The Outrageous Big End-Of-Year Story
written by Barnacle and Tabby

with the Epona scenes by Clever Clover

and with miscellaneous assistance from Sugarberry, Spike, and Friendly

It was a late December morning in the dark forest and a bitter wind blew through the trees kicking up a little of the dry snow laying about. Most people would prefer to avoid this type of weather as much as possible, but two individuals standing there in the expansive wilderness didn't seem to notice.

One of them was Dreamcatcher, the Native Pony who made her home in those parts. It was not at all uncommon to see her about in the forest attending to her many duties and chores in all kinds of weather, so her presence there on that day was not too far out of line with her normal routine.

Her companion, however, was not the sort who would be seen anywhere around there. She was a human but her dashing garb would have set her apart from the few others that lived in Ponyland. The wind caught her long black cloak and her blue hair and tossed them about, but she did not seem to mind. She was focused on nothing in particular, but it consumed all of her thought none the less.

Finally the woman spoke, but she did not even turn to face her friend when she said, "This is gong to be bad."

Dreamcatcher merely nodded in silent reply.

* * *

The flame-maned unicorn with a coat of gold stood atop a mountain overlooking Dream Valley, a look of worry upon her face. She was Epona, a mysterious pony who watched over the Little Ponies and offered guidance in times of darkness. She was worried now, though, because she saw a great crisis on the horizon. But this time she feared she would not be able to guide them. She longed to gallop down the mountain to warn Brightblade, the warrior she had been grooming as her champion, but something had changed. She was no longer sure what danger lurked beyond the present. New signs had arisen; old ones had faded away. Most recently she had received a message calling her away from Ponyland. The sender was a mystery, but he insisted that the outcome of the coming events could be dependant on her immediate presence at Stonehenge. As guardian of Ponyland, she could not simply ignore the message.

Epona winked from the mountaintop, hoping she would be able to return in time. She appeared at Stonehenge in human guise. It was cold and dark; no one else was around. The flame-haired woman pulled her coat tightly about her to ward off the frigid winter mist. Whoever had summoned her obviously did not feel the meeting was as urgent as his message had suggested. "Hello!" she called into the night. "If you can hear me, I haven't got time to waste!"

"Oh, you've got all the time in the world," replied a devilish voice from behind her.

Epona turned to see an impish figure sitting atop one of the massive stone trilithons. "Bic!" she spat in disgust. "What is this treachery?"

The imp grinned. "Oh, I'm just doing a favor for an old acquaintance."

"But you are forbidden to interfere with the ponies! Or in any affairs within Ponyland!"

"That is why you were lured here. Fortunately for me, you're not really a pony. And outside your protectorate, your power is nothing compared to mine."

"What do you want from me?" the guardian demanded.

"I have no interest in you or in the action you sought to prevent. I was simply asked to hold you here until events have played out; then you'll be free to return to Ponyland-- or at least what's left of it."

Epona was aghast. She tried to wink away but could not. "What witchcraft is this?"

"These ancient places have great power," the Imp explained. "If you know how to tap into that power, you can do great things. Too bad for you the powers recognize only one master; and for now, that master is me."

"You cad! Only one so vile as you would willingly play pawn to such a dark power!"

"Ah, good guardian, your judgement assumes such things as 'good' and 'evil' exist. The powers I choose to serve are neither. To demonstrate my 'neutrality' in this affair, I will be generous and let you watch as the events transpire."

"You are too kind," the flame-haired guardian bit out spitefully.

The imp hopped down from his perch and spat in a pool of water and stirred it with his toe. As the water settled, a scene unfolded before the captive guardian.

* * *

"Say, what did Barnacle have to say on the Skeleton King when you told him about it?"


"Remember when we saw him in the Dark Forest, and he mentioned a pirate?"

"Barnacle in the Dark Forest?"

"No, the Skeleton King."

"Oh, that. I thought you were going to tell him. What did he say?"

"Are you sure you didn't say anything? I thought that's what you were talking about after the meal on Christmas."

"Oh, no. That's when we were discussing with Spike what to do with that 12" Speeder Bike, the Target exclusive. Spike couldn't sell it, y'see, so Barnacle offered to buy it off him because it had stopped shipping and all and he thought that Spike shouldn't just return it and– oh! No, I didn't bring up the Skeleton King."

"I suppose he's back in Port Scurvy by now."

"Uh-huh. Well, Barnacle is, not the Skeleton King. If it's that important I guess you'll have to call him."

"Does he have a phone?"

"Hmm, good point. Then we'll just have to visit him personally."

* * *

And so that was why Tabby and Thomas, on a fine late December day, took a ferry out to Calimidad Island to consult with Barnacle whether the world was in danger again or not.

Even though Calimidad Island was a haven for pirates and the like, it remained popular with the public– especially in these winter months– because of its warm, tropical climate. Many ponies took advantage of the ferry rides to get a little bit of sun during this frigid season. But the sun wasn't all they went for, in some cases... like in that of the Xtreme Ponies.

The group of six had also booked a ride on this same ferry, unknown to Tabby and Thomas; but they would not be in the dark for long. Catching sight of the couple on the opposite side of the deck, Jet quickly went to work. "Dude! Like, dude!" he exclaimed, running over to meet them. "Dude!"

"Hey, Jet!" Thomas greeted, looking up. "I wasn't expecting to see you."

"Hi!" Tabby said brightly, waving.

"Dude!" Jet agreed. "Like, what're you guys doing?"

"We're going to see Barnacle," Tabby answered in a low tone. "We think he may be somehow involved in yet another attempt to destroy the world."

"Duuude," Jet breathed. "I didn't know Barnacle had turned bad!"

By this point the other five Xtreme Ponies had gravitated over to the area and joined in the conversation. "Yeah, the waves are really good over there this time of year," Cliff explained their reason for being there.

"We're going surf-ing!" Bungee cried joyously.

"And you said you were going to see Barnacle?" Luge asked curiously.

"Yeah, what's all this about destroying the world?" Cliff added.

And so, Tabby went on to explain in detail how they had been out in the Dark Forest catching Pokemon when they had heard the sound of an approaching voice; and shortly they found out that the voice did in fact belong to the renowned Skeleton King that Tabby and her friends had had the pleasure or displeasure of encountering several times in the past; this time he had been accompanied by a scraggly little Bushwoolie.

By this point, however, the ferry had reached Calimidad Island, and everyone disembarked. The Xtreme Ponies all grabbed their surfboards, and said their goodbyes to Tabby and Thomas; but Cliff and Luge changed their minds at the last moment.

"Hey, mind if we come along with you to see Barnacle?" Cliff asked, catching up to them.

"We would like to know more about all this and if we can help in any way," Luge added.

"I don't see a problem with it," Thomas stated, and looked to Tabby for her thoughts on the matter.

Tabby's mind, though, had wandered off elsewhere. "I wonder if there are any thrift stores here..." she murmured, staring at the bustling town.

* * *

After a short walk through the rain forest-like jungle, the foursome came to Barnacle's unique home, which consisted of many platforms strung together in several large trees. No one appeared to be at home at first glance; but then, looking down towards the shore, they saw that Barnacle and all of his crew were indeed still in the area.

Everyone was there– Barnacle, of course, the pirate pony captain; the two Bushwoolie brothers, Davey and Jones; Kracken, the human first mate; Pierre, the French lizard; Malteeze, the warrior-cat seeking enlightenment; and Protius, the wise old parrot who was Malteeze's instructor. All of them were gathered around a brand new shining ship sitting on the waves, with Barnacle presiding over the ceremony.

There were also two additional ponies there whom Thomas knew– Equinox and Solstice, twins who worked for International Geography. Equinox was a photographer, and Solstice was the actual reporter. As of now, Solstice was standing back interviewing the crew members while Equinox was snapping pictures from all different angles, almost getting in the way but never actually disturbing anyone.

Barnacle was waving a bottle of champagne high in the air, facing his crew members. "ARR, it's been a long and tiresome year, but we've finally got our ship finished.. Now's the time for the fun to begin. We'll finally be able to go plunderin' and treasure huntin' once again like a real pirate should be doin'!" Kracken, Pierre, Davey, and Jones all let out a cheer, while Malteeze seemed more or less unmoved by the speech. "I hereby christen this ship... um, did we ever decide on a name for this thing?"

"Weren't we going to go with the Sea Wraith?" Kracken asked.

But Pierre quickly intoned, "Non! I am afraid you are mistaken, my dear first mate. Ve had decided to go with Valeur Bateau!"

Malteeze cleared his throat and said bluntly, "Both of those ideas were thrown out long ago."

Kracken turned around to face him. "Okay, so what did we decide on then?"

"I don't recall," Malteeze replied. "But why can't you just call it the Lucas II?" This, however, got nothing but scoffs from all concerned.

Protius finally spoke-up. "I believe we hadn't decided on anything, since none of you could agree on one thing."

"Are you certain? I'm positive it was Valeur Bateau," Pierre vouched.

"Yeah, yeah!" Davey nodded.

"Valeur Bateau, yeah, mon!" Jones agreed.

"No, it was the Sea Wraith!" Kracken insisted.

"Yeah, the Sea Wraith! Yeah!" Davey suddenly changed his mind.

"Yeah, mon! That's the ticket!" Jones added.

"Barnacle, Barnacle!" Tabby cried out. "Hellooooooo! Why don't you call it Springtime Splendor?"

Everyone present suddenly stopped in their argument and turned slowly towards the pink unicorn. "ARR! An idea that stupid could only have come from Tabby!" Barnacle declared.

"Well, if it isn't the Fairfaxes!" Kracken exclaimed. "What brings you to our picturesque island retreat?"

"We're here on business," Tabby said solemnly.

"And apparently Barnacle is somehow involved with it," Thomas agreed gravely.

"Ooh, sounds serious," Solstice expressed, peering at the pair intently with notepad readily at hoof.

Equinox ran over and began snapping pictures. "Hey, Thomas, what's happening?"

"The world is, like, totally in danger again!" Tabby elaborated.

"ARR, what you be doin' this time, Tabby? Run over another cat, did yah?" Barnacle asked.

"That was Tamara's fault," Tabby bristled.

"ARR, whatever."

"No, Callie didn't get run over."

"Then perhaps you could tell us what the problem is?" Protius suggested.

Tabby took a deep breath. "The Skeleton King! In the Dark Forest with a strange Bushwoolie and ranting about this weird island and it sounds like they're planning something!"

"What's a Skeleton King?" Kracken asked.

"He's a king, or was a king, but now he's a Skeleton King and he's in the Dark Forest or maybe he's not anymore because he went off with that strange Bushwoolie!" Tabby rambled on.

"Strange Bushwoolie," Jones said. "That really can't be good."

"Yeah, yeah, mon. Strange Bushwoolies never good," Davey agreed.

"Hmm." The towering cat man looked down at the two Bushwoolies. "If strange Bushwoolies are not good, then we have a problem here all the time."

"Yep-yep!" they both agreed, with big, broad smiles.

"Wait a second! What kind of strange Bushwoolie are you talking about?" Kracken asked more seriously.

"ARR, yes," Barnacle agreed. "What kind are yah talkin' about?"

"Skinny, with flies, and a stick–!"

Barnacle and Kracken suddenly became grim and turned to one another. Slowly, and with an odd sense of dread, Kracken looked back at Tabby and asked, "This strange Bushwoolie– his name wasn't Tiny by any chance, was it?"

"He didn't say."

"ARR, it probably doesn't matter. How many skinny flea-infested Bushwoolies have you seen in your life?"

"Umm... just one," Kracken responded. "And I was kinda hoping I wouldn't ever see him again."

"So you know this Bushwoolie?" Tabby queried.

"Unfortunately," Kracken grieved.

"You guys sure seem to be taking this seriously, just for one little Bushwoolie," Solstice commented.

"ARR, if you knew him like we do, you'd be takin' it seriously, too," Barnacle expressed. "ARR, you said something about an island?"

"An island?" Tabby blinked. "Did I say something about an island?"

"Yes, there was an island mentioned." Thomas recalled. "They said they were headed for some place called Phalanx Island."

"That's right!" Tabby exclaimed brightly. "They did."

"Phalanx Island? I've never heard of the place," Barnacle noted.

"Me either," Kracken commented.

"Nor I," Pierre agreed.

"Hmm... I've never heard of a Phalanx Island," Protius said, "but if my memory serves me correctly, I do believe I read some ancient Atlantean texts once which mentioned a place called Phalanx Base. However, I don't really remember much more about them than that."

"Atlantean? You mean, just like the outpost we're documenting here on Calimidad Island?" Equinox asked.

"Exactly like," Protius replied.

"Maybe the map we found there could show us where Phalanx Island is," Solstice suggested.

"It's worth a try," Protius discerned. "Unfortunately, my Atlantean isn't what it once was."

"I've seen this map as well," Malteeze vouched. "And even if you were still proficient in Atlantean, master, the text is so badly worn I doubt we would be able to read it."

"So what does it all mean?" Tabby deplored, wide-eyed.

"Quite possibly, the end of the world," Kracken said in all seriousness.

Tabby promptly let out a small shriek and cowered. "Oh dear. Maybe I should have remembered to talk to you guys at Christmas."

"ARR, we don't got time to worry about that now!" Barnacle snapped. "We have to do somethin' about this right away!"

"Do something about what? I don't get it. What's the big deal about a skinny Bushwoolie and Phalanx Island?" Cliff, who had been hanging back with Luge, finally asked.

"ARR, that skinny Bushwoolie is a demonic entity hell-bent on destroying the entire world, and he's only one of four!" Barnacle explained.

"And don't forget about the fact that we left them buried under a mountain on Doomsday Island along with their masters, the four Ponies of the Apocalypse!" Kracken voiced dramatically.

"The four Ponies of the Apocalypse?" Luge asked.

"Is this another one of your jokes?" Malteeze asked of Kracken.

"I would hope not," Protius spoke. "Because I have read other texts about these four Ponies of the Apocalypse, and if what they are saying is true, this would definitely not be a laughing matter."

"ARR, it's the truth all right, and we've got to do somethin' about it," Barnacle prompted seriously.

"Tabby, doesn't your father know a lot about Atlantis?" Thomas pointed out. "Maybe he could help us."

"Why, you're right!" Tabby agreed. "And Cleve Clove, too!"

"They both live in Dream Valley, don't they?" Kracken inquired.

"Well, Dad's in Dream Valley, and Clever Clover lives in Friendship Gardens, but ironically I think Cleve Clove was going to stop in and talk to Dad about his recent digs today," Tabby enlightened.

"ARR, that's a long way to go; but I don't think we be havin' a choice. There aren't any historians or archeologists on Calimidad Island," Barnacle said.

"None? How can you be so sure?" Luge queried.

"This is Calimidad Island! All we have here is pirates and ruffians."

"And tourists," Pierre added.

"Well, in that case, we'd better get moving!" Kracken urged. "Shall I ready the... um... what're we gonna call it?"

"ARR, never mind that now, just get the ship ready!"

"Tabby and Thomas, you are going to be ze first two guests zat get to sail with us on our new ship!" Pierre informed.

"And don't forget about us!" Solstice interjected.

"Yeah, we're comin', too," Equinox agreed. "We're not going to miss out on this story."

"You can count me in, too," Cliff said. "This sounds like one wicked wild adventure."

"Yes, it sounds like it might even be better than surfing the legendary Calimidad waves!" Luge agreed. "I'm coming, too."

"ARR, in that case, all of ye get yer land-lubbin' behinds on the ship!" Barnacle instructed. "We set sail immediately!"

"It's so exciting!!!!" Tabby shrieked. "Hooray!"

* * *

On the long trip to Dream Valley, they had a lot of time to discuss Barnacle's misadventures with the Bushwoolies of the Apocalypse, as well as Tabby's Atlantean exploits; and in no time at all they had reached their destination.

After docking the ship, Tabby, Thomas, Equinox, Solstice, Protius, and Barnacle headed off to find Hubert and Clever Clover. The rest were left with the ship. "ARR, don't anybody go nowhere, because if you're not here when we get back, we'll leave without yah," Barnacle left firm instructions.

Upon reaching her old home, where her parents now resided, Tabby rang the doorbell and impatiently waited an answer. "Hi-ho!" a cheerful voice greeted them as the door opened.

"Hello, Cleve Clove," Tabby greeted him. "We should like to consult with you and my father on a matter of utmost importance."

Clever Clover shrugged. "Sure, whatever. We were just comparing notes on the ancient dragon roosts of the Upper Sentrallie Valley where I was just working." Turning back into the house, he called down the hallway, "Hey, Hubert, Tabby and some others are here and she says she has something important to tell you."

Spike, the baby dragon, padded down the hallway next. "Hey, guys. What are you all doing here?"

"ARR! No time for chit-chat! Let's get down to business!"

"Umm, I believe what Barnacle is trying to say is that we have something of great importance that needs to be discussed as soon as possible," Protius elaborated.

"What? No!" Hubert, who had just come up to the group, looked in surprise at the feathered scholar peering through the doorway. "I never expected to run into you in Dream Valley."

"Hubert?" Protius furrowed his brow. "Hubert Fershund? It is you!"

"It's been a long time!" Hubert commented.

"It has indeed," Protius nodded.

"You guys know each other?" Tabby asked incredulously.

"We were both at that Incan monastery in the Himalayas," Hubert explained.

