My Little Pony Monthly Issue 38 (May 1, 2000)

My Little Pony Monthly
Established June 1997
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Issue 38
May 2000

Index of this issue--

1. Letters to the Editor

2. Contest Corner

3. A Fair Exchange (by Sugarberry)

4. ICQ Column

5. The Wedding Day (by Merry Treat)

6. Ginseng and Sassafras Tea Chapters Three and Four (by Sugarberry)

7. Silver Swirl's Obligation or Silver Swirl's Obsession? (by Princess Silver Swirl)

8. The Adventure of Baby North Star and Baby Brother Bright Bouquet (by Baby Steamer)

9. Return to Flutter Valley Part One: The Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverer... Pony? (by Vixie)

10. The Ghost of Box Five Chapter Five (by Masquerade)

11. Superspritz and Coombie (by Sugarberry)

12. The Lost Prince Chapter 4 (by Moonjumper)

13. Return from the Himalayas (by Tabby)


Letters to the Editor Heyas, Tabby! I know, I know, I'm not supposed to be e-mailing you; I'm supposed to be writing, right? ~.^ Don't worry, I will finish the story (can't give it away, readers. ~.^ Tabby knows what the story is) by next month! I will not rest ‘till I have completed it! Bug me ‘till it's done, okay? ~.^ You have my permission to bug me over it. Now, I wonder where the rest of that make-up work went to... whoops... ^.^*

Response from the editor-- Yes, Merry Treat did finish her story! ^.~ Be sure to look for it in this issue under the title of "The Wedding Day". I think it is a GREAT idea to post ICQ numbers of other collectors. I love to chat and I miss the Dream Valley chat so-o-o-o much.

Response from the editor-- Due to the positive response to Baby Mischief's suggestion from the March issue, a regular ICQ column will now be posted in each issue. If you chat on ICQ, feel free to send me your number to post. I loved last month's issue! I have an idea: maybe you could post pictures of the characters from Sugarberry's Ginseng and Sassafras Tea story on your webpage. By the way, your Atlantis story inspired me to try bringing my Furby, Koh-Loo-Kah, back to life (with Energizer batteries, of course) and it worked! And wow, a wedding, an engagement, and a profession of love all in one issue!

Response from the editor-- Pictures of the characters from Sugarberry's Ginseng and Sassafras Tea are now on the web due to your request! Future pictures will be posted as the story continues. Anyone may view them at: Hi, I finally finished reading the April MLP Monthly issue. My first comment: it was absolutely wonderful-- each month it gets better! My second comment: it was very long; so many people are contributing such great stuff! This month I'll try to actually get the next section of the Evil Dragon typed up. It will definitely not be this week; I haven't practiced my oral report on Autism at all and I have to present it on Tuesday! Yikes, I better go!

Response from the editor-- Your fans (I being among them), are waiting... ^.~ Hiya Tabby! Just wanted to say I appreciate all the hard work you put into making MLP Monthly. I think it's really nice of you. All of us fans (and writers ;) ) of Ponydom truly do care about the huge mission you undertake each month to bring stories of wonder and hope over the rainbow to our e-mail boxes! So if anytime you're feeling down, though we may not write every month, remember that your fans (me for one) love that great wonder that is My Little Pony Monthly...

Response from the editor-- All of the contributors to My Little Pony Monthly greatly appreciate your kind words! You have been an encouragement to all of us.


Contest Corner

The winner of last month's contest (April Fools' Day Fun Facts) was! She received an autographed copy of Chris Platt's Willow King novel. The runner-up was, who received a set of Smilemakers My Little Pony stickers. Thank you to everyone who entered!

For this month, we have another great prize to win. It will be an autographed copy of a Thoroughbred Ashleigh book entitled "The Forbidden Stallion" (number five in the series). This book was written by Chris Platt, who again has donated the book for our newsletter. A summary is as follows:

"Ashleigh Griffen knows it's wrong, but she can't help it-- she's jealous. Peter Danworth has everything: a huge Thoroughbred racing farm, money, and one of Ashleigh's favorite stallions, Aladdin.

"Then Ashleigh gets amazing news. If the stallion loses his next race, the Danworths will retire him to stud at Edgardale!

"Excited, Ashleigh sneaks a ride on Aladdin-- and she accidentally discovers how to run him to win. Will she keep quiet so the magnificent stallion can live on her parents' farm? Or will she give Peter, the boy who has everything, Aladdin's secret?"

To win a copy of this exciting book, all you need to do is locate the hidden horseshoe-like symbol lurking somewhere in this issue. If you manage to find it, please e-mail me at, telling me the exact location of where you found it. Correct answers will be entered in a drawing to determine who will get the grand prize. Entries must be received by May 15. Good luck!

If you would be interested in purchasing other books written by Chris Platt, try doing a search for her on or


A Fair Exchange
by Sugarberry (

"Sugarberry, this is Vanguard. I need to talk to you."

"Have you heard about Tabby and Thomas?" Sugarberry countered into the phone receiver.

"What about Tabby and Thomas?" queried Vanguard after a pause.

"They're engaged!" a triumphant Sugarberry squealed.

A longer pause ensued before Vanguard spoke. "Hey! That's great!"

"Everyone's meeting at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe after work to celebrate. Can you make it?"

"Sure. I'll be there."

"Great! See you later!" Sugarberry put the receiver back on its cradle and beamed at Thomas, her boss at The Vet Clinic. "I am so happy for the two of you!"

She hadn't seen Tabby yet, but all of Dream Valley was buzzing with the news that Tabby was wearing a diamond engagement ring from Thomas; Tiffany had brought the news early in the day, alerted by her gossip network, and Thomas had proudly verified the rumor.

It was a boisterous crowd that congregated at Scoop's establishment when the workday ended. Tabby accepted her celebrity status with grace and charm, radiantly showing off her diamond with Thomas by her side.

"Never thought I'd see the day when you'd be wearing a sparkly ring like that," teased Quarterback.

"Yeah, yeah, sparkly!" agreed Friendly.

Tabby even accepted congratulations from Mimic and Tex with a smile on her face.

"Don't know how you did it, Thomas, but keep up the good work," winked Tex. "And Tabby, can you honestly forgive me now for the worm incident?"

With a quick glance at Thomas, Tabby responded, "Where's a disco ball when you need one?"

Sugarberry had commandeered Vanguard as soon as he arrived from his work at the university, and led him to admire the precious jewel on Tabby's foreleg. Vanguard hugged Tabby and shook Thomas' hoof. "I wish you two a life of happiness together!" He then retired to the fringe of the crowd, feeling a little out of place in all the celebration.

The worried expression that often crossed Vanguard's face bypassed Sugarberry as she mingled with the crowd and shared giddy secrets with the other mares and fillies. She was still very upbeat when Vanguard and Chocolate Chip reminded her it was getting late.

The three of them left the shop with Vanguard accompanying the girls home. The stars twinkling overhead only accentuated the merry mood that Sugarberry and Chocolate Chip carried with them. Among their comments on Tabby and Thomas and rings and weddings, Vanguard remained silent. He wanted a moment alone with Sugarberry, so he bided his time; but it was not meant to be.

As soon as the girls hit the porch, Chocolate Chip proposed a brilliant idea-- "Let's start planning a bridal shower!"

"Ooh! Yes! Won't this be fun?" Sugarberry readily agreed.

Vanguard saw his chance slip away, so he bravely smiled and said, "You two have fun, but I'm going home. This sounds like a girl thing."

Chocolate Chip laughingly opened the door while Sugarberry hugged her favorite stallion and brushed his cheek with a kiss. "Goodnight, Vanguard."

"Goodnight, Sugarberry. See you tomorrow after the Writers' Block meeting?"

"Same time, same place," she grinned as the door closed behind her.

* * *
When Sugarberry entered the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe the next evening, she slumped into the seat next to Vanguard with a sigh.

"What's up?" he asked, alert to her every mood swing.

"Why can't I learn to just say no?" she groaned. "Wigwam asked me to proofread his native pony tales just when I was getting into my next book."

Patting her hoof, Vanguard attempted to ease her consternation. "You're just tired. You'll be all charged up about it by morning."

Sugarberry smiled gratefully at him. "I suppose you're right."

The opening door of the shop admitted Tabby and Thomas, who came directly to their friends' corner. "Have you ordered yet?" Tabby asked. "Obviously not," she answered he own question as her eyes swept across the empty table.

"Mind if we join you?" Thomas followed.

If a look of annoyance crept across Vanguard's countenance, no one noticed. The four ponies approached the counter, and were soon comfortably ensconced with their favorite ice cream desserts.

Except for the occasional flash of brilliance from Tabby's ring, things had quickly returned to normal; and the conversation revolved around Pokèmon, animals, writing, and college happenings with only brief references to future plans. When the food had been consumed, the two stallions set forth with their mares to see them safely home.

Arriving at Sugarberry's house first, Tabby and Thomas said their goodnights to Sugarberry and Vanguard. Vanguard escorted Sugarberry up the walk and into the house, gladly accepting her invitation to a cup of coffee. He followed her into the kitchen, and leaned against the counter as she prepared the hot brew. She had just set the mugs on the table, and Vanguard had taken a seat and reached for her hoof, when Chocolate Chip entered the room.

"Oh, Vanguard! I'm glad you're here. I've been studying for tomorrow's test, and I'm really not clear on that new concept you introduced last Friday. Can you help me?"

Keeping his eyes on Sugarberry's face for several seconds as if he couldn't bear to let their time together go, he finally broke away and smiled rather wearily at Chocolate Chip. "Sure. What don't you understand?"

While the two went over the math concept, Sugarberry fed and watered Raptor and Fluff, tidied the house, and refilled the coffee mugs. Her interest in math was limited as she seldom needed to use much more than adding and subtracting in her janglebook, and multiplying and dividing office supplies. She struggled to stay abreast of the conversation that Vanguard and Chocolate Chip were engaged in, but soon found her yawns overpowering her.

"You wouldn't mind if I went to bed now, would you?" she said sleepily, her eyes heavy.

"No problem. I'll lock up," Chocolate Chip stated. "Good night." She returned to her complicated figures.

"Come to supper tomorrow," Sugarberry invited Vanguard with yet another yawn.

"Sure. I'll see you then," Vanguard replied, with a wistful look as Sugarberry left the room. "Good night."

Sugarberry hurried home on Wednesday. Wigwam had called and they had arranged for him to deliver his manuscript to Sugarberry's house after work. As usual, because she wanted to leave on time, the last patient of the day had been difficult and she hadn't gotten away until half an hour past closing time.

When within sight of her house, Sugarberry spotted Wigwam coming from the opposite direction; they arrived at her walkway simultaneously.

"Hi, Wigwam," she greeted the orange stallion. "Got all your papers there?" She looked suspiciously at the large brown manila envelope under his foreleg. It appeared to be ready to burst at the seams, it was so stuffed with pages.

"Everything's here," grinned Wigwam. "I surely appreciate your helping me out, Sugarberry."

"No problem," she smiled graciously. "Come on in and show me what I've gotten myself into."

Once inside, Sugarberry led Wigwam to her computer desk, and she seated herself, waving a hoof in the direction of a second chair for him. Wigwam handed over his envelope, and sat down after pulling the chair next to Sugarberry.

Pulling the papers out of the package, Sugarberry's worst fears were realized. The manuscript was hoof-written, making it difficult to read as Wigwam's writing was anything but neat.

"You don't have a computer?" she asked, casting a withering glance in his direction.

"I'm all hooves when it comes to typing," he admitted.

"Aren't we all?" Sugarberry muttered under her breath. Steeling her nerves, she began to peruse the pages.

"What's this word?" she queried only two lines into the work. She pointed to the word, and Wigwam draped a foreleg over the back of her chair as he leaned closer to get a better look. Sugarberry was discomfited at the touch of his mane on her shoulder. It took him awhile to decipher it himself, and as he studied it, the front door opened as Chocolate Chip got home with Vanguard in tow.

In synch, she and Wigwam turned to face the new arrivals, and Sugarberry knew automatically that a self-conscious blush had spread over her face. "Hi," she said, avoiding Vanguard's eyes. "Chocolate Chip, you've met Wigwam, haven't you?"

Chocolate Chip nodded assent.

"I haven't had a chance to start supper," Sugarberry explained. "Chocolate Chip, why don't you call out for something. Wigwam, you can join us for supper, can't you?" she felt obliged to offer.

"Sure! Thanks, Sugarberry," he responded.

Disappearing into the kitchen, Chocolate Chip took care of her errand while Vanguard moved behind Sugarberry and looked over her shoulder, laying a hoof protectively on her chair. Wigwam grinned at the up-tight stallion and moved his chair discreetly away from Sugarberry.

"How are things going?" Vanguard asked.

"Wouldn't you know, I was late getting out of the vet clinic, so we just got started. I'm trying to get a feel for his penmanship style," Sugarberry dispensed an accusing glance in Wigwam's direction.

"Hey! I do my best writing with a pen in my hoof," Wigwam defended himself.

"Your composition is well done... once I can read it," she admitted. "Once I get used to these funny little circles that keep cropping up..."

Taking the page from her, Wigwam laughed. "Those aren't circles. Those are the dots for the "I's" and the periods.

"Oh, great!" Sugarberry groaned. "I'll have to keep that in mind."

By the time the pizza was delivered, Sugarberry felt comfortable in deciphering Wigwam's rough draft, and the four ponies pulled up to the table for a tasty supper of pizza, salad, and soda followed by ice cream. They laughed over the story that Wigwam was relating; he was an excellent story-teller.

By the time the kitchen was straightened up and Chocolate Chip had disappeared into her room to study, Vanguard could see by Sugarberry's nervous attitude that she wanted some peace and quiet to begin typing Wigwam's manuscript into the computer.

"We should clear out so you can get some work done," he said.

Sugarberry smiled appreciatively. "I would like to get started on the manuscript," she verified.

"Vanguard, I've got some questions about taking a few college courses this fall," Wigwam appeared ready to go. "Maybe you can help me out." He moved toward the door, forcing Vanguard to leave with him, missing yet another chance alone with Sugarberry.

"Thanks for the help, Sugarberry. I'll make it up to you!" Wigwam called as he left.

Vanguard grabbed a quick kiss before leaving her to her task. And for her part, Sugarberry settled down at the computer and got to work.

* * *
When Sugarberry got a call from Vanguard on Thursday, she turned down a date with him that evening so that she could make further headway on Wigwam's material. But she promised to be at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe on Friday evening.

But on Friday morning, Vanguard called again. "I've got an emergency faculty meeting tonight at six-thirty; I'll meet you when it's over."

"No problem," Sugarberry assured him. She had no sooner hung up the phone when another call came through.

"Sugarberry, how are you doing with my manuscript?" Wigwam's voice came over the line.

"I hope you don't expect me to be done with it yet," Sugarberry snapped a little peevishly.

Wigwam laughed. "No, not at all. I was just curious about your deciphering of my papers. Do you have any questions?"

"There were a fair number of unclear words," she admitted, "but I'm getting better over time."

"I'm free tonight," Wigwam stated. "Could we meet somewhere to go over the problems?"

"Hmm," Sugarberry thought a second. "I'm going to meet Vanguard about seven-thirty at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe. Maybe we could discuss them there about six-thirty."

"Better yet, I'll meet you at Tex's Salsa Shop at six o'clock, and I can repay you for supper the other night. Will that be okay?"

"Ye...yes. I suppose so, as long as we're done by seven-thirty."

"Great! See you then!"

* * *
It was only seven o'clock when Vanguard arrived at Scoop's place. The faculty members involved in the meeting at the university had arrived early-- anxious to get away from campus-- so the gathering had broken-up earlier than he had expected.

He looked over the ponies at the tables and the counter, but there was no sign of Sugarberry. He debated getting a cup of coffee and was just stepping to the counter when Merry Moments and Quarterback came into the shop.

Exchanging pleasantries as they waited for Scoops to finish with her present customer, Merry Moments questioned Vanguard about Sugarberry. "You two didn't have a fight, did you?"

Vanguard's face registered surprise. "Of course not."

"That's good," Merry Moments grinned. "When I saw her with Wigwam over at Tex's just now, I was kind of worried about you guys."

"Just remember," Quarterback ribbed him, "what goes ‘round, comes ‘round." And he laughed at Vanguard's discomfort.

"You had no hold over her," Vanguard defended himself. Laying his jangles on the counter, he told Scoops, "Coffee. Black."

Quarterback didn't stop. "And how about you? I haven't seen an engagement announcement in the paper yet." Still chuckling, Quarterback guided Merry Moments to the counter while Vanguard fled to a quiet table at the back of the room with his coffee.

The first thing Vanguard saw was a very happy Tabby and Thomas sitting alone, heads bent to each other in earnest conversation. The diamond on Tabby's foreleg caught the light as she gestured, and flashed a prism of color skyward. Vanguard stared down at his coffee, and felt like he was being drawn into its dark, black emptiness.

The passage of time had gotten away on Vanguard when a little face peered over the edge of his table.

"Hi, Mr. Vanguard." It was Baby Noddins.

"Hi, Baby Noddins."

"You're all alone, so I came to sit with you."

Baby Noddins seated herself in the chair across from Vanguard. "Whatcha doing?"

"Just thinking," he responded.

"What about?"

"Everything. And what are you doing here tonight?"

With a wave of her hoof, she explained. "Mommy and Daddy brought me and Baby Falling Leaves, but I'm mad at her."

"Again?" smiled Vanguard.

"She sat with Baby Racer," Baby Noddins scowled. "He's boring."

"Oh, I see," Vanguard sympathized. Then he asked, "Would you like a sundae?"

"Oh, yes, I would." Baby Noddins' eyes grew round. "A hot fudge sundae would be good."

"Coming right up," Vanguard announced as he got up and headed for the counter. Baby Noddins followed him.

"Can I have nuts on top?" she questioned.

"You sure can!" he verified, nodding his assent to Scoops.

When Vanguard and his little tag-along were seated once again, and Baby Noddins had eaten her way through half her sundae, she surprised her host with an abrupt query. "Are you gonna marry Sugarberry?"

Taken off guard, Vanguard stuttered. "I... why... do you think I should?"

"Yes!" declared Baby Noddins. "I like weddings!"

"Oh, I see. Have you been to many weddings yet?"

"Well... no," she frowned. But then her face brightened. "But Lemon Treats is going to invite me to her wedding, and Tabby is, too! I hope." She got a far-away look in her eyes, dreaming of white lace and flower bouquets.

Deciding to switch to a safer topic, Vanguard asked, "How are you doing in math?"

Baby Noddins came out of her reverie and wrinkled her nose. "I hate math!"


"Fractions are stupid!" she declared. "Especially when the denomi-whatevers don't match. Very frustrating," she added emphatically.

Vanguard was startled to feel a hoof settle gently on his shoulder, and a soft voice ask, "May I sit down, or would you two rather be alone?" Baby Noddins giggled.

He jumped up to pull a chair out for Sugarberry. "Hi!" He suddenly felt a tad less depressed. "I didn't see you come in."

"It looks like you were having an interesting conversation," commented Sugarberry as she sat down with her steaming cup of coffee and familiar manila envelope. "How are you tonight, Baby Noddins?" she asked of the lavender youngster.

"I'm not hungry anymore," she said, pushing the melting sundae to the center of the table and sliding off the chair. "Bye."

