A Puzzling Occurrence (Part One)
written by Sugarberry

"Whatchadoin'?" brusquely asked Teddy as he rounded the corner of Firethorn and Bluebonnet's house and found a fair number of colts and fillies bustling about in varying degrees of activity. Teddy's friend, Parquet, accompanied him.

"Cocky's going to build a new house for his pets," enlightened Leafy, taking only a moment from her labor to flash a grin at the newcomers.

"And we're helpin'!" said five-year old Daffodil, one of Cocklebur's little sisters, picking up a large rock from the pile of dirt that was accumulating around her brother who was determinedly digging a trench for the foundation of the new building.

"Looks like hard work," frowned Parquet as he watched Cocklebur manipulate shovelfuls of dirt from the lengthening trough.

"It is..." admitted Cocklebur as his shovel clanged against a hard substance, "... when you hit a rock."

"Let me try!" asserted Teddy. "I can handle it."

Brushing a lock of mane off his forehead, Cocklebur willingly abdicated the shovel into Teddy's waiting hooves. "Dig between the strings that map out the..."

"I can see what you're doin'," interrupted Teddy, jabbing the shovel through the grass and into the soil, then lifting the load onto the growing pile.

"Here, Cocky, have a drink of water," offered Cara, another of Cocklebur's siblings. The fifteen-year-old drank the water eagerly, for the temperature for the last few days had risen into the high eighties. "Thanks, sis. And you better have some ready for Teddy, too." Teddy was making a gargantuan effort to conquer the soil and had already made a commendable dent in the channel, but beads of sweat were forming on his face and neck.

"Don't overexert yourself, Teddy," recommended Leafy, flashing a wink in Cocklebur's direction. Teddy had a reputation of throwing himself wholeheartedly into a project, then burning himself out long before the venture was finished.

"No problem," grunted Teddy, lifting another shovelful of combined soil and rocks up out of the hole. He jammed the shovel down again and yelped as it stopped suddenly, jarring his forelegs. "Hey!" he exclaimed. "This is something big! Maybe I've found a buried treasure."

Cocklebur shook his head. "Doubtful. We've been digging up a lot of old pieces of some drainage ditch that ran through our backyard at one time. Dad said they buried tiles to direct the water away from the field that was probably here in the old days so it wouldn't get flooded during heavy rains."

Teddy was not to be subdued, however, and worked diligently to unearth the solid piece that he was sure was a treasure chest. When his shovel finally managed to catch an edge of the obstruction and it flipped over, he was to be disappointed. It was only a hollow earthenware tile that had once been a part of the drainage system.

"Drats!" exclaimed Teddy unhappily, thrusting the shovel blade into the mound of dirt and helping himself to the glass of water that Cara held.

"I'll dig," said Casaba, the brother closest to Cocklebur in age. He set about the task with a steady determination that bespoke his ability to stick with the job for awhile, so Cocklebur picked up the piece of tile and packed it to the growing stack of rocks and odd pieces of curved earthenware that was accumulating at the edge of the yard.

"That one's almost whole," observed Leafy. "Daffodil can use it in her playhouse."

Little Daffodil was taking the biggest rocks and tiles to form the footprint of a "house" on the green grass under a large, spreading maple tree, dividing the space into rooms. She was delighted with the intact piece of tile and, after a few moments thought, stood it upright in the middle of one length of wall. "That's my chimney," she stated with satisfaction.

"You're doing a great job," commended Cocklebur, tousling his sister's mane affectionately. "I bet you'll be an architect when you grow up."

"Ark-i-tex?" questioned the young filly, experimenting with the new word.

"An architect designs buildings," explained Leafy.

"Oh," said Daffodil, "I'd like that."

Returning to the trench, Leafy and Cocklebur found that Casaba had been busy. He had dug through a debris-saturated section of the trench, adding a large quantity of rocks to the pile of dirt.

"Let's get the wheelbarrow," suggested Nugget, who at ten-years-old enjoyed maneuvering the one-wheeled cart around the lawn.

"That's a good idea," agreed Cocklebur. "It'll save us work in the long-run."

While Nugget ran to get the wooden vehicle, Teddy quizzed Cocklebur. "Whatchagoin' to build the shed out of?"

"It'll have a poured concrete foundation and the walls will be of cement blocks," explained Cocklebur, his eyes alight as he imagined what the finished building would look like. "I'll have room for all my animals and it will be easy to hose down when I need to clean it."

"Your dad buying the stuff for you?" wondered Parquet.

"Well, he does get a discount price on the materials because of his job at the lumberyard," admitted Cocklebur, "but I'm paying for the stuff out of the wages Tabby pays me for my help at the vet clinic."

Parquet's eyes shone with respect, but Teddy scoffed, "Why spend the jangles when you already have a shed?"

All eyes turned to the old, wooden building that sat at the far side of the lawn. Although Cocklebur had painted and repaired and shingled the structure over the years, it was developing a decided list to the east. The ponies' heads tilted to match the slant.

"It's drafty in the wintertime and leaks rain in the summer. Besides, it would take more work to fix it than to build a new one," reasoned Cocklebur.

"It'll take you all summer," Teddy replied. "You'll have no time for fun."

"Building a solid shelter for my pets is fun."

Teddy shrugged and turned to Parquet. "Let's go over to the ice cream shop; Noddins and her gang should be there by now." The two set off together with a brief wave of their hooves.

Cocklebur smiled at Leafy who had always stood as his best friend. "It is getting late; I'll understand if you need to leave, too."

"Late?" scoffed the bovine. "The sun's nowhere near setting. And here comes Nugget with the wheelbarrow. We'll have it loaded in no time."

Returning to the job of loading the rocks and debris into the cart, the older ponies met Daffodil running toward her "house" with a cylindrical object in her hooves.

"Another whole piece of tile for your chimney?" laughed Leafy.

"It'll be the bestest chimney ever!" grinned the happy little filly.