"Yes, I had just finished some meditations about the same time Hubert was just arrived," Protius added. "This is odd. In fact, I'm surprised we didn't meet sooner."

"I see," Tabby murmured appreciatively. "You mean you guys didn't run into each other at the wedding?"

"You were at the wedding?" Hubert and Protius asked simultaneously.

"Well, yes, of course I was there," Tabby said modestly. "Thomas too, actually."

"ARR, now that we've got all the introductions out of the way..." Barnacle paused. "We do, don't we?" No one said anything, so he continued. "Equinox, why don't you bring out those photos?"

In short order, everyone there was gathered around the kitchen table explaining the present dilemma while Equinox assembled a mural of the photos he had taken. "What seems to be the problem?" Hubert questioned.

"ARR, you see-"

"It seems that we may have a problem of global significance," Protius cut him off. "An ancient force of great malevolence known as the four Ponies of the Apocalypse have inadvertently been released on the world and they are planning to carry out a plan of destruction most nefarious."

Hubert nodded seriously. "I see."

"Your daughter happened upon some information dealing with their meeting place; however, we don't know exactly where it is," Protius continued. "We were hoping you might be able to make some sense out of this map and help us locate Phalanx Island."

"This is interesting indeed," Hubert muttered contemplatively, looking closely at the photographed map. "Tabby, would you fetch my charts from the closet? And Clever Clover, you have some maps of your own, don't you? We may need them."

"ARR, I've also brought my sailing charts along," Barnacle offered.

"Good. They will be useful as well."

* * *

After a great deal of contemplation, conferencing, and cross-referencing, they had, as nearly as they could tell, located the position of Phalanx Island. Spike scurried around while they worked, peering over shoulders and offering bits of advice when able.

"ARR," Barnacle said as he rolled up his charts. "Now we know where we're headin' and we can take care of this mess once and for all."

"Yes, we thank you greatly for all your help," Protius agreed. "And I'm sure it will come in handy."

"If you do not mind the intrusion, I do feel the need to be along on your adventure," Hubert offered gravely. "It could have serious consequences."

"Don't tell me you're going to leave me behind!" Clever Clover spoke-up, grabbing his hat from the chair beside him and throwing it on his head.

"And me!" Spike added, jumping up and down rambunctiously.

"ARR, this is turnin' into a regular field trip!" Barnacle griped.

"It's going to be so much fun!" Tabby said brightly, turning the doorknob to let herself outside. However, upon opening the door, she and the others were greeted with a surprising sight: Dreamcatcher, the Native Pony of the Dark Forest; along with a female human whom none of them had seen before.

"ARR, you're in our way! Step aside, lest you want to taste cold steel!" Barnacle snapped.

"We're coming along," the girl stated simply, throwing back her thick cape. A cold, freezing winter wind blew through, tossing her hair in all directions.

Tabby blinked. "Why?"

"Wait a second! Who said we were going anywhere? And even if we were, why would you have to come along? And while we're on the subject, who are you?" Equinox demanded, stepping forward.

"Oh, Dreamcatcher!" Tabby exclaimed, recognizing the Native Pony who accompanied the girl. "Nice to see you."

"I only wish we could have met under better circumstances," Dreamcatcher replied gravely.

"We're coming with you to stop the Ponies of the Apocalypse, of course," the girl expressed.

"How do you know?" Tabby gaped.

"My name is Persephone Ravenwood, and I am a Krulotin," the girl introduced herself. "We know these things."

"The Krulotin?" Hubert pushed his way through the assemblage. "You're one of the Krulotin? I was beginning to think we had seen the last of you, despite all the good words spoken in the cave when you were going to send me to the next dimension."

"We were merely biding our time and waiting for the right moment to once again make our presence known in the world," Persephone declared passionately. "And that time is now."

"ARR, Tabby, Hubert, who are these Krulotin people, and what do they got to do with all this?" Barnacle demanded.

"They are the ancient Atlantean royal guards, sworn to protect the royal family and all their interests," Tabby explained mysteriously.

"Well, then why would they want to help you?" Equinox queried.

"Oh, uh, well, you know, I– we– we're–" Tabby floundered, looking beseechingly at Thomas and Hubert. "You see, we really..."

Persephone acted quickly. "This matter involves everyone on the earth," she advised briskly. "And so it is our responsibility also."

Tabby breathed a sigh of relief. "That's exactly what I was trying to say."

"That's all well and good, but what's one girl going to do to help?" Equinox questioned.

"I'm not just a mere girl," Persephone bristled. "I am a Krulotin, and that means I have been trained for years in the art of combat– plus not only will you have my aid but the full force of the Krulotin as well."

"ARR, in that case, this might not be so bad after all. We'll need all the help we can get," Barnacle predicted.

* * *

Kyrene, reporter for the local newspaper, had been taking a walk through town that day trying to come up with some interesting story ideas– and it looked like she had found something more than she had thought she would. There was a strange group assembled in front of a house on Fifth Street, and it didn't look like an average family reunion or anything of the type.

The young unicorn sensed a story, and quickly hid herself behind some shrubs on the opposite side of the street, keeping a keen eye trained on them and making out whatever bits of conversation she could.

There was a pirate– a baby dragon– a Native Pony– a large feathered parrot– yes, this had all the makings of a grand front-page tale. But how did they all fit together, and what kind of a scandal were they all involved in? Kyrene went over possibilities in her head, but nothing seemed to fit together. The snatches of conversation didn't help, either– something about Krulotin, and royalty, and caves. Who or what were the Krulotin? Kyrene needed to know.

But what's this? she thought to herself, seeing another figure approaching the house. So one more joins the pack!

The pink unicorn, whose appearance was extremely similar to one of the ponies already gathered, looked to be extremely angry over something. Could this be the enemy they had all been awaiting? Kyrene kept her eyes glued to the scene.

* * *

"Look, Tabby, when you say you're going to help me with something, I expect you to actually be there to help me," Tamara said menacingly, facing her cousin. "But what do I get for waiting the whole morning for you to show up? Nothing! Not even a call to say you're going to be late? Tabby, I simply cannot believe you sometimes! You're impossible! You treat me like an imbecile, and this is what I get in return? If you don't shape up your act soon, Tabby, I'm warning you that you'd better–"

While Tamara was ranting, Tabby stared at her with glazed eyes. Finally, she interrupted the tirade. "Tamara, the world is going to be destroyed shortly. Cleaning your house just didn't seem to be a top priority after what we've found out."

"Oh, so now you're trying to make me feel guilty, huh? Well, I'm telling you, girl, that just isn't going to work! Now if you don't give me a good excuse–"

"We were just over to Calimidad Island to see Barnacle and–"

"Calimidad Island? Barnacle?" All the vengeance promptly left Tamara, and her expression turned blissful and soft, with a bit of eagerness mixed in. "Did you see Malteeze? Oh, Tabby, tell me! Did he miss me?"

"Actually, we did see Malteeze," Tabby informed her cousin impatiently. "But no, he didn't say a word about you. But actually he's waiting for us at the dock right now along with the others and if we don't get moving you're not going to have a house to clean–"

"Malteeze? He's really here? In Dream Valley?" Tamara grew starry-eyed. "Oh, Tabby! You can't imagine how happy you've made me today. Tell me you'll let me go along! Oh, Tabby, please take me with you, to Malteeze!"

"Tamara, I don't think you understand," Thomas interjected, stepping forward. Up to this point, everyone had simply stood back and let the two fight it out. "The fate of the world rests on this mission, and I don't think you'd enjoy it."

"I will let nothing stand between me and my love," Tamara declared.

"Tamara..." Tabby ventured tentatively. "Are you sure you aren't taking Ah-Loh's advice just a little too seriously?"

"He predicted that I would meet my true love on your wedding day, and I believe I have," Tamara snapped. "Please, take me to Malteeze."

"Are you feeling okay, Tamara? Maybe we ought to take you home..."

"You most definitely will not," Tamara stated firmly. "I'm going with you."

"ARR, I don't be thinkin' this is such a good idea," Barnacle said skeptically.

"Aw, give her a chance," Solstice pleaded on behalf of Tamara. "I don't think she'd get in the way, much."

"ARR, we've already got two extra scientists coming along and a baby dragon, and now we've picked up this Krulotin woman and her friend, but I'm drawin' the line at Tabby's relatives who just want to come along so they can hang out with members a' my crew!"

"How dare you try to separate me from my soulmate, you– you– pirate! Tabby, do something! I must see my dear and beloved Malteeze! Don't be so heartless as to deny me that right!" Tamara blustered.

"Fine, come along! But if you end up in the next dimension, don't blame me."

* * *

They're moving out, Kyrene noted silently. I bet they're going somewhere interesting. Turning invisible with her unicorn magic, she stealthily followed them.

* * *

When they arrived back at the ship, they found that a great number of Krulotin soldiers in shining armor were already waiting for them there. "ARR, now what's this?" Barnacle exclaimed.

Kracken stepped forward and shrugged. "I don't know, boss, they just showed up and said they'd wait for you guys. They didn't look like they were going to start any trouble, so I figured I'd wait for you to come back and sort it out." He looked at Persephone with intense interest.

"ARR," Barnacle said, turning to Persephone, "these wouldn't happen to be friends of yours, would they?"

"These are but a few of the Krulotin who have volunteered to help in this time of need," Persephone imparted. "The rest are waiting elsewhere for when they'll be needed."

"ARR, at least help like this we can be usin'." Then, casting a sideways glance at Tamara, added, "Not like some of them we've picked up."

"Oh, Malteeze!" Tamara cried, running up the gangplank, ignoring Barnacle's snide remark.

Malteeze groaned. "Oh, no. Not you again."

And so, with the last members of their crew assembled, they set sail for Phalanx Island.

* * *

"This is driving me crazy!!!!" Tabby shrieked hysterically. "How much longer is it going to be???"

Just then, Pierre happened to swing by on a rope and grabbed hold of a shroud line. "Why are you upset? The sea is so lovely! 'ow could you not enjoy being out 'ere?"

"Water isn't my element," Tabby explained.

"What is your element? Fire, maybe?" Davey queried.

"Wind! Lots and lots of hot air!" Jones chorused.

Tabby glared at them. "Be quiet. Actually, I wish I knew what my element was. I don't have one."

"Well," Pierre continued, "zere are only four of zem. It's either one of zose three zat we just mentioned, or you'd be left with–"

"Land-ho!" Kracken interrupted, screaming from the crow's nest.

"ARR, we're finally there!" Barnacle cheered; and then, barking at his crew, continued, "Prepare for landing!"

"Ooh, time for me to move on," Pierre realized, and continued to swing around the outside of the ship on his rope.

The ship moved in towards the mass of land, slowing as it approached Phalanx Island. "That's an island?" Tabby breathed in awe. "It looks like a big wall."

"Apparently, the whole thing is fortified, and the island is completely covered with the garrison," Protius noted.


"We'll need to find a place to dock," Persephone declared.

"ARR, my thoughts exactly," Barnacle agreed. "Bring 'er around; we'll circle until we find a wharf."

"Aye-aye!" Kracken answered cheerfully, jumping down from the crow's nest to carry out Barnacle's orders.

The ship began to circle around the island. An eerie sense of dread seemed to radiate from the place; but why, none of them could tell. It looked to be abandoned; no one was in the parapets or on the walls. If the adventurers didn't know better, they would have assumed that the base was not in use.

Finally, they came to an area of the wall that was lower than the rest, and marked only by several posts. As the ship got closer, it became obvious that this was a dock of some kind; and they quickly made preparations to utilize it. As soon as the crew was close enough, lines were thrown across and Pierre swung out to secure the ship with them. In short order, the pirate vessel was lashed to the island, and they were ready to disembark.

Barnacle was quietly pleased with the performance of his crew. They had not all yet sailed together, and the clockwork precision with which they carried out his orders would have been impressive even for a seasoned crew.

Persephone wasted no time, and began yelling out orders to the Krulotin warriors. "Quick! We need to get our gear ready to go."

"Roger that!" one of them called as the soldiers all set about unpacking their equipment and hauling it across the gangplank.

"Flash, Baratta, guard that gateway. We don't want anyone sneaking up on us all," Persephone called as she pointed towards the only entrance onto the dock.

"Roger!" one of them called.

"On it!" asserted the other. Both drew their swords and took a position on either side of the passageway.

"ARR, this is it," Barnacle yelled to all who were present. "Everyone cross the gangplank!"

Davey and Jones began hollering. "Yay, we get to go too!"

"ARR, no, everyone except for you two," Barnacle clarified. "You get to stay with the ship."

"Aw..." they both mourned, their spirits dampened.

"It's okay, guys," Spike offered. "I'll stay here and keep you company."

This cheered them both immensely. "Yipee!" Jones hollered.

"Party, mon!" Davey agreed.

"And I will volunteer myself to stay be'ind and guard the ship from intruders," Pierre said valiantly.

"And to guard it from these miscreants here," Barnacle added, motioning to the Bushwoolies and Spike.

"Yeah, yeah! Miscreants!" Davey cheered.

"That's us, mon!" his brother elated.

Hubert looked down at the two. "That's not a good thing, guys."

"It isn't?" Jones looked puzzled.

"You're a miscreant!" Davey shouted at Jones laughingly.

"No, you're a miscreant!" Jones yelled back. This joking exchange went on for several rounds.

And so, leaving Spike, Pierre, Davey, and Jones with the ship, the rest set out to discover what mysteries Phalanx Island held for them, and to hopefully put an end to the troubles that were threatening the world.

Starting into the halls that covered the island, Kracken was the first to speak. "Does anyone have any idea what the layout of this place is like?" he asked. He, like all the Krulotin, had his sword drawn, ready for danger.

"By that do you mean to ask if we know where we're going?" Protius questioned.

"Uh, yeah, basically."

"We don't have any maps of Phalanx Island itself," Hubert spoke up, "but most Atlantean cities and colonies were arranged in a ring shape, with the most important place at the center; so that's the basic direction in which we're heading– towards the center."

"ARR, I suppose it's a good enough plan as any," Barnacle expressed.

Continuing through the dark, dusty hallways, they frequently came upon wide-open sunlit courtyards which hadn't been used for hundreds of years. Every inch of the place spoke of its long neglect. So far they had seen no signs that anyone had been here in a very long time.

After finding nothing of significance, the group eventually came to another large, open courtyard. This one, though, was quite obviously ring-shaped and stretched along the outside of a wide, low-set building. This appeared to be the very center of the island, and perhaps what they were looking for lay inside. Cautiously, the heros made their way around this structure and found four completely identical unguarded entrances leading into its depths.

"Does anyone have any suggestions?" Persephone asked of the group.

"All entrances into the central structure seem to be identical, so I would wager to guess that any would be as good as the other," Hubert maintained.

"I concur," Protius agreed.

"ARR, then we be takin' this one," Barnacle declared as he finally drew his own sword and stepped through one of the passages.

Now inside, this building looked much like the rest of the fort... but for some reason it felt more foreboding somehow. This caused everyone to speak in low whispers and step cautiously on the thick coating of dust.

"Do you hear that?" Persephone asked in a low tone.

"Hear what? That evil chanting sound?" Kracken queried.

"ARR, I hear it too," Barnacle whispered.

After listening, everyone agreed that there was an evil chanting sound coming from further down the hall. This only caused them to move even more slowly and with more caution. Soon, one side of the curving hallway gave way to a wide ledge with a row of heavy stone pillars down the center.

Persephone motioned for everyone to stay where they were, while she crouched down and moved slowly along down the hall, being careful to stay behind the ledge. When she got to the first pillar, she cautiously looked around it. On the other side was a large sunken area with a great vaulted ceiling and intricately carved stone walls. In the very center was a great fireplace in which currently blazed a mighty fire.

Despite this, the room still seemed dark and ominous– because, seated around the fire at equal intervals were four strange-looking ponies: Thanatos, black with dark purple hair and the symbol of a skull; Aries, grey and red with crossed axes; Hunger, lime green and brown with a balance scale; and Strife, red and yellow with a locust. However, no matter what they looked like, it was obvious that these creatures were pure evil. They could be none other than the Four Ponies of the Apocalypse.

Persephone gasped in shock. She must have been one of the first mortals ever to have laid eyes upon these creatures of darkness, and it had a numbing effect on her. Fortunately, she was able to contain her surprise, and slunk back to the others.

But as the girl moved, she suddenly heard a shriek come from Tabby. What could it be? Had someone snuck around behind them? A quick glance down into the pit confirmed that the Ponies of the Apocalypse had not heard; so what was happening? Persephone hurried over.

Looking them over quickly, though, confirmed that there were no newcomers– the others were only looking at Tabby strangely, except for Thomas and Hubert, who were peering at her intently and waiting for her to talk. "Hey, be quiet!" Persephone said in a hushed whisper. "The four Ponies of the Apocalypse are here. You don't want to be heard, do you?"

Tabby exchanged only a few more words with what seemed to be nothing, and then turned to the rest of the group with a bright smile to explain matters to them. "This is Kaliope, guys. She was queen of Atlantis once, but she's a spirit now, and Nur-Ab-Fin is her mortal enemy. Of course you can't see or hear her, but she says she can help us..."

It had, granted, been a surprise to Tabby when the spirit of Kaliope, the previous queen of Atlantis, had suddenly appeared in front of her and greeted her. Kaliope must have gotten wind of this whole apocalypse thing, and had come with advice, Tabby had reasoned. Now, hopefully, Tabby could convince her friends of this as well.

