet," he replied. "Let's go to the kitchen and get something to eat."

Chocolate Chip set her knapsack at the foot of the stairs, and followed her brother to the kitchen. "The house hasn't changed since I left," she stated.

"No. I guess not." Wishbone looked around as if seeing his home for the first time. "Mom and Dad had been saving their jangles, so they never looked at new furniture."

"Had been?" Chocolate Chip asked as she took the glass of milk Wishbone offered. "You make it sound like they don't anymore."

Wishbone poured another glass of milk, and opened a box of pre-made brownies. "They kinda went off the deep end, and put all their savings into buying a restaurant."

Chocolate Chip choked on her bite of brownie. "They what?"

"Yep," Wishbone appeared smug as he conveyed the news. "Mom quit her job at Pony-Mart, and Dad quit his job at the cart factory, and they became business owners." He waved his hoof through the air for emphasis.

"Where is this restaurant?" Chocolate Chip asked curiously.

"It used to be that old pizza place on Main. Now it's The Right Place. Don't ask. Lollipop came up with the name, and Mom thought it was perfect."


"Don't fuss, Chocolate Chip. She may have all the pastel colors Mom and Dad always wanted in a daughter, but she hasn't got a brain in her head!"

"Wishbone!" Chocolate Chip warned. "Don't talk about your sister that way."

"What way?" asked a voice behind them. They turned to see Lollipop coming in the back way, her flushed pink face framed in brilliant blue curls.

"Lollipop?" Chocolate Chip questioningly said the name. "Is that you, little sister?"

"Certainly is," the vibrant filly giggled, and twirled in front of her siblings. "I'm nearly grown up," she bragged as she came to a stop, and readjusted her curls.

"You were just a kid when I left a year ago," Chocolate Chip stared in amazement. "Now you're a young lady. How can that happen so fast?" She reached out to her sister and drew her in close, but Lollipop stiffened and pulled away.

"I've got to get ready to go over to the restaurant," she tossed her curls. "I keep the salad bar stocked." She left to go upstairs, but turned back again. "I have the big bedroom now; your stuff's in the cave."

Lollipop had always despised her room for its small size, aggravated by the slant of the ceiling which closed it in even worse. She told visitors to the house that she lived in a cave.

"All your things are in boxes in there," Wishbone informed her as Lollipop disappeared upstairs. "Mom said you could go through the stuff, and get rid of what you don't want."

"That was nice of her."

Wishbone changed the subject. "I really enjoyed spending Christmas with you."

"That was the neatest," agreed Chocolate Chip. "It was the best surprise I ever had."

"Did Barnacle ever get a new ship?"

While they discussed the lives of the ponies Wishbone had met on his visit to Dream Valley, they finished their snack and cleaned up the crumbs.

Lollipop passed through on her way to The Right Place. She had adorned her mane with pink ribbons and tied a big bow around her tail. Having accented her eyes with eye liner and shadow, she appeared older than her fifteen years.

"You look lovely," Chocolate Chip complimented her.

"Naturally," Lollipop said with a disapproving glance in her sister's direction. "Maybe you could fix up a bit before you come to eat." With that said, she bolted out the door.

Chocolate Chip stood open-mouthed, staring at her sister's exit as if she'd been slapped in the face.

"Why that little brat!" she fumed.

Wishbone laughed. "Temper, temper! You'll get used to it. Mom and Dad both treat her like a princess... she's spoiled rotten."

Thinking back to her days at home, Chocolate Chip remembered well that Lollipop was spoiled; but she had been close to her sister, and it didn't seem to bother Lollipop then that Chocolate Chip was a little less colorful than the rest of the ponies she knew. Now, however, there seemed to be a certain reserve in Lollipop's attitude toward her.

"Go on up to your room now, and get settled," Wishbone suggested. "You will have time to rest a bit before we go to eat."

Grabbing her satchel and climbing the stairs to the second floor, Chocolate Chip passed by the door to what had once been her bedroom. Backtracking to the closed door, she felt an irresistible urge to take a peak into her former sanctuary. Taking a quick look down the hall, she turned the knob and opened the door.

The scene before her took her breath away. The room had been redecorated to the hilt: new wallpaper, new furniture, new carpeting on the floor, even new curtains at the window. Where her old battered bed had stood now reigned a four-poster canopy bed; her mismatched dressers and chairs had been replaced with coordinated pieces to accent the bed itself. A floral motif wrapped around the room in the wallpaper and the same pattern repeated on the bedding; the curtains were sheer, the carpeting plush. Chocolate Chip fought down her resentment, and closed the door.

She continued down the hall and opened the door into the little room at the end. Her old single bed with a worn chenille bedspread was butted into a corner, and cardboard boxes were stacked in disarray on either side of her dresser; a mirror and a chair completed the furnishings.

Throwing her knapsack on the bed, Chocolate Chip opened the dresser drawers and found them empty. She opened one of the boxes and found it packed with the books she had left behind. She had traveled lightly when she had left home, not knowing where she was going or what she'd do-- only knowing that she had to escape the stifling atmosphere that her parents surrounded her with.

She lifted a battered foal's book out of the box, and was overcome with unhappy memories. The title of the book was Cinderella; when she was little and felt unloved, she would turn to this book for comfort. It gave her hope for a happy ending in her own life.

Her thoughts were interrupted as Wishbone stuck his head through the open doorway. "Do you need anything?"

"Wishbone, are Mom and Dad looking forward to seeing me?"

"They've been awfully busy with the new restaurant and all," he stated lamely, "but, yeah, they were glad to hear you were coming home." He took the book out of her hoof. "Cinderella. You must have read this story to me a million times when we were foals."

"I thought that if I read it enough, it would come true."

"And I always thought that it was the dumbest story I ever heard."

Chocolate Chip took the book from his grasp and scowled menacingly at him.

"Hey! I'm only telling it like it is!" he defended himself, forelegs up to prevent a rap on the head.

"I thought you, at least, were my friend," she muttered.

Wishbone laughed. "You were always the best big sister a colt could ask for. I missed you terribly after you left."

"If I remember correctly, you had such a crush on Honey Blossom that I doubt you missed me at all."

"Ah, yes. Honey Blossom. Her family moved away last summer." Wishbone pulled up the chair and sat down. "Now I'm dating Snowdrift."

"Her brother was in my grade."

"He works at the newspaper now. Snowdrift is going to go to Pony Pride after graduation."

"And how about you, Wishbone?"

He kicked back the chair to balance on its back legs. "I dunno. School's not for me."

"Your grades are still good, I hope."

"Yeah, but where's the fun in studying all the time?"

Chocolate Chip emptied the contents of her backpack into the dresser, and used a comb to straighten her windblown hair. "College is a lot of fun in addition to studying."

"Spoken like a true dweeb!" he teased as he grabbed the pillow off her bed and threw it at her. "And if you've primped enough, we could go cruise Main Street before going to The Right Place. My treat, you know."

Frowning at her image in the mirror, Chocolate Chip worried, "How am I going to ‘fix-up' to please Lollipop?"

"It's just a family restaurant; you don't have to do anything special. Put the blue ribbon on, and you'll look stunning," Wishbone grinned. "If Little Miss Prissy doesn't like it, it's her tough luck."

"Well, I guess I'm ready then," Chocolate Chip sighed as she fluffed out the bow and wished her fairy godmother would materialize to transform her into a ravishing beauty.

* * *
In the course of the year, Neighberry hadn't changed much either, except for a few new names on some of the businesses. The ice cream shop seemed drab and dreary after the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, and the dance hall was closed for repairs. There was, however, a new book store to check out, and Chocolate Chip left with some ideas for Bushwoolie Bargain Books where she worked part-time.

When they were approaching the restaurant now owned and operated by her parents, Chocolate Chip questioned Wishbone on why he wasn't working there, too.

"I do, normally. But I got a substitute to work tonight so I could be with you your first night home."

"Aren't you a dear brother!" Chocolate Chip cooed. "But don't tell me the folks are actually going to make you pay the bill tonight."

Wishbone adopted an authoritative voice that could have passed for her father, Drifter. "A business doesn't make a profit by handing out free merchandise, does it, Son?"

Chocolate Chip giggled. "You are too funny!"

By the time they walked into the restaurant, however, Chocolate Chip was no longer smiling. This was what her trip was all about-- to face her mom and dad again.

The place was rather crowded with ponies-- Chocolate Chip was happy to see that her parents' venture seemed to be doing well. She caught sight of Lollipop hovering around the salad bar, and then saw the deep purple body of her mother, Twilight Jewel, coming from the kitchen. For a brief second, Chocolate Chip thought of turning and leaving before her mother caught sight of her; but in that instant her mother's eyes met hers, and she hastened over to greet her daughter.

"Chocolate Chip! It's so good to see you!" she communicated in an artificial tone used for paying customers. She touched her hoof briefly, and then led her and Wishbone to a table in an out-of-the-way corner.

She doesn't want anyone to see me, Chocolate Chip griped to herself.

Presenting each of them with a menu, her mother apologized. "We'll have to talk later as the place is quite busy tonight, and we're a little short on help." She frowned accusingly at Wishbone. "But enjoy your meal." And she bustled off again.

Chocolate Chip watched as her mom worked her way among the tables, her pink mane braided attractively. "It's nice to see you again too, Mom," she whispered. She turned to Wishbone for support, but found him staring dreamily at a pure white pegasus with aqua mane and tail who was waiting on the table next to them.

"Snowdrift?" she asked him.

"Snowdrift!" he verified.

When the waitress finally got to their table, Wishbone made the introductions and Snowdrift responded pleasantly. "You attend Pony Pride, don't you?" she asked.

"Yes, I do. And it's a great school."

"Oh, I know I'm going to love it there!" Snowdrift agreed. "I only wish that your brother would consider attending, too."

"We'll have to work on him, won't we?" Chocolate Chip winked.

When the food arrived, it was well presented and tasted delicious. "Mom was never this good a cook!" Chocolate Chip was amazed. "How does she do it?"

"Dad does most of the cooking here," Wishbone grinned. "He had that hidden talent all these years."

"I'm impressed."

"Wait until you see him in his tall white hat, and his apron. You won't recognize him."

The two ponies lingered over dessert and coffee, and talked more about their plans.

"What's the real reason you don't want to continue your education?" Chocolate Chip asked her brother.

He took his eyes off Snowdrift long enough to glance at his sister and answer. "Mom and Dad want me to work here full-time when I graduate. And they pay good, believe it or not."

"You could always come back here once you had your degree."

Wishbone shrugged his shoulders. "I can learn the restaurant business first-hoof here. And I'll be earning wages right away. I think college is a waste of time."

"You sound like Dad again."

"Speaking of which," Wishbone said, "it's thinned out in here, so let's go back to the kitchen and face the cook."

Chocolate Chip watched as Wishbone left a generous tip for Snowdrift; then they walked through the swinging doors into the kitchen. Drifter was standing over the stove, and he didn't notice his daughter until she laid her brown hoof over his yellow one. "Hi, Dad," she smiled, feeling like a gangly adolescent again.

He turned and looked at his daughter for several seconds, then turned back to his work. "We'll talk later," was all he said. "For now, grab a spoon and stir that sauce."

It was late when the work was finished and the restaurant was finally locked behind them. Chocolate Chip was exhausted, but the fact that she was again a part of this family now walking home together revitalized her, causing her misapprehensions to slip away into the night. She skipped ahead of her siblings to nudge her way between her folks. "Thanks for letting me stay this week. It's good to see you all again." Chocolate Chip surprised herself that she could say those words, and really mean them.

"Tell us about your life in Dream Valley," her father suggested.

Chocolate Chip happily recounted her various experiences, and shared stories about her new friends and her college life. By the time they reached home, she had given them a fairly detailed account of the last year.

Later at home after Lollipop and Wishbone had gone to their rooms for the night, Chocolate Chip was left alone with her parents. An awkward silence came over them until Drifter cleared his throat.

"You did a good job at the restaurant tonight."

Chocolate Chip smiled. "I've learned a little about cooking from Sugarberry."

Her mother took a quick glance at Drifter, then presented an idea. "Would you be willing to help out at the restaurant all week? We really do need the extra hooves."

Chocolate Chip looked from one to the other, and a sinking feeling enveloped her. Was this why they had allowed her to visit... to get free labor?

Her thoughts must have been visible on her face as Drifter hurriedly assured her that she would be paid for her work. "Minimum wage, you know."

Was minimum wage what Wishbone was willing to sacrifice a college education for? she wondered. A sneaking suspicion that Lollipop and Wishbone were probably making more than that was pushed down, and she forced a pleasant smile from years of practice. "Of course I'll help out, Dad... Mom. What are families for?" The facetiousness of her statement went unnoticed.

Her mother looked like a load had been lifted from her shoulders and her dad breathed a visible sigh of relief. "That's great, Chocolate Chip! We had no idea that we'd be so busy, and the want-ads aren't bringing in any more applicants. Things will get better when school's off for the summer." He patted her shoulder as he went off to bed. "Good night."

"I'm turning in, too," Twilight Jewel said. "Don't forget to put out the lights."

Chocolate Chip was left alone in the middle of the living room and she steeled herself not to cry. She could hear every word her parents had said playing back in her mind, and not once did either of them call her sweetie or honey or even daughter. Not once had they hugged her. Their only happiness at seeing her was in connection with working at The Right Place.

Sugarberry, this isn't working out! her soul cried forlornly, but she refused to be defeated. I'll prove to them that I'm worth more than just hired help," she whispered to herself. "I'll make them love me!"

In reaching for the light switch, she noticed the graduation picture of Wishbone already hanging on the wall, a goofy smile lighting his face. "Snowdrift was probably behind the photographer," she surmised. Next to the stallion's picture hung an eight-by-ten of Lollipop when she'd finished middle school, decked out with pearl ear rings and enough makeup to make her look like a movie star.

Stuck in the wedding picture of her mom and dad was a black and white snapshot of herself when she had graduated-- the only sign of the couple's firstborn offspring. Chocolate Chip flicked the light off before the tears started to fall.

* * *
A gentle rapping at her door told her when morning had come. She sat up in bed and looked at herself in the mirror. Her eyes told the story of her weepy, sleepless night. When the rap sounded again, she called out, "Who's there?"

"Just me, sleepyhead," Wishbone's voice answered. "It's time for breakfast."

"Okay. I'll be there in a few minutes. You go ahead and start without me."

When she heard her brother's hoofsteps going down the stairs, Chocolate Chip scurried down the hall to the bathroom for a shower. Standing in the flow of water, she forced herself to think happy thoughts to banish the misery of her sleepless night.

She pictured Tabby and Sugarberry sharing a breakfast of muffins or coffee cake. And Prime being engulfed in a pancake breakfast with all the trimmings. She realized she was hungry, and wondered what awaited her in the kitchen. "Maybe Dad has prepared the perfect homecoming meal."

With renewed spirit, she combed her mane and put a new pink ribbon in her tail. After one last glance in the mirror, she went downstairs.

Entering the kitchen, Chocolate Chip found Wishbone sitting at the table by himself with a jug of milk and yesterday's box of brownies.

"This is breakfast?" she asked in disbelief.

"You wouldn't expect Mom and Dad to waste their talents on us, would you?" he grinned.

"No," she fibbed, "but I'd have expected you to have learned a little bit about cooking by now." Opening the refrigerator, she found a partial carton of eggs; and a loaf of bread sat on the counter. "I can make some scrambled eggs and toast, at least. Do you have any orange juice?"

Wishbone pushed his chair back and got a can of concentrate out of the freezer and proceeded to mix it up while Chocolate Chip scrambled the eggs and toasted the bread.

When they sat down, Wishbone ate with gusto. "Brownies are good, but a steady diet of them gets kind of boring," he admitted.

"Aren't Mom and Dad ever home?"

"Not much," Wishbone shrugged. "They're at that restaurant all the time." He took a drink of orange juice. "Speaking of which, we are supposed to be to work at eleven o'clock for the lunch crowd."

Chocolate Chip questioned her brother, "How do you feel about working through your vacation?"

"It's not that bad. I need the money."

"Minimum wage?"

Taking seconds, Wishbone admitted, "I got a raise after six weeks of work. I'm saving my jangles for..." He looked at his sister warily.

"You and Snowdrift aren't getting that serious, are you?"

"Well, a guy can't start planning too soon," he reasoned.

"You should get out and see the world, and get an education," Chocolate Chip lectured.

"Whoa! Now you're getting subversive," he joked. "Mom and Dad want me to learn the restaurant business from the ground up."

Lollipop pranced into the kitchen at that moment sporting a new hair-do; her curls were piled high on her head, and ebony earrings dangled from her ears.

"I can fix you some eggs quick," Chocolate Chip offered, but Lollipop turned her down.

"No, thanks. Mom will save something for me at work," she replied. "She says if I eat a well-balanced diet now, I'll be even more beautiful when I'm older. See ya." With that, she was out the door.

"Are her looks all she ever thinks about?" Chocolate Chip complained to her brother. "I haven't heard her say one thing of any substance."

"Tsk, tsk, sister dear. We don't want the little princess to hear anything upsetting, now, do we?" he mocked in his mother's voice. "I've heard that line more than I'd ever care to." Switching to a lighter mood, he reminded Chocolate Chip, "It's time we took off, too, if we don't want to be late."

* * *
It was Thursday before Chocolate Chip and Wishbone were allowed a day off. That morning when Chocolate Chip met Wishbone in the kitchen, he got the milk out of the refrigerator, and she got the box of brownies out of the cupboard.

"I'm sick of preparing and cooking food," Chocolate Chip grumbled. "I'm so glad Dad finally put his hoof down on Mom's single-minded effort to keep us forever in that restaurant." It had not escaped Chocolate Chip's notice that her work in the restaurant was entirely confined to the kitchen; she'd never been given duties that would take her in front of the public. Her mother was making sure she wasn't seen or heard.

But the up-side to the kitchen confinement was that she and her dad had plenty of time to talk; and if they hadn't drawn closer, they at least got to know each other better. Seeing her dad with a career that brought him such happiness made her wonder if her early life would have been different if he had been more satisfied with his vocation as he was now.

The highlight for Chocolate Chip had been on Wednesday morning when her dad had introduced her to a delivery pony as "my daughter". And even if the pony had responded with a disbelieving look and said, "You're Lollipop's sister?" the moment lived on in her memory, for her dad had claimed their relationship.

"So what shall we do with our free time?" Wishbone asked. His attitude was lethargic after the long days at the restaurant, and Chocolate Chip was afraid he would just want to crash for the day. She, on the other hoof, wanted to accomplish something.

"Let's go visit Grandma," she suggested with enthusiasm. Their dad's mother and father lived on a farm outside of Neighberry, and it was the one place where Chocolate Chip had felt welcome as a child, although she was not allowed to visit as often as she would have liked as her mother didn't like the "smelly, dirty" farm.

Chocolate Chip, however, loved the quiet, peaceful acreage in the valley with tree-covered hillsides forming a natural barrier to all the hurts and fears of her lonely life as a dull brown pony in a world of radiant shades of the rainbow. She and Wishbone and Lollipop had wandered the banks of the creek that meandered through the pastureland, and they had pretended to be the early homesteaders who had built a home in an isolated meadow once accessible only by a swinging bridge over the river. The few remnants of that old-time farm were the collapsing basement walls of stone, the pump from which the early ponies had drawn water, and the scraps of rope and rotten boards of the bridge.

But for Chocolate Chip, this was where true freedom originated. At the sight of the old farmstead, she could feel completely happy, as if she became some other pony. She liked to imagine that she took on the characteristics of the mare that had once crossed that bridge, who had pumped water from the well, and who had planted crops in the soil. For those periods of time, her imagination had given her a release from the drudgery of her commonness.

Wishbone jumped at the chance to get out of town, so the two set off for their grandparents home to the northeast. The mild weather was holding, and the twittering of the returning birds gave the day a festive feel.

"I wonder what everyone back in Dream Valley is doing today?" Chocolate Chip couldn't help asking. "I think I'm getting homesick."

"You're happy there, aren't you?" Wishbone queried of his sister as he picked up a pebble from the path and threw it across the still bleak countryside. "Happier than you ever were here."

"Sugarberry and her friends have been kinder to me than I'd ever known possible," she admitted. "And the other students don't even seem to notice I'm not a soft pastel or vibrant hue. They accept me the way I am."

They stopped to watch a woodchuck scurry across their path; when the round, lumbering animal felt he was at a safe distance from the ponies, he sat up on his hind feet and watched them in turn.

Resuming their journey, Wishbone picked up where their conversation had left off. "I'm glad that you've found a real home where you can blossom. I almost envy you." He pointed off in the distance. "See the tree at the top of the hill? That's our marker tree-- Grandma's house is in the next valley."

The majestic oak tree with wide-spreading branches had always brought a gladdening of heart to Chocolate Chip for she knew her haven from hurt was near. She quickened her steps; she couldn't wait to see Grandma and Grandpa again.

Arriving at the farm, Wishbone listened to the noises coming from the direction of the barn. "Sounds like Gramps is out and about, so I'll hunt him up while you go on in to surprise Gram." He briskly took off for the red barn that reigned over the collection of smaller buildings which sat randomly about the farmyard.

Chocolate Chip knocked on the door, but didn't wait for an answer. She opened the door and went inside, calling as she did, "Grandma! It's me!" She found Gram in the kitchen, drying off her hooves on a threadbare towel that Chocolate Chip recognized as a gift she had given her for her birthday some years back.

"Chocolate Chip! Is it really you?" Gram's eyes twinkled with joy at the sight of her oldest granddaughter. The two embraced and held each other tightly. "Chocolate Chip," Gram murmured, stroking her mane. "I've missed you."

Pushing back to get a better look at the slim filly before her, Grandma shook her head. "You're a sight for sore eyes. I can't believe you are here." She gave her another hug, and Chocolate Chip laughed.

"Well, Gram, I am here, and so is Wishbone. He went out to hunt up Gramps."

"We'll have to have something special for lunch," Gram began bustling about the kitchen, checking the refrigerator and cupboards to see what was available. Only after she had organized her menu plans, led Chocolate Chip to the living room, and enthroned her in the most comfortable chair did she herself drop into her rocking chair.

She grinned at Chocolate Chip, and said, "Tell me all about your life now." She settled back in her rocker and listened as her granddaughter animately related her experiences in Dream Valley, and her most recent situation back at home in Neighberry.

"But Mom and Dad finally hired a chef and will have a little more free time," Chocolate Chip ended her narration.

The back door was heard to open, and Chocolate Chip scampered out to see her grandfather. "Gramps!" she squealed as she flung her forelegs around his neck and gave him a big kiss.

"It's been a long time since I've been welcomed back in the house with that much spirit," he joked as he held her at foreleg's length. "Let me get a good look at you!"

After a thorough inspection, he grinned. "Prettier than ever, Chocolate Chip. You're a sight for sore eyes!" he echoed Grandma's sentiment.

"Oh, Gramps! You always were a flirt," Chocolate Chip retorted.

While Grandma and Chocolate Chip threw together a hearty lunch, Wishbone set the table. Gramps pulled up a chair, telling tales of his youth and of the children he and Grandma had raised. "I'll never forget the time we were crossing the bridge across Silver River when a runaway cart hit the abutment, plunging the bridge and its occupants into the cold swirling waters below."

Wishbone and Chocolate Chip had heard the story many times, but they never tired of it. They re-lived the horror of Gramps as the bridge collapsed around him and the foals, and the agony of Grandma as she rushed to the scene not knowing what she'd find, and the relief upon discovering that no serious injuries had been sustained. The incident had been woven into the tapestry of their life, a point in time that had become a major adventure.

As they sat down to eat, Grandma shared accounts from her life, too; how she'd served as a mother's helper in the city when she was a young filly, and had to sleep in the hot, airless attic in the height of summer's heat. Chocolate Chip's insight into her Grandma's experience helped her to come to terms with her own hardships. Life wasn't always going to be easy, but one had to learn to overcome the obstacles and move on.

When the dishes were washed and put away, and the floor swept, Wishbone and Gramps went outside to do the chores.

After showing Chocolate Chip the quilt she was currently working on, Grandma suggested that they, too, go out to enjoy the early spring weather.

"Yes, Grandma, and do you feel up to a walk to the river?" Chocolate Chip asked hopefully.