* * *

After a gorgeous sunset, the quiet night was rent with cracking whips of lightening and blasts of rumbling thunder and rain that hit the sides of the homes in the neighborhood with staccato fury. Cocklebur groaned as he lay in bed, listening to the violence of the storm. By morning, there was a good chance that his carefully excavated trench would have collapsed in the rush of water. He rubbed his hoof over his face. It was hard enough digging the trench once; digging it twice would be a real pain.

* * *

The next morning dawned with a surplus of sunshine that belied the barrage of the night; only the dripping branches, the scattered leaves, and the puddles in the low spots attested to the intensity of the storm. Cocklebur was surveying his trench-work before his pet rooster found voice to crow. Happily, the sides of the ditch had remained firm and intact with only a minimal amount of dirt puddling in the bottom.

Grinning over his good fortune, Cocklebur heard hoofsteps behind him and knew without looking who was there. "Leafy," he said, turning to meet his friend, "we didn't suffer much damage at all. I was afraid the whole thing would have caved in."

"The soil here has more clay than sand," replied the filly with authority. "We studied that in our geology unit, remember?"

"I guess I was expecting the worst," admitted Cocklebur. "I'm just glad I don't have to start digging all over again." A low rumble coming from Leafy's mid-section caused the young stallion to chuckle. "Skip breakfast again, Leafy? Come on in; Mom's baking muffins."

The two companionably walked to the porch and on into the blueberry-fragranced house.

* * *

"Cocky, my chimney tipped over in the storm," complained Daffodil, tugging at her brother's mane as he worked to remove the mud from his new shed's foundation.

"Did it?" asked Cocklebur unconcernedly. "Stand it up again."

"But it'll just fall over," whined the filly. "Can't you glue it for me?"

"If you wait until we're ready to pour the foundation, we can use some of the cement to 'glue' your tiles together," suggested Cocklebur.

"How long?" frowned Daffodil.

"It won't take long at all; but you'll have to let the cement dry."

"No!" The little filly stomped her hoof. "How long until you have cement?"

"Dad said by next weekend."

"I want my chimney now!"

Cocklebur grinned at his sister. "Why, is your house getting smokey? Open a window." He glanced in the direction of her open-air "house" and grinned even wider.

"What's the problem?" queried Leafy, coming upon the two and finding Daffodil glaring at her brother.

"Daffy lost her chimney in the storm and expects it to be repaired immediately," he informed Leafy, then turned to Daffodil. "Did you have insurance coverage?"

Now two fillies glared at the stallion. "Come Daffodil; I'll help you," stated Leafy, taking the younger pony's hoof in hers and heading across the wet lawn to the outlined shape of the house. "Well, you've got one piece of your chimney standing; can't you just set the other piece on top like you did last night?"

Daffodil kicked at the second section of her chimney. "It shrank in the rain. Now it drops inside."

Leafy stifled a giggled, imagining the earthenware cylinder, which was a conduit of water, shrinking in the rain. "Hmm..." she managed to say. "Let me see it."

Picking up the tile, Daffodil held it out to Leafy and the filly accepted it with growing wonder. She could see instantly that although it was made of some earthenware-like substance and it was cylindrical, it was not one of the utilitarian tiles like they had been finding. The outside of the tube was decorated with figures; and both ends were sealed, not with mud, but with solid plugs that acted like lids on either end.

Holding the piece, Leafy realized that she was touching something more significant than a sewer conduit.

* * *

"What do you think?" Leafy asked of Cocklebur. "It's old, isn't it?"

"Well, it's certainly been underground for awhile," admitted Cocklebur as he ran his hoof over the slightly rough surface of the object. He turned it end-for-end. "But is it really old, or was it just made to look old, like a museum souvenir or somethin'."

"Then why was it buried in your backyard?"

"It was probably thrown on a junk pile and used for fill when the water tiles were put in."

"I don't know," mused Leafy, taking back the article under discussion and studying the symbols that decorated the cylinder. "These... these... emblems... are so intricately done."

"Set it aside for now," stated Cocklebur. "I could really use your help here." He nodded toward the ditch, then looked at Leafy guiltily. "Please?"

"Oh, okay; just don't throw it away." The filly set it carefully on the ground. "I already had to bribe Daffodil to get it away from her."

"And what kind of a bribe did it take?"

"I have to supply lemonade and cookies for a tea party in her "house".

"My little sister's no dummy," grinned Cocklebur. "Be sure to bring plenty."

* * *

It was only after the tea party late that afternoon that Cocklebur and Leafy were once again able to turn their attention to the artifact that had come from the trench. Having lain in the hot sunshine for hours and the clay having dried noticeably, the paintings became more pronounced and seemed to spiral around the cylinder.

Even little Jellybean, the youngest of Cocklebur's siblings, appeared to be aware that the object was special as he touched it almost reverently as it sat on the makeshift table that Casaba had put together from plywood and wood-scraps for his sister and Leafy so that they could set out the lemonade and cookies in style.

"What's its purpose?" queried Nugget.

"If it had a lid, I'd say it was some sort of storage canister," observed Cocklebur, taking it up into his hooves and inspecting both ends. "It's sealed permanently."

"Maybe it's a buoy," mused Casaba, who spent much of his time fishing.

"Hmm, I suppose that's possible. It's definitely water tight." Cocklebur returned the cylinder to the table so that everyone could peruse it easily for ideas on its function.

Unfortunately, little Jellybean chose that moment to reach across the table for another cookie, and he succeeded in off-balancing the temporary tabletop so that everything- cookies, lemonade, plates, glasses, and the artifact- began to slide toward the low side. Cara and Nugget reached to stabilize the flat piece of plywood, only to over-compensate so that now the items in jeopardy began to slide in the opposite direction.

