Icon’s Imbroglio Part Two
written by Sugarberry

Pacing the office floor, Icon waved a hoof in the air. “How can you two be so calm when our entire enterprise could be annihilated within the hour?” he ranted to the two other stallions in the room with him.

One, an orange stallion with lilac hair who was ooking out the window, glanced at the pony in the chair behind the desk. “His theatrical experience has improved tremendously over this past year.”

“Would you be serious, Cachet?” Icon growled. “Guido Casale is not going to waltz in here with a bland smile on his face and congratulate us on the fine start our business is having, not with that lawsuit his company prompted hanging over our heads!”

“We’re well aware of Casale’s purpose in coming here, Icon,” Hodgepodge, a rather colorful stallion of various hues, stated rather shortly as if he, too, was beginning to feel the stress of the forthcoming meeting.

The three stallions were co-owners of a software development company that had begun as a side venture to boost their revenue, but had taken off with such demand that it had quickly grown into a full-blown business that received more than enough work to keep them and a part-time secretary well occupied. H.C.I. had done so well that it had caught the unapproving eye of Macrohard, the behemoth of the software industry, which frowned upon any upstart’s success, unwilling to share any part of what it considered its domain. H.C.I. had, therefore, found itself under legal investigation concerning infringement rights and exploitation of existing technology, neither of which, H.C.I. maintained, were involved.

“Yes,” Cachet sighed. “He’s bound and determined to preserve his lion’s share of the industry at our expense.”

The office organizer, a very pretty young mare named Fidget, came into the room with a hoof-full of reports which she set on the desk. Surveying the three stallions with a steady eye which belied her name, she said, “I saw Anchor coming down the street; he should be here...”

The sound of the outside door opening and closing finished the thought for her as Anchor made his appearance, his briefcase at his side. He made no eye-contact with anyone in the room but set his briefcase on the desk and barked, “Coffee! Now, Fidget.”

Because he was not focusing on the mare, he missed the sudden lowering of her eyelids that signaled a forthcoming set-down; but Cachet defused the situation by pouring the coffee for the H.C.I.’s lawyer himself. As he handed it to the stallion, he remarked, “I’d hoped you would be in better humor than Icon.”

Cachet, the only one of the three business partners who was married- and happily- seemed to have the calmest disposition of those involved with the impending encounter with Mr. Casale of Vulcanopolis; whether this was due to the additional year of age he had over the others, his inherent ability to overlook irritations, or because the marital state had taught him something of the matter of diplomacy was anyone’s guess.

Anchor focused on Cachet, a frown marring his fawn-colored face. “Icon has every reason to be out of humor, I should think.”

Cachet only grinned, deepening the lawyer’s frown. “You’ve studied every detail in our case and have told us time and time again that there is nothing that Macrohard can legitimately sue us for,” he rationalized.

“And I’m right... I’m quite sure,” he added after a slight hesitation. “But you must understand that Macrohard operates under a different set of rules than we do.”

Icon scoffed. “Guido Casale doesn’t go by any rules at all.”

Fidget made an attempt to funnel their thoughts into a more optimistic channel. “I think that Guido’s coming here today is a positive thing, better than his lawyers descending on us, at least.”

“That’s what I’ve been thinking,” Hodgepodge quickly responded. “He surely wouldn’t lower himself to do the dirty work when he has any number of lawyers to do it for him.”

“Ah-hem,” a voice said from the doorway, causing the gathered ponies to jump and swing their heads in that direction. Every one of them stared disbelievingly at the yellow stallion who stood there, a bland smile on his face and a cold, hard, calculating look in his eyes.

“Guido! Oh... eh... Mr. Casale!” Icon stuttered, extending a hoof as he went to meet the stallion. “Excuse me, but I was not aware of the time.”

Guido accepted Icon’s hoof for a brief instant. “I made better time from Dream Valley than I anticipated and took the chance that you would be able to receive me earlier than our scheduled appointment time.”

“That’s not a problem,” Icon stated, grateful that the waiting was now over. “Let me introduce you to my associates.”