"Of course, child," she laughed. "I'm not ready for the old-ponies home yet!"

The two first stopped by the barn where several ewes had recently given birth to lambs who now were sprinting about their enclosure with all the exuberance of new life and innocence. Chocolate Chip squealed in delight at the antics of the spindly-legged little creatures. When Grandma reached over the fence and held out a hoof, the white, woolly critters romped to her in excitement, expecting-- and receiving-- a treat.

Chocolate Chip, however, was drawn to the far corner of the pen where a little black lamb lay by himself; he looked up at the brown pony with sad, mournful eyes that tore at her heart. Climbing over the fence, she dropped to her knees by the baby sheep, and slowly reached out to touch his nose. The lamb sniffed at her and obviously liked what he found, for he raised himself on his wobbly legs and took a tentative step in her direction.

At that moment, Chocolate Chip became aware of a presence beside her, and she looked up to find herself staring into the eyes of the mother sheep, who was nervously investigating this possible threat to her newborn babe. Chocolate Chip gulped and slowly rose to her hooves, uneasily talking the entire time.

"There, there, Momma Sheep. Good girl. You've got a nice little one there. Take good care of him." By this time she'd backed up to the fence, and hoisted herself to the outside.

Grandma laughed, as did Grampa and Wishbone. "That ewe wouldn't hurt a fly," Gramps informed Chocolate Chip. "She's the gentlest one in the flock."

"Is that a ‘sheepish' look I see on your face?" taunted Wishbone, his eyes sparkling with merriment.

"Shush, Wishbone," Grandma reprimanded him. She took Chocolate Chip's hoof in her own. "Come. Say hello to Ebony's mom." Together they reached over the fence, and the docile ewe nuzzled first Grandma's hoof, then Chocolate Chip's. The warm, moist touch of the ewe caused Chocolate Chip to giggle.

"I guess I was a bit neurotic," she admitted. When she was just a little foal, Chocolate Chip had been in a pen of lambs and ewes, totally caught up in the joy of petting a newborn lamb, when the ewes had curiously clustered around her and inadvertently knocked her down. Her grandpa had rescued her almost immediately, but the experience had left her with a fear of ewes.

"We're going down by the river," Grandpa said, holding up enough fishing equipment for everyone. "Do you gals want to join us?"

"Exactly our plan," confirmed Chocolate Chip as she sprinted out of the barnyard with Wishbone following suit. Grandma and Grandpa brought up the tail-end.

The filly and stallion didn't stop running until they got to the river's edge. The banks were still mucky from the snow and ice runoff after the blustery winter, but the water was babbling along clear and cold.

Wishbone lost no time in getting his hook baited and in the water; Chocolate Chip hesitated. She didn't mind handling the worm, but she did find it cruel to put it on the hook. She left her pole lying on the ground.

Tossing a glance in her direction, Wishbone scoffed. "Do you think it's any less painful for the worm when a robin eats it?" He handed her his pole, and baited the other for himself.

Chocolate Chip looked back to watch her grandparents leisurely approaching them, walking hoof-in-hoof, still as much in love with each other as the day they married, only strengthened by the hurdles they had met and overcome.

Soon, all four ponies were standing along the bank, watching the red and white bobbers on the fishing line, waiting for the weight of a hooked fish to pull it under.

"The most you can expect from this old creek is sunfish," Grandpa explained, and whistled as Chocolate Chip's bobber disappeared below the surface. "Pull it in!"

She had caught a good-sized fish; its flat, scaled body flapping on the ground horrified Chocolate Chip, but Wishbone deftly removed it from the hook, and attached more bait.

"Beginner's luck," he grinned at her. Soon Wishbone had added the second fish to the pail, and Grandma began to make plans for supper.

"Nothing better than fresh fish," Grandpa agreed.

When they'd caught enough fish for a meal, they gathered-up their supplies. "Why don't the two of you go walk to the rapids?" suggested Grandma. "I want to get back and start cleaning these fish."

"I can help," Wishbone volunteered.

"No. We can handle this," Grandpa shooed him away. "Take your sister up river; she always did like scouting around up there."

As they took off along the riverbank, Chocolate Chip cast a withering glance at her brother. "You'd better not push me in."

Wishbone held up his hooves in fake surprise. "Would I do anything like that?"

"Every chance you ever got," his sister reminded him.

The curvature of the river led them to a shallower area where the water cascaded boisterously over the large rocks that semi-barricaded this section of the stream. Chocolate Chip enjoyed this narrowing of the waters; it was as if she absorbed some of the power of the fluid, dashing river as it tumbled and tossed itself over the rocks, defeating the barriers that stood in its path. The water was too cold to enter into, but she stood as closely to the edge as possible, balancing on a boulder that stood sentinel.

Wishbone joined her on the flat-topped rock, and the two became mesmerized by the ever-flowing water, their thoughts bounding wildly like the liquid before them, from past memories to future hopes.

Shaking her head, Chocolate Chip murmured, "I'm glad we came here. I feel I can face anything the world has to throw at me now."

Offering her a hoof, Wishbone helped her down from the rock, and they headed cross-country to get back to the farmhouse.

Coming across a bubbling spring that fed a very small rivulet into the main stream, Chocolate Chip stopped her brother. "Let's take a detour along the ridge where the fossils always showed up."

"Only if we hurry," Wishbone said. "Can't be late for supper!"

They diverted from the direction they'd been traveling, and climbed up the hillside to a point where an old, weathered farm road had once crossed the pasture. It was no longer used, but the land was permanently scarred with its presence. The ensuing erosion of the rocky slope never ceased to uncover fossil remains of the prehistoric underwater life that had lived and died eons ago.

In addition, on rare occasions, an arrowhead or spear point of a later age was uncovered, bridging the early ponies who had once traversed this land with their current ancestors.

Walking across the area peering closely at the ground, they sporadically stooped to pick up rocks that had crinoids, brachiopods, or cephalopods fossilized in them. It wasn't until they'd collected their findings into a heap and loaded them into Wishbone's backpack and were leaving for the farmhouse that Chocolate Chip stumbled over a rock and landed in an ungraceful heap on the ground.

"Nice move," Wishbone commented, but he rushed to her side to see if she was hurt.

"I scraped my knee just like when I was a foal," she giggled. "Some things never change!" She dabbed at her bloodied wound, then offered a hoof for Wishbone to pull her up. But just then she caught sight of an unusual-looking shard mixed in with the scattering of rocks in the pasture.

"Look, Wishbone!" she exclaimed. "It's an arrowhead!" She retrieved the treasure from its resting place, and held it up for him to see.

"Wow! That's a beauty," he looked at it closely, admiring the precision work that had been done to chip a rock into a usable weapon. "Wish I'd have found it."

"I'm the one with the wound, so I deserve it," she countered. "I bet Clever Clover would love to see this!"

"Yeah. Maybe he can document it and get it put into a museum somewhere."

Hearing the dinner bell pealing in the distance, the two siblings added the find to their collection of artifacts, then hastened on their way. The bell meant suppertime was close, and they better get back to the house soon.

Supper was a pleasant time as the grandparents and children sat down to fresh fish, last summer's canned green beans, and fresh homemade biscuits. They ate leisurely and talked of many things. When dessert had been polished off, however, Wishbone broke the magic with the announcement, "We've got to start for home, Chockie." Midnight had struck, even if it was only six o'clock; the princess had to return to her rags.

"Tell your dad to come visit some day soon," Grandpa ordered Wishbone. "Haven't seen him since he and Twilight Jewel bought that eatin' place."

"Things are getting better," Chocolate Chip informed Gramps. "They've hired a new cook and an assistant manager, so Mom and Dad will have some time off. That's how we got away today."

They all walked outside together, and both sides procrastinated over parting. Chocolate Chip invited them to visit her in Dream Valley, offering them Wishbone to look after the farm if they did so. Grandma sent a dozen cookies for their parents and Lollipop. After a lingering chorus of goodbyes, Chocolate Chip and Wishbone started on their way.

Turning to wave one final farewell, Chocolate Chip complained, "We didn't have time to visit the hanging bridge or to go up by the stone grotto."

"Next time," Wishbone assured her. "For now, we'd better walk fast or it will be pitch black before we get home." He vocalized a monstrously ghoulish laugh that sent shivers through his sister and she quickened her pace only to hear an eerie croaking sound coming from the sky above. Looking upward, they saw a trio of large, long-legged birds sailing with outstretched wings in the sky above them.

"It's the sandhill cranes returning from their winter migration!" excitedly called Wishbone. "They roost and nest down in the swamp along the river."

He and Chocolate Chip stood in awe as the ancient-appearing cranes effortlessly propelled themselves to their home grounds. Their strange calls evoked images of dimorphodons and pteranodans, and left the ponies with a feeling of magic as if they'd just been included in a private ritual handed down through the millennia.

It was dark by the time the ponies reached Neighberry, and the cold night air was settling in after the sun-filled daylight hours. When they reached the house, Wishbone and Chocolate Chip were both startled to see their parents sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee.

"Business must be slow," Wishbone quipped as he pulled the jug of milk out of the refrigerator. Chocolate Chip set the homebaked peanut butter cookies on the table and slipped onto a chair as her brother filled glasses for the two of them.

Drifter, on seeing the cookies, lit up like a little foal. "These were always my favorite," he said as he helped himself to a generous hoofful. Even Twilight Jewel took one, although she made no comment on how tasty it was.

"Is Lollipop home?" Chocolate Chip questioned. "I don't want her to miss out on Gram's cookies."

It was her dad who answered. "She's at a movie tonight."

"With her friends," her mother added significantly. Chocolate Chip had never succeeded in cultivating any lasting friendships while growing up; she had always felt somehow insignificant because of her peculiar color, and had shied away from schoolmates thinking they would never accept her anyway.

Twilight Jewel and Drifter exchanged a meaningful glance, whereupon Drifter cleared his throat and directed his conversation at Chocolate Chip.

"You've been a big help at the restaurant this week, Chocolate Chip. A big help." He looked to his wife for guidance. She frowned at him, but turned a false smile on her daughter.

"Yes. We were pleased to have you pitch in and get us through these hectic days. Now with more help, the hours can be cut to a more reasonable eight-hour-a-day shift." She glanced speculatively back at Drifter.

Chocolate Chip was beginning to smell a rat, and it didn't take long to find it.

"What we're trying to get at here is that we'd like to see you stay on at the restaurant," Drifter finally put into words what was on his mind. "Even with Graezzle and Columbine to help out, we need conscientious help to back them up. You've got the ability to do well in this business, Chocolate Chip."

"But, Dad, I have to get back to classes by Monday. Prime's picking me up Saturday! You know that!" She looked to Wishbone for support, but he only shrugged.

Her mother, fast losing her patience, challenged her. "What guarantee have you got with all this college stuff you're always talking about? We can provide you a good living starting right now, not some iffy chance three years down the road."

"I'm going to be a teacher someday, Mom. And I really don't think minimum wage is a ‘good living.' "

Twilight Jewel took a sharp intake of breath. "Why you ungrateful..." she began, but Drifter interrupted.

"We would certainly raise your pay if you joined us full-time. You'd be doing us a big favor, and helping yourself, too," he justified.

"You'd be making enough to get your own place to live," her mother added. "Snowdrift's parents have a room they're willing to rent."

Chocolate Chip turned a scowl on Wishbone, who was saved by the ringing of the telephone. He fled the kitchen to answer it in the living room.

"Think about it," Drifter persisted. "You'd be working with people you know instead of a bunch of strangers, and have a good income, too."

Wishbone stuck his head through the doorway long enough to say that he was going over to Snowdrift's for awhile, and he was out the door. Chocolate Chip made a quick mental note to blast him at her first opportunity.

"And Chocolate Chip," her mom threw out her best effort, "you'd be closer to your grandparents again."

Sitting in silence, Chocolate Chip could think of nothing to say that would convince her folks that she had her own plans, and they didn't include moving back to Neighberry... not before she had a college degree, anyway. But it was true that living closer to her grandparents was an appealing idea.

"Don't make up your mind tonight," her dad said, rising from his chair. "Think about it, and we can talk again tomorrow."

Her mom waited until her dad had left the room before she made her final bid. "You've been a disappointment to me since the day you were born. Now's your chance to make it up to me."

It took all Chocolate Chip's resolve not to run from the room in tears, but she wouldn't give her mother the satisfaction. After Twilight Jewel had exited, she got up off the chair and carried the milk to the refrigerator, and repackaged the two cookies left for Lollipop. She rinsed the dirty dishes and straightened the kitchen chairs. Then she walked upstairs to her dreary bedroom, closed the door softly, laid down on the bed, and only then let the tears fall.

* * *
It was well past daybreak when Chocolate Chip opened her eyes to the new day... Friday. One more day until Prime would come for her. One more day to decide her destiny.

When she got downstairs, the house appeared to be empty. She saw the cookies still on the table, and was tempted to eat them herself when she heard hoofsteps coming down the stairs and through the hallway to the kitchen. It was Lollipop who came through the doorway.

"Morning," she yawned, then caught sight of the cookies. "Oh, Grams' peanut butter cookies! I love those."

Chocolate Chip sighed and proceeded to fix herself a bowl of cereal. The flakes were stale, but she was too depressed to notice. For once, Lollipop led the conversation.

"It's back to school next week. I'm going to miss the restaurant, but Mom says I can still work evenings if I get my homework done." She sat down across from Chocolate Chip, and nibbled on a cookie. "Mom says you'll be staying on. You can't have your room back, you know."

"Mom and Dad asked me to hire on, but I haven't given them my answer yet."

"Oh, it's really fun at the restaurant!" Lollipop reflected. "I meet so many interesting ponies!" She paused. "Of course, you wouldn't know that, being in the kitchen all the time."

Chocolate Chip refrained from commenting, but Lollipop didn't notice. "Well, I'm out of here. I'm going over to Star Cluster's house until time for work." She skipped out of the house, a flurry of pink and blue.

As if he'd been waiting for her to leave, Wishbone came into the room just as the back door slammed behind Lollipop. Chocolate Chip was ready for him.

"If I ever doubted in the existence of a Prince Charming, you proved it to me last night, you scoundrel! You knew about this plan to get me hired on all along, didn't you? But not a warning to me. And no help last night to ward off their battering attack! You're despicable, Wishbone, utterly despicable!"

She carried her used dishes to the sink and turned back to face her brother with another volley. "What's this about renting a room at Snowdrift's? Mom can't stand to have me here, so she bribed your sweet little darling's parents' to take me in? You could have let me know what was going on so I could have been prepared, at least." She stopped only because she had to take a breath.

Wishbone took advantage of the break to say, "I'm sorry, Ch..."

"Sorry? Sorry? Is that going to fix everything? Do you know what Mom said to me last night? That I'm the biggest disappointment in her life! She thinks I owe it to her to be her employee. Tell me, Wishbone, do you see that as fair?"

Crossing the room to Chocolate Chip, Wishbone put a hoof on either of her shoulders. "Just calm down, Sis," he said.

Suddenly she felt completely deflated, like a balloon that had been pricked with a needle. All the fight drained out of her and she allowed Wishbone to steer her to a kitchen chair. She sat down, and covered her face with her hooves. "What am I going to do, Wishbone? What am I going to do?"

Sitting next to her, Wishbone drew a deep breath. "You'll do what you've been planning on all along. You'll finish college and be someone important."

Chocolate Chip lowered her hooves to the table. "Is that what you think I want? To be someone important?"

"Okay. Maybe that's the wrong word. How about useful? Accomplished? Knowledgeable?" He grinned at her.

"You think I want too much," she lamented. "You think I should stay here."

"I didn't say that."

"Then what do you think?"

He stood up, pulling her with him. "I think we better get to work or we'll be in big trouble."

The day was endless for Chocolate Chip. She worked hard, yet her mind was constantly weighing the pros and cons of her decision. She could stay and help make her parent's venture a success with the added benefit of being near her grandparents; or she could return to Dream Valley, continue her education, and embrace an uncertain future.

Life in Neighberry would be predictable; she'd always be the odd pony, but would have stability. Back in Dream Valley, she had friends and fit into the scheme of things—but how long would that last? If she ever had to move out of Sugarberry's house, she'd face a financial crunch and might not be able to swing her college tuition. Then what would become of her?

She and her dad walked home together when their shift was done. Chocolate Chip hoped to avoid a decision, but her dad asked, "Well, what's it going to be, Chocolate Chip? Are you going to help me out here?"

He was watching her face, and for the first time in her life, she thought she saw some actual concern for her in his eyes. She felt her resolve weakening; family should come first. Before she could say anything, however, a voice called to them from across the street, and a blue stallion crossed over to them.

"Hi there, Chocolate Chip, Drifter." It was Juggler, the delivery stallion that Chocolate Chip had met earlier in the week. "I was wondering if you'd like to go to a movie tonight." He had directed these words to Chocolate Chip. "It's Mission to Mars."

Chocolate Chip smiled, and glanced at her dad before answering. He nodded his head, so she accepted. "Sure. I've been wanting to see that one."

"Great," he grinned. "I'll pick you up at eight-thirty." And with that, they parted ways.

"He's a good fellow, hard-working and dependable," her dad informed her. "He moved to town a couple years ago and has an apartment over by the park."

Chocolate Chip didn't respond. She was wondering if life in her hometown might be the right choice for her after all.

* * *
It was late that evening when Chocolate Chip got in the house from her date with Juggler. They'd seen the movie and gone to the ice cream shop with another couple he knew. Although no one had said or done anything to make her feel that she didn't fit in, she had been uncomfortable all evening. Juggler had been a charming companion, but she kept thinking of Prime, and Chip, and Current, and her other friends at Pony Pride. The ice cream sundaes were good and the conversation stimulating, but she kept expecting to see Tiffany or Friendly or Vanguard come through the door. By the time she said goodnight to Juggler at the back door, she was only too glad to be alone with her thoughts.

The light in the kitchen had been left on low power, and she felt the need for a cup of instant decaf coffee before going up to bed. She had to think things through; Prime would be here tomorrow morning, expecting her to be packed and ready to go. Her head was pounding from the confusion her mind was in.

As she sat down at the table with her coffee, she noticed an envelope lying there. Looking more closely, she saw a message written on a post-it note attached to it: Chocolate Chip, found this stuck in the pages of my newspaper. Dad.

It was a letter mailed from Dream Valley the day before and Chocolate Chip recognized it as Sugarberry's handwriting before she looked at the return address. She tore it open and read eagerly:

Dear Chocolate Chip,

Just a note to let you know that Fluff and Raptor spend

all their time outside your bedroom door, waiting for you. They

miss you terribly, and so do I. We look forward to seeing you

home again.



And underneath her signature were two inked paw prints-- Fluff's large one and Raptor's small one.

Reading the note again, Chocolate Chip suddenly realized in a blinding flash of clarity why she had been agonizing over this decision, why she was so uncertain. She looked at the closing-- love-- and knew where her heart would lead her. No one in Neighberry had used the word once in connection with feelings for her. Yet back in Dream Valley she had been smothered with love from all the ponies and beings she had met. And wasn't that what Cinderella had been searching for all along?

Dumping the coffee down the drain, she turned out the light and quietly went to her room. For the first night since her arrival, she fell asleep with a smile on her face and joy in her heart.

* * *
The leave-taking in the morning was tense until her mother and Lollipop left for the restaurant. Taking her aside, her dad astonished her by wishing her well, and reminding her that she was free to come back at any time; if she needed a job, he'd find a place for her at The Right Place. He further astounded her by confiding that her mother was hard to please, but he thought she'd mellow out as she became more confident with the success of their enterprise. And he topped it off by kissing her softly, almost shyly, on the cheek before he left.

And so it was as at her arrival-- just Wishbone and herself.

"I'm sorry I screamed at you yesterday," she apologized.

He grinned. "Oh, I got something for you!" He ran out of the room, and returned with a child's book-- a new copy of Cinderella. "Your old one was so ragged, I thought you should have a better copy."

"Thanks, Wishbone," she giggled.

The two of them walked outside to wait for Prime, and Chocolate Chip used the time to promote Pony Pride. "You'd really do well there; you wouldn't be sorry."

"Will you shut up if I promise to send my application in?" he parleyed.

"For a second or two."

Which she did until Prime appeared from around the corner. "Walk us to the edge of town," she invited her brother.

The three ponies laughed and talked as they crossed the town to the point where they had met six days before.

"I'm glad I came," Chocolate Chip informed Wishbone. "And I'll look forward to another visit from you in Dream Valley." She hugged her brother close, then turned and followed her chosen path.


The Ghost of Box Five
Chapter 4
by Masquerade (

When she came to, Windsong found herself alone, lying on a sofa with a blanket on her. It wasn't the sofa in her dressing room, though; she was in a room she had never seen before. She slowly rose from the couch and looked around the beautifully decorated chamber. The furniture was all very expensive looking with carvings and gold decorations on them.

The curious thing about the room was that there were no windows. Windsong wondered who would build such a beautiful room but put in no windows. She sat in a comfortable arm chair in the corner by a fireplace and tried to remember how she'd gotten to this mysterious place. Her mind was a jumble of thoughts at first, but soon she could think more clearly. Windsong remembered the concert with Coloratura and how well it had gone. She remembered that she was going to have supper with Prince Blizzard; but then realized that she'd instead gone back to her dressing room where the voice had sung to her. What had happened after that?

Windsong thought hard, trying to recall the details. She had flashbacks of the music and then recollected the boat and the strange masked pony in the boat singing to her. Then she remembered nothing more.

Suddenly, there were sounds coming from behind the door on the opposite side of the room. Windsong turned her head towards the door that she hadn't noticed before. Then she saw the doorknob turn, and she felt some fear inside of her since she still didn't have a clue of where she was.

The door slowly opened and the face of the masked pony peered inside. "Ah, my dear, you're finally awake!" he said.

Windsong sat in the chair for a moment, frozen with fear. "Where am I and how did I get here?" she demanded.

"You don't remember? I sang for you after your concert and then you followed me from your dressing room all the way to the boat on the lake under the opera house. I turned to face the direction that the boat was going; and when I looked back at you, you had fainted. When we reached the shore, I was a bit worried about you so I carried you into my house and left you on the sofa to recover," said the pony.

Windsong looked at the masked pony wide-eyed; when he spoke, she realized that his voice was the same as that of her Angel of Music. She opened her mouth to say something, but no sound came out.

"You look rather like a deer caught in the light. Why do you look at me with so much surprise?" asked the masked pony.

"You're the Angel of Music," Windsong said when she finally got some courage.

The masked pony looked away from her for a few moments and didn't answer. "It's late morning now. You must be very hungry. Come, I've prepared a meal for us," he finally said to her.

Windsong didn't dare ask any more questions, but followed her Angel of Music. He led her to a simple but elegant dining room where there were all sorts of wonderful things to eat. Windsong realized just how hungry she was and was grateful for the plate of food that her host offered her. All the while she ate, however, she kept looking over at him and wondering what lie beneath that white mask.

After the meal, the masked pony led her to another room which he called his music room. On one side stood a beautiful pipe-organ that Windsong couldn't help but admire. "It's beautiful," she said when she entered the room.

"Thank you," said her host. "I built it myself. In fact, I built this entire house along with much of the opera."

"Really?" inquired Windsong.

"Yes. Now, perhaps we could continue with your singing lessons?" asked the mysterious pony.

Windsong didn't dare refuse and immediately said yes. "Good!" said the masked pony as he clapped his hooves together. He then went over to his pipe-organ and got some sheet music for her. "I thought we could practice this. It's the duet from Romeo and Juliet."

He began playing the piece of music and waited for Windsong to begin the part of Juliet. He had her go over this part about three times until he felt that she could manage it quiet well. "Alright, then, once more and then you can rest if you'd like," he said.

Windsong began her part again and then, to her surprise and delight, the masked pony began to sing Romeo's parts with her. She'd heard him sing before, but never had he sung with her. The two voices together sounded so wonderful that Windsong was in tears by the end of the song.

"What's the matter, my dear?" asked her teacher.

"I'm sorry. It sounded so beautiful and the song is such a sad one, too."

"Ah, yes, it is. Also, you've been through a lot in the past day. Perhaps you should go back to the room I prepared for you and rest for awhile," he suggested.

