My Little Pony Monthly Issue 40 (July 1, 2000)

My Little Pony Monthly
Established June 1997
This Newsletter is Safe for All Ages

If you would like to be removed from the My Little Pony Monthly mailing list, simply send a blank e-mail to


Issue 40
July 2000

Index of this issue--

1. Contest Corner

2. The Lost Prince Chapter Six by Moonjumper

3. In Memorial by Tabby

4. The Evil Dragon Part Ten by Princess of the Stars

5. The Millinery Mystery by Sugarberry

6. All in Due Time Part One by Atalanta

7. Ginseng and Sassafras Tea Chapters Seven and Eight by Sugarberry

8. My Little Pony: The Return of Tirak Chapter One by Crash Cymbal

9. Silver Swirl's Guest by Princess Silver Swirl

10. The Tabby and Sugarberry Gossip Hour! by Tabby and Sugarberry

11. Flashback by Sugarberry

12. Early Pony Special


Contest Corner

The winner of last month's contest (to find all the threes contained in that issue) was! She will be receiving personal autographs from three of our contributing authors-- Sugarberry, Barnacle, and myself, Tabby! (Olivia, we'll be e-mailing you soon.) Thank you to everyone who entered!

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

"Ashleigh Griffen's favorite colt, Aladdin's Treasure, is set to run in the most exciting horse race of the year-- the Kentucky Derby. Within days of the race, Aladdin is badly spooked and throws his rider. From then on, the colt is not himself. The jockey claims Aladdin is ruined, and insists that he be scratched from the Derby and retired. But Ashleigh refuses to believe that Aladdin must give up what he loves-- racing. How will she convince the colt's owners that Aladdin must run in the Derby-- and that he'll win?"

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 July 15. Good luck!

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


The Lost Prince
Chapter 6
by Moonjumper (

~* Late night, Dream Castle *~

Molly! Twilight called telepathically and the girl woke abruptly. Twilight? She hasn't called me like that for so long... Molly thought, pushing her covers off and tiptoeing to the door, trying not to wake Lisa or Marissa who were sleeping in the same room. To her surprise, Theo was outside the door along with Twilight.

"C'mon, Majesty needs to see us," he whispered urgently.

Molly nodded and they headed for the throne room, not knowing that Marissa had heard them and started to follow. "They'd better not be going home and leaving ME behind!" the younger girl muttered.

When Theo and Molly reached the throne room, along with their little shadow, Twilight led them to one of the balconies where Majesty and Paradise were waiting.

"What is it, Majesty?" Molly didn't like Majesty's expression, a mix of weariness and sorrow.

"I was hoping that you would not have to know, but it seems that..." Majesty trailed off and gazed into the starry sky.

"So, um, did Ribbon make a mistake in calling and we're all going to be sent back so she can get Megan?" Theo asked with a slight laugh, trying to ease the tension. A few months ago-- Earth Time-- Ribbon had tried to get Megan to return to Ponyland to help the ponies; Reeka and Draggle had started up trouble again. (Author's Note-- Hydia was on vacation.) But Ribbon had made a mistake and transported Theo there instead.

Under different circumstances, Majesty would have laughed; but now she just shook her head, continuing to gaze at the stars.

Paradise took over. "The witch, Marenche, has returned as promised in the Rhythm. That's why you were all sent to Ponyland ‘strangers... number eight.' " Paradise handed Molly a thin piece of weathered parchment. "Reading this might help you both to understand."

Twilight left abruptly, and Marissa, who had been hiding behind the curtains, held her breath ‘till the unicorn had passed. "Phew..." her eyes narrowed. "Who are these people? Marenche? Reeka? Draggle? What idiot named them?!" Marissa shook her head. This was one strange place!

Theo watched Twilight leave, then turned his attention back to Molly and Paradise.

"The Rhythm... the promise?" Molly started, unsure of how to read it.

"Her awakening shall proceed

the Valley's most dire need,

For the strangers which always wait

this time, they number eight.

Precious stones, save the Lost,

they transform with a cost.

He shall come at their call;

the Lost Prince will save us all."

Majesty looked down at the ground. "She's taken Prince Magenta, the second precious stone. Prince Sapphire is..."

"He's gone!" Twilight burst into the throne room. "He went to find his brother; what now?"

Paradise shook her mane. "He was always the one to ignore the legends-- and especially the Rhythm," she snorted. "And I bet she's gotten him by now, the last prince we have here!"

Molly looked at Theo. He shrugged his shoulders. Last time I was here, it had been just Majesty... who are these princes? he pondered. "But then, Skydancer and I were transported to that island along with the others before I could really hear about them..." Theo mused quietly to himself.

"You're wrong; there is another prince here!" a voice rang out from the balcony's dark corner over to their left. Twilight switched on a light and revealed six ponies and one human. Five ponies were slightly smaller and much slimmer than Majesty, Twilight, and Paradise. The sixth was a blue baby pony.

"Ciara?" Molly was the first to speak.

Ciara dismounted from the yellow pony she'd been on and nodded. "This is Honey... er, Prince Diamond, Majesty," she gestured to the blue baby pony with white hair.

"The last precious stone," Majesty murmured to herself.

"Who are the rest?" Twilight asked, glancing at the other ponies.

"This is--" Ciara started.

"Sky Skimmer, Morning Glory, Petal Blossom, Dainty Dove, and Clever Clover," Theo finished for her, naming the yellow pony, the pink pony, the purple pony, the white pony, and lastly, the bluish-purple pony.

"How did you..." Molly looked at Theo curiously, but he just grinned.

Morning Glory smiled. "Nice to finally be able to meet you all. We're sorry we couldn't meet earlier; but when we arrived, a mysterious white tiger gave us a baby newborn and told us to guard him."

"And not let any know of him ‘till it was time," Sky Skimmer added.

"How did you know it was time?" Molly asked.

"When Ciara came back. She's the only one besides that tiger that knew of us, of course!" Dainty Dove swished her mane, her reasoning just fine to her, but faulty to the rest of the group.

"O-o-okay," Molly turned to Majesty. "What do we do now?"

"Following the Rhythm doesn't help unless you can understand it," Clever Clover said.

"They know that!" Petal Blossom glared at him.

Twilight exchanged a grin with Paradise. Just a bunch of teenagers! she sent her thoughts to Majesty.

A sudden crash of thunder made everyone jump, then run inside the throne room. Twilight closed the doors just as Marissa slipped in.

Ciara grimaced and thought, Why is she always around? I wish... She fingered her butterfly clip, but with a quick look at Sky Skimmer she put her hands down.

"That's the beginning of a long night," Majesty said, staring off into the distant mountains.

Molly came up and laid a hand on Majesty's shoulder. "What do you mean?"

Majesty turned to the group of nine ponies and four humans with a serious face. "Marenche is coming here."

~* Early morning, near Talen's Cave *~

"She's left," the white tiger Silver had been following said shortly after they'd searched Talen's Cave.

Silver nodded, outwardly calm, but inside he was a churning mass of questions. Why am I following him? I don't know his name, what he's planning to do... Talen... A tear slipped from one eye and he brushed it away.

The tiger sighed. "Silver, I know you have many questions and doubts about me and what we're doing, but--"

"That's just it! I don't know what we're doing!" Silver turned away, feeling more tears coming.

"Alright... we are looking for your brothers."

Silver's head jerked up. "My brothers? But I thought..."

"There's four of you, and you are the third. The reason we are looking for them I cannot reveal just yet. But I can tell you this, you will know everything when the time comes." The tiger turned back to the path before adding, "And my name is Blaze."

Silver stood there for a moment. Blaze... I know him... but from where? He broke into a run to keep from being left behind.

~* Sunrise, Paradise Estate *~

Marenche frowned at the locked gates. "Stupid ponies. I, Marenche have your precious princes!"

"No! You only have two!" Sky Dancer appeared over Marenche and Trixie. She dared to fly down a bit closer before soaring back up. She did a series of loops, as if she were daring Marenche to try and get her.

Marenche grinned evilly. "Trixie, unleash the Shadows on her! She is a fool enough to come and try..." Marenche trailed off. She gripped the gates' lock and wrenched it off.

Trixie gulped, but as always, did as she was told. She pulled the cork out of a dark, curved bottle and the darkness seeped out, leaving a crystal clear bottle.

"Shaaaaaadooooooowsss!" The darkness formed a cloud and shot after Sky Dancer.

Molly leaped up from the bushes she, Theo, and Twilight were hiding in. "I've got to help her!"

Theo pulled her back down. "You can't!"

Molly pushed him away and turned to Twilight. "Can't we use the Rainbow of Light against her?"

Twilight looked at Theo for a moment, then shook her head. "We don't have it anymore... the witches sent several groups of ponies to a strange island and Baby Lickety Split, the keeper, was with a group. Theo, Sky Dancer, Baby Applejack, and Baby Shadow were the only ones who were able to return."

Molly gaped at Theo. "You've been here before?! You didn't tell me!"

Theo threw his hands up. "You never asked!"

Molly rolled her eyes. She held her breath as Sky Dancer looped and dived to stay out of the Shadows' clutches. Just when it seemed she'd be caught, Sky Dancer was able to jump away.

Shadows have been taken care of, just the Black Mirror left, Twilight reported to Majesty.

In Dream Castle, Majesty nodded. Alright... I'll send a few unicorns to take care of that... don't do ANYTHING to let Marenche know you are close by, Majesty sent her last thought along with a mental picture of what could happen if Marenche got to Molly and Theo.

"We must defeat her here and now!" Majesty gave a decisive nod and motioned for Ribbon, Windy, and Glory to go. She smiled encouragingly at the rest of the ponies who had taken refuge a few hours before Marenche had reached Paradise Estate. Everyone needed encouragement, for this was to be the last showdown with Marenche.

Ribbon, Windy, and Glory reached the scene and Molly gave them each a hug before they went to face the mirror. "Be careful," she whispered as they left.

Marenche turned to the three unicorns and snapped her fingers. "Trixie, the mirror! I want those for the rock hand! Three is a nice, odd number," she smiled maliciously.

Trixie shuddered. "It's getting so hard; how can I keep going?" she whispered as she pulled a cloth-covered object from her knapsack. Removing the cloth, she handed the wooden framed mirror to Marenche.

It looked to be an ordinary old mirror, but Ribbon, Windy, and Glory knew better. Marenche had stolen it from Dorin long ago and enchanted it. They readied themselves for the fast winking they would have to do.

"Camouri, shecouri, trio!" Marenche pointed the mirror at the unicorns and a flash of light erupted from it, making its smooth surface become choppy.

The light reached for Ribbon first, but she was quick and winked away. It then split and headed for Windy and Glory, but they too winked out before it could grab them. The Black Mirror and Shadows continued to play tag with the ponies, neither side giving in.

Trixie watched, wincing each time the light or Shadows came close to capturing their prey. Marenche laughed and caressed the Black Jewel that held her trump cards-- Prince Magenta and Prince Sapphire.

Molly studied Skydancer, looking for a sign of weariness, but she found none. "Good; Twilight, tell Majesty to send the Fairy Tail Birds now. Skydancer isn't tired yet, but we have to be ready."

Twilight nodded and hid a smile. Molly sounded like Megan. If only... no, Molly is the one we need now, not Megan, she thought and sent Majesty Molly's instructions; and moments later, they were joined by four of the magnificent birds.

"I'm Windsong," the leader said. She was light purple and her tail shimmered in blue, pink, and green.

The other two said nothing, for they were busy watching the scene before them, getting a feel for how Shadows reacted to every move Skydancer made.

"I hope this is over soon, real soon," Molly leaned against Twilight.

Theo nodded. "It will have to be. We can't fight her forever.

Marenche frowned. "They remembered those legends!! Dorin, you will pay when I find you. And Aurora, you think your other two sons are safely hidden! I will get them and make you beg for their lives. But I will not be merciful; you shall fall!"

Trixie glanced up at the sound of Marenche muttering angrily. Blaze, you'd better get here quick... and Talen, where are you? You said you'd save me one day... Trixie closed her eyes, blocking everything out. "Save me..."

<~* to be continued *~>

In Memorial
by Tabby (

*sobs* Well, here it is. I felt so heart-broken over killing Thomas and Elaine's parents off so early, that I decided to go back and write the story behind their getting together. Now please excuse me while I go cry my eyes out some more. (Oh, and Barnacle, if this is too mushy for you, tough. You'll have to get past Sugarberry and I, and we're not yielding.)

Characters in this story:

Cecil Monk, Caprice's father (pink unicorn with purple hair; sea serpent symbol)

Cecilia Monk, Caprice's mother (blue pegasus with cream hair; ring symbol)

Caprice Monk, one of the two main characters (beige unicorn with purple hair; frilly heart symbol)

Delia Monk, Caprice's sister, about fifteen (blue unicorn with purple hair)

Leander Monk, Caprice's brother, about twelve (cream pegasus with blue hair)

Velvet, Caprice's cat

Jade Star, Tanzy's mother

Tanzy, Caprice's friend (bright green earth pony with bright magenta hair [blue streak in mane]; perfume bottle symbol)

Reginald Fairfax, Dietrich's father (white unicorn with gold hair; an outrageous thing symbol)

Helga Fairfax, Dietrich's mother (pale yellow earth pony with sky blue hair; another outrageous thing symbol)

Dietrich Fairfax, the other key character in this story (aqua unicorn with yellow mane [black streak in mane]; Siamese cat symbol)

A flower deliverer, not to be confused with a Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverer

Excalibur, some stallion around town

Storen, his name means "bother" in German

Caprice entered the kitchen, looking slightly flustered in the face as she deposited the bag of groceries on the counter. "Mother! I'm back!"

"Hello, dear," Cecilia nodded at her daughter. "You were out longer than you usually are."

"I took a shortcut through the woods on the way back and... oh, I met a nice stallion on the way," Caprice put forward, smiling a bit wistfully.

"Oh?" Cecilia looked up. "Who was he, dear?"

"He said his name was Dietrich. We had a very fascinating conversation on cats. He has a fancy for them, too, it seems."

"Dietrich," Cecilia said emphatically. "He's only the Fairfaxes' son."

"He is? I wonder why I've never seen him around before?" Caprice mused.

"Our social calender is not meant to overlap that of the Fairfax family," Cecilia said sharply. "I wouldn't suggest meeting him any more, Caprice."

"Are you still worried over that silly feud, Mother? He really was very nice," Caprice argued. "I don't think there's a problem with him."

"The Fairfaxes and the Monks don't associate with one another," Cecilia said coolly. "Listen to me when I say stay away from him."

Caprice lowered her head meekly in submission. "Yes, Mother."

"Why don't you attend to setting the table now?" Cecilia added in a gentler tone, moving toward the bag of food items. "Thank you for picking these things up from the grocery. I can't believe I forgot to keep tomatoes on hand."

"Of course," Caprice murmured. "I'll get right to it, Mother."

* * *
Caprice was restless that night. Sleep was impossible as she tossed and turned in her bed. Too many thoughts were bombarding her mind. How could she get any rest?

A dreamy smile crossed her face as she once again remembered the kind look Dietrich had given her and the gentle yet firm sound of his voice. Caprice had to giggle slightly realizing that "gentle yet firm"was somewhat of an oxymoron, but it was the only way she could think of to describe it.

The image in her mind of Dietrich slowly moved to the iced-over expression of her mother telling her "Stay away from him." Caprice had to sigh at that unpleasant memory. Dietrich had seemed so kind! Couldn't her mother see that? She couldn't understand the basis for her family's feud with the Fairfaxes, let alone this cold forbiddance of any friendship with them.

It had been a long-ago incident that had started the terrible war. Back in colonial times, when the town was first being founded, two affluent families had relocated their publishing businesses there-- two families who were none other than the Fairfaxes and the Monks. Neither side wanted to give any of their ground away in their successful business, and they both worked tirelessly to scout out new talent to publish. Undiscovered authors were scooped-up as quickly as they were found and sabotage between the two separate publishing houses abounded. This had been the start of the feud, and so it unrelentlessly continued on into the present day.

Caprice could remember well all of her family's warnings against the Fairfaxes and a detailed account of the story behind it, leaving nothing out of the treacherous tricks employed by the opposing family. She had always thought it sounded silly and hadn't considered it any further than that. Of course, it had always been exciting to hear her father talk about signing-on a new author that he had managed to keep away from the "villainous Fairfaxes", but she had never seen a serious problem with the two successful rival companies. Of course, as her mother had said, the Monks didn't plan their social calender to overlap that of the Fairfaxes. So, even though they were both affluent families in town, Caprice had grown up not knowing any Fairfaxes. Still, she had not known her parents were this adamant against them until her chance encounter with Dietrich that afternoon.

Dietrich... Dietrich... he had left an uneraseable mark on the young mare's mind. Not even her family's disapproval could wipe it out. Finally, her eyelids grew heavy, and she gave into the urge to sleep.

* * *
"Caprice, I was accepted into the dance academy's course for next year!" Tanzy bubbled over exuberantly. "I can't believe it! I can finally begin to pursue my dream!"

Caprice nearly dropped the tray of lemonade she was carrying into the parlor upon hearing the news. "Tanzy!" she squealed happily. "Are you serious?! Oh, that's exactly what you always wanted to happen!"

"It's going to be grand," Tanzy said excitedly. "I really did want to get accepted into this one, since it's right in town. I'd hate to have to move elsewhere."

"I'm so happy for you!" Caprice said sincerely. "And I'm so happy that you'll get to stay here. I don't know what I'd do without you around."

"It's a perfect set-up," Tanzy assured her. "I'll be a premiere world-famous dancer yet; just wait and see."

"I know you will!" Caprice said supportivly, handing a glass of lemonade over to her friend.

"What about you, Caprice?" Tanzy slowly sipped at the glass. "Are you going to go further with your education?"

"I don't know," Caprice said self-consciously. "Mother and Father would just like to see me settle down and raise a family. I wouldn't mind that, really."

"Haven't you found any handsome stallions around town yet?" Tanzy teased. "I personally think that Excalibur is kinda cute."

"Well..." Caprice blushed as she stared down into her glass. "I did meet someone yesterday."

"Oh? Who was he?" Tanzy pounced on the opportunity.

"His name's Dietrich Fairfax," Caprice said in a rush. "I met him on the way back from the grocery on an errand for Mother. He was quite nice."

"Dietrich Fairfax!" Tanzy breathed. "Now, he's really handsome."

Caprice fumbled her glass around nervously in her hooves. "Well, yes, I suppose."

"Did you set up a date with him?" Tanzy prodded. "Are you going to see him again? Do you think he likes you?"

"Oh..." Caprice was more flustered than ever. "No, we didn't set anything like that up. We just had a nice conversation about cats, that's all."

"You were meant to be," Tanzy intoned dramatically. "Go for it, Caprice! You've got to call him later."

"Mother doesn't want me to associate with him," Caprice said quietly.

Tanzy calmed herself. "Oh. Is it still that old business over your family's silly feud with the Fairfaxes?"

"Yes. The feud." Caprice stared listlessly down into her half-empty cup.

"It's just not right!" Tanzy steamed. "The Monks and the Fairfaxes are the two most affluent families in town. They should be happy over this budding romance!"

"Oh, it's hardly that," Caprice murmured.

Before Tanzy could make an appropriate comeback, the doorbell rang. Caprice was grateful for the interruption, and jumped up to answer the door.

She was surprised to see the cart of the local flower deliverer parked outside, and the deliverer himself waiting on the porch. "I have a delivery for you today, Miss Caprice," he announced himself.

"Really?" Caprice's eyes lit up at the prospect. "For me?"

"There you are," he stated, handing a fragrant bouquet over to her. "Have a nice day." With that, he made his way back to his cart.

Caprice securely closed the door behind her before she stopped to fully comprehend the bouquet of roses she held in her hooves. It was a glorious bunch of flowers, and the fragrance of it alone was splendorous. She still hadn't gotten enough of the bouquet when Tanzy came running to see what was up. She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw the flowers.

"For you?" she breathed in awe.

"I guess so," Caprice said, her face flushing. "They're so beautiful. I've never seen flowers this magnificent before in my life."

"Who sent them? Who sent them?" Tanzy was quick to ask.

Caprice groped to open the small envelope attached to the bunch. " ‘To the fair Caprice,' " she read aloud, still slightly stunned. " ‘Please accept these flowers as a token of my respect for your resplendent beauty and your sweet smile. Love, Dietrich'..." Caprice blinked rapidly as she leaned up against the wall, her face a brilliant flaming crimson.

"Caprice!" Tanzy shrieked, running up to her. "Is that really what he wrote?! It's the most romantic thing I've ever heard! You must have made quite an impression on him yesterday."

"I... I don't know why he sent them," Caprice fumbled for the words.

"Because he's madly in love with you, silly!" Tanzy retorted. "Now, don't you dare say you're going to let your parents get in the way of this. You are going over to that phone and you are going to call him right now..."

"But I wouldn't know what to say," Caprice squeaked.

"You'll say that you adore the flowers and that you would love to see him again over a quiet dinner some evening," Tanzy instructed. "Go on, go on!"

Caprice still resisted the urging of her friend. "I don't know," she stuttered. "I couldn't do it."

"Why not?" Tanzy said impatiently. "You're going to miss out on a great opportunity if you don't, Caprice!"


"Just think of how hurt he'll be if he doesn't receive word from you about his lovely gift," Tanzy said threateningly.

"I guess... some sort of thank-you would be appropriate."

"And that's why you're going to call him." Tanzy trotted over to the phone and, picking up the receiver, instructed Caprice, "Here. Come and find his number in the phone book."

"But what if he's not home?" Caprice protested. "I don't know what times he would be around."

"Time..." Tanzy murmured, searching for a clock on the wall. "Time..." Her eyes suddenly opened wide. "Oh my gosh! It's three fifteen, Caprice! I told Rosetint I would have those papers to her by three! I completely lost track of time! I've gotta run!" Frenzied, Tanzy ran for the door. "Goodbye, Caprice! And don't you dare forget to make that call, even if I'm not here!" With that, the door was abruptly opened and closed again as Tanzy left, leaving Caprice alone in the house.

Caprice glanced from the phone to the flowers, and clutched the stems all the tighter in her sweaty hooves. It wasn't necessary to reply immediately, she finally assured herself. She would at least tell her parents about the delivery that evening over supper, and she would go from there on what to do. With butterflies in her stomach, Caprice quickly deposited the empty lemonade glasses in the kitchen and then fled up to her room with the bouquet.

* * *
"I received these this afternoon while Mother was out shopping." Nervously, Caprice presented herself at supper that evening, displaying Dietrich's bouquet before her.

"They're pretty," Delia, Caprice's younger sister, said enviously. "Where'd they come from?"

"Oh, Caprice!" her mother breathed. "What a beautiful arrangement!"

"I knew the stallions would come around courting her eventually," Cecil, her father, nodded in satisfaction.

"Who did send them, dear?" Cecilia questioned.

Caprice hesitated. "They're... they're from that stallion I met yesterday. Dietrich." She deemed it wise to refrain from mentioning his last name.

This announcement caused a great commotion around the table. Her two siblings that were present knew of Dietrich, and had let their parents imprint a great fear in their minds of the Fairfaxes. Their eyes opened wide as they looked in shock at Caprice. Her parents were the first to speak, however.

"Dietrich? Dietrich?" Cecil stormed. "Do you mean that the young Fairfax has grown so bold as to send flowers to my daughter?"

"Caprice, I told you yesterday to stay away from that stallion," Cecilia said sternly. "I don't like to see you encouraging him like this."

"I... I didn't," Caprice defended herself. "But can't you see--"

"Those flowers aren't fit to be held in your hooves, Caprice, let alone be delivered to this house," Cecil said stiffly. "They should have been thrown-out immediately."

"But that's unreasonable!" Caprice cried out. "He really is nice! Can't you learn to let go of this feud with the Fairfaxes?"

"Caprice, we're not going to hear any more talk of this Dietrich in this household," Cecil declared. "Give those flowers to me."

"But--" Caprice was reluctant to hand them over.

"You must forget about him, dear," Cecilia said in a softer tone. "We only want the best for you. This is for your own good. Give us the flowers."

"They're mine." Caprice was seized with a sudden streak of boldness.

"Caprice..." her father said warningly, pushing back his chair and standing up. "You can't keep them."

"Why not?" Caprice took a step back.

"They'll only remind you of that villain Dietrich. You'll be better off without with."

Caprice's lower lip began to tremble. "Fine, then! Take the stupid flowers!" she sobbed, throwing them to the floor. "But if you think I'll ever forget Dietrich, you're still wrong!" With tears flowing openly down her face, Caprice turned and ran from the room.

* * *
Caprice cried that evening for all she was worth as she lay there on her bed. Her pretty Abyssinian cat, Velvet, tried to comfort her, but to no avail. Caprice finally had to smile, though, as she felt the rough sandpaper tongue cross her cheek.

"Oh, Velvet," she said softly, pushing herself into an upright position and snuggling the warm feline. "I've never had a fight with them like that before. I don't want them to be disappointed in me. But Dietrich at least deserves a thanks for those flowers, doesn't he?"

Velvet seemed to approve as she set to washing her fluffy tail, and her gentle purr filled the room. Seized with sudden inspiration, Caprice set the cat down gently and tip-toed to her closed door. Softly opening it and peering down the hallway, it didn't look like anyone was around. She could hear her parents talking downstairs, and Delia and Leander must have disappeared into their rooms after supper as well.

Taking the chance, Caprice walked quietly down the hall where a small stand held the upstairs telephone. With shaking hooves, she flipped through the phone book and found the F section. It didn't take her long to find the page with the Fairfax numbers on it. Unfortunately, she had forgotten that the Fairfaxes were an affluent family. There were a lot of them listed.

Beginning to panic, Caprice tried to calm herself down and think. If she didn't try to get in touch with Dietrich now, she never would. It was vital that she keep cool and try to think rationally of which Fairfax Dietrich would be listed under.

He was still at home with his parents, she knew. But who were they? Caprice thought frantically as she skimmed over the page of Fairfaxes, hoping something would jump out at her. She paused as she saw the name of Reginald. It sounded like a name her father had mentioned before. Dietrich was the son of the chief owner and operator of the Fairfax publishing company... so he had to be at this number listed under Reginald Fairfax! Her hooves shaking, Caprice set to dialing the number.

Her stomach was tied in knots and her skin was clammy as she listened to the phone ring. She halfway didn't want anyone to be there so she could just forget about it, but the other half of her wanted desperately to get in touch with Dietrich.

"Hello, this is the Fairfax residence."

Caprice jumped as she heard these words spoken over the line, and hurried to compose herself. "Is... is Dietrich there?" she said in a tone hardly louder than a whisper as she inched her way back to her room.

"This is he."

"Oh!" Caprice breathed a sigh of relief. She had found the right number! "Dietrich, it's... Caprice."

"Caprice? Is that really you?" Dietrich's spirits rose visibly upon hearing this introduction.

"Yes, and I received your flowers today. They're very beautiful. Thank you." Caprice quietly clicked her door shut and sat down in the desk of her chair with the receiver held up intently to her ear.

"That's wonderful! I sent the blossoms most closely matching your beauty."

"Oh... that's really sweet," Caprice giggled nervously.

"You've been the only thought on my mind, Caprice, since I first laid eyes on you yesterday," Dietrich continued in a softer tone.

"I know." Caprice twisted the cord around her hooves. "I haven't been able to stop thinking about you, either."

"Will you have any free time in the near future, Caprice?" Dietrich persisted.

"I... I don't know." Caprice lowered her gaze. "My parents don't want me to have anything to do with you."

"I was afraid of that. It's the confounded Monk and Fairfax feud, isn't it?" Dietrich said with a bitter edge to his voice.

"Yes, it is," Caprice said quietly. "What of yours? Are your parents any more accepting of it?"

"No, they feel the same way yours do," Dietrich scowled. "They were furious when I told them I'd sent you flowers."

"I'm sorry, Dietrich."

"There's nothing for you to be sorry for, Caprice. That right is reserved for our parents, if anyone."

"I suppose, then..." Caprice trailed off.

"No, Caprice!" Dietrich said quickly. "You mustn't give up hoping yet."

"But what can we do?"

"We can meet in secret."


"I hate to sneak around behind their backs, and I'm sure you do, too, Caprice; but unless we do, there may never be an end to this silly feud that's keeping us apart in the first place."

"I don't know what to do, Dietrich."

"Say you'll meet me at seven o' clock on Wednesday evening. Do you remember the place in the woods we met yesterday?"

"I remember it well."

"Then we'll meet there again."

"I'll be there, Dietrich."

"I'll be looking forward to it, Caprice. Goodnight, then. I'll see you on Wednesday."

"Goodnight, Dietrich. I'll be looking forward to it as well."

Caprice hung up the phone that night with her conscience hanging a little heavy on her mind, but her heart was more than light enough to make up for it.

* * *
Caprice hardly dared wonder over the fate of her precious bouquet, but when she came down to breakfast the next morning, not a word of the incident was mentioned. She smiled and acted as though nothing had happened, but she almost wished her parents would say something about it. Was it possible that perhaps, maybe, they could have softened their opinion of Dietrich after having sufficient time to think about it?

She was brave enough to broach the subject with her mother while washing the breakfast dishes. "About last night..."

Cecilia looked over at her sharply. "Yes, your father and I talked about it further."

"You still don't want me to see any more of him?"

"We only want to protect your interests, Caprice. There are many more stallions around much more fitting to you than this Dietrich."

"None of them can compare to Dietrich," Caprice lamented.

"There are those who are better than he is," Cecilia sniffed. "No, dear, it would be best to forget him."

"Won't you ever change your mind?"

Cecilia thought it best to change the subject instead. "We're done here, Caprice. Why don't you go outside and watch Delia and Leander?"

"Alright, Mother," Caprice sighed, hanging up the wet towel. "I'll see what they're up to."

The Monks' backyard was spacious and filled with lush grass and tree groves-- the perfect playground for young ponies on summer vacation, like Caprice's two siblings. She found Leander hunting for toads near the garden, while Delia was more interested in the flowers that grew profusely in well-tended beds.

"Oh, what is his obsession with toads?" Delia complained as her sister drew near. "I've grown so weary of them."

"You used to enjoy finding them for him when you were younger," Caprice reminded. "You two had lots of fun together doing that."

"Well... yes, I suppose I did," Delia recalled, affixing a brilliant purple violet behind one ear. "But one can enjoy looking at only so many toads in a lifetime."

"Delia..." Caprice said, hesitating. "What did Mother and Father do after I left the room last night?"

"They weren't too happy," Delia said, cocking her head. "The bouquet got thrown out-- that was a pity, really. It was very nice. Father read the card on it before that, but just scowled at it. He didn't tell us what it said. What did he write to you, Caprice?"

Caprice shook her head, easing herself down into one of the seats on the swingset. ‘It was nothing, really."

"He and Mother were quite riled, and talked for a bit after that," Delia went on, taking a seat next to Caprice. "Leander and I didn't say much. They seemed to have plenty to say themselves."

Caprice sat in silence, slowly rocking back and forth on the swing. Delia finally broke into the quiet, though. "Oh, I can't wait until I'm as old as you and get nice flower bouquets from handsome stallions," she sighed dreamily.

"It's not as easy as you might think," Caprice said wistfully.

"Do you really like him, Caprice?" Delia looked intently at her sister. "Dietrich, I mean?"

"I don't know. I might," Caprice blushed.

"I've never met any of the Fairfaxes. I wonder what they're really like," Delia mused.

"They're not as bad as our parents have made them out to be, I think."

"You're not going to see him again, are you?"

"I'd like to."

"But you can't go against Mother and Father."

"Someone needs to put an end to this silly feud."

"Caprice! But we've always been told to stay away from the Fairfaxes," Leander protested, abandoning the search and joining the other two. "What would they do if you violated that?"

"I don't know that, either," Caprice said quietly. "But maybe the feud wouldn't have lasted this long if someone had stood up about it sooner."

Leander stared in awe at his sister. "But they're sure to punish you if you do anything."

"I'm not going to do anything," Caprice spoke-up, perhaps a little too quickly. "I only think that this fight between our family and the Fairfaxes is unjustified."

"Maybe it is," Delia said softly, moved by the look in her sister's eyes.