When the introductions had been made, and Fidget had left the office to attend to her duties after seeing the stallions comfortably seated, Anchor extended a welcome to Guido on behalf of the H.C.I. organization and then sat back to hear what Guido’s motive in coming had been.

“H.C.I. has made a commendable beginning to garner such an impressive share of the market so quickly,” Guido began, the smile on his face still contradicting the look in his eyes. “I must assume that you are quite knowledgeable about your field.” He lifted his left eyebrow as if expecting some sort of verification on that point.

“The three of us were at the university together,” Cachet offered. “We found that there was a need for a service like ours.”

“Apparently you were correct; I have seen your business records for the previous years, and I must say that I am surprised at the volume of activity your company has garnered.”

“H.C.I. has responded to its clients needs,” Anchor noted, wishing that Guido would get to the point rather than beating around the bush.

Guido was silent for a moment before continuing. “Everyone here is aware that Macrohard has filed a lawsuit against H.C.I...” He held up a hoof as Icon attempted to refute the need for that action and then went on. “...because of infringement rights on Macrohard’s technology. Macrohard had documented enough evidence to successfully settle its claim in court...” Here Anchor made an attempt to discredit that statement, only to be met with a look that successfully closed his mouth. “... but I would prefer to offer you an option.”

“And that being...” Cachet said in an even voice that did not betray his anxiety.

“I would suggest that you let Macrohard absorb H.C.I. into its development network.”

“So that you can benefit from our success?” Icon asked, his glacial eyes meeting Guido’s.

“I would like to think that it would benefit both Macrohard and H.C.I.” Guido encountered Icon’s gaze with equal chilliness. “H.C.I. would have the benefit of Macrohard’s experience and reputation; the distinction of Macrohard’s place in the computer domain can hardly have escaped you,” he said with a certain hint of malice.

“What may have escaped you, however, is that H.C.I. has gained credible prominence in that domain,” Hodgepodge pointed out.

“I assuredly have not missed that fact,” Guido replied. “That is why I am interested in gaining H.C.I.’s expertise in the field for Macrohard’s further benefit. You will be well compensated.”

“So that’s it,” said Icon. “You want to buy us out.”

“I think that would be the best way to handle this affair; my offer gives you recompense for your efforts, generous enough that you will not be financially hindered by the arrangement.”

“And if we don’t accept your offer?” asked Cachet.

“If the lawsuit continues, you lose everything.”

No one spoke as Guido’s words sunk in. He was offering them a magnanimous settlement of their predicament, and there would be no further legal hassles to face. For a moment, none of the three owners of H.C.I. could clearly think of the consequences; Guido’s suggestion almost seemed like a provident answer to the last few months worry over this legal entanglement that they neither asked for, wanted, or deserved.

As the moments ticked by, however, the bottom line of the entire scenario began to infringe on the stallions. It had been Macrohard who had charged them with the illegal use of copyrighted software- which was not true; H.C.I. had developed and programmed their own software from the ground up. No one knew better than they that Macrohard had no right to the projects they had authored. It would be one thing to sell H.C.I. to an interested company if one so desired, but quite another to do so under the suspicion that there had been criminal intent to necessitate it.

It was Anchor who spoke. “Mr. Casale, your proposal is... interesting... but H.C.I. does not want to be assimilated into Macrohard. I’m sure that I’m speaking for all three owners when I say that H.C.I. is not for sale.”

“And I’m sure that you don’t quite understand the alternative; if this case goes before a judge, H.C.I. will cease to exist with no remuneration from anyone!”

“If there is any justice, H.C.I. will be cleared from any wrongdoing whatsoever,” flared Icon. “Macrohard is not the only pool of intelligence that can come up with working ideas.”

“It will prove very difficult to convince anyone that your ideas were original,” Guido maintained, the ice in his eyes beginning to show flame-- whether reflected from Icon or sparking from within was difficult to tell.

Anchor attempted to defuse the situation. “H.C.I. has fully documented its work on the project in question. I have gone through every detail very carefully and have no doubts that H.C.I. would be acquitted before a court of law.”

Guido looked carefully at each of the three ponies who were directly involved in the proceedings; and finding that each was closed against him, he rose to his hooves; choosing Icon as the representative of H.C.I., he vocalized once more with quiet determination. “Macrohard can purchase H.C.I. or take it away from you. It’s your choice.”