"And you know her?" Tamara gaped.

"I think those Furbys are really getting to your mind," Clever Clover doubted skeptically.

"I'm telling the truth!" Tabby protested.

"What does she have to say?" Thomas questioned, motioning for the others to let her speak.

Tabby paused, and let the previous queen talk...

"Tabby, grave times have fallen upon this world," Kaliope spoke urgently. "But, of course, you have already realized that. The Ponies and Bushwoolies of the Apocalypse have escaped their imprisonment on Doomsday Island, but they were left without enough power to destroy the world as they had been planning. Barnacle demolished the crystal from which they derived their energy, and so without that they needed to find other ways to get back their might."

"Okay..." Tabby turned from the spirit and back to the others. "The Ponies and the Bushwoolies of the Apocalypse escaped from some island they were trapped on, but their energy was like totally drained, and Barnacle destroyed this crystal or something that they needed to destroy the world... Kaliope, what else?"

"I will explain. Nur-Ab-Fin was released from the disco ball into this world once again by the Bushwoolies of the Apocalypse, and that is why I have come here now. But he is not our only enemy in this battle; there are others."

"So...the Bushwoolies of the Apocalypse let Nur-Ab-Fin out of his disco ball imprisonment and there are other enemies..." Tabby paraphrased. "Who are the others?"

"Each Bushwoolie has employed the help of an agent in order to help them gain power for their masters, the Ponies of the Apocalypse. Four rituals must be performed before they are back to full power. That is what the Bushwoolies of the Apocalypse need their agents for, and it is extremely important that these rituals not be allowed to be completed. If they are, the world will be destroyed."

"I thought that was supposed to happen last year," Tabby interjected.

"They waited until the coming of 2001 to catch people off guard," Kaliope explained solemnly.

"I see," Tabby concurred, turning back to the others. "Anyway, there's four agents in total, one for each Bushwoolie, and they have to perform weird rituals to get power back to the Ponies of the Apocalypse, and we like totally can't let them finish these or they'll destroy the world."

"And even now, the Bushwoolies and their agents have set off to complete the ceremonies. You and your friends must split-up and stop them. Below these ledges are four world rift gates. They will take you to where you need to be. But take care, Tabby. Even if the Ponies of the Apocalypse are in a weakened state, they still have more than enough power to inflict serious harm upon all of you."

Tabby relayed this quickly. "The Bushwoolies and their agents have already set off to do their stuff, and we're supposed to split-up and go through these weird rift gate things and stop them but we're supposed to be careful because they still have an awful lot of power to take us out with..."

"Does she have any insight for how to get past them safely?" Hubert asked quietly, listening in rapt attention.

"Stealth," Kaliope said.

"Stealth," Tabby repeated.

"Rift gates," Protius murmured thoughtfully. "I've used them before. A very efficient, if somewhat unexplainable, means of transportation."

"ARR, then I suppose we'd better use them in a hurry, too," Barnacle urged them on.

"And there are four gates?" Hubert verified. "How shall we split-up?"

"Barnacle," Persephone spoke-up, taking charge, "why don't you take Malteeze, Cliff, and–"

"And me!" Tamara volunteered quickly in an excited whisper. "I'll go with you guys."

"ARR..." Barnacle looked displeased at this.

"I'm not so sure if that's such a good idea, Tamara," Persephone warned. "I mean, this could end up being pretty messy."

"Oh, I'm sure Malteeze will keep me out of trouble," Tamara replied sweetly, batting her eyelashes demurely.

"Don't count on it," Malteeze growled.

"I love it when guys play hard to get," Tamara cooed.

"Okay, fine. We don't have time to argue," Persephone sighed. "Barnacle, Malteeze, Cliff, Tamara–" and here she pointed to some of the Krulotin– "Zorg, Poit, and Blob– you guys are team one."

Going on, she instructed, "Tabby, Thomas, Equinox, Dreamcatcher, Gordan, Klatoo, Ming, and Troz– you're all together."

The third grouping was next. "Hubert, go with Solstice, Kracken, Glarb, Vorton, Flash, and Gork."

And finally, Persephone designated those who would be going with her personally. "Protius, Luge, Clever Clover, Narf, and Zort– you're with me."

"And don't forget about me," Kaliope spoke to Tabby. "I'm coming as well."

"Yeah, don't worry about it," Tabby said brightly. "We got yah."

"What's that?" Persephone cocked her head.

"Oh, nothing. Just Kaliope. She's coming, too."

"Whatever." Persephone shrugged her shoulders; and with the groupings assigned, they continued on.

Further along, the hallway turned into a wide set of curving stairs that went down to the level of the sunken chamber. They were able to sneak down that far because the ledge continued down the sides of the stairs and offered them enough cover so that they were not seen. However, to get to the rift gate chambers, they would have to sneak across open ground; and that would be very difficult indeed.

At the bottom of the stairs, before going further, they paused again. Barnacle, Hubert, and Thomas peered over the ledge as Persephone gave them directions. "Barnacle, your group and mine will make our way around the outside of the chamber towards the right. When we get to the second rift gate, your group will go through while mine goes on to the third." Turning to the others, she continued, "As soon as we get to that one, Hubert, you'll take your group around to the left to the fourth rift gate; while Thomas, you'll take yours around to the first gate, to the right; and that way we're not all out at the same time."

"ARR," Barnacle agreed. "Good strategy."

As the Ponies of the Apocalypse were in deep concentration as they chanted around the fire, they would not notice anything amiss around them unless startled by sound, and so Persephone's and Barnacle's respective teams were extremely careful as they snuck around the outside wall of the chamber. Everyone's nerves were on edge, but they reached Barnacle's gate without a problem.

Each gate was in a small alcove off of the main circle, and Barnacle and his assigned companions ducked inside. They had been instructed to go through the rift gate as soon as possible, but they thought they would wait around a little just to make sure everything went well with the others.

Persephone had the same idea when her group successfully reached their destination. Now it was up to the last two.

It was, to say the least, bad luck when Solstice tripped over a small pebble in her path as she followed after her group. Hitting the ground, she was unable to prevent the small yelp that escaped her. Everyone was alerted to this mishap, and grew rigid with apprehension. Had the Ponies of the Apocalypse heard? Thomas sprang into action and helped his fallen friend back to her hooves to ensure a quick escape.

They had not, however, eluded detection. Just as they thought they were safe, a huge fireball came flying towards them. The four evil ponies had their gazes trained on the intruders, and it looked like more fireballs– or worse– would not be beyond their power.

Hubert reacted quickly this time, and pulled Thomas and Solstice away just seconds before the fireball hit the ground. All chaos broke out then, for out of this fireball rose up a great wall of fire, separating the two groups.

"Get out of here! Now!" Dreamcatcher yelled.

"But Tabby–!" Thomas lunged forward, wanting to remain at his wife's side; but Hubert held him back.

"You'll have to stay with us!" Hubert shouted. "It's too dangerous."

"Never mind; I'll be fine!" Tabby called, perhaps a little too confidently, through the flames. "Just go on!"

That didn't exactly help to alleviate any of his fears; Tabby was not at all incapable of getting herself sent to the next dimension or some equally worse fate, especially with that bold attitude. He tried to protest; but before he could, Hubert had shoved him through the portal.

"Get out of here!" Hubert called, stepping into the portal himself. "Now!" And not wanting to argue, everyone followed suit.

* * *

Epona was troubled by the scenes that unfolded in the pool before her. "They do not know," she mumbled. The flame-haired guardian tried to send a telepathic warning to the heroes, but Bic's barrier, augmented by the arcane power of the Stonehenge, prevented even the slightest thought to penetrate.

"You'll just wear yourself out," the imp taunted. "Why not just relax and enjoy the show?"

* * *

After the hurried escape from Phalanx Island through the world rift gates, Barnacle's group had found themselves very far away from that place. The landscape that surrounded them consisted of towering rocky hills that seemed to reach impossibly high into the air. Every inch of the slopes where rock didn't jut out was covered in a lush carpet of emerald grass.

Though the sun was shining brightly and the blue sky overhead was dotted with only a few clouds, it was still rather dark from their vantage point. The hills blocked all of the direct light from the sky; and from the group's current position in the very bottom of a deep valley between two hills, they could see that the entire valley was cast in long shadows.

There was a small fort built in ancient times, but long ago abandoned to the elements. All that was left now was a wall of crumbing stone that would hardly keep out a child, let alone an invading army. Fortunately, for the moment, they had neither to worry about.

"I don't like the look of this one bit," Cliff said as he peered over the crumbing wall at the rolling hills of bright green grass.

"Oh, I think it's beautiful," Tamara cooed.

"The valley or Malteeze?" Cliff asked as he turned to the pink unicorn and saw that she wasn't even looking at their surroundings.

"What?" she replied distantly.

But just then the tall cat-man in question returned from his scouting and stated in a very serious way, "It would look very nice if it weren't for all of this impending doom."

"ARR, what I don't be likin' is the fact that we're the only ones here," Barnacle replied. "Did yah see anything out there, Malteeze?"

"Not a soul," he replied. "I'm beginning to wonder if that gate even sent us to the right place."

"ARR, it has tah be. Otherwise the whole world is doomed."

But then Cliff had to speak up, "What if it's a trap? Maybe the Ponies of the Apocalypse let us escape so their agents could jump us here?"

"It was a rather easy escape from Phalanx Island..." Malteeze added.

"ARR, now, talk like that ain't gonna do no good," Barnacle snapped. "We gotta keep our focus."

"Perhaps they know something," Tamara suggested helpfully, pointing up at the south ridge.

"Wha–!" Everyone else turned quickly to get a look at what she was referring to. Coming over the hilltop to their south was a long line of men. As they stood and watched, another line followed that one and then another and then another. In very short order there was a sizable force of people walking towards the heroes' position at the ruined fort.

"ARR, kin yea see who they are?" Barnacle asked as he reached for his sword.

"They're too far away," Malteeze said. "All I can make out is that they are humans."

"There sure are a lot of them," Cliff muttered.

"A whole lot..." Tamara cowered behind a large stone. "I hope they're not the bad guys."

"Wait," Zorg realized. "They bear the colors of the Krulotin! It's an army of my people!"

"An army? I didn't know you had an entire army!" Cliff said in surprise.

"ARR, why didn't you tell us?" Barnacle demanded.

"There are many things about our order that we do not wish to be known," Zorg replied. "But it makes little difference now; the commander is approaching, undoubtedly to discuss a plan of action."

Indeed, a large man dressed in the colors of the Krulotin and wearing shiny plate armor of the brightest silver came riding towards the group. He brought his horse to a stop in front of the fort as Malteeze cried out, "Who goes there?"

"I am Nickto, General of the Krulotin," the man replied in a deep regal voice. "We have marched to this field in all haste so that we could lend our swords to the coming conflict."

Tamara peeked out from behind her hiding place at the sound of the newcomer's voice. "Who's that?" she queried. "He sounds rather handsome." Fortunately, her remark went unheard by all present.

"ARR, glad tah have yah," Barnacle said as he climbed up on top of a stone in front of the general. "But who exactly are we supposed tah be fightin'?"

"Them." Nickto pointed up at the opposite hilltop from the one his army had just marched over. Everyone's gaze instantly shot to that location, and a collective feeling of disbelief swept through them.

From the north, ranks upon ranks of troops in formation came marching over the rise. The clockwork precision with which they moved denoted them as seasoned warriors of the highest discipline. When ten full companies had cleared the ridge, the commander who marched at their head called out the order to stop; and as one, the mass of bodies came to a halt. Riding out to the front of the formations came three individuals that made Barnacle's and Malteeze's blood run cold.

"No..." Malteeze muttered.

"ARR, please tell me they aren't who I think they are," Barnacle added.

"I wish I could, but I would be lying," Malteeze replied.

"They have more troops than we do..."

The others could take it no longer. "Who? Who are they?" Cliff demanded.

Turning to face the young pony gravely, Malteeze said, "Warlords. Three Warlord Brothers of such ruthless cunning and cruelty that they nearly enslaved all the kingdoms north of the mountains."

"They're riding this way," Nickto noted, "most likely to discuss terms of the coming battle."

As the three brothers came closer, Tamara was able to make a observation as to the nature of these Warlords. "Malteeze, they look like you!"

But this time her comment had not gone unheard. "Of course he does; he's one of us!" the feline farthest to the left said in a spiteful tone. This one was large– even larger than Malteeze– and his fur was gray with black stripes through it. He wore a partial suit of armor that glistened even more brightly that Nickto's. His name was Rosweld.

"Or at least he was," the one on the right added. This one was named Gelatinous and he was a great deal thinner than his siblings and his fur was mostly white expect for a few spots of the deepest black.

"Once a Warrior of the Feline Hordes, always a Warrior of the Horde!" Rosweld mocked. "It's in his blood and he can't give it up no matter how much meditation and soul searching he does."

"Then perhaps we should offer him his commission back so that he can be on the winning side of this war," Gelatinous suggested in jest.

"I left your service for a reason, and I have no intention of ever returning," Malteeze finally cried.

Before either Rosweld or Gelatinous could reply, the third brother, Fireball, who had up to this point said nothing, spoke. "It's just as well, really. I would never have a traitorous whelp such as you on my side in any conflict." This feline was even bigger than Rosweld and his heavy plate armor was polished to a reflective black that seemed to swim with motion in the light. His long black fur was swept back from his head in wild fly-aways that gave him a frightening look indeed.

"Enough of this," Nickto instructed. "Evidently you have come here for a fight and we are fully prepared to give you one."

Barnacle and the others stayed out of this. They knew little of the matters of a war, and they did not want to learn by messing the whole affair up.

"A man after my own heart-- cut through the nonsense and right down to business," Fireball replied.

"Good, then perhaps we could begin by discussing terms."

"Terms? I've come with no terms other than to offer you the chance to turn away now and leave with your lives," Fireball said matter-of-factly.

At this Barnacle could not help but speak up. "ARR, and ifin' we don't?"

Turning coldly to the pirate, Fireball replied, "You can stay and be sent to the next dimension."

"It makes no difference to us, but we'd like to retrieve what we came here for with the least amount of trouble," Gelatinous added.

"Then you'll have to pay dearly for the prize, for we will not give up, no matter what the cost!" Malteeze stated.

"If that's the way you'll have it..." With that, the Warlords headed back to their troops to prepare for the battle. As they reached the front lines of feline soldiers, a diminutive figure came out to join them. He stood no taller than a man's knees, but he was clad from head to toe in full metal plate armor. From under the heavy plates stuck a long red beard and two bare arms which wielded a lethal-looking axe.

"Now, who's that?" Cliff wanted to know.

"ARR, that be Mars, the Bushwoolie o' War," Barnacle replied grimly.

"That's a Bushwoolie?" Tamara asked in disbelief.


"Do you think we have any chance of winning this?" Cliff asked.

"They outnumber us three to one, but I'd wager three of theirs against one of mine any day!" Nickto declared. His tone almost made them believe it.

"ARR, I hope you're right," Barnacle said.

With the enemy now busy on the opposite side of the field breaking out weapons of war and setting their minds for the coming conflict, Nickto gave orders for the Krulotin Army to pull up into a defensive perimeter surrounding the fort. The old structure would offer no real protection in the battle, but at least it would give the soldiers something to fight for. In a skirmish fought on open fields, it is easy to loose sight of the goal; but here, with those ancient foundations to their backs, they would have something tangible to defend.

The few Krulotin archers that had come had positioned themselves on the walls of the fort while Barnacle, Cliff, Malteeze, and Nickto gathered inside to discuss the coming conflict. Tamara was advised to find a dark corner in which to wait out the battle.

"Maybe I shouldn't have come along after all," she said aloud.

"Maybe you'll let this be a lesson to yah when we tell yah something is too dangerous," Barnacle said flatly.

"Yes, I'll have to remember that for next time," the unicorn replied smally.

"I wouldn't worry about it," Malteeze commented as he leaned heavily on his staff.

"Oh, and why's that?"

"In all likelihood, there won't be a next time for any of us," the feline philosopher explained.


And then there was nothing left for the heroes to do but wait. It wasn't long at all, but for one who was preparing for war, minutes can seem like hours.

As the sun began to sink in the western sky, a great cry rose up from the opposing camp. The ranks of felines in the most forward ranks raised their weapons and began to charge the fort and the heroes that occupied it.

"What! What is it!?" Cliff cried as he jumped to his hooves.

"The battle's begun!!!" Nickto replied.

* * *

"There he is," Thomas said venomously, peering over the towering wheat stalks.

"So is that the one you saw in the Dark Forest?" Kracken whispered.

"What? Oh, you mean the Bushwoolie," Thomas realized. "Yeah, I guess... but when I get my hooves on that Nur-Ab-Fin, I'll--"

"Which one's Nur-Ab-Fin?" Solstice asked eagerly. "Is he one of those bugs?" From their concealment in the humongous field of wheat, the four could see a throng of large robotic bugs gathering the ripe grain and depositing it in front of a small scuzzy Bushwoolie, forming a giant pile before him. "Do you know him? Who is he? What can you tell me about him?" the yellow mare persisted.

"That one over there," Thomas snarled, obviously having some personal score to settle with this particular monster.