Now it was Cocklebur and Casaba's turn to right the seesawing plane, but in their enthusiasm to counteract the steep incline forming, they put too much muscle into their downward push and created a catapult, sending the dishes, food, and the cylinder airborne, showering the ponies and bovine with sticky lemonade and cookie shrapnel. The one lone bomb- the clay cylinder- avoided contact with any of the living beings diving for cover, but it did succeed in hitting a target... the new chimney that Daffodil had erected after scouring the garbage heap for more drainage tiles.

The airborne projectile collided with the earthenware chimney with a crash that sent the chimney toppling and forced the cylinder to the ground where it impacted against a chimney section with a telling pop. Leafy almost sobbed, knowing that their beautiful artifact had broken while Cocklebur scurried to access the wreckage.

"It's not so bad," he assured his waiting audience. "The only damage is that one of the ends popped off." He held up the canister and the plug for them to see for themselves and waggled the tube in the air.

And from the tube dropped a rolled parchment that landed at Cocklebur's hooves.

No one moved; they all simply stared at the ancient-looking scroll that rested before them.

Leafy spoke first. "Cocklebur, dare we touch it?"

"We can't let it lay here, but we don't want to damage it. Cara, run get a box big enough to hold the canister and the scroll." His eyes met Leafy's. "We're going to have to talk to someone about this."

* * *

In Sugarberry's kitchen, supper was winding down and the ponies present were sitting over their dessert plates and sipping coffee or milk while animated conversation flowed between the adults, and chatter and giggles erupted between bites from the younger set.

"Another surprise was finding that Adriano had actually learned how to bake cookies; he had the cookie jar filled with them when we got home," grinned Sugarberry, newly returned from Vulcanopolis.

"And once we scraped the burnt bottoms off, they weren't half bad," added Vanguard.

"Ugh!" Tabby contributed. "No one should ever have to eat burnt cookies; the trick is to take them out of the oven when the centers are still doughy."

"Some of us like our cookies done," Thomas countered.

"Are you complaining?" Tabby retorted, swinging her head to glare at her husband.

"Not at all, my dear. You've become an excellent cook."

"And I'll be even better once I've finished my culinary art classes," beamed Tabby; then she giggled. "Remember when Tiffany and I took a cooking class years ago? Nothing we made ever turned out right."

"That's not a problem for Tiffany," Vanguard noted. "She and Guido have a chef that travels with them."

"Speaking of Tiffany, her baby is due anytime. I wonder if she has a preference as to whether it's born here or in Vulcanopolis?" mused Tabby.

"Giorgio and Clare are determined that their second baby will be born in Vulcanopolis; they've cancelled all their travel plans for July."

"Wasn't Dr. Toby good enough?" asked Thomas, remembering that Calla had been born right here in Dream Valley.

"Oh, that wasn't it. You know that all the Guardinis hold Toby in the highest esteem. Clare says she just wants to bring a foal home from the hospital without having to take a long plane flight to get there," Sugarberry explained.

"Unbelievably, Toby was around to deliver his second daughter," Tabby grinned.

"But it was a close thing."

Sugarberry giggled. "Leave it to the Bushwoolies to attempt a hot air balloon launch on such a windy day."

Vanguard shook his head. "They're lucky that the balloon caught in the trees and dumped them out before it worked free and sailed off to heaven only knows where."

"And Cheerful is the only one that needed medical attention."

"He's up and around again, thank goodness," sighed Sugarberry.

The foals' attention had been garnered at the mention of a hot air balloon. "Can we go for a ride?" queried Faline of her parents while Banderol nearly bounced with expectation. One-year-old Nymph perked up as well while the youngest in the group, Coppice, continued to play with his food mushed on the high chair tray.

"That would be fun," Tabby said.

"If it's a calm day and we have a professional balloonist at the controls," added Thomas, with a quelling glance at his wife.

The conversation was interrupted by a knock at the back door just off the kitchen where the ponies were gathered. Vanguard answered the summons and opened the door wide to admit Leafy and Cocklebur.

Everyone welcomed the pair with enthusiasm. Cocklebur, due to his experience with his younger siblings, had proven to be an excellent babysitter for both couples; and Tabby and Thomas had discovered his natural ability to identify with and nurse animals a real boon to the veterinary clinic. Leafy, too, was kind-hearted and willing to lend a hoof whenever needed.

"Hey, you two are just in time for dessert," Sugarberry said, jumping to her hooves to clear a spot for them.

"Thanks, Sugarberry, but we're not hungry," Cocklebur stated with unexpected gravity. "We were looking for Tabby." His gaze swung to the pink unicorn.

"Here I am," Tabby voiced unnecessarily. "Which of your pets has a medical crisis now?"

"It's nothing like that," Cocklebur assured her. "It's... well, we were hoping your dad could help us with... something... and thought he would be more likely to talk with us if you... did the asking." Cocklebur looked to Leafy for support.

"You see," Leafy took up the request, "we found something... old... and thought your dad would be able to tell us what exactly it is."

Leafy and Cocklebur had managed by now to garner the undivided attention of everyone in the room, except for Coppice, who was now sucking on his hoof, his head drooping and his eyes heavy.

"My, this sounds exciting," smiled Tabby. "Do we get to see this... thing?"

Transferring the box from her forehooves to Cocklebur's, Leafy allowed Cocklebur to do the honors. The young stallion, with extreme care, set the box on the table where Sugarberry had cleared space, and opened the flaps. Then, as if extracting fine, fragile crystal, he lifted the artifact from its nest of packing peanuts and settled it gently in the center of the table.

If any of the adult ponies had expected to have to fake a suitable response to whatever was drawn from the box, they did not have to pretend. The earthenware cylinder that sat before them was far more riveting than anything they could have imagined. The black, red, and yellow pictures that flowed around the tube in a never-ending spiral were so artistically rendered as to hold the audience spellbound for several moments before Thomas asked, his voice choked, "Where did you find this?"