“You forgot one option, Casale,” Icon said, his voice more confident that his tense muscles felt. “H.C.I. stays with Hodgepodge, Cachet, and I.”

A smirk appeared on Guido’s face. “We’ll see about that.” He swept his arrogant gaze around the room. “Good day, gentlemen.” And he turned and abruptly left.

Fidget breezed into the room in his wake. “What happened? I couldn’t hear... well, I mean, I can’t stand not knowing...” Her voice faded away as she saw the stricken looks on the faces before her. “Was it that bad?” she squeaked.

Anchor got to his hooves. “We certainly have our work cut out for us,” he said, then modified his statement. “Or at least, I do.” He looked at the others as if just realizing what had transpired. “Oh, my. Macrohard’s lawyers will be descending on us like vultures, won’t they?”

No one felt better for that thought having been uttered.

* * *

Knowing his own inadequacies against what he was sure would be the highly efficient litigation of the Macrohard lawyers, Anchor made a wise decision in that he immediately left Woodlawn to pay a visit to Golden City, the royal holdings which centered around the fabulous Rainbow Palace, to obtain the advice of Queen Majesty’s royal lawyers. After explaining the situation in detail and allowing the legal department to scrutinize the records he had brought with him, Anchor breathed a sigh of relief when Lattice, a completely adept royal lawyer, was assigned to aid him in stifling Macrohard’s attempt to obliterate H.C.I.

“Your timing could not have been better,” Lattice confided as they continued their planning over dinner.. “Queen Majesty has been waiting for an opportunity to...” She smiled self-consciously. “Let’s just say that she sometimes finds the distant colony of Vulcanopolis somewhat of a challenge when Guido Casale is involved.”

“He certainly seems to expect all of Ponyland to bow to his wishes.”

“Exactly,” Lattice murmured as if that explained everything.

Anchor was silent a moment before he spoke again. “I appreciate your help; I was not looking forward to facing Macrohard’s lawyers alone.” He cast a grateful glance at the mare.

“I think I’ll enjoy this confrontation,” Lattice stared into her beverage as she swirled the rosy liquid, before looking up at Anchor with a compelling smile on her face. “Besting Casale’s minions will be a worthwhile triumph for me, as well.”

* * *

Lattice wasted no time in summoning the Macrohard lawyers to meet with her, explaining to Anchor that Queen Majesty herself was anxious for the proceedings to be dealt with swiftly which was also a benefit to Icon, Hodgepodge, and Cachet as they were more than eager to have the showdown with Macrohard over and done with.

Possibly to show how little trouble Guido foresaw from this assembly with the queen’s legal representative, he sent only one lawyer, a soft-spoken stallion by the name of Justin who was accompanied by a legal assistant with the unenviable name of Splotch; she was a trim, young mare who would assist Justin with the ponderous paralegal work that would be necessary to wade through in the upcoming days.

Justin and Lattice had crossed swords before, so the two knew what to expect from the other; when Justin and Splotch appeared in Lattice’s office where Anchor was already waiting, Lattice, after introducing the newcomers to Anchor and presenting a preliminary rundown of generalizations, turned the conference over to Anchor who had never felt more dwarfed in his life than he did under the intense scrutiny of ponies who appeared to him as virtual paragons in the legal field. It did not help that Splotch, who had been busily sorting through a myriad of papers in front of her, had suddenly stopped her shuffling to beam a disconcerting look upon the already nervous lawyer.

Clearing his throat and casting a dubious glance at Lattice who smiled encouragingly, Anchor finally found his voice. “The company, Hot Computer Ideations, also known as H.C.I., refutes any and all wrongdoing as accused by Macrohard’s lawsuit against them; and I, as H.C.I.’s attorney, have documented proof that Macrohard’s allegations are unwarranted and undefendable.”

Justin raised a hoof to interrupt, but it was Splotch who spoke, throwing such a look at Anchor that the stallion inadvertently shuddered. “Your refutation is pointless; Macrohard has verified enough evidence on which to base our case.” She put an exclamation on her statement by dropping a rather thick file in front of both Lattice and Anchor.