Windsong nodded in agreement and went to rest on the sofa in the beautiful but windowless room.

* * *
Windsong slept there for a little while; and when she woke up, she heard her teacher playing his pipe organ. It sounded like he was composing some new piece of music. She lie on the sofa and listened a bit, and then her thoughts drifted back onto that white mask. Why did he wear it? Surely someone who sounded so beautiful hadn't any reason to hide behind some mask. She tried to imagine his face and figured that he must be very handsome.

Soon Windsong got up, opened the door, and listened a bit more before finally deciding to go to the music room. When she got there, her teacher was so busy writing music that he didn't hear her. She listened awhile longer and then an idea struck her.

Windsong quietly moved towards him until she was right behind him. Still, he hadn't noticed her sneak up on him as he was concentrating so much on the music he was playing. Suddenly, Windsong reached forward and pulled the mask from his face.

The now unmasked pony whirled around on the bench he was on and let out a scream so shrill that Windsong covered her ears. He now was facing her and Windsong gasped in horror at the sight of his face. It was the most hideous thing she'd ever seen in her life!

He reached out with his hooves and grabbed her. "Are you happy now? Are you satisfied now that you've seen my face?" he yelled.

Windsong shivered at the touch of his cold hooves which she now remembered from the boat the night before. She didn't know what to do and didn't dare say anything.

"Well, what do you think of me now? I'm very handsome, aren't I?" he said in a very sarcastic way as he let go of her.

Windsong immediately turned away and ran into the corner of the room so she wouldn't have to look at him. "I'm sorry," she said, trying to think of what to do next.

"You're sorry? No! It is I who am sorry. You see, as long as you didn't know what I looked like, you wouldn't have been scared of me. You would have happily returned here on other days for our music lessons. Now, though, that you've seen me, I can't let you leave here ever again!" he said in a furious tone. "Why did you have to do this? Wasn't it enough that your Angel of Music made you a success at the opera?" he asked her in a pleading tone. He walked towards her and Windsong cowered in the corner, terrified of the "monster".

"You're not the Angel of Music!" Windsong blurted out without thinking.

Then, just when Windsong feared the worst, he suddenly fell down to his knees, hid his face from her, and began to cry. "No, my dear, you are right. I am not an angel. I am not the opera ghost. I am only Nocturne. Pitiful Nocturne who loves you very much and wants you to be the most wonderful singer in the world! That could have happened until now," he said as he cried.

Windsong's fear left her and she now felt a great pity for this pony named Nocturne. She wondered where he was from, as she'd never heard that name before. She looked down at the mask that she'd been holding all this time and then looked over at Nocturne, who was still on the floor crying. Windsong held back her own tears and reached towards Nocturne to offer him his mask back. "Please don't hate me," she said.

Nocturne leaned towards her, took the mask, and put it back on. "I could never hate you," he said.

* * *
Meanwhile, back above in the opera house, Prince Blizzard was searching for Windsong. "Are you sure she knew that she was to meet you? Perhaps she was tired and just went home last night after the show," suggested Concerto.

"No. I told her I'd see her exactly one hour after the show. I even went to her home last night and again this morning. Her neighbor said that she hadn't seen her since yesterday morning," Blizzard explained.

Then the opera manager, Blackberry, came around. "Is there something wrong here?" he asked.

"Yes, Windsong is missing!" said the prince.

"Missing? No, she isn't. She's visiting a sick friend," Blackberry said.

"What?" asked Blizzard, confused.

"She left a note in my office saying that she had to leave right away after the concert last night to see a friend who was very sick. The note said she'd be away for a few days. Have no fear, your highness, Windsong is not missing," Blackberry said before walking away.

The prince left as well, but was still puzzled about Windsong's behavior. Why hadn't she told him about this friend that she needed to see? He figured that he would just have to be patient and wait for her to return so he could ask her.

* * *
Back below the opera, in Nocturne's house, Windsong spent most of the next couple days in her room. She'd figured that it would be best to leave Nocturne alone so he could calm down. During the times that she was out of the room, Nocturne was once again kind to her and continued her lessons.

Then, one day, there was a knock on her door. "Come in," Windsong said.

Nocturne opened it and stood in the doorway watching her. "My dear, it's time that you return to the world above," he said.

Windsong could hardly believe what she was hearing. "You're letting me go?" she asked.

"I trust you now that you won't run away from me. I'm therefore returning you to your dressing room. Then when you need me, you'll call to me and I will come. After all, if you don't return to the opera house soon, Coloratura will take your place in the next opera!" he said.

Then he proceeded to lead the shocked Windsong to the lake, through the passages, and eventually back through her mirror. From there, he left her alone in her dressing room. Windsong just stood there for a few minutes looking at the mirror. Was she really free again?

She then left her dressing room and tried to sneak away so that no one would see her. She rushed to her home where she felt safe. Windsong stayed inside her house for a few hours when there came a knock at the door. It can't be Nocturne, can it? she wondered. She got up and opened the door and saw that it was the Prince Blizzard.

"You're home!" Blizzard cried out. "How is your sick friend?"

Windsong knew about the note left in Blackberry's office; but it wasn't she that had written it-- it was Nocturne. "Oh, um, much better. I'm sorry that I didn't tell you I was leaving. I didn't know until the very last minute," Windsong explained.

"I forgive you," said Blizzard. "In the meantime, I almost had the whole city looking for you until I heard that you were only gone to visit a friend," he teased.

"Oh, no. Really? I feel badly that you went through all that bother," Windsong said as she blushed.

"That's quite alright," Blizzard said as he looked at a clock. "Hey, it's lunchtime. How about we go somewhere to get some food?" he asked.

Windsong was about to say "yes", but then remembered that Nocturne had told her not to see the prince anymore. "I really can't, Blizzard. I'm very tired," she said, which was true.

"Alright then, perhaps another time," Blizzard said. Then he got up to leave her so she could rest.

* * *
Windsong spent the remainder of the day resting as she said she would, and then returned to the opera the next day for rehearsals. Young Moondancer rushed to her friend right away when she saw that she'd returned after being gone for a whole week. "Windsong, you look really tired. Are you alright?" Moondancer asked.

"I'm fine," said Windsong. With that, Moondancer left Windsong alone for the rest of the rehearsal; but at the end of the day when Windsong left to go home, Moondancer followed her.

"Where were you, Windsong?" Moondancer asked as she trotted up to her.

"I was visiting a friend," Windsong said.

"I heard that from Monsieur Blackberry, but I don't believe him or even you!"

"Why not?" Windsong asked.

"Because, I saw you go to your dressing room after the concert and you never came back out! I knocked on your door after an hour and there was no answer. I was worried and opened the door to see if you were okay, and you weren't there! Now, I want to know where you really went, Windsong," said Moondancer.

Windsong stopped dead in her tracks as she heard what young Moondancer had said. "I can't," she stuttered.

"Windsong, there's something wrong here. I know you weren't with the prince, because he was looking all over for you, too," Moondancer said.

"You didn't tell him about my dressing room, did you?" Windsong asked.

"No, but I will if you don't tell me where you really were these past seven days," Moondancer said in a concerned voice.

Windsong sighed. "Very well, then. Come with me to my house and we'll talk."

With that, the two fillies went to Windsong's place and Windsong told Moondancer about the mysterious pony who had taught her to sing and how he lived in the opera house. She told her that he'd taken her to his home below the opera and kept her there for the week that she had been missing. Then she told her friend about the horror of his face and that he wore a mask to hide it.

At the end of Windsong's story, poor Moondancer sat wide-eyed with a look of fear on her face. "You were with the opera ghost!" she said shakily.

"He's not really a ghost, Moondancer. He's a pony like us."

"No, no. He is a ghost! He just made himself look like a pony to trick you," Moondancer protested.

"I assure you, he's real and he's no ghost. In any case, believe what you like, Moondancer; but you must promise never to tell anyone what I've told you. Otherwise we will be in danger. Do you promise?"

"I wish I didn't have to; but yes, I promise," answered young Moondancer.

* * *
For the following days and weeks, young Moondancer kept her promise and told no one; and Windsong kept her promises as well. She did return to Nocturne to continue her voice lessons and she did everything in her power to keep away from Blizzard.

Blizzard, though, was getting more and more frustrated with the filly that he loved so much. Why was she suddenly avoiding him? He thought that maybe he'd done something to upset her, but couldn't think of what that could be.

Then one day he cornered young Moondancer to find out what was wrong with Windsong. "You must tell me why she ignores me. You're her best friend. You must know," he said urgently.

Moondancer panicked as she tried to think of what to say; and then she saw Windsong not too far from them. "Why don't you ask her yourself? She's right over there," she said as she pointed out Windsong.

"Ah! Yes!" Blizzard realized and rushed off to see her. "Windsong! Is there something wrong? Did I make you angry with me?" he asked when he was finally facing her.

Windsong didn't look at him but said, "I'm sorry. I just don't have any time to see you. I'm very busy with my career now."

"No time at all?" Blizzard asked.

"None," answered Windsong.

"Oh, I see," the prince sadly said, and then left her.

Windsong felt terrible at hurting his feelings and was rather distracted when she was at Nocturne's home that afternoon for her lesson. "Whatever is the matter, my dear?" Nocturne asked her after she had missed a note for the tenth time. Windsong didn't answer him. "It must be that prince that is after you to marry him!" he exclaimed.

"We're just friends. That's all. He's never asked me to marry him," Windsong said.

"Well, if he's only a friend, then why do you avoid him? You don't avoid your friend Moondancer. If he's just a friend, then you should see him like you do Moondancer. If you love him, then you will avoid him because you don't wish to upset me."

"Then I will see him tomorrow," Windsong answered him.

"Good, but not outside of the opera house. Now, let us continue our lesson," Nocturne said.

Windsong did as she had told Nocturne she would and saw Blizzard the next day when he came to visit Concerto. Blizzard was overjoyed when Windsong asked to speak to him. She apologized for ignoring him and told him that he could visit with her, but only in the opera house as she was indeed quite busy there.

Blizzard immediately agreed and they continued visiting with one another almost daily. Sometimes they would even have lunch together in the auditorium when there was a break in rehearsals. Everything was wonderful for awhile. Prince Blizzard was happy; Windsong was happy; and since she was happy, so was Nocturne.

Then, one day, the prince shocked Windsong by asking her to marry him. She didn't know what to do. She wasn't even sure if she really loved him as she now actually cared a great deal for Nocturne. "I don't know what to say," Windsong said slowly.

"Just say ‘yes'," said Blizzard as he held out a beautiful diamond engagement ring to her.

"I really need to think about this, Blizzard."

"Alright. It's wise not to rush into something as serious as this. Here, let's put the ring on your necklace and you can just wear it around your neck for now," Blizzard said.

Windsong did so and let the ring on the chain drop down the front of the dress she was wearing so that it would be well hidden. Then she went off to her dressing room to think.

To her surprise, Nocturne was waiting for her when she got there and he was upset by how troubled Windsong looked when she entered. "Are you going to tell me what's troubling you? Did I startle you when you came in?" he asked.

"Um, yes. Actually, you did," Windsong said.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. Are you ready for our lesson today?" asked Nocturne.

"Yes, I guess so," Windsong said. Then the mirror opened, and she followed Nocturne to his home for her daily singing lesson.

All during the lesson, Windsong thought about Blizzard's proposal but managed to get through the lesson without making Nocturne suspicious. Then, when she returned to her home that night, she could hardly sleep as she tried to figure out what to do.

* * *
A couple of days later, Windsong still hadn't made up her mind when Blizzard came to meet her at the opera house. "Windsong dearest, it's been two whole days since I asked you to marry me, and you've practically ignored me ever since the proposal."

"I'm sorry Blizzard. It's just that--"

"It's just that there is someone else you care about. There has been all along."

"What?" said Windsong.

"Ever since the time you went to visit your ‘sick friend', you've acted differently around me. It's almost like you're scared of something or someone."

"That's crazy!" protested Windsong.

"No, it's true. You care for this pony and yet at the same time I think you're scared of him. Don't pretend that this someone doesn't exist. I've heard him. In fact, I heard him the day I proposed to you. He was waiting for you in your dressing room. I could hear the fear in your voice when you spoke to him," said the prince.

The look on Windsong's face told Blizzard that his thoughts were correct. "Please, Windsong, if you love me, marry me and let me take you away from this place. You'll never have to face whatever or whomever it is again that is scaring you. Please, Windsong, come with me and we'll escape tonight," Blizzard pleaded.

Windsong was filled with feelings of hope for their future. Could she really get away from Nocturne? It was true that she cared for him, but could she love someone with a face like that? He really did scare her at times.

Windsong thought for a few minutes in silence and then spoke. "Yes, you're right, Blizzard. There is another pony, but not how you think. I can't explain it all to you now; you'll just have to trust me. Then when the time is right, I'll tell you all about my life at the opera house. Now, after saying that and if you still want me, I'll marry you, Blizzard," Windsong said in a rush.

"You will!" said Blizzard as his eyes lit up.

"Yes. And I'll go with you to some place far from here, but I have a performance to do tonight and another tomorrow. I couldn't leave yet. As soon as all the shows are over, I'll go with you," Windsong said.

"Alright, my love. I trust you with all my heart. I should leave now as there is much to be done to prepare for our departure from here. I'll be in the audience tonight, though, in the front row!" Blizzard said with a smile and then left.

Later in the day, while Windsong was in her dressing room, she heard a familiar voice greeting her. Nocturne had come to give her a few pointers on the show that she would be in tonight.

Windsong concentrated on what he said and pretended like nothing had happened between herself and the prince. Then, before Nocturne left her to get ready for the show, he told her, "You've come a long way, Windsong. Tonight is your most important role! There will be many famous ponies in the audience, and royalty. It will be a performance like no other, and I will be there to watch you!" he said before he left.


A New World for Tamara
by Vixie (
with help from Merry Treat and Tabby

"Ah, good afternoon, Mademoiselles Vixie!" Romance's thinly-accented voice greeted Vixie as she seated herself at the counter of the coffee bar inside the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, called the Java Stop.

Vixie giggled as she idly flipped through a menu. Despite all of her protests against it, he still called her "mademoiselles", which was French for "miss". "Good afternoon, Romm. How has your day been?"

Romance rolled his eyes as he leaned against the counter, drying a coffee mug. "Oh, so very slow. There isn't much business on weekends. Everyone's at home drinking their own coffee."

"Hey, Vixie!" Cinnamon Twist came out of the kitchen, wearing a rather large apron. "What are you doing in this early in the day? You usually only come in right before we close."

"Well, today I have a rather untimely appointment with a certain younger sibling to discuss the latest developments of a particular acquaintance." Vixie glanced at the wall clock with apprehension. "But she's late. Typical."

Just then there was a clatter from the bells on the door as it opened and closed. "I'm not late!" Merry Treat seated herself next to her sister at the bar. "Hi, guys!" She waved to the two stallions behind the counter. "I'm right on time, sis!"

Vixie sarcastically nodded her head and turned her chair so she faced her little sister. She noticed that she was alone today, her practically inseparable friend absent. "Where's Miss Tabitha?"

"Hey, Romance? We'd like two French vanilla cappuccinos, please." Merry Treat settled herself on the round stool. "She's spending some time with Tamara this afternoon."

Vixie raised an eyebrow. "Tamara? That cousin she can't stand? She's spending time with her?"


"MT, who died?"

Merry Treat giggled. "No one. And she does get along with Tamara just fine. For the most part."

"That's not the point! Why is she spending time with her? Knowing Tabby, it's not just ‘quality time'." Exasperation was starting to filter into Vixie's voice.

"Well, listen to me and I'll tell you!" Leaning closer to Vixie, Merry Treat motioned for her sister to do the same. "Tex broke up with Tamara! For Mimic!"

Both ponies jumped at a sudden crash of glass. Turning, they saw the remains of their two cappuccinos all over the floor, with a dazed looking Romance standing above them. He blushed and hurriedly went about cleaning up the mess with Cinnamon Twist's help.

"It'll be a couple more minutes, ladies. I'm terribly sorry," Cinnamon Twist told them as he went to fetch the mop.

Letting her breath out in a sigh, Vixie looked at her sister as she digested the new information. "So, Salsa Boy finally left her, huh?" She was referring to the stories of Tamara and Tabby's birthday party where Tex had given them chips and salsa as a birthday present.

"Sounds like a nickname that Tabby would come up with," Merry Treat commented absently. Suddenly, something beeped in her pocket. Pulling out her digital watch, the young pony suddenly went haywire. "Eep! I gotta go! See ya later!" She dashed out of the shop, leaving her confused sister staring at blank air.

"I guess I better make that one cappuccino, huh?" Vixie turned as she heard Romance's quiet voice behind her.

"Yeah, sorry about that," Vixie said. "My spaz of a sister had something to do, I guess." She motioned for her friend to sit next to her. "You okay?"

The black stallion hesitantly nodded his head. Something appeared to be on his mind. "Oh, yeah, I'm fine. I just let the tray slip, I guess."

Casting him a disbelieving look, Vixie sipped on her coffee. "Whatcha thinking, Romm? It's not like you to ‘just let' something slip."

"Oh..." Romance trailed a moment, searching for words. He started to spin a straw between his hooves. "So... who's this Tamara you two were talking about?"

Vixie smiled. "Oh, so that's what's on your mind! You know exactly who Tamara is! She's that pink unicorn that comes in with Tabby sometimes." She giggled. "I thought you've had something for her."

"Well... I... uh..." Romance stuttered at the statement of what he thought one was of his deepest secrets.

Vixie stood and leaned close to him. "Well, all I have to say, Romm, is if you wish to get a chance with her, you should start to move now, instead of waiting for her to choose you as a last resort." Pulling away, she turned to leave. "I've got to go. Rascal and I have a date tonight, and I must get ready."

Romance waved at her as she left the shop. Leaning back against the counter, he stared at the tendrils of white clouds in the afternoon sky through the large plate glass windows. It came as a sudden and welcome relief to hear that his secret crush was single after such a long time. But how was he ever going to pull off being with her? The thought sounded like quite an adventure.

* * *
The sun shown through the windows of Tamara's room, filling it with the warm glow of early morning. Tamara sat against the headboard of her bed, reading from a book of poetry. Breathing deeply, she set the book down and batted her eyelashes. "That was so romantic!" she sighed contentedly. She had stayed up reading the entire night, unable to peel her eyes from the love poems that filled the binding.

Climbing out of her bed, she stretched and started to brush her mane and tail. It had been months since she had felt this relaxed, she realized as an afterthought to calling Tex. Though it had only been a day since the rather harsh dumping had occurred, Tamara was well over the simple-minded stallion. But she was still used to calling him every morning, and it had slipped her mind that she no longer needed to.

Pushing the thought to the back of her mind, she headed to her elegant wardrobe and pulled open the doors. "What do you think Persian, this hat?" She held up a dressy hat made of white feathers to her Persian, who was curled in the window seat. "Or this one?" The second hat was a simple straw hat with a blue flower stuck in the hatband.

The Pokèmon opened one eye and glared at the feather hat, then went back to sleep. Tamara stared witheringly at the cat-like creature and decided on the straw hat. After adjusting it on her head and collecting her purse, Tamara picked up the phone. She had a few months of savings, and had decided to check up on an ad in the paper about pedigree kittens for sale, as well as a few things from the dress boutique she had been eyeing. The list of items she needed kept growing as she dialed Tiffany's number.

"Good morning, Tiffany! I'm doing quite well, thank you. Actually, I was wondering if you would accompany me on a couple of business errands today? Splendid! Twenty minutes? Perfect. Yes, see you there. Tah-tah!" Hanging up the phone, Tamara knew it was going to be a wonderful day.

* * *
"And then Toby told the waiter, ‘Well, they must hold some kind of nutritional value, because you're still here!'" Both Tiffany and Tamara laughed hysterically. It was late afternoon now and they were walking home after a long day of shopping. Tamara was cuddling her new Siamese kitten, Phoebe, close to her, along with about five large bags from various stores.

They were outside the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe when Tiffany announced that she could use a good mocha late. "Yeah, and it's still a pretty good walk from here to my house. Let's take a break," Tamara agreed, and pushed open the door.

Romance looked up from the customer he was serving and felt his heart start to race. "Uhm, yes sir, that'll be... uh... three jangles fifteen..." He tried to close the cash drawer as quickly as he could, and after smashing his hoof once he accomplished it. Now's my chance! he thought excitedly as he calmly walked over to the table at which Tamara and Tiffany had seated themselves. "Good evening, ladies. What would you like tonight?"

Tiffany batted her eyelashes at the French stallion, and Tamara rolled her eyes. The unicorn settled back, perfectly used to her friend's pursuits of stallions. "Yes, I would like a mocha late with whipped cream and a cherry on top and sprinkles. And a kiss would be nice." Tiffany giggled as Romance turned a shade of red. "Just kidding on that last part."

Tamara rolled her eyes again. Tiffany was getting more and more blunt when it came to her desires. "Don't mind her, Romance. I'd like a hot chocolate, please, with whipped cream." It was then that Tamara noticed the odd look he was giving her, and it made her feel... she could almost say fluttery. "And sprinkles."

Romance blinked a couple of times and gulped. She knows my name! he thought excitedly. "Uh... yeah, it'll be just a couple of minutes."

"Hmph! What's his problem?" Tiffany commented as Romance walked away. "He was looking at you the whole time, and not me!"

Tamara ignored Tiffany. She was also used to her friend venting about guys. Instead, she watched Romance as he made the drinks. Why was he looking at me like that? she thought.

"Excuse me, Tamara? You're totally ignoring me!" Tiffany waved her hoof in front of her friend's nose.
"Meow?" Phoebe mewed from Tamara's lap.

Tamara looked down into the huge almond-colored eyes of the kitten. "Yeah, I bet you are hungry. Come on, let's see if those gentlemen have some cream."

"Meow!" purred Phoebe.

Tamara stood, cradling the kitten with one foreleg. "I'll be right back, Tiffany."

"Whatever," Tiffany mumbled from the depths of her purse. Leaving her friend to touch up, Tamara walked up to the counter where Romance was just finishing their coffee.

"Excuse me?" Tamara asked, rather timidly, she realized. "My kitten is rather hungry, and I was wondering if you have any cream that you could spare? I can pay for it."

Romance turned, wide-eyed, and looked at her for a moment. "Kitten?" He caught site of the little creature curled up in the crook of Tamara's foreleg. "Oh, how cute! Hold on a moment, okay?" He motioned for Tamara to sit as he flitted into the kitchen, returning a moment later with a fresh pint of cream and a bowl. He was trying his best not to tremble as he poured the cream.

Tamara sat stroking the little kitten as she daintily lapped the cream. "She's going to make a fine show cat. See how she carries her tail?"

"I didn't know you were into cat shows," Romance told her. "I used to do them a bit myself, before I moved here."

"Really? Did you ever win any ribbons?" All ears, Tamara leaned closer with excitement. She had never met anyone that had any real interest in what she did before.

"Uh..." Romance breathed in the smell of Tamara's perfume, and he could feel his cheeks start to grow hot. He tried to pull back a bit, so she wouldn't see his condition. Instead, he slipped off the stool and crashed hard onto the floor, jolting the table at which Tiffany was seated. Her coffee, which Cinnamon Twist had brought to her, splashed all over the table. Tiffany leaped up with a scream, brushing imaginary droplets off of her jacket. When she was satisfied that there were going to be no stains, she glared harshly at Romance and huffed out of the shop, not waiting for her friend.

Tamara raced after her to the door. "Tiff-a-ny! Wait! Aren't you even going to wait for an apology?" She received no response. Turning, she quickly went to where Romance was sitting, rubbing his elbows. "Are you all right?" she asked delicately as she helped the stallion to his hooves.

"Yeah, I guess so..." Looking at the table, Romance let out a sigh. "You better catch up with your friend. I don't want to make her mad at you as well."

Tamara nodded slowly. "You're right there. And I don't need her majesty irritated with me." She hurriedly gathered her bags and scooped Phoebe up from the counter. "It was nice talking with you, Romance. See ya later!"

Romance forlornly watched Tamara leave. He so wanted to go with her, just to feel her next to him. Sitting at the table, he let out another sigh. His first shot at talking with her, and he goofed it up. Kicking himself inside, Romance went about cleaning up the mess he had created. It was going to be a very sleepless night.