"Maybe," Leander chimed in.

* * *
Throughout the following days, Caprice refrained from speaking any more of Dietrich around home. In fact, the only one who knew of her secret meeting appointment with him was Tanzy. Caprice looked forward to the day with a hopeful heart, and prayed that Dietrich would not have forgotten her.

The night of Wednesday finally came, and luckily no one suspected when Caprice announced her intention to go on a short walk in the dusk. She stopped for a short spell by Tanzy's house to gain some needed support.

"Oh, what if he's not there?" Caprice fretted as her friend met her by the gate.

"He's going to be there, Caprice. Trust me," Tanzy said reassuringly. "Don't even think of backing out now."

Caprice smiled nervously. "What will I do if word of this gets out to Mother and Father?"

"It won't," Tanzy said persistently, pushing the reluctant unicorn on. "Now, get going. You don't want to keep him waiting. And you must stop by here again and give me a full account!"

"I won't forget you, Tanzy," Caprice winked as she slowly went on her way. "Tah-tah! Wish me luck!" With that, she trotted furtively along the fence line of Tanzy's family's property (they were next-door neighbors as well as close friends) towards the woods that bordered her backyard. The place was familiar to her and she had spent much of her time there as a foal, but it took on a much more mysterious appearance as she ran along its paths in the filtered twilight.

Caprice was out of breath when she finally reached the designated meeting spot. She clutched her lacy hat to her head as she began slowing her pace. It was with a glad heart that she noticed Dietrich's presence there already.

"Ah, Caprice, you've come!" he smiled warmly, turning to her. "I'm glad you could make it."

"Oh, so am I!" Caprice laughed merrily. "I've been looking forward to it since the last time we spoke."

"And here, this is for you." Saying this, Dietrich uncupped his hoof to reveal a brilliant peach blossom and fixed it to the brim of Caprice's hat. "Do you like it?"

"Oh, it's lovely," Caprice breathed, her eyes sparkling. "Thank you, Dietrich!"

"Anything to please you," Dietrich said, kissing her softly on one cheek. "Why not have a seat?" He turned her in the direction of an old tree stump on the edge of the path, making the perfect place to sit.

"Of course," Caprice murmured as she sat down, her face flushed. "It certainly is nice in the forest at this time of day."

"Yes," Dietrich agreed, seating himself on the ground with his back against the stump. "It's so peaceful and calm."

"Do you come through here often?"

"Sometimes, when I need to get away and think. It is public property, isn't it? I'd hate to think I had been trespassing on your parents land all this time."

Caprice giggled. "Not that I know. I came here a lot as a foal to play. I must have memorized all its paths."

"I wonder why we never met here before," Dietrich pondered.

"It must have been fate," Caprice smiled. "We could have so easily missed each other."

"Sometimes fate works to one's advantage," Dietrich nodded. "If only our families could see that."

"Oh, let's not talk about that now," Caprice pleaded. "It's too pleasant a night for topics like that."

"You're right. We mustn't spoil it." Dietrich accepted Caprice's hoof as it was slipped down to him, and he held it tightly. "What are your plans for the future, Caprice? Are you going to continue your schooling?"

"My friend Tanzy just asked me that same thing the other day," Caprice confessed. "I don't have any plans, really."

"A beautiful mare like you ought to have some idea of what she's going to do with her life."

"Oh, I might get a job eventually," Caprice stared off into space. "And settle down sometime. What about you?"

"We'll have to see how things work "I'm applying to some colleges," Dietrich said. "I'd like to get into journalism."

"I suppose that ambition was born into you, your family being publishers and all."

"It could be. Of course, I don't know where I picked up my love of cats from."

"They're wonderful creatures," Caprice said happily. "Tell me again about yours."

Dietrich launched into telling the complete histories of all the members of his feline brood, and Caprice leaned forward, listening intentfully. Even at Dietrich's urgings, she didn't add any of her insight to the conversation; listening to him speak was enough pleasure for her. However, the sky overhead grew gradually darker, and Dietrich made note of the time.

"The hour grows late," he noted, standing up and helped Caprice up on her hooves. "You should be getting back home. Will you be okay alone?"

"I'll be fine," Caprice assured him. "But I hate to leave. I enjoyed getting to know you better."

"How about another meeting soon, then?" Dietrich suggested. "Are you free two nights from now?"

"Oh, I would!"

"Then I'll be waiting for you here, at the same time."

"I suppose my parents still wouldn't like it."

"I won't do anything that would make them distrust me, Caprice. We'll make them see eventually."

Caprice's spirits were lifted by Dietrich's confidence. "Alright, Dietrich. Two days from now. I'll be here."

"Goodnight then, Caprice. Be safe!"

"I will! Goodnight, Dietrich!" Blowing a final kiss in his direction, Caprice was soon out of sight on the path.

* * *
Tanzy thought the whole situation was very romantic, but Caprice still doubted that her parents would see it that way. The night after her secret meeting, she spoke up casually at the dinner table-- as casual as she could sound, at least.

"Why is it we don't associate with the Fairfaxes?"

"I thought we had covered this before, Caprice," Cecil looked up sharply.

"You're not still thinking of that Dietrich, are you?" Cecilia spoke-up in concern.

"No, of course not," Caprice said carefully. "It just doesn't seem rational to think of them the way we do."

"They're enemies to our business," Cecil said. "Your forefathers worked hard, Caprice, to start the Monk publishing company, and I intend to keep the company going strong... without the Fairfaxes gaining any ground away from us."

"But isn't a little competition okay?" Caprice argued. "It doesn't make them bad ponies."

"Let's just not talk about it any more," Cecilia said gently. "Take heed of our warnings, Caprice. And you, too, Delia and Leander."

"Yes, Mother," the younger two chorused automatically. Caprice frowned as she leaned back in her seat. Apparently, her parents weren't ready to budge.

* * *
Across town, a young member of the Fairfax family was having a similar conversation with his parents.

"That Caprice Monk is a nice girl. Why don't you approve of her?" Dietrich stared at his parents piercingly.

"You only met her once, Dietrich," Helga sighed. "It's hardly enough time to get to know her. I don't see why you're so hung up on her." Dietrich, of course, hadn't told them of the phone call and second secret meeting.

"Your mother is right," Reginald agreed. "That Caprice is only from the lowly Monk family. You would be better off to just forget her."

"Why can't you just forget this feud?" Dietrich said heatedly.

"Our ancestors had a good reason for staying away from the Monks, Dietrich, and I trust their judgement," Reginald said tersely.

"Well, someone has got to put an end to it someday," Dietrich snapped, pushing his chair back and standing up. "And so far I seem to be the only one willing to try." Giving them each a silencing glance, he stormed out of the room.

"He'll soon be over it," Helga said calmly. Her husband nodded in agreement.

* * *
Despite the negative vibes from their parents, the two didn't forget their next scheduled meeting. Caprice found Dietrich waiting for her at the designated spot in the forest the next evening, and a brilliant smile broke out on her face.

"Oh, I was so afraid you would have forgotten me by now!" she burst out in a rush. "I know that I haven't."

Dietrich caught her in a warm embrace. "I couldn't possibly forget you, Caprice. Never doubt that."

"I won't," Caprice murmured, resting her head comfortable on his shoulder. "I only hope that our parents..." She trailed off.

"They're stubborn, Caprice, and rooted to the past. We must work to stop this war between our families."

"I just wish it didn't have to be this way to begin with," Caprice said quietly, breaking away and seating herself on the tree stump.

"I don't like deceiving them any more than you do, Caprice, but if we want to continue seeing each other..." Dietrich said softly. "Don't feel guilty. Just hang on longer, and we'll make them see eventually. And then you'll be glad we went through all this."

"I know, Dietrich." Caprice squinted her eyes shut. "Eventually..."

"Now, you're the one who the other night didn't want to be talking about this," Dietrich said, trying to lighten the mood. "Let's talk about something else."

"I can stand for that," Caprice giggled. "You're right, of course. When do you think you'll have to leave for college, Dietrich?"

"Probably not before next spring," Dietrich said. "I'm not sure if any of my applications will get approved until then."

"I won't like seeing you go."

"We'll still have plenty of time together, Caprice," Dietrich said softly. "Don't think about it yet."

"I've just never met anyone like you before," Caprice said shyly. "I don't want you to go away too soon."

"And I won't, Caprice. Never fear," Dietrich assured her. "Now, what was that you were saying last night about your friend's plans... Tansy, was it?"

As every hope and dream passed between the two, they both felt the warmth in their hearts grow. Caprice had never felt happier than now when she sat with Dietrich holding her hoof, and their precious minutes together passed quickly. As they procrastinated over saying goodnight, Caprice turned slightly to look behind her, and was greeted with an unpleasant sight.

Her reflexes took over as she scrambled backwards from the tree and let out a petrified shriek. Dietrich was immediately on the defensive. "Caprice! What happened?"

Caprice only cowered behind him and, while holding one hoof over her face, outstretched the other to point to a certain tree. "It's a terrible, terrible ugly spider," she managed to get out in a trembling voice.

"A spider?" Dietrich's face noticeably lightened. "Don't worry! I'll save you." Arming himself with a handy twig, the dreadful monster was soon banished from its perch and was sent searching for a new haven from which to lurk.

"Is it... gone?" Caprice hazarded a look.

Dietrich had to laugh at her fright. "The danger is gone, I assure you."

Caprice smiled somewhat sheepishly. "Spiders are one inhabitant of the woods I don't get along with very well," she confessed.

"Typical," Dietrich teased. "Just be glad it wasn't a tarantula."

"You don't mean to say..." Caprice's eyes flew open wide. "... that those things are native to these parts?"

"Of course not, Caprice! I'm just putting you on." Dietrich looked at her fondly as he gripped her front hooves. "Don't have nightmares, now."

"Oh, you!" Caprice spat good-naturedly. "I probably will, thanks to a certain someone..." She cut herself off abruptly, finding herself caught up in Dietrich's gaze.

"Don't be angry," Dietrich said softly, pulling her in closer. "Caprice..." Several moments of silence passed as they both searched for the words to say. The emptiness was finally filled by a long, lingering kiss.

Caprice pulled away, looking thoroughly flushed. "I should be getting home now. Tomorrow, same time?"

"Same time," Dietrich echoed, his stare following her as she turned to leave. "Goodnight, Caprice! Goodnight!" Her formalities were exchanged in turn, and Dietrich was soon left alone standing on the path, his thoughts centered on the mare who had so effectively captured his heart.

* * *
And, as promised earlier, Caprice stopped in to visit Tanzy for a short spell before returning home. Tanzy, as always, was eager to hear about every detail. Caprice's mind was mainly flooded, though, with worries over the whole thing.

"If I keep meeting him like this, my parents will be sure to grow suspicious," Caprice fretted. "I don't know what to do!"

"You can't be thinking of giving up, Caprice!" Tanzy argued. "It's just like Dietrich said. Someone has to stand up and stop this feud. You're doing just that."

"But my parents don't like it."

"Don't worry! They're not going to find out."

"I don't usually go out for a walk every night in the woods," Caprice protested. "They'll know something is up."

"They don't have to know you're in the woods," Tanzy rationalized. "You'll tell them that you're coming over to my house. They won't have a problem with that."

"But even at that, I don't usually spend a lot of my evenings over here," Caprice fretted.

Tanzy sighed. "If they ask you about it, just explain that you're working on a project with me."

"But we're not."

"Caprice! Lighten up!" Tanzy cried out. "It's not a lie. Of course we're working on a project-- a project to get you and Dietrich paired-up for good and the uniting of your two families!"

"Oh," said Caprice doubtfully.

"Just head over this way every night you're meeting with him, and I'll push you on. It's going to work just fine," Tanzy assured her.

"I suppose..." Caprice said, still a little doubtful. "We'll see. But as it really is getting late now; I'd better be heading along home. G'night, Tanzy!"

"G'night, Caprice!"

* * *
The month of June passed by quickly for both Caprice and Dietrich. Tanzy provided great cover for their meetings, and Cecil and Cecilia didn't notice anything odd with their daughter working on a "project" with her friend. Dietrich was able to make up his own excuses to his parents to avoid suspicion. In addition, neither mentioned the other's name to their family, so as far as the parents were concerned, their offspring had seen the purpose of the feud.

That was far from the truth, however. Dietrich and Caprice met at their appointed spot as often as they dared, and they could feel themselves growing closer together every time. And, they had gotten used to their secretive schedule, and no longer felt so guilty about sneaking out. They had both firmly convinced themselves that their parents would begin to see their shortsightedness in forbidding them to see each other.

But trouble was approaching.

On this particular afternoon, Caprice was seated contemplatively at the kitchen table, staring off into space. Dietrich was frequently on her mind these days. He was such a nice stallion. She wondered if she could truly be in love with him.

Sighing happily, she gently touched the latest decorative item on the brim of her hat-- a beautiful stem of purple lilac blossoms. Dietrich continued to bring her small offerings of flowers, which she proudly wore. Since she was known to adorn her favorite hat with flowers anyway, it didn't raise any suspicions to see her with new floral additions. And Caprice saved every one of those flowers, no matter how dried and wilted they got.

"Caprice, look at this!" Delia's excited outburst brought Caprice back into reality. Her younger sister ran into the kitchen, waving an envelope in the air. Not waiting for a reply, the filly shoved the envelope under Caprice's nose and then set it on the table. "It just came in the mail! It's for you! It looks special. What is it?!"

Caprice smiled wryly at her sister's anticipation. As Delia persisted to hover over her shoulder, Caprice saw that the filly would not rest until she saw the contents of the envelope. The beige mare gently slit the ivory envelope, and read aloud the invitation that lay inside:

You are cordially invited to attend

a grand party celebrating

the summer season

on Saturday, June 12

at seven-thirty in the evening

hosted by Butternut,

178 Silver Lane in Gracefield.

"Oh, Caprice, that's so exciting!" Delia squealed. "You're so lucky!"

"I suppose it will be a fun affair," Caprice said relatively quietly, slipping the card back into the envelope.

"Do you suppose you'll get an invitation from a handsome stallion to attend with him?" Delia persisted.

"I don't really know, Delia."

"I think you will," Delia nodded wisely. "And then you'll fall in love with him, and then you'll get married, and--"

"I doubt that," Caprice said, with perhaps a bit of annoyance filtering into her voice. "And weren't you supposed to be cleaning your room this afternoon?" She didn't really mind her sister's enthusiasm over the affair, but she didn't particularly care to talk about it right then.

"Oh, I suppose," Delia sighed, her thoughts plummeting back to earth abruptly. "Mother expects if of me. But just watch for those inquiries from dashing young stallions to start filtering in!" Winking at Caprice one last time, Delia proceeded to skip from the room.

Now that she was alone again, Caprice stared forlornly at the envelope she held clutched in her hoof. She only hoped there wouldn't be any "inquiries from dashing young stallions". There was only one stallion she would like to be seen with there, and that was forbidden.

* * *
"Well, Caprice, you'll be my partner to the dance, won't you?"

Caprice had to gasp at Dietrich's matter-of-fact statement at their meeting that night. "But we'd be found out about!" she protested.

"We've been living in secret like this for too long, Caprice," Dietrich said seriously, kissing her hoof. "It's time to come out with it."

"What are you going to do, Dietrich?"

"We'll discuss it with our parents again, of course," Dietrich said rationally. "Surely after all this time that they've had to think about it, they'll be more understanding than before."

"I only wish I could believe you were right about them," Caprice sighed. "It's so difficult. I'm not sure they'll ever see."

"Do you regret the fact that you ever met me, Caprice?"

Caprice looked over at him abruptly. "How could I possibly regret it?" she demanded, tears shining in her eyes. "Did you think for one moment that I did? You can put that notion out of your head, because I don't. These times I've spent with you have been some of the best of my life, and I..." she trailed off, sentimental tears openly flowing down her face.

"And that's precisely how I feel," Dietrich said softly, holding her close. "I'm glad. We agree on that point."

"What will happen to us, Dietrich?" Caprice asked hoarsely, looking up at him. "You're right that we can't live like this forever. But I don't think..."

"I'll find a way for us, Caprice," Dietrich said confidently. "No matter what happens, I'll find a way. Never fear."

"Are you still going to talk to your parents?"

"Yes, I will. And we'll hope for the best, so we won't have to worry about any more problems down the road. They'll listen this time, Caprice; I can sense it!"

Caprice wiped away her tears and tried to look hopeful, for Dietrich's sake at least. "I believe that," she whispered.

"Good." Dietrich kissed her lightly one last time. "And now I must be going, as I can only stay a short while tonight. It will be a few days before I am free again, so count on meeting me here again on Wednesday."

"I will," Caprice promised, waving as he walked out of sight. "Goodbye! Goodnight!"

* * *
"Did he say anything about the party?" These were the first words on Tanzy's lips as her friend approached her gate a short while later.

"Yes. He asked if I would go with him," Caprice said wearily.

"You said you would, didn't you?" Tanzy was relentless.

"We'll have to see how things work out," Caprice shook her head. "I'm sure my parents would still never agree to it, but he's going to talk to his again."

"Trust him, Caprice," Tanzy giggled. "He's going to work something out. I'm sure of it."

"I'm the only one that isn't," Caprice sighed.

"Leave it to him," Tanzy predicted. "Don't worry. Do you think I'll manage to wheedle an invitation out of Excalibur before the weekend?"

"Knowing you, Tanzy, yes," Caprice smiled, glad to think of something else. "The stallion will succumb to your charm sometime."

"I knew it!" Tanzy said cockily. "You see, Caprice, you're already one step ahead of me. You already have an invitation!"

"Yes, but your parents aren't against your date," Caprice pointed out.

"That's not a problem!" Tanzy said breezily. "I'm telling you, Caprice, not to worry. This is all going to work out wonderfully in the end; I know it!"

* * *
Dietrich wasted no time in approaching his parents again on the topic. After all, it was only one week before the party. He brought the subject up rather bluntly the next evening over the supper table: "I'm going to invite Caprice to Butternut's party."

This was followed by the clattering of forks to the table. Both parents looked sternly over at him. "Caprice Monk?" Helga asked incredulously.

"Yes, Caprice Monk," Dietrich said confidently.

"The girl comes from a family of no refinement," Reginald griped. "I don't know what you see in her, Dietrich; and I don't particularly care to see, either."

"Well, I'm inviting her to the party."

"You most certainly are not!" Helga said sharply. "We will not have our son begin associating with the Monk family."

"Dispel the thought from your head," Reginald agreed. "There's no use in pursuing her."

"Why?" Dietrich argued. "Because you won't allow me to?"

"Our family had good reasons for setting down the restrictions that they did," Reginald said, annoyance creeping into his voice.

Dietrich refrained from saying any more, and slipped into a state of moody silence. The fight was far from over, in his estimation.

* * *
"Delia was telling me about that party of Butternut's you got an invitation to," Cecilia said brightly to Caprice the next morning over doing dishes. "I bet you're excited."

Caprice merely shrugged her shoulders slightly and mumbled out a "Yes, I suppose." Dietrich probably expected her to broach the topic with her parents again, but she simply wasn't up to it... now. She didn't want to think of what the consequences would be.

"You could go down to some of the stories in town and pick out some new ribbons and such," Cecilia suggested. "You'll want to look your best, of course."

"I could do that!" Caprice agreed. Even if she didn't care to think about the dance, it would be fun to get out and do some shopping for a change. It would help to clear her mind.

"I'll loan you some jangles. You can afford to splurge on something like this," Cecilia said cheerfully. "Oh, how I loved attending grand parties like this when I was your age!"

Caprice stroked Velvet as the cat wrapped herself around her hooves; Cecilia was busy digging out some money for her daughter. "Take this," she instructed, handing some jangles over. "Buy some nice items! I'm sure you'll have fun browsing through all the newest fashions they have out."

"Yes," Caprice smiled slightly. "I will have fun. Thank you!"

"And maybe this party will give you a chance to meet a nice stallion," Cecilia said, kissing her daughter on the cheek. "Go on along, now! I'll expect you back by lunch."

Caprice did indeed hurry along to hunt up some of the best fashion boutiques that were around town. She wasn't sure what would happen involving Dietrich and the dance, but it was a nice idea to do this shopping for herself.

By the end of her shopping expedition, the mare had made some finds she was particularly happy with: shiny hair ribbons in the shade of pink that she loved, a pair of dazzling amethyst-studded earrings that matched her mane, and a beautiful new straw hat with a fabulous teal ribbon around the brim (which could still never replace her old comfortable hat that she wore whenever possible).

It was on her way home that she ran into trouble. As she got farther away from the central part of town and the crowd thinned out considerably, Caprice was aware of a figure approaching her.

"Caprice! Caprice Monk! Is that you?" A breathless stallion came running up to her. She looked at him intently.

"...Storen?" Caprice said tentatively. She only faintly remembered him... wasn't he the son of one of her father's business partners? She had met him at a social affair awhile back, she recalled.

"You remember!" he said proudly. "Yes, that's me. Can I be of assistance in helping you back home with your packages?"

"Eh..." Caprice stared down at her one fairly lightweight bag. "That's nice of you to offer, but I think I can manage."

"Oh." Storen trailed along after her anyway. "Well, when I caught sight of you, I thought I'd say hi." He added as an afterthought, "You are awfully pretty, after all."

Caprice smiled appropriately as he tagged along by her side. Politely, she asked, "How have you been these days?"

"Very well. Very well indeed," Storen said rapidly. "You?"

"Fine," Caprice said simply. She didn't feel like revealing too much of her life to this stallion.

"I'm writing a novel, you know," Storen prattled on. "I'm going to get it published through your father's company. It's bound to be a bestseller. I'm putting a lot of work into it."

"I suppose you are," Caprice said, keeping herself withdrawn. "What is it about?"

"It's centered back in medieval times," Storen revealed. "The main character is a knight who is drafted into his king's army. He goes out to fight in many battles, but he loses them all. He goes through his entire life like this. It ends on his deathbed, when he's stripped of all his glory, and is as poor as the poorest peasant. It's going to be very suspenseful."

"Oh," was all Caprice could utter. It all sounded rather boring and uninspiring, in her opinion.

"And it's already up to fifty chapters," Storen announced. "I'll be sure you get a copy when it's published."

"I'm sure I'll love it," Caprice said faintly, and was most relieved when she saw that they had reached her house.

"I suppose I'll have to leave you now," Storen said, a note of disappointment in his voice.

"Ah... yes. Thank you for the... pleasant walk home," Caprice managed to smile as she turned up her walk.

"One thing before you go." Storen reached out and grabbed one of her forelegs.

"And that would be?" Caprice looked at him inquisitively.

"Will you be busy on Saturday night? Are you going to that party of Butternut's? Would you like to go with me?"

"Oh, but Storen, I already have other plans for that night." Caprice inwardly groaned to herself. She hadn't wanted an invitation from anyone else, but she had never expected one from such a tiresome stallion as this. She was sure he meant well, but he wasn't particularly her type.

"You already have someone else in mind, don't you?" Storen looked downcast.

"I didn't say that," Caprice said carefully. "I'm only going to be... busy. I don't know yet if I can go or not."

"Oh. Well, I'll let you be, then." Silently, Storen turned slowly and began walking away.

"But Storen! I didn't mean to make you upset! I mean, you're an okay guy, but I just..." Caprice sighed as he walked on without showing any signs of having heard her. She really hadn't wanted to make him feel bad, but there just hadn't been any other way to turn down his request.

Caprice breathed a sigh of relief when she was inside with the door securely closed behind her. There was no more Storen to contend with, and hopefully there wouldn't be in the future, either. Running her bag up to her room, her thoughts became more cheerful. It was only one evening until she would see Dietrich again... staring dreamily out her window, she hardly heard when lunch was called.

* * *
It was that very next evening that a certain stallion had a change of plans and came to stop at the Monk residence. "I've come to see you and your wife, Mr. Monk."

The expression of Caprice's father noticeably darkened when he saw the aqua stallion on the doorstep. "Dietrich Fairfax. What have you come to us for?"

"I only ask an audience with you and your wife, sir."

Cecil eyed him suspiciously, but opened the door wider. "Then we will discuss whatever is on your mind. Wait a moment while I get Cecelia."

It was only a short while later when the two Monks and one Fairfax were seated stiffly in the parlor. "I would like to ask permission of you both to be your daughter Caprice's escort to the party in town this week."

Cecelia simply looked alarmed, while her husband's look was more violent. "You are by far the boldest of your kind, Mr. Fairfax," he said sarcastically, "to want to accompany my daughter to the dance."

"There are other stallions more suited to Caprice's tastes," Cecelia chimed in.

"You're only saying that because of the old feud between our families, aren't you? Can't you see how silly it is to continue it?" Dietrich retorted.

"My ancestors had good reasons for what they decided," Cecil said. "You Fairfaxes are a dangerous breed. We won't be letting our daughter get involved with the likes of you."

"Isn't that interesting. That's what I was always told of the Monks."

"We appreciate your coming here," Cecelia started, trying to keep a calm but forceful tone, "but--"

"Dietrich!" This gasp emitted from Caprice attracted the attention of all three in the room. "What are you doing here?"

"Caprice!" Cecil looked up to see his daughter, who had actually just been heading out to "visit Tanzy", in the doorway. "Your mother and I explicitly told you not to encourage this stallion. Can you explain, then, why he's here tonight groveling to us to allow him to accompany you to the dance?" His eyes flashed with fire.

Caprice's eyes grew round with shock, fear, and confusion. Her mother stood up to comfort her, and guided her to one of the seats. "There, now," she said soothingly to her daughter. "Don't be so hard on her until she's had a chance to explain herself, Cecil."

"Then offer me an explanation for why this Fairfax has taken the notion of accompanying her to the party."

"Your daughter is a very beautiful and accomplished mare," Dietrich stated. "I can't think of any stallion who wouldn't enjoy being her escort."

"We thought this whole thing with Dietrich was over, Caprice, after the bouquet. Apparently it is not. What has brought him back after such a lapse of time?"

"Dietrich," Caprice managed to gasp out again, "What are you doing here? You had said you would only discuss this with your parents."

"I had to get the views of both sides, Caprice," Dietrich said softly. "This day had to come eventually, when there would be no more secrets."

"Ah-hah! So something has been going on behind our backs!" Cecil stormed.

"Caprice..." Cecilia looked over at her daughter. "Will you tell us?"

Caprice lowered her gaze to the floor, knowing that it could be hidden no longer. "I've been meeting him secretly."

"Caprice!" Her mother looked thoroughly aghast. "But Caprice..."

"For how long?" Cecil demanded.

"Since the beginning of June..."

"You thought you could go on like this forever?"

"You heard Dietrich, Father! He came here tonight so he could tell you."

"And this project you've been working on with Tanzy-- that was all a cover-up for this little scheme of yours, wasn't it?" Cecil said angrily.


"I thought we could trust you, Caprice! How could you deceive your mother and I like this?" Cecil raged. "It's a terrible deed! I never thought my own daughter could stoop this low."

"Stop it!" Dietrich finally jumped back in on the conversation, not being able to take Caprice's anguish any longer. "Stop it! You're only making it worse for her when she shouldn't be taking the blame. I'm the one who arranged the meetings! Punish me if you like, but leave her alone, for she only followed my incentive." Leaping up from his chair, he went to the side of the disheveled Caprice, and offered her whatever support he could.

"Don't touch my daughter, Fairfax," Cecil growled, advancing towards them. "She was fully aware of what she was doing, and still she went ahead with it. But you are right that it was your doing. You have led her astray!"

"Your ancestors have led you astray," Dietrich said venomously, "and so have mine! Let go of it, I tell you!"

"Cecil..." Cecilia said pleadingly, trying to calm him. But it did no good.

"One thing is for certain," Cecil said warningly. "Neither of you shall see each other again. No, Dietrich, you will not be allowed to take her to the party. This ‘project' with Tanzy, Caprice, will have to be put to an end. Her parents will have to be talked with as well. Yes, Caprice, we will be certain to take even more precautions with you to ensure that you are not led astray another time. And above all, Fairfax-- get out of here!" This last line rang like thunder throughout the house.

"No, Father!" Caprice sobbed, covering her face with her hooves. "Can't you see? Can't you see? Please!" She clung to Dietrich for all she was worth.

"Get away from her, Fairfax," Cecil threatened. "Get away from her! She's never to see your face again!"

"Dietrich! Don't leave me here!" Caprice shrieked frantically, feeling him pull away. "Take me with you! I don't want to be here!"

"I do have half a mind to take her with me right now," Dietrich addressed her parents coolly. "But to prove myself somewhat honorable, I won't resort to those measures... yet."

"Dietrich!" Caprice repeated again, even more pleadingly than before. "Please..."

Risking Cecil's further wrath, Dietrich kneeled by her one last time and held her chin steady as he gazed intently into her eyes, speaking as quickly and softly as possible. "It breaks my heart to leave you here like this, Caprice; and understand that if it were in any way possible, I would take you from this place in an instant. I must go now, but please don't cry. I beg of you, don't cry! Caprice, rest assured that I will return for you! If it is the last thing I do, I will return!" Glancing once more at Cecil and Cecilia, he turned to leave.

Cecilia immediately scooped-up her daughter, whose sobs had subsided somewhat as Dietrich had spoken to her. But her tears flowed freely without him, and she struggled unrelentlessly to free herself and run to her beloved. Dietrich, whose own face was streaming with tears, tried unsuccessfully to block out Caprice's one last desperate shriek before he closed the door.


* * *
Caprice could not clearly remember what events transpired after that fateful night. She was somehow transported to her bedroom, where she spent a restless night, awoken often by fits of sobbing and terrible dreams-- but the whole ordeal was nothing but a living nightmare to her, anyway.

Her mother served her breakfast in bed the next morning, and her father refrained from saying anything too discriminating to her. Delia and Leander only peeked in her room occasionally and did not stay long. The following days were very fuzzy to Caprice, and she could hardly comprehend what was happening-- or what had happened.

She thought often of Dietrich and of the terrible pain in her heart that had been caused when he left for the last time. She couldn't fully understand that he was gone, and dwelled on his parting words-- "If it is the last thing I do, I will return!" She wished he would come for her, but she had no way of knowing how much time had passed.

Caprice was allowed a short visit in private with Tanzy before their conversations had to be strictly censored by one of their elders. Tanzy felt her friend's pain, but remained upbeat.

"Dietrich is preparing for something right now, Caprice! If he said he would return, then by all means, he will. Watch for him, Caprice! Watch for him! He will remove you from all this."

"I don't know what to think, Tanzy."

"Your senses are still numb from shock, poor dear. Only believe me when I say that Dietrich is planning something, and you will make it through."

"I would like to see him again."

"And you will, if you don't give up hope on him!"

Caprice gradually grew back into the regular routine of life again. She received a few stiff lectures from her parents, but beyond that, not a word about Dietrich was spoken around the house. Caprice talked very little about anything, but continued to have faith in his words. Yes, he would return to her. He would! Her heart was intertwineably bound to his now, she knew, and nothing could change that.

After several weeks had gone by, her parents approached her with an idea. "Caprice, it has come to my attention that young Storen is interested in seeing more of you," her father began.

"We think it would be good for you if you would accept one of his invitations," Cecilia continued.

Caprice smiled weakly. It wasn't possible for her to resist. "Fine," she said faintly.

And so it came to be that Storen arrived to pick up Caprice at her house one evening, and the pair went to attend a very elegant symphony performance in town. Cecil and Cecilia were very impressed with Storen's refined tastes, and felt him to be quite a safe choice for their daughter-- and he would surely help her forget about Dietrich.

Caprice's mind that night, however, was not on the symphony performance at all. Her thoughts were running wild in the woods, and reminiscing over her times spent with Dietrich. She knew he would come for her again. It was only a matter of when. She could put up with Storen until then.

"So, what did you think?" Storen questioned her as he escorted her back home.

"Wonderful," Caprice murmured distantly, her mind centered elsewhere. Her smile radiated joy that Storen thought was meant for him. It was not.

"I didn't have time to tell you anything about the progress on my book," Storen said in disappointment. "I'm going to bring you some chapters to read next time, though."

"Storen, this is my house," Caprice halted him.

"Oh, it is." Storen looked up. "Goodnight then, darling Caprice."