Anchor invariably looked to Lattice for direction, and he found that the mare was bestowing a very reserved look upon Splotch which was followed by a transfer of her attention to Justin, to whom she directed her words. “This means that you are foregoing any discussion as to a settlement?” she asked, her hoof tapping the file.

Returning her gaze as straightforwardly as it was given, Justin replied in the affirmative.

Lattice rose to her hooves, signaling the end of the meeting. “We’ll see you in court,” she said, smiling cordially while accepting Justin’s hoof in hers and nodding briefly toward Splotch.

When the room was empty of the Macrohard lawyer and his assistant, Anchor turned to Lattice with a puzzled frown. “I had expected a chance to argue our position more forcefully than was allowed...” He trailed off, not wanting to secondguess the experience of the royal lawyer.

“I prefer meeting this challenge in the courtroom,” Lattice said, her mouth curled in a smile but her eyes dark and dangerous. Anchor found himself gratified to know that she was fighting for his cause; he would not want to be at odds with that compelling determination for any reason.

* * *

It was late in the afternoon when Icon, Cachet, and Hodgepodge arrived in Golden City, and by the time they had met with Lattice and Anchor and been apprized of what to expect the following day when Macrohard and H.C.I. would clash in court, it was time for dinner; Anchor, who now knew his way around the city fairly well, accompanied the three newcomers to a restaurant that served choice food and would also allow them a certain amount of privacy to discuss further the trials, literally, that beset the fledgling company.

When appetites had been sated and discussion had been exhausted, Anchor made his departure to further fine-tune his notations for the morrow while the three from Woodlawn set out on this mild springtime evening to admire some of the architecture of this well-planned heart of Ponyland, following languidly the broad avenues that led in orderly precision from the Rainbow Palace in all directions to encompass every important building within the limits of the metropolis.

After complimenting the structure of the library, extolling the grandiose civic center, and questioning the dramatically-fronted theater of the arts, the stallions found themselves at an impressive fountain at the center of an open plaza surrounded by various shops, diners, and specialty boutiques through which the stallions meandered in search of souvenirs for friends and family back home while the day faded into a dusky nighttime which reminded Hodgepodge and Cachet that they were under obligation to certain ponies back in Woodlawn to place a call which necessitated their return to their hotel while Icon opted to continue exploring for a while longer.

Spending some time browsing the offerings of a welcoming bookstore, Icon made some purchases before retracing his steps to the center of the plaza, where he meditated on the possibilities that faced him and his partners while he watched the fountain dance its ballet under the colored lights; seeing the rainbow of droplets as a good omen, he turned to make his way back to the hotel, causing him to collide with a package in the hooves of a pony who was briskly crossing the square at just that moment, sending an array of art supplies across the flagstones.

“I’m sorry!” Icon exclaimed, making a rapid dash to recover the items and returning them to the parcel before lifting his eyes to the face of the pony who had been in possession of them.

What he saw made Icon’s heart pound wildly, for he was staring at the most gorgeous mare that he had ever had the pleasure of meeting. She was of a beautiful shade of magenta with primrose pink hair that was swept back into several loose braids adorned with floral ties; her eyes, which held Icon’s with a bemused look, were of a tantalizing emerald green the depths of which were capable of drowning any stallion they lured into their hold. Icon was hopelessly engulfed.

“Nothing seemed broken,” he finally managed to say, the retrieved items still in his possession although his better judgement was by now long gone, “but maybe you should check them over yourself.” His eyes never left hers as he handed the package to her.

“I’m sure everything is fine,” she said, accepting her purchases. “And I should apologize, too, as my thoughts were miles away which is why I nearly walloped you.” She smiled, finalizing her perfection- in Icon’s opinion.

“You’re an artist,” Icon stated, remembering the brushes, paints, and pencils he had so hastily picked up.

“I dabble in art,” the mare admitted. “My parents didn’t name me Splotch for nothing.”

“Abstract art?” Icon grinned and noticed a sprinkling of freckles that he had missed in his first perusal of the mare.