Sugarberry giggled. "I hope it wasn't something I said."

"She probably remembered that I don't have a last name," Vanguard rationalized.

"You must have finished your meeting early," Sugarberry stated.

"Yes. It went well."

"Good. Wigwam treated me to supper at the salsa shop so we could go over some unreadable words." She glanced uneasily at Vanguard, but he didn't seem upset by the news. She squeezed his hoof. "I've missed you," she added.

"On that note, may I walk you home?" Vanguard suggested. "It's a beautiful evening."

"Yes, it is," agreed Sugarberry. She picked up the envelope containing Wigwam's manuscript, and the couple left the crowded hangout.

"Did you see Tabby and Thomas?" Sugarberry asked as they walked down the lighted paths. "They seem to have grown so close since Thomas gave her that ring. It's as if they have their own secret world. And, you know, they both seem to have become wiser somehow as well. Except their attitude toward Furbys-- they treat them as equals." She mulled over this fact for a moment.

Vanguard remained silent on the subject, so Sugarberry continued her monologue.

"Wigwam's native tales book is going to be a big success," she predicted. "I'm grateful that he promised me an autographed copy."

"He owes you that much for all the work you're doing for him."

Sugarberry giggled. "He's going to pay me," she clarified. "He told me to keep track of my time."

Vanguard lapsed back into silence. "Oh. I almost forget," Sugarberry finally spoke-up. "I saw a Baltimore Oriole today. I put an orange out on the gazebo feeder, and an Oriole showed up the very first day!"

"That's neat."

"And the male goldfinches all have their bright yellow summer feathers back again." She continued to ramble on about any number of topics, but Vanguard remained withdrawn.

Arriving at the house, Sugarberry set the envelope inside and she and Vanguard sat on the porch swing in the mild evening air. Sugarberry hugged his nearest foreleg to her while leaning her head against his shoulder. She always felt safe when she was with him like this. The frogs could be heard calling from their homes on the riverbank, but otherwise the night was eerily quiet as clouds moved across the sky.

"Sugarberry, there's something I've been wanting to talk to you about for days now, but everything has been so hectic," Vanguard broke the silence.

Snuggling closer against his side, Sugarberry looked up into his face. She had noticed that he had been distant since Tabby and Thomas' engagement was announced, and wondered if Thomas' proposal might prompt Vanguard to speak to her in the same vein.

"And what would that be?" she asked softly.

Vanguard touched his free hoof to her cheek, and took a deep breath. He looked into her eyes with such tenderness that Sugarberry herself almost stopped breathing.

Turning in the swing to face her, Vanguard took both her hooves in his. "Sugarberry, I..."

"Yes?" she whispered.

"I've accepted an exchange position at Leonardo University in Italy for the fall semester." The words, when they came, came in a rush.

Sugarberry was stunned. Her eyes searched Vanguard's, hoping she could read his soul. But all she found was a rather sad image of herself, and she began trembling.

"You're... you're leaving?" she heard herself ask in a cracked voice.

Vanguard smiled weakly, and pulled her close to him. "Just temporarily. If all goes as planned, I'll be home for Christmas."

Sugarberry pulled back, unaware of the silent tears streaming down her face. "When are you going?" she choked out.

Smoothing the tears from her cheeks, Vanguard pleaded, "Please don't cry!"

Sugarberry's inner being wanted to scream, Don't cry? I have to cry! I cry over spilt milk. Why shouldn't I cry when my world ends? All she could do was bury her face in his shoulder, and let the tears fall.

"You're shivering," Vanguard said with concern. "We'd better get you inside." He opened the door, and guided her to the sofa. "Can I get you something?"

"When are you leaving?"

He pulled a side chair up to face her, and sat down. "As soon as the current semester is all wrapped up."

"That's the middle of May!" Her tear-stained eyes threatened to launch another waterfall. "Why are you going? You never said a word."

Her eyes locked his so tangibly that it hurt. Vanguard shook his head to break the hold. "It was quite unexpected, actually. Decagon, my former department head back at Binks University, was the one who had set up the exchange for himself. But family problems interfered, so he called in a debt I owed him."

"So just like that, you're going to drop your life here?"

"I have to, Sugarberry. Decagon helped me out of a tough spot once. I can't let him down now."

Raptor jumped up on the couch and crawled into Sugarberry's lap; she hugged him close, and found his purr reassuring. Fluff came to sit by her side, a wide-eyed look on his face.

"Is that what the emergency meeting was about?" she asked.

"Yes. We had to make some hasty decisions during the week, but everything looks like it's going to work out."

"Where will you live over there?" Sugarberry was beginning to calm down.

"It's an even trade-- Giorgio will stay at my apartment and assume my responsibilities at Pony Pride; I'll do the same over there."

The two sat in silence for awhile, thinking their own thoughts of this extended separation.

"I guess we won't be visiting your folks this summer," Sugarberry finally spoke, and was even able to add a small smile.

"There will be another time," Vanguard smiled back. "This exchange won't last forever; and in the meantime, you can work on your novel like never before."

"I suppose so."

"And, anyway, we have several weeks before I'm gone. We'll make the most of it." Vanguard stood up, and replaced the chair in its spot. "I'd better get home now, though. I've still got some tests to correct. You'll be okay?"

Nodding her head while hugging Raptor, Sugarberry walked Vanguard to the door. A light rain had started to fall.

"You'll get wet," Sugarberry worried as she peered out into the darkness.

"I won't melt," Vanguard grinned. "Goodnight, Sugarberry." He turned, and quickly started off.

Sugarberry just as quickly turned and closed the door. She leaned her head back against the frame and let the flow of tears engulf her. Raptor looked worried as the salty water poured over his fur. Sugarberry felt as if a piece of her heart had suddenly died.

And hurrying down the sidewalk, Vanguard's cheeks, too, were wet with more than the raindrops.


ICQ Column

Looking to get in contact with other pony collectors? If you have the ICQ chat service, try sending some of these My Little Pony fans a message.

Baby Sparkles: 63411762

Baby Lickety Split: 14409477

Baby Mischief: 35100651

If you have an ICQ number and would like to be listed here, e-mail your information to


The Wedding Day
by Merry Treat (

Author's note: This story is dedicated to Tabby, who cracked down on me until I finished it. ~.^ And yes, I started this story a while ago, but kinda forgot about it. Apologies to everyone! Enjoy, and any feedback would be most kind.

One evening in February...

"We have an announcement to make!" Tess tapped on the edge of Merry Treat's root beer float glass. All members of the gang stopped their talking and turned to the two Meowths at the end of the table.

Tess and Tarquin smiled at each other and took the other's paw. Tess looked at the gathered congregation with a big smile on her face. "Tarquin and I are getting married."

For a moment, there was silence as the group seated at the table absorbed this information. Then, they began congratulating the two Meowths. That is, except for Tabby and Merry Treat. They were sitting, staring at each other, in utter shock.

"Tarquin and Tess are..." Merry Treat started.

"...getting married?" Tabby finished, still confused. She blinked a few times, and then became furious. "Why wasn't I informed of this?!" she fumed angrily at her Meowth, jumping out of her chair. "Why didn't you tell me you were proposing?!"

"Tabby, chill out!" Merry Treat cried, and jumped up to grasp her friend's shoulders to restrain her. "I wasn't informed of this, either! Oh, please don't hurt them!" she shouted desperately.

"Eh... you didn't tell her?" Tess questioned Tarquin, glancing at him nervously.

"I tried to... but she must not have been listening. What about you? You were supposed to tell Merry Treat..." Tarquin replied in the same nervous tone.

"I did... but I must have mumbled it..." Tess responded as the two looked at their trainers.

Well, somebody do something... those two are giving me a headache, Merry Treat's Spearow groaned.

"Calm down, Tabby!" Sugarberry exclaimed, and jumped up to help restrain her.

"I could blow flames on them," Spike suggested.

"Eh... not unless you want to get yourself maimed," Thomas commented, raising an eyebrow.

Tabby finally calmed down after a lot of shouting, a lot of complaining, and many glances from the other customers in the shop. Once she had gotten settled back into her chair, she received pleading glances from the two Pokèmon.

"Please let us, Tabby," Tess pleaded. "It would mean ever so much to us. Please?"

Tabby looked into those big dark blue cat-like eyes, and gave in. She was a real schmuck for Meowths, even if they weren't her own. "All right. You can do it," she said, glancing at Merry Treat. The white pony nodded as well.

"Oh, thank you! You're the best, Tabby!" Tarquin cried, and threw his arms around Tabby's neck.

Tabby smiled and hugged him back, while exchanging a glance with Merry Treat. "I don't know if this makes us related or not," Merry Treat joked.

"I dunno, maybe..." Tabby said thoughtfully. "It would be rather interesting." She paused for a moment, and then her face fell.

"What's wrong now, Tabby?" Sugarberry asked in concern.

"Tarquin and Tess... they won't be ours anymore," Tabby said, looking up at Merry Treat.
Merry Treat assumed a sad expression. "You're right... but if they aren't ours, who will they belong to?"

"I don't know, but... oh, Merry Treat, this is so sad!" Tabby wailed.

"They'll leave us!" Merry Treat wailed as well. The two hugged each other, crying loudly.

Oh, brother, Spearow groaned in exasperation.

Tarquin and Tess took the opportunity to console the two ponies, while the other members seated at the table left to give the group some privacy.

* * *
One May afternoon...

Tess stood nervously in front of the mirror. She was wearing a delicate white veil and a white lacy dress. She also wore her mother's blue ribbon for the occasion, and a pretty pearl necklace (a gift from Merry Treat). In her paws she held a lovely bouquet of purple lilacs (picked out by Tabby). On her feet were a pair of dainty white slippers (made especially for someone so small). She did look very delicate and beautiful.

But the little Meowth was scared to death! She could see the reflections of Tabby and Merry Treat (who were standing behind her) in the mirror. They wore dresses similar to her own, and had made themselves look very nice. Tess had insisted that they be her bridesmaids, as they were the ponies she was closest to.

"You look great, Tess," Tabby complimented.

"Yeah, you'll knock ‘em dead!" Merry Treat agreed with a playful swipe in the air.

Tess smiled weakly and turned to face the two trainers. She knew it was one of the last times she was going to see them for awhile. She had to admit that they were some of the best friends she'd ever known. "Thank you..." she trailed off softly, and turned to look at herself in the mirror again. She couldn't believe she was actually going through with this. A million memories rushed through her head: when she'd first met Tarquin, when she'd come home to live with Merry Treat, when she'd fallen in love with Tarquin...

The Meowth was snapped out of her thoughts by a sound behind her. Was that a... sob? Furrowing her brow, she turned to see Merry Treat quickly wiping away a tear.

"I'm... I'm fine..." the Christmas pony choked upon seeing the Pokèmon's expression. Tabby placed a hoof on her friend's shoulder to console her, but the unicorn looked just as upset.

Tess and Merry Treat just stared at each other in silence for a few moments. Merry Treat knelt down and spread out her forelegs to welcome her in. Tess dashed over and was engulfed in a hug by her trainer. Tabby just stood back and watched quietly.

"Thank you for being my friend, Mountain," Tess murmured into her trainer's shoulder.

"You're welcome, Tess," Merry Treat whispered back. She was going to miss her Pokèmon.

Tabby felt a tear roll down her face as she watched the two. Tess had been her friend, and she was glad Tarquin had found someone special to love. The pink unicorn aimlessly glanced up at the clock. She didn't want to interrupt her two friends, but she realized that she needed to. "It's time for the wedding to start," she murmured softly.

Tess and Merry Treat gave each other an extra squeeze, and slowly pulled back from each other. "Go on, they're waiting for you," Tess said softly.

Tess watched as the two ponies left the room as the music began to play. The Meowth looked on a bit timidly as she saw them line up expectantly. When the bridal music played, she hesitated a minute, trying to find the nerve to go out there. Finally, she took a deep breath and left her changing room. Tess walked elegantly down the aisle, sending nervous smiles to her friends and family. I'm actually going through with this, she thought to herself.

She took note that the Meowth of her dreams was dressed in a fancy black tuxedo with a bowtie tied smartly around his neck. Spearow stood beside him in a similar outfit. She couldn't help but blush as he extended a paw to her. Tess reached up, shaking, and gently took it.

The ceremony went by as if in a blur. Tess was full of butterflies as she stared at Tarquin. Judging from his expression, he was thinking the same things she was. Tess barely heard the preacher (an uncle of Tarquin's) as he rambled on about all the important things they had to share. She and Tarquin repeated everything they were supposed to, and when they finally said "I do," Tess felt her nervousness slowly melt away.

"I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride," the preacher announced to the two Meowths warmly. Tarquin smiled and pulled Tess close to him and kissed her. Everyone clapped and cheered, but Tarquin and Tess were only absorbed in each other. They failed to notice as their two trainers looked at each other with a sisterly love in their eyes.

"Does this mean we're related now?" Tabby asked with a smile.

Merry Treat shrugged. "I haven't the foggiest idea, but it's fun to think so." The two ponies giggled.

Spearow took the opportunity to swoop over and land on Merry Treat's shoulder. It's about time, he said to her softly. Tabby and Merry Treat had to agree.

The End

Ginseng and Sassafras Tea
by Sugarberry (

Chapter Three

"Not more dishes!" groaned Laser as Lacewing plopped yet another tray of dirty dishes on the counter next to the stainless steel sink where his forelegs were submerged in hot, sudsy water.

"Don't complain," Lacewing snapped. "My hooves are coated in sticky, slimy, leftover ice cream." She thrust her hooves into the sink to wash them off.

Laser lowered the latest batch of dishes into the steamy water. "I thought working at the ice cream shop would be fun," he confided, "but after cleaning up all these spoons and bowls, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to enjoy ice cream again."

"Yeah," sighed his sister. "I know what you mean."

Meanwhile, out front where the action was, Hood and Drumstick were busily attending to the customers. Word had gotten out that a brand new flavor-- Berry Medley-- had arrived in the day's delivery, and every pony who loved ice cream wanted to get a taste. A usually quiet afternoon at the shop had turned into a frenzy.

"Good thing you brought the kids in," commented Drumstick. "We'd have never been able to keep up to demand without them." The yellow stallion took a second to brush a lock of his green mane off his forehead before preparing a Berry Medley ice cream cone for a toddler crying out of sight on the other side of the counter. Hood was whipping up a calorie-laden sundae for the foal's mother.

"Don't tell Whistler that I was in today," the smiling mare said to Hood as he sprinkled nuts across the sundae. "He says I'm putting on weight."

"You look as lovely as ever, Chit-Chat," Hood judiciously replied as he handed the sundae to her.

Drumstick had gone around the counter to present the finished ice cream cone to the little pony, who accepted it while sad tears still trickled down her cheeks. "Tank you."


As Chit-Chat and Giggles moved off to a recently vacated table, Lacewing busily cleared the dirty dishes and wiped off the sticky spots. As she stepped away from the table with her laden tray, she accidentally became entangled in the little legs of Giggles. With a crash, she and her tray fell to the tile floor. Spoons and dishes slid hither-scither in all directions. Lacewing looked up sorrowfully at her uncle, who had rushed to her aid. "I'm sorry, Uncle Hood." She looked as if on the verge of tears, but stoically fought them back.

"Are you okay?" Hood demanded worriedly. "Does anything hurt?" He felt along her legs and searched for scrapes and bruises.

"I feel stupid."

Hood grinned. He brushed the tangled seafoam green mane out of Lacewing's eyes gently. "You've just been initiated," he assured her. "Everyone drops a tray sooner or later."

"But I dropped my body, too." Lacewing grimaced at the thought.

Hood helped his little niece to her feet while Drumstick picked up the scattered utensils and bowls. He lifted her onto a stool at the counter and used a wet napkin to clean off the drops of ice cream and caramel that spotted her lavender body.

"How about an ice cream cone?" Drumstick asked Lacewing in an effort to make her feel better.

Lacewing turned down the offer; she couldn't face ice cream right now. "Maybe a glass of milk?" she questioned.

"Coming right up!" beamed Drumstick. In no time at all, he served the young filly a fresh, cold glass of milk. "Feeling better?"

"Yes, I think so," Lacewing responded with a shy smile.

Drumstick patted her on the head. "Good girl!" Then he moved on to help the next customer.

Lacewing sighed. She was just a kid in Drumstick's eyes. She sipped thoughtfully on the milk.

"What's up?" asked Hood as he cleaned off the counter in front of Lacewing. "You look a million miles away."

"Uncle Hood, am I pretty?"

Hood was taken back by this question. He looked searchingly at the filly before him. "No," he finally answered.

Lacewing's face fell drastically.

"You are beautiful, little one," he continued as he cradled her chin in his hoof.

She blushed. "You really think so?"

"Would I lie?" teased Hood. "Of course you're beautiful; you're my niece, aren't you?"

This made Lacewing laugh out loud. She had always thought Hood was the most handsome stallion she'd ever seen, next to her dad, of course. "It runs in the family, right?" she quipped.

"You got that right, Sugar." He tousled her mane. Then with a glance at the busy shop, he added, "If you're up to it, there's a table that needs cleaning."

"Sure thing, Uncle Hood," she saluted as she slid off the stool.

As always, the conversation at the shop eventually turned to the problems that had besieged the community of Woodlawn.

"Have you heard the latest?" asked a grandfatherly stallion as he seated himself in his usual spot. "There's been more mischief about."

Hood cautiously raised an eyebrow. William always had some gossip to share, and it wasn't always accurate.

After ordering an ice cream cone, William was determined to spread his news even if Hood wasn't cooperative. "That big house at the north edge of town... you know, the one painted up all in pink and purple? They got hit last night."

Hood frowned. "That would be Bellflower and Bugle's place. What happened?" He continued to scoop up ice cream into a crispy waffle cone, but his attention was riveted to what William had to say. Bellflower and Bugle were a newly married couple who had taken over her parents' large dwelling earlier in the summer; Hood hoped that nothing serious had befallen the pair.

Leaning forward over the counter, William confided, "Every strawberry out of their patch was picked sometime last night." He tapped his hoof in front of Hood for emphasis.

"It would be difficult picking strawberries during the night, don't you think?" cautioned Hood as he handed the completed cone to William.

"You know what I mean. Daybreak comes awfully early, before most ponies are up and about."

"That garden of Bellflower's is a big one, too," pondered Hood, "and it sits a fair distance away from the house, doesn't it?"

"Yup! And they didn't hear a thing. Just got up like normal, and Bellflower went out to get some berries for her breakfast, and finds ‘em gone."

"Anything else taken or disturbed?"

"Nope. Not that I've heard." Both ponies lapsed into a thoughtful silence.

Lacewing approached the counter from the kitchen area. "Uncle Hood, Laser says his hooves are so wrinkly that they'll never be able to hold a football every again." She stood before Hood with her hooves on her hips, a posture that her mom often employed when she'd reached the end of her patience.

Hood grinned. "Wrinkly, is he? Well, you go back and tell him that Patchwork Petal should be reporting in any minute."

Lacewing had no sooner left on her errand when a vivacious teenager trotted through the door, donning a red-and-white striped apron as she approached the counter. "Hi, Grandpa William," she smiled. "Hi, Hood. Looks like the new flavor is going over okay."

Every table in the shop was filled, although the flow of new customers had slowed down.