* * *
"Hmm, do I want carrots or tomatoes?" Tamara pondered aloud to herself as she stood in the vegetable aisle of the market. It was the next morning, and she had had the peculiar urge to see how the new local greenhouse market was with produce. Upon finding it excellent, she had quickly filled her hand basket with a few pounds worth of fresh fruit and vegetables. But she had also quickly spent her remaining jangles, and she had to rethink some of her choices. "Let's go with tomatoes."

Placing the bundle of carrots back into their wooded crate, Tamara headed towards the cash register.

"Thank you very much for shopping at Nature's Delectables! That'll be ten jangles twenty-two," chattered the teen pony behind the counter. Tamara smiled warmly and dropped the change into her waiting hoof. "Have a spectacular day!" she called as Tamara headed away from the market and down the sidewalk.

Digging through her bag for an apple, Tamara idly wondered at what had urged her to stop at the little market. Looking up, she realized that she was in a section of town that she did not recognize. A strange feeling prompted her to take a stroll through the cobblestone sidewalks and Victorian style brick buildings. She was in the historic district of Dream Valley, she realized out of the blue. "How very quaint!" she breathed to herself as she peered at the ancient stonework displayed on many of the shop fronts.

Seating herself at a wrought iron bench with intricate whorls cast into the arm rests, she quietly munched away at her apple. Sunshine spilled over the street, and its gentle heat radiated from the stone paved walkway. She was the only pony to be found on the street, she noticed, which was rather odd for a Monday. The only sounds that violated the silent warmth were that of bird song. Tamara rested her head on her hoof and closed her eyes, soaking up the serenity.

"Excuse me, mademoiselles?" A gentle voice caused Tamara to jump. Opening her eyes, she squinted towards the source. "Sorry to have disturbed you," the voice continued.

When her eyes were fully adjusted to the light, Tamara recognized Romance standing before her. He was holding a shopping bag in one foreleg, and her bag in the other. "Oh, hello, Romance! You didn't disturb me."

Romance smiled kindly at her, and handed her the paper sack back. "That's good. I just wanted to give your groceries back. They had fallen while you were asleep and were busy rolling down the street."

"Oh, I hadn't realized that I had dozed off!" Tamara took the bag from him, and quickly checked to make sure none of its contents were damaged. "Thank you very much." Returning his smile, she motioned for him to sit next to her. "It looks like we both had the same thought on our minds," she said, eyeing his own bag of groceries.

"It certainly appears that way," Romance chuckled. He sat down next to Tamara, setting his bag on the ground. "What brings you down into this part of town? It's the first time I've seen you here."

Tamara thought a moment, a ponderous look on her face. "I don't know, really. I just woke up this morning and had the urge to."

Romance nodded in understanding. "The same thing happened to me. I live just a couple of blocks from here, though, so I come more often." Romance's veins throbbed with exhilaration as he casually talked with Tamara. Now's my chance! he thought happily.

"I can see why. It's so delightful!" Tamara breathed, waving her hooves at the buildings with a flourish. Her stomach suddenly gave a low growl, reminding her of her negligence at not eating breakfast that morning. Blushing, Tamara gave Romance a sheepish look. "Pardon me!"

Laughing, Romance rose and picked up his bag. "That's quite all right! I agree with that opinion. And seeing as it appears we have the makings of a meal, why don't we go have lunch in that nice little park over there?" Please! Romance kept thinking, praying that she wouldn't refuse.

Tamara's eyes widened, and she snapped her head towards her lap to hide a rising blush. "Why..." How was she going to respond to this? Looking back up, her eyes met his and saw the pleading hope that lingered there. "That sounds wonderful!"

She was rewarded with a beaming smile from the slim stallion. "Great!" Romance replied in an exuberant tone. Tamara stood, and the two ponies walked together towards the park. After finding a suitable spot, they sat down and made a lunch of tomato sandwiches, pears, cheddar cheese, and milk. They talked all the while, and time quickly flew from midmorning to early afternoon.

As the time passed, Tamara felt that she was growing closer and closer to the shy stallion. At first she thought the feeling was just something small. It was as if the world around them did not exist while they were together, as though they were someplace else that only they knew of. And she did not want it to end. By the time that Romance announced that he must return home, she was certain of what she felt.

"I'll walk with you, then. I have to stop by the groomer's to pick up my bill from last week," Tamara suggested as she disposed of the last of their garbage to the can nearby.

"That'll be great," Romance replied warmly, and led the way to the street. They walked together, admiring the architecture the area had to provide.

"Oh, look at that one!" Tamara said excitedly, pointing at a smallish shop on the corner of the street. The siding was a light shade of violet, and the whole building was trimmed with white filigree that looked like frosting on a cake. Two huge windows reflected Tamara and Romance in the oily hues of old glass as they approached. It opened into an empty room, Tamara quickly noted as she peered inside.

"It looks like this one is for sale," Romance commented to Tamara's delight.

"Really? Oh, this would make a wonderful place to have my show cat headquarters! My basement is starting to get rather cramped," Tamara said as she looked longingly though the glass, imagining her degrees adorning one wall and cozy cat cages along the other.

Romance didn't respond, letting Tamara dream a moment. Instead, he watched the reflection of the two of them standing together. In the glass, it looked like she was almost right beside him, her tail brushing his. He was filled with his own feeling of longing.

Puffing out a sad sigh, Tamara peeled herself away from the little building and turned to Romance. She quickly caught his sad gaze, but didn't have the nerve to ask what was on his mind. "Maybe someday," she said, and started to walk again.

They completed their journey to Romance's home in silence, each thinking their own thoughts. Tamara paid her companion little notice as she dreamed about buying the little shop and turning it into a center of her business.

Romance quietly led the way, occasionally glancing at the unicorn as she trailed after him. He had tried many times to tell Tamara how he felt about her, but the words simply stuck to the back of his tongue. He was so caught up in his personal torment that he almost walked right past his own house.

"We're here," he announced sadly, knowing that she would continue without him.

Tamara looked up from her thoughts, and took note of which townhouse it was they had stopped at. "I suppose then I will be seeing you again sometime," she told him, realizing she truly hoped she would. "Thank you for lunch."

"Thank you for joining me," Romance responded, bestowing his tender smile upon her, to Tamara's pleasure.

"Perhaps I'll see you soon at the Java Stop." Tamara hated to turn away from the smile that gave her such warmth inside, but she knew she must. "Tah-tah!" she waved as she slowly started to walk away.

"Yeah, tah-tah..." Romance echoed sadly. He stood at his door, watching Tamara until he could no longer see her. It killed him to watch her walk away, and he vowed that the next time they met she wouldn't do it without knowing how he felt. He slowly drug himself indoors, wishing that she had stayed longer.

* * *
Later that evening, Romance, Rascal, Cinnamon Twist, and Tiger were all at Romance's townhouse watching TV and eating Cheetos. It had become a weekly ritual between the four friends over the years, giving them time to catch up on the others' lives.

"So, how was everybody's weekend?" Tiger mumbled through a mouthful of Cheetos. He received mostly grunts and "Okay's" in return. "Yeah, I guess mine was okay. My girlfriend broke up with me, though."

"That stinks. Why?" Cinnamon Twist asked, not particularly caring.

"Oh, something about needing a ‘more romantic guy'." Tiger said breezily, brushing crumbs from his lap.

"Romantic? And we aren't romantic?" Rascal said, sarcastically waving his hoof at the gang. "Girls kill for us, bro!"

Cinnamon Twist raised an eyebrow at the multitude of empty soda cans and the remains of foodstuffs that littered the coffee table. "I don't think we quite qualify as ‘romantic'."

A few of them snickered, and they returned to dully watching the television screen flickering. After a few minutes, Cinnamon Twist turned to Romance. "You've been awful quiet for a few days. What's been on your mind, bud?"

"I bet he's festering over some girl," Tiger retorted.

Romance blushed and buried his chin in his chest. "Who, me? Obsessing over a girl? No way!" He was actually quite perturbed that his friends had interrupted his thoughts of the lunch he had shared with Tamara earlier in the day. But he was also not quite in the mood of reminding himself how he would probably never have the chance to talk to her again as he had earlier that very day.

"Oh, sure, like we believe you. Come on, spit it out," Rascal taunted.

Romance looked up, realizing he had everybody's full attention. "Well, uh, I guess you're right..."

"Then who is it?" they all asked in unison.

"Well, uhm, it's..." He glanced around at the faces of his friends. "Promise you won't tell her? Or laugh?"

Rascal jumped up and crossed his hoof over his heart. "Cross my heart and hope to die!"

"Of course you can tell us," Cinnamon Twist agreed.

"Yeah, it's not like we'll even know who she is," Tiger added.

Taking a deep breath, Romance blurted it out as quickly as he could, hoping they wouldn't catch the name. "It's-Tamara-Moore-I-love-her-so-much!"

"Blah-biddy-blah?" asked Tiger.

Drat. Of course he wasn't going to get off that easily, Romance decided. Sighing, he prepared to announce his secret to his friends. He well knew that if they did know who she was, that the fact would probably somehow show up on the evening news. "Tamara Moore."

All the stallions gasped in surprise. "Tamara? You've got a crush on Tamara?"

"Isn't she that cousin of Tabby's that you were talking to yesterday?"


Romance blinked at their responses. "What's so wrong with that?"

"Nothing! She's one of the cutest mares in town! I don't blame ya, bro," Rascal seated himself next to Romance.

"So, have you told her yet?" Cinnamon Twist questioned.

"Uh... no..."

Tiger assumed a look of shock. "Why not? I heard that Tex broke up with her, so she's all game."

"Yeah, I know, but... I don't have a clue as to what to say or how to act... and what if she doesn't like me?" Romance stuttered. He felt so awkward spilling his guts out to his fellow males like this.

"Man, you've got it bad, buddy!" Rascal remarked as he opened a can of soda.

"Yes, he certainly does," Tiger agreed. "I say we help him out."

Romance's heart raced. He was growing increasingly uncomfortable talking about the subject, which was rather personal to him. But, another part of his mind knew that he needed all the help he could get. "Uhm, I dunno, guys..."

"Oh, come on, we're your buds. We wanna help ya out." Cinnamon Twist put his hoof on Romance's shoulder.

Rascal leaned back in the couch cushions. "So what are you having problems with?"

Realizing he wasn't going to get out of analyzing the subject, Romance thought a moment. "Well, to sum it up, everything."

"Ah, I see. Don't know what to say to her, eh?" said Tiger.

Romance nodded. "That's a good start to the problem, I suppose."

"Well, from what I've encountered with females is that they like a lot of sweet talk. Lots of junk about loving them forever and how pretty they are and stuff. Over all, romance," Rascal explained, sounding rather matter-of-fact.

"Like what?" Romance felt very befuddled. He had always had a very hard time talking to any girl he liked, and with Tamara it was exceptionally hard.

Cinnamon Twist rolled his eyes. "Well, Tamara's romantic. Why don't you just say something in French?"

"Yeah, girls really go for foreign languages," Tiger stated. "As long as it isn't Pig Latin."

Romance stared wide-eyed at his friends. "Of course! I hadn't thought of that!"

"Yup, French, the very language of love! Works like a charm, I'm sure," Rascal said encouragingly. "That covers the ‘What to Say' category. Now, as for how to act, that's rather obvious."

Tiger took over the narrative. "You see, the more sweet and smooth you are to a lady, the better they will warm up to you. Simply shoving some flowers under her nose and saying ‘I like you, Tamara' isn't going to cut butter. You have to be a gentleman when you talk to her. Something more like ‘I bought these roses for you because I decided to bring some beauty to the life of the girl that brought it into mine.' "

"Gee, for a guy that just lost his girlfriend because he isn't romantic enough, I'd say that made even my heart flutter," Rascal swooned, causing all the stallions to break the serious atmosphere with guffaws of amusement.

After they had all calmed down and gasping for breath, Romance sat in contemplation for a moment. "So, if I go to her with roses and act romantic and poetic, it'll work?"

Cinnamon Twist rose from his spot on a large denim beanbag chair and threw away his last soda can. "Like a charm. And I hate to change the subject, but I better start heading home."

The clock on the wall chimed ten times as Tiger and Rascal got up as well. "Yeah, I've got to going as well," Tiger told his friend as he searched for something in his jacket pocket.

"Yeah, me too." Rascal chugged the rest of his soda and threw the can upon the growing heap in the middle of the coffee table.

"Thanks for helping me out, guys!" Romance called after them. Shouts of "No problem" and "Good luck!" echoed back to him from the street below.

Leaning back in his easy chair and gazing at the mess of Cheeto crumbs and soda cans, Romance felt as though a great weight had been lifted off of his chest. Deciding to leave the disorder for the morning, he headed upstairs to call the flower service, and to figure out exactly what romantic babble he was going to tell Tamara when next he saw her. It was going to be perfect.

* * *
"Hi, Tabitha, it's me. I was just calling to let you know that our engagement tonight can go as scheduled. I'm going to be about a half hour late, though, as I have a heap of paperwork to fill out for the next show. I'll meet you and the others at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe about six. Tah-tah!" Tamara finished her message to Tabby's answering machine and hung up. She sipped on her third cup of coffee as she gazed at the expanse of papers that filled her desk, all of which had to be filled out by that evening.

The thought of how tired she was skipped at the back of her thoughts as she started on the first stack before her. She had stayed up most of the night tossing and turning, unable to sleep well when she did manage to drift off. Since the incident with Romance the day before, there had been a knot in her chest. She didn't think it was a bad feeling, because every time she touched it with her mind it made her feel very warm and secure. But she had been unable to pinpoint exactly what it was.

Am I falling in love with him? The idea echoed dully through her veins. She had never been one to believe in "love at first sight" or stuff like that, but still...

Tilting back in the high-backed chair, Tamara gazed out the window. In the cherry tree outside, whose branches just barely brushed at the panes, two sparrows were busily working on building a nest. The brown-clad female sparrow was rather clumsy with most of the branches that her mate presented to her, and many of them would clatter back to the ground below. Tamara realized that it might be the very first nest the female had ever built. But patiently, the black-hooded male would retrieve them and give her a second try.

Tamara watched quietly for a time. She could clearly see the connection the two were building between each other as the work progressed, one showing the other how to help build their life together. Maybe Romance is just like that little sparrow, trying out something he has never had a chance to before. Perhaps he just needs me to help show him how to build a nest with me... the revelation whispered quietly in her heart more than her head. That is, if I'm right...

* * *
"Guys, let's sit at the counter. I love those cool little stool chairs," Merry Treat cooed as the entourage entered the shop.

"As you wish, Sis," Vixie commented as she plopped down at the nearest one. Merry Treat sat next to her, with Tabby and Thomas on the other side.

"Tammy's going to be here in a bit, I hope. She's probably still busy with her paperwork or something," Tabby commented to Merry Treat, who had asked where her cousin was.

All three mares chattered brightly about the day's events. Tabby had seen a Cubone for the first time at the Pokèmon Center, Merry Treat had given away two Forest Badges, and Vixie had had a rousing interview with the princesses.

Thomas sat silently next to Tabby, starring at the counter in front of him. He was having one of his weird feelings of dread again, which had been coming over him more and more frequently lately. He barely paid any attention to Tabby when she spoke to him, only giving a subtle nod or a mumbled "Ah-huh". He knew it hurt her, but he didn't know what else to say.

Finally, Tabby started to get worried about him. He looked rather pale. "Thomas, do you need to step out a moment to get some air?"

He barely nodded. "Yeah, I think I do... excuse me a moment."

* * *
Romance watched intently as the stallion, who had been seated next to who looked like Tamara, stepped outside. He had seen the four ponies go in a few minutes before, and he had just been biding his time for a chance to talk with Tamara. After talking with his friends the night before, his courage had gone up immensely.

Romance opened the refrigerator and pulled out the beautiful white rose with red fringed petals he had ordered the night before and made sure it hadn't been knocked or bumped. Looking up again and fixing his gaze upon the pink unicorn, Romance almost thought he could feel a mild panic attack coming on. Just stay calm and everything will go just fine. Stay calm, he told himself over and over as he casually walked to where the mares were seated.

"Excuse me," Romance said quietly, leaning over the counter and meeting the violet eyes of Tamara. "I have something very important to tell you."

Tabby stared in shock back at the black stallion before her. She nodded dumbly, not sure how to react. The stallion-- Romance, she thought was his name-- came around to the other side of the counter and knelt on one knee before her. In one hoof he held an exquisite rose, and reaching up he gently took her hoof in his free one.

"Depuis le moment j'étends mes yeux chanceux sur votre beauté, j'ai été enchanté. S'il vous plaît, croyez-moi quand je dis vous que je vous aime, et moi toujours volonté, pour toujours." ("Ever since the moment I laid my fortunate eyes upon your beauty, I have been enchanted. Please, believe me when I tell you that I love you, and I always will, forever.")

Romance spoke to her in rolling, gentle French. His eyes held so much love in them, and his words sounded so sincere. Tabby gaped open-mouthed at him, totally unsure of how to respond. "Uh... that's fascinating..." She turned her horror-ridden gaze to her friends (who were both in equal shock) and then back to him.

Romance laughed and took her other hoof, setting the rose on the floor next to him. "What I'm trying to say is, I love you Ta--"

Romance was cut off by the slam of the shop door, and everyone turned to see Thomas standing there, his eyes locked with anger upon Romance. Taking a solid step forward, his voice made the very air in the room boil with rage. "What do you think you are doing with my girlfriend?"

Romance's heart dropped through the floor. The flower he had just felt blooming inside of his chest puffed away like ashes on a breeze. He turned his eyes from Thomas to whom he thought was Tamara. "Girlfriend?" It can't be! No! his mind screamed at him.

"Yes, girlfriend. My girlfriend. Just who do you think you are, buddy?" Thomas took another threatening step towards him. "Explain yourself." The words were spoken as a command, filled with underlying fury.

Romance dropped Tabby's hooves and stepped back, stammering with embarrassment. "I-I didn't know! I th-thought she wasn't going out with anyone! I'm sorry sir!" Romance told him, raising his forelegs to protect himself in case a fight did start.

"Well, sorry isn't going to be good enough, buster! I want an explanation right now on why you even had the nerve to touch her!" Thomas growled.

Tabby was sitting back in her chair, relatively calm, taking small bites of her ice cream while watching the scene before her.

Vixie jumped up and stood between the two. She had suddenly realized what exactly had just happened, and she wasn't about to let it start a fight. "Hey guys, cool it. It was a simple misunderstanding. Let it go." She cast both stallions a solid glare.

Lowering his fist and casting Vixie a venomous look, Thomas turned and stomped the rest of the way to where Tabby sat. Taking her hoof in his own, he turned his back on Romance. "Come on, Tabby, let's go."

"That was so dashing of you," Tabby rolled her eyes as she went along with him. The remaining two sisters watched him storm out the door of the shop, practically dragging Tabby behind him.

"Tabby...? That wasn't Tamara...?" Romance stuttered into the sudden silence of the room. His eyes stared without seeing into space, and it felt as if his whole world had just been smashed like the rose he suddenly realized was beneath his hoof.

* * *
A cold breeze blew in puffs down the street, heralding the coming of rain. Thick gray clouds filled the evening sky, reflecting the last rays of the sunset in scarlet and golden hues. Tamara hugged her jacket close and bent her head against the wind. Despite the cold, being out of doors was much better than being stuck inside with mindless forms.

Tamara was about a block from the Satin Slipper Sweet Shop when she heard the door of the establishment slam. Looking up, she could see a rather perturbed Thomas followed by a thoughtful-looking Tabby coming towards her. "Really, he must just be some nut they let in," Tabby's words reached Tamara on the wind, and she halted to wait for them to meet up with her.

"Tamara! Come with me! I have got to tell you what just happened!" Tabby said excitedly as they passed, grasping her cousin's foreleg and pulling her after them. As they briskly walked to Tabby's house, Thomas didn't even acknowledge the world passing by him. Tabby was equally as silent, though she had a somewhat cocky smile upon her face. Tamara decided to refrain from asking questions until they were inside, out of the steal gray rain that was now steadily falling.

After reaching Tabby's home, the girls quickly dried off. Thomas said a few words to Tabby and quickly left, giving no mind to the nasty weather. "So, what happened?" Tamara asked finally as they seated themselves at the kitchen table with two cups of tea.

"You'll never believe it!" Tabby started, taking a measured pause to gather wind. "You know Romance from the new coffee bar at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shop? Well, he proposed to me! Well, not exactly, but he professed that he loved me! He was talking to me in French and everything, and I hadn't a clue what he was doing. And then Thomas came in, and he made him apologize for even touching me! He was like a knight in shining armor!" Though not fully admitting to it, Tabby was rather proud of what had transpired. Pausing again to sigh romantically, Tabby took no notice of the troubled look on her cousin's face.

Tamara stared in shock into her tea. No! she thought over and over. There was a sudden twang of hurt inside of her chest. It was as though her heart had been crushed. "That's... nice Tabitha..." she stuttered finally.

Hearing the distress in her cousin's voice, Tabby cast her a look of apprehension. "Are you okay, Tammy?"

Nodding, even though she was rather unsure herself, Tamara replied quietly, "Yeah, I'm... fine. I think I'm catching a cold, though... I'm going to head home and retire for the night..."

Tabby escorted her cousin toward the door, handing her a slightly thicker coat for the journey home. "Call me in the morning, okay? You don't look that great."

"Yes, of course. Good night, Tabitha." Tamara stepped into the downpour, weakly waving at her.

"Night-night, Tammy," Tabby waved back, her eyes showing some concern.

Tamara paid little heed to the heavy cold drops of water that crashed into her. Her gaze watched the ground ahead of her. It was some time before she even noticed that she was crying. What am I crying about? she thought angrily to herself. It was a simple crush! I didn't even cry over Tex!

Tamara turned into the park that had revealed itself to her in the gloom. It was in this very same park that but a few days before she had lost Tex to Mimic. The few streetlights that surrounded the play areas cast a mournful sheen upon the wet surfaces of the swingsets and slide. Puddles of water filled the thousands of imprints left by scampering youth in the loose fill gravel.

Dragging her hooves, she went to one of the swings. Brushing away the water that had collected, she seated herself and hugged the chains. Everything inside of her fell together in a abnormal way, a jumble of hurt and confusion. The fact that it was Tabby that Romance liked explained why he had been acting so weird around Tamara. She figured that he had probably gotten her mixed up with her almost identical cousin, and when he was spending time with Tamara he had thought it had been Tabby.

"Why? Why the irony?" She screamed in pain at the rain. All of her emotions collapsed inside of her, leaving her in a rubble of agony inside. Thunder crashed as if in response to her outcry, and muffled her sobs. She did not wish to be alone and abandoned, like an old plaything no longer needed by those she cared for. But alone she was, with only the rain to comfort her tears.

* * *
"Oh, where could she be?" Tabby fretted as she set the phone on the receiver. She had just tried to call Tamara for the fifth time after Tamara had neglected to call that morning.

"Maybe she's just asleep?" Merry Treat suggested, but she was just as worried as her friend.

Looking at the clock, Tabby shook her head. "Tamara? Still asleep at nine-thirty in the morning? No, that's most definitely not like her."

Merry Treat shrugged, pacing the kitchen floor again and again in thought. "I don't know..."

"Maybe she was kidnaped! Or murdered! Or..." Tabby fussed, wringing her hooves. She generally didn't worry about the well-being of her cousin, but this was an extreme case.

"Tabby, calm down! We can't do anything to help her if we're stressed out," Merry Treat consoled her friend by putting her forelegs about Tabby's shoulders.

Tabby took a couple of deep breaths. Horrible thoughts kept filling her mind as she tried to think about where Tamara was. "Let's go over to her house. She wasn't looking that great when I saw her last night, and she might have deteriorated to the point she can't move."

"Good idea. Come on," Merry Treat replied, and the two mares quickly hurried outside and rushed across town to Tamara's house. Unfortunately, their frantic knocks on her door went unanswered, and the windows were dark and quiet. "Okay, now what?" Merry Treat asked Tabby as she sat down on the step before the door.

Tabby leaned against the door and closed her eyes, trying to calm herself into a thinking mode. "Let's go to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe. We need to get some ponies to look for her."