“Some would say, although I try for landscapes.” Her eyes sparkled like the liquid fountain.

Icon chuckled before saying, “My name’s Icon; and, yes, I’m involved with computers.”

That statement from the stallion seemed to subdue the lights in the mare’s eyes momentarily, but she quickly recovered. “It’s nice to meet you, Icon.” She hesitated only for a second. “I was on my way for a late supper; would you care to join me?” In the depths of her conscience, she could hear Justin rebuking her for speaking with a member of the opposition, for this Icon must surely be the one who was a partner of H.C.I. and whom she would meet on the following day across the courtroom. As Splotch saw it, it would not hurt to have some intimation as to what she could expect.

And as Icon saw it, as he did not know the connection between Splotch and the problems that beset H.C.I., he considered himself quite fortunate to have received this encouragement from a mare that he found to be unarguably attractive and personable. Not withstanding the fact that he had already eaten, he accepted her kind invitation.

As they walked to the café that nestled under a red and white striped canopy, they talked of trivial and nonsensical things in a light banter that proved to Icon that his original analysis of the mare was correct: she was charming, intelligent, had a great sense of humor, and- to top it all off- she was very pretty. It was only after they had found a table and were served- she with orange roughy dinner and lemonade, he with nothing more than a bowl of soup- that Splotch turned the conversation to Icon’s personal life.

“So you work with computers...” she prodded.

“I do some programming,” he admitted, but did not want to talk about himself. “I get the impression that you are not an artist by trade.”

“Hardly,” she said; “I dabble with painting to relieve the stresses I sometimes find myself under.” She took a sip of her beverage. “You must have a hobby yourself.”

“I belong to a little theater group in my hometown...”

“How delightful! An actor! I can see you portraying the hero.”

Icon grimaced. “I’ve never played the part of the hero, but I’ve been told I capture a villain’s spirit quite believingly.”

“Am I to infer that you have real-life experience in that role?”

“Me? A villain? Oh, no, I assure you.” He thought of Guido. “But I don’t have to look far for a model.”

“Oh! Let me guess... an evil uncle?... a domineering older brother?... a mad boss?”

Icon laughed. “None of the above.” He paused for a second, sending a warm glance across the table. “I’d really rather talk about you.”

The mare finished chewing a bite of food and swallowed before answering. “I grew up in a small town, graduated from high school, went on to get a degree, and landed a demanding job that I complain about lots but actually love.” Her emerald eyes smiled. “Now it’s your turn.”

“Same as you except I don’t complain about my job... per se.”

She raised an eyebrow expressively. “Meaning?”

“I said I would like to talk about you.”

“We’ve already exhausted that topic.”

“I think not. You said you like to paint landscapes; I have a hard time imagining you painting placid scenes. Those flashing green eyes indicate a volatile temperament.”

“Am I that easy to read?” She toyed with the food on her plate. “I do tend to incorporate a fair amount of stormy atmosphere into my work.” Both in painting and in my nine-to-five job, she could have added.

“Black clouds boiling over the horizon, lightning flashing, trees crashing, that sort of thing?”

Splotch looked at the stallion sharply. “Why, yes, the one I’m working on right now is of a tempest-tossed rowboat on a stormy lake, the two ponies in the boat petrified with fear.”

“Good grief! And I suppose you have a lightning strike ready to zap them?”

“I’m still debating,” she admitted, pushing her plate forward and resting her forelegs on the table. “You work with computers.”

“Writing programs is more like it,” Icon said, noting the several small primrose pink curls that had escaped the braid and danced around Splotch’s ears.

“I was loading Macrohard’s latest version of Garret today at the office; it will make my job much easier.”

“If it runs at all.”

“Of course it will run; it’s the best out there.”

Anchor had warned Hodgepodge, Cachet, and Icon not to discuss their pending court case with anyone; but the business itself, Icon maintained to himself, had not been put off limits. “H.C.I. has a better one,” he stated.

“What’s H.C.I.?” she queried, finishing the last of her lemonade.

“It’s the company I work for, and we’ve come up with a much more user-friendly database management system that gives the customer more flexibility.”

“Oh, they’re all the same anyway.”