"In our back yard," explained Cocklebur. "We were digging the foundation for my new animal shed."

"It's beautiful," breathed Sugarberry, admiring the painted figures of ponies, shells, fish, and other creatures. "Tabby, what do you think?" Looking at her friend, Sugarberry found that Tabby's intent expression was fixed on the artifact to the point that she seemed unaware of anything else in the room. "Tabby?" queried Sugarberry once more, finding herself becoming uneasy.

But Tabby ignored Sugarberry, and lifting her head, met Thomas' gaze instead. "It's from..."

Thomas covered her hoof with his. "It certainly appears so."

* * *

"Well, well," mused Hubert as he lifted the cylinder from the box. He, Cocklebur, Leafy, Tabby, and Thomas were sequestered in the den of Agatha and Hubert's home, Faline and Nymph having been left in Sugarberry and Vanguard's care so that their parents could give undivided attention to the mystery of the artifact. Hubert gently turned the tube, examining the artwork closely.

"It definitely reminds one of Sedth's work, doesn't it?" he murmured as much to himself as to his cohorts.

"It's just like some of the paintings we saw at... on our honeymoon," Tabby shared with a sideways glance at Thomas. "There were borders on the murals... where we stayed... that had definite similarities in style and subject."

Hubert looked at his daughter. "It would make sense; Sedth reached the height of his talent before the... collapse. It is not beyond reason that this container could have been fashioned by him; but what is it doing here?"

"There's more," Thomas said, calling Hubert's attention to the end of the cylinder.

Shifting it slightly, Hubert could see that to which Thomas was referring. One end of the tube was loose. With care, he removed the plug and the scroll dropped into his hoof. The stallion sat as if mesmerized until Cocklebur asked in a small voice, "It's very old, isn't it?"

Hubert reverently placed the parchment on the desk in front of him. "It would appear so." The stallion then cleared his throat. "We can't ignore the fact that it might be a forgery planted for some kind of joke..."

"We'd never do anything like that!" protested Leafy.

"Never said you would," Hubert retorted. "Any number of ponies down through the years could have buried this, yet..." He touched the hemp cord encircling the scroll as if to untie it and allow the paper to unfurl, but then suddenly drew back his hoof. "We'd better go about this according to the book."

Opening a side drawer in his desk, Hubert pulled out a pair of gloves; after slipping them on over his hooves, he gently tugged on the hemp, and the cord released its hold on the tea-colored parchment which, given its freedom, uncoiled slightly. Gingerly, Hubert helped it along, holding one edge down while prompting the paper to uncurl and lie flat. As he worked, the spectators around his desk held their collective breath.

"Oh, my," breathed Hubert, and the others uttered similar exclamations. The air around them was electrified as if a spectral presence had been released along with the scroll.

Before them on the desk was now spread a single sheet of parchment covered in finely etched words that were edged with artwork mimicking the design that appeared on the stoneware cylinder. That the work had been done by a talented individual was obvious to even Leafy and Cocklebur. Hubert sat enthralled.

"The writing style, the formation of the letters, the addition of the spiraling border... it's all so... authentic," he murmured, as if talking more loudly would obliterate the ancient whispers that seemed to hover over the artifact. "It's in perfect harmony with everything I've ever read or seen that was connected to... Atlantis."

"Atlantis..." Cocklebur looked at Hubert in disbelief.

"How could that be?" Leafy whispered in turn.

"What does it say?" queried a curious Tabby.

"Round and round, find your way; sort the clues for your pay."

Thomas raised his left brow. "It sounds like a children's rhyme."

Hubert studied more of the page. "As to that, it very well may be." Then he stopped and read further. "Or, it may be a cover for something more important."

"Ooh! A mystery!" Tabby enthused, clapping her hooves together, which gained her a dark look from her father and a calming hoof on her foreleg from her husband.

"Give me a moment's quiet to study this," Hubert said, turning his full attention to the parchment. Tabby, impatient, moved around the desk to peer over his shoulder but found she was unable to read the closely spaced letters from that distance. Hubert's ear tweaked in her direction, and he sighed heavily. "Tabitha, I can't concentrate with you breathing down my neck. Now, be a good girl and go wait with the others."

The others grinned at the crestfallen unicorn, and Leafy had to hide a snicker behind her hoof while Tabby stomped her way back to Thomas' side, her eyes shooting sparks at her dad's bent head. She remained quiet, however, until Hubert looked up, his eyes not seeing his audience but a vista far, far away.

"It appears to be clues to a puzzle that, once solved, will put riches into the hooves of the seeker," stated Hubert. "As it has all the markings of an Atlantean artifact, I can only wonder how it ended up in your backyard, Cocklebur." The older stallion's gaze came into focus and he focused his attention on Cocklebur while he studied the problem.

"Would the cylinder have been waterproof and buoyant enough to have floated here?" queried Thomas, reaching out a hoof to touch the container.

"That's a possibility."

"I think Nur-Ab-Fin brought it with him when he came to Dream Valley to buy my vet clinic," stated Tabby with some assurance.

"Hmm," was all Hubert said.

Thomas, however, was impressed. "You may be on to something, Tabby. Maybe the cylinder was brought here from Atlantis, but not by Nur-Ab-Fin. It could have arrived with some of the earliest refugees from the doomed city."

"Maybe by Sedth himself!" Hubert joined in the conjecturing, his eyes alight. "Maybe the treasure he speaks of will be some of his lost art!"

While this conversation was going on, Leafy and Cocklebur's heads had swivelled from one to the other of the speakers, trying to follow the reasoning put before them. The word treasure galvanized the two into speech of their own.

"When can we start to search?" they asked simultaneously.

"This is not some child's treasure hunt," Hubert informed the two. "This is an important piece of Ponyland history that must be handled by experts. In fact, I should call..." He reached for the telephone receiver, but was waylaid by a chorus of wails.