Kracken and Solstice oohed appreciatively as their gaze followed his to a large, bulky robot positioned behind Tiny. This one was nearly eight feet tall; and whereas he was not one of the bug drones, he appeared to be controlling their actions. Hubert only nodded wisely. "No doubt this Nur-Ab-Fin is the agent who was summoned to work with Tiny," he stated. "His robotic drones are gathering this wheat for Tiny to devour, apparently part of the ceremony which we must stop."

If it was part of the ceremony, it was a very strange one, for the flea-infested Bushwoolie sat at the foot of the tower of grain, shoving great handfuls of the sustenance into his mouth without stopping. One would think that the small creature would either grow full and stop eating or explore from all the nourishment he was taking in; but he remained the exact same scrawny Bushwoolie that he had always been.

"I bet he has to devour this whole field for the ceremony to be successful," Solstice said in a hushed tone. "That's what this ritual is all about. He's the Bushwoolie of pestilence, so destroying a thriving field like this would be just like him."

"If you're right, Solstice," Hubert said thoughtfully, "if we destroy at least part of the field, theoretically the ritual will be aborted."

"Uh, Thomas?" Solstice ventured tentatively. "What do you think?"

Thomas, after having caught sight of Nur-Ab-Fin, had remained with his gaze trained on the giant robot and unresponsive to the conversation of his companions. "What?" he asked distractedly. "Yes, yes, sounds good. Just let me have Nur-Ab-Fin."

"You sound intense," Kracken commented, bewildered. "Have you met this guy before?"

"If it weren't for that demon," Thomas said darkly, "I would have secured Tabby's affections much sooner than I did. As it was, he turned us against one another and I nearly lost her... and even now I have no idea what kind of a predicament she's in or if I'll ever see her again, and if it's the last thing I do I'm going to give Nur-Ab-Fin a fight he won't soon forget--!" His eyes blazed with fire as he clenched both his hooves and his jaw.

Solstice and Kracken were both wide-eyed by the end of this speech. "I see," Solstice squeaked.

"Hm, I didn't know this guy had any emotion," Kracken mused.

Hubert went on to explain things a little more fully for those two. "You see, Nur-Ab-Fin is an ancient Atlantean spirit. He once possessed Thomas in order to eliminate Tabby, but thankfully Tabby put an end to it... however, Nur-Ab-Fin did build this large robot body for himself, which makes him a dangerous opponent indeed."

By this point, Thomas was bound and determined not to let his quarry away, and it took both Hubert and Kracken to hold him back from doing anything rash. "Thomas, let's stop and think this through first," Hubert cautioned. "We must devise a plan before we reveal our position."

"Yeah," Thomas mumbled grudgingly.

"If Nur-Ab-Fin is controlling those drones," Solstice ventured, "maybe we could make an interference in their communication."

"Hmm," considered Hubert. "That might work."

"Or grab Tiny and make a run for it," Kracken suggested.

"What if we ate some of the wheat ourselves? Then he wouldn't be able to eat it all."

"But then he could eat us," Kracken pointed out.

"Eeh." Solstice looked alarmed.

"But I think Solstice may be on the right track," Hubert mused. "If we could quickly destroy a large portion of the field, it might be enough to terminate the ritual..."

"But how could we actually destroy it?" Solstice puzzled.

"We could set it on fire, if we had any fire," Kracken said.

"I suppose nobody has any matches on them," Solstice sighed.

"Fire would be a good idea," Hubert considered, frowning in concentration. "Let me take another look around." Peering over the wheat stalks, he reported back, "It's a ways off, but I can see a small grouping of trees to the east. If we could reach that without being detected, we might be able to find some fire-starting tools there."

"It's on the side of the field the drones haven't started on yet," Kracken pointed out hopefully.

"How long do you think it would take to make it that far?" Solstice asked. "Do you think they would detect us?"

"It's hard to say," Hubert said thoughtfully. "If they aren't concerned about this section of the field yet, we may have a good chance. But if this is what we're going to do, we'll have to move fast; there are a lot of drones working, and they're stripping this field quickly."

"I say, go for it," Kracken declared confidently. "Let's set the field on fire. Hey, Thomas-- Thomas? Where is he?"

Solstice gasped. "What happened to him? I didn't notice anything. Oh dear! What if they..."

"He must have went off on his own will," Hubert said rationally. "If spotted, our enemies wouldn't have taken just one of us; and besides, we didn't see or hear anything. It almost sounds like--"

"He winked," Kracken stated simply, pointing towards Tiny and the pile of grain, behind which Nur-Ab-Fin was engaged in battle with Thomas. "He's really got something against that robot, doesn't he?"

Solstice groaned. "Oh, why'd he have to go and do that?"

Kracken took command. "Okay, I'll go get Thomas back," he ordered. "And you guys go do what you gotta do." Without waiting for an affirmation, the human took off through the wheat field towards his battling comrade.

"What choice do we have?" Solstice said, looking helplessly at Hubert. They both took off in the opposite direction towards their tree grove, and hopefully a means of fire.

* * *

Persephone peered carefully through the leaves of the think jungle they had landed in. In the sandy region away from her concealment stood Dr. Malcolm Shane, the diabolical whale-man, along with Discord, the Bushwoolie of Strife. Directly beside Shane stood a rather large mean-looking crab, ready to do his bidding. Beyond the sand was a shining sea of bright blue water, and Persephone got the impression that they were on an island.

Clever Clover, Luge, and Protius stood behind her. Persephone had elected to leave the four other Krulotin they had brought with them back to guard the rift gate. "What is happening?" Luge asked.

"There's only three of them," Persephone answered in an extremely low whisper. "I think we can take th– oh no, maybe not." With dismay, she realized that it would not be as easy as she had originally thought. She now saw that instead of just the one sizeable crab, there was a great multitude of other crabs milling around on the beach and in the water. Albeit they were not as big as the first, they would be a formidable enemy when brought together. "They have a lot of helpers," she told the others. "We'll have to work out a plan. Let's just listen to them for awhile and see if we can glean anything from that."

"It's a good thing we found you, Dr. Shane," Discord commented. "Your mind control over sea life has been a great help in this venture."

Shane chuckled. "Yes, I know. And my others squids should be returning soon. It won't be long until we have all fifteen crystals."

"They had better be able to find all of them," Discord said seriously.

"Don't worry; my pets are very reliable," Shane assured him, and glanced behind him where a path led further into the jungle. "We'll have all five of the devices filled with their crystals in no time."

"And then the Ponies of the Apocalypse will gain the power they so greatly need!" Discord commented approvingly.

"There's one of them now!" Shane exclaimed, pointing out to sea. A giant purple squid could be seen nearing the shore, and the whale-man ran to greet it. "Have you got the crystal?"

Obediently, the hulking squid held out one of his tentacles and dropped the specimen into Shane's flipper.

"Splendid!" Shane said happily. "Good job. You deserve a rest now."

"Now we'll take it to the clearing," Discord declared authoritatively, grabbing the crystal from Shane and turning down the cobbled path into the jungle. Shane followed along, and for awhile both of them could be neither seen nor heard by the as-of-yet undiscovered eavesdroppers.

When the two villains reemerged off the path, Shane was complaining. "This seems to be a hassle for us, Discord. Why don't I just let Maru take the crystals back? She's more than capable." Saying this, he patted his large crab on the head.

"It's not that I don't trust you or your crab," Discord replied, "it's just that I don't trust what might happen if I did."

"So why don't we just wait at the bay for all the squid to return, and then take all fifteen of the crystals back at once?" Shane persisted.

"The same reason as before, Shane..." Discord drawled. "This is the best way to do it so that it can't get messed up."

"Of course," Shane muttered as the two of them strolled back up to the bay where they awaited more of Shane's squid.

Persephone and her companions turned away and grouped together to discuss the situation. "I'd like to know more about this place they need to put the crystals," Clever Clover spoke up. "If we knew how it worked, it would be easier to stop them."

"It's possible that if one snuck into the holding for the crystals, one could free the crystal they just placed, thus preventing the ceremony from being completed," Protius suggested.

"I agree," said Luge. "Would it be possible for one of us to go that distance without being detected?"

Persephone frowned in thought. "I don't think it would be too difficult," she confided. "Would anyone object if I went? I'll just stay long enough to see just what kind of devices we're dealing with, and report back to you guys."

That seemed to make sense, so Persephone stealthily started out on her journey. She would have to go through some open space on her way across to that part of the jungle, but no one was guarding that area and the trees themselves obscured her from being seen by them. Swiftly she made her way across, and when she had reached the jungle section, she waved to her friends to let them know she had made it.

The jungle quickly opened into a small clearing, nicely finished with a floor made of smooth stones. Persephone also took note of the path that Discord and Shane had taken, and of the crab that was apparently there to guard the place. Taking a quick view of the clearing, she saw the aforementioned "devices" that were vital to this ceremony. There were five positioned in a circle around the edges of the clearing, each apparently having slots to hold three crystals. The holders looked almost organic; slender limbs curled upward to make room for the actual holder, glowing a transparent blue. They reminded Persephone of an intricate lamp of sorts, the holders for the crystals being like places for light bulbs.

The guard crab had his back turned to her at the moment, and Persephone took the opportunity to dash over to the one lamp that currently held the first crystal. Reaching out and taking hold of the object, Persephone tugged at it; but it didn't budge. The crystal was very securely placed, and she simply couldn't get the thing out. She would have tried some more, but the guard was just turning in her direction. Jumping quickly back into the jungle, Persephone swiftly went back to report to her friends.

* * *

" that's what I found out," Persephone finished telling her tale.

"Oh yes, I've heard of these crystals," Protius commented. "I believe they were once used to focus ambient atmospheric energy into a more useable form by some ancient culture which is long since disappeared."

"That doesn't really help us, though," Clever Clover pondered.

"If we cannot take a crystal once it has been placed, we would need to intercept one before they had a chance to take it to the clearing," Luge suggested.

Clever Clover frowned in thought. "If we waited until another squid came in at that north bay, we might be able to get the crystal away from it if we could cause a distraction to keep Shane and Discord away."

"And then hide the crystal in the forest; they won't be able to complete the ritual without it," Persephone finished eagerly.

"Does anyone have any other ideas?" Luge questioned.

After everyone had slowly shook their heads, Persephone leaned forward. "Okay, now here's what we're all going to do..."

* * *

The four carefully made their way toward the north bay. Once they had assured themselves that no one had noticed their presence, Luge and Clever Clover went on to the other side of the bay to create a distraction when the next squid came in. Protius was left further inland, as he couldn't run as well as the others in case of emergency; and Persephone waited on the edge of the forest to run out and swipe the crystal when the time came.

When the next squid came in to deliver a crystal, everyone readied themselves for their part in the plan. Luge let out an ear-splitting scream while Clever Clover snapped some twigs in two and shook the foliage off the trees; it made a satisfactory ruckus, and both Shane and Discord centered their attention on what was happening there. Seeing this, Luge and Clever Clover took off into the forest to let Persephone do her part.

While those two were distracted, Persephone dashed out into the open and tackled Shane onto the ground. Being taken off guard, Shane made it easy for Persephone to wrestle the crystal from his grasp. Getting what she had come for, she ran back to the forest.

Discord, though, was on the ready; as she turned to go, he held up his heavy staff and prepared to bring it down over her head. Persephone was on the lookout, however, and anticipated this move, dodging at the last moment. The Krulotin was trained well, and Discord was no match for her. Before he had time to strike again, she was gone.

"Maru! Take your crabs and track her down!" Shane hollered to his pet. "Get the crystal!!"

Maru nodded obediently and went off with a regiment; but Persephone was nowhere to be found.

* * *

In a short while, Persephone had met back up with Clever Clover and Luge at their designated meeting spot where they had left their parrot companion. "Where's Protius?" Persephone frowned, seeing that he was nowhere to be seen.

"He doesn't seem to be here," Luge said in concern. "It's not like him to go against a plan like that."

"I know, but what could have happened?" Persephone's face was filled with worry.

"Maybe some wild animal found him…" Clever Clover ventured.

"Don't even say that," Luge shuddered.

Just then, a horn was heard to blow from down at the beach. "Persephone Ravenwood!" Shane's voice called. "We wish to speak with you, Ms. Ravenwood!"

"What should we do?" Luge whispered.

"I hope not, but… maybe they know or have something to do with Protius' disappearance," Persephone confided, carefully hiding the crystal within her cloak "It may be a trap, but we can't risk it. Let's go and meet him."

The three came carefully out of their concealment and walked slowly down the beach. When their enemies came into view, they all gasped at the dreadful sight: Maru holding their feathered friend in her claw upside-down!

"Look what Maru found while out on patrol," Shane chuckled, stepping forward.

Discord, in true salesman fashion, began laying down the facts of the situation. "Have you ever had this happen to you? You consider yourself to be a fine, upstanding hero, in total control of the situation, when the minions of evil kidnap one of your own? Of course you have! That's why, for a limited time only, I'm willing to make a deal with you! Yes, it sounds too good to be true; but wait, there's more! Yes, order now and we'll send you your feathered little friend in completely undamaged condition for the low-low price of that crystal which you stole from us! But wait, there's more! If you act right now, we'll throw in absolutely free: your lives! I know you're thinking it must be some kind of trick, but it's not. That's right, all this for the mere cost of one little crystal. You get your friend and your lives to do with as you please. Act now; offer expires while you wait!"

"You don't leave me many options," Persephone said dryly.

"That's the point," Shane laughed cruelly.

"Don't do it!" Protius cried from his uncomfortable position. "If they get the crystal, there will be no stopping the Ponies of the Apocalypse!"

"And if I don't, they'll send you to the next dimension!" Persephone said grievously.

"Be quiet," Shane snapped.

"Yes… but I can't let them get away with this…" Persephone bit her lip.

* * *

Pierre, moving equipment around on the ship, was suddenly startled by a small "eep!" emitted as he stepped upon a tarp.

"Vos?" he questioned, stopping and turning around. "Tarps do not 'eep'." Stooping, he picked up the covering and peered underneath. "Ah-hah!" he declared, understanding lighting his face. "We have a stowaway!"

"I really hope you're not planning on sending me into the next dimension," the young aqua mare pleaded with the lizard man. "You see, I'm a reporter, and when I saw your group in Dream Valley, I thought it might make a good story to find out more about what you were doing, and well..."

"Ahh, so you're saying you want to interview me?" Pierre said brightly. "Well, I don't usually grant this privilege to everyone I run across; but in this case, I'll make an exception."

"Wow!" Kyrene was surprised by such a warm welcome. "That's great. So, what exactly are you doing here?" She had her pen poised upon a pad of paper, ready to write.

"I, fair maiden, am guarding the ship, from invaders most hostile!" Pierre declared.

"And why do they mean to invade the ship?" Kyrene queried.

"Because we mean to stop them!"

"Oooookay. Who else is here with you right now?"

"Davey and Jones, the fearless sailing Bushwoolie brothers of Calimidad Island! And Spike, the bloodthirsty fire-breathing dragon of Dream Valley!"

"That sounds impressive. But exactly what are you doing here?"

Pierre, looking puzzled, replied, "Um, we're guarding the ship. I already told you that."

"But no, I mean, what is the ship doing here? What are you doing here? How did this all start?"

"Ahh!" Pierre realized suddenly, his face brightening with recognition. "It all began fourteen years ago in the Kingdom of the Dakytins. I was born to a poor peasant family on the outskirts of the fruit orchards. At the tender age of one week, I was kicked out of the house to fend for myself."

"That's terrible!" Kyrene gasped.

"No it's not. All Dakytins are kicked out after a week," Pierre said. "That's the way we do things. But anyway, I wandered aimlessly until I was taken in to be apprenticed by..."

* * *

Several hours later, Kyrene, bored out of her skull, was still seated in the cargo hold listening. She had long ago given up taking notes on the lizard-man's life history. "...and that brings us up to this moment here," Pierre finished with a flourish.

"But you still didn't tell me who you're here to stop," Kyrene prodded, slightly exasperated.

"Oh, we're here to stop the Ponies of the Apocalypse and their diabolical minions! If that's all you wanted to know, why didn't you just ask sooner?"

"The Ponies of the Apocalypse?" Kyrene gasped. "Tell me more! Is the world in danger?" She scribbled on her pad furiously.

"Oh yes, terrible danger. Now if you'll excuse me, I must get back to my duties," Pierre excused himself, at once wandering off elsewhere on the ship.

Kyrene, now left alone, decided to hunt up some of the others left aboard; perhaps they could give her more useful information than this Pierre had. Up on the main deck, she caught sight of a cute little baby dragon.

"Are you Spike?" she asked tentatively, walking up to him.

"Who are you?" Spike eyed her with interest.

"I'm a reporter," Kyrene introduced herself professionally, not bothering to explain that she was a stowaway as well. "From the newspaper. Would you like to answer a few questions?"

"Sure," Spike shrugged. "What?"

"What do you know about the Ponies of the Apocalypse? What is happening?" Kyrene asked heatedly.

"Oh, the Ponies of the Apocalypse," Spike recalled. "Yeah, I don't really know what they're doing or what's happening, but it sounded awfully exciting and I just had to come along."

"Is there anyone here who could give me more information?" Kyrene demanded.

"Davey and Jones are working over there," Spike suggested cooperatively, pointing. "Maybe they can help."

"Thanks," Kyrene sighed, strolling off.

Davey and Jones were found pulling a rope through a pulley, trying to bring a huge bundle of gear out of the hold of the ship. It had just cleared the hatch when Kyrene came up behind them. "Hey, are you Davey and Jones?"