“How do you know if you haven’t tried ours?”

“Give me one good reason why I should.”

“I already have; it’s the best.”

“Name one thing it can do that Garret can’t.”

The debate continued on the walk from the restaurant to Splotch’s apartment where Icon bid the mare goodnight. “I’d like to see you again,” he said, drinking in those green eyes which seemed to intoxicate him.

Splotch turned to open the door. “I’m going to be very busy for the next few days.” Then she brandished a bright smile as she slipped away into her apartment; and Icon was left standing, staring at the closed door wondering if her had heard her whispered farewell or only imagined it.

Yet the elusive words seemed to hang in the air and reverberate around him. “Tomorrow, Icon.”

* * *

The hour was late when Icon returned to the hotel room that he shared with his colleagues, and Hodgepodge was already asleep in one of the beds, having had a satisfactory telephone conversation with his fiancee back in Woodlawn, while Cachet was catching the ending of a movie; he, too, had touched base with his family, reassuring his wife that all was fine in Golden City and telling his young daughter to expect a surprise from him when he reached home.. He switched the television off as he spied Icon’s rapturous expression and sensed his need to talk.

“I met the most wonderful mare tonight!” he enthused, pacing across the limited space. “Her name is Splotch; and she’s gorgeous!”

“And here I thought you were moping about the court appearance tomorrow,” Cachet grinned. “Where did you meet this beauty?”

“At the fountain. She has the most expressive green eyes I’ve ever seen.”

“I’m trying to sleep here,” Hodgepodge muttered, covering his head with a pillow.

Icon lowered his voice, but confided to Cachet: “I thought I’d never fall in love, but this mare makes me see that concept in a whole new light.”

“Yes, but will you ever see her again?”

“Tomorrow, Cachet; she said tomorrow.”

* * *

The courtroom presented a formidable appearance to Hodgepodge and Cachet; but Icon, who was still flying high over his rendezvous with Splotch, could not be disheartened. He greeted Anchor with enthusiasm and was not even dismayed when Lattice, eyeing the stallion with a questioning look, voiced her opinion that one should never be overly optimistic at the opening of a hearing, even if the outcome looked promising. Opposite the Woodlawn crew sat the staid form of Justin, looking over his notes reflectively, alone for the moment.

A sudden commotion outside the courtroom caused the gathered ponies to turn around to locate the source of the disturbance, and at that moment a magenta mare with primrose pink hair came through the door, carrying a briefcase and walking assuredly. Icon was on his hooves in an instant, a smile lighting his face at the sight of Splotch and naively thinking she was there because of him, which in actuality was partially true, but not in the way that Icon would have wished.

For an instant, Splotch looked directly at the white stallion, but there was no friendly acknowledgment of the camaraderie the two had shared over supper the evening before; there was no emerald sparkle in the eyes, only a cold green gleam.

The smile on Icon’s face slowly faded- and disappeared entirely- as the next pony through the doorway was none other than Guido. (Icon was too distressed to notice that Princess Tiffany had actually preceded her husband-to-be into the room.) The sight of Guido compounded the mystery of Splotch’s appearance, and Icon was completely befuddled to see Splotch turn to the princess and the entrepreneur and make some comment that caused the two guests from Vulcanopolis to chuckle in turn as if they were well acquainted.

“Who’s the mare with Guido?” Icon hissed to Anchor.

Anchor glanced across the space and shrugged. “His fiancee, I imagine.”

“Not Princess Tiffany,” Icon spat. “The magenta mare!”

Lattice overheard and answered the question. “That’s Splotch, Justin’s assistant.” The royal lawyer went back to her perusal of some papers.

Anchor embellished the information. “From what I’ve seen of this Splotch, she’s a termagant; I expect Guido’s coaching that one himself.” That pronouncement caused Lattice to smile, but Icon to frown.

Hodgepodge, upon hearing the name, shook his head. “I think I dreamed about a mare named Splotch last night,” which jogged Cachet’s memory as well; he looked at Icon quizzically.

“Your dream girl...?” Cachet looked again at the mare to see what there was about her to have caused Icon to change his mind so quickly about the sometimes elusive and always revelational emotion of love. He could admit that she was very pretty, but he could see nothing that took her out of the ordinary; if Cachet was anything, he was devoted to his wife.