"Mr. Fershund!" came from the youngsters and "Dad!" from Tabby; Thomas simply shook his head.

A sudden light ignited in Hubert's eyes. "You're right! This is a quest for us to solve. We'll document everything we do, of course, and turn anything we find over to the proper authorities... in due time." He turned his attention back to the manuscript in front of him and read the first clue.

"D is darkness, dungeons, and decades of days; a second attempt sent this realm away."

Hubert turned the transcript so that his assistants could see the words for themselves. "And look here," he pointed. "The clue is followed by an empty bordered square; if my guess is correct, the first letter of the answer to the clue would be written in the square; and when all the squares are filled, it will spell out the answer. Let's see..." He counted down the page. "There must me thirteen letters in the word."

"That's a long word," noted Thomas.

Frowning, Hubert rubbed his chin. "Maybe it's a phrase or a place."

"Does the first clue give us the D as a freebie?" queried Cocklebur.

"I don't think it's that simple," said Hubert, rubbing his chin. "How good is your knowledge of Ponyland?" He looked up and skimmed his gaze over not only Cocklebur and Leafy but also Tabby and Thomas.

"I'm more familiar with some time periods than with others," Thomas admitted while Tabby only shrugged.

Leafy, however, grinned. "History is one of my best subjects."

"Yeah, she can even remember all the dates," Cocklebur added.

Hubert leaned back in his chair. "So, what event in history involved darkness, dungeons, and decades of days? And remember that the D must play an important part."

"And it must have happened twice 'cause it was the second attempt," stated Leafy, her brow furrowing in thought. Then her face brightened. "Grogar tried to conquer Ponyland twice!"

"Very good," Hubert said. "I think you're on to it. Do you remember how many years went by between the two attempts?"

"Five-hundred years," Leafy answered promptly.

"But what does the D have to do with it?" asked a confused Tabby.

"I know," Cocklebur spoke up. "In Roman numerals, D stands for five-hundred. So Grogar must be the right answer, and the word begins with a G!"

"It mentions this realm," noted Thomas. "That would refer to a kingdom, wouldn't it?"

"Maybe it's the domain of Grogar, then," Tabby contributed. "Let me think... Tambelon, wasn't it?"

Hubert pulled a blank piece of paper out of his desk. "I'll write down both possibilities," he said, doing just that, "but I think our best bet is the T."

The ringing of the telephone nearly caused the occupants of the room to jump, so centered were they on the puzzle at hoof. When Hubert answered and heard the reason for the call, his eyes swung to the clock. "Of course, I'll send them home," he said, looking directly at Leafy and Cocklebur.

Both of the youngsters groaned as Hubert hung up the receiver. "Sugarberry says that your parents were calling around to everyone they could think of to find out where you were. She assured your parents that you were with Tabby and Thomas, but they want you home... pronto." He checked the clock again. "It is getting quite late."

"But the puzzle!" Leafy remonstrated.

"We have to solve it!" pleaded Cocklebur.

"Yes, Dad," Tabby added. "This is so much fun!"

"I agree with all of you," Hubert said, "but if the treasure this scroll refers to has been about for all these centuries, I think it will be safe for a few more days." He looked down at the parchment. "Thomas, would you see Leafy and Cocklebur out? I'll have Tabby type up the clues so that we'll all have a working copy." When Cocklebur started to protest, Hubert said, "You two can stop by the vet clinic in the morning to fetch your copy, I'm sure."

"And we can meet here again tomorrow evening to compare what we've come up with!" Tabby contributed.

"That's a good idea," Hubert agreed. "Agatha will be home by then, so plan on coming for dinner."

Leafy and Cocklebur both looked disappointed over the fact that they could not stay longer but moved off with Thomas to the door. "I'll pick up the girls while you two finish up," Thomas said, giving Tabby a kiss and nodding to Hubert.

Tabby slipped into the chair in front of the computer and began punching in the clues.

* * *

Finding Cocklebur and Leafy waiting outside the back door of the vet clinic when they arrived the next morning, Tabby and Thomas held back their grins. "You're here early," Thomas said nonchalantly. "I thought you weren't scheduled to work today until this afternoon, Cocklebur."

"I'm not," Cocklebur replied, "but we were looking forward to getting our copy of the clues." He looked at both adult ponies' empty hooves and nearly groaned. "You didn't forget them, did you?" He looked at Tabby accusingly.

"Clues?" queried Tabby. "Could you give me a clue as to what you're talking about?" she teased.

"Tabby!" wailed Leafy.

"The parchment from Atlantis," Cocklebur said, looking uneasy.

"A parchment?" Tabby asked, scratching her head, a confused look on her face as she led the way into the office. She shuffled through some papers on her desk while Thomas got the computer up and running. "Was it important?"

"It had the clues for the treasure, remember?" By the look on his face, Cocklebur seemed about ready to shake the pink unicorn.

"Ah, the treasure," Tabby finally relented. "No, I don't have the clues, but..."

"You're not going to let us share in the search, are you?" accused Cocklebur, his eyes flashing. "You and your father will have all the fun."

Tabby held up a hoof. "But... they are in the computer, and I'll print them off for you first thing." She and Thomas laughed at the look of relief that crossed both of the younger ponies' faces.

"You were bamming us!" accused Leafy.

"You were both so eager, I couldn't resist," smiled Tabby. "Give me a minute and you two can be off on your quest."

While Tabby punched the proper keys, Thomas spoke to Leafy and Cocklebur. "Tabby, Hubert, and I have studied the clues already and have found that some are easier to decipher than the others."

"You have the answer already?" Cocklebur sounded disappointed.

"No, we don't." Thomas grinned, remembering how Hubert had been hunched over the puzzle when Tabby and Thomas had left him. "Or at least we didn't last night. Tabby's dad is as excited about solving it as you are."

"How couldn't we be excited?" queried Leafy. "Aren't you and Tabby dying to work on it?"