Caprice frowned back at him through the darkness as she trotted quickly up her walk. What business did he have calling her "darling"? But no bother; she would not have him to worry about much longer. For Dietrich would soon come for her.

* * *
But Caprice's dashing prince did not come the next day, or the next, or the next. More weeks passed. Her vision of him began to fade. She almost began to doubt he had ever existed. Her parents had her spend more time with Storen. He bored her dreadfully... but she dared not admit that to anyone, least of all her parents. They'd be quite displeased with her, and she had already caused them enough of that.

But then one day a call came from Tanzy. "Caprice, you need to get over here."

"Tanzy? Is that you?"

"Yes! And it's very important that you get permission to come visit me. Now."

"What is it?"

"I can't say yet, but you won't regret it. Please, Caprice!"

"Hold on for a moment. I'll go get Mother."

After a quick chat over the phone between the two mothers, it was with only a little reluctance that Cecilia allowed her daughter to go over. "Now, don't be too long," she warned as Caprice prepared to leave. "I trust Jade Star will keep an eye on you girls."

"She has in the past, hasn't she?" Caprice said innocently. "Don't worry. I'll be back soon." She hardly dared think what Tanzy had in store for her; but as she trotted down the sidewalk, her excitement grew.

Tanzy and her mother greeted Caprice warmly at the door, and she almost thought Jade Star gave her a sympathetic glance as Tanzy led her to the parlor.

"Mother knows about this," Tanzy spoke quickly and confidently. "She understands, at least. So don't feel too bad."

"But, Tanzy," Caprice said incredulously, "what is it? What is so important as this to show me?"

"You'll see." Tanzy swiftly turned the doorknob and ushered Caprice in.

Caprice had to gasp as she saw the figure that waited for her inside. "You can handle this on your own," she heard Tanzy whisper in her ear before her friend exited back out and closed the door.

"Ah, Caprice, have you grown frightened of me in this time spent apart?" Dietrich stepped forward from the shadows, his voice dripping with disappointment as he saw Caprice backing up in alarm against the wall.

Caprice held her hooves up to her face as fresh tears started to flow. "Oh, Dietrich, it's not that at all!" she sobbed, rushing forwards towards him. "I just... I just..."

Dietrich obligingly accepted her into his hold and the two were silent for the next few moments as Caprice cried her heart out in his embrace, and Dietrich stroked her mane gently.

"Caprice," Dietrich finally spoke-up, "I need to know something of you."

"What is it?" Caprice whispered, staring up into his face. She was so content to simply be with him again that she didn't feel the need to know why he was here.

"I must know before I go on. Caprice, do you love me? Do you really love me?"

"Oh, Dietrich, I do! I do!"

"Then listen to me, Caprice; listen to me!" Dietrich held her chin in his hoof and gazed into her eyes. "I've been accepted into a college starting this fall. I'm going to have to leave town soon."

Caprice's blissful moment was ended as she was suddenly thrown back into shock. " ‘Soon'?" she echoed. "You're going to leave?"

"I had to find a way to tell you," Dietrich said solemnly. "That's why I arranged this with Tanzy."

"But-- but-- Dietrich, you can't leave me again!" Caprice's eyes grew frantic as she struggled to pull away. "You can't! It would kill me, don't you see?"

Dietrich held her hooves tightly and attempted to calm her. "Hush, Caprice!" he said as quietly as possible. "I never said there wasn't still hope."

"How can there be hope?" Caprice demanded. "I've listened to you talk enough about that, and it hasn't gotten us anywhere." With a forceful tug, she freed herself from his hold and faced him, her eyes shooting sparks. "And now you'll just leave me here alone again and say there's still ‘hope'! I can't believe you." Crossing her forelegs, she turned her back to him.

"Caprice..." Dietrich came up behind her and softly placed a hoof on her shoulder. "What if I said I'd take you with me if you'd agree to marry me?"

This caught Caprice completely off guard. Whirling back around, her anger subsided considerably. "Dietrich... do you mean that?" she breathed.

"All that and more." Not waiting for a reply, Dietrich drew her in for a kiss.

"But how could we ever do it?" Caprice asked skeptically.

"I'll still have to make some arrangements if you agree, but I have everything mapped out," Dietrich said, the excitement in his voice rising. "You'll come with me when I go, and we'll be married in Wild Oaks. I'll find a place for us to stay, and I have enough money to pay for most of the tuition. It would work, Caprice!"

"You make it all sound so easy," Caprice sighed.

"I won't let you down, I promise! Please, won't you say yes?"

"I-I don't know," Caprice faltered. "My parents wouldn't be very happy..."

"And neither would mine. But it's a chance we'll have to take, Caprice, if we're ever to escape these binds they've laid down for us!" Softening his voice, he added, "I'll understand if you don't want to, Caprice. But I can't stand the thought of being without you. You must consider it, at least!"

Tears shone in Caprice's eyes as she spoke her next line. "I don't know what else I can say," she choked out. "Yes, Dietrich, I will marry you. I can't bear to be without you, no matter the consequences. Please, take me with you!"

"Oh, Caprice. I do love you," Dietrich said hoarsely. "You won't regret it! I'll make sure you won't regret it!" His eyes sparkled as he presented her with a hyacinth blossom for her hat. "Take this. It will have to stand in place of an engagement ring for now."

"I'll wear it all the time," Caprice promised. "I can hardly believe it! I was beginning to think I'd never see you again... I couldn't stand the thought! But now... we'll finally be together."

"And we mustn't let word of this in any way get to our parents," Dietrich said seriously. "If they found out, we really would be doomed."

"They'll never hear of it," Caprice vowed. "I'll only confide in Tanzy, if anyone."

"We won't be able to see each other during this time, either," Dietrich went on. "It would be too risky and too easy to find out. If you even see me out in public, we are nothing but complete strangers. Remember that."

"I will... but when will you send for me?"

"In a month or so," Dietrich said. "I'll get a note through to you via Tanzy if possible. Don't give up, Caprice! The time will go fast, and then we will be together forever."

"I will be awaiting the day," Caprice said anxiously. "Please don't forget me, Dietrich! You mustn't!"

"I promise you I won't," Dietrich pledged. "Never fear, Caprice! Everything will work out. But it appears I've already stayed here too long, and I must be going now." He turned reluctantly to the door.

"And I won't see you... for another month?" Caprice asked timidly, trailing behind him.

"Not for another month. But the wait will be worth it! Goodbye now, Caprice! I'll be thinking of you constantly." And after the exchange of another kiss, Dietrich was out the door.

"Goodbye, Dietrich," Caprice whispered, staring after him. "I love you!" Suddenly feeling overwhelmed by the whole affair, she collapsed in one of the chairs.

Shortly thereafter, Tanzy dashed into the room. "Caprice! Are you okay? What did he say? What's going to happen?" she asked excitedly.

"I'm going to marry him," Caprice said, staring upwards with a glorious smile spread across her face.

"Are you serious?" Tanzy's eyes opened wide. "Oh, Caprice! I'm so happy! I thought he might be planning something like that. When is it? When are you going? Oh, but I'm going to miss you!"

Caprice had to laugh over her friend's anxiety. "Calm down! Give me time to explain. But remember, word of this isn't to get out..."

* * *
A noticeable change in Caprice's behavior was obvious after her meeting with Dietrich, but only Tanzy knew the story of why. Caprice felt like a terrible weight had been lifted from her soul, and she could live life again. It was only a short while before she would be with her beloved for good, and she felt glorious over it.

None of her family members knew what had happened to her, but they assumed that she was finally beginning to warm up to Storen. Cecil and Cecilia were quite happy over this; and unfortunately, Caprice had to play along in the charade. Of course she had to continue meeting Storen even after her engagement to Dietrich, or everyone would know something was up. Caprice had to keep their cover, and for that, she'd have to put up with Storen... but only for a little while longer!

Storen seemed to be coming to Caprice more and more often now. The improvement in her behavior had increased his hope, and he considered her already easily won. It was only a matter of time, he believed, before she would be his for good.

And so the days did pass quickly for the two as Storen took Caprice to all the most dignified and refined sights around. Caprice put up a good show for him, but her mind was always on Dietrich. Storen was usually only concentrating on thinking about his own life, so he didn't notice anything as long as Caprice added the proper comments to his monologues.

The most unpleasant problem Caprice had with putting up with Storen was reading his literary works. He had given her the first five chapters, as promised, to preview; Caprice found them to be excessively drawn-out, stale, and quite frankly, boring. As it was, she only managed to get through one chapter the first night after Storen had given them to her. She hoped he hadn't expected her to read them all in one sitting.

"Well, what did you think?" Storen asked her brightly at their meeting the next night.

"Of your... story?" Caprice asked tentatively.

"Yes, the chapters I gave you last night. Did you enjoy them?"

"It was... yes, you have a unique writing style," Caprice said carefully. "I'm sure the finished product will go over big."

"The scene in chapter three was impressive, wasn't it?"

"Well... actually, I didn't get that far last night."

"Oh," Storen said, not trying to hide his disappointment. "I brought the next five for you tonight."

Caprice was nauseated at the thought of that much more so soon, but kept her feelings hidden. "I was quite worn out last night," she said quickly. "And Mother kept me busy doing housework today. Perhaps if you'd take me home sooner I'd have more time to read."

"Okay," Storen said agreeably. "Why not just stop in at the ice cream parlor?"

"That sounds like fun."

Caprice had grown used to the routine of nodding her head and repeating phrases like "Oh, that sounds nice;" "I'm sure it is;" "Your work must be great;" and "Very interesting" when Storen got to talking. In between times, she'd let her mind wander. That is precisely how their visit to the ice cream parlor went.

It had been two weeks since she had last seen Dietrich, Caprice reminisced while Storen discussed the possibilities of his upcoming position as an editor with her father's company. The time was half over. Hopefully, she'd only have two weeks to wait. She had to admit she was a bit nervous over getting married, let alone getting married without her parents' consent. But her heart told her she was doing the right thing.

"It's very generous of your father to offer me this position," Storen was saying. "The Monk publishing company is a great place. And it goes back a long way through your ancestors, doesn't it?"

"Uh-huh," Caprice nodded.

"That's really nice. I'm looking forward to getting involved with your family's business."

"I'm sure you'll be a very valuable asset," Caprice murmured.

"Yes, I think I will be," Storen nodded, reaching across the table to hold Caprice's hoof.

Caprice diverted her gaze from his, uncomfortable enough as it was having him hold her hoof. And as she looked to the far side of the room, she saw someone that made her draw her breath in. It was Dietrich!

She looked back at Storen abruptly, remembering Dietrich's words... she had to act like a complete stranger. However, her heart was pounding for a different reason. He had seen her-- yes, they had made eye contact before she redirected her gaze. He had seen her... he had seen her sitting at a table holding hooves with Storen!

A sick feeling settled in the pit of her stomach as she stared down with wide eyes at her melting sundae. Storen noticed the change and looked at her inquisitively. "Caprice? Are you okay?"

"Uh... fine," Caprice choked out.

"Oh, that's good. Now, I was just saying..."

Caprice was glad for Storen's lack of concern. She didn't want to be questioned about anything. She wanted time alone to think.
Her thoughts ran wildly and she fought the urge to look back at Dietrich. He had seen her with Storen! Oh, she had never had time to mention him to Dietrich! He had no idea what her parents had forced her into, and that it was all part of her cover to be seen with him. But Dietrich didn't know any of that. For all he could imagine, Storen was a new friend Caprice had picked-up and fallen madly in love with. But that wasn't the case at all! Desperation fought its way up in Caprice's soul. She wanted to run to him, to explain everything. But she couldn't.

Caprice fought back her tears. Would Dietrich forget her now? Would he begin to believe that she was just a silly, flighty girl who changed stallions quickly? Would he bother to send for her, or give up on her? Or would he try to understand in the least? Caprice didn't know what to think. She wanted to sob her eyes out, but she didn't think it would be a good idea to do anything like that at the ice cream parlor.

It was a great relief to her when Storen finally led her home, and she immediately ran to her room to fret and to cry as much as she needed.

* * *
Caprice's life over the next two weeks was not nearly as carefree as had been the past two. The worry continued to hang over her head that Dietrich had given up on her. The evidence he had seen certainly would have seemed convincing! But she prayed he would still have faith in her and not take the scene at face value.

For as distraught as she was, Caprice managed to hide it well; and to everyone that knew her, she seemed to be as cheerful as ever. She continued to put up with Storen, though she found it increasingly more difficult to get along with him and with his story. The rich parties, plays, and restaurants he took her to couldn't compare with those simple visits with Dietrich out in the woods.

Finally the day came when Caprice got extremely anxious. She counted down the days on the calender. Yes, there was no doubt about it. It had been exactly one month since her meeting with Dietrich. And there hadn't been a single word from him.

Of course Caprice had confided all of this to Tanzy, so her friend was well aware of what was going on in Caprice's head. But she swore she hadn't received anything from Dietrich, and would tell her as soon as she possibly could when something came in.

The days continued to pass. Caprice was at a total loss with herself. Where was Dietrich? What was keeping him? He had promised he wouldn't forget her... but what if he had lost faith in her? Would he still bother? Caprice had many a sleepless night, and woke-up to a tear-stained pillow.

A week passed. Caprice hated to admit it-- she could hardly bring herself to-- but she had to resign herself to the fact that Dietrich was not coming for her. She felt as if her heart would break, and her spirits visibly dropped. Everyone could see her appetite dwindling and her face growing pale. But no one had an answer to why.

* * *
At the end of the five weeks, Storen once again came to see Caprice. Cecilia had convinced her daughter to invite him over for dinner, and afterwards the two sat out in the swing on the front porch.

"You know, Caprice," Storen put forward, "there's something I'd like to ask you."

"Oh?" The way he said it made Caprice suspicious.

"You're a very lovely mare, of course," Storen started out. "And... eh..."

"What is it?" Caprice prodded, perhaps a little harshly.

"I'd like to know if you'd marry me," Storen said bluntly.

"Marry you?" Caprice echoed.

"Well, will you?" Storen asked impatiently, presenting her with a diamond ring.

Caprice stared into its shiny facets with mixed feelings. Somehow it didn't seem able to compete with her wilted hyacinth blossom. "I don't know," she stated simply after a pause.

"But why not?"

"Give me a chance to think about it, Storen," Caprice said wearily, squinting her eyes shut. "Let me give you an answer tomorrow night."

"Are you sure you want to wait?"

"Why, is it going to another filly if I don't take it within a given amount of time?" Caprice said sarcastically without thinking.

"Well!" Storen sniffed, a bit miffed. "Fine then. I'll hear your answer tomorrow night."

"Thank you, Storen."

"So I'll leave you to do your thinking. Goodnight, Caprice." Rising rather quickly, Storen descended the steps and trotted away down the path. Caprice had to admit she was more comfortable with him gone.

Sighing, she put a hoof over her face. What a mess this had turned into! She couldn't accept Storen's proposal; she was already engaged to Dietrich. But did that engagement even count any more? He hadn't come for her. It was doubtful that he ever would. Was she still bound to her word?

Removing her hat, she stared down at the rather dead-looking hyacinth. She had continued to wear it, as she had said she would. Caprice's eyes grew misty and tears once again began to fall as she thought over her options.

She had trusted in Dietrich so completely, but her trust hadn't allowed for that scene at the ice cream parlor. That had obviously done the trick. Her future life with Dietrich was crushed out, and there was nothing she could do about it. Dietrich had given up on her.

So should she accept Storen's offer? She didn't particularly care for the guy, but it was obvious her parents had been expecting them to marry all along. Caprice didn't like the idea, but what else could she do? Maybe she would be better off with Storen. He would give her a rich, worry-free life; and she could stay near her home among family and friends.

Life with Dietrich would take her far away from her hometown and it would make her an outcast from her own family. However, deep inside, this option was what she preferred. But it obviously wasn't possible any more. She didn't want to think about it any longer. Sighing, she rose to go inside.

Entering the parlor, Caprice found her mother there with a book and seated herself opposite her. "Storen... proposed to me," she said falteringly.

"Storen?" Cecilia immediately dropped her book and leaned forward with excitement in her eyes. "Oh, Caprice! I'm so happy! What did you say?"

"I told him I'd get back to him on it tomorrow night."

"He's a nice, capable stallion, you know," Cecilia said, coming to sit next to her daughter.

"I suppose, but I don't know if I want to marry him."

"You'd do well with him, Caprice," Cecilia urged. "Your father and I are very pleased with him."

"I just... don't feel that attached to him," Caprice protested.

"Well, you've been seeing him this long. He can't be too bad."

Caprice remained silent.

Cecilia hugged her daughter reassuringly. "I can see you do need time to think about this, Caprice. Why don't you go up and get some sleep for the night? You'll be able to think more clearly in the morning."

"Maybe you're right," Caprice said wearily. "Maybe all my troubles will be fixed by morning." Not offering any further explanations, she whisked herself out of the room and up the stairs, and gratefully sank down on her bed with Velvet purring in her ear.

* * *
The next morning dawned bright and sunny, but Caprice didn't know any better what to do about Storen than she had last night. Cecilia was somewhat sympathetic, and refrained from mentioning the topic throughout breakfast. After the dishes were through, though, she broached the subject.

"Well, what have you decided about Storen?"

"I just don't know, Mother," Caprice said helplessly. "It's all so confusing."

"What's so confusing, dear?"

"Oh..." Caprice almost felt compelled to spill the whole story about Dietrich, but caught herself. "Nothing, really. It's just that... it's a big decision, you know?"

"I told your father last night. He also greatly approves," Cecilia added. "Storen is a fine stallion. We'd both be happy to have him included in the family."

Caprice searched for something to say. In the silence, the telephone began ringing. Cecilia promptly answered it, and handed it on to Caprice. "I believe it's Tanzy," she whispered as her daughter took the receiver.

"Hello?" Caprice said, a hint of excitement in her voice. "Tanzy?"

"Thank goodness you're there, Caprice! Please, can you come over here?"

"I think so." Caprice glanced at her mother. "Just a moment." Covering the receiver momentarily with her hoof, she voiced her request to Cecilia. "Would it be possible for me to go over to Tanzy's for a moment?"

Cecilia agreeably nodded her consent, having grown much more lenient with the rules since Storen had come on the scene. "It would be good for you to talk to Tanzy over this," she agreed. "Go on." And so, it was an anxious Caprice that skipped down the sidewalk and up to her friend's door.

Tanzy quickly pulled her in and led her up to the privacy of her bedroom. "Here," she said, thrusting an envelope at Caprice. "I believe this is for you."

Caprice's heart beat faster as she looked over the envelope-- the outside was addressed to Tanzy, but an inner envelope was labeled for Caprice. All thoughts of Storen vanishing for the moment, she ripped into the envelope and skimmed the short message that lay within--

Caprice, excuse the delay! Everything is settled. You are to meet me at the train

station at five o' clock p.m. this Friday evening. I would suggest packing your

personal belongings for this escapade. That's all you need to know for now;

I'll outline everything else to you on the way there. I didn't forget you! Love, D.

Caprice was ready to explode from happiness as she set the note down. "Tanzy!" she shrieked. "It's still on! It's still on! He didn't forget!! Oh, Tanzy! It's so wonderful!!" She grabbed her friend's hooves and dragged her up from her seat, delirious from excitement.

"Then it was from him?" Tanzy demanded anxiously. "Caprice! I'm so happy for you!! When? Where? How??"

"Friday. Five o' clock," Caprice said breathlessly, clutching the note in her hooves.

"Friday?" Tanzy squealed. "Caprice! That's today!"

"Fri-- you're right!" Caprice gasped. "Oh, Tanzy! It's today! What am I going to do?? What am I going to do?? I still have to pack, and-- ooooh!!"

After the girls had gotten the initial excitement out of their systems, they settled down to look at the matter a little more seriously. "You have to get there by five o' clock," Tanzy planned. "You should probably head out by four-thirty, just to be sure you're there on time."

"Right," Caprice nodded. "And as for packing, I should be able to throw my stuff together rather quickly..."

"Get back home and do it as soon as possible," Tanzy advised. "It would be best to get it out of the way to allow for any emergencies."

"And that's really all I'll need to do, and then I'll be with Dietrich, and..."

"Oh, Caprice! But you'll be gone!" Tanzy exclaimed, as if realizing it for the first time. "I'm going to miss you so!! You'll be with the guy of your dreams, and I'll be stuck back here..."

"Oh, Tanzy, I'm going to miss you, too!!" Caprice sobbed, letting some tears of her own out of her system. "I almost wish I wouldn't!!"

"Don't say that," Tanzy said warningly. "You're going to marry him, Caprice! It is your destiny!" Having said this, they both collapsed into each other's forelegs, crying their eyes out to each other to let out all of their disappointment.

"What are you going to do about your parents??" Tanzy demanded, finally drying her eyes.

"I'm going to write to them, of course, after we're safely married," Caprice said confidently. "They can't do anything after that point, and maybe they'll even see things in a different light then."

"You'll write to me, too, won't you?"

"Oh, Tanzy, I couldn't forget you!" Caprice promised. "You'll hear from me very soon!"

"You don't have anything planned for the rest of the day, do you?" Tanzy said cautiously. "Nothing that would interfere with this?"

Caprice's eyes suddenly opened wide in remembrance. "Tanzy!!" she cried out. "Storen!! He completely slipped my mind!!"

"Storen? You mean you had a date with him tonight?" Tanzy echoed. "Oh, you can just forget that."

"It's worse than that, Tanzy! He proposed to me last night!"

"He proposed to you last night?? You didn't say yes, did you?"

"No! But I said I'd give him my answer tonight."

"What time?"

"Oh, he'll probably come by around five."

"Then you'll have plenty of time to get away before he arrives! You'll already be on the train when he gets to your house. Forget the guy!"

"I'm not going to worry too much about him. But my parents will be quite concerned when they find me gone," Caprice fretted. "I hadn't really thought of that. What will I do??"

"You said you'd write them, didn't you? You'll let them know," Tanzy argued.

"Yes, but not until after we're married, and that could be several days yet... that's an awfully long time for them to worry over me," Caprice said nervously. "I really don't want to cause them that much grief."

"I'll assure them that you're safe. How's that?"

"I guess that will have to work."

"It will work! Now, get back over there and start packing!"

"Oh... goodbye, Tanzy!"

"Goodbye, Caprice! Good luck!"

* * *
It took an amazingly short time for Caprice to round up all her personal items worth taking and throw them into a fairly small satchel-- her journal, some photos of her family, a few hair ribbons and such, miscellaneous make-up and cologne bottles, and some of her favorite books (Storen's was not included on the list).

The last item she threw in was a necklace with an odd-looking medallion strung on it. The medallion portrayed a very strange, large-eyed creatures, with big ears and lots of fur. Caprice had no idea what the animal was meant to be, if anything, but the necklace was a family heirloom that had been passed down to her from her mother. She meant to keep it and to take good care of it.

"Oh, Velvet, I'm afraid I can't take you," Caprice said in disappointment, flopping down on her bed for perhaps the last bit of quality time with her cat. "I'm going to miss you dreadfully, too. But never fear; I'll be okay."

Velvet softly purred and licked Caprice's chin. "The rest of the family will still take good care of you," Caprice promised. "And maybe I'll get to see you again." Velvet meowed in approval.

Caprice looked at her clock, and saw that it was nearly noon. Cecilia would have lunch prepared for her and her siblings soon. She dashed down the stairs to help set the table, and tried desperately to hide her excitement which was close to bubbling over.

The lunchtime conversation, of course, centered over Storen's proposal when, in fact, Caprice was concerned with a much different proposal-- but they couldn't find out about that. Delia was most interested in the topic. "Are you really going to marry him, Caprice?"

"I'm not sure yet, Delia," Caprice said, smiling secretly to herself.

"Would that mean he'd get to be my brother?" Leander wanted to know. "That would be an improvement. There's too many girls around here."

"Oh, Leander," Delia frowned. "Be quiet. Just think of how much fun the wedding will be!"

"It's just a bunch of lacy frilly stuff," Leander said scornfully.

"When do you think the wedding will be, Caprice?" Delia looked at her sister anxiously.

"Now, children," Cecilia said chidingly. "Let's leave Caprice alone. There's still a lot to settle yet." She smiled over at Caprice. Seeing her daughter's upbeat mood, Cecilia assumed that her visit to Tanzy had helped clear her mind-- which it had-- and that, naturally, she would accept Storen's offer that evening.

How could I have been so silly as to ever seriously think of accepting Storen's proposal? Caprice thought to herself. I could never marry him like they think I will. To her family, though, she only said cheerfully, "I'm sure everything will work out for the best."

* * *
After lunch, Caprice retired to her room for the rest of the afternoon. More worries began to gnaw at her mind. She really was going to miss her parents and siblings. Could she really leave them like this? It would be terrible without them. Did they deserve the blow she was going to give them?

To ease her conscience, she finally decided it would be safe to scribble out a quick note for them to find. As long as she didn't give out any details, she reasoned, she and Dietrich would still be kept safe. And so, she thoughtfully sat at her desk and penned-out her message.

To Mother, Father, Delia, and Leander--

Please don't worry about me; I assure you that I'm perfectly safe and

happy. You'll hear from me again soon with my whereabouts. But I will be

missing you all dreadfully, and please understand that I still love you all dearly

and never meant to hurt anyone. However, I must follow my path. I hope to see

all of you again soon. With all my love, Caprice

That covered her family, but Caprice did feel a tad guilty yet about leaving Storen hanging. He deserved to know her decision, at least. She added a line onto the end--

P.S. Storen, I'm sorry to say, but I can't accept your proposal. I trust you

will find another mare that will better suit your lifestyle. And all the best luck

on your book.

She cringed as she wrote the last line, but her upbringing demanded that she be as civil and polite as possible. Setting the completed note under the desk on her lamp where Caprice felt sure it would be seen in due time, she turned to the clock. It was only two o' clock; she still had two and a half hours. She restlessly paced her room, and finally tried to settle down with a book. Velvet offered all the support she could give.

At four o' clock, with only half an hour to go, Caprice began to grow increasingly nervous. What if something went wrong? What if someone saw her when she snuck out? At least it was a quiet day around the house; no one seemed to mind that she had locked herself up in her room for the afternoon.

Looking out her window, Caprice noted the sunny day it had started out as had turned into a dreary, rainy one. She shivered at the thought of running to the train station in that sort of weather; but Dietrich would be waiting for her, and that would make it all worth it.

Four-thirty grew near, and Caprice prepared herself to make her getaway. She would sneak out the back door, and then use her path through the forest to cover her tracks more sufficiently until she got into town. She had mapped out the way to the train station, and felt confident she'd be able to find her way on the route she had planned.

Just as Caprice was picking up her satchel and petting Velvet for the last time, she heard the doorbell ring downstairs and her mother answer the front door. She wondered who it would be, and hoped it was just a salesman-- and that would actually be to her advantage, for he would keep her mother occupied while she made her escape.

However, Caprice's heart froze when she heard her mother's voice drift up through the floorboards: "Oh, Storen, do come in! Caprice will be happy to see you. Wait a moment while I go and get her."

Caprice stood in a frozen panic as the sound of her mother's hoofsteps coming up the stairs and down the hallway was heard. Storen had come half an hour early! Now her plans were ruined!

A knock came at her door. "Caprice!" came her mother's voice. "Storen is here for you."

"Oh... that's wonderful, Mother," Caprice said, her mind whirling. "But I have to get freshened up a bit first. Why don't you go talk to him and I'll be down in just a minute?"

"Alright, dear," Cecilia said after a pause. "We'll be in the parlor." Caprice listened to the hoofsteps grow fainter as her mother descended the stairs, and then creaked open her door and peered down the hallway. She would have to move fast.

She was trembling with terror as she stood there in the doorway. Was it still possible to make it out without being seen by Storen? Oh, why had he come early! What if she wasn't able... her eyes misted over at the thought.

Shaking, Caprice reached for her satchel. Waiting a moment longer until the voices of Cecilia and Storen could be heard from the parlor, she stepped as quietly as she could down the stairs. She glanced down the hallway cautiously. The back door was on one end. She only had to reach that, open it, and then make a dash for the woods.

Trying to calm her wildly beating heart, Caprice twisted the handle in her hoof and hoped it didn't emit too much noise. Just as she was stepping outside, she heard someone behind her. She froze.

"Hey, Caprice, where ya going?" It was her brother, Leander, looking at her inquisitively. "Storen is in the parlor."

"I know that," Caprice said, thinking quickly and desperately. "I-- I only need to get something I left outside, and then I'll be in."

"Oh," Leander said, pondering this bit of information. "What about the satchel?"

"It's-- it's to put the thing I left outside into," Caprice said, hoping with all her heart that her little brother would just leave her alone.

"Okay." Leander found this acceptable, and skipped on down the hall. "I'll go tell Mother."

Caprice watched him go and hoped her mother wouldn't be too concerned by what Leander told her. She turned back to the door. Locking it behind her-- it might stall them a little while-- she swiftly shut it and stepped out onto the lawn. Taking a deep breath, she took off running towards the forest. She knew that she could very well be leaving behind this home for the rest of her life, but there was no turning back now.

The rain was chilly as it hit upon Caprice's back; but once she reached the woods, the trees offered her a little protection from it. She was greatly frightened as she skidded through the familiar pathways, but now they appeared to her in an even eerier light than before. She had no way of knowing how much time had passed, or how far behind her Storen and her family was. She couldn't tell if the thumping she heard was someone following her or if it was her own heart beating rapidly.

Caprice was nearly ready to begin crying again as she slipped and fell down on the wet grass. She pulled herself back up quickly, but realized she must look quite a mess by now with wet grass stuck to her coat and her damp stringy hair hanging down in her face. But she didn't stop to think too much about that as she grabbed up her satchel and hat and continued on her path. She was dreadfully afraid that this fall had given her pursuers sufficient time to catch her, and she went on running for dear life.

Luckily, she soon reached the town itself and was able to blend in more among the other ponies that happened to be out on the streets. She hardly noticed the puddles she splashed through on the way to her destination. Time was of the essence. Would she and Dietrich be able to get away before she was found?

Her glee at finally reaching the train station was soon changed to anxiety as she looked around for Dietrich. Was he there? Was she too late? Had he already left? The frenzied panic in her heart continued to rise. He wasn't here! She couldn't find him! What was she going to do?

Just as she was about to break-down crying, she caught a glimpse of aqua and yellow behind a pillar in the station. She quickly identified who it was, and she nearly cried with relief.

Her hooves took her flying across the floor and she screamed out "Dietrich! Dietrich!" as she sped like an arrow in his direction. Dietrich whirled around and a smile spread across his face when he saw who it was. It was with great relief that Caprice collapsed into his forelegs.

"Caprice, Caprice, you're here," Dietrich murmured repeatedly, stroking her mane.

"I don't know how far behind me they are," Caprice said breathlessly. "I don't even know if they'll know where to look. "Oh, but Dietrich, please don't let them take me from you again!" She buried her head in his shoulder while tears of both happiness and anxiety flowed down her face.

"I'll guard you with my life," Dietrich promised. "Nothing can get between us now."

"Oh, Dietrich, I'm so glad you still believed in me!" Caprice sobbed uncontrollably. "I thought that... I thought that..." She wasn't able to choke out any more.

"We'll have time to explain everything on the ride there," Dietrich said softly, pulling her along with him. "But now the important thing is that you're here."

Caprice tried to stifle her tears and allowed her fate to be given over to Dietrich's hooves. He had everything planned for them, and he would make sure it all worked. Everything was going to be fine now.

* * *
And a week later Tanzy and Excalibur were summoned to Wild Oaks to witness the marriage of Dietrich and Caprice. The small affair went without a distraction, and it was with glad hearts that the two started out their life anew in a setting much removed from their old home town. Of course, it wasn't too much of a surprise that neither set of parents was happy upon finding out about this secret marriage; they steamed to themselves, but left it at that. What could be done at this point about their "foolish" offspring? And, in the end, it may have set these two families further apart than before, even with the two rebels Dietrich and Caprice joined in the bond of marriage.

They settled into their new life quite comfortably, with Dietrich attending college and Caprice taking on small jobs to bring more jangles in. And, it was in the following year that two very happy parents were proud to announce the birth of their first son.