By the light of day, even Icon’s impression of last evening’s image lost some of its luster; but only because he could not abide to see Splotch in such close discourse with the enemy. He noted that Splotch’s primrose pink hair was today fashioned in a loose, flowing style; and that as she talked with Justin, the tendrils brushed against the lawyer’s shoulder causing Icon to smoulder over the fact that any other stallion had the opportunity to be in such close proximity to the mare over whom he had succumbed.

It was obvious now to Icon that at the fountain Splotch had realized who he was the moment he had given her his name; her work with the case had undoubtedly exposed her to the names of the owners of H.C.I. even if she had not been aware of what any of them looked like. “What’s H.C.I.?” she had asked so innocently when she began her subtle queries, even though she had been working with Macrohard against H.C.I. for months.

The chance encounter of Icon and Splotch by the fountain had been a random occurrence that should have been forgotten as quickly as it had happened, except that Icon had found the mare irresistible while she, upon learning who he was, could not pass up such a chance to have a little fun at Icon’s expense. That realization did not set well with the stallion, especially since he could not escape his feelings- his heart was irretrievably lost to the magenta mare.

By the time the judge entered the courtroom, Icon was so immersed in depression that he could not have cared less about the chances for H.C.I. to stand firm against Macrohard.

* * *

Lattice sat at one end of the solid, ornate table in a regal dining room of the Rainbow Palace, her pink body and white hair glowing from the light of a sparkling chandelier that glittered overhead, a pleased smile lighting her soft features. She glanced at her guests at the table with her- Anchor, Cachet, Icon, and Hodgepodge- and lifted a crystal glass in tribute to a job well done.

“We managed to pull off a magnificent victory today, gentlemen. Your purpose has been well served, and I must admit to feeling particularly pleased concerning my own efforts in the case.”

“The suspense was well worth it once the judge’s verdict was handed down, and Guido realized that his efforts had been thwarted,” grinned Cachet.

“We certainly appreciate your help, Lattice,” Anchor added. “I would have been extremely uncomfortable facing Justin on my own.”

“You had done your part well, Anchor,” Lattice acknowledged. “But with Queen Majesty’s interest in this particular case, it was necessary for me to be involved.”

Icon, who was still suffering pangs of remorse over the realization that Splotch was never interested in him personally and had decided to put the entire evening of their meeting out of his mind so that he would not dampen the festive spirit of his friends, rose from the ashes to ask, “And why was Queen Majesty so attentive to our quandary?”

“Maybe I should let Her Majesty give you the answer to that yourself.” Her eyes went to the grand arched doorway through which the royal monarch was just entering the room. The four stallions overcame their surprise and were on their hooves in an instant to receive her, with Lattice graciously making the introductions.

The white mare with the sparkly blue flowers on her sides accepted the polite bows of the ponies and glided to the head of the table where Anchor held her chair and helped her to be seated. Icon looked on in awe, aware that his distaste for the monarchial honors was suddenly nonexistent in the company of this dignified yet approachable ruler of Ponyland. As he resumed his place at the table, he looked upon the queen with quite the same wonder as the others here assembled.

“I’m sorry I could not attend the court proceedings myself,” she smiled around the table. “I think I would have enjoyed the scenario that Lattice has so vividly described for me.” The Queen bestowed a benevolent look on the mare but refrained from any further comments on the trial while the meal was served; she guided conversation to general topics concerning Golden City and Woodlawn and the wider affairs of Ponyland.

When the table had been cleared and a dessert set before each of the ponies, Queen Majesty once again turned her attention to the lawsuit that had been so recently decided. “You young ponies from Woodlawn delivered the perfect problem into our hooves with your fight against Macrohard.” All eyes were on her as they waited to hear more.

“We have had our differences in the past with Guido Casale and his company but have never been fortunate to have the right case to put him in his place. When Anchor brought your problem to our attention, Lattice realized that it was the perfect opportunity to let Mr. Casale know where his limits are.”

“And why was ours special in any way, My Lady?” Cachet asked.