One of them looked at her suspiciously. "Yeah, who're you?"

"I'm Kyrene, a reporter. I was just wondering if I could ask you a few questions."

Both their faces lighted with excitement and in unison screamed out "YEAH!", at the same time letting go of the rope. The bundle went crashing back down into the hold, but the Bushwoolies completely ignored it. "What do you want to know?"

"Could you tell me something about the Ponies of the Apocalypse?" Kyrene prodded.

"Yeah, yeah! Mon, no problem!" Davey said agreeably.

"It all started when Barnacle found this treasure map," Jones explained.

"Yeah, yeah!" his brother agreed. "So we sailed to this island, and the Bushwoolies of the Apocalypse stole the Lucas!"

"Bushwoolies of the Apocalypse?" Kyrene gasped.

"Yeah, yeah! So they went to Skull Island."

"And then Kracken had to use a squid to get us there!"

"But we blew 'em up in a cave!"

"And they sank the Lucas!"

At this, both Davey and Jones stopped a moment to sob a bit at the memory.

"But then we built this new ship," Davey continued.

"And we came here!" Jones continued.

"And that's the whole story, mon!" Davey finished.

"Yeah, yeah!"

Kyrene was beginning to regret ever coming on this adventure. She was just about to thank the two brothers for their time and leave them be when Pierre cried from above, "To arms! To arms! We're under attack!"

Davey and Jones immediately panicked, and tried to run somewhere for cover; but they only succeeded in running into each other head first, and fell flat on the deck.

"Man, I really shouldn't have come on this adventure," Kyrene sighed.

* * *

Tabby and her group, however, found themselves on relatively familiar ground. "It looks just like the Dark Forest," Tabby marveled, gazing up at the majestic trees that surrounded them on all sides.

"I believe you are correct," Dreamcatcher said solemnly. "Indeed, it is the Dark Forest. I recognize this place."

"Well, where do we go from here?" Equinox said impatiently. "I thought there was a ritual to stop."

"Tabby, you must hurry," Kaliope's spirit spoke urgently.

"Oh! Kaliope! You're still here!" Tabby realized.

"Yes, I am; but time is of the essence, as there is a life at stake in this dark ritual which you must stop," Kaliope counseled.

"The queen is speaking to you again?" Dreamcatcher asked seriously.

"Uh-huh. And she says to go... that way."

* * *

Meanwhile, at the site of the ceremony, a certain baby pony was throwing a fit that her captors wouldn't soon forget. "You can't sacrifice me! I got magic, too! I won't let you!" Baby Noddins fought, straining against her bonds. "I'm a unicorn! I got magic powers!"

The Skeleton King only laughed at her as he tugged her along by the ropes that held her hooves together. "Foolish girl! What kind of powers might those be?"

"I can... I can..." Baby Noddins furrowed her brow. Actually, she had yet to discover her magic power; at this moment it was completely unknown to her. "I'll..."

Chuckling, the Skeleton King laid the struggling baby pony out on the stone table which was set at the center of the forest clearing. "Who knows, Zanatos," he spoke to the Bushwoolie of the Apocalypse that was there with him. "Maybe she can poke us with her horn."

"I'll show you!" Baby Noddins shouted furiously. "I do got magic! I can... I can... summon up hordes a little fuzzy bunny rabbits!" The thought had come to her at the spur of the moment. Baby Noddins had no proof at all that this was her power, but she hoped it had sounded intimidating.

Zanatos and the Skeleton King had a good laugh over this, and Baby Noddins only grew more angry at them. "BUNNIES! COME OUT AND HELP ME!!!!" she shouted at the top of her lungs, hoping that indeed she could summon up bunnies.

Amazingly, her horn started to glow; and out of nowhere, scores of fuzzy bunnies began pouring into the clearing. Soon they had covered everything, and the ones closest to Baby Noddins began gnawing at the ropes that tied her down.

The Skeleton King promptly went into action, however. Waving his golden staff in the air, he stood before the gathered lagomorphs and declared, "Bunnies of magic, you shall now serve me! Prevent the girl from escaping!"

Immediately, a strange thing happened. The bunnies began to change their appearance. Soft fur melted away into cold, hard bones; and now they looked at Baby Noddins with vengeance in their eyes.

"MY BUNNIES!!!!" Baby Noddins shrieked. "What did you do to my bunnies??? You're MEAN, Mr. Skeleton King!"

The army of skeletal bunnies now swarmed over Baby Noddins, and Zanatos took his place at the head of the table with a dagger in his hand. Baby Noddins let out a deafening scream when–

" Baby Noddins!!! What in the world are you doing here?" Tabby blustered impatiently, suddenly appearing out of the forest.

"Let the child go," Dreamcatcher said briskly, coming up beside Tabby. "She is not a part of this."

This interruption caused both Zanatos and the Skeleton King to look up, and Baby Noddins was relieved. "TWABBY!!!!" she screamed out. "SWAVE ME!!!!!" The bunnies, though, promptly covered her mouth so that no more sounds could be emitted.

Equinox promptly took off running into the horde of bunnies and towards Baby Noddins, but the bunnies swarmed around his ankles. Losing his balance, he toppled to the ground.

Dreamcatcher went next, but the Skeleton King intercepted her. Wielding his golden rod, he dealt her a powerful blow to her midsection. Dreamcatcher stumbled backwards, momentarily dazed.

Luckily, before the Skeleton King had a chance to do any further damage to the Native Pony, Equinox had managed to right himself and tackled the skeleton to the ground. "Thanks," Dreamcatcher gasped.

"Fool! You'll never be able to defeat me!" the Skeleton King hollered, writhing on the forest floor with Equinox. "Zanatos! Do something!"

This brought Tabby's attention to the Bushwoolie of the Apocalypse still standing near Baby Noddins. It might be a good idea to get him away from the victim. She dashed forward, but as they had done to Equinox, the bunnies swiftly tripped her to the ground.

Tabby yelped, but inspiration suddenly hit her. "You thought you could put me down, didn't you, didn't you?" she said craftily. Just as the bunnies began leaping onto her body and smothering her, the unicorn mysteriously vanished from beneath them.

"Hi, guys," Tabby waved cheerfully from the other side of the clearing where the stone table was situated. "Tough luck, huh?"

"Those darn unicorns and their winking," Zanatos grumbled, picking up his staff. "Get away, or–"

"Not so fast!" Catching the Bushwoolie off guard, Tabby swept him up in her hooves and threw him flying through the air, hitting his head on a tree and falling dazed to the ground. Tabby would let the others deal with him and the Skeleton King; now that there wasn't so much competition around, she would have an easier time of freeing Baby Noddins.

Alas, she underestimated the power of the bunnies. They began leaping upon her back, and for each one she managed to hit to the ground, it seemed like two more appeared. Soon she was overtaken by them, and went rolling to the ground, struggling against the demonic lagomorphs.

"Tabby, the knife!" Kaliope spoke to Tabby urgently.

"The knife!" Zanatos yelped at the same moment, breaking away from Equinox's grasp and diving towards the spot where he had left it.

"Give it back, you–" Tabby screamed, breaking free of the bunnies and taking a dramatic leap forward. They both reached the object at the same time and fought for ownership.

Zanatos managed to wrestle it away from Tabby, but she impulsively swatted it from his hand. The item went skidding across the ground, making frenzied bunnies jump out of its way.

"Idiot!" Zanatos yelled, grabbing his staff firmly and proceeding to hit it over Tabby's head. She stumbled backwards, and was slammed into the altar. Zanatos made a run for the knife, but both Equinox and Dreamcatcher saw this move and tried to intercept him. The bunnies were too much for them, though.

Zanatos was so intent on getting the knife back that he was unaware that Tabby had actually gone to work untying the victim. Dreamcatcher tried to keep Zanatos back unsuccessfully, while Equinox kept the Skeleton King at bay.

"Yes!" Zanatos rejoiced, the knife now in his hand. He held it up high. "Now nothing can stop me!" Not wasting any time, the Bushwoolie turned to the stone altar and recklessly plunged the sharp dagger downwards...

...only to hit solid rock. "WHAT?" he screamed in outrage, seeing that his quarry was gone. He glanced around frantically. Where could the baby pony have gone?

"I guess we'll just be leaving now," Tabby waved cheerfully from the woodline with Baby Noddins by her side. "Buh-bye!"

"Twabby, will my bwunnies be okay?" Baby Noddins whined. "What's gonna happen to them?"

"Shut up," Tabby hissed. "We'll talk about it later."

"No!" the Skeleton King hollered as Equinox and Dreamcatcher trotted to join their companions, and in the process dropped his wand. "Bunnies, get them!"

Alas, now that his wand was dropped, the magic that had affected the beasts was no longer with them. Skeletal bunnies turned back to sweet fuzzy pets, and hopped off innocently into the woods.

"YAY!!! My bunnies are saved!" Baby Noddins yelled as Tabby and the others pulled her back into the forest.

"Come baaaaaaaaack!" both the Skeleton King and Zanatos hollered, but it was too late. The adventurers had already disappeared, and with an integral part of the ritual with them.

* * *

From his perch in the crow's nest, Pierre could see the attack coming from quite some distance off. It only took him a few seconds to grab a rope and swing down to the deck, but the invaders were moving so quickly that they were already swarming towards the dock by the time he made it there. None of them were more than a foot tall, but thousands of them came scurrying, with the flapping of their bare feet on stone beating out a marching cadence for their haphazard charge.

"Ewww," Kyrene gasped. "What are those?!"

"Imps, my dear lady!" Pierre declared with a smile as he drew his sword with one hand and grabbed hold of a rope with another. Swinging across to the dock, he placed himself right in the creatures' path, heedless of the danger these small green-skinned, yellow-eyed, sharp-clawed, pointed-eared little goblins presented to him. Drawing his other sword, he added, "You foul beasts, I challenge you to combat!"

The imps, however, were unimpressed by his bravado and simply swarmed around Pierre, ignoring him entirely. "Have you no honor?!" Pierre cried. "Turning your backs to me, indeed!"

"Heh-heh," one of the imps laughed. "We'll git you after we send this boat to the next dimension with all you aboard!"

Some of the creatures had already made it to the gangplank and would soon make it on board if something was not done quickly. Fortunately, Spike had seen this and was already taking care of it in his own unique manner. Blowing out a burst of flame over the plank sent the imps diving off the sides to avoid getting burned.

Unfortunately, Pierre had lunged to catch some of the invaders, unaware of what the dragon was up to. He had to roll out of the way to avoid a face full of flame, but this sent him tumbling over the side of the dock.

"Whoops," Spike muttered as he peered over the railing to see if his friend had survived. But just as he bent over the side, Pierre came swinging up on a rope and landed lightly on the railing.

"HA-HA," he laughed. "You creatins will have to do worse than that to do me in!"

"But I did that," Spike told him.

"No time for that now," Pierre said as he grabbed hold of another rope and swung out over the side of the ship again. "Now is a time for action!"

With their main means of boarding the ship cut off by fire, the imps now began to leap across the gap between the boat and the dock and grabbed hold of the deck railing. But, from his new position, Pierre was now able to kick the invading imps overboard– a task he carried out with great zeal.

"Spike, more invaders at the bow!" Pierre laughed as he pointed towards the front of the ship. "Don't let them aboard!"

"Aye-aye, sir," Spike replied with a little salute before hurrying to take care of trouble there. But as he arrived, he found that there were simply too many of the things to push off into the water. As he would grab ahold of one to hurl it back, two more would swarm past. Growing frustrated with his progress, the baby dragon instinctively lashed out with the only thing he could think of– fire!

This had a much better effect on the imps, and most of them jumped back in fear. Unfortunately, this was not the wisest of combat tactics for use on a wooden ship. Spike realized this too late, however; and by the time he noticed something amiss, great sections of rigging in the area were already blazing out of control.

Pierre, too busy swinging from place to place knocking imps overboard, failed to notice this small problem. Currently he was balanced on a yard arm high above the deck locked in combat with a small but particularly energetic imp who was somehow managing to wield a full-size rapier with an inhuman level of skill. Calling to some of his friends, the imp hopped up on their shoulders so that together they formed a wobbly tower of swaying goblins!

"Ah-ha!" Pierre laughed as he parried a blow from his opponents. "Your power level is nearly as high as mine!"

"Nearly?" the imp cackled. "I think you'll still find it more than enough to send you to the next dimension!"

But while Pierre was oblivious to the flames, someone else was not.

"Argh! Not gonna let this happen again!" Jones cried in panic as he tossed a bucket of water on some of the flames.

"Nope-nope!" his brother agreed whole-heartedly as he, too, tossed water on the blaze.

At first, after having run into each other, the two brothers had lain on the deck, stunned even after the fighting started. But, at the fist sound of fire, they were up and about putting out flames wherever they found them. Scurrying here and there, the Bushwoolies didn't even stop to catch their breath as they carried out their tireless duty.

Meanwhile, as they were doing all that, Kyrene went running across the deck to find cover in the cabin in the back. "Help, help!" she yelped along the way. Finally, she pulled the door open and flung herself inside.

"I'm safe!" she breathed; but she spoke too soon. One of the imps apparently had already found his way into the cabin, and Kyrene discovered herself cornered by the hissing beast. She was very scared and didn't know what to expect from an imp, and she groped around frantically trying to find a suitable weapon. Her hoof fell upon her pen, and she remembered– she hadn't become a reporter by cowering in a corner whimpering!

"So, tell me," she said craftily, whipping out her trusty paper and pen. "What's it like to work for a diabolical force of evil?"

"Huh?" The imp paused, surprised by her response.

"I'd like to interview you, if it isn't a problem," Kyrene explained serenely.

"Oh, okay." Obligingly, the imp sat down on a roll of maps that was on Barnacle's desk. "So what was that you asked?"

"What's it like to work for a diabolical force of evil?" Kyrene repeated, looking at him eagerly. Maybe she could get more out of him than she had with the others.

"Oh, the pay's not so great, but you can't beat the hours," the imp replied. "Plus, they have a great dental plan!"

"Why exactly have you been sent here?" Kyrene persisted.

"Oh, the bosses said we have to sink the ship and send everyone on it to the next dimension," the imp explained cheerfully.

While chatting with him, Kyrene had continued to grope around behind her, hoping to find something that would be useful. Finally her hoof fell upon a loose board, and she gripped it securely.

"," the imp was explaining when suddenly Kyrene reared up and hit him squarely over the head with the massive bulk of wood.

"This interview is over!!" she cried triumphantly, and took off out the door. "Watch out, you imps! Prepare to be sent to the next dimension!!!!" Running across the deck, she swung her board haphazardly, to and fro, whacking imps senseless.

When presented with this aggression, the imps decided that it might be best to cut their losses at that point and flee with their lives. They ran down the deck screaming, "She's mad! Run!" The whole host of imps scurried away in front of her like a tidal wave, flinging themselves overboard rather than face the wrath of Kyrene.

Swinging down from above, Pierre looked rather disappointed at the development and cried, "Come back here, you gutter-crawling curs!" Grabbing another rope, he swung over the dock, dropped lightly to the ground, and gave chase to the remaining imps, calling after them as he did.

"Wait!" Spike squealed, seeing the fleeing imps and lizard. Promptly he followed after his comrade.

With all the fires on the ship extinguished, Davey and Jones now had an opportunity to sit back and see what was going on. But, upon catching sight of Spike and Pierre running from the ship, they ran down the gangplank after them, laughing and giggling as they went.

Kyrene breathed a sigh of relief as she stood alone on the forward deck. "Whew, I'm glad that's over," she said, until she realized that she had been abandoned. "HEY!" she shrieked. "Don't leave me! Wait!" And so, Kyrene gave chase to the others, waving her board over her head wildly, leaving the ship deserted.

* * *

Tamara cried out in utter terror as a feline warrior charged her position. So far the battle had not been going well for the defenders, and more than once the enemy had managed to breach the walls of the fort. In itself this did not mean very much, but when one considered the fact that to get inside the fort one had to first get past the ranks of Krulotin surrounding it, it meant that things where not going well at all. This lone individual who had stopped Tamara was one of these that had managed to find a way inside the perimeter; but fortunately he was one of only a very few.

At the moment, however, this information would not have calmed Tamara in the least, considering that she was soon to find herself on the receiving end of a sharp lance. Suddenly, from a stone ledge above, someone dropped like lightning from the sky and in a motion too quick for the eye to follow, dealt the attacker a vicious blow to the back of his head.

It took the dazed unicorn a moment to realize that it was Malteeze who had just saved her. He appeared to be asking if she was alright, but over the sounds of battle, she couldn't really make out any of his words. She was about to thank him for the rescue, but her gratitude went unspoken as two more invaders tackled Malteeze from the side, and he disappeared from her field of vision.

Momentarily, one of the enemy felines flew past Tamara to land in an unconscious heap, followed close behind by a loud thud from the second. Stepping back into view, Malteeze looked down at Tamara and instructed, "Crawl back in that crack as far as you can get and don't come out for anything."

Before she could reply, he was gone again. There was still much battle remaining to be fought and that left no time for gratitude or chit-chat. That could wait until afterwards– if there was an afterwards.

Meanwhile, at the west wall of the fort, Barnacle and Cliff were right in the thick of things. The Krulotin forces had been pushed back all the way to the outer wall of the fort, and still the Warlords sent more troops. This battle seemed to be in no way close to finished.