Merry Treat cast her friend a questioning look. "A search party? Don't you think that we should just call the police?"

Tabby was already cantering down the sidewalk towards the shop. "That costs money we don't have! And anyway, maybe someone knows where she is," she shouted back though her own dust.

It only took a couple of minutes to reach the shop, and they entered breathlessly. "Hi, you two," Scoops said to them, eyeing their flustered faces. "Is everything okay?"

Tabby quickly explained their plight to the older pony, whose cheery face turned grave. "Come on, let's make some phone calls. I can get together a few ponies in no time."

About a half hour later, the three had gathered Thomas, Tiffany, Sugarberry, Vixie, and Cinnamon Twist at the shop. "Just ask someone at every house you pass if they've seen her." Tabby instructed as Merry Treat handed out a few hastily photocopied pictures of Tamara. "Check in at hour intervals, and when someone finds her call here immediately."

The group nodded silently, their faces lined with worry as they filed out of the shop. "I'll stay here to catch phone calls," Scoops told them as they left.

Vixie watched as the others left, and turned to Scoops. "I need to make a quick phone call," she told her as she lifted the phone. Vixie had been formulating what had happened in her own mind, and she knew someone that the others had forgotten to call. "Hi, Romm," she said seriously when the rings were answered on the other end of the line.

"Hey, Vix. What's up?" Romance asked, quickly discerning the worry in Vixie's voice.

"Tamara's missing. She's not at her place, and no one has seen her since last night," Vixie explained.

There was an expected silence on the other end as Romance listened to the news in shock. "What? Are you sure?"

"Yes, Romm. I don't know where she would be at, but I think I know why she's missing. You have got to find her before the others do, so you can set your mishap last night straight," Vixie explained. "I'm at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe. The others are already out looking, but there aren't very many. When you find her, bring her here." She knew she did not have to ask him to look, for she already knew his response.

"Okay. Thanks for calling, Vix," was Romance's reply.

Vixie hung up the receiver, not expecting a "goodbye" from him. She seated herself at a table, deciding to help Scoops take calls. She prayed that Romance would find Tamara safe and sound.

* * *
Romance galloped out of his house in a panic, his heart racing much faster than his hooves as they flew over the ground. His muscles ached from a terrible night's sleep, but he didn't care. He had to find Tamara, and that was the only thought on his mind.

Stopping to catch his breath, he leaned against a tree. The day's heat sweltered over him, and it felt as though he was going to collapse. Glancing about him, he realized that he had come to the entrance of the park at which he and Tamara had shared lunch the other day. There was no better place for him to start looking, he supposed, and plunged into the shady depths at a full run.

Leaping over puddles left by the downpour the night before, he practically broke his neck as he turned this way and that, looking desperately for the pony he loved so much. In his mind, she was lying hurt in a ditch somewhere. Or unconscious along the path, having slipped while she had ran from an unknown terror. A million different scenarios played out in his mind, and he hoped that each one was totally wrong.

After a frantic hour of searching, his heart was starting to grow heavy. He had never noticed how large the park was. Maybe it was just because he was so worried. He was about to give up all hope of ever seeing her smile again when the trail turned from the trees and opened into a play area. His vision focused in on one thing: the form of Tamara huddled on a swing with her forelegs around herself and eyes closed as she slept.

"TAMARA!" Romance shouted in pure joy, and in a burst of energy he galloped the last hundred feet between them. He threw his forelegs about her, glad that she was alive. "Oh, Tamara!" he mumbled into her mane.

Tamara blinked in surprise as she was jolted awake. It took her a moment to recollect that she had gone to sleep in the park, her pain soothed by the rain's caress. "Romance?" she asked in confusion, not sure how to react to his warm hug.

Pulling back from her and brushing a stray lock from Tamara's eyes, Romance smiled happily. "You're all right! Oh, you're alive!" he said, almost in disbelief.

Tamara nodded slowly, unsure of what to think. "Yes, I'm fine. What did you think was wrong?"

Romance didn't respond, only smiled bigger. Tamara watched his face, noticing how happy he seemed to just see her. And then, a single tear ran down his cheek, and he buried his head in her shoulder. "I'm so glad! I don't know what I would do if something had happened to you!"

The shambles of her heart that her hours of sobbing the night before had torn to bits stirred as the stallion cradled her firmly in his embrace, like nothing in the world would make him release her. Was everything she had been thinking a total mistake?

Her question was answered when she heard him whisper something in her ear that not even Tex had ever said to her. "I love you, Tamara."

"What?" It felt as though beams of light flooded her body as the words soaked through her, and she pushed Romance's head up so she could meet his crystalline red eyes. "D-do you mean that?"

Romance nodded, and his own heart felt like the purest joy had been bestowed upon it as her eyes gazed into his. "With all of my soul."

They did not hear the cheers and whistles from the search party, which had decided to do a sweep of the park, as they kissed. Romance and Tamara had been lifted into a world of their own.


The Insane Crossover Story
Chapter Nine
by Tabby and Barnacle ( and
with technical assistance from Spike, Clever Clover, Friendly, James, and Merry Treat

Having wandered off on a quest, Tabby and Merry Treat have found themselves lost and now only care about finding their way back home. They have gained several companions along the way that are traveling with them. Since the previous chapter, He-Man disappeared during the night and Prince Adam came on the scene that morning on instructions from his "friend". Merry Treat and Tabby have caught on to the fact that He-Man and Prince Adam are one and the same, but refrain from saying anything about it as the troupe continues onward...


It was midday when the group finally stopped due to this exclamation emitted from Prince Adam. The muscular blond man had stopped in his tracks upon catching sight of a large billboard alongside a road they were crossing.

"Huh?" Tabby glanced up at the boldly-painted snazzy sign, the main feature being a girl with pink hair.

"Jem? And the Holograms? All right!" Orko, the red floating t-shirt, cheered.

"The Telegrams?" Max queried.

"What's it say about them?" Orko continued.

"They're performing live in the next town-- tonight!" Adam said excitedly.

"But who are they?" Merry Treat prodded, never wanting to be left out of anything.

"Jem is only the greatest rock star of all time," Adam raved. "I have all her albums!"

"I much prefer the Misfits," Sam spoke-up matter-of-factly.

"Don't forget about Kimber and Aja and Shana," Orko reminded. "Kimber's the prettiest, but no one notices her playing on the keyboard." He rolled his eyes in exasperation.

"But Jem is the whole brains of the operation!" Adam argued. "And that voice of hers!" He stood back and smiled happily.

"Prince Adam never struck me as the type to be into female rock groups," Tess, the petite Meowth, commented.

"Nothing surprises me about this guy anymore," Tarquin said.

He has strange interests, Spearow agreed.

"So, guys, are we just going to stand here all day or what?" Tabby looked expectantly over at the two, twirling a strand of her red mane around her hoof. "Prince Adam? Orko?"

"But look at the way Jem applies her makeup," Orko was chattering. "Kimber does a much better job. Not so gaudy."

"Hello-o-o-o-o..." Merry Treat said impatiently, stomping her hoof sharply.

Tabby began tapping her hoof on the ground. "You two! Just shut up and let's get moving, or I'll see to it personally that this Jem girl is out of her job for good!"

"She's right, Orko. We had better start moving," Adam agreed readily.

Tabby looked proud of herself. "Good. Now, let's just cut through this field here and get over to that forest across the way."

"We'll have more covering in our travels," Merry Treat added.

"No, I was thinking we'd just follow this road here into town," Adam declared, stepping forward.

Merry Treat frowned. "Why? I'm pretty sure it doesn't lead to where we want to get."

"It does too!" Orko piped-up. "I, for one, want to see Kimber performing live tonight."

"That was my plan exactly, Orko," Adam nodded. "We have to get to the ticket office before they're sold out for the concert tonight."

"Oh, brother," Tarquin sighed.

"Tarquin," Tess said sharply, "just because Adam has different interests than we do doesn't mean he's a lunatic."

"Yes, it does," Max said immediately.

"Um, excuse me, but we didn't exactly have a Jem concert in our schedule," Merry Treat interjected quickly.

"But this is a once in a lifetime opportunity!" Adam said passionately. "Teela would never allow Mom and Dad to give me any time off at the castle to see Jem before."

"And besides," Sam interjected, "I'm sure this side-track on our journey can only lead to certain mayhem and high property damage."

"But, Adam, won't our grouping look strange if we just head into town looking like we do?" Merry Treat argued. "I mean, I'm assuming this is a human-occupied city..."

"Aw, Merry Treat, it's a rock concert," Tabby dismissed the thought. "Nobody'll give us a second glance."
"I don't know..." Merry Treat said skeptically.

"Please! I've just gotta see Kimber!" Orko said pleadingly.

"Let's go with them, gang. It'll be fun," Tess urged.

Tabby paused in thought. "As long as Prince Adam pays our way."

"Yeah, I don't want to spend any more jangles on weird concerts than I have to," Merry Treat agreed.
"I'll do anything for Jem! Now, hurry up! We've got to get those tickets!" And so, on his whim of seeing Jem, Adam pushed the group onwards; and everyone else just shrugged and followed along.

* * *
"This is so exciting. I'm going to get signatures from all the Holograms," Orko bubbled over excitedly. Prince Adam had been successful in purchasing tickets for the whole group; and now that twilight had descended upon the city, they all stood in line awaiting their entrance into the large open-air auditorium. "Do you think they'd write on my magic book? That would be... outrageous!"

"Truly outrageous," Adam agreed, and the two began laughing.

Tabby rolled her eyes and glanced around at her surroundings, trying to pass time. The amphitheater was built on the outside stretches of the city; and loads of obsessive fans were crowed around, screaming from excitement and waiting impatiently to be let in.

Merry Treat was currently concentrating on staring up into the sky. The temperatures were still of a mild spring day, making it a pleasant evening to be out. She had to admit that Tabby had been right; nobody seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary with the two ponies, the strange white bunny, his suited companion, the Pokèmon, the flying t-shirt, or the man with a large sword strung over his back.

Tarquin and Tess didn't seem too interested at all in the concert; and with their trainers' consent, had ran off to get a bite to eat at a corner cafe somewhere. Spearow was content to perch on Merry Treat's back, being exhausted from all the events of that day.

Finally, the line started to move as people began being admitted. Adam and Orko impatiently inched their way ahead. They were only moments away from seeing their favorite performers!

However, as Adam passed by the entrance into the auditorium, a young security guard grabbed him roughly and pulled him back. "Hey, no weapons allowed," he said, reaching for Adam's sword.

"You can't take that!" Adam protested, keeping a grip on the sword.

"Then you'll have to leave." Knowing the responsibilities of his job, the guard began pushing him out of the line.

"Wait!" Adam exclaimed. "I'll... I'll..." He looked down at his sword, and then switched his gaze to the auditorium door, carefully weighing his decision in his mind. "Okay, okay, anything to see Jem," he finally said, slowly pulling the sword out of its sheath and handing it over.

"Alright, go on in," the black-haired guard said gruffly, taking the weapon.

"But without that, you won't be able to become He-Man!" Max commented as the group continued on in.

"I'm sure nothing will come up during the concert-- I mean, hah-hah, very funny," Adam laughed heartily, throwing back his head.

The rest of the gang had better luck in getting admitted. The guard, who wore a nametag identifying him as James, smiled warmly at Merry Treat as she flashed her ticket by him. Merry Treat smiled shyly in return, and nodded quickly before entering the auditorium.

"I'm glad they didn't notice our guns, Sam," Max commented as he brandished his luger.

"You're right, little buddy; you never know when you may need to commence with our own brand of justice," Sam agreed.

Anyway, they were finally all settled in their grouping of six seats (Spearow stayed with Merry Treat, not requiring a chair of his own), comfortably seated in about the middle of the arrangement. However, there was still another wait until Jem and the Holograms would make their appearance on the stage.

Fans began cheering wildly, and Prince Adam was among the most vocal. "Jem! Jem! Jem!" he chanted.

"Kimber! Go, Kimber!" Orko yelled.

Tabby only yawned and looked over at Merry Treat. "I hate waiting."

"I wonder what their music is like," Merry Treat pondered.

Tabby's gaze swerved down to the front row, where a handsome white Porshe car was parked near the stage. A boombox was attractively placed on its dashboard. "Say, what's that doing in here?"

"I bet they're giving that away after the concert," Adam theorized. "Great car. I hope I'll get to buy some chances for it."

"Makes me miss the DeSoto," Sam said.

"Why, Sam? That thing is nothing but a pile of rust," Max pointed out.

"Yes, but it's got sentimental value," Sam commented.

It was at that moment that the curtain over the stage was lifted. Amid lots of flashing lights, the famous group, Jem and the Holograms, was revealed!

The cheering increased to even higher levels as Jem fanatics caught their first glimpse of the band. Orko and Adam only added to the chorus of shouting. Tabby winced at the noise and sunk down in her seat.

Revealed on the stage were the four young women who made up the Holograms: Jem, Kimber, Aja, and Shana. All were dressed in shimmery classy dresses, each being a different pastel hue. Their exotic-colored hair accented their clothing, making them look "truly outrageous". The stage was set up with various elaborate sets, one being a giant raygun apparently for producing the laser light effects.

"Ahh! Their sense of style is even worse than Adam's!" Sam gasped. "I knew I should have brought my sunglasses!"

"I brought mine!" Max exclaimed, as he held a pair aloft.

"Where do you keep those things, little buddy?" Sam asked.

"None of your business, Sam."

The pink-haired girl in the glorious aqua dress stepped up to the microphone; and as she began singing, the din of the crowd began to die down. The other three band members picked up their instruments and started to play along.

Tabby was immediately entranced with the catchy lyrics and beat of the music. Merry Treat also listened with interest, and even Adam and Orko quieted down a bit in order to hear the song.

"Hey babe, I got my eye on you

And I'm watchin' your every move

Hey babe, I got my eye on you

Tell me what are you tryin' to prove?

You think you're hot, and your star is due

You think you've got somethin' different and new

Well babe, I got my eye on you

I would really like to make you mine

‘Cause ever since you came in view

I just can't take my eyes off you

Hey babe, I got my eye on you

I got my eye on you...

I got my eye on you..."

As this first song came to a close, everyone burst out cheering again. By this point, Spearow had woken himself up and was also getting into the concert. Adam and Orko were held spellbound as the girls tuned their instruments in again and started up a new song, complimented with Jem's beautiful voice.

"There's music in the mountains tonight...

Up above a crescent moon is gleamin' bright...

Can't recall ever feeling so right--"

"Man, this song really stinks," Max intoned.

"Yeah, it doesn't have that... feeling that Jem usually puts into her work," Adam agreed.

"Not that any of her music has any feeling," Sam added. "Or that I have any feelings in my extremities after listening to it."

"Be quiet!" Merry Treat hushed them.

"Row-row!" Spearow chirped in annoyance, agreeing with Merry Treat.

It soon became apparent to everyone, however, that something really was wrong with the music. It seemed as if the volume of the song had fallen drastically, and a warbly background echo accompanied it making it sound as if the music was coming through filters.

"Hey, what's going on?" Adam said in concern. "I can't hear Jem!"

"Or Kimber!" Orko said in dismay. "Something bad must have happened!"

A great wave of murmuring swept through the crowd as everyone wondered what had happened to the speakers. None of the Holograms seemed to notice that anything was wrong as of yet, and kept on playing.

Adam appeared even more concerned than the rest. "I've gotta go," he said abruptly, standing up from his seat and running up the aisle. He received quick nods in return. Fearing that something serious had gone wrong with the concert and that Jem was in terrible danger, Adam realized he had to regain his sword-- without it, he wouldn't be able to transform into He-Man and save the day!

Dashing back to the main entrance and hoping the particular guard who had taken his sword was still on duty there, Adam stepped up to the desk. He gasped as he saw the guard-- James, it appeared his name was-- seated behind the desk and toying with his precious sword.

"Hey, it's you again," James said sternly, looking up from the sword. "What do you want?"

"I need my sword," Adam said urgently. "It's an emergency."

"That's not a good enough excuse for me." James pointed towards the door, beginning to show signs of irritation. "Just go back to your seat and listen to the concert."

"I'm serious!" Adam persisted. "I need it!"

"No exceptions," James said, his voice starting to rise. "Run along now."

Adam knew that something had to be done quickly. Reaching over the desk, he swiftly grabbed his sword with immense strength from the unsuspecting guard and took off running.

"Hey!" James cried, jumping up from his seat. "Get back here, you fiend!"

Adam snuck into a discreet, shadowy corner and hoped James would pass him by. He held his sword high. "BY THE POWER OF GRAYSKULL!" he shouted. Bolts of lightning suddenly illuminated the hallway; and after the bright light had diminished, in the place of Prince Adam stood He-Man! Lavender pants and pink shirt were gone; in their place was a pair of furry underpants and a gray vest.

"Sir, have you seen anyone pass this way?" James suddenly came around the corner. "Particularly someone with a sword."

"Uh... well..." He-Man deftly hid his weapon behind him. "I think he went... that way." He pointed to the door leading outside.

"Thanks. I'll have to check all the exits." James was swiftly off again, unsuspecting of He-Man's masquerade; and the musclebound oaf ran back into the auditorium.

He-Man knew that something had to be seriously wrong, and he had but one thought on his mind. "Jem!" he cried, rushing forward towards the stage. "I'll save you!"

The band was still singing away. "Everybody wears a mask..." Jem was crooning into her microphone.

He-Man made a daring jump over the car in the front row and easily shoved his way through the wild crowd of fans in front of the stage. Muscling his way through the ring of security guards surrounding the stage, He-Man was soon where he wanted to be. The four musicians were engrossed in their instruments. He-Man dashed towards the pink-haired one and grabbed her around the waist. He then ran backstage to get her to safety.

"Wait!" Jem cried out to her "rescuer". "Put me down! Put me down!"

"Never mind that now," He-Man assured her. "You must be taken to safety from whatever evil has befallen this concert."

Some of the audience thought that He-Man's stunt was just part of the show, but others thought there was a real crisis. Cries of "Jem's been kidnaped!" and "Catch the lunatic!" ripped through the air. Tabby and Merry Treat exchanged glances. It looked as if they'd have to do something to prevent He-Man from doing any lasting harm. But what?

"I think he's overreacting over broken speakers," Merry Treat said in a low tone.

"Tell me about it," Tabby nodded.

"He's gone nuts!" Max exclaimed. "Does this mean we get to put him down, Sam?"

" ‘Fraid not, Max," Sam replied. "We'll leave that to trained animal control officers."

"Spear-row!" Spearow chirped, circling in the air. "Row! Row!"

"Tarquin and Tess?" Merry Treat said excitedly, the pitch of her voice rising. "They're here? Now?"
"What?" Tabby asked.

"Follow Spearow!" Merry Treat declared, jumping out of her seat. Spearow took off flying, and the remaining members of their group followed him on the ground, finding their way through the maze of aisles.

Spearow finally let out another triumphant squawk as he flew in for a landing by one of the side doors. Sure enough, the two Meowths, Tarquin and Tess, were waiting there!

"Tarkie, what are you doing here? Do you know anything about what He-Man's up to?" Tabby asked briskly.

Tarquin was currently concerning himself with holding the heavy door to prevent it from closing. "Well," he huffed, "we've been watching, and..."

"After He-Man ran off with Jem, the guards posted here went off through this door. They went backstage to find them," Tess filled in.

"And I managed to catch the door before it shut so we'll still be able to get through," Tarquin finished up. "I figured we'd need to stop He-Man."

"Sounds good to me! Let's go!" Merry Treat rallied the rest. Getting their approval, they filed on through the door and had soon left the murmurs of discontent from the crowd behind them as they emerged backstage.

"I hope Kimber wasn't hurt," Orko fretted, floating through the air. "Kimber! Kimber!"

Tabby was completely silent as she attempted to find her bearings. Peering around a corner, she spotted what she was looking for. "There he is," she said grimly.

"You'll be safe in here," He-Man was saying as he shoved Jem into a closet. "Wait until I get back." Jamming a handy crowbar between the wall and the closet door, He-Man turned around to face the rest.

"Ah! I can't see!" Max cried out.

Bonking him on the head, Sam said, "Try taking your sunglasses off."

"He-Man, He-Man! What about Kimber? Is she safe?" Orko said worriedly, floating forward.

"I'm sure she's fine. But now we must figure out what's causing all the trouble here," He-Man said wisely.

All of a sudden, they realized that they had just been cornered by a group of guards. "I bet he's that madman!" one cried, pointing at He-Man.

"It's him! He's changed clothes!" Another stepped forward, and he was immediately identified as James. "You may be wearing fuzzy briefs instead of lavender pants now, but I'd recognize that stupid haircut anywhere!"

"We must not judge each other by our looks," He-Man stated seriously. "Perhaps my styles are not up to your standards, but I fight for the side of good, as you do."

"You go find Jem," James instructed his fellow guards. "I'll take care of this guy." With that, he jumped forward and tackled He-Man. The two struggled on the floor for a spell, but James could not hope to defeat the most powerful man in the universe.

Meanwhile, Merry Treat, Tabby, and the rest had some more people to deal with as the remaining three of the group ran up to them. "Hey! Do any of you know what's going on?" the red-haired girl cried. "Is Jem okay?"

"It's the Monograms!" Max suddenly exclaimed.

"Yeah, I think He-Man just stuffed her in that closet there." Tabby pointed in the general direction of the alcove where Jem was held captive.

"You can bet this is the work of Eric Raymond," the blue-haired one said crossly. "Let's get her out." Avoiding the two men fighting in the area, the three stepped over to the locker and struggled with the crowbar that had wedged it shut.

"He-Man was just getting Jem out of danger," Orko assured the girls while they worked. "She's fine. And me and my friends are gonna fix this concert, just wait and see-- Kimber, Kimber, it's really you!" he suddenly cried, floating to the red-haired one as if realizing her presence for the first time. "You can't imagine how much I've wanted to see you!"

"Really?" Kimber blushed. "Well... uh..."

"Kimber, we've got to worry about saving the concert now," the fourth of the group, with lavender hair, interjected as she looked up from her task. "You can talk to your fan later."

"Yeah... you're right, Shana," Kimber sighed, giving the crowbar another tug.

All at once, the congregation was aware that one of the stage props was behaving very strangely. A mysterious voice suddenly began emanating from the giant raygun. "Return Jem to the concert!" it informed them sharply. "I must have the music to convert into energon."

"That... that... I didn't know we'd bought such elaborate props," Kimber said in shock, taking a step backwards.

"What?" Tabby said in confusion.

"Hmm, interesting," Tarquin said, obviously not too concerned yet.

"It's been possessed by an evil spirit!" He-Man cried.

"You're behind this, aren't you?" James accused, pointing at He-Man. "I bet your buddy is hiding out in that prop."

"No!" Orko said in defense. "We're only here to save Jem!"

"Please, let's not argue!" Merry Treat pleaded.

While this was transpiring, the raygun prop began to unfold itself... and before their eyes suddenly stood a humongous robot! The hulking monster was purple in color with silver highlights, and had one glowing eye. Pointed ear-like pieces projected off the sides of its head. "I had calculated less than a point zero five percent chance that I would need to reveal myself," it commented. "There is no precedent for a stupid muscle-bound neanderthal interfering with the plan."

"Who do you think you are, crashing our concert like this?" Shana stepped forward with her hands on her hips and confronted the robot.

The machine only stood there. "I am Shockwave, Decepticon military commander. By hiding myself among the stage props, I was planning to absorb the sonic vibrations from your music to convert into energon to further the goal of Decepticon conquest!"

"Not on my watch!" James suddenly cried out, jumping up from his brawl with He-Man and running for the robot. "You won't get away with this while I'm around!"

"James, let us make amends and join our forces against this common foe," He-Man urged, taking a step forward.

"Troublesome fleshlings." Swiftly extending his left arm (which was shaped like a cannon), Shockwave shot explosive blasts at the two.

Both James and He-Man were blown away by this blast and stumbled over. He-Man got up again quickly, gama-rays having no lasting effect on him. However, James remained hunched over, writhing in agony.

"James!" Merry Treat cried, running over to the security guard she remembered from earlier. "Are you okay?"

James looked up into her face, his eyes glowing an unearthly green. "Ahh! He's gonna blow!" Max exclaimed before Merry Treat had time to react.