“You had kept such accurate and detailed records of every step of your projects that there could be no doubt that Macrohard was without a case.”

“But, Your Highness, Justin was aware of that himself, yet he still thought that Macrohard would come out on top,” Hodgepodge noted.

“Justin- or should I say, Macrohard- has always won,” Lattice commented, “and he could not conceive of the notion that he would ever lose. The reputation of Casale’s company was such that many companies would not have dared to hold their ground, but now a precedent has been set.” Her gaze settled on Icon. “And as for Splotch, she is the sort who would never lose gracefully. For her, each case is a personal vendetta.”

“I noticed,” he said, remembering that, although Justin had shrugged his shoulders after realizing that his efforts had been in vain and had congratulated Lattice and Anchor on their efficient and incontestable procedure, Splotch had only glared at Icon from across the room, her demeanor one of severe disapproval and dislike. She had left with Guido and Tiffany without a backward glance. That, to Icon, was what rankled.

* * *

“We’ll be leaving at first light,” Hodgepodge informed Lattice after the queen had made her exit and the dinner party had come to an end. “It will be great to get back to business as usual.”

“Have a safe journey home,” Lattice earnestly said, shaking the hoof of each of the stallions. “And remember that Queen Majesty and I are here if you need us again.”

The stallions returned to the hotel, but Icon was not ready to face what he knew would be a sleepless night. “I think I’ll take a walk,” he informed his buddies. “I don’t feel tired yet.”

Cachet looked worriedly at his friend and coworker. “Would you like someone along to talk things over?”

“No,” Icon said, “I’ll be fine. Don’t wait up for me.”

Once out on the relatively quiet streets of Golden City, Icon was engulfed once more with the irony of his situation. He, the one who had laughed off any pretense of falling in love, had completely and inescapably been mesmerized by the emerald-eyed Splotch in the instance that he had first seen her. “This is crazy!” he chided himself. “I can’t be acting like a lovesick colt!” But the self-admonishment got him nowhere.

His path through the city led him to the apartment where he had walked with Splotch, and he rang the doorbell without a moment’s hesitation. He may have fallen victim to a pretty face and had subsequently been snubbed, but he was not going to walk away from Golden City without having a direct confrontation which, in all probability, would fuel some anger with which to deaden his senses. His wait was a short one before the door opened, and Splotch herself was before him.

“Good evening,” he said with a silky voice that belied his muddled emotions. “May I come in?”

The mare had obviously not expected to see Icon on her doorstep for she momentarily appeared startled but quickly regained her composure. “I have nothing to say to you,” she informed him as she began to close the door.

Icon put his hoof out to prevent the door from closing all the way so that he could ask the question for which he desperately needed an answer. “If you had not realized that I was part of H.C.I. when we met by the fountain, would you have still invited me to dinner; or was your bidding entirely a fishing expedition?” He watched her eyes to read the answer there, knowing those green depths would be more brutally honest than her words.

There was not the faintest hint of tenderness or concern either in those eyes or in her response. “You even have to ask, Icon? I was fishing, though it got me nothing; I should have thrown you back immediately. Goodnight!”

The door latched with a definite closure, and Icon took a deep breath to purge his emotions. He had his answer; he could put the incident behind him now.

Or could he?

Finding himself at the fountain where he had met Splotch, Icon stopped to relive the short time he had been in her company. The cascading water before him picked up the green light directed at it and shimmered like Splotch’s eyes when they were in a laughing mood. Watching the ever-shifting spray that passed like a moving picture recounting every moment he had spent with the magenta mare engrossed the stallion until eventually the images faded, and the steady sound of the water was able to wash over his shattered thoughts and sooth his tense nerves. Icon found himself remembering a statement that Vanguard had made to him when he had been reminiscing about his months away from Sugarberry. How had he phrased it? “Being separated from the one you love is like ‘the pain without the peace of death.’” Icon had not believed it to be possible, but now he knew it to be true. And there was no chance to alleviate the pain, as his love was unreciprocated.

He turned his back on the fountain as if terminating the memories that haunted him and quickly strode away. Only work and Woodlawn would heal this wound.

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