My Little Pony Monthly Issue 71 (February 1, 2003)

My Little Pony Monthly
A publication of Nematode (Electronic) Publishing
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Issue 71
February 2003


1. Letters to the Editor

2. Contest!

3. You Can’t Go Home Again by Sugarberry

4. Saving the Environment by Melody

5. A Letter of Apology from Starre

6. Enter: the ESL by Barnacle

7. And This is Fate! by Sugarberry

8. Ponies on the Brain! by Melody

9. Starcross: Revelations by Clever Clover

10. Valentine Intrigue by Tabby

11. New-New Ponies

12. Royalty by Clever Clover


Letters to the Editor

I’ve enjoyed reading my MLP Monthly (as usual). The stories are just great! I even printed out Christmas stories from previous monthlies to read at Christmas time. By the way, I love the new feedback/contact the author page. It’s a great idea and I’ve used it a little bit. :)





Without further ado, here are the winners of last month’s contest...

Baby Jedi (BJ) (

Berry Brite (

Harmony (

Jaye (

Megan (

Melody (

Moonstar (

Steamer (

The answer I had in mind was Sundance, but I also accepted Harmony’s answer of Windwhistler, due to Megan and Windwhistler’s special friendship as shown in My Little Pony: the Movie and the four-part episode The Magic Coins.

The number of entrants was good again this month, but I can see it waning again... let’s keep it going! Remember, you can enter as many contests as you’d like without penalty, and every winner will get a stylin’ prize graphic! This month’s question, in honor of Valentine’s Day, is...

Who is the “romantic” pony of the original MLP cartoon series?

Tell me the answer by e-mailing or entering through the form at

***Gasp! Blackcap and Sassy return to their ancestrial home in Bubbling Springs! Wait! I bet no one knows what these names refer to! Well, Blackcap and Sassy are Garnet’s parents! Wait! I bet no one knows her, either! Well, Garnet works for Wigwam, in Dream Valley! There, finally some familiar names!***

You Can’t Go Home Again
by Sugarberry (

“It looks good,” the stallion said, tossing his head to get the black mane off his face.

Good is an understatement,” replied the deep-lilac mare next to him. “It looks better than it did when we lived here.” She set her backpack down and stretched her aching muscles. “Who would have thought Bubbling Springs was this far from Dream Valley!”

“Yeah. I know what ya mean,” the stallion concurred, dropping his backpack as well. “It’s been awhile since we’ve been in this part of the country.”

Blackcap Lamplight and his wife, Sassy, had made the unplanned journey to the ancestral home after bidding farewell to their daughter, Garnet, following a reunion at her home in Dream Valley. On parting, Garnet was under the impression that her parents were headed to New Pony where they currently made their home. She would not have been pleased to know that they were now in Bubbling Springs where her unsuspecting aunts lived a peaceful life as caretakers for the museum that had once been the Lamplight family home.

Standing at the base of the hill that served as a stage for the lovely Victorian mansion known as Lamplight, Blackcap and Sassy studied the stately structure where they had lived after they were first married and where their first foal had been born. Many years had passed since they had left the area; and they had never returned, except for one brief pass-by of Blackcap’s. Not all the memories of their tenure there were pleasant.

The house was of white clapboards, a fitting home for one of the early influential ponies of the once struggling town of Bubbling Springs. It boasted a large turret off the left-hoof corner, rising a floor above the main body of the house and dominating the architectural design of the dwelling, giving it a castle-like appearance. The wide front porch with square-cut column supports framed the welcoming front door with a full-length oval glass center and was flanked on either side by long narrow accent windows.

A black wrought-iron fence hemmed in the property, outlining the acreage effectively against the snowy background. To their backs, river water was gurgling its way down the meandering stream that snaked past Bubbling Springs, its icy edges giving way to flowing water at the center.

“It looks really nice the way the paint’s not pealing,” Sassy said, a hint of wistfulness in her voice; she and Blackcap had never had the money or the initiative to keep up the property as it deserved.

Blackcap was no longer looking at the house. His gaze was riveted to a cluster of lilac bushes, bare in the winter weather. He was remembering his last days at Lamplight when the tunnel that opened out on the hillside over the river and which had proved an effective cover for his smuggling operation had been discovered by the local police and had led them to press charges against Blackcap for his covert activities.

The spread of lilacs that had screened the tunnel had been cut down at that time, the tunnel was sealed on both the outside entrance and the nearly invisible access in the Lamplight basement and– before court proceedings could convene– Blackcap and Sassy had disappeared.

Now, however, new growth had returned to the hillside to mark the spot of the once secret tunnel as the lilacs had fought against their annihilation and had returned to life like the phoenix. That brought a bit of hope into Blackcap’s thoughts; anything was possible.

“Let’s go up the hill; there’s some kind of sign up there,” he muttered.

“But we can’t be seen... not here,” Sassy pleaded. “There are too many ponies around who could recognize us.” Her words, however, were ignored as Blackcap set his tread away from her, following the line of the fence. Quickly, Sassy scooped up the two backpacks and followed him.

Reaching the gate that fed onto the front walkway, Blackcap scowled, his already surly expression reaching disagreeable proportions. “Lamplight Museum?” he muttered. “What have they gone and done with the place?”

“A museum!” exclaimed Sassy. “What a wonderful idea!”

“This was our home!” exclaimed Blackcap.

Was being the operative word,” Sassy reminded her husband.

Opening the gate, Blackcap was halfway through before Sassy stopped him. “We can’t just walk in there like we’re coming home.”

“Why not? It’s a public museum after all,” Blackcap said sarcastically.

“What if someone we know works there?” worried the mare.

“We have just as much right to go through the house as strangers do.”

“But, Blackcap, the ponies around here aren’t going to be too friendly to us.”

The stallion kept moving, however, and was soon at the front porch; Sassy apprehensively joined him. Both ponies stood staring at the inviting front door, wanting to go inside but dreading any confrontation that might be forced upon them.

“Well, come on,” Blackcap urged, taking his wife’s hoof in his and pulling her with him up the steps to the door. Taking a deep breath, he rang the bell as a small sign near the door bade him to do. The chimes could be heard faintly in the bowels of the structure, and soon the door was opened.

“Good afternoon,” a young silver grey stallion smiled. “Welcome to Lamplight. I’m Willy, the curator.” He gestured for the pair to come in and closed the door behind them. “I imagine you’d like a tour of the house?”

Blackcap, his attention captured by a surfeit of memories of a boyhood in this place, did not answer; he was lost to an earlier time. Sassy, rather overcome herself, found voice to murmur, “Yes... no... I mean, could we just look around on our own?”

Willy hesitated. The dark-haired stallion had a menacing look about him, almost wild-eyed. Willy was sure he had never seen him before, yet something about him seemed familiar.

“We don’t usually...” he began, but the mare smiled at him with violet eyes that seemed to cast a spell on him. He found himself wondering where he had seen eyes like those before and, caught in their appeal, he smiled. “I’m sure that I can make an exception in your case. You can start with the library.” He indicated a room to the left of the main entrance. “I’ll be in my office if you have any questions.”

“Thank you,” Sassy said

“Look, Blackcap, at all the old books,” the mare said on entering the room The plentiful shelves were not nearly as full as they had been in the days of Edwin Lamplight, Blackcap’s father, but the efforts of the museum staff to replace as many of the books as possible was bearing fruit.

Blackcap went down the line of titles. How his father had wanted his son to glory in the wealth of wisdom in these tomes, and how Blackcap had turned his back to them! He did the same now and walked out of the room.

Sassy followed her husband to the parlor that had always been one of her favorite rooms when she had been living here. Her exclamations of pleasure on the decorating were well-founded. Every inch of the house had been lovingly restored to its former grandeur once it had been rescued from demolition by the town of Bubbling Springs after the house had stood empty for too many years and had begun to show the signs of disuse. Period furniture was once again in place, wall coverings were bright and pleasing to the eye, window treatments were refined, pictures were in place...

“Blackcap! Look!”

On the wall hung a walnut-framed portrait of a family of ponies: a distinguished looking group of mother; father; two younger mares, obviously sisters; and one lone stallion not much above the age of eighteen but already with the look of obstinance that still marked Blackcap’s face.

“It’s you and your family!” exclaimed Sassy. She moved up close to the portrait and studied the faces of the ponies pictured there. “This must have been done shortly before... before you lost your parents.”

“That was a long time ago. I don’t remember,” the stallion responded huskily. He turned away from the portrait and walked to the window to gaze out at the view.

Sassy continued her perusal of the furnishings. “Whoever did this decorating really knew what they were doing,” she cooed. “It’s perfect.”

“It looks good enough, I suppose,” Blackcap responded looking around and noting several small pillows on the sofa done in a crazy quilt pattern criss-crossed with intricate, decorative stitches that reminded him of fancy work his older sisters were wont to do when they all lived as family with their parents in this home. He had teased them over this tedious work, but his father had upbraided him in turn. Born ten years after his closest sister, Blackcap had been a sore trial to his parents; they had found the task of raising an unruly colt almost too much for their advancing years.

Sassy noted what had caught his eye and understood his fascination with the work of art portrayed in the neat stitches. “I wonder where Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl are these days?” She was referring to Blackcap’s sisters, the two maidenly mares in the portrait.

“Probably snug in some retirement village plugging away at more of those blasted quilts,” he said, turning to leave the room, moved by memories that were not pleasant... and of his own making. He stalked into the next room, the dining room, elegant in its heavy walnut furniture and ornamental draperies, then continued through the rest of the main floor rooms as if hunted; he chose to access the upper floor by the back stairs.

It was not until he and Sassy reached the largest bedroom on the second floor, the one with the turret, that he came to a standstill and took stock of his surroundings with any show of interest.

Sassy, too, was affected.

“This is where you brought me when we first came back to live here after we’d run off and gotten married,” she reminisced. “It had been your parents bedroom until... until they were gone. Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl hated to see us take over Lamplight. They knew that your father had wanted them to live here.”

“Just as he always wanted everything for them and nothing for me,” Blackcap muttered.

“I didn’t know your parents,” Sassy said softly. “And I didn’t like your sisters; they were so far above me with their polite talk and their fancy ribbons and their perfect manners that I resented them for trying to help me fit in here. The more they tried to mold me into someone they could tolerate, the deeper I dug in my hooves to thwart them. Sometimes, Blackcap, I wish I had tried harder to do as they wished.”

“They’d have never approved of either of us, Sassy.”

“But we all lost Lamplight in the end.”

“All because Thorne betrayed me!” roared Blackcap.

Knowing when to keep silent, Sassy set a reassuring hoof on her husband’s shoulder for a moment, then went to enjoy the view from the second floor windows. The turret was impressive and allowed a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, especially with the house on top of the hill as it was. The river’s course could be easily followed, and the neighborhood beyond the gates of Lamplight studied.

Coming to stand next to his wife, Blackcap surveyed the view, pointing out the homes of colts he used to run with and wondering what had become of them. Sassy laughed at the exploits he told of their pranks and games which always infuriated the proper Edwin and the retiring Cora. Blackcap had constantly been a thorn in his parents’ sides while Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl had been the perfect angels who could do no wrong. That still rankled with the stallion, just as it had when he was growing up and when it came time to make life decisions of his own.

He had found it easier to continue in his wayward pursuits than to attempt to refine his attitudes to meet his father’s expectations. Edwin had never approved of his son’s contrary actions nor had he ever discovered a way to reach his son’s inner needs and desires. Blackcap had proved to be too much to handle for Edwin who was used to being obeyed and respected by his wife and his two daughters; they had never made waves or expected freedom like the later foal who seemed determined to create havoc in whatever he did. Blackcap made his own friends and carved his own path.

“Onyx was born in this room,” Sassy voiced softly. “He’ll be thirty-three this year.”

Their firstborn, Onyx was a deep purple, almost black, stallion with a blood red mane– the color of dried blood, his siblings had teased him– who was presently contentedly employed as a chef in Hayton. He, along with his other brother and two sisters, had not kept in touch with their parents, which was how Blackcap and Sassy had wanted it... until recently when family had begun to seem more important than it once had.

“And Ebony... what age is she coming up on?” queried Blackcap.

“Five years younger than Onyx... twenty-eight.”

“Sable must be in his mid-twenties now, and Garnet... didn’t she say she was twenty now?”

“Yup. Where have the years gone?”

“Yeah. I know what you mean. Being back here really makes the time fall away, doesn’t it?”

“We were just kids ourselves when we were married and came to Lamplight thinking we would rule the world... or at least Bubbling Springs.” She giggled. “We didn’t know anything.”

“I told you, Sassy; it was all because of Thorne.”

“Yes, dear,” the mare patted his hoof. “Let’s go downstairs.” Then she grinned. “Can we leave by the front stairs?”

“Let’s live dangerously,” the stallion responded with a grin of his own.

The curving stairs off the entry were a masterpiece of an earlier day, and Blackcap and Sassy took their time walking down the stairway, their hooves caressing the rich wooden banister and their eyes feasting on the ornately carved spindles. They had almost reached the bottom step when the front door opened, and two mares stepped into the foyer.

Blue Pearl, blue with pearly white hair, and Burgundy Lace, burgundy with an ecru mane, were in the middle of a lively conversation as they looked to see who the visitors were coming down the stairs; their voices fell silent and their eyes lit up with anger as they recognized these ponies from the past.

Blackcap and Sassy only stared.

“How dare you come back here!” Burgundy Lace said accusingly upon finding her voice.

“And what right do you two have to be here?” gruffly returned Blackcap.

“We belong here,” quietly said Blue Pearl, her face pale from the shock of meeting a brother she had not seen for nearly thirty-five years. Seeing him now on the stairway was akin to seeing a ghost.

“No more than I!” Blackcap angrily retorted.

Willy, coming out of his office because of the sound of sparring voices, surveyed the group and asked, “Is there a problem here?”

Turning on Willy, Burgundy Lace accosted him. “How did these two get in here? You were asking for trouble to let them in.”

A confused curator stuttered. “I... I don’t understand.”

Burgundy Lace marched across the entry to the door of the parlor. Pointing to the portrait that claimed a place of honor on the wall, she intoned, “It’s him, the traitor that threw Lamplight away... and his sisters along with it.”

With a dawning of understanding, Willy breathed, “You’re Blackcap then... and Sassy.” No wonder the stallion had looked familiar– this was an older version of the one in the picture. And Sassy... it was those violet eyes that could mesmerize a pony, just as Garnet was able to do.

“And just who are you?” Blackcap barked.

“I’m the curator for Lamplight,” Willy explained once more.

“Well, be that as it may, this was my home before you were born, you young whippersnapper!”

“Maybe we should all just sit down and discuss...” began Sassy.

Burgundy Lace cut her off. “You stay out of this, Sassy. This is between Blue Pearl, Blackcap, and myself.”

Blackcap glared at the two mares, then asked, “How did you get Lamplight back?”

“We didn’t, exactly,” Blue Pearl volunteered. “We were simply invited to assist in the restoration and the upkeep of our old home as a historical site.”

“Who owns it, then?”

“The town does, Blackcap, and legally, too,” Burgundy Lace informed her brother menacingly.

“That doesn’t negate the fact that this place is as much my legacy as it is yours.”

Burgundy Lace spluttered. “You legacy, huh? And what became of Lamplight with you at the helm?”

With a sideways glance at Sassy, Blackcap defended himself. “Do you realize the expenses involved with a place this size?”

“I can give you a jangle by jangle account,” Burgundy Lace threw back at him. She frowned at him a moment, then continued. “You are an abomination, Blackcap Lamplight. How anyone like you could engender an angel like Garnet is beyond my comprehension.”

“How do you know Garnet?” Blackcap growled.

Blue Pearl answered. “She came to us, having learned that she had other kin in this world other than you two.”

“You’ve been turning her against us, haven’t you? No wonder she wanted to get rid of us.”

“You’ve seen Garnet yourselves?” Burgundy Lace boiled. “If I find out that you’ve tried to corrupt her or stand in her way to happiness, I’ll find a way to scourge you, Blackcap!”

“She’s my daughter, for Pete’s sake, Lacey! Why would I want to hurt her?”

“Past history, for one thing.” This was said with a slight lessening of harshness, for the use of her pet name, Lacey, had brought back some memories that were not so unpleasant.

“Even Garnet gave us the benefit of the doubt, for a day or two at least. And Blackcap is your brother,” observed Sassy.

Eyeing Sassy with distaste, Burgundy Lace held back no punches. “You’re no better than he is.”

Rolling her own eyes, Sassy sat down on the stair step, giving up on trying to make amends.

Blackcap, however, was not about to see his wife humiliated. “Don’t bring Sassy into this parley; she’s been a good wife to me, and I won’t stand here and listen to you malign her.”

Blue Pearl seemed to agree. “Garnet does favor her mother.” Then swinging her gaze full force on her brother, she added, “She certainly couldn’t have inherited any of her goodness from you.”

“Now listen here, Miss Holier Than Thou....”

Just then the doorbell rang, indicating that someone was interested in a tour of the museum. Burgundy Lace nodded toward the door that led to her and Blue Pearl’s private rooms. “We’ll continue this discussion among ourselves.”

With a frown at Willy, she led the way out; and Willy scurried to meet the visitors with a composed, if not harried, face.

Once in the mares’ apartment, the ponies stood uncertainly until Blue Pearl, out of force of habit, began to fix tea and arrange cakes for company to eat. Sassy joined in helping Blue Pearl while Burgundy Lace and Blackcap continued to glare at one another across the room.

When Blue Pearl indicated that everyone was to sit down, Blackcap grated a chair away from the table and plopped himself down before the mares had a chance to sit. His glowering countenance gave a seething atmosphere to the otherwise peaceful-looking scene of an afternoon tea party.

“You forged that will that you had your lawyer present to the courts all those years ago, Blackcap. Everyone knows that you did.”

“Then why didn’t anyone prove it?”

“I’ll have to give you credit for that; you made sure there were no loose ends, no loop holes, for anyone to contest. And as it was written later than the one our father left with Blue Pearl and me, the courts had to honor it.”

Blackcap, unable to keep a smug look off his face, smirked. “Is it so hard to believe that Dad wanted me to have Lamplight?”

“Yes!” emphatically chorused Blue Pearl and Burgundy Lace. Even Sassy unknowingly nodded her head.

Burgundy Lace was outraged anew. “Father and Mother always planned for us to have Lamplight; they assured us that we would always have a home here. They knew what road you were headed down... make no mistake about that!” The mare shook her hoof at her brother.

“Well, all’s well that ends well,” huffed Blackcap, not wanting to continue that avenue of discussion. “You two have a home here, after all.”

“No thanks to you!”

“Give me a break!” exploded Blackcap. “What’s done is done! And you, Lacey, if you hadn’t been so highfalutin in your younger days, you’d have been married and provided for by that stallion, Pinto, who wanted to marry you. But Dad didn’t approve, so you bowed down and let Pinto get away.”

“How dare you bring that up at a time like this?” raved Burgundy Lace. “Pinto and I would never have been happy together.”

“You seemed happy with him from what I remember,” Blackcap sneered. He had not been adverse to spying on his older sisters’ activities.

“How dare you?” Burgundy Lace said again, at a loss for anything further to say, her face paling to a sickly color.

“Admit it, Lacey. You were head over heals in love with the stallion, yet you let Dad run your life for you. Blue Pearl I wouldn’t have been surprised at, but you, Lacey? You always knew what you wanted, but you buckled under when your very happiness was at stake.”

“My happiness, Blackcap, revolved around Lamplight. You took that away.”

“Maybe I did it for your own good; you and Blue Pearl would never have come out of the cocoon that Lamplight had become for you. Now, can you tell me that you two haven’t lived satisfying lives?”

Burgundy Lace scoffed. “You call scrimping and scraping every jangle satisfying?”

“It’s better than stagnating away from the real world!” Blackcap thundered, quieting his sisters rather effectively. There was a deathly silence that hung heavily upon them.

Suddenly, Blue Pearl giggled. “Remember the time the three of us filched all the eggs from the chicken house and used them to bombard the raccoon that was trying to get them and the hens?” She smiled, thinking back over the years. “We couldn’t do any baking that day.”

“‘What do you three think you’re trying to prove?’ Dad roared when he caught us in the act. He was quick to point out that all we’d accomplished is saving the raccoon from having to raid the nests himself,” Blackcap chuckled.

“And the raccoon just sat waiting for the next egg to be thrown so he could lap it up,” Blue Pearl added.

“I don’t remember being a party to such goings-on,” sniffed Burgundy Lace.

“Oh, cut line, Lacey. You were always the ringleader until I grew up enough to take over the reins. One of your best plots was that deal with the white sheets on the clothesline on Halloween. You convinced old Betsy that they were ghosts, and the poor thing almost quit her job on the spot.”

“And she would have, too,” said Blue Pearl, “if the moon hadn’t come out just then and lit up the yard a bit. She called us a bunch of hooligans and made us go out to fetch in the bedclothes.”

“And you were scared to death,” joined in Burgundy Lace, glancing at her sister. “Blackcap donned a sheet and pretended to be a real ghost; you screamed and screamed until both Mother and Father came running.”

“And I,” Blackcap picked up the story again, “with no way to see, had the misfortune to run smack dab into Dad, who in no uncertain terms told me I was never to pull that kind of stunt again.” He grinned at Blue Pearl, seeing her again as the quiet, gentle older sister who had often backed him against his father’s wrath.

“And I had to sit at Blue Pearl’s bedside all night so that she could sleep; she was sure that some phantasm was waiting in the darkness,” appended Burgundy Lace, who, as the oldest child in the family, had been expected to maintain a certain amount of order and dignity. But Blue Pearl, two years younger, had proven to be temptingly gullible; and the little brother who had enlivened their family some ten years after Blue Pearl’s birth had been the perfect accomplice at anything his big sister had suggested.

“Well, Betsy stayed on as cook anyway,” chuckled Blackcap. “It would have been a disaster if she’d have gone; those apple dumplings she fed us were the best.”

“She would have done anything for us,” said Blue Pearl, growing serious again. “When Mother and Father got sick, she did everything she could to make them comfortable; and when they died, it broke her heart.”

“Nonsense, Blue Pearl,” chastised Burgundy Lace. “She contracted the same illness they did. And it was all for the best, really; she’d have suffered so to leave Lamplight when... when you, Blackcap, had us all turned out.”

The light-hearted talk regressed once more as less pleasant memories washed over the ponies afresh.

“You brought Sassy here,” continued Burgundy Lace, “and sent us off as if we were last winter’s castaways. How could you, Blackcap? How could you?” Her voice became a moan as if the memories were overwhelming her.

Getting to his hooves so suddenly that he sent his chair scritching across the floor, Blackcap had no answer. Instead, he dragged his wife from her chair and puller her across the room to the outside door, picking up their backpacks in the process; he opened the door... and found the exit blocked by Bramble, the Bubbling Spring’s city manager, Convoy, the police chief, and Bobby, his deputy.

“Blackcap Lamplight?” Convoy asked.

“You were a rookie on the force thirty-some years ago,” Blackcap retorted, recognizing the stallion as one of those who had been responsible for uncovering his smuggling operation. “And I believe there is such a thing as a statute of limitations.”

“There are some questions I’d like to ask you, Blackcap,” Convoy said. He looked at the mares watching. “We can do it here, or down at the station.”

“Questions about what?”

“Questions concerning the robbery of a restaurant called The Wharf in Riverside.”

“What the...” Blackcap was saying when Sassy abruptly put a hoof on his foreleg, then with a ragged intake of breath, collapsed onto the floor at Convoy’s and Bramble’s hooves.

Both of those stallions immediately turned their attention to the lifeless form of Sassy; Convoy began to bark orders to those around him for a cold, wet cloth and plenty of fresh air while Bramble went to lend his support to Blue Pearl and Burgundy Lace, who both seemed near the same fate as Sassy; and Bobby, being a new recruit, stood looking dumbly on the scene.

Before anyone realized what was happening, Blackcap was on his way down the sidewalk that led from the entrance of his sister’s apartment within Lamplight to a back gate in the fence. His hoof had made contact with the gate when suddenly he was grabbed from behind and taken down by another officer stationed near the bushes in the backyard waiting for just such a contingency.

“Good job!” commented Convoy, coming up to offer his assistance in hoof-cuffing the angry stallion. “And just so you know, Blackcap, your wife made a speedy recovery from her ‘fainting spell’ once she realized that you hadn’t made it to freedom.” To Roper, the officer who had tackled Blackcap, he issued an order. “Take him down to the station.” Turning to Bobby, he added, “And you... bring the mare, too.” Then the police chief stalked off to leave his underlings with the suspects in tow.

* * *
“Bramble, can they do that?” wailed Blue Pearl as her brother and sister-in-law were marched away.

“They’re only going to question them,” Bramble stated, although not too reassuringly.

“What exactly happened in Riverside?” queried Burgundy Lace.

“It seems some nightclub there held a fund-raiser last night and brought in a lot of jangles for a building project at the local high school. The money was put in the vault at the club at 2AM this morning; when the manager came in at nine this morning, the vault was open and empty.”

“But why suspect Blackcap and Sassy? It’s been a long time since they’ve been... active.”

“Is it?” wondered Bramble. “The motel owner said he rented a room to a deep blue stallion with black hair; he had a violet mare with him. They checked out real early this morning.”

“Isn’t that circumstantial evidence or something?” asked Burgundy Lace while Blue Pearl began to weep softly into a hanky.

“They have to follow through on the lead,” rationalized Bramble. “Just because they’re being questioned doesn’t mean they’re guilty.”

Burgundy Lace faced Bramble. “But you think they’re guilty, don’t you?”

“We all know what Blackcap and Sassy are capable of; it doesn’t look good.”

Burgundy Lace slumped in a chair next to her sister. “Will that stallion never learn?”

“Wait and see what Convoy uncovers. Do you two want to go down to the station and wait there?”

Taking one look at Blue Pearl, Burgundy Lace shook her head. “I think I’d better stay here and look after Blue Pearl. Would you check on things and let us know?”

“Sure, Burgundy Lace.” He turned to go, but pivoted back as he reached the door. “Don’t worry about a thing; whatever happens with Blackcap and Sassy, you two are invaluable to us here at Lamplight.”

Allowing a tight smile, Burgundy Lace only nodded.

* * *
In the police chief’s office, Blackcap was offered a glass of water as Convoy leaned against his desk in front of the stallion. Blackcap waved off the water, glaring at Convoy the entire time.

“What have you done with my wife?” he demanded.

“She’s in the office next door, talking to Roper. Don’t worry about her. You have enough explaining to do for yourself.” Picking up a fax off his desk, Convoy continued. “We need some information as to your whereabouts last night, Blackcap. Would you mind telling me where you and Sassy spent the night?”

“Yes, I’d mind.”

“You don’t have a choice in the matter. Save us some time by answering now.”

Blackcap ran a hoof through his mane. “We put up at a motel southwest of here; we wanted to see Lamplight in the daylight.”

“Riverside is southwest of here. Was the motel in Riverside?”

“Could have been... I don’t remember.”

Convoy picked up another paper off his desk. “Does the name, Hoof It Lodge, mean anything to you?”

“Maybe... maybe not.”

“Hoof It Lodge is the motel in Riverside; their desk entry has a record of a Mr. and Mrs. Black registering there late last night and checking out very early this morning. Their description matched you and your wife.”

“How interesting.”

“Did you go to a restaurant in Riverside called The Wharf?”


Convoy made a note on the paper, then asked, “Did Sassy go to The Wharf ?”


Studying the stallion, Convoy next asked, “What time did you and Sassy leave Riverside this morning?”

“I don’t remember saying that we were anywhere near Riverside last night.”