Caprice gazed down adoringly at the tiny foal she held in her forelegs. "He's wonderful, Dietrich," she breathed. "Just look at him! Isn't it all glorious?"

"The blood of the Fairfaxes and the Monks flows in his veins," Dietrich remarked quietly. "If we can't bring our families together, then maybe he can."

"He will do something great, even if he doesn't get involved in petty family feuds," Caprice said in delight. "I think he's going to grow up to be quite handsome. His symbol even takes after yours, see?"

"A dashing tomcat," Dietrich nodded. "Will he have a personality to match?"

Caprice giggled at a sudden thought. "Oh! Wouldn't that be a splendid name for him, then-- Thomas?"

"Why not?" Dietrich said, his eyes sparkling. "I think it's fitting. Surely he'll be a great cat lover like us."

"My little Thomas," Caprice murmured drowsily, kissing her son lightly on the forehead and holding him close. "We're so happy to have you... but for now... sleep." Closing her eyes, she slowly sank back into the pillows.

The infant Baby Thomas only turned his head inquisitively at his mother, yawned, and promptly fell asleep himself.

The End

Well, sort-of. There's still quite a bit we don't know about the past lives of Thomas and his parents, isn't there? At least you know some more now. Wasn't it outrageous?! I love going into the past of characters. Maybe I'll reveal even more in future stories! *rubs hands together in delight*

Next month we have in store the wedding of Tabby and Thomas! It's bound to be very outrageous, especially when Thomas' feuding grandparents show up. The guest list also has some interesting characters on it, like the gang of Xtreme Ponies and Barnacle's crew. Having a Bushwoolie as the ringbearer should lead to an entertaining display, and you never know what stallions will crawl-out of the woodwork to protest against the marriage! Oh, yes. It's going to be very outrageous indeed. And it's all coming up next month...


The Evil Dragon
Part Ten
by Princess of the Stars (

Soon, the group was on its way again. After they had been walking through the dark tunnels for quite some time, Vincent motioned for everyone to stop.

"This next cavern that we enter may be frightening to some of you because of all the strange noises. Gathered in this chamber are conversations that come from any place you could imagine. They all come as whispers, but since there are so many, they are amplified to a much greater sound," Vincent explained before the group continued onwards.

As they stepped out onto a bridge, Opal Dreams looked down to find herself staring into a great, dark, and seemingly bottomless abyss. She backed up into Salty, causing the bridge to sway.

"Come! You can't go back; the sooner we get out of this chamber, the sooner our expedition is over!" Vincent encouraged from the other side of the bridge, his soft voice rising above the whispers surprisingly well.

Opal Dreams stepped cautiously onto the next plank, which gave way under her hoof, almost causing her to lose her balance. She quickly recovered and made her way slowly to the end of the bridge. "Why didn't you warn us of that big hole in the ground!?" she said accusingly as she glared at the "man-beast".

"I knew that you might not even attempt going across the bridge, and might just give up if you knew it was there."

"Well, I guess you are right on that point," Atlas said, flipping his fuchsia mane over his shoulder.

"Anyway, to make up for that, I can honestly tell you that the next chamber we enter will be quite amazing and beautiful," Vincent said, gesturing the group onwards. "Follow me."

The group of creatures-- ponies, Hobbits, and a Care Bear Cousin-- stepped into the next cavern and gazed at their surroundings reverently. "Oh my goodness!" Locket said, her eyes flitting from one wall to the other.

"This is called the Crystal Cavern," Vincent said, in awe of the chamber even though he had been there many times before.

"Do you think we could take one of the crystals? After all, they do cover every single wall," Salty said.

"Sure, not many people, err, ponies come down here," Vincent said, breaking one off the wall himself. It barely made any difference in the appearance of the structure. The group scattered and in moments everybody had found a crystal to take home.

Once they were assembled in their group again, Vincent explained that they should continue because it would be best to cross the underground river before retiring for the night. be continued in the next issue; and please, please, PLEASE send me your thoughts on my story even if all you can do is criticize. Send any comments to


The Millinery Mystery
by Sugarberry (

The late afternoon sun was hidden by the buildings along the street; and for that, Vanguard was grateful. It had been a long day and he was tired; all he wanted was to escape into his quiet house-- which was actually Giorgio's Italian home-- and kick back and relax. He found himself looking forward to tomorrow's outing with Clare and Guido. Life had been dull, and he needed a change of scenery.

Absorbed in his own thoughts, he didn't notice his neighbor, Ivetta, watering the flowers in front of her section of the town house until he practically tripped over her. "Oh, excuse me," he apologized, helping to stabilize a tottering flower pot filled with geraniums.

"No problem," Ivetta giggled. She brushed some dirt off her foreleg. "I've watered your plants, too. I always did that for Giorgio."

"I wondered how they stayed so perky," Vanguard grinned. "I assumed Giorgio had a gardener hired for that job."

"He's too attached to his jangles to part with them if he can get a job done for free," Giles, Ivetta's husband, informed Vanguard as he joined them.

"You're not the maid, too, are you?" Vanguard asked curiously. "I notice that all the dust and trash mysteriously disappear at some point in the week."

Ivetta giggled again. "No. He hires a real cleaning lady for that. I just enjoy messing with the flowers." She splashed some water on Giles. "Giles is just jealous because Giorgio is wealthier that we are."

"I think he's into something shady," Giles winked; Ivetta silenced him with a frown.

"Vanguard, can you join us for lunch tomorrow?" Ivetta turned her attention to her neighbor. "Nothing fancy, you know." Ivetta wasn't known for her cooking ability.

"Thanks, but I've got other plans," Vanguard admitted.

"And, remember honey, I've got to work until mid-afternoon," Giles reminded her. "It's my day at the mines," he grinned at Vanguard.

"Sitting in front of a computer can't be that strenuous," Vanguard taunted.

"Ah, yes, but it's the decisions that are made while sitting there that drive a stallion crazy," countered Giles.

Ivetta had finished her watering chores, and came to take her husband's hoof in hers. "Come! You haven't forgotten that you are taking me out for a night on the town, have you?"

Giles smiled at his wife, then said to Vanguard, "Sorry, Van, but duty calls!"

Vanguard watched the couple go off side by side, and thought lonesomely of home.

* * *
The next day dawned with perfect weather. Vanguard found himself as excited about this excursion with his friends as a foal on a much anticipated outing. He drank a cup of coffee while pacing through the rooms waiting for the arrival of Guido and Clare. As his town house was on their way, they were picking him up. When the bell finally rang, he rushed to the door to admit them.

"Good morning! Come in for a roll and some juice before we get started!" Clare had hinted when they planned their day that she would like to get a look at Giorgio's house, so Vanguard added, "Or do you want a tour of the place first?"

"Oh," said Clare, her eyes encompassing every detail of the cozy sitting room before her. "I'll take the tour!"

Guido shook his head. "A house is a house. What do you find so appealing about snooping through someone else's private space?"

Clare ignored the remark and rushed to an ornate wooden settee with floral cushions. "This is an antique-- very expensive. She sat on the piece gingerly, and sighed in delight. "Is the entire house furnished with old things?"

"Come, and you'll see," Vanguard replied. He led the two visiting ponies into the kitchen, which was a combination of modern conveniences camouflaged amidst period splendor. "I love it!" squealed Clare. "I could do this with my kitchen!"

In the small but tasteful dining room, Clare ran a hoof gently along the smooth wooden surfaces of table and hutch, murmuring appreciatively of the quality of each object, and admiring the blue Portuguese tiles on the floor.

"I would have thought that you two would have run in the same crowd as Giorgio," Vanguard remarked, "yet you obviously were never invited to his home."

"Not that stallion. He's an intellectual, not a businessman," Guido offered. Vanguard knew that wasn't entirely true, but couldn't say a word. Guido continued, "I am, however, edging into his territory."

"What's that, Guido?" Clare asked with interest.

"I'm going to be conducting some mini-courses on business techniques," he responded. "Leonardo University approached me about it last spring and I'll be trying out my teaching skills when the fall semester starts."

Going back to Vanguard's original query about Giorgio, Clare reminisced. "Agatha said Giorgio was the most elusive bachelor in Vulcanopolis. He always stayed aloof of her invitations."

"What... some sort of recluse?" Vanguard asked curiously.

"No. Not that. Just very discriminating in whom he associated with. He seemed to favor the students on campus," Guido stated.

"He has a winsome manner about him that appeals to the college crowd," Clare added.

"I hear that he is an excellent teacher," Vanguard stated, "and very intelligent."

"He was some kind of child prodigy," Guido enlightened his friend. "His dad was chancellor at Leonardo, and gave Giorgio all the breaks he needed to begin college early, and graduate as quickly as possible."

Clare shook her head. "He didn't need ‘breaks'. He was terribly, terribly smart."

"So why does he stay with a teaching position rather than moving up the ladder?" Vanguard asked.

"He must get paid for his brains, not his position," Clare said as she examined a very expensive set of dishes in the china cupboard.

They now moved up the carpeted stairway that curved into the second floor living area; the first room's white stucco walls and deep white carpeting were accented with a comfortable black leather sofa, slate tables, and black director chairs; the severity of color was broken by potted greenery at strategic locations.

Even Guido was impressed. "Not bad," he commented as he sat on the couch and surveyed the stark impressiveness of the room.

But Clare had already moved through the arched doorway to the den, and was exclaiming over the efficient yet luxurious design of the space. "And a terrace, too!" She rushed to the doors, and stepped out onto the sun-drenched platform, soaking up the warmth. Guido and Vanguard followed her out to enjoy the view of neighboring homes surrounded by the tumultuous colors of a multitude of flowers. "Everything looks so alive!" Clare reflected.

Passing back through the den, Clare caught sight of the picture on the desk. "So this is your Sugarberry!" she observed, picking up the framed photo of Vanguard and Sugarberry. She studied it intently. "Yes, it is a good match," she said, handing the picture over to Guido.

"She's quite pretty," Guido offered. "And what are your future plans?" He handed the picture on to Vanguard.

"Plans?" Vanguard echoed. "Everything's on hold until I finish my stay here in Vulcanopolis." He fell silent as he looked at the picture in his hooves.

"You will marry her," Clare said softly.

"If she waits for me," Vanguard said almost imperceptibly, and he returned the picture to its place on the desk.

Clare noticed his briefcase on the floor next to the desk. "When I was in school, I always wished I had access to those satchels the teachers carried with them-- all those answers to the test questions!"

Vanguard was taken off guard and nearly choked. "Well, it is locked," he managed to say.

"Not a problem to an enterprising student," Guido said.

"Or a desperate one," Clare added.

Vanguard looked at the two intently; how had they stumbled onto this particular topic? He felt a chill run through him. Don't trust anyone, Tawny had said. But he quickly dismissed that idea from his thoughts.

The tour continued with a pass through the master bedroom and the smaller guest room on the third floor. Then, the trio made their way back to the kitchen where Vanguard set out sweet rolls and grape juice to fortify them for their upcoming trek.

"How much do you know about this Thomas that Tabby is engaged to?" Guido inquired of his host. Clare snickered, but refrained from any snippy remarks. She, too, turned to Vanguard to hear the answer.

"He's a well-established veterinarian, and is a serious and well-liked stallion. He had moved to town not too long before I took my position at Pony Pride University. We're both relative newcomers to Dream Valley."

"Do you see him socially?"

"As a matter of fact, Sugarberry is the receptionist at his clinic; and she and Tabby are very close friends. So the four of us are together quite a bit."

"No wonder you seem so lost sometimes," Clare teased.

"Tell me about it," Vanguard frowned.

"What does Tabby see in him?" Guido bluntly asked. "Is he wealthy?"

"Not like you," Vanguard smiled across the table, "but he's doing okay for himself. He's dedicated to his work and knows where he's headed." Which is more than I can say for myself, Vanguard thought to himself.

"Do you think Tabby has made the right decision?"

Vanguard mulled the question over in his mind for just a moment before responding, "Yes, Guido, I do."

The yellow stallion who had everything that jangles could buy fell silent, and Clare and Vanguard fell into small talk for the remainder of the time before they finally set off. Their quest lay in a visit to the ruins of the Roman city of Pompeii; Guido and Clare were eager to impart the full history of the once bustling city, and its destruction by the forceful Vesuvius. The ponies toured the reclaimed streets and mingled with the memories of life and death that played out on this theater of the past.

It was late afternoon before the threesome searched out a sidewalk cafe to refuel their nagging appetites. Finding a vacant table, they were soon appeasing their hunger with minestrone, insalata, formaggio, ravioli, and vino. The cheerful voices of other sightseers and locals filled the air with a party atmosphere.

Topping off the meal with ice cream and coffee, Clare leaned back and sighed in satisfaction. "This has been a relaxing break in the routine. I'm refreshed and ready to tackle any challenge now!"

"I though we were forbidden to discuss business this entire day," Guido raised an eyebrow quizzically. Clare had been preparing for a fashion show which would reveal her latest styles, and had been pushing herself ruthlessly. It was her custom to take the day off before the opening of her show to revitalize her energy and her nerves. And that is why she had put this exclusion on the topics of discussion.

"I'm purged of all worries and have a clear mind now to face all the problems and concerns I'll have to decide on. It's a good feeling."

"What amazes me," admitted Guido," is that the day before the unveiling of a new line, you can walk away from all the last minute decisions that certainly still need to be made."

"I have an excellent staff," Clare smugly replied. "That's what makes my line successful... everyone knows what is expected and does his or her best work."

"You're fortunate to have such reliable employees," Vanguard observed.

"I personally choose them all, not only on their qualifications but on that certain something that tells me they will be an integral link in my family of employees." She darted a glance at Guido. "That's what my business is... a family."

Guido laughed. "Don't believe a word of it, Van. She's a tough taskmaster and makes her workers toe the mark. She doesn't give slackers a break."

Shaking a hoof at her contradictory friend, Clare chided, "I have never hired a slacker, Guido, and you know it. I trust my instincts and..." Clare's voice trailed off; she stood up so abruptly that her chair toppled backwards.

"What's wrong?" Guido and Vanguard asked together, standing too, and searching the immediate vicinity to locate the cause of Clare's distress.

"They are wearing my designs!" she stated through clenched teeth, and marched to intercept two fillies who were passing by the eating spot.

"You would think she'd be pleased to see her fashions on ponies," a puzzled Vanguard said to Guido.

"Something tells me these particular pieces aren't to be made public until tomorrow's showing," Guido replied, moving closer to Clare to provide his support. But the indignant mare didn't need help from Guido or anyone else.

"What do you think you are doing wearing my millinery?" she challenged the two startled fillies.

Both fillies reached a hoof to the headgear they were wearing. "Wha... what do you mean... yours?" one of them stuttered, completely intimidated by the menacing anger on Clare's face.

"Those hats haven't been released for sale yet. Where did you get them?" Clare repeated.

The second filly found her voice to answer. "We got them in the market." She pointed off down the street.

"That's impossible!" Clare ranted. "Those hats won't be available until my fashion show tomorrow."

The girls' eyes widened. "You're Clare, of Clare's Creations!" one of them said in awe.

Softening a bit, Clare asked, "May I see your finery for a minute, please?"

With a shrug of their shoulders, the ponies removed their bonnets, and handed them to Clare who inspected them from every angle. "Inferior workmanship," she grumbled. "Very shoddy job." She then concentrated on the label sewn to the inside edge, and read the name with distaste, "Pacificus." She looked at the fillies with a sympathetic demeanor and with a cutting edge to her voice said, "I hope you didn't put too many of your hard-earned jangles towards these bogus imperfections." She handed the hats back to the young mares who took them hurriedly and scooted off into the crowd.

Clare stood glaring at their disappearing backs. Without looking at either of her companions, she moved off down the street in the direction of the market. Vanguard and Guido quickly paid the bill, and fell into step behind the determined mare.

They soon came to the piazza at the center of town which was crowded with shoppers. Clare was drawn as if by a magnet to her destination-- a stall selling an array of headwear. She halted only when she stood directly across a display from the proprietor.

"Pacificus!" She hissed the name in such a manner that those near her could hear the venom dripping from it. The silver grey stallion was caught unawares, and his mouth dropped open. He stared at Clare, then swung his gaze to take in Guido and Vanguard who had arrived as backup, then dumbly returned to Clare.

Testily, Clare queried of her competitor. "Your design style has improved significantly, Pacificus, but your craftsmanship leaves something to be desired." She picked up an airy floral picture hat. "I haven't seen quality like this since I put together my first hat when I was a foal."

Vanguard grimaced as he watched Clare pluck each and every flower off the piece, and throw them into a heap on the table. Pacificus groaned and made an effort to retrieve the hat from her destruction, but Clare pulled it back out of reach. "Would you mind telling me how you happen to have a good portion of my still unreleased original designs here on your market table, Pacificus?"

Vanguard was reminded of a cat toying with a mouse. He was amazed that the gentle, soft-spoken Clare could be so patiently cruel. He felt genuinely sorry for Pacificus even though he was the villain in this scene, and glanced at Guido to check his reaction. But Guido appeared to by enjoying the showdown, a grin lighting his face.

Finding his voice, Pacificus managed to stammer a pathetic, "I'm sorry, Clare."

"Sorry doesn't come close to what you'll feel when I'm finished with you!" she spat. "You will have to destroy this ill-gotten merchandise!"

Visibly shaken, Pacificus stepped back. "No, I can't do that."

Turning to Guido, Clare posed a question. "What are my legal rights in this situation?"

"Let's just say that the design community won't see Pacificus around for quite some time," Guido bluntly responded.

"Just let me explain..." Pacificus begged.

But Clare cut him short. "How many items did you sell today?"

"I don't know," Pacificus shrugged his shoulders. "Some."

"A number, Pacificus. I want a number," Clare relentlessly pursued.

At this point, a filly materialized from the sidelines, and came to stand by Pacificus. She was the color of a perfectly ripened watermelon, and her mane and tail as green as the watermelon's skin. She laid a hoof on Pacificus' foreleg, and facing Clare, said, "Thirty hats. We began the day with thirty hats. We have twelve left..." here she dropped her gaze-- momentarily surveying the pile of plucked flowers-- "minus one."

It was now Clare's turn to stand agape at the arrival of this new character on the set. "Angela!" she gasped. "What part do you play in this?"

"Pacificus is my brother, Clare. I did what I had to do."

"What you had to do? And what became of my trust in you?" The two ponies held eye contact as they each assessed the problem before them, Clare angry and upset, Angela resigned but strong.

"I didn't intend to steal your ideas, Clare. Events just got in the way and I had to put family over business."

A muffled chuckle was heard from Guido at the use of the word "family". "A black sheep in your family, it would appear, Clare."

The fight drained out of Clare as Guido's words hit her. Angela was one of her business family, and for the first time Clare had made a poor choice in judging character. She sighed deeply, and said to Pacificus, "Just get rid of the stuff, and be prepared to explain yourself in my office Monday morning." She abruptly turned to go.

But Angela's voice stopped her. "What about me, Clare? Do you still want my help on your show tomorrow?"

Clare swung her head around, bitter words on her tongue. But she checked her anger, and told the pony, "Yes, Angela. I will need you to handle your assigned responsibilities." And Clare moved on as Angela watched in amazement, completely unsettled by this change of temper.

Vanguard followed Clare to give her his silent support while Guido stayed behind to impart one final piece of advice to Pacificus. "I'll be keeping an eye on you, Pacificus. And if Clare has one iota of trouble from you in the future, I'll arrange it so you never sell another article of anything anywhere ever again." His glowering countenance stilled any replies from either Pacificus or Angela, and they gratefully watched Guido melt away into the crowd.

"What are we going to do now, Pacificus?" Angela asked her brother who was already clearing his stand of its contraband.
He stopped to gaze off in the direction Clare had disappeared. "We'll trust in Clare's compassionate nature to understand our plight." Dropping his head, he added, "I guess we should have done that to begin with."

Angela touched the mutilated hat parts thoughtfully. Would Clare show them mercy, or would she rip them to shreds? she wondered to herself.

* * *
With mixed feelings, Vanguard arrived home at the end of the eventful day. He had thoroughly enjoyed the sightseeing he, Guido, and Clare had done, but the friction and grief that had engulfed Clare over her business problems had been unsettling. Clare had been quiet and withdrawn on the walk home, even turning down Vanguard's invitation to her and Guido to come in for coffee before continuing to their own homes.

Vanguard wearily fixed himself a snack, and finishing that, carried his coffee to the second floor balcony to enjoy the early twilight settling over the town. The twittering of the birds and the soft hues of color were calming to all his senses, and Vanguard soon felt relaxed again.

Deciding to write of the day's excursion to Sugarberry, he moved into the den, and sat at the desk. After writing the salutation, he looked to Sugarberry's picture for inspiration.

"That's strange!" he said out loud. He remembered explicitly setting the picture on the lefthoof side of the desk after showing it to his guests that morning. It always sat directly behind the telephone. But it was now perched on the righthoof side of the desk. Thinking back, Vanguard was sure he'd put the picture in its usual place after Guido handed it back to him. And no one would have been here since.

"Unless the maid came today," Vanguard murmured, "But she usually comes on Thursday." He checked the wastebasket, and found it still partially full of papers. "That's odd."

His attention moved to the briefcase; it was in the same position as this morning, and it was still locked. For that he was grateful. He repositioned the picture to its proper place, and shook off the feeling that someone had been there in his absence. But he found himself looking over his shoulder every few minutes as he wrote and finally got up to make a thorough check of the house.

He went to the third floor to start with his bedroom, then moved to the spare room. As he rarely came to this room, he wasn't sure he could account for anything being different; but as it turned out, a book from the wooden bookcase lay on the floor. "Clare checked out the titles to see what reading material Giorgio keeps on hoof," Vanguard rationalized. " She must have knocked it off."

Picking up the thin volume-- Poems of Life and Love-- Vanguard noticed a bookmark slip from the pages and drop to the floor, disappearing under the bed. He reached down to retrieve it, only to find on turning it over that it was a photo.

He gasped as he recognized several of the ponies pictured. The mare was undoubtedly Strawberry Shortcake, Sugarberry's mother. The stallion at her side Vanguard had seen in a portrait hanging in the main hall at Leonardo University-- the former chancellor, Giorgio. The two foals he had never met, but he had seen pictures in Sugarberry's family album-- her two sisters, Gooseberry and Raspberry.

Vanguard stood aghast. For the life of him, he couldn't imagine a connection between Giorgio and Strawberry Shortcake, but here was proof that their paths had crossed; and agreeably, by the happy looks on the faces of those involved.

Looking on the back again, he found no names or place where taken, just the date, 1975. "Twenty-five years ago," Vanguard mused. "That was the year Sugarberry was born." Mystified, he stared at the picture trying to imagine a scenario that would fill in the missing pieces, but all his leads ended with nothing but more questions.

Paging through the book from which the picture had fallen, Vanguard found it to be a collection of romantic verses. He also noted that the publication's copyright was in 1975 also, yet it bore few signs of wear. It was as if its sole purpose had been to enshrine-- or hide-- the picture that now had come to light.

Vanguard returned the picture to the book, and began to replace it on the shelf, when, having second thoughts, he again removed the picture, returning only the book to its vacant slot. Taking the photo back to the den, he slipped it into an envelope and buried it under a stack of mathematics texts on the back corner of the desk.

Still pondering the implications of the photo, he continued his examination of the house, floor by floor, to see if any other signs of an uninvited visitor existed. He found nothing else out of place, so he returned once again to his desk and the letter that he had started to Sugarberry. The confusing thoughts swirling through his head made it difficult to write, however, and he finally gave up the attempt. Maybe things would be clearer in the morning. It was getting quite late, so with a last quick look around the premises, he went to bed.

* * *
Monday morning found Clare in her office well before normal. The fashion show had been extremely successful, and she had ended the day with the compliments of her clients ringing in her ears. But when she was finally alone, the problem with Pacificus and Angela was first on her mind.

She sat at her desk, thinking back on all she knew of Pacificus. They had been in design school at the same time, but their personal lives had seldom crossed. She realized, with a twinge of regret, that she had not thought of him once since she had set up her business. But those had been busy days. Guido had supplied the financial backing for her enterprise, and she did all in her power to make it successful to prove to him that she was capable of entering into his world of corporate affairs. Her reasoning behind this was more of a private nature, however, than on a professional level, she admitted to herself with a wry smile.

Pacificus... she could remember a hard-working student who understood the concept of the design trade inside and out, but whose ability at sketching a pattern that would catch the attention of the fashion world was sorely deficient. In other words, he lacked imagination. Clare smiled to herself, pleased with her own talent to envision innovative styles and designs that kept her fashions novel.

A rap at the door brought her back to the serious matter at hoof. "Come in," she called, her voice sounding authoritative and just a tad harsh. She stood as the door opened to reveal both Angela and Pacificus at her disposal.

"Angela, your presence at this meeting will not be required," Clare observed, frowning at her assistant.

"But, Clare, I... " Angela faltered.

Cutting her short, Clare admonished, "You have work to get done."

"Yes, Clare," the chastised filly responded; and, with a quick glance at her brother, she left the room, closing the door behind her.

"Please be seated, Pacificus," Clare invited with a wave of her hoof. The stallion slipped into a seat without a word, and the two ponies contemplated one another in silence.

"I remember now; you always were one of few words," Clare said with a hint of a smile playing across her lips.

"It's easier to blend into the background that way," Pacificus admitted, but offered no more.

"You weren't in the background at the marketplace, were you, Pacificus?" She leaned back in her chair. "Care to tell me about that incident?"

Pacificus dropped his gaze to the floor under Clare's punishing watch; then, sighing, he looked her in the eyes and simply stated, "I made a bad decision."

"I would say that's obvious."

Not knowing where to start, Pacificus remained quiet.

Clare sat up to her desk, folding her forelegs in front of her. "Why did you have Angela steal my designs?" A surge of anger had crept into her demeanor.

"The most basic of reasons, Clare. I needed the jangles."

"What kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into?" she asked unsympathetically.

"My mother had been ill for several months, and the doctors finally admitted that her only chance at survival was a relatively untried operation. It proved successful, but the expenses were overwhelming."

Her compassion overpowering her irritation, Clare unhesitantly asked, "Your mother? She's okay then?"

"Yes. She is still convalescing, but doing fine. But the point is, the bills need to be paid."

"Surely your business is lucrative enough to handle the crisis."

Pacificus stared hard at Clare, then shook his head. "When is the last time you've seen one of my projects compete with yours, Clare?"

"Well... I... ah... I must admit that I don't pay much attention to my rivals."

"My ‘business' never took off like yours, Clare. I've sought out commissions here and there, but I've never broken into the profession the way you have. That's why the unpaid bills loomed like a suffocating cloud over my family."

"Why didn't you ask for help from someone?"

"I have no collateral. The banks just laughed at me."

"But surely your friends..."

"I don't exist in your circle, Clare. My friends are no better off than I am. We don't have access to Guido like you do." He stopped short, realizing he may have said too much.

"Guido has invested in many young enterprises," Clare retorted.

"But only those that have some connection to him through his affluence." Clare made an attempt to deny that, but Pacificus continued. "You were his confidant since the time you were foals, Clare. You might not have been his financial equal, but you certainly held a special place in his life."

Clare smiled warmly. "Yes, he and I have been through a lot together. Living next door to one another the way we did made us soul-mates long before Guido became obsessed with... wealth," she finished feebly.

They both turned their thoughts inward for several minutes before Clare cleared her throat and asked, "Why did you decide to defraud my company to make yourself profitable?"

"I always admired your work in school, Clare. You were always so confident and so full of unique ideas. I envied you. And after school, you became the biggest success of any one of us. Why wouldn't I have picked you to emulate?"

"Emulation is one thing. Deceit is quite another."

"Things got out of control. Angela interviewed for the job with you, and was hired. She was going to work long enough to learn your secret to success, and then come to work with me. But the medical crisis was an unforeseen factor that we hadn't planned for."

"Whose idea was it to go underground?"

"I take full responsibility for that decision, Clare. I thought if we were able to get enough together to make an initial payment, the bill-collectors would be satisfied; and that would allow Angela the time to get the experience she needed. You know the rest."

Clare sat considering the information their conversation had yielded, and Pacificus watched her with a resigned look. Clare knew that Pacificus was right about one thing-- it was Guido's backing that had allowed her to enter the fashion world so successfully. Without his finances and connections, would she, too, still be unrecognized?

What would it be like for her without having had the helping hoof that Guido provided? Would she be scraping along from paycheck to paycheck, never having her talents recognized? She shivered, thinking of how lost she'd be without her life's dream of owning her own business. That Guido himself was still an unrealized part of that dream was another story.

Her intuition about this stallion before her told her he was trustworthy, even if he had felt himself forced to compromise his values. He had placed family first; that had to acquit him of some of his wrongdoing. Could she be responsible for inflicting further pain on him and his family?

Suddenly rising, Clare extended an invitation. "Would you like a tour of our facility?"

The stunned stallion stuttered, "T... tour?"

"Sure," Clare grinned. "If you are going to learn how to be successful, you've come to the right place."

Upon opening the office door, she found Angela hovering close by. "I expect you to have those statistics on my desk by the time I return," she told the bewildered filly, who could only exchange a questioning glance with her brother before Clare whisked him out of the room.

It was only after a thorough explanation of each step in the complex that made up Clare's millinery workshop that she returned to her office with Pacificus. She asked him to be seated while she poured two cups of coffee from the automatic coffee-maker.

Seating herself behind the desk, she took a sip of coffee before leaning back in her chair. Her hoof rested on a stack of papers compiled by Angela showing the preliminary profits for the company from the latest show. She pushed the papers in Pacificus' direction.

Pulling his chair closer to the desk, Pacificus mulled over the facts and figures for several minutes before raising an awed face to Clare. "Your business is that profitable?"

Smiling, Clare nodded in the affirmative. "I've one major problem, however. Gabriel, our manager in charge of business operations, turned in his two-week notice after our show was completed. I'm compelled to find a replacement as soon as possible. Are you interested?"

Pacificus sat up straight, his benumbed mind inappropriately thinking that the orchid mare before him was the most beautiful angel he'd ever seen. But he braced himself for the fall. "Did I hear you right?"

"I'm offering you the aforementioned position with Clare's Creations starting two weeks from today."

Rising, Pacificus held out his hoof to Clare; "I accept," the stallion stated gratefully as they shook hooves over the transaction.

"Good," Clare smiled. "Welcome to the family!"


All in Due Time (Part One)
by Atalanta (

The muffled noises of a crying pony came through the tack room door.

"Ella?" Anni called. There was no response. "Ella? Are you in there?" she called again, slowly moving toward the closed door.

"Go away." The sound was muffled by sobs and the huge door, but Anni did not stop walking. She slowly opened the door. On the floor of the tack room sat Ella, a young white earth pony, sobbing hard. She turned away from Anni.

"I am your mother, Ella. Speak to me, at least. Tell me what's wrong," Anni demanded, walking in front of Ella and looking her in the eye. She sat down, too.

"It was Andy. He was jumping his course and said I'd never make it in anything... because I was too slow and too big!" Ella sobbed, her tears flowing anew.

"What were you doing?" Anni asked when the tears subsided.

"I was doing the course like you'd said to. I was finally getting the idea of sliding stops when he said that. My time was six seconds better then yesterday's, too!" Ella sobbed. She was inconsolable.

Anni knew Ella had her heart set on competing in the Western Reining competition in two weeks, and had been training hard for six months; but that monster Andy who was training under Anni's sister Elaine to do stadium jumping was beastly to Ella because she was only twelve-- only a child.

"Don't worry, love. I'll see to it that you enter with the skill to take home a blue. Let's go out there and prove him wrong," Anni said, taking her daughter's hoof. They walked slowly along the stalls until they reached the arena.

Homeland Training Center hadn't been the same since Elaine had opened the doors to dressage, jumping, and racing. Anni had only let her sister work at Homeland because Elaine had needed some way to make money. All sorts of cruel, hard ponies had come in, applying as trainers or students. Elaine accepted almost all students, but Anni let in few other trainers. Aside from family and a few helpers, Homeland had nearly no employees.