William looked appreciatively at Hood's pretty helper. "Finally, someone shows up that adds some sparkle to this dump." He winked at Hood.

"If you weren't such a permanent fixture in here, the shop would have a better atmosphere all the time," retorted Hood.

Patchwork Petal giggled. "You two always bicker like a couple of kids."

William snorted. "At my age, I'll take that as a compliment!"

Hood moved off to release Laser and Lacewing from their afternoon bondage. He was surprised when they turned down his offer of their choice of any dessert on the menu.

"No, thanks, Uncle Hood," they chorused. "We better get home."

Hood shook his head after them. "I thought they liked the ice cream," he puzzled as he watched the two run from the shop. "Well, hopefully Moonglow had a peaceful afternoon."

The after-work crowd was beginning to trickle in, so Hood returned to the counter and put his thoughts of family aside.

Chapter Four

It was several hours later when Hood was approached by his brother-in-law, Checker.

"What's up?" queried Hood as he peered around Checker, expecting to see Laser and Lacewing following close on his hooves. "Am I under arrest for abusing the child labor laws?"

Checker was the Chief of Police in Woodlawn, and he was well-respected by all the citizens for his bravery and his fairness. He slid onto a stool at the counter, and rubbed a hoof across his eyes as if it had been a bad day.

Hood became anxious. "What's wrong? Is Moonglow okay?"

"Oh, yes. She's fine. Thanks for taking the kids off her hooves this afternoon. She needed the rest."

"But that's not why you're here... to thank me."

"No. I wish that's all it was." He paused a moment before going on. "Hood, while Moonglow was asleep and Laser and Lacewing were here with you, someone snuck into our garden and took every blasted tomato that we had on the vine."

Hood stared at Checker unbelievingly. "You mean the scoundrel who hit Bugle and Bellflower sometime before morning was brazen enough to strike again in broad daylight?"

"I'm afraid so. And the darndest thing, Hood, is he leaves no evidence, no clues, no prints. This whole affair is getting downright spooky."

Hood didn't respond. Since spring, these freak thefts of nature's produce had been occurring in and around Woodlawn, yet no one ever saw or heard a thing to point a hoof at the culprit.

Finally, Hood asked, "Where do you go from here?"

"I'm stumped," admitted Checker. "This whole affair is uncanny, the way the perpetrator seems to be watching everyone all the time, waiting until the time is right for a strike."

"I took the kids for a walk today, just to see if there was anything out of the ordinary."


Hood felt a shiver run through his body. "I didn't see anything tangible. Yet, something's out there." He looked tensely at Checker. "I'm sure we were being watched."

Checker attempted to lighten their somber mood. "You sure Sparky wasn't following you?"

Sparky was the new recruit on the force and he had a newcomer's never ending commitment to duty, sometimes to the point of becoming a complete nuisance.

"I think he learned his lesson when he tried to arrest me for breaking and entering," Hood grinned. "It was my own house; I'd just forgotten my key."

For the first time since arriving, Checker smiled, too.

"How about the new flavor in a double-decker cone?" enticed Hood. "I'll even give you a relative's discount."

"Thanks, but not tonight. I'm going to head home and check things out again before dark. I just wanted you to know what happened before you heard a blown-up version of the truth."

"I appreciate that," Hood replied, a frown returning to his face. "Give everyone a hug for me."

"Will do, Hood," Checker waved and walked away.

Hood stared after him, mulling events over in his mind, until Patchwork Petal tapped him on the shoulder. "Hood? Hood?" she called, her perky disposition clouded with worry. "Did you get some bad news?"

Hood nodded his head. "Bad enough. Our town thief has struck again, and in broad daylight."

"Where now?"

"My sister's place," Hood informed her. "Patchwork, why can't we catch this fiend?"

"My brother says it's aliens," Patchwork Petal snickered. "But that's not possible... is it, Hood?"

"What's not possible?" asked Drumstick as he joined them behind the counter. "That I'm caught up on all the dirty dishes?"

Patchwork Petal punched him in the foreleg. "Who do you think is stealing all our food? You don't haunt gardens during the night, do you?"

Drumstick feigned disappointment. "You can't possibly blame me, Patchwork! I'm loyal, dependable, and..."

"And soon to be fired if you don't get back to work," reminded Hood jokingly. "Hop to it!"

"Yes, sir!" Drumstick responded and went off to wait on the pony pair who had just entered.

Patchwork Petal returned to clearing tables while Hood scanned the faces of the ponies in the shop. Was it possible that one of these friends and neighbors was behind the unexplained happenings plaguing Woodlawn? Hood shook his head. "I'd rather it were aliens," he whispered to himself.

To be continued next month...


Silver Swirl's Obligation or Silver Swirl's Obsession?
by Princess Silver Swirl (

Silver Swirl, unicorn princess of Friendship Gardens, was moping. To be exact, she was curled up in a window-seat, with a dragon by her side and a Mew on her head. She sighed deeply, causing two pairs of eyes to focus on her.

"You think about you-know-who, no?" asked the Mew slyly in halting English. Being a Pokèmon, English was not her first language.

"Am I that easy to read, or are you just perceptive?" the pony wondered.

"Both," teased a third voice, this one speaking directly into the minds of the other two. Its source, the dragon Jade, grinned mischievously. "Or else Melisande is just using her psychic powers."

"I am not!" replied the Mew indignantly. "I wouldn't intrude on someone's privacy like that."

"I know, I know," assured Jade. "But really, Silvie, you've been rather melancholy lately. Not that you don't have a good reason to be, of course..."

"If you ask me, it's the princess thing. You have too much time... how is it said... ah, yes, time on hooves." Silver Swirl grinned at Melisande's use of the expression. "If you have things to do, you not always think of this faraway pony."

"Hmm," mused Silver Swirl, "I do often feel guilty that we princesses are just living off of other ponies' taxes, especially when there are so many problems in the world. I wish there was something we could do for Friendship Gardens."

"I'm sure there is, if you seriously want to help," said pragmatic Jade. "It's certainly an admirable goal." She smiled a toothy dragon smile.

Silver Swirl was once again silent, but this time from thought rather than depression. Her quick mind was already planning ways she and her friends could do their part to make the world a better place.

* * *
At dinner the same evening, Silver Swirl was enthusiastic and bursting with her new idea. She broached the subject gently. "You know, I've been thinking..."

"Of course you have," interjected Princess Ivy. "What else would you be doing? You've hardly left the castle in days."

Silver Swirl sighed. "I have my reasons for what I do. Anyway, I was thinking about all of us royalty." She turned the last two words over in her mind, wondering if they were grammatically correct. "Queen Sun Sparkle rules over Friendship Gardens and protects the general welfare" (the said ruler smiled at Silver Swirl) "and other important things. The ordinary ponies have jobs. But we," her glance took in all of the princesses, "just sit around, pursue our hobbies, and look pretty. Not that that's so bad, but the other ponies are paying for it." She stopped talking to allow her words to sink in.

"What do you suggest we do, go out and get jobs?" questioned Princess Morning Glory.

"Actually, no," replied the unicorn, enjoying the attention of the others. "I was thinking more along the lines of volunteer work."

Princess Twinkle Star grinned. "That's just like you, Silv, trying to help out. But it's a good idea. Elaborate."

"Well," continued Silver Swirl, "I was thinking we could each find a charity to help in some way, or volunteer somewhere."

"Oooh, I could give a fashion show and donate the profits to charity!" enthused Ivy.

"Maybe I could entertain the baby ponies at the hospital," considered Trixiebelle. The other princesses buzzed to each other about various opportunities.

Silver Swirl smiled, radiant with happiness for the first time in a week. "So are we set for, maybe, next Tuesday?" she asked eagerly.

"Sure!" replied the others, not quite in unison but almost.

* * *
Silver Swirl twirled around her tower room. "I can't believe it! One of my plans to help save the world actually worked!" She stumbled and tripped over a toy Bulbasaur, getting up again without missing a beat. "What an auspicious occasion!"

"You know where you are going?" questioned Melisande.

"But of course! The Friendship Gardens Animal Shelter."

"Secret Tale runs it, doesn't she?" queried Jade.

Silver Swirl nodded and got the expression on her face that meant she had remembered something. "I'm going to find a phone and call her!" The unicorn flashed a smile and winked away. The two remaining beings grinned at each other, a grin that meant about twenty things at once. They had barely finished grinning when Silver Swirl returned.

"She was delighted at the offer of help, of course, and I'm all set for Tuesday," she responded, answering her friends' silent question. "I'm so glad I can help all those wonderful animals!"

"Hey," projected Jade, affecting a hurt look, "aren't we wonderful animals?"

Silver Swirl chuckled and hugged the little dragon. "Oh, Jade, you know you and Melisande mean everything to me. You're my family." Touched by the sentimental statement, Melisande floated over and joined in the hug. The little family of a unicorn, a dragon, and a Mew-- different in species but connected nonetheless-- had the same thought in their respective minds: how lucky they were to have each other.

* * *
Silver Swirl looked through her bag one last time. Treats? Check. Yarnballs? Check. Rubber toys? Check. "All set! See you at four!"

Melisande looked peevish. "Why we can't come?"

The unicorn sighed. "I don't want you or Jade getting hurt, or catching anything if an animal is sick, or being mistaken for the animals, or any other bad things like that."

Jade gave a skeptical glance. "But it doesn't matter if those things happen to you?" Silver Swirl smiled with a strange glow in her eyes.

"It's different for me. It's so much better for me to go through small discomfort for all those animals-- those animals..." Silver Swirl struggled to put in words the love and responsibility she felt for all of the creatures at the shelter, and finally settled on adding, "This is an obligation for me. I could never just stand by and let them go un-helped." The two other creatures nodded, not quite understanding but willing to believe. Silver Swirl waved and winked out of sight.

Silver Swirl materialized outside the Friendship Gardens Animal Shelter. She flipped her mane and pranced inside, where she was greeted by Secret Tale at the front desk.

"Hi!" exclaimed the red-and-purple-maned earth pony. "I'm so glad you came! So are the animals!"

Silver Swirl smiled broadly and displayed her bag. "I brought toys and treats for them. Let's go; I want to get started right away!" She skipped behind the other pony, who led her to a large area filled with animals. Silver Swirl gazed, delighted, while Secret Tale began to talk.

"Well. The cats are getting groomed right now, the dog cages are being washed, the rabbits and guinea pigs are being played with, and food is being prepared. Which would you like to do?"

Silver Swirl looked eagerly towards the adorable rabbits and guinea pigs; she loved playing with animals. However, duty was duty... "What do you need the most help with?"

"Probably the dog cages," replied Secret Tale, "but you can do something else if you prefer."

"No, no, that's fine," assured Silver Swirl and rushed off to start scrubbing.

* * *
Four dog cages later, Silver Swirl mopped her brow and grinned. "Done!"

Wingsong, another worker, grinned back. "Great. Would you mind helping us set them up for the dogs-- you know, with cushions and such?"

The volunteering princess agreed readily and made the cages extra homelike and comfortable, adding one of the toys she had brought to each one. She thought of the dogs' happiness in discovering new playthings, and felt herself smiling yet again-- or was it one smile that had been on her face all day?

"May I go meet the animals?" she requested of Wingsong.

"Sure, go right ahead!"

Silver Swirl winked over to the dogs. Sniffing the treats in her bag, they rushed toward her. She sank to her knees and proceeded to give them her gifts. A horrible sadness mixed with her joy as she hugged a little collie. They were such nice animals, and they needed homes so badly. What could she do? Her eyes wandered toward the cats and she had an idea.

"Hey!" she called to Hip Holly, who was grooming the felines. "Do you have any purebreds over there?"

"Let me check," the translucent pony shouted back. "Um... yeah, we've got a little Maine Coon. Very docile; he'd make a great pet. And he's already gotten all his shots!"

"Can I use your phone?" Hip Holly nodded and tossed Silver Swirl a cellular phone. The unicorn caught it (but just barely!) and dialed Tabby's number.

"Hello, Tabby. Can I have Tamara's number? I found a purebred cat here at the shelter. Okay, thanks." She quickly dialed another number.

"Hi, Tamara? This is Silver Swirl. I'm at the animal shelter and there's a little purebred cat here, a Maine Coon. I was wondering if you would be interested... yes, Hip Holly says he's really sweet, and he's gotten all his shots. Really? This afternoon? Great! Bye!" She hung up and tossed the phone back to Hip Holly. "Tamara says she'll come see the cat this afternoon."

"That's fantastic!" bubbled the other pony. "Nothing makes us happier than when a pet gets adopted!"

Silver Swirl nodded enthusiastically. She was glowing inside. The cat would be one more animal with a good home if Tamara adopted him. She, Silver Swirl, would have perhaps saved a life. If that wasn't helping, nothing was!

* * *
When Silver Swirl winked home for dinner, tired but jubilant, she was greeted by all the other inhabitants. Everyone headed for dinner (most had worked up quite an appetite) and they went around in a circle, recounting the day's experiences. Ivy showed off a gorgeous lilac dress and confided the very large amount of money her fashion show had earned. Morning Glory passed around pictures of how lovely the park looked-- she had cleaned up all the litter and planted some new flowers, as well as repainted the benches. Trixiebelle had entertained the sick baby ponies a great deal; they had enjoyed her jokes and tricks and been excited at meeting "a real princess". Crystal and Twinkle Star described how they had made and delivered meals to housebound ponies, and Silver Swirl reported on her work at the shelter, including how pleased Tamara seemed with her new cat. Everywhere the princesses had gone, other ponies had expressed gratitude and admiration.

"So, same places tomorrow?" suggested Silver Swirl. The other ponies looked surprised. "Making the world a better place doesn't happen in a day, you know," she reminded.

"I guess I could see if the Dream Valley Park needs tidying up," agreed Morning Glory.

"Maybe I could give a jewelry show!" considered Ivy. Crystal, Twinkle Star and Trixiebelle approved the plan as well.

"Terrific!" declared Silver Swirl, and winked away to her tower room. She then winked back, cleared her plate and glass, and disappeared once more amid giggles.

Jade and Melisande were waiting in the tall east tower and delighted to see Silver Swirl again. "So, how was it?" projected Jade.

"Oh, it was great," replied Silver Swirl, removing her hair clips from her mane as she gazed out at the mountains through the window. "I'm going back tomorrow. And guess what; I found a purebred cat, and Tamara adopted it! Isn't that wonderful?"

"Very good," approved Melisande. "I am happy that the cat has home."

Silver Swirl yawned (which set off yawns from her two friends) and quickly brushed her teeth. The three creatures said good night to each other, Melisande used her psychic powers to turn off the light, and they all went to bed. Instead of tossing and turning as she usually did, the unicorn fell asleep within a few minutes.

* * *
Everything went well the next day at the animal shelter. Secret Tale and the other workers were quite pleased to see Silver Swirl return. The princess greeted the animals, many of which she remembered, and went straight to work. Cupcake gave lessons on how to make "gourmet pet food", which really did smell appetizing to Silver Swirl. Winking proved to be very useful in serving many animals swiftly. Millie the guinea pig's nails needed clipping, and Silver Swirl held her still during the process. The nervous animal gave the unicorn a couple of scratches, but nothing serious, and the marks felt like badges of honor to Silver Swirl-- they seemed to prove she truly cared about the animals.

Flash entered the shelter, contemplating the addition of a rabbit to her household. Silver Swirl spoke as persuasively as she could, singing the praises of a sweet little lop-eared bunny. To her supreme delight, Flash left the shelter with the rabbit, whom she named Snuffles.

Silver Swirl's mood was joyous when she came back to the castle. Once again, the princesses shared their stories, and once again Silver Swirl suggested that they return to their places of volunteering the next day.

"But I don't have any new fashions left!" protested Ivy.

"Oh, I guess you'd better take the day off," replied Silver Swirl.

"Um, Silv, there aren't really any more parks nearby to clean," explained Morning Glory. She had a worried look in her eyes.

"Oh," replied Silver Swirl. "Well, how about the rest of you?"

"I have a drum lesson tomorrow," said Twinkle Star very quietly. Silver Swirl looked at her friend, but the pegasus' gaze was lowered towards the floor.

"I'd planned to visit a friend," Crystal fidgeted with the pink part of her mane as she spoke.

"You know, I've been feeling really tired," Trixiebelle's voice was much less cheerful than usual.

"Oh." Silver Swirl then did what she had done the previous night, winking away, reappearing to clear her things, and winking off again-- only this time, there were no giggles.

* * *
"They just gave up!" Silver Swirl raged to her friends in the tower. She paced around the small room, stopping to smile sadly at a photograph of a filly, clearly a younger version of Silver Swirl, standing beside a colt.

"Not every pony has the time to volunteer every day," was Jade's response.

"But it's only been two days! Don't they care about helping and being good ponies? I'll show them all! I'm going to volunteer every day!" The Mew and the dragon exchanged worried looks as the unicorn punched the pillow with her hoof and hurled herself into bed.

Being Silver Swirl (in other words, as stubborn as an ox), she kept her word. Every day she appeared at the shelter, working quietly and efficiently. She still smiled at the animals, but the only thing that seemed to make her truly happy was when a pony came in and adopted a pet. She was too busy with her mission to notice that the other princesses seemed to be avoiding her. When she talked to them, the subject was always how well things were going with the animals and how happy volunteering made her. She was exhausted at the end of each day, barely having time to talk with Jade or Melisande. If she had dreams, they were about the animals.

"Are you happy?" Melisande asked one day.

"Of course I'm happy! Can't you see how much good I'm doing? I think I've really been making a difference." She then proceeded to speak of a dog who had gotten a cold.

That night, after Silver Swirl fell asleep, Jade and Melisande had a conversation.

"This is very bad," Melisande intoned solemnly. "Silver Swirl needs help. She needs... she needs..." she tried to find the right words.

"She needs to learn that too much of anything is unhealthy, and that she doesn't need to spend every moment volunteering to be a good pony," Jade finished. "I think I know just who can teach her that. Melisande, the three of us are going on a little trip to the beach tomorrow." The small dragon curled up and closed her eyes, leaving the Mew to wonder what her friend had planned.

* * *
When Silver Swirl woke up the next morning, Jade was perched beside the princess's bed.

"I called Secret Tale and told her that you wouldn't be coming today," the dragon informed. "You need a day off, and there's someone I'd like you to meet."

"You what?!" gasped Silver Swirl. "Jade, how could you? I have to go today; the animals need me! Oh, Jade, you know how important this is to me!"

Jade looked into the unicorn's eyes. "Silvie, a while ago you said that Melisande and I are your family. If you still believe that, please let us, as your family, help you." Silver Swirl sighed and nodded. Melisande hopped onto her Silver Swirl's head and Jade sat on her back.

"Wink to the Friendship Beach," Jade instructed, "and I'll tell you where to go after that." The three disappeared from the tower room.

Friendship Beach had an air of tranquility that morning. A few seagulls circled overhead, shells were scattered over the sand, and a sea-green pony was frolicking in the waves. Jade immediately flew to the pony; and Silver Swirl, using her magical power of flight, followed.

"Seabreeze," Jade addressed the other pony, "I would like you to meet Princess Silver Swirl."

Seabreeze's green eyes twinkled. "Pleased to meet you," she said, and she did seem genuinely pleased. Silver Swirl couldn't help smiling.