"We'll be pondering the clues in every spare moment we have," admitted Tabby, handing the young ponies their freshly printed clue sheets. "But we have a business to run and animals that need our care."

"I understand," a sheepish Cocklebur replied. "And I promise I'll be here at one o'clock."

"Good," said Thomas, patting the colt on the shoulder. "We'll be anxious to hear how you've progressed on the clues by then."

"Now, get out of here," Tabby smiled, pointing to the door. "Make the most of your morning."

"Thanks, Tabby... Thomas!" grinned Leafy and Cocklebur, making a quick dash out of the office.

"Let's go to the tree house," the veterinarians heard Cocklebur say to Leafy, "and start thinkin'!"

* * *

"Granite spires, magenta shroud, sentient essence: look east, phantom and beast," read Cocklebur for the umpteenth time as Leafy sat with her chin resting on her hoof, her eyes half closed. Garrisoned in the wooden bower in a tall tree in Cocklebur's back yard, the twosome had gotten off on a rocky start in their quest. Armed with the list of clues and with the first one already solved from last evening's brainstorming, they had moved on to the second clue, assured of quick success; but they could not get a grip on where the clue should be leading them.

"Let's take it one step at a time," suggested Leafy. "What granite spires do we know of?"

"Well, granite is a type of rock, so I'd guess a mountain range."

"What about the magenta shroud?"

"You tell me."

"Umm... a purple cloak?"

"So who in the distant past lived in the mountains and wore a purple cloak?" asked Cocklebur. "You're the history expert."

"Maybe it's a graveyard," suggested Leafy, brightening. "The granite spire could refer to a church steeple or to gravestones, and bodies were wrapped in shrouds. That would explain the sentient essence- the body was alive but is now dead."

"You might be on to something, Leafy!" Cocklebur's triumph was short-lived, however, as he wrestled with the remainder of the clue. "What phantom and beast would have lived in the east?"

"And just where is east? If these rhymes were written by someone in Atlantis, their east might be taken in a different light that our east. I mean, their east might still be west of us."

Cocklebur shook his head. "That's too confusing. Maybe we should just move on to the next clue."

"I suppose it wouldn't hurt to skip around," mused Leafy. "As long as we get each clue in the right place, we might eventually recognize the word, even without all the clues."

"You're right!" agreed Cocklebur. "If we fill in the easiest ones, then we might be able to guess at the word."

"Or words," Leafy reminded him.

"Whatever. What's next?"

"A little piece of heaven, gift of magic; where the heart is, Mr. Moochick."

"Mom always says that home is where the heart is," offered Cocklebur.

"Whose home?"

"Mr. Moochick's, I suppose. And that was where?"

"I don't know!" Leafy groaned. "If you had magical powers, where would you live?"

Cocklebur gave this question some thought. "A castle seems like a good place."

"Dream Castle? But Mr. Moochick didn't live there."

"I thought you said you didn't know where he lived."

"I don't! But I know where he didn't!"

The two young ponies glared at one another until Cocklebur realized the error of his ways. "I'm sorry, Leafy. I shouldn't be harping on you; I sure don't know the answer myself."

"I guess we thought it'd be easier than this," Leafy responded, smiling her relief that they would not exchange any more angry words.

"Let's assume Dream Castle is the answer. That would make the first three letters T, blank, D," reasoned Cocklebur.

Teddy's teddy bear," giggled Leafy.

"Too many letters," Cocklebur grinned back.

"Okay. Next clue." Looking down at her copy of the clues, Leafy read, "Throne and scepter covered with a purple cloak; no one laughs at this hideous joke."

"Another purple cloak?" puzzled Cocklebur. "And this time its for royalty, what with the throne and the scepter."

"Paradise Estate is where Queen Majesty used to live before she relocated."

"The purple cloak could be a purple roof, I suppose."

"So we have T, blank, D, P?" queried Leafy.

"Tadpole," Cocklebur shot back.

"None of this makes any sense!" Leafy griped, throwing the sheet of paper to the floor.

"I guess it's not supposed to be easy," offered Cocklebur, picking up the loose sheet and handing it back to his friend. "Let's just keep going. Let's see..." He scanned down the list. "Only one eye, this ticklish pet; silken thread to form a net."

"I know this one!" Leafy nearly yelled. "It's the spider the witch Hydia keeps."

"Great! So this blank has an S."

"That doesn't look right," frowned Leafy, scribbling in the letter. "Too many unrelated consonants in a row."

"Does the spider have a name?"

"As it's her pet, I suppose she named it," Leafy mused. "But what it is, I don't remember."

"Argh!" groaned the young stallion in exasperation.

"That's it!" squealed Leafy. "The spider's name is Aagh!" Both of the ponies jotted the A onto their list.

"T, blank, D, P, A?"

"It could be a name... Tad or Ted something."

"That would be reasonable, but how could he lead us to the treasure?"

"Hey! Maybe he's buried under granite spires," suggested Leafy.

Cocklebur shrugged. "Okay... next clue."

"Valentine locket, solace and power; cause darkness and evil to cower!" both ponies muttered, then looked at each other with wide grins. "The Rainbow of Light!"

* * *

It was time for lunch and Cocklebur's siblings would not let him or Leafy forget it; with a sigh, they tucked their much worked list of clues and possible answers into their respective backpacks and scuttled out of the tree house to join the rest of Cocklebur's family for a light summer repast. Then, Cocklebur had to set out for his job at the vet clinic, and Leafy accompanied him part of the way.

"I'll meet you at closing time and we can compare notes," Leafy suggested. "Maybe I'll have them all solved by then," she grinned.

"I won't be able to give the clues much thought," sighed Cocklebur, "not if I want to give my best care to the animals."

"Well, I probably won't have much luck anyway," soothed Leafy. "We've been through the entire list and are only positive of seven of the thirteen letters."

"That's over half."