But it didn't matter. Homeland was a place to better yourself, no matter who you were. It was just outside of Dream Valley. Lots of Irish ponies in O'Darby came to train there. They were hardly competition for the other training center nearby, just a few hours away. But for some, a few hours made all the difference-- like in one's ability to train-- when one was running from O'Darby Valley. O'Darby was only about forty-five minutes away, and most of the Irish ponies came to Homeland to learn how to race. Some, like that beast Andy, chose to live at Homeland to train more often.

* * *
In the training arena, Anni watched her daughter do stops, spins, rollbacks, circles, pause once to hesitate, fly into lead changes, and run down and around, finishing with a classical, smooth sliding stop. She did them all as quickly, and smoothly, and as best as she could. When she was done, she was panting and sweating.

"The sliding stop was good. You've improved in your lead changes; you were practically flying for a moment in the lead change. The circles were a bit wobbly, and you looked nervous, but the two spins and the rollback were perfect. Your Hesitate made you look ready to die, so you have to work on a complete stop and look calm and collected; but otherwise you were great, and so was your timing. Have you chosen a song yet?" Anni commented.

"Yes. Thanks. I think I'm going to do Feel.* Although it's more of a dressage song than it is reining, I think I've got the pattern down right. Watch."

As the music began, Ella entered. As the words began, she started cantering and cantered into a spin, changing leads at a whizzing, flying pace as the chorus began. As the chorus ended into the second verse, she did a stunning rollback and flew back into a double set of spins before it went back to the chorus. As it did, she paused, totally relaxing her body for a Hesitate, then began to canter-gallop and a strangely slow-fast mix between the two in circles, spins, and a lead change for the last and final verse; then she slowed into a run down and around and managed to slide into a stop in the half-trot as the last note faded from the CD player. Anni flipped it off.

"Excellent! The music puts you at ease. Your first spin was mediocre; the second after that incredible rollback was better, intermediate; the third after the Hesitate showed good skill, control, and talent; and the very last, right before the lead change, was very good. Work your body more so that it is exercised enough to do well in the beginning. The song fits well. You're going to be a crowd pleaser. I ‘m sure of it. Now, come... let's see if we can't do something about your Run Down and Around. It was good, but not good enough." Anni and Ella went into the tackroom to get a drink of water and discuss ways to improve the Run Down and Around.

Author's notes: *Feel is a song on the CD Listen by Michelle Tumes. I chose it because I thought it was fitting for the chapter.

If your wondering what reining is... reining is a form of Western Dressage, with all the movements I mentioned above. For more information on it, visit the United States Equestrian Team's website: (Note: Direct link to the Reining part of the site)

All comments and criticism is to be sent to


Ginseng and Sassafras Tea
by Sugarberry (

Chapter 7

Hood had no sooner gotten back to the shop when a phone call came for him. It was his sister, Stardrift, the oldest sibling in the family.

"Stardrift! I'm glad you called. How are Moonglow and Checker holding up to the bad press?"

"Checker is working as usual, but Moonglow is upset."

"I was afraid of that. It's not good for her or her baby."

"I know. That's why I'm calling. I've convinced her to lie down and try to get some sleep. I thought maybe we could get together for supper at my house tonight for some family support and morale building."

"Great idea!" Hood stated, then paused.

"Anything wrong, Hood?"

"It's just that I visited the newspaper office. I went there to try to reason with this Free Lance pony, and guess what I found?"


Hood's voice rose. "How'd you know?"

"Moonglow told me. She recognized her yesterday when she came to interview Checker, but she was in no mood to chat."

"She annoyed me all through high school, Stardrift. Now she turns up again to haunt me!"

Stardrift giggled.

"This isn't funny!" Hood reproached her.

"I was just thinking about the time Dreamy invited herself to dinner at our house. You saw her at the table when you came in, and told Mom that you'd flunked a history test and had to meet with Mr. Haggard for a make-up test."

"Yeah. And when I got back, Mom grounded me for a week for failing the test, even though I'd actually aced it."

"But you couldn't ‘fess up, or she'd have grounded you for another week!"

"Or more," added Hood, smiling at the remembrance.

"I knew I'd feel better if I talked to you, little brother. Now, if you can only do the same for Moonglow this evening."

"Speaking of which, what should I bring to the meal?" This was a running joke since Hood had moved to Woodlawn and taken over the ice cream shop. Family members knew his culinary skills leaved a lot to be desired, so his contribution to any occasion was ice cream.

"Make it chocolate chip ice cream," snickered Stardrift. "It's still the foal's favorite."

"Okay. See you later then."

After hanging up the phone, Hood buckled down to some serious book work in the office while Drumstick and Patchwork Petal took care of the shop. He was unaware of the time until Drumstick rapped on the door.

"I'm out of here," he informed Hood. "Rosy Bells is in charge until closing."

"Okay," confirmed Hood. "See you tomorrow."

Hood closed-up the ledger and stood up when Rosy Bells herself came into the office. She was Dewdrop's mother, and lived across the street from Moonglow and Checker.

"You still here, Boss? Patchwork Petal and I can take it from here."

"Just heading out, Rosy Bells. What do you think of the excitement in your part of town?"

"I'm still looking over my shoulder, expecting some stranger to be lurking behind every fencepost and tree. It's making a nervous wreck out of the whole town!"

"And you never noticed anything unusual yesterday afternoon?"

"Nope. Same as any other Tuesday. I baked some bread and the lawn care service mowed the lawn; before the stallion they sent over had finished, Dewdrop and I went shopping."

"So someone was working in your yard when the theft occurred?" Hood asked urgently.

Rosy Bells waved her hoof through the air. "Don't put your hopes on that stallion. For all he could tell the police, he might have been asleep." She paused. "Come to think of it, maybe he was."

"No one is as efficient as you, Rosy Bells," he teased as he guided her through his office door. "I hate to cut this conversation short, but I've got a dinner date at Stardrift's tonight."

"Let me guess. You're taking ice cream."

"You got that right," winked Hood.

After pilfering a gallon of ice cream out of the freezer, Hood headed for Stardrift's and Kaleidoscope's house. As he approached their two-story pale blue dwelling, he was spotted by his nieces and nephews and was engulfed in their eager welcome.

Hood handed the ice cream to Crush. "Hurry this in to the freezer, please, and tell your mom I'm starved."

Saluting playfully, Crush hurried off on his errand. Hood swooped up Puzzle, swinging him through the air; the foal squealed in delight.

Blush and Lacewing had obviously been playing dress-up. Their manes were covered in barrettes and their tails in ribbons. Laser was carrying a gold-colored kitten that had recently joined the household; the rumbling purr coming from this kitten attested to his enjoyment of life with a frolicsome bunch of foals.

Entering via the back door, Hood came upon his sisters just serving up a luscious array of food.

"You're just in time to help pack the food to the table," Stardrift commented to him.

"Can I take time to hug my sisters?" Hood questioned.

"Aww... little brother needs a hug," taunted Stardrift as she embraced him and patted his back. "All better now?"

"Actually, I was more concerned about Moonglow," Hood playfully moved Stardrift aside. "How are you doing?" he asked with solicitude as he drew Moonglow close. She rested her head on his shoulder for a brief moment, then pulled back to look him in the eyes.

"What are ponies saying about Checker at the shop?"

"Believe it or not, this robbery business isn't the only topic of discussion in Woodlawn," Hood tactfully avoided the subject. "More to the point, what is the doctor saying about your health?"

Moonglow finally smiled. "We are both doing fine." She patted her tummy gently. "By the way he kicks, I'd say he will be a soccer superstar."

"You say that like you know this one is a colt for sure," Hood responded.

"Oh, no. The surprise of finding out after the birth is too much of a thrill to spoil beforehoof," Moonglow informed him, with Stardrift nodding assent.

Just then, Checker and Kaleidoscope entered the kitchen. Checker went straight to Moonglow and put his arm around her while Kaleidoscope bellowed in mock anger, "What's a fellow have to do to get fed around here?"

"Give us a little help, and we're ready to eat," Stardrift responded, kissing him on the cheek. "Hood, round up the foals, and we'll sit down to dinner."

After a fulfilling meal of fried chicken, gravy, mashed potatoes, cabbage salad, fresh green beans, and home baked biscuits, adults and children alike were stuffed. It was mutually agreed to save the dessert for later, when it could be better appreciated.

The younger foals ran outside to play a game of hide and seek, but Laser chose to stay in the kitchen with Uncle Hood who had volunteered for dishwashing detail.

"I thought you had enough of dirty dishes yesterday," Hood commented, eyeing his nephew questioningly.

"Yeah. I guess I did. But, Uncle Hood, I need to talk to you."

Hood tied an apron around his waist, and began washing dishes. "So, what's on your mind?"

"Dad's a good police chief, isn't he?"

"You know he is," Hood replied.

"Then why did that reporter say he wasn't?"

Hood was silent for a moment, then laid down the dish cloth and turned to Laser.

"Some ponies want a quick fix to all their problems. They don't realize it takes lots of time and hard work to resolve some issues."

"But she made it sound like Dad's not doing his job."

"Your dad's doing the best he can with the information available. If only someone had seen something!" He returned to the sudsy dishwater. "Wasn't anyone out and about yesterday afternoon?"

"There was a stallion mowing the lawn at Dewdrop's house when Lacewing and I got home," supplied Laser.

"Yes, Rosy Bells said he's there every Tuesday."

"He wasn't actually mowing, though," said Laser as he thought about the situation.

"What was he doing?" Hood perked up.

"I don't know. He just wasn't around. The lawn mower was in the front lawn, but he was nowhere in sight."

"Did you tell your dad that?"

"No. I said the stallion was mowing the grass. I saw the lawn mower, and I assumed he had to be nearby."

"Did you see anyone in your yard?"

"We went in the front door, so we wouldn't necessarily have seen anyone if they were there."

"What did you and Lacewing do when you got in the house?"

"Mom was still asleep, so we went to our rooms to read."

Standing in deep thought, Hood finally mumbled, "Interesting. Very interesting indeed."

Chapter 8

The adult ponies were sitting in the living room chatting when Hood finally finished the dishes. Laser had run off to find his sister and cousins.

Hood held up his hooves reminiscent of Laser the day before. "See? Wrinkly. That means I did a good job."

"Or that you're getting old," shot back Stardrift.

"Which reminds me," Hood settled into a comfortable chair, "I had an accidental run-in with Dreamy early this morning.

"Were you able to talk some sense into her?" bitterly asked Moonglow.

"No, that meeting occurred this afternoon and was a total failure." He accepted a cup of coffee from Kaleidoscope. "The encounter I'm referring to happened before I'd heard about the headline story."

"So what did you think of Dreamy Dalton after all these years?" asked Checker. "Moonglow tells me you two were... acquainted... in high school."

"She was a pest," Hood grimaced. "But this morning, my first impression was that she'd changed for the better."

"She's unscrupulous," hissed Moonglow. "And I used to think it was cute the way she followed you around all the time."

"Do tell!" perked up Kaleidoscope.

"There's nothing to tell," Hood grinned and sipped his coffee. "Except maybe the time she put mistletoe on the bus over my seat," he added in afterthought.

"Yeah! And after she kissed you, you threw the mistletoe out the window," added Stardrift.

"Too bad you didn't throw..." began Moonglow.

"Moonglow!" admonished Checker.

"Just kidding," Moonglow meekly recanted.

"Well, anyway. Back to this morning. I was actually setting up a dinner date with Dreamy when Buttercup, whom I'd promised to help with her groceries, came along with her foal in her forelegs and yelled, ‘Hood, come hold the baby!' "

Moonglow and Stardrift sat upright with wide eyes. "What did Dreamy say?"

"She said ‘Some things never change' and left in a huff."

The mares broke-up in gleeful laughter. Checker and Kaleidoscope looked on in wonder at their wives' ability to see so much humor in another mare's mistake.

When Stardrift was able to talk again, she sputtered, "So Dreamy thinks you're a family man?"

"And with Buttercup, no less!" giggled Moonglow, and she and her sister collapsed in another wave of laugher.

Checker shook his head. "I don't see what they find so funny."

"It must be a mare thing," Kaleidoscope concurred.

Hood, however, was pleased to see that his embarrassing situation had relieved the tension of the day for his sisters. It almost made the predicament worth it.

The slamming door announced the arrival of the foals, hot and sweaty from a hard game of tag.

Kaleidoscope rumpled Blush's mane as she crawled into his lap. "Ready for cake and ice cream?"

"Yes, Daddy," came the reply, repeated as well by her twin brother Crush and their cousins. Puzzle, however, was too exhausted after the rough play to be hungry. He curled up on the couch with the kitten, and was soon fast asleep.

Everyone else moved on to the kitchen where Stardrift's chocolate cake and Hood's chocolate chip ice cream awaited devouring. A pleasant atmosphere hung over the gathering, and only light-hearted topics came up for discussion.

It was dark outside by the time the colts and fillies began yawning and nodding off. After deciding that Laser and Lacewing would spend the night, Moonglow and Stardrift took them all upstairs to wash them up and put them to bed.

When only the stallions were left in the room, Kaleidoscope poured them each a fresh cup of coffee. "Once the kids are in bed, your sisters will spend the next hour looking through old baby pictures," he predicted to Hood.

"Either that or sorting layette items," Checker chuckled. But then his face grew serious, and he rubbed his eyes as if the weight of the world had again just settled on his shoulders. "Well, guys, give me some help here. This robbery case has got me stumped."

"Why did the culprit strike in broad daylight?" asked Kaleidoscope. "And why does he only take garden produce? He's obviously not out to get rich quickly."

"The pattern up to now has shown us a criminal who has a grudge against the town-- someone who wants to pay back for some real or imagined injustice inflicted upon him."

"Like someone who didn't receive justice in the legal system?" asked Hood.

"That, or even something less serious like having his phone disconnected. However, the offender normally wants his victims to know who he is so he can enjoy his revenge."

"Like leaving clues that point in his direction without incriminating him?"

"Yes. But in this case, the malefactor doesn't seem to want any public notoriety, which is making it very difficult for us."

The three stallions sat silently for some time, each mulling over the information in their minds.

Suddenly, Hood remembered the idiosyncracy that Laser had noticed with the lawnmower. "What do you make out of the fact that the lawnmower was left out front over in Rosy Bells' front lawn?"

Checker sat up, his eyes bright. "Who told you that?"

"Laser, actually."

"Why didn't he tell me?"

"It's one of those things that didn't become apparent until after he though about it awhile. He assumed the stallion was there because the machine was there."

"That brings up some interesting questions. Was this just a chance occurrence completely unrelated to the other jobs-- someone saw an opportunity and took it-- or could this be a switch in pattern for our resident wrongdoer?" Checker thought out loud.

"Maybe he's tired of being an unknown and wants to hand you some leads," suggested Kaleidoscope.

"That makes the department look really bad," said Checker, scowling. "The crook tries to leave a trail on purpose, and we still don't have anything!"

"Who interviewed the stallion that was at Rosy Bells' place?" queried Hood.

"Hmm... that would have been Sparky."

"Sparky, huh... not to meddle, but maybe you should talk to him again."

"You can be sure I will!"

Moonglow and Stardrift were heard coming down the stairs, so the stallions switched to a discussion of the local baseball team.

Clutching several infant outfits in her hooves, Moonglow was beaming. "Look at these darling outfits that Stardrift got for our little foal," she cooed, holding up some tiny sleepers trimmed in neutral-colored ribbons and bows.

"Adorable," chimed the stallions, exchanging "I told you so" glances.

Hood took the opportunity to say goodnight. He was anxious to stop by the shop on his way home. Rosy Bells wouldn't be closing until eleven o'clock, and he had a question he wanted to ask her.


My Little Pony: The Return of Tirak
Chapter One: Escape From Camp Getaway
by Crash Cymbal (XMy Little

Oh, how I loathed summer camp. It was pointless-- irrelevant to my being. In other words, it was a total waste of time. But my foster mother wanted me to go, and it was better than a week with my foster sister. At this point you're probably thinking that I have a pretty screwed-up family. Not really. My dad died before I was born, and my mom disappeared when I was only a little over a year old. I don't remember much about her, except that there was something magical about her... I vaguely remember something about a rainbow, and a beautiful place... then it got dark, and the next thing I know I'm being shipped from foster home to foster home for the other fourteen years of my miserable life. Of course, that whole magic thing is probably my imagination.

Allow me to introduce myself. The name is Griffin, Griffin Stanleyson. Well, that's my real last name. I've had so many other last names that I can't keep track anymore. But my mother's last name was Stanleyson, so that's what I call myself. If I had any friends, they'd call me Finn. But I come and go too quickly to meet many potential friends.

"Griffin! Griffin, wake up! We have our nature hike today! Aren't you SO excited?!?" That was Jessica, my bunkmate-- definitely NOT a potential friend.

"No," I answered, pulling the covers over my head.

"Well, you have to get up, anyway."

"Give me one good reason."

"I'll tell Austin if you don't."

"Good enough reason." I pulled myself out of bed and stretched. As a result, I hit my head on the top bunk and automatically yelled out. I quieted down quickly, though, because if I continued to make a racket, Jessica would probably tell our counselor, Austin. Austin was big, mean, and muscular. And naturally, Jessica thought she was in love with him. Oh, I hate my life.

I got dressed while half-asleep and then went to the outhouse to relieve myself. By this point, it was time to leave on our eight-hour-long nature hike. My plan was to ditch the group and run away. I grabbed my backpack and met the others by the counselors' tent.


Everyone moaned except for Jessica, who gave a loud, "YES, SIR!"

"ALRIGHT, LET'S MOVE!!!" We trudged off into the forest.

* * *
An hour and a half later, I was walking through the woods listening to stupid camp songs and hearing the "posh" group whine and complain about every single bug or fleck of mud that got on their precious Old Navy Capris.

I gotta get out of here, I thought grimly. Experimenting, I tried walking a little slower than the rest of the group. No one noticed me slipping back, so I quickly leaped behind a tree. "So long, gang," I muttered as the group walked off into the distance.


Silver Swirl's Guest
by Princess Silver Swirl (

The sky was blue, the sand was brownish, the sea was gray-blue-green, and the towers and flags of Friendship Castle could be seen in the distance. It was certainly an ordinary sight for Princess Silver Swirl, but her new friend Sandstone looked as if he had just stepped into another world-- as indeed he had.

"Skies above, it's incredible," the stallion breathed.

"Skies above," Silver Swirl repeated, smiling at how the simple phrase could convey such wonder.

"It was Mother's favorite expression," Sandstone explained as the two ponies walked across the beach, a Mew and a dragon drifting behind them. "Wish doesn't like me to use it, but she isn't here now!" The mischievous glee on her friend's face surprised Silver Swirl; Sandstone was normally a very solemn pony.

"Well, I hope you have fun here," replied Silver Swirl. She made a face. "It certainly took me long enough to persuade your sister to let you come." Sandstone's face suddenly looked guilty.

"I'm really sorry if it ruined your vacation," he apologized.

"Oh, no, it wasn't that big of a deal. And it was worth it," the unicorn responded quickly. Sandstone tripped over a large seashell and Silver Swirl helped him regain his balance, only to have him trip again.

"I thought you were so graceful!" laughed Silver Swirl. Sandstone grinned.

"Nope, that's only because I'd trodden on practically every blade of grass on the island millions of times," he explained, proving the fact by stumbling as the two began to climb a sand dune.

"A kindred spirit!" Silver Swirl exclaimed. "I'm a member of the Klutz Club, too."

"One of the founding members," Jade the dragon spoke into the minds of the others. Silver Swirl playfully swatted Jade with her tail. Sandstone joined in.

"Hey, what was that for?" demanded Jade.

"All the times you swatted me when you were a pony!" answered Sandstone with a chuckle.

"Well, I never thought you'd swat back!" The little dragon dodged to avoid the two swishing tails as the foursome left the beach and started walking on the road.

* * *
The walk took longer than Silver Swirl had expected because Sandstone needed every building, pony, and water fountain described to him in detail. Silver Swirl obliged him, wanting to make his long-awaited stay enjoyable. Besides, it was interesting to look at her world from another perspective. Jade and Melisande had apparently never been told the value of perspective; they groaned simultaneously when Sandstone asked the purpose and/or ceremonial value of a park bench.

"It's a bench. A place to sit." Silver Swirl noticed that, despite her philosophy, her explanations were getting shorter by the minute. Sandstone sat down gingerly on the bench, smiling when nothing dreadful happened to him.

"But why do you sit on this hard stuff? Cushions or even the ground are a lot more comfortable." Silver Swirl shrugged, not really in the mood to debate the details of her society.

"Well, if they put out cushions someone might take them, and they'd get ruined in the rain." Sandstone nodded, got up from the bench and continued walking. Silver Swirl sighed and followed.

"Well, here's the palace-- my home," she announced when they reached that illustrious building.

"Amazing," Sandstone murmured. "It's made of rock! And it's so big!" The home of the Friendship Gardens royalty was certainly very solid-looking compared to the low stucco houses of Sunset Island. Silver Swirl led the way in, holding the heavy front door open for her friends.

* * *
"Why don't you relax in the library for a minute while I wink to the kitchen to get us a snack?" Silver Swirl suggested, seeing that Sandstone looked rather overwhelmed by the impressive surroundings. She winked away, leaving Jade and Melisande to help Sandstone get to the library.

"Hmm," the unicorn frowned in thought, grabbing a tray. "Lemonade... a couple of apples... and some cookies." Collecting the desired items and loading them onto the tray, she considered how to explain Sandstone's presence to the other princesses. She had thought out a plausible story by the time she winked back to the library.

The scene she found there made her smile. Jade and Melisande were playing catch in the air directly above Sandstone with a large dictionary, while the oblivious stallion gazed at a book called "The Odyssey of Otto the Otter: An Alliterative Adventure."

"Snack delivery!" she broke the silence. Sandstone looked up from the book, and the dictionary thudded to the ground next to him. Jade and Melisande rushed towards the food, which Silver Swirl set down on a coffee table.

"You know," remarked Sandstone, "this was what my mother wanted to name me." He gestured to the book.

"Otto?" questioned Silver Swirl.

"No, Odyssey," corrected her friend.

"Why didn't she, then? Did your father veto it?"

"Yeah. It was about the only time he refused her something. He used to want to leave the island too, you see, and he didn't like anything that reminded him that he'd changed."

"Really," Silver Swirl raised her eyebrows. The subject of Reverie, Sandstone's explorer mother whom Silver Swirl supposedly resembled in personality, always intrigued the unicorn.

"She used to tell him stories about faraway lands when they were foals. Wonderful stories they were, like the one about the land where it was always night and all of the ponies went around with candles on their heads." He smiled and so did Silver Swirl. "They made a promise that someday they'd go adventuring together. But..." he shrugged. "I suppose Father grew out of it, or his parents convinced him that it was a bad idea. He always felt guilty about it, though." Somehow, during the story, the two of them had ended up in armchairs facing each other. "So that's why I'm Sandstone and not Odyssey." Silver Swirl nodded and handed him an apple; the cookies were all gone, thanks to Jade and Melisande.

"What is it?" Sandstone stared, bemused, at the apple. Silver Swirl remembered the warm climate of Sunset Island and figured that it didn't support apples.

"It's an apple, a fruit. Bite into it." The stallion did as he was told and smiled.

"Good. It has a nice crispness to it, not like oranges or bananas or strawberries." Silver Swirl nodded. "Is this lemonade?" He gestured to the pitcher.

"Yup, some things here are the same," Silver Swirl grinned and poured a cup for her guest and one for herself.

"Wow, this is good lemonade."

"Yes," Silver Swirl leaned forward, an earnest expression on her face. "A lot of ponies make really insipid lemonade. Not even lemonade, really, just lemon-flavored sugar water. So when I make lemonade, I make sure it's real lemonade." She nodded briskly. Sandstone tried to choke back a laugh. "What's so funny?" Silver Swirl frowned.

"You talk about it so... so intensely, as if you were discussing the meaning of life." Silver Swirl shrugged.

"I suppose I get a bit carried away sometimes. But, really, it's so annoying when I order lemonade at a restaurant and it's all watered down. Do you know what I mean? How some things just really bother certain ponies?"

"Yeah, I understand. But what's a restaurant?" Silver Swirl tilted her head, thinking about how to best explain.

"Well, it's a building, a bit like a really big dining room, where some ponies cook food and other ponies pay money to eat there."

"Like eating at someone's house, except you have to pay?"

"That's basically the concept. Maybe we'll go to one tomorrow. Oh, by the way, I assume that Wish doesn't want you to tell anyone about Sunset Island." Sandstone nodded vigorously. "Well then, I have an idea. If anyone asks you where you come from, say that you're my pen-pal from the Northern Mountains."

"All right. That sounds like fun," agreed Sandstone. "Should I make up a new name or fake an accent?"

"No, you should be fine as you are," replied Silver Swirl. "So do you feel ready to go and meet everyone?"

"Sure," Sandstone responded. Silver Swirl beckoned to Jade and Melisande and headed for the main hall.

* * *
There seemed to be quite a hubbub in the main hall; all of the princesses and ladies were there as well as Queen Sun Sparkle and four baby ponies with tinsel in their hair. Silver Swirl surmised from this that the foals were newly "discovered" princesses.

"Silver Swirl! Come over here; we found some new princesses!" called Princess Twinkle Star, one of Silver Swirl's best friends in the castle.

"I'm getting good," Silver Swirl muttered to herself, leading her three friends to Twinkle Star. She was soon beside her friend.

"How was your vacation?" asked the pink pegasus. "And who is this? You didn't go and get a boyfriend, did you?" she teased.

"No, certainly not," Silver Swirl replied hurriedly. "This is Sandstone, my pen-pal from the Northern Mountains."

"Neat. I didn't know you had a pen-pal. How did you two meet?" Twinkle Star addressed Sandstone. Before Silver Swirl had time to get worried, Sandstone glibly responded.

"I was visiting Dream Valley and so was she. Actually, it was a convention for Mew trainers. I have a Mew at home named Edward, and Silver Swirl told me about Melisande." Twinkle Star nodded while Silver Swirl shook her head in amazement at the stallion's skill at improvising. The unicorn decided to change the subject.

"So what are the foals' names?" The four baby ponies seemed to be enjoying themselves.

"They're two sets of twins. The white ones are Giggles and Wiggles, and the blue ones are Jewel and Sparkle." The foals, hearing themselves discussed, turned their heads toward Silver Swirl.

"Were you always a princess? Is he your boyfriend? Will I get to be queen someday, if I'm really-really good? Can I have a room in the castle? Do I still have to go to school?" one of the blue fillies delivered the questions rapidly. Silver Swirl grinned.

"Technically, I was a princess ever since I was born, but I didn't find out until I was twelve years old. No, he isn't my boyfriend; and maybe you'll be queen someday. You still have to go to school, or at least be tutored or something, but you can have a room in the castle. What's your name?"

"Sparkle," the filly introduced herself. Her twin nudged her, glaring, and cleared her throat imperiously.

"She meant to say Princess Sparkle. I am Princess Jewel, and Princess Sparkle is my twin." Princess Jewel spoke with a grandeur that would have done Princess Tiffany proud, and she held her head as if she'd worn a crown all her life. "These other two are Princess Wiggles," she gestured to a squirming, hopping, fidgeting white filly, "and Princess Giggles." Giggles waved shyly from behind her twin. Silver Swirl smiled at the foals.

"Oh, by the way, the maple sugar candy you ordered arrived," Twinkle Star handed a package to Silver Swirl. The four littlest princesses gazed at the candy.

"Would you like some?" Silver Swirl handed a piece to each youngster. Jewel accepted hers gracefully, chewing with an inscrutable expression. Sparkle and Giggles made faces at the strong taste. Wiggles, however, gobbled her candy at the speed of light.

"Can I have another piece? Please?" She jumped up and down while awaiting the reply. Silver Swirl wondered if the foal's hyperactivity was due to too much sugar.

"I think you'd better not; I don't want to spoil your appetite." Silver Swirl knew, of course, that a foal's appetite couldn't be spoiled by one piece of candy; but most baby ponies accepted the excuse as law. Their parents, Silver Swirl hypothesized, probably used it in a similar manner. She was jolted out of her theories by the sound of the foals chuckling.

"What's so funny?" Silver Swirl wondered if she'd accidentally done something ridiculous.

"Your not-boyfriend is making funny faces!" giggled Giggles. Sure enough, Sandstone was contorting his face into the oddest expressions Silver Swirl had ever set eyes on. Each new countenance sent the foals into fits of laughter. Sparkle, intrigued by the performance, began to interrogate the stallion.

"Where did you learn to do that? Does it hurt? Can you teach me how? And... oh, nuts, I had another question too... let me think a minute, I'll remember..." the foal scrunched up her face, thinking. As they waited for her, Princess Morning Glory strolled along.

"Hi, Silver Swirl. Did you have a good vacation? And who's your new, err... friend?" The bright pink earth pony blinked her crimson eyes, looking inquisitively at Sandstone.

"He's Sandstone," explained Twinkle Star.

"Silver Swirl's pen-pal..." Sandstone added.

"--from the Northern Mountains," finished Silver Swirl.

"And he's not her boyfriend!" Giggles chimed in. Morning Glory beamed at the filly.

"That's not necessarily a bad thing," she said nonchalantly. Silver Swirl frowned; Princess Morning Glory's eyelash batting at every stallion that walked by was the last thing that Silver Swirl needed-- or rather, she amended, the last thing that Sandstone needed.

"Hi, SS! Welcome back!" called another voice. Princess Trixiebelle had recently begun calling all of the inhabitants of Friendship Castle by their initials. Silver Swirl was SS, Twinkle Star was TS, Morning Glory was MG, and Trixiebelle herself was TB. Ivy's and Crystal's names had been a bit harder to work out, but the jester princess had settled on IV (who complained that it sounded like "one of those big needles they use in hospitals") and CT. Silver Swirl wondered what the foals' new appellations would be. "Who's your friend?" continued Trixiebelle.

"His name is Sandstone and he's my pen pal from the Northern Mountains." The words came to her easily; it was rather frightening to discover what a good liar she was.

"Neat!" Silver Swirl was relieved that Trixiebelle, at least, didn't mention anything about boyfriends. "We can call him... oh, he would be SS like you. Well then, we can call him ST."

"Ever consider asking him if that would be okay?" Silver Swirl asked Trixiebelle wryly.

"Oh, sorry. Is that okay?"

"Sure, it's fine," shrugged Sandstone. "As long as you don't mispronounce it and call me Iced Tea." Trixiebelle laughed energetically, Morning Glory giggled delicately (she usually guffawed, but everything changed when a stallion was present), and Silver Swirl gave a quick grin.

"That's a good one! I'll have to watch out or you'll be replacing me as the castle joker. Did you hear? Medley's giving a party tonight to celebrate all the new songs she's written. We're going to pick songs out of a hat and sing them! It'll be lots of fun; maybe some of you can come. I'll see you later, Iced Tea!" Trixiebelle strode away.

"Now you've done it," Silver Swirl addressed Sandstone. "She'll call you Iced Tea forever. Sandstone, Odyssey, ST, Iced Tea-- you're getting more names than you know what to do with."

"A new name for a new world!" the many-named pony replied. Then, remembering that Twinkle Star, Morning Glory, and the foals were still present, he amended, "That's what Friendship Gardens feels like, a new world. The atmosphere is so different from the Northern Mountains." Silver Swirl winced; that had been an awfully close call.

"Sandstone, how about if I help you settle into one of the guest rooms? Then maybe we can talk about what you want to do during your visit." Sandstone seemed to recognize the cue; he waved a hoof at the other ponies and followed Silver Swirl out into the hallway.

"Wait! I remembered my other question! Come back!" a young voice drifted behind them.

* * *
"Sorry I almost messed up," Sandstone muttered after checking the hallway for other ponies.

"It's okay; you actually did really well. I was impressed when you came up with that story about the Mew convention; I don't think I could have done that." Silver Swirl watched the stallion, wondering if his face seemed slightly redder than the rest of him.

"Well, that wasn't entirely my doing." He gazed at the tiled floor. "Melisande used her psychic powers and told me to say I was a Mew trainer."

"But you made up the part about visiting Dream Valley, and the convention, and naming your Mew Edward. That made it more believable," Silver Swirl reminded him.