There was a knock at the office door, and Bobby poked his head in. “We’ve been through their backpacks, chief.”


“They’re carrying enough jangles to see themselves through quite a long trip,” the rookie revealed.

“How much?!”

“They each had one thousand jangles.”

“Okay, Bobby, that’s enough.”

When the door was closed and Blackcap and Convoy were alone, Convoy walked behind his desk and sat down. “Do you always travel with that many jangles, Blackcap?”

“Not always.”

“So why now?”

Blackcap was slow in answering. “We had some luck at a casino.”

“You were at Fargo?”


“That’s the only town with a casino in this part of Ponyland.”

“Sassy and I just came from the south, over the Black Mountains.”

“Which casino, Blackcap?”

“Wigwam’s Casino in Dream Valley.”

After jotting down this information, Convoy leaned back and sat chewing on the eraser of his pencil. “It won’t take us long to check on that information. In the meantime, I’ll grant you and Sassy some time together, with a guard on hoof at all times.”

Convoy stood up in dismissal and called for Bobby. When that stallion appeared at the door, he gave him his orders and watched as Blackcap left the office. When the door closed behind them, Convoy got on the phone.

* * *
In his office at Wigwam’s Casino, Wigwam took the call that came in from the Bubbling Springs police. Although he was able to assure Convoy that Blackcap and Sassy Lamplight had indisputably been visitors at the casino and had walked off with an impressive win, he remained seated at his desk pondering the necessity for such a call to be made for several minutes after he had set down the receiver.

His interaction with Garnet as a friend and as a business associate made him conscious of the ties she had to Bubbling Springs. Wigwam, unofficially connected to the Dream Valley Police Department, was also aware of Blackcap and Sassy’s history and their relationship with Garnet. Why the Bubbling Springs authorities were interested in Blackcap and Sassy at this point in time ate at Wigwam’s mind until he could stand it no longer. Leaving a vague message for Garnet, he slipped out to learn what he could from Tawny, Dream Valley’s Chief of Police.

Wigwam found Tawny suitably occupied but not too busy to stop and chat. Once they had covered the weather, local sports, and mutual acquaintances, Wigwam got down to the reason for his visit.

“Tawny, what do you know about any suspicious activity in the Bubbling Springs area?”

“I wondered when you’d get down to the nitty-gritty,” Tawny grinned. He threw a communication across his desk. “Read it.”

“Hmm..a robbery in Riverside with Blackcap and Sassy passing through.” Wigwam shook his head. “It doesn’t look good.” He told Tawny of the call he had received from Convoy.

“Convoy’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’ll take care of things.”

“Are you aware that Blackcap and Sassy were in Dream Valley this past week?”

“Yes. I heard about it after the fact. There’s nothing currently on the books concerning them.”

“Until now.”

“It doesn’t make sense; Blackcap is smart enough not to hang out after pulling something as big as this robbery was.”

“Unless the draw of being back in home territory was too much for him.”

“How’s Garnet taking this?”

“I haven’t said anything yet; I wanted to have my facts straight.”

“The latest information I have is that they’re being held in Bubbling Springs yet. The jangles found on them are going to work against them, but you were able to verify the truth of their story. It will be up to Convoy to prove that Blackcap and Sassy were the two who did break into the vault at the restaurant.”

“How do you read it, Tawny?”

Tawny shrugged. “It’s certainly something Blackcap is capable of.” He tapped his hoof on the desk, thinking. “Yet there’s something now quite right about it; it’s too neat. One thing I’ve learned is that if a case is handed to you on a silver platter, you’d better look for tarnish around the edges.”

“Well, one thing’s for certain. Garnet’s going to want to rush off there as soon as she learns what’s going on.”

“And you’re going to accompany her,” Tawny said with a grin, getting to his hooves. “Good luck.”

* * *
Both prophecies turned out correct. When Wigwam broke the news to Garnet, she sat in total silence for a moment, then asked for several days off. Wigwam soberly granted that request, then announced that he would accompany her.

“No,” Garnet rebuffed him. “I’ve got to handle this on my own.”

“You don’t know what you’ll be facing once you get there. You can back up your parents, but Convoy might be more inclined to listen to me when it comes to police matters.”

“Wishbone can take some days off,” she began, then realized what she was asking. “He’s got some important tests at school tomorrow; I can’t ask him to drop everything.”

“I’d say your biggest problem is to convince him not to come along; but you’re right– he needs to stay here with his classes and his job.” He picked up the phone. “I’ll get some help lined up for Hawkley; you take care of any personal things that you need to square away before we leave. We can be out of here in an hour.”

“Thanks, Wigwam. I’ll feel better knowing I have backup.”

“We’re not going into battle.”

Garnet grimaced. “You don’t know my dad.”

* * *
Setting out was a relief for Garnet as Wishbone had not taken it well when she had informed him that she would not allow him to miss his commitments in Dream Valley to accompany her to Bubbling Springs. He had argued that her family was soon going to be his as well, and it was his right and his responsibility to be with her through whatever lay ahead. She could agree with the thought, but she would not be responsible for jeopardizing his studies or his job and had remained adamant that he stay behind.

The rose-red stallion had remained sulky until they had parted; when he had whispered, “I love you, Garnet,” that simple message had gone a long way to ease her worries that the stallion would have second thoughts about aligning himself with a family of such ill-repute.

The road to the northern country was a long one and took some time, but they eventually arrived at Riverside where Wigwam checked in at the police station to find out if any new developments had occurred while he and Garnet were on the road; there had been none. Wigwam did learn, however, that after the theft had been discovered and reported to the police, the office had received an anonymous phone call alerting them to the fact that two suspicious looking ponies had been seen leaving the local motel very early that morning. It had not taken the police long to determine from the motel owner that those ponies were none other than Blackcap and Sassy Lamplight. With that information, the solution to the case became clear.

From Riverside, the road to Bubbling Springs headed due north. As night was deepening, Garnet placed a quick call to Birdsong, the bed-and-breakfast that lay outside the town of Riverside but in the direction the two were taking; here the countryside was gently rolling unlike the Flatlands they had crossed. She had last visited Birdsong this past summer and had been well-received regardless of some past association with the family that had not been something to be proud of on Garnet’s part.

Buck, the oldest of three Birdsong brothers and the one who had learned the hard way of Garnet’s devious ways– this at a time prior to her arriving at Dream Valley and adopting a more conservative manner of making a living– had been on his honeymoon at that time of her last visit. Garnet was aware that he taught at the Riverside High School for which the fund-raiser had taken place; what he would think of her now when her parents were accused of the theft was a nerve-wracking speculation for Garnet.

The mare was unwilling to talk as she and Wigwam made their way to the Birdsong home, which like Lamplight, was on top of one of the many hills in the area. Their walk there, even in the darkness of night, was not as bleak as it might have been as the snow cover of white reflected the starlight overhead enough to show Wigwam why Vanguard and Sugarberry had such positive memories of this place. The land was a mix of valleys and hills that harbored many natural beauty spots.

Sensing the mare’s hesitation as they finally reached the front door of Birdsong, Wigwam settled a supporting hoof on her foreleg. “Sugarberry assured me that these ponies are your friends, Garnet. Now, forget about the problems we’ll face tomorrow at Bubbling Springs, and put on a happy face.”

Garnet managed a small smile which had disappeared by the time the door opened; but she was pulled into a welcoming hug by Lilac, the mistress of the house. Garnet introduced Wigwam, and Lilac assured them both that they were quite welcome even at this late hour and proceeded to direct them to the kitchen where they could talk while Lilac rounded up a fortifying bedtime snack.

Garnet had no sooner gotten herself settled down at the table when a young stallion walked into the kitchen. His eyes flew immediately to Garnet’s, and the mare got to her hooves to meet him. “I’m sorry for what happened, Buck. I don’t understand it, but I’m sorry.”

“Did you send your parents here because your past experience proved we’re easily duped?” the stallion asked, his eyes angry.

“Is that what you think... that I’m somehow a part of this?”

“All I know is that when anything bad happens, there’s a Lamplight nearby.”

“And I thought you were someone special!”

“If this is how you treat your friends...”

Wigwam got to his hooves, but it was Lilac who cut in.

“Buck Birdsong,” Lilac snapped. “You will not talk to a guest in my house that way! I’d appreciate it if you apologized to Garnet.”

“When the jangles are back in the safe, I’ll apologize,” Buck said, glaring at Garnet. He turned and stalked out of the room, nearly colliding with a pale yellow mare coming in with a jar of home-preserved peaches in her hooves. He barely looked at her as he continued on his way. The mare watched his departure with open-mouthed astonishment.

“I’ve never seen him angry like that,” she said; then becoming conscious of the ponies in the kitchen, she blushed. “I’m sorry. Buck has been upset since the robbery. Garnet, it’s nice to see you again; you remember me, don’t you... Columbine, Buck’s wife now.” Her blush deepened as she remembered the jealousy she had felt when Garnet had made her first visit to Birdsong several years back.

“Of course I remember you, Columbine. And this is Wigwam.”

“Nice to meet you,” Columbine smiled. Then she set the peaches on the counter for Lilac. “If you don’t need me, I’d like to go and talk with Buck.”

“You go ahead, Columbine. If anyone can talk some sense into that boy of mine, it’ll be you.”

When Columbine was gone, Lilac came to Garnet and patted her hoof. “Don’t pay any mind to Buck right now. He likes to think that he can control his world single-hoovedly; and when things go wrong, he takes it personally.”

At that moment, three other stallions came into the kitchen, freshly washed up from chores in the barn: Trendy, Lilac’s husband; Tramples, the middle brother; and Licorice, the youngest son. Wigwam was made known to them and Lilac soon had food before them and conversation flowed as if the confrontation with Buck had never occurred.

But Garnet could not forget it. She had respected the stallion for his high ideals; his kindness and his ability to forgive her for the unconscionable mess she had gotten him into had been part of the reason that she had begun to despise her deceitful way of living. Having then been befriended by the ponies of Dream Valley had solidified her resolve to put that past behind her and begin anew; Wishbone’s love had capped that determination.

Now Buck had turned against her and not because of something she personally had done but because of something her parents were accused of doing. She shuddered to think that they actually might have robbed The Wharf. Well, she would learn the answer to that tomorrow; for tonight, she could only hope that they had not stooped so low. She sighed and turned her attention back to the talk going on around her.

* * *
It was hours later and Birdsong was deep in sleep when Garnet made her way stealthily down the stairs and back to the kitchen. She could not sleep, not with all the worries racing around and around in her mind, and had finally decided that if she was going to be awake she might as well be doing something; so she had come down to raid the cookie jar. Nothing could speak to a troubled mind better than a home-baked chocolate chip cookie.

Turning up the light just enough so that she could make out where everything was located, she crossed to the counter; she had no sooner picked up the lid and reached her hoof into the cookie jar when she heard hoofsteps behind her; twirling around, she found Buck standing in the doorway eyeing her.

“So this is what you do as soon as everyone is asleep,” he drawled, coming to her and taking the lid of the jar out of her hoof.

It was not bright enough in the kitchen to see the stallion’s eyes, but Garnet was sure that the anger that had been visible earlier had only been intensified.

“It’s not a crime; we’re paying guests; but just to be on the up-and-up, I won’t take one.” She turned to leave.

“Not so fast, Garnet,” the stallion’s voice came from behind her. She turned to face him, ready for battle. Buck smiled. “I’m sorry for the way I reacted to you earlier; I said some stupid things that I shouldn’t have.”

“Yes, you did,” Garnet agreed cooly. “But I’ll accept your apology.” She once more prepared to depart.

“Wait, Garnet, please?” Buck asked. “I’m sure you’re down here in the kitchen because you couldn’t sleep, and that’s why I’m here too. How about some warm milk to go with the cookies?”

“I hate warm milk, unless it’s chocolate.”

“Chocolate it is, then. Move the cookie jar to the table while I get the mix out.”

Garnet did as she was told and soon both ponies were sitting with the cookie jar between them and warm, comforting hot chocolate in steaming mugs before them.

“What’s new with you, Garnet? Are you still content in Dream Valley?”

“Very much so.” She held out her foreleg. “I’m engaged to be married this summer.”

Raising an eyebrow, Buck grinned. “Did this stallion have anything to say in the matter?”

“Wishbone loves me... even knowing about my past life and my parents.” She added the last part to taunt Buck.

“Wishbone... Columbine said your escort’s name was Wigwam.”

“It is.” She laughed at his puzzled look. “Wishbone had to stay behind, so Wigwam– he’s my boss– came with me; he’s got some experience in police work, so he might be able to help my parents out.”

“I hope your faith in them is well-founded.”

“I’d bet my life on the fact that they didn’t do this, Buck, but I have no proof. It’s just that after having seen them such a short while ago, I can’t believe they had anything like this in mind.” She went on to explain her parents’ unexpected visit to Dream Valley. “As far as I know, Mom and Dad would never go after that kind of money. They have more subtle ways of getting what they’re after. And, besides, they’d made out quite well at Wigwam’s Casino; there was no need for them to attempt something like this when it was such an obvious risk.”

“You would know better than I,” he said. “Have another cookie.”

“I assume you and Columbine are happily settled?”

A big grin crossed Buck’s face. “We’re expecting this summer.”

“Congratulations! And I take it you’re living here at Birdsong?”

“Because of all the repair work needed after the tornado went through, we didn’t have the opportunity to build our own house; come spring, though, it’ll start going up, back in the woods.”

“And you’re teaching history, I hear.”

Their now friendly banter continued until their mugs were empty and neither could face another cookie.

“You make sure there are no crumbs left on the table so Mom doesn’t suspect that mice invaded her kitchen in the night; I’ll wash the mugs,” Buck said, getting down to the business at hoof. When that chore was done, the two ponies said their goodnights.

“No matter how this all turns out, Garnet, I want you to know that I value your friendship.”

“And I, yours,” Garnet smiled.

The two ponies shared a mutual hug of understanding.

And Columbine walked in the room from the back wing of the house while Wigwam walked in from the main rooms. Both stopped abruptly as they took in the sight before them.

“Buck!” gasped Columbine. “How could you?”

“Sweetheart, you’re the one who convinced me that I was being closed-minded about Garnet,” Buck said, dropping his forelegs from around the red mare. “We’ve talked, and Garnet has forgiven me my lapse of faith in her good intentions. That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” admitted Columbine with a pout. “But I didn’t expect your reconciliation to be quite that warm.”

Buck laughed and Garnet giggled.

“We had cookies and hot chocolate. Would either of you like some?” Buck asked.

Columbine’s face brightened. “Hot chocolate sounds good; and maybe an apple.”

As Buck prepared more of the drink, Garnet asked Wigwam. “What got you up in the middle of the night?”

“I heard you go downstairs; when you didn’t return, I got worried.” He looked at Buck. “And this might be a good time to find out your impressions of the robbery. You were at The Wharf the evening of the dinner?”

“Of course he was,” Columbine answered. “He was on the committee who got the fund-raiser going.”

“I’m sure the police have covered this with you, but did you notice anyone there that seemed out of place?”

“I’ve done nothing but try to think of something that would prove useful, but there isn’t anything. The dinner was well-attended– that’s why we had so many jangles to store in the safe. We thought it would be safer to move it in the daytime,” Buck said, grimacing.

“Did you notice anything, Columbine?” Garnet queried, having more faith in a mare’s perception.

“Sorry. I was only there for a short while; the food was spicier than I’m used to; just the smells from the kitchen caused me to feel queasy before the dinner even got underway. Lilac and Trendy brought me home.”

“What were your parents doing in the vicinity, Garnet?” Buck asked.

“I have no idea; the last I heard, they were going to return to New Pony after they left Dream Valley. The next thing I knew, they were in Bubbling Springs.”

“At Lamplight...” mused Buck, well familiar with the family history. “I wonder how Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl reacted to Blackcap’s arrival?”

“I’m afraid to find out,” admitted Garnet with a shaky smile.

“Is there anything we can do to help the situation with your parents?” asked Buck.

“Talk to ponies about that night,” Wigwam suggested. “With the police concentrating of Blackcap and Sassy, they might have missed something important that would lead them in the right direction.”

Garnet flashed Wigwam a grateful smile; he more than anyone had been constant in his belief in Blackcap and Sassy’s innocence; with his connections with the police, he had access to all the questionable activities in which the two ponies had been engaged, but he had never given any indication that he suspected Blackcap and Sassy of the robbery now in question.

“If my parents didn’t take the jangles, then someone else did.”

“And whether that pony was from around here or came in special for the purpose, we don’t know; I’d sure like to know who tipped the cops that Blackcap and Sassy were staying at the motel,” added Wigwam. “But any stranger would be fair game, as would any regular who acted out of character that night.”

“So that’s what we’re looking for... someone out of place for the circumstances?” queried Columbine, taking a bite of her apple as Buck poured the hot chocolate.

“In a nutshell, yes.”

“We’ll keep our eyes and ears open,” promised Buck.

* * *
Upon arrival in Bubbling Springs the next day, Wigwam and Garnet stopped first at Lamplight to talk with Burgundy Rose and Blue Pearl. No further progress had been made on the case as far as they were aware, but both sisters were stressed to the breaking point wondering if their brother had indeed pulled this miserable theft.

“He hasn’t changed a bit, Garnet,” Burgundy Lace ranted. “He came in here like the lord of the manor as if thirty-five years hadn’t gone by, and he seemed to resent that Blue Pearl and I had made our way back home.”

“Dad does tend to be domineering,” Garnet admitted.

“The stallion is touched, that’s what he is,” Burgundy Lace continued. “And it’s all because of that mare he married.”

“That mare is my mother,” Garnet softly reminded her aunt.

“You had no choice in the matter! Sassy was beneath his notice, but she managed to bewitch him and pulled him down to her level. He should have cared more for the Lamplight name than to bestow it on that mare.” Burgundy Lace stopped only when she saw the distress she was causing Garnet. “I’m sorry if that hurts you, Garnet, but that’s the way I feel.”

Blue Pearl came forward protectively and guided Garnet to a corner of the room where they could talk privately while Wigwam soothed Burgundy Lace’s ruffled spirits.

“Your father riled some muddy water for Burgundy Lace while he was here; don’t put too much on what she says now– she’ll see things more clearly when the mud settles.”

“Did you hate my mother, too?”

Taking a deep breath, Blue Pearl sighed. “She was young and she was rough around the edges and she was independent. And she came into the home that Burgundy Lace and I had known all our lives and took control of the day-to-day operations of the house even though she didn’t understand how to manage a household the size of Lamplight. My sister and I tried to guide her, but she only resented our interference, I’m afraid. It was harder on Burgundy Lace; she was used to bossing me around; it hurt to end up on the other side for a change.” Blue Pearl smiled. “She’ll get over her pique and be sorry that she said what she did.”

Garnet returned the smile, but she felt empty inside her heart. She was slowly regrouping her family but finding in the process that family matters were more complicated than even she had imagined. It was not the happily ever after ending she had begun to hope for.

By the time Garnet and Wigwam made it to the police station, Garnet was having her own doubts about maintaining her parents innocence; and after talking with Convoy, those uncertainties only increased.

“I approached Blackcap and Sassy solely to question them,” Convoy explained to both Wigwam and Garnet, “but Sassy faked a fainting spell to make a diversion. It didn’t work, but Blackcap did make an attempt to escape. That’s why I’m confining them here. Why would he have tried to run if he didn’t have something to hide?”

“I don’t know,” Garnet said feebly. “Can I see my parents?”

Convoy considered the proposition some moments; it was only after a barely perceptible nod from Wigwam that he okayed Garnet’s request.

“I’ll give you ten minutes.”

Grateful to be given the opportunity to talk to her parents, Garnet regained some of her usual energy. She left Wigwam with Convoy while Bobby guided her to the room where her parents were waiting. Their reunion was warmer than their encounter at Dream Valley just a few days back, with hugs exchanged all around with no reserve; but when Garnet stepped back to look her parents in the eye, they could tell that she was harboring doubts.

“We didn’t rob the restaurant in Riverside,” Blackcap assured her. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say we were set-up.”

“What about your escape attempt?” Garnet asked reprovingly. “Mom, you went along with it!”

“Force of habit,” Sassy shrugged.

“It was my fault,” Blackcap admitted. “I signaled your mother, and she trusted my decision. It was just that it dawned on me that the cops seemed pretty confident, so I knew they thought they had a sure thing. So even though Sassy and I had done no more than spend the night– and a short one at that– at that motel in Riverside before coming to see Lamplight, I figured they had something that was solid enough to hold us.”

“Why did you come here?” Garnet asked.

“All our talk of the family while we were with you made me a little homesick to see the place,” Sassy admitted. “We didn’t have any commitments back in New Pony and we had our casino winnings in hoof, so we just took off where the road led us... which was to Riverside on the wrong night.”

“And you, girl, weren’t completely honest with us about your relationship with my sisters,” Blackcap looked condemningly at his daughter.

“I just didn’t give you all the details,” Garnet defended.

“Well, I guess I’ve been guilty of withholding the truth a few times in my life,” Blackcap smirked... or was it a grin? “There’s hope for you yet, Garnet.”

Garnet rolled her eyes. “Never again– I’ve washed my hooves of that cycle of deception that you two taught me.”

“Never say never, girl. You don’t know what life may throw at you yet. And it’s not deception– not if the other party has their eyes wide open.”

The door opened and Wigwam came in. “Your ten minutes are up,” he announced, “but Convoy said he’ll extend the time if I’m present.” He looked at Blackcap. “We haven’t met; I’m Wigwam, the owner of the casino in Dream Valley.”

“I’m Blackcap and this is Sassy,” responded Blackcap, cautiously accepting Wigwam’s extended hoof.

“Where’s Wishbone?” asked Sassy, wearing the same confused look that Buck had the evening before.

“He stayed back in Dream Valley. Wigwam has had some training in police work, so he seemed the better choice to accompany me here under the circumstances,” explained Garnet.

“You’re Garnet’s boss, too, aren’t you?” Blackcap asked. Receiving an affirmative nod, he asked, “Does she do a good job for you?”

“She’s indispensable.”

“Shouldn’t we be discussing your problem?” asked Garnet of her father.

“Yeah,” snickered Blackcap. “Maybe we should concentrate on that for the time being.”

The four ponies sat down around the plain table in the center of the room and studied the events of the last few days and brain-stormed the possibilities that had not yet been considered.

“It seems strange that this robbery occurred the first time you came back to home territory in a number of years. How do you account for that?” Wigwam queried.

“Rotten luck,” scowled Blackcap. “It isn’t the type of thing we’d do.”

“Just coincidence?”

“Exactly. And because I have a record, the cops can only think one thing. The real crook is getting away while Sassy and I cool our hooves here.”

“Did you leave behind any enemies who might like to see you squirreled away for awhile?”

“Hey, we never make any serious trouble for anyone,” Blackcap was quick to repute this hint of suspicion.

“Bad feelings can arise from the smallest slight,” Wigwam replied. “It wouldn’t have to be anything major.”

Sassy spoke up. “I wonder whatever happened to Thorne.”

“Where did that come from?” asked Blackcap.

“It was just weird that you mentioned him several times at Lamplight, and now Wigwam asks about any enemies; I think Thorne classifies.”

“What’s this about?” Garnet asked, completely befuddled.

Sassy looked at Blackcap, but Blackcap turned away, so Sassy explained.

“When we were first married and living at Lamplight, Blackcap had a smuggling operation set up; the details aren’t important... what matters now is that a friend of his, Thorne, was his partner. They both knew that the police were suspicious of Blackcap, and that drew suspicion on Lamplight as well.

“Blackcap and Thorne decided to lie low for awhile until things cooled down. But Thorne went behind Blackcap’s back and continued to transport... things. The cops caught wind of a shipment coming in and raided the place; Blackcap was home at the time and ended up taking full blame; he never saw Thorne again.”

“You were using Lamplight as a smuggling center?” gasped Garnet.

“Not the night in question,” Blackcap growled.

“I don’t believe this!” Garnet said in disbelief. “Your ancestral home meant no more to you than that?”

Wigwam set a warning hoof on Garnet’s. “There will be better times to discuss this than now.” Then, of Blackcap, he requested, “Tell me more about this Thorne.”

“He’s long gone; never saw him again as Sassy said.”

“Why’d he double cross you?”

Blackcap and Sassy exchanged a glance. “Thorne wanted to marry me,” Sassy revealed. “But your father came along, Garnet; and I fell in love with him. Thorne didn’t take it too well.”

“But he and Dad still were smuggling partners?”

“He seemed to have gotten over his anger, and Blackcap knew... thought... he could trust him. Only too late did we realize that he was out for revenge.”

“Revenge...” mused Wigwam. “A good reason to tip off the police with a misleading clue.”

The door opened again, this time revealing Bobby. “The chief says the party’s over. Wigwam, Garnet, you have to leave.”

Garnet stood up, but Wigwam asked one last question. “What does this Thorne look like?”

“He’s a green stallion...” Blackcap started.

“Emerald green,” Sassy interrupted.

“With tannish hair.”

“Golden hair,” Sassy added, “and deep, brown eyes.”

Blackcap rolled his eyes and huffed.

“Thanks for the input, Sassy,” Wigwam grinned. “We’ll see what we can come up with.”

* * *
The end of the day found Garnet cloistered with her aunts, all three of them worried about the outcome of Blackcap’s situation but trying not to show it.

Wigwam was out; where, Garnet did not know. She had begun to pace the floor when the phone rang. It was Buck.

“Garnet, I’ve got a piece of information that Wigwam might want to check out.”

“Buck, what is it?”

“Don’t get excited. It may be nothing. I was talking to Whirlybird at the museum in Riverside earlier, and I asked her if she noticed anything peculiar that might tie in with the robbery at The Wharf; it turns out she’d left town when she got done with work that day, so she wasn’t even in Riverside when the theft occurred.”

“So what’s the point?”

“Well, she called me just now to say that she did remember something from earlier in that day. There was a stallion hanging around the museum that afternoon before the robbery. She’d forgotten him because he didn’t sign the registry. He spent most of his time just sitting in the lobby, reading the paper and watching out the window. When she asked him if she could help him, he said he was waiting for his wife; but as far as Whirlybird saw, no mare ever showed up.”

“Does she know where he went from there?”

“He asked where he could get a cheap meal, and Whirlybird referred him to the restaurant next door to the Hoof It Lodge. Whirlybird had the next couple of days off and had gone to Millville to visit friends. She just got back today.”

“Mom and Dad stayed at the Hoof It Lodge that night!”

“Yeah. Coincidence? Seems fishy to me.”

“What did this stallion look like?” Garnet held her breath.

“Whirlybird said he was dark green with caramel colored hair; she didn’t notice his symbol.”

“Close enough,” Garnet said. “Thanks a bunch, Buck. I’ll get back to you.”

To her aunts she called, “I’ve got to find Wigwam,” as she raced out the door.

Garnet did not have far to go; she collided with Wigwam at the back gate as he was coming through. Her words tumbled out as she explained to him what Buck had uncovered, and the two of them went straight to Convoy.

* * *
Morning dawned bright and sunny, suggesting to Garnet that this day might bring a resolution of her parents’ plight. She and Wigwam had done all they could; it was up to the police now to trace the green stallion and question him. But in the meantime, her parents were still the prime suspects.

Wigwam left early to spend the day at the police station; Garnet spent the time with her aunts, although Burgundy Lace seemed somewhat distanced; and Garnet herself found it difficult to forget some of the things that her aunt had said of Sassy yesterday.

So as not to be an unnecessary burden at Lamplight, Garnet offered to help Willy with some paperwork in the museum office; her training at the Binksville Museum now proved useful. When things were in order there, she took herself off to the highest point of Lamplight, the top level of the turret that soared above the rest of the house and looked down upon the river and the village and beyond to the meandering line of trees that followed the course of the waterway through a succession of small hills with tree-covered slopes.