"So that's not too bad," Leafy spurred her friend's optimism. "We'll talk again when you're done... at five, right?"

"Yeah, Leafy. I'll see you then."

* * *

"So, have you and Leafy solved the riddle?" queried Thomas as the topaz pony came into the clinic.

"Not quite," Cocklebur admitted, tossing back his apricot-colored mane, "but we're making progress."

"What do you have so far?" asked Tabby, bringing up her and Thomas' work in progress on the computer screen.

Cocklebur noticed immediately that some of their letters differed from the ones he and Leafy had come up with. "Well... we have the T from last night, blank, D, P, A, R, blank, blank, blank, R, blank, S, blank."

While Cocklebur spoke, Tabby keyed these possible solutions onto the screen directly under the letters she and Thomas had proposed. Several of his and Leafy's answers did not agree with Tabby and Thomas', and Tabby and Thomas had more letters than Leafy and Cocklebur had found; but Cocklebur did not have time to give the puzzle much thought as a seriously injured poodle was brought into the clinic at that instant; and all three of the ponies became engrossed in a much more serious problem than deciphering an ancient conundrum.

* * *

"That was a wonderful supper, Mrs. Fershund," Leafy politely said as she finished off her supper in the formal dining room of Agatha and Hubert's mansion.

"Yes, it was very good," agreed Cocklebur. "Thank you very much."

"Well, we aren't finished yet, are we?" smiled Agatha. "I have a very special dessert waiting in the kitchen."

Leafy and Cocklebur exchanged horrified glances. Yes, the meal had been delicious, but the formal setting had squelched any conversation about the Atlantian riddle; and the two were ready to scream out their frustration.

It was Hubert who took sympathy on them as Tabby hid her grin behind her napkin and Thomas turned his chuckle into a cough.

"Agatha, my dear, I think we're sated for now; would it be all right to hold that dessert until later when we can fully appreciate it?"

"That works out very well, for Faline and Nymph should be awake by then." Agatha smiled over the joy she had experienced throughout the afternoon, watching the girls for their parents and taking them to the park for a long, leisurely stroll and enough rides on the playground equipment to fully exhaust both the two little fillies and their grandmother.

"Let's retire to my office, then, shall we?" Hubert said, rising.

Agatha, seeing Tabby hesitate, waved her hoof. "Go on, Tabby; I can handle the dishes by myself." Tabby gave her mother a quick kiss on the cheek and sped off after the others so as not to miss a word.

* * *

"Everyone, pull up a chair," Hubert ordered, indicating some collapsible chairs leaning against the wall as the group entered his office. When everyone was situated comfortably and with a clear view of the computer screen, Hubert brought up the file that Tabby had earlier updated.

"Where's your data, Dad?" Tabby asked of her father.

"I'm withholding that for the time being," Hubert responded with a wink. "I'm curious to see just how well our aspiring sleuths are doing." He highlighted the first letter. "We all agree that T for Tambelon is the answer to the first clue, D is for darkness, dungeons, and decades of days; a second attempt sent this realm away?"

"Yes," Thomas concurred, and the rest of the assembly nodded their heads.

"Interestingly, neither of your teams came up with a possibility for the second clue. Granite spires, magenta shroud, sentient essence: look east, phantom and beast. Does anyone have any ideas at all?"

"We thought the granite spires and shroud referred to a church and cemetery somewhere in the east," Cocklebur offered meekly.

"Or mountains," squeaked Leafy.

"Tabby... Thomas?" Hubert prompted.

"Mountains..." Tabby mused. "I hadn't thought of that. Then the magenta shroud could refer to the Purple Mountains!" she ended in delight.

"Very good," Hubert smiled. "Now, what was the sentient essence of the mountains and the beast who protected them?"

"The Heartstone!" Tabby and Leafy echoed together.

"Wonderful!" Hubert congratulated them, entering an H and highlighting it.

"Now on the third letter, we see some disagreement. Tabby and Thomas have a P while Leafy and Cocky have a D. Let's hear your reasoning."

"We could only think that A little piece of heaven, gift of magic, where the heart is, Mr. Moochick was a home."

"And as we didn't know where Mr. Moochick lived, we went with the Dream Castle."

"Same reasoning," Thomas admitted, "but we went with Paradise Estate because it was Moochick's magic that built it."

"But we have Paradise Estate for the next clue," argued Leafy. "Throne and scepter covered with a purple cloak; no one laughs at this hideous joke."

"Okay," said Hubert, rubbing his chin. "Let's put in both those suggestions and come back to it later." Hubert keyed in the D and the P.

"We have a D where your P is," Thomas explained to Leafy and Cocklebur, "because the Dream Castle was covered with the purple smooze and destroyed."

"That makes perfect sense... now that I hear it," exclaimed the young bovine, and everyone laughed.

" D it is then," agreed Hubert, adding it to their growing list.

"There's a problem," Thomas noted. "If D isn't the third letter and P is, we have a word beginning with THPD."

"We'll get back to it," Hubert waved his hoof. "You all agree on the next letter... A."

"Aagh, of course," laughed Tabby. "Only one eye, this ticklish pet; silken thread to form a net."

"I concur," smiled Hubert. "And the next one was easy, too: Valentine locket, solace and power; cause darkness and evil to cower."

"Rainbow of Light," everyone said aloud as Hubert typed the R. "Now, the next one is blank for both teams. Broaden your thinking."

Cocklebur read the clue slowly. "Sing a haunting melody, little yellow bird; beware, Little Ponies, if you have heard."

"What little yellow bird do we know of?" queried Leafy.

"There was Pluma, but she definitely wasn't little or yellow," offered Tabby.

"What about the haunting melody?" prompted Hubert.

"Wasn't there something to do with the Big Brothers when they came home once?" Thomas supplied. "Ponies were falling into a trance because of some music."

"That's it!" Tabby was the one squealing now. "There was a canary who sang for Somnambula! What was it's name?"