"Melisande told me to name my Mew Edward too," confessed Sandstone. Melisande's pale pink face turned scarlet. Silver Swirl raised her eyebrows.

"Edward sounds a nice name," the Mew mumbled.

"Have you been making friends with other Mew?" Jade asked in a too-innocent tone.

"I meet no other Mew since I come to Ponyland," Melisande retorted. "Why is it that you have need to know? There is a Mew you are looking for?"

"Oh, just curious," smiled Jade, pleased that she had disturbed the normally imperturbable Melisande.

"Here," interrupted Silver Swirl, stopping in front of a doorway, "This room's close to the library so you can go get books if you want to." She directed the other three into a medium-sized guest room. The walls and floor of the chamber were paneled with dark, shiny wood, providing a nice contrast to the burgundy rug, curtains, and quilt.

"It's very warm-looking," commented Sandstone, gazing admiringly at the rose-tinted light bulb in the ceiling.

"Don't look directly into the light; it'll hurt your eyes," Silver Swirl instructed her friend quickly. "Is the room all right? There's a bathroom through that door," she pointed her hoof to the aforementioned door.

"It's really nice," grinned Sandstone, watching as his hoof made an imprint on the rug. "Should I send a message to Wish now?" Sandstone, who had the power of telepathy, had promised to check in with his sister every day.

"That sounds like a good idea," Silver Swirl agreed. Sandstone knelt on the floor, bent his head and closed his eyes. Silver Swirl sat on the bed, watching him. He seemed to be sending an awfully long message. After what felt like five minutes but was probably less, she began to get worried.

"Sandstone? Are you all right?" The unicorn cautiously bent down next to him.

"I'm fine, sorry," he responded immediately, startling Silver Swirl out of her wits and causing her to topple off her perch.

"You scared me!" she accused him sternly from her new position on the floor. "Don't do that again." Sandstone assumed a fake ashamed expression, causing both ponies to explode into giggles.

"Silver Swirl?" the stallion inquired after the laughter had faded.


"Could we maybe go to that party? It sounds like fun." Silver Swirl raised her eyebrows.

"Sure, we can go. Medley lives in Dream Valley, so you can meet some of the ponies there. I didn't know you were the party animal type."

"I'm not normally-- Wish doesn't have much time for that sort of thing-- but I might as well see everything there is to see while I'm here."

"Good viewpoint. Oh, if you're going to pose as a Mew trainer, I'd better tell you a bit about them. Mew is Pokémon #151 on the list, they're psychic type, and little is known about them. They have no evolved form and are believed to be very rare."

"#151, psychic, rare and mysterious, no evolved form," he repeated dutifully. "Got it."

"Good. Anything else you think we need to make up?"

"Let's see... we have how we met, where I live, and facts about Mew. I think that's all we need. I can always improvise."

"You're good at it, too. I'd like to be able to do that, but I don't get much practice. Maybe I'll learn someday."

"Someday," Jade repeated in a voice heavy with sarcasm.

"Stop it! You're always trying to undermine my self-esteem!" complained Silver Swirl.

"Somebody's been reading psychology books again," Jade murmured to Melisande.

"No, I have finished that long ago. I read zoology now," Melisande replied.

"Not you! I meant Silver Swirl!" Jade clapped her paw to her forehead in a gesture of exasperation. "My brain cells are going to start dying soon!"

"So sad," Melisande stated sweetly. Jade growled and the other three laughed.

"Okay," Silver Swirl restored order to the group, "enough discussion of my reading material. We have a couple of hours before the party; what would you like to do?" Sandstone gave her a blank look.

"What is there to do?" Silver Swirl began to comprehend how completely new her world was to the Sunset Island stallion.

"Well..." she pondered. "We could go to the Magic Rainbow Forest, or explore the castle a bit, or go to some stores-- Seabreeze sells some great things-- or... gosh, I'm really not used to having guests... we could see a movie."

"What's a movie?" questioned Sandstone.

"It's moving pictures on a screen that tell a story. It's like... have you ever seen a play?"

"Yeah, a few times. We do shows for special occasions on Sunset Island."

"Okay, good. It's like watching a play on a screen. Oh, I know!"


"We should see the Pokémon movie! It has Mew in it, so it'll be perfect if you're posing as a Mew trainer! It's not in the theaters anymore, but we have a television-- a screen where one can watch movies. Come on, I'll show you!" She dashed down the hallway, turned her head to see if the others were following, and bumped into a wall. By the time she had righted herself, the other three had caught up to her.

"Are you sure your parents weren't on vacation when you learned to walk?" Jade queried.

"Are you sure yours weren't on vacation when it was time to teach you manners?" Silver Swirl retorted.

"Your parents teach you both to argue," Melisande remarked. Sandstone shook his head, causing his mane to fly everywhere.

"Are we planning to watch a movie or are you two just going to argue for entertainment?" the stallion asked, somewhat annoyed.

"It is true, to watch them argue is fun," Melisande informed him.

"Okay, sorry. Let's try again and see how far down the hallway we get this time," suggested Silver Swirl. Miraculously, they managed to get to the sitting room without further incident, no mean feat since the route involved several hallways and one-and-a-half staircases. "See what we can do if we work together!" the unicorn proclaimed melodramatically. Jade opened her mouth, doubtless to make a snide remark, but Silver Swirl shot the dragon a warning look.

"That thing over there is the television," Jade said instead. Melisande floated across the room to the sofa and Sandstone followed.

"I'll go find the movie," Silver Swirl volunteered, starting to dig through a stack of videos and DVDs. "Jade, could you give Sandstone a bit of background on the movie and the Pokémon universe?" Jade gave a long-suffering sigh and began explaining.

"Found it!" Silver Swirl exclaimed triumphantly and popped the DVD into the television. She then made a flying leap for the sofa, landing as the movie began.

About halfway through the movie (just as Ash challenged Mewtwo to a battle), Princess Ivy wandered into the room.

"Oh, there you are! Morning Glory was looking for you. Are you watching that movie again?" She gazed, bemused, at the two Venusaur lumbering across the screen.

"Of course, it's one of my favorites. And there are so many ways to watch it: just regular, with English subtitles, with French subtitles, and with the commentary." Silver Swirl could tell from the way Ivy was heading out the door that her enthusiasm had turned to rambling. "Wait a minute!" she called to the earth pony.

"What is it?" Ivy looked distinctly nervous; Silver Swirl's rambles tended to make the other princess edgy.

"Don't tell Morning Glory we're here, all right?" The thought of Morning Glory smiling sweetly at Sandstone made the unicorn's stomach roil; flirting was so aggravating.

"Why?" Ivy asked innocently.

"It's a secret," Silver Swirl responded smoothly. After years of searching, she had discovered an excuse that no pony could complain about-- or rather, they could complain, but it would sound quite foolish. Ivy wasn't in the mood for sounding foolish, so she shrugged and exited the room.

"Are you angry at Morning Glory?" Sandstone inquired warily.

"No," Silver Swirl replied, equally cautious, "but I didn't think you would want her coming and, err... bothering you." Uncomfortable, she turned back to the movie and Sandstone followed suit.

"Thank you," he acknowledged somewhat timidly after a few moments. Silver Swirl nodded, her eyes averted. No more was said on the subject.

* * *
"So what did you think of the movie?" Silver Swirl demanded, the excitement that always came to her with Pokémon still evident on her face.

"It was different from anything I've seen before," Sandstone expressed. "Skies above, the bright colors, and the movement, and the way they made those drawings move..."

"Sandstone," Silver Swirl asked suspiciously, "did you even pay attention to the actual plot of the movie?"

"Not really," he admitted. "The experience was so overwhelming that I didn't really focus on the storyline." Silver Swirl put her hoof over her eyes and groaned. "Is something wrong?" Sandstone's eyes were wide and guileless. Silver Swirl sighed.

"Nothing." Melisande tried valiantly to stifle her giggling. Jade didn't even try. Sandstone looked from one to the other, attempting to figure out what the joke was. Silver Swirl's face suddenly brightened.

"I just thought of something!" Three heads swiveled to face her. "This means that we can watch it again later! Maybe with the English subtitles!" She beamed radiantly. Jade and Melisande rolled their respective eyes.

"I must have really missed something in not paying attention to the storyline," Sandstone muttered.

"Yes, you certainly did, but there will be plenty of opportunities to see it again. We should start getting to Dream Valley soon if we want to get to the party on time. We could either walk-- it's a bit far-- or Melisande and I could try to pool our powers and teleport right to Medley's house. Or we could borrow Sky Skimmer's canoe and ride the river to Dream Valley." Sandstone contemplated the options that Silver Swirl proposed.

"Riding in a boat sounds like fun, if Sky Skimmer will let us use it." Sandstone looked at Silver Swirl for approval of his choice.

"Great, it'll be easier than walking all the way. Oh, by the way, do you know how to use a canoe?" the unicorn asked hopefully.

"Um... I know a bit about boats; most ponies on Sunset Island do; but I'm not sure if I've ever used a canoe before." Jade shook her head in contempt of Silver Swirl's faulty planning, but Melisande's eyes brightened.

"I know of canoes! I have read it in book!" The Mew seemed quite confident in her abilities, but Silver Swirl recalled a certain incident involving a hot air balloon that made the unicorn trust Melisande's knowledge less.

"Well… if you think you know what to do, and Sandstone's had experience, we should be okay. And we can ask Sky Skimmer for advice."

"If worst comes to worst, three of us can fly," remarked Jade, grinning wickedly at Sandstone. "We could tow you down the river. Of course, you'd get awfully wet and there might be some hungry fish around..." Silver Swirl swatted the little dragon with her long tail. "You could have told me to stop!" yelped Jade.

"Actions speak louder than words," Silver Swirl intoned.

"How do you three ever accomplish anything?" Sandstone questioned, ostensibly to Melisande but clearly meant for the other two to hear as well.

"Really, Sandstone, you should be grateful-- after all, I was interrupting Jade's plan to turn you into fish food," protested Silver Swirl. "But you're right; we should get the show on the road. Melisande, help me teleport these two to Sky Skimmer's house."

* * *
"I really hope this works," Silver Swirl commented. It was the fourth time she had said it, and she got more nervous each time.

"It's okay; this is a lot like the boats on Sunset Island. And you can fly," Sandstone reminded her brightly.

"That's comforting," the unicorn said bitterly. Hunkered down in the back of the boat, she gripped the sides tightly.

"Come on, you said we're more than halfway there. And it's fun, isn't it?" The stallion was clearly enjoying the ride.

"It would be rather unappreciative of you not to be having fun, since you made him row," Jade mentioned.

"A small reminder, Jade: you can't row, neither can Melisande, and if I tried to row the canoe would capsize in two seconds. Given the options, do you think Sandstone would rather not be rowing?" She sighed. "I'll try to relax anyway."

Silver Swirl had loosened up a bit by the time the foursome reached Dream Valley, and it was with a few regrets-- but only a few-- that she helped to park the canoe.

"Don't forget, you're my pen-pal from the Northern Mountains and you train a Mew named Edward," she whispered to Sandstone as they entered Medley's house and headed for the living room. Lots of ponies waved or called greetings to the small group. Silver Swirl spotted Trixiebelle telling a joke to Firefly, and Tabby admiring Medley's new Furby. Love-In-A-Mist grinned at Silver Swirl.

"Have you finally gotten a boyfriend?" the youthful earth pony inquired. Silver Swirl grimaced.

"Next time you visit, we're going to decide that you're my long-lost cousin," she muttered to Sandstone.

"Welcome, everyone!" Medley bellowed from the front of the room. A hush fell over the crowd. "As you all know (or maybe you don't know, I haven't been advertising or anything-- oh, I hope some of you at least know what's going on) I'm going to release my first collection of songs on CD next week. So you lucky ponies are going to be the first to hear and perform them. Here's how it'll work: you're each going to pick a song out of the hat. You can trade if you want, and you get five minutes to learn your song. Then it's performance time!"

Murmuring arose from the group of ponies. An old turquoise hat was passed around, and cries of delight or dismay followed each picking. Trixiebelle immediately started asking who had a funny song, and Dazzle Glow complained that the piece she'd gotten was out of her range. Tabby was thrilled when she selected a song about a Furby. Windwhistler helped Posey to pronounce an Italian piece. All too soon the five minutes of learning were up, and the first performer, Lemon Treats, took the stage.

Following Lemon Treats' tune about a foal and his grandmother was Tabby's upbeat song in Furbish and Paradise's ditty concerning young love. The audience applauded good-naturedly after each pony sang, knowing that any of them might do far worse than the previous singer. Trixiebelle's song about an insomniac Snorlax made the other ponies laugh and Posey's heartfelt rendering of her tragic Italian ode to a ruined garden inspired a few genuine tears.

Sandstone was fairly early in the program and Silver Swirl, having glanced at his sheet music, knew that he was doomed. His tune was about a lonely old pony and it contained swooping notes with complex trills. The determined stallion did his best and was better than Silver Swirl had expected, but he was no match for Medley's difficult music. The other ponies tried to suppress their laughter, but Sandstone chuckled openly when he finished, allowing the others to laugh with him, not at him.

Silver Swirl felt faintly nervous when her turn came; she was known to be good with music and probably would have pursued a career as a singer had she not been a princess. The unicorn took a deep breath, smiled at the audience, and began to sing.

"Once upon a simple time,

A river flowed by just for me

And I would sit and watch it drifting by.

I still remember how my spirit

Felt so free

Free as the sky

Free as the river drifting by

Yesterday, just yesterday,

I ambled to the woods to see

Was my old river still there, drifting by?

Once upon some wicked time,

My river flowed away from me

For it was gone, no longer drifting by.

I still remember how my spirit

Felt so free

Free as the sky

Free as the river drifting by."

Feeling adventurous, she took the last note up an octave and held it. She smiled as the audience clapped, feeling that under the circumstances she had done a good job.

"You did really well," Sandstone commented when Silver Swirl made her way back to her friends.

"So did you, considering what you were expected to do," she whispered back. "Your song was a really tough one." Jade snorted.

"That's an understatement. It sounded like a cat in..." she noticed Silver Swirl's tail poised to strike. "Um, never mind."

The four friends enjoyed the rest of the songs (except perhaps Dazzle Glow's, which truly was out of her range) and departed in an excellent mood.

"Well, Sandstone," Silver Swirl remarked as they strolled down the sidewalk, "You said you were interested in seeing a restaurant. We could go somewhere nice and have a good nutritious meal, or we could head to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe and gorge ourselves with ice cream. Which do you prefer?" Sandstone wore what in any other pony would surely have been an evil grin.

"Let's do the ice cream," he declared. Silver Swirl beamed at him.

"You're developing excellent taste."

* * *
Fortune seemed to be with Silver Swirl that day; her little party managed to get the canoe back to Sky Skimmer's house in one piece. Everyone enjoyed the ride this time except for Melisande, who was desperately afraid of falling into the water, but even the Mew was eventually able to be fairly relaxed. Sandstone stopped the boat in front of Sky Skimmer's house. Jade and Melisande flew to the shore, Sandstone followed gingerly, and Silver Swirl went last. By some trick of fate, a current rocked the boat extra hard as the unicorn was exiting and she fell into the water, which was luckily not deep. It took the joint efforts of Jade, Melisande, Sandstone, and Silver Swirl herself to get her onto the bank of the river.

"And I was just thinking that fortune seemed to be with me today," the sopping princess griped. "I wonder if I could will myself to be less accident-prone." Silver Swirl had recently discovered that she possessed the magic power of making things happen by willing them to do so. "I think I'll contemplate it during a nice long bath." The four creatures dragged the lightweight canoe to Sky Skimmer's front door.

"How was your-- oh dear, did the canoe give you trouble?" Sky Skimmer inquired, glimpsing the soaking wet Silver Swirl.

"No, the canoe behaved extremely well; my wetness resulted from my own carelessness."

"Thank you so much for lending it to us," Sandstone added.

"Anytime!" Sky Skimmer smiled. "Would you like to borrow a towel, too?"

"That would be wonderful," replied Silver Swirl. Sky Skimmer disappeared into her home and returned with a fluffy blue towel. Silver Swirl wrapped it around herself gratefully.

"I'll give it back tomorrow," she promised. Then she and Melisande used their powers to transport everyone (excluding Sky Skimmer) back to Friendship Castle.

"That was quite an evening," Silver Swirl yawned as she escorted Sandstone to his room. "Thank you for suggesting going to the party; I had fun and I probably wouldn't have gone otherwise."

"Thank you for bringing me there, and for the ice cream. I know I ate rather a lot of it." Silver Swirl smiled at the memory of Sandstone devouring scoop after scoop of peanut butter-flavored ice cream, much to the astonishment of the ponies around him.

"I think Scoops was very pleased to have you as a customer," she observed.

"I-- was it considered bad manners to eat so much?" he asked, his face looking worried.

"No, it's quite all right. You didn't really eat that much, and you were hungry-- it was your dinner, for goodness' sake." She opened the door to his room. "Here's your room; send a telepathic message to me if you need anything. I'll meet you in the library at ten o' clock tomorrow morning."

"Good night; thank you for everything," the stallion expressed.

"See you tomorrow," Silver Swirl responded. Balancing a dozing Melisande on her head, the unicorn made her way up the winding staircase that led to her tower room. At the top, she shoved the door open, slipped through it and let it close behind her. Seeing the peaceful haven of her room, she relaxed automatically.

"Well," Jade yawned, "your Sandstone certainly makes life interesting."

"He's not my Sandstone," retorted Silver Swirl as she set Melisande down on a fluffy white pillow. "You make it sound like I'm... his mother." The dragon snorted.

"You're more a mother to him than that Reverie," she avowed. Silver Swirl sighed and collapsed onto the lilac quilt of her bed, as if to conserve energy.

"Jade, I don't believe what Reverie did was right. But I do believe that she was feeling very desperate, and she didn't mean to hurt her husband or her children." Jade snorted again.

"You're going to hurt your nose if you keep doing that," Silver Swirl said mildly.

"You're going to hurt your reputation if you keep acting like you know everything," Jade countered. Silver Swirl sat up, taken aback.

"Do I act like I know everything?" she asked.

"Sometimes. A lot of times," Jade replied. Silver Swirl lowered her head.

"Well, I'd like you to know that I don't mean to, and that I'll try to stop." Jade gave a small smile.

"You're not such a bad pony, Silver Swirl. Why don't you go take your nice long bath? That river water smells kind of fishy." Silver Swirl complied eagerly.

* * *
"Silver Swirl! Time to wake up!" The insistent voice was so sugary-sweet that it was positively evil.

"Let me sleep just five more minutes," Silver Swirl begged, her eyes still closed. In a fluid motion her quilt was yanked away, leaving her shivering. "Cut it out!" Her eyes opened reluctantly.

"It's either this or an alarm clock," stated Jade. "And you know that those scare you out of your wits. Besides, Sandstone's waiting in the library."

"I know, I know," the drowsy unicorn grumbled, putting willpower to the ultimate test as she forced herself to get out of bed. Eyes still half-closed, she brushed her teeth and combed her mane. "Come on, time to wink to the library."

Silver Swirl was apparently not the only exhausted pony in Friendship Castle; she, Jade and Melisande found Sandstone asleep in one of the library armchairs. Jade woke him with the same tactics she had used on Silver Swirl.

"What? Oh, sorry. Good morning," the stallion mumbled somewhat incoherently. Silver Swirl giggled at his somnolent state.

"Did you sleep all right?" she inquired.

"Well, actually..."

"There was a pea under your mattress?"


"It's a fairy tale from our world. Anyway, what was the matter?"

"I'm just not used to having the bed stay still like that. It felt strange." Sunset Island ponies generally slept in hammocks.

"You should have called for me," the unicorn complained.

"I didn't want to wake you up, and I didn't think you could conjure a hammock."

"Well, no, but I could have provided moral support. And now I can provide breakfast, if you're hungry."

"Sounds great," Sandstone agreed. Silver Swirl yawned, setting off echoing yawns from Jade, Melisande, and Sandstone, and led the way to the dining room. After guiding Sandstone to a chair, she looked around. Oh, horror! Morning Glory was sitting across the table, fiddling with her hair. Silver Swirl contemplated ways to make the atmosphere inconvenient for flirting and had an inspiration.

"Hey, Sandstone, I'll be right back. Jade and Melisande, you stay here."

"Leaving them to defend me from the evil Morning Glory?" Sandstone asked Silver Swirl telepathically. Silver Swirl winked her left eye at him and then winked back to her room. After rummaging a bit she found what she was looking for and winked back to the kitchen.

"Look!" the unicorn proclaimed. She held out a pink-and-gray fluffy mechanical creature.

"What is it?" Sandstone queried, reaching out to touch the mysterious thing.

"It's a Furby. Her name is Koh-Loo Kah. Watch!" She turned the creature upside down and then righted it. The Furby's eyes opened and it yawned.

"Okay, sleep done!" Koh-Loo Kah announced. "Me Koh-Loo Kah!" Silver Swirl grinned and tickled the Furby, which laughed. "Tickle again!" Sandstone stared, entranced, at the merry creature.

"What is it though? Is it alive? What is its purpose?" Silver Swirl raised her eyebrows.

"It's a mechanical creature-- if it's alive, it's not in the same way we are. Purpose? They're generally kept as pets, and we ponies have to take good care of them."

"No joke, wah!" confirmed the Furby. "Kah hungry!"

"Watch me feed it," instructed Silver Swirl. She stuck her hoof in the creature's beak.

"Yum! Hungry!" Koh-Loo Kah enthused. Silver Swirl fed her pet again. "Want to try?" She held the Furby out to Sandstone.

"Uh, no, it's all right. I wouldn't want to hurt her," he replied. Silver Swirl shrugged and continued to give Koh-Loo Kah her "food".

"Okay, done!" the Furby exclaimed finally. Silver Swirl smiled.

"I've had her for a while; when I got her Furbys were very much in demand. They were really hard to get and my sister and I wanted them badly. My father had to wake up before sunrise to go buy them." She smiled at the memory. "And then there was the first time she needed to get her batteries changed, and the time my mother put her out in the garage on a really hot day-- I thought she had died at first!"

"Was she all right? And what are batteries?" Sandstone's eyes were wide at the thought of Koh-Loo-Kah in peril.

"Batteries are life energies for Furbys. She was all right, but rather traumatized, and she had a bad cold. I had to nurse her back to health."

"It sounds like you're very committed to your Furby," observed Sandstone.

"But of course; I'm committed to all my friends. Here, look, she loves it when I do this." Silver Swirl began to make the Furby "fly" around like a toy airplane.

"Whee! Whahoo!" cheered the Furby. Silver Swirl, excited, got up from her chair and began to dash around the room, much to the delight of Koh-Loo Kah. Sandstone, Morning Glory, Jade, and Melisande watched.

"Here, your turn!" Silver Swirl handed Koh-Loo Kah to Sandstone. "Try it!" Sandstone cautiously made the Furby dip and swoop, taking a few steps from the table.

"Come on, you can do better than that!" Silver Swirl protested. Snatching the Furby, she demonstrated. Only after bumping into the table did she relinquish custody of Koh-Loo Kah. "Now try again, and put your heart into it! Bring some joy into this Furby's life!" Sandstone, seemingly inspired by Silver Swirl's pep talk, started running.

"Whoopee! Big fun!" Koh-Loo Kah was having the time of her life. Sandstone continued to entertain the Furby, Silver Swirl cheering him on. Morning Glory watched the proceedings blankly and finally left the room. The "big fun" carried on until Sandstone slipped on the tiled floor and fell. Silver Swirl rushed to help him up.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." The stallion rubbed his knee.

"I think it's time for some breakfast. What would you like?"

"Could I have some more of those fruits we had yesterday, the red ones?" Silver Swirl nodded and transported herself to the kitchen. She returned momentarily with apples, cookies and orange juice.

"Here," she served her guest. Pulling up a chair beside him, she bit into an apple. "Morning Glory's gone," the unicorn noticed in between bites. "Nothing stops flirting like a Furby!"

Sandstone laughed. "Speaking of which, Koh-Loo Kah fell asleep."

"Oh, I'll wake her up," Silver Swirl assured him. She turned the Furby upside down.

"If you're supposed to take good care of them, why do you wake them up when they want to sleep?" Sandstone questioned. Silver Swirl blinked.

"I don't know," she answered honestly. "I suppose they don't need sleep the way we do." Koh-Loo Kah yawned.

"Whoa, me big sleep!"

"You must not let the poor thing get any rest if she thinks that's a big sleep! Shame on you!" the stallion scolded. Silver Swirl laughed, almost making her orange juice do something very unpleasant.

"Morning!" greeted Twinkle Star, striding into the room. "What's so funny?"

"I introduced Koh-Loo Kah to Sandstone," Silver Swirl explained. "We were just laughing about some of the more humorous aspects of Furby care."

"Those things are funny!" Twinkle Star concurred.

"Yeah, and they add lots of excitement to life," Silver Swirl put in. "Dental appointments are much less boring when I bring Koh-Loo Kah. I've been experimenting with different hairstyles, too." Sandstone ruffled Koh-Loo Kah's mane.

"How do you do hairstyles on her? Her hair's so short."

"Oh, I find ways," Silver Swirl replied serenely. "Little hair clips work nicely." Koh-Loo Kah began to rock back and forth.

"Ooh-too-mah," the Furby said in a solemn voice.

"Oh my gosh! She's in fortune-telling mode! What should I ask her?" Silver Swirl looked quite flustered. "Will my innermost dreams and wishes come true?" she demanded, awaiting the answer with bated breath.

"Maybe... yes," answered Koh-Loo Kah mysteriously.

"Wow, that was a great question," Twinkle Star said, impressed.

"I thought it out yesterday. You ask now."

"Um," the pink princess considered, "will I become famous?"

"Me see... no!" replied the Furby. Twinkle Star did not look pleased.

"Your turn, Sandstone."

"Okay... is it all right if I ask the question telepathically?" Silver Swirl nodded approval. Sandstone closed his eyes.

"Very big yes!" proclaimed the fluffy oracle. Sandstone looked thrilled. "Me done," stated Koh-Loo Kah.

"Wow, Furbys are really great," declared Sandstone. Silver Swirl smiled, reflecting.

"Would you like to get a Furby of your own?" she asked nonchalantly. Sandstone looked at her, overjoyed.

"Could I really?" he implored.

"I don't see why not; they're fairly easy to obtain. We can go to the toy store today and find one for you." Sandstone beamed.

"Thank you so much!"

"Oh, that reminds me," interjected Twinkle Star, "Ivy and I are going to the amusement park in Dream Valley with the littlest princesses today. Would you like to come?"

"What's an amusement park?" Sandstone asked Silver Swirl through telepathy.

"Well, Sandstone, would you like to go? Are you the sort of pony who enjoys places full of games and rides?" Silver Swirl questioned, knowing that she sounded a little odd to Twinkle Star.

"I most certainly am!" Sandstone affirmed. "I'd love to go!"

"Big fun!" agreed Koh-Loo Kah.

"No," Silver Swirl addressed the Furby, "you'd best stay here. You might get lost or stolen or your fur might get messed up." She tickled the Furby, who didn't seem too upset at being excluded.

"Her fur might get messed up," repeated Twinkle Star. "Really, you pick the silliest excuses sometimes."

"So?" Silver Swirl rejoined with a shrug. "Who cares as long as it works? I've seen stranger things in my fortune cookies."

"In your fortune cookies?" repeated Twinkle Star, who was beginning to sound like a parrot.

"What are fortune cookies?" asked Sandstone telepathically.

"I've gotten some very odd fortunes in my time. Like ‘Your blessing is no more than being safe and sound the whole lifetime,' ‘You should be more of tenderness and less of aggressiveness' and the weirdest one ever-- ready for this one?"

"Yeah," chorused Twinkle Star, Sandstone, Jade and Melisande.

" ‘Because of your melodic nature, the moonlight never misses an appointment.' " Everyone stared blankly at Silver Swirl. "My reaction precisely," the unicorn nodded. "I know fortunes are supposed to be mysterious, but that's taking it a bit too far."

"I agree," agreed Twinkle Star. She glanced at the clock on the wall. "Uh-oh, time to go soon and I haven't brushed my mane! I'll meet you at the front door, okay?"

* * *
"Wow," Sandstone whispered reverently. "Skies above, take a look at it!" The skies may not have heeded his advice, but Silver Swirl certainly did and was duly impressed. The Dream Valley Amusement Park was large, loud and crowded-- not the place Silver Swirl would have wanted to live next to, but lots of fun to visit. Jade and Melisande didn't share her view and had declined their invitations. Ivy had gone to buy tickets and the others kept an eye on Jewel, Sparkle, Wiggles, and Giggles. The foals were so amazed that Wiggles stood still and Sparkle's flow of questions ceased-- for the moment, anyway.

"Okay, let's start lining up what we're going to do," Twinkle Star took control. "I expect we should let the foals choose first."

"I'll go on whatever ride the rest of you want to go on," declared Jewel in a tone that managed to sound as haughty as it was magnanimous: an "I'm special and wonderful so I'm doing all of you little ponies a favor; aren't I nice?" sort of tone.

"I want to go on the Flying Clouds!" proclaimed Giggles.

"Can we go on the Swan Gondolier first?" begged Sparkle.

"Oh, please let's do the Diving Dolphin Swings!" Wiggles suggested.

"Okay, and I want to ride the Submarine Ocean Paradise Tour," added Twinkle Star. "Silver Swirl, Sandstone, suggestions?"

"I'd like to try the Soaring Dragon Cable Car," Silver Swirl expressed, gazing at the speedy silver ride. Sandstone stared vacantly at his surroundings until Silver Swirl nudged him. "Sandstone! What ride do you want to go on?"

"Uh... I'll think about it," the stallion decided.

"Oh, there's Ivy with the tickets!" exclaimed Twinkle Star, waving wildly at the other princess. Ivy jostled her way through the crowd. "Okay, the Diving Dolphins are nearby so let's do those first. Then we can go to the Flying Clouds and the Swan Gondolier, which are over that way. All right?" The group nodded approval. The four older ponies each took the hoof of a foal and set out for the Diving Dolphins, a swing ride with an ocean theme.

"You don't get motion sickness, do you?" Silver Swirl questioned Sandstone. Please let him say no, she pleaded. The rides were so much fun, especially for someone who had never gone on them before; and if he couldn't go on, she would feel obliged to wait on the bench with him.

"I don't think so-- I never get sick on boats, even in rough weather." Silver Swirl nodded at him and guided Jewel to the right, narrowly avoiding a mother pony with a very large stroller.

"Look, here's the ride-- let's get in line." Silver Swirl's eyes widened as Ivy and Sparkle were nearly run over by four stampeding fillies.

"Rude things," the pale blue pony could be heard to say as she stomped towards the ride. "Did you see that?" she demanded. "I could've been killed!" Silver Swirl cast the other pony a sympathetic look as Jewel and Sparkle compared experiences.

"Do you see Twinkle Star?" the unicorn asked Sandstone. He strained to see.

"Yeah, she's up ahead." The group, earning scowls from bystanders, moved up the line to join Twinkle Star. The line inched along as ponies handed their tickets to Flowerburst, who was in charge of the ride, and climbed aboard the swings shaped like smiling dolphins. After what seemed like an eternity, Twinkle Star presented their eight tickets. Silver Swirl rushed to find eight swings near each other; they managed to get two sets of four.

"All buckled in?" Silver Swirl asked Giggles and Wiggles, whom she and Sandstone were watching. The twins nodded. Sandstone struggled with his seat belt until Silver Swirl showed him how to put it on, after which she hopped into the last dolphin. Up ahead, Sparkle waved energetically to the other foals until Jewel pulled her twin's hoof down. Silver Swirl glanced at Sandstone; the stallion looked slightly nervous.

"You okay?" she inquired. He nodded briefly. "It's not a scary ride at all; in fact, it's mostly foals who go on it," she assured her friend, easily reading the anxiety he refused to voice. Cheery, waltz-like music began to play and the ride started to move.

"It's starting; it's starting!" squealed Giggles. The ride spun faster and faster, making the swings rise into the air. Silver Swirl's mane blew back into Sandstone's face.