Finding the spot a perfect place for reflection, Garnet sat on the plain wooden window seat that circled the space; she recalled her foalhood under Sassy and Blackcap’s tutelage; the several lonely years alone after she had outgrown her parents’ protection; her experience with Buck that had given birth to doubts about her cloak-and-dagger existence; her chance arrival in Dream Valley where she had– for the first time in her life– found friendship and compassion; and the specific friendship with Wishbone that had become the focus of her life and love.

Garnet smiled as she remembered Wishbone’s disappointment in not accompanying her to Bubbling Springs; if she closed her eyes, she could hear his voice: I love you, Garnet.

She frowned, however, when she remembered her reason for being here at Lamplight. Her parents were still under a heavy cloud of suspicion over the robbery in Riverside. Garnet’s encounter with her parents in Dream Valley so recently had awakened in her a desire to reestablish family ties that had for too long gone unattended. Yet her aunts, whom she had come to love dearly, were unwilling to let go of past hurts where Blackcap and Sassy were concerned. The road to family harmony was going to be difficult, at best.

A creak on the stairs brought Garnet’s attention back to the present reality, and she watched as pearly white hair announced that it would be Blue Pearl ascending the narrow steps from the floor below. She smiled at her aunt and patted the window seat beside her. Blue Pearl welcomed the offer, her breathing slightly labored by the many flights of stairs she had just covered from the main floor to the heights of the house.

“You’re still upset over what Burgundy Lace and I had to say about Sassy, aren’t you?” Blue Pearl said as soon as she had regained her breath.

“Not upset, Auntie... just disappointed. I was hoping that we could all be family again.”

“Ah, youth...” Blue Pearl sighed. “It’s easier for you to forgive and forget.”

“But it wasn’t easy,” Garnet argued. “I told myself that I never cared to see my parents again, but when they arrived on my doorstep– and after the initial shock– I found that I’d never really stopped caring for them.”

“Well, dear, you’ll have to give my sister and me some time to get over that shock, too. It’s been a lot of years since we’ve seen Blackcap and Sassy. Their visit here was more than a shock. It was a... a jolt.” She punched her hoof into the air to convey the immensity of it.

“Okay,” Garnet smiled. “I guess I’m expecting too much too quickly. But Burgundy Lace is so unyielding.”

“That’s her way, child.” Blue Pearl looked thoughtful. “I don’t know if I should tell you this; I know Burgundy Lace wouldn’t like it if she knew I was talking behind her back; but, under the circumstances, I think you should know.”

“What is it?”

“Your father resurrected a rather... hurtful... situation that Burgundy Lace had buried years ago.”

“Go on,” Garnet urged when her aunt fell silent as if recollecting her thoughts. When she started talking, her voice was soft and her eyes appeared to be seeing sights that were not available to Garnet.

“Well, you see, Lacey had made the acquaintance of a young stallion named Pinto; she was just out of school and had taken a job at the library. He was doing research on some project he was working on, so he was visiting the library quite often. He and my sister began to look upon one another as friends, and Lacey invited him to Lamplight for an occasional supper with the family. Over time, it became obvious that the two of them were very deeply in love.”

“What happened?”

“Pinto’s field of work took him many places; he traveled all over Ponyland and beyond, sometimes ending up away from home for months or even years at a time.”

“So he had to go away?”

“Well, that was what provoked the showdown. Pinto had gone to Father– as was proper back then– to ask for his permission to marry Burgundy Lace; it seemed that Pinto and Lacey had been making plans between themselves, and my sister was ready and willing to take up the traveling life that Pinto embraced.

“But Father, when he heard of it from Pinto’s lips, was furious; he told Pinto that the Lamplight family had been responsible for establishing Bubbling Springs as a viable town; and that left the remaining family with responsibilities to the community that could not be relinquished. He went on to tell Pinto that Burgundy Lace, as his eldest offspring, was to take over those responsibilities when he was gone. He, therefore, refused Pinto’s suit for Lacey’s hoof.”

“And Burgundy Lace accepted that?” asked Garnet in surprise.

“You have to understand, Garnet, just how proud our father was when it came to Lamplight and the town of Bubbling Springs. Both he and Mother had spent their entire lives here, and everything they had ever strived for centered here. They assumed that their children would take up where they left off. You can understand why Blackcap became such a disappointment to them, and why Father pinned his hopes on Burgundy Lace.”

“So Burgundy Lace gave up her chance at happiness with this Pinto because of her commitment to Lamplight?”

“Yes. Father convinced her to see things his way, even though Pinto pleaded with her to leave Lamplight behind and come with him. She was stubborn and he was, too; so they separated quite at odds with one another, and Lacey never heard from him again.”

Garnet digested all this information, then looked at Blue Pearl in shock. “Burgundy Lace gave up Pinto for Lamplight, and my dad took Lamplight away from her in the end, anyway!”

“That’s just it, dear. She made a huge sacrifice for Lamplight and Bubbling Springs, but Blackcap arranged affairs so that she lost everything. I lost Lamplight, but Lacey lost Lamplight and the chance at a happy marriage.”

“Dad couldn’t have known what he was doing!” Garnet whispered, shaking her head in negation.

“Oh, but he did, Garnet. Make no mistake. He even had the audacity to tell Lacey and I when he came here that it was for our own good, because we were too dependent on Lamplight. And, maybe... maybe he was right.”

“No!” Garnet flared. “No one could be that cruel!”

“Burgundy Lace and I succeeded in making a new life for ourselves in Frostmont. I won’t say it was easy, but we did manage. It was very difficult at first, leaving this elegant old house to live in an apartment in a town that was entirely new to us; but we were fortunate indeed that they needed a librarian and a school teacher. Over time, we both came to love the ponies of Frostmont.” She patted Garnet’s hoof. “I just wanted you to know why Burgundy Lace is having a difficult time forgiving your father. Her pain was much more acute than mine.”

“And here I’ve been feeling sorry for myself because she seemed so spiteful of Mom and Dad; I certainly can’t blame her for holding them responsible for upsetting her life so drastically.”

Garnet grew pensive. “I wonder what became of Pinto.”

“I’ve often wondered that myself,” admitted Blue Pearl. “And Lacey, why I don’t imagine there’s a day that goes by when she doesn’t think of him herself.”

Garnet turned her gaze out the window once more; she mourned for Burgundy Lace, worried about her parents, and wondered where Thorne could be.

***Oh my, it’s a cliffhanger! Can you wait another month to read of the outcome?? Oh wait, I just remembered, you don’t have to! The Thorne saga is continued later in this issue, in “Valentine Intrigue”! But first, why not drop Sugarberry a line at***


***Check it out, it’s chapter six of Melody’s Bright Eyes’ saga! Starring all of our best-loved characters from the Tales series– or one of them, at least, in this chapter! And one of my favorite animals shows up at the end (it’s not a crayfish!). So of course you have to read it, don’t you?***

Chapter #6:
Saving the Environment
by Melody (

Bright Eyes woke up feeling very tired on Monday morning. She shook herself awake, then collapsed back onto the pillow. She had no idea what time she had fallen asleep the previous night, but knew it had been late. What was worse was that she really didn’t feel like going to school at all.

Classy came into Bright Eyes’ room. Bright Eyes pulled the covers up over her head, but her flaming orange mane still hung over the pillow. “Wake up, sugar. You’ve got a busy day ahead of you. Remember, you’re going to the Clean Up Ponyland meeting after school,” said Classy, her father, softly.

“Okay,” said Bright Eyes, slowly getting out of bed.

That day at school, as Bright Eyes was walking down the corridor to meet Miss Hackney for a discussion on her advanced Maths class, she came upon a poster on the bulletin board. “Huh?” said Bright Eyes, turning to look at the poster showing a rainforest. The brightly coloured headline read, “Now you, too, can save the environment!” Bright Eyes skimmed over the details and scribbled them down on her notebook, which she always carried around in her coat pocket. She would join this club the next day.

“Oh, no!” she wailed, hurrying off to find Miss Hackney, hoping she wouldn’t be late. Luckily she wasn’t, but after the meeting with Miss Hackney, she raced home.

“Hi, Dad!” Bright Eyes called.

“Afternoon tea’s on the table. Then you’ve got a Clean Up Ponyland meeting at the town hall,” said Classy.

Bright Eyes gulped down a shortbread biscuit and raced off to the town hall. She entered the big marble building and sat down along with the other members, who were mostly adults. After a long chat about the state of Ponyland, Bright Eyes felt proud of herself for bringing up important points.

After the meeting, the Clean Up Ponyland members trouped outside to do what the club name stated– clean up Ponyland. Bright Eyes and five other ponies were assigned to the small stream that led off the river, so they began picking up litter as soon as they arrived. Bright Eyes was amazed at how much rubbish she found and made a mental note to tell her friends to be careful about the amount of garbage they threw on the ground.

At dark, Bright Eyes hauled her bag of scraps to the big bin outside the Town Hall and washed her hooves. She wiped her forehead and trudged home through the snow.

“How was the meeting?” asked Classy as Bright Eyes collapsed on the couch with her homework.

“Fine,” she said, ruling up a line in her Maths book.

Classy carried out his daughter’s dinner on a tray. “Can you stop your homework for a minute?” he asked.

“No, not really. I’ve got tonnes to do,” Bright Eyes told him.

Classy placed the tray down next to Bright Eyes. “Make sure you eat your dinner,” he instructed.

Bright Eyes couldn’t resist. Spaghetti bolognaise was her favourite. Bright Eyes stayed up late again doing homework. Usually she was the quickest one in the class to finish Maths and English, even Science and Social Studies, but tonight she couldn’t concentrate. Finally, her homework was finished at 10:00. Noises rushed through her head. Classy’s radio blaring old songs, a cat mewing in the street... a cat mewing in the street?

Bright Eyes grabbed her parker, a fish, and a torch and stepped out into the freezing cold snow. “Brrrrr,” she shut her eyes and shivered as a cold blast of air whipped around her, tugging at her mane and dropping snowflakes over her. “Here, kitty,” she called, holding out the silver fish that glinted in the moonlight. Sure enough, she heard a mew, now closer than before. She saw a metre or two away a pair of deep, amber eyes that would practically melt butter.

Cautiously, the cat stalked forward and took the fish from the pony. Bright Eyes scooped it up and brought it inside, closing the door behind her. Now that she could see the cat in proper light, Bright Eyes was horrified. It was only a kitten– a girl, too– but frightfully thin. The pony ran her hoof over its fur and felt its ribs sticking out. The fur needed work, too. It was black, greasy, and matted, probably with fleas. Its whiskers were bent and there was a cut on its front leg. The cat also had a pretty bad stench, thought Bright Eyes. In fact, the only part of the cat that was beautiful was its big eyes. They looked like yellow pools of water.

“Dad! Come and see what I’ve found!” cried Bright Eyes. Classy hurried down the stairs and gasped at the furball Bright Eyes was holding.

“That’s your full responsibility and the only thing it will have to do with me, is that I’ll have to find its owner,” said Classy. Her dad really didn’t like cats. She didn’t understand why.

***And there you have it! Just remember to come back next month to learn the fate of Bright Eyes’ pussycat! And while you’re waiting, why not drop the author a line, hmm??? Yes, you can do it ALL at this ONE address!!***


***Sob!!! There’s to be no story from Starre! I’ll have to wait ANOTHER MONTH to read more about Ella’s love triangle! Oh, it’s terrible!***

A Letter of Apology
from Starre (

Hello, Starre here. Well, I haven’t a story for you this month *ducks the loads of tar and feathers slung at her* However, I’m thinking maybe I’ll have two stories next month to make up for it. One will be tracking Arthur’s reaction to Ella’s dumping him from that day before Christmas to the present– as there’s been some interest in having that resolved. And then I’ll have a regular story from Ella’s view-point. Once again, I’m really, really, really, really sorry :( And if you wish to sling tar and feathers at me you may do so at

***OR you can sling tar and feathers at her from this handy location!! Okay, okay, just kidding, Starre! But you can send her comments, anyway!***


***Last month’s teaser trailer from Barnacle had you all eagerly awaiting more about the Xtreme Ponies, right?? Well, since I want him to keep writing, I shan’t scare you off with my incessant rambling, and let you get right to the story! See you at the finish!***

Enter: the ESL
by Barnacle (

The roar of the crowd was deafening. It rattled the stadium and shook the very concrete of the entrance tunnel. A gray pony with dingy green hair stood just within the shadows, amazed that all of it was really happening. Not all that long ago, Cliff and his Xtreme Ponies were nothing more than a group of like-minded thrill seekers. They traveled anywhere the road took them, looking for ever bigger thrills and greater excitement.

When they decided to try out at the competition that was recruiting teams for a new Extreme Sports League, the team had no idea they would end up going this far. At most, they had hoped for a little fun and a chance to try out their skills against their peers. To their surprise, they actually passed that first round of scouting and every one since. Now it was the first competition of the ESL and the Xtreme Ponies were there.

All those ponies were cheering for him and his team...

“The Xtreeeeeeeme Team!!!” Vic’s loud baritone echoed around the stadium, amplified beyond even its natural limits. Cliff was so caught up in the moment that he didn’t realize what that announcement meant.

“Cliff?” Luge set her hoof on his shoulder, and that was enough to rouse him from his mental wanderings. “That’s our cue.”

“Yeah, I know.” Cliff donned his helmet and turned halfway around to face his five comrades. “Are we ready for this?” He got a hardy cheer in reply. “Then let’s get to it!”

With that, he tossed his skateboard to the ground; and in one smooth practiced motion, propelled himself down the stadium tunnel and out into the light. The incline accelerated him forward and then up over the ramp. The pony executed a perfect three hundred and sixty degree turn in midair before coming back to earth and accelerating into the next bend. The rush of adrenaline was pounding through his veins. This was the kind of thrill he lived for!

But it was no time to stop and revel in the moment; Luge was following a split second behind him, mirroring his every stunt. And behind her Mogul, Blade, Bungee, and Jet were lined up doing the same. They had to pull this off without a hitch. If one of them messed up even the tiniest bit, they would all go down. There was no time for mistakes now. Practice was over; this was the real thing!

Cliff came shooting out of the last turn, a wickedly sharp switchback, and dismounted his board as he came jogging to a halt. Just like the rest of the stunt, Luge followed him in exactly and took a position immediately to his right. The others came in just the same and filled in the line with well-practiced precision.

Or, almost all of them did. Jet, who was trailing the formation, came off the turn a little too sharply and fell from his skate board. The hyperactive pony, however, simply rolled with the fall and came to a kneeling stop right at the end of the line with his arms raised in a triumphant gesture. The crowd’s cheers rose to even higher levels.

It was only now, after they had a chance to stop and take it all in, did they even notice the crowd again. When they were in the midst of the action, everything on the outside was secondary. Now they were blown away, being right at the center of everyone’s adulation.

Vic, the ESL’s loud-mouthed announcer, came trotting over to the six of them in his slick trade-mark black suit screaming into the microphone. “Yes! Give it up for the Xtreme Team!” he prodded the audience on. “Allow me to introduce their fearless leader, Cliff!”

The gray and green pony tossed both his forelegs into the air and gave the crowd a wave.

“Next we have the lovely and equally talented Luge!”

Luge greeted the cheers with a modest wave of her hoof.

“And let’s not forget about Mogul (he said he’d break my leg if I did)!”

Mogul just stared, too dumbstruck to do much of anything. Wide-eyed, he managed to raise one hoof to waggle at the crowd.


The shy, rose-colored mare blushed as she tried to look comfortable with all the attention.

“And Bungee!”

The garish mare looked around with a wide-eyed expression and an even broader grin. “Cool,” she muttered as she tossed her dread locks and gave a wave of her own to the fans.

“And finally, Jet!”

The last member of the team flew to his hooves and jumped into the air, howling excitedly right back at the spectators.

“Yes folks, this is: the Xtreeeeeme Team!” Vic spun off in a flurry of motion back towards the center of the elaborate, multi-tiered stage. Constructed right in the center of the modest-sized stadium, it provided all the spectators with a clear view of not only the Xtreme Team standing on top of it, but also what was coming next. “Are you ready!?” Vic screamed at all the ponies in the stands. “Are you rrrrready!? Well, then let’s hear it for: the X-Crewwwww!”

From one of the other tunnels emerged another group of six ponies. This X-Crew launched themselves into the same obstacle course that the Xtreme Team had just completed, but each member of the team broke off from the formation and crisscrossed their way through the maze in a series of death-defying jumps and near collisions. When they had finished, they too formed a perfectly choreographed line on the other side of the stage from the first group.

“I knew we shoulda done that,” Mogul whispered to Luge as the fans now cheered for the X-Crew.

“Quiet,” Luge replied and gave him an elbow in the ribs. “I want to catch their names.”

Again, introductions went down the line; and in no time at all, the names of X, Dragon, Alex, Max, Smiley, and Outré were now known to the howling masses.

Finally, Vic announced the third and final team. “The Blaaaade Runnners!” Just as before, their team came barreling out of the tunnel and ran through the course with as much excitement and energy as they could muster. Once they were all positioned on the third platform of the stage, Vic quickly went through their roster and presented the spectators with Nikita, Trajan, Gryphon, Valentina, Kadin, and Mehira.

Though the crowd’s attention turned from them, the Xtreme Team was more charged than ever. Competition pushed one to achieve great things and they were ready to compete...

Next on the itinerary was a chance for the three teams to show off some of their skills to the crowd. One at a time, each team would perform a longer and more elaborate version of their entrance routines, except this time the order was reversed so that the Blade Runners started off. As Vic narrated for the crowd, the other two teams quietly ducked off the stage and back into the locker room.

“That was intense!” Mogul shouted as they walked down the ramp. They were all pumped from their first taste of show biz, but the others where maintaining a bit more composure.

“Dude!” Jet agreed. “I mean, like, dude!”

“I was pretty cool,” Bungee added in her own patented, spaced-out way.

“I hope it’s not like that every time,” Blade said meekly. “I was actually a little scared by all that screaming.”

Mogul was still overly excited and spun around. “No! That was awesome! I bet they’ll be even more wild once they see us get out there and show ‘em what we can do!”

Luge set a reassuring hoof on Blade’s shoulder and said, “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure you’ll get used to it in no time.”

“I hope so.”

“Hey, ponies, let’s not lose focus here,” Cliff suddenly spoke up.

“Dude! I am focused! I am like so totally focused!” Mogul shot back.

“Dude,” Jet agreed and traded a high-five with Mogul.

Cliff gave an imperceptible shake of the head before continuing. “Mogul, take it back a notch. I know you’re pumped– we all are– but let’s not get too crazy so that we make mistakes.”

Mogul took a deep breath and nodded agreement. “Right, boss-man. No time for mistakes.” Though he was trying hard to keep his emotions in check, the young pony was still seething just under the surface. A competitive attitude was a necessity in this competition, but too much was just going to get in the way of what needed to be done.

“And let’s not choke out there, either,” Cliff added and subtly turned his gaze to Blade, who was still looking a bit frazzled. “Just ignore the crowd and do what we do best, right?”

Blade nodded, even if she didn’t look like she agreed with him.

“Exactly,” Luge said. “We know what we can do. We know we can win this. We just have to stay focused like Cliff said and do what we have to do!” That got a cheer of confidence from all six of the Xtreme Team, Blade included.

As the Xtreme Ponies had been talking, the X-Crew had made their way across the locker room and were now gathered in a cluster next to them. Their leader, a lean stallion with a grayish-purple body, green hair streaked with orange, and a vicious grin, moved up alongside Luge.

“You can stay focused all you want, but the only way you’ll end up on the winning team is to switch sides, babe.”

Luge pushed away from the sleazy-looking pony and took up a defensive stance. “I’m afraid we haven’t been introduced yet. Just who are you supposed to be?”

The other pony’s grin widened and he leaned in close as he said, “I’m the leader of the X-Crew. Name’s X. That’s X, as in eXtremely talented, and eXtremely skilled, and eXtremely handsome.”

That got a collective sneer from his teammates and a rolling of the eyes from most of the Xtreme Team. Most, that is, except for Mogul who pushed inbetween Luge and X saying, “You mean X, as in FORMERLY talented, FORMERLY skilled, and FORMERLY handsome.” Mogul, who looked quite pleased with himself, chuckled as Jet slapped him five again.

X, on the other hoof, looked furious and leaned right into Mogul’s face, “Was that supposed to be funny or something?”

“No, it wasn’t funny,” Mogul said as he countered X with a deadly serious look. “It was friggin’ hilarious.”

“Really? Because I’m not laughing...” X leaned even farther forward so that his and Mogul’s noses nearly touched. All of his teammates in the X-Crew were readying themselves for a fight, and the Xtreme Team was picking up on everyone’s change in demeanor as well.

Cliff saw where this little conversation was headed right away and knew that something had to be done. Wedging himself between X and Mogul, Cliff pushed the two apart and held both of them at leg’s length. Luge put a hoof on one of Mogul’s shoulders while Jet got ready to hold him back on the other side.

“And who’s this supposed to be?” X asked, the contempt thick in his voice. Despite the small distance that was suddenly forced between them, they both kept their eyes locked on the others. “Your daddy come to keep you from getting into fights?”

Before Mogul could answer, Cliff spoke-up in a determined and unwavering tone. “I’m the leader of the Xtreme Team. My name’s Cliff, as in me.”

X shifted his gaze down, and upon seeing the determined look in Cliff’s eyes, relaxed his stance and took a step back into his own team’s cluster. Though he was withdrawing, his mannerisms were just as haughty and arrogant as before. The smile quickly returned to his lips. “So you want to fight? Is that it?” he said with an air of cockiness. “I’m game. We all are.” The rest of the X-Crew smiled and a few of them smacked their fists in anticipation.

“I think you’re the only one looking for a fight,” Cliff replied. “We came here to compete.”

“Dude, we’ll whip your tails out on the course,” Jet cried flippantly. “We don’t need to do it back here, too!”

Luge turned to him and gave a silent, petrifying gaze that was just as effective, if not more so, than any verbal scolding would have been. Jet shut his mouth instantly and allowed Cliff to continue.

“He’s right; if you want to fight, it happens out there.”

X narrowed his eyes and was just about to launch into a tirade of his own when a shrill call from the other end of the locker room drew everyone’s attention. A light gray pony with bright yellow hair arranged in a smart-looking executive style had just entered the room. Holding a clipboard in one hoof while she adjusted her glasses with the other, she stepped to the side of the door, allowing her companion a more dramatic entrance.

He was a young pony himself, not much older than the members of the Xtreme Team or the X-Crew; but the way he carried himself forced those he met to treat him with the respect of one much older. He had a body of jet black that contrasted vividly with his cobalt blue hair. He checked his watch as he strode across the room toward the two teams of athletes. The other pony with the clipboard fell in behind him.

“What’s going on here?” he demanded, stopping just short of Cliff and X.

“Just having a little conversation, Mr. Yanus,” X said, as though that is all it had been.

“Yeah,” Cliff agreed, though with a bit of reserve. “We were just getting to know each other.”

Mr. Yanus was the chief executive in charge of the entire Extreme Sports League. Everyone there had met him before today, but only briefly. He had seemed like a strict and demanding business pony then, and that first impression was only reinforced now. He eyed each of the team leaders for long, antagonizing seconds without saying a word. Even the tough-as-nails X was beginning to twitch by the time he finally spoke.

“Stop fooling around,” he said to X. “The X-Crew is up. Now get out there and entertain those fans.”

X sneered at Yanus but still turned and headed up the tunnel. “Come on, X-Crew, let’s dazzle these ponies.” Bumping into Cliff as he passed him, he stopped for a moment and muttered, “This ain’t over yet.” The rest of the X-Crew shot equally venomous glares at the Xtreme Team as they passed and went out into the stadium.

The Xtreme Ponies let out a collective sigh of relief as the other team passed out of sight. The tension quickly returned, however, when they realized Mr. Yanus was still eyeing them disapprovingly. If it wasn’t for the echoing cheers of the crowd above filtering through the concrete, one probably could have heard the scribbling of Yanus’s assistant on her notepad.

Feeling that something had to be said, Cliff stepped forward. “I’d really like to apologize for that, Mr. Yanus. We let them goad us into a confrontation, and that kind of thing has no place here.”

“You’re absolutely right that it has no place here,” Yanus barked. “And if I find out that this ever happens again, I can guarantee that your team is out of here.”

“But they started it!” Mogul protested. Luge and Jet tightened their grip on his shoulders just in case.

“I don’t care,” Yanus replied as he gave Mogul a fierce look that instantly cooled the hot- headed pony. “We’re here to make this ESL into a profitable venue, and I am determined to see that that happens. The corporation that financed this whole operation is expecting it to fail, and I will not hesitate for one second to remove all of you if any one of you threatens to let that happen.”

As he was going on about that, a cell phone rang out, which Mr. Yanus’s assistant promptly answered. He probably would have continued with his lecture if she hadn’t whispered something in his ear and handed the phone to him. He gave them all a stern look before he turned away and began speaking into the phone as he headed back for the door. His assistant quickly jotted something down on her clipboard before following him out.

“What was that about?” Bungee asked.

“Yeah!” Mogul said as he turned to Cliff. “We get blamed for something that they started?”

“I don’t know if this was such a good idea after all,” Blade muttered from the back.

“Now, hold on, all of you,” Cliff waved his forelegs to quiet his team. “Look, it’s the first day at this for all of us, including Mr. Yanus there. He’s probably got a million things that he has to deal with right now, and he’s just getting a little on edge. After we’re finished today, I’m sure he’ll be a completely different pony.”

“Until the next show, anyway,” Mogul muttered under his breath.

“We’re all a little high strung now,” Luge added. “We need to get a grip on things.” They all nodded and grumbled agreement.

“So, as I was saying before,” Cliff said, “focus on the task at hoof and we can’t loose.”

And then Jet spoke up to add, “Besides, once Mr. Yanus see us at our best, there’s no way he’ll be able to get rid of us.”

That received a decent laugh from the Xtreme Team as their spirits began to pick up once more. But, just then, a loud commotion was heard from the other tunnel as the Blade Runners returned from their performance. The six ponies from the other team were all laughs and high spirits as they can into sight. The Xtreme Team looked on in silence.

“I suppose they’ll want to fight, too,” Blade said meekly.

Cliff turned to her with a look of reproval, but Bungee suddenly jumped forward and said cheerfully, “Let’s find out.”

“Bungee...” Cliff managed to snatch her foreleg before she made it very far, but the Blade Runners had already caught sight of her; and now both teams were looking uncomfortably at each other. The silence dragged on for quite some time before one of the Blade Runners threw down the towel he had just used on his face and stepped over to Bungee.

Cliff was expecting the worst and was readying himself for it, but he was instead overcome with relief when the other pony held out his hoof and said, “Hi, I’m Kadin; you guys must be the Xtreme Team.”

“Actually, I’m Bungee,” Bungee replied gingerly.

“Well, it’s a pleasure to met you, Bungee,” Kadin replied as he shook her hoof. By this point, the other members of the Blade Runners had come over and were beginning to introduce themselves as well. Their leader, a mare, stepped forward and handled all the introductions for the team.

“I’m Nikita,” she said. “And you’re Cliff, if I caught your name right out there.”

Cliff chuckled. “I don’t know how you could have caught anything out there with all the screaming; but yeah, I’m Cliff.”

A short but well-muscled stallion slipped up beside her. “So you’re the leader of this bunch?” he asked good-naturedly. “I hope we get to see what you guys are made of out there today.”

“I think you’ll see.”