"Jade thinks I need a day off," the unicorn explained. "I guess she wants me to spend it here." The dragon nodded and Seabreeze laughed.

"Well then, what do you want to do first? We could swim, or build sand castles, or look for seashells, or just sleep in the sunlight..."

The two ponies, the dragon and the Mew did all that and more. When it was time to leave, Silver Swirl felt refreshed and, in a strange way, healed. Jade suggested that they fly back to the castle instead of winking.

"Okay, Silvie," Jade said once they were on their way. Silver Swirl sighed; she knew that a lecture was coming. "Did Seabreeze seem like a happy pony?"

"Yes," replied Silver Swirl.

"Did she seem like a good pony?"


"Did she make any mention of volunteer work?"


"Do you understand the point I'm trying to make?"


Jade continued anyway. "Too much of anything, even helping, isn't healthy. You don't need to spend every minute volunteering to be a wonderful pony. And every pony helps in his or her own way-- don't try to force others to do things your way."

"What do you want me to do?" asked the unicorn humbly.

"I think you should only work at the shelter five days a week, and I would suggest apologizing to the other princesses for putting pressure on them."

"Okay," said Silver Swirl. "I do have a question, though. How do you know Seabreeze so well?"

"Seabreeze and I are sisters," answered Jade softly.

Silver Swirl blinked. "How exactly does that work?"

"I used to be a pony," Jade explained patiently. "It seems that my special power is to transform into a dragon. However, I'm not sure if I can change back."

"How come you never told me?" Silver Swirl questioned.

The dragon sighed. "I was afraid that your expectations of me would change when you found out."

"Oh," said Silver Swirl awkwardly. The rest of the flight was silent.

* * *
Silver Swirl apologized to the other princesses, and they didn't seem to be angry. Many of them had plans to volunteer again in the future, anyway.

Silver Swirl made a quick phone call before going to bed that night, and she fell asleep truly happy.


The Adventure of Baby North Star and Baby Brother Bright Bouquet
by Baby Steamer (

One morning, Baby North Star woke up excited. This was the day her mommy and daddy promised that she could go on a picnic with her friend, Baby Brother Bright Bouquet. She got up and put on her favorite sundress that her mommy had given her for Christmas.

Baby North Star then went down to breakfast; and when she got there, she found a hot plate of pancakes with whipped cream and a cherry. "WOW!" she exclaimed. "What's the occasion?"

"Well, I heard that some baby ponies are going on a picnic today by themselves," her mommy, North Star, answered, smiling. "The cherry was your father's idea," she continued.

"You can't have whipped cream without a cherry," said Steamer, also smiling.

Baby North Star then hugged her parents. "Thank you so much," she said.

"You better eat them before they get cold," said Mama North Star. Baby North Star then sat down to eat her special breakfast.

* * *
Meanwhile, Baby Brother Bright Bouquet had just woken up excited for the same reason. He, too, got up and dressed nicely; and then went down to breakfast. He had a similar conversation with his parents as Baby North Star had, and then left to pick-up his friend.

* * *
Back at Baby North Star's house, Baby North Star was just finishing getting ready to go to the park when there was a knock at the door. When Steamer answered, he found Baby Brother Bright Bouquet there to pick-up Baby North Star.

Smiling, Steamer said, "Hi, Baby Brother; Baby North Star is almost ready." He then called up the stairs, "Baby North Star, Baby Brother Bright Bouquet is here."

"Be right down," called Baby North Star.

Steamer then went into the living room where Baby Brother Bright Bouquet was waiting. "She'll be down in a minute," he said. "Why don't you sit down and make yourself at home?"

So Baby Brother Bright Bouquet sat and waited. In a few minutes, Baby North Star came down. "Hi," she greeted him. "Ready?"

Baby Brother Bright Bouquet nodded and carried the picnic basket he had brought along. On their way to the park, they met up with Baby North Star's daddy's friend, Moondancera. "Hi, Moondancera, how're you?"

Moondancera looked up from the book she was reading. "Hi, you two," she greeted them. "Where are you two off to?"

Baby North Star smiled. "We're going to the park to have a picnic," she responded.

"Well, I hope your parents know where you are," cautioned Moondancera.

Baby North Star nodded excitedly. "Yup, they know," she said.

"Okay, well, have fun," said Moondancera; and with that, Baby North Star and Baby Brother Bright Bouquet went to the park to have their picnic with a final "We will!" to Moondancera.


Return to Flutter Valley
Part One: The Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverer... Pony?
by Vixie (

The knock on the front door was shortly answered by a lavender-bodied earth pony. "Oh, good morning, Vixie!" Stepping aside to let her in and closing the door behind her, Mariposa smiled brightly at her long-time friend. "How are you today?"

The drabber colored mare handed Mariposa a rolled up newspaper, still slightly warm from the printing press. "I'm doing great. Here's today's paper; I just thought I'd drop it off for you before I headed home for the day."

Mariposa gave Vixie a quizzical look. "But we received it already..."

"I know, but I just thought you'd like to be the first to hear the news." Vixie moved to the kitchen counter and began making a pot of coffee. It was still rather early in the morning, only about seven o' clock. "I believe you'll be interested by the article on the front page."

Mariposa blinked and glanced down at the now unrolled paper in her hooves. On the front, in rather bold letters, read, "Cherry Pastures Evacuated Safely; Volcano Erupted as Predicted." Below the text was the image of a huge volcano spewing an enormous column of roiling ash high into the gray sky.

Looking up wide-eyed, Mariposa gasped. "Cherry Pastures? That's where Meio was sent!"

Nodding, Vixie took the paper from her friend's hooves and turned to the article page. "Professor Meio of Pony Pride University's dire prediction of Mount Horn's eruption date was heeded by the populace of Cherry Pastures, a large city some twenty miles from the once believed dormant volcano. The entire city was evacuated just four hours after the announcement was made public, and at eleven that night the volcano belched forth ash, spreading fist-sized debris as far as forty miles away. Ash-fall of up to a foot is predicted in the following cities..." Vixie trailed off, scanning the page for any more useful information.

Letting herself sink into a stray kitchen chair, Mariposa grinned broadly. "You know what this means, Vixie?"

Looking up from the paper, Vixie smiled along with her friend. "That your husband just got the grant money to start his project."

Sighing with relief, Mariposa felt weeks of stress melt from her tense shoulders. Meio had been trying for months to get a sufficient grant set up so he could travel to ancient volcanoes and document their life cycle. He felt that by better knowing this information, it could be more accurately predicted as to where to place towns in the future. But all his petitions had gone unheeded. He had been called away to Cherry Pastures two weeks before, being promised a sizable reward if he could explain why there had been a rash of earthquakes in the area. It had been his last chance before money ran out, causing him to find both a new home for his family and a new line of work. Apparently, he had succeeded.

"Will you be able to handle his being away, though?" Vixie asked with concern, sitting down across from her friend with a fresh cup of coffee.

Turning this new thought over in her head, Mariposa chewed on her lower lip. "I'm quite used to him not being around much; but you're right, he'd be away even more now..."

Her thoughts were interrupted by yet another knock at the front door. Both mares glanced at each other, a mischievous grin lighting their faces. It was about that time in the morning for a visit from...

"It's a Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverer!" Mariposa called with glee as she glanced through the glass panes on the door. Opening it, she smiled brightly at the gray-clad figure before her. "Good morning!"

"Delivery for you," he said simply, handing her two boxes of different sizes. Not waiting for a thank-you, he turned and walked back to the street, crossing to another house.

"Oh, I love getting flowers!" Mariposa squealed with delight. Even though she ran a flower shop herself, it was a rare occasion that any were given to her. Setting the smaller of the two boxes on the table, she read the note attached to the larger one. " ‘Dear wife: Though I'm far away, my thoughts still linger on you. I just thought a gift was in order for the ones that bring love to my life. I'll be home soon. Love, Meio.' " she read aloud. Inside the box were a dozen tiger lilies, Mariposa's favorite.

Sighing romantically, Vixie giggled. "I think you'll do just fine with him away."

"If he keeps sending me presents, I'll do great!" Mariposa laughed. Quickly she fixed up the bouquet in a vase on the table. Taking a step back, she took in the view. "I wonder how I came across such a wonderful stallion."

"Well, if you ever figure it out, share the secret," Vixie said with a wink. She looked up at the patter of four little hooves coming into the kitchen. They belonged to the baby of the house, Baby Tenderheart.

The little pony yawned and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "Goo' mornin', Mama," she said cutely, giving her mother a hug. "Hi, Vissie," she greeted the mare seated behind her at the table. Then her eyes fell upon the bright flowers on the table, and the little box sitting there. Shrieking with delight, much like her mother had done a few minutes before, she quickly clamored to the table and pulled the box to her. "Dada gave me flowwas!" Giggling happily, the pony smelled the three pretty irises which were to be found inside the box.

After preparing the flowers in their own little vase, which was a substituted glass cup, the three ponies set about making breakfast. Vixie was invited to stay, and she accepted. She prepared toast while Mariposa cooked some eggs and bacon, and Baby Tenderheart helped out by carefully pouring three glasses of milk. Soon, they were all sitting at the kitchen table, munching away at breakfast and talking about the volcano.

"I guess there used to be an old volcano not far from where Dream Castle was fabled to be located, but all that's left there is a rocky hill," Vixie was saying. "I've been there on a trip with an archeologist one time, for a historical article in the Gazette."

Mari collected the plates with a perplexed look on her face. "I wonder what happened to the old ponies. There's all kinds of stories about them, and we've even found some ruins, but nothing in our history tells exactly what happened..."

Baby Tenderheart was only half listening to what the adults were saying. Instead, her attention was on the dark figure that was presently walking by the house. "Mama, where does the mysterries cwoked flowwa dewwiverer live?" she asked loudly, interrupting the conversation the adults were having.

Both mares turned and looked out the kitchen window, following the gaze of the toddler. "Why... I don't know, Baby Tenderheart..." Mariposa answered after a moment.

Turning her big green eyes up to her mother's blue, Baby Tenderheart asked innocently, "Why?"

Exchanging nervous glances with Vixie, Mariposa hesitated a moment. "Well... because... uh..."

"Because no one has ever followed one to find out," Vixie said suddenly, realizing her own curiosity was being perked.

Again, the all-imposing question that troubles the minds of all youngsters was asked. "Why?"

Mariposa, completely stumped about what to say, answered somewhat shamefully, "I don't know."

Baby Tenderheart nodded understandingly, making her foam green locks dance. "Otay." Standing, she left the room. Returning a moment later holding her jacket, the baby looked up at her mother. "Me be back."

Raising her eyebrows, Mariposa smiled. "And where do you think you're going, little one?"

Calmly walking to the door and opening it with little difficulty, Baby Tenderheart answered nonchalantly, "I'm gonna follow da mysterries cwoked flowwa dewwiverer an see where he lives."

Startling, Mariposa put her hoof on the doorknob. "No, Baby Tenderheart. Why don't you come into the living room and color some pictures with me?"

"Why not, Mari?" Vixie asked suddenly, an impish grin playing on her face.

Casting her friend a glare, Mari tried to find a good reason why not too. "Because..."

"Pweeze, Mama?" the little pony pleaded, tears forming at the edges of her thick eyelashes. A tantrum was about to ensue if she refused, Mariposa realized regretfully.

Vixie stood and opened the door the rest of the way. "Why not, Mari? We have nothing better to do today." Looking down at Baby Tenderheart, she added, "And besides, it's a very good question."

Letting out a sigh, Mariposa accepted defeat. "All right, why not? Come on, we might have already lost him."

"Huwway!" cheered Baby Tenderheart, and she skipped out the front door before the two mares could say another word.

Laughing, Mariposa closed and locked the kitchen door. "You two are insufferable."

"Why?" asked Vixie, emulating Baby Tenderheart's voice.

The trio dashed down the street, trying to gain some distance between them and the shrinking figure of the deliverer in the distance. It was still rather early in the morning, and the air contained the nip of spring cold. Birds chirped all around them, talking to each other about the quality of the birdseed and the brightness of the clear blue sky. In almost no time at all, they had followed the cloaked man out of town and onto a faint animal track leading into the Dark Forest.

The trail led deep into the woods, past groves of lush green grasses and vibrant wild flowers. At one point, Vixie stooped and examined a patch of soft earth where she had seen the mysterious cloaked flower deliverer step. "There isn't a footprint," she said in surprise, straightening herself and looking at Mariposa. Her friend shrugged, not knowing what it meant.

"Maybe that's why this trail is so light?" Mariposa suggested as they continued their trek.

About mid-day they came across a raspberry bush, and collected armfuls. They munched on these as they walked, grateful of the forest's relative coolness. "How much further could it possibly be?" Mariposa wondered aloud.

Suddenly there was a break in the trees as they made a turn on the path, and they stood at the head of a large clearing. A water mill stood at one end, with a huge waterwheel treading the surface of the river that rushed through the center of the clearing. "Oh, look at all da flowwas!" Baby Tenderheart said happily, her eyes wide as they surveyed the abundant growth of bachelor buttons, flax, sunflowers, and Indian paintbrush.

"It's so beautiful!" Mariposa agreed, taking just as much delight in the scenery.

But Vixie had a curious look on her face. "But this can't be where they grow their own flowers."

Tearing her gaze from the view before them, Mariposa looked at her friend. "Why not?"

"Because I don't see any of the species that they usually deliver," Vixie said, carefully watching the movements of the water mill. There seemed to be at least a dozen mysterious cloaked flower deliverers living there, for there were that many meandering about the outside of the wooden structure. None of them took any notice of the arrival of strangers to the apparent headquarters of the mysterious organization.

"That's right! I don't see any irises or lilies or roses..." Mariposa exclaimed, examining the meadow with a fresh look.

Baby Tenderheart gasped. "Mama, look! Who's dat?" Looking to where the toddler was pointing, all three ponies watched as another cloaked and hooded figure stepped out of the woods, following a path by the river. This one carried himself differently... partly because he walked on four legs.

"A pony?" Vixie breathed, raising her eyebrows.

"I wonder who he is..." Mariposa whispered quietly.

They watched as the pony, which they realized was pulling a covered cart, went to the mill and appeared to be talking to one of the other cloaked figures. Another went to the cart and pulled off the cloth that had been over it. Hundreds of bright flowers were inside, and the flower deliverers started to unload them. "There are so many!" Mariposa whispered.

The pony, after making his delivery, exchanged shakes with the cloaked figures to whom he was speaking. Turning, he walked to the river, and bent to take a drink. His hood slipped off his head as he straightened...

"It's a she?!" Vixie exclaimed in shock. Her voice echoed embarrassingly through the meadow. The pony, which was a dark red color with a cream-colored mane, snapped to the direction of Vixie's voice. Letting out a shriek of fear, the pony turned and ran. The action caused the cloak to come undone about her, and fall to the ground. Revealed were a delicate pair of phosphorescent wings, and a very slim body. In a flash, the beautiful creature had disappeared from hence she came.

Mariposa's jaw hung slack. "It couldn't be..."


The Ghost of Box Five
Chapter Five
by Masquerade (

Just before the performance, everyone backstage was nervous. The ballet fillies chattered among themselves and Windsong paced back and forth trying to remember her parts. "Don't worry, Windsong. You always are wonderful on stage. I don't think you've ever made a mistake during a show," said Madame Moondancer in an effort to comfort Windsong.

"Thanks. You always seem to know what to say to make me feel better," said Windsong. Madame Moondancer smiled and then left to deal with her ballet fillies, who were making quite a lot of noise back stage. Windsong stopped pacing and was now reading the script when young Moondancer came dancing over to her.

"The show is sold out! I think that almost every famous pony I can think of is here! Is the ghost going to be here?" she asked.

"Ssshhhh!" scolded Windsong. "I told you not to mention him here! If you must know, though, yes, he'll be watching from box five," she answered. Then Madame Moondancer called out to her daughter to join up with the other dancers.

"Oh, well, gotta go. Have a good show, Windsong!" said young Moondancer, who pirouetted over to the other ballet dancers.

Soon, the performers were called to their places as the curtain would go up in only five minutes. By then, Windsong was excited and actually looking forward to her performance. As this would be one of the last two times that Nocturne would hear her, she planned to sing her heart out for him. After all, if it wasn't for him, she'd still be in the ballet chorus.

The first act went beautifully and the crowd applauded wildly when the curtain went down during the intermission. Backstage, everyone was in a good mood. Everyone was doing fine; no one had missed a cue or a line, and no one had heard anyone sing like Windsong had that evening! Even the jealous Coloratura came over and complemented Windsong.

The fifteen minute break in between acts was soon over and the final act began. Windsong sang the first song in this act and noticed Prince Blizzard smiling at her all during the song, and a few times she smiled back. Windsong was certainly having the performance of her life, but then everything changed.

The lights in the entire opera went off for about ten seconds; and when they came back on, Windsong was nowhere to be seen!

"She must have fallen through a trap door!" someone called out from the wings of the stage. Prince Blizzard jumped up onto the stage and went frantically searching for Windsong. It was a scene of total confusion.

* * *
Meanwhile, below the opera house, Windsong was being taken back down to Nocturne's house on the lake. "Why are you doing this?" she asked when she finally realized that it was Nocturne who had taken her from the stage. There was no answer to Windsong's question, only silence. The mysterious pony continued to pull Windsong along the path and then into the boat.

Eventually, the two of them were in his home and only then did he let go of Windsong. She immediately ran from Nocturne to the opposite side of the room. He turned and glared at her and then finally spoke. "So you planned on leaving your Nocturne, did you? Well then, it's nice that you could come and visit me here before you run away with the handsome prince," he said sadly.

Windsong was shocked at his words; he knew that she'd planned to leave all along. Then he walked up to her, but Windsong didn't try to run away. Nocturne focused his gaze at her neck and said calmly, "That's a pretty ring you have on your necklace."

Windsong looked down and saw that her engagement ring from Blizzard now hung in plain sight for anyone to see. With that, she ran into the room that was kept for her and locked herself inside. She heard Nocturne's voice from behind the door. "I'm sorry that the ring I got you isn't as pretty as the one from the prince." Just as he'd said those words, she noticed a shiny gold object lying on her pillow. She went over and saw that is was a plain gold ring. Then Nocturne spoke again. "Perhaps you will like the dress I picked out for you better, though," he said and then she could hear him walk away from the door.

A dress? For what? Windsong tried to figure out what he was talking about and went over the closet to see if she'd find an answer there. She swung open its doors and there, hanging before her, was her answer-- it was the most beautiful wedding dress that she'd ever seen in her life. She gasped aloud when she saw it and then realized that the plain gold ring was meant as a wedding ring. "Oh no!" she gasped and felt like crying. She moved slowly over to the bed and sat there in shock, not knowing what to do. She actually stayed there like that for nearly an hour and then was brought back to her senses by a knock at the door.

"Windsong, my dearest, you're rather quiet in there. Are you alright? Did you try on the dress?" Nocturne asked. Windsong got up and opened the door. "Oh, you haven't," he said disappointedly when he saw her.

"Of course I haven't," Windsong said.

"Do you not like it?" he asked.

"It's the most beautiful dress I've ever seen," she answered.

"What's wrong, then?" Nocturne asked.

"I can't marry you," Windsong told him.

"Why?" he asked and then there was a long pause, as Windsong was scared to answer. After Nocturne saw that Windsong wasn't going to say anything, he answered his own question. "You don't love me," he sadly said as his eyes welled up in tears. Then he walked away from her and sat in a corner by his fireplace.