The pirate hopped from boulder to boulder, crossing steel with any intruder that got as far as him. He had taken it upon himself to defend that section of wall and ensure that no one got past him. So far he had done an acceptable job of it, but there were just so many of them that no matter how hard he fought, some of them still got around him. But that was were Cliff came in. He was no experienced fighter, but he had been given a sword and he was more than capable of watching Barnacle's back. This, however, was no easy task either since they both had to move back and forth along the perimeter in unison, or one of them would be left unguarded and defenseless.

"ARR, I don't be knowin' how much longer we kin keep this up!" Barnacle cried to his young comrade as he kicked an angry feline off of a rock.

"Hey! Maybe we won't have to worry about it," Cliff replied jubilantly and pointed out at the field of battle. "It looks like they're leaving."

"ARR." It did indeed look like the feline hordes were falling back, but Barnacle didn't like the look of it for some reason.

"I'm afraid your observation may be a little premature, friend," Nickto said as he walked up behind the ponies.

"Huh? What do you mean? It sure looks like they're leavin'," Cliff replied. Sitting down on the stone on which he had been standing, he took advantage of the lull in the battle to get off his hooves.

"We haven't beaten them," Nickto replied. "Not by a long shot. They still have the advantage in numbers and supplies. Right now they are most likely regrouping for the final assault. This doesn't look good, my friends."

"ARR, I agree, but there must be something we can do..." Barnacle suggested.

"We attack now!" Suddenly, from out of nowhere, Malteeze stepped up to the group. "It is the last thing they will expect, and we will catch them off guard."

"A noble strategy, Malteeze," Nickto replied. "But it has no hope of victory."

"Waiting here for them to return has even less," Malteeze replied. "At least we would go down fighting on our own terms."

"You may have a point..."

Malteeze nodded and then continued, "When I served as Rosweld's First Prime, we won many battles, but the majority of the fighting was not fought on the battle field; it was fought in the mind. Oftentimes, the mere mention of battle with the Warlord Brothers' Feline Hordes would be enough to make our opponents surrender. They now expect us to be afraid and cower as we wait for them to finish us off; but if we strike now, it will be the last thing they would ever expect."

Nickto silently stroked his beard as he weighted these options. None of the choices he had were easy to go with, but something had to be done. Finally he spoke, "How long do you think we have before they attack again?"

"Fifteen– maybe twenty minutes," Malteeze replied gravely.

Still deep in thought, Nickto said, "Yes, ready the troops; we attack them in seven."

Malteeze nodded as he backed off; and then he was gone, off to organize the attack. They would have to act quickly and their preparations would have to be disguised as their own regrouping of forces. If the felines were to realize what the heroes were planning, they could easily raise a defense in little time and the entire assault would be for nothing.

As it was, Malteeze managed to move all the remaining Krulotin forces around to the north side of the fort were they would be facing the enemy. This he did very quickly and without being too obvious. When word was sent back to Nickto that all was ready, only five minutes had passed since the order had been given.

Cliff, Barnacle, Malteeze, and Nickto gathered on one particularly large stone overlooking the troops and took a brief moment to catch their breath.

"Friends," Nickto said in the most serious of tones, "you have all fought bravely and no one here doubts your bravery in the least; but in the coming battle, things will most likely not go well. None of you are warriors, so no one would ever think less of you if you decided not to fight."

"ARR, that's awful kind o' yah, general, but it's all the same; I'm gonna stay and fight tah the bitter end," Barnacle replied.

"If we don't stop them here, there will be nothing left to stop them when they march on the entire world with the full might of the Ponies of the Apocalypse behind them. I cannot stand by and let these monsters do this, not when I helped them do the same so many times before," Malteeze added.

"I'm in, too," Cliff declared boldly. "I may not be as good at this as you guys, but I gotta do something when the fate of the world is in the balance!"

Setting a large paw on the young pony's shoulder, Malteeze said to him, "While your bravery is unmatched, I think what the general said may apply to you. War is no place for the young."


"Stay here and protect Tamara," the cat-man instructed. "Stay out of sight, and there is a chance they won't find you."

After a moment of silence, Cliff replied with a grudging, "Okay."

"Then it's decided," Nickto said as he stood, drew his sword, and pointed it out at the enemy. "Charge!!!"

And with no further hesitation, the army of Krulotin moved across the field in a great spearhead. They fell upon the surprised and tired Feline Hordes and drove a wedge right through the center of their forces. With their formations smashed, the felines were cast into disarray; but still the battle was intense.

Slowly, the initial momentum from that first charge began to wane as the Krulotin were worn down on all sides by the vastly superior numbers of the enemy. It was a valiant effort, but one ultimately destined to fail...

But then the felines fell back.

The heroes were left dumbstruck by this strange turn of events and stopped in the heat of battle to watch in awe as the Warlords' forces retreated and disappeared over the northern ridge.

From the highest rampart of the ruined fort, Cliff jumped into the air enthusiastically crying, "Yes, we did it!"

Down on the field of battle, Barnacle, who could barely lift his sword any longer, looked on in disbelief. "ARR, they're leavin'? Why? They had us beat."

"Something is not right. They had the advantage of numbers. They would have crushed us if they had kept up their assault!" Malteeze cried out. "This makes no sense!"

"You're right. Even with their losses, they still outnumber us," Nickto added.

As the last remnants of the Feline Hordes retreated up the slopes of the grassy hill, four individuals stood motionless in their midst. The ranks of troops parted around them and it was not until the last of the soldiers had passed that these persons could be identified.

There stood Aries and the three brothers, looking down at the smashed army of the Krulotin– laughing...

"What's going on?"

"We win," Fireball stated simply.

"So why pull your troops back?" Malteeze demanded. "We were as good as defeated!"

"We didn't need to defeat you," Gelli replied with a thin smile. "This ritual needed for a meaningful battle of survival to be fought on these ancient fields."

"And you have allowed us to do just that," Rosweld added gloatingly. "Thank you."


"It can't be."

And as the Warlords rode off over the ridge, the heroes were left to contemplate their dire situation and to hope beyond all hope that the other groups fared better than they.

* * *

"Foolish mortal," Nur-Ab-Fin growled, gripping Thomas in one of his large robotic hands. "You thought you could take me on, alone and unarmed? Hah! You're more clueless than I thought."

"Don't be so sure about that," Thomas said menacingly. "It's a good thing I decided to bring this along!" Reaching down, he suddenly brought up an object that was familiar to both of them. Nur-Ab-Fin laughed uproariously.

"That silly whale medallion will get you nowhere," he chuckled. "It will be a cinch to finish you off."

"It worked pretty good... last time," Thomas declared, struggling in the robot's grip. "But it's going to be different now, because I'll be using those powers against you to send you into the next dimension once and for all!"

"That's big talk for one who possesses a worthless trinket," Nur-Ab-Fin snorted. "You are an ignorant one."

"What do you mean... by that?"

Nur-Ab-Fin howled with laughter, and with relish went on to explain. "I no longer have anything to do with that antique medallion. It's useless now as an item of magic. I was inspiring those powers to come forth out of it before. On your own, you'll never get a thing out of it!" The demented spirit began tightening his grip on the fragile pony body.

"I don't believe it," Thomas said cooly, though he was beginning to get worried. He had been depending on this medallion, which had mysteriously come into his possession, when he challenged Nur-Ab-Fin to battle; but what if the spirit was telling the truth? He had a sinking feeling in his stomach. "You're only trying to make me give up."

"Hah-hah-hah!" Nur-Ab-Fin laughed. "Go on then, try it. I'll be merciful. Go on, try." He dropped Thomas to the ground, and looked at him expectantly.

Thomas had serious doubts now, but... it couldn't hurt to try, could it? Holding the whale medallion high, he yelled out, "Tidal-wave smash!"

Nur-Ab-Fin stood, feigning boredom, as Thomas attempted the attack. Confident that it wouldn't do a thing, he prepared himself to move in for the kill. As it was, he was utterly surprised, confused, and mystified as a large wave of water suddenly emerged from the ground and enveloped him, bowling him over to the ground.

Thomas himself was surprised by the result, but he was filled with a fresh spirit of confidence. Obviously Nur-Ab-Fin had only been trying to scare him off!

"But– but– that's impossible!" the robot-spirit spluttered, trying to right himself. "You couldn't– you can't–"

"But obviously I did," Thomas said imperturbably.

"I had unleashed those powers from the amulet!" Nur-Ab-Fin howled. "That idiot Lamachus couldn't even operate the thing, until I stole it from him! After I left it, it should have become useless– useless!!!" Filled with fury, Nur-Ab-Fin took a step forward. "Give it to me! Now!"

"A moment ago you said it was just a useless trinket," Thomas said lightly, winking out of his way.

"Your powers must be great if you can unleash the powers yourself," Nur-Ab-Fin said menacingly. "You, not even knowing what your true heritage is! The necklace should be mine!!!" He swiped at Thomas, but Thomas was quick to react...

"Crustacean clamp!" he shouted, and Nur-Ab-Fin promptly found himself covered from head to toe with a restricting shell of crustaceans.

"You can't hold me like this!" Nur-Ab-Fin shrieked, breaking out of the casing with ease. "Now you will meet your doom!"

"If you can catch me," Thomas said craftily, winking to the opposite side of the grain pile.

"Why, you–" Nur-Ab-Fin went crashing right through the pile to get at his prey, spraying up particles of wheat in every which direction.

Tiny didn't seem to notice a thing, and went right on devouring, mindless of what his agent was up to.

* * *

Meanwhile, Solstice and Hubert had run into trouble as they made their way through the wheat field. A robotic bug who had strayed from the main group had spotted the intruders and landed in front of them, buzzing ominously.

"What do we do now?" Solstice gulped.

"Stay still, and don't make any loud noises," Hubert whispered.

This didn't help matters any, though, because the bug slowly began advancing towards them, clicking its front pinchers together.

"Hubert..." Solstice whispered.

"We'll stand and fight it," Hubert said confidently.

"With what?"

"With this stake." Hubert held up a fairly sturdy small log that would make a primitive but potentially potent weapon. "I found it in the field away back, and thought I'd pick it up just in case."

The robot drone was nearly upon them now, and Hubert brandished his weapon menacingly. He pushed Solstice aside moments before the pinchers lashed out at them; Hubert himself jumped over the deadly protrusions and dealt the bug a nasty blow over the head. The robot was stunned momentarily, its circuits temporarily scrambled.

"There's more coming!" Solstice alerted, pointing up in the sky. A full regiment of robotic drones were on their way, most assuredly to expel these pests from the field. In hardly no time at all, they were upon the two ponies. Hubert tried to remain steady atop the first bug and lashed out at the others as they flew over, but was soon thrown to the ground.

"Make a run for it, Solstice!" he yelled. "Get to the forest!"

"No, not yet!" Solstice screamed back. "I don't want to split up more than we already have! Besides, you could never take these alone!"

"I doubt that the two of us can, either!"

"We can try!" Hitting recklessly at bugs as they closed in on her, Solstice saw a means of escape. A drone was flying directly above her, and very low to the ground. She judged the distance and expertly leaped upwards, grabbing onto its underbelly.

"See if you can maneuver it to the grove!" Hubert conveyed, trying to fight off the threatening drones singlehoofedly.

But Solstice had other plans. Taking a deep breath, she swung her back legs down and back up again, dealing the robot bug a hard blow. Part of his paneling fell off, revealing his mechanical workings. A few loose sparks escaped, and Solstice watched as they descended to the ground, hoping they would do the trick.

The sun-dried wheat made a prime fire starter, and the sparks ignited it upon contact. Solstice held her breath and hoped it wouldn't go out. The fire spread down the stalk of wheat, and then latched onto some of its neighbors. It had worked, but she and Hubert would have to get out of here fast.

The bug she was hanging onto was still stunned from the blow and was no longer too interested in the fleshling attached to it. Solstice managed to climb up on the thing's back, and went searching for a control panel or anything else of the sort.

Finding the controls, she adroitly switched a few wires around, and smiled with satisfaction. Now she was in control of the robot! Swiftly, she maneuvered it over to Hubert, who had become aware of the spreading fire. "Jump on!" she shouted, coming down lower.

"Good job!" Hubert congratulated her, leaping on without a problem. "Clever idea to start the fire with the drones themselves, and to reprogram one to aid us. This field is going down quickly, so let's find Kracken and Thomas and get out of here!"

* * *

"Thomas!" Kracken cried, emerging from the wheat onto the battlefield. "Stop! You've got to get away!"

"I'm not done here yet," Thomas stated just as another powerful water attack hit Nur-Ab-Fin. However, he momentarily lost his concentration as he glanced back at Kracken.

Nur-Ab-Fin had managed to dodge the attack, and saw that his opponent was distracted. The robot moved in to deal Thomas a mighty blow. "Hey, get out of the way!" Kracken shouted, leaping forward to defend his companion. Drawing his sword, he intercepted Nur-Ab-Fin just in time and, holding his sword aloft, parried the blow.

"Out of the way, cretin! This fight is between me and him!" Nur-Ab-Fin cried in his metallic baritone.

"Wrong," Kracken said definitely as he sidestepped and slashed his sword across the robot's midsection. It had little effect other than to scratch Nur-Ab-Fin's finish, but Kracken kept up the assault. "I don't care what you two have against one another, but this whole situation involves everyone on the planet!"

"You couldn't hope to grasp the gravity of this–" Nur-Ab-Fin was starting to say when...

Jumping back to his hooves, Thomas cried out, "Shut up! SOUND SPONGE!!!" Suddenly, the robotic monstrosity before them was silent, the power of the amulet adsorbing all sound from him.

"Nice," Kracken commented as he jumped back.

Nur-Ab-Fin seemed to be rather disorientated by this turn of events and was still trying to figure out what was wrong when Thomas summoned up another Crustacean Clamp to immobilize him. As the robot struggled to free himself, Thomas realized they had only seconds to act. "Kracken," he cried, "hit him now!"

"Righto!" the pirate replied and charged with his sword. The sharp point of the blade struck Nur-Ab-Fin squarely in the chest and managed to penetrate deep into the body's inner workings.

Falling forward onto his hands and knees, Nur-Ab-Fin remained stunned as sparks shot out of the wound.

"Not so big and tough now, eh?" Kracken taunted while still keeping his distance.

"Kracken! The field is on fire!" Thomas exclaimed, glancing in the direction of the blaze.

"Huh?" Kracken said as he looked up, "Then Hubert and Solstice must have–"

Just then, the two aforementioned ponies arrived on their new transportation. "Get on quick, guys!" Solstice said urgently. "We're getting out of here!"

Nodding quickly, both Thomas and Kracken obeyed her command. Nur-Ab-Fin lunged forward with a final spasm of energy in an attempt to grab his drone and pull them all to the ground, but Solstice had quick reflexes and anticipated the move. By the time Nur-Ab-Fin would be able to repair himself, they would already be gone through the portal.

* * *

Persephone carefully weighed the options in her conscience, and finally let out a long sigh. Reluctantly, she reached into her cloak. "Here," she said grudgingly, tossing it over to Shane. "You win."

"No!!!" Protius protested. Maru looked at him once more and then threw him back to Persephone and the others. She then scurried after Shane and Discord as the two headed back towards the clearing.

"This is the last one!" Discord declared jubilantly. "All we need to do is place it in the device and our part of the ritual is complete!" Both he and Shane began laughing uproariously, and the sound echoed ominously throughout the forest.

"Why did you give it to them?" Protius demanded, staring after the villains. "It wasn't worth my life."

"Nothing is worth a life," Luge said softly.

"That's right," Persephone agreed. "Besides, I have a plan. But we have to work quickly. We're going to stop them at the clearing, crabs or no crabs!"

As they hurried back through the forest, Persephone quickly outlined her plan; and as they arrived at the clearing, Discord was in the process of placing the last crystal. Thinking quickly, Luge picked a stick up from the ground and threw it at him. It hit accurately, and the Bushwoolie lost his grasp on the crystal. It went flying through the air.

It landed a short distance off in a small clump of grass. Everyone looked around at everyone's faces as a moment of uncertainty followed. Who would make the first move?

That question was answered soon enough as a rambling crab came charging out of the woodline and picked the crystal up in its pincher. Persephone was not about to let it get away with that, so she went after it and delivered a flying karate kick to the crab's shell. The crustacean's feet went out from underneath it, and it fell to the ground in a heap.

The crystal it held in its claw fell out and went sliding across the cobblestoned clearing only to stop right at Discord's feet. "Don't turn that dial; stay tuned for world domination!" he laughed as he scooped up the crystal. But just as he turned to run in the direction of the holder, Luge charged out of the woods and tackled him to the ground.

But again, the crystal went flying through the air; and this time it landed right in Protius' outstretched wing. The parrot was about to turn and flee, but just then Maru approached him menacingly, loudly snapping her claw. A quick glance around verified to Protius that he was surrounded, so he did the only thing he could think of. Throwing the crystal as high in the air as he could, he cried out, "Clever Clover, catch!" Several of the crabs snapped at it, but it was out of their range.

The purple pony made a valiant effort to do just that, but the philosopher's aim had been a little off and Clever Clover had to dive to even come close. As it was, he missed it by mere inches. Scrambling across the ground to get his hoof around it, another crab suddenly shot in from the side, making a bee-line for the crystal. Lashing out, the archeologist grabbed hold of one of the crab's legs instead and tripped it up just enough to send it to the ground.