“This is Trajan,” Nikita said to introduce the stallion. “Then we have Valentina,” Nikita gestured to the large mare that towered over even Mogul, and followed that with a slight nod of the head. “Mehira.”

The thin mare with the long tight braids gave a jerky turn of the head and quickly shot off a wave saying, “Nicetomeetyouall.”

“The one in the back is Gryphon,” Nikita said. “He might be a tad rough around the edges, but he’s a good guy once you get to know him.”

The indicated stallion had his back turned to them and only faced them halfway when Nikita called his name. “First, you earn my respect; then, maybe, we’ll talk,” was his only reply.

“And, of course, Kadin,” Nikita finished. The beige pony was still shaking Bungee’s hoof and smiling warmly.

Seeming to ignore the others in the room, he declared, “You know, I think I’ve just come up with a new song looking into those beautiful eyes of yours.”

“Yeah,” Bungee giggled. “They’re green.”

“You’ll have to excuse Kadin,” Nikita said. “He’s our resident poet.”

“And songwriter; don’t forget songwriter,” Kadin said as he snapped out of his trance.

“Well, if you all have as good a memory as Nikita, I’ll sound like an idiot, but...” Cliff was saying when Mogul gave him a friendly jab to the ribs and grinned.

“But you sound like one all the time anyway; so who cares, right?”

Cliff continued on anyway. “...but on my side I have Luge, Jet, Blade, Bungee ... and Mogul.”

“Hi,” Bungee said with a vigorous wave.

“Nice to finally get to meet you guys,” Trajan said. “I heard a lot of good stuff about your group during the recruiting drive. I’m really looking forward to going head-to-head with you during the actual match today.”

“And the X-Crew, too,” Valentina added. “I’ve heard that they like to play dirty.”

“If what we just saw in here was any indication, I think that’s a good bet.”

“Good,” Valentina beat her fist into her hoof. “I’d like to put them into their place.”

Jet laughed. “Dude, let me know when you do, so I can watch!”

“Personally, I’d stay away from them if you don’t want Yanus to kick your team off the tour,” Luge said.

Nikita looked a bit puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“Just that we had a little confrontation with the big boss-man and he seemed a bit ticked off about something,” Cliff said. “But I think it would be sound advice to just stay out of their way.”

“Thanks,” Nikita said. “We’ll... keep that in mind. But right now I think you guys better get moving if you don’t want to miss your cue.”

“Oh, right, thanks,” Cliff said and then turned to his team. “Let’s get moving, guys.” A quick series of cries of good luck from the Blade Runners, and the Xtreme Team was moving up the tunnel and into position for their moment in the spotlight.

At the top of the ramp was a small shelter of sorts where they were to wait until it was their turn to go out and dazzle the crowd with their stunts. From this vantage point, the cheering was even louder; but at least the shelter was positioned so that the team wasn’t under the spectator’s gaze just yet. Just two stage hands were here; and as one handed them the gear they would need, the other just looked out at the X-Crew as they finished their own display. As the Xtreme Team quickly strapped on the gear and checked everything, the other pony turned around. It was then that Cliff realized that he wasn’t a stagehand at all.

He was wearing a western hat and a coarse poncho with vivid geometric patterns woven into it. From his yellow coat to his blue mane and the piece of straw that he held in his teeth, he looked like the sort of pony who was used to living a very rough life.

“Hey, who are you?” Cliff asked. “Are you supposed to be here?”

He took a step closer and said, “My name’s Shard, and I can be wherever I want to be.”

“Uh-huh.” Shard was speaking so quietly that Cliff had to step closer just to hear his words over the roar of the crowd. As it was, it looked like none of the others were even paying him any mind. “What are you doing?” Cliff asked him.

“I just came to wish you luck,” Shard said, but the tone of his voice and the squint in his eyes suggested that was not all he had come there for.

“Well, um, thanks,” Cliff said as he quickly finished with his gear and turned back to his teammates who were ready, as well.

“One more thing,” Shard added, coming right up behind Cliff. “Watch out for those X-Crew punks; they’re Mr. Yanus’s pet team. This whole shindig is rigged so that they come out on top. We’ll talk more later.”

“What are you talking...” Cliff spun to face the stranger but he was already gone. What was he talking about? Mr. Yanus was definitely not the nicest pony he had ever met, but would he do something like fix the outcome of the show? Still, he had been awfully lenient on the X-Crew down in the locker room.

“Cliff?” Luge shouted over the crowd. “Who was that?”

“I... I don’t know,” Cliff replied. “Just some nut case, I guess.”

And that’s who he must have been. How crazy was it to listen to nonsense like that? Just some nut case who managed to sneak backstage and was trying to mess with their heads. That’s all he was.

“And now, the ESL presents: THE XTREME TEAM!!!” Vic’s voice rang out through the stadium.

“Okay, ponies, go go go!” Cliff shouted. One by one they shot out of the ramp and into the chaos of the ESL. They carried off every one of their stunts with machine-like precision; but still, Shard’s warning nibbled away at the back of Cliff’s mind. Something about what he had said just stuck with him so that he couldn’t push it away.

Afterwards, the team had a short time to get ready for the main event, an intense head-to-head downhill snowboard relay race. They had not been told the particulars of the event until now. There were three legs to the race which meant that only half of each team would be able to participate. This caused a small amount of disagreement over who would end up doing the run among all three teams.

As team leader, it fell on Cliff to make the difficult decision for the Xtreme Team. Mogul would go first as this part of the course would be the most challenging, and Mogul was by far their most experienced snowboarder. Next, Luge would have the spotlight through the obstacle course portion of the run while Blade was given the responsibility of the last leg.

They all deferred to Cliff’s judgement and tempers quickly dissipated. The high spirts they had had just a moment before returned in full force. As they carried on with a bit of horse play, Cliff was beside himself. Though the previous demonstration had gone off without any problems, he was still somewhat dismayed by Shard’s warning.

“Something wrong?” Luge asked. The others in the background were joking around as they threw on their cold weather gear. Cliff couldn’t even begin to realize how Luge had managed to notice his distress amidst all of the chaos.

He paused for a moment to compose his thoughts before answering with a very honest reply. “I don’t know.”

Luge’s eyebrows raised, but she said nothing.

“Remember that guy you asked me about right before we went out?”

Luge nodded.

“He said that the X-Crew had this competition rigged or something.”

Luge let out a laugh. “And you believed him?”

“No, of course not,” Cliff replied. “There was just something strange about it.”

Luge chuckled again, but less convincingly this time. “Come on, Cliff; you know how crazy that sounds, right?” Though she had started out with a desire to cheer-up Cliff, his own misgivings were now rubbing off on her. It wasn’t so much the fact that she believed this strange pony, but simply the fact that Cliff was shaken; that gave her reason to be concerned.

“Yeah, crazy,” Cliff agreed.

“Or, maybe not...” Luge’s gaze suddenly fixed on something just over Cliff’s shoulder. He glanced back casually enough, but the sight of Shard standing in the corner caused him to spin around.

“You again!” Cliff strode over to him with Luge right behind. “What’s going on here? What kind of game are you playing!?”

“No games,” Shard said in his raspy whisper, peering just under the rim of his hat. “Simply a bit of advice for you and your friends.”

“Yeah, yeah. The X-Crew is cheating; you told me this before,” Cliff broke in. “They may be jerks, but that doesn’t give me any reason to believe that they are cheating. In fact, the way you’re here lurking around in the shadows and everything gives me more reason to think you might be the one up to no good!”

“Understandable,” Shard replied, not at all frayed by Cliff’s outburst, “but it doesn’t change the facts.”

“Which are?” Luge inquired.

“This next track is rigged. Two hundred yards before the finish line is a dead-fall trap. Stay to the left of the trail and you’re fine. Wander a little too far to the right and... well, there go your chances of winning.”

Both of the younger ponies were shocked. Luge was the first to speak. “What’s a dead-fall?”

“A covered pit,” Cliff said hastily and then addressed Shard. “So, let’s assume for a minute that this pit really exists. How do you know about it?”

“I know all kinds of things.”

“Then why are you telling us about it?”

Shard raised the brim of his hat a fraction of an inch and the faintest hint of a smile appeared on his lips. “I don’t like cheaters. Now that your two teams are on even terms again, we’ll see who takes the victory.”

As Shard turned away from the two athletes and headed for the door, Cliff cried after him, “And just why should we trust you?”

Shard gave a dismissive wave of his hoof without even turning around. “Hey, kid, do whatever you want. I did my part, now it’s up to you.” With that, the stranger was gone.

“See what I was talkin’ about?” Cliff asked.

“Yeah. That guy is wacked,” Luge said. “What are you gonna do?”

“Give me a minute.”

“Love to; can’t,” Luge pointed to the exit where the helicopter that would take them to the top of the mountain was almost ready to take off. The Blade Runners had already filed on, and the other members of the Xtreme Team where ready to head out as well.

“Sometimes I hate being Team Leader,” Cliff said with a sigh. “Come on.”

The others were fully equipped and ready to go; they were simply waiting for Cliff and Luge. Cliff had to scream to make himself heard over the reverberations from the spinning blades of the helicopter. The percussive movement of air drowned out all other sounds inside the concrete locker room.

“Slight change of plans, guys!” Cliff said after he got them all into a small huddle. “Blade, sorry, but I’m gonna have to take the last leg.”


“I’ll explain later,” Cliff said. “Everyone on the chopper.”

“Dude!” Jet exclaimed as they filed outside. “I’ve never been on a helicopter before!”

“Me either,” Blade relied; just looking at the spinning blades overhead made her feel a little uneasy. “Maybe it’s a good thing that Cliff’s doing the last run...”

“Don’t worry about a thing!” Mogul shouted as one of the pilots helped them on board. “These things are awesome!”

“If you say so...”

The Blade Runners were already seated and buckled-in in the second row of seats from the front. Nikita gave Cliff a thumbs-up as he climbed aboard. A part of him wanted to tell her team about the possible trap; however, at this point, he didn’t have any proof that it even existed. Probably better that they don’t know about it at all. After all, just knowing about the possible trap ahead was enough to make him start second guessing his every move. Looking up from his seat belt, Cliff had the misfortune of seeing X flop down in the seat directly across from him. The X-Crew’s leader gave Cliff a sinister grin as he drew his hoof across his throat.

“Wonderful,” Cliff muttered with a roll of his eyes.

In a swirl of debris, the helicopter rose up from the ground and rocketed up the mountain, leaving the screaming fans behind. No time was left for arguments amongst the teams as the pilots kept the flight interesting by skimming the tops of the trees and making plenty of sudden turns. Whenever the vehicle made sure a maneuver, the passengers were treated to an aerial view of the ground from a perpendicular angle. Their seat belts were the only thing that kept them from tumbling out of the open side doors. The rotors threw up a great deal of snow from the ground which created a sort of mini blizzard in their wake. For those who had never flown before, any reservations they might have had quickly melted away to be replaced by sheer excitement. Once the tree line was cleared, only desolate slopes of pristine white lay before them.

One of the directors from the front row signaled the first group to get ready. With a howl of excitement that was barely audible over the roar of the engines, Mogul double-checked his helmet and secured his snowboard for his impending chance to shine. Just a bit further and the game would begin.

The very peak of the mountain could now be seen; and in just a few short moments, the helicopter had come to a stop directly over it. From the two open doors on the sides, the vastness of nature could be seen stretching away below. Several other helicopters were already on the scene with daring cameramen hanging out to get the best shots possible. A few more were strapping into snowboards and skis themselves so as to follow the athletes from the ground. It was all so much to take in, but Mogul didn’t miss a mark when the signal was finally given.

Three ponies launched themselves out of the perfectly good helicopter and came crashing down to the mountain in huge plumes of powder. This flung up a barrier of sorts for the others watching from the helicopter which took a moment to clear. When it did, they could plainly see Mogul, Smiley, and Gryphon already racing down the side of the mountain. The three of them were neck-and-neck, with several of the camera crew in close pursuit. While the ones who were left behind would have enjoyed to stay and watch from above, it was no time for standing still. Their helicopter turned and dropped suddenly down the mountain side. Though it was unlikely they would have heard, the athletes riding in back gave a loud shout of encouragement to their teammates on the ground as they passed overhead. The helicopter rocketed straight past them and down to the first check point.

This was little more than a shack placed near the top of an old ski lift. The thick forest of pine trees that would form the main obstacle for this leg of the race was just beginning at this elevation. A great many more of the production staff had already set up here long ago, so the teams were expected. Luge, Dragon, and Trajan quickly disembarked when given the signal. With heads ducked, they rushed away from the hovering helicopter to wait for their teammates to arrive. As soon as they were out the door, the helicopter lifted skyward again and headed for the final checkpoint.

In the thickest part of the forest, the helicopter slowed and began its descent. Cliff scanned the area quickly before they passed below the tree tops. He saw several trails that had been cut through the vegetation; one of them led in a generally straight line toward the finish line. This he was just barely able to make out a bit farther down the slope as it was marked with a gigantic inflatable arch and countless clumps of tethered balloons blowing in the breeze.

As the helicopter’s wheels just barely brushed the ground, Cliff, X, and Nikita all jumped out and headed for the shack that marked this check point. Jet clapped Cliff on the shoulder as he hopped down and shouted a cry of “Good luck!”

Cliff turned and, with a broad smile, gave his three friends a thumbs up. He stood for a moment and watched them rise back into the air as the helicopter took them down to the finish line to await the outcome. The ground felt a bit more firm beneath Cliff’s hooves than it had before the ride on the helicopter. With a bit of experimentation, he hobbled after the others who were apparently feeling the same sensation. By the time they made it to the shack, their limbs seemed to be working normally once more.

More of the production staff was here, as well, and they had a great deal of complicated equipment set up all over the place. Cliff and the other two athletes hardly noticed as several cameras zoomed in for close-up reaction shots of the Team Leaders as they gathered around a small monitor to watch how the rest of the race was going. The tiny television showed the image of Mogul and Smiley skidding to a halt at the first checkpoint just as Luge and Dragon pushed off. Gryphon followed mere seconds behind with Trajan launching himself down the slope with feverish determination.

The image suddenly changed as a technician somewhere transferred to one of the mobile camera operator’s views. Nikita, with her hooves clenched into fists, quietly cheered Trajan on. The Blade Runner’s man seemed to be doing quite well and was beginning to make up some of the time they had lost. Meanwhile, Luge was expertly dodging around the multitude of trees that were always in her path. Dragon could be seen alongside her, matching her nearly move for move. Suddenly, the X-Crew’s player swooped across directly at Luge.

Luge noticed in time and was able to dodge, but Dragon followed her, driving both of them off-course. Beside Cliff, X smiled like a maniac with his eyes glued to the screen.

“Yeah! Run her off the mountain!” he muttered excitedly.

Cliff would have liked nothing more than to punch him out at that very moment, but he instead turned his attention back to the screen.

Dragon continued to cut in on Luge, but the nimble Xtreme Team mare managed to evade both her opponent and the oncoming trees. Still, the constant weaving and zigzagging was slowing them down and Trajan had managed to not only make up for lost time but also to overtake the two mares. Luge saw this right away but Dragon seemed more concerned with delaying her opponent than staying in the lead.

Cliff couldn’t help but wonder that if the X-Crew really did have the course trapped, then they wouldn’t need to stay in the lead throughout the entire race. Maybe there was something to Shard’s warning after all.

Dragon’s antics kept up for a little while longer, but eventually she seemed to give up and turn her attention back towards getting out ahead of the others. Luge, too, threw herself into it once more, but it was just at that point that Nikita, X, and Cliff were quickly ushered away from the screen and into their starting gates. They secured their boards to their hooves and then double- checked the bindings. There would be no room for error at this point in the game.

Cliff’s heart was racing. A short padded bar directly before him ensured that he did not start before his time. The moment that Luge made it to their location, the bar would snap out of his way and he would be off. But until then, all he could do was wait. To make matters worse, he couldn’t quite turn around to see the approaching snowboarders. And that, combined with the adrenaline coursing through his veins and the waiting, was more nerve-racking than any stunt or sport he had ever taken part in.

X was in the gate right beside Cliff and, as those long seconds drew on and on, the cocky stallion turned around to face Cliff and asked, “Hey, you’re not gonna cry when you loose this thing, are ya?”

Though he was trying to sound confident, Cliff could hear the nervousness in X’s voice. Cliff just smiled and replied with slightly more believable cockiness, “Just so long as you don’t start bawlin’ on the way down. Seriously, dude, do you need like a hankie or something?”

X’s expression twisted into a scowl and he turned back around. Just then, one of the stage hands tapped Cliff on the shoulder and said something about thirty seconds. He hadn’t quite caught the entire statement but he was hoping it was the time until Luge arrived. He noticed that Nikita and X were receiving similar signals.

Looks like the thing is still pretty close, Cliff thought.

Suddenly a hoof came down just outside of his vision and began counting down from five. A second later there was a huge commotion back behind the starting gates, and he just caught sight of Nikita pushing herself out of her gate. Before his mind could even put everything into place, his gate sprang open. Instinct took over in that moment and he launched himself forward onto the glistening white snow.

On some subconscious level, Cliff was aware of X’s departure at that same instant, but in those first moments, it was the farthest thing from his mind. Cliff pointed his board straight down the mountain and tucked himself in to achieve as much speed as possible. Trees raced past on either side as he kept going faster and faster. Now, the slightest tip of the board one way or the other would send him completely out of control. Thoughts of these consequences were immediately pushed from his head as he concentrated on the task at hoof. A careful technique was needed here, and he had no room for error.

Cliff dared not take his eyes off the speeding terrain before him but out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of a flash of dark purple and gray– X. The two of them tore through a sharp turn side by side. It would have been so easy for either of them to sabotage the other at that point, but the very act of doing so would have destroyed the other’s chance of victory, as well. If one of them fell, they both would. The narrow trail though the forest continued like this for quite some distance. A few more turns brought them ever closer to the finish line.

Suddenly after one such turn, the terrain flattened out and the trail widened ever so slightly. With his speed slowing cautiously, Cliff took the opportunity to glance across at X, just as the scowling stallion ran into Cliff full force. It was all Cliff could do to keep from smashing into the right hand boundary of the trail, but he managed to recover just as X cut in once more. This time, Cliff was able to brace himself for the attack and managed to grapple with his opponent to prevent a catastrophe.

“One way or another, you’re not gonna win this,” X bit out as he tried to push Cliff over.

Cliff, in turn, counterbalanced X’s every attempt, but they were still locked hoof in hoof as they raced down the slope.

“So you’re willing to resort to cheating?” Cliff managed. “You’re even lower than I thought!” As the two continued with their high speed wresting match, they both caught sight of a bright and noisy spectacle ahead.

“The finish line!?” X cried out in near utter terror.

Summoning the last of his strength, the X-Crew’s leader threw all his weight against Cliff in an effort to force him to the right side of the trail. Cliff, however, held on; and just as they were both about to tumble over into the snow, they came to a jarring halt as they crashed into a shallow pit. A huge cloud of snow shot skyward and they both ended up tumbling end over end for quite some distance after the collision. They couldn’t see much of anything for those moments; but, if they could have, they would have seen Nikita swerve around them at the last second and shoot across the finish line.

“That’s right, folks!” Vic’s voice was heard shouting out of countless speakers. “Here in the ESL there are no such things as judges! Here, victory is determined simply by whoever crosses the finish line first! And in this case, that happens to be Nikita of the Blade Runners! Yes, the Blade Runners take it!”

The cheering of the crowd was so close now, but it was all lost on X and Cliff. For a long moment, they just lay there in the snow; but slowly, their senses returned to them. X immediately tried to get to his hooves so that he could throw himself at Cliff, but he failed to remember that his snowboard was still securely fastened to his boots. In a second, somewhat smaller, cloud of snow, X fell once more, this time face first. He angrily rolled over and began tearing at his bindings all the while cursing under his breath.

Meanwhile, Cliff had maintained a bit more composure and was calmly undoing his own bindings. From the direction of the finish line, Bungee, Blade, and Jet came running to see if they were alright. Finally ripping off the last latch, X jumped to his hooves and tossed the snowboard away. He was fully ready to launch himself at Cliff in a fit of rage, but the presence of three more Xtreme Ponies caused him to stop dead in his tracks.

“You are so dead!” X spat at Cliff.

Cliff got to his hooves with a helping hoof from Blade, and then planted his hooves firmly in the snow. “Bring it on,” he said sternly. “The way you treat this game makes me sick. Not only that, but your cheating cost both of our teams victory. I’d like nothing more than to beat you down right here.”

For a moment, X looked as though he was going to give Cliff the chance, but then backed down. Pointing a vicious hoof at the Xtreme Team, he said, “This is not over,” and then turned and strode away. His own teammates had finally shown up, but he angrily waved them off and headed straight for the locker room.

“Dude!” Jet exclaimed. “I mean like, dude, what was that all about?”

“Hmm, not much of a dead-fall,” Cliff said absentmindedly as he took a look at the pit. It was no more than a few feet deep, but that was still enough to carry out its purpose. More importantly, it was exactly where Shard had said it would be. And to add even more credence to the stranger’s warning, X seemed awfully afraid of something as they had gotten near the finish line on the wrong side of the trail.

“Hey, boss-man, what’s going on?” Bungee asked.

“Nothin’ much,” Cliff replied wearily. “But I think this whole ESL thing might have just gotten a lot more complicated.”

“I don’t think I follow…” Blade said.

“I second that,” Jet added.

“And I third,” Bungee replied.

“Come on, let’s find Mogul and Luge and I’ll fill you all in,” Cliff said as he started limping toward the milling crowd, with the others helping him along.

Next time: “Friends, Foes, and Secrets”

***Wasn’t that AWESOME?! This is gonna be a totally stylin’ series, as long as it stays a series! I’ll do my best to harass Barnacle into writing more, but you have to help out, too! Write him here:***


***Well, if anyone was interested in hearing more about Chiffon and Tribute’s relationship– hey, I know Tribute has one fan out there; she e-mailed us!– here you have it! It’s country hick-girl versus polished city-boy, so it’s sure to be a blast!***

And This is Fate!
by Sugarberry (

Grayton was a large, industrial town on the eastern coast of Ponyland; and Chiffon wished she was miles away from it by the time her day was ending. She had accompanied a friend– and fellow teacher– to the big city to help her out as she displayed her line of workbooks and study aids at a home-schooling convention that had been well attended and had kept both mares very busy for the two-day run.

With a sigh of relief that she could now escape from the hotel’s convention center to the comfortable room on the sixth floor that she and Arabella shared, Chiffon made for the exit with her forelegs full of shiny, slick-covered workbooks topped by some hardcover textbooks. She had reached the connecting lobby when she heard her voice being called from behind.

“Chiffon! Chiffon!” Arabella was gasping by the time she caught up to the blue mare with spring-green hair. “Nelly wants me to take a look at her notes for that grammar book she’s writing; could you take these to our room for me?”

Without waiting for an answer, Arabella shoved the strings to a bouquet of colorful balloons into Chiffon’s hoof and stacked a variety of pens and notepads picked up from other vendors on top of the load of books already in danger of slipping out of Chiffon’s grasp.

Not having a choice, Chiffon managed an, “Okay,” while using her chin to anchor the precariously perched items.

Arabella immediately dashed away, leaving Chiffon to make her way across the crowded lobby to the elevator doors. It was a long walk, as Chiffon was sure that more than one of the hotel patrons was following her progress and snickering at the messages that appeared on the bright balloons that swayed over her head; Arabella had a rather weird sense of humor when it came to slogans for her line of life science school materials, and Chiffon felt like a walking billboard.

Gratefully arriving at the elevator bay but finding no units available, Chiffon established that it was impossible to push the “up” button with her hooves so full of material. Looking quickly from side to side to make sure she was not being observed, she resorted to using her nose to make contact. Having succeeded in this endeavor, she found two things happening simultaneously– number one: the elevator doors opened; and number two, her load of workbooks, texts, pens, and pads suddenly shifted, spilling her entire load onto the floor and at the hooves of three ponies who were about to exit the elevator.

Chagrined, Chiffon stared at the disarray of items on the floor and therefore did not notice the apple green stallion surveying the mess in his path, then looking at Chiffon in dawning recognition.

“My, my. Look who we have here,” he drawled.

The voice was not overly familiar, but Chiffon recognized it at once. She had first– and last– heard it at Sugarberry’s house on Christmas Day, and it had grated on her nerves then as it did now. She looked up to see his laughing eyes on her and was immediately set on edge with acute embarrassment.

“Tribute! I knew my problems were caused by some evil presence,” she remarked with more nerve than she was currently feeling; she bent down to begin to reclaim her load, glad to hide her blushing face.

Ignoring the rebuff, Tribute extended his hoof to the pale pink pegasus at his side and guided her over the offending clutter littering the floor.

“The hotel should be more careful with the caliber of ponies it allows to stay here,” the pegasus, Prissy, stated loudly enough for Chiffon to hear.

“From the country, I’d say,” Tribute replied. “She lacks town polish.”

Chiffon admirably restrained herself from lashing out at this infuriating stallion who had been taken in instant dislike by Chiffon when he had walked in on her while she was enjoying some quiet time on Christmas and had treated her to his presumptuous, top-lofty manner that made it quite clear that he considered himself to be a superior specimen.

The stallion had only one redeeming factor as far as Chiffon was concerned. He had a dimple that could flash across his arrogant cheek, making him almost likeable. Chiffon chose not to remember it.

The third pony in Tribute’s group was an off-white stallion with purple hair; he ignored the comments made by his friends and set about collecting the errant pencils that had scurried to the farthest reaches available to them. By the time Chiffon had reclaimed the stack of books, the stallion had rounded up the smaller items and the aberrant balloons.

Giving the balloons into her care, the stallion observed, “There. That’s the last of it.”

“Thank you for your help,” Chiffon said, glad to be able now to flee; but as she turned to access the elevator, she found closed doors blocking her escape once again. She could not contain a disappointed groan. To further her mortification, she found that the three ponies had not moved on their way but were standing watching her as if she was a very entertaining freak show.

“One with your strong determination should be able to simply will it back,” observed Tribute.

The other stallion, however, seemed more sympathetic to Chiffon’s plight. “You were going up?” he asked.

“Yes, if you would be so kind as to signal the elevator once again.” Chiffon smiled at him sweetly while nodding toward the call buttons. There was no way she was going to take a chance of losing her grasp on her stack of books again. She then gave Tribute a cold stare, but he returned it with a grin, that tantalizing dimple showing itself briefly, making Chiffon’s heart flutter.

“While we’re waiting,” said the off-white stallion, “allow me to introduce myself. I’m Putter, this is Prissy, and I believe you’ve already met Tribute.”

Chiffon smiled at Putter, nodded at the pegasus, and glared at Tribute.

“My friends and I have some business to discuss, but we would love to have you join us for dinner in the hotel’s dining room... say in one hour?” Tribute invited condescendingly, his gaze sweeping over the tangle of stuff in her forelegs as if he expected it to clatter to the floor at any second, an event that Chiffon herself was anticipating with dread.

Struggling to keep her load in tack, Chiffon responded icily. “No, thank you. I had hoped to enjoy my meal.”

To her immense relief, the doors of the elevator finally cooperated and opened to give her the chance for a face-saving departure before anything else was said. She hurried into the elevator and pushed the “close doors” button– once again with her nose– before she could be delayed further.

She made one little mistake, however. She forgot to account for the balloons. One of the disagreeable things had not quite made it into the chamber, and Chiffon did not notice until it was too late. The doors closed, trapping the balloon outside with three smirking ponies while the string was held captive in the closure. In dismay, Chiffon watched as the string slipped through the crack as the elevator began its ascent.