Windsong stood watching him from the doorway of her room and felt her own eyes begin to water. What was she to do?

* * *
Back above the ground in the opera house, Blizzard and many others were still searching for the missing Windsong. A search party had been made and they went searching the area around the outside of the opera house for clues. Blizzard was in a terrible state and sat on the floor trying to figure out what had occurred.

Young Moondancer came up and spoke to him. "Your highness, I think I know what's happened," she said.

Blizzard's head shot up. "What? You know? Please tell me!" he begged.

"It's the opera ghost that's taken Windsong," Moondancer said.

"You silly filly. Don't you know there are no ghosts?" Blizzard said.

"Well, maybe he's not a real ghost, but he acts like one. He lives deep below the opera house in one of the underground levels," young Moondancer said.

"Oh, and I suppose that Windsong and this ghost are great friends," the prince said sarcastically.

"Well, not exactly. I-I don't really know. I do know, though, that he's the one that's been teaching Windsong to sing. I also know that he is very jealous of you. I think he loves Windsong," she said and then let out a yelp as she saw someone in the shadows. "Oh, no! It's him!" she yelled.

"No, no! It's me," said the pony in the shadows. It turned out to only be the mother of young Moondancer. "You must believe what my daughter has told you," said Madame Moondancer.

"What? You mean this is all true?" asked the bewildered prince, and the two unicorns nodded. Blizzard got up off the floor and stomped his hoof. "I knew Windsong was trying to hide something. She told me to trust her and that she'd eventually tell me what was going on. I never should have let her stay here. I should have made her leave with me yesterday when we had the chance. Now she's in danger and it's my fault."

Madame Moondancer and young Moondancer exchanged looks. "I don't know if I'd really say that she's in danger, your highness. I believe that if he'd wanted to hurt her, he would have done so long before now," Madame Moondancer said.

"I hope you're right. Now, what do we do to find this ghost, or monster, or whatever he is?" the prince asked.

"I'm not exactly sure, but I do have an idea," said young Moondancer. Then she beckoned her mother and the prince to follow her as she led them to Windsong's dressing room.

When they got there, young Moondancer immediately approached the giant mirror in the room. "Windsong told me that the mirror would open, sort-of like a door, and then there were passages behind it that led to where the ghost lives."

Prince Blizzard stepped up to the glass and tapped on it in a few places. "Now, how do we open it? We can't exactly ask Windsong," he said as he searched for a button, knob, or a lever of some sort that might open the mirror.

The three searched for awhile around the mirror but couldn't figure it out. Then young Moondancer looked over at a light fixture on the wall and noticed something odd. "Hey, I think I've found something," she said as she looked at a lever-type thing that was just under the lamp holder. She reached up and tried to pull the lever, but it wouldn't budge. Blizzard pushed the young ballerina aside and tried the lever himself. It was very stiff, but it was starting to move. Suddenly, the lever clicked down, and the three ponies gasped as the mirror swung open.

"We did it!" cried Blizzard. He took a few steps forward and started down the passageway in front of him. Young Moondancer went to follow him, but her mother held her back.

"No, Moondancer. I know that Windsong is your friend, but this is something that the prince must do alone," said Madame Moondancer very sternly.

"Yes, Mother. Just let me give him a bit of advice," said the younger of the two unicorns as she trotted up the prince. "Windsong said that these passages lead to the lake that's under the opera house. Then you'll have to cross it, and the ghost's home is on the other side. I wish you success, your highness," said young Moondancer. Then she bowed to him and went back to join her mother.

"We'll keep an eye on the dressing room until you return, with Windsong," said Madame Moondancer as the prince disappeared into the shadows.

It was quite dark, but Blizzard did have a small lantern with him. As he crept along the way, he marveled at how well-built the passages were. "This ghost must be a real genius to build this and the mirror," he said to himself. Then he began thinking about Windsong, hoping that she was alright.

* * *
All this time, Nocturne stayed in front of the fireplace, staring into the flames. Windsong, too, was still standing in the doorway, watching him. Finally, she gathered up her courage and went over to him. She knelt down beside him and spoke to him. "I'm so sorry if I've hurt you, Nocturne. That wasn't what I wanted to do, especially after all you've done for me. I can't stay here, though," she said and then stopped for a moment before continuing. "I told Prince Blizzard that I would marry him. He wants to leave the city with me and live somewhere else," she explained, even though she knew that Nocturne had already overheard her conversation with the prince.

Nocturne looked at her with the saddest look she'd ever seen. "If you leave the opera forever, it will certainly be the end for me."

* * *
Blizzard had been walking in the passages for what seemed like an hour when he finally saw the glimmer of the lake up ahead. He was glad to see it, but not too happy to find that the boat was on the opposite side. "I'll have to swim, I guess," he said. Without a moment's hesitation, he jumped into the water, which thankfully wasn't too cold. In a few minutes, he'd reached the other side and shook some of the water off of himself. Then he continued down one more passageway which took him directly to the ghost's lair, where he hoped he would find Windsong safe and sound.

He stood tall in front of a solid wood door and banged loudly on it. Windsong's head shot up in surprise at the sound of the knock. "Are you in there, ghost? Whatever you've done to Windsong, I demand that you let her go!" yelled Blizzard from the other side of the door.

"Blizzard!" shrieked Windsong. "You see, Nocturne! He's come to save me."

Nocturne's mood changed into an angry one as he rose to open the door. Before he opened it, though, he turned towards Windsong. "You told him where I live? You betrayed me!" he said in a very upset manner.

"No, I swear I didn't," Windsong said.

"Really? Well, he certainly didn't end up at my doorstep by accident!" Nocturne said.

"Honest, Nocturne. I never told him."

"ENOUGH! I don't know what to believe anymore. Really, Windsong. You act sometimes like you care about me, and then you totally turn on me and betray me. Is this how you repay your teacher?" he demanded. Windsong almost cried and then heard Blizzard again banging at the door.

"I know you're in there, you beast. I can hear you. Let Windsong free!"

Nocturne suddenly swung the door open and stood staring at the prince. "Beast, am I? So, Windsong, you also told him how good looking I was, as well as where I live."

"No! I didn't," Windsong said once again. She wanted to run to Blizzard, but Nocturne blocked the way. Blizzard looked at her with relief when he saw her.

"Windsong, are you alright? Are you hurt?" Blizzard asked.

"Hurt?" said Nocturne as he turned to the prince. "You think that I would hurt her? I would never do anything to harm her! You, on the other hand-- I should have gotten rid of you a long time ago!"

"Don't hurt Blizzard!" Windsong protested.

"I'm sorry, that's not quite what I meant," said Nocturne. "Last month he was to go on a desert expedition. I should have made you tell him to go. He would have been out of my way for at least a few years. By then, you would have forgotten all about him, Windsong, and we could both have been happy."

Blizzard laughed. "What? How could Windsong possibly be happy with someone like you? She wants to live in a beautiful castle, not the bottom of an opera house! I have the riches to give Windsong anything she could ever want. And besides, who wants to be married to someone who needs to hide behind a mask?" he said as he suddenly lunged towards Nocturne, pulled his mask off, and threw it across the room. "Oh, my word!" Blizzard said in shock when he got a look at Nocturne's disfigured face.

Nocturne let out a shriek and turned away, trying to hide his face, especially from Windsong. Blizzard held onto Nocturne's cloak, though, so he couldn't totally turn away. "Windsong, look at this... this monster. Do you think anything so ugly could really love you or anything else, for that matter?"

Windsong stood staring and was speechless. She couldn't believe the hurtful words that had just been said by Blizzard. She knew that those words had hurt Nocturne just as much as if Blizzard had hit him. Then Nocturne managed to tear away from Blizzard's grip, softly fell to the floor, and crawled to his mask.

"Windsong, come on! Now's our chance to get out of here!" Blizzard said and he reached for Windsong. She hesitated to leave but followed him when he took hold of her hoof and pulled her out of the house and towards the boat by the lake.

"No! Don't go!" pleaded Nocturne, but they didn't stop.

When they reached the shore and saw that Nocturne wasn't following, Blizzard stopped to give Windsong a big hug. "I'm so glad you're all right! I was so worried about you. Now you're safe, though." Windsong was still in a daze and was silent.

As Blizzard pulled the boat from the shore, Windsong sat staring at the house and suddenly heard Nocturne's sad voice carried across the water. "Windsong, I love you!" She sat in the boat and heard Nocturne's words over and over in her mind until Blizzard spoke up.

"We'll be so happy together, Windsong. We'll live in one of my family's palaces far, far away. Far from here and far from any theater or opera house," the prince said. Windsong suddenly came back to reality.

"What? Far from a theater? Where am I going to sing? What about my career?" Windsong asked.

"Career? You don't need a career now. I'll take care of you from now on. Anyway, a prince can't have his wife spending all her time at an opera house. She must live in the palace with him. If it makes you feel better, you can sing for me sometimes, if you like," he said.

"I'm just going stay in the palace?"

"Well, not totally, but that's where we'll spend a lot of our time. We will have many duties there, especially when I become king and you queen!" he said happily. Everything Blizzard said made Windsong anything but happy, and she suddenly knew what she had to do.

"Blizzard, turn the boat back."

"What? Why?"

"Blizzard, I can't do this. I can't live a life like that. I promised my father I would become a singer, just like my mother."

"Windsong, you've been through a lot right now. You're not thinking straight," Blizzard said.

"No, Blizzard. I'm thinking clearer right now than I have in a long time. Please, Blizzard, turn the boat back." Reluctantly, he did; and when they reached the shore again, Windsong jumped out of the boat and ran back to Nocturne's home.

When Nocturne saw her, he didn't know what to think. "Have you come back to torment me some more?" he asked.

"No, this time I've come to stay. It's taken me a long time, but I've finally figured out who it is that I care about," Windsong said as she approached Nocturne.

Blizzard stood in the door and asked, "Windsong, you can't possibly mean that you love this monster. Didn't you get a look at his face?"

"Yes, and I must admit that when I first saw it, I was terrified. But now I realize that I have to look deeper than the face to see the real beauty in someone. Sadly, Blizzard, that's something you've never learned. You only surround yourself with things that are beautiful on the outside," Windsong said. She was now standing face to face with Nocturne. She reached towards his mask and pulled it off.

"Windsong, please don't," Nocturne pleaded. This time, instead of nearly fainting at the sight of his face, she smiled. Nocturne didn't say a word but looked at her with a confused and almost scared look.

"Windsong, look at him. Don't you see? He's a monster!" Blizzard said.

"I see someone beautiful!" Windsong answered and then gave Nocturne a gentle kiss on the cheek and then a firm hug. Nocturne didn't know what to say in reaction to Windsong.

"No one's ever given me a kiss in my entire life. Not even a little hug. You truly are wonderful, Windsong," Nocturne said after a few moments. Blizzard watched in horror at the sight and shook his head in disbelief.

"You are too, Nocturne!" Windsong said. Then she turned back to look over at Blizzard. "I've made my final decision, your highness. I'm sorry, but I'm staying here." Then she walked up to him and gave his diamond ring back. "You'll find someone right to wear this ring someday. I do love you, Blizzard, but I really do love Nocturne more. Unfortunately, it took me awhile to realize that." The prince looked terribly sad, but he knew Windsong had made her choice and she wouldn't change her mind.

"You truly are a far nobler pony than I thought, Windsong. To give up life as a queen to stay here. And to be able to look through a nightmare and see a rainbow. I wish you well, Windsong," he said. Then he came forward, kissed Windsong on the forehead, and left.

All was quiet for a few minutes and then Nocturne spoke. "Will you forgive me?" he asked.

"Forgive you for what?" Windsong asked.

"For so much. I doubted you when you said that you weren't the one who told the prince how to find me, or what I look like. I listened to your conversations, too, with the prince because I didn't trust you. Also, there's when I kidnaped you from the stage last evening. I must have terrified you in doing that," he said in an ashamed voice.

"None of those are good things, that's true. You've had such a hard life, though. All you've known of others is hate and fear. Now, if you still want me, I'll stay. Then I can teach you that you don't have to hate or fear everyone. There are some that you can trust; and when you're ready, you can meet them. I know that Madame Moondancer and her daughter would be pleased to meet you. You just need to give them a chance," Windsong said. Nocturne smiled for the first time in a long while.

"Yes! Of course I still want you! I will love you forever," he said.

"And so will I! We will need to be properly married, though."

"Certainly! I want to be married like a normal pony."

"You will have to trust me, though, to leave you for now until I can make all the arrangements. I can't exactly live here with you until we're married."

"Yes, you must return to your home until then. Perhaps you should now. Your friends above still don't know where you are and must be worried," Nocturne said.

"You're right. I really should, but I promise that I will return to you!" Windsong said.

"I will never doubt you again," Nocturne answered as she left.

* * *
When Windsong arrived at her dressing room, she found Madame Moondancer and her daughter waiting for her. "Windsong! You've come back! The prince left here just a short while ago. He told us everything," Madame Moondancer said.

"He did? He must have sounded upset," Windsong said.

"Yes, quite so. He said, though, that he was at least happy that you were happy. Then he said that he needed to go to the opera managers and the police," said young Moondancer.

"The police? Oh, no!" Windsong exclaimed, fearing that Blizzard would tell the police about Nocturne and have him taken away.

"No, no. Don't worry. He promised us that he wouldn't say anything about Nocturne. He said that if they kept searching, they might find the house and the lake, and he knew that you'd be miserable if that happened. So, he said that he would talk to them and have the whole investigation dropped, and that it was all a big mistake. That way you and the ghost will be safe," said Madame Moondancer.

"Nocturne," corrected Windsong.

"What?" asked young Moondancer.

"His name is Nocturne. He's not a ghost; he's a pony just like us and someday you will meet him." Then she went on to tell her friends all about Nocturne.

They did indeed meet Nocturne one day and even became friends with him. Windsong also eventually marry Nocturne, as she had promised. It was a very small wedding with only the bride, groom, Madame Moondancer, and her daughter attending. It took place in a park near the opera, just after dark so Nocturne wouldn't be noticed by many.

After the secret wedding, Windsong continued her singing lessons with her teacher, who was now her husband. She went on to sing many starring roles in the Ponyland Opera and enjoyed herself very much. No one other than Windsong and her close friends knew the truth about the Ghost of Box Five. It was much safer for Nocturne that way. He didn't mind, though; he had his beloved Windsong and that was all that mattered.

Windsong did end up staying friends with Prince Blizzard. He was sure to see all her performances and even managed to be nice to Nocturne. Just as Windsong had said, Blizzard did indeed find the right pony to marry. It turned out to be none other than Windsong's old friend, Night Glider, who, to Windsong's delight, returned to Ponyland after a few years with the Royal Ballet. Young Moondancer was very talented and soon became so good that she got to share the lead dancing roles with Night Glider.

In the end, everyone lived happily ever after!


Superspritz and Coombie
by Sugarberry (

Baby Noddins rushed to the front room when the bell rang, and quickly opened the door. "Come in quick, Baby Falling Leaves," the little pony urged, stopping suddenly when she realized her friend was not alone. "What's he doing here?" she scowled.

"Baby Leaper's television is broken, so I said he could watch with us," Baby Falling Leaves informed Baby Noddins, coming into the house.

"Hi, Baby Noddins," Baby Leaper said as he followed Baby Falling Leaves into the room. "Where's the TV?"

Baby Noddins forgot her annoyance at seeing the colt with her friend as she realized the time. Superspritz would be on any second!

The three foals hurried to the family room where the TV was already on; they had just made themselves comfortable when the nerve-tingling sound of the theme song to their latest favorite animated show came on.

"Quiet!" Baby Noddins hissed as Baby Leaper cheered. She cast a glance of total distaste in his direction.

"Oh, isn't he handsome?" Baby Falling leaves swooned. Baby Noddins followed suit.

Baby Leaper snorted. "Handsome? Superspritz doesn't care about that. He cares about winning and conquering evil!"

"But he is handsome," Baby Noddins shot back. "And that's why me and Baby Falling Leaves like him!"

"His hair is simply the greatest!" Baby Falling Leaves asserted. "He'd be my hero even if he wasn't strong and powerful."

Baby Leaper rolled his eyes. "Fillies!" he commented as he moved closer to the television and sat on the floor just as the latest episode began.

The three sat in rapt silence as Superspritz and his companion, Coombie, appeared in a quiet, park like setting. The maroon colored superhero stallion with a yellow mane that reached skyward appeared to be smelling the flowers that fringed the pathway he was following.

"Isn't he wonderful?" Baby Falling Leaves whispered to Baby Noddins. Without taking her eyes off the screen, Baby Noddins nodded a yes.

A smaller creature walking behind Superspritz was doing all the talking. "I tell you, Superspritz, something is going to happen. I can feel it in my tail-rings."

"You're just saying that, Coombie, because it's Saturday morning," Superspritz responded. "Just because bad things usually happen to us on Saturday mornings, doesn't mean they always will."

Coombie, who was a brilliant yellow raccoon with black tail stripes and black face mask, shook his head defiantly. "Trust me, Superspritz; I'm not your sidekick for nothing, you know." He kept a wary lookout for the unexpected.

Just as Superspritz bent to sniff the fragrance of an especially large blossom on a purple hyacinth, a burst of fine white powder materialized seemingly from nowhere, and Superspritz was surrounded with the substance.

"Coombie, it's..."

Superspritz could say no more. The normally robust stallion seemed to lose consciousness, and dropped listlessly to the ground.

Baby Noddins and Baby Falling Leaves screamed in agony as they saw their champion fall.

Using a paw to shake Superspritz's shoulder, Coombie tried to awaken the insensible pony, but to no avail. While his attention was focused on reviving Superspritz, a fearsome figure of blue and orange suddenly appeared as if from nowhere.

"Ha, ha, ha!" the evil-countenanced stallion laughed mirthlessly. "I've got you now, Superspritz!"

Coombie reacted with anger. "How dare you do this awful thing?" he screamed as he placed himself before the limp body on the path.

"I do as I please," the stallion replied; and taking a gold band from his foreleg, he held it high. In a flash, both he and Superspritz disappeared, leaving behind a completely stupefied Coombie.

As the commercial break came on, Baby Noddins exhaled as if she hadn't breathed since Superspritz had been hijacked by the enemy. "I hope he's alright," she said anxiously.

Baby Leaper seemed stunned that Superspritz had fallen into yet another trap. "He should have listened to Coombie!"

Baby Falling Leaves defended her hero. "That bad stallion doesn't fight fair."

"Coombie will have to save the day," Baby Leaper determined.

"Oh, he must save Superspritz," lamented Baby Noddins.

"Quiet! Quiet!" hissed Baby Falling Leaves as the show returned on the screen.

"I must enlist the aid of Coral Blaze," Coombie decided, after staring in disbelief at the ground from where his leader had just disappeared. He set off with determination to find this superpowered friend of Superspritz.

Coombie had not gone far when he happened to run into-- literally-- the very superheroine he was searching for.

"What's the big hurry, Coombie?" Coral Blaze asked with a dazzling smile, her coral coat gleaming in the morning sun, and her blaze-orange mane curling attractively around her magenta eyes.

"Superspritz! Fatal Rogue has him!" Coombie managed to gasp.