The room took on a deathly quiet as Tabby, Thomas, Cocklebur, and Leafy tried to come up with the name, but no one could. Hubert had a sly grin on his face, but he kept his peace. Finally he said, "Maybe we should forget this one for awhile. Let's skip down to the second last clue; you all seem to know it... Destruction flows, muck and slime; flap your wings! We're out of time!"

Smooze was the consensus of all present. "The Flutter Ponies saved the day!" Tabby remarked. "Yeah, Flutter Ponies!"

"Does that mean it could be an F or an S?" asked Leafy.

"Destruction flows, muck and slime would give us smooze; Flap your wings! We're out of time! would give us Flutter Ponies," Cocklebur said is disgust.

"We'll jot them both down," Hubert decided. "What about this one? Emotionless, indestructible, solid as stone; this beast could use a bone."

""That one's a cinch," grinned Cocklebur. "That's Rockdog, who guards the Purple Mountains."

As Hubert added the R in the tenth space, Tabby was already reading another clue. "Cold, brittle, hearts of gold; faced the heat with courage bold." She tapped her hoof on her chin as she thought. "What species has hearts of gold?"

"Whatever they are, they're cold and brittle," Thomas mused.

"Icicles are cold and brittle," cogitated Cocklebur.

"Oh!!! Ice Orcs!" Tabby triumphed. "They're made of ice, but they have kind hearts and helped the princess ponies fight the lava demons... they faced the heat with courage bold."

"Well done, Tabby," Thomas complimented his wife, throwing in a kiss for good measure.

"But do we need the I or the O?" wondered Leafy.

At that moment, Agatha appeared carrying a tray of iced lemonade and butterscotch thins. "I thought you might need sustenance to keep your spirits up." Everyone was so deep in thought that no one responded. After a glance at the computer screen, Agatha set the tray on the desk close to Cocklebur and Leafy, then shrugged and left the room.

"Let's just move on," Cocklebur said, reaching for a glass of lemonade. "Vowels aren't that critical 'cause there aren't as many of them." He read a clue at random. "Faithful friend of black and white, never once consider flight." He scratched his head.

"We've got that one," Tabby said, glancing at her husband. "Can you come up with it, Leafy... Cocklebur?"

"I think I've got it!" exclaimed Cocklebur. "Penguins are black and white and they can't fly! But what was the name of that one that rescued his friend, the duck?"

"Edgar!" Leafy beamed.

"Now we're getting somewhere," asserted Hubert. "This, though, is a tough one: Master of darkness, master of doom; terrible powers, dragons, and goons."

"Again, we leave this one to Leafy and Cocklebur," Thomas smiled.

"I'm getting the hang of this now," Leafy triumphed. "The Rainbow of Light fought the darkness of Tirek, who was evil and forced unsuspecting creatures to work for him, like Spike, the dragon."

"Definitely a T then," Cocklebur consented.

"Here's the last clue. Once complete, then divided; brought together, waters collided."

"I know, I know," singsonged Tabby.

Leafy flashed the pink unicorn an irritated glance, then leaned closer to the computer monitor to focus on the clue, but Cocklebur succeeded in unraveling the meaning of the words before she had a chance. "Flashstone!" he called out.

"Oh," groaned the bovine. "I should have known that one. I saw a replica of that amulet that was used to drive back the waters from flooding Ponyland at the museum in Hayton once."

"Let's see what we have now," Hubert proposed, adding the F to the row of letters. Their solutions now looked like this: T, H, P, D, A, R, blank, F, I or O, R, E, F or S, T.

"Oh, my," Tabby said breathlessly. "It almost reads..."

"The Dark Forest," Thomas finished for her.

"We'd need an E word for clue three," argued Cocklebur.

"That was Paradise Estate," mumbled Leafy, who then brightened. "Estate gives us the E we need."

"The one we left blank was the bird's name," Tabby mused out loud. "And it must begin with K to make the word Dark." Everyone considered the options, but to no avail. Hubert finally relented, giving them the answer.

"Kyrie," he said. "The little yellow canary's name was Kyrie."

"And if we take Orc rather than Ice for clue number nine and smooze instead of Flutterponies for number twelve, we have The Dark Forest."

"Cool!" shouted Cocklebur, jumping from his chair in his excitement. "The treasure is in The Dark Forest!" Becoming aware that Leafy was not as thrilled as he would have expected, Cocklebur queried, "Isn't it?"

"The Dark Forest is a big place," Leafy commented dryly.

"Oh. Yeah." Cocklebur slumped back into his chair, defeated.

Hubert cleared his throat. "Aren't you forgetting something?" he queried of the two younger ponies. They looked at him blankly, not sure what he was getting at.

"Look at the computer screen," prompted Tabby helpfully.

Under the clues was one more line from the ancient manuscript. It read, "Think you are done? I think not! Toss what you have. Now see what you've got!"

"If we toss what we have, we're left with nothing," griped Cocklebur.

"Was it all... for nothing... a joke?" asked Leafy unbelievingly.

"Not quite," bolstered Hubert. He placed a stack of thirteen white cards on the table, each with an alphabet letter on it and arranged them so that they spelled out The Dark Forest. "These are the letters from the puzzle we've just solved, right?"

Both Cocklebur and Leafy shook their heads in agreement.

Hubert gathered the cards back together into a neat pile, then handed them to Cocklebur. "Toss them," he ordered.

Cocklebur looked at Leafy for support. "Toss them into the garbage or..."

"Or into the air?" finished Leafy for the colt. She grabbed the stack of letters from Cocklebur and flipped them high into the air over Hubert's desk and watched them land in random disarray. "Now we have to make a new word... or words... out of them, right?" she asked eagerly.

"Good girl," Hubert smiled.

Cocklebur looked at Leafy admiringly, then down at the jumble of letters. Then he sighed.

The solution to the puzzle was not yet in hoof.

To be continued...

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