“Oh, no!” she wailed as the string disappeared from sight. How humiliating! She visualized how dopey– how countrified!– she must appear to Tribute and his friends; she was sure she could hear their refined laughter rippling up the elevator shaft. She wondered which advertising slogan that particular balloon was bearing and knew intuitively that it would somehow come back to haunt her.

* * *
Tribute grinned at his companions as he plucked the errant balloon from the grip of the doors. “I’ll save this for the lady,” he explained. The balloon itself was white; and in red, dripping letters, it proclaimed, I give you... my heart. These words were accompanied by a graphic– not a frilly stylized rendering of a heart but a very unromantic and educational cut-away version of that organ.

“Who was that?” asked Putter as they turned toward the lounge.

“My brother’s... friend’s... cousin,” Tribute puzzled out. “I met her at Christmastime. You know how it is at holiday gatherings– every waif, elderly spinster, and eligible bachelor is included.”

“Well, it’s easy to see where you fit into that list, but this mare is definitely not an elderly spinster nor does she appear to be a waif.”

“She lives at home with her parents and teaches third graders in a small town. She’s a spinster.”

“I still don’t know her name.”


“Chiffon... what a beautiful name,” Putter said.

“It’s highly misleading, however. She’s not soft or fragile in the least,” alleged Tribute.

Prissy stifled a snicker. Had Tribute really missed the effect he had made on the mare?

* * *
When Tribute, Putter, and Prissy moved into the dining room at the indicated hour, there was no sign of Chiffon; nor did she show up as the trio went ahead with ordering their dinner, leisurely ate it, and dallied over their after-dinner coffee. Prissy noted that both Tribute and Putter glanced toward the doors at regular intervals and found herself unaccountably peeved by that fact.

Prissy and the two stallions were all physicians at the Grayton Hospital; they had worked together for several years now and knew each other’s idiosyncracies as well as their own. As a matter of fact, Prissy and Tribute had dated for some time, ending the personal part of their relationship over a year ago when Prissy had begun to feel stifled by Tribute’s increasing interest in her. Since that time, they had continued as friends on a professional basis only, attending this seminar at the hotel together as part of their constant effort to stay on top of the latest medical techniques.

When Tribute indicated to Putter and Prissy that they could go on without him, Prissy felt somewhat abashed. She looked at Tribute closely, finding herself feeling a jealousy that she had no right to feel. Her intuition told her that he was staying behind in the hopes that Chiffon would yet make an appearance in the dining room, and she found that occurrence a trifle unsettling. But she had no hold on Tribute and could only accept Putter’s escort to her apartment.

Not unaware of Prissy’s waffling or of Chiffon’s inner torment, Tribute sat in solitary thought, nursing a refill on his coffee that the waiter had delivered to him. A motion caught his eye, and he remembered the balloon that he had salvaged from the elevator; it was still tied to an empty chair where he had placed it. Reaching out a hoof, he touched it meditatively. Then, settling back in his chair, he prepared to wait... for what, he was not sure.

* * *
Arabella and Nelly had ended up spending the majority of the evening discussing details in Nelly’s latest attempt at textbook writing, which served Chiffon well. She had dreaded facing Tribute and his friends again in the dining room– she was sure Tribute would find some way to make her look the fool anew– so when Arabella had still not returned to their hotel room at the designated time of Tribute’s invitation, Chiffon felt herself vindicated.

When Arabella did finally show up, she had Nelly with her; and Chiffon was drawn into their scholarly discussion. It was getting quite late before any of the mares remembered that they had missed their evening meal.

When the threesome entered the nearly abandoned dining room, they failed to notice Tribute still in his silent vigil in a far corner of the room. They made themselves at home and continued their critique of Nelly’s work and of every other grammar guide they had used with their students. Their discussion was often marred by raised voices as they argued a point and giddy laughter as they conceded obvious defects. Their meal was served and savored in the midst of their constant chatter.

While the mares were so pleasurably occupied, Tribute had a confidential conversation with a waiter during which a considerable amount of jangles was exchanged

From his vantage point, Tribute watched the three mares with hooded eyes. That they were new to Grayton was obvious in their free and genial manner with the waiter and their abandon in their talk as if they were isolated in their own kitchen at home. He could hear most of what was said and found it fascinating to learn the opinions and stratagems and classroom situations being discussed by these elementary school teachers, subjects far removed from his own sterile medical knowledge.

The three had just ordered dessert and were enjoying some hot coffee when Tribute made his move. Untying the balloon, he walked across to where Chiffon sat– her startled eyes registering a sort of horror when she realized his presence– and handed her the balloon with a slight bow.

“You gave me your heart... and I give you mine.” He waved his hoof, and the waiter appeared out of nowhere with an extravagantly frosted, heart-shaped confection in red and white.

Expressing their delight, Arabella and Nelly invited the stallion to join them in their delightful repast; introductions were made and friendships cemented... but not with Chiffon. She tried to put on a happy face; but she was boiling inside, knowing that Tribute had gone to all this effort merely to embarrass her. And he had attached the offending balloon to her chair where it waved in mocking disrespect.

Chiffon, unfortunately, did not have a pin on her or she would have put the balloon in its place.

Arabella and Nelly laughed as they were told the story– by Tribute, as Chiffon was not speaking to anyone at this point– of how the balloon had gotten in Tribute’s possession. By the time the tale was finished, Arabella and Nelly had taken over the conversation. The chat became nothing more than light-hearted nonsense; but Tribute, although displaying his usual aloofness, seemed to enjoy the parley with the friendly mares, even though Chiffon refused to participate beyond what was absolutely necessary to maintain a sense of propriety in front of her friends.

It was Arabella who brought the talk to a more serious venue.

“I’ve been pondering something since you revealed that you’re a physician,” the lavender mare began. “Woodlawn is in the process of procuring another doctor for the hospital there; expansion plans have been approved, you see.” She looked hopefully at Tribute.

“Actually, I’ve heard of that enterprise,” Tribute admitted. “I have a good friend, Putter...” Here the stallion looked at Chiffon, knowing full well that she had granted that stallion a higher nobility than himself because of Putter’s assistance at the elevator fiasco; and he was about to burst that bubble for her. “...who interviewed for that position and was offered the job, but he turned it down– he said that in a town like Woodlawn, a doctor couldn’t really help his patients because they all died of boredom anyway.”

Two of the three mares found that inference amusing. Arabella and Nelly twittered while Chiffon fumed. She searched her arsenal and came back at Tribute in short order.

“You Grayton doctors have it made, what with all the pollution that’s ruining the health of the residents of your gray town; I can see why you’d be hesitant in leaving such a veritable goldmine of lung problems; quite lucrative from your standpoint, I’d guess.”

Chiffon signaled to the others that she was quite ready to end this tete-a-tete, but before leaving, Arabella informed Tribute that she and Chiffon would be leaving as soon as they had breakfasted in the morning.

Tribute quickly took advantage of that piece of information. “As Prissy and Putter and I are planning to breakfast at the hotel ourselves– we have a morning seminar to attend– I’ll look forward to seeing you then. All three of you are welcome to join us.”

No was forming on Chiffon’s lips when Arabella’s voice cut across the void. “How delightful! Until tomorrow, then!”

Chiffon mentally cut Arabella from her lifetime list of friends; but Tribute smiled, revealing that treacherous dimple.

Watching the mares cross the lobby away from him, however, the dimple was replaced by a thoughtful frown; Tribute realized that he suddenly felt very alone and unaccountably downcast. He rescued the red and white balloon from its confinement and left for home.

* * *
Back in their hotel room, Arabella was aflutter over the charming and handsome Tribute while Chiffon was depressed that she would have to face that same disagreeable stallion in the morning. As Arabella had found her own special stallion while in college, had married him, and now was the mother of two young foals, she wished the same for her friend; Tribute, she had ascertained, was a worthy candidate.

“I was so hoping that as a doctor, Tribute might have expressed some interest in Woodlawn’s needs in that department,” Arabella noted as she brushed out her hair.

Chiffon sat in chair, reading a book and chose to ignore the statement.

“Imagine the coincidence of running into him in a city of this size,” Arabella continued. “It’s almost as if it were meant to be.” She looked at Chiffon pointedly but to no avail, so she continued. “He must be interested in you to wait for you in the dining room the way he did.”

That got Chiffon’s ire up. “The only reason he showed up was to further humiliate me with that dratted balloon; the stallion doesn’t have a kind bone in his body.”

“But he has a dimple, Chiffon; and you’ve always said that if you ever did meet someone, you hoped he would have dimples.”

Taking an exasperated breath, Chiffon set down her book. “The stallion is overbearing, arrogant, egotistical, and heartless. Good night.” The mare crawled into her bed and covered her head.

Arabella desisted and sat in thoughtful silence, only a slight smile negating the fact that Chiffon had won that round.

* * *
Chiffon’s hopes that Tribute had been insincere when he had extended an invitation to the mares for breakfast was dashed when she and Arabella entered the dining room the next morning, Nelly having backed out in an effort to get an earlier start for her home. All Chiffon’s arguments to Arabella that they do the same were ignored, Arabella maintaining that she was starving and would collapse en route if she did not fortify herself; and besides, she asserted, Tribute would be paying for it.

In more ways than one, if Chiffon had anything to say about it.

Their arrival was met with warm greetings from Putter, a brief acknowledgment from Prissy, and a polite good-morning from Tribute. Putter’s ministrations put Arabella next to Tribute (Prissy was on his other side) and Chiffon next to Prissy, leaving himself sandwiched between the two visitors to Grayton.

Being in no mood to be overly gracious toward any of the three local ponies, Chiffon was polite but nearly mute. Arabella frowned at her, but flashed her lovely smile to the others and began a fast-moving volley of questions as to points of interest in Grayton and the positive aspects of the booming municipality.

Putter took advantage of the dialogue between Arabella, Tribute, and Prissy to hoard Chiffon’s attention for himself.

“I’d be delighted to show you and your friend around Grayton,” he offered with a winning smile. He was willing to miss the seminar if it meant accompanying this lovely mare around the city.

As this stallion had demeaned her town, however, Chiffon was in no mood to favor him. “We’re leaving for home immediately after breakfast,” she responded with barely a glance at him. She obviously found her scrambled eggs much more interesting than a practiced flirt.

This attitude was one the stallion was not used to encountering. He took a swallow of orange juice and tried again. “The weekend’s coming up; why not change your plans and attend the theater with me tonight,” he suggested.

“That wouldn’t be possible.”

It took several bites of his own breakfast before he tried again. Third time was charm, after all. “If you let me know the next time you’re in town, I could make some plans for us.”

This, at least, got Chiffon’s attention, Putter noted, mentally complimenting himself on his success. She turned and looked at him full in the face. “As boring as my home town is, I’d never be that bored.”

Putter, not knowing which of Ponyland’s many towns harbored Chiffons’s home, could not account for this terse answer.

Tribute could and did. “Chiffon’s from Woodlawn,” he updated his friend.

Dawning crept over Putter’s face. “Woodlawn... oh, I’m sorry.” And sorrow did register itself on his face, at least for a moment, until he opened his mouth again. “Sorry for anyone who has to call Woodlawn home, that is.”

Chiffon glowered at Putter, Prissy smirked, Arabella rolled her eyes, and Tribute sat back to enjoy the scene.

“And I’m sorry that citizens of Grayton find themselves so elite that they are blinded to the real values that exist elsewhere. You, doctors, all need to have your heads examined.” That said, she got to her hooves and stalked away, giving Arabella no choice but to follow her.

“What an attitude!” declared Prissy.

Putter stared after Chiffon, astounded. “You were right, Trib; her disposition– combined with her life in a dinky little town like Woodlawn– has her doomed to spinsterhood.”

Said vindictively so that Chiffon would be sure to hear, the words hit home; but Chiffon was already so furious that she pretended deafness and kept on walking. She had never in all her life loathed a stallion more, and it was not Putter who bore the brunt of that negative feeling.

* * *
Happy to get back to the daily grind of her life in Woodlawn, Chiffon settled down to the routine in a contented state of mind– or so she tried. And she succeeded quite well, at least as far as her family and friends could see. Only a few very observant ponies noticed that there were times when Chiffon was inordinately quiet with a sad little frown on her face that spoke of some secret dilemma or unanswered dream. One of those ponies was her mother, Velvet; another was her best friend, Arabella. The third and final pony who suspected that something was not quite right was her cousin, Icon; but he was so busy with his company, H.C.I., and with his favorite mare, Splotch, that he did not take the time to sort out the matter.

It was not that Chiffon could have explained the matter to Icon if he had questioned her. She was satisfied with her life, she really was. She was fulfilled in her chosen career of teacher; she assured herself of that daily. She did not envy ponies like Arabella and Morning Dew and Sugarberry their lovely families; she enjoyed her independence. She had never... repeat, never... met a stallion with whom she could even begin to imagine living the rest of her life; there was not a stallion born who could entice her.

But at the oddest moments...

Chiffon shook her head, determined to have her students’ papers corrected before eight o’clock on this particular evening, several weeks after her visit to Grayton, so that she could begin a new novel she had picked up– an impulse purchase at the supermarket. The image of that apple green stallion with that engagingly fleeting dimple crept into her mind at the most inconvenient moments, like now, when she had set herself a deadline which she intended to keep.

Having just organized her thoughts once more to the task at hoof, Chiffon could not restrain a grimace when Velvet stuck her head through the doorway announcing, “You have a visitor in the parlor.”

By the time Chiffon regained a pleasant face and turned to her mother, the mare was already gone. Griping under her breath that a pony could get no peace even in her own home (well, allowances had to be made when one lived with one’s parents), Chiffon set down her red pen, walked down the stairs, and marched gloomily to the front living room off the foyer.

She was in the room before she caught sight of her guest. Standing by the window, peering out into the darkening night, was the apple green stallion of her flitting thoughts. Aghast, Chiffon choked, “You!” and grabbed onto the back of a chair to maintain her suddenly rubbery legs.

“It’s snowing... again,” Tribute smiled as he turned to face her, causing a further weakness as a dimple met her wondering eyes.

“And you’re no more capable to stop it now than you were in Dream Valley,” she managed to say.

“No. But I do see the value in simply watching it now. The way it sparkles in the glow of the light is quite... mesmerizing.” If the look in his eye indicated anything, he found her rather mesmerizing as well.

His words were polite, almost atoning, but Chiffon could not forget the way he had dismissed her as countrified to the pink pegasus in Grayton or her first impression of him as an overbearing blue blood.

Keeping the chair between them, Chiffon said, “I can’t imagine what you’re doing in Woodlawn.”

“Visiting a friend,” the stallion said, crossing to stand next to the mare as he explained. “Dr. Blake at the clinic and I were in school together; he always wanted me to visit him here and tour his turf.” Tribute shrugged. “Since I was passing through the area, I decided to stop in. The subject of Woodlawn has been cropping up so much in the last couple of months that I could hardly ignore it.”

Finding his nearness more than she could handle, Chiffon edged around the chair. “A friend of yours in Woodlawn? I find that hard to believe.”

“Putter’s not the only friend I have.”

“I’ve met Blake, Putter, Prissy... and you, of course. Blake takes the medal for kindness and compassion.”

“Grayton ponies can be kind and compassionate, just as Woodlawn ponies can be caustic and unforgiving.” His meaning was clear, and Chiffon’s eyes flashed flame.

“How dare you accuse me after you looked down on all of us, not only here in Woodlawn but back in Dream Valley as well? You and the ponies like you can laugh all you want. We’re happy in our small town boredom as long as your kind leave us alone.”

“I didn’t mean...”

Chiffon interrupted, her temper flaring for all the wrong reasons; but she could not stop herself. “You can see yourself out!” She glared intensely, willing the tears not to fall, and stalked past him.

Unexpectedly, Tribute reached out a hoof and placed it on Chiffon’s foreleg to stop her angry departure, willing her to understand that he had come in peace.

For Chiffon, the touch of the stallion was a shock that rocketed through her body causing her heart to thump laboriously and the color to drain from her face. She stared first at the hoof resting on her foreleg, then directly at Tribute as if seeing him with new eyes. She had danced with, been hugged by, and shared a gentle kiss or two with stallions before; but this was different. Never in the past had there been a response like this on the part of her traitorous emotions. What was there about this insufferable stallion that could disturb her equilibrium like this?

Tribute stared back at her, equally undone. He had felt a similar reaction to Chiffon’s, but he had no way of knowing what was going through the mare’s mind in that moment of enlightenment for himself. Misreading her look of surprise and attraction quite misguidedly as one of agitation and repulsion, he suddenly dropped his hoof away from her.

“I’m sorry. This was all a mistake on my part; I shouldn’t have come.” He paused, during which Chiffon’s mind reeled, trying to come to grips with her own feelings while hearing words from the stallion that went against everything her heart was telling her. “Goodbye, Chiffon.”

That was it? Goodbye? Chiffon stood in shock as Tribute walked across the room, into the foyer, and opened the front door. “No!” she whispered so softly that no one other than herself heard. Another step and he would be gone. Chiffon intuitively knew that for her it would be a great loss.

“Tribute!” she managed to say loudly enough to be heard.

The stallion stopped and looked back at her questioningly, the door still gaping open, with snowflakes falling in the glow of the porch light, setting him in an ethereal sort of aura. He found the mare coming toward him, but in complete silence.

Realizing that she had to say something, Chiffon stuttered, “I... ah... well... Woodlawn has an ice cream shop; if... if you spent some time there, you might find that our town isn’t as bad as Putter made it out to be.”

The several seconds before Tribute responded seemed like an eternity to Chiffon.

“Isn’t it a little cold for ice cream?” he asked, his eyes locked on Chiffon’s as she came to stand before him. It was obvious to Chiffon that it was her cool manner toward him that he was referring to, and she almost lost her resolve to extend some manner of apology for her earlier brusqueness; but the feeling that this was moment was somehow very important to her future egged her on.

“I thought... that is... if you didn’t have any plans... maybe we could...” Her voice trailed off. Chiffon had never asked a stallion for a date before in her life.

A dead silence hung between them, making the snowfall sound excruciatingly garish. Chiffon thought she was going to be subjected to some haughty comeback that would put her in her place once and for all, when Tribute suddenly smiled, his dimple flashing before Chiffon’s eyes like some elusive treasure that might yet be hers.

“Ice cream in the dead of winter might prove restorative,” he said, his gaze brushing over her.

“Give me just a minute,” Chiffon blustered, rushing off to tell her mother that she was going out. When she returned, her face rather flushed, she felt unaccountably shy as they set out; but Tribute put her at ease by asking her about the founding of the town and the points of historical interest. It was not long before Chiffon felt comfortable enough to make an earnest apology to him.

“I allowed myself to catagorize you the minute I heard your voice on Christmas day.”

Raising an eyebrow. “And what category did I fall into?”

“Arrogant, abrasive.”

Remembering that he had classified her as domineering, Tribute could not take offense. “Have you changed your mind or did you just feel a moment of compassion back there?”

Not directly answering that question– for what she had been feeling when she called Tribute back was not something she wanted him to be aware of just yet– she said instead, “Your father has a similar demeanor, from what I observed.”

“Everyone likes my father, however.”

“His pride is tempered by a deep-seated interest in others that makes him approachable.”

“And I’m not... approachable?”

Glancing at him quickly, Chiffon admitted, “Not... easily.

Tribute only laughed.

The wind battering the snowflakes around them was cold– it enveloped them even through the mutual euphoria both were feeling– as Tribute and Chiffon approached the brightly lit gathering place on Main Street, but they were met with all the warmth they could desire once they passed over the thresh-hold and were greeted by Jules, the owner of the shop.

Patrons being rather sparse at the moment, Jules directed the ponies to a snug little table against the far wall; with a sunny smile that bespoke of a burning curiosity to know who this stallion was that accompanied the usually lone Chiffon, Jules helped Chiffon to be seated, then stood expectantly waiting to hear her wishes.

Having regained her poise, Chiffon smiled at the proprietor. “Our visitor to Woodlawn underestimates the value of an ice cream shop in winter, Jules. I’ll leave the choices in your capable hooves; something, perhaps, that could warm Tribute’s heart?”

“I’ll get right on it,” smiled Jules, winking broadly at Chiffon. “You’re lucky you beat the crowd; I’ll be able to put my full attention to it.”

Left alone, Chiffon directed a quick glance at Tribute and found that he was frowning at her. “What?” she asked.

“I feel like I’m being played for a fool.”

“That’s because you’re out of familiar territory.” Chiffon grinned. “Now you know how I felt in Grayton.”

“Touche!” Tribute grinned back, and Chiffon’s heart skipped a beat as that dimple reasserted itself. And she made a grand discovery! When his smile came from his heart, when he really meant it, there were two dimples that appeared, one on either side of his face. She stared in open amazement.

“Something’s wrong?” asked Tribute, brushing his hoof across his mouth as if a piece of lettuce was lodged there.

“There are two of them!”

“Two pieces of lettuce?” the stunned stallion asked. He hadn’t eaten any lettuce this day.

“No, numbskull! Two dimples!”

“Oh. Those.” He grinned again, and Chiffon almost swooned.

The entrance of a rather noisy bunch of ponies pulled Tribute and Chiffon’s attention away from one another, and they watched as Hood’s Place quickly filled. Many of the ponies, Tribute noted, waved or called out in Chiffon’s direction, casting a speculative glance at him and quickly dismissing him as alien but unexceptional.

One young couple, however, made it a point to come directly to their table. “Hey, Chiffon! What’s up?” the stallion queried, his gaze settling on Tribute with a calculating look that was not entirely friendly. He and his brothers had grown up quite close to Chiffon, who as their cousin and an only child, had gained their protection for life.

“The snow is, I imagine, since it’s falling,” Chiffon said, motioning to the two empty chairs in invitation.

The stallion and his companion, a magenta mare with primrose pink hair and a scattering of freckles across her nose, slipped into the indicated spots, the mare eying first Chiffon and then Tribute.

“Splotch, I’d like you to meet Tribute from Grayton; Tribute, Splotch is a transplant to Woodlawn, previously from more exciting locales like Golden City and Vulcanopolis. Now, she’s one of our own, working as a legal assistant with a local lawyer.

“And this is Icon,” Chiffon continued, smiling at the white stallion. “He’s my cousin and Vanguard’s little brother; Tribute is Dr. Toby’s big brother.”

“Oh!” Any misapprehension cleared from Icon’s face. “I played lacrosse with Toby last spring when I was visiting in Dream Valley; he’s an okay kinda’ guy.”

“You two must have met at Christmas,” assumed Splotch. “I haven’t been to Dream Valley myself yet.” She sent a miffed glance Icon’s way.

“That’s only because we visited your family in Golden City over the holidays,” Icon returned.

“But you had said that we’d have plenty of time to stop in at Vanguard and Sugarberry’s to see Baby Vanguard.”

“I can’t help it if Cachet took on a big project while I was gone.” He turned to explain to Tribute. “Cachet, Hodgepodge, and I have a software company.”

“But Baby Vanguard will be all grown up before I get a chance to see him,” said Splotch sulkily.

“Excuse me, but I thought Sugarberry and Vanguard’s foal was named Banderol,” interjected Tribute, sorting through his mental file of names he had learned while visiting Toby and Fern.

“Oh, it is,” Splotch waved a dismissive hoof. “But he looks like his dad– or so I’m told– so everyone in the family calls him Baby Vanguard.”

“Van cringes at the use of the Baby title,” grinned Icon, “which makes it all the more fun.”

“Sugarberry doesn’t bat an eye either way,” added Chiffon. “Baby Vanguard and Banderol are interchangeable with her.”

“Oh, there’s Vivi,” exclaimed Splotch. “We’ve got to talk with her; there are some problems with the scene in Venice.”

The two ponies got up and left the table; Tribute, looking confused, was enlightened by Chiffon. “Icon and Splotch and that group of ponies that came in the shop are involved with the local theater group; they’re rehearsing for The Merchant of Venice currently.”

“I’m impressed.”

“That Woodlawnians read Shakespeare?” asked Chiffon, her eyes twinkling.

Tribute flinched.. “Woodlawnians? That makes you sound like some mythical species, in the order of wood sprites and wood elves.”

They were interrupted by Jules, delivering the promised treats. Setting down an ice cream dish first in front of Chiffon, then Tribute, Jules explained, “I decided simple is best– two hot fudge sundaes with nuts and hot cocoa with just a hint of peppermint.” He added the two steaming mugs to the array. “Perfect for a quiet heart-to-heart.” Again he winked broadly at Chiffon.

“Don’t mind Jules,” Chiffon said, failing to meet Tribute’s laughing gaze and concentrating on the sundae instead. “Ever since he changed the name of this shop to Hood’s Place, he thinks he’s some sort of Don Juan like the pony in Sugarberry’s book.”

“I’m sure what you just said would make sense to any Woodlawnian, but I’m at a total loss.” He took a taste of the sundae and his expression registered contentment.

“This place was called The Ice Cream Shop until Sugarberry used Woodlawn for the setting of one of her fictional stories, naming the main character’s ice cream parlor Hood’s Place. When visitors to Woodlawn started asking the whereabouts of Hood’s Place, Jules decided to change the name.”

“I forgot that Sugarberry is an author. She was taking time off from the vet clinic after her foal was born.”

“Receptionist for Tabby and Thomas’ clinic is her day job,” Chiffon clarified. “Her first love is writing.”

“And here I thought it most assuredly would have been Vanguard.”

“What? Oh. They were very fortunate to find one another– fate actually brought them together,” mused Chiffon.

“Toby and Fern, too– fate... circumstance... destiny... whatever you want to call it.” The stallion looked at her acutely and Chiffon could only stare back at him. When she could move again, she set down her spoon and wrapped her hooves around the warm mug for reassurance that she was not spiraling out of control into an emotional vortex that could engulf her and obliterate her. She welcomed Icon’s return.

“Mind if I join you?” he asked, sitting in the chair he had abandoned earlier. He had a strawberry malt in hoof. “Splotch and Vivi are brainstorming some set designs, and I found myself being ignored.”

“We’re glad to have your company,” Chiffon smiled.

Tribute, on the other hoof, appeared to be perfectly willing to disregard Icon.

But Icon ignored the chagrin of the stallion and turned to Chiffon and engaged her in some of the humorous happenings at the theater rehearsal. His embroidered versions of some of the mishaps soon had garnered several of his comrades to join in the story telling, often with conflicting versions arising.

Chiffon laughed until she had tears in her eyes. Tribute, however, Chiffon noted with some dismay, looked bored to tears.

In an unsettling revelation, Chiffon realized that she had misinterpreted the stallion’s visit to her home and the touch that had awakened her to thoughts of a life spent in tandem with another rather than alone. A paralyzing feeling of helplessness washed over her as her newfound dream shattered.

She had finally put her trust in him; and he was only playing a part so that, when the time was right, he could put her down again as the country girl he so despised. She could tell by looking at him now when he was unaware of her study of him that his thoughts were far away, probably in Grayton, probably with the pink pegasus, probably laughing at how vulnerable Chiffon had turned out in the end. She hoped to never see another dimple again, ever!

She soon conveyed to Icon, privately and with no room for argument, that he was to accompany her to her home.

Icon, who had put two and two together as he had watched the interchange of conversation and eye contact between Chiffon and Tribute earlier, had correctly read his cousin’s interest in Tribute. Now he questioned her reasoning for jilting him.

“He’s pretending to be someone he’s not,” Chiffon hissed.

“He’s not Toby’s brother?” Icon asked in disbelief.

Chiffon rolled her eyes. “Of course, he’s Toby’s brother. He’s trying to dupe me, however, into accepting him so he can cut me down in front of his Grayton friends the next time he gets a chance... as if I’m ever going back there.”

“Toby’s brother wouldn’t...”