"Hmm. So Total Rogue is up to his old tricks, is he?" Coral Blaze pondered. "I wonder what he's up to this time?"

"We must hurry and find where that villain has taken him!" Coombie exclaimed, anxious to be on the trail of his lost companion.

"Oh, I think I know where we will find them," a knowledgeable Coral Blaze responded. "Follow me, Coombie."

As the scene switched to the lair of the notorious Fatal Rogue, Baby Falling Leaves collapsed onto the sofa with a stricken heart as she beheld her hero held captive behind a luminous force field. The evil Fatal Rogue paced assuredly before his victim.

"Ha, ha. I have you now, Superspritz. But I bet you don't feel so ‘super' now, do you?" laughed Fatal Rogue fiendishly.

"You will never succeed!" called Superspritz as he lunged toward Fatal Rogue, and was mercilessly repelled backward by the force field's power.

As he hit the opposite wall with a thud and sank to the floor, Baby Noddins sobbed, "No-o-o!"

"Prepare yourself to meet your doom," declared Fatal Rogue, his depraved laughter now replaced with a vicious snarl.

Immediately, a grating noise was heard coming from above Superspritz, and a giant cold steel claw came down to latch onto the noble steed.

Baby Falling Leaves and Baby Noddins screamed, and threw their forelegs around one another, their eyes still following the scene on the television screen. Baby Leaper raised his eyes skyward contemptuously.

Back in adventure land, the entire west wall of Superspritz's prison moved aside and the ensnared stallion was carried by the brute claw over the abyss outside of Fatal Rogue's haunt.

Baby Falling Leaves and Baby Noddins screamed louder. Baby Leaper covered his ears.

With one mighty roar of power, Fatal Rogue pressed the button that opened the claw, allowing Superspritz to fall... fall... fall... into the icy depths that waited below.

As Baby Falling Leaves and Baby Noddins watched their mighty warrior drop endlessly into the waiting water, they both sat up in horror-stricken realization, and said simultaneously: "Superspritz's hair will be ruined!" The two girls' very souls were distraught at this cruel fate that awaited their flawless knight.

"Give me a break," muttered Baby Leaper.

And two tiny hearts were crushed as Superspritz hit the water, and disappeared into its frigid hold.

Meanwhile-- back at Fatal Rogue's post-- the ruffian had his hooves full as Coral Blaze and Coombie burst into his domain.

"You're too late!" yelled a disconsolate Baby Falling Leaves.

"Yeah! Where were you when Superspritz needed you?" an anguished Baby Noddins cried. They forlornly watched with bleary eyes, their world shattered.

"You two are so gullible," Baby Leaper shook his head disbelievingly.

The television now showed the smooth expanse of water that entombed Superspritz. Suppressed sobs shook Baby Falling Leaves and Baby Noddins as they searched the scene for any sign of their beloved hero, but the surface of the water was devoid of any life.

But as the foals watched, a tiny ripple broke the smooth stretch of fluid terrain. Their eyes grew round, and they sat up straight in hopeful anticipation. Suddenly, the familiar body of Superspritz shattered the calm sea, creating a vortex as he shot skyward with astounding speed.

"His hair!" gasped Baby Falling Leaves. "His hair survived!"

"Oh, this is so wonderful," Baby Noddins cooed.

Baby Falling Leaves was ecstatic. "Go get him!" she called excitedly. "I knew you could come back, Superspritz!"

Baby Leaper groaned, and distanced himself even further from the fillies.

In no time at all, Superspritz had taken control of the still unsettled situation in which Coral Blaze and Coombie had embroiled themselves, and Fatal Rogue was marched off by the police ponies who had obviously been alerted to the plight of the superheroes.

Baby Falling Leaves and Baby Noddins cheered boisterously, grinning and dancing around the sofa.

Fatal Rogue did not go willingly, of course, as he turned one last time toward Superspritz and vowed, "We'll meet again!"

For his part, Superspritz was pleased with a job well done. "The world is safe again, Coombie. Fatal Rogue can no longer try to amass all the world's treasures for himself. If we remember to share, we can all be happy."

He threw a foreleg across Coral Blaze's shoulder, hoisted Coombie on his back, and the three of them walked off into the spectacular sunset.

"Oh, it's so romantic!" sighed Baby Noddins. "Superspritz is so handsome!"

"And brave," added Baby Falling Leaves. "He's just perfect."

Baby Leaper turned the TV off in exasperation. "You girls are strange," he stated, eying the two still staring dreamily at the now blank television screen.

When they didn't respond to his comment, Baby Leaper added, "I gotta go home now. Mom's taking me to the store to buy a Superspritz action figure this morning."

Two dainty heads swiveled in unison to face the colt, eyes wide, mouths open. "They make Superspritz action figures?" Baby Noddins asked in awe.

"Yup. And Mom said I can use my allowance to get one." He held up a hoof full of jangles.

"Oh, can me and Baby Noddins come with you?" asked Baby Falling Leaves.

"You'll have to ask your moms," Baby Leaper replied.

So it turned out that Toad Lily could be found late that Saturday morning in the company of three energetic foals at Toys 4 Ponies R Us.

Racing into the action figure aisle, the trio scampered directly to the pegs boasting the bright, well-packaged Superspritz toys. The display was loaded with figures of the regular Superspritz, Battle Damaged Superspritz, Underwater Assault Superspritz, and Aerial Combat Superspritz; each of the foals grabbed a figure. Then Baby Noddins whined, "I want Coral Blaze. She was pretty."

"Me, too," agreed Baby Falling Leaves. "I want Coral Blaze, too."

"I want Fatal Rogue." Baby Leaper had his own ideas. "He was cool!"

Enlisting the aid of Toad Lily, who could reach the higher pegs without climbing the display stand, the search party uncovered one Fatal Rogue and one Coral Blaze. Baby Falling Leaves grabbed the heroine before Baby Noddins knew what was going on.

"There must be another doll here somewhere," Toad Lily said anxiously as Baby Noddins began to cry and stomp her hooves.

"Probably not," said Baby Leaper wisely. "Fatal Rogue and Coral Blaze are both short-packed meaning there is only one of them in each box of twelve figures, while there are ten of the assorted Superspritz."

"That doesn't make any sense," mused Toad Lily.

"I won't give up Coral Blaze." Baby Falling Leaves was now holding the action figure high over her head in an attempt to keep it away from a certain little lavender pony.

"Maybe we could find one of that cute little furry guy... Coombie, is it?" Toad Lily hopefully queried.

"Nope," her son replied absently as he read over the package back of Fatal Rogue. "Coombie isn't coming out until the second assortment."

As Baby Noddins and Baby Falling Leaves continued their antics, a store employee, Ages, came up to Toad Lily and asked, "Is there a problem here?"

"Yes, there is," she stated rather angrily. "Both fillies want a Coral Blaze figure, but you only had one on the rack. Do you have more in the storeroom?" Her voice was pleading.

Ages shook his head. "No, ma'am. All the figures are on the display, except for the extra Superspritz ones."

"I'm confused," Toad Lily said in exasperation. "Doesn't the toy company know that the foals will want one of each figure?"

Ages shrugged his shoulders. "Pasbro's been marketing action figures like this for years, and ponies keep on buying them."

"When will you be getting more in?"

"Won't know until the delivery cart comes in next week," Ages admitted. "There will be a second assortment, though," he added helpfully. "Let's see; that one will have Coombie, four recolored versions of Superspritz, and-- let me think-- I heard that the sixth figure has been dropped; he was a new character from the second season that hasn't been aired yet."

Ages moved on to help another customer while Toad Lily shook her head in disbelief. "Who would think that buying toys for foals would be so difficult?"she murmured incredulously.

"Leaper's Mom, make her give that to me!" Baby Noddins said as she stood imploringly at Toad Lily's hooves, her tear-stained face peering hopefully upward.

"I'm sorry, Baby Noddins," Toad Lily sighed, "but you and Baby Falling Leaves will have to work it out on your own."

"If Superspritz were here, he'd want you two to share," Baby Leaper judiciously advised. "Remember what he said this morning?"

Baby Falling Leaves looked at Baby Noddins, then at her package of Coral Blaze. She thought about Superspritz's words and looked at the Superspritz figures on the rack. Suddenly, she held her package out to Baby Noddins. "Here, Noddins, you take Coral Blaze. I'll get Aerial Combat Superspritz. He is so-o-o handsome when he's flying, you know!"

Baby Noddins accepted the packaged figure, then looked longingly at the Superspritz that Baby Falling Leaves held. Her thoughts were torn: Should she accept this change of heart from Baby Falling Leaves or should she, too, stick with Superspritz? He was her hero, too, after all.

Toad Lily intervened. "Just a suggestion, Baby Noddins. But why don't you buy Coral Blaze today while she's available; and the next time you get an allowance, you can come back for one of the Superspritz figures. It looks like they'll be hanging around awhile."

A radiant smile spread across Baby Noddins' face as she saw the sense behind Toad Lily's words; she hugged Coral Blaze to her heart, and grinned at her two playmates. "Let's get home and start playing," she advised.

"Great idea," the other two agreed. And Toad Lily breathed a sigh of relief.


The Lost Prince
Chapter 4
by Moonjumper (

Author's Note: I'd like to thank Prism and the REAL Ciara for help on this one. ^-^ Couldna done it without ya! Oh, and I may have misquoted the lines from My Little Pony the Movie, but hopefully I didn't!!

What's happened so far...

The witch Marenche cast a spell, able to destroy all Ponyland, that only two individuals could stop-- Dorin and Queen Aurora. Queen Aurora hid her four sons and sacrificed herself in order to protect the ponies of the land. Dorin reflected Marenche's spell back at her and she, too, became a stone statue. That was several years ago. Now three sons have been found, and one of them has awoken Marenche accidentally. Now to continue...

~* Three days after the Summer Solstice, Crystal Castle *~

Prince Sapphire nervously paced the entrance hall. There should have been word by now... I don't understand... just not like him...

A brightly colored bird, slightly bigger than a baby pony, suddenly appeared on the balcony ledge. It had a long, multicolored tail and a purple plume pulled up by a silver crown. "I bring word," the bird said wearily.

Prince Sapphire rushed over to the bird. "Windsong! What happened?! You're exhausted!" Worry filled his voice.

Windsong flashed her tail. "I am fine, your highness." She smiled faintly and continued, with a serious expression. "But your brother has been... he has been..." Windsong bowed her head. "He has revived the witch somehow and..."

"The witch?" Disbelief filled the prince's eyes. "The one in the... tale? I thought she was destroyed."

Windsong shook her head. "No... only caught up in her own spell. I have sent messengers to Dream Castle to warn them; no doubt that the witch will try to destroy Ponyland again..."

Prince Sapphire turned away, his shoulders sagging. "So, the old rhyme has come true," he said quietly, mostly to himself.

Windsong turned away from the stricken prince sadly. She could do nothing... nothing at all.

~* Dream Castle *~

"Majesty?" Twilight crept into the dark throne room silently. It's so dark, no one could guess there'd been a party three days ago, she reflected. Majesty had canceled the rest of the Summer Solstice festival after that one night, the night she'd seen Talen's Cave in her dream. She blames herself, but how could she have stopped it? Twilight felt tears threaten to fall.

"Twilight? I knew you'd come... a messenger has come to warn us of her, hasn't it?"

"Yes, and it also brings news of a strange twist in the Shadow Forest..."

"Twist?" Majesty sat up. "The rhyme..." The depression suddenly disappeared from the unicorn. "Twilight, I MUST go there!"

Twilight eyes widened. What caused this change? she wondered.

Majesty brushed past her friend and dashed down the hall, surprising the hushed group of ponies that had gathered together to gossip.

"Was that the queen?" Sunlight raised her head.

"It was!!" Surprise exclaimed, surprised.

"What happened? Moonstone asked as Twilight exited the throne room with round eyes.

"The rhyme..." was all the light pink unicorn would say.

~* Sunrise, the outskirts of Shadow Forest *~

The sun was just beginning to rise when a loud noise, resembling a thunderclap, stilled the squirrels' chatter and the birds' songs. A silver-white pony bolted up from a forest clearing. His eyes held a startled, curious look as he searched the sky for rain clouds.

"Nothing." The pony cocked his head wonderingly. He suddenly leaped into a graceful run. He had one thing on his mind as he ran through the forest. Talen will know; he always knows, he thought confidently.

Within a few minutes, the silver pony had reached his destination-- right outside the forest to a small cottage covered with vines.

"Talen? Talen!" the pony called into the still morning.

An elderly looking elf stepped out of the cottage, holding a dove. He raised his short arms and the dove flew away. Then the elf looked at the pony. He wore a strange animal skin outfit that allowed him camouflage, and his black ponytail was covered by a green bandanna.

"Talen! Did you hear that?" The pony gestured to the forest. "It was like thunder, but there's no storm..."

Talen raised a hand to stop the pony's excited talk and closed his eyes. It's too late... I... He sighed and nodded. "Yes Silver, I heard them."

Silver cocked his head, confused. "Them? What are you talking about?"

Talen opened his eyes and turned away wearily. " ‘Tis time... past time.." He opened the cottage door wider for Silver.

Silver stepped inside, still confused. Them? Time?

The inside of Talen's house was dimly lit by the little dawnlight streaming through the two windows. When the sun reached its peak, Talen would raise a part of his thatched roof and the one room cottage would be much brighter. There wasn't much furniture; just a bed, two chairs, and a small table. A set of narrow stairs near the fireplace led to a loft. Silver went over to a window and sat down, waiting patiently.

Talen pulled one of the chairs closer to the sitting pony and sat down with another sigh. " ‘Tis time," he paused to look Silver in the eye, "for ye to know ye's past. I shouda... shoulda told ye earlier, before they came, but I jist couldna let ye go..." Talen looked away to stare out the window.

Silver studied his elfin mentor. What is he talking about? My past? But I've always been here with Talen, haven't I? He took me in when I was just a baby pony...

Silver had a sudden flashback from that day he'd met Talen. There had been a terrible storm and he was alone. I was searching for something-- no, someone...

"That storm was ye..." Talen said abruptly.

"Don't read my mind!" Silver suddenly burst out. Seeing Talen's somewhat shocked face, he was quick to apologize. "I'm sorry, Talen."

"Na, ‘tis I who should be sorry, ye highness."

Silver shook his head. "I don't know what got a hold of me. It's just that..." He stopped ashamedly.

"Go on," Talen encouraged.

"Ever since that day you took me in, there's always been something that grips me, a terrible something... it's awful!" A tear slipped down the young stallion's face.

Talen's face grew compassionate and sorrowful. "Oh laddie... laddie. Ye must find them! Canna let her find them!!" His face suddenly contorted with pain. "They're ye's... chance... to..." Talen's voice had become desperate and his face whitened. He slumped over in his chair, nearly falling off.

"Talen?! Talen?!" Silver knelt by the still elf, bewildered. Tears began to pour down his face. Talen...

"You can't help him now." A shadow fell over the crying pony.

Silver looked up, his knees too weak to stand. "He's... stone." Silver sat there, stunned.

"Yes," said the cloaked figure. "It is her doing. We must go now! You must come with me!" The figure removed his cloak and a white tiger appeared.

~* Shadow Forest *~

Molly looked around her and gasped at the sight of the tree. I've been here before... A hazy memory rose and she forgot all about the strange "ride" she'd just had, and the campers that were along with her.

* U *
"What? Did you forget to bring your nightlight?"

"That's not what it says on the map."

"Well, I do now, run!!"


"I'll be okay; you go ahead!"

* * *
"Molly?" Theo touched Molly's shoulder and she jumped.

"Danny..." A tear slipped down her face. That wasn't real... none of it was... was it? No! I left here a long time ago! I can't be back; I'm not allowed... Molly glanced back at the giant tree. It had a long branch pierced right through it.

To be continued...


Return from the Himalayas
by Tabby (

Tee hee! Don't ya love the title? It doesn't have much to do with the story, but it's the only half-decent title that came to mind. And, unfortunately, I must thank Barnacle once again for his help on this chronicle. ^.~ The deal is, though, that my story for next month must be written without any advice from him. Well, I'll show him. Plus, some of you may be happy to hear my report that I added some more mushy stuff into this one to please Sugarberry. Barnacle will probably complain if he finds out. They're so hard to please. ^.~ Actually, I find it rather ironic that I stay up until eleven o' clock at night writing out romantic lines when I myself have vowed several times over never to fall in love... but, hey, that's not important. Just read the story. ^.^

Late one afternoon from her post behind the desk of the Dream Valley Pokèmon Center, Tabby took note of a coral-colored stallion lurking around the Fershund mansion across the way. The mansion being her old home and all, Tabby's curiosity was immediately aroused. The stranger was no one she had ever seen before, and the scenario seemed mysterious. "He looks like the kind of guy that has been lost in the Himalayan Mountains seeking enlightenment in an Incan temple for the past twenty-five years," she murmured aloud to herself.

After fifteen minutes had passed and the stranger was still hanging around the mansion, Tabby's curiosity overtook her. She left Chansey in charge of the center and stormed across the path to her old home.

"Do you happen to be looking for something, sir?" Tabby questioned briskly, coming up behind the stallion.

"Perhaps I am," he said evasively, staring up at the mansion.

"Well, what're you doing here?" Tabby demanded, growing impatient to get an answer.

"This is actually my old home," the newcomer confessed, turning to Tabby. "I was just stopping by to see... what things were like... now."

Tabby narrowed her eyes. "What do you mean, this is your old home? That's impossible." She knew very well that she and her mother had been the first and only ponies to make use of the mansion, and it had been years since they had moved out.

"Oh? And what puts you in a position to say that?" The stranger stared intently at her.

"Because it's my old home." Tabby stared right back. "My mother and I were the only ones who ever lived here."

Several moments passed like this, both sides remaining silent as the wind whipped their manes around.

"Have you ever known an Agatha Fershund?" the stallion finally spoke up.

"Yes. She's my mother," Tabby replied bluntly.

"And she's my wife."

This sudden statement from the stallion caught Tabby by surprise. A million thoughts bombarded her mind at once. Color began to drain from her face at the realization of who this stranger could be. "Who... who are you, then?" she asked falteringly.

"I'm known as Hubert Fershund. Perhaps you have heard of me from Agatha, then?"

"So it is you," Tabby said, her voice shaking. "My father."

"Yes... my daughter."

Tabby looked him in the eye... and knew that it must be true. This was her father-- the father she'd never known. She began to feel rather dizzy in the head, and let out a small cry as she stumbled forward. The last thing she remembered before fainting were two strong hooves reaching out for her.

* * *
Tabby did not know where she was when she began to awaken. She cranked one eye open, trying to get her bearings. What had happened before? Why was she here? Who--

"Tabby?" a concerned voice suddenly broke through her thoughts.

"Is she coming to?" another voice asked anxiously.

"But... where is he?" Tabby struggled to right herself.

"Don't worry about that, Tabby. You're okay now," the first voice came again.

Tabby became aware of the two figures standing vigil beside her, and of the cot she was resting on. "Where is he?" she demanded again, desperation beginning to filter into her voice. "Where is he?" Images of her earlier encounter with the stranger outside the mansion began to flash through her mind. No, it couldn't have been a dream! It couldn't have! Resolutely she pulled herself up to a seated position, eyes wide open.

"Tabby? You know us, don't you?" the second voice prodded.