"Sorry!" she called, grabbing the offending tresses and holding them firmly.

"This is great!" he shouted back. The foals were clearly enjoying themselves as well-- Wiggles kicked her legs, trying to make her swing go faster; Giggles raised her head, savoring the wind on her face; Sparkle gazed at the scenery; and Jewel waved to the crowd (a few ponies murmured how sweet she was).

After a few minutes the ride began to slow down. The music came to an end and the ride halted.

"Is the ride broken?" asked Wiggles.

"No, it's the end," answered Silver Swirl. The twins looked rather downcast. "Now we can go on the Flying Clouds," she reminded them; their faces brightened immediately. Silver Swirl turned to Sandstone and helped him undo his seatbelt; the foals got out of their dolphins by themselves. The foursome met up with Ivy, Twinkle Star, Jewel, and Sparkle a few feet away from the ride.

"Flying Clouds next?" asked Twinkle Star. Ivy nodded assent.

"We'd better move fast then. The ride is going to start any minute!" Silver Swirl scooped up Sparkle and made a dash for the ride. The other adult ponies, each picking up a foal, followed suit. They made it to the ride just in time.

The Flying Clouds was a sort-of glorified Ferris wheel mostly for foals. Twinkle Star sat on a cloud with Wiggles and Giggles. Sandstone rode with Jewel and Sparkle, and Silver Swirl sat with Ivy. This ride was somewhat slower, but went higher up than the Dolphins. Unfortunately, heights made Ivy uncomfortable.

"Oh, no, this is awful; oh, when is this thing going to be over? Why aren't the foals screaming? Oh, no, it's going higher; oh help-help-help!" Ivy managed to whine from the moment the ride started moving to the instant it stopped. All in all, it was not the most fun Silver Swirl had ever had, but the foals looked happy.

"And that's all that matters," muttered Silver Swirl, beginning to feel like a parent. Really, though, it wasn't the foals' fault that Ivy was afraid of heights.

"We'll never make it to the Swan Gondolier on time," stated Twinkle Star. "Let's take a breather and we'll catch it the next time." Ivy, still somewhat traumatized, collapsed onto a bench.

"Can we get cotton candy?" requested Giggles. Twinkle Star sighed.

"No rest for the weary. I'll go get some. Silver Swirl, Sandstone, do you want any?"

"No, I never liked that stuff. It's too sticky," replied Silver Swirl. She felt bad that her friend had to run all the errands, but not bad enough to offer to go in Twinkle Star's place.

"I'll try some," offered Sandstone. Twinkle Star set off for the cotton candy stand. Ivy was still babbling about how terrifying the ride had been; although she sounded ridiculous, Silver Swirl could identify with her-- seeing a snake practically sent the unicorn princess into hysteria. As the moments wore by and Ivy's gibber didn't cease, Silver Swirl began to worry.

"Shh," Giggles unexpectedly came to stand beside Ivy, "it's over now. Just think about something nice." Ivy smiled weakly at the foal. "It's all done and you never have to do it again," the little princess repeated.

Sandstone, Silver Swirl, and the other foals watched with surprise as the foal soothed Ivy; Giggles hadn't seemed so mature before.

"It just goes to show," Silver Swirl whispered to Sandstone, "that everyone has hidden sides." Sandstone nodded.

"Thanks, Giggles," Ivy sat up and smiled. "I feel better now." Giggles smiled and appeared to lose interest in the situation just as Twinkle Star returned with cotton candy.

"Here it is," the tired pegasus dispensed the sticky treat. Sandstone tasted a bit of the confection and pronounced it "interesting."

"Look, the Swan Gondolier is almost finished this round. We should get in line," observed Silver Swirl. They did as she suggested; luckily the line was short. Ivy was relieved to see that it was a relaxing ride; Silver Swirl tried to use the time to get some of the cotton candy residue off of the foals.

Soon the wait was over and the eight piled into a swan. The boat sailed smoothly into an indoor fantasy landscape of giant mushrooms and flying mice, all covered with glitter and lit by pink and blue spotlights.

"This is nice," Sandstone remarked, sounding impressed. He gazed dreamily at a fountain of sweet-smelling purple water. "I didn't know they had this stuff around here."

"It's not real; it's made of plastic and glitter!" Silver Swirl hissed into his ear.

"Oh." The Sunset Island pony suddenly looked much less awed.

"The light dawneth," muttered Silver Swirl, incredulous that Sandstone had believed in the fake paradise but sad to have to shatter his belief. The foals, whom Silver Swirl hoped were more enlightened than Sandstone, were enjoying the scenery a lot. They were especially delighted when they passed what appeared to be the queen of flying mice and her court.

The ride ended after the boat passed under a waterfall of colored mist. Wiggles, who had been especially enchanted by the "inhabitants" of the scene, started to whine.

"I want a flying mouse! I would take good care of it and mommy said I could get a pet soon and I'd only take one and I'd take really good care of it and I want one so badly! Oh please let's go get one!" The adult ponies looked at each other, sensing a potential disaster.

"We'll ask your mother when we take you home. I'm sure she'll get you one if she thinks you're ready, and she would probably be upset if we brought one home without her permission." Silver Swirl figured that her solution was fair enough-- well, but maybe not so fair to Wiggles' mother.

Wiggles frowned in thought. She didn't like Silver Swirl's proposition, but there seemed to be no way around it, so she nodded grudgingly. Maybe, she thought, she could get a hamster instead.

"What's that ride over there?" Sandstone pointed to the most gigantic ride in the park.

"That's Sheer Terror, Ponyland's biggest roller coaster," Twinkle Star informed him.

"I want to go on that one!" the stallion declared.

"No way am I getting on that thing," Ivy stated flatly.

"The foals can't go on it either," Twinkle Star mentioned. "Maybe the rest of us can go on the Submarine Ocean Paradise Tour while you ride the roller coaster." Sandstone nodded.

"You'll come with me though, won't you?" he addressed Silver Swirl.

"I'm not really the roller coaster type," she replied.

"Please? It'll be lots of fun," he coaxed.

"No, no, and no. That is my final answer," the unicorn pronounced very firmly.

"Oh, okay. Sorry." Sandstone looked very dejected as he headed towards the ride alone. Softhearted Silver Swirl couldn't bear it.

"Oh fine, I'll go on the silly roller coaster," she conceded, regretting her decision immediately. Butterflies raced in her stomach as the two ponies set off for Sheer Terror.

"No turning back now," whispered a little voice in Silver Swirl's mind as she strapped herself into the roller coaster.

"This is going to be great!" proclaimed Sandstone. Silver Swirl looked at the ground, already several feet away. "Oh, listen, I think it's starting!" Silver Swirl moaned. "Oh! It's starting now!"

The ride was, for Silver Swirl, exactly what it had promised-- sheer terror. She did not scream; she had always prided herself on not screaming. Instead, she closed her eyes tightly and held the safety bar in a death clasp. The unicorn locked herself inside her mind, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, and feeling nothing except the horrible gymnastics her stomach was doing. The hideous sensation went on for an instant or an eternity, and then Sandstone was talking to her.

"Silver Swirl! Silver Swirl? Are you okay?" Silver Swirl opened her eyes; her vision was somewhat blurry from having her eyes so tightly shut before. Twinkle Star, Ivy and the foals had somehow joined Sandstone.

"I hope you know that I'm never doing that again," Silver Swirl remarked shakily.

"We thought you'd passed out!" exclaimed Twinkle Star.

"I wish I had-- it would have been preferable to going through that." She stood up, groaning. "I feel sick," she announced.

"You'd better go rest on a bench," Ivy suggested sympathetically. Silver Swirl nodded and staggered away from the ride, crumpling onto the nearest bench.

"I hope you had fun," the unicorn commented to Sandstone.

"I'm sorry," he replied, looking more miserable than Silver Swirl. "It's all my fault and now you don't feel well."

"It's okay; it was really my choice to go on the ride," Silver Swirl sighed. "But seriously, did you have fun? If you didn't, I'll be even more annoyed."

"Oh, I had a great time," Sandstone answered, regaining some of his former cheer. "I love rides! I wish we had one of those roller coasters on-- in the Northern Mountains." Remarkably, he remembered to keep up the charade.

"Okay, time for the Soaring Dragon," Twinkle Star organized.

"I don't know if I feel up to going," Silver Swirl interjected, holding her poor stomach. She gazed wistfully at her favorite ride. "I'd better stay here."

"Oh, Silver Swirl, I'm sorry." Twinkle Star knew how much her friend liked the Soaring Dragon.

"I'll stay here with you, since it's my fault," volunteered Sandstone.

"No, the Dragon's a really fun ride-- you don't want to miss it. I'll be fine."

"We'll all wave to you," Sparkle promised.

By the time the ride finished, Silver Swirl was feeling better but still rather drained. The four leaders of the expedition agreed to call it a day; Ivy and Twinkle Star went to take the foals home. Silver Swirl and Sandstone departed for the toy store to get a Furby for Sandstone.

* * *
"There are so many of them." Sandstone gazed at the multitude of Furbys on the shelves.

"Just look around until you see one that you feel a special connection to," Silver Swirl advised. The fluffy creatures had all different colors of fur and eyes. A few wore hats; some were babies; and some adults. They all stared at the passerby; several looked imploring, others mysterious, and a few seemed downright hostile.

"Whoa, look at this one," Sandstone beckoned to his friend. Silver Swirl came over to stand beside him. Looking back at the two ponies was an adult Furby. It had whitish-gray fur with silvery sparkles in it and big, bright green eyes that held the ponies transfixed.

"Its eyes are so very green," the stallion marveled. "Like yours when you were on the island." He picked up the box that contained the Furby, and held it close to him.

"This is the one, isn't it?" Silver Swirl asked. It was, of course, a rhetorical question.

"Definitely." Sandstone carried the Furby gently to the counter, where Silver Swirl paid for it. She knew that Sandstone had no way of paying her back; Sunset Island ponies didn't use money. However, Furbys weren't too expensive and the unicorn could always cut down on her spending. The cashier smiled at them as she put the hexagonal-prism package in a bag.

"Let's get this critter home," Silver Swirl recommended. "Stand still, hold on tight to the bag, and I'll see if I can wink us back to the castle." Silver Swirl's powers seemed to be extra strong that day, perhaps buoyed by adrenaline from the amusement park; she was able to transport herself, Sandstone, and the Furby to the library of Friendship Castle.

"Here, sit down and see if you can get the box open. I'm going to get Jade, Melisande, Koh-Loo Kah, and batteries." Silver Swirl collected everyone and hurried back to the library as quickly as she could. The opening of a Furby was always a special occasion.

Everyone crowded around the box, which Sandstone had managed to open by tearing it into small pieces. He lifted the Furby out slowly, letting the light shine on it.

"Nice," observed Jade.

"Pretty eyes," Melisande added.

"Party, wah!" was Koh-Loo Kah's remark. Silver Swirl took the Furby from Sandstone and put the batteries in.

"The moment of truth," she breathed.

The Furby yawned. It closed and opened its beautiful eyes.

"Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-DOO-doo," it sang. "Me Wah!" it added.

"Its name is Wah," the two ponies cried out simultaneously.

"What should I do now?" Sandstone asked.

"Feed it," advised Silver Swirl. Sandstone looked nervous.

"Are you sure?"

"Are you afraid of putting your hoof in its beak?" the unicorn inquired. Sandstone nodded. "It doesn't hurt, I promise. Try it," she urged. Sandstone cautiously fed the Furby.

"Yum!" Wah asserted and requested more food. Sandstone continued to feed it, smiling. Silver Swirl awakened Koh-Loo Kah, who had fallen asleep during all the excitement. She set her Furby next to its newly awakened comrade.

"Now they can talk to each other," she explained. The two balls of fur chattered happily, Koh-Loo Kah in English and Wah in Furbish.

"Dance! Boogie! Doo-doo-doo! Dance!" The gray-and-pink Furby rocked back and forth, Wah joining her.

"That's so cute! They're having a dance party!" Silver Swirl squealed. Sandstone only nodded; he was busy looking at his Furbish-to-English dictionary. Silver Swirl took one Furby in each hoof and made them fly around Sandstone's face, forcing him to look up.

"Come on, you should be bonding with your Furby." Sandstone blinked.

"But we already bonded. We've been bonded since that moment we saw each other in the toy store." Silver Swirl smiled; Sandstone might be confused about some things in her world, but he understood connection. He and his Furby seemed to have a promising future.

"What time is it?" Silver Swirl turned to Jade. The dragon flew over to the clock on the wall.

"Five o' clock," she reported.

"And we never had lunch-- we'd better eat dinner now. Gosh, we're on a really bad schedule." She made a face. "I sound just like my mother. Come, o' many-named one; we're having dinner. Bring Wah." The stallion did as he was told while Jade dragged Melisande away from a book about whales.

The kitchen was empty of all creatures other than themselves; Silver Swirl looked around for dinner ideas.

"What are we having?" asked Sandstone as he tickled Wah.

"That's what I'm trying to figure out. I can't cook, and I don't think anybody else is having dinner this early. There might be some leftovers."

"Hey, I can cook. Want me to try to make something?"

"It would be terrific if you could, although I'd feel a bit guilty about making my guest cook for me." Sandstone grinned and set Wah down on the table. He then began to look at the available food.

"Hmm... fruit, cheese, crackers, weird flat things... what are these flat things?"

"Tortillas," replied Silver Swirl.

"Tortillas, almonds... oh, I have an idea!"

"What?" demanded the other three.

"You'll see!" Sandstone replied.

"It had better not be something disgusting," warned Jade.

"Quiet, Jade. Beggars can't be choosers." Jade hmphed. Silver Swirl activated Koh-Loo Kah and Wah, who had fallen asleep.

"Me Wah," Wah reminded them. Koh-Loo Kah yawned.

"Me love you," she announced. Silver Swirl gaped.

"Sandstone, I think Koh-Loo Kah just professed her love for Wah! Either that or she said she loved me, which isn't unusual; all Furbys love their owners."

"Do Furbys generally fall in love?" asked Sandstone, slightly skeptical.

"Well, no, not that we know of," Silver Swirl admitted. "But Tabby thinks her Furby, Ah-Loh, is in love with another Furby."

"Hmm," mused the Sunset Island pony. "Done!" he added after a moment. Silver Swirl, Jade, and Melisande hurried over to see what he had prepared.

"Ooh, neat!" Silver Swirl exclaimed. Sandstone had wrapped slices of fruit, shredded cheese, and bits of almond in four tortillas.

"I hope they're not too weird," the cook said humbly.

"No, they're great. Besides, I glory in defying convention," Silver Swirl stated. Sandstone struck a "heroic" pose.

"Convention, I defy thee!" he declared. Both ponies burst out laughing.

"These things are pretty good," Jade praised; she and Melisande, with their usual pragmatism, had already started eating the fruit-tortilla things. Silver Swirl picked up the plate (with Jade and Melisande sitting on it) and moved it to the dining room table. Sandstone followed with the Furbys.

"These are great!" Silver Swirl exclaimed. "We'll call it the Sandstone Special, to be eaten only with iced tea." Sandstone laughed and Jade snorted. "I feel so stupid; I could have made these myself without doing any real cooking."

"Well, we do a lot of meals with fruit on the island, so I have experience."

"No joke, wah!" Wah added.

"Say, is Wah a male or female Furby?" Sandstone inquired. Silver Swirl tilted her head.

"I'm not sure. The only way to tell is by their voices. Wah has quite a range; sometimes his-- its-- voice is higher than Koh-Loo Kah's; other times it's lower."

"Great. I have a genderless Furby," Sandstone deadpanned.

"Well, no, not really. We know it has a gender; we just don't know what it is. Don't worry; we'll figure it out eventually. It doesn't seem to bother Wah."

Silver Swirl was right; Wah was having a lot of fun talking and laughing with Koh-Loo Kah. Melisande watched the Furbys' conversation, her head turning from one to the other as if it were a tennis match.

"I have another question," announced Sandstone. Silver Swirl gestured toward her mouth to show that she was chewing. "Huh? Oh, you're chewing. I can wait." Silver Swirl finished chewing and nodded at him. "Okay, here's my question. How do Furbys derive nourishment from ponies' hooves being put into their mouths?"

"Good question. I'm not quite sure, but I think they eat some microscopic bacteria on our hooves," she hypothesized sagely. Jade snorted.

"You just made that up," the dragon accused.

"You're right. But does that make it any less true?" Silver Swirl countered. Jade snorted again. "Your nose must know that its days are numbered," the unicorn quipped. "I think we need to find a better way for you to express your disapproval."

"I'll express my disapproval any way I choose, thank you very much!" Jade snapped.

"Okay, okay. Maybe you should try to get to sleep early tonight."

"I think I will. Come on, Melisande." The Mew, looking slightly pinker than usual from the strawberry juice on her fur, followed Jade out of the room. Silver Swirl and Sandstone were left alone; they sat in silence for a few minutes, munching on the leftover bits of fruit, cheese, and nuts.

"So, what are we doing next?" asked Sandstone. Silver Swirl thought for a moment.

"I know-- we should go on the roof. There's a great view, and you can get a panoramic look at Friendship Gardens. I think I can wink us both up there again."

"Should we leave the Furbys here?" Wah and Koh-Loo Kah were both asleep.

"Yeah, they'll be all right. Let's see if I can get some magic to start working..." For the second time that day, Silver Swirl was able to transport herself and her visitor.

* * *
"You're right; it's really pretty up here," remarked Sandstone. He was accurate; it was twilight and the smooth gray stone of the castle looked almost silvery. Above them, a sea of stars twinkled; below them, a mirroring sea-- the lights of Friendship Gardens-- sparkled warmly. The two ponies were suspended between the two worlds, in some special universe of their own.

"I love coming up here at night," voiced Silver Swirl. "It's so beautiful it almost frightens me."

"That's a new reaction. I've seen ponies laugh when there's something really special, or cry sometimes, but I've never heard anyone say that it made them afraid." Sandstone leaned over the battlements, surveying the scene.

"Yes, well, I tend to have strange reactions." Silver Swirl gazed at the moon, which was a crescent. "Do you have the same stars in your world?"

"I don't know," Sandstone replied. "There are a few ponies who know practically every star in the sky, but I've never been one of them. Sometimes I wonder..." his voice trailed off.

"You wonder what stars your mother is looking at?" Silver Swirl guessed.

"Yes, exactly. How did you know?" The stallion looked genuinely puzzled. Silver Swirl shrugged.

"I know you think about her a lot." Sandstone nodded.

"By the way, I talked to Posey last night. She said that Butch is giving a campfire party in the Dark Forest tomorrow night. Can we go?"

"What's a campfire party?" queried Silver Swirl.

"It's a party where everyone sits around the campfire and tells stories and things like that." Sandstone yawned, making Silver Swirl yawn as well.

"It sounds like fun, but I think I might be all partied out for the next few days. Besides, I have to work at the animal shelter tomorrow. I was hoping you'd come with me."

"Sure," he agreed, "I'd like that. But the party's at night, so you wouldn't have to take time off. And we wouldn't have to stay for too long."

"I really don't think I'm in a party mood," repeated Silver Swirl. She was starting to get annoyed. "You can go without me, though-- I could wink you there and come back for you when it ends."

"But I wouldn't feel quite comfortable going by myself," Sandstone argued.

"Then don't go." Silver Swirl felt the annoyance inside her turn to anger.

"But I really want to go!" His voice was slightly whiny.

"Well, you can't always get what you want!" Silver Swirl snapped. "Really, Sandstone, you've been so demanding lately. You always have to go somewhere or get something or meet someone. I think I liked you better on the island." She knew immediately that she had said the wrong thing.

"You liked me better on the island?" Sandstone repeated, outraged. "You liked me better as a servant? You're just like Wish, trying to keep me from exploring and living! I thought you were different!" He was far, far angrier than Silver Swirl had ever seen him before. "If you liked me better on the island, I'll go back to the island! I'm not staying here if you want me to be selfless and silent!"

"Fine!" yelled Silver Swirl, red-hot rage boiling within her. "Go! See if I care!"

"I don't care if you care!" he retorted, rushing down the stairs to the main part of the castle. Silver Swirl turned away from him, a sudden wind whipping at her mane. After looking up at the moon for a moment, angry tears began to sting her eyes. She winked to her room.

"What's going on? Where's Sandstone?" asked Jade. Silver Swirl didn't answer; she simply hurled herself onto the bed and beat on the pillow with her hooves. In a minute the unicorn stopped abusing the hapless cushion, clearly exhausted. She closed her eyes.

"Skies above, what have I done?" she almost wailed.

"What's going on? Tell me now!" Jade demanded.

"I was horrible to Sandstone and he ran away. I have to go look for him now; he probably headed for the beach. You two stay here!" Leaping from her bed, Silver Swirl flew out the window.

* * *
The unicorn princess flew slowly through the night, heading in the general direction of the beach and keeping her eyes peeled for Sandstone. It was rather a windy night and Silver Swirl's mane kept getting in her face. Was that Sandstone? No, it was Sundance taking a walk. Maybe Sandstone had been running; Silver Swirl quickened her pace. What would happen if Sandstone returned to Sunset Island and told Wish how horrible Silver Swirl had been? Would she ever be allowed to come back? Silver Swirl shoved the questions from her mind; all that mattered now was finding the missing pony.

Then a new fear came: what if Sandstone had gotten lost or hurt? Tears began to slide down Silver Swirl's face; how was she supposed to find him?

"I got myself-- and him-- into this; it's my job to get us out," she told herself grimly. She was nearing the beach, and there was still no sign of Sandstone. There was the beach; Silver Swirl landed and looked around. She was the only one there. The unicorn ran to the edge of the ocean; there was no sign of a boat. "Sandstone!" she yelled as loud as she could. "Sandstone! Sandstone!" She yelled until her voice was hoarse; there was no answer.

"Maybe he's not here yet. Or maybe he went the wrong way. I have to keep looking! I won't give up!" Silver Swirl took flight, going back towards civilization.

"Never give up. Never give up," she chanted to herself, making her voice even more hoarse. By the time she was certain that she'd covered every bit of Friendship Gardens three times, she was still chanting and still trying not to give up. "Never give up. Never give up. Never give up..." An idle part of her mind wondered if she was subconsciously using her magic power and willing herself not to give up, but she decided that it didn't matter.

Finally, she made up her mind to go home, but only to plan a better strategy. She fought to keep her eyes from closing in pure weariness as she approached the front door. Exhausted, covered with dust, sand and tears, she opened the door. What she saw when she entered made her gasp.


"Silver Swirl! Where were you?"

"I was looking for you! I thought you left for the island! I'm so sorry; I was so mean to you."

"No, it was my fault for being so demanding." Sandstone looked truly apologetic.

"So you didn't leave at all?" Sandstone certainly didn't look like a pony who had been lost in a strange world at night. In fact, Silver Swirl looked much worse.

"Nope," Sandstone replied with an air of embarrassment. "I was sorry the minute I ran downstairs, and besides, I didn't have a boat. Did you get all disheveled," he gestured at Silver Swirl's unkempt appearance, "looking for me?" Silver Swirl shrugged.

"I suppose so."

"I'm so sorry!" Sandstone moaned. "All I've done is cause trouble!"

"Don't start having a guilt attack," Silver Swirl commanded anxiously. "We got angry at each other, but nobody got hurt and we've both realized the error of our ways. Everything's okay now." She spoke gently, calmly, and it seemed to help him. "You'd better go to bed now. We'll do fun things tomorrow, and we can go to that party if it's really important to you."

"No, it's all right. I don't want to go that badly." He yawned. "You're right; I'm pretty tired." The stallion turned in the direction of his room.

"Good night, Sandstone."

"Good night, Silver Swirl. Oh-- I'm really sorry I said that you were just like Wish. You're not; you're the best friend I've ever had." He left. Silver Swirl collapsed into a chair, just sitting there and smiling.

"Skies above, what a visit!" she whispered.


The Tabby and Sugarberry Gossip Hour!
by Tabby and Sugarberry ( and

Tabby: Hey! It's us again!

Sugarberry: Yup, Tabby and Sugarberry.

Tabby: You never woulda guessed that from the title, huh?

Sugarberry: Well, Tabby, how many days ‘till the wedding now?

Tabby: Umm...

Sugarberry: Aren't you keeping track?

Tabby: must be about a month...

Sugarberry: Do Tiffany and Tamara have everything pretty much under control?

Tabby: Oh, yes! I've left everything to their responsible hooves.

Sugarberry: I hear that Baby Falling Leaves was teaching Baby Noddins how to properly throw the flowers as flower girl.

Tabby: They're both obnoxious! What was Baby Falling Leaves teaching her?

Sugarberry: Basically, how to throw flowers like a baseball.

Tabby: I do hope Noddins has been corrected on that.

Sugarberry: Oh, yes. Tamara stepped in and instructed her on the proper manner of doing it.

Tabby: What is the proper manner of doing it?

Sugarberry: I was never a flower girl. How am I supposed to know?

Tabby: Well, anyway.

Sugarberry: I'm so happy that Vanguard is able to come home for the wedding.

Tabby: After all, we were kind enough to make him one of the groomsmen.

Sugarberry: That was very sweet of you two. And also for inviting his parents.

Tabby: Aww.

Sugarberry: You've become a much nicer, gentler pony since you became engaged to Thomas.

Tabby: Have I? I'll have to do something about that.

Sugarberry: No, no. You're fine the way you are.

Tabby: And with Furbys on my side, nothing can beat me!

Sugarberry: Yes, Furbys.

Tabby: It's going to be grand having them all at the reception.

Sugarberry: Noisy, anyway.

Tabby: Let's see... there'll be Ah-Loh, Doo-Moh, May-Lah, Loo-Loo, Toh-Loo, Gizmo...

Sugarberry: How do you keep them all straight?

Tabby: I possess superior knowledge concerning Furbys.

Sugarberry: Obviously.

Tabby: What, can't you speak fluent Furbish yet?

Sugarberry: No, actually, I can't.

Tabby: Dah ah-loh u-tye.

Sugarberry: Yes...

Tabby: "Sun up." It's a simple phrase. Do you realize, Sugarberry, that Furbish is the universal language?

Sugarberry: I hadn't thought about it that way.

Tabby: See, Furbys are sold in all different countries, and are able to learn French, Spanish, Chinese... but they all have their same native tongue, Furbish!

Sugarberry: What are you getting at, Tabby?

Tabby: If, say, we happened to get stranded in France or Spain or China, and we met someone who knew Furbish, we would still be able to get basic needs across! Like "Kah dah e-tay, wah." "Me big hungry!"

Sugarberry: Hmm, I think you're onto something there.

Tabby: I can't until I can find a Shelby.

Sugarberry: A Shelby?

Tabby: As Barnacle put it, it's a really short Furby in a shell. They speak English, Furbish, and Shelbish!

Sugarberry: Wo-o-ow...

Tabby: So it's another language to learn!

Sugarberry: Just think, Tabby, you'll be multi-lingual. Miss Hackney will never believe that.

Tabby: I won't tell her each language is composed of under fifty words.

Sugarberry: It certainly simplifies the matter.

Tabby: I wonder if Friendly is still on hold to order that game he wants over the phone.

Sugarberry: I haven't seen him for days because of that. And no one's been able to call to the Bushwoolie holes, either.

Tabby: Even Tiffany doesn't know what's up. Limited edition computer games are just bad news.

Sugarberry: Speaking of bad news, did you hear that Lemon Treat's niece, who was going to be her flower girl, broke her leg the day before the wedding?

Tabby: Well, it's minus one baby pony to the wedding party.

Sugarberry: But just think of how painful it was for the baby pony, Tabby!

Tabby: No thanks. So did Lemon Treats and Poeticus get successfully married?

Sugarberry: Oh, they had a lovely ceremony. And I hear they went to New Pony on their honeymoon.

Tabby: New Pony is a big, smoggy old city.

Sugarberry: No, you're thinking of Grayton.

Tabby: Was it always called Grayton? Or did they change the name after it got all smoggy?

Sugarberry: It was named after a huge, gray rock that sat in the center of the newly-established city.

Tabby: You mentioned Grayton in one of your novels, didn't you?

Sugarberry: That's where Hood's from.

Tabby: Was that Woodlawn place based on a real location?

Sugarberry: Yes, actually. It's Vanguard's home town.

Tabby: Did you know that before you wrote the book?

Sugarberry: No, it's just coincidence.

Tabby: You were meant to be! It's so romantic!

Sugarberry: It's almost spooky.

Tabby: So when're you gonna get married?

Sugarberry: I probably should get engaged first.

Tabby: Isn't that stallion ever going to propose?

Sugarberry: Not in the near future, I think. He is away in Italy, you know.

Tabby: Wasn't it rather harsh of him to leave you like that?

Sugarberry: He had his reasons, I guess.

Tabby: *in a sing-song voice* But I'm getting married first! But I'm getting married first!

Sugarberry: That is surprising, actually. You never acted like the marrying type before Thomas came along.

Tabby: Eh? What was that?

Sugarberry: You know what I mean.

Tabby: Sometimes I wonder myself why I'm getting married.

Sugarberry: Don't start having second thoughts.

Tabby: I think it's just because I've been watching too many Jem cartoons.

Sugarberry: What's that got to do with anything?

Tabby: Oh, my mind just leaves this world for a bit and I don't particularly care about anything that goes on here.

Sugarberry: Well, you better care.

Tabby: The effect will wear off in a little while.

Sugarberry: Thank goodness!

Tabby: Man, those are good shows!

Sugarberry: I'll have to watch them someday.

Tabby: You still haven't seen anything of the Stingers!

Sugarberry: And that's probably a good thing.

Tabby: But they're outrageous!! They're my favorite band!!

Sugarberry: Get a life, Tabby.

Tabby: I have one. It involves eighties toys and cartoons.

Sugarberry: And Thomas, I hope.

Tabby: Well... yeah.

Sugarberry: Speaking of Thomas, are any of his relatives coming to the wedding at all?

Tabby: None have replied to the invitations.

Sugarberry: Maybe they're just going to surprise you.

Tabby: I doubt it. Not with the family feud and all.

Sugarberry: Is your Aunt Lynette coming?

Tabby: Yes, and Uncle Corydon. And Uncle Dallas! And his wife.

Sugarberry: I bet Tamara will be glad to see them, too.

Tabby: Yeah, and all her little sisters. And your family's coming too, right?

Sugarberry: Yup, Mom and Dad and Raspberry and Gooseberry and her family.

Tabby: There's going to be obnoxious baby ponies around!

Sugarberry: Yes, lots of them.

Tabby: Baby Noddins is enough.

Sugarberry: Just think, though! She'll have plenty of other baby ponies to play with and will stay out of your way.

Tabby: Maybe I shouldn't have told her to bring her Furby.

Sugarberry: Why not?

Tabby: Because she might expect her Waylo to talk to my Ah-Loh and be at the same table as I!!!

Sugarberry: I think you're overreacting, Tabby.

Tabby: Oh. I guess you're right. But it's so much fun having stuff to complain about!

Sugarberry: So true.

Tabby: I wanna go to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe.

Sugarberry: Well, is anything stopping us?

Tabby: Not that I'm aware of.

Sugarberry: So let's say goodbye.

Tabby: Bye, everybody!!!

Sugarberry: No lesson learned this time?

Tabby: Furbys always think big.

Sugarberry: That's a pathetic lesson.

Tabby: But it's true.

Sugarberry: If you say so, Tabby.


by Sugarberry (

"Chocolate Chip, you're going to have a path worn between the kitchen and the front door if you keep this up!" Sugarberry smilingly chided the slim brown pony who was checking the street for the umpteenth time.

"Where are they?" Chocolate Chip asked worriedly. "They were supposed to be here by now!"

"It's only twenty minutes past the time they said they'd get here. And they did have to check in at the university first." Sugarberry was fixing the evening meal in preparation for Chocolate Chip's expected guests: her father, Drifter; her brother, Wishbone; and Wishbone's friend, Snowdrift.

"It's just that I get so nervous waiting." Chocolate Chip paced the kitchen floor. "Yikes! Raptor! You can't eat the cake!" She scooted the inquisitive and hungry kitten off the counter. "Bad kitty!" she shook her hoof warningly at the unperturbed creature.