“Toby may be a saint, but that doesn’t mean Tribute is. Trust me on this, Icon.”

Icon grudgingly gave in.

Then, ascertaining that Tribute was staying at Blue Falls– not difficult, as it was the only motel in town– she went to him and informed him that it would be out of his way to walk her home when Icon would be headed in her direction anyway. Then with a charming smile that belied her inner turmoil, Chiffon bid the Grayton doctor good night and wished him a safe return home. Before he could utter a word, she had departed.

Tribute knew a cut when he received one. He scowled in Chiffon’s direction as Icon accompanied her out the door with Splotch hovering at her other side as if they were protecting her from something... or someone. What had gone wrong?

One minute, amidst the noisy conversation going on around him, anxious for a moment alone with the mare, his mind had been full of plans on how to approach Chiffon with his real reason for being in Woodlawn– and Chiffon was a big part of that reason– the next, he found himself facing a long, lonely night in a strange motel room far from home with no more assurance than he had upon arriving that his future was with a certain blue mare with green hair and warm, inviting eyes (when they were not flashing sparks of anger).

Entering his barren haven for the night, Tribute paced the room for some time before facing the facts– Chiffon had found it amusing to immerse him in Woodlawn’s quaint ways; then, tiring of the game, had discarded him.

So be it. She was the manipulative, domineering mare he had originally pegged her. He could find satisfaction in being proven correct.

Or could he?

* * *
“Blake, I did as you asked. I came to Woodlawn to see for myself what this job has to offer. I can see that you’re doing a great thing by bringing in better medical care for the local ponies, and I applaud your dedication to the cause. But it’s not for me.”

“You haven’t given it a chance, Tribute. Stay a few more days; you said yourself that you don’t have to be back in Grayton until Monday.”

It was the morning after Tribute’s visit to Hood’s Place and the two stallions were facing each other in Blake’s office at the clinic. Plans were in place to expand the capabilities of the facility as well as the hospital, necessitating the addition of another doctor in the near future and more to come. What had seemed like an easy task to Blake had turned into a tough battle– none of those with the competence that he was seeking were willing to relocate to a small town in the boondocks of Ponyland.

“I’ve seen everything I need to, Blake. It’s just not for me,” Tribute reiterated, remembering very vividly Chiffon’s dismissal the night before.

“You were my first choice, Tribute. When you finally relented and came to see the place, I thought I had a chance to convince you to settle here.”

“I was curious, that’s all,” Tribute said. “And I must admit that the glowing reports you sent me on the town and its inhabitants and the possibilities with the clinic expansion were honest enough; but there isn’t sufficient incentive to make me quit Grayton.”

Blake was silent for a moment, assessing the stallion before him. “Well, at least you didn’t outright hate the place. Don’t give me a final answer until you’ve had a chance to think about it for a time. It’s not like candidates are beating my door down. Once you’re back in Grayton, you might find yourself yearning for the peaceful lanes around Woodlawn rather than the fast track back east.”

Knowing there was no chance for that, Tribute still could not disappoint his friend completely. “Call me in a week. I’ll keep my mind open, but don’t expect any miracles. I’m satisfied where I am.” Or had been, he could have added.

“A week then,” Blake grinned, grabbing at any straw that was given to him. “Weigh the pros and cons, then make an informed decision.”

Tribute dumbly nodded.

* * *
It was not much later that same morning before Tribute was setting out for his trek back to Grayton. He left his motel with his backpack over his shoulder and was halfway through town when he caught sight of a string of small ponies being led by a familiar blue mare. Muttering over his misfortune, he nonetheless plastered a pleasant smile on his face and greeted the mare.

“You look like a mother duck with her ducklings in tow, Chiffon.”

“Why, thank you, Tribute; that’s a precious analogy I’ll bear in mind whenever I think of you... which won’t be often, I hope.” She looked back toward her students, finding it necessary to explain their outing. “We were at the library.”

Tribute looked down the line of curious faces watching him with their wide, inquisitive eyes. “Quite a treat by Woodlawn standards, I suppose.”

“We won’t keep you,” Chiffon stated, motioning for her charges to resume their pace behind her. “You have a journey ahead of you, it would appear.”

“Yes, I’m returning to civilization... and none too soon,” the stallion stated, unknowingly causing Chiffon untold grief by ending his heartless statement with a show of a lone dimple.

“God-speed,” she managed to say before turning her head away and continuing her own short journey back to the school.

Tribute watched until the line of foals had passed him by, then continued his own journey in unexplainable annoyance which was increased as he was soon face to face with another mare leading another line of colts and fillies. “Arabella!” he exclaimed.

“Tribute,” purred Arabella. “We’re on our way back to school after a trip to the library.”

“Yes, I just met Chiffon and her group.”

“Of course you did,” noted Arabella with a smile which quickly turned to a frown. “So you’re the one!”

“Excuse me?” defended Tribute, seeing her turn peevish.

“You’re the one responsible for having Chiffon out of humor and quoting Browning.”

“I did nothing....” attempted Tribute.

Arabella ignored the stallion’s remonstrance and continued with the quote in question.

“‘Was it something said,/Something done,/Vexed him? Was it touch of hoof*,/Turn of head?’”

Before Arabella could finish the passage, Tribute took over.

“‘Strange! That very way/Love begun:/I as little understand/Love’s decay.’”

Tribute turned to gaze after Chiffon and could just make out her green mane in the distance, still at the head of her string. It appeared that her head was dejectedly bowed; and, possibly, if one used his imagination, it could be construed that she was wiping a tear off her cheek. Tribute felt a searing moment of hope. Did Chiffon have positive feelings for him after all?

It was a brief interlude of optimism, for Tribute remembered in a blast of reality that it was Chiffon who had tired of his company at the ice cream shop and left him with a finality that left no possibilities. She was, after all, a managing mare; she had got what she wanted and had wiped her hooves of him.

“‘They seek each other all their weary days/And die unsatisfied– and this is Fate!’” quoted Tribute softly, then gave Arabella a constrained look. “Susan Marr Spalding.” He nodded to her, then resumed his travels east.

He did not look back.

(*Browning’s quote used the word, hand.)

***Mmm... and is that the end for Chiffy and Tribute? Rather ominous sounding, I think! Of course, I confess to already knowing, since I have access to Sug’s secret hidden files... but this URL is not secret or hidden! It’s RIGHT HERE! And you should GO TO IT!***


***Now here is something rather different from our usual run of things; it’s a break from our usual prose stories! Yes– ‘tis a poem!! Generally poetry just confuses me, but I think all pony people can relate to this one!***

Ponies on the Brain!
by Melody (

On Christmas Eve I go to bed

(But first brush Melody’s mane!)

And while other little girls think of sugar plum fairies

I’ve got ponies on the brain!

Minty, Snuzzle, Forget-Me-Not

Heart Throb’s a little vain...

Rosy Love, Speedy, Lickety-Split

I’ve got ponies on the brain!

On a cold and miserable rainy day

I’m running around in the rain

Pretending to be Wave Dancer

I’ve got ponies on the brain!

I just cannot think of anything else

‘Cause it is a bit of a strain

But then I’m in Dream Valley, Ponyland

I’ve got ponies on the brain!

There’s bazillions of different ponies

Some so exciting, some plain

Some in hip, jazzy colours, (so groovy!)

I’ve got ponies on the brain!

Bon Bon, Bright Eyes, Starry Wings

Lemon Drop’s symbol is rain

Sunlight, Windy, Cherries Jubilee

I’ve got ponies on the brain!

On every special occasion

I just can’t sit still and be sane

I’m hopping about screaming, “My Little Ponies!”

I’ve got ponies on the brain!

And when I’m surfing the Internet

I click back to ‘Dream Valley Main’

My absolute favourite pony site

I’ve got ponies on the brain!

Sleepovers with Bethany, how wonderfully fun

Experience is always gained

On how the Seaponies can dive the best

I’ve got ponies on the brain!

Then of course there is immense pleasure

Of playing again and again

With all the Little Pony playsets

I’ve got ponies on the brain!

Who could beat My Little Pony for fashion?

Everyone else is so plain!

But with gorgeous outfits like ‘Flashprance’

I’ve got ponies on the brain!

Braids, ponytails, butterfly clips

No hairstyle gets disdain

‘Cause everyone loves styling ponies’ hair

I’ve got ponies on the brain!

Wave Breaker, Moondancer, Tic-Tac-Toe

Looking out the window pane

And seeing North Star flying gracefully

I’ve got ponies on the brain!

When I wake on Christmas morning

And run down the corridor lane

I see piles and piles of pony presents

I’ve got ponies on the brain!

***There, wasn’t that fun? A lovely ode to that oh-so-pleasant feeling of having ponies on the brain! Nothing better, right? YOU’VE felt like this, haven’t you? Maybe you’d like the let the author know...? HINT, HINT. That’s right!! Very good!!***


***Hey, wanna know how this story got started? It was a rejected idea from a session of brainstorming for the Xtreme Ponies! Anyway, it’s part one, just like Barnacle’s this month, so you’ve GOT to read it!***

Chapter One: Revelations
by Clever Clover (

Starcross was a small pony of slender frame. Her pale pink coat was marked with five blue stars in the shape of a cross on her rump. Her long yellow-streaked green hair blew across her face. She brushed aside her stray locks as she strode past the cop, as though she hadn’t a care in the world. Truthfully, she was quite concerned since she had committed the crime that the cop was responding to. She grinned as the officer didn’t give her a second glance. Once she rounded the corner, she sped up to a trot. She was only a couple of blocks from the trailer park where her gypsy clan lived.

At the park, she found her cousin Zuggy leaning against a tree, his head hung low. “Hey, Zugg. What’s up?”

“It’s yer pop. He’s dying.”

“Papa? No!” Starcross burst into tears and rushed off to her family’s trailer. “Papa! Papa, where are you?” She ran right into the arms of Sylva, an aunt.

“Be calm, child. Your father is waiting for you in his bedroom. Come.” Sylva led Starcross to her father’s bedside.

“Papa, what happened?”

“Starcross, I’m sorry. I’ve been hiding how sick I’ve become. I didn’t want you to worry.”

“Papa, don’t speak. You need to rest.”

“No, my child. I need to talk to you before I die.”

“Don’t talk like that.”

“You need to hear this, my child; or should I say just ‘child’, for you are not truly mine.”

“No, Father. You are ill. You don’t know what you are saying.”

“But I do, child. My wife and I could not have children of our own, so we took you from a park where you played. We were desperate to have a family and were not thinking straight.”

“No! That cannot be! Father, you are ill.”

“Silence, child. The pendant you wear about your neck, your silver teardrop. You were wearing that the day we took you. It will lead you back to your true home.”

“But this is my true home, here, with you.”

“No, child. You must not think like that anymore. You must find your true past, and your true future. Farewell, my child.”

“Papa. Papa! No, Papa! Don’t be gone. Please Papa, don’t die.” Starcross collapsed onto her father’s bed, sobbing.

Sylva layed her forehoof on Starcross’ shoulder. “There, there, child. You should lie down.”

* * *
The next day, Starcross awoke from a troubled sleep. “Papa! Where are you, Papa!” She threw off the sheets and ran to her father’s bedroom. She poked her head through the door. “Papa?” But the room was empty. She wandered toward the living room. “Papa?”

But only Aunt Sylva was present to greet her, a black shawl about her shoulders. “Aunty Sylva, where is Papa?”

Sylva shook her head. “He is gone, child. Don’t you remember?”

Starcross shuddered with the realization that her father was gone. “Oh, aunty, what am I going to do? You can barely support yourself and Zuggy. I’ve no other kin to turn to. Where am I going to go?”

“You will honor your father’s last wish. Return to Dream Valley and find your true family.”

“But you are my family. Even if my blood is from Dream Valley, my family is here.”

“We will always be with you, child. But think of your birth parents. For the past fifteen years they have not known if you were alive or dead, well or ill, happy or sad. Go to them and bring them peace. Then you will be free to live out your life, not as a gypsy or as a settled pony, but as yourself.”

“When is the funeral?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

“The day after tomorrow I will head out for Dream Valley, though I have no money and no friends along the way. It is because Father wished it that I go, not because I hope to find anything about myself. Now, I need to go for a walk, to clear my head.”

Starcross walked slowly across the trailer park, her head hung low. There was no one around, as it was a weekday and most of the ponies that frequented the park were either at work or at school. Starcross had just graduated from high school last spring, but hadn’t been able to find any work. Her father had a good enough job to support them, but now she felt guilty. If she had been able to get a real job rather than just picking pockets, perhaps her father would not have hidden his illness and something could have been done for him. Now it was too late. Her father was gone and in two days she would be bound for Dream Valley, clear across the continent.

As she left the trailer park, not watching where she was going, Starcross bumped into Smokey, a local police officer. “Well well, if it isn’t little Starcross. It’s not like you not to be on the lookout for my kind.”

“I’m not in the mood to play cat and mouse today.” She tried to sidestep the blue-gray stallion.

But Smokey grabbed her but the foreleg. “Well then, it’s too bad I’ve got a warrant for your arrest.”

“What! No, you can’t! Not today!” The filly dropped to her knees. “Please let me go until tomorrow afternoon. I promise I’ll turn myself in then!”

“You shouldn’t have made plans after swiping that money from Mrs. Pear.”

“If I’d have known…” Starcross burst into tears.

“C’mon now. This isn’t gonna work on me. I’ve heard ‘em all.”

“But my papa died last night,” she sobbed.

“I see. I think I should talk to your aunt.” The two ponies walked back into the trailer park. Aunt Sylva met them at the door.

“What trouble have you gotten yourself into now, child?”

“She stole seven jangles from Mrs. Pear. I’m going to have to take her down to the station.”

“But her father passed away last night. Would it be possible to make arrangements for her to attend the funeral tomorrow?”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

* * *
Starcross spent the night crying in a cell at the jailhouse.

***Aww, isn’t that sad! Anyway, it’s the same deal as with Barnacle: we want Clever Clover to continue this, but I can only harass him about it so much on my own. I need your help, too!***


***I hope I didn’t go overboard on getting ponies knocked out in this story, but for a G-rated pony story I couldn’t have them pulling out guns or knives or whatnot. So, I had to make do with heavy blunt objects and temporary unconsciousness. (You REALLY want to read the story now, right??) Actually, it just became a running gag by the end of the story, and I took the opportunity to make a mockery of pony fight scenes and my inability to write them. Enjoy!***

Valentine Intrigue
by Tabby (

“Dinner tonight? Oh, for Valentine’s Day! I get it. Okay, sure! See ya, Granite!” Kyrene quickly hung up the phone and got back to work on writing her latest story which needed to get to the presses as soon as possible. Most ponies would find her reporting job stressful, but Kyrene enjoyed all the rushing she had to do on a daily basis for the Dream Valley Gazette.

The aqua unicorn had just typed the last word and was about to send the story over to the proofreader when the door to the bustling office opened, revealing the newspaper’s editor, Derrick Darius (though everyone at the office just called him Deadline), followed by a mare Kyrene hadn’t seen before.

“Everyone, if I could have your attention...” The editor glanced authoritatively around the room until all the ponies working there were silent. “I’d like to introduce you all to my new fiancee, Niobe.” The mare, a pretty pale magenta with aqua hair, stepped forward, blushing and smiling amidst the congratulations and cheers offered by the office workers. Deadline looked at her indulgently. “I went back to my hometown last night and she most generously accepted my offer of marriage.”

Oh. A Valentine’s Day engagement, Kyrene thought woodenly. How sweet. She glanced furtively over at Deadline, who was taking the congratulations in stride but was still all business in his attitude, not near as affected as his bride-to-be.

“I’m pleased to meet all of you,” Niobe announced graciously, “and I’m looking forward to getting to know my way around Derrick’s enterprise here.”

Derrick? Kyrene thought blankly. Who’s th– oh, right, Deadline. Duh.

Soon after, Deadline excused himself to his office subsequent to admonishing Niobe not to make too much of a bother of herself while she hung around the office. Kyrene sighed and got back to work. Well, the engagement didn’t matter anything to her– but then why was she feeling so let-down? She looked up again at Niobe who was conversing with another reporter. Niobe chose that instant to glance in Kyrene’s direction and realized that she was the object of that mare’s scrutiny.

“Hello,” Niobe smiled, strolling over in Kyrene’s direction. “You’re another of the reporters?”

“Um, yes,” Kyrene said, trying to keep a professionally unaffected facade. “Kyrene Cicero. Are you in the newspaper business yourself?”

“Oh, no,” Niobe giggled. “I don’t have much of a profession except for my gardening... but if I’m to be marrying Derrick, I thought I should pick up the basics at least of what he’s doing.”

“How long have you known him?” Kyrene asked curiously. She had wanted to remain cool towards this mare who had– well, Kyrene wasn’t sure exactly what Niobe had done but she wasn’t happy with it– but found herself warming-up to the soft-spoken and sincere pony.

“Derrick? Oh, since we were foals. I moved into his neighborhood when I was eight,” Niobe explained. “I was able to con him into helping me plant my garden that first year, and we’ve hung out with each other ever since.”

Kyrene couldn’t help but grin at the thought of this gentle mare conning anyone into doing anything. “Where is your home? Not far from here, I imagine?”

“Just over in Neighberry,” Niobe explained. “Easy walking distance. It was such a pleasant surprise to have Derrick visit yesterday. And, well,” she giggled, “such a nice Valentine’s present, too!” She gestured to the ring on her foreleg.

“Yes,” Kyrene said, just a bit wistfully. “Very nice, indeed.”

“Oh, but I’d better not hold you up from your work any longer,” Niobe said kindly, “or I’ll be in trouble with Derrick. He’s always so businesslike, and never has any time for fun.” She winked. “Well, I’m fond of him even for that. Maybe I’ll see you later, Kyrene?”

“Sure,” Kyrene said, “later.” But as she watched Niobe stride off, she couldn’t help fuming over the mare’s last comment– she was “fond” of Deadline? Didn’t she have any actual love for him. You’d think she’d feel more than “fond” at least after accepting a proposal from him! Deadline deserved better than that, Kyrene bristled. Did he know what he was getting himself into? It just didn’t make any sense that Niobe couldn’t be in love with such an admirable, considerate, dedicated stallion as Deadline!

Realizing the dangerous path her thoughts were taking, Kyrene threw herself into her work and tried to concentrate on her date with Granite tonight. Let Deadline make his mistakes if he wanted to; it wasn’t anything to her.

* * *
“You work with a lot of nice ponies,” Niobe said complacently at the end of the day as Deadline walked her to her friend’s house with whom she was staying during this visit to Dream Valley.

“They all do their jobs well,” Deadline acknowledged. “What do you think of the operation as a whole?”

“Oh, it’s very interesting! I never knew there was so much work involved in putting out a newspaper,” Niobe enthused. “It’s just the kind of place for you, though. You’re a good editor, with such a forceful personality. That’s one thing that always struck me about you since we were foals, how you could get any pony to obey your orders without complaint. Even me, when you said I should plant the violets on the west side of the garden and I was so adamant against it.” She laughed trillingly, hooking her foreleg through his. “We had lots of good times together, didn’t we? I was so glad to have found such a good friend.”

Deadline lapsed into pensive silence after that. Yes, Niobe was a good friend. They’d always been together since that summer she had moved into his neighborhood, and he got the impression everyone in the family just assumed they’d make a match of it eventually. Lately his mother had been dropping more hints in that direction, so Deadline had finally given in to her encouragements. No romantic nonsense entered his head. Obviously Niobe was a nice enough mare to spend the rest of his life with; and if it was expected of him to settle down, why not with Niobe? It was infinitely practical.

“Derrick? Earth to Derrick!” Niobe giggled, waving a hoof in front of his face. “You’re not listening to me. What are you thinking about?”

“Oh, nothing, I’m sorry. What were you saying?” He snapped abruptly out of his reverie.

“I was just confirming the time you’d pick me up for dinner... six o’ clock, was it?”

“Yes, six o’ clock,” Deadline said automatically. By this time they had reached Posey’s house, and he dropped a dutiful kiss on his fiancee’s cheek before taking his leave of her. Yes, he and Niobe would get along just fine.

* * *
“So there’s been that rash of robberies on the south side of town this past week, and we think we’re narrowing down the area of the thief’s hideout to somewhere around the Royal Paradise,” Granite was explaining cheerfully to his date that evening over dinner.

“Indeed!” Kyrene said with interest, leaning farther forward across the table. If truth be told, the main draw for her of seeing Granite was the interesting leads he gave her for stories. “Isn’t there an old guest cabin out behind the main complex that the princesses don’t use anymore? That would make a perfect hideout!”

Granite didn’t think it was likely. “It’s too close to other ponies. They wouldn’t take the chance. Besides, the grounds have already been covered and searched for clues. Nothing turned up.”

“Oh.” Kyrene sat back in her chair. The problem with Granite was that he had no imagination. Why couldn’t a thief have a hideout in a high-traffic area? That’s just where the police wouldn’t look... at least, police like Granite.

“So, um, what’s up with you?” Granite spoke up, remembering she hadn’t said much about herself so far.

“Oh, my boss just got engaged,” Kyrene said without thinking. A gloomy expression unconsciously settled on her face.

“Oh, um, well.” Granite shifted uncomfortably in his chair, mistaking her expression to mean that she was disappointed not to have had such an offer herself. When it came to girls, Granite reverted to becoming shy and stuttery. “Um, well, I do have something for you.” Maybe the simple necklace he had picked up for her the other day in preparation for Valentine’s Day would appease her. Surely she wasn’t expecting that much of a commitment yet...?

“Oh?” Kyrene said warily. He couldn’t be thinking along those lines himself... could he? Still, she wondered if such an announcement would affect Deadline at all... Get a grip on yourself, girl! she mentally berated herself. What are you talking about?

“So, um, here.” Granite pushed a box across the table towards her.

With a sinking feeling, Kyrene opened the box and was preparing a gentle but firm rejection in her head when she realized it was a completely innocent offering. “Why, thank you, Granite!” she said sincerely, lifting the heart-shaped pendant off its velvet bed. “That’s very thoughtful of you.”

“No problem,” Granite mumbled shyly as his face flushed a bright red.

Kyrene carefully secured the clasp around her neck. “There! How does it look?”

“Beautiful,” he said worshipfully.

“Um... yeah,” Kyrene said. She wished he wouldn’t look at her like that. He was just like a puppy-dog sometimes. Now Deadline, on the other hoof... Kyrene shook her head. Aargh! Why did her thoughts always come back to him? “So tell me more about this thief,” she said eagerly, hoping to steer the topic onto more impersonal grounds again.

Granite went on to explain that over the past week many houses in town had been robbed of valuables; the thief seemed to be a professional from the lack of clues left. Some suspicious activity had been noticed in the area of the Royal Paradise, though, so the police force would be concentrating their searches in that neighborhood.

I’d love to uncover the hideout, Kyrene thought idly. Deadline would really take notice of me if I uncovered another big story... Ack! There he was again in her thoughts! This was getting annoying! Still... it would be fun to do some snooping. And the night was still young! Glancing at Granite, she ventured, “It’s been a very nice evening, but I think it’s about time I went back to my apartment.”

“But we haven’t had dessert yet!” Granite protested in disappointment.

“Oh, I’ll be fine on my own; you don’t have to come with me,” Kyrene said soothingly, pushing back her chair.

“Well... if you’re sure...” Granite said skeptically. It was always difficult to figure out what mares really wanted– should he insist on accompanying her or stay for dessert?

“There’s a phone call I have to be there for,” Kyrene improvised rapidly, “but I’d hate for you to miss your apple pie. I’ll call you tomorrow, ‘kay?”

“Um, sure,” Granite acquiesced. “Okay then. Goodnight.”

“Sure!” Kyrene said, blowing him a kiss to further disconcert him before leaving.

* * *
Throughout the dinner of another couple, Niobe kept up a steady stream of questions about the newspaper, their future plans, and what entertainment Dream Valley had to offer. Deadline was dutiful in answering all her queries, but then Niobe broke in with a different sort of question:

“Do you know that stallion over there? He’s all alone; I wonder if something happened between him and his date?”

“I’m sure he doesn’t need anyone prying into his affairs if that is the case,” Deadline gently reprimanded her but nevertheless turned around to see who Niobe had noticed. “Wait... isn’t that Granite?”

“Oh, so you do know him?” Niobe asked curiously.

“Not really... he’s on the police force and one of my reporters... Kyrene... has been seeing him... or so I’ve heard,” he added quickly.

“I met Kyrene this morning; she seems like a nice girl,” Niobe commented.

“Maybe so, but she’s always running off on some hare-brained escapade just to get a good story,” Deadline said, the traces of a scowl beginning to appear on his face. “She’s reckless when it comes to her reporting and she always ends up needing someone to bail her out of trouble.”

“Why, that’s the most emotion I’ve seen out of you yet,” Niobe said lightheartedly. “Still, I do wonder why Granite is here all alone...”

“Don’t even think about it,” Deadline warned, but even he had to admit to some curiosity on his part over what had happened between him and Kyrene. Henceforth, on their way out, he took a detour past Granite’s table. “Kyrene isn’t with you tonight?” he asked pointedly.

Granite looked up from his empty plate. “Oh, hi. You’re Deadline, right? Well, she was, but she had to leave a little while ago.” He furrowed his brow. “I’m afraid I might have said something wrong, but I’ve been going over our conversation in my head, and I can’t come up with anything–“

Well, Deadline knew better how Kyrene’s mind worked. “Just what were you talking about?” he insisted.

“Oh, I was just telling her about some recent developments at the station,” Granite said helpfully. “She likes to hear about stuff like that.”

“I’ll bet,” Deadline said through gritted teeth. “You’ve really got to learn to stop encouraging that girl. What was it this time? I can guess what was so important she had to get ‘home’ to!”

“Just the thief that’s been active this past week, and that he’s probably hiding out somewhere in the area of the Royal Paradise,” Granite said, not catching on. “Why?”

“Not that! She doesn’t know what she’s dealing with!” Deadline said in exasperation. “I’d better go and find her before she does anything stupid... of course it must be too late for that.”

“You don’t think she really went after the thief, do you?” Granite asked anxiously. “Why would she–“

”Of course not; Kyrene would never dream of putting her life in danger for a matter best left for the police,” Deadline said sarcastically. “No, that’s definitely where she is! And unfortunately her hunches are always uncannily and usually dangerously correct. What other details did you give her?”

“Not much,” Granite said slowly. “Just that we thought his hideout was somewhere around the Royal Paradise. Kyrene seemed to think that old guest cottage out back would be a likely spot, but I told her no way and–“

”Well, are you coming or not?” Deadline asked impatiently, cutting Granite off. “Niobe, I’m sorry about this; I’ll take you home first, of course...”

“Oh, no, that’s not necessary! I’d be glad to come along!” Niobe chirped. “It sounds like a grand adventure. Count me in!”

Not bothering to dissuade her, Deadline was off towards the door, closely followed by Niobe and Granite.

* * *
Furtively, Kyrene sneaked onto the grounds of the Royal Paradise towards the back of the property, where the old garden was. It was within the garden that the old guest cottage stood, now fallen into disrepair; it was more of a quaint accessory to the flowers now than serving any practical use. If Kyrene were a thief, the spot would appeal to her. She eased open the rickety door and cautiously stepped inside while using her unicorn magic to turn herself invisible.

The moon was bright tonight and seeping through the windows; this allowed Kyrene a certain amount of light of which she was glad because she didn’t have a flashlight on her. The cottage was a simple affair; the main room opened onto a kitchen on one side and a bedroom on the other. It had been built before the princesses had become quite so extravagant.

The kitchen and entry room only displayed some broken-down bits of furniture and no signs of activity. The bedroom didn’t look any more promising until Kyrene noticed the small bookcase in the corner was tilted at a strange perpendicular angle from the wall. Intrigued, she stepped closer to examine it. Well, the case itself didn’t harbor any secrets, but the floor in the corner did. Could the bookcase have been shoved aside to make the opening of a trapdoor possible? Kyrene crouched down and started inspecting the floor panel for a handle. She couldn’t see any, but wasn’t about to give up on her hunch. If there was something to pry it with...

Running back into the kitchen, Kyrene uncovered an old tarnished knife stuck in the corner of one of the drawers. She inserted the blade into the crack between two floor panels, pushed down on the blade, and held her breath. Yes, the panel was giving way! Slowly Kyrene lifted it upwards with the knife until she could grab it with her hoof and bring it up the rest of the way. She peered down into the hole she had uncovered. It was very dark... a flashlight would be nice, but she wasn’t giving up now!

Lowering herself down into the pit of darkness, Kyrene was relieved to find that her hooves touched a stone pavement. She waited for her eyes to adjust to the new darkness, and when she could make out some shapes she groped her way along. Her pulse quickened; she was definitely on to something here! Now, where did this tunnel lead? If not to the thief’s hideout, she would be sorely disappointed!

The tunnel, except for a few slight curves, was straight, but it seemed to go on forever. Kyrene was mildly worried because she had been down here for quite some time and her unicorn magic might start to wear off. But surely she could last awhile longer, long enough to get to the bottom of this case!

Ah-hah! Up ahead there finally appeared a light. Kyrene quickened her pace but was careful not to make a sound. She could see that the hallway widened into a room of sorts– and she began to hear a stallion’s voice. Was there more than one? Reaching her destination, Kyrene leaned against the wall and peered around the corner to see what this room had, besides a criminal. Yes, there were crates piled all over the place! They had to be filled with stolen loot. At one end of the room a dark-colored stallion sat, talking on his cell phone with someone while sorting through a pile of coins at his hooves.

“Thorne here... yeah, we’re setting up for a heist at the Sweet Celebrations’ tonight... don’t worry, we can still empty a few houses before the police catch onto us... yeah, you’ll get your money... I’ll be in touch.” Terminating the call, the stallion stood up and started pacing around the room. “Now, where is that cursed assistant of mine...”

Kyrene’s eyes widened. There was another theft planned for tonight; she would have to stop this criminal from carrying it out! But, what could she do? If there was something big and heavy to hit him over the head with... was that a lamp sitting against the opposite wall? It might be old and valuable, but it was the best weapon Kyrene could see. Surely she would be able to surprise him and knock him out. She stepped out into the room, confident in her stealth...

...until the stallion abruptly stopped pacing and stared Kyrene right in the eye. “Well,” he sneered, “we seem to have a trespasser.”

“But– but you can’t see me!” Kyrene blurted out. This wasn’t possible– she was invisible! But looking down at herself she saw that this wasn’t true. How stupid of her! Her power had run out and she hadn’t even realized it. Now what was she going to do? Well, if she could still reach the lamp... the stallion lunged at her but Kyrene anticipated this and hit the floor, rolling towards the lamp. She was just about to grab hold of it when the stallion managed to grab her forelegs and twist them behind her back. Crying out, Kyrene tried to kick at him with her back legs but the movement caused her head to smash into the glass lampshade. This stunned her long enough for the criminal to gain the upper hoof in the struggle. Kyrene was pulled unceremoniously across the room, where the villain had some rope with which to bind her.

Her limbs sufficiently tied up and her mouth gagged, Kyrene was tossed aside into the dusty corner. She could feel the cuts from the glass oozing blood down her face. Well, so much for her grand heroics! What was she going to do now... and what was the stallion planning to do with her?

* * *
Meanwhile, the trio of rescuers had arrived at the Royal Paradise grounds. “There’s the cottage over there,” Granite pointed. “As you can see, it’s not much. Are you sure she came here?”

“Of course she did,” Deadline snapped. What had Kyrene ever seen in this guy, anyway? He was already striding in the direction of the cottage when Granite called him to a halt.

“You can check over the cottage quick if you’d like; I’ll cover the rest of the grounds and see if there’s any sign of her,” he offered. His tone indicated that he still thought that Deadline was overreacting.

“I’ll help Granite,” Niobe offered. “If she’s here, we’ll find her; don’t worry.”

“Fine, I’ll catch up with you soon,” Deadline snapped, becoming impatient with the delays. With Kyrene’s uncanny luck, he wouldn’t be surprised if she’d uncovered a secret passage or something in that cottage. Well, what do you know! he mused upon investigating the rooms. She did find one. The trapdoor in the corner was still propped open with the knife she had used. Well, at least Deadline knew he was on the right track now. Kyrene was around here somewhere. And somehow he had the sinking sensation that she was in serious trouble.

* * *
“A garden in the moonlight is so romantic, don’t you think?” Niobe sighed dreamily as she and Granite strolled down the overgrown paths (keeping an eye open for Kyrene, of course!).

“Oh, um, yes. Very romantic,” Granite readily agreed, thinking how beautiful the moonlight glinting on the mare’s aqua hair was...

“This was such a neat idea of the princesses, to cast a spell over their garden so it would always be blooming, even in the dead of winter,” Niobe prattled on cheerfully.

“Yeah, it’s pretty unusual to see so many flowers at this time of year,” Granite agreed.

“But,” Niobe recalled herself to the matter at hoof, “I really hope nothing’s happened to Kyrene. Derrick seemed very concerned about her.”

“Derrick?” Granite said in puzzlement. “Oh– you mean Deadline.”

“I have sometimes wondered,” Niobe mused aloud, “whether two ponies in love really can sense when another is suffering, even if they’re far apart.”

Granite looked up at her in surprise. “But– aren’t you–“

”Oh, things can change, you know,” Niobe shrugged.

“Really?” Granite burst out exuberantly. “I mean–“ He toned it down. “That’s nice.”

Luckily Niobe’s attention had been caught by something else so she wasn’t paying attention to this anticlimactic reply to her comment. “Why, look at this lovely wisteria!” she cried out, touching one of the clumps of purple flowers. “Such a beautiful color, and the way it cascades down the hill like this... beautiful! I didn’t know it grew so well in this climate!” Enraptured by the sight, Niobe stood still and in silence. Caught in the moment, Granite came up beside her and picked off a clump of the blossoms to place in her hair.

“Beautiful,” he murmured. “I don’t think the princesses will mind... besides, I’m here on official business.”

“Why, thank you,” Niobe giggled, turning back to him. “That’s so sw–“

”Hey, what’re you two doing here?” a burly stallion growled, interrupting the romantic scene as he stepped out of the shadows.

“And just who are you?” Granite challenged, instinctively pushing Niobe behind him.

“None o’ your business. I’d scram if I were you.”

“I’d think twice about starting any trouble here,” Granite said threateningly. “I’ll... I’ll take you in for trespassing!”

The stallion sneered, stepping closer. “Yeah, look who’s talking about trespassing.”

“I’m with the police force,” Granite said indignantly. “I’m here on an– uh– investigation.”

“Really! He’s telling the truth!” Niobe chimed in supportively.

“Yeah, right! And I’m the king of Ponyland. Just get outta here, and maybe I’ll let you off easy.”

“You’re the one who should be getting out of here,” Granite said, standing his ground firmly.

“Why, you little– the boss is getting impatient. I don’t have time for this.” Angry, the stallion lunged forward and tackled Granite to the ground.

Niobe screamed. “Stop it, you monster!” The two stallions continued their scuffle, however, rolling nearer and nearer to the wisteria vines. Niobe looked around frantically for something to be used as a weapon. Ah-hah! A garden gnome. She picked up the little ceramic man in her hooves and stood, waiting for an opportunity to bring it down on the villain’s head. Unfortunately, the two were rolling around so much, she couldn’t guarantee not hitting Granite instead.

Niobe was still pondering over this difficulty when the two reached the wisteria. She expected them to hit abruptly against the hillside, but instead– they just disappeared. She gasped and rubbed her eyes. But of course they hadn’t vanished– there must have been a hole in the hill that the wisteria vines had been hiding! Niobe dashed over and pushed the vines apart. They were hiding more than a hole– an entire hallway! And what luck– as the two had rolled into the passageway, the thug seemed to have hit his head on the stone doorstep, momentarily stunning him. Granite was already busy digging out his hoofcuffs so he could properly arrest the villain.

“Oh, thank goodness!” Niobe burst out, rushing forward. “I was so afraid you’d get hurt– but that was so noble– so brave– so dashing of you!”

“Really?” Granite squeaked, fumbling with the hoofcuffs. “I mean– really?”

“Yes, you’re a hero,” Niobe beamed happily. “So it appears that Kyrene’s hunch was correct after all. Is this one of the guys you were looking for?”

“Let’s see... midnight blue body... dark green hair. It’s one of them,” Granite concurred.

“Then I wonder... where’s the second? And Kyrene?” Suddenly anxious again, Niobe stared down the hallway, still unconsciously gripping the garden gnome. “Listen– voices! It must be Kyrene and–“ She gulped. “We’d better hurry up and get down there.”

“Right!” Granite agreed, running as fast as he could after her, but he was seriously impeded with having to tug the burly criminal along with him the whole way.

* * *
“Well well, what shall we do with you now?” The dark green stallion stood over the struggling form at his hooves. “Would you be worth a ransom... or perhaps it would be easier for me to send you to the next dimension right away?”

Kyrene tried frantically to protest, but unfortunately nothing intelligible came past the gag.

“Oh, so you agree with me... that’s good.” He leaned closer to her, grinning evilly, wielding yet another of the Blunt Objects that were so plentiful in this area tonight.

“Kyrene!” Deadline shouted, barreling into the room. “Leave her alone, you–“ Thorne whipped around to see who this latest intruder was, stupidly dropping the Blunt Object, which was his only hope, in surprise and turning his back on the prisoner. Deadline proceeded to pick Thorne up by the lapels of his– well, I guess the skin around his neck– ouch!– and stare him angrily in the eye.

Thorne’s own eyes retained their steely glint. “Unhand me! You don’t know who you’re dealing with! Any minute now my assistant will be upon you and–“

”I don’t think so.” And without any further ado, Deadline employed the use of another Blunt Object (namely, his hoof) to give the villain a piercing blow. And, so that he was out of the way for the big romantic scene coming up, he obligingly crumpled to the ground in an unconscious heap.

“Kyrene!” Deadline repeated himself, kneeling down and working on releasing her bonds. “Are you all right? What did you think you were doing, anyway?!”

“I’m... okay,” Kyrene said slowly, still a bit dazed. “Thanks for... finding me.” She struggled to an upright position, and Deadline got a clear view of the gash on her face from the lamp shade.

“He did that to you? The beast!” Deadline growled, dabbing at the wound with the cloth that had composed her gag.. “If he wasn’t already out I’d–“ He looked ready to thrash Thorne some more anyway but quickly composed himself. “You need to get to the hospital,” he finished briefly.

“Oh, it’s not really that bad,” Kyrene said, suddenly feeling unaccountably shy.

“You’re sure?” Deadline looked her in the face carefully. “You got off easy, you know. That guy is dangerous. You could have ended up a lot worse. You idiot, Kyrene!” he burst out, suddenly turning his fury on her. “Do you have any idea what you were getting yourself into? You were only entering the den of one of the most dangerous criminals around, all alone, with no preparation! Don’t you ever think before putting your life in jeopardy? You could just as easily have gotten yourself sent to the next dimension. All without a thought to you or anyone else!”

“I’m sorry,” Kyrene said meekly.

Sorry? That’s all you can say?!” Deadline grabbed her by the shoulders, and Kyrene was half-afraid he was going to shake her– he certainly wanted to! “Do you think that could ever cover the anguish of others if something happened to you? What would they do then?... what would I do?”

“Deadline,” Kyrene said a little breathlessly, confused by the look in his eyes, “I think–“

”How could I ever stand losing you, Kyrene!” And before Kyrene knew what was happening she was being kissed. “I don’t know why I didn’t see it before, Kyrene. You drive me crazy but I couldn’t get on without you. Because I– I love you.”

Kyrene sucked in her breath. Was this really Deadline– the cool, businesslike, always-in- control Deadline– stumbling over his words and saying that he loved her? And kissing her? Impossible! “But what about Niobe?” she said, still stunned.

“Niobe’s a friend, a good friend, but nothing like you, Kyrene,” Deadline assured her. “You’re the only one that adds some adventure to what would otherwise be my very dull life!”

“But you’re eng–“

”Never mind.” He placed a hoof over her mouth to silence any more protests. “I’m sure she’ll understand. I made a mistake thinking love had something to do with convenience... you’ve shown me that it’s perfectly inconvenient!”

“Deadline...” Kyrene said hesitantly.

“No, not Deadline! Derrick! I’d prefer hearing my given name... from you, at least.”

“Very well... Derrick,” Kyrene conceded, having a difficult time referring to him as that after years of knowing him as Deadline. “I’d just like to say that...” Kyrene paused. Just what did she want to say? What did she think about this new development? “That I... I like you very much myself,” she said with dignity.

“” Deadline– or Derrick– or whatever the reader wishes to call him!– echoed. “You mean... you don’t... you couldn’t...” He trailed off, realizing he had probably just made a fool of himself.

“I... I don’t know,” Kyrene confessed. “Not yet. But... if you could give me more time, find out more about each other...”

“I’m sorry, I rather lost myself there,” the newspaper editor of multiple names laughed nervously. “I hope I didn’t scare you off... but I meant all of it, don’t get me wrong. You’re not offended, are you?” He looked suddenly stricken and repentant at the same time.

“No,” Kyrene shook her head. “Actually... I didn’t mind at all. And...” She looked at him shyly. “I wouldn’t mind another kiss.” Deadline didn’t need to be asked twice.

* * *
It was at this moment when Niobe came bursting in on the scene. Seeing the stallion bending over Kyrene, she instantly assumed the worse. “Get away from her, you monster!” she screamed (for the second time that day!) and ran over with the gnome held high. Deadline moved his head towards her only a fraction of a second before the gnome came crashing down over his head before crumpling to the ground.

“Niobe!” Kyrene gasped.

“Whoops,” said Niobe, gazing down at yet another unconscious form. “I hadn’t meant for that to happen...”

“What’s going on here?” Granite demanded, breathless from the laborious run. He shoved his load onto the ground, figuring he wouldn’t attempt an escape with all these other ponies watching. “The thief?” He stared hard at the stallion on the floor. “But that’s Deadline! Wow, this is bigger than I thought!” The officer pulled out another set of hoofcuffs and made to put them on Deadline.

“Granite, you idiot!” Kyrene snapped. “The bad guy’s over there.” She pointed her hoof to Thorne, who by now had started to moan in pain.

“Wow, we knocked out a lot of guys tonight,” Granite said cheerfully. “That’s what I call a good day’s job, you know? So we finally got Thorne. And check out all the loot down here!” He whistled. “There’s gonna be a lot of happy ponies when they get this stuff back.”

Then Deadline started to come to. “Oww... Niobe...” He sat up and rubbed his head. “What did you go and do that for?” Then he remembered... oh... she wasn’t really that jealous, was she?

“Sorry. I thought you were... someone else,” Niobe said sheepishly.

What? You mean you were going to do it to Kyrene?” Deadline practically shouted, sitting bolt upright.

“No, silly, not Kyrene. Why would I do that?” Niobe scolded him. “The other thief, of course!” She gestured towards Thorne.

“Oh. Sorry.” He grinned sheepishly. “I thought you were...”

“Jealous?” she winked. “Oh, no, I could tell there was something between you and Kyrene. Why didn’t you tell her sooner? For as practical as you are you certainly don’t know anything about romance.”

“Whoever said it was practical?” Deadline said apologetically before going over to pull Kyrene off Granite, who was being plagued with more questions about the thieves than he really had time to answer at the moment.

Niobe surveyed the scene. Granite finally got the chance to put a call in to the station while Deadline and Kyrene were holding a heated conversation in the corner– their first argument as a couple, probably. Yes, they were made for each other. Niobe flashed a smile at Granite as he looked up. “Well, I think this evening turned out to be okay,” the mare commented to the partial head of the garden gnome she still held in her hoof.

***Funny. I hadn’t meant for it to become so comical. Oh well, I’m still rather happy with how it turned out. But how did YOU think it turned out?!?!?! Tell me!!! Tell all the authors!!! One simple URL, and you can send a message to all of us!!!
Remember, I have a BLUNT OBJECT at my disposal!! Mwahahaha!!! (Hmm... Tabby is in a rather strange mood I think...)***


New-New Ponies

My Little Pony will be making a third comeback in stores this summer. Twelve ponies and two playsets are already planned for 2003, the “Year of the Celebration” for My Little Pony. The ponies will include Sparkleworks, Minty, Sweetberry, Wysteria, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Kimono, Sunny Daze, and Pink Sun Sparkle; the playsets will be a Celebration Castle and a hot air balloon. Along with the toy release, My Little Pony will be found on apparel, health and beauty aids, bedding, accessories, and footwear. Perhaps bigger than this is My Little Pony’s return to theaters! Fat Rock Entertainment is planning on producing four to six My Little Pony films yearly, starting this summer. Unlike the original cartoon, My Little Pony will be brought into the modern age with use of CGI. And, both North Americans and Europeans can look forward to seeing this release!

So, what are your opinions on the third generation of My Little Pony? How do you suggest pony fans should refer to this line– must we stoop to “new-new ponies”? Are you going to buy everything or pick items sparingly? Write in any of your thoughts, opinions, observations; we’ll post ‘em all in the next issue! Stop by

***Wheeeee! Clever Clover is going back to the Isle, and this time Morning Glory gets to come with him. Now, just when is Cleve gonna get married, and which girl is he gonna pick?***

by Clever Clover (

Clever Clover was walking home from the hockey rink where his team had just won a come-from-behind victory. Minoko and Belle Star were along, too. The pirate Minoko had really taken to the youth hockey matches, though she had the bad habit of encouraging fights. Belle Star had a knack for always choosing to root for the losing team. Fortunately, the opponents today had a cuter name, the Fuzzy Pandas versus Clever Clover’s Dragonflies.

As they arrived at Clever Clover’s home, Minoko glared at Belle Star. “Why do you always walk all the way home with us when we pass your apartment right after we leave the rink? Now you’re just gonna make Clever Clover walk you home again.”

“Gee, I never thought of that. We were just having so much fun together I didn’t even notice we passed my apartment!”

“Oh, please.”

“It’s no big deal, Minoko. Besides, if you really wanted to make my life easier, you’d look into getting yourself an apartment.”

“I couldn’t do that. Officer Key released me into your custody. You have to stay close to me.”

“Bells Star is an officer of the Sea Patrol, too. If you got an apartment in her building, she could keep an eye on you for me.”

“Wouldn’t that be so fun, Minoko? We’d be neighbors and we could hang out together all the time!”

“We already hang out together all the time. I was trying to get rid of you.” Minoko threw open the front door first and marched into the living room, followed by Clever Clover.

“Play nice, Minoko. I don’t mind having Belle Star around. Hey, where is she?” Clever Clover looked around the room.

“Maybe she took a clue and went home.”

But just then Belle Star trotted in. “Clever Clover, I found this out on your doorstep. It was all covered in snow.” She handed him an envelope damp with melting snow.

“Probably a secret admirer,” Minoko huffed.

“I hope not,” said Clever Clover as he tore the envelope open. “It’s from Raven. He wants me to come to the Isle for a meeting with King Oak.”

“Great, I could use a vacation, even if it means running into Raven.”

“Sorry, Minoko; he says you can’t come– well, not you specifically. Just that I can’t bring anyone. I guess Belle Star is going to have to look after you while I’m gone.”

The tan pony threw Clever Clover a salute. “You can count on me!”

Minoko rolled her eyes. “Great. I’ve got a babysitter who needs one herself.”

“Hey! I don’t need a babysitter! What do you mean by that?”

“Minoko, try to be nice. Besides, I’m going to need someone to look after the Dragonflies while I’m gone; I’ll miss at least our next game. Think you can handle it?”

“Oh, yeah! We’ll clean their clocks!”

“And Belle Star, make sure Minoko doesn’t start any fights.”

“C’mon! What fun is hockey without a good fight?” Clever Clover just glared at the pirate pony. “Oh, alright. I’ll play nice.”

“I guess you’ll have to stay over here, Belle Star. Is that alright?”

“Oh, sure. It’ll be like a sleepover!”

* * *
The next day, Clever Clover packed for his trip to the Isle. It was always a long trip and this was the coldest time of year, so he had to pack extra provisions. Even though he wasn’t allowed any guests, he was taking his Vulpix along. Her fiery breath would come in handy camping out in the frigid Flatlands. It seemed to the princely purple pony that Raven delighted in tormenting him. He had never been invited to the Isle when it was warm.

Belle Star was also busy. Since she had a habit of sleeping in and Clever Clover wanted to get an early start, he had asked her to bring her things over and spend the night so that he wouldn’t have to leave Minoko unattended for the morning. The tan pony arrived at Clever Clover’s at five o’clock, just in time for supper. But Clever Clover had only prepared a light meal since he lost his appetite when he was nervous, and mysterious invitations always made him nervous, not to mention leaving Minoko and Belle Star alone in his house for more than a week.

After the meal, the three ponies sat around playing cards and eating potato chips into the night. It was near midnight when Clever Clover rose from the table with a yawn. “I have to be getting up early tomorrow so I really need to be getting to sleep. Belle Star, I’ll sleep on the couch tonight; you can have my bed.”

“Oh, no, you don’t have to do that. I don’t mind sleeping on the couch and you really should get a good night’s sleep.”

“But I insist. I won’t be able to get a good night’s sleep, anyway. Too nervous. Besides, I’ll be up way before you; and I wouldn’t want to disturb you.”

“But if I oversleep, I won’t be able to say goodbye.”

Minoko slammed her hooves on the table. “Would you two cut it out! Either go to bed or play cards!”

“Oh, right.” Belle Star started shuffling the deck. “Who’s deal was it?”

Clever Clover trod off to his bedroom. There was no way he was going to get any sleep on the couch with the two of them playing cards in the next room. He just hoped that Belle Star would realize that she had won the argument when she decided to go to bed.

* * *
The next morning, Clever Clover shuffled out of his bedroom toward the kitchen. Belle Star was fast asleep on the couch, snoring loudly, and the dining room table was littered with playing cards. The purple pony brushed aside enough cards to make room for a bowl of hot oatmeal with maple and brown sugar. Pixie the Vulpix was wide awake and ready for the journey ahead. By the time he finished his breakfast, Clever Clover was ready to go back to bed, but he knew that he had to set out as early as possible for the long journey.

As he gathered his things for the trip, he noticed that Belle Star had stopped snoring. He knew she had wanted to say goodbye, but she was sleeping so peacefully he didn’t want to disturb her. “Goodbye, Belle Star,” he whispered as he opened the door. Standing on his doorstep was Morning Glory, wearing a deep purple cape and hat. “What are you doing here?!”

“You seem surprised to see me. Didn’t you get one of these also?” She held up an invitation from Raven much like the one Clever Clover had received.

“Yeah, but it didn’t say anything about a traveling companion.”

“Well, mine did. Raven suggested I accompany you since we would both be going to the Isle to meet with him. I’m so excited. This is going to be my first visit to the Isle!”

“Actually, we were both born there. We weren’t brought to Friendship Garden until we were almost a year old.”

“Well, it will be the first time I remember being to the Isle. And I really look forward to meeting this Raven fellow. He seems likes such a wise and noble stallion.”

As the prince and princess talked, Belle Star rolled off the couch with a thud. Morning Glory craned her neck to see past Clever Clover. “Oh, Clever Clover, do you have company?”

“Yeah. Belle Star is watching Minoko while I’m gone.”

Belle Star sat up and yawned. “Oh, Morning Glory. Did you come to say goodbye to Clever Clover before his trip?”

“No. I’m going with him.”

“That’s very nice of you. Now Clever Clover will have someone to talk to along the way.”

“Yeah, well, we’d better be going. I’d hate to see how Minoko reacts to this news. She’s already upset at being left behind.” Clever Clover ushered Morning Glory off the doorstep. “Goodbye, Belle Star. See you in a week or two. And could you wait until Minoko is outside and away from the house before you tell her about Morning Glory? You know how she gets.”

“Uh-huh. I’ll do my best. Goodbye!” Belle Star stood in the doorway waving until Clever Clover and Morning Glory were out of sight. As she closed the door, Minoko wandered into the living room.

“Hey, Belle Star, did I miss Clever Clover?”

“Uh-huh. He and Morning Glory are on their way to the Isle.”

“Wha!? He AND Morning Glory? I thought he said he couldn’t take a guest!”

“Well, Morning Glory got an invitation too, since she is a princess after all, so they are going together.”

“Why that two-timing…”

“Uh-oh. Now Minoko, calm down!”

* * *
Clever Clover was becoming quite familiar with the road to the Isle, not that there really was a road. The Isle ponies liked their privacy so there were no roads, signs, or even footpaths leading to the isolated Green Lake in the northern reaches of the Flatlands. It made sense to have Morning Glory accompany Clever Clover for her first trip to their ancestral home. Without a guide who knew the way it would be quite difficult to find. And, like Belle Star had said, it gave the prince someone to talk to. Not that he needed someone to talk to. One thing he liked about his trips to the Isle was that he got to be alone for a whole week of hiking. When he walked, his mind tended to wander and it was hard to carry on a conversation, except for the time he made the trip with Belle Star whose mind was always wandering. Their conversations wandered with their minds and rarely made any sense looking back, though at the time they seemed quite intelligent.

“Clever Clover! Are you listening to me?”

“Huh? Sorry, Morning Glory. My mind was wandering. I’m still a little concerned about that explosion we heard right after we left. You don’t suppose Belle Star let it slip to Minoko that you were coming with me?”

“I wouldn’t worry about it. She gave you her word.”

“Yeah, I guess she did. But you never can tell.”

“Well, you should try harder to keep your mind on the present, considering you are the one who knows the way to where we’re going. If you don’t pay attention, we may get lost.”

“I haven’t gotten lost yet.” Clever Clover paused and looked around at the fir trees surrounding them. “Hm, I don’t remember any fir trees along the route.”

Morning Glory collapsed. “What! Those two ‘friends’ of yours are having a bad influence on you.”

“I’m just kidding. I know exactly where we are and we are right on track. There is a good place to make camp up ahead. We should be there in about half an hour.”

“That’s good. It’s starting to get cold. I’m glad you brought Pixie along. She’ll make quick work of lighting our campfire.”

“Yeah. And she’s like having a furnace in the tent at night.”

“Oh good. I had been quite worried about his trip, there being no inns along the way and all. I thought it would have been better to wait until spring when the weather was warmer. But I guess our duties as prince and princess are more important that physical comfort.”

“I don’t think it’s that pressing. Raven just likes torturing me.”

“That’s not a very respectful thing to say about the Regent. Based on what Lady Moonshine told me, he is a fine and upstanding pony. And very loyal to the crown.”

“True. But you haven’t met him. He’s almost enough to keep Minoko from even wanting to come with me.”

“Well, in that case, I have even more respect for him.”

“I never thought of it that way. But he did make Belle Star cry the first time she met him.”

“As I recall, that was because you brought her to the Isle without consulting Raven first. At least that is what Foxglove told me at Sugarberry’s Christmas party.”

“And as I recall, you wanted to go with me that time. It could just have well been you who was crying.”

“I suppose. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what sort of impression he makes.”

“I have to hand it to you, you are more levelheaded than Minoko or Belle.”