"Of course," Tabby snapped. "You're Thomas and Sugarberry. How did I get here?"

The two onlookers breathed a sigh of relief. The return of Tabby's spunkiness was certainly a good sign. Thomas proceeded to explain. "We had just left the clinic after work; and when we passed by the center, we were approached by a mysterious stallion--"

"--who had left you fainted dead away on the front steps of the center," Sugarberry picked up the story. "It was very distressing. We took you inside right away, and that's where we're at now."

Tabby sat for several moments in silence, absorbing this information as she attempted to piece everything together. "Interesting."

"You are okay, aren't you?" Sugarberry was quick to ask.

"I'm fine. But I thought giant squid were the only things that could make me faint," Tabby said contemplatively.

"All that matters is that you are okay." Thomas clasped one of Tabby's hooves. "We didn't know what to think. This stranger wouldn't disclose any information to us."

"That's it!" Tabby's mind was suddenly brought back to its aim. "I must see him! Is he here?"

A figure on the opposite side of the room rose slowly from his seat where he had been waiting for Tabby's revival. "Yes, my dear, I am." Hubert Fershund came to stand by Tabby's bedside. "Apparently our first meeting did not allow much conversation."

"Father!" Tabby cried out. "I was afraid... that you'd only been a dream." She threw her forelegs around his neck and buried her head on his shoulder.

"I'm so happy to have found you," Hubert said, stroking her mane fondly. "You're so much like Agatha."

Thomas and Sugarberry stood openmouthed as they watched the reunion. The whole appearance of this stallion had been very mysterious, but never had they expected the claims he was making.

"Mom told me so very much about you," Tabby sniffled. "All your adventures... but you were lost on a hiking expedition into the Himalayas."

"Come on, Sugarberry," Thomas said softly, reaching for the doorknob. He hardly knew what to think after all the shocks of the day, but he somehow sensed the deep relationship between the two. He and Sugarberry quietly exited the room.

"I was unfortunately side-tracked in the Himalayas," Hubert said regretfully to his daughter. "I would have liked to have seen you grow up."

"But what kept you?" Tabby put forth, still hanging on to his neck tightly. She could still hardly believe that her father had returned-- her father whom she had never before met!

"I'll save the whole story for you and Agatha together." He looked at Tabby seriously. "That is... you must tell me how she's doing. She isn't...?"

Tabby shook her head. "She's fine... but she's living in Italy now."

"Italy? What about... she didn't remarry, did she?"

"No, never."

"Wonderful. We must get in touch with her immediately."

* * *
It was a grand occasion with Hubert's return. Agatha flew into Dream Valley from Italy instantly upon hearing the word, and had a joyous reunion with her long-lost husband. After the initial shock and tears of happiness had worn off, she wanted to hear only of Hubert's account of the past years. Tabby was ecstatic as well to finally get to know her father, and the two spent every waking minute at his side.

"Hubert," Agatha said, wiping one last tear from her eye, "where were you? You caused me such worry."

"I know, Agatha, and it'll never happen again," Hubert promised.

"I so wanted our Tabitha to have her father," Agatha sniffed. "You can't imagine how I felt when you were... gone."

"Oh, but please tell us what did happen," Tabby pleaded.

"Very well," Hubert began. "I will tell you both the whole story. It all began on the hiking expedition into the Himalayan Mountains I went on, in hopes of finally finding the Incan Yetis that lived there-- I was hot on the trail of them. It was on this expedition that I was presumably lost, and was given up as dead."

"I never gave up believing you were still out there, Hubert," Agatha said softly.

"I know you wouldn't have, darling. And now, as for the Incan Yetis I was tracking... before finding them, I stumbled upon something of even greater interest-- an Incan temple."

"Outrageous," Tabby breathed. Both she and her mother remained silent for the most part, sitting spellbound as they listened to Hubert's tale.

"It was in this temple that I stayed for twenty-five years, seeking true enlightenment and inner peace. It really is a great place for such thinking, I must say."

"An Incan temple?" Agatha gasped. "Hubert, you spent all that time in an Incan temple?"

"Well, yes. But it was for the better, I guarantee you. It was only a short while ago that I had sufficiently meditated, and decided to come home."

Agatha looked at him fondly. "I'm only glad that you're back, even if there are better ways to spend twenty-five years."

"But an Incan temple?" Tabby puzzled. "And Incan Yetis? In the Himalayas? The Incas were South American. Weren't they?"

"To most scholars, they were strictly South American," Hubert clarified. "But I believe otherwise, as I have now seen proof. Flying saucer men were responsible for bringing aspects of the Incan civilization to the Himalayas."

"Wow," Tabby said in awe.

"Hubert, how did you manage to find your way back here?" Agatha interjected. "How did you find Tabby and I, for that matter? Oh, you must tell us everything!"

"I knew the way back to Dream Valley well, Agatha," Hubert said. "As for finding you-- actually, Tabby found me when I stopped by our mansion when first getting into town."

"But how did you know who she was?"

"She had your symbol, Agatha; and she's just like you in many other ways."

"Oh, Hubert, I think you'll find that there's a lot of her that takes after you, as well," Agatha laughed.

"Perhaps." Hubert looked at his daughter. "She must have seen enough resemblance in me, or she wouldn't have fainted like she did."

"Tabby? Fainted?" Agatha gasped.

"Uh... I guess I did," Tabby blushed. Fainting just wasn't her thing.

"Two friends of hers came along then, and revived her," Hubert continued. "Then, of course, we got in touch with you."

"I'm just so happy. So unbelievably happy," Agatha whispered.

"Of course, I haven't told you all the details of my escapade yet," Hubert said. "But what I really must know now is more about Tabby. What has our daughter gotten herself into, Agatha?"

"She's finally going to get married," Agatha beamed. In her opinion, this was the main milestone in Tabby's life.

"I was meaning to ask about that," Hubert said, indicating the ring on Tabby's foreleg.

"Well... yes," Tabby admitted.

"Who is the lucky stallion?" Hubert prodded.

"Thomas, actually. You saw him at the Pokèmon Center-- he's the vet in town."

"I thought so," Hubert nodded. "There was something about you two."

"You can't imagine the difficulties I've had in getting her this far, Hubert," Agatha sighed wearily.

"What do you mean by that, dear?"

"Well, at first I thought she was perfect for someone I know in Italy," Agatha elaborated. "Guido is from a very rich family. Ah, but Tabitha refused to get to know him."

"Maybe she's better off making her own choice on the matter," Hubert pointed out.

"I must admit, I think she's made a grand match with Thomas," Agatha confessed. "But she was so very stubborn about it."

"But then there's also the fact that I discovered Atlantis," Tabby added proudly.

"That is what I meant when I said she takes after you, Hubert," Agatha said dryly.

"Really? My girl, I'm proud of you!" Hubert congratulated her. "However did that come to be?"

Agatha was not too concerned with ancient cities of the past. "Of course, she's also the Pokèmon nurse of Dream Valley, with full credentials of a veterinarian," she was quick to add.

"Have you heard about Pokèmon, Dad?" Tabby questioned eagerly.

Hubert nodded knowingly. "Ah, yes, Pokèmon. I recall running across many in my travels."

"The ponies around here thought they were only evil monsters lurking in the Dark Forest, until the hit of the Pokèmon show," Tabby said. "Then it was realized that they were more than regular monsters, and now everyone's into training them."

"Pokèmon originated in Atlantis, you know," Hubert commented.

"Do you think so? Barnacle says they're from a post-apocalyptic world," Tabby enlightened.

Hubert shook his head. "Interesting theory, but I know otherwise."

"How did you find out about their Atlantean origin?" Tabby asked excitedly. "Can you tell me?"

"Tabitha, you still have the old photo albums, don't you?" Agatha asked quickly. "I really think we should get those out to browse."

"But what about my grand collection of eighties toys?"

"And Agatha dear, what is with this move of yours to Italy?"

"Hubert, you would not believe what a quaint place it is!"

"Ah-Loh! You've both got to see Ah-Loh!"

Apparently, they had quite a bit more catching up to do after twenty-five years.

* * *
Everyone was naturally very curious about Hubert's mysterious return, but no one wanted to intrude on the family reunion-- not even Tabby's cousin Tamara, a direct relation. Tabby and Hubert both soon grew tired of being locked-up in Tabby's house, however, and the idea of going out into the public was proposed.

"The Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe is still around, isn't it?" Hubert queried.

"Of course it is!" Tabby's eyes grew wide at the prospect, pushing her chair out from the dining table.

"Then why don't we head over there right now?" Hubert suggested. "It does get tiresome doing nothing but talk for days on end."

"You only got back just yesterday," Agatha reminded. "And the dishes from supper still need to be washed."

"Oh, Mom, that can wait." Tabby dismissed the idea with a wave of her hoof.

"That's right, Agatha. You don't want to exert yourself," Hubert agreed.

"Big hungry, wah!" Ah-Loh, Tabby's recently-resurrected Furby, added.

"You see? Ah-Loh's hungry for dessert as well," Tabby said rationally, cradling the sky- blue Furby in her hoof.

Agatha only sighed. "Very well, then." She knew it was futile to argue with them any further, especially when a Furby was involved, and followed them out the door.

* * *
It was decided to first stop by Tamara's house, she being a relative and all. Continuing on to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, the reunited family was swarmed with numerous acquaintances and were kept busy talking late into the night.

"An Incan temple in the Himalayas?" Clever Clover asked skeptically.

"Oh, yes," Hubert nodded solemnly. "It's really quite obvious that the flying saucer men were the cause of the Incan civilization to spring up in that location."

"But there's no proof," Clever Clover argued. "I think--"

"Hubert, tell them of your excursions in search of the Loch Ness Monster," Agatha prodded.

"Hey! Big party, wah!" Ah-Loh shouted above the din.

"Oh, Mr. Fershund, I think it's so extraordinary that you made it back home after all this time," Tiffany trilled, butting in on the conversation. "Were the Yetis very dangerous?"

"Actually, I--"

"No, you need to tell us more about the Incan temple, Uncle Hubert," Tamara interjected. "What was it like?"

"And how did you come to know so much about Pokèmon?" Merry Treat added.

With all these questions, it did take a very long time for everyone to run out of things to ask and to explain-- and even after Hubert, Agatha, and Tabby had departed the shop for the night, the atmosphere of the hangout remained lively.

"Why don't we take a detour by the mansion while we're out tonight?" Hubert suggested. "I'd like to have a better look at it than what I did the other day."

Agatha laughed. "That's a wonderful idea. I'd love to see myself the progress Butch has made on it since I got my last report from him."

"Are you sure this Butch is dependable?"

"I had my doubts at first, but he's doing quite well. I think he'll make something out of his life yet. He just started seeing the jewelry shop owner, you know. Sparkler's been a good influence on him."

Tabby only half-listened to her parents' conversation as she trailed along behind the two through the dark streets. She held Ah-Loh carefully, being sure not to jostle him and thus wake him up. He had enjoyed his visit to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, she decided. However, there was a nagging thought in the back of her mind.

"It is looking quite nice, from what I can see from it out here in the dark," Agatha commented, jolting Tabby out of her private thoughts. They had arrived at the site of the mansion.

"Do you think Butch would mind if we let ourselves inside?" Hubert gestured towards the front door.

"I don't see why not. We are the owners, after all," Agatha laughed as she fumbled through her purse. "See, I have the key right here with me."

Soon, they were exploring the interior of the grand house. Everything looked a bit newer and fresher, but it was still the same design as the original. Agatha was quite pleased with the progress. "It's a lovely place," Agatha sighed happily. "I'd forgotten how nice it was."

"Maybe we can use it ourselves again," Hubert suggested.

"You mean..." Agatha frowned. "Oh dear. I hadn't even thought of that. Shall we go to Italy or stay here in Dream Valley with Tabby?"

"You've got to stay here!" Tabby protested. "It's so much more interesting here than in Italy." Plus, the prospect of having both her parents in the vicinity was quite appealing.

"We'll have to see," Agatha murmured. "Of course, I already did tell Tabby that she would have use of the mansion once the restoration was complete."

Hubert nodded. "Yes. This would be a great place for her."

"I'm... I'm just going to wander around the place a bit myself, alright?" Tabby excused herself from the main room. Receiving quick nods from Agatha and Hubert, she proceeded to ascend the staircase to the second floor.

Stepping carefully across the hallway, she placed Ah-Loh upon the shell of her old desk and sat herself down in the windowseat of her old bedroom. Tabby had always felt at peace there during her younger years, and it served as a refuge to her now as well.

The concern weighing heavily on her mind at this point was the absence of Thomas during these past few days. Tabby had to admit, the last she remembered of him were several blurred memories of the hectic afternoon Hubert had arrived. She wished he had at least been at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe this evening. He seemed now to be making a complete stranger of himself. Didn't he know that it wasn't necessary for him to shy away from the family reunion? Tabby shook her head. She'd have to be sure to get in touch with him tomorrow.

Glancing down once more at the diamond engagement ring on her foreleg, Tabby shook off her concerns and went to hunt up her parents.

* * *
"Cock-a-doodle-doo! Sun up," Ah-Loh observed the next morning.

"He's an interesting fellow," Hubert commented. "The Atlanteans put a lot of work into building these models."

"What do you mean?" Tabby queried. "He's a real living Furby, you know. The ones sold in stores have just made themselves look like electronics. But they're living beings."

Hubert shook his head slowly. "No. These electronic Furbys were built by the Atlanteans after their real Furbys were taken from the city. They hoped to replace their pets with mechanical creatures. That's what you find on the store shelves."

Tabby looked indignant. "That's not true! Ah-Loh is alive! Aren't you, Ah-Loh?"

"Lights up, please," the Furby requested.

"Why don't you ask him?" Hubert urged. "Get him into Ask Furby mode."

"Ah! No light! Ah!" Ah-Loh said, as if cowering in fear, as Tabby covered his light sensor.

Agatha poked her head out of the kitchen just then. "Tabitha, breakfast would be on a lot sooner if you'd uncover some of your culinary abilities."

"Ah! Loud sound," Ah-Loh protested.

"Now you've scared Ah-Loh, Mom," Tabby chided. "Besides, I'm having a fascinating conversation out here with Dad right now."

"She has apparently been misguided in her lessons on the Furbish race," Hubert explained.

"I have not." Tabby set Ah-Loh aside, forgetting about asking him on the topic. "Now, perhaps those talking Furby clocks and such they're selling now are the Atlanteans' machines. But the original Furbys are real!" She was quite adamant in proving her point.

Hubert remained unconvinced, but decided to change the subject. "What else did you discover in Atlantis?"

Tabby furrowed her brow. "The Whale Machine, of course. That's still in the back room of my old clinic, actually. I didn't tell you yet about Dr. Shane, did I? You see, when--" She was cut off by the ringing of the doorbell.

"You had better get it," Hubert gestured down the hallway. "I'll see about helping Agatha in the kitchen."

Tabby obediently got up from her seat and patted Ah-Loh on the head before going to answer the door. "Oh! Thomas! Come in!" Tabby's eyes lit up as she saw her visitor, and she reached out to pull him inside.

Thomas took a step backwards and avoided the invitation. "I was just stopping by to see... how things were going."

"Fabulous," Tabby nodded. "Absolutely fabulous. It's quite an occasion, really. I still can't fully believe that my father has actually come back after all these years of not knowing him." She stared off with a misty look in her eyes. "He's only been here two days, and there's so much to cover. But you haven't formally met him yet. Come in, come in!"

Thomas stood, expressionless. "I'm afraid I can't stay for long," he stated simply.

Tabby paused and cocked her head. "Oh... why's that?"

"Don't worry about it, Tabby." His expression suddenly changed to one of bitterness. "Go and spend time with your family while you have it."

Tabby hardly knew what to say in reply. This certainly wasn't the typical behavior of Thomas. "What's wrong, Thomas?" She sensed something serious was troubling his mind.

Thomas looked at her once more and sighed deeply. "There's something, Tabby, I never told you before. I haven't told anyone in Dream Valley." He turned his head away from Tabby.

"But what is it?" Tabby stepped out on the porch and closed the door behind her. A million thoughts ran through her mind as to what it could be, and she didn't like any of the possibilities she came up with. "Tell me! Tell me!" she said almost pleadingly, thrusting herself into his hold.

Thomas looked down at her, sorrow weighing heavy in his eyes. "Both my parents are dead. They were killed shortly before I moved to Dream Valley."

Tabby let out a sharp gasp, and her eyes flew open. She took a step backwards. "You... you never told me," she stated the obvious in a shaking tone.

"It never came up before."

The full meaning of Thomas' words began to sink in. Thinking back, Tabby realized that he had never mentioned his parents... but she never imagined that anything like this had befallen them. And then her father should show up in perfect health after twenty-five years... when there was no chance of ever resurrecting Thomas' parents in this life. She was at a loss for words again. "I'm..."

"You're sorry, I know." Thomas closed his eyes as if to block out the bitter memories. "There's nothing that can be done. Your father just so abruptly showed up again and... I need some time alone."

"Yes." Tabby blinked slowly, and repeated herself. "Yes." She didn't know what other words to use. She wanted to reach out, to console him, but she was too in shock to do anything.

"I'm... I'm sorry I upset you." Thomas' gaze swept the ground. "I just had to get that said. I'll come back to meet your father in due time."

"G-goodbye." Tabby's mouth was so dry, the word hardly came out. (Author's note-- It has been critiqued by some that this line seems too cold to fit into the situation being written about. However, that it not the way it is meant to be taken. Notice the stuttering of the first letter in "goodbye". Tabby is still stunned and isn't quite sure what to say. It should be read softly and hesitantly.)

"Enjoy the day. Be with them while you can." With these parting words, Thomas set off down the porch steps. "And I love you, Tabby."

Tabby nodded while tears formed in her eyes. She silently watched him go, and then built up the energy to open the door and go back inside. Now she needed some time to think herself.

"Who was it, dear?" Agatha queried, looking up from the table. She and Hubert had already sat down with the finished breakfast menu.

"Just a friend," Tabby said quickly. "He couldn't stay long." She pulled a chair out for herself and sat down quickly.

"You know, I still haven't been properly introduced to this fiancé of yours," Hubert hinted.

Tabby looked up at him abruptly. He hadn't read her mind, had he? Luckily, Agatha replied for Tabby and didn't seem to pursue the topic.

"There shall still be plenty of time for that, I'm sure," the blue unicorn said promptly. "There's so much yet we have to do."

Tabby smiled and hoped it looked genuine. "Exactly. And Mom, why don't you finish telling us of that one neighbor of yours in Italy?"

Tabby was able to keep up her cheerful facade during breakfast; and after the table was cleared, she excused herself and went upstairs to her room for "some things she needed to attend to", allowing Agatha and Hubert some time alone.

* * *
Tabby didn't know how long she'd sat at her desk after retiring to her room after breakfast. Time didn't seem to be passing in her world. She was lost in thought.

Thomas' parents, killed? The words still echoed in her head. It wasn't imaginable. She couldn't believe that he had never let on to it before.

Tabby had, of course, grown up without a father herself; but as she had never known him, it didn't bother her too much. She and her mother had made a cozy family of two, and it had seemed fine to her. But in Thomas' case, to have them both taken from his life after having known them for so long... it must have been dreadful to take.

Tabby hoped that Hubert's return hadn't affected Thomas too deeply. It must have opened up a lot of old scars concerning the death of his parents. But... oh! Tabby laid her head down on the cool, smooth surface of her desk and tried to block out all unpleasant thoughts. She didn't want to think anymore.

It wasn't long before Tabby's eyes grew heavy as she stared out her window at the soft spring sunshine. Everything could wait... it wasn't that important. Presently, she drifted off to sleep.

* * *
Hubert, meanwhile, had stepped outside to get some fresh air and some thinking of his own done. Agatha, exhausted by the events of the past days, had lain down to get some needed rest. Hubert had left her and had decided to take a bit of a walk outside.

Tabby's house was a typical house on Fifth Street. (Tabby had actually chosen the location for her home because the numeral five had always been her favorite number.) Houses lined the street on both sides, and each had its own bit of backyard. Tabby's was not the best-kept yard of them all, but it was neat enough; and a patch of tall, majestic trees had found a natural growing space there. Hubert sat down at the picnic table out back and stared up into the fluttering branches that were waved by the wind.

He was all of a sudden aware of new presences in the yard with him. He turned his head and looked around him intently. Several cloaked figures emerged from behind the tree grove.

"So I was being watched." Hubert looked at them warily. "Who are you?"

One of the clad human figures stepped forward from the rest. His face was entirely shrouded by his cloth hood. "The Society of Krulotin has come for you," he said simply.

Hubert looked at the figures contemplatively. The term "Krulotin" seemed familiar to him... where had he heard it before? Of course! He thought back to his studies done on Atlantis. It was the Krulotin who had been the Atlantean royal guards. What did these men in Tabby's back yard have to do with them? "What do you want from me?" he asked of them. "I didn't know that you had relocated to this place."

The figures huddled together and whispered among themselves, occasionally glancing back at Hubert. After a short pause, their leader stepped forward again. "It is not your time to know. You must come with us." With a simple gesture of his hand, the other figures began advancing towards the coral stallion.

"Wait!" Hubert stood his ground firmly. "Don't I get a say in this? What do you mean to do with me?"

"We will spare your life if you cooperate with us," the leader said solemnly. "If not... you shall be eliminated."

Hubert eyed them and sized-up his options in his head. It seemed at this point that it might be best to go along with these strange men. He had to find out what their plans were, and certainly he would have an opportunity to escape later from wherever they took him. Silently, he nodded his assent.

With a nod from their leader, the other cloaked figures grabbed onto Hubert and began propelling him along the secret path to their lair. Hubert glanced back wistfully at Tabby's house. I will return, Agatha and Tabby, he vowed silently to himself. I will return.

* * *
Tabby was suddenly aware that something was wrong. She abruptly pulled her head up from the desk. Sensing trouble, she pushed back her chair and dashed to the window. She gasped upon seeing the sight before her in her back yard-- her father being escorted off the premises by a group of cloaked figures that looked suspiciously similar to the affluent flower deliverers that were often seen around town.

Apparently, this day had been meant to be full of shocking experiences. Taking control of the situation, Tabby grabbed her glittery royal tiara (which she now kept in her jewelry box for use on special occasions) and placed it on her head-- she somehow thought she might need her Atlantean crown on this mission. With that attended to, she flew down the stairs and out the door to the outside world.

Out of the corner of her eye, Tabby saw the procession just disappearing around a corner, and scurried as quietly as she could to keep at a safe distance behind them. These cloaked figures were mysterious beings, and they did not attract any attention from the local residents-- except for Tabby, of course.

It was clear that their destination, however, was the Dark Forest. Tabby could only begin to imagine what these creatures were planning on doing with her father. Treading across the forest floor as silently as she could, she continued to follow after them.

* * *
Along their journey through the forest, the cloaked figures did not seem interested in starting a conversation, so Hubert remained silent. He had a million questions he wanted answered, but decided to wait until they got to their destination before interrogating them.

Hubert had hardly noticed that as they had progressed on their way, the path had begun sloping gradually downwards. Now he found himself in a stone cavern underground. He marveled at the society these mysterious beings must have founded in this network of caves. But how were they involved with the original Krulotin of Atlantis, and why did they need him?

The grouping of cloaked figures and a pony suddenly emerged into a large meeting room. Many other members of this sect were milling around, apparently awaiting Hubert's arrival. They looked up with interest, and watched as Hubert was led to one side of the spacious room. There, they proceeded to chain him up to the wall.

"Why are you doing this to me?" Hubert asked forcefully. "What do you need from me?"
"It is the powers of your daughter that we want." His question was answered quite simply by one of the figures.

"My daughter?" Hubert echoed. "Tabby?"

"Yes," another nodded. "It has been revealed that she is the great Atlantean ruler who possesses the mystical Furby powers."

"Tabby? She's the prophesied one that would be gifted with the ancient Furby powers of Atlantis?" Hubert turned this thought over in his mind. "I knew she was holding something back about her excursion in Atlantis."

The Society of Krulotin seemed to be reluctant to disclose any more information, as if fearing that they had said too much already. Hubert had to prod them on. "Do you plan to keep me in chains like this for the rest of my life?" He rattled one of his bindings for effect.

One member came forward after a pause. "Yes. You must remain our prisoner for all eternity."

* * *
Tabby, meanwhile, was crouched in the shadows outside the entrance of the meeting room. She had followed the group all the way to their cave, and had watched in horror as they chained her father up. She was unsure, however, of how to go about saving him. Until she thought of something, she sat there listening to the bits of conversation she could make out.

Could these seemingly-menacing members of the Society of Krulotin really be the same figures that delivered flowers in town? Tabby could hardly believe it. However, strangely, she was beginning to recognize her surroundings, as if she had been in this place before. Images flashed through her mind of being chased by these cloaked figures... oh, yes! It suddenly came back to her. This must have been the same network of caves built into a mountain that she and Tiny the Bigfoot had gone to gather ingredients for his special magic injection mix when Tabby had been in need of one for her cat, Callie. That had been several months back now, and Tabby hadn't thought much about her past encounter with the grouping of mysterious cloaked flower deliverers... but they seemed to grow more villainous by the day now.

But even more unbelievable was the fact that they had their origin in Atlantis, and that they knew of her recently-discovered Furby powers, from the snatches of conversation she heard. Tabby lifted the jewel-encrusted crown off her head and stared down contemplatively at it. The fact that she had been crowned queen of Atlantis with it was a little-known fact around town. Actually, she and Thomas had decided to keep it a secret between themselves. But the Society of Krulotin must have found out about the crowning. As it was looking now with her father's imprisonment, perhaps it hadn't been a good thing.

Filled with newfound purpose, Tabby stood up resolutely and began cautiously peering into the other smaller doorways they had passed on their way into the main room. Perhaps she could find something in one of them that would be useful to her. She had to save her father!

* * *
After Hubert's fate had been so solemnly announced, the members of the Society of Krulotin didn't speak directly to the stallion. They did whisper among themselves, though, as they stood watch over him; and Hubert was able to pick up some valuable information from the snatches of conversation he heard.

"It would never work if he had his influence over her. The queen of Atlantis must be ours to manipulate."

"Our queen would never bend to our needs with her father's positive influence."

"He would sense what we were doing. He would seek to destroy our society."

"Her powers must be used for the good of the Krulotin!"

Hubert began piecing these statements together in his mind. This Society of Krulotin had been planning to manipulate Tabby by making her use her powers for their own benefit? And now, with Hubert's influence over her, it appeared that Tabby's actions would be much more inclined to help all of humanity rather than simply to aid their ancient organization.

The stallion looked out over the congregation contemplatively. There had to be a way to make them see their selfishness.

* * *
Thomas entered the clearing in the Dark Forest with notable relief. At least this niche of his hadn't vanished. He stepped across the weathered stone-tiled pavilion and seated himself atop an aged rock wall on the opposite side. Now he was in a position to think.

Ever since the first time he had stumbled into this secret place several months ago, it had seemed to have a peaceful and calming effect on him. He didn't know what ancient civilization had built this plaza out in the woods or if there was more of the city buried under the lush forest vegetation, but he hadn't exactly had the urge to look yet. Whether there was more out there or not didn't matter to him, though; this pavilion was the perfect place to meditate, and that was just what he needed right then.

Thomas was of course happy for Tabby over her father's return, but he still couldn't bring himself to get to know the long-lost Hubert Fershund. To hear of him only brought back memories of his own parents. Ghosts of the past had come back to haunt him.

Slowly, he lifted up into view a small picture frame which he had stared at many times. It housed one of the last reminders of his deceased parents, a photograph of the two. Yes, there they were-- Dietrich and Caprice. They both looked so happy and so blissfully unaware of what their fate would be.

Time stood still as Thomas gazed down in silence at the photograph he held in his hooves. If only they could still be there for him. If only he could stand to face Tabby's happily reunited family.

A gentle breeze rustled the tree branches above him, and suddenly something came over him. A wave of encouragement swept over his soul. All his fears and apprehensions vanished as abruptly as they had come in the first place.

Thomas found that he could once again smile, which he hadn't been able to do for days. No, he realized; his parents weren't gone. They were still watching over him, even if they no longer remained in a physical sense. And they would want him to be enjoying this time in Tabby's life.

Now it was time for him to face Hubert. Now he felt that he could. And Tabby wouldn't be abandoned by him any longer. Looking down once more at the picture in the frame, Thomas collected himself and prepared to leave.

* * *
Tabby quietly stepped down the dark stone passage cut into the mountainside. So far she hadn't found anything interesting in the small, unlighted rooms off the main hallway. She was beginning to worry that she'd get herself lost in this maze, but at least there were no cloaked figures around to give her trouble. They all must have been gathered in that large room where they were keeping her father.

Down a particularly dark and short hallway, Tabby was intrigued to see a heavy wooden door ahead of her. The other entranceways had no doors, so she thought that perhaps there might be something useful behind this door. Now she only had to hope it wasn't locked.

Tabby was in luck, as the knob turned easily in her hoof as she pulled on it. The door swung open slowly, and the unicorn peered out tentatively into the room it revealed. Unfortunately, as it turned out, she was also being scrutinized as she made her appearance to the figures gathered on the other side.

"Help! Help! It's them!" Tabby shrieked upon first seeing the cloaked figures staring at her. She was about to turn and slam the door when she took note of something on the opposite wall. "Hey... Dad?" She cocked her head in confusion as she saw the familiar stallion chained-up. But that would mean...

"Tabby!" Hubert called out. "You followed me here?"

...that she had only circled around and entered the main room by means of an alternate door. "Yeah," said Tabby, staring out into the sea of cloaked heads looking in her direction. "I was going to rescue you. But I hadn't meant to make such an abrupt entrance."

"I thought you'd be along, anyway," Hubert nodded. "Besides, they might listen to you more than I."

The thought hit Tabby quite abruptly that her father would have by now found out about her queenship. It wasn't bad, really; it just made her wish she would have told him herself, and not have him find it out from a secondhand source. Tentatively, she touched her crown, and then suddenly noticed the attitude the Krulotin obviously had for it. They all looked rather respectful, and stood motionless and silent as they stood facing her, apparently waiting for her to speak.

"Oh!" Tabby straightened her pose a bit. "Well... well... as queen of Atlantis, I demand an explanation of what's going on here and the release of my father!"

A murmur of "The queen has spoken" echoed through the room as the congregation discussed her demands among themselves. Finally, one stepped forward. "The release of your father cannot be permitted."

"Why?" Tabby asked sharply.

"The goal of the Society of Krulotin could not be met with his interference."

"The original Krulotin of Atlantis would be ashamed to share a name with your society," Hubert spoke-up suddenly. "You have only become a hindrance to the reign of Atlantis, not the guardians of it."

"It is not your place to decide our purpose," the cloaked figure replied.

Hubert went on nonetheless. "The original members of the Krulotin were there to faithfully guard Atlantis and its royalty, and they took their responsibility seriously. Now your goal is only to manipulate the rulers of Atlantis to achieve your own selfish wants."

"Exactly," Tabby agreed, trying to get the story straight in her head. "It's not right."

"The special powers Tabby has been gifted with were meant to be used for the good of Atlantis," Hubert continued. "These powers were never intended for evil purposes or selfish ends."

"Yes," Tabby nodded vigorously. "Whatever you've been planning to do to me... it just isn't what the Atlantean royal guards would have done."

"For instance," Hubert proceeded, "in the final hours of Atlantis, it was the Krulotin who gave their lives to allow the citizens of the city to escape."

"Queen Kaliope had left standing orders with the Krulotin that in case of any wide-scale disaster that threatened the whole of Atlantis, they were to aid the citizens in escape before the royalty-- even if it meant their own lives," Tabby added intelligently.

"Is it possible that we could have so completely lost sight of our noble heritage?" the lead cloaked figure asked.

Upon seeing their leader's uncertainty, the others also began doubting their motives.

"Could they be right?"

"We are not carrying out the will of the Krulotin."

"We only cared about what we could obtain from the queen's powers."

"We didn't think of the good of Atlantis."

"Our ways have turned selfish."

"There must be a better way."

"I quit," one disgruntled member said.

The room began literally buzzing with conversation from the Society of Krulotin members. Hubert's speech must have had a great impact on them, and they began to doubt the correctness of their ways. While they talked it out amongst themselves, Tabby took the opportunity to slip around the side of the room over to her father.

"What do you think is going to come of this?" she queried of him.

"I'm not sure," Hubert murmured, staring out over the expanse of the room. "But I'm certain I wouldn't have been able to get them this far without your appearance. They do seem to have quite a bit of respect for you yet."

"Yeah," Tabby said guiltily, fidgeting with her crown. "I kinda left out that part when I was telling you about Atlantis."

"I understand, Tabby," Hubert said, looking down at her. "It is sometimes for the better to keep such things hidden. Your motives were pure."

"I don't exactly have to tell anyone else, do I? It was really only a secret between Thomas and I..."

"Not unless it is ultimately necessary to do so in your reign," Hubert assured her. "I'll keep it quiet for you."

"That would be grand!" Tabby said with genuine thanks. "And I can give you the full account of how it came to be later, if you'd like."

"Wait!" Hubert silenced her. "I think they're coming to discuss some things with us."

A group of Krulotin approached them. "We have finally seen the error in our ways," one said, coming forward. "It is you who made it clear to us what our true motives should be."

"To repay our gratitude to you, you shall be released to live freely," another added.

"And what will the society do with its future?" Hubert asked, keeping a firm eye on them.

The lead figure spoke. "We have been blinded by self interest and lost sight of the true goals of the Krulotin. It has taken your enlightened insight to show us our errors. We have concluded that, so as not to stray from the path of righteousness again, we should seek enlightenment ourselves so that we will no longer need a stranger to point out what is obviously clear."

"I sense that what you say comes from your heart," Hubert said after a moment's pause. "I will trust you now to live up to the ways of the Krulotin."

Several came forward and began to untie Hubert from his bindings. The rest of the congregation began filing out of the room, to begin their new, reformed lives. Once Hubert was released, the few remaining members also went on their ways. "But if the queen of Atlantis ever needs our assistance, we will return in times of dire need," the last one there promised, however, before turning to leave.

"But now there won't be any flower deliverers in Dream Valley," Tabby said in dismay as she watched him go.

The figure paused once more and looked back at her. "No, the flower delivery business will remain. You have mistaken us for the group of the Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverers. They will always remain. I hope we meet again, my queen." With these words spoken, he disappeared into the dark shadows.

"They sure looked like the Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverers," Tabby commented, mystified, to her father.

"They were one group, initially," Hubert spoke-up. "They had disagreements among themselves, though, and the separate Society of Krulotin broke away from them."

"Oh," Tabby said. So there was still mystery behind the flower deliverers! "Do you think the Krulotin will really reform their ways?"

"I believe they will, Tabby," Hubert said, gazing around the huge expanse of now-empty space. "I believe they will."

Tabby, too, gave a last glance over the spacious cave. But she had accomplished what she had come for. Turning to her father, she suggested. "Well, what do you say we head home now?"

"And let's hope that Agatha hasn't begun worrying about our absence," Hubert smiled. "Yes, that sounds like an appealing idea. Let's go, Tabby."

"What are we going to tell Mom?" Tabby questioned, scurrying along after her father out of the stone passageways and back into the forest.

"She doesn't need to know much," Hubert winked. "We only took the opportunity to get out and see some wildlife of the Dark Forest."

Tabby smiled in return and took his hoof. "I'm glad you're back, Dad."

* * *
Tabby was a bit unsure of what to say as she opened the door again to Thomas later that afternoon. "Eh... hello," she said uncertainly, cranking the door open a bit further.

"I... hope you don't mind that I'm back," Thomas put forth almost shyly.

"Mind? Mind? Yes! I'm shocked! Horrified!" Tabby said sarcastically. "What do you think, Thomas? Of course I'm glad you're back." In a softer tone, she added, "I was concerned about you."

"Thank you for understanding, Tabby." His gaze wandered to the floor. "With your father coming back... it just made me remember my parents all over again. I had to sort my feelings out again."

"I know," Tabby whispered, her eyes softening. "I know."

"But I think I found some enlightenment of my own today." Thomas looked up at her and smiled. "If there's still a place for me...?"

Tabby's face broke out into a grin. "I'll always have a place for you in my heart, Thomas, no matter who else comes on the scene."

There were a million things Thomas wanted to say, but was only able to put one line into words. "I'm so glad I met you, Tabby." He clasped her front hoof and stared at her with a look of pure affection.

Tabby's face flushed and she turned her head away. "So am I, you know."

"Do you still remember the first time we met, Tabby?" Thomas' eyes sparkled. "I caught you and Sugarberry at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe discussing me behind my back right after I'd opened my clinic in town."

"Ah. And I'd just threatened to give you a piece of my mind for intruding on my territory," Tabby nodded, laughing. "We weren't on the best of terms then, were we?"

"No," Thomas agreed. "But we've come a long way." He lapsed into a contemplative silence.

Tabby found the silence rather intimidating as it gave fears on her conscience the opportunity to rise. Thoughts stumbled through her mind for several moments before she spoke again. "And you know," she began in a rush, "and you know, Thomas, that maybe even if I don't say it very often, never doubt for a moment that I love you, because I do and I'll never stop loving you." With this said, she stopped to take a breath.

Thomas turned to her and smiled at the outburst. "Of course. You don't need to clarify yourself. And you must never doubt either that anything you say or do-- or don't say or do, for that matter-- will ever change my feelings for you. It's one of the things that makes you you, Tabby, and I love you all the more for it."

"Fabulous," Tabby murmured. "Because I love you, Thomas." She gently laid her head on his shoulder, both being at complete peace with the world once again. "I'd like to hear more about your parents, too," she put forth tentatively.

"They were wonderful. I only wish they were here now to see you." He paused in thought. "But there will be time later to tell you more. Now..." He pointed her towards the open door. "Don't you think we should be going inside?"

Tabby laughed. "Fabulous idea. They're both anxious to see you."

The introductions went well all around and Thomas' apprehensions over Hubert vanished completely. As it turned out, they seemed to have bonded pretty well by the end of the evening. Life was going rather well and worry-free again for both Tabby and Thomas. As Ah-Loh would have put it, "Hey, party!"

And if you haven't already, be sure to take a look at my webpage to see pictures of all the characters out of this story (and more!). The Gallery is located at--

New characters are always being added.


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