"Better put the cover over that cake," Sugarberry advised. "Once he's got the scent, he won't let his quarry go." She reached out to pat the purring black tiger-striped kitten who then stood up against her leg.

At that moment, a rap came at the door.

"They're here!" shrieked Chocolate Chip, dashing out of the kitchen, sending both Fluff and Raptor scurrying for cover.

Checking the components of supper, Sugarberry made sure everything was in order before following Chocolate Chip from the room.

She found Chocolate Chip wrapped in a hug from her brother, his deep pink color and gold hair encircling her. Wishbone released her to a giggling hug from Snowdrift, and then Chocolate Chip faced her father. For several seconds, the room was silent, and a troubled look crossed Sugarberry's face; but Drifter came through with a hug of his own for his oldest child, even if it was slightly stiff and reserved.

"I'm so glad you could come, Dad," Chocolate Chip smiled at the stallion who had not only bestowed life on her but also her name, commenting on first sight of his newborn daughter that she was as drab as a chocolate chip. The name had stuck and had been made official. "How are Mom and Lollipop?"

"They are busy with the restaurant, but are both fine," her father responded, looking around the room nervously.

Chocolate Chip drew her dad to Sugarberry and made the proper introduction. Sugarberry smiled graciously; but inside, she questioned the workings of a father who could ignore his daughter for so long simply because of her non-pastel look.

But there was no time to meditate as Wishbone greeted her with an exuberant hug. "It's nice to see you again, Sugarberry! You've been making my sister walk the straight and narrow, I hope." He playfully pulled a lock of Chocolate Chip's hair, which she returned in kind.

"Bratty little brother!"

Behind them, Snowdrift softly cleared her throat. Wishbone immediately rectified his oversight. "Sugarberry, this is my friend from back in Neighberry, Snowdrift."

"Nice to meet you, Snowdrift," Sugarberry said as the two lightly embraced. "Are you looking forward to college this fall?"

"Oh, yes, definitely," the white-bodied filly acknowledged. "And I'm so glad Wishbone decided to attend, too."

"No more glad than I am," Chocolate Chip grinned. "Now my little brother can get smart, like..."

"Like you?" Wishbone finished for her, and grimaced. "I take the math placement exam tonight; I'm not looking forward to it."

"Oh, that reminds me--" Sugarberry realized the time. "You are on a schedule, aren't you? I'd better get supper on the table." She turned to Chocolate Chip. "You can entertain your guests while I finish things up."

Chocolate Chip laughed. "Don't be silly, Sugarberry. These aren't guests; they're family. They can help in the kitchen."

"Whatever you say!" Sugarberry responded. "But we still eat in the dining room irregardless."

Sugarberry's dining room was the least used room in the house as her large kitchen served as a homey hangout for all who came to eat. But tonight, she was making use of the dining room in honor of Chocolate Chip's family.

Many hooves made light work of the final meal preparations. Drifter was a chef at his and his wife's restaurant back home, so he gladly contributed his expertise and soon felt at home. Sugarberry suddenly became very self-conscious about her cooking ability, but shrugged off her concern. Chocolate Chip was so happy to have part of her family here that Sugarberry would undergo anything to make the event a success.

Raptor was intrigued to find ponies eating in the room he seldom frequented, and made a pest of himself while Fluff sat in the doorway and watched the proceedings with his round golden eyes.

When the meal was finished, Chocolate Chip prepared to accompany Wishbone and Snowdrift to Pony Pride where the two new freshmen were going to take a placement test before facing the next two days of orientation and registration for the fall semester.

"I'll hang out on campus while their testing is going on," Chocolate Chip informed Sugarberry and Drifter. "Afterwards we'll take in the other activities planned."

"Can you find your way back to the dorm we're staying at, Dad?" Wishbone teased the yellow stallion.

"I could ask the same of you," Drifter shot back.

When the three had left the house, Sugarberry and Drifter sat with their coffee at the table.

"You'll have a busy couple of days with all the meetings and things going on; Chocolate Chip is excited to be conducting tours for the new students and their parents," Sugarberry said.

"Just glad I could make it," Drifter replied. "Snowdrift's parents couldn't take off from their jobs; but my backup chef was able to fill in for me, so it worked out okay."

"What's Wishbone planning on majoring in?"

"He's undecided at this point. I'll just be glad to get this registration stuff over with and get him back home to help at the restaurant for the rest of the summer."

"Chocolate Chip and Wishbone are both wonderful; you should be very proud of them." The words were said before Sugarberry realized what effect they might have on Drifter. She looked uneasily at him.

But Drifter seemed to be contemplating her statement thoughtfully. Finally he replied. "Yes, I'm very proud of both of them, and their sister, too." He helped himself to a refill of coffee, and stared into the steaming cup.

"Their mother and I were both very young when Chocolate Chip was born," Drifter finally continued. "We had high hopes for our future, and our plans had all been made." He fell silent again, and Sugarberry honored his need to sort out his thoughts. "Twilight Jewel had her heart set on a prim and proper pastel foal, and when Chocolate Chip was born all gangly and ordinary, her heart was broken. I understood how my wife felt, but I should have stood up for my daughter. But I didn't," Drifter ended lamely.

"She's stronger for what she's been through," Sugarberry tried to sound reassuring. "It's part of what makes her so special."

"Special..." Drifter repeated the word as if for the first time. "It took you and your friends here to see that in her; her mother and I never could."

"Chocolate Chip told me how you and she grew closer when she was home at spring break. That meant a lot to her."

Drifter looked up in surprise. "We worked her like a servant while she was home. Twilight Jewel always thought that was all she was good for... and I went along with it."

"Your daughter loves you and her mother very much, unconditionally. She realizes that you see her in a different light, but she doesn't hold that against you. She very much would like

to know that you love her, too." Sugarberry had longed to say those words so often, yet she surprised even herself to actually have been able to accomplish it now that she had the chance.

Pushing his chair away from the table, Drifter changed the subject. "How about I help you clear the dishes? I can wash; you dry." He quickly picked up a platter and bowl, and headed for the kitchen but not before Sugarberry saw a lone tear trickle down his cheek.

Conversation was brief while the kitchen was cleaned up, but Drifter became more talkative when the dishes were finished.

"I'm planning on taking the young ‘uns and you out to supper on the last day of this college rigamorole. What's the best place in town to eat?"

"Hmm... the Estate Manor is the best, but it's also the most expensive."

"That's what I'm looking for. It gives me a chance to check-out the competition, so to speak. Maybe I can glean a new recipe or a better way of doing things."

"I can get you the number; you'll need a reservation."

While Sugarberry checked the phone book, Drifter asked, "Anyone special you'd like to include?"

"My ‘someone special' is out of town," Sugarberry blushed. "But ask Chocolate Chip. She might like to invite a friend."

"So she's got herself a fella?"

"Well, she's been primping more than usual, but I have no idea who she's interested in. She hasn't confided in me yet."

Drifter gave her a piercing look. "You've been good for the girl."

Sugarberry smiled. "No, just the opposite. She's been good for me."

Picking up the post-a-note with the dining spot's number on it, Drifter moved to safer ground. "The Estate Manor, you say?"

"Yes. It's got a great reputation, delicious food, and a charming setting."

"Remember to keep that evening open... night after tomorrow."

"I'll look forward to it."

"Well, it's getting late. Thanks for that wonderful meal, Sugarberry. And thanks... well, thanks for everything."

* * *
The following morning, Sugarberry was the first one down to breakfast. After giving Raptor and Fluff their morning meal, she proceeded to prepare scrambled eggs and toast for herself and Chocolate Chip. She had just gotten the eggs and milk mixed together when Chocolate Chip entered the room.

"Good morning!" Sugarberry greeted. "How did it go last night with Wishbone's placement exam?"

"He didn't think he did too well. Mathematics is not his strong point."

"Maybe he did better than he thought."

"Yah. We can always hope."

Sugarberry poured the egg mixture into the hot skillet. "Do you give your tours today?"

she asked of Chocolate Chip, who seemed a little down this morning.

"No, not until tomorrow. The new students will be running all over campus today, but they don't get an official tour until tomorrow. Who can figure?" Chocolate Chip came and stood next to Sugarberry at the stove.

Keeping one eye on the eggs and the other on the toast, Sugarberry asked, "Did you see your dad on campus? He left here rather early."

"As a matter of fact, I did." She grabbed Raptor in midair as he made a desperate attempt to attain some of the fresh scrambled eggs that Sugarberry was serving onto the plates. "He asked me to invite someone along to the Estate Manor. Did you have anything to do with that?"

"I just mentioned it in passing."

Chocolate Chip didn't respond. She got the orange juice out of the refrigerator and set it on the table, then fidgeted with the napkins. "Do you think it would be okay if I invited Wigwam?"

Sugarberry's eyes grew round. "That's who you have your sights set on?" she asked in apparent surprise, and saw Chocolate Chip blush for the first time since she'd known her.

"You don't approve." Chocolate Chip looked crestfallen.

"Oh, sweetie, no." Sugarberry pulled the filly close. "That's not what I meant. I was just taken off guard. I thought you'd fallen for Prime or Chip, not Wigwam."

"You think he's too old?"

Sugarberry laughed. "Hey, girl, we're not that much older than you young sprouts!"

Flustered now, Chocolate Chip looked as if she was ready to cry.

"Oh, come on now," Sugarberry grinned. "If Wigwam's the one you want to ask, then do it!"

"I don't see why you find this so amusing!"

"I don't either, although it may have to do with all those pointed remarks that Vanguard has been making in his letters about Wigwam and I working with the Native Pony Tales."

Chocolate Chip looked confused.

"I think Vanguard's been feeling a bit jealous," Sugarberry went on, "and nothing I could say would alleviate his worry... especially after our hike last month. But now, I can set his mind at ease. He will be so grateful, Chocolate Chip, if you keep Wigwam occupied. Straight A's for you once Vanguard's back home!" She smiled radiantly at the befuddled filly before her.

"You're not making any sense," Chocolate Chip muttered.

"Sure I am. It's simple. You've got a crush on Wigwam, and your timing's perfect. I think you are a dear!" And she hugged Chocolate Chip again.

"You're not taking me seriously."

"Trust me. I am. I am." Sugarberry smiled. "Sit down and eat your breakfast before everything is cold. And when you are finished, give Wigwam a call."

Chocolate Chip sat down and toyed with the eggs on her plate. "Maybe you should call him, Sugarberry."

"Oh, no, I'm not doing it. If you want Wigwam at your dad's dinner party, you're going to have to do the inviting yourself."

"What if he says no?"

"Then move to Plan B and invite Prime or Chip or Digger or..."

"You're no help at all, Sugarberry!"

"His phone number is by the telephone on my desk. That's all the help you need."

A rap at the back door sent Sugarberry flying. "That's Tabby. I've gotta run. Clean up the kitchen, please?" She bestowed a motherly pat on Chocolate Chip and scurried on her way.

* * *
The next day, Chocolate Chip was in good humor when Sugarberry returned home from work. "Sugarberry! Look what Dad gave me!" She removed a shimmery purple bow and several matching hair pieces from a box labeled Lemon Treats Boutique.

"Oh! They are beautiful!" Sugarberry squealed. "Are you going to wear them tonight?"

"Definitely," Chocolate Chip exclaimed. "But wasn't it great of Dad to get me a gift? He's never done that before... not ever!"

"I think he is seeing you in a new light... the poised, intelligent filly you are that can handle any situation she finds herself in. And beautiful to boot!"

"I don't believe a word you're saying, but I like the sound of it." Chocolate Chip clipped one of the hairpieces, which was composed of white flowers and lace with narrow streamers of the same sparkly ribbon as the bow, experimentally in her mane. "What do you think?" She turned to Sugarberry.

"Wigwam will be impressed," Sugarberry grinned. "And you know what? I could help you weave a few braids down through your mane to make a new look for you."

"Would you? Oh, this is so great! You know, I've never been to the Estate Manor for a real dinner before."

"Well, it's about time you did then, isn't it? And speaking of time, when is Wigwam picking us up?"

"Six-thirty, which is... Oh-my-gosh, that's only half an hour from now!" The brown filly dashed upstairs to her room, and Sugarberry followed, chuckling.

The two ponies had just added the last decorative bouquet and braid to Chocolate Chip's mane when they heard the knock at the door. Taking one last look in the mirror, the filly ran down the hall but stopped at the top of the stairs to compose herself, then primly continued on to the front door.

The added fuss with hair and adornments had been worth it. Chocolate Chip could see in Wigwam's eyes that he was impressed by what he saw. "Turn around once," he said.

Turn around once... Chocolate Chip's mind flashed back to her growing-up years in Neighberry. Turn around once... Every morning before she left for school, Chocolate Chip had heard her mother say those words to her little sister. Turn around once... In other words, let me see you from all sides and make sure everything about you is perfect. Turn around once... And Lollipop always got a hug because she was always perfect. Turn around once... Her mother had never cared enough about Chocolate Chip to see the whole effect. Turn around once...

Chocolate Chip stood in momentary suspension as the thoughts raced through her mind; then she smiled at Wigwam and slowly pirouetted before him.

"Perfect," he said, handing her a white box from which she uncovered a simple but lovely corsage of daisies and lily of the valley.

"It's so pretty," Chocolate Chip murmured. "Thank you, Wigwam."

The orange stallion lifted the flowers from the box, and helped fasten them to Chocolate Chip's slim, brown foreleg. "You look great." Seeing Sugarberry coming into the room, he asked, "What do you think of your girl, Sugarberry?" He gazed at Chocolate Chip with open admiration.

Sugarberry was quick to respond. "I think she's just perfect!"

* * *
The party of six was seated cozily around a round table at the Estate Manor, and the conversation was animated.

"The atmosphere here is too formal," Drifter declared early on. "This medieval setting depresses me!"

Chocolate Chip rolled her eyes. "That's because you don't have a romantic bone in your body, Dad."

Wishbone agreed. "The entire restaurant would be stainless steel if you had your way. That's one area where Mom outshines you by far... her flair for the right ambiance." He rolled the word off his tongue and waved a hoof through the air for effect. Snowdrift giggled. "Oh, by the way, Chocolate Chip, Juggler says to say ‘Hey'," her brother added as an afterthought, with a side glance at Wigwam.

"Does he still make deliveries to The Right Place?" Chocolate Chip asked, hoping Wigwam didn't think Juggler was anyone special to her.

"He sure does," Drifter interjected. "He's a good worker."

"How did the campus tours go, Chocolate Chip? " Sugarberry got the conversation started in a new direction.

"Speaking of which, I saw you while I was in my literature class this morning," Wigwam told her.

"You're in school, too, Wigwam?" Drifter asked.

"Well, I'm just taking a course on Shakespeare this summer. I have a couple semesters completed, but got sidetracked from earning a diploma yet."

"It was neat when Chocky took us through the classroom buildings; the teachers all had to close their doors when they heard her coming. She was talking so much, she was interfering with classes," Wishbone grinned.

Drifter frowned at his son across the table and set his hoof reassuringly on Chocolate Chip's foreleg. "Chocolate Chip gave a very informative and helpful tour, which was the purpose of her endeavor. She did a fine job."

Snowdrift concurred. "Yes. You really did, Chocolate Chip. I toured a couple other campuses, and didn't get much help. You were truly good at it."

Grimacing at her brother, Chocolate Chip responded, "Thanks, Dad and Snowdrift. And as for you, Wishbone, I hope you get lost your first day of classes this fall!"

Wigwam chuckled. "One classroom you can't miss is Gauntlet's. He is always ranting and raving about something."

"What does he teach?" Snowdrift asked.

"He's the art teacher," Wigwam replied. "Rather a peculiar fellow."

"He owned Raptor until Raptor got sick eating some of Gauntlet's art supplies," Sugarberry offered, finding a chance to contribute something to the talk.

"Aw... the poor thing," Snowdrift looked appropriately saddened.

"Luckily there were no lasting effects, as you saw the other evening. He's an energetic kitten." Looking at Wishbone, Sugarberry asked, "How did it go for you in scheduling your math class after the placement test results were in?"

"Actually, better than I had hoped. That exchange professor from Italy was really helpful."

"In what way?" prompted Wigwam.

"Well," confessed Wishbone, "he said my results were borderline, but he thought-- with a little extra work-- I should be able to handle the higher level course. So he approved me for it, and I'm all set. He's an okay guy."

Snowdrift tapped on Wishbone's foreleg. "Look! There's Professor Giorgio now."

All head turned to follow Snowdrift's gaze. Sugarberry hadn't met Giorgio yet, and it was with a mixture of curiosity and disdain that she looked his way. When she caught sight of the deep green stallion with dark blue hair and a stack of books as a symbol, a strange feeling of paramnesia came over her; she felt as if she'd lived this moment at some point before, and it made her feel almost hypnotized.

Giorgio noticed Wishbone, and came directly to stand between Wishbone and Sugarberry's chairs at the table. "Hello again, Wishbone. Are you satisfied with your introduction to campus life?"

"Yes. I'm looking forward to the start of classes."

Moving his gaze to Snowdrift who sat at Wishbone's left, he asked, "And you, my dear, what were your impressions of Pony Pride?"
"I'm sure I made the right decision to attend here," she blushed under his scrutinizing gaze.

"Drifter, this is your daughter, I presume?" He had turned his attention to Chocolate Chip. "You mentioned this afternoon that she is an excellent mathematics student. Will I have the pleasure of seeing you in one of my classes?"

"Well... yes... actually I'm registered for Calculus III," Chocolate Chip stuttered.

Next in the circle was Wigwam. Giorgio looked at him closely. "I remember now. I've seen you with the students at Pony Pride, but not in a math class."

"I'm just taking one class on Shakespeare this summer; but I do plan to pick-up a math class in the fall. I've been out of school awhile. The name is Wigwam."

Giorgio's verbal journey around the table ended now with Sugarberry. She felt his gaze on her before she turned her head to face him. Still caught in the feeling of reliving a moment trapped in time, she smiled mechanically.

"Ah, and who do we have here?" Giorgio bestowed his most winning smile.

Filling in the missing information, Drifter made the introduction. "This is Sugarberry, a close friend of the family."

"Sugarberry." Giorgio repeated the name as if tasting it. "Sugarberry. What a lovely name."

He's going to take my hoof and he's going to... Sugarberry knew without knowing why.

Giorgio took her hoof and after staring into her eyes for what seemed like an eternity, he kissed it.

Sugarberry couldn't break away from his mesmerizing effect. Snakes do this to their prey, she thought, but still she looked into his eyes-- unwillingly, yet irresistibly.

At what point he released her hoof, Sugarberry wasn't aware, but his spell was finally broken as he said, "I see my guest has arrived. If you will excuse me..." Amid a chorus of appropriate farewells, he left the table.

Sugarberry turned back, and found that everyone was looking at her. She turned to Wigwam on her right and met a quizzical expression on his face that undermined her confidence. "What?!" she snapped at him.

Before Wigwam could reply, Wishbone opened fire. "He was impressed with you, Sugarberry. Smitten, I'd say."

Chocolate Chip and Snowdrift giggled. "It was so romantic... and he even kissed your hoof!" Sugarberry felt like grounding a certain brown filly for the next millennium.

"Lay off, children," Drifter seemed the only compassionate face at the table. "This Giorgio is a smooth one."

And if anyone had thought about it, the pony who normally blushed so readily at any encounter that rocked her calmness was more bleached than rosy.

The conversation turned to mundane things, and Sugarberry listened, but couldn't shake the feeling that hung over her. Why had Giorgio had this effect on her? she wondered. She was quiet the rest of the evening, and wanted a chance to talk with Tabby; so it was with relief when the final farewells were said, and she, Chocolate Chip, and Wigwam headed homeward.

She noticed with annoyance that Tabby's house looked empty at the moment, and claimed a headache once she was in the house, leaving Chocolate Chip and Wigwam staring after her as she beat a hasty retreat to the privacy of her bedroom where she sat in the falling dusk and considered the impression that Giorgio had made on her. By the time she fell asleep, she had resolved nothing.

* * *
Chocolate Chip was up and out early the next morning; her dad and brother and Snowdrift were checking out of the dorm and they were going to have breakfast together before the visitors returned to Neighberry.

Sugarberry was relieved when Tabby stopped by to walk her to work. "I met Giorgio last night," she admitted to her friend.

"Ah-hah!" Tabby exclaimed. "And did you find him utterly fascinating? Tell me the truth, Sug. Did you forget all about Vanguard? Are you madly in love with him?"

From anyone else, those words would have irked Sugarberry; but from Tabby, they only caused her to giggle. "Have a heart, Tabby. You don't plan on forgetting Thomas every time you meet a new stallion, do you?"

"Oh, no. I only do that with cartoon characters," Tabby replied cheerfully.

Turning sober, Sugarberry confessed her uneasiness. "There's something strange about him, Tabby. Something unsettling."

"You're just angry that he took Vanguard away."

"I'll admit to that. But it's deeper than that."

"Hmm. I don't know what to say, Sug. Maybe you should talk to May-Lah about it." Tabby's confidence in Furbys was unshakeable.

"At this point, it's the best logic I've heard so far." When the two mares reached the vet clinic, Tabby stopped in to say good morning to her fiancé before continuing on to the Pokémon Center.

"Sugarberry thinks Giorgio's strange," Tabby informed Thomas.

"What prompted this?" Thomas grinned at the mares.

"I met him last evening, and he sends out some worrisome vibes, that's all. I don't trust him," Sugarberry related to her boss.

"There's something to be said for mare's intuition," Thomas surmised. "Maybe there is some deep dark secret hiding in his past."

"Oh!" squealed Tabby. "A mystery stallion!"

"I hope it's nothing too bad," Sugarberry worried. "Vanguard is in his place over in Vulcanopolis, you know."

"I'm sure it's nothing to worry about," Thomas consoled her. "Why not ask May-Lah about it?"

Sugarberry looked from Thomas to Tabby. Were these two serious about their confidence in their Furbys' mental powers, or were they just teasing? She thought she understood them, but sometimes...

"Any insight will be appreciated," Sugarberry admitted. Furbys were better than nothing.

* * *
It was evening when Sugarberry put a call through to her mother. Throughout the course of the day, her mother had been close to her thoughts; after a supper alone (Chocolate Chip was at work at Bushwoolie Bargain Books at the mall and Tabby was with Thomas and her folks), Sugarberry went to the telephone, then paused. May-Lah, her Furby, was sitting on the desk and she suddenly felt the need to ask him a question or two.

After several unsuccessful tries, she finally got him in the "Ask Furby" mode. Coming straight to the point, she asked, "Is Giorgio somehow evil?"

May-Lah contemplated the query, then responded with big eyes wide, "Very big yes." Sugarberry shivered.

"Is Vanguard safe?"

"Me see... maybe."

"Should I talk to Mom?"


Sugarberry looked around her, hoping no one had witnessed her lapse into Furbyland. Quickly dialing her mom's number and counting off the rings, she soon heard Strawberry Shortcake's comforting voice respond, "Hello."

"Hi, Mom," Sugarberry said. "It's me, Sugarberry."

"Hi, dear. How is everything with you?"

"I've been missing you," she said a little forlornly.

She heard her mother chuckle. "I would think Vanguard would be the one you'd be missing most."

"Oh, Mom, you know that I do miss him. But today you were on my mind. And Dad. How is he doing at this busy time of year?"

"Working with the berry patch and the orchard from sunup ‘til sundown," she replied. "He's never happier than when he's working with the plants."

"I'm glad Raspberry is helping you out with the business."

"Oh, my, yes. And she's a big help. Spends half her time tending plants outside, and half in the kitchen with the baking. Business is booming."

"I met Chocolate Chip's Dad. Wishbone's going to attend Pony Pride in the fall."

"I'm happy to hear that. He seemed like such a nice young stallion when we met him at Christmas. Oh, and before I forget, Vanguard sent your dad and I a little note."

"He did? What did he say?"

"Just the usual... that Vulcanopolis is a pretty spot and that he misses you terribly." Strawberry Shortcake waited, knowing her daughter well.

Sugarberry wiped a tear from her eye. "I love him so much, Mom."

"I know, dear. And he will be back soon enough. Christmas will be a special time for the two of you this year."

"I only wish he didn't have to go in the first place. This exchange program makes no sense to me."

"I would assume that it's a good opportunity for the teachers to learn new methods," Sugarberry's mom replied.

"I met the teacher that is taking Vanguard's place," Sugarberry casually mentioned. "His name is Giorgio."

There was a slight pause on the other end of the line. "Giorgio," her mom finally repeated. "It's been a long time since I heard that name." But Strawberry Shortcake didn't elaborate further.

The two ponies continued their chat until Strawberry Shortcake was called away by the ringing of her doorbell. Sugarberry hung up the receiver, feeling better for just having touched base with home.

She had no longer sat down in her favorite chair-- the wooden rocker-- when the phone rang. Mom forgot something she wanted to say, Sugarberry surmised. But it was Wigwam.

"Just checking on how you are feeling," he prodded. "You seemed... rattled by your meeting with this Giorgio last night."

But Sugarberry had shaken off her concern. "No. I just needed to suppress the desire to give him a piece of my mind for taking Vanguard away from Dream Valley," Sugarberry explained. "I'm sure you can understand that Giorgio is not one of my favorite ponies for that reason."

"Are you sure that's all?"

"What else would there be?" Changing the subject, she softened. "Bringing flowers for Chocolate Chip was awfully sweet of you."

"The pleasure was all mine," he said gallantly. "She's a special young mare."

"And don't you forget it!"

Sugarberry could imagine the grin on Wigwam's face as he retorted with the line Chocolate Chip used when she felt Sugarberry was becoming too overbearing-- "Yes, Mother!"

"For your insolence, I'll gladly dig out the yearbook and give Chocolate Chip your complete dating history," she threatened.

He laughed. "I don't think that will be necessary, Sugarberry. I see you're feeling fine, so I'll let you go."

Sugarberry smiled, and bid him goodnight.

* * *
It was several days later when the letter from her mother appeared in her mailbox. Sugarberry puzzled over the receipt of it so soon after a phone visit, tearing into it as soon as she got into the house. After reading the first couple of lines, she sank into the rocker, every sense geared to the words on the paper.

Dear Sugarberry,

I haven't been able to clear my mind since our conversation the

other night. When you said that name, Giorgio, my thoughts went back

in time, and I feel that to purge myself of them, I must confide some things

to you.

Years ago, when I was pregnant with you, your father took me and

your sisters with him to a fruit growing workshop at Hayton. Your dad was

kept busy for the five-day event, but the girls and I had nothing to do but relax

and swim in the pool, and enjoy the other amenities of the hotel.

Your sisters loved to swim and play with the other foals that

frequented the pool, so I spent a lot of my time sipping lemonade on the

veranda. I met a stallion who was attending an education conference, and

we got to talking about our lives and one thing and another. He explained

that his wife was expecting as well, but was unable to travel with him; so

he was there alone. He proudly told me that if their foal was a boy, he would

be called Giorgio just like him.

One evening while your father and I were at dinner, Giorgio came to

our table and-- as he always did-- he took my hoof and kissed it. Your father

found that act very annoying, and let me know later that he found this Giorgio

to be a lady's man, and not to be trusted. I assured him that Giorgio was

always charming and gentlemanly to me and the girls, but Strawberry Baskets

would not soften his opinion of Giorgio.

I've never admitted this to another soul, Sugarberry, but I was

rather mesmerized by this stallion and the attention he paid me. It was all very

innocent, you understand, but yet he held a tiny bit of my heart.

He even had a hotel employee snap a picture of himself, the girls,

and me one day by the pool. He gave one copy to me, and kept one for himself.

I kept that picture, unknown to your father. You, my dear, came across it

once when you were small and had helped yourself to rummaging through

my desk. Maybe you remember the picture-- a dashing stallion with a deep

green color and dark blue hair, and a stack of books for a symbol. I told you

he was a handsome prince who thought I had lovely daughters. Giorgio often

commented on Gooseberry and Raspberry's Twice-as-Fancy look, and said he

hoped my third foal would be a girl and similarly adorned.

Your father came into the room just them, and saw the picture in my

hoof. For the first and only time, Sugarberry, I saw your father's anger.

And worse than that, I saw his disappointment. It only lasted a moment--

he lashed out verbally at me for harboring these memories-- and I saw the

pain it caused you to experience it, too. I destroyed the picture then, but at

a great cost to your father's trust in me. I never gave him another reason

to feel that way, Sugarberry; I hope that you and Vanguard will always be

honest and true to one another.

I never saw Giorgio again, but there was an article concerning

him in our newspaper once. He was chancellor at a university in Vulcanopolis,

but was stepping down to pursue a political career. An accompanying picture

showed Giorgio; his wife; and their son, Giorgio, Jr. And Sugarberry, the son

looked exactly like his father!

As I said at the beginning of this letter, I felt the need to unload my

soul to you since hearing you mention that name, Giorgio, the other night.

I hope this story doesn't upset you. I know it has freed me.



Sugarberry drew a deep breath, not sure that she had taken one since she began reading this glimpse of the past. She closed her eyes, and relived a memory long suppressed... a violent moment for one who had been raised wrapped in love and tenderness from both her parents.

The memories tumbled out of their hiding place, and she felt the grief and torment of that brief encounter with uncertainty-- the picture, the harsh exchange of words between her parents, and the remorse of them both. "I blotted that all from my consciousness," Sugarberry whispered to herself as the letter floated from her grasp. "I couldn't handle it. Mom and Dad were hurting so."

She sat in silence, sorting out her feelings. "No wonder I was confused at meeting this stallion," she murmured. "He was the same image as the picture that shattered my perfect world, if only for a moment."

She contemplated the mystery of it all, then sat up suddenly in new amazement. "How does this explain my knowing he'd take my hoof and kiss it? I was only an unborn foal at the time my mother experienced it; how did I know with such certainty? Recognizing a stallion from a picture is one thing, but knowing what to expect from that stallion..."

Sugarberry leaned back in the rocker, and pondered deep thoughts before penning a long epistle to her mother which gave them both a lifetime of reflection.


Early Pony Special

This is a fairly new policy that was just put into effect last month. Keep reading, and you may find that you are on your way to get a free My Little Pony!

If you submit a chapter of your continuing storyline to me, Tabby, anytime before the fifteenth of the month, you will be awarded one point. In future months, whenever you submit new chapters before the fifteenth of the month, you will be awarded one more point for each chapter. (In the case of submitting multiple chapters for one month, a point will be awarded for each chapter.) When you have built up six of these points, you are entitled to receive a free pony!

Once you have your six points, you may head over to my extensive My Little Pony sale list ( and choose one pony (not going over a $5 value). E-mail me your selection, and if that pony hasn't been sold or traded since the last time I updated, the pony is yours! Supply me with your address, and the pony will be shipped to you promptly. (Ponies cannot be reserved for this purpose beforehand.)

If there are any new writers out there interested in submitting to My Little Pony Monthly, please feel free to send your works to! No matter how new you are to the newsletter, you can still take advantage of this policy. A free pony could be waiting in your future!

Points, however, cannot be given to stories that have already been published in My Little Pony Monthly. But if you are in the middle of a story, points will still be awarded to the new chapters you send in (before the fifteenth of the month, of course).

Any questions on this policy? Feel free to e-mail me at


Running Tally of Points Given Out So Far

Moonjumper ( 1

Crash Cymbal (XMy Little 1

Princess of the Stars ( 1

Sugarberry ( 2


**My Little Pony Monthly Policy Statement**

This e-mail newsletter is meant to be read by all ages, and I shall reject any submissions if they contain profanity of any sort. If you have a piece you think would add to the quality of My Little Pony Monthly, feel free to e-mail it to me at And, remember, it doesn't have to be a story to be accepted! My Little Pony-related games, contests (please be willing to notify me of the results so I can post them in the next issue), Invento Ponies, and everything else are great as well! However, submissions must be received at least three days prior to the first of the month to be ensured to be posted in that issue. Submissions are subject to being edited by our proofreaders.

My Little Pony Monthly is a publication of Nematoid (Electronic) Publishing.

To view our past issues online, simply go to:

Our next issue will be sent August first.


Go Back to My Little Pony Monthly Index
Go Back to Tabby's Dream Valley