* * *
The two ponies soon arrived at the clearing where Clever Clover planned to make camp. For all he could tell, no one had been there since his last passing months ago. A rocky outcropping made a convenient hearth and the dense trees blocked the wind. Princess Morning Glory gathered firewood while Clever Clover pitched the tent. Pixie accompanied the princess for her protection. Not that she needed any protection. There was nothing dangerous along the route, but she had seemed nervous about going into the woods alone to gather the wood so Clever Clover sent his Pokemon along with her. Before long, she had returned to the clearing safe and sound with an adequate supply of wood for the night. Once the fire was burning and a pot of soup hung to cook, the ponies and Pokemon huddled in the tent to keep warm.

“I never imagined being a princess to be anything like this. But the grass is always greener they say. I suppose this is only the first hardship I’ll have to undergo as princess.”

“First? What about that whole Jack-O-Lantern adventure? If you hadn’t known you were a princess, you wouldn’t have gotten involved.”

“True. But that was a romantic adventure, even though you were rushing off to save another mare. It was so unreal, I think back on it almost like a dream. Clever Clover, was your trip to the Isle with Belle Star like this?”

“Not quite. It was a bit warmer, and there was a lot of snow. And we had separate tents, but that would be dangerous in this weather. We need to conserve body heat.”

“It’s that cold? I didn’t realize the trip would be so perilous.”

“No, it’s not perilous at all, as long as you know what you’re doing.”

“Then it’s a good thing I have you to watch over me, because I’d have no idea what to do on my own.”

“The soup should be done. I’m starving.” Clever Clover quickly exited the tent and retrieved the pot from the fire and rushed it back into the shelter. Morning Glory shot him a very cross look as he began to dish out the piping hot soup.

“Clever Clover! We were having a moment there, and you ruined it by rushing out for soup!”

“Huh? Sorry, I hadn’t realized that was a ‘moment’. When I get hungry I tend to zone out. Anyway, we need to be getting to sleep soon and the best thing we can do to get ready for the long cold night is fill our stomachs with nice hot soup. I’m just watching over you.”

“Oh, you were paying attention at least. And I suppose survival is more important than a ‘moment’. Thank you.”

And the two ponies ate their soup and settled down for the night.

* * *
The next morning dawned cold and bright. Clever Clover rekindled the fire and put a pot of hot chocolate on. After a sparse breakfast, the ponies broke camp and began the second day of their journey. “From here on out the land is relatively flat so we should make good time, but there’s still two nights of camping out before we reach the Isle. And in the Flatlands there are few trees for firewood or shelter.”

“It sounds very desolate. Why do you suppose our ancestors choose to settle in the Flatlands?”

“They wanted to be left alone. Besides, the Isle isn’t as desolate as the rest of the Flatlands. It’s like an oasis in a great northern desert.”

“That sounds so romantic.”

* * *
The rest of the journey went without incident. Two and a half days after camping in the firs, Clever Clover and Morning Glory arrived at the Green Lake– though the lake was not green, but icy blue. The ice boats of the Isle ponies glided to and fro across the glassy surface. Three boats and a party of ponies awaited the travelers as they arrived. Clever Clover expected to find Ironwood and the royal guard but to his great surprise was greeted by none other than King Oak himself.

“Ah, cousin! It has been too long. Welcome home again. And I see the princess is with you. Welcome, Princess Morning Glory.”

“I’m honored to meet you your highness.”

“Your highness, I hadn’t been expecting you to come out and greet us yourself.”

“Oh, we can dispense with all this ‘highness’ garbage. At least for the time being. Save it for formal occasions. Come, Morning Glory, let me introduce you to my queen, Gooseberry.” King Oak led them to the edge of the lake where a fire burned. Around the fire were seated the queen and her attendants.

“I see our guests have arrived. Come, princess, warm yourself by the fire. The trip across the lake can be quite chilling, so you’d best take advantage of this opportunity to fortify yourself and give me a chance to get to know you.”

“Thank you your highness, I mean Gooseberry.” Morning Glory sat next to the queen and an attendant wrapped a blanket around her shoulders.

Oak, standing back from the fire, took a deep breath of cold air. “I rather enjoy this brisk weather myself.”

“It’s a bit beyond brisk, I’d say. But still, it’s not bad.”

“Come Clever Clover, I’d have figured you for hardier stock than that.”

“I didn’t say I can’t handle it.”

“My mistake. By the way, did you remember your foil? You promised me another match.”

“Of course. And I’ve been practicing. As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the pirate Minoko is staying at my house and she is quite the fencer. It turns out Belle Star has some skill, too, as an officer of the Pony Sea Patrol.”

“Yes, Foxglove filled me in after her trip this Christmas. The fact that Minoko has taken to you gives me hope for the future of our people. Perhaps we can heal the divisions that have been plaguing us.”

“What divisions? I thought all our people lived here, except for those of us in Friendship Gardens; but there is no strife between us.”

“I was referring to Jack-O-Lantern. That is the matter I summoned you to the Isle to discuss. But there will be time for that later. Now is a happy time to greet returning friends.”

“Speaking of greeting, why did you come out personally? Isn’t that usually Ironwood’s job?”

“Normally, yes. But since Gooseberry and I had planned to go sailing today anyway, we decided to greet you ourselves, despite Raven’s protests. Actually, Ironwood is out on the lake now with my boat, keeping Raven blissfully unaware that I decided to greet you anyway.”

Meanwhile, nearer the fire, the mare-folk conversed. At least Gooseberry and Morning Glory did. The attendants fawned over Pixie’s shiny coat and six luxurious tails.

“So Morning Glory, how did you find the trip? I hope it wasn’t too much of a hardship.”

“Oh, no, not at all. Thanks to Clever Clover, that is. There is no way I could have made the trip on my own.”

“Well, I hope you enjoy the Isle while you are here. Malachite Castle is quite comfortable; it will be a welcome change from the conditions on the open Flatlands.”

“It will be nice to sleep in a proper bed at night. By the way, why is it that I was summoned to the Isle?”

“Oh, nothing much. You are a princess of the Spirit Clan and we thought you should have a chance to get to know more about your people. And Oak and I wanted to meet you. Since you are not in line for the throne, you will have little official obligation or duty.”

“But what about Clever Clover? He is not in line for the throne, either. Why does he have such responsibilities?”

“Do you envy his burdens? Clever Clover is both a prince and a regent. It is his duty to advise the king and act as intermediary between King Oak and his people in Friendship Gardens. Also, he is the son of the former king whom Jack-O-Lantern holds in great contempt.”

“I do not envy him, but I would like to take an active role in the leadership of our people, however small it might be.”

“I am sure something can be arranged. Though it may be difficult for you, living in Friendship Gardens, to take part in affairs of state here on the Isle.”

“You do have a point there. Well, we shall have to see what arrangement we can come up with.”

King Oak and Clever Clover approached the fire. “Ladies, it is time to return to the Isle.” The ponies went to board the ice boats. A small compliment of royal guards had the boats ready to sail. “Clever Clover, Morning Glory, you will ride with Gooseberry and me.” The four royal ponies boarded one boat, the attendants another, and the guards the third. Pixie, appreciating the attention she had been receiving, rode with the attendants. King Oak personally steered the boat as it skimmed gracefully across the frozen lake.

* * *
Morning Glory was awestruck by the sight of Malachite Castle. Its gray-green walls towered over the rustic whitewashed village in the cleft of the mountain. Down the main street they walked. The town did not seem too lively on this cold day, but there was more life than when Clever Clover had first come here. Ponies went about their daily lives while keeping out of the cold as much as possible. They rushed from shop to shop, tightly bundled in capes and scarves, but were never in too much of a hurry to not bow to the royal party with a polite “good day, your highnesses!” When they reached the castle gates, Morning Glory craned her neck to take on the entire height of the towering visage.

“This is so spectacular. I never imagined it would be so grand!”

“Yep, and for the next few days, it’s home.”

“It is always home, cousin, whether you are here or not. Both you and Morning Glory were born within these walls, as were Gooseberry and I. All the princes and princesses can call Malachite Castle home. Even those who are lost.” King Oak hung his head for a moment. “Well, then, let’s get in out of the cold, for the sake of the ladies.”

Morning Glory pulled Clever Clover aside from the group. “What did Oak mean about ‘those who are lost’?”

“I’m sure they will fill you in on all of that later. Right now, let’s go in and relax for a while.”

Foxglove, stewardess of Malachite Castle, greeted them as the door opened. “Your highnesses, I trust you had a good journey?”

Morning Glory curtseyed politely. “Oh, yes, it was quite charming.”

“I enjoyed it. Where’s Enchantment? Doesn’t she usually do the greeting?”

“She is away on a mission for the Magus. She should be returning shortly.”

King Oak threw his forelegs around Clever Clover and Morning Glory. “That’s what I like about you, Clever Clover; you never forget your friends. Now, shall we grab a bite to eat while we wait for her return? I asked the chiefs to prepare a special meal to celebrate your arrival.”

“As much as I appreciate the gesture, why are we waiting for Enchantment? I don’t want to sound cold or anything, but I’d like to know what business I was summoned for.”

“Enchantment’s mission has bearing on the business at hand. There is no point in beginning before we have all the facts.”

* * *
Foxglove and the royal ponies proceeded to the dining hall where a table was prepared for them. The guards and attendants, along with Pixie, stayed in the antechamber. Already at the table were three ponies: the imposing black figure of Raven, the aged Archbishop Vin, and the mysterious Magus. The three rose when the royal party entered. Raven seemed somewhat surprised.

“Your Highness! I hadn’t expected you back so soon. Not five minutes ago I saw the green sail of your royal boat out on the lake.”

“Oh, my. We entirely forgot about Ironwood. Though he should have noticed we had left the shore. I’ll have to have a word with him when he returns.”

“I see,” said Raven, who had resumed his usual stern demeanor.

“Now that that is settled, let us introduce you three to our guest. Princess Morning Glory, I would like you too meet Raven,”

“Your highness.” The midnight stallion bowed.

“Archbishop Vin.”

“It is an honor to meet you.”

“And finally, our court magician, Magus.”

The white pony only bowed.

“I am so pleased to meet all of you,” Morning Glory said.

“Now that that is taken care of, let us eat.” The King and Queen took their seats side by side at one end of the table . Foxglove guided Clever Clover and Morning Glory to their seats to the King’s right. Once all were seated, servants brought in the food, and the repast tasted good. Before the meal was finished, Magus rose from his seat.

“I have some matters to attend to. I will rejoin you shortly.” He bowed again and left the room.

Nobody seemed to take any notice of the wizard’s leaving other than Morning Glory. “I wonder what that was about?”

“With wizards, it is best not to ask such things,” commented Foxglove.

Raven glared across the table. “And it is impolite.”

“Please forgive me.”

The king nodded. “Of course.”

“I’m bored and this scene is going nowhere.” Clever Clover yawned. “Mind if we just skip to the next one?”

Raven slammed his forehoof on the table. “For once I agree with the prince!”

“Very well, by royal decree this scene is officially over!”

“Hip-hip hooray! Hip-hip hooray!”

* * *
After the meal, the ponies retired to the library. To kill time until the beginning of the next interesting scene, Raven had been lecturing Morning Glory on the history of the Isle ponies. As he concluded his lecture, King Oak nudged Clever Clover who had fallen asleep. “You better wake up; the next scene is about to begin.”

“Huh? What? Oh, sorry ‘bout that. It’s just that I heard all this stuff about our history back in MLP Monthly Issue #62, May 2002 (History by Clever Clover. Check it out!). Except I don’t remember that part about the Water Clan. I thought only two clans didn’t make the trip.”

Raven cleared his throat. “Yes, well, perhaps I omitted certain facts back in Issue #62, but that was only because we were pressed for time. The Water Clan did make the trip, but were unsettled here with only this small lake to sail. They returned to the high sea to search for the lost clans and the regents, but were never heard from again.”

The library door opened, Magus and Enchantment entered. Morning Glory clapped her forehooves together “Oh goody, the next scene!”

Enchantment’s face brightened at the sight of Clever Clover. “It’s good to see you again, Clever Clover. And you, too, Morning Glory.”

“I’m glad to see you, too. So, what have you been busy with?”

The young pony hung her head. “I have been investigating the lost clans, particularly the Night Clan.”

“I take it your findings were not pleasing?” Morning Glory asked.

Enchantment shook her head. “I have located the Night Clan, but they have been turned against us by Jack-O-Lantern. His apprentice, Hemlock, has somehow escaped form the Sea Patrol and resumed his master’s work. And there is another. She is Hemlock’s sister; I do not know her name. She is immune to magic and is a master swordpony. The people live in misery and they blame us as much as Jack-O-Lantern.”

“That is ill news.”

“True, Raven, but there is hope. Another clan has been found, at least. Now action must be taken to undo what Jack-O-Lantern has done.”

“Your highness, I ask that you leave this matter to my apprentice and me. The Night Clan have always been the most powerful magic users among our people. It will take powerful magic to put right what Jack-O-Lantern had done.”

“But what about Hemlock’s sister? Your magic won’t do much good against her.”

“When the time comes, we will call upon your assistance, good prince.”

“I was afraid of that.”

Morning Glory was quite overwhelmed by all of this talk of magic and deceit. As the discussion continued, the princess slipped out of the library. “Oh, what have I gotten myself into? Chasing a wizard who kidnapped a friend is one thing, but rescuing an entire clan? Maybe I should just go back to Friendship Gardens and my normal life. Like Gooseberry said, I can’t take part in the Isle’s affairs if I’m back in Friendship Gardens, and maybe that is best. I think I need to go for a walk to clear my head.”

The pink princess wandered the halls of the castle aimlessly. Malachite Castle was massive and its halls were cut deep into the mountainside. Before long, she was lost. She hadn’t seen anyone since leaving the library. Occasionally she would hear some distant conversation echoing through the halls, but she was content to be alone for the time being. Eventually she found herself in a grandiose hall lined with paintings of majestic ponies, each of them holding a weapon of some sort. At one end of the hall, near a pair of heavy double doors, was a painting she recognized as King Oak holding a heavy-looking sword. Across from him was a stallion who resembled Clever Clover and was holding the axe that the purple prince often carried with him. Next to the axe-wielding pony was one that seemed eerily familiar. She could almost hear his voice, but the more she concentrated the more distant it became. She stood mesmerized by the painting for she knew not how long before a voice from behind startled her.

“That is a painting of your grandfather, King Weis, the predecessor of Clever Clover’s father on the throne.” It was King Oak. He and the rest of the party from the library were standing around her.

“Your highness, I’m sorry for sneaking out on your meeting…”

“But it was all just so overwhelming?” Clever Clover finished the sentence for her. “I know how you feel.”

Gooseberry stepped forward. “There is no need to apologize. You were only brought to the meeting because you had asked to be more active in the affairs of our people. Perhaps we should have given you more warning about what you would be getting yourself into.”

“Why don’t you turn in for the evening? You have had a long day and a long journey before that.”

“That is an excellent idea, Foxglove. I am quite tired.”

Clever Clover yawned loudly. “Me, too. And does anybody know where Pixie got off to?”

The queen giggled. “My attendants seemed to be quite taken with your little pet. I’ll ask if they know where she is.”


“Come along, then; I’ll show you to your room, princess.”

“Thank you very much, Enchantment.”

“Well than, good night all. Will the two of you be joining us for a formal breakfast tomorrow morning?”

“Thanks for the offer, Oak, but I think I’m going to sleep in. How ‘bout you, Morning Glory?”

“I think I’d rather enjoy it. It’s been three days since I’ve had a proper breakfast.”

And so the ponies parted for the night. Enchantment showed Morning Glory to the room right next to Clever Clover’s. The Prince was in the same room he had stayed in since his first visit to the castle. Morning Glory was awestruck at the size of her suite. Three rooms– bathroom, sitting room, and bedroom– were all furnished with finely crafted furniture and luxurious upholstery. She was used to the simple comforts of Friendship Gardens. As she lay on the soft, warm, canopy bed, Morning Glory went over all that she had heard that day. She thought that sleep would allude her, but soon peaceful slumber overcame her.

* * *
The next morning, Princess Morning Glory was awakened by a knock on her door. She sat up in bed and looked around. For a moment, she thought the entire past four days had been a dream; but she was really in Malachite Castle. As overwhelming as the events of the day before, Morning Glory was feeling more at ease this morning. The knocking on the door came again. “Princess, are you awake?”

“Yes, Enchantment. I’ll be right there.” The princess jumped out of bed and glanced at herself in the mirror. “I hope I didn’t look this bad yesterday. One problem with camping out in the winter is that you cannot properly wash your mane.” She proceeded to open the door where Enchantment was waiting.

“Good morning, Princess Morning Glory. How was your night?”

“It was very relaxing. The bed was so comfortable I felt like I’d died and gone to Heaven. By the way, I hope there is no rush to get to breakfast; I need to freshen up a bit.”

“Oh, no rush at all. I came early just in case.”

“I knew it. My mane was a mess when we arrived yesterday. All that wind and sleeping on the ground, and I must have made a horrid first impression.”

“Not at all, your highness.”

* * *
Soon the two ponies were on their way to the royal chamber where breakfast was to be served. They passed through the hall of portraits and into a circular chamber with a domed ceiling. A round table sat in the middle of the room; the king and queen sat across from the double doors through which Enchantment and Morning Glory entered.

The royal ponies rose. “Welcome and good morning, Morning Glory. Please have a seat.”

“Thank you, your highness.”

“I’ve told you before there is no need to be so formal. Just call me Oak.”

“Yes, I keep forgetting. This place is so intimidating.”

“Really? I never noticed.”

After Morning Glory was seated, Enchantment turned to leave. Queen Gooseberry raised her hoof. “Why don’t you join us, Enchantment? We’ve another seat.”

Enchantment turned and bowed. “Magus is expecting me. I have lessons.”

“I think he would understand if you missed your lesson by royal invitation.”

“Very well. Thank you, your highness.”

Once they were all seated, the servants brought out the food. There were pastries and waffles with a variety of fruit syrups, as well a fresh fruit and juice.

“I hope we haven’t frightened you with all of these goings on with Jack-O-Lantern and the Night Clan. Although these things weigh heavy on our minds, our day-to-day concerns are more mundane.”

“Oh, no, Oak, you’ve not frightened me. I just wasn’t prepared for anything so intense. I still wish to take part in our people’s affairs, however small that part may be.”

“You have a strong spirit, Morning Glory. And as much as I hate to admit it, Clever Clover has little aptitude for his duties as Regent, and his vagabond lifestyle doesn’t help much either. You could act as his advisor and proxy in Friendship Garden, sort of a Regent of the Regent as it were.”

“I’m sure I could handle that. Thank you for trusting me with this responsibility.”

Enchantment clapped her hooves. “Congratulations Morning Glory! I’m sure you’ll do great.”

* * *
It was late morning by the time Clever Clover woke up. Pixie was still asleep at the foot of his bed. One of the queen’s attendants had brought her by shortly after he had turned in for the night. Despite the cold weather and stone walls of the castle, the fiery Pokemon had kept the bed quite warm. Clever Clover had actually had to get up in the middle of the night and open the window so that he could sleep. Now he was regretting it. The cold air chilled him to the bone as he crawled out from under the blankets. He rushed to the window and threw shut the shudders.

“Eh, Pixie, get up and light the fire. It’s freezing in here.”

The fire-fox yawned and stretched and lazily lifted her eyelids. “Vul?”

“Yes, it’s morning already. In fact, it’s almost noon.”

“Vul-pix!” The little six-tailed fox stretched once more and jumped down from the bed. She trotted over to the fireplace and belched forth a tongue of flame, lighting the logs in an instant.

“Ah, that’s better. I wonder what Morning Glory is up to. Her breakfast with Oak and Gooseberry should be long over by now. And speaking of Oak, I’ve got a fencing match with him this afternoon. There should be just enough time before lunch to get in a little practice, with a quick stop by the kitchen on the way to the gymnasium for a bite to eat. Come on, Pixie, let’s get going.” The purple prince grabbed his foil as he and his Vulpix headed for the kitchen.

The kitchen staff was already busy with preparations for the mid-day meal when Clever Clover and Pixie arrived. The chefs were only too happy to share some of the food with the prince and his pet. The head chef, a red pony with the symbol of a pear, personally served Pixie a bowl of soup while Clever Clover munched on fresh rolls.

“Thanks for letting us intrude like this; I know it must be pretty hectic in here. But your cooking is great, top notch.”

The head chef bowed. “Thank you. I do my best.”

Now fed, Clever Clover and Pixie proceeded to the gymnasium. Clever Clover had expected the massive room to be empty; but to his surprise, he found Raven and Ironwood engaged in a fencing match. “Fencing must be quite the popular sport here on the Isle.”

The combatants halted their match and turned to the newcomers. The royal guardpony saluted the prince with his sword. “Your highness, it’s good to see you again. I’m sorry I missed you yesterday.”

“That’s okay, Ironwood. So, how long have you been fencing? From the looks of it, if I’d borrowed your foil last year, I’d have been at less of a disadvantage than with Raven’s.”

“I’ve been fencing for just under a year now. The king insisted that all his guards take up the practice. I’ve actually found it quite exhilarating; I wish I’d taken it up sooner.”

“Well, I’ve got a match with the king this afternoon so I figured I’d get a little warm-up in this morning.”

Raven stepped forward. “Why don’t you and I have a quick match then?”

The prince grinned. “Finally, something we can agree on. Sorry to cut your match short, Ironwood.”

“It’s no problem, your highness. I was losing anyway.”

Once Clever Clover was dressed in the protective suit and mask, he faced off against the imposing ebony form of Raven. Ironwood sat on the sidelines stroking Pixie’s fur. Prince and Regent exchanged salutes. Clever Clover launched a quick attack to test his opponent; Raven deflected the blow with the slightest movement of his blade. The Regent countered with a mighty thrust that Clever Clover barely evaded. Back and forth the action flowed, as neither pony could gain a decisive advantage over the other. Raven had perfect control of his blade, never wasting a movement. Clever Clover countered with energy and determination, stubbornly refusing to let Raven get the better of him. Ironwood was mesmerized by the intensity of the engagement before him. All the ponies were so focused on the fight that they lost track of time and it was soon mid-day.

Unnoticed by the stallions, Foxglove entered the gymnasium. “I should have known I’d find you stallions here when dinner is ready to be served and you are nowhere to be found. If there is one thing that will keep a stallion from a meal, it is a fight.”

Clever Clover and Raven lowered their swords and looked at Foxglove. “Is it that late already? It seems like I just got up.”

Raven removed his mask. “Forgive us. We will be along shortly.”

“Speak for yourself, Rave. I’ll be along right now. Come on, Pixie.” Clever Clover marched out of the gymnasium, still wearing his fencing suit, dropping his mask and foil by the door.

“Why don’t you join him, Raven? You know you’ll all be right back here after dinner anyway.”

“Very well, then.” Raven and Ironwood, also dressed for fencing, followed Foxglove to the Grand Dinning Hall. They arrived just as Clever Clover took his seat next to the king.

“So, Clever Clover, are you trying to tell me something by your fashion? Afraid I’d forget outmatched this afternoon?”

“Not at all, Oak. I just don’t want to waste any time getting to it.”

“It seems you are not the only one who is so enthusiastic. I’m starting to feel out of place. We shall have to put away this meal with all due haste so that we can get on with the business at hand. Everyone sit down so we can say grace.”

Once everyone had been seated and the meal blessed, it was enjoyed by all. There was even a special bowl of soup prepared for Pixie. As they ate, Clever Clover asked the king a question. “Oak, last night in the hall of portraits, you said that Morning Glory’s grandfather was king before my father and since the son of the previous king crowns his successor and Vin crowned my father, does that mean that Vin is Morning Glory’s uncle?”

“Yes. Morning Glory’s mother is Vin’s sister. She is also a cousin of Lady Moonshine and Enchantment.”

Morning Glory was shocked. “I had no idea they were all family. Why didn’t anyone tell me this sooner?”

“I suppose with all the concern over Jack-O-Lantern and the Night Clan it just slipped our minds. Though I had assumed Lady Moonshine would have filled you in on your relations by now. But then, she does enjoy keeping secrets.”

* * *
After the meal and a long discussion of relations, everyone proceeded to the gymnasium to watch the royal fencing match between King Oak and Prince Clever Clover. The combatants faced off, saluted and took their guards. Clever Clover and Oak launched their first attacks simultaneously. They both dodged each other’s attack and recovered. Clever Clover took a more defensive posture, allowing Oak to take the initiative. The two ponies fought furiously, neither willing to loose to the other.

“You’ve improved much, Clever Clover. I think even with Raven’s sword you’d give me a run for my money now.”

“Thanks. When you’re training with a pirate who not too long ago wanted to kill you, you learn to give it all you’ve got.” With that, Clever Clover went on the offensive. Oak countered him move-for-move but was being pushed back. With his back against the wall, King Oak threw up his forehooves in surrender.

“Well done, cousin. I’ve not had such an invigorating match in ages.”

“You didn’t need to surrender. You could have come back.”

“Perhaps. But this isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about improving ourselves. Next time we meet, one of us will have to have improved if he is to win a decisive victory.”

“Uh, right.”

* * *
The fencing went on most of the afternoon. King Oak easily defeated both Raven and Ironwood. Clever Clover defeated Ironwood but after a lengthy battle was bested by Raven. With a lucky blow, Ironwood was able to pull off his one victory of the day against Raven.

After the evening meal, the ponies gathered in the hall of portraits where Enchantment entertained them with tales of the past kings and heroes from days gone by. After that they retired for the night, in much higher spirits than the night before.

The next day passed quickly. Clever Clover, King Oak, Raven, Vin, and the Magus spent much of the day playing cards and discussing the Night Clan. Foxglove and Enchantment instructed Morning Glory on her duties as Clever Clover’s advisor and proxy while Morning Glory and Gooseberry shared gossip.

The next morning, Clever Clover and Morning Glory made ready to depart the Isle. The weather was a touch warmer and the ponies of the village were out in force to see off the visiting prince and princess. There was a grand procession from Malachite Castle to the beach where the ice boats waited. Prince and princess, king and queen, regent and stewardess, wizard and apprentice, archbishop and royal guard, all made their way. At the beach, a small group of guardponies had a single ice boat prepared for the trip.

“Well, it was nice seeing all of you again. But maybe next time you could invite us during the summer when it’s not so cold.”

Oak laughed. “I’m sure we could arrange something. There must be some festival we could throw. And next time, bring the rest of your friends. The more the merrier, you know.”

“Thanks, Oak. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled.”

“It was very nice to finally meet all of you. I look forward to seeing you again.”

Archbishop Vin stepped forward. “My niece, I am so proud of you. You have become a fine young lady, a truly worthy heir to our family’s heritage.” He produced a long bundle from his robes. “I would like you to have this. As eldest son, I inherited it from my father; but as I have no children to pass it to, I am giving it to you. I hope you shall never have to use it, but that it will serve you well if you do.”

Morning Glory took the bundle and unwrapped the slender sword that her grandfather had been holding in the painting. “I don’t know what to say. I am honored. Thank you, uncle.”

The prince and princess boarded the boat along with Ironwood. The guardponies pushed it from the beach onto the ice and the wind caught the sail. Ironwood dropped the two on the shore and they began the long trek home.

* * *
Meanwhile, back in Friendship Gardens…

“Just hold it steady, Belle Star, and I’ll nail it in place! We’ve got to get this fixed before Clever Clover gets back!” The black and red pirate pony floated in midair near the roof of Clever Clover’s house.

Belle Star stood on tip-hooves on a stool holding a board in place over the hole in the wall. “I’m doing my best, Minoko, but it isn’t easy.”

***Hey, did anybody catch any of the in-jokes that were interspersed in this story? You did? Cool! Why not drop Cleve a line at***


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