My Little Pony Monthly Issue 33 (December 1, 1999)


My Little Pony Monthly
Established June 1997

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Issue 33
December 1999
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Letters to the Editor


[email protected] Hey, all the stories were cute and interesting; the riddles were amusing, too.

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Learning To Love
#11 in the Shining Series
by Shining ([email protected])


Author's Note: I am so sorry for the delay! I had this one in the making before I had even finished my last story, but then writer's block decided to make residence in my brain for an extended stay. Combined with an extremely hectic schedule, this story remained neglected for quite some time. I did not disappear off of the face of the planet (too bad for some of you). Hopefully the next story will write itself more quickly. I am faced with a dilemma; should I start a thread for Mira? I have one in mind, and I think I've exhausted Adagio, who wasn't supposed to be a main character when I created him. Hints, suggestions, and chocolate chip cookies are welcome here.



Can't Miss A Classic grinned broadly as he bowed in front of the nearly-packed arena, the crisp blue ribbon clasped in his hoof. The bay colt turned to find his trainer and mentor, On My Honor, in the stands, finding the slim bay mare applauding loudly, a bright grin on her pretty face.

The colt bowed again, and exited the dirt arena, meeting Honor at the gate. "Adagio, that was wonderful!" the mare cried jubilantly.

"Thanks," Adagio smiled easily. Casually, he flipped his thick black forelock out of his eyes. "I wasn't sure if I did the capriole high enough at the end, but, I guess the judges thought it was okay." Adagio shrugged, letting his tension ease away.

" ‘Dagio!" a child's voice cried. The colt looked down to see Honor's precocious filly staring up at him with wide dark eyes.

"Hey Mira," Adagio greeted the silvery-gray filly. "What do you think? Are you going to do this when you get older?" Playfully, he ruffled her dark mane.

Mira frowned, deep in thought. Decisively, she shook her head.

Adagio raised an eyebrow. "What are you going to be, then?" he asked. In reply, the filly merely shrugged.

Adagio held up a small leather pouch that hung from his neck. "Thank you for the good-luck charm, Mira," he said. "The hopscotch stone worked again!"

Mira nodded in agreement. When he had first started showing, Adagio had felt unsure about his abilities. Mira had helped him overcome his fear by giving him her favorite hopscotch stone as a good-luck charm.

Honor intervened the two young horses' stimulating conversation, "C'mon, guys, we have to get going so that we can make it home in time to unload everything from the trailer. I haven't gotten used to these narrow British roads yet."

Honor had recently moved to Harrogate, England from Dream Valley. Her parents, the celebrated pair of Shining and Signature Required had returned from a world tour, and Honor, still grieving the loss of her deceased mate, Caesar, had decided that she was going to move to England. Mended Hearts Farm was an excellent facility where Honor taught students and raised her small daughter.

Adagio made a face, but obliged, lifting Mira high onto his shoulders, grinning when he heard Mira's delighted laughter. "Last one there sweeps the barn for a week!" he cried, trotting slowly and sending Mira into peals of laughter.

" ‘Dagio!" Mira managed through her giggles. "The trailer is the other way!"

* * *
When Adagio entered the barn office, he was surprised by a paint mare waiting patiently in a wicker chair. Quickly, she rose to introduce herself, tripping over her own hooves. "Oh, sorry!" she cried as she fell into Adagio's forelegs. The paint blushed and righted herself. "I guess I haven't made a very good first impression," she smiled self-depreciatingly, a light British accent making her voice lilt melodically. "My name is Aurora's Afterglow, Arrow for short." She extended a colorfully splashed foreleg, shaking Adagio's hoof firmly.

"Nice to meet you, Arrow," Adagio said politely. "What can I do for you?"

Arrow cleared her throat and took a deep breath. "I was wondering if it would be possible for me to train and board here," she began.

Adagio opened his mouth to speak, but Arrow rushed on, cutting him off. "I've never tried showing before, and I'm a complete klutz, but it would really mean a lot to me." She looked at the bay colt with dark brown eyes.

Adagio's eyes widened in surprise, but he regained his composure. "Honor hasn't turned a willing student away, so if you think--"

Arrow nodded enthusiastically. "Oh, yes," she exclaimed. "I'm hoping that I'll be able to overcome my clumsiness."

Adagio smothered a yawn; it had been a long day. He nodded his head thoughtfully. "I'll contact Honor and see what she says," he offered. "I think that stall number forty-eight is vacant, so you can spend the night there."

The paint filly smiled widely and shook Adagio's hoof again. "Thank you so much!" she exclaimed. "This means so much to me."

Adagio nodded sleepily and left the filly, who was glowing with pleasure, to his own stall where he promptly fell asleep, not even noticing when a small, lonely, silver filly quietly snuggled into his warm, strong form. "G'night, ‘Dagio," she whispered.

* * *
The next morning dawned into a sunny spring day. Adagio woke early, being careful not to disturb his sleeping visitor, and hurried to reserve a space in the large outdoor arena. Honor's reputation had helped her acquire many students, and the practice arena was sure to be crowded on such a nice day.

Adagio waved to Honor as he entered the dirt arena, who was standing in front of a group of green foals. He observed that the paint filly, Arrow was with her. Her splashy color made her stand out in the group of young beginners.

He raised his head in acknowledgment when Arrow waved to him, and picked up a lope. Fluidly, Adagio moved, warming up for the massive jumps that would follow.

Taking a deep breath, Adagio closed his eyes, visualizing himself soaring over the jumps. He found that relaxing even before training limbered him and got him into a better state of mind.

"Adagio!" Honor called, breaking the bay's concentration. Adagio blinked and craned his head to frown at his teacher. "Sorry," Honor apologized, walking toward him. "I need to ask you a favor."

"What?" Adagio asked, absentmindedly scratching a long black-tipped ear.

"You've met the new filly, Arrow, haven't you?" Honor asked. "She's got potential, but I think she needs some extra help."

"I'll say," Adagio commented, remembering the previous night's shenanigans.

"Well, I thought that maybe you could tutor her," Honor suggested, a pleading look in her dark eyes.

"But Honor," Adagio grimaced, finding a tinge of whine in his voice. He cleared his throat. "The show season's just starting up and I'm going to be really busy. And besides, Arrow's a paint. Paints don't usually do too well on the circuit."

Honor shrugged. "So? Moment taught me how to draw, but that doesn't mean I'm going to make a living from it. And I'll have Smoothie take care of Mira so you'll have more time to teach," Honor offered, referring to her trusted friend, Smooth Movin'.

Adagio sighed. "All right," he relented. "But this is just temporary."

Honor furrowed her brow. "Keep an open mind, Adagio." Honor turned suddenly,

sending her silky black mane flying. "Arrow! Can you come over here?" she called to her group of students.

The paint filly cautiously left her protective group, shuffling her hooves in the deep sand. Twice, she tripped as she walked over to the two bays. Adagio cringed.

Honor cleared her throat. "Arrow, this is one of my students, Adagio." She looked pointedly at Adagio.

Adagio smiled hesitantly and held out his hoof. "We sort of met last night," he informed Honor, noticing the blush creep up into the paint's cheeks. He guessed she was embarrassed about her fall. "Nice to see you again, Arrow."

Arrow stuck out a long foreleg and smiled. "Sorry," she said apologetically.

Adagio shrugged easily, the tension rolling off like rain with her quirky smile. "I have to go back to my class now, so I'll leave you two to get to know each other," Honor suggested, elbowing Adagio. "If you want a lesson, Adagio, I have a free space around two o'clock." With that final comment, the slender mare walked back across the arena to her awaiting students.

Honor left leaving an awkward silence between the two young horses. Finally, Arrow spoke up. "I really am a klutz," she insisted. "When I was little, I used to get teased all the time. Honor's mom, Shining, and then Honor herself--they were my heroes growing up. I know I'm never going to win a world show. I'm probably not even going to show at a tiny open show, but I have to pursue my dreams somehow..." She trailed off when she realized that Adagio was staring off into space.

The bay colt blinked and turned to face her. "It's good to pursue your dreams," he agreed firmly. "No matter what."

Arrow smiled, her painted face perfectly contrasting the white and chestnut. "So what should I do first?" she asked eagerly, emphasizing her British accent.

Adagio thought for a moment and tossed his head to get the stray strands of his forelock out of his eyes. "Why don't you go out to the rail so I can analyze your gaits. Then we'll know what to focus on," he suggested.

Arrow nodded agreeably and stumbled out to the rail, tripping over her hooves every other step. Adagio cringed. "Try a trot," he called.

The paint hesitated, but set her jaw. Abruptly, she lurched forward, tangling her color-splashed legs around themselves. For a tense minute, Adagio thought she might topple over, but at the last possible moment, Arrow righted herself and took off at choppy gait, her hooves dragging, and her nose stuck out ungracefully.

"Arrow, your trot is a little uneven," Adagio called, smiling wryly at his understatement. "Try tucking your nose in a little more. That will help you see where your feet are landing."

Arrow's brow furrowed in concentration as she tried to do as she was bade. Slowly, her neck curled and arched. "Good!" Adagio encouraged. "Now try picking the exact spots where you want your hooves to step and carry it though. Extend your stride and lift your knees a little higher." Adagio grinned as his student's stride became more fluid and confident.

Arrow turned her head to grin triumphantly at Adagio. But quickly, her smile turned into an expression of distress. Her stride jerked and she stumbled, emitting a short cry of surprise. Quickly Adagio came to her aid, catching her in his strong forelegs before she fell.

Arrow blushed. "I think I lost my concentration," she said in a small voice. Carefully, she extracted herself from Adagio's long forelegs.

Adagio laughed out loud. "At least we know what to work on now," he pointed out.

"Everything!" Arrow cried, rolling her eyes.

"We have time," Adagio consoled. "We'll just take it one step at a time." He blinked, and then grinned at his pun. "That's good for today," he said conclusively. "I need to work on my jumping form before my lesson with Honor."

"Thanks for putting up with me, Adagio," Arrow smiled ruefully. "I know I'm not a star student. I'm hardly a student of any kind."

Adagio patted Arrow's cream and chestnut shoulder. "We'll make it," he said. He turned away and walked toward the barn, not noticing the puzzled look that Arrow cast his way.

* * *
For weeks, Adagio coached Arrow, making progress ever-so-slowly. Arrow's trot smoothed out and she could manage cantering without stumbling every fourth stride. But after a while, Adagio was surprised to find that he didn't mind that his first student wasn't a hands-down success. Just being with someone who could relate was reward enough.

Adagio enjoyed the paint's company. He learned that she came from a large family, unlike his own, and was a very devoted family member. "If they don't love me, who will?" she asked him one day. Adagio laughed as she nearly spilled a whole bucket of water on herself, but her comments always made him think.

Eight weeks into Adagio's impromptu training program, the bay colt, nearly a stallion, found Arrow weeping in the dimly-lit tack room over a pile of splint boots. Adagio's ears perked in alarm, and he froze in the doorway, not sure whether he should console her or walk away unnoticed. Arrow made the choice for him.

Looking up, she saw her teacher and friend in the doorway. She cast him a watery smile, her face smudged with the dust of the small room. "I was cleaning tack and I..." she trailed off as another wave of tears hit her. She buried her face in her hooves.

Without thinking, Adagio was at her side, wiggling to find room next to her on the tack trunk. He cradled her in his strong forelegs resting his chin on her soft mane. He didn't fail to notice that she smelled of sunshine and daffodils.

Arrow wrapped her forelegs around Adagio's neck, burying her face in his shoulder. "Sometimes I miss my family so much," she whimpered, her tears leaving dark tracks on Adagio's glossy coat. He noticed that her accent became more prominent when she was upset. Adagio said nothing, but held her tighter, squeezing his eyes shut. If only I had a family who loved me, he mourned.

Adagio lost track of time, sitting there in the dusty tack room, surrounded by splint boots. He moved his head when he felt Arrow stir; he had thought that she had fallen asleep. Slowly Arrow righted herself. She leaned over to peck Adagio on the cheek. "Thanks," Arrow whispered, her voice hoarse from crying.

Adagio's dark eyes widened, surprised. "What for?" he inquired.

"For being here for me, for not laughing, for being okay with me not being okay," Arrow smiled crookedly. "Most horses would have bolted the other way." Adagio made a mental note not to tell her about his earlier dilemma.

Adagio smiled shyly. "Do you want to go walk on the bridle paths?" he asked kindly. "It helps me clear my head sometimes, and I know Honor's a firm believer in the medicinal properties of the woods."

Arrow grinned. "Don't you have a lesson with Smoothie?" she reminded him. She nudged him in the ribs with her foreleg.

Adagio made a face. "Smoothie's such a fanatic about flatwork. It gets so boring," he complained halfheartedly. He leaned over Arrow to grab two newly-cleaned splint boots. Quickly, he strapped the boots on just above his fetlock.

The paint snorted. "Think of how I feel, you bloke," she exclaimed. "For the past two months, all I've been doing is walk/trot flatwork."

Adagio started, realizing, and blushed. "Oops." He stood and stretched, freeing the kinks out of his long neck. Arrow stood as well and looped a foreleg through his.

"But that's okay," she added belatedly. "I'm just glad I've gotten this far." She patted his foreleg in mock condescension.

Adagio snorted through his long nose. He paused in thought; and surprising his companion, he smacked his forehead in disbelief. "I should have thought of that earlier!" he cried. "We'll start you tomorrow on cavelettis. They'll help you regulate your stride and they'll help you later on with jumping. Plus they're fun." He winked.

The bay horse was surprised to see Arrow hesitate before rewarding him with her smile. "I can't wait." Adagio strained to hear if her tone held some distance that hadn't been present before. Afraid of what would happen if he had, he quickly brushed the notion away.

Glancing at the clock, Adagio moved toward the door. "I have to meet Smoothie for my lesson," he announced regretfully. "Will you cool out with me on the trails, though?" He was surprised to hear a pleading tone in his deep voice.

"I'd love to," Arrow smiled.

Impatiently, Adagio flew through his lesson. He knew that his anxiousness showed in his form. Frustrated, he tried breathing deeply to relax.

"Adagio, stop fidgeting!" Smoothie, usually easy-going, cried in exasperation. "You'll tie your tail in knots in no time!"

"Sorry," Adagio called to the roan stallion. "My mind wandered." And it had. He had been thinking about a certain new student, one who was out of the ordinary. A goofy smile unconsciously appeared on his face.

"...what do you think, Adagio?" Smoothie's British accent floated in through his musings.

Adagio blinked. "Uh," he groped for an answer. "Probably a serpentine alternating leads every other stride." Intelligent, suave, good save.

Adagio's face fell as Smoothie burst out laughing. "I asked you how many bananas it would take to mail a goat."

Adagio blushed and then grinned. "Oops. What I meant was alternating every four strides."

Smoothie, still in his mirth, shook his head. "It's a figure eight half halting every third stride. You had a good lesson, Adagio. Let's cut early."

The bay smiled his thanks and headed toward the barn. He entered the barn, blinking, letting his eyes adjust to the dimmer light inside the stable. A gray blur whipped past him, making him jump.

" ‘Dagio!" Mira cried. "Want to explore the racetrack with me?" The filly grabbed Adagio's large hoof in her small ones. The previous owners of the facility, before Honor, had trained racehorses, and Mended Hearts boasted a mile-long racetrack.

Adagio shook his head regretfully. "Sorry, Mira. I'm sort of busy right now. I have to go over to the wash racks." He gave his small friend a quick hug and twirled her around, sending her into peals of laughter before continuing on his way.

After his shower, Adagio went in search of Arrow. He frowned as he scanned the barn, finding no trace of her. "Arrow?" he called, peering into the tack room. But to no avail.

Finally, he found the paint in her stall, packing her belongings. "Arrow? What are you doing?" he asked, alarmed. He reached over to touch her shoulder, but she evaded him, sliding away, but stumbling.

Arrow kept her back to Adagio, not meeting his eyes. "I have to go home," she said shortly. "I miss my family."

Adagio felt his heart constrict. "You can't leave," he protested, uncomprehending. "We haven't done cavelettis yet."

"Too bad for cavelettis," she retorted.

The bay furrowed his eyebrows in sorrow. "Why are you doing this?" he asked quietly.

Arrow froze for a moment. "Because I miss my family. I'm homesick. I don't belong here." She set her jaw stubbornly.

"What can I do to make you stay?" Adagio asked hoarsely, understanding that this was a turning point. Waiting for an answer, he brushed away his dark forelock, looking the paint straight in the eyes.

Arrow blinked tears out of her eyes. "Nothing," she whispered.

Adagio closed his eyes to try to bear the pain, feeling his heart sink.

"I'm sorry," Arrow said remorsefully. And with a kiss on the cheek, she was gone.

* * *
For weeks after Arrow's departure, Adagio moped. Although he was still active on the show circuit, the blue ribbons he earned meant little to him now. It struck him as ironic that he could miss a horse who he had thought to be such a burden in the beginning.

He took to the trails, trying to escape loneliness like his mentor, Honor. But Honor's absence was sown into the soil, and she found comfort from it. Adagio, on the other hand, felt lost and disoriented.

The day that Eva's manuscript was approved, Mended Hearts Farm celebrated. Honor's twin brother, Moment, was a world-renown artist, and his mate, Eva, was a New York Times best-selling author. The two had moved to Harrogate with Honor because the atmosphere was perfect for the two to wax poetic together.

Squished in the cramped barn office, Eva's smile radiated, making the room seem lighter. Adagio managed to give Eva a peck on the cheek and say "Congratulations," before he was pushed out of the way by other friends who wanted to praise Eva's outstanding work.

For the rest of the celebration, Adagio stood quietly in the corner with a sad smile on his face, watching the gathering as an outsider. Life is good here, he decided. Then why do I feel so miserable?

As dusk fell on Mended Hearts, Adagio slipped away and found himself on the racetrack. A foal's laughter pierced the air, and Adagio craned his neck to watch Mira racing her shadow a half-mile down the track.

He smiled as he watched the silvery blur run along on still-spindly legs, and had to laugh aloud when Mira's speed finally caught up with her, sending her toppling into the soft dirt. Mira's ears pricked and she met Adagio's eyes with a bright smile that lit the evening skies.

" ‘Dagio!" she cried. "Come run with me!" With a small hoof, she beckoned to him.

Adagio jogged to his small friend. "Go!" he cried, and took off down the track. For a while, Adagio's long legs gave him an advantage, but soon, despite her small size, Mira caught up to him and passed him. Adagio laughed as he realized that he could not compete with Mira, whose father had been an impeccably bred Thoroughbred.

With a burst of speed, Adagio caught up to the filly and pulled her into a tight embrace. "You mystery foal!" he exclaimed. "This is what you were born to do, isn't it, Mira?" he asked, looking into her dark eyes that held such wisdom for one so young.

"I will race the wind!" Mira declared confidently. "What will you do, ‘Dagio?"

Adagio loosened his embrace. "I don't know, Mira," he sighed.

"Mira!" a voice cut through the air. "Time for bed!"

With an apologetic shrug, Mira turned and jogged to Honor, who was waiting by the rail of the racetrack with Eva. Adagio followed more slowly.

"I didn't get a chance to talk to you, Adagio," Eva said when he was close enough to hear.

"You seemed a bit busy earlier," Adagio admitted with a smile.

The chestnut Arabian laughed and handed him a copy of her new book. Its cover was glossy, enhancing the beauty of the black stallion dashing across the dust jacket. "For you, my dear." Eva grinned. "I know you don't read stuff like this, but it's a first edition copy."

With a wave, she turned and walked back to the barn. Eva paused and turned back to face Adagio. "Check page three hundred forty-eight," she suggested.

Adagio settled himself on the grass beside the now-abandoned racetrack. "Tea at Midnight," he read the cover aloud. "By best-selling author, Happy Endings." Curious now, the bay colt flipped to the designated page. Eva's words danced before him, creating a picture of a place he had never seen, but which felt familiar.



Dusk fell on the two weary travelers, giving them a final show of lights as the sun said goodnight to the sky. "Such a pretty sunset," June observed.

"Yes," Splendor agreed, tired from the endless journey.

June turned to face her companion, blinking sudden tears from her dark eyes. "Why do you follow me?" she demanded. "I did not ask you to come. I know you are tired and sick of traveling. Why don't you leave? My quest burdens you; you have your own dreams to follow." With each question, June jabbed her dainty hoof into the dark stallion's strong chest.

Splendor gently took June's hooves in his own, lightly restraining her. "I would follow you to the ends of the earth, June," he whispered urgently.

"But why?" she sobbed, not understanding.

"Because I love you more than anything in this world," came his reply.



Adagio sat upright with a jolt. Quickly he ran to the barn, searching for Eva. He found her in the office, thoughtfully chewing on the end of a ball-point pen. He thrust the book into her hooves. "Read this to me," he demanded anxiously.

Eva smiled knowingly and cleared her throat. Then she began to read the passage.

As Eva read, Adagio became still. The melodic rhythm of the words stirred something within him; a realization of some kind that he could finally understand. He blinked slowly, staring, seeing only the colors the words painted in another world. And he knew.

"I love her," he asserted suddenly. Startled, he blinked.

"Yes," Eva acceded.

Adagio turned to stare at the chestnut mare. "You knew," he accused her, still dazed by the realization.

Eva nodded. "So did you," she pointed out. "You just had to admit it."

Adagio stood suddenly. "Excuse me," he said politely. "There's something I need to take care of." He exited the office quickly nearly tripping over a stray chair.

Eva watched the bay colt go. She sighed and smiled. Then inspiration hit her and all other thoughts left her.

* * *
Adagio stepped off of the train into the bustling station. The ride to Harrogate had tried every ounce of his patience. He couldn't wait to see his paint filly. The village of Harrogate was quaint and had a comforting feel to it. Rolling farmland and busier city life melded into one.

Nervously, Adagio walked into a small cafe. The horse at the counter raised her eyebrows with interest when the handsome black colt entered. "Can I help you?" she asked, batting her eyelashes.

Adagio cleared his throat and shifted his weight. "Do you know a paint filly named Aurora's Afterglow?" His peripheral vision caught movement in the corner booth and he turned to peer into the dark shadow.

"Adagio? What are you doing here?" the voice came like music to Adagio's ears.

"Arrow," he smiled. His long legs brought him to her table.

The paint's pretty face still held traces of surprise. "Why are you here?" she asked again.

Adagio took Arrow's hooves in his own. "Let's take a walk," he suggested. Wordlessly, Adagio led Arrow out of the cafe, ignoring the penetrating stares of the waitress. Slowly, they made their way to a small park. Adagio seated himself on a green bench and patted the spot next to him, beckoning Arrow to sit with him.

When Arrow hesitantly sat, Adagio turned and kissed her. " ‘Dagio," she murmured, picking up Mira's sobriquet. Tears filled Arrow's dark eyes, and Adagio gently brushed them away.

"I love you," Adagio whispered.

Arrow jerked away. "Don't you understand?" Arrow exclaimed. "You can't love me! I don't love you." The distraught filly refused to meet Adagio's eyes.

"That's a lie," Adagio said evenly.

Arrow's shoulders lowered. "I know," she admitted. "I do love you, Adagio. That's the problem."

Confused, Adagio cautiously touched Arrow's chestnut shoulder. This time instead of pulling away, Arrow leaned into Adagio's touch. "Why can love be a problem?" he inquired, wrapping his forelegs around her frame.

Arrow met his eyes now. "You have so much going for you. I'm just a filly from a little British village. You can be a world-class star. I'd hold you back." Arrow's eyes filled with tears again.

"Come with me," Adagio murmured.

Shaking her head, Arrow wiped away her tears. "I can't leave here. Even staying at Mended Hearts with you couldn't put homesickness at bay. This is where I belong."

"Then I'll stay here with you," Adagio reasoned.

The paint gasped. "No!" she cried. "You have your whole career ahead of you. I'm holding you back."

The bay colt shook his dark head. "I would give everything up for you, Arrow," he whispered. "I love you that much."

Arrow's shoulders shook with sobs she refused to allow to escaped. "I'm not asking you to do this," she whimpered.

"But you need me to."

"I don't need you to do anything," Arrow lied.

"I'm staying," Adagio resolved, holding Arrow tightly. "I love you."

Realizing that this was a lost battle, Arrow wept. Eventually through her tears, comprehension replaced despair and she laughed. Her laugh was the most beautiful sound Adagio had ever heard, and he kissed her soundly.

"You know that what you taught me was the greatest lesson of all," Adagio brought up off-handedly.

Arrow looked at him with a confused expression. "What I taught you? I didn't teach you anything. I was the student, remember?"

"Yes you did," Adagio contradicted. "You taught me how to love." He hugged her in gratitude. "Thank you."

"I love you, Adagio," Arrow sighed happily, returning his embrace.

The clumsy paint filly and the elegant bay colt were complete opposites, sitting together as dusk brought a radiant sunset. But together, love was a bond that could never tear them apart.

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Baby Noddins Discovers a Quest
by Tabby


"Mommy Fallin' Leaves, Baby Fallin' Leaves just nearly died causa me but she didn't wanna come in so I went to tell ya only now she's mad at me," Baby Noddins explained rationally as she ran in the front door of her friend's house.

Mommy Falling Leaves blinked slowly as she digested this information. "Baby Noddins, what happened?"

"We were playin' in the leaves, you know, because she said we could, only then I jumped on top of her when she was hidin' under some of ‘em and I didn't see her and she screamed but she said she ain't hurt but I had to tell you," Baby Noddins elaborated in about ten seconds.

"Well, if she didn't come inside, I don't think she's injured," Mommy Falling Leaves said soothingly. "Why don't you go back out?"

"Nwope, I don't wanna," Baby Noddins shook her head.

"Do you want to go home?"

"Nwo. Me gotta conduct research. Can me conduct research with you?" Baby Noddins queried, her playmate completely slipping her mind.

"Oh, research?" Mommy Falling Leaves said with interest. "What kind of research? Is it for school?"

"I dwon't think so," Baby Noddins said after a pause. "I just cwame up with it."

"Ah!" Mommy Falling Leaves said curiously. "What are you going to do?"

"Okay, me gonna question you now, ‘kay?" Baby Noddins crawled up into the chair around the kitchen table, across from where Mommy Falling Leaves was sitting. "Why are your names so generic, hmm?"

"Well... umm... elaborate, please," Mommy Falling Leaves requested.

"You is Mommy Fallin' Leaves, and Daddy Fallin' Leaves is Daddy Fallin' Leaves, and Baby Fallin' Leaves is Baby Fallin' Leaves," Baby Noddins explained. "Why, huh?"

"That's a very large question for a pony your age," Mommy Falling Leaves said. "Maybe you should wait until you're older to do this research."

"Nwope." Baby Noddins shook her head. "Me gonna do it now, else I forget, ya know. My mommy says I forget a lot. So if me don't research now, me will forget. Me might forget by the time I get home, even. So I gotta do it now. You gotta help me. You're the first one who's gonna help me now."

"If you're sure about that," Mommy Falling Leaves said slowly.

"Me sure. Now, tell me," Baby Noddins requested.

"Okay, Baby Noddins. When I married Daddy Falling Leaves, I simply took his name. And we named our daughter that as well," Mommy Falling Leaves explained.

"Why?" Baby Noddins persisted. "Ain't that borin'?"

"No, it's actually quite easy to remember everyone's name that way," Mommy Falling Leaves went on.

"But couldn't you have kept your original name? What was your original name? Can you tell me?" Baby Noddins said, wide-eyed.

"The name my parents first gave me was Magenta Daffodil," Falling Leaves explained.

"But why didn't you keep it?" Baby Noddins sighed in exasperation.

"Because... because some of us ponies have more old-fashioned ways, and I decided to become Mommy Falling Leaves," Mommy Falling Leaves said. "Now, are you sure you don't want to play more outside with Baby Falling Leaves? She may want--"

"No, no," Baby Noddins said in dismissal. "I must finish my research. It is very important research. I have to get it to Miss Hackney already in the morning. At two o' clock in the morning. So I have to finish it."

"Two o' clock in the morning, is that right?" Mommy Falling Leaves said, amused. "Didn't you just come up with the idea?"

"Yes, but I still have to get it to Miss Hackney by two o' clock in the morning," Baby Noddins said impatiently.

"Is there anything else you need to ask me?" Mommy Falling Leaves questioned.

"Yes. Just let me think." Baby Noddins sat in silence for several moments. "Yes, here be a question. Another one. How come some ponies have last names and middle names and first names? Do they get generic names like yours when they get married? Huh? Why's that?"

"Well... some ponies just have multiple names," Falling Leaves responded slowly. "But some, like my family, don't."

"How'd they get multiple names? Like Tabby? She's got a middle name and a last name and a first name, ya know. She's Tabby ‘Waine Fershund or somethin' like that."

"You'd just have to ask her about that."

"Okay, cwan me call her?"

"She's at work now, Baby Noddins."

"I know that. She's there from eight to five. I'll call her there."

"I don't think she wants to be bothered at the Pokèmon Center."

"Oh, no. I call her there all the time."

"Is that so?"

"Yes. She hangs up after I say hello, but I call her there every day."

"You must really idolize Tabby, Baby Noddins."