Skidding forward, the crab bumped the object and sent it sliding once more. Persephone ran across the clearing and grabbed it in her hand as she ran past, but Discord, who was still wrestling with Luge, managed to throw his staff which got caught up in Persephone legs and sent her sprawling. Fortunately, she managed to hang onto the crystal this time; but as she scurried to the stand, something terrible happened.

"HAH!" Shane said triumphantly, suddenly appearing on the scene and plucking the crystal from Persephone's grasp. Before anyone could stop him, he had thrust the crystal into place.

"No!" Persephone and Protius cried.

"They've won!" Luge gasped.

"The fiends!" Clever Clover muttered.

"Well-well, it looks like we win," Shane declared smugly as he, Discord, and Maru made their way back down to the beach. "See you on Phalanx! Tah-tah!"

Persephone shook her sadly. "We have no choice but to go back, as well."

* * *

Persephone stepped forth from the portal and found herself enveloped by darkness. The others stepped through a moment later, all wondering the same thing: Where were they? This was not the same place they had departed from originally on Phalanx Island, and the sound of swords being drawn all around them alerted them to potential danger.

"Wait! It's Persephone's group," someone called out, followed quickly by the sound of swords being sheathed once again.

A moment later, as Persephone adjusted to the darkness, she could finally make out the forms of battle-weary Krulotin. Hubert stepped forward and asked, "Did you succeed? Did you stop them from completing their ritual?"

Looking down at the floor, Persephone said in a somber tone, "We failed." A gasp ran through the assembled masses. "I'm sorry," she continued. "We tried our best, but they were too powerful. What were the outcomes of the other encounters?"

In short order, all the groups compared notes; they realized that they had succeeded at only stopping the agents of the Apocalypse at half of the rituals, and the other half had been completed. "This is not good," Protius noted. "They may not have their full power, but they still have half; and that may be enough for them to do quite a bit of damage yet."

"Yes, I agree," Hubert stated. "We'll have to stop them here."

"That could be a risky gambit," General Nickto said as he stepped forward from out of the rank of Krulotin. "But me and all my men who returned from that battle with the Warlords are prepared to do whatever is necessary." And then, addressing Persephone directly, he added, "I'm glad to see you made it back unharmed."

Nodding, Persephone commented, "However, I'm a little confused. Why are we in this room? Shouldn't the rift gates have returned us to the throne room?"

"We're not really sure what happened," Hubert said. "But for some reason, when we returned from our respective missions, we all found ourselves here."

"Most peculiar," Protius agreed.

"But where is here, exactly?" Luge spoke-up.

"ARR, it appears to be some sort a' dry dock," Barnacle explained, motioning to an old ship positioned behind them. It was an ancient Atlantean schooner of superb design and craftsmanship, obviously stored here in this room since the fall of the Atlantean empire. Barnacle, with his love of ships, had already investigated this treasure thoroughly, and discovered that it was still in perfect sailing shape. If he had more time, he would have liked to explore it further.

"We've sent out scouts to look around, and we're still on Phalanx Island, but on the other side," Kracken stated.

"Then I suppose we should get going; every minute we waste is just more time for the Ponies of the Apocalypse to prepare," Thomas said.

"Outrageous!" exclaimed Tabby.

General Nickto looked at Tabby oddly, but continued, "Thomas is right. We haven't any time to waste."

But suddenly, from the far side of the dry dock, a door sprang open, allowing bright sunlight to spill into the chamber. All of the Krulotin reached for their swords with one hand while blocking the light with the other; but once again, the intruders proved to be no threat.

"Vos is dis? You've all returned!" Pierre cried as he stepped through the door. " 'ave you seen any imps?"

"ARR, Pierre! What are yah doing here? I thought you were supposed tah be guardin' the ship," Barnacle protested.

"I am guarding the ship from a horde of demonic imps that have tried to attack, but we drove them off!" Pierre enlightened. "We had been tracking them, but somehow they evaded us."

" 'We'?" Kracken echoed.

Just then, Davey and Jones, along with Spike, stepped into the light as well, waving and smiling broadly. "Hi, guys!"

"ARR, so yah didn't leave anyone with the ship?" Barnacle complained.

"Well, we couldn't very well leave the reporter there," Pierre went on. "She doesn't know how to fight."

"Reporter? We didn't bring any reporters along!" Dreamcatcher puzzled.

"Hey, what about us?" Equinox cried.

"We're journalists," Solstice clarified for her brother.

"Oh, okay."

Kyrene appeared behind the Bushwoolies and Spike, still wielding her plank. "No more imps?" she asked. "Oh, are these the others?"

"Barnacle, Cliff, Clever Clover, Malteeze, Tamara, Persephone, Protius, Luge, Dreamcatcher, Equinox, Tabby, Thomas, Hubert, Solstice, Kracken, and the Krulotin army, this is Kyrene," Pierre introduced. "Kyrene, this is Barnacle, Cliff, Clever Clover, Malteeze, Tamara, Persephne, Protius, Luge, Dreamcatcher, Equinox, Tabby, Thomas, Hubert, Solstice, Kracken, and the Krulotin army."

"Hey, what 'bout me?" Baby Noddins objected, still at Tabby's side. After the scrambled escape from the clutches of Zanatos and the Skeleton King, Tabby didn't have any time to return Baby Noddins to her parents, and just figured it would probably be safer to bring her along anyway. "I'm Baby Noddins, Ms. Reporter Lady!"

"Oh... well, pleased to meet all of you!" Kyrene smiled. "Uh, would any of you like to fill me in on what's going on?"

"ARR, no time for that now! Pierre, where'd you leave the ship?" Barnacle cried.

"I'm afraid, captain, that it's still clear on the other side of the island," Pierre informed.

"Don't worry about it; we don't need a boat to battle these monsters!" Persephone rallied them. "Let's get going."

A cry of enthusiasm rang out from the gathered Krulotin as they all hurried for the exits, anxious to engage the enemy. They moved stealthily through the ruins of the Phalanx Fort, making their way steadily towards the central throne room. As they arrived at the open courtyard which surrounded the building, they had to stop, for gathered in this courtyard were the collected armies of the Bushwoolies' agents. All around in formations stood the Feline Horde, the crabs, the robotic bugs, and the imps, each with their commanders at the head: the Warlords with the felines, Shane with his crabs, Nur-Ab-Fin with his robots, and the Skeleton King with the imps, since he had no one else to lead. The heroes took up a hidden position where they could see the courtyard, but where the enemy could not see them.

"Oh, no! Look at all of them. We'll never be able to get through all that," Solstice worried.

"Actually, there are fewer of them than there were previously," Nickto spoke up. "It would appear as though the Feline Hordes did not bring all their troops to Phalanx Island. We may have a chance against them."

"You mean there were more of them when you guys had to fight them, by yourselves?" Solstice said in disbelief.


But then, from out of nowhere, dark clouds came in from the horizon and covered the island in a curtain of darkness. Lightning flashed in the distance, and thunder was heard. "Ooh, creepy," someone said.

Then, from the direction of the throne room, a deep rumbling was heard. At first, nothing could be seen, but then the walls of the structure began to sink into the ground. A moment later, the domed roof split open and slid apart like the shell of a giant beetle preparing for flight. In short order, the building that stood before them was transformed. It was now less of a building and more of a pavilion. They could see into the very heart of it, to the firepit where they had first encountered the Ponies of the Apocalypse. Those creatures were still there along with their servants, the Bushwoolies of the Apocalypse. They appeared to be performing some arcane ritual of a diabolical nature.

"We have to do something!" Cliff shouted.

"Against magic like that, our only defense would be magic of our own," Protius said.

"But where would we find that?" Tamara asked.

"ARR, Kracken, isn't your sword supposed to be magic?" Barnacle queried.

"Well, uh, yeah, but I can never really get it to do anything," Kracken shrugged.

"And Thomas, what about your amulet?" Tabby reminded him.

"That's right!"

"And what about our horns?" Dreamcatcher pointed out.

"I'm afraid that we'll need more potent magic than the kind found in unicorn horns to battle the great evil of the Ponies of the Apocalypse!" Hubert pointed out. "But, every bit of power we can use will come in handy against their minions."

"Hey!" Tabby brightened. "Kaliope, do I still have those really outrageous powers I used last time?"

"Of course, Tabby. The queen of Atlantis always has these powers, at least when they are most needed."

"Truly outrageous!" Tabby shrieked.

"Is there anyone else here who may be able to help?" Luge asked.

Stepping forward, General Nickto said, "I think this may be of use," as he pulled a short golden rod out of his cloak and handed it to Persephone.

"What is it?" Persephone asked.

"It's a relic from ancient Atlantis which has been passed down from generation to generation to be used by the Krulotin in times of greatest peril," Nickto explained seriously. "Now I think you should have it."

Persephone nodded and accepted the gift. Somehow, she understood what it was and how it would help.

"And let's not forget about this!" Clever Clover offered, stepping forward. He held up a glistening axe. "It's my ancestral magic cleaver."

"If that's all, I guess it'll have to do," Nickto said. "I will lead the rest of us against the troops, which will hopefully create enough of a distraction so that you seven can deal with the Ponies of the Apocalypse directly. It won't be an easy task, but I trust you all to realize that it's our only hope."

"Sounds like fun!" Tabby said.

"Wait a second!" Solstice stalled. "Equinox, do you still have your laptop with you?"

"Yeah, I got it right here in my bag," Equinox replied. "Why?"

"I think I may have a way we can take out all of those bugs at once," Solstice explained quickly.

"Excellent," Nickto stated. "Get to work on it right away." With that, the twins set to work pulling apart the robotic insect that Solstice had brought back with her.

"What are you planning to do?" Tabby asked curiously.

"Earlier, I managed to rewire this insect so that it would follow my commands," Solstice explained quickly. "But now I think if I can get at its transmitter, I might be able to send out a signal which will scramble all the other bugs and render them useless."

"Well, this is all great, but what am I supposed to do?" Tamara queried. "I'm not a fighter."

Nickto was about to tell her to find a place to hide out, but Kyrene quickly interrupted and said, "Here, take this board and follow me. We'll take care of those imps."

Tamara stared down at the board in her hooves. "Well, okay..."

"Yeah, yeah! We're comin', too!" Davey cheered.

"Yeah, mon! We're gonna fight the imps!" Jones agreed.

"And count me in, too," Spike volunteered. "All the buildings here are made out of stone, not wood."

"Can I go with Twabby?" Baby Noddins asked eagerly.

"I think that's going to be a little too dangerous for a little pony like you. Maybe you should stick with Tamara," Thomas suggested.

"Wokay," Baby Noddins said cheerfully, skipping over to Tabby's cousin.

"Okay, group," Persephone took charge of the magic-wielders. "Here's what we're going to do: we'll sneak around to the north side of the courtyard, because there are fewer troops there; and when the general makes his attack, we'll move in to deal with the Ponies of the Apocalypse directly. Is everyone ready?"

Everyone was, so they headed out. As they moved, that gave Solstice and Equinox time to finish working on the robotic bug and everyone else to prepare for the coming battle.

"Persephone and the others are in position," Malteeze said, scanning the far edge of the plaza.

"Solstice, Equinox, how much longer on that bug?" General Nickto asked the two journalists.

Equinox, with a bit of wire clenched in his teeth, muttered something; but Solstice replied with, "It will still be a few minutes; this circuitry is more complicated than it looked."

"We don't have any more time to waste," Nickto stated. "You two stay here and finish; we attack now!"

"And we shall stay here and protect them," Hubert said of himself, Protius, and Dreamcatcher. "We wouldn't be that useful to you guys out there, anyway."

"Very well." Standing, Nickto strode to the front of his troops and drew his sword. Everyone knew what was coming, so they needed no pep talk or farther orders other than, "ATTACK!!!"

And with that, the army of heroes charged out into the courtyard screaming their war-cries at the tops of their lungs. The assembled troops of the Ponies of the Apocalypse were taken completely by surprise, and the Krulotin and their friends tore into their ranks. However, the initial assault was quickly countered as the Warlords realized what was happening, and they began barking out orders. Soon, they had a full-blown battle on their hands.

Unlike most of the troops on the battlefield that day, Malteeze had a different objective than simply surviving through to the end. Charging directly through the mass of bodies, he made his way right for the head of the beast– the Warlord Brothers! Nothing would hold him back from his destination, and he knocked any who tried to stop him out of the way.

Bursting forth in front of the brothers, all four of the felines paused for a moment. "Well, look who we have here," Rosweld said. "The prodical son returns for a whipping?"

"Better to be sent to the next dimension by your own kind than by those robotic drones," Gelli commented. "At least he hasn't lost all his sense."

"I've had more than enough talk from all of you," Malteeze snarled. "We end this now!"

Raising his massive sword and charging, Rosweld cried out, "If that's the way you wish it!"

Malteeze, however, ducked at the last moment and brought the butt of his staff into his old commander's gut. The air rushed out of Rosweld's chest and he fell to the ground gasping. But even then, Malteeze was forced to jump to the side as Gelli rushed in with his twirling pair of daggers. This only succeeded in bringing Malteeze face-to-face with Fireball, who promptly brought his own sword around for a slash. A pole vault later, and Malteeze was ready for the next charge by his enemies.

Meanwhile, Barnacle and General Nickto were in the thick of the battle back-to-back and surrounded by robot drones and feline warriors. Pierre had been with them initially, but he had soon disappeared into the crowd, bounding from opponent to opponent in his own energetic fashion.

"ARR, I hope Equinox and Solstice can finish with their little science project fast," Barnacle cried as he brought his cutlas down through the casing of one of the bug robots.

"Aye," Nickto agreed. "We could probably deal with these felines, but there are just too many drones here!"

But then, as if in answer to their request, all of the robotic bug drones that were mixed in amongst the feline troops suddenly folded up their legs and fell to the ground motionless.

From their hidden position on the outskirts of the battle, Equinox stood and let out a loud cheer. "Yeah! We did it!"

"Yes, you did," Hubert said as he pulled the impulsive pony back. "But that doesn't mean we've won yet."

"Quite correct, old friend," Protius agreed. Pointing out at the fight, he added, "In fact, I believe our position may have been compromised because of that outburst!"

Everyone snapped around to have a look, and several of the felines as well as a few crabs were heading in their direction. Quickly, Hubert drew out a pair of swords from his satchel and tossed one to Dreamcatcher. "Do you know how to use one of these?" he asked.

"Not really," she replied, "but I'm sure I can figure it out."

But the journalists' subterfuge had also been noticed by someone else. Far on the other side of the plaza, the hulking robot form of Nur-Ab-Fin was crying out in rage as he kicked several of his inactive drones. "NOOO! This can't be happening! First those fools beat me in that wheat field, but I manage to repair myself; and return here only to be foiled once again!?! I will not except this!"

"Did I hear you were wanting a foil?" Pierre suddenly laughed as he sprung in front of Nur-Ab-Fin with his rapiers at the ready.

"I will crush you, you pathetic Dakytan freak!" the robot shouted in rage as he brought his fists down where Pierre was standing– or rather, were Pierre had been standing a moment before. The agile lizard-man had jumped high into the air and landed on top of Nur-Ab-Fin's back. The Atlantean spirit howled as he attempted to swat the pest away, but Pierre merely laughed as he dodged all of the attacks.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the round courtyard, Kyrene and her anti-imp task force were having more fun than they should have been having considering the situation. The small army, all armed with planks, were having a grand time making war upon the goblins. "Get 'em!!!" the reporter continued to scream, running around through the fray. The two Bushwoolies scurried haphazardly after Spike, and Baby Noddins suddenly stopped and stood back for a moment.

"My bunnies can help," Baby Noddins giggled, pausing to concentrate on her magic. In no time at all, her fuzzy bunnies had appeared on the scene. "Okay guys, go after those funny little people!" Her obedient creatures promptly went to work at herding the imps up.

"Don't expect me to go easy on you this time," a familiar voice chuckled from behind her. Baby Noddins looked with wide eyes.

"Oh no!!!!" she shrieked. "Bunnies, bunnies!! Run!" Charging abruptly at the skeletal pony, she managed to take him off guard and his staff went flying through the air.

Tamara had been a little timid as she first went into battle, but after following Kyrene through the process had quickly gotten bolder in imp-whacking. "Take that!!" she blazed, taking down a whole line of them with one blow.

Spike was still keeping the imps hopping with his singeing flame, and Davey and Jones were having quite a ball with their weapons. Baby Noddins, though, was more concerned with keeping the Skeleton King away from his staff; without it, he wasn't able to harm her bunnies.

"Me got idea!" she suddenly exclaimed, holding the wand in her hoof. Giggling, she promptly winked away with it, and was back in a matter of moments. "I hid it," she told the Skeleton King smugly. "Go find it!"

"Meddlesome child!" the king ranted. "I'll get you for this... after I find it!" Muttering, he ran off in search of her hiding place.

Now Baby Noddins and her bunnies could devote their whole attention to the imps again. "Yay!!" the baby pony cheered. "Yeah, this big fun!"

Luge and Cliff, meanwhile, who had managed to hold their own up to this point, were actually doing quite well considering that neither one had really had much experience with war previous to this. Cliff was still wielding the Roman Gladius that had been given to him by one of the Krulotin, while Luge had been given a sword of her own. Together, the two of them were holding quite a few of the crabs at bay, which was making things easier for the Krulotin to deal with the felines.

Under normal circumstances, the crabs' master, Dr. Malcolm Shane, would have done something about this annoyance; but at the moment, he had discovered something else to occupy his attention. Charging into the midst of the fighting, the large whale-man singled out Barnacle and tackled him to the ground.

"ARR, git offa me, you slimy sea slug!" the pirate cried as he kicked himself free of Shane's grip.

"Not so fast, pirate," Shane replied. "I've got a score to settle with you!"

Up to this point, Barnacle had not yet gotten a good look at his attacker and just said, "ARR, take a number!" as he swung his sword around.

Shane, however, pulled out a small metal object to parry the blow with, and Barnacle's eyes went wide with recognition. "My wrench!" he cried. "If you think you've got a score tah settle with me, then I've got a whale of one tah settle with you!"

"After you destroyed my mind control device on Calimidad Island, I was afraid I might have seen the last of you," Shane said sinisterly. "I'm glad I was wrong!"

And as all this was happening, Persephone and her group of magic wielders were closing in on the Ponies of the Apocalypse. They had managed to get across the battlefield without being seen after the fight had broken out, and now they were inside the stronghold.

They maneuvered right up to the pit at the center of the structure as quickly as they could, and there they saw the demons themselves. All four of them were gathered in the center of the pit as before; but this time, instead of a fire blazing before them, a swirling mass of purple energy writhed and twisted in its place. At each pony's side, attending to them, was his respective Bushwoolie.

The very sight of Discord and his creepy smile made Persephone's blood boil, and she could tell Clever Clover was having the same feeling by the way his hoof tightened its grip on his axe.

"Well?" Tabby asked.

"Let's do it!" Persephone cried. "Tabby, Thomas, hit them with everything you've got! Clever Clover, Kracken, follow me!" With that, all five of them stood and commenced the attack.

"Tidal Wave Smash!" Thomas cried out and watched in satisfaction as a giant wall of water rose out of nowhere and crashed down on the Ponies of the Apocalypse.

At the same time, Tabby was muttering to herself trying to remember what some of her attacks were, but in short order she remembered and unleashed a "High Pitched Wail!"

The Ponies of the Apocalypse, now drenched and disorientated by these attacks, stood their ground and looked more upset than ever. "Ar'to matrio far'nar gosito!" the four of them cried in unison. The language they spoke was an ancient one which none of the heroes could possibly comprehend, but the tone that it was spoken in still sent shivers down their spines.

Their servants, the Bushwoolies, however, understood well enough, and the four of them wasted no time in picking up their staffs and charging the heroes. The ponies in turn simply went back to their chanting around the pit of energy.

"Not you again!" Persephone muttered as she and Discord met face-to-face.

"But wait, there's more!" the little creature said. "For a limited time only, you get to deal with my brothers as well!"

"I think this offer has just expired," Persephone replied as she spun quickly and delivered a powerful kick to Discord's chest. The Bushwoolie went rolling backwards across the floor until he ran into the wall and slumped down, unconscious.

"Nice one!" Clever Clover cheered, but a moment later, Zanatos fell on him, wielding his skull-topped staff with deft precision. Taken off guard, it was all the archeologist could do just to defend himself.

"Hold on, I'm coming!" Persephone started to say, but suddenly the thin form of Tiny dropped onto her back and clapped his hands over her eyes. Flailing around blindly, the Krulotin attempted to dislodge the small pest, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, Kracken had also found himself an opponent in Mars, the Bushwoolie of War, who wielded a large double-bladed axe. "It's been a while," Kracken said, and he parried a strike from the axe with his sword.

Mars simply grunted in reply and spun for another blow.

"Still not much of a conversationalist, I see," Kracken continued, "which is fine by me, since I'd rather just end this now." Seeing an opening in the small warrior's attack, Kracken lunged forward and slashed right across the shaft of Mars' weapon. To his surprise, the axe was cut in two and the Bushwoolie stumbled backwards from the blow. Kracken followed that up with a left-handed punch to the face, and Mars suddenly found himself out of the fight.

Clever Clover had finally regained his balance and dealt Zanatos a crushing blow. The Bushwoolie of Death fell backwards from the attack and then flat on his back. The stallion proceeded to kick the staff out of his hands, and without a weapon, Zanatos was forced to retreat.

Persephone had at last managed to get ahold of Tiny and pulled him off of her back. With a powerful throw, he soon found himself right alongside his brother, Discord.

Now the heroes were able to turn their attention toward the real enemies. The Ponies of the Apocalypse seemed uninterested in the fact that their loyal servants had just been defeated, however, and they merely proceeded to focus their attention on their meditations. Tabby and Thomas continued to keep up their own assaults against them, but the evil creatures had summoned into existence a powerful barrier of magic that let nothing of the attacks through.

"We've got to get through this shield!" Persephone instructed. "Quick, focus all of your attacks!"

Clever Clover rushed over and took a swing at the barrier with his axe, but the strike just bounced off harmlessly. Kracken, too, tried his hand at it, but all he got was a rippling of color through the surface of the shield. But, even though neither of them accomplished much with either assault, they continued to strike the wall over and over again. Tabby and Thomas continued as well. No one could tell if they were affecting it at all, but they had to try something.

Standing back from the rest, Persephone finally pulled out the small golden rod that Nickto had given her. Gripping it tightly in her hand, she closed her eyes and focused. Slowly, a strange tingling sensation began spreading out from her hand. At first she wondered if she was just imaging it, but when she opened her eyes, she could see a blueish-green aura of energy fluxing around her clenched fist.

With a sly smile, she charged the barrier and swung her fist around for a powerful wind-mill strike. The golden rod left a trail of glowing energy behind it as Persephone brought it around to impact the barrier with a bright explosion of splashing energies. The shield of magic seemed to falter for a moment, but quickly sprang back into existence. "Keep it up!" she cried. "Don't let up!"

"You got it, boss-lady!" Kracken said as he thrust his sword once more. This time, instead of bouncing off, it passed right through, but not without some resistance. Holding it steady, he grabbed hold of the sword with both hands and pulled up and back. The action tore a great section of the wall, and a moment later the whole thing vanished from sight.

"We did it!"

"It's not over yet!"

And truer words were never spoken, for as Kracken disabled the barrier, the seething pit of energy around which the Ponies of the Apocalypse had been meditating suddenly shot straight up into the air like a great pillar reaching high into the sky.

"Alvosta driv almoprstnt!" Thanatos cried with glee.

"Er bonfar inack," Aries replied coldly and turned to face the ones who stood against them.

"Tor eenack vorasht!" Thanatos replied.

With that, the ponies reared back and let loose with the full force of their might. A massive column of flame issued forth from Thanatos' hoof that headed right toward Kracken. Instinctively, the pirate brought up his sword to block the attack, and strangely, the mystic blade did just that. The fire parted around him and went on to impact the walls of the pit, causing the very stone to melt from the temperature.

Meanwhile, Strife began to concentrate on an attack of his own which caused the ground beneath them to start shaking in anticipation. Hunger let loose with a powerful bolt of electricity that sprang towards Persephone, but the Krulotin leapt out the way. No normal person would have been able to react so quickly, but the golden rod she held allowed her to do things no one else could.

The last Pony of the Apocalypse, Aries, overcome by anger, decided that instead of magic, he would crush his enemies with his bare hooves. Charging towards Clever Clover, things looked grim; but Thomas, from his high vantage point, called out, "Crustacean Clamp!"

For a second as the sealife sprang from out of nowhere, it looked like this attack would work; but no sooner had it grabbed hold of the target when Aries broke free with hardly any struggle at all.

"Not so fast!" Tabby said. "Seer!" Even as the words left her mouth, Aries was suddenly wracked with pain as waves of burning psychic energy washed over his body. He let out a howl of fury unlike anything they had ever heard.

With Aries thus immobilized, Thomas took the opportunity to let loose with another attack, his "Urchin Spear!" This summoned a pointed lance that struck Aries and sent him crashing into the far wall of the pit. Aries struggled back to his hooves and glared at the ponies who had done this to him. The other ponies now focused on them as well, ignoring Persephone, Clever Clover, and Kracken.

At that point, the demon ponies now unleashed a combined assault against Tabby and Thomas. It was all the couple could do just to dodge the powerful energies directed against them. And, having missed its mark, the attack only succeeded in bringing down a fourth of the roof. Rubble cashed down around the Fairfaxes as they dove for cover.

"Tabby!" Thomas tried to call out, but was choked off by the dust in the air.

But suddenly, from the other side of a fallen pillar, Tabby jumped up on top of the rubble and, with vengeance in her eyes, shouted to the Ponies of the Apocalypse, "Now you've made me mad!"

"Tabby! Now, use the Seismic Stomp!"

"Wha–! Who said that?" Tabby was confused for but a moment before she realized Kaliope was still with her. "Right," she continued, now shouting at the ponies once more, "Now feel the Seismic Stomp!"

With those words, Tabby stomped her hoof down on the ground for dramatic effect, and the ground began to shake even worse than it had been, and bits of the roof began to fall in. Soon, the entire building was collapsing in around the Ponies of the Apocalypse. Fortunately, the others had already removed themselves from the pit and were now at Tabby's side. When the last of the debris settled and the dust began to clear, it became apparent that the villains were buried beneath several hundred tons of stone.

"You did it, Tabby!" Thomas cheered. But a quick glance at his wife and he was by her side, catching her as she collapsed from the strain.

"Is she alright?" Kracken asked.

"She'll be fine," Thomas said, but muttered to himself, "I hope."

"She better be," Clever Clover noted as he looked down at the rubble, "because I don't think that stopped 'em!" Indeed, the ground was beginning to shake once more, and a fiery energy was shining out from the shattered rubble. Apparently, it would take more than that to finish off the Ponies of the Apocalypse.

* * *

Meanwhile, all of this had not gone unnoticed but those gathered around in the plaza. A lull in the battle had found Dr. Shane back-to-back against Nur-Ab-Fin. "Hmm, this looked like a fairly good idea at first," the doctor was saying to his companion, "but now, with our employers in this current position, it looks as though we may not be able to pull it off after all."

"I never really liked you, Shane," Nur-Ab-Fin replied, "but this once I fear you may have a point."

"Well, in that case, I'll see you around," Shane said as he hurried off towards the ocean, summoning his loyal crabs with him as he went. Nur-Ab-Fin, however, had no such attachment to his robots, so he abandoned them where they lay and left the field of battle as fast as he could.

The Warlords noticed these departures right away, for they were considering the same course of action themselves. The battle had been fought to a stalemate, and the abilities of their masters were proving not to be as all-powerful as they had hoped. And now, without the support of their allies, the situation was not looking like one from which they could triumph. They had already lost too much in this gambit and were not about to sacrifice any more to its cause. With that in mind, they gave the order for their forces to fall back. The heroes watched as they retreated from the field of battle, this time for real, and a cheer went up through their ranks.

The imps, too, noticed this sudden reversal; and when faced with a screaming madwoman wielding a wooden board, they too choose to escape while they still could. As for the Skeleton King, he had finally located his wand and was ready to return to the battle; but upon seeing that he was the only one left, he departed from the scene as well, vanishing into thin air and returning to his tomb in the Dark Forest were he could wait for future Halloween parties.

"ARR," Barnacle cried, "look at them, throwing themselves into the ocean like rats fleein' a sinking ship!"

"Unfortunately, I'm afraid your analogy my be more accurate that you had anticipated!" Hubert replied.

The pirate captain was about to ask what he meant by that, but he soon saw for himself. The ground beneath them was beginning to shake quite violently, and large cracks were beginning to spread out from the center of the island.

"What's happening?!" Cliff asked.

"It must be the Ponies of the Apocalypse," Protius theorized. "They are obviously trying to free themselves, but they are tearing the island apart in the process!"

"Then we had better get out of here!" Solstice cried.

"Where's the ship?" Tamara quavered. "I want to get out of here!"

"I don't think we'll make it in time!" Nickto cried out. "It's too far away, and the island's coming apart too fast!"

"Perhaps we could make use of the Atlantean vessel we saw berthed in the dry dock," Malteeze suggested.

"ARR, I'm not gonna lose another ship!" Barnacle protested.

"It's either that or our lives!" Hubert said. "We have no choice."

"ARR, you're right," Barnacle agreed grudgingly.

"Quick!" Nickto urged. "Take those Bushwoolies of the Apocalypse into custody, and help the others!" He motioned toward the magic wielders, who were still in the ruins of the throne room.

Everyone scrambled toward the dry dock as Phalanx Island fell apart beneath them. But, even as they arrived at their destination, they still had to deal with launching the ship. Fortunately, a quick examination revealed a system of pulleys and gears that would easily launch it in no time at all. Barnacle threw a lever, causing a counterweight to drop out of view; and promptly the massive gates were pulled open. A moment later, a loud creaking sound went up as the ship slowly began to slide down into the water.

"Come on, come on, faster!" Clever Clover urged as the dry dock began collapsing around them.

"ARR, everyone on board! Pierre, Davey and Jones, furrow the sails!" Barnacle began shouting out orders. "Everyone prepare to set sail!"

It was a tight fit, but somehow they managed to get every last pony, human, Bushwoolie, lizard, parrot, dragon, and cat on board. And not a moment too soon; the old Atlantean ship shot away from the island like a dart, just as the last bit of the land mass collapsed in upon itself, taking the Ponies of the Apocalypse with it. It was now that the heros were finally able to give themselves a moment to relax.

"We've won!" Cliff cried.

"ARR, speak for yourself," Barnacle said. "I've lost another ship. I don't see it anywhere. It must have gone down with the island."

"Look on the bright side, Barnacle," Clever Clover reminded. "We defeated the bad guys and none of us were sent to the next dimension."

"And look at this! It can be your new boat," Dreamcatcher pointed out.

"ARR, it is rather a nice vessel, isn't it?" Barnacle admitted.

"Thomas? Is she okay?" Solstice asked in concern, finding her way to a corner of the ship where Tabby's still, unconscious body was spread out on the deck.

"I don't know," Thomas said grimly. "She isn't coming to, or responding to anything."

"That last attack strained her greatly," Hubert stated seriously, also in the circle around his daughter. "It may have been too much for her."

"But without it, we may not have won," Tamara said quietly, tears trickling down her face. "Oh, Tabby– I'm so sorry I was so hard on you this morning, and all those other times. Please don't go– I–" Too choked-up to go on, she fell silent.

"Tabby..." Thomas whispered, in shock over the possibility of losing her. "Tamara's right. You can't go... yet. We all need you too much..."

"I am pleased with your concern for her," a regal voice suddenly spoke, and everyone looked up abruptly only to see the pale outline of a pony in their midst. "She should be honored to have such fine friends as you."

"What... who... are you?" Solstice gasped.

"Queen Kaliope," Thomas said softly.

"You're the spirit she was talking to?" Tamara asked, wide-eyed.

"Yes," admitted the former queen. "I will always be here to look out for the descendents of Atlantis. And now... it appears that one needs my help."

Everyone was silent as Kaliope stepped forward and placed a ghostly hoof upon Tabby's forehead. Closing her eyes in concentration, the spirit meditated deeply; and after a short span of time, the color began returning to Tabby's face, and her breathing pattern normalized. "Now she is but sleeping," Kaliope announced solemnly; and, looking at Thomas intently, continued, "Your daughter is strong."

Thomas was puzzled at this. "My daughter?" he echoed, and glanced over at Hubert. "But..."

Kaliope didn't answer directly, but only continued to look at Thomas intently. "Until we next meet," she said solemnly. "Farewell." And promptly, she vanished into thin air.

"Oh..." Thomas murmured, realization dawning on him as he gazed at Tabby, who was beginning to stir. His daughter...

Meanwhile, in another part of the ship, Kyrene was just collapsing onto a bench for some rest. She still hadn't found out what was going on; and frankly, by this point, she didn't care any longer. Throwing her pen and paper on the floor, she rested her head up against the wall. All she wanted now was some sleep. She could hunt up another story some other day.

"Have no fear," Nickto was saying to Malteeze up on the command deck. "The Krulotin will keep the Bushwoolies of the Apocalypse imprisoned, so that they can never again resurrect their evil masters."

"Yes, the Krulotin have done much good today," Malteeze agreed. "Not only have they triumphed over the Warlords, but your victory will have decimated their forces enough that perhaps peace can return to the northern kingdoms."

"And even though all of the agents escaped, I pray that we've seen the last of them, though I doubt we have," Nickto replied.

Tamara had since wandered back over to Malteeze and overheard this conversation. "Oh, Malteeze," she sighed. "If I'd known that you lived this kind of crazy lifestyle, I never would have listened to Ah-Loh when he told me that you were my one true love." She paused before going on, and looked at Malteeze to see how he was reacting.

"I see," said Malteeze, his expression standardly emotionless.

"I'm sorry, Malteeze," Tamara went on haltingly, "but I don't think you're the one for me."

"Oh, I'm hurt," Malteeze said flatly. "How terrible."

* * *

"Well, it looks like your ponies have more ability than you give them credit for," Bic said with a grin and a shrug. "I've enjoyed your company, but it's time for me to go. I'm a very busy imp, you know." And with that, the imp was gone, and with him the barrier that held Epona from her protectorate.

"Yes, the ponies prevailed, but at what cost? If I could have saved one Krulotin from their fate..." the flame-haired woman mussed as she disappeared from the ancient place of stone.

The End


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