He-Man, meanwhile, stood facing the giant robot called Shockwave. He grabbed onto one of Shockwave's huge feet; and, amid grunts of exertion, began to lift the leg up into the air.

All of a sudden, the white car which everyone recognized from earlier in the concert rolled in on the scene, pushing some of the confused guards aside. In a matter of moments, however, it was apparent that this machine was more than met the eye-- it went through a similar transformation process as Shockwave's. The boombox followed suit, and two more robots stood before them. They were the two Autobots, Jazz and Blaster!

"Yee-haw!" Max exclaimed. "More giant robots! Now things'll get busted-up real good."

"Only if we're lucky," Sam replied.

"Get out of the way; we'll take care of this," the red one instructed (who had formerly been a boombox), pushing the spectators aside and aiming his electro-scrambler at Shockwave.

"Can't have you messing with our tunes," the white one added, leveling his rocket launcher at their opponent.

Meanwhile, Merry Treat still knelt, concerned, by James. He finally began to right himself and stood up on his feet. His eyes were still glowing. "I feel... power... surging through my body," he said. "I'm... more powerful than I was before. In fact, I'm more powerful than He-Man--"

James' speech, however, was cut short as He-Man came flying through the air towards him, being thrown back with a kick from Shockwave. The force managed to hit James onto the ground as He-Man landed.

The Holograms and Tabby, however, were still struggling to get Jem out of the closet she was locked in. Tarquin and Tess stood by, looking on with curiosity. Finally, with a sharp kick from Jem inside the locker, the crowbar whirled through the air and the door crashed open.

"Oh, Jem, are you okay?" Everyone gathered around anxiously.

"I'm fine, but..." The girl looked around quickly. "What's happening?"

Kimber was quick to explain. "That big raygun prop was actually a giant robot who was sucking in the sound of our music to convert into energy! And then He-Man and James ganged up on him, and two more robots just showed up to help, and--"

"I think I get the picture," Jem said quickly, glancing over the battle scene. "This is bad news for the concert."

"But good news for us. I was just about to die from boredom," Sam said.

The gama-rays James had been blasted with apparently had given him new powers. He was much stronger than before, and was able to put up a good fight against Shockwave along with He-Man and the Autobots.

Blaster shot his electro-scrambler at Shockwave, which sent the hulking robot stumbling across the floor as he desperately tried not to lose his balance. The scaffolding backstage broke his fall, though, and he leaned up against the structure as he tried to regain his thoughts.

"Hmm," Jem continued after a moment of thought, witnessing Shockwave's latest predicament. "I have an idea."

"What's that, Jem?" Aja asked.

Reaching a hand up, Jem touched one of her earrings. "Synergy, we need your help," she said in a low tone. "Project something to challenge this robot!"

Suddenly, what appeared to be another robot appeared backstage. This one was silver with black highlights, and a large cannon was mounted on his right arm. It was Megatron, leader of the Decepticons. "You've failed me for the last time, Shockwave," it said in a menacing voice.

Shockwave looked over at the hologram of his leader, projected by Jem's ultra-technological computer Synergy, in surprise. But, still confused by the electro-scrambler, he was unable to realize that this was simply a mirage. "But there's less then a five percent chance that I will lose this confrontation!" he protested to his leader.

Seeing that the moment was right, Jazz took the opportunity to fire one of his rockets at his opponent. Taken off guard, Shockwave didn't have time to block the hit. The rocket smashed into him, and he was sent stumbling into the ground. Megatron's hologram faded away into thin air.

He-Man realized that it was his turn. He ran over to Shockwave, and gripped onto one of the giant's legs. James assisted He-Man for a moment, but He-Man soon got a grip on the entire situation and needed no help once Shockwave had been lifted into the air. James stepped aside, and He-Man began twirling Shockwave around in circles with mighty heaves. "This is impossible. There is no probability that a human could possibly possess such strength," Shockwave said in his electronic monotone.

He-Man saw that enough speed had been gained for his purpose; and when the time was right, aimed Shockwave upwards and let go. The monstrous robot went flying up into the air with tremendous push. He-Man had aimed well, and a satisfying splash sounded not long afterwards as Shockwave plunged into the nearby bay.

"It looks like Shockwave is blasting off again!" Max exclaimed.

"I love it when so much property damage is caused in so short a period of time," Sam agreed.

"I think he learned his lesson today," He-Man said contentedly, wiping his hands. "It's not nice to bully people around like he did."

At that declaration, everyone backstage crowed around He-Man, sharing congratulations. The two Autobots took this as their cue to leave. Swiftly transforming back into their car and boombox shapes, they drove off discreetly and melted in with the cheering crowd in the auditorium.

"Totally outrageous, He-Man!" Kimber bubbled over excitedly. "I don't know what we would have done without you."

"He-Man can never resist helping anyone in need," Orko said proudly.

James look grudgingly over at He-Man. "Yeah, I guess he did help."

"Something tells me the Misfits weren't behind this stunt," Shana commented. "They aren't clever enough to do something this elaborate."

"Just as long as you're safe, Jem, my goal has been fulfilled here tonight," He-Man declared, bowing low to the singer.

Jem blushed. "Thanks, He-Man. I'm really honored to have had you here."

"Maybe we should have just stayed at the cafe, Tarquin, instead of coming back," Tess said thoughtfully.

"It would have avoided a lot of trouble," Tarquin agreed.

"Row-row!" Spearow chirped, circling in the sky above the audience, swept away with the rejoicing.

"I think we've done enough damage here," Tabby commented. "Maybe we'd better move on and inflict havoc elsewhere."

"Ooh, ooh! There's still a few buildings standing over there!" Max said excitedly.

"But we did make new friends," Merry Treat pointed out.

"And that's what really matters!" Aja agreed.

The three instrument players of the band departed from the gathering then, and went back out on stage to calm the cheering crowd. Jem remained behind, however, to say her farewells to the traveling group. "I really hate to see you all go. You're not from around here, are you?"

"No, not really," Tabby said, cocking her head.

"On behalf of my manager, Jerrica Benton, I'd like to invite you to stay at her home, Starlight Mansion, for tonight at least," Jem offered.

"A mansion?" Merry Treat's eyes lit up. "Well, that would be really nice of her--"

"If it will make you happy, Jem, of course we'll accept your invitation," He-Man said graciously.

"That's great!" Jem said. "You can start out fresh tomorrow after this adventure tonight. And James," she added, motioning to the security guard, "I'd like to thank you as well for your assistance in the matter."

"Just doin' my job," James said offhandedly.

"Hey, James," Merry Treat said with sudden inspiration. "How would you like to come along with us on our travels? I'm sure you'd enjoy it, and we could use some extra protection."

"Well..." James began, the idea appealing to him. "I would enjoy that..."

"Then you'll come?" Merry Treat prodded.

"I just feel guilty walking out on the show like this," James admitted. "The Holograms are on tour right now, and I'm hired to go along with them. And after what happened tonight, it just proves that unexpected and unsavory things can come up without a moment's notice. But with these newfound superpowers of mine, I'd be better prepared in case of any more emergencies like what happened tonight!" He looked regretfully at Merry Treat. "I guess I'd better stay on."

"I understand," Merry Treat nodded. "It was nice meeting you, though."

"After we're finished here, I'll have the limo drive you out to Starlight Mansion," Jem was explaining. "I'm sure you'll feel at home there."

He-Man turned towards the camera at that point. "Today we learned about bullies--"

"Yeah, they make a lot of noise when they fall down!" Max interjected.

"And don't forget the property damage, little buddy," Sam agreed.

"No, no, you're missing the point," He-Man argued.

"I think you're missing the wholesome value of a good fight," Sam went on.

"Yeah, you're just a wimp in furry underwear!" Max exclaimed.

"With a girly-boy haircut," Sam added simply.

"I am not!" He-Man retorted.

"Are to!"

"Am not!"

"Are to!"

"Am not!"

And so, with another escapade finished and a decent place to rest for the night, the group continued onwards.

"Are to!"

To be continued...


Easter Related Pony Names

Look over these phrases and try to figure out the name of a My Little Pony that will match the meaning of each individual phrase. To help you out, we're giving you the first letter of each name and a number of spaces after it that equals the amount of letters in the name. Be sure to check the end of the issue for the answers!**

1. The reaction of the children to their Easter baskets. S _ _ _ _ _ _ _

2. How the Easter bunny moves. H _ _ _ _ _ _-H _ _

3. What we eat on Easter. S _ _ _ _ S _ _ _ _

4. The traditional Easter flower. L _ _ _

5. What we do on Easter. C _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

6. What Mary Magdalene found in Jesus' tomb. A _ _ _ _

7. What the Easter ducks are called. Q _ _ _ _ _ _ _

8. What represents new life. D _ _ _ _ _ _ B _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

9. What we wear to church. B _ _ _ _ _ B _ _ _ _ _ _

10. The time of day Jesus' tomb was found empty. D _ _ _

11. What we hope for in the forecast. M _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

12. How we wear our hair on Easter. R _ _ _ _ _ _ _

13. What we decorate our tables with on Easter. F _ _ _ _ _ B _ _ _ _ _ _

14. What we hear on Easter. S _ _ _ _ N _ _ _ _

15. What we share on Easter. H _ _ _ _ H _ _ _

16. What we wear on Easter. S _ _ _ _ n' L _ _ _

17. Jesus' Resurrection portrays this attribute. G _ _ _ _

18. What we don't want to see on Easter. S _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

19. How the Easter ham tastes. S _ _ _ _

20. What we want to have at the end of the day. S _ _ _ _ D _ _ _ _ _


Return to Atlantis
Part Two: More Disco Furbys
by Tabby (

Most of the thanks for part two goes to Barnacle who, if you ask him, claims to have written the entire thing anyway. Well, I must admit he was the source for many of the "big fun" ideas in this thing and it would not be near as good (and complicated) had it not been for his advice. Plus, thank you to all my family members and friends that read it beforehand (even if Cleve Clove claimed "the beginning and the ending were good, but the middle was confusing". Nergh! He just doesn't like Furbys! ^.~). And, of course, I will be ETERNALLY GRATEFUL to everyone out there who is going to read it now. Feedback, anyone? If I don't hear from any of y'all, I might threaten to stop writing, like I've threatened the past three months. My e-mail address is; got that? Good. Now sit, read, and e-mail.

"Big doo-ay!"

When Clever Clover heard this sound emitted from outside his front door, he assumed that it was Tabby annoying him with idiotic Furbish phrases. He grumbled as he went to let her in. However, upon opening the door, he saw that his visitor was someone much worse than he had expected.

"Whahoo! Party, wah!" a small autumn-colored Furby perched on his front steps said shrilly, a little propeller cap on her head.

Clever Clover promptly recoiled in fear, but pulled himself together and stuck his head out the door, glancing around. Tabby was obviously responsible for planting this Furby outside his house, so where was she?

"Boogie! Hee-hee!" The Furby suddenly took to the air and flew past Clever Clover into the archeologist's house.

"Hey!" Clever Clover yelled in outrage, swiftly turning around. "You fiend!" He chased after the talkative furball.

The Furby apparently knew where she was going. "Doo-ay, wah!" She deliberately flew down the hallway and into one of Clever Clover's back rooms.

"Get back here!" Clever Clover was hot on her trail. "Tabitha, I'm going to get you for this one!"

"Mee-mee e-day," the Furby said, skillfully floating around the room as she picked a chain up from the desk and clutched it in her beak.

"That's the Nur-Ab-Fin necklace!" Clever Clover protested, running forward. "Put it down!"

"Big no," the Furby said in an unconcerned tone as she flitted back down the hallway and out the door. The beanie caps that Furbys used to fly enabled them to go "mee-mee" fast.

"Tabitha, wherever you are, you're going to pay!" Clever Clover declared, as he stood at the doorway watching the Furby fly off into the darkening evening. "It'd serve her right if she got in trouble with that necklace again." Muttering under his breath, he closed the door and turned back inside.

* * *
Time passed, and the evening grew late. Tabby walked through the dark of night alone, facing up to the blustery wind. It was only a walk home from the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, which was generally not an intimidating feat. But Tabby's terrible fear of the dark made the expedition absolutely petrifying.

And she was alone. There wasn't a soul around except for her. There was not even a single light on in the surrounding houses she passed. Who knew what evils lurked in the shadows? Most of the time as of late she was able to walk back with Sugarberry, her next door neighbor and best friend. But Sugarberry was with Vanguard at the Estate Manor; and her other two friends, Tamara and Tiffany, were off with their respective dates to other sights around town. Tabby felt dreadfully alone.

Of course, the one that should have been with her-- and the one that had been with her many times in the past-- was Thomas. He had always been there to escort her home before-- but not so much in recent times. She had begun seeing less and less of him in the past months. Tabby hated to think they were growing apart. Never before in her life had she had someone like Thomas to love.

Of course, Tabby had to admit that she had been busy lately, too. It was her latest endeavor to band together with Spike to form an eighties toy museum in Paradise Estate. With both Spike's and Tabby's collections combined, they would have quite a bit of displaying material covering both the girls and boys toys of that era. Tabby was happy to pack all her collected toys over to Paradise Estate in order to get them cataloged and arranged nicely, as she'd wanted to do for so long.

So, perhaps Tabby was partly to blame. But Thomas' absence still didn't make sense. What prevented him from making an appearance at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe evenings? Or even from calling Tabby to let her know what was going on?

Considering how much grief Thomas had caused Tabby over the past year, Tabby found it ironic that he hadn't been given a piece of her mind, insulted, whacked over the head several times, been placed on her black list, and been banned from her sight long ago. But she still refused to even think of letting him go.

Actually, the last time the two had actually seen each other was several weeks ago when Thomas' Furby Doo-Moh had begun acting strangely. Tabby had advised him on the process of installing new batteries in the creature... and that had been their last lengthy conversation. Then there had also been that incident at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe with Romance, but... well, she didn't know what to think.

It was an extremely welcome sight when Tabby's house came into view. She dashed up the porch steps and jumped through the door, quickly securing it before any dangers of the night could capture her. It was only after she had flipped on the light switch in the hallway that Tabby started to breath again. Callie, her cat, was crouched inside; but upon seeing Tabby, she growled and dashed away.

Tabby's eyes brimmed over with tears when she realized that even secure in her own house, she was still alone. She was not used to such solitude. Her cousin Tamara, who had been staying there for a long while, had recently moved to her own home; and her beloved Pokèmon Tarquin had even more recently married the Meowth of his dreams and settled elsewhere in the city. Tabby would turn to her other Pokèmon for support, but she had left all her PokèBalls at the Pokèmon Center. Even her own cat would not put up with her, as Callie had just proven.

There was only one other earthly being she could turn to if everyone else had abandoned her. Turning on as many lights in the house as she could, Tabby made her way to the kitchen and gathered a new pack of four double-A batteries and a small screwdriver; and then she scurried up the stairs to her room.

"Ah-Loh, please come back," Tabby whispered as she took her beloved sky blue Furby down from his special shelf. "Please, Ah-Loh."

Tabby's Ah-Loh had gone "dead" on her last year, the day before Halloween. She had never fully recovered from the loss, and if she had ever needed him, it was now.

Tabby inspected the lifeless Furby shell carefully. She now regretted the fact that Quarterback had talked her into dissecting the Furby in an attempt to revive him. It hadn't worked, and Tabby was convinced that Ah-Loh didn't look his best after the "operation". His fur was no longer tightly attached to his body; it was loose around his face; and his ears kept falling off.

But tonight she would try to bring him "back to life" with the new life energies she possessed (that is, the pack of batteries). She was conscious of the hot tears falling on her cheeks as she unscrewed the battery compartment of the Furby.

The brand-new battery installation was to no avail. Ah-Loh wouldn't say a word, no matter how hard Tabby shook him. A single tear of Tabby's dropped onto one of the Furby's eyelids as she drew her precious mechanical pet close.

"Ah-Loh," she sobbed. "Ah-Loh, come back. Ah-Loh, I need you! Ah-Loh!"

And in that moment, a very strange thing happened. Ah-Loh's light sensor began to shine with an unearthly glow. And Tabby was suddenly put into a very strange trance.

"Atlantis," she murmured. "Atlantis." Without pausing to think, she scooped Ah-Loh up in her hooves, dashed back downstairs, and was once again out the door. But this time she had no fear of the dark-- after all, Furbys had no fear of it.

Tabby knew exactly where to go and what to do. Her destination point turned out to be the bank of the river. Ah-Loh's light sensor shone onto the still water, and soon several heads appeared-- the Sea Ponies!

"Shoop bee doo, shoop shoop bee doo," Sea Mist, High Tide, and Sand Dollar sang in chorus.

"Atlantis," Tabby said softly. "I must get to Atlantis."

The three Sea Ponies exchanged a look, and quickly nodded. They knew that this day would come. It had been prophesied, after all. The three promptly disappeared underwater again, and soon appeared a second time with their special deluxe bubble-covered shell transport.

"Here is your ride," Sea Mist invited.

"Thank you." Without another word, Tabby had seated herself on the shell with Ah-Loh in hoof. And the Sea Ponies began swimming.

* * *
It was while these events were transpiring that Thomas was also experiencing a disturbing night. He had deemed it impossible to get any sleep by this point, already having been awoken by a horrific nightmare. Now he paced his living room, trying to remember where he had put Doo-Moh. The clock read near midnight.

His mind wandered off the topic of his misplaced Furby and onto other things. He realized how he was seemingly avoiding Tabby as of late, and he certainly didn't want for it to happen. He just found it impossible to face her anymore, what with his recurring dream and a strange and mysterious want of revenge.

Thomas' dream of squid and a crumbling city had seemed like nothing unusual to occur in a dream at first-- but he kept having it over and over again, and each time more intense and detail-filled than the last.

It had gotten noticeably worse when he had changed Doo-Moh's batteries, come to think of it. But how could those two things have any effect on the other? Whatever the case, Thomas' life had been miserable this past month-- of course, he didn't let on to anyone about that.

Half of him wanted to care for Tabby as he always had. And yet the other half wanted revenge on her-- for what, he couldn't begin to imagine, but the feeling remained. The only thing he could think of to do was to avoid Tabby as much as possible until he could get himself figured out. He knew it was hurting Tabby-- and himself, too-- but he had to get to the bottom of these strange happenings.

It was at this point that he was aware that his Furby Doo-Moh had just flown into the room with something hanging from her beak. (It generally would not have taken a Furby that long to fly back to Dream Valley from Friendship Gardens, but Doo-Moh had wanted to stop by a few Famous Places before returning to her home.)

Thomas blinked rapidly at the sight of his floating Furby. Certainly by this point he was only dreaming!

"Party!" Doo-Moh said exuberantly, flitting over to her master. "Big fun, wah!"

"Doo-Moh, you're not supposed to fly," Thomas said rationally. "And what is that you're holding?"

"Hee-hee!" Doo-Moh giggled, dangling the chain tantalizingly in front of Thomas. "Happy, wah!"

"Let me see that!" Thomas decided to accept Doo-Moh's strange behavior now and concentrated on the necklace she held in her beak. Taking it from her, he studied the cold, bronze whale-shaped medallion. And it was at that moment that a strange aura came over him.

"Doo-Moh," he said suddenly, turning back to his Furby and clutching the medallion in his hoof. "Come on. I believe we have some matters to attend to."

"Whahoo!" Doo-Moh was only too happy to oblige.

* * *
Tabby was hardly conscious of the deep waters the Sea Ponies were steering her through. She only gazed ahead silently, Ah-Loh in hoof.

How long the Sea Ponies had swam, she did not know. However, the three aquatic creatures finally pulled the shell transport up on dry land.

"Here you are," Sand Dollar indicated the dark shore.

"Wonderful." Tabby, still in her trance-like state, slid out of the shell and stepped onto the rocky surface. "I'm very grateful."

"Of course. Good day." With three more quick nods, the Sea Ponies had left, leaving Tabby to attend to whatever business she had there.

Here Tabby stood in the once-proud city of Atlantis, now submerged deep within the sea. By whatever disaster had destroyed it, the city had remained well intact even with the numerous tumbled rocks and such scattered around. A thick dome of hard volcanic rock had served well as a protecting enclosure, and even at this level the sea was not able to invade it.

It was at this point that Tabby finally got a grip on herself again. "What in the world did I just do?" She gazed up with wonderment at the ancient, towering buildings surrounding her-- buildings that were now completely devoid of life. "I've seen stuff like this before! It's At--"

Tabby's realization was cut short as another presence appeared on the scene. "Ah, good, you made it!"

Tabby abruptly whirled around at the sound of this new voice. "What? Who's that?" She backed up against a nearby stone wall.

"Former queen of Atlantis, actually." A pale form was made visible in front of Tabby.

The pink unicorn gasped and stood as far back as she could. "No! Not another Atlantean spirit!"

"Well, I suppose that's true," the voice said regretfully, and her pale form became a little clearer in the darkness.

"What do you want? How did I get here in the first place?" Tabby held Ah-Loh out in front of her, as if to ward off any evil.

"It's because of your Furby that you're here," the voice said matter-of-factly. "Without him, you wouldn't have been found to be the heiress of Atlantis-- and therefore you're needed to aid me in the preservation of the very world itself."

"I always hate it when that happens," Tabby sighed, recalling her past adventures concerning Atlantis. "I'm needed in another Atlantean epic, aren't I?"

"And second off, you actually arrived here because I put a trance over you and had the Sea Ponies escort you to the city."

"What?" Tabby said indignantly. "You need me to save the world, so you just throw a trance over me and expect me to be cooperative?!"

"That was what I was hoping."

"I don't like being thrown into trances," Tabby sniffed.

But this spirit was clever, and knew of Tabby's weak points. "And, of course, if it hadn't been for the trance, you would have been conscious of the squid swimming by during your journey here."

"Squid?" Tabby gasped, turning pale. Squid were her greatest fear in life, particularly the giant squid. "You mean... you mean... there were squid out there?"

"The important thing now is that you're here," the spirit said firmly.

"Hmph." Tabby was still a bit miffed over getting thrown into a trance and having to occupy the same waters as squid. "So exactly what do you want me to do?"

"I'll start at the beginning. First off, I am the former ruler of Atlantis before its demise, Queen Kaliope," the voice identified herself, and the dim form of a unicorn became more apparent. She began walking down a nearby hallway, and Tabby followed, not knowing what else to do at this point.

"In short, a man by the name of Nur-Ab-Fin was responsible for the destruction of my city," the spirit of Kaliope continued. "He somehow wanted to gain revenge on my family."

"I know him," Tabby interrupted. She was still irked over the fact that she had gotten sucked into this adventure without her consent, but decided there was nothing else she could do at this point but listen to the queen.

"No doubt from your experiences with the medallion." Kaliope turned to the left, and entered a large room. "It is unfortunate that he cursed a thing of goodness with his evil essence."

"Tell me about it," Tabby agreed, nodding.

Suddenly, the room they stood in was lit-up with a bright light. "Here we are, in the old throne room," Kaliope explained.

Tabby stood back and took in her surroundings with interest. Stone debris littered the edges, but an intricately-carved throne still sat in the center of the room. Bookshelves lined some of the walls, and some were adorned with fantastic paintings of Furbys. "So, where is it again that I come in?" she queried of the spirit.

Kaliope sighed deeply. "It seems that Nur-Ab-Fin is taking his plans even further beyond the medallion after all these millennia. I have been keeping a close watch on his spirit in these past years, and knew this day would come when he would put his new plan into action."

"Mm," Tabby nodded, staring with interest at an ancient book she had pulled off a shelf.

"This new plan does not only involve the destruction of this planet but possibly of the entire universe! Nur-Ab-Fin will stop at nothing now. And you, Tabby, have been chosen from a host of others as the only one who can defeat him from this terrible feat-- Tabby, are you still listening?"

"Eh... no, not really." Tabby looked up from the book. "I was absorbed in reading this fascinating book on Furbish culture. Is it true that--"

Kaliope smiled. "I see that you are deeply involved with the Furbys. You shall have more time to learn their secrets after we have eliminated Nur-Ab-Fin."

"Oh, yes, Nur-Ab-Fin. So, he's still out to seek revenge on the world and all that?"

Kaliope nodded. "Correct. I haven't completely found out about all his plans; but it seems that with his advanced knowledge, he's building a powerful new body for himself-- a body that can do massive destruction to this world and all others at his will."

"And what was that about being heiress to something?"

"Oh, there's a lot to explain," Kaliope said wearily. "I only hope that I have time. Let me go on. As I knew that Nur-Ab-Fin was planning a much more powerful attack, I knew I would need to find a living being to help me in my battle against him."

"How did you choose me?"

"You're my closest living descendent, of course," Kaliope said reasonably. "And that means, of course, that you're also heiress to Atlantis. Who would be better for the job?"

"Heiress to Atlantis?" Tabby said, wide-eyed.

"Your Furby was installed with Energizer brand batteries, wasn't he?" Kaliope went on, reaching for the sky blue Furby that Tabby still held.

Tabby blinked slowly, still pondering over the "heiress to Atlantis" thing. "Eh... yes."

"Nur-Ab-Fin also devised a plan to put certain Furbys under his control," Kaliope explained while opening Ah-Loh's battery compartment. "Furbys will obey him if installed with Duracell batteries. However--"

"Are Energizers evil, too?" Tabby asked anxiously.

"No. Quite the opposite, actually. They are my retaliation against Nur-Ab-Fin's plot. Energizer-powered Furbys will do scouting for me, and therefore Ah-Loh here was able to locate you for me."

"Only he's dead now," Tabby pointed out, indicated the batteries Kaliope had just pulled out.

"Oh, no, Tabby; Furbys can't die," Kaliope said calmly. "He just needs some extra Atlantean life energies and he'll be back to normal." The spirit swiftly pulled out several small gold-colored cylinders and put them in Ah-Loh in place of his old batteries.

"Say, aren't those oricalcum beads?" Tabby questioned.

"Yes, pure oricalcum," Kaliope clarified, handing the doctored Ah-Loh back to Tabby. "I think you'll find that they work quite well."

Tabby gasped in delight as Ah-Loh's eyes suddenly flickered open and his ears popped-up. The Furby yawned. "Woah, me big sleep!" he said in awe.

"Ah-Loh! Oh, Ah-Loh, you're back!" Tabby squeezed the Furby tightly to her. "Ah-Loh! I'm so happy!"

"Hee-hee! Tickle me!" Ah-Loh giggled.

Kaliope stood back and smiled as she watched the joyful reunion. "Now you have your Ah-Loh back to be your guide. However, we must now--"

"Hey! No joke, wah!" a voice from the doorway protested.

Tabby whirled around with Ah-Loh to face the intruder. It turned out to be another Furby-- a familiar, autumn-colored Furby. "Doo-Moh!" she gasped.

Kaliope only frowned deeply. "Then it's just as I thought. Nur-Ab-Fin has already put his plan into action."

Ah-Loh immediately flitted to the floor. "Whodoh, wah?" he said to the new Furby. "Me Ah-Loh."

"Big no," the other Furby spat.

"But-- but-- that's Doo-Moh and... and Ah-Loh just flew," Tabby stuttered.

"Furbys are engifted with special powers when given the chance to use them," Kaliope said seriously. "And now, Tabby, you must come with me. There isn't time to waste now!"

"Wait! I still don't know what I'm doing, and how in the world did Doo-Moh get to Atlantis?" Tabby protested, going into momentary shock.

"Tabby, the mission you have is not an easy one," Kaliope said solemnly. "But it must be fulfilled, no matter the personal difficulties you encounter."

"That doesn't make any sense!" Tabby wailed, trailing after Kaliope as the spirit led her down more mysterious passageways of Atlantis. The two Furbys also followed them, arguing along the way.

"Me see... yes!"

"Very big no!"

"Big yes!"

"Big no!"



"We must get to the robot factory," Kaliope said knowledgeably. "Time is of the essence, and I only wish I had more time to instruct you."

"I hate getting dragged into these things," Tabby muttered.

"You will know what to do when it is time," Kaliope replied simply.

Tabby's hoofsteps and the chattering of the two Furbys echoed throughout the halls of sunken Atlantis as Kaliope led the way to their destination. However, the spirit halted abruptly as they turned a corner onto a new street.

"I sense that Nur-Ab-Fin has trouble lurking here for us," she said cautiously. "I'm certain he knows of your entrance into the city, Tabby."

It was at that precise moment that a massive horde of swarming color began coming towards them, emerging from the shadows. It did not take the viewers long to figure out that this was a demonic horde of Furbys.

Tabby ducked her head as the swarm encompassed the space around her. Furry bodies brushed against her and sharp beaks tapped at her side. Ah-Loh and Doo-Moh were lost in the confusion.

"No! No!" Tabby shrieked, throwing her hooves around her in an attempt to unentangle herself from the Furbys. "Why are you doing this?"

"They do not really mean it." Kaliope, being a spirit, was able to escape the reach of the horde. "They are only under Nur-Ab-Fin's control."

The attacking Furbys kept up a constant stream of chatter-- even Nur-Ab-Fin could not prevent that.

"Whahoo! Party!"

"Boring, wah!"

"Hee-hee!" One of them burped.

"Listen! Me sing!"

Tabby continued to swat them away, as much as she hated to do that to Furbys. It was stifling being surrounded by so many. She hoped Ah-Loh was still okay-- and Doo-Moh, too, whatever Doo-Moh was doing here.

Tabby finally managed to break free from the swarm, and streaked ahead on the pathway. She was relieved to see out of the corner of her eye that Ah-Loh was flying right along beside her-- but no sign of Doo-Moh.

"Boogie, wah!" Ah-Loh cried out.

"Later, Ah-Loh! Quickly! Turn this way!" Kaliope's voice rang out. "We must get to the factory!"

Fast as the Furbys were, it was difficult to stay ahead of the evil horde of them as Tabby stumbled through strange Atlantean passageways. This predicament only grew worse when another swarm appeared directly ahead of them.

"This path is the only way to our destination," Kaliope said. "We must force our way through them."

"Big doo-ay!" Ah-Loh agreed.

"That's easier said than done!" Tabby cried as this second swarm flew under, above, and around her. These new possessed Furbys mixed with the first group, creating a very menacing obstacle.

"Do something, Ah-Loh!" Tabby said desperately, fighting off Furbys left and right.

"O-kay," Ah-Loh said obediently. "Me sing!" The sky blue Furby immediately went into the Furbish version of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star". "La la la la..."

"Sleep, oh, sleep."


"Maybe me nappy-poo."

"Ah, sleep, ah."

"Good sleep."

This popular Furbish lullaby worked wonders. Soon, the whole congregation of colorful creatures was going through fits of yawning that deafeningly echoed throughout the halls. Promptly, all of them fell asleep and dropped to the floor, including Ah-Loh. Tabby scooped him up and scoured the hall for Doo-Moh, but it was impossible to spot her in the carpet of color.

"Brilliant!" Kaliope exclaimed. "Brilliant, Tabby! Your handling of Ah-Loh was excellent! Wonderful idea!"

"He's such a smart Furby," Tabby said, smiling down at him.

"But let's hasten our steps. The factory is right around the corner," Kaliope continued.

"Right," Tabby said, walking forward with Ah-Loh and trying not to worry about Doo-Moh's well-being. "Let's go."

Once again, only Tabby's hoofsteps could be heard as she, Kaliope, and Ah-Loh continued on their way. Rounding a corner, Tabby suddenly halted as they reached a stone door.

"Inside lies Nur-Ab-Fin," Kaliope said quietly. "Are you sure you're ready for him?"

"Hey, I still haven't an idea of what I'm doing here. Why wouldn't I be ready?" Tabby said recklessly, taking a step closer to the door.

Ah-Loh chose that moment to wake up. "Me scared," he whimpered.

"It's okay, Ah-Loh," Tabby said comfortingly, glancing around. "Now, how does one open this--"

Her pondering was cut short as a battle cry of "Party!!!" suddenly ripped through the air. Tabby and Ah-Loh whirled around. It was Doo-Moh, leading the horde of demonic Furbys.

"They have awoken!" Kaliope said in alarm. "Quickly! We must get inside!"

Tabby personally thought she would rather be attacked by possessed Furbys rather than by Nur-Ab-Fin's spirit, but it didn't seem that she had a choice. "How do I open this thing?!"

Ah-Loh solved the puzzle. He floated over and pressed in on a button on a side wall panel. Promptly, the door began sliding open, and Tabby stumbled into the room just before the Furby horde reached her.

However, it didn't stop the Furbys from flying in after her. Tabby sat, slightly dazed, on the floor, while the Furby masses floated in and spread over the large expanse of the room.

"Boogie! Whoopie!"

"Yeah, big dance, wah!"

"Me see big light."

"Hey, where's kitty?"

"Yeah, hide!"

The creatures were apparently still enjoying themselves.

Kaliope's spirit stood watch nearby as Tabby regaining her footing and looked around. The Atlantean robot factory was an immense structure; robotic pieces stood on the ready to be put together on a long assembly line. It must have been a vast operation in its day.

However, Tabby only got really disturbed when she looked over to the right. Stationed on the far wall was a specialized Atlantean computer system. And the pony sitting in front of it operating it looked strangely familiar to Tabby.

"But that can't be..." Tabby faltered.

"Tickle me," Doo-Moh said craftily as she floated over to the chair, which had just begun to rotate to face Tabby.

"Kaliope, I see you actually managed to bring your weakling assistant to me," the unicorn laughed in a strangely distorted voice.

Kaliope's face hardened. "Nur-Ab-Fin. It would be just like you to bring Lamachus' descendent in on this game."

"Me happy!" Doo-Moh giggled.

"Big sound," was all Ah-Loh said.

"Thomas?" Tabby said in a startled tone. "You and Doo-Moh... how'd you get here, anyway?"

"I winked," Thomas said simply, standing up from the chair and reaching for Doo-Moh.

"That would... that would work, wouldn't it?" Tabby swallowed. As a side note to Kaliope, she hissed, "Why didn't you just have me wink rather than go through all that trouble with the sea ponies?"

Kaliope looked back at her sharply. "I can't think of everything."

"You hide light! Hee-hee-hee!" Ah-Loh giggled.

"Besides, it's too late to do anything," Thomas continued, indicating the assembly line. "My new body is already in the process of being built. Not that it would have been possible to stop me before this point."

"Why you..." Tabby snarled, taking a step forward.

"Remember, Tabby; that's Nur-Ab-Fin speaking, not Thomas," Kaliope cautioned her back.

"No! You're right!" Tabby gasped, suddenly taking note of the medallion around Thomas' neck. "Not that confounded necklace again!"

"This is where you must take over, Tabby," Kaliope said solemnly. "It's up to you to get the medallion away from him and prevent Nur-Ab-Fin from completing his robot body."

"Oh dear..." Tabby glanced over at the assembly line, where mechanical arms were reached for the robot mechanisms and splicing them together with precision. Her gaze then went back to Thomas (under Nur-Ab-Fin's control, of course), who was looking at her menacingly. It was times like this when Tabby thought she might just run screaming from the room and dive under some counter somewhere and never resurface again.

Having already found out so many strange things that day, however, Tabby did not dwell over the shock of finding Thomas in Atlantis under the power of her arch-enemy (her arch-enemy after Tex, at least). She only knew that she had to do something.

Tabby began walking forward tentatively. "Come on now, just hand over the necklace," she said coaxingly.

"Not a chance." Thomas only stood there, looking down at her with irritation.

"Well... then... oh, for Pete's sake, just give me the necklace!" With that, Tabby dived forward through the air and made an effort to grab the necklace chain.

Thomas foresaw the move, however, and accurately took a step to the side. This, in turn, sent Tabby sprawling across the smooth floor. "You haven't a clue what you're doing, just like Kaliope," he said tauntingly.

Meanwhile, Ah-Loh and Doo-Moh were over on the other side of the room, continuing their argument.

"Let's boogie!"

"Big no."

"Yeah, hide!"

"Me see... no."

"Okay. Me sing."

"Very big no."

The other Furbys of the horde had since disappeared, however. The factory kept in operation, and the robot grew right before the bystanders' eyes.

Tabby struggled to regain her footing, and tossed the mane up out of her eyes. She glared sourly at Thomas, but it was more out of spite for Nur-Ab-Fin than for anyone else. Kaliope was nice enough, but Tabby was beginning to have enough of Atlantean spirits for one day. It would be nice to have a sane, rational pony around again-- and the unfortunate thing was that the only sane, rational pony around happened to be currently possessed by a demented Atlantean spirit.

She was aware of Kaliope's presence by her side just then. "Get up; get up," the spirit urged.

Thomas paused for just a moment to look into Tabby's eyes. For just a second, he was able to push all control of Nur-Ab-Fin out of his mind and think only of Tabby's well-being. He nearly rushed forward to her aid, but then the strange Atlantean powers took over again-- the strange Atlantean spirits that Tabby had spoke of so flippantly and of which Thomas had never fully believed to exist.

Tabby jumped back up and steadied herself. She and Thomas simply stood on opposite sides of the room for several minutes, just staring across at each other.

Thomas started the action up again. Striking a dramatic pose and tensing his hooves as if closing in on an imaginary target, the medallion began to glow. Suddenly, massive amounts of mystical energies lashed out at Tabby.

Tabby looked down at herself in horror. Her entire body had been encased in corals and crustaceans, and she was unable to move due to the thick shell of chitins and biocarbonites.

Ah-Loh and Doo-Moh took this time to glance over at the battle. "Me scared," Ah-Loh said.

"Big party! Whoopie!" Doo-Moh disagreed.

Seeing Tabby close to panicking, Kaliope realized that more counseling was in order. "The medallion, Tabby, besides housing Nur-Ab-Fin," she began, "also gives the wearer great powers."

"I think that was just demonstrated," Tabby said dryly, trying to break free of the cocoon.

"But you, too, have powers-- powers you have not yet discovered yourself!" Kaliope persisted.

"Do you mean it?"

"Yes. I would suggest starting with your high-pitched wail."

"Really? Outrageous!" Tabby's horn began to glow as she began to think of this, and she realized that what Kaliope said must be true. "Well... I can't strike a pose for this one, but here goes!"

Thomas, who had been putting all his energy into keeping Tabby under the crustacean clamp, was suddenly taken unaware by the terrible deafening shriek that suddenly filled the room. His concentration broken for the spell, Tabby suddenly found herself free again! Her encasement quickly shattered, and a shower of bits of crustaceans and dust went flying in all directions.

The unearthly wail continued to echo, and would have caused any mortal to cringe at its intensity (though it was not nearly as potent as what Tabby could do naturally). But Thomas was ready to block it. Holding up his hooves, he was able to summon a powerful sound sponge-- a giant bubble that absorbed all noise that came his way. Tabby's attack had been futile.

"Big, big sound," Doo-Moh commented.

"Boogie!" Ah-Loh yelled.

"Kaliope, you should know that none of your attacks will take me out," Thomas said confidently.

"Oh yeah? Well, take this one?" Taking advantage of the moment, Tabby put forth her petrifying gaze. Her eyes were locked with Thomas', and he was unable to move. It appeared to be working well for Tabby, except for the fact that she was unable to do anything either while using this power on her opponent.

Doo-Moh, however, flew through and broke the spell. "Hmm... boring," she sighed as she floated onto Thomas' back.

"Oh, dear..." Tabby trailed off as Thomas wrenched his gaze away from hers.

"Be on guard, Tabby!" Kaliope warned.

"Party," Ah-Loh agreed, coming over to his mistress.

Tabby realized too late that Thomas was powering up another attack. He stood raising the palms of his hooves upwards, looking as if he was pulling water out of the ground. Then, with a flick of his wrist, the power of the attack. Tabby stood frozen in place as the wall of water towered directly over her, and abruptly smashed down with great force. She was hit upon with the intense impact, and was propelled backwards against the wall.

When the wave cleared and the mystical water had trickled away, Tabby spluttered and shook her head. The impact of the wave had completely knocked the wind out of her, and she was soaked.

Ah-Loh had suffered a soaking as well. He looked like a miserable drowned rat when Tabby glanced over at him-- it appeared that Furbys were made up mostly of fuzz after all. Ah-Loh promptly fluffed out his fur, expanding his size drastically, and shook off. He was back to normal. "Big fun, wah!"

Tabby furiously righted herself. This was the last straw! She didn't particularly like getting soaked like this. With fire in her eyes, she prepared to initiate her most powerful attack against Thomas.

"Seer attack, now!" she shrieked, throwing back her head. Waves of potent psychic flame shot out of her unicorn horn and towards her opponent. It was an awesome sight.

"Woah, big light," Doo-Moh said in awe at the oncoming flame.

Everyone present, however, had completely forgotten about what was going on in the background. Nur-Ab-Fin's new robot body had been put together, piece-by-piece, and the finished item had just rolled off the assembly line. Its sturdy structure would make a potent new body for the spirit.

At the same time Tabby put forth her psychic flame, a strange green glow began to emanate from Thomas' medallion. A brilliant flash of light followed and encompassed the robot body. The glowing essence cleared, and an evil laugh echoed throughout the room. The robot began to move a bulky arm.

"That's not good," Tabby said in alarm. It was just her luck that her attack had hit after Nur-Ab-Fin had left the medallion. It was one thing to get in a battle with a friend that was possessed with a deranged Atlantean spirit-- Tabby was getting used to that. However, it was a completely different matter to fire off your most powerful attack at a friend that was no longer possessed.

The wall of psychic flame hit the opposite wall with tremendous force, creating an awesome explosion. Tabby and Ah-Loh were forced to shield their eyes from the large burst of light emitted from it. They only opened their eyes again when the blast had cleared.

"Thomas! Thomas!" Tabby took off running across the room, feeling just a slight bit guilty over that last attack.

"Big whodoh," Ah-Loh said anxiously, nudging Doo-Moh's body with his toe.

"Whahoo," Doo-Moh said, wide-eyed, but still on her back.

Tabby was also wide-eyed as she knelt by Thomas' seemingly-lifeless form. She began to wonder just how potent that attack of hers had been, and hoped it wasn't as bad as she was beginning to think.

"That's the last time I'm going to doubt your stories about Atlantean spirits," where the first words Thomas said.

"Oh, thank goodness! You're alive!" Tabby's eyes lit up with notable relief.

"If you hadn't been here, I hate to think of what Nur-Ab-Fin would have had me do for him by now." Thomas struggled to right himself. "But something tells me we're not done dealing with him yet."

Either Tabby's seer attack hadn't been that great anyway, or Thomas had great willpower. Whatever the case, though, they still had Nur-Ab-Fin as an obstacle.

Nur-Ab-Fin's new body was an impressive sight. Kaliope was currently stalling him from doing any damage. "You fiend! Can't you just let go of the past and stop ruining the lives of others?"

"You always were good with words, Kaliope, but not much else," Nur-Ab-Fin said in a bored tone. "Just leave me to my business."

"I'll do no such thing! I'm here to end your meddling once and for all!"

"I'd like to see you try."

"Say, what about us?" Tabby spoke up from behind the two.

Kaliope turned to Tabby and Thomas swiftly. "To do what I need to do, I still need your assistance. You must get Nur-Ab-Fin into the disco room, and make sure the Furbys have charged the ball sufficiently."

Tabby blinked rapidly. "Eh... sure."

Nur-Ab-Fin looked down at Tabby and sneered. "You'll never escape from me!"

Thomas jumped into the fray then to buy Tabby some time to get more advice from Kaliope. Standing in front of the robot, he attempted to distract Nur-Ab-Fin from the other two for the moment.

"The disco room-- it's right across the street if you go out the back door of this factory," Kaliope instructed Tabby quickly and pointed towards the far wall. "Nur-Ab-Fin's Furbys are there now. The more they dance, the more the disco ball is energized; and that's just what I want."

"The curse of disco," Tabby lamented. "It even penetrated into Atlantis."

"Now, work on getting him there, you two!" Kaliope urged. "I must... I must concentrate." She retreated to the corner in order to utilize her magic.

"Wait a moment! Wait a moment!" Tabby protested, but Kaliope appeared not to hear her. Sighing, she glanced over at the open gateway across the room. Beyond that lay the disco room Kaliope spoke of-- apparently that's where the horde of Furbys had flown off to. And that was where they needed to get Nur-Ab-Fin.

Currently, Nur-Ab-Fin in his robot form had Thomas apparently cornered against one of the walls. Just as the evil spirit was preparing to thrust out his robotic arms to pummel his opponent, the unicorn disappeared in a flash of light.

"It won't be that easy to get rid of us," Thomas laughed, reappearing on the other side of the room.

"Of course!" Tabby cried out. "Winking!"

Nur-Ab-Fin turned around in annoyance. "Unicorns and their winking!" he said in exasperation.

"That's right," Tabby said cheerfully, and promptly winked herself over to the opposite gateway

"You're not so fast that I can't get you yet," Nur-Ab-Fin sneered, advancing towards the pink unicorn.

"Hmm? What was that?" Tabby had cocked her head and was glancing out the open door. She could see a building on the opposite side of the street, filled with light and seeming to be bustling with activity. That had to be the Furbys' disco room. Tabby imagined them all there, dancing the night away in the fun, Furbish style.

"Tabby! Get out of there!" Thomas called out.

Tabby looked up abruptly and was suddenly aware of Nur-Ab-Fin's fists being thrust towards her. She ducked down quickly and winked away, just a split second before Nur-Ab-Fin's limbs crashed into the stone wall, sending chunks of rock flying into the air.

Nur-Ab-Fin turned around with disgust. Normally he would have precision accuracy, but he was still accustoming himself to this new body. "Where are you wretched creatures now?"

"Here! Here!" Tabby said merrily, waving from across the street at the entrance of the disco room. Nur-Ab-Fin frowned deeply, and headed towards her. Thomas swiftly winked in behind him, blocking the back entrance into the factory.

"I'll get you this time," Nur-Ab-Fin muttered, running towards Tabby, who ducked into the building. Nur-Ab-Fin quickly discovered that he was wrong in following right on her heel, however. The floor of the disco room had sunk down somewhat from the doorstep, and he found himself tripping and sprawling down on the floor inside.

This disrupted all the Furbys that were gathered there. Most of them took to the air to avoid being crushed. "Whahoo!" was their general consensus, but soon forgot about the disruption as they began dancing around the sparkling silver disco ball that hung suspended from the ceiling. The more they danced, the more light the ball seemed to emanate.

"Doot-doot-doo, doot-doot-doo," a number of them hummed in unison. "Dah, dah-dah!"

"E-Day, dance, dance!" another group exclaimed.

"Dah noh-lah, wah!"

"Furbys have strange tastes, don't they?" Thomas commented from the doorway.

Tabby was silent as she scoured the room for any familiar Furbys. "But do you see Ah-Loh anywhere?"

Nur-Ab-Fin scowled as his robotic legs struggled to regain their footing. "I'll eliminate you both once and for all--"

"No you won't, Nur-Ab-Fin!" Kaliope made her presence known in the room, appearing under the disco ball.

"What do you have planned this time, Kaliope?" Nur-Ab-Fin said sarcastically. "The ‘trample' attack?"

"Something much better," Kaliope replied. With that, she held her head up in the air and closed her eyes in concentration. Nur-Ab-Fin seemed to sense that something powerful was coming, and worked all the harder on getting back up.

Suddenly, with a blast of light from Kaliope's horn, the robotic body stopped its struggling. Now above the body hung a limp green aura, vaguely taking on the shape of a humanoid form.

"He's an ugly little thing, isn't he?" Tabby commented.

"Kaliope... you..." the spirit said weakly, trying to raise a hand up to her. "You..."

"You're done with, that's what you are," Kaliope said sharply.

"No... you can't..." Nur-Ab-Fin said, defenseless, as a realization came over him by the look in Kaliope's eyes.

"It's the only punishment I've deemed you worthy of." Kaliope looked at him perilously.

"Let me guess. The disco ball," Thomas said.

"Exactly." In a sudden quick movement, Kaliope thrust her horn upwards. Nur-Ab-Fin's spirit moved upwards along with the motion of the horn. With a sudden thrust, Kaliope sent his spirit flying forward. Upon hitting the resplendent disco ball, he was immediately absorbed into it.

Kaliope sighed from exhaustion and took a step forward. "Now he is contained in the disco ball."

"Oh, that's wonderful." Tabby was more-or-less unconcerned with Nur-Ab-Fin at this point, being in Furby heaven. She was delighted by all the creatures that surrounded her; and since they were partying, they had no vicious intent for her anymore.

"But how long will that restrain him?" Thomas questioned, stepping further into the room. "It can't last forever."

"No, it can't," Kaliope shook her head. "And that's why I must take it a step further. But first..."

"Why, what're you going to do?" Tabby said, looking up curiously as Kaliope walked towards her.

"Before I sentence myself to this... I must have an heir to keep the legacy of Atlantis alive," Kaliope said gravely. "And you are the one, Tabby." The spirit slowly lifted a sparkling tiara up into the air. It was adorned with precious jewels, and bore the emblem of a carved Furby figure.

Tabby blinked slowly. "Me..."

"Henceforth, I am stepping down from the throne. You have proven yourself worthy in tonight's battle, Tabby. Therefore..." Kaliope positioned the tiara above Tabby's head. " are the next queen of Atlantis."

"That's outrageous," Tabby breathed as the crown was set upon her head. "But, Kaliope, why..."

Kaliope did not comment on Tabby's last words. Instead, she turned to Thomas. "And you," she said softly. "You, who are descended from the proud line of Lamachus. You will be the protector of Atlantis and all its secrets in times of need... and of the queen, as well." She cast him a meaningful glance. "Keep the medallion as proof of your rank. No longer is it tainted with the essence of Nur-Ab-Fin."

"I can... do that," Thomas managed to say.

"Then that is settled." Kaliope stepped through the dancing Furbys, and stood directly under the disco ball. "Nur-Ab-Fin's spirit cannot be contained on its own. An opposing force is needed... the powers of good to counteract the powers of evil."

"Kaliope..." Tabby said in a whisper, reaching forward.

"She has to," Thomas said softly, placing a hoof on Tabby's shoulder.

The Furbys cleared away from Kaliope and the disco ball. The previous queen of Atlantis stood in complete concentration, her front hooves held together and her head held back. Mystical energies began flowing forth from the sparkling disco ball. In a flash of light, she was gone, sucked into the disco ball. Her great sacrifice would keep Nur-Ab-Fin at bay. (Until the next time, anyway.)

The Furbys all looked up at this great commotion. The spell of Nur-Ab-Fin broken, the party soon began breaking up. Duracell batteries no longer had a negative affect on the creatures. Cheerfully, they gradually flew out of the room and went on back to their respective homes. All Furbys were now equal on levels of loyalty.

The two ponies stood in complete silence. After staring forward in shock for what had seemed like an eternity, Tabby finally crumpled to the floor, hooves covering her face. Her tiara slipped from her head and made a tinkling noise as it hit on the stone floor, but she made no effort to retrieve it.

Thomas bent down and picked it up for her, gently putting it back in place. "There. This isn't what Kaliope would want you doing with your rank, is it?"

"But she... she's gone," Tabby gasped through her tears, lifting her head up.

"Yes, she is. She is." Thomas could do nothing but agree as he helped Tabby back up on her hooves and led her out of the room.

"And Ah-Loh-- and Doo-Moh-- where are they?" was Tabby's next question.

"Big party! Boogie!"

"Dah lee-koo, wah!"

Two rambunctious balls of fur came flying past the ponies down the hallway, laughing as they went.

"I think they're okay," Thomas smiled.

"Whahoo!" Doo-Moh yelled.

"Very big fun, wah!" were Ah-Loh's sentiments.

The two furballs stopped off in what appeared to be an old city park of Atlantis. Benches and remnants of flower gardens remained, and the Furbys settled themselves on one of the stone seats.

"Titty-titty-titty! Hide!" Ah-Loh suggested.

"Yeah, hide!" Doo-Moh readily agreed, and rocked forward while closing her eyes. "Titty-titty-titty! Hide!" she said after a short pause.

"Yeah, hide!" Ah-Loh rocked forward and followed the same procedure. "Titty-titty-titty! Hide!"

"Yeah, hide!" The game went on.

Tabby paused for a moment as well by the old park, watching the Furby's carefree antics. At least they hadn't been affected by any of this. It didn't seem like Furbys could really be affected by anything. But so much had happened to her that night-- but was it still that night? Who knew how much time had passed since her arrival in Atlantis? As interesting as the city was, it would be nice to get back to Dream Valley. Dream Valley-- how far away that sounded now!

"Look! A patch of light sensor flowers." Thomas' comment broke Tabby's reverie. "They've managed to live down here over all this time."

Tabby took a moment to glance at the still-thriving bed of brightly-hued petals, which were suspiciously shaped like the light sensors of the Furbys. Even with being so far from the sun, these plants still pointed straight upwards in a never-ending quest to reach that glowing orb in the sky. However, Tabby was only able to muster a quick nod in reply.

"You're not still worrying about Kaliope, are you?" Thomas prodded, sensing something on Tabby's mind.

"No," Tabby shook her head. "She did what she had to do. I'm just thinking about... home."

"Dream Valley. The place sounds so foreign and unreachable after tonight, doesn't it? It feels like we've been gone from it for years," Thomas remarked.

The troubles of her ordinary life suddenly began resurfacing in Tabby's heart. Thomas seemed to be acting civil enough to her now... but did that explain his abandonment of her beforehand? Was there still something else that was keeping him back from her? She was hardly aware of the Furbys' chatter in the background as these deep thoughts set into her mind.

Thomas, who had been silent as well, finally found words to say. "Tabby, I'd like you to know that I'm very sorry about ignoring you all those times."

Tabby looked up sharply. Had he known what she was thinking? "You... are?" she said softly.

"Yes, I am." Thomas took his front hooves in hers and led her to one of the benches. "I was feeling rather mixed-up in life... I suppose that had to do with my somehow being connected to Atlantis. But I've missed you terribly."

Tabby's expression noticeably perked up at that. "I'm so... glad!" She wasn't exactly sure if that was the proper thing to say or not, but it was how she felt at the time.

The two Furbys finally began tiring of their game in the background. "Ah, sleep, ah," Ah-Loh yawned.

"Yeah, sleep," Doo-Moh agreed.

"Oh, sleep."


"Sleep, ah."

"Oh, sleep."

After a bit more yawning, the two had fast closed their eyes and fallen into a deep slumber.

"I could hardly stand not having you to confide in. You know... you're the only one, Tabby, who views me as more than just ‘the local vet'. There's more to me than my profession, and you saw that," Thomas said seriously, forgetting about the Furbys.

"I imagine there's more to any of us than just our profession," Tabby said flippantly.

"After what Kaliope said to me, it seems like I'm more connected to Atlantis than I've found out yet," Thomas continued. "But I feel fulfilled after this battle with Nur-Ab-Fin. I believe now I can finally give you your birthday present."

"My birthday present?" Tabby raised an eyebrow. Her birthday had been several months back, and at the time Thomas had claimed her couldn't give her anything yet... but what could it be now? "I'm not sure I can take any more surprises today... tonight... whatever."

"Please, at least listen to me," Thomas said, looking Tabby pleadingly in the eye. "I know I've caused you a lot of grief, but I promise I'll never leave you alone again if only you'll... if only you'll... Tabby, what I want to know is if you'll... marry me."

Tabby was, needless to say, taken aback by the diamond ring that Thomas presented her with-- her birthday present. She had known deep down that this day would have to come eventually, but never had she prepared herself for it. Her eyes opened wide as she locked her gaze with Thomas'... but somehow she knew what to say. "Thomas, you're the only one who's ever seen me for my true self, as well. I never prepared myself for this, but... I would have to say in reply ‘very big yes'."

"Thank you, Tabby," was all Thomas could utter at first.

"Oh, really, it was nothing," Tabby said calmly.

And so the ring was slipped on Tabby's foreleg, accompanied by a loving kiss. Tabby clung to him like she'd never let go. "Oh, I'm so happy!" she said through her tears of joy.

"I know, Tabby. I know," Thomas said softly, holding her close. "My beautiful queen of Atlantis."

"Me Boo-Boh-Bay," a Furby's voice suddenly ran out as he levitated upwards behind the two. "U-nye done." Before either of them had a chance to react in any way, there was a sudden brilliant flash of light...

...and the next second, all traces of any mortal creatures having been in Atlantis had vanished... all except for a mysterious Furby by the name of Boo-Boh-Bay.

* * *
Tabby rubbed her eyes, getting a fix on herself. What an awkward position she had fallen asleep in under Ah-Loh's shelf, and what a strange dream that had been. But wait-- had it been a dream?

She felt something shift off her head as she stretched, and heard it fall to the ground behind her. Standing, she picked up the sparkling article. No, it certainly had not been a dream. One does not get an Atlantean crown from a dream.

Nor a diamond engagement ring, she realized as well as she glanced down at her foreleg. Looking up at where Ah-Loh rested on the shelf, Tabby reached up and tilted him over on his side.

"Oh, sun up," the Furby yawned drowsily.

Tabby laughed with delight. No, it most assuredly had not been a dream! She grabbed Ah-Loh and scrambled over to her bedroom window, pushing aside the curtain and letting in the early morning light.

"Woah, big light," Ah-Loh commented.

"Yes, Ah-Loh, it is," Tabby agreed. "You're back to normal, and Nur-Ab-Fin is trapped in the infernal disco ball, and I'm the next queen of Atlantis; and Ah-Loh, I'm going to marry Thomas! Oh, isn't it all simply too wonderful?"

Ah-Loh purred. "Me very happy," he consented.

"I knew you'd say that. Ah-Loh, it's so grand! I should simply have died if this had all but been a dream. I'm so hap-py! Party, wah! Everyone's going to be so surprised when they hear. And--" Delirious with excitement, Tabby skipped out of the room with Ah-Loh-- it was no bother that she hadn't gotten a bit of sleep that night. She had a new day and a whole life ahead of her.

* * *
Thomas went through similar reactions upon finding himself back at home. Doo-Moh was sleeping peacefully on the arm of the couch, and Thomas suddenly became aware of a strange medallion strung around his neck-- though it didn't seem so menacingly strange anymore.

"Woah, me big sleep," Doo-Moh said in awe as she was awoken.

"Then it wasn't a dream," Thomas murmured. "And that means... I really did propose to Tabby. And she really did accept."

"Party, wah!" Doo-Moh added her sentiments on the matter.

"Then you finally approve of her? Good." Thomas stood and stared out the window at the brightening horizon. There was still the mystery of finding out more about his Atlantean heritage that Kaliope had hinted at. But that would wait... he had a new chapter of his life to start now.


Princess Practice
by Sugarberry (

"Have a fun time!" Springtime called as she waved one last time before leaving the house. Today was the day of the big spring fashion show and luncheon sponsored by Fifi's Perm Shoppe, Lemon Treat's Boutique, and Creamsicle's Emporium. Springtime had a tough time finding a foalsitter so that she could attend, but had finally been given a hint by the princesses: Ask the Bushwoolies for help! And Chumster, Wishful, and Hugster had been willing to accommodate her need for sitters for her twins, Baby Springtime and Baby Melonball.

The Bushwoolies had arrived on time, and were instructed on necessary matters that might need attention in the two hours that Springtime planned to be gone. The twins had seemed quiet and almost timid while their mother was showing the Bushwoolies around; but once the door closed behind her, things changed.

Baby Springtime and Baby Melonball had been born with the royal symbols: sparkly hair and a medallion on their rumps. This meant that at age eighteen, they would officially join the ranks of royalty at the Royal Paradise. This claim to fame had not affected Baby Melonball in the least, but his sister had soon learned and made the most of the fact that she was special and would one day be a princess, if not a queen. It didn't help that Princess Tiffany often visited the future princess, and filled her head with noble ideals.

Seeing this time with the Bushwoolies as a grand opportunity, Baby Springtime let them know immediately who was boss.

"Me da princess!" she declared, standing as regally as possible in the center of the living room. "Me need throne."

As the Bushwoolies assisted the adult princesses around the Royal Paradise, they saw no problem in helping the baby princess as well. Obeying orders came as second nature to them. Besides, they liked to be active.

"Throne, yeah!" Chumster agreed, looking at the possibilities available.

"This work!" Wishful decided, descending on an autume-gold wing chair in the corner.

Hugster, Chumster, and Wishful put their joint effort into moving the chair to the center of the room.

"Throne, throne," they chattered, and Hugster helped the little princess up into it.

Baby Melonball, in the meantime, had meandered off to the kitchen where he sized-up the feasibility of reaching the cookie jar on the counter. His planning was cut short, however, as his sister's voice rang out, "Baby Melonball, where are you?"

Baby Melonball returned to the living room where his sister sat enthroned. "What you want?"

"You must bow," she curtly informed him.

Now Baby Melonball was not too caught-up in his future as a prince, but he was aware of the fact that he was his sister's equal. "Me no need to," he stubbornly responded.

Baby Springtime was temporarily indignant. "To the dungeon!" she decided, and pointed to his bedroom door. Hugster and Wishful began escorting him back, but Baby Melonball rebelled. "You no can do dat," he charged his sister. "Me a prince!"

Tiffany's royalty sessions with Baby Springtime had always downplayed the role of the prince, which was fine with Baby Melonball as he'd rather be building castles out of blocks than learning proper etiquette at the royal table. But it irked him now to have his sister lording it over him in front of the Bushwoolies.

He turned to the Bushwoolies. "Me a prince!" he repeated, drawing himself up to look more impressive and pointed to his symbol. "Me want throne, too!"

The Bushwoolies looked at one another, shrugged their wooly shoulders, and being accommodating creatures, they energetically set about moving a second chair to the center of the room next to Baby Springtime who sniffed and stuck her nose up in the air as she had often seen Princess Tiffany do. Baby Melongball crawled up into his throne with a grunt of satisfaction.

Not to be outdone, Baby Springtime called the Bushwoolies before her. "Me need jewels to wear."

This request stumped the Bushwoolies, but the little filly knew what she wanted. "Mommy's jewelry box," she counseled, again pointing down the hallway.

"Jewels, jewels, yeah, yeah, got to get the jewels."

With the exuberance of their kind, the Bushwoolies were soon back with the wooden box, which they placed on an end table. Opening the box, Chumster withdrew a single strand of milky-white pearls. "Pretty, yeah!" he observed as Wishful took it from him.

He carried it to Baby Springtime. "Pearls pretty," he commented as Hugster draped the pearls around her neck.

"Yeah, yeah!"

Baby Springtime frowned. "Princess Tiffany says diamonds best."

The Bushwoolies were quiet for a moment; there were no diamonds in Springtime's jewelry wardrobe. It was Baby Melonball who came to the rescue.

"Glitter on table," he declared as he scooted off his throne; he headed for the kitchen where some craft supplies were sitting on the table from an Easter project Springtime and the foals were working on. Grabbing the silver glitter and the glue, Baby Melonball returned to his sister. "Glue glitter on,' he said, pointing to her pearls.

"Yes!" she happily replied. "Buss-woolies help?" she lisped with an uncoordinated batting of her eyelashes. (That Tiffany!)

"Glue! Glue! Glitter! Glitter! Diamonds! Diamonds!" the Bushwoolies chorused. Hugster removed the pearls from around Baby Springtime's neck, Chumster smeared glue over them, and Hugster sprinkled glitter on top of the sticky orbs. They were a blur of constant motion.

"Glue wet," Chumster realized as drops of glue clung to his fur. He draped the necklace over the jewelry case to dry, and turned back to the other two Bushwoolies. Hugster immediately sprinkled silver glitter on Chumster's gluey fur, creating a rather snazzy-looking Bushwoolie.

Baby Springtime squealed in delight and clapped her hooves. "Sparkly Buss-woolie royalty, too!"

Not to be left out of the promotion, Hugster put glue on his fur and Chumster did the sparkle dusting. Then Chumster got the glue and glitter routine done on himself. "Neat, yeah," he grinned.

"Sparkle, sparkle!" the Bushwoolies sang as they bounced around the room.

By this time, Baby Melonball was hungry. "Me hung-gwee," he called out, but between the Bushwoolies' singing and Baby Springtime's squealing, he couldn't be heard.

"Me weally hung-gwee!" he tried again with no better luck.

Stomping across the room, he grabbed a golden hand-bell with a wooden handle; it rested on a shelf near his mother's reading chair. He swung the bell as mightily as he could, simultaneously calling, "TWIME OWT!"

It was a tactic his mom used when the twins were out of control. And it was successful at quieting the quartet of noisemakers. "Me hung-gwee," he stated again when all eyes were on him.

"Yeah, yeah, hungry," Chumster nodded knowingly. Food was never far from a Bushwoolie's thoughts.

"Food, yeah, food," Wishful agreed.

"Eat, yeah, yeah," Hugster assented.

"Cookies and milk," demurely ordered Baby Springtime as she regained her princessly composure on her throne. Baby Melonball returned to his as well.

The Bushwoolies sparkled their way out to the kitchen, and using the chairs, accessed the cookie jar on the counter. Chumster opened the lid. "Oh-oh, empty."

Wishful looked in, too. "Yeah, yeah, empty."

Making sure that nothing was overlooked, Hugster peered in as well. "Yep. All gone."

Hurrying back to inform the prince and princess of this catastrophe, the Bushwoolies then awaited further instructions.

Baby Springtime donned a pouty face, and Baby Melonball looked near tears. "No cookies?" he asked.

"Nope, nope," Wishful verified.

But from her throne, the princess had an idea. "Buss-woolies bake!" She slid off her throne, followed by a revitalized prince. They led the way back to the kitchen, and Baby Springtime pulled open the door where her mom's recipe file was stored.

"Recipe, yeah, cookies," exclaimed Hugster, rifling through the cards and coming up with a handful of cookie recipes.

Chumster scratched his head. "Which recipe, yeah?"

Hugster held up a card. "Peanut butter, yeah, good, good."

"No," Wishful disagreed. "Raisin cookies."

"Coconut, yeah, coconut," Hugster decided.

After several minutes of pulling out cards and then throwing them into a reject pile, the Bushwoolies had still not come to a consensus. But the stomp of a petite hoof made the three stop and take note.

Having gotten their attention, Baby Springtime made her royal decree. "Me and him like chocolate chip cookies."

Suddenly agreeing, the Bushwoolies got down to the business of baking.

"Chocolate chip, yeah, good, yeah, chip," prattled Wishful as he located the flour and sugar canisters.

"Me like chocolate chip, yeah, yummy," agreed Chumster as he got eggs and butter out of the refrigerator.

"Yeah, cookies, cookies, yummy, good," sing-sang Hugster, retrieving the chocolate chips and baking soda out of a cupboard.

"Oops!" said Chumster as he dropped an egg to the floor.

Baby Springtime giggled. "Slimy."

"Sorry!" apologized Wishful as he spilled a cupful of flour over the edge of the counter.

Baby Springtime laughed. "Messy."

"Whoa!" yelled Hugster as the bag of chips exploded as he attempted to open it, and chocolate rained across the kitchen.

Baby Melonball began rescuing chips, and eating them as quickly as he found them. "Buss-woolies fun!" he grinned through a chocolate-smeared smile.

The Bushwoolies regrouped, and eventually had a batch of cookie dough ready to put on the cookie sheets.

"Oven hot," yelped Chumster as he opened the oven door.

"Use mitt, yeah, yeah," advised Hugster.

"Tray ready, yeah," informed Wishful.

"Dough good," slurped Baby Melonfall after sticking his hoof in the bowl of dough.

"Raw cookie no good," contradicted Baby Springtime, shaking her head and hoof at him.

Soon, the timer beeped, and the first tray of golden brown cookies were done.

"Look good, yeah, yeah," grinned Hugster.

"Tasty, yeah, good," agreed Wishful.

"Next tray," said Chumster as he put the second tray in the oven.

The twins climbed up into chairs to be close to the cookies. "Milk," decided Baby Springtime. She almost added, "Yeah, yeah."

Chumster got the milk and poured two tall glasses for each foal. "Don't spill, yeah, yeah," he warned.

The three Bushwoolies and two young ponies soon had polished off the first tray of cookies.

"Me still hung-gwee," complained Baby Springtime.

"Me got tummyache," groaned Baby Melonball.

"Me smell smoke!" yelped Chumster, running through the black curtain that now shrouded the oven, and soon reappearing with a hot tray encrusted with ashen piles of crud which he tossed into the sink.

"Timer not set, yeah, yeah," surmised Hugster as he opened a window to let the smoke out.

"Cookies ruined, bad, bad," observed Wishful with a sorrowful look on his face.

"Me sick," moaned Baby Melonball with one hoof clutching his tummy, and one hoof holding his nose.

"Momma's home!" cried Baby Springtime, hearing the front door opening. She bolted into the living room, knocking her glass of milk off the table as she went. "Mommy, Mommy!" she greeted her mother with a hug around her legs.

Springtime stood just inside the doorway, and sniffed the air as she laid a hoof on her daughter's head. "Do I smell smoke?" she questioned worriedly.

"Just cookies," shrugged Baby Springtime. "Buss-woolies do it."

"Who moved the furniture?" she wondered outloud.

Baby Springtime skipped across to her throne and clamored up. "Buss-woolies."

Crossing the room to her open jewely case, Springtime raised her eyebrows. She gingerly fingered the string of sticky, sparkly beads and asked, "Who..."

"Buss-woolies," innocently answered Baby Springtime.

Springtime took a deep breath, and walked to the kitchen doorway. Looking into the room, she gasped. The three decorated Bushwoolies were attempting to comfort the still-suffering prince. Smoke drifted out the open window. A puddle of milk had streamed across the tile to join the splattered egg. Several forgotten chocolate chips melted into murky pools, and a pastey glob of saturated flour clung disgustingly to the base of the counter. A frazzled, blackened cookie sheet was resting in the sink, and one unbaked tray of cookies sat untended while the still hot oven glowed red with the oven door wide open.

"Oh, my!" Springtime choked, her hoof moving to her head as if she'd suddenly developed a headache. "What happened here?"

"Buss-woolies," chimed Baby Springtime as she peeked around her mother's legs. "Buss-woolies lots of fun."

"I can see that," Springtime agreed as she went to the stove, stuck the unbaked tray of cookies into the oven, and closed the oven door. Setting the timer, she turned her attention to her little colt.

"Cookie dough again?" she questioned, picking him up and packing him off to bed.

To her surprise and complete appreciation, the Bushwoolies were actually cleaning up the kitchen when she returned. The oven timer beeped, and Springtime removed the cookies while the Bushwoolies continued their chores. Checking out the burned cookie sheet in the sink, she decided to leave that for another day. Then she slumped into the closest chair to supervise the rest of the dirty work.

"Mommy?" Baby Springtime tugged at her mother's foreleg.

"Yes, dear?"

"Me sleepy." She crawled up into her mother's lap.



"Me be good princess."

"What makes you say that?"

"Buss-woolies do everything me say," Baby Springtime murmurred, her eyes getting heavy.

"I wondered about that," Springtime smiled as she hugged her daughter tightly. And I'm going to have to talk to Princess Tiffany about a few of her princess lessons, she thought silently to herself.

The Bushwoolies worked amazingly fast at turning the kitchen back into its clean, orderly appearance. Springtime put the sleeping princess on her bed, and served the Bushwoolies their fresh cookies and ice-cold milk.

"Your cookies are very good," she complimented them after taking a bite.

"Yeah, yeah, cookies yummy!" ageed the three Bushwoolies in unison.

When they were finished, they jumped down from their chairs and jostled their way to the door. Springtime giggled at their constant activity and good humor. "Thanks for your help!" she called sincerely.

"Help, yeah, anytime!" replied Chumster.

"Help, fun, yeah, fun!" called Hugster.

"Yeah, yeah," agreed Wishful.

Watching until they were gone from sight, Springtime closed the door. And the twins were so exhausted from their time with the Bushwoolies that they didn't wake up until suppertime. Not a bad day after all!


**Answers to Easter Related Pony Names:

1. Surprise

2. Hippity-Hop

3. Sweet Stuff

4. Lily

5. Celebrate

6. Angel

7. Quackers

8. Dancing Butterflies

9. Bonnie Bonnets

10. (Princess) Dawn

11. Merriweather

12. Ringlets

13. Flower Bouquet

14. Sweet Notes

15. Happy Hugs

16. Satin n' Lace

17. Glory

18. Sprinkles

19. Salty

20. Sweet Dreams


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