"Oh, yes, def-nit-ly. I idol-- idoley-- idoli-- whatever-you-just-said her. Me gonna be just like her. Me gonna be a Pokèmon nurse," Baby Noddins nodded furiously. "Or maybe a vet. Or maybe a voice actress. Me don't know. But me gonna tap my hoof like this--" She tapped her hoof on the table for effect. "--and me gonna say ‘For Pete's sake!' all the time. For Pete's sake! Oh. And me gonna get three names like she got. That's how me decided on this research. To find out how to get more names. I think I will have to ask Tabby."

"Perhaps you'd be better to leave her alone," Mommy Falling Leaves said soothingly.

"But to find out how to get lots of names, I must find someone with lots of names," Baby Noddins explained. "Does anybody besides Tabby have a last name and a first name and a middle name, hmm?"

"I don't really know, Baby Noddins," Falling Leaves said, at a loss. "Shouldn't you be heading home--"

"Oh, no. Mommy swaid I could stay here ‘till... ‘till awhile yet. So I still got awhile yet," Baby Noddins corrected. "But Tamara has more names, too. Is there anybody besides Tabby and Tamara that have many names?"

"Perhaps you'd just better ask their mothers," Falling Leaves said in exasperation.

"Okay," Baby Noddins said seriously. "I have Tabby's mother's phone number."

"You do?"

"Yes. Tabby gave it to me once when I was callin' her. She said, ‘Here, just call my mother, and maybe that'll keep you off this line for awhile.' I'm not swure what that meant, but it sounded important. I wrote the number down, but I never called it yet. I think I will. Then I'll get more names. I never called it ‘cause I've still been trying to talk to Tabby and I never get to do that."

"Baby Noddins, your mother gave me strict instructions to have you home half an hour ago. I don't know where the time went. We'd better get you back there right away. She's probably worried sick. Now, come on, say goodbye to Baby Falling Leaves and I'll walk you home..."

* * *
Later that evening, Baby Noddins was writing up a report for her current findings in her research:



Momy Fallin Leves says her name was diffrent before she got maried. Said somethin about oldfashion. Some ponys have multipull names like Tabby. My momy says that she kept her name and she and daddy named me somefin diffrent. But still only one name, me will call Tabby's Mom now, she will know.



Next, she found the scrap of paper she had scribbled the phone number of Tabby's mother on and ran downstairs to the phone, furtively making sure none of her family members were around.

"Hello, who is calling?" a voice queried from the other end of the line after what seemed like an eternity to Baby Noddins.

"Bwaby Noddins," the baby unicorn said promptly.

"Oh..." There was a pause. "Who are you calling for?"

"I must speak to Tabby's mom for some research," Baby Noddins explained. "It is of utmost importance. Are you Tabby's mom?"

"Ah, you mean Miss Agatha! Just a moment, please."

Baby Noddins appropriately tapped her hoof on the counter while she waited. "For Pete's sake!" she muttered. "I'm conducting research of utmost importance and they're not at their phones."

In reality, Baby Noddins only had to wait approximately half a minute until the voice of Tabby's mother came through the receiver. "Hello! I was informed that there is a certain baby pony wanting to speak to me?"

"Yes, I think so," Baby Noddins said slowly. "I am conducting important research that must be done by... one o' clock this morning. One o' clock, def-nit-ly. Are you Tabby's mom?"

"Oh! You know my Tabitha? Yes, I'm Agatha Fershund."

"I know her very well," Baby Noddins affirmed. "I can copy her tone exactly of how she says, ‘Not you again!' I ido-- ideo-- idea-- whatever-Mommy-Fallin'-Leaves-said-earlier her."

"Are you calling from Dream Valley? Do your parents know you're on the telephone?"

"Oh, they always let me use the phone," Baby Noddins said absentmindedly. "I am Baby Noddins and I must ask you a question of utmost importance."

"That's fascinating!" Agatha said politely. "Go on."

"I need to find out about... about... how does me phrase it... oh! How come some ponies have more than one name and some only one and some are really generic? ‘Cause I was talking to Mommy Fallin' Leaves today and her name is boring and so is the name of Daddy Fallin' Leaves and Baby Fallin' Leaves but I got a diffrent name only it's still one name but Tabby has three names and how'd that happen, hmm?"

"Ah... you are researching names?" Agatha said slowly.

"My report is due to Miss Hackney by tonight at midnight," Baby Noddins clarified. "Why does Tabby get three names? And Tamara has three names too, right? How about you? Do you have three names?"

"Well..." Agatha began. "Most of the families that originated in Dream Valley have only a first name, but there are some that come from different regions who had different naming traditions."

"O-o-oh!" Baby Noddins breathed. "Did you come from a different region?"

"Well, yes, my ancestors did," Agatha said vaguely. "Baby Noddins, did you know this is a long distance call?"

"No, but that don't matter," Baby Noddins said quickly. "How can I get a bigger name like Tabby's? I only got one. Two, if you count the ‘Baby' part, but that don't count."

Agatha paused. "I suppose you could marry someone with a last name."

"Can you find someone with a last name to marry me?"

"Aren't you a bit young for that?"

"How else will I get a bigger name?"

"Well, come back to me on the matter when you're older, then."

"Okay, I will keep your number. I will put it under Tabby's. Are there any ponies in Dream Valley that have a first name and a last name and a middle name?"

"I'm sure there are, Baby Noddins. Now, if I let you go, you could devote more time to local research and find them."

"Me got a quest now!" Baby Noddins squealed. "Goodbye, Mommy Tabby."

"Oh, please, call me Agatha."

"Okay. Goodbye, Agatha." With that, Baby Noddins carefully put the receiver down and brought out her report to add to it.



Awhile later. Tabby's mom, her name is Agatha, that's what she told me to call her, says its ponys from diffrent regions that have three names like Tabby. But my family ain't from a diffrent region, so I only got one. Now I have a quest to find the other ponys around here with long names from diffrent regions. I will show my findings to Tabby. Maybe I will be famos. I will find hystories of all the long names around here. I will report more later on my findings. Goodbye.



Baby Noddins set down her pen and yawned. She would continue on her report tomorrow. Maybe she would ask all the kids in her class about their names. And she would call Tabby at the Pokèmon Center after she got home. And then...

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Invento Ponies


by Cinnamon Sugar:
Name: Rena

Breed: Earth Pony

Body Color: Pastel Blue

Hair Color: Pastel Pink

Eye Color: Aqua

Symbol: A Flashlight and Magnifying Glass (crossed to form an X)

Personality: Rena is a young detective. She's smart, and has quick wits and courage! Her two best friends are her cousins, Hijack and Caramel.



Name: Caramel

Breed: Earth Pony

Body Color: Pastel Pink

Hair Color: Sky Blue

Eye Color: Blue

Symbol: A Hershey's Chocolate Bar

Personality: Caramel is a slightly plump cousin of Rena's. She loves to eat-- and she's picky about it, too. She enjoys window-shopping, and she's a bit of a scaredy-pony. However, she's also very reliable and sweet.



Name: Hijack

Breed: Pegasus

Body Color: Forest Green

Hair Color: Jet Black

Eye Color: Pale Blue

Symbol: A Tom Cat Holding a Chisel

Personality: Hijack is a tomboy. She hangs out with boys, does stunts of all kinds, and amazes everyone. Hijack has a feminine side, too, though. She likes to be with her cousins, Rena and Caramel. She's a courageous pony, the "harass-a-hurricane" type.



Name: Baby Seaside

Breed: Baby Earth Pony

Body Color: Pale Blue

Hair Color: Deep Aqua

Eye Color: Dark Blue

Symbol: A Starfish and Clam

Personality: Baby Seaside is a very mysterious baby pony who hangs out at the beach. No one is sure of where she came from, but she apparently is able to survive on her own.



Name: Cinnamon Sugar

Breed: Unicorn

Body Color: White

Hair Color: Red with Pastel Blue Streak

Eye Color: Pale Blue

Symbol: A Lump of Sugar and a Peppermint

Personality: Cinnamon Sugar is married and has several children.



by Ally:
Name: Love

Breed: Unicorn

Body: White

Hair: Blue (Curly)

Symbol: Pink Heart



Name: Sparkle

Breed: Unicorn

Body: Purple

Hair: Red

Symbol: Confetti Surrounding a Balloon



Name: Birthday

Breed: Earth

Body: Pink

Hair: Brown

Symbol: Cake



Name: Daffodil

Breed: Pegasus

Body: Yellow

Hair: Green (Curly)

Symbol: Daffodil



Name: Joy

Breed: Earth

Body: Yellow

Hair: Red

Symbol: Angel in a Blue Dress



Name: Santa

Breed: Pegasus

Body: Red

Hair: Green with White Streak

Symbol: Santa in Sleigh



Name: Magic

Breed: Unicorn

Body: Purple

Hair: Blue with White Streak

Symbol: Top Hat and Magic Wand



Name: Mystic

Breed: Earth

Body: Green

Hair: Pink

Symbol: Star



Name: Miss America

Breed: Earth

Body: White

Hair: Red and Blue

Symbol: USA Flag



Name: Direction

Breed: Earth

Body: Gray

Hair: Pink

Symbol: Compass



Name: Sailor

Breed: Earth

Body: Blue

Hair: White

Symbol: Sailboat



Name: Bubbles

Breed: Sea Pony

Body: Blue

Hair: Green

Symbol: Fish (on chest)



Name: Princess

Breed: Sea Pony

Body: Pink

Hair: Yellow (Curly)

Symbol: Kiss (on chest)



Name: Maple

Breed: Earth

Body: Brown

Hair: Green

Symbol: Green Leaf



Name: Baby Gap

Breed: Baby Pegasus

Body: Yellow

Hair: Blue (Curly)

Symbol: Flared Jeans



Name: Sleepy (with closed eyes)

Breed: Unicorn

Body: White

Hair: Bright Green and White (Curly)

Symbol: Night Cap



Name: Mouse

Breed: Earth

Body: Gray

Hair: Blue (Curly)

Symbol: Mouse



Name: Blaze

Breed: Pony Friend (Dragon)

Body: Blue

Belly: Pink

Symbol: Fire



Name: Tickle

Breed: Pegasus

Body: Orange

Hair: Pink

Symbol: Smiley Face



Name: Jack

Breed: Earth

Body: Black

Hair: Orange and Yellow

Symbol: Black Cat



Name: Bookworm

Breed: Pegasus

Body: Orange

Hair: Brown

Symbol: Dictionary



Name: Stripes

Breed: Unicorn

Body: Rainbow Stripes

Hair: Purple, Blue, Green, and Red

Symbol: Shooting Stars



Name: Tux

Breed: Big Brother Unicorn

Body: Black

Hair: White

Symbol: Bowtie



Name: Teacher

Breed: Earth

Body: Brown

Hair: Orange

Symbol: Apple



Name: Rosie

Breed: Pegasus

Body: Pink

Hair: Green

Symbol: Rose



Name: Garden

Breed: Earth

Body: Green

Hair: Pink and Purple

Symbol: Bunch of Flowers



Name: Prancer

Breed: Pegasus

Body: Blue

Hair: Purple

Symbol: Tap Shoes



Name: Angel

Breed: Unicorn

Body: White

Hair: Yellow

Symbol: Harp



Name: Music

Breed: Earth Pony

Body: Pink

Hair: Purple

Symbol: Piano



Name: Baby Sandy

Breed: Baby Pegasus

Body: Yellow

Hair: Yellow

Symbol: Sun



Name: Market

Breed: Earth

Body: Green

Hair: Orange

Symbol: Assortment of Food



Name: Butter

Breed: Pegasus

Body: Yellow

Hair: Pink and White

Symbol: Stick of Butter



Name: Serena

Breed: Earth

Series: Sailor Moon Ponies

Body: Pink

Hair: Yellow (done in two hairbuns with long tails trailing down)

Symbol: Moon



Name: Amy

Breed: Earth

Series: Sailor Moon Ponies

Body: Blue

Hair: Blue (short)

Symbol: Mercury



Name: Raye

Breed: Earth

Series: Sailor Moon Ponies

Body: Red

Hair: Black (long)

Symbol: Mars



Name: Lita

Breed: Earth

Series: Sailor Moon Ponies

Body: Green

Hair: Brown (done in a ponytail)

Symbol: Jupiter



Name: Mina

Breed: Earth

Series: Sailor Moon Ponies

Body: Orange

Hair: Yellow (long)

Symbol: Venus



Name: Luna

Breed: Earth

Series: Sailor Moon Ponies

Body: Black

Hair: Black

Symbol: Crescent Moon



Name: Artemis

Breed: Earth

Series: Sailor Moon Ponies

Body: White

Hair: White

Symbol: Crescent Moon



by Moonjumper:
Note: I've already made customs of most of these, so please don't use them in a story without asking. ;)



The Shadow Family (all have their symbol on only one side, since shadows don't have two sides)


Name: Phantom

Breed: Big Brother Unicorn

Body Color: Prussian Blue

Hair Color: Dark Blue

Symbol: Dark Gray Pony



Name: Silhouette

Breed: Unicorn

Body Color: Prussian Blue

Hair Color: Dark Purple with Light Blue Streak

Symbol: Light Gray Pony



Name: Baby Shadow

Breed: Playtime Baby Brother Unicorn

Body Color: Prussian Blue

Hair Color: Light Purple with Dark Blue Streak

Symbol: Dark Gray Pony Head



The Fire Family (brothers and sisters)


Name: Firebolt

Breed: Big Brother Unicorn

Body Color: Orange

Hair Color: White

Symbol: Fiery Yellow Lightning Bolt



Name: Flicker

Breed: Pegasus

Body Color: White

Hair Color: Rainbow

Symbol: Orange and Yellow Flame



Name: Baby Blaze

Breed: Newborn Playtime Baby Brother

Body Color: Orange

Hair Color: White

Symbol: White Fire



Name: Baby Starlight

Breed: Newborn Twin Unicorn

Body Color: White

Hair Color: Rainbow

Symbol: Silver Star



Name: Prince Silver

Breed: Big Brother

Body Color: White

Hair Color: Sparkly White

Symbol: Silver Crown



by Princess of the Stars a.k.a. Starr a.k.a. Marissa:
Name: Gobbler

Body: Brown

Hair: Red with Orange Streak

Symbol: Turkey

Personality: Gobbler is a chubby pony who ate to much on Thanksgiving. Besides always groaning, "Oh, my stomach hurts!" she's a rather nice and very considerate little pony.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rena and Friends
The Black Thief Syndrome
Chapter 1: Black Jack
by Cinnamon Sugar
(based on the Nancy Drew series by Caroline Keene)


Rena, a pale blue earth pony with pastel pink hair, was relaxing on her couch. The teenage pony was with her two cousins, Caramel-- a pastel pink earth pony with sky blue hair-- and Hijack-- a forest green pegasus with blue hair.

Rena smiled as she read the letter in her hoof. It was from her father, Flashlight, who was away in New York. "Dad says that he's coming back on Saturday," she said. "He's just finished his mystery case."

Caramel giggled. "I bet it was exciting!" she exclaimed.

"Sounds like it was," remarked Hijack, noting the look on Rena's face. "Or else Rena wouldn't be looking so excited!"

"Mmm..." agreed Caramel, munching on a chocolate cookie.

"Oh, Carmel, don't you think you've eaten enough?!" Hijack asked the plump Caramel.

"I'm not fat, like you're always implying! I'm perfectly fit," Caramel retorted promptly.

"Whatever," Hijack replied. She rested her front hooves on her waist.

"Hmph," Caramel sniffed. "Oh, Rena, what else did your father say?" she asked.

"He said he'll tell us more, and that a surprise is coming," said Rena, grinning. "Oh-- his case was okay. He's got a few bruises, though, because not all the bad guys were the I'm-not-for-hurting-you type."

"O-o-o-oh," said Caramel, clutching Hijack's mane. "Don't say that he's in the hospital!"

"Of course not, sensitive li'l Caramel!" said Hijack. "Now, you might be in the hospital yourself if you don't stop pulling my hair." She tossed her head and Caramel lost hold of her cousin.

Suddenly, the doorbell rang. "I'll get it," said Cola, Rena's housekeeper. Cola was a red pony with chocolate-brown hair and a can of coca-cola symbol. She had been a loyal housekeeper ever since Rena's mother died when Rena was only a baby pony.

"Oh, come in!" exclaimed Cola from the door. Since the three cousins were in the living room, they couldn't see the visitor. "I'm sure the girls will be delighted to see you," said Cola. "They're in the living room."

"Who could it be?" Caramel asked.

"It couldn't be your Dad-- he's not back until the weekend, or so he said," said Hijack.

"Maybe it's Cocktail," Rena suggested, referring to one of the girls' friends.

Just then, an aqua pony with neon green hair and a cockatoo symbol entered the room, followed by a blue unicorn with blonde hair and a symbol of three hearts. "Oh, hi, Cocktail and Twinkle Hearts!" Rena exclaimed.

"Hiya, guys," Cocktail said with a chuckle. Her sister, Twinkle Hearts, stood silently beside her. "Twinkle Hearts and I just got back from Los Angeles yesterday, and since Mom n' Dad are away, we decided to stay here. Okay with you?"

"Oh, that's super!" exclaimed Caramel.

"Yes! You choose your rooms," said Rena.

Twinkle Hearts nodded. "I'll stay with Cocktail, please and thanks," she said slowly and quietly. Twinkle Hearts was the shy type.

Cocktail, her older sister, had a harass-a-hurricane personality. "Okay." she said. "Why don't you go pick out our room, Twinkle Hearts?"

"Okay." Twinkle Hearts ducked her head, picked up one of the several bags that the pair had brought in, and headed up the stairs.

"Choose one without drafts, remember!" Cocktail reminded her. Twinkle Hearts nodded and continued up the stairs.

"Um, Cola, can you bring in some cookies and milk?" asked Rena after a pause.

"Sure!" replied Cola in her usual friendly voice. She went into the kitchen and returned with a tray that had a bag of chocolate cookies and five glasses of milk on it.

"Oh, thanks, Cola!" said Cocktail gratefully. "The last thing we had to eat was a light snack of soup crackers on the plane yesterday evening."

"WHAT?!" Caramel nearly shrieked. "I'd never survive with only that!"

"You must be starving," said Cola and Rena at the same time.

"Yes, we are!" said Cocktail, and smirked as she bit into her chocolate cookies.

"Mmm, these are delicious!" said Caramel, biting two cookies at the same time. Hijack eyed her, but refused making any comment.

* * *
Later that evening, after Caramel and Hijack had gone to their homes and Rena was in bed, Rena heard a smash downstairs. She jumped out of her bed and hurried downstairs, just in time to see a black stallion with white hair running away towards the park. The front window was smashed.

Cola was with Rena in seconds. "Oh, my gosh!" she exclaimed. "A burglar!"

"Yes! He's still out there!" said Rena, pointing out the window.

"It's Black Jack!" gasped Cola, staring outside. "He's been rumored to have been around, but I ignored all the warnings! He's a notorious thief!"

Rena, however, was already busy calling the police and hadn't been paying full attention to Cola. After the police arrived on the scene, Black Jack had disappeared into the park. Some police ponies went there to look, while others searched the house. Apparently nothing had been stolen. "You're lucky," said one police pony. "He could've gotten something."

* * *
The next morning, Rena phoned her cousins and told them what had happened. Caramel was terrified. Hijack was amused. Cocktail and Twinkle Hearts were scared, but Cocktail was more courageous than her sister.

Caramel decided to come to Rena's house for breakfast. The ponies ate very quickly, especially Cocktail and Twinkle Hearts. Cocktail struck up a lively conversation at the table. "We had a great time in Los Angeles," she said. "There was cotton candy, and Chinese restaurants, and Ferris wheels, and stuff."

"Oooh! Did you say Cotton Candy? Was she there?" asked Caramel, a good friend of the pink pony.

"No, I mean the food," said Cocktail, munching on another spoonful of her cereal.

"Say, I'd love to go to Los Angeles," said Caramel.

"There's lotsa roads, and places to go, and shopping malls, and restaurants," Cocktail told them. "And huge coca-cola trucks... ooh, yum!"

Cola smiled at the remark.

"It's a busy, crowded place," said Twinkle Hearts shyly. "I was very scared."

"And I yanked you all the way to the shopping mall!" said Cocktail with a mischievous grin and twinkle in her eye. "You were scared stiff!"

Twinkle Hearts hung her head.

"Oh, Cocktail! She obviously didn't want to go!" said Caramel.

"It was Cocktail and Twinkle Heart's vacation, girls," said Cola. "Now, finish your breakfast."

"Okay," they all said at once.

Soon, breakfast was finished, and Cocktail remarked, "Well, where shall we go today?"

"The-- the zoo," Twinkle Hearts whispered.

"Superb!" said Rena. "Caramel, I can drop you off back home on the way."

"Fine with me," said Caramel, smiling.

"Do we need to bring anything?" asked Twinkle Hearts.

"Yup. We need..." said Cocktail, thinking. "Sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat or cap, sun lotion, sandals, peanuts, grass, and--"

"Okay. Hold on a sec. ‘Peanuts and grass,' you said. Why?" asked Cola.

"For the elephants, of course," said Cocktail.

"Okay..."

Soon, everything was packed. The five hopped into Rena's blue convertible and sped to Caramel's house, a mere two blocks away. Then they continued to the zoo.

"Look!" Cola whispered to Rena as she was driving. "That brown pickup ahead of us! The license plate says Los Angeles! And the driver-- it's Black Jack!"



TO BE CONTINUED...

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Poetry
by Nova


The Unicorn's Birth


Fairies dancing one moonlit night

Waiting for a creature of precious light

With a mane of silver and a pearled horn

The royal unicorn is forever born

Where he steps flowers bloom

While you dream of him in your room

Birds sing and animals dance

While the hunters take a foolish chance

For that glorious horn

That's to forever adorn the noble unicorn



Flying Horses


Pegasus, pegasi

How they do fly

Up where the clouds are white and pearly

With their hair blowing long and curly

How I wish I could fly

Up with them in the sky

Alas that could never be

No matter how much to God I plea

But we can still dream we can fly

And no one can take that away no matter how much they try

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A Look Into Tabby's Dreams
by Tabby


"An assortment of many Pikachus, Digletts, and Voltorbs are missing since the last time I looked," Tabby announced from her post of behind the counter of the Pokèmon Center. "And possibly several Electabuzz and Farfetch'd."

"When was the last time you saw them?" Sugarberry piped-up.

"It was that time when I was sorting them and dropped them on the floor," Tabby said after a pause.

"Do you suppose they could have fallen down there?" Clever Clover questioned, pointing at a thin slit cut in the floor, several inches long, which was there in preparation for a new heating system for the center.

"Then check the basement," Tabby directed.

"Move!" Spike commanded, suddenly appearing on the scene next to Tabby. "It's time for supper."

"I'll be out of here in just a sec," Tabby promised, quickly collecting up all her papers that were strewn across the desk. "Keep me up-to-date on the losses." She quickly whisked herself out the door.

"According to the clues I found, Spike or Barnacle did it," she was suddenly aware of Clever Clover saying.

"Then persecute them both to the fullest extent of the law," Tabby said quickly, walking along home.

Upon reaching her street, Tabby took note of the giant purple squid devouring her house. That was nothing new, so she continued along to her favorite hang-out, the Satin Shoe Sweet Shoppe.

"Oh, Tabby, you're here!" Tamara exclaimed, embracing Tabby in a warm hug.

"You don't say!" Tabby noted that the sign above the door to the ice cream parlor now read, "The Satin Shoe Sweet Church"; and peeking inside the door, she saw the giant squid standing up by the altar.

"He's the priest for the wedding," Tamara explained, suddenly donning a long, lacy white veil while holding onto a bouquet of yellow and red roses.

"The wedding?" Tabby queried.

"Oh, did I forget to tell you? Tex and I are getting married today!" Tamara squealed. "And you're going to be my bridesmaid."

"Okay," Tabby said agreeably.

"Here's what you'll wear," Tamara instructed, holding up a black t-shirt with the Pokèmon logo on it and picturing Jessie, James, and Meowth. Neither of the two ponies (or the squid) seemed to care that ponies did not wear t-shirts.

"Oh, that's a great outfit!" Tabby exclaimed in excitement. "Can I put it on now?" Somehow, she was now holding a small bottle of glossy paint in her hoof.

"The dressing room is over there," Tamara directed, pointing to Tabby's house, which had suddenly materialized next to the Satin Shoe Sweet Shoppe-- that is, the Satin Show Sweet Church. The squid had obviously repaired the damage he had been wreaking upon it earlier.

At that moment, Tabby was aware that the t-shirt she held in her hoof was covered in the oozy white paint. "Oh dear," she said in regret. "Tamara, I think I ruined it."

"That's no bother," Tamara said nonchalantly.

"Because we have your own wedding to prepare for, Tabitha." Tabby's mother, Agatha, suddenly appeared on the scene.

"My wedding?" Tabby echoed.

"Of course," Agatha said promptly. "You're to be married to Guido this afternoon."

"But my Team Rocket shirt is ruined," Tabby protested.

"A t-shirt is easy to fix," Agatha said. "Why, the squid has already washed it for you."

Tabby gratefully accepted the black shirt from the squid, who came up and handed it to her just then. "But it still has paint on it," she noted.

"Not enough to be noticed," Agatha said in dismissal.

"What happened to Tamara?" Tabby questioned.

"Her wedding can wait," Agatha said, sounding authoritative. "Now, go on." She pushed Tabby inside the Satin Shoe Sweet Church.

As Tabby began strolling up the aisle, she noted that most of the seats in the church were filled by Pokèmon of all varieties, but all of them were purple in color. As a matter of fact, five whole pews were filled with Mews.

"Tabitha, walk faster!" Agatha called. "You're too slow."

All of a sudden, a rather large Pikachu bolted out of his seat and headed towards the door, running into Tabby and hauling her along with him. The Pokèmon deposited Tabby in a large tree, and was gone.

Tabby looked at her predicament without concern. The tree she was stuck in the top of appeared to be a cherry tree. Then she noticed the Meowth on the ground staring up at her. "Hey, Tarquin!" she cried out joyously.

"Hello, Tabby," Tarquin said formally as he began climbing up the trunk to get to his trainer.

"How many times have I told you, call me Tabitha!" Tabby chided as the tree strangely grew smaller. Soon, she and Tarquin were both back on the ground.

"Okay," Tarquin said agreeably. "But did you hear that you flunked your math test?" He whipped a paper out from behind his back and presented it to Tabby.

Tabby stared down at the large "F" written in red ink over the paper. Annoyingly, the ink appeared not to be dry and was smudging all over her hooves. "I wish I hadn't gotten Vanguard as my teacher," she mourned.

"He's tough, but Chocolate Chip is going to be taking over his position soon," Tarquin commented.

"That's right, Tabitha!" Chocolate Chip, looking stern and forebidding, appeared out of nowhere. "Tabitha, hand me that paper." She snatched Tabby's inky test away from the unicorn.

"I did better in English," Tabby said helpfully.

"No, you got an ‘F' in that, too." Chocolate Chip displayed another red-marked paper, this one reading "English" on the top.

"I wish I wasn't still in school," Tabby mourned. "Miss Chocolate Chip, can I go visit Tiffany?"

"Yes, but be sure you're back by ten o' clock." Chocolate Chip turned on her heels and stomped off.

Once Tabby arrived at the Royal Paradise, Tiffany was already awaiting her arrival. "I'm royalty, but you're not," the princess said haughtily.

"I just flunked my math and English tests," Tabby commented, ignoring Tiffany's remark.

"Oh, I just paid Chocolate Chip two zillion jangles, so I'm getting ‘A's in everything," Tiffany continued.

"My mom would do that if she hadn't spent her life-savings on a wedding dress for me," Tabby sighed. "I was going to be Tamara's bridesmaid, but Mom carried me off to my own wedding instead."

"That's always an unfortunate turn of events," Tiffany nodded. "I think I'll be an old maid, myself. Would you like my make-up and jewelry?"

"Sure," Tabby said cheerfully. "I should really get back to the church."

"Here comes your mother now," Tiffany noted.

"Tabitha! Tabitha!" Agatha called, coming closer. "Guido is waiting!"

"But I was supposed to be Tamara's bridesmaid," Tabby whined.

"You can go back in time later, but now it's time for you to visit the squid," Agatha instructed. "Come along, Tabitha."

Tabby unwillingly trotted along behind her mother, and they stopped at a huge expanse of water. Suddenly, the same giant purple squid emerged out of it and reached one of its tentacles towards Tabby. Tabby calmly accepted this, but suddenly she and her mother were mysteriously teleported to Italy, far away from the reaches of the squid.

"Tamara is visiting my house tonight," Agatha explained to her daughter as they walked inside the mansion. "I'm having a party in her honor."

"Oh! Are you going to get her married to Weedo?" Tabby asked excitedly.

"Of course not; I'm still saving him for you," Agatha explained. "I've invited all the rich bachelors. Surely Tamara will be pleased with one of those."

The two entered the ballroom, and the party was already in full swing. "Where's Tamara?" Tabby questioned.

"Right here," Tamara said, trotting over to them, still wearing her lacy veil. "Aunt Agatha, who do you think I should marry?"

"There's Leonardo," Agatha said, pointing to a stallion on the far side of the room. "He's already a great artist, and he's rich."

"Ooh, he sounds cool!" Tamara squealed, running over to him.

"I'm going into the living room to watch the new Furby cartoon," Tabby told her mother, pulling open a small door in the wall.

"Very well," Agatha said briskly, keeping an eye on Tamara and Leonardo. Though Tabby was now in the living room, she was somehow still aware of what was going on at the party.

A yellow stallion with green hair walked up to Agatha. "Agatha, I thought you said I got Tabby. What's she doing with Leonardo?" he complained.

"Hello, Guido. That's not Tabby; it's her cousin, Tamara," Agatha explained.

"Isn't there anything different about them?" Guido questioned.

"They have different eye colors," Agatha supplied.

"Wonderful!" Guido exclaimed. "May I marry Tamara instead?"

"No," Agatha snapped. "I'm still saving you for Tabby. What are you doing out of the basement, anyway?"

"It got so boring down there in my stall," Guido whined.

"Guards! Escort this stallion back to the dungeon!" Agatha instructed two more stallions clad in silvery armor and carrying spears. Guido was carried off.

Tamara came back over to her aunt. "Oh, Aunt Agatha, that Leonardo is so rich!" she swooned.

"I thought you'd approve of him," Agatha beamed. "I'll arrange your wedding for tomorrow.

"I can't wait!" Tamara squealed. "Oh, thank you!"

"And, in the meantime, I'll set Leonardo aside for you in the dungeon," Agatha suggested.

"That'll be perfect!" Tamara said cheerfully.

Tabby was still watching the new Furby cartoon. Strange-colored Furbys were floating around on clouds and singing something that sounded like, "Shoop bee doo, shoop shoop bee doo." A group of sea ponies then appeared on the screen, and the Furbys immediately ran away.

"Tabitha! Did you hear?" Tamara ran into the living room, with Agatha behind her. "I'm marrying Leonardo tomorrow!"

"Cool! Have you told Tex yet?" Tabby asked.

"No, but let's do that now," Tamara said gleefully. "This is so exciting!" The two giddy unicorns flew out of the house and up the street, where Tex now resided.

"Tamara, open the door," Tabby said impatiently as she watched her cousin stand motionless on the porch.

"First I have to finish this delicious applesauce," Tamara explained, throwing a bowl and spoon into some nearby bushes. "Now I'll knock."

At that moment, however, the door was open by Tex. "Tamara! I'm so glad you came by! Come on in!"

"Hey, what about me?" Tabby demanded.

"You can wait outside," Tex said distantly.

"Tamara said I could come," Tabby retorted, following her cousin inside anyway.

"Tex, I have something to tell you," Tamara smiled.

"She's engaged to some Italian dude," Tabby said helpfully.

Tex started laughing. "That's funny, Tabby!"

"But it's true," Tamara said seriously. "I know we had some good times together, but Leonardo just has more money."

Tex's face fell. "But we were engaged, Tamara!"

"I know I may have said, um, something, about maybe, um, marrying you someday, but, um, Leonardo has so much gold and jewels in his vaults," Tamara went on. "And he lives in an ancient palace."

"It's probably nothing compared to Atlantis," Tabby commented.

"I don't know what it is with your obsession with Atlantis," Tamara chided.

"It's cool," Tabby justified herself.

"Anyway, Tex, it's over between us," Tamara ended.

"Oh, that was so dramatic," Tabby sighed.

Tex went down on his knees in front of Tamara. "Oh, Tamara, no! Tell me it isn't true."

Tamara, however, ignored his pleadings and went out the door. Tabby exited as well, but found that when she stepped off Tex's porch, she fell into a large hole filled with cold, dark water.

All of a sudden, a squid tentacle appeared. The lumbering purple body showed itself soon after. The tentacle began wrapping around Tabby. Tabby screamed...

* * *
"What are you screaming about in the middle of the night again, Tabitha?" asked a very annoyed Tamara as she peeked in her cousin's room.

"Squid... Weedo..." Tabby mumbled distantly, immediately drifting off to sleep again.

"That same old line about squid and weeds... really, Tabby!" Tamara turned away and walked back down the hallway, to continue her dreams of fancy dresses and expensive jewelry...

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sunset
by Cinnamon Sugar


"Oh, this is GREAT! Just an hour of constant snowing and blizzards, and it's so COLD!" Cinnamon Sugar hugged her sides as she trudged through the snow-covered streets. Snowflakes flew furiously all around, and the world was pure white. She could dimly make out the shape of her second-eldest child, Baby Cinnamon Sugar, hurrying behind her.

"Yup, Mom!" the young unicorn agreed, tightening her red-and-black plaid scarf.

"And to think that it's just November first!" Cinnamon Sugar muttered. "More like the thirtieth of December--" At the end of this remark, she stumbled over a camouflaged rock and fell head-over-heels into a snowdrift. Her mouth filled with snow.

"Ack!" Cinnamon Sugar exclaimed, pushing her head up from its awkward position. She brushed the snow away from her face with her snow-covered mittens, which only succeeded in putting more snow on her face. "Drat!" the red-haired unicorn sputtered as she stood up. Her mane and tail were damp, covered with slush and snow. "Oh, great! C'mon, Baby Cinnamon Sugar, let's get going!" Cinnamon Sugar called to her daughter, who had hurried up to her.

"Okay, Mom," said Cinnamon Sugar's daughter. The two then trudged off towards their home.

"Yes?" Splatter, Cinnamon Sugar's husband, opened the door when the doorbell rang. "Oh! You're back," he exclaimed when she saw his wife and daughter at the door.

"Yup," agreed Baby Cinnamon Sugar. "Mom fell in a snowbank and got all wet!"

"Unfortunately," Cinnamon Sugar added, wiping her slushy boots on the doormat.

"Oh, hi, Mom! Pop was just working on his ‘important project'!" Outback, Cinnamon Sugar's thirteen-year-old son, bounced up with his toy gun. "Baby Splatter and I were just practicin' shooting with teeny-weeny darts! And Baby Splatter lost!" he added, skipping off.

"Keee-eee!" Cinnamon Sugar had barely unzipped her coat when the cry of a puppy sounded from a snowdrift outside. Looking out, Cinnamon Sugar saw a tiny Irish Setter puppy, struggling to dig itself out of a pile of snow. It was wet, cold, and shivering.

"Oh, poor li'l dog!" exclaimed Baby Cinnamon Sugar, racing outside. Luckily, she was still in her snowsuit. She dug the puppy out of the snowbank and let it go free. The puppy yapped happily and pawed at Baby Cinnamon Sugar.

Baby Cinnamon Sugar giggled, then patted the puppy and went inside. But before she could close the door, the puppy was already inside the house, standing in front of the pony. "Oh, you're not supposed to be here," said the young unicorn, picking him up and putting him outside.

Cinnamon Sugar had gotten off her coat and boots by this time, and Splatter had gone back to his programming. "It'll go away presently," said Cinnamon Sugar. "Just leave it alone."

However, the puppy was still there, even after an hour of waiting outside their door. "Oh, Mom, do you think...?" asked Baby Cinnamon Sugar hopefully.

"Oh, no, not again!" exclaimed Outback. "This place is CRAMMED with animals!" It was true-- one dog, two cats, eleven hamsters, two mice, a rat, a budgie, and several fish also lived in the house.

"But one more won't hurt!" Baby Cinnamon Sugar replied.

"Yes, it will!" said Outback, provoking a deliberate argument.

"Will not!"

"Will too!"

"Will not!"

"WILL TOO!"

"WILL NOT!"

"Oh, stop arguing," said Cinnamon Sugar. "He can stay in the house. If nobody asks for an Irish Setter, we'll keep him."

"YA-A-A-AY!!!!" cheered Baby Cinnamon Sugar. I always get it my way, she thought smugly.

Soon, the puppy was brought in the house. He lost no time in eating what Apricot, an apricot-colored poodle, had left in his bowl. He yapped when he had finished his meal and frisked around the living room, where he stopped and sniffed intently. He smelled Apricot, gave him a good inspection, and barked at the cats.

Melissa, a black-and-white shorthair cat, meowed loudly, jumped onto the mantlepiece over the fireplace, and sulked there for the rest of the afternoon.

"Y'know, honey..." Splatter said to Cinnamon Sugar that evening at dinnertime. "We've got lots of pets-- too many, I think."

"Oh, don't worry. We've got time to care for them-- and the kids and I are animal lovers," Cinnamon Sugar replied. Melissa jumped onto her lap, curled up, and purred. "We're perfectly fine as it is."

Splatter was a light dapple grey stallion with navy blue hair, and his symbol was a bucket of paint. He and Cinnamon Sugar had met in their late teens in a park in Dream Valley. Ever since then, they had been very close to each other.

"Um..." Outback gulped down his water. "Mom, where's that Pokèmon Silver game cartridge? I lost it somewhere..."



To be continued...

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Merry Treat and Tabby "Did You Know..."
by Merry Treat and Tabby


Merry Treat reporting-- When I went to see the movie Mewtwo Strikes Back the other night, Toy Story 2 was already sold out; and the line for it was unbelievably long! If anyone wants to see Toy Story 2, like I do, I'd advise waiting until the hype goes down. Tabby has the theory that if everyone waits, there'll be just as big a hype later as now, but... oh, never mind!



Tabby reporting-- Clever Clover finally convinced the Bushwoolies to play a game of Risk (the game for world conquest) with him on Thanksgiving evening. The Bushwoolies readily agreed, and supplied plenty of refreshments for the occasion. Clever Clover was ecstatic that he'd finally found someone who would take the time to play it with him, but I think the Bushwoolies learned a valuable lesson that night. Remember, when you're playing a board game, please don't use nuts as playing pieces unless you have an extreme shortage of playing pieces; and don't eat playing pieces in place of nuts no matter what the shortage of nuts is. Merry Treat was aghast to hear this; and I must say that Cheery did swallow one of the little soldiers. He had to be taken to the emergency room for treatment, but he recovered simply fine under the care of Dr. Toby.



Merry Treat reporting-- The Safeway store was putting out fresh-cut Christmas trees the day after Thanksgiving, and I believe other stores everywhere are already putting up their Christmas decorations! It's the first of December, for Pete's sake! Wait, what's that? Oh! Tabby had just commented that a Starmie or a Staryu would make a great tree-topper... it'd have to be a rather sturdy tree, though, or it'd be top-heavy and fall over!



Tabby reporting-- On another topic, Tiffany is still bound and determined to get a diamond ring from Toby. The last I heard is that she's planning on buying a gift certificate for Sparkler's Jewelry Shop as a Christmas giftfor him. Merry Treat figures that if she's so incredibly determined to get married, why doesn't she just ask him herself? Because Tiffany wants an expensive diamond ring to flaunt around...



Merry Treat reporting-- This isn't really that interesting, but I can't think of anything else, to talk about. Vixie, my mom, and Rascal went to see the Sleepy Hollow movie this weekend. They said it was good, but rather weird. Spike, Friendly, and Clever Clover have been contemplating seeing it, but they were concerned over how well it would follow the book. Vixie says it's better than the book, and that the director took the original poem and just elaborated to the point where the plot made perfect sense. Her final comment is that it's very good, but very... eh.... odd.



Tabby reporting-- On the topic of Christmas presents, one of the hottest toys parents are seeking for their children this Christmas are those from the discontinued Puffalump line. Baby ponies seem to grow very attached to these soft, squishy stuffed animals; and thence, the Puffalumps suffer from much playwear. In an attempt to replace their baby pony's precious animal, parents all over Ponyland are scouring every second-hand source to locate these popular goods.



Merry Treat reporting-- Tabby has asked of me what I hope to get for Christmas this year; but for once, I am satisfied with what I have! Though I probably would like the Pokèmon Movie soundtrack, the Luna Rock CD, and the original Sailor Moon soundtrack... Tabby simply says that she wants My Little People, Pokèmon, and Furby merchandise.



Tabby reporting-- On a more annoying note, on a recent Christmas shopping expedition to the hours-away Hayton, it would appear that Spike forgot to notify me of one of the things he noticed at one of the boring CD and book stores-- two racks of Sailor Moon videos! Of course, he only thought to tell me after we were back in Dream Valley, so now I have to wait a whole ‘nother year to see them for myself.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Continuation of the Beginning
Chapter Two
by Barnacle


As the stranger led the four pirates through the veritable maze of caves, tunnels, and passages, Kracken tried in vain to strike up conversation with their guide. Short bits and pieces were all he could get because the stranger was hardly any more talkative than when they had found him. But, slowly, the little bits added up...

"So, what's your name?" Kracken ventured as they made their way down a dark tunnel lined with fallen rubble. "Mine is Kracken, by the way; the captain here is Barnacle; and the two Bushwoolies are Davey and Jones."

"No, mon," one of them said. "I'm Jones; he be Davey."

"No, I'm not," the other Bushwoolie replied. "I'm Davey; you're Jones!"

"Huh, oh, right," Jones replied with a laugh.

"Um, anyway..." Kracken continued.

"I said before my name wasn't important," the stranger said.

"But what do I call you, then?" Kracken asked.

Sighing, their guide replied, "If I told you that my name was, say, Maltese, would that satisfy you? Would you four stop asking me questions?"

"Umm, sure," Kracken replied.

A moment followed in which no one spoke; but then Kracken continued, "So, Maltese, I couldn't help but notice the armor; were you a warrior or something?"

Growling, Maltese replied with a blunt "Yes."

"Were you in an army?" Kracken continued.

"Argh! Yes, I was in an army!" Maltese snapped. "An army that was lead by three warlord brothers who set out to conquer everything in sight. They started with the Kingdom of the Dakytins and then continued on to conquer the Bouldiers. It was after we marched through the broken streets of Bouldier City that I realized war was not for me and I deserted my post! I traveled into these caves in an attempt to perhaps find myself, and true inner peace! And if it was not for you, I may have been a little closer to that goal!"

Finally feeling a little guilty about his badgering, Kracken simply replied, "Um, sorry."

"ARR," Barnacle spoke up. "But what about this Bouldier City?"

"What about it?" Maltese said tiredly.

"ARR, what became of it after yee left?"

"See for yourself." The cave they had been traveling down suddenly ended and opened out onto a small ledge overlooking a gigantic cavern. Hundreds if not thousands of feet high, the chamber was so large an entire full-size city had been built on the floor of it. The four pirates were so stunned by the breathtaking view that they didn't say a word as they tried to take it all in. Maltese, on the other hand, still carried his tired expression as he viewed the city with indifference.

The initial beauty of the city, however, was deceptive; while this had once been an impressive city, close inspection told a different story of the present. From the height they were above, the massive destruction couldn't be seen at first; but as they continued to study it, they began to pick out a smashed temple here, a still-smoking home there, and an empty marketplace which had been looted and destroyed.

"So this be Bouldier City?" Barnacle asked solemnly.

"Yes," Maltese said with equal solemnness.

"The destruction..." Kracken said. "Did the Warlords do all this?"

Maltese nodded. "This was an active city full of life before they came-- before we came. This is the reason I deserted. This is the reason I could fight no longer for them, or anyone else, for any reason."

"ARR," Barnacle said. "I've never heard of this place. Where is Dream Valley from here?"

"The gateway which leads out of these caves is inside of the Bouldier's palace; there." Maltese pointed to a large semicircular structure that sat against the northern wall of the cavern.

"It doesn't look like it is damaged at all, not like the rest of the city," Kracken pointed out.

"ARR, probably because the warlords are using it now," Barnacle said. "But how did they take it in one piece to begin with?"

"Because there wasn't a fight," Maltese said.

"What do you mean, there wasn't a fight?" Kracken asked.

"The Bouldiers have a society in which whoever holds their Scepter of Lordship rules all Bouldiers unquestioningly," Maltese explained. "Rosweld, the warlord responsible for conquering these people, simply walked in and took the scepter for himself. To the Bouldier's way of thinking, he was now their leader."

"ARR, so then all the destruction to the city..." Barnacle said.

"...was completely unnecessary and done for cruelty's sake alone," Maltese confirmed. "Do you now see why I left my post?"

"Oh, yeah," Kracken said.

"Aye," even Barnacle agreed grudgingly.

A moment of silence passed between everyone before Barnacle broke it. "ARR," he said, "so how exactly do we be gettin' to this gateway yee spoke of?"

"You need to take this path," Maltese explained and pointed to a narrow ledge that lead down from their current position. "It will take you right to the edge of the fortress wall. Once there you'll..."

Maltese paused when he saw Kracken getting out paper and a pencil. Sighing, the former warrior added, "Maybe I should just show you..."

"ARR," Barnacle said. "Excellent idea."

"Oh, thank you," Kracken said, relieved he didn't have to take any more notes.

With that, the four pirates and their guide set off down the path into Bouldier City.

They descended to the cavern floor in relatively little time, and just as Maltese had explained, the path terminated right at the foot of the fortress' massive walls.

Kracken had to crane his head all the way back just to see the top of the barrier. "So," he asked, "what do we do, climb up or something?"

"Only if you wish to be shot full of arrows," Maltese replied. He then reached out and pushed on one of the countless stones that made up the wall. To anyone's eyes it would have looked no different from any of the others, but the one slid back with the touch. Immediately, a grinding and scraping sound came from inside the wall somewhere and then a section of the stones tilted back, making a doorway. "This way is much safer."

"ARR," Barnacle said as he drew his sword and peered inside the opening, expecting danger at any moment. "Where does it be leading'?"

"Yeah, yeah," Jones said. "It be stinkin' down there!"

"Yeah, mon, stinkin'!" Davey added.

"It goes into the dungeons," Maltese explained. "It'll take you down, but after that, I can go no further. You will be on your own."

"ARR, let's get on with it, then," Barnacle said.

The doorway led into a narrow, stone passageway with a low ceiling. The expertise of the Bouldier stone masons that had built it was evident by the smooth joints in all the cracks. This made for an even and level surface that would have been a welcome relief after walking miles through rubble-strewn caves, if not for the abundance of moisture covering everything, making it as slick as ice. More than once, Kracken and Barnacle would have fallen if they had not caught themselves at the last moment. Nothing, however, was going to keep Jones and Davey from going down.

The passage wasn't very long, but it did descend sharply, taking the group far below the Bouldier fortress. Abruptly, it came to an end with a gaping square hole in the floor, through which came the warm glow of torch light.

Whispering, Maltese pointed through the hole. "There, that is the dungeon."

"We finally here?!" Davey exclaimed and pushed his way forward.

"Yeah, yeah," Jones said. "Let me see!"

"Quiet," Maltese snapped. "There are guards!" But his warning came too late. As Jones stumbled up behind Davey, he lost his balance and collided with his brother. In a shrieking scream that echoed loudly through the cramped passage, both of the Bushwoolies fell through the hole into the dungeon below.

Even as they hit the floor, a voice from out of view cried out, "What the--!"

And was quickly joined by another. "Who--? How'd those two get in here?!"

"ARR, Bushwoolies," Barnacle said with a shake of his head. "That's why I usually leave them on the ship."

"And here I was hoping we'd actually make it out of this one without a fight," Kracken said as he drew his sword.

"ARR!" was all Barnacle said as he jumped down the hole with his own sword, followed immediately by Kracken.

As they hit the floor, they could see two guards with swords had already grabbed the Bushwoolies. Looking very much like Maltese, the guards were also man-sized cats with armor, the only difference being the color of their fur.

"Let them go!" Kracken said with conviction.

"ARR, lest yee wish yer lives to be comin' to an abrupt end!" Barnacle snarled.

Panicked, the guards stood dumbfounded, holding fast to the terrified Bushwoolies.

"ARR, looks like we be havin' ourselves a little stand-off," Barnacle said.

But suddenly, before anyone could say another word, a blur of gray and orange fur came from the tunnel. In a flash of movement faster than anyone could follow, the two guards were lying unconscious on the floor and Maltese was standing over them holding his staff. Davey and Jones were left sitting on the stone floor just as confused as everyone else.

"Did he just take out those two guards like they were nothing?" Kracken muttered to Barnacle.

"Aye, I think he did."

"No!" Maltese cried in frustration and dropped to his knees. "I abandoned my past so that I would not have to fight anymore, but yet it seems I keep coming back to it! Why?!"

"Oftentimes the need to true enlightenment is wrought with troubles and battles of many kinds. But, does that make the trip any less important?"

"ARR, who's there?" Barnacle said, spinning around to confront whoever had just spoken.

"Yes!" Maltese demanded. "Who speaks such wisdom?" He walked past Barnacle and Kracken with a conviction they had not yet witnessed in him.

"I do," came the reply from one of the dark cells that lined the walls. Against the back wall, a small silhouette could be seen perched on a bed-rail in the shadows.

Everyone gathered around as Maltese strode up to the cell. Then, in a flutter of dingy feathers and tattered robes, the prisoner jumped down into the light.

Standing before them was a short being that greatly resembled a colorful red and green parrot. Dressed in robes that were adorned with various trinkets and talismans, he looked rather wise in a way. But with his once brilliant feathers caked with grime and his flowing robes now reduced to rags, he didn't look too well off.

"Who are you?" Maltese asked, bending down on one knee.

"I," the parrot said in the clearest English, "am Protius-- scholar, seer, shaman, savant, sage, scientist, soothsayer...at your service. Could I be so bold as to ask who you are?"

"He's Maltese," Kracken spoke up. "And this is Barnacle, I'm Kracken, and they're Davey and Jones!"

"Hello!" Davey and Jones sang out in unison.

Maltese, however, threw a venomous glance at Kracken and let out a snarl. "Why do you insist on interrupting everything?!"

"But I was just--"

A word from Protius silenced them both. "Anger is seldom productive and in hindsight often causes more trouble than it solves."

A moment of silence followed before Kracken said, "Um, yeah, that's what I was gonna say."

Maltese, however, kneeled down and bowed his head to the prisoner. "Master Protius, you are most wise; please teach me your ways so that I might one day share in your enlightened perceptions."

Cocking an eyebrow, Protius replied, "First, I'd rather just get out of this cell."

"Yes, of course!" Maltese hurried off to find the keys.

"ARR, wait just one minute," Barnacle said. "I'll not be makin' the same mistake twice. What do yee be locked up for?"

"I had the misfortune of being in Dakytina when the Warlords attacked; Rosweld insisted on holding me prisoner and taking me with him wherever he went. When he occupied Bouldier City, I had no choice but to come with."

"Why?" Kracken asked.

"He liked to toy with me," Protius said. "If you've seen the city, I think you can understand."

"I found the key," Maltese announced as he came back.

"Aye," Barnacle said. "Let him out."

"Thank you, sir," Protius said with a slight bow. With that, Maltese swung open the bars of the cell. "Ah, freedom," the parrot said as he stepped out. "Relatively speaking, of course; we are still in a dungeon, after all."

"Master Protius," Maltese said, "will you teach me?"

"Hmm," Protius thought. "It's been quite awhile since I've taken on a pupil... perhaps too long... very well-- Maltese, it is?-- I will teach you the ways of an informed thinker so that you can more thoroughly seek enlightenment."

"Thank you, Master," Maltese said graciously and bowed low.

"Yes, yes," Protius said with a wave of his wing. "First lesson, don't do that. I can't very well have a pupil who is always looking at the ground. You'll run into walls."

"Deep," Kracken commented.

"Incidentally," Protius added, "I do have a question."

"ARR, and that would be...?" Barnacle asked.

"Where might you people be headed?"

"We be headin' to Dream Valley, ARR," Barnacle said. "Maltese was guiding us to the gateway out of these caverns, and says it's in this fort."

"Yes," Protius agreed. "I believe it is. However, I now have a favor to ask-- I know you've already helped me a good deal by setting me free, so I'm reluctant to even ask-- but it would appear that our paths are headed the same direction, at least for the time being. Would you mind too terribly much if I-- and my new pupil-- perhaps traveled with you temporarily?"

"ARR, quite a round about way a' sayin' it," Barnacle replied. "Just a moment."

Turning his back to Protius and Maltese, Barnacle guided Kracken a few steps away and whispered, "ARR, what do yee think?"

"Well," Kracken said, "Maltese is pretty good in a fight and Protius seems pretty smart. We might be able to use some guys like that."

"ARR," Barnacle replied, "that's actually what I be thinkin'."

Turning back to face the two, Barnacle said, "Alright, yee can come along."

"Wonderful," Protius said happily. "Thank you very much."

"Don't mention it," Kracken replied.

"ARR, Maltese, which way out a' here?" Barnacle asked.

"Up these stairs," Maltese pointed. He still carried his strange disconnected attitude, but suddenly, it seemed altogether different in a way that one couldn't put a finger on.

"ARR, then let's get goin'!"

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Lost Prince
Chapter 1
by Moonjumper


The old tower was covered with vines, and the once white stone had turned a dirty gray. The marvelous stained glass windows had long been hidden by centuries of grime. In the moonlight, it gave off an eerie, mystical feeling.

A cloaked figure crept to the tower. Hearing the sound of rustling leaves nearby made the figure fall to the forest floor, looking around cautiously. When it was clear no one else was around, the figure relaxed visibly and pressed in on one of the tower's stones. A small section of the wall swung in silently, revealing a dark room lit by a small candle. The figure rushed in as the wall closed.

The figure pulled out a second candle and lit it. After placing it next to the first, the figure removed its cloak. A regal-looking white tiger stood there, searching the darkness for something or someone.

"My queen?" he asked through the darkness.

"I am here, Blaze," a soft voice replied.

The white tiger, addressed as Blaze, knelt on the cold stone floor.

"Rise, faithful servant." The queen stepped closer and a flash of silver hair was lit by the dim light.

Blaze rose. "I bring news of the princes," he started.

"Are they well?" the queen broke in anxiously.

Blaze nodded. "And safe. You chose the perfect place to protect them from this night."

The Queen sighed. I do wish I had never trusted that witch... then I would still have my sons... but no, then the prophecy wouldn't come true...

"My queen?" Blaze broke into her thoughts.

"Yes?"

"What about Majesty?"

"She and the rest are safe for now. They cannot be affected tonight. You and I are the only ones..."

Blaze looked troubled for a moment. "But what if I do not awake, who will guide..."

"You will," the queen said sharply, knowing well what the rest of his question was. Then, in a less tense voice, she added, "And the message is awaiting its time, carefully locked in the crystal."

Blaze nodded. "I will go now."

The queen walked over to Blaze and gave him a grateful hug. "You will never know how invaluable you are to me..." A tear slipped down her face.

Blaze took a deep breath. "And the others will never know the price their delivery had to pay." He looked at his queen one last time before slipping into the night.

He listened carefully to the forest sounds. Blaze knew the danger of being found by Marenche's spies.

In the tower, the queen cried. Crystal tears fell as she remembered the last son she'd hidden...

* * *
"Mommy?"

"Yes, Silver?"

"Will I see you again?" Silver's voice trembled.

The queen's heart broke. Why must I place such a terrible fate upon my precious son? "Yes, someday..." the queen tried her best to sound reassuring.

* * *
The queen closed her eyes. She'd prepared herself for this, ever since Dorin had warned her. But she did not want to give up her third son; his destiny would be impossible.

But maybe if I try one last time...

The room suddenly burst into a blinding, pure light. Wind rushed through, blowing the candles out. A delicate silver unicorn was revealed kneeling on the floor, begging silently to free her son from his destiny.

The light vanished. The queen's plea had been denied. There was no stopping; the path of the future was set.

Slowly, the queen stood; and, looking to the sky above, she became like a statue.

* * *
Miles away, in a volcanic cave, a slim figure watched a silver crystal with anticipation. It flickered once and become dark. A wicked laugh echoed into the night.

"The valley is mine!!!" More laughter resounded through the cave.

"But Marenche, what of the wizard?" a small troll asked fearfully.

Marenche turned with an evil smirk on her face. "He is gone as well! No one could withstand the talisman's power from out there, Trixie!" Marenche looked out into the night.

"There you are wrong," a voice said from the shadows.

Marenche whirled around, her face deathly pale. "No... it can't be!"

A cloak fell to the floor.

"It is! It is!!" Trixie squealed shrilly.

Marenche frowned hard at the small troll. Trixie instantly cowered. "Dorin, what a PLEASANT surprise," Marenche said through clenched teeth.

Dorin appeared, but his cloak still covered him. "As always, the same to you."

Marenche fumed. "You still cannot bring them back; they are GONE!"

Dorin chuckled. "Really? I believe," he paused, enjoying the look on Marenche's face, "they never left. Never."

"You, you, you..." Marenche didn't bother hiding her hatred.

Dorin smiled sardonically. "Not all plans work perfectly," he said as he disappeared.

Marenche's cry of rage thundered through the valley and Trixie hid, afraid of her mistress' voice and strong hand.

"This, this cannot be... I cannot fail... this MUST not be..." Marenche swallowed, her confidence shaken. She turned to a crystal ball supported by a rock hand.

"No-o-o-o-o-o-o!!!" Marenche smashed it, and all went dark...



To be continued in January's edition. E-mail me at [email protected] with any comments or questions.

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News Articles
by Cinnamon Sugar


New Pony in Dream Valley
An unusually attractive pony has moved to Dream Valley from Friendship Gardens. Her name is Silver, and she's silver with neon-colored rainbow hair. She is young and is looking for a family to stay with until she finds a permanent settling. If you're interested in housing her, contact Silver at her temporary hotel room.



New Store Opens
All who like animals, Pokèmon, or both-- read this! A new shop has opened in the Dream Valley mall called Pets and Pokèmon. You'll know Pets and Pokèmon by it's logo-- a picture of a cat holding a PokèBall. The shop is a place to get everything for your pets and Pokèmon, including PokèBalls, the more common Pokèmon, and lots, lots more! Hurry to its grand opening sale this weekend!

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Christmas in Dream Valley, 1999
by Tabby and Sugarberry


Tabby was not too surprised when her mother showed up on her porch one Saturday afternoon. It was customary for her relatives to show up unexpectedly at her house. However, as she stared at the pastel blue unicorn waiting outside the door with a suitcase held in her hoof, it began to set-in on Tabby what a visit from her mother meant. In the end, she just screamed.

All this had taken place in about three seconds. The dignified Agatha Fershund, however, was not phased by her daughter's reaction. "Now, Tabitha, I didn't alarm you, did I? I meant to call before arriving, but I was never able to," Agatha said promptly, brushing past Tabby and entering the house. "Yes, I suppose this is a nice enough place. I wouldn't think it's large enough, however--"

"What are you doing here, Mom?" Tabby was finally able to say. "And why?"

"It is only a few weeks before Christmas, and it has been so long since I've been to Dream Valley after moving to Italy," Agatha explained. "I thought I'd visit for the holiday season. I knew you wouldn't mind having me. You don't, do you?"

"That depends..." Tabby said slowly.

Agatha continued on further into the house, ignoring Tabby's last remark. "Is Tamara home? You must inform her of my arrival."

"She's in her room," Tabby supplied. "I'll go get her." Before Agatha could comment further, Tabby had scurried up the stairs and threw open Tamara's bedroom door. "Tamara! We've got company!"

"Oh, Tabby, you just made me smudge my eyeshadow," Tamara scowled, reaching for a Kleenex. "What was that you just said?"

"Mom has just shown up unannounced on my doorstep, much the same way you did," Tabby filled in quickly. "She's staying for Christmas, and I just hope she's not going to make my life miserable!"

"Aunt Agatha?" Tamara squealed, abruptly standing up from her chair. "She's here? Now? Oh, this is so exciting!" She dashed out into the hallway.

"I wish I could share your enthusiasm," Tabby muttered as she followed after.

"Oh, Aunt Agatha, it's so good to see you again!" Tamara exclaimed, running to her relative.

"Tamara, your eyeshadow is smudged," Agatha frowned, inspecting her niece for the first time in years.

"It is?" Tamara gasped. "I thought I'd wiped that off. Ooh-- Tabby!" She promptly fled to the bathroom to get her face properly fixed up.

"While we're waiting for Tamara, why don't you show me to my room?" Agatha suggested cheerfully to Tabby.

"Eh... your room?" Tabby faltered.

"Of course!" Agatha said briskly. "All well-equipped houses should have at least five spare rooms to be prepared for all emergencies."

"My last empty one was taken over by Tamara... all the other rooms have My Little People and stuff in," Tabby said meekly.

A shadow crossed Agatha's face. "You should really do something about that, Tabitha. I suppose the couch will do for me. You do still have a living room in this place, don't you?"

"Oh, excuse that delay, Aunt Agatha," Tamara said breathlessly, coming up on the two, minus the smudged make-up. "Why don't we go to the living room and we can all catch up?"

"Yes, Tabitha was just informing me that I would have to use that as my temporary room," Agatha said. "But I must make allowances. Now, where is it?"

Once everyone was seated around the coffee table and Agatha's suitcase was stashed next to the couch, the conversation began. "Aunt Agatha, first off you have to tell me what you're doing here," Tamara started off.

"I just wanted to visit over the holiday season; nothing in particular," Agatha smiled. "I think I'll stay over New Year's."

"You didn't bring... anyone along, did you?" Tabby asked anxiously.

"That reminds me, Tabitha, have you given any more thought to Guido?" Agatha questioned. "He really is quite charming."

"Mom! I thought you'd given up on that!" Tabby protested.

"I've simply given up hope for Tabby ever getting married," Tamara sniffed. "It's useless trying to convince her."

"We must never give up hope!" Agatha said quickly. "How about you, Tamara? I'm sure you've met up with a handsome stallion by now."

"Oh, yes, of course," Tamara said dreamily. "There's Tex. You'll really like him when you meet him, Aunt Agatha."

"Tex? I seem to remember that name..." Agatha said thoughtfully.

"He's the one that put those awful worms in my lunchbox in sixth grade," Tabby supplied.

"That's right!" Agatha recalled. "What's he doing for a living now?"

"He runs a cool salsa shop," Tamara said excitedly. "I'll have to show you that, too. I even got to help him out a few times--"

"A salsa shop? Is that the tacky-looking place I saw with the large red pepper out front?" Agatha said, horrified.

"Well-- yes," Tamara said, slightly confused by her aunt's reaction. "He does sell mild salsas, too, if you're concerned about that..."

"I can't believe you are being seen with the lowly owner of a local salsa shop," Agatha said indignantly. "It's a disgrace to the family name!"

Tamara shrunk back in her chair. "Really, just wait'll you meet him..."

"Oh, Mom, you won't like him any better then," Tabby said quickly, who was rather pleased with how things were going now. "He's really quite hard to get along with."

"We will just have to see..." Agatha murmured. "It's so hard keeping you girls in line when I'm not around."

"He's not hard to get along with at all," Tamara interjected. "Tabby, you're wrong; and Aunt Agatha, you'll understand when you meet him."

"Like I said, Tamara, we'll see," Agatha said firmly. "And now, Tabitha, what are we going to do with you?"

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

"There must be plenty of good-looking stallions around town," Agatha prodded. "If you can't get along with Guido, you must pick someone else out."

"Oh, Aunt Agatha, she's been seeing Thomas for the past year now," Tamara said impatiently. "But there's still no hope for her getting married."

"It hasn't been a year yet," Tabby snapped, but quickly recoiled when she realized what she'd said. "Eh... that is..."

"Of course, she never fully admits it," Tamara continued. "Like you're seeing now."

"I've never been informed of this Thomas before," Agatha said, eyeing her daughter. "Who is he, Tabitha?"

"Well... he runs the vet clinic in Dream Valley now," Tabby said slowly.

"Ah-hah! Is he the one that run you out of business?" Agatha queried.

"Eh... yes..."

"And how successful is his clinic?"

"Pretty successful, I guess... better than mine was..."

"Hmm, I'm so glad I found out about this," Agatha said thoughtfully. "How often do you see him, Tabitha?"

"Oh... sometimes..."

"Hah! ‘Sometimes'!" Tamara laughed. "They're always at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe together. Or at the... really-fancy-restaurant-place-thing. Or--"

"How nice!" Agatha said delightedly. "I can't wait to find out about all your friends, Tabitha."

"You can meet Sugarberry and Chocolate Chip at supper tonight," Tabby said eagerly.

"Are you having them over this evening?" Agatha questioned.

"Oh, no! I always eat supper at Sugarberry's," Tabby said matter-of-factly.

"Sugarberry was always so nice to you," Agatha sighed. "But don't you think you should make your own meals?"

"Of course not," Tabby said in dismissal. "I can't cook a thing to save my name."

"It's true," Tamara added.

"Tabitha! You can't cook?" Agatha gasped. "Certainly, I have my maids to do that, but I know how to fix a meal myself. We'll have to do something about this, as well!"

"I hate cooking," Tabby interjected. "It's time-consuming. And then there's the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe for dessert."

"That's all beside the point," Agatha declared. "I'm just going to have to teach you."

"But why?" Tabby wailed.

"When you get married--"

"--she won't," Tamara interrupted.

"--you will have to know," Agatha finished. "But we can save cooking lessons for later. We'll have plenty of time. But, for tonight, I suppose we can visit Sugarberry. Who is that Chocolate Chip pony you mentioned? And is that pirate Barnacle still around? How are the princesses of the Royal Paradise doing? Do you still have that cat of yours-- Callie, is it? And--"

* * *
"Mrs. Fershund, I just can't believe you're actually here in Dream Valley!" Sugarberry gasped, her eyes open wide, after the story had been explained to her and Chocolate Chip.

"Oh, please, call me Agatha," Agatha smiled dazzlingly. "And it's so good to be here."

"If I'd known, I would have prepared something better for supper," Sugarberry apologized.

"Besides Hamburger Helper," Tabby grimaced as she peered into her friend's kitchen.

"Never mind about that, Sugarberry," Agatha said quickly. "It's kind enough of you to do the cooking for Tabitha." She glanced over at her daughter disapprovingly.

"We're used to Tabby coming over here every night," Chocolate Chip laughed. She was boarding with Sugarberry while attending Pony Pride University.

"That may be, but I'm still going to teach her to use her own kitchen while I'm here," Agatha said. "Even Tamara can fend for herself-- and not just on cherry pie filling."

"What did you think of Tarquin, Mom?" Tabby asked brightly, changing the subject.

"He's rather charming, for a Pokèmon," Agatha declared. "I really must learn more about those things."

"Oh, I can teach you everything," Tabby said enthusiastically.

"You'd better be able to; you're the Pokèmon nurse," Sugarberry pointed out.

"I'd kinda like to get a Togepi if I ever get a Pokèmon for myself," Chocolate Chip said thoughtfully.

"Togepi? But it's so... unsettling," Tabby said slowly.

"However," Agatha said firmly, ending the conversation on Pokèmon, "those lessons will have to wait until the more important matters are attended to."

"Like getting me married," Tabby muttered under her breath.

"Precisely," Agatha said brightly, overhearing her daughter's remark.

"Well, shall we sit down to eat?" Sugarberry suggested.

Seated around the table, the four ponies were too busily occupied with talking to pay much attention to the meal. "So, you just got here this afternoon, Agatha?" Sugarberry queried.

"Correct," Agatha nodded. "I would have caught an earlier flight, but it just wasn't possible."

"Well, it's still two weeks before Christmas," Chocolate Chip pointed out.

"Yes, but I want to spend every possible second with Tabby and her friends," Agatha declared.

"Aww," Sugarberry sighed happily.

She wants to spend every possible second getting me married, Tabby figured to herself.

Their conversation progressed onto several more topics, but the time to leave finally arrived. "And, Sugarberry, it's been lovely talking to you and Chocolate Chip, and thank you very much for the meal," Agatha started, pushing back her chair. "But Tabitha and I should go back to her house now to prepare for the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe."

"Of course," Sugarberry smiled. "I'll be there, too, so we'll probably run into each other later."

"You've still got to tell me more about Italy, Agatha," Chocolate Chip added.

"We have to wash the dishes, so you'll get there before us, Tabby," Sugarberry winked.

"Dishes?" Agatha's eyes flew open. "Why, Sugarberry--"

"Oh, that's fine," Sugarberry assured her. "Chocolate Chip and I will do okay. You go along on your way."

"Wonderful," Tabby said weakly, not sure whether she would rather endure dish-drying with Sugarberry or a make-over by her mother.

* * *
"Tabby, your mane is lop-sided!" Agatha protested as she primped over Tabby's appearance in preparation for the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe.

"Lop-sided?" Tabby questioned, cocking her head.

"And your necklace is hanging crookedly," Agatha frowned as she adjusted the silver chain around her daughter's neck.

"It's just the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, Mom," Tabby said helplessly. "There's no need for jewelry."

"Now, Tabitha," Agatha said seriously. "Your father gave me this necklace after a trip involving the flying saucer men. Or was it the Incan Yetis? Wait, no, something to do with Loch Ness--"

"That's fascinating," Tabby murmured, looking down at the chain with newfound respect. She'd never known her father, as he was lost on a hiking expedition in the Himalaya Mountains shortly before she was born. She only knew him through the tales her mother told her.

"I suppose you look satisfactory now," Agatha said critically after messing with Tabby's mane.

"You didn't make this much of a fuss when we went over to Sugarberry's," Tabby pointed out.

"There were no young stallions at Sugarberry's house," Agatha said immediately.

"You're not really going to teach me to cook, are you?" Tabby asked hesitantly after a moment's silence.

Agatha raised her eyebrows. "Of course I am! You need the training."

"I'll fail. You'll see," Tabby said confidently.

"Tabitha, we must get to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe," Agatha urged, changing the subject. "Tamara is ahead of us, and I must find out more about this Tex, as well as your Thomas."

Tabby lifted her head up into the air in order to look unconcerned. "Of course, Mom." She swiftly thrust open her front door and walked off into the dark evening.

"Tabitha, be sure to walk with your hooves pointing outwards!" Agatha called after her as she locked the door up.

* * *
"Well, here we are," Tabby commented, stopping as they reached the building of the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe.

"It doesn't look much different from before," Agatha said, scrutinizing the establishment. "I still remember the time after we got married when Hubert brought me here..." she trailed off with a starry look in her eyes.

"Come on, we might as well go inside," Tabby prodded. "It's no use standing out here all night."

"Oh, yes, of course." Agatha came out of her daydream and followed Tabby through the door. "I suppose you still always insist upon having a strawberry sundae, Tabitha."

"Obviously," Tabby said promptly. "Nothing can compare to a strawberry sundae."

"Just like Hubert," Agatha commented.

"Another relative of yours visiting, Tabby?" a voice queried from behind.

Tabby whirled around. She knew that voice. "Oh! Thomas!" she exclaimed. "Well, eh, yes, actually--"

"I'm Agatha Fershund," Agatha said promptly, extending her hoof to the white unicorn. "Tabitha's mother."

"I could see the family resemblance," Thomas said, shaking Agatha's hoof, "though it's not as striking as between Tabby and Tamara. I'm Thomas, by the way, Mrs. Fershund."

"Thomas? Wonderful," Agatha said, smiling triumphantly to herself and quickly taking hold of the conversation. "I have heard mention of you."

"What brings you to Dream Valley?" Thomas questioned.

"Just the holidays," Agatha laughed. "I thought it'd be wonderful to come here for a change, especially after Tabitha's visit earlier this year."

"She just got here this afternoon," Tabby put in quickly. It was hard even for Tabby to contribute to a conversation once her mother got into it.

"Unexpectedly, just like Tamara?" Thomas winked. "It is fascinating to be able to meet your mother, Tabby."

"Why don't we all order and sit down?" Agatha suggested. "I can't wait to acquaint myself with Tabby's friends."

After the three were seated, Tabby absentmindedly stirred a spoon through her strawberry sundae as Agatha took hold of the conversation. Man, it is only two weeks until Christmas, Tabby mused, as if realizing it for the first time. And I don't have a single present picked out for anybody.

"It was so kind of you to pay for our orders, Thomas," Agatha commented.

"Oh, it was nothing for two lovely laides such as yourselves," Thomas said in dismissal.

Last year I was off in Atlantis around this time, Tabby figured to herself. I don't think I bothered with presents then.

"And you work as a veterinarian?" Agatha continued. "Is it a good business?"

"It is the only clinic of its kind in Dream Valley, so I have a lot of pets to attend to," Thomas pointed out. "Though it was easier before Tabby ran of to become the Pokèmon nurse," he added cheerfully, glancing in her direction.

"Probably the moonstone, but I'm not sure," Tabby said thoughtfully, staring out the window. "Oh! Excuse me! I was just pondering over the secrets of Atlantis," she explained. "What was that you said?"

"I was just commenting that you make a better vet than a Pokèmon nurse," Thomas said innocently.

Tabby looked indignant. "I make a better Pokèmon nurse than anyone else," she sniffed.

"I'm just kidding, Tabby. You know that," Thomas apologized.

"Whatever the case, your vet clinic is a well-to-do business?" Agatha directed at Thomas.

"As well-to-do as Tabby's status at the Pokèmon Center," Thomas decided.

Agatha glanced suspiciously at her daughter. "Your job is well-paying, isn't it, Tabitha?"

"I guess so," Tabby said after a pause. "Except that I spend most of it on My Little People."

Agatha raised her eyebrows. "Considering the money you put into those things, I'll assume that you mean it is a good job."

"You still have to see my collection, Mom," Tabby said eagerly. "I simply adore showing off all my My Little People."

"But you could be devoting your time to doing more valuable things than buying toys," Agatha frowned slightly.

"Are you saying that I should get rid of my collection?" Tabby's eyes flashed as she assumed a standing position.

"Calm down, Tabby," Thomas advised. "I'm sure she doesn't mean anything by it."

"No, of course not," Agatha said quickly. "But you could, for example, devote some of your paycheck to--"

"Oh, Aunt Agatha, there you are!" Tamara's voice exclaimed as she slid into the booth, with Tex right next to her. "Aunt Agatha, this is Tex, the owner of the salsa shop; and Tex, this is my aunt, Agatha."

Agatha looked up at this comment. "So, Tamara, this is Tex," she said critically.

"Tamara told me about your arrival," Tex explained. "Pleased to meet you."

"I'm sure," Agatha murmured. "Tex, you're the salsa shop owner?"

"That's right," Tex nodded. "It's always been my dream in life to own such a place."

"And I help him out there sometimes," Tamara added. "It's really a nice establishment."

"You could always set your dreams higher," Agatha suggested, smiling slightly, so her remark could be taken as an innocent joke-- not the way she had meant it to herself.

"Ah... yes," Tex grinned uneasily. "So, what do you think of Dream Valley after your long absence, Agatha?"

"The city itself is fine," Agatha said after a pause, "but I'm not so sure about the decisions Tamara is making in her life."

Tabby and Thomas during this time had been siting in silence and watching the scene before them. "The last time I saw her like this," Tabby commented with a look of enjoyment in her eyes, "was when Mom found out about the worms Tex had placed in my lunchbox."

"Yes, the worm incident," Agatha said coolly, overhearing Tabby's remark. "In fact, I hate worms even worse than Tabitha does."

"Aunt Agatha--" Tamara started.

"Please! I've tried to clear my name of that," Tex said pleadingly.

"But everybody knows you did do it," Tabby pointed out.

"I know I did it," Tex stuttered, "what I meant was--"

"It isn't very enjoyable spending an afternoon-- and part of the evening-- in the principal's office discussing worms," Agatha continued.

"He's tried to make it up to everyone involved," Tamara said in defense.

"Hah!" Tabby laughed. "All Tex has ever done in that regard is mumble something about ‘forgiveness'."

"But I was telling the truth," Tex persisted.

"For once, Tabitha has the right idea about something," Agatha said snobbishly.

"Tabby's wrong! Aunt Agatha, you're wrong!" Tamara wailed.

"Agatha, tell me one thing I can do to gain your forgiveness, and I'll do it," Tex said fervently.

"Tsk, tsk," Tabby said, shaking her head. "Now you're even beginning to sound like--"

"There's nothing you can do, Tex," Agatha said loftily. "You had no right to stick worms in Tabitha's lunchbox."

"He obviously had no discipline," Tabby nodded knowledgeably. "And still doesn't."

"Exactly," Agatha agreed. "Much unlike my Tabitha."

Tex's eyes swiveled from Agatha to Tabby and back again, and finally gave them a weak smile. "Um, well, you know," he said abruptly, jumping up from his seat. "I just remembered something I have to get done. I'll, um, see you all later." Realizing that resistance was futile, he fled from the shop.

Tamara threw her cousin and aunt a last disapproving glance, and then ran off after him. Agatha and Tabby said for several moments in a smug silence.

Thomas was the first to say anything. "Even Tex is no match for two Fershunds," he said in awe.

* * *
"Lasagne?" Tabby asked skeptically, staring at the recipe card her mother had handed her.

"That's correct," Agatha nodded. It was the next afternoon, and she was determined to start Tabby on her cooking lessons.

"But doesn't that take a long time?" Tabby prodded.

"Yes, but the experience will be worth it," Agatha said firmly, trotting on into the kitchen. "Now, where do you keep your pots and pans?"

"Oh... somewhere," Tabby said vaguely, strolling in after Agatha.

Agatha began opening cupboard doors. "Oh, here they are!" she exclaimed, surveying the stack of metal dishes. "This one should do--" She was cut off as she pulled down the first pan and glanced inside it. "Why, Tabitha! This is absolutely filthy with dust!"

"Hmm." Tabby came over and looked at the pot for herself. "I guess it has been awhile since I used any of those."

"However does Tamara get by?" Agatha queried.

"Oh, I think she just buys microwaveable stuff," Tabby said, unconcerned. "So what're we going to cook in this thing?"

"We're not cooking anything in it yet," Agatha said, promptly walking over to the sink. "The dishes we're going to use must all be washed first if we want this lasagne to be sanitary."

"O-o-oh," Tabby nodded. "You wash; I'll dry." She instinctively took her place next to the dishdrainer, towel in hoof, while Agatha filled the sink.

"Have you seen Tamara at all today?" Agatha queried, placing the first dish into the water.

"No, not really," Tabby shook her head after a moment in thought. "Do you suppose we upset her last night?"

"Probably," Agatha said knowledgeably, "but she must learn sooner or later that Tex is not worthy of her companionship."

"That's exactly what I was thinking," Tabby nodded vigorously, wiping her towel around the pan Agatha handed her.

"I'll have to talk to Tamara again this evening," Agatha mused. "That should give her sufficient time to cool down."

"I always knew Tex was trouble since the first time I laid eyes on him in sixth grade," Tabby said venomously, nearly dropping the pan she was holding as her thoughts got carried away.

"Yes, I'm really disappointed that Tamara got mixed-up with him," Agatha sighed. "I can't imagine what her parents think. Do they keep in contact with her? It's so surprising that you actually made a better decision in this department than your cousin did."

"Really?" Tabby gasped. To get her mother's approval on anything was practically a miracle.

"Oh, yes," Agatha affirmed. "Thomas is quite charming-- and successful, too, by the sounds of it. Whereas Tex, on the other hoof, is--"

"Despicable," Tabby filled in for her.

"Right," Agatha continued. "No pony of well-breeding would have stooped so low as to put worms in anyone's lunchbox."

"Weed-o would have," Tabby said absentmindedly.

"I'd nearly forgotten about Guide since I arrived here," Agatha laughed. "There's been too much to do."

"He's easy to forget," Tabby offered.

"Actually, it's a good thing you reminded me of him. I'm still going to save him for you for the present moment," Agatha decided.

"Why, Mom? I can't stand him," Tabby protested.

"You'll need someone to fall back on if you and Thomas ever break up," Agatha advised. "I don't believe he'd do such a thing, but you..."

"Mom!" Tabby said indignantly.

"Well, anyhow, we have finished washing everything we'll need," Agatha declared, drying her hooves off.

"Bi-i-ig fun," Tabby mumbled under her breath as she prepared herself for the onslaught of instructions.

The actual fixing of the lasagne did not go so well. First, Tabby nibbled down all the grated cheese while waiting for the noodles to cook; and then she let those cook too long, so they simply fell apart. She managed to burn the hamburger; and it would seem that cutting an onion up wouldn't be too hard, but Tabby proved that wrong. She immediately cut her hoof on the knife, and that caused her to drop most of the onion slices on the floor, rendering them useless.

Upon viewing the finished disaster, Agatha simply said, "You'll do better next time."

* * *
"AHHH! HELP ME! HELP ME-E-E-E-E!" Tabby screamed as she ran at top speed into the Pokèmon Center the next morning.

After the initial shock, Tarquin walked over and inspected his trainer, who was now cowering under the computer desk. "What happened this time, Tabby?"

"You must protect me with your life against that thing outside, Tarquin," Tabby said fervently.

Tarquin calmly turned around and walked towards the main door. He knew by now that Tabby was very prone to overreacting. This sort of thing had happened a million times before.

The Meowth opened the glass-plated door and peered around. "Is that all?" he mused as he noticed the figure standing on the steps.

Tabby, meanwhile, had ventured out from under the desk and was readjusting her nurse's cap. "Tarkie, is it gone yet?" she asked anxiously.

Tarquin stayed outside several more moments, apparently acquainting himself with the villain that had so frightened Tabby. Finally, he came back in, with the other creature following.

"It's just a Mr. Mime," Tarquin explained. "He needs help."

"Mr. Mime," the short somewhat human-like Pokèmon agreed.

At this, Tabby let out another ear-splitting screech. "NO-O-O! TARQUIN, THAT WAS MY POINT! YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO EVICT IT FROM THE PROPERTY!"

"Tabby?" Tarquin queried, waiting until she had calmed down.

"I don't like Mr. Mimes," Tabby whispered, slowly dropping to the floor. "I don't like mimes of any kind. It's creepy, Tarquin."

"Mime?" The Mr. Mime stared down at the floor.

"Don't worry," Tarquin instructed the other Pokèmon, and then turned back to Tabby. "You can't be scared of him. You're a Pokèmon nurse," he pointed out. "You can't leave Mr. Mimes out."

"But-- but--" Tabby faltered, backing farther into the room. "It's a mime. It's as bad as giant squid!"

"Just wait'll someone brings in a Tentacruel," Tarquin muttered under his breath.

Tabby's eyes opened wide. "I'd never even thought of that! Tentacruels do look like squid! Oh no-o-o-o-o!"

"Tabby," Tarquin said sharply, "this Mr. Mime has been abandoned right before Christmas, and he came here for help. If you turn him down, who knows what it'll do to your reputation?"

Tabby stared into Tarquin's stormy eyes, and began to regret what she had said. She hated having him mad at her. Using all the energy she could muster, she pulled herself over to the main counter, where the two Pokèmon were waiting. "What's the full story?"

"Mister mime, mime! Mime, mime, mister mime!" Mr. Mime began rattling off, throwing his hands out in the air to elaborate.

"His trainer was too busy over the holiday season, and let him go to fend for himself," Tarquin translated.

"Mime, mister mime," Mr. Mime added.

"But he managed to get to Dream Valley, and saw the Pokèmon Center," Tarquin continued. "He knew there'd be someone who could do something for him here." He glanced at Tabby.

"Mime," Mr. Mime affirmed.

"Well," Tabby gulped. "Well, I guess I'll check you over for any injuries." She began striding across the room towards the examination table.

A smile spread across Mr. Mime's face. "Mime!" He obediently followed Tabby and jumped up on the counter. Tarquin stood by to ensure that Tabby didn't do anything rash.

Tabby was cautious as she inspected the Pokèmon, but she had to admit that he was cooperative. Her fear of mimes had been firmly installed in her since she was a baby pony, but in her career as a Pokèmon nurse, she hadn't had to worry about treating a Mr. Mime... before now.

"Oh, poor thing, you've got a cut," Tabby murmured before realizing what she had said. "That is-- I'll put some ointment on it." She reached for the tube and lathered the cream onto Mr. Mime's shoulder.

"Mister mime!" he said brightly. "Mister mime!"

"But that's all," Tabby continued. "You're free to go now." She turned around and began heading out of the room.

"Mime..." Mr. Mime said slowly, his face looking a bit dejected.

"Tabby," Tarquin said after a pause, "it would be appreciated if you'd let him stay here until he can find a new trainer."

"Mime," Mr. Mime clarified, nodding.

"Well... I suppose there's room for him," Tabby said thoughtfully. "He can just go in a PokèBall. Tarquin, you--"

"Mime! Mister mime!" Mr. Mime exclaimed as he jumped down off the counter and ran towards Tabby. Throwing his arms around her front legs, he exclaimed, "Mime!"

Tabby stared down at him, and her heart began to slowly melt. Her face softened. "Very well. I can take you."

"Mime!" Mr. Mime smiled.

"Then I'll put you in a PokèBall and you can go with the other Pokèmon needing homes," Tabby said quickly, impulsively bending down and picking up the Mr. Mime.

Tarquin looked on in approval. "Are you sure your old trainer won't want you back?" he queried.

"Mister... mime," Mr. Mime said slowly and mysteriously.

"Well, anyhow," Tabby went on, reaching for a PokèBall. "You can just get in this PokèBall here--"

"Mime!" Mr. Mime said firmly, jumping down from Tabby's grasp and avoiding the beam of light from the ball.

Tabby looked puzzled. "What, you don't like PokèBalls?"

"M-m-mime..." Mr. Mime said indecisively.

And just then, the doors to the Pokèmon Center opened and a human figure strode in on the scene. "The problem isn't with the PokèBall, miss," he said simply. "My Mr. Mime has just been doing some good miming for me."

"Your Mr. Mime?" Tabby echoed. "But... but didn't you abandon him?"

"Oh, no, of course not," the man said. "That was simply a story I made up. I sent him here to test you."

"Test me on what? And say..." Tabby stared at the man's face. She had seen this guy before... she knew him... "That's right! You're that dude that gave me that treasure map!" she exclaimed. Now she remembered. Months back, when she was still working as a veterinarian, this same person had come into the clinic. Rather mysterious, he had ended up paying with a ancient map that supposedly led to a great treasure.

"You remember, then?" the man smiled. "The reason I sent Mr. Mime here was to test your abilities as a Pokèmon nurse, and to see if you could overcome your fear of mimes."

"Wait a second!" Tabby said suspiciously. "Just how did you know I don't like mimes?"

"There are ways of finding out," the man said cryptically. "However, the main thing is that you have passed the test."

"You don't say..." Tabby murmured. She and Tarquin were both looking at each other with blank faces.

"And, as a result, Mr. Mime is yours to keep," the man continued. "Consider him a Christmas present from me."

"Mr. Mime? Mine?" Tabby echoed.

"Mime! Mime!" Mr. Mime said gleefully, running back over to Tabby.

"But-- who are you?" Tabby demanded of the man. "Where do you come from? What--"

"Perhaps you will find out someday," he said simply. "Farewell." With that, he disappeared out the door.

Tabby blinked several times. "I guess I've got a Mr. Mime."

"Guess so," Tarquin agreed.

"Mister mime!" Mr. Mime exclaimed.

"You're really rather cute," Tabby murmured, staring down at Mr. Mime. "Once I get used to you, that is."

"You see, Tabby, you wouldn't have ended up with him if you'd ignored him," Tarquin pointed out.

"Mime," Mr. Mime agreed.

"Oh, it will be nice having a Mr. Mime," Tabby sighed blissfully. "But what is up with that strange guy? I've gotten a treasure map and a Pokèmon out of him, but still nobody knows who he is."

"You must know something about him," Tarquin said, looking at Mr. Mime.

Mr. Mime just smiled to himself and shook his head. "Mime, mime!"

"Someday he'll reveal himself again," Tabby said decisively. "And then I'll find out what he's up to."

"Or maybe you'll just get another Pokèmon," Tarquin suggested.

"True," Tabby nodded. "Which wouldn't be half bad, either. But something tells me he's not going to show up again in the near future..."

"Mister mime," was all Mr. Mime had to say on the topic.

* * *
"Oh, you're going to New Pony for your Christmas shopping?" Tamara asked in a rather dull tone as Tiffany explained to her about her latest plan that evening.

"Yes!" Tiffany clarified. "I booked a flight for tomorrow morning, and I'll get back on Friday. There just aren't any decent gifts to be found in this town."

"I could really stand to get out of ‘this town' for awhile, too," Tamra grimaced.

"Really? Why's that?" Tiffany's ears perked up at the sound of regret in Tamara's voice. "Is there something I don't know?" She had been making preparations for Christmas the past few days, and hadn't had much time for gossip.

"Aunt Agatha thinks I should break up with Tex," Tamara said in a huffy voice. "It's getting annoying."

Tiffany looked at her sympathetically. "That's unfortunate. I still must stop in and see Mrs. Fershund. If she lives in Italy, she ought to know a lot about the latest fashions there."

"Just be careful if she decides Toby is too poor to be seen with you," Tamara said sarcastically.

"Well, as rich as he should be-- being a doctor and all-- he still hasn't given me any engagement ring," Tiffany sniffed.

"Anyway, I'm just getting sick of all this talk from Aunt Agatha," Tamara fumed. " ‘He's just a lowly salsa shop owner. You're so much more sophisticated than he is. He doesn't come from a rich family,' " she mimicked.

"Why don't you just come with me to New Pony?" Tiffany suggested.

Tamara's eyes opened wide at the prospect, but they quickly dimmed. "Could I get a plane ticket this late?"

"As a matter of fact, I bought two," Tiffany continued. "At first Dawn was going to go with me, but then she decided not to because she just met a ‘really cool stallion' from Friendship Gardens."

"So you mean...?" Tamara began.

"I'll let you use my extra ticket," Tiffany offered. "It'll help you get your mind off the situation with Tex."

"Oh, that'll be great, Tiffany!" Tamara exclaimed. "I'll owe you one for this!"

"Just pack your bags and meet me at the airport at eight o' clock tomorrow morning," Tiffany instructed.

"I'll be there!"

* * *
"This was a good idea to come here Christmas shopping," Tamara bubbled over excitedly as she and Tiffany walked through the crowded streets of New Pony. After they had checked in at their hotel, they had gone out in search of some really expensive gifts for their friends.

"Only I don't know what to get Toby yet," Tiffany frowned. "You'd think there'd be something that would work for him in one of these stores."

"Well, it wasn't that hard for me," Tamara reflected. "It was simply good luck that we stumbled across that display of designer cowboy hats."

"Tex already has a good supply of cowboy hats," Tiffany pointed out.

"But not a designer one like this," Tamara defended herself, but then sighed. "You're right. But there's nothing else to get him. Do you think Aunt Agatha might be right about him?"

"I wonder if I could get a diamond-studded stethoscope anywhere," Tiffany murmured to herself. "Oh! What was that, Tamara?"

"Do you suppose Tex is too lower-class for me?" Tamara said thoughtfully.

"Well, I'm sure he makes less than Toby does," Tiffany said after a pause. "But even what Toby makes doesn't seem to be enough to afford a diamond ring."

"I'll worry about it later," Tamara said, wiping the memory from her mind. "We should really find a place to eat supper. It's getting late in the day."

"That looks like an extra-expensive restaurant over there," Tiffany commented, pointing across the street.

"Perfect! Let's go!" Tamara readily agreed.

* * *
Later, when Tiffany and Tamara were served and seated at their "extra-expensive" restaurant, the two continued their gossip. "I wonder what Toby's going to get me for Christmas," Tiffany pondered.

"Maybe you'll get your engagement ring," Tamara suggested. "It's traditional."

"Perhaps," Tiffany said thoughtfully. "But I'm not sure if he's ever going to get around to that. That stallion can be so annoying at times!"

"Just like Tex," Tamara sighed, sobering.

The two sat in silence for several moments, moping over their luck. They were positive they were the worst-off mares in all of Ponyland... until a new voice greeted their ears.

"Why, Princess Tiffany, is that you?"

Tiffany looked up in surprise at the teal stallion with bright aqua hair that had stopped at their table, until a look of recognition spread across her face. "Jack! I didn't think I'd ever see you here!" she exclaimed, smiling dazzlingly.

"Jack?" Tamara looked puzzlingly at Tiffany.

"Do have a seat," Tiffany said quickly, motioning to the empty chair beside her, and then turned to Tamara for a moment. "I met Jack at one of those governmental affairs last year. I'm obligated to attend, being royalty, you know."

"Wow," Tamara said in awe as Jack seated himself at the table.

"...it was such a surprise to see you here, Tiffany, but I'd recognize that stunning silver hair of yours a mile away," Jack was saying to the white pegasus.

"Oh, you're too sweet," Tiffany said, batting her eyelashes rapidly.

"Um, Tiffany," Tamara spoke-up, slightly annoyed. "Don't you think you should introduce your friend to me as well?"

"Oh, yes," Tiffany said offhandedly, waving her hoof at Tamara. "Jack, this is one of my friends, Tamara. Now, you--"

"What a pleasure to meet you," Jack said, smiling charmingly at Tamara. "Do you live in Dream Valley as well?"

"I moved there earlier this year," Tamara affirmed. "I'm a breed cat shower." She paused and blushed after realizing her mistake. "That is-- a show breed catter. I mean-- a show cat breeder." She giggled nervously.

"That's fascinating," Jack commented. "And Tiffany, how are you getting on?"

"Oh, just fine," Tiffany said, sighing deeply.

"She's seeing a doctor who lives in Dream Valley," Tamara put in quickly before Jack could show any sympathy.

"You see, Jack," Tiffany began, grinning smugly at Tamara, "we came here in order to find a Christmas present for Tamara's boyfriend."

Tamara looked across the table murderously at Tiffany. "And, of course, Tiffany is looking for a diamond-studded stethoscope for Toby," she said, her voice sugary-sweet.

"They probably don't sell those at every jewelry store," Jack said with a laugh.

"You know I was just joking when I said that, Tamara," Tiffany chided. "I'm not so sure that Toby deserves a present from me, anyway."

"He's not up to standard, is he?" Jack commented.

"Toby is not going to be up to standard," Tiffany sniffed, "until he gives me a diamond ring."

"Oh, Tiffany! He's just waiting for Christmas," Tamara said reproachfully.

"That may be, but matters won't be changed until then," Tiffany retorted. "Oh, Jack, excuse me! Tamara and I have been talking about ourselves and you haven't been able to get a word in. Tell me, what brings you to New Pony?"

"Oh, Christmas shopping as well," Jack said in dismissal.

"For anyone in... particular?" Tiffany asked anxiously.

"To tell you the truth, I was planning on picking out something to send to you," Jack said, winking.

"That's so nice of you," Tiffany cooed.

"I'm making so much money, I couldn't leave you off my Christmas list," Jack explained.

That figures, Tamara thought sarcastically as she took note of Jack's symbol-- a pile of gold coins.

"You should really visit Dream Valley sometime," Tiffany urged. "It'd be so... exciting showing you around town."

"Tiffany, I might have to do that now that you suggested it," Jack said in agreement.

"Oh, yes!" Tamara added. "I--"

"Ladies, I must be going now," Jack said suddenly, looking up at the clock on the wall. "Tiffany, it was wonderful to see you again, and Tamara, a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Goodbye!" And with that, Jack was quickly off out the door and onto the busy street.

"He's cool," was all Tamara could say as she stared after him.

"Tamara, don't be getting any ideas," Tiffany said sharply. "You still have Tex."

"And you still have Toby," Tamara said bluntly.

"Well, then, neither of us has to go after him, right?" Tiffany said, smiling fakely. "But, oh, I wonder if he really will come to Dream Valley..."

* * *
"One more full day of shopping!" Tiffany exclaimed joyfully to Tamara the next morning as the two left their hotel to find a place to eat breakfast.

Tamara just sighed. "I just don't know what to do about Tex any more, Tiffany."

"Well, you can either continue seeing him or break up with him," Tiffany said matter-of-factly.

"Yes, but I don't know which one to go," Tamara said helplessly.

"You'll think of something," Tiffany said nonchalantly.

"That's a big help," Tamara muttered.

After the two had hunted down a restaurant and had ordered their breakfast, Tamara surveyed the expanse of tables. "Where should we sit?"

"How about--" Tiffany scanned the premises. "How about--" Her gaze landed on one of the center tables which was already occupied.

"What?" Tamara asked anxiously as Tiffany reeled back.

"It's them!" Tiffany gasped. "How in the world--" She and Tamara both immediately set off towards the table, where sat two familiar stallions.

"What are you two doing here?" Tamara demanded of them once she had reached her destination.

Toby and Tex both whirled around. "We could ask the same of you," Toby pointed out, noticing Tiffany standing next to Tamara.

"We're doing important Christmas shopping," Tiffany said primly.

"Have you found anything for us yet?" Tex teased Tamara.

"Perhaps," Tamara said distantly.

"Actually, we're here doing the same thing," Toby explained.

"And? Have you found us anything?" Tiffany laughed as she took the opportunity to slip into one of the extra chairs around the table. Tamara followed suite.

"Maybe," was all Tex said.

"It's ironic we're in the same city on the same day, isn't it?" Tiffany giggled.

"We were going to tell you both, but you've been so busy lately," Tex said.

"But at least it'll make shopping even more enjoyable," Toby smiled.

"Why, Tiffany! So we meet again!" a familiar voice pierced the air.

Tiffany looked up into Jack's face. "Why, Jack! How nice to run into you a second time!" she exclaimed.

"It is very ironic," Tamara mused, "how many ponies we run into that we know in this big city."

Jack took it upon himself to seat himself as well at the table. "So, more of your friends, Tiffany?" he grinned.

"Oh, yes, these two," Tiffany said, waving her hoof through the air in dismissal.

"Tiffany, would you care to introduce everyone to this acquaintance of yours?" Toby questioned, faking politeness.

"I'm Jack. I work in the government," Jack filled them in quickly.

"And Jack, these are Toby and Tex," Tiffany said in a tone that made them sound insignificant.

"Pleased to meet you," Tex said curiously.

"Yes, pleased, of course," Toby said in a none-too-happy voice.

"So, Jack, what are you doing today?" Tiffany asked cheerfully.

"Maybe you could hang around with us," Tamara suggested. "Don't you think that would be fun?"

"We're going to be busy enough without an extra tag-along," Toby pointed out.

"Well, then, you could just go off on your own, Toby," Tiffany retorted.

"As a matter of fact, I think I could stick around a few hours," Jack said brightly. "If it's no problem to anyone."

"Uh... I guess..." Tex said cautiously, glancing at Toby.

"Certainly. No problem at all," Toby muttered.

"Great!" Tamara said. "This is so awesome!"

"And Toby, stop looking at Jack like that," Tiffany chided. "You're not jealous, are you?"

"Who wouldn't be?" Toby retorted.

"Jack is just one of my old friends," Tiffany said primly. "You could be treating him with a little respect."

"And you could be conducting yourself better than flirting with him every chance you get," Toby snapped.

"But who ever said we were a couple, Toby?" Tiffany said with a steely look in her eyes. "Do I have a diamond ring on my hoof, hmm?"

"No, I can't believe I see one," Jack declared, taking Tiffany's hoof in his.

"Fine then, Tiffany," Toby stormed, abruptly standing up from his seat. "You can hang around with Jack if you like, but don't expect me to have pity on you once he's gone." With that, he angrily trotted out of the shop.

"He'll get over it," Tiffany said smoothly. "Now, to the rest of you, we have shopping to do, don't we?"

* * *
"I really don't think Toby was too happy with Jack," Tamara noted that night when she and Tiffany were back at their hotel and discussing the day's events.

"He'll think better of what he said after he's thought about it," Tiffany said reasonably. "I really don't see why he was so offended by me talking to Jack-- and I don't have an engagement ring, do I?"

"Well... no..." Tamara said slowly. "But still..."

"Besides, I don't think Tex was too happy with how you acted today, either," Tiffany pointed out. "I saw you batting your eyelashes at Jack."

"So were you; and Tex and I don't happen to be engaged, either," Tamara retorted.

"That's because-- because--" Before their argument could continue, someone knocked on the room's door. Tiffany quickly rose to answer it.

"Who was it?" Tamara asked anxiously as she heard Tiffany close the door after a short exchange of words with someone in the hallway.

Tiffany re-entered the room with a bouquet of roses clutched in her hooves. "Did you give Tex our hotel address?" she demanded.

"Well... yes," Tamara admitted. "In case they needed to contact us for anything..."

"That's good." Tiffany's face softened, and a smile crossed it. "Because these are from Toby, and he says he's sorry about what happened before. I told you so."

"How nice!" Tamara exclaimed. Now, if she sticks to that, I might have a chance at Jack...

"Everything will be back to normal once we get back to Dream Valley tomorrow," Tiffany assured her. "Jack won't be there, and Toby isn't going to hold a grudge." As she mentioned Jack, a new smile slowly inched across her face.

"But what about me and Tex?" Tamara fretted.

"Worry about it later," Tiffany yawned, putting her bouquet down on the dresser. "We leave tomorrow, and I'm tired."

"Sure," Tamara sighed. "Good night, then."

* * *
"When did Tamara say she was getting back, Tabitha?" Agatha queried. That same evening back in Dream Valley, Tabby was again showing off her cooking skills to her mother. The past few days had been spent showing Agatha the town and educating her on Pokèmon... as well as teaching Tabby how to cook.

"Sometime tomorrow," Tabby said distantly as she leaned against the counter staring out the window.

"Get back to work," Agatha chided. "You won't get supper done on time at this rate. But I'm certain Tamara will have changed her mind on Tex by the time she does get back."

"And it's only a week until Christmas," Tabby said abruptly. "I still don't have presents for anyone."

"You haven't done your Christmas shopping yet?" Agatha said in alarm.

"No, I haven't gotten around to it yet," Tabby clarified. "Not that I don't like shopping, you understand..."

"Well, you'll have to do something about that," Agatha said briskly. "Can you imagine the image you'd give yourself without gifts to hand out for Christmas?"

"Hmm..." Tabby paused in thought. "The same image I've given myself for the past few years, I suppose."

Agatha looked like she was going to say more, but refrained from doing so. "How about this weekend, on Saturday?" she suggested. "I'd be happy to help you make selections for everyone."

"Alright!" Tabby agreed readily. She never passed up a chance to go on a shopping expedition.

"Tabitha!" Agatha gasped. "Look what you just did!"

Tabby jumped as she realized the skillet in which she was supposedly simmering some fish was smoking profusely and the burner under it was red hot. "Oops!" she exclaimed as she grabbed the oven mitt and frantically tried to rescue the situation.

Agatha looked on in dismay. Cooking lessons with Tabby were more than she had bargained for.

* * *
Tabby decided that she could go without food until her sundae at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, and Agatha politely sampled only a small portion of the finished dish. "At least you won't overeat on this vacation," Tabby said cheerfully as she dumped the contents of the pan into Callie's food dish.

Callie promptly came out of her hiding place and purred happily as she began on yet another "gourmet" meal that week-- all of Tabby's cooking disasters had been given to her in the end. However, she abruptly stopped her purring as she realized her water dish was empty. She looked up at Tabby demandingly.

"Callie's a beautiful cat," Agatha commented as Tabby stomped off to fill the water dish.

"She's just not very affectionate," Tabby muttered.

"Well, she's picked that up from you after living here all this time," Agatha pointed out.

"Of course," Tabby muttered under her breath.

"And besides, she's really not unfriendly at all," Agatha continued as Callie strolled over to her and rubbed against her ankles.

"To some ponies," Tabby sniffed.

"Well, anyway," Agatha said cheerfully as Callie jumped up into her lap, "clear the table, would you, dear?"

"I hate dishes," Tabby moaned. "It's a waste of time."

"But after we're through with that, we'll go to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe," Agatha reminded.

"At least you don't have anything against that," Tabby said in relief.

"I'm mainly concerned about the young stallions that show up there as well," Agatha explained.

"Why, Mom? Are you going to pick one out for yourself?" Tabby snickered.

Agatha raised an eyebrow. "No, no, Tabitha. I'm concerned about keeping you and Tamara in line."

"And? How well am I staying in line?" Tabby prodded.

Agatha frowned in thought. "I'm still concerned about your lack of interest in jewelry and such."

"Just why is jewelry so important, Mom?" Tabby sighed.

"It makes a statement about your status in life," Agatha said primly. "And if you're a well-paid Pokèmon nurse, you should dress accordingly."

"Oh." Tabby paused for several moments, deciphering what this last comment meant. "But..."

"No excuses this night, Tabitha," Agatha said firmly. "If you're ever going to get any higher in life, you'll have to beautify your image."

"I've already gone from owning a cheap little vet clinic to being a dignified Pokèmon nurse," Tabby argued.

"You will only look dignified if you add the proper accessories," Agatha shot back.

"Oh, Mom!" Tabby suddenly gasped. "Look at how late it's gotten! If we do dishes or fuss over my image, we'll be late to the nightly gathering at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe; and imagine what that would do to my reputation!"

Agatha looked at her daughter skeptically. "You purposely kept on talking, didn't you?"

Tabby cocked her head. "Possibly. But we haven't time to discuss that, either. We're late! Late!" With that, she dashed down the hallway and scurried out the front door.

Agatha sighed as she followed after, setting Callie on the floor. It was difficult keeping Tabby in line.

* * *
Everything was uneventful at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, and the next day went so normally that Tabby was nearly driven out of her mind with boredom. No mortally-wounded Pokèmon were brought into the center. At home, Agatha began wrapping her Christmas gifts. In New Pony, Tiffany and Tamara attended to last-minute duties in the city before boarding their plane to fly home.

The peace of the day ended, however, late that afternoon when Tabby flung open her front door after getting off of work. "Hey, Mom! You won't be able to get me to fix supper tonight!" she called in a sing-song voice through the house.

Agatha got up from her seat in the living room, which had been made into her temporary bedroom, when she heard this racket. "Tabitha, you're not getting out of today's cooking lesson," she said sharply as her daughter trotted into the room.

Tabby shook her hoof through the air. "No, no, no. Not unless you want to refuse an invitation to the really-fancy-restuarant from Thomas."

"Really?" Agatha gasped.

"That's right; he's taking both of us," Tabby clarified. "And it certainly will be refreshing, because things have gotten so dull around here!"

"You know," Agatha said thoughtfully, "maybe I'd better not go. I'd hate to intrude on a date with you two."

"Oh, Mom," Tabby said impatiently, "don't worry about that. This is your first time back in Dream Valley for years. You've got to see all the sights."

"Alright, then," Agatha said briskly. "What did you say the name of the restaurant was?"

"It's just the... let's see..." Tabby paused in thought. "I don't know. Nobody remembers what it's called. It's just the really-fancy-restaurance-place."

Agatha looked horrified. "You can't remember the name of a restaurant?"

"But calling it the really-fancy-restaurant place is descriptive," Tabby pointed out.

"Oh! I bet it's the Estate Manor!" Agatha said brightly. "I remember the place now!"

"Ah, yes, that could be it," Tabby nodded.

"Now, we mustn't waste time talking any longer," Agatha said briskly. "I must get myself ready. And you, too."

Tabby stood silently in thought for several moments. All of her old arguments were getting old, and she couldn't come up with any new ones. In the end, she just sat down on the couch while Agatha browsed through her jewelry she'd brought along.

"It must look gaudy but simple," Agatha mumbled to herself.

"And thin but fat, wet but dry, short but long..." Tabby continued sarcastically.

Just then, the two heard the door open. They looked up in anticipation, and then saw Tamara standing in the doorway. "Why, Tamara!" Agatha exclaimed. "I assume you got back safetly?"

"Oh, yes!" Tamara said brightly. "It was rather fun. You'll never guess who Tiffany and I ran into in New Pony."

"Me see... no," Tabby decided.

"What?" Tamara looked at her cousin suspiciously.

"Just using some of my Furbish," Tabby explained.

"Tabitha, you are letting that toy collection of yours affect your life entirely too much," Agatha said in dissaproval. "Tamara, what was that you were saying?"

"We ran into Tex and Toby," Tamara explained.

"What was Tex doing in New Pony?" Agatha sniffed, setting her jewelry case aside.

"Christmas shopping as well," Tamara said. "And then one of Tiffany's old acqaintances showed up on the scene."

"And who was that?" Agatha questioned, never wanting to be left out of the latest gossip.

"His name's Jack," Tamara continued. "And he's terribly rich. Handsome, too."

"Let me guess. Tiffany dumped Toby for this Jack guy, right?" Tabby asked brightly.
"Well... just about," Tamara admitted.

"Just about?" Agatha prodded. "What happened?"

"Well, she says she made up with Toby and is forgetting about Jack, but I woudn't be surprised if she has sometime up her sleeve," Tamara said in a confidencal tone.

"That's fascinating," Agatha murmered, picking up a necklace from her stash. "What do you think of this one, Tamara?"

"Oh, are you going to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe?" Tamara asked brightly.

"No, the Estate Manor," Agatha said distantly. Her mind, as well as Tabby's, had wandered off of Tamara.

"The Estate Manor?" Tamara queried. "So, you--"

"You and Tex aren't going to be there too, are you?" Tabby interrupted.

"Speaking of Tex..." Tamara began. "I've been thinking about what you said, Aunt Agatha."

At that moment, the doorbell rang. "That'll be Thomas!" Tabby exclaimed, dashing to answer it.

"Hold that thought, Tamara," Agatha instructed. "We'll discuss your thoughts on Tex later." With that, she stood up from her seat; and with an elegant grace, trotted out of the room.

So they're going to the fancy restaurant with Thomas, Tamara thought bitterly, now all alone in the house as she heard the door close. Tex hasn't taken me there for months. She scowled, and picked up a magazine to pass the time until her cousin and aunt got back.

* * *
"Tabitha, the selection you made at the salad bar looks like a birdfood mix," Agatha frowned.

"Eh? Well, yours is just all lettuce," Tabby pointed out.

"Salad is supposed to be made up of mainly lettuce," Agatha said primly. "Don't you have any lettuce at all in there?"

"No, not really," Tabby said, pausing in thought. "I haven't used any lettuce in these things for years now." She stared down at her salad plate, which consisted of sunflower seeds, shredded cheese, croutons, mushrooms, and cottage cheese-- but not a sign of lettuce.

"We've had this discussion with her thousands of times before. You'd better stop now, Agatha," Thomas advised.

"Oh, you two do remind me so much of Hubert and I in our younger days," Agatha sighed suddenly.

"What... what exactly did happen to your husband, Agatha?" Thomas asked cautiously.

"He disappeared without a trace twenty-five years ago," Tabby said mysteriously.

"It was on a hiking expedition in the Himalayan mountains," Agatha recalled. "I never received any word back from him, and any search parties that were sent out didn't come back with any useful information."

"That's very strange," Thomas said thoughtfully. "What was he doing in the Himalayas? If you don't mind talking about it, of course."

"Incan Yetis," Agatha said confidently. "Hubert was in search of Incan Yetis. He held to the belief that Incan Yetis had been dropped in the Himalayas by the flying saucer people."

"That's... fascinating," Thomas said slowly.

"I know it sounds farfetched, but it was Hubert's dream to find one someday," Agatha sighed.

"He's probably just been seeking enlightenment in an Incan temple in the Himalayas all this time," Tabby said knowledgeably.

"I hope so, dear," was all Agatha said.

Tabby stared down into her salad in contemplation. This conversation had reached a dead point, and she was bored.

Thomas was the first to break the silence. "You know, my sister is planning on visiting Dream Valley next week," he commented suddenly.

"O-o-oh," Tabby said slowly. "That would be..."

"Elaine," Thomas clarified.

"Christmas is such a nice time, with so many family gatherings," Agatha said blissfully.

Tabby did not know much about this sister of Thomas'; she had only been mentioned in passing a few times. However, Tabby suspected that Thomas missed Elaine more than he let on.

"And when is she planning on arriving?" Agatha prodded further.

"Wednesday or so," Thomas said. "It's the earliest she can get here, with classes and other stops she wants to make."

"She's attending college?" Agatha queried.

"Yes, she's an aspiring veterinarian, following behind me," Thomas explained, smiling slightly.

"That's fascinating," Tabby murmured, feeling pushed to the background. So, Elaine was coming; and she would most assuredly be the center of Thomas' attention over the holidays. Tabby could tell that trouble was brewing.

* * *
"Now, Tamara, would you like to talk now?" Agatha said briskly. It was later that night, after she and Tabby had gotten back home; and now she was going to confront Tamara.

"I've been thinking about what you said about Tex," Tamara began.

"I could care less about what you think of Tex," Tabby snapped, stalking upstairs to her room.

"And?" Agatha looked piercingly at her niece.

"Are you really positive he's too lower-class for me?" Tamara asked earnestly.

"Oh, yes, most assuredly," Agatha nodded vigorously. "I'm sure your mother would agree with me on the matter as well."

"I wasn't really listening to what you said until I realized that the only things I ever buy him are cowboy hats," Tamara continued. "It makes gift-selecting so boring."

"Which is why you should wipe your hooves clean of him," Agatha said briskly. "If he doesn't care for anything besides hats, there's no reason to hang around him."

"That's exactly right!" Tamara agreed readily. She was sold on Agatha's advice now. "Then I'll... then I'll... I'll tell him tomorrow that I won't be seeing him anymore."

"Good," Agatha said to herself smugly as Tamara trotted out the door. "There won't be any memories of the worm incident in this family."

* * *
"Tabitha, what are you doing?" Agatha said groggily at six-thirty the next morning, pushing herself up to an upright position on the couch.

"It's time for Sailor Moon," Tabby said matter-of-factly, inserting a tape into the VCR in preparation to record. She appeared to be in good humor again, as Elaine's arrival had been pushed to the back of her mind.

"Not more cartoons," Agatha moaned. "I'm glad to see you get an early start to the day, but..."

"They skipped over the episode with Emerald's death," Tabby said indignantly, ignoring her mother's comment. "Isn't that terrible?"

"Of course, Tabitha," Agatha said distantly. "Since you got me up, I might as well get prepared for our shopping today."

"Shopping? Really?" Tabby squealed. "What're we looking for?"

"You have to do your Christmas shopping, remember?" Agatha reminded.

"Oh, yeah," Tabby said absentmindedly. "Right." Her attention was diverted by the Sailor Moon theme song.

Agatha just sighed and attended to her morning duties. Tabby appeared in the kitchen after half an hour had elapsed. "Hey, Mom, what's for breakfast?" she asked brightly.

"I just baked some chocolate muffins. Though I really should have had you make these, I didn't want them to get ruined," Agatha explained.

"Wonderful!" Tabby exclaimed, diving towards the muffin pan. "Ack! Hot! Hot!"

"Tamara announced last night that she has it in her intentions to break-up with Tex," Agatha went on, ignoring Tabby's discomfort from the singeing muffin she held in her hoof.

"And I thought she'd never give in to us," Tabby said in awe.

"She only really agreed to it once I brought up the fact that your Aunt Lynette would disapprove of him as well," Agatha winked.

"Clever," Tabby breathed.

"And, back to the shopping you have to get done," Agatha changed the subject. "I've prepared this list of everyone you need a gift for."

Tabby snatched the paper from Agatha's hoof and scanned it over. "Hmm... hmm... hmm..." she murmured. "Wait a sec. What's this bit about Baby Noddins?"

"Oh, I had a chat with her that night at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe when you and Clever Clover were arguing over something," Agatha explained. "She really looks up to you. You ought to get her something."

Tabby grimaced, but didn't say any more on the topic. "Well, what store are we going to start at?"

"Pony-Mart opens earliest; we'll go there first," Agatha decided. "We might as well get an early start, if you're ready to go."

"I'm always ready for shopping," Tabby declared, grabbing her purse and heading towards the door.

* * *
"We're not going to find anything in the toy aisles," Agatha said firmly as they arrived at Pony-Mart and Tabby set off on her regular course.

"But-- but-- a My Little People doll for Baby Noddins!" Tabby made up on the spur of the moment. Hmm, Baby Noddins might come in handy after all, she thought idly.

"That's true," Agatha consented. "Alright, pick one out for her, and then we'll get down to business."

"I'll get her Cynthia," Tabby decided, indicating the long-haired doll in a flowing blue dress.

"How you keep them all straight, I'll never know," Agatha sighed, inspecting the My Little People Tabby held. "This one looks rather like a ghost," she noted, seeing Cynthia's pale complexion.

Tabby shrugged. "She's the hardest-to-find one here," she explained. "So there's less of a chance it's one Baby Noddins doesn't have already. If I got her a duplicate, she'd probably annoy me into infinity.

"Of course," Agatha mumbled, deep in thought. "Now, let's see... what should we look for now..." She strolled out of the aisle, and Tabby followed behind.

"I think I'll get Tarquin a... a... not another yarnball, that's for sure," Tabby plotted out. "Cherry pie filling is too ordinary. Well, he'd probably like something that he could give to Tess--" She was cut off when a display up ahead caught her eye.

"For Thomas, I was thinking--" Agatha began.

"A Furby," Tabby sighed blissfully, dashing towards the display.

"Tabitha!" Agatha gasped in horror. "That is not--"

"A Furby is the perfect gift for anyone," Tabby declared, swiping up one of the pentagonal boxes. "It'll be perfect for him." Tabby herself had a Furby in her possession-- a beautiful sky blue one with the name of Ah-Loh. She'd grown very close to him, and fervently believed that her beloved Furby was more than an aniamatronic toy. Unfortunately, Ah-Loh had stopped working the day before Halloween; but Tabby had not lost hope that he would someday come back.

Agatha decided not to say anymore as of now-- perhaps if she didn't comment she could convince Tabby to change her mind later. "Whatever you want, Tabitha," she said simply, and continued on her path through the store.

Tabby stared down into the orange Furby's aqua eyes. There was something about those eyes that drew her in... something mysterious and unexplainable. She was certain it was a wise purchase.

* * *
"And that's everything!" Tabby declared jubilantly as she and Agatha made their last purchase, much later that day.

"But now you'll have to get busy wrapping it all," Agatha reminded, holding several of Tabby's shopping bags.

"I'll get it done sometime," Tabby said in dismissal.

"I know you, Tabitha," Agatha said sharply. "You'll leave it to the last minute and never get it done. As soon as we get home, you're going to sit down and attend to the wrapping. And I'll be there to supervise."

"Great," Tabby sighed. "But there's an awful lot." They'd come across many good gifts that morning besides Cynthia and the Furby-- a book of bird poetry for Sugarberry, a gift certificate from the jewelry shop for Tarquin, a diamond-studded PokèBall for Tamara (that had been Tabby's idea), and many others.

"Plus, after you've finished with that, it'll most likely be time to start preparing supper," Agatha said cheerfully.

"Oh, no," Tabby groaned.

"You're going to get the hang of it," Agatha said, trying to sound confident; but even her confidence in her daughter's cooking abilities was diminishing rapidly.

"Please! You've got to stop making me do this," Tabby pleaded desperately.

"We'll see, Tabitha, we'll see," was all Agatha said.

* * *
As it turned out, Saturday's meal was a complete failure like all the others before it; and Sunday's dish was no better. By this point, Agatha certainly had had enough.

"Tabitha," she said after a pause, "I think we'll take a break from cooking for a bit."

"Oh, that's positively wonderful!" Tabby said gleefully. "I knew it wouldn't take long to give up on me."

"I'm not giving up on you; you're simply going to take a break," Agatha said primly.

"Speaking of a break," Tabby began, giving Callie yet another substantial dinner, "hasn't Tamara had a chance to talk to Tex yet?"

"Unfortunately, no," Agatha frowned. "She avoided going out at all yesterday, and she said she had some important papers concerning her pedigreed cats to work on today."

"We'll get her to tell that jerk off," Tabby said venomously.

"Of course we will," Agatha said confidently. "If only her mother were here! She'd certainly talk some sense into the girl."

"I hope Aunt Lynette doesn't show up on a visit, too," Tabby sighed.

"I'll agree with you on that situation, because you haven't any more spare bedrooms," Agatha frowned.

"And Sugarberry said that her parents are going to try to get here as well," Tabby added. "More new ponies, in addition to Elaine."

"That's right, there's Elaine, as well," Agatha recalled. "Have you ever met her before?"

Tabby shook her head. "No, never."

"Thomas seems to be anticipating her arrival," Agatha commented. "They're very close to one another, I imagine."

"I guess," Tabby said distantly, staring off into space.

"I've always liked the name Elaine," Agatha continued. "That's why it's your middle name."

"Say, Tiffany called last night, and she's finally set a date for her Christmas party," Tabby said abruptly. "She had the thought to put me on the guest list-- and you, too."

"She's quite a dignified young princess," Agatha said. "I was able to talk to her the other night. Has she been busy?"

"Tiffany is always busy when she's planning a party," Tabby said sarcastically. "It's supposed to be at the Royal Paradise on Thursday evening."

"Lovely!" Agatha exclaimed. "I can't wait to see that place."

Just then, Tamara entered the room. "I'm going to meet Tex at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe now," she declared, holding her head up high.

"Good luck!" Tabby called as Tamara opened the front door, unsure of what else to say in such a situation.

"Don't stall for time," Agatha added her advice. "It's best to get these things over as soon as possible."

"Yes, I know!" Tamara shouted back, stepping outside and closing the door. "I'll see you two later!" And then she resolutely trotted onwards to determine her fate of the night.

On her way to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, Tamara plotted out different things to say when she confronted Tex. Tex, I'm afraid that since you're so boring to shop for, I can't be seen with you anymore. She quickly ruled that one out. Due to how annoying my relatives are, I can see no way to... That was better, but--

"Howdy, Tamara!" She was suddenly aware of hoofsteps coming up from behind.

"Butch?" Tamara whirled around to face Tex's arch-rival. "What are you doing here?"

"Just came into town to pick up a few rations," Butch explained.

"Ah... okay," Tamara said, impatient to get her meeting with Tex over.

"You're looking mighty pretty tonight, Miss Tamara," Butch added.

"Um... thank you." Tamara began walking forward on her path again.

Butch followed right after. "How're things going with you and Tex?" he persisted.

"Just fine, thank you very much," Tamara said with a dignified air before she realized it. "I mean..."

"Why don't I accompany you to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe?" Butch suggested.

"If you're looking for a date, you're not going to get one," Tamara retorted.

"Well, then," Butch said, trying to keep the surprise out of his voice. "Just remember to call me if you ever change your mind." With that, he switched direction and soon disappeared into the darkness, muttering, "That Tabby is beginning to get real unreliable with these leads of hers."

He's weird, Tamara thought to herself. And-- and Aunt Agatha and Tabby aren't to be listened to! she decided abruptly. If they thought that they could get me to dump Tex... well... they were wrong!

It hit her then that she'd never had a problem with Tex at all; she'd just been listening to her cousin's and aunt's accusations against him so that they were beginning to be reality in her mind. Woah, I'm getting really deep, Tamara realized, thinking about her last thoughts. What in the world was I talking about? Tex is as wonderful as ever, and Aunt Agatha and Tabby-- they'll just have to be disappointed! She marched on resolutely.

* * *
"Admit it, Cleve Clove. Digletts are creepy."

"Digletts are awesome, Tabitha!"

Such was the usual banter between Tabby and Clever Clover, and tonight was no exception as five of the old members of the gang gathered around in the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe. Tabby, Clever Clover, Sugarberry, Spike, and Friendly were the only five that seemed to have gravitated there, and they decided to share a table. Accounting for the losses were Agatha, who had opted to do a bit of shopping for herself that evening; Tiffany, who was doing more planning for her party-- and if Tiffany wasn't there, neither was the devoted Toby-- and lastly, Thomas, who had to stay late at the vet clinic.

With the exception of Clever Clover and Tabby arguing over anything that happened to come to mind, Sugarberry, Spike, and Friendly were having a heated discussion on their experiences in driving carts around town. "Yeah, yeah, and I stopped, yeah, and..." Friendly was explaining.

"Clever Clover!" Tabby suddenly hissed, taking note of the occupants at one table. She had forgotten all about Tamara's scenario until now. "Be quiet for a sec!"

"Why?" Clever Clover asked in irritation.

"Just what does she think she's doing with that creep?" Tabby fumed.

Clever Clover followed Tabby's gaze. "It's Tex and Tamara," he noted. "They're always together."

"That cousin of mine was supposed to break up with him," Tabby muttered.

"Oh, great," Clever Clover groaned. "Not another plot of yours."

However, as fate would have it, Tamara chose that moment to get up from her seat and head back to the main counter to order an item. And, in fact, she passed directly behind Tabby's chair on the way. Tabby was swift, and succeeded in stalling her cousin with one fluid motion.

"Tabitha, let GO of my MANE!" Tamara nearly shrieked, realizing what had happened.

Tabby released her hold and tapped her hoof impatiently on the table top. "Would you mind repeating what you told Mom and I earlier, before you left?"

"I changed my mind," Tamara said resolutely. "I'm not going to let you or Aunt Agatha influence me." She stood, posed, ready to deflect an onslaught of remarks from Tabby. But none ever came.

"Ooh. That's fascinating," Tabby said distantly. "I was really getting to be concerned."

"Concerned?" Tamara looked at Tabby skeptically.

"Yes, because I realized that even if Tex is despicable, it was always something that I could depend on-- that he'd be hanging around you. Why, if you'd broken up, I'd feel just like the time Barnacle said he didn't really like the E.T. movie. It's actually similar to the little green dragons that were on channel eighteen before Mighty Max. I came to depend on seeing those little green dragons at two twenty-seven every afternoon, but then they canceled both shows. I really feel sorry for those little green dragons. They were so dependable." Throughout this speech, Tabby had only stopped to take a breath once. She now sat staring down into the melted remnants of her strawberry sundae.

"I'd ask what little green dragons have to do with Tex, but I don't think I want to know," Tamara decided, continuing on her way up to the counter.

"That's... interesting," Sugarberry admitted.

"Yeah..." Friendly added, looking a bit confused.

"Um, sure," Spike agreed.

"Whatever," Clever Clover muttered.

No one really wanted to find out the story behind Tabby's declaration, so they left it at that. Friendly and Spike went on to discussing computer game strategies. Sugarberry and Clever Clover started a conversation on the Pipestone Cliffs across the Flatlands. Tabby simply sighed in memory of her beloved Ah-Loh.

* * *
And finally came the day that Elaine arrived in Dream Valley. It was Wednesday, as originally forecast-- or rather, late Tuesday evening. However, Elaine had readily agreed to help Thomas out at the clinic that day, so Tabby didn't see either of them until Wednesday night.

"So, Tabby, did you get to meet Elaine yet?" Sugarberry questioned over supper.

"No," Tabby said simply.

"She's really a nice pony, and she'll make a wonderful veterinarian once she graduates," Sugarberry said enthusiastically.

"How fascinating," Tabby said brightly... at least that's what she hoped she sounded like.

"They should be at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe later," Sugarberry continued.

"Thomas certainly wouldn't delay in taking her to that place."

"It's rather interesting to think of how we began going there every night," Tabby said idly. "It has simply always been the routine."

"Well, Scoops does serve good ice cream," Sugarberry pointed out, laughing.

Tabby sat in silence for the moments that followed. She'd have to face Elaine sometime. She'd have to see how much Thomas would ignore her over his sister. And she'd have to find out sooner or later.

"I'll be leaving now," Tabby said abruptly, pushing her chair back from the table.

"Yes! Have a good time!" Sugarberry called after, refraining from mentioning anything about wanting help with dishes.

Upon arriving at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, Tabby easily spotted the table she was looking for, and walked towards it, trying to keep a dignified air.

Neither of the two unicorns seemed to notice Tabby approaching. Sometimes she would make a dramatic entrance, but for now, she settled for tapping her hoof on the floor.

Elaine was the first to look up. "Oh!" she gasped, focusing in on the pink unicorn before her. "Is this...?"

"Tabby, you got here!" Thomas said cheerfully. "Yes, Elaine, this is Tabby. And Tabby, this is my sister, Elaine."

"So you're the one I've heard so much about," Elaine said, giggling. "Do have a seat!" She moved over on her side of the bench.

Tabby nodded quickly and took the indicated seat. Elaine was a strikingly pretty white unicorn with curls of bright blue mane surrounding her face.

"Elaine was a great help at the clinic today," Thomas smiled. "It was nice having someone else around for a change."

"So you're studying to be a vet?" Tabby eyed Elaine critically.

"Yes, that's correct," Elaine nodded. "Only a few more years left to study!"

"I don't know how I ever got through vet college," Tabby muttered, staring up at the ceiling.

"Give yourself more credit than that," Elaine said chidingly. "I'm sure you did just fine, especially to have gotten to be a Pokèmon nurse!"

"I just barely did fine," Tabby said under her breath.

"You're in a pessimistic mood tonight, aren't you, Tabby?" Thomas commented.

"I enjoy being pessimistic," Tabby said idly. "Are you two going to be at Tiffany's party tomorrow?"

"If Tiffany doesn't mind an extra guest," Thomas said, winking at Elaine.

"It'll be so exhilarating to attend a party at the Royal Paradise," Elaine said excitedly. "You're going, too, aren't you, Tabby?"

‘Exhilarating'. That's one of my words, Tabby thought to herself bitterly. "Yes, I suppose," was the only comment she made out loud.

"Great! Then we'll see you there," Thomas said warmly.

‘See you there.' As if I were just an ordinary acquaintance, Tabby fumed silently. Because of Elaine...

"Are you alright? You look upset," Elaine asked in concern, staring curiously into Tabby's face.

Tabby had no chance to answer, as Tiffany chose that moment to drop by their table, and introductions were once again made. And not long after that, Sugarberry arrived with Chocolate Chip. And then Clever Clover and Friendly. Everyone was eager to hear Elaine's stories.

Tabby finally couldn't take it anymore-- she had to be able to think, and she couldn't think with everyone gathered around. When a good opportunity arose, she made an exit and pushed through the crowd as discreetly as she could.

She looked back on the activity-filled spot in the shop. Shouldn't she have a part in it-- any part at all? Tabby shook her head and trotted outside as quickly as she could, just in time for a single teardrop to fall from her eye.

"It's all my fault, of course," she whispered to herself, staring up into the night sky. "All of it's my fault. Why did I have to act so cold? Elaine could be a trusted ally by now if I'd given her half a chance. And what will Thomas think of me now? I'm the one I had to worry about-- me!"

To escape running into anyone she knew, Tabby fled back to her house, struggling to control her tears which were fighting to come out.

* * *
Elaine lay in bed that night, staring up at the ceiling, thinking. She had seen Tabby leave the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe so abruptly, and she was very observant as to what Tabby thought of her. She had an uncanny knack of sensing things like that.

She mustn't be upset, Elaine thought fervently. She mustn't! In truth, she looked up to Tabby quite a bit. Poor thing. I suppose it was rather a shock to hear of my arrival, she reflected.

If only I hadn't had to come on Christmas, Elaine sighed. It'll just ruin the party for her tomorrow. I'll have to... I'll have to... I won't go! she suddenly decided. I won't make it hard for her. For this party, she won't have to worry about me taking the spotlight-- she deserves that much!

That decided upon, Elaine drifted off to sleep.

* * *
Tabby rose relatively early the next morning, trying to push all memory of last night out of her head. Noticing Wednesday's edition of the paper thrown on the table-- it was still unread-- she sat down and flipped through the various advertisements.

"A Millennium My Little People doll?" she gasped as she browsed through the Pony-Mart sale-bill. "Oh, she's so bay-you-tay-ful!" After gazing at the pictured doll for several minutes, Tabby decided she had to share this news with someone. Hoping that Sugarberry was up, she rushed out the back door, sale-bill in hoof, across the lawn to Sugarberry's house.

"Sugarberry! Sugarberry!" she called as she knocked at the door of the house next to hers. Tapping her hoof impatiently, she waited for her friend to answer.

"Tabby, what's wrong?" asked Sugarberry as she opened the door.

"Wrong? Nothing more than the ordinary," Tabby said quickly. "But just look at this, Sugarberry!" She thrust the ad under Sugarberry's nose.

"Transformers are on sale?" Sugarberry queried.

"No, Sug!" Tabby said in exasperation. "I mean, sure they are, but--" She used her hoof to point out the lower right corner of the ad. "It's a special edition twelve-inch My Little People doll! A Pony-Mart exclusive!"

"Ooh!" a reasonably impressed Sugarberry cooed. "She's gorgeous! Look at that long hair and that sparkly rainbow dress!"

"She's the best doll yet!" Tabby exclaimed excitedly as she paced the floor. Fluff, the chubby orange and white cat, crouched alertly on the edge of the counter.

"We'll have to get there early in the morning to get one," planned Sugarberry. Then she groaned. "Did you see the fine print in the corner, Tabby?"

"Fine print?" Tabby stopped her ecstatic pacing abruptly. "Let me see that!" She grabbed the ad from Sugarberry and read aloud, "Fifty dolls per store. Limit one doll per customer. Offer effective December twenty-fourth!"

"That's Christmas Eve!" gasped Sugarberry. "That's... that's... tomorrow!" Her mind busily began formulating a plan to secure the doll for Tabby as a Christmas gift.

But Tabby was making plans of her own. "I'll get to Pony-Mart way early, and be the first one there," she decided. "I positively absolutely must have that doll at any cost whatsoever!"

Hanging out in the next room, Chocolate Chip's attention had been captured by the two hyper mares. Curiously, she came into the room, asking, "What's up?"

Sugarberry and Tabby lifted their vibrant-maned heads in unison. "A new My Little People doll!" they chorused.

Chocolate Chip peered at the picture they held out to her. "Not bad... I guess," she offered.

Tabby sniffed. "You could sound a bit more enthusiastic, Chocky."

"Sorry, sorry," Chocolate Chip said quickly, waving her front hooves through the air and pretending fear of Tabby. "It's very exciting, I'm sure. But I was just passing by! I'm out of here!" With that, she fled out of the room and up the stairs to her bedroom where she proceeded to make one vital phone call.

* * *
Tabby did not hear from either Thomas or Elaine during the course of that day, nor did she try to contact them. The world seemed so very empty and cold now. Thanks to me, she thought bitterly as she stared at herself in her bedroom mirror that evening.

"Tabitha, are you getting ready for the party?" Agatha opened the door a crack.

"Oh... yes," Tabby said slowly. "I'm working on it."

"Alright, then!" Agatha pranced on down the hallway, too infested with the holiday spirit to notice anything different about her daughter's behavior.

I suppose I had better still go, Tabby thought. If there's any hope... any hope at all...

And if this party was going to determine her destiny, she might as well go all out and splurge a little. She would get her Pokèmon to help her in this department.

Taking a chance on Jigglypuff, she called the pink balloon Pokèmon out of her PokèBall. "Jigglypuff, it's Christmas, and you're going to help me get a little stylish for the occasion," she instructed.

"Puff!" Jigglypuff knew what to do and was eager to start. She jumped up on Tabby's vanity; and, in turn, began messing around with her mane. Tabby didn't know what the Pokèmon was doing, but she hoped it worked.

"Jiggly, jigglypuff," the Pokèmon hummed as she worked. "Puff, jiggly, jiggly..."

A knock sounded at Tabby's door. "Tabitha, it's almost time for us to be leaving," Agatha reminded her.

"It is?" Tabby strained upwards to see Jigglypuff on top of her head, but judged that she wasn't close to finishing yet. "You and Tamara go on, Mom. I'll be there in a little bit."

"Well, okay, Tabitha! We'll see you!" Agatha's hoofsteps grew fainter as she progressed down the stairs.

Finally, Jigglypuff was satisfied with her work. "Jiggly," she said, stepping back and taking a bow.

Looking closely in the mirror, Tabby rather liked the finished effect. Jigglypuff obviously considered herself an expert hair-stylist by now as she paraded around the room with a smug smile on her face. Tabby's mane had been done up into a loose bun, with several wisps of hair framing her face.

It was then that Tabby realized that Jigglypuff had managed to open the door, as it hung wide open and the Pokèmon was nowhere in sight. "Jigglypuff! Jigglypuff! Come back here!" she called out frantically, running through the house.

Tabby found Jigglypuff in the living room, digging through Agatha's suitcase.

"Jigglypuff?" she asked cautiously. "What are you doing?"

"Puff!" Jigglypuff turned around just then, holding a sparkling jewel in her hand. Tabby realized that she'd been looking through Agatha's jewelry. "Oh! You make a great fashion designer!" Tabby squealed.

Jigglypuff promptly jumped up on Tabby's back and affixed the gold chain from which hung a single dazzling diamond around her neck.

"Thank you ever so much, Jigglypuff," Tabby declared breathlessly, running towards the front door after taking a quick look at herself in her mother's hand mirror. "You're great! Wish me luck!"

Once her trainer was out the door, Jigglypuff looked around the room. Yes, she could have a lot of fun tonight, too. The night's activities could start with getting Oddish, Hitmonlee, and Mr. Mime out of their PokèBalls as well... Jigglypuff ran back upstairs.

* * *
Tabby ran into the Royal Paradise's ballroom rather breathlessly, and stood in the doorway several moments to regain her senses. It was during that time that Tiffany took note of her.

"Tabitha? I can't believe what you've done to your image!" the princess exclaimed, trotting up to her. "Granted, you're a little late, but..."

"I got help from a pink balloon," Tabby mumbled under her breath.

"Well, anyway, welcome to the party!" Tiffany exclaimed. "Doesn't it just get you in the Christmas spirit?"

"In a way..." Tabby said slowly, scanning over the expanse of ponies gathered in the room.

"Thomas isn't here yet, if that's what you're wondering about," Tiffany went on, taking Tabby's hoof and pulling her towards the action.

"Not here yet?" Tabby echoed, her face falling. "But he wouldn't be as late as I am..."

"There's still plenty of time for him to show up; and, as you can see, there are plenty of other handsome stallions around," Tiffany said cheerfully. "For example, there's Jack. Have you met Jack?"

"Jack?" Tabby gasped. "Isn't he that guy you ran into in New Pony?"

"Oh, yes, and he surprised us all when he showed up in Dream Valley earlier today," Tiffany sighed happily. "And just in time for my Christmas party. Look! Here he is now!" She indicated the teal stallion coming up behind her.

"You must be the most beautiful pony here," Jack declared, rushing up to Tabby, and took her hoof in his. "Tiffany, I certainly like your taste in friends!"

"That must be what you say to everyone, isn't it?" Tabby said, faking sweetness, but not before shaking her hoof free. "Forget the flattery. I can't stand it."

"But don't you care to dance?" Jack questioned.

"Jack, I just noticed someone over there that Tabby has to meet," Tiffany smiled dazzlingly, and began to pull Tabby away. "We'll talk to you later."

"Is it my imagination, or did you just terminate a conversation with a handsome guy?" Tabby asked of Tiffany once they were a distance away.

"Oh, personally, I don't care for Jack at all," Tiffany sniffed. "He's been doing nothing all evening but flirting with all the mares that come in. Just look at him." She gestured towards the dance floor, where Jack was now settled to dance with Princess Dawn.

"Too much like you, eh?" Tabby smirked.

"I do not do anything like Jack," Tiffany said snobbishly. "How dare you compare me to him?" However, catching note of Tabby's necklace, her annoyance soon diminished. "That looks expensive," she said in awe. "Is it your mother's?"

"Oh, yes. Jigglypuff picked it out for me," Tabby said in an unconcerned voice.

"A Pokèmon did all that?" Tiffany said, rather impressed.

"They can come in handy for such things," Tabby said. "And--"

"Tabitha! Tabitha!" Agatha came running up just then. "I know you said you were taking awhile getting ready, but this is certainly a surprise!"

"Jigglypuff borrowed this necklace from you for me," Tabby explained quickly.

"I'm really going to have to look into getting one of those," Tiffany murmured.

"But your beauty is being wasted out here on the sidelines," Agatha chided. "I'm sure one of these stallions would be glad to dance with you."

"No... no, I don't particularly feel like it," Tabby said distantly, a bit of sadness growing in her eyes.

"I'm surprised Elaine isn't here, at least," Tiffany commented. "She seemed excited over it last night."

"Where did you run off to last night?" Agatha questioned. "I was meaning to ask. By the time I got there, you were gone, which is rather unusual. Especially with Elaine's visit."

"I had... I had..." Tabby turned her head away. "I had a few holiday things to attend to at home." Now everything came flooding back, and she felt more lost than ever. What could she do? How could everything go back to the way it was?

At that point, Sugarberry came up and shared her compliments as well on Tabby's looks. Tabby took the opportunity to excuse herself from the group and went to sit down on one of the chairs on the edge of the room. Her eyes glistened-- from merriment or sadness, no onlooker could tell.

It was then that Thomas arrived, though Tabby did not notice until he was sitting right next to her. "Elaine thought you'd need to talk to me. I guess she was right," he said softly.

"I was simply so terrible to her last night," Tabby quavered. "It's she I should be talking to, and-- oh--"

"Tabby, Elaine's not upset, if that's what you're worried about," Thomas said.

"Where... where is she?" Tabby said curiously.

"She decided not to come," Thomas stated simply. "She just didn't want to infringe on you and me."

"I didn't want to scare her away," Tabby whispered.

"You didn't, Tabby," Thomas consoled.

"If only I could... if only I could get along with your own sister!" Tabby said tremulously.

"There's still plenty of time to get to know her," Thomas reasoned. "You're both very special to me, and nothing can change that."

"Re-really?" Tabby faltered.

"Yes. And did you know that you're very beautiful tonight?"

"I've been told, but I don't particularly believe it."

"This has been hard on you, hasn't it?" Thomas sighed. "And I didn't mean it to be. I don't care if you're best friends with Elaine or not-- just remember that I'll always care about you."

"Oh, I feel as if a terribly great weight has just been lifted off my very soul," Tabby said blissfully.

"Good, that sounds like you're back to normal. Now, shall we go mingle with the other guests? They'll be wondering what we were plotting over here..."

Tabby simply smiled. Perhaps this evening hadn't been wasted after all.

* * *
Rising early the next morning-- Christmas Eve-- Sugarberry was ready when Tabby again knocked on her door, and together they set off for Pony-Mart.

A cold drizzle started to fall as they walked the paths to the store; and icy spots began to materialize, making it necessary to tread carefully.

"But this should be good," Tabby reasoned. "Foul weather ought to keep shoppers away."

But as they neared Pony-Mart, both pony's hopes were dashed-- a long line of customers had already formed outside the store.

"What?!" screeched Tabby. "This can't be happening!" She had underestimated a parent's desire to please her offspring at Christmas time.

Even Sugarberry was crestfallen. She'd given up hopes of surprising Tabby with a doll, but had begun to want one for herself. Both ponies joined the line of My Little People pursuers.

Tabby ranted and raved as they waited. She even tried to improve her odds by trying to convince Tic-Tac-Toe, who was just ahead of them in line, to let them ahead of her.

"No way!" responded Tic-Tac-Toe. "I want that doll for Baby Tic-Tac-Toe's Christmas stocking!"

"It is impossible to have any fun collecting toys with baby ponies around," Tabby muttered.

Meanwhile, Sugarberry had been busily counting heads. "Tabby, she groaned," there are forty-eight ponies ahead of us."

Tabby did some mental calculating. "But if they got in fifty dolls, we'll get the last two, won't we?" she asked anxiously.

"Don't forget," warned Sugarberry. "Cotton Candy and Sunnybunch both work at Pony-Mart, and they both collect My Little People."

"That's unethical!" raged Tabby. "They couldn't do that!"

"We'll see!" a disgruntled Sugarberry said.

Tabby entered into a heated debate with Mommy Falling Leaves, who had joined the line of shoppers, about the waste of buying such a beautiful doll for baby ponies who would only pull out its hair, chew on its legs, and use permanent marker to deface it. "Not to mention losing that gorgeous dress!"

Mommy Falling Leaves maintained that the joy in a foal's eyes when she first saw the doll on Christmas morning was worth it, even if the doll ended up well-worn in the end.

Snuzzle, who came after Mommy Falling Leaves, supported the foals' rights to the dolls, whereas Crumpet defended Tabby's position. "Baby ponies would be just as happy with a common doll as with an expensive special edition one," Crumpet insisted.

Sugarberry restrained from joining in the argument, but constantly worried about their chances as the store opened and the line began to snake into the building.

"Our only hope," Sugarberry confided to Tabby, "is that some of these ponies in line are here to get the Transformers."

When they finally entered the store, they found that each pony who wanted a doll was lined-up at the courtesy counter, where a doll was handed out to a waiting pony.

"The delay is killing me," groaned Sugarberry as the seconds slowly ticked by and the line crept forward.

Tabby continued muttering under her breath, but her eyes opened wide in rage when she noticed something. "Sugarberry," she hissed, "that creepy stallion and his wife just walked by and they both had a doll! Why, I have a mind to..."

Tabby began to intercept them, but Sugarberry pulled her back. "Settle down, Tabby," she prodded. "They aren't worth it!"

Tic-Tac-Toe finally reached the head of the line and joyfully paid the thirty jangles for the doll. She turned gleefully to Tabby. "Isn't she gorgeous?" she cooed.

Tabby stepped up to the counter, purse in hoof. Sunnybunch lifted a bright yellow sign from under the counter and stood it in full view. The bold black lettering read: The supply of Millennium My Little People dolls has been depleted. Thank you for your interest.

Tabby, Sugarberry, and the fifteen other ponies still waiting stood in open-mouthed alarm. Time stood still as the information sunk in and was disseminated. Then a flurry of disappointed, disgruntled, and disturbing chatter filled the air.

"NO!"

"Down with Pony-Mart!"

"I waited three hours for nothing?!"

"What am I going to tell Baby Snookums?"

"This was a stupid idea!"

Sugarberry herself simply sighed and looked downcast-- not so much for herself, but for Tabby. Both ponies turned and wordlessly left the building.

The rain had continued to fall, and they had a miserable time getting home. As her mind cleared after the morning's ordeal, Sugarberry faced a new worry. Her folks were coming to Dream Valley today to spend Christmas with her. Would they have a safe journey with the weather as it was?

Reaching Sugarberry's house, Tabby declined coming in for some hot chocolate. "Mom should be up by now, and she'll wonder where I disappeared to." A slight smile lightened her face.. "I couldn't tell her about my venture this morning. She has no patience with my toy collecting."

Sugarberry grinned back. "Yes, she's told me!"

Watching Tabby cross the slippery expanse between their homes, Sugarberry waved as Tabby reached her own back door and disappeared inside.

Deciding to put her disappointment behind her, Sugarberry got out her Christmas paper and bows and set to work on the last of the gifts that still needed wrapping. She was happily engrossed in this enterprise, humming off-key to the Christmas carols playing in the background, when Chocolate Chip burst through the door. "Good morning, Sugarberry," she gleefully called out.

"You've been out already?" asked a startled Sugarberry. "I thought you were still asleep."

"It's the day before Christmas!" Chocolate Chip responded. "Can't waste a special day like this!" Her eyes sparkled like Christmas lights, and her manner was of a little foal expectantly counting down the hours until Christmas day.

Sugarberry surveyed her young boarder thoughtfully. "You look like the cat that swallowed the canary, so to speak."

"It's the Christmas spirit, Sugarberry!" Chocolate Chip gave Sugarberry a quick hug before heading for her room. In the doorway, she turned back. "When are your parents due to arrive?" Because of a family problem, Chocolate Chip no longer enjoyed the friendship of her parents; she therefore was anticipating meeting Sugarberry's parents with childish delight mixed with a certain anxiety.

"After lunch, but with the weathering being so miserable..."

"What's miserable about it?" laughed Chocolate Chip. "You've had yourself buried in wrapping paper too long.

Sugarberry quickly ran to the window and gasped. The dreary morning had turned into a sparkling fairyland as the sun peaked through the clouds, highlighting the spectrum of colors from the ice.

"It's warming up, and the ice will soon melt." Chocolate Chip again turned and skipped up the stairs. "I'll be wrapping gifts in my room!"

Finishing her wrapping, Sugarberry put away all the paraphernalia involved, and then carried the festive packages into the living room where she deposited them under the tree. These last gifts were for her friends that were hardest to buy for-- Barnacle, Friendly, Quarterback, and Tiffany.

With that task taken care of, Sugarberry slipped into the wooden rocking chair that her folks had given her as a house-warming gift and rocked slowly back and forth, gazing at the decorated tree and listening to the strains of holiday tunes. Now she could sit back and relax for a little while.

* * *
Tabby was somewhat surprised to find Elaine waiting on her porch later that morning. "Ah... come in," she said quickly, swinging the door open wider.

Elaine nodded and stepped in. "I have a Christmas present for you," she smiled, handing a small wrapped package over to Tabby. "You can open it now, if you like."

Tabby hesitated slightly before accepting the gift, but curiosity overtook her. She had the ribbon untied in a flash, and the paper was soon ripped off as well. "Oh, Elaine!" she gasped, taking in the item she held in her hoof. "It's... it's wonderful!" It was, in fact, a Furby necklace. Hanging off the black cord was a beautiful medallion of a familiar-looking sky blue Furby.

"You like it, then?" Elaine said cheerfully.

"But how in the world did you happen to pick Ah-Loh's colors?" Tabby said in awe, swiftly pulling the necklace off its card and fastening it around her neck.

"It just looked like something you'd want," Elaine said mysteriously.

"Well-- thank you," Tabby managed to say.

"You're not going to hold any hard feelings, are you?" Elaine asked anxiously.

Tabby's heart went out to her. "No, Elaine. How could I?"

A smile of pure joy radiated from Elaine's face. "That's wonderful all in itself. You can't imagine how much I've wanted to meet you since Thomas first told me about you."

Tabby nearly blushed at the flattery. It was nice to be respected.

"Oh! Is that your Meowth?" Elaine took note of the cat-like creature peering at her from the other end of the hallway. "He's cute."

"Yes, this is Tarquin." Tabby gestured towards him to come closer. "Tarkie, this is Elaine."

Never turning down a chance to be obsessed over, Tarquin willingly came out. "Hello, Tabby and Elaine," he said cheerfully. "How is Tamara recovering from finding her make-up knocked over last night by Hitmonlee?"

"They did make quite a mess last night," Tabby murmured. "I knew I shouldn't have left Jigglypuff on her own."

"What happened?" Elaine asked curiously.

"Jigglypuff and my other Pokèmon created mayhem and madness throughout the house last night when I was out," Tabby said matter-of-factly.

"It was pretty fun, actually," Tarquin said, inspecting a claw. "Tamara still won't believe that Persian joined in."

"Oh, my," Elaine laughed. "How exciting! Where are your others, Tabby?"

This led to a showing-off of Tabby's other four Pokèmon, and that in turn lead to a showing-off of Tabby's extensive collection of toys from the nineteen-eighties. "You must be quite dedicated," Elaine said in awe, staring at the shelves and shelves of colorful items.

"I really haven't had much time at all to hunt up new things at thrift stores lately," Tabby admitted.

"You wouldn't sell it all, would you?"

"I couldn't do that. Never. There are so many memories involved with them all."

The two were silent for several moments after that, perhaps recalling memories from their own pasts. That is, until Elaine's wonder-filled voice pierced the air. "Is that a Plum Pudding?" she gasped, staring into one of the clear plastic containers.

"Oh, yes, Plum Pudding." Tabby pulled the lid off and lifted up the toy in question-- it was one of the gems of her collection, a doll from the Strawberry Shortcake line. This particular one Tabby had bought at a flea market one summer; she had been in such pristine condition, Tabby couldn't pass her up. "I found her for five jangles once."

"I've always wanted a Plum Pudding," Elaine breathed, stroking the doll's blue hair, "ever since I was a baby pony. I was constantly complaining that no one would buy her for me."

"But you never got her?" Tabby knew well of the rarity of Plum Pudding. Hers had been estimated to be worth one hundred jangles.

"No," Elaine reminisced. "The only time I ever actually saw her was in a clearance aisle one day. Mom just said I could get her another day. But by then, she'd been sold."

"Well, you never know when you might stumble across one," Tabby murmured.

Elaine shoved the memory from her head. "Your My Little People are in the next room?" she asked brightly.

"Sure, you can see those next," Tabby agreed readily. Yes, she was learning to get along rather well with Thomas' sister.

* * *
Meanwhile, Sugarberry was beginning to worry over the Christmas presents she had picked out for her friends. She hoped Tabby would be pleased with the plush Tea Bunny she'd found over her lunch break one day at Goodwill. "But what if it's one she already has?" she fretted to Fluff, who was curled up in a sunbeam on the carpeting. "And will Vanguard like the new binoculars I got him?"

Fluff simply yawned and fell into an even deeper sleep. But he jerked to attention as a rap sounded at the door.

"It's lunchtime. Maybe it's Tabby," Sugarberry giggled to herself. But when she opened the door, she found two Santa-hat topped ponies on her doorstep.

"Mom! Dad!" she cried out joyfully, rushing into their waiting forelegs. "You made it!"

After a sentimental reunion on the front porch, Strawberry Baskets-- Sugarberry's dad-- and Strawberry Shortcake-- her mom-- came into the house. Strawberry Baskets had picked up a large Santa sack he'd parked on the porch, and lugging it through the doorway, he opened the top and pulled out a gift. "This is for you, sweetie," he said, handing the red-and-white striped parcel to his daughter. "Merry Christmas!"

"Thanks, Dad," she grinned and hugged him again. "Do I open it now, or on Christmas morning?"

"Tomorrow morning will do just fine," Strawberry Baskets chuckled.

Strawberry Shortcake made herself at home in Sugarberry's rocker. "We made it in good time, didn't we?"

"Yes," agreed Sugarberry. "How did you get here so soon?"

"Hitched a ride in Santa's sleigh!" teased Strawberry Baskets.

"Actually, we took an earlier flight than we originally planned on. I'm glad we did; and even that got delayed a bit because of the ice, but here we are!"

Just then, a nervous little cough sounded from the doorway. Chocolate Chip stood uncomfortably at the edge of the family reunion.

Sugarberry hurried to her side and drew her to Strawberry Baskets and Strawberry Shortcake. "Mom, Dad, meet the smartest and loveliest filly at Pony Pride University, Chocolate Chip!"

"So this is your college student," Strawberry Baskets said as he extended a hoof. "Nice to meet you, Chocolate Chip."

"Oh, we've heard so much about you!" trilled Strawberry Shortcake as she embraced the shy brown filly. Then, standing back and eyeing her carefully, she added, "And every bit as beautiful as was said."

Chocolate Chip winked at Sugarberry. "I like your parents, Sugarberry!" she quipped. "And now I see why you're twice-as-fancy." Chocolate Chip was referring to the symbols on Sugarberry's parents: the mare displayed a luscious serving of strawberry shortcake (the dessert, not the doll); and the stallion, a rustic wicker basket overflowing with ripe, red strawberries.

Returning to his Santa bag, Strawberry Baskets dug into its depths and pulled forth a poinsettia covered package. "Here's our gift to you, Chocolate Chip," he announced as he handed the gift to the surprised filly.

"For me?" she quavered.

Strawberry Baskets took the gift back and deliberately looked at the card. "Chocolate Chip," he read dramatically. "Yes, dear, this is certainly for you!"

Chocolate Chip took the gift and hugged it closely to her body. "Thank you so much! My mom and dad never..." Then, realizing how cold her statement would sound, she lamely finished, "...really celebrated Christmas." She quickly knelt to place the gift under the tree, while one tear dropped forlornly on a glass globe ornament. Fluff came to rub against her, and she scooped him up, burying her face in his long, thick hair. To allow her to regain her composure, the rest of the ponies moved into the kitchen.

"Oh my gosh, look at the time!" remarked Sugarberry. ‘It's twelve thirty already, and we haven't had lunch!" So she set about with her mother's help to prepare a quick lunch.

Strawberry Baskets set the table while his daughter and wife arranged the food. The conversation was lively as they shared events and happenings from their daily lives.

"We added another acre onto our berry fields," revealed Strawberry Baskets. "And planted another fifty apple trees." He and his wife owned and operated a fruit orchard near Berryton, where they had moved some years ago.

"That sounds like a lot of work for you two," worried Sugarberry.

"There are plenty of willing workers who hire on when things get busy," Strawberry Shortcake assured her. "We had this one young colt last summer who did the work of three ponies!"

"Yes, and he nearly ate us out of house and home," chided Strawberry Baskets. "Your mother's constantly baking cookies so no one starves to death while they're working." He sighed in mock dismay.

"Speaking of recipes, Sugarberry, I've gotten several new cookie recipes that are just scrumptious!"

"And I've gotten a sugar-free pumpkin pie recipe you and Dad will love."

Chocolate Chip entered the kitchen, a silver package tied in blue ribbon in each hoof. "These are for you," she said, holding one out to Strawberry Shortcake and the other to Strawberry Baskets. "I hope you like them."

"Why, thank you, Chocolate Chip!" The mare and stallion acknowledged her gift with another hug from each of them.

"Sugarberry helped me pick them out," confessed Chocolate Chip.

Strawberry Baskets took his gift and shook it. "Doesn't rattle," he mused. "I wonder what it is?"

"He's worse than a foal," complained Strawberry Shortcake, taking the package from her husband's hoof. "I'm going to set these under the tree before he unwraps his." With that, she marched into the living room and placed both gifts under the tree. "Now, Fluff," she said to the orange and white feline, "you guard those so you-know-who doesn't sneak a peek before tomorrow." She patted his head before returning to the kitchen where lunch was now ready.

"How's Tabby these days?" asked Strawberry Shortcake. "Has her mother gotten her married off yet?"

"Ooh! That reminds me. Agatha is with Tabby for Christmas!"

"That's marvelous!" exclaimed Strawberry Shortcake. "I haven't seen her for years!"

"Where is she living now?" asked Strawberry Baskets. "Was it France, or Spain, Or Italy?"

"Italy, Dad. And you sound just like Tabby.

"Heaven forbid!" he responded mischievously. Chocolate Chip giggled.

"I was very proud when Tabby got her veterinarian degree," stated Strawberry Shortcake. "She surprised all of us."

"What do you mean?" asked a curious Chocolate Chip.

"Well, she's always loved animals, but she wasn't too..."

"Sharp?" supplied Strawberry Baskets.

Sugarberry frowned at her dad and Strawberry Shortcake kicked his leg under the table.

"...cooperative in high school. I think she needed her dad," finished Strawberry Shortcake.

"He never showed up again, did he?" Strawberry Baskets wondered.

"No, but Agatha had never given up hope," supplied Sugarberry.

"His disappearance was really a mystery, wasn't it?" Chocolate Chip remarked.

"Yes, dear, it was," Strawberry Shortcake said, and grew thoughtful. "I wonder... do you think he could still be out there somewhere?"

"From a stallion's standpoint, I'd say ‘no'," offered Strawberry Baskets. "Agatha's one mighty good looking unicorn-- but never as pretty as you." Here he patted Strawberry Shortcake's foreleg fondly. "And that pony has money, lots of it. There'd be no logical reason to stay away."

"And Hubert knew that a foal was on the way. He'd surely have gotten home if he could," the motherly Strawberry Shortcake added.

"It's all very strange," agreed Chocolate Chip.

Sugarberry cleared the luncheon plates and served up generous portions of strawberry cake smothered in pink frosting. "I made it special for you, Dad," she grinned.

"I remember your first strawberry cake when you were just a foal. It only raised about an inch, and was hard as a rock.

"Shh," Sugarberry reprimanded. "Chocolate Chip thinks I'm a good cook!"

That set off a battering of failed recipe stories between the three girls. Strawberry Baskets was too busy eating cake to mind being left out.

It was while washing and drying the dishes that the talk became more personal for Sugarberry. It began with her father.

"So, where's this young stallion you've been writing home about?" Strawberry Baskets bluntly asked.

"Strawberry Baskets!" his wife reprimanded.

"Don't ‘Strawberry Baskets' me!" he defended himself. "You're just as curious about him as I am!"

While Sugarberry blushed, Chocolate Chip willingly enlightened the couple. "His name's Vanguard and he's terribly handsome and he has eyes for no one but Sugarberry."

"He also teaches math at Pony Pride University and as head of the department, he has some control over a certain filly's future," Sugarberry shot back at Chocolate Chip.

"I'm an ‘A' student and besides, Vanguard would never be unfair," Chocolate Chip merrily grinned. To Strawberry Baskets and Strawberry Shortcake she said, "And he's coming over for supper, and will accompany us to the living nativity this evening." She tossed her mane triumphantly at Sugarberry.

Sugarberry tapped her hoof with folded forelegs. "I could get nasty by explaining that the only reason that you're not having someone special over is that every stallion at Pony Pride finds you captivating, and they all wouldn't fit in my little house!"

"They only want my help on their term papers," Chocolate Chip reasoned. "So that makes only one of us with a ‘significant other', doesn't it?"

Strawberry Baskets chuckled. "Boy, does this take me back! Sounds like Sugarberry and Tabby going at it years ago."

"Hmm, this has potential." Chocolate Chip linked her foreleg through Strawberry Basket's. "Why don't you fill me in on all the sordid little secrets from their early years so I can hold it against them if necessary?" She winked at Sugarberry as she and Strawberry Baskets left the room.

"You two have had a good effect on Chocolate Chip already," Sugarberry confided to her mom once they were alone. "I've never seen her so sure of herself or at ease in other pony's company."

"She's a lovely filly, Sugarberry. I can't believe her own family turned her out," Strawberry Shortcake whispered so as not to be overheard. "Have they made any attempt to contact her?"

"I had Chocolate Chip write them a letter so they'd know she was safe, but she never heard anything back."

"Tsk, tsk," Strawberry Shortcake shook her head sadly. "Who can figure?"

Chocolate Chip returned to the kitchen at that moment. "The flower deliverer just left a package," she explained. "It's addressed to Sugarberry and Vanguard," she said with a sappy expression on her face.

"Who would that be from?" pondered Sugarberry as she trotted into the living room where the mystery package now sat in the middle of the room. "It's from Lilac and Trendy," she squealed as she checked the label. "They're the bed and breakfast owners where Vanguard and I met," she explained to the curious onlookers.

"Open it! Open it!" urged Chocolate Chip.

"I'd love to, but it is addressed to Vanguard, too. I'll have to wait until later."

Fluff came to sniff out this new acquisition in his space, and found it perfect for taking an after lunch nap.

"Aww, is the handsome fellow comfy?" Sugarberry cooed as she tickled him under the chin. Her heavy cat stretched out on his side, purring loudly.

"That cat is spoiled!" commented Strawberry Baskets.

"Aren't they all?" returned Strawberry Shortcake. Then, noticing the time, she announced her plan to bake some sugar cookies.

"Oh, can I help?" begged Chocolate Chip.

"Certainly, dear," Strawberry Shortcake smiled. "I'd welcome your help."

"And, Dad, you can nap with Fluff," Sugarberry tormented as she followed her mom into the kitchen where many busy hooves soon had a batch of dough ready for cutting. Sugarberry had quite a collection of Christmas-theme cutters, so Chocolate Chip had fun trying them all out.

Hearing a knock at the front door, Sugarberry excused herself to go off to answer it. Upon opening the door, she at first thought no one was there until she looked down and saw Baby Noddins standing with a tissue-wrapped gift in her hoof.

"Baby Noddins, come on in!" Sugarberry invited. "You look like one of Santa's little helpers."

Baby Noddins stepped into the house, grinning in Christmas delight. "This is for you," she said as she handed the package to Sugarberry. Then, noticing the sleeping Strawberry Baskets on the sofa, she asked, "Who's that?"

"That's my dad, Baby Noddins."

Baby Noddins tip-toed to the couch and looked at the stallion closely. Then, of Sugarberry, she asked, "Do you have a mom, too?"

"As a matter of fact, I do," chuckled Sugarberry. "Why don't you come meet her?"

"First you gotta open your present," insisted Baby Noddins. "I decorated the tissue with the Christmas trees."

"How nice," murmured Sugarberry as she noticed closely the orange globs that dotted the paper.

"Orange is my favorite color," explained Baby Noddins. "And I made the present inside, too." She reached up and untied the ribbon for Sugarberry. The tissue fell back to reveal a pasta strung necklace.

"Ooh! What a lovely necklace!" cooed Sugarberry. "Thank you, Baby Noddins!" And she slipped the colorful work of art over her neck.

"It's only macaroni and stuff," said Baby Noddins. "Mommy said I should give you something for putting up with all my questions all the time. I gave one to Tabby, too!"

The voices had finally awakened Strawberry Baskets, who sat up and asked, "Who do we have here?"

"This is my friend, Baby Noddins," introduced Sugarberry. "And Baby Noddins, this is my dad, Strawberry Baskets."

"Hi!" greeted Baby Noddins as she crawled up on the sofa. "Where do you live? Do you got a last name?"

After a lively exchange of information, Sugarberry directed Baby Noddins to the kitchen. "Would you like to help decorate sugar cookies?"

"Oh boy, would I ever!" bubbled Baby Noddins as she climbed up next to Chocolate Chip as Sugarberry acquainted Strawberry Shortcake with the baby pony. The first batch of cookies was cooling on the counter, and more trays were waiting for baking. Baby Noddins set to work cutting out a teddy bear and proceeded to add sprinkles and sugar.

The next knock on the door was answered by Strawberry Baskets. "There's a good-looking white unicorn in the front room asking for you, Sugarberry," winked Strawberry Baskets.

"That'd be Thomas," explained Chocolate Chip as Sugarberry went to greet her boss from the veterinary clinic.

Thomas stood with a huge basket of assorted fruits waiting for Sugarberry. "Merry Christmas!" he said, handing her the basket with a grin. "This is in thanks for all you put up with day in and day out."

"How thoughtful of you, Thomas." She set the basket on the coffee table ahead of the sofa where it added a warm touch to the decor. "And did you find the perfect gift for Tabby yet?"

"As a matter of fact, I did," he confessed.

"What is it?" pried the inquisitive mare.

"Ask Tabby tomorrow," Thomas advised.

"No fair!" complained Sugarberry.

"What's going on in here?" asked Strawberry Baskets as he entered the room, munching on a freshly baked cookie.

"Dad, come meet Thomas, the only vet Dream Valley has now that Tabby changed jobs."

"Pleased to meet you," the two stallions exchanged . Sugarberry then pulled Thomas into the kitchen to meet her mother, and Thomas continued his way to Tabby's house loaded down with an assortment of Christmas cookies and candy and several jars of strawberry jam.

"Many hooves make light work," sighed Strawberry Shortcake as she and Sugarberry finished cleaning up the kitchen while Chocolate Chip placed the completed cookies into appropriate containers. Baby Noddins had been sent on her way with a box of cookies when her mom had called reminding her daughter that she was expected home by four o' clock.

Chocolate Chip excused herself to freshen up in her room in preparation for Christmas Eve. Sugarberry got out her photo albums and she and her parents plopped down on the sofa to catch up on past memories. Daylight was fast fading on this last Christmas Eve of the millennium; the lights on the tree cast a cheery glow over the room; and the casserole in the oven replaced the smell of cookies with the wholesome smell of potatoes, cheese, and cauliflower.

The next knock on the door caused Sugarberry to leap from the sofa and run a hoof over her mane as she scurried to the door. She instinctively knew this would be Vanguard, the stallion who had befriended her last summer. He came into the house carrying a package topped with a huge purple bow.

"For you," he simply said as he handed her the beautifully wrapped treasure.

"Thanks, Vanguard," Sugarberry hugged her friend. "Now, come meet Mom and Dad."

Chocolate Chip allowed a reasonable amount of time to lapse before rejoining her extended family on this blessed night of the year. When the time came, they all set off for the living nativity at the center of town, and peace came down to Ponyland.

* * *
Sugarberry's house was bustling with activity as Christmas day unfolded. Friends and relatives had instinctively gravitated towards Sugarberry's mid-morning for brunch and a gift exchange. The cheerful sounds of camaraderie brightened every heart.

Tabby had also decided to let her Pokèmon enjoy the day as well, and they were adding their own antics to the occasion. Oddish decided she was rather at home by the Christmas tree, and she stayed in its general vicinity. Mr. Mime, obviously the housekeeper type, was happily picking up discarded paper and ribbons from the floor (much to Sugarberry's delight). Jigglypuff decided as well that she liked the tree, but she was a bit more direct in her methods than Oddish. Once she was scolded for climbing it, she busied herself trying to attract attention from anyone she could (which was rather easy for a Jigglypuff to do). Hitmonlee ran around with Jigglypuff, trying out his kicking attacks along the way. Tarquin followed Jigglypuff's example as well in the tree-climbing activity.

Tabby insisted that Thomas open his present from her first. "A Fu-- that is, whatever it is that's in there is best opened right away," she reasoned.

"Oh, great," Clever Clover groaned, quickly recognizing the uniquely-shaped package.

"This had better be as good as what I got you, Tabby," Thomas said playfully.

"Oh, it will be." Elaine winked at Tabby.

"It's a Furby," Thomas said in surprise as the paper fell away from the box.

"It's about time you got one," Tabby said in satisfaction. "A Furby is a must for every household."

"Whatever you say," Thomas said skeptically.

"Now, open it," Tabby prodded.

"Yes, immediately," Elaine agreed. "I imagine it'd be rather painful to be trapped in a both with tape and twist-ties."

Thomas obediently went to work opening the box, and that's when Tabby realized something. "I forgot the life energies," she gasped in horror.

"Batteries," Spike translated.

"Whew! For a second there, I was thinking we'd have to listen to the thing chatter all day," Clever Clover joked.

However, Tabby had already dashed out the back door and across the lawn to her house. "Furbys cool, need batteries, yeah," Friendly said excitedly.

In a flash, Tabby was back. She held the lifeless body of Ah-Loh in one hoof and a screwdriver in the other. "It'll just have to use Ah-Loh's old batteries," she said promptly, kneeling down next to the coffee table and prying the four batteries out. "He hardly used these ones before he... died."

A few minutes later, the four batteries had been placed in the vibrant red and orange Furby; and Tabby, being the resident Furby expert, closed up the battery compartment. And then the contraption began moving. It rocked back and forth several times and wiggled its ears. And then its eyes flew open.

"Kah Doo-Moh," it declared in a high-pitched voice.

"Doo-Moh!" Tabby gasped.

"Isn't it cute?" Elaine squealed.

"What did it just say?" Thomas queried.

"Her name is Doo-Moh," Tabby said, saying the name as if it were pure evil. "When Ah-Loh had his identity crisis, Doo-Moh was responsible."

"Ah! Kah scared!" Doo-Moh whimpered.

"I have a Furby named Doo-Moh," Thomas said, as if the fact hadn't fully sunk in yet. "That's... fascinating."

"Doo-Moh is Furbish for ‘please', by the way," Tabby said quickly. "I suppose it's just a coincidence she ended up being Doo-Moh..." She eyed the Furby cautiously.

"May-lah kah!" Doo-Moh demanded.

"She wants to be hugged," Tabby translated.

Thomas picked his new Furby up from off the coffee table. "Dah ah-loh u-tye," Doo-Moh decided.

"She said something about Ah-Loh," Tabby said, turning her head sharply. "Wait, no... she said that the sun is up."

"Your quick Furbish translating abilities amaze me," Thomas commented.

"Oh, you'll be that good at it someday, too," Tabby said knowledgeably.

"Wee-tee kah!" Doo-Moh said.

"She's such a sweet little thing," Elaine sighed happily.

"Just keep it away from me," Clever Clover warned.

While Tabby began to demonstrate to Thomas how to play a game of Ask Furby with Doo-Moh, Sugarberry showed Vanguard the box from Lilac and Trendy. Together they opened it to find two wooden bird feeders in the shape of the gazebo at Birdsong, one for each of them. "To show your appreciation for your help during the flood," read the card.

An added note to Sugarberry from Lilac was also enclosed: "I don't have Vanguard's new address in Dream Valley, so I'm sending both gifts to you. Please see that Vanguard gets his. And if things work out between you two, remember: you can never have too many bird-feeders!"

Sugarberry blushed and stuck the note quickly out of sight, but not before Vanguard noticed her discomfort. "Private message from Lilac?" he teased her as he grabbed her hoof and drew her to the Christmas tree. "Merry Christmas!" he grinned as he again bestowed his gift to her.

The box's size and shape had appeared familiar to Sugarberry when she had first seen it, but she couldn't believe it would really be what she now expected. But upon untying the ribbon and removing the paper, her suspicion was confirmed. Before her stood the Special Edition Pony-Mart Exclusive My Little People Millennium doll.

"Oh!" squealed Sugarberry as she threw her foreleg around Vanguard's neck and lightly kissed his cheek.

Tabby looked up from Doo-Moh at the sound of Sugarberry's squeal. Not being exceptionally sharp in certain areas, she was immediately quite indignant over the gift her friend had received. She did not stop to consider the fact that the shape of Vanguard's gift to Sugarberry was, in fact, the same dimensions as Thomas' gift to Tabby.

"The Special Edition Millennium one?" Tabby gasped, her senses numbed. "But..."

"Here, Tabby. Before you hyperventilate, you'd better open this," Thomas advised, handing her the present he had selected for her.

Tabby looked at him curiously, still not picking up on anything. Not bothering to keep the wrapping paper in good shape, that and the ribbon was soon scattered in little bits and pieces across the floor.

"It's the... Special Limited Edition Exclusive Millennium My Little People doll," Tabby gaped, clutching the box in her hooves. "It's... it's... oh, it's so absolutely-fantastically-wonderfully perfect! Oh, Thomas!" She looked like she might say more, but she settled for just gazing down at the doll through the clear cellophane cover.

"Ah! Loud lee-koo!" Doo-Moh shrieked.

"And just how did you get ahold of it?" Tabby demanded of Thomas, setting the doll aside for the moment. "You certainly weren't at Pony-Mart yesterday."

"Yes," Sugarberry stared at Vanguard. "How did you get these dolls?"

"Would you believe a little elf?" asked Vanguard as he shot a glance in Chocolate Chip's direction.

The look did not go unnoticed. "Chocolate Chip, what part did you play in this?" asked Sugarberry. "You were out in the morning, but I didn't see you at Pony-Mart, either."

"You might as well ‘fess up, Chocolate Chip," advised Thomas.

"Yes, we're all dying to know the story," Tabby said, staring at Chocolate Chip.

Chocolate Chip came to the center of the room. "Well, Thomas and Vanguard had both asked for ideas on what you two would like best for Christmas, but I didn't have any really good ideas until I heard the two of you ‘oohing' and ‘aahing' over those dolls in the Pony-Mart flyer." She stopped for breath.

"That still doesn't explain how two of those fifty dolls are here today," reasoned Sugarberry.

"Interestingly enough, Rocky from Pony Pride works in the stockroom at Pony-Mart so I gave him a call. He owed me for some help I gave him on his term paper," she confessed.

"So he pulled two of them out before they went on sale? Clever!" Tabby squealed.

Sugarberry thought back to yesterday's conversation with Tabby, accusing Cotton Candy and Sunnybunch of unethical behavior of they buying their dolls before the customers did; and brought the fact to Tabby's attention. "This behavior would be considered unethical, wouldn't it?" she quizzed her friend.

"Not in all cases," Tabby sighed happily.

Sugarberry opted to leave her doll in the box in order "to prevent it from becoming coated in Fluff's long hair" while Tabby immediately set to work to release the human beauty from her entrapment. The room again buzzed with voices celebrating the gift of friendship.

Agatha and Strawberry Shortcake seated themselves on the couch in order to catch themselves up on the latest goings-on. "It's so good to see you again, Agatha!" Strawberry Shortcake exclaimed, embracing her old friend.

"It has been a long time, hasn't it?" Agatha sighed.

"Strawberry Baskets and I are still busy with our fruit farm," Strawberry Shortcake smiled.

"You always did like your strawberries, didn't you?" Agatha commented.

"Of course!" Strawberry Shortcake giggled.

"So, Strawberry Shortcake, what do you think of Dream Valley by now?" Agatha questioned.

"Oh, yes, it's quite nice," Strawberry Shortcake said in approval.

"And how do you think Sugarberry is getting along?" Agatha prodded.

"Her life is splendid, I think," Strawberry Shortcake nodded. "I especially like that young stallion she's seeing."

"Vanguard, is it?" Agatha said curiously.

"Yes, and how about Tabby?" Strawberry Shortcake continued. "Do you suppose she's doing well?"

"She's fine, but... still not married," Agatha sighed again.

"Oh, I think she rather likes that Thomas," Strawberry Shortcake said calmly.

"That's true, but she's too stubborn to admit it," Agatha fumed.

"That's the way Tabby is. She always was obstinate. I remember that one year I home-schooled her and Sugarberry; she was always causing trouble..." Strawberry Shortcake recalled.

"I remember everything you told me about her that year!" Agatha exclaimed. "But it still doesn't change the fact that she's not married."

"Thomas seems level-headed. He'll wait for her," Strawberry Shortcake said reasonably.

"I certainly hope somebody waits for her. I'm still saving Guido back for her, however," Agatha explained.

"Guido? He sounds like a dashing Italian stallion," Strawberry Shortcake commented.

"Oh, yes, and very rich," Agatha went on. "He's recently taken up boxing, as well."

"There is more to love than money, Agatha," Strawberry Shortcake reminded.

"I suppose, but the money does help," Agatha said.

"Don't worry; I'm sure Tabby will settle down once she stops going off on crazy adventures to discover Atlantis and such," Strawberry Shortcake pointed out.

"That's her father's side of the family influencing her," Agatha said. "Hubert was lost in the Himalayas while hunting Yetis, you know."

"I was just thinking of that earlier," Strawberry Shortcake said thoughtfully. "That was very traumatic for you, wasn't it?"

"Yes, but I've never given up hope that he'll come back," Agatha said firmly.

"That's good, Agatha," Strawberry Shortcake said, the two of them lapsing into silence.

Several more moments passed. "Oh, I'm sorry!" Agatha suddenly exclaimed, getting her senses back. "My mind was wandering... I was thinking about Hubert. I remember the house we bought."

"What became of that place, anyway?" Strawberry Shortcake questioned.

"I just never had the heart to sell it," Agatha said in reminiscence. "I suppose it's rather run-down by now."

"Maybe you should think about fixing it up, in case Tabby ever should get married," Strawberry Shortcake suggested.

"Hmm... I wonder..." Agatha pondered. "I really should do something with the place."

"In fact, if you did fix it up, it might even give Tabby incentive to get married," Strawberry Shortcake continued.

Agatha was struck into a state of wonder at the suggestion. "Why-- why-- what a brilliant idea, Strawberry Shortcake!" she said excitedly. "Why-- that's perfect! I must look into this right away!

"Glad I could be of assistance," Strawberry Shortcake smiled.

Tabby, meanwhile, was having a splendid time getting to know Doo-Moh and instructing Thomas in the ways of Furbys. She had currently gotten Doo-Moh into the mode for the Ask Furby game.

"Doo-Moh, is Ah-Loh terribly lost with no way to get back?" Tabby asked anxiously, and patted the Furby's back to get a reply.

"Hee hee hee!" Doo-Moh giggled. "Yes! Hee hee hee!"

"Doo-Moh!" Tabby drew in her breath.

"Treat the lady with some respect," Thomas chided his Furby. "Now, you were just kidding, weren't you?"

"May-be," Doo-Moh said mysteriously.

Tabby looked deeply into Doo-Moh's eyes. There was something about this Furby... something unsettling. She couldn't place it. But, no, she couldn't worry about it. She was getting Thomas to understand some Furbish, at least.

It was early afternoon when amidst the merriment and activity, a rap sounded at the door. Sugarberry, who happened to be close by, answered the summons and was surprised to see a not too close neighbor and a total stranger standing on her front porch.

"Excuse me for interrupting, Sugarberry, but this young stallion has traveled some distance to see his sister."

Sugarberry was bewildered as she looked at the rose red stallion before her as he asked, "May I speak with Chocolate Chip?"

"Chocolate Chip?" Sugarberry dumbly repeated. Then, realizing the full impact of what was happening, she stood back to allow the two visitors to enter her home. Chocolate Chip was engrossed in watching Friendly's computer game in progress, and at first wasn't aware of the new guests. But as a hush slowly descended over the room as first one pony and then another stopped to wonder at the young stallion before them, Chocolate Chip, too, looked up.

When she saw who stood there, her mouth dropped open and she physically began trembling. Clever Clover placed a hoof on her foreleg to reassure her. "Wishbone?" she whispered. "Is that really you?"

The rose red stallion, his golden mane curling around his youthful features, softly responded, "Yes, Chocolate Chip. It's me," and in a rush and a volley of tears the two ponies embraced and clung tightly to each other until Chocolate Chip stepped back to take a good look at this brother she hadn't seen since months back.

"How'd you find me?" she finally asked.

"When I told Mom I was setting out to search for you, she admitted that she'd received a note from you, and had your address. So I came straight here, with a little help from a friend." He turned and thanked Daddy Leafy for his help.

"Glad to be able to show you the way," Daddy Leafy responded. "And I wish you all a Merry Christmas," he addressed the entire room.

"And does Baby Leafy like that Christmas kitten I checked over yesterday?" asked Thomas.

"He seems to be the perfect gift," replied Daddy Leafy.

After chatting a bit, Daddy Leafy confided to Sugarberry that his family was awaiting his return; accepting a parcel of cookies, Daddy Leafy was soon on his way home.

By the this time, Strawberry Shortcake and Agatha had ensconced Chocolate Chip and Wishbone on the sofa so that the two could catch up on the events of the past months. The two mothers regaled Wishbone with food from the buffet and kept an attentive eye on Chocolate Chip.

"The excitement might be too much for her," fretted Strawberry Shortcake.

"Nonsense. A visit from her brother will do her good," Agatha argued.

"Noh-lah doo-ay!" Doo-Moh exclaimed.

Chocolate Chip was, in fact, having the time of her life filling in the details of the last nine months to her brother's satisfaction, and hearing about the ponies and places from her former days in Neighberry.

And it was then that Tabby presented Elaine with a gift from her. Elaine was spellbound by what she found inside the package.

"It's Plum Pudding!" she gasped, clutching the doll and gazing at it with misty eyes. "How long I've wanted her..."

"It's the least I could do," Tabby said simply, staring down at the Ah-Loh medallion which was still strung around her neck.

Elaine gazed spellbound into Plum Pudding's face, and realized what a sacrifice Tabby had gone through-- Plum Pudding would have been no easy thing for her to give up, let along to someone she hardly knew. "Tabby, I don't care what you think, but you're every bit as nice as my brother said you were," she said earnestly.

Suddenly, from the front porch came a scurry of hooves and the unmistakable "ARR" of Barnacle. Throwing open the door, Sugarberry was met by not only the pirate pony from Port Scurvy, but also Tex. And they were surrounded by a shower of snowflakes.

"Come in! Come in!" invited Sugarberry. "Although seeing the two of you together somehow signals trouble ahead!" she grinned as she hugged each in turn.

"ARR! What do you be meanin' by that?" asked Barnacle sorrowfully. "Am I not welcome in your house, Sugarberry?"

"Oh, Barnacle, you know I'm only teasing!" the strawberry-covered pony replied. "But I'm sure you and Tex remember as well as I do of the trouble you two caused in school."

"Trouble?" repeated Tex. "Why, Sugarberry, what trouble did Barnacle and I ever cause?"

"ARR," agreed Barnacle. "Model students we were!"

"What about the time Curly Locks' tail got dipped in the inkwell?"

"Nothing was ever proven."

"And the snake in study hall?"

"ARR. Wandered in on his own, me be thinkin'."

"Any idea why the fire alarm only went off in heavy downpours?"

"Why, Sugarberry, whatever are you getting at?"

"Well, you two seem to have a different recollection of certain events than I do; but, come, Barnacle, you must say hello to my folks and Tabby's mom. Tex has already become reacquainted with them," she smiled at the yellow stallion as he cringed over the recollection of meeting Agatha. He took off in the opposite direction, joining up with Spike, who had received several Transformers as gifts.

"Cool looking toys, Spike."

"Sugarberry and Tabby each got me one," happily reported Spike.

"And let me guess," reasoned Tex. "They each got Friendly a computer game, and he's busily playing them now on Sugarberry's computer."

"You got that right," Spike chuckled. "Come on. Let's go watch."

So, the stallion and dragon joined Clever Clover at the computer where Friendly was actively engaged in fighting aliens in War of the Worlds.

"Very interesting," mumbled Tex as he pretended to watch the screen. But his eyes and his thoughts were focused on the pink unicorn with yellow eyes who was talking loquaciously to Tabby across the room.

"Game fun, yeah, yeah," confirmed Friendly.

Strawberry Shortcake came to steer Tex toward the buffet table which she was keeping bountifully supplied. Strawberry Baskets was deep in conversation with Vanguard while Sugarberry went her way making sure everyone was happy.

"Strudel, anyone?" she asked of Clever Clover, Spike, and Friendly.

"Full already, yeah," Friendly responded.

"I'll have some of that." Clever Clover grabbed the two pieces for himself, leaving an empty plate for Spike.

"Never fear," comforted Sugarberry. "Mom made plenty. I'll be right back." Soon, she delivered an entire strudel topped with chocolate frosting to the computer table.

"Thanks, Sugarberry!" Spike grinned as he helped himself to a generous portion.

"Martian attack! Yeah!" yelped Friendly, caught up in his game.

"Sure, whatever," remarked Sugarberry distractedly. She had noticed Barnacle and Tex deep in conversation at the buffet table, and they somehow seemed like the mischievous little colts she remembered from grade school. "They're up to something," she muttered under her breath.

* * *
"Agatha and Tabby still haven't forgiven me for that worm incident in sixth grade," Tex confided to Barnacle.

"ARR! That was a splendid affair," remembered Barnacle.

"I know, but they don't think so."

"That reminds me." Barnacle reached into his backpack and rustled through the assorted gifts he had brought with him. "ARR. Here we go. I be thinkin' Davey or Jones dropped these in." He pulled out a cellophane bag of gummy worms and discreetly showed them to Tex.

Tex's eyes opened wide. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"ARR. And I bet she screams even louder now than back then."

"I hope so! How do we pull it off?"

"Me be thinkin'," contemplated Barnacle. "We have to be certain Tabby and only Tabby gets them."

"How about wrapping them as a gift?"

"ARR. Or hiding them in a serving of cherry pie."

"What's up?" asked a voice behind the two connivers.

Barnacle hid the worms deftly while Tex turned to respond to Clever Clover's inquiry.

"Just checking out the food," Tex lied. "Bu the way, Tamara was looking for you."

"She was? But I was just talking to her."

"Oh. Did I say Tamara? I meant Tiffany."

Clever Clover looked closely at Tex, and then at Barnacle, who now was innocently describing his latest adventure to Strawberry Baskets. "You two are up to no good!"

"On Christmas, Clever Clover? Surely you can't suspect us of stooping that low."

"We will see, won't we?"

Tex only grinned.

As Clever Clover moved away, Tex and Barnacle continued their scheming. "ARR! We've got to wrap it as a gift with a name-tag so only Tabby will open it," decided Barnacle.

"Where do we find wrapping paper?" asked Tex; and as if in answer, Tabby's Mr Mime, who had busily been picking up ribbons and bows and paper, scurried by. He didn't even notice when Barnacle slipped a lovely ribbon from his hand and Tex pilfered a sheet of paper.

The pirate and the salsa seller looked at each other and smiled. "Step one taken care of," smugly stated Barnacle as he ripped the name tag off Tabby's original gift and handed it to Tex.

"Step two may be more difficult," frowned Tex abruptly. "How do we wrap it without being seen?"

"ARR. Plenty of privacy in the bathroom," Barnacle smirked as he shoved Tex in that general direction.

Barnacle himself slipped off to visit with Princess Tiffany and Tamara. When he caught sight of Tex coming back into the room, he excused himself and met his accomplice in a relatively quiet corner.

Tex slipped the now-wrapped parcel of worms back into the backpack. "I took the gummy worms out of the cellophane so they'll seem more lifelike when the ribbon is untied," he whispered to Barnacle.

"ARR. Now you be thinkin' like a pirate!" declared Barnacle.

"Tex! Tex!" Tamara approached the stallion. "You've been here over half an hour, and you haven't even wished me a Merry Christmas," she said in disapproval.

"I always save the best for last," Tex said as he put his foreleg around the unicorn while flashing a wink at Barnacle. "Shall we go wish Aunt Agatha a happy holiday?"

Barnacle, too, mingled with the Christmas guests until he found himself in front of the Christmas tree. Lifting the backpack off his shoulder, he set it on the arm of the sofa. "ARR! If I be havin' everyone's attention, I got some gifts to hand out!"

He reached into the depths of the pack and pulled out the first package. "Sugarberry, you be a gifted first."

"Why, thank you, Barnacle!" she gasped. "I'm flattered." Sugarberry untied the ribbon to reveal a purple gemstone. "Barnacle, it's lovely!" she exclaimed.

He put his hoof in the pack once more and intoned the next name: "Clever Clover."

The archeologist was impressed to find an ancient golden trinket in his package. "Fascinating!"

"ARR! Tiffany!" called out Barnacle, obviously enjoying his role as Santa Claus.

"Friendly." And so it went. It appeared that a pirate's life was rather rewarding.

"ARR. Tabby," Barnacle called.

Tabby trustingly took the ribbon-bedecked gift and excitedly tore into it, pausing only a second to notice that the paper looked a lot like one of the patterns Sugarberry used.

The shriek that followed was everything Barnacle and Tex had counted on, and more. In her fright, Tabby had tossed the worms upward, and they rained down on the gathered guests in random fashion, eerily seeking out those ponies with the greatest repulsion to worms as they dropped, so that the shrill sound was repeated again and again, echoing through the once peaceful home.

Doo-Moh added her thoughts on the incident. "Dah boy-bay!" she wailed, translating into "Big afraid!"

Standing with hooves on hips like sentinels of doom, Sugarberry and Strawberry Shortcake scowled disapprovingly at the guffawing pirate. Agatha, who was watching Tex's obvious enjoyment of the event, added her displeasure by stating an, "I told you he was trouble" to Tamara.

Wishbone thoroughly enjoyed the situation and confided to his sister that any reservations about her new friends were now erased-- anyone who could set up such a scheme met with his full approval.

Tiffany had conveniently swooned into Toby's hooves; and luckily for him, she really had fainted, or she would have let him have it for laughing at the panicked mares.

Spike and Friendly scurried through the room rounding up the wayward gummy worms. "Wiggle, wiggle, yeah," joked Friendly as he held one of the gelatinous critters in the air. Spike promptly grabbed it in his mouth and swallowed it down.

"You're vile. You're just simply vile," Tabby's voice, filled with emotion, challenged the guilty stallions. She glared at Barnacle and Tex in turn; and if looks could kill, Ponyland would have lost two of its mainstays this Christmas day.

"Oh, Tabby," chuckled Barnacle as he tried to put a foreleg around her. "You were perfect!"

Tabby jostled the pirate away. "You... you... worm," she hissed, using the lowest possible term in her vocabulary.

"ARR, Tabby. You can't be meaning that," a persistent Barnacle went on. "We be best of friends, right?"

"That's what you think!" snarled Tabby.

"Hee hee! Fun!" Doo-Moh's high-pitched giggle sounded through the room.

Strawberry Baskets intervened at this point. "Christmas is a time of peace. Barnacle, don't you think you should apologize to Tabby?"

"ARR. Me be sorry, Tabby." Barnacle tried to put on a sorrowful face, but failed miserably. "But you got to admit it was awfully funny," he grinned voraciously.

"Now, Tabby," Strawberry Baskets continued. "Do you accept Barnacle's apology?"

"Not particularly, but..." Tabby's glowering countenance stared at Barnacle, but a flicker of a smile began to soften her anger. "...I might make an exception."

"Now, Tex." Strawberry Baskets turned to the colleague of the wayward pirate. ‘It would appear that you, too, owe Tabby an apology.

But Tabby waved her hoof through the air in dismissal. "He's not worth the bother," she declared.

"Tabby, I'm..." Tex tried to right the situation.

Tabby cast him such a withering glance then that he shut his mouth in defeat.

Barnacle reached into his backpack one more time and pulled out an unmarked package. "This be your real gift, Tabby," he announced. "Merry Christmas!"

"For real?" Tabby asked skeptically, reaching out for it skeptically.

"ARR. For real!"

Tabby held the gift at foreleg's length and slowly undid the ribbon. As the paper slid down, it revealed a shining golden tube approximately two inches long. Tabby gasped in delight.

"I knew you not be likin' jewelry and such, but this item seemed right for you somehow."

Drawing the small but rather heavy cylinder in close to her heart, Tabby declared blissfully, "I bet you it came from Atlantis and there's some terribly exciting mystery around it involving Furbys and deranged Atlantean spirits."

Thomas, who was at Tabby's side, looked perplexed. "I don't know why, but I'll agree with you on that." Their eyes met, and something ethereal passed between them.

"Kah very happy," Doo-Moh decided.

"Your theories are deranged more so than Atlantean spirits," Clever Clover mumbled under his breath.

"Look, the snow is still falling," called out Spike as he passed the picture window. Everyone's attention was drawn to the feathery snowflakes being blown in the wind.

"I love a Christmas snow," sighed Sugarberry as she stood in Vanguard's embrace.

"Yes, it makes the day all the more special," agreed her mother.

Agatha softly reflected, "Hubert always loved the snow."

Thomas and Tabby moved to her side, and two tears rolled down Agatha's cheeks. "You're a lot like your father, Tabitha," she whispered.

Sugarberry softly began to sing. "Joy to the world, the Lord is come; let earth receive her king..."

And one by one, the clustered friends joined in. "He rules the world with truth and grace..."

Sugarberry smiled at Tabby as their eyes met, and the two ponies knew for a fact that Jesus was the best gift yet.

"Hmm... boring," was all Doo-Moh had to say.

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The Christmas in Dream Valley, 1999 Quiz
by Tabby and Sugarberry


Sugarberry and I have decided that if you managed to read through our entire Christmas story, you should be rewarded with something. Therefore, we present you with this set of fifteen questions, the answers of which were mentioned in the above story. The first prize winner-- the first respondent who gets all fifteen correct-- will receive a complete set of five Smilemakers My Little Pony stickers (Light Heart, Sundance, Morning Glory, Ivy, and Sweet Berry). Anyone after the first prize winner who e-mails me all the correct answers will have a choice of ONE of the Smilemakers My Little Pony stickers (while supplies last).

And now, here are the questions. You have permission to go back and read over parts of the story if you need to! Once you have answers for all fifteen, you can e-mail them to me at [email protected] Have fun! (Big fun!)

-Tabby



#1-- Who showed up unexpectedly at Tabby's house for Christmas?



#2-- What did Sugarberry serve Tabby and Agatha for supper the first night Agatha was in town?



#3-- Who gave Tabby a Mr. Mime?



#4-- Where did Tiffany and Tamara do their Christmas shopping?



#5-- What symbol does Jack have?



#6-- What restaurant did Thomas take Tabby and Agatha to?



#7-- What is Thomas' sister's name?



#8-- What is the name of Tabby's father?



#9-- What gift did Tabby buy Baby Noddins? (Be specific-- be very specific!)



#10-- What excuse did Tamara give Tex for rejecting him? (Be careful!)



#11-- Which Pokèmon did Tabby think of as creepy?



#12-- What was the name of Tabby's Furby that died?



#13-- Why did Tabby get upset at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe after meeting Elaine?



#14-- Who helped Tabby get ready for Tiffany's party?



#15-- What did Tabby mean by "life energies"?

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The Christmas Guest (Retold)
by Sugarberry


Snuggled comfortably in her canopy bed, Baby Leafy was sleeping soundly through the early morning hours of Christmas Day. She had been up late the night before participating in the living nativity that the ponies and friends now conducted as a yearly Christmas Eve tradition. The miracle of the preceding year's drama was not repeated, but the occasion had been blessed with a divine outpouring of grace and love. Baby Leafy and her friends had headed home wrapped in the glow of Christmas peace.

Now, warm and cozy in her Christmas dreams, Baby Leafy sighed in her sleep and smiled angelically. She had been approached by a radiant light, and from its brilliant heart she heard these words, "I'm coming to be your guest on Christmas Day."

Baby Leafy's eyes flew open, and she sat upright in her bed. The words echoed through her mind-- "...coming to be your guest..." She gazed around her room as if to locate the source of those words, but everything was enveloped in complacency.

Jumping from her bed, Baby Leafy trotted to the window to behold a rather dreary-looking Christmas morning. Heavy, grey clouds signaled the coming of snow, and a gusty wind blew autumn's leaves hither and thither. By all outward signs, this was just another ordinary day. But in her very being, Baby Leafy knew that this day was very special. Not only was it a day of celebration in the birth of God made Man, but she truly believed that the words she'd heard in her sleep were spoken to her by this Savior of the world.

"He's coming to see me today," she whispered. "He's coming to see ME!"

Without a doubt in her mind that today would be unforgettable, Baby Leafy brushed her teeth and showered before venturing down the hall to the top of the stairs. She always sat on the top step to wait for her parents to wake up before the three of them proceeded down the winding staircase to the front room where the festive tree, garlanded with bright and merry ornaments, stood sentinel over the array of gifts that awaited opening.

Baby Leafy anticipated wonderful gifts, but as she sat on the carpeted stairs, her mind was held by the words still etched in her memory, "I'm coming..." She was so caught up in her private reverie that she didn't hear her parents approach.

Daddy Leafy gently touched her shoulder. "Where are your thoughts off to, Baby Leafy?" he grinned.

Coming back to reality with a start, Baby Leafy grabbed her dad's hoof and pulled herself up into his forelegs. "Merry Christmas, Daddy!" she sang out, then proceeded to plop a big wet kiss on his nose. Leaning to her mother, she repeated her salutation.

"Merry Christmas to you, too," smiled her mother. "You're certainly emanating the Christmas spirit!"

"Jesus comes today!" Baby Leafy clapped her hooves in sheer joy.

"Indeed he does!" agreed Daddy Leafy. "Two thousand years ago he was born in Bethlehem, and we celebrate that awesome fact today."

"But He's really coming," Baby Leafy insisted.

Mommy Leafy lifted her down from her father's embrace and set her on the floor. "He comes to each one of us darling, not just on Christmas, but every day of the year." Mommy Leafy took Baby Leafy's hoof in hers and led her down the stairs.

Catching the excitement of her parents over some gift that must be extra special, Baby Leafy gave in to the thrill of the gift exchange. Her parents guided her to the foot of the stairs, and turned her in the direction--not of the tree-- but of the hall closet.

"Open the door," her dad suggested.

Fascinated, Baby Leafy looked from one parent to the next; then cautiously she approached the door and slowly pulled it open.

At first, she saw nothing amiss--coats hung on the hangars and boots were lined-up at the back of the closet. But then a movement caught her eye as a small golden-furred kitten unfolded itself from a sleepy bundle, yawned, and stretched one leg out front while its little rump rose in the air. The tiny creature shook slightly from the effort. Once on all four paws, the little feline put its tail straight up in the air and proceeded directly to Baby Leafy. After rubbing against her hooves, the kitten raised its baby blue eyes to meet Baby Leafy's. "Meow," the kitten begged. And it was love at first sight on both sides.

Baby Leafy squealed in delight which sent the kitten temporarily scampering for cover, but he soon returned to be caressed and coddled by the creature with whom he'd now share his life. Baby Leafy was emphatically happy, and cradled the kitten gently in her forelegs. Smiling up at her parents, she said, "He'll be my best friend forever and always!" And with that said, she hurried off to the couch to curl up with the wildly purring kitten who was himself experiencing all the joy of acceptance that anyone could hope for.

As Mommy and Daddy exchanged their gifts to one another, Baby Leafy contemplated her kitten. She had discovered that he loved being scratched behind his ears, and tickled on his tummy; both were having the time of their lives when Baby Leafy became aware of her parent's conversation.

"We will have to head out soon for Grandma's house," Mommy Leafy was reminding her family.

"Yes," agreed Daddy Leafy. "You know how upset she gets if we're not there on time."

Baby Leafy looked up in dismay. "I can't leave; Jesus is coming!"

Her parents looked first at Baby Leafy, then at each other. Through silent communication, they obviously determined that Daddy Leafy was the one to face this discussion with his daughter. Mommy Leafy quietly left the room to make last minute preparations for leaving.

Daddy Leafy lowered himself onto the sofa next to Baby Leafy and her kitten. Stroking the kitten's soft fur, he asked, "Baby Leafy, why don't you want to go to Grandma's house?"

In the innocence and trust of childhood, she confided her dream to her dad, ending with a heart-wrenching plea for understanding-- "I've got to be here for Jesus! Please Daddy; don't I?"

Daddy Leafy was silent for some time. He thought back on the last two Christmases when strange, miraculous events had occurred in connection with the memorial of Christ's birth. Was Baby Leafy caught up in a wild imagination fueled by past stories, or was this yet another manifestation from heaven?

Growing impatient, Baby Leafy crawled into her dad's lap. "Daddy, please! For Jesus!"

He looked into her eyes alight with an inner glimmer of knowledge that somehow transcended earthly matters. Hugging his daughter to him, he acquiesced. "Your mom and I will stay home with you, Baby Leafy, and we will all wait for Jesus."

Baby Leafy hugged back with the biggest hug she could muster.

"Better run tell your mother before she has everything packed and ready to go."

Scampering to the kitchen with the kitten close on her hooves, Baby Leafy found her mom loading cookies, pies, and salads into a big basket. Gaily wrapped packages for Grandma and Grandpa, aunts, uncles, and cousins stood expectantly on the table.

"Mommy, Daddy says we're staying home for Christmas!"

Mommy Leafy stopped, a pumpkin pie suspended in midair. A strange look came over her face; she looked searchingly at Daddy Leafy as he entered the room.

"What do you mean-- staying home?" she asked tremulously.

Taking a deep breath, Daddy Leafy tried to explain. "Baby Leafy is sure in her heart that Jesus will visit her here, today. She believes she heard His voice in a dream"

"Mommy, I did," Baby Leafy added positively. Then, turning, she left the room to begin a vigil of watchfulness from the windowseat in the front window; she wanted to be ready and waiting when Jesus came.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Daddy Leafy used all his persuasive powers to convince his wife that Christmas wouldn't be ruined if they missed the family celebration at his mother's. Mommy Leafy was a hard-sell.

"What about food for Christmas dinner?" she wailed. "Your mom is preparing the main course-- all I have are desserts and salads."

"I can run some of these things over to Mom's house; I'm sure she and Sassy and Jewel will have plenty to share with us." Daddy Leafy's two sisters were both excellent cooks.

"But we will be alone on Christmas!"

Pulling his wife close, he hugged her tightly. "Remember our first Christmas together? We wanted to be alone then."

Trying to maintain her pouty look, Mommy Leafy failed miserably as a smile took the place of her frown. "That was a pleasant Christmas, wasn't it?" she remembered.

"So you see, the day will be beautiful for all of us."

"And what do we tell Baby Leafy if no one shows up?" questioned Mommy Leafy. "She has no doubt in her mind that Jesus will come."

"Let's trust in miracles," suggested Daddy Leafy. "Here, tell me what to take out of your boxes for us; then I'll head over to Mom's."

Soon, Daddy Leafy was on his way the two blocks to Grandma's house. After tidying up the kitchen, Mommy Leafy joined Baby Leafy and the kitten on the windowseat. Baby Leafy acknowledged her presence with a bright smile, then turned her gaze back to the street.

Any ponies passing by were friends and acquaintances from the neighborhood. They were hurrying to their Christmas gatherings. Mommy Leafy felt a twinge of regret as she thought of the festivities of which she would have no part.

Suddenly, Baby Leafy sat up in deep concentration. Coming down the street was a young rose-red stallion with golden mane and tail. He wasn't anyone either Baby or Mommy Leafy had seen before. Mommy Leafy perked up as she watched the stranger slowly make his way along the street, looking left and right as if searching for a particular home. She laid a hoof on Baby Leafy's foreleg, and could feel the excitement that her daughter was experiencing. They both gasped as the stallion reached their sidewalk, and turned onto it. Was this the visitor that Baby Leafy had been waiting for?

Baby Leafy raced to the front door even before the knock sounded, and flung it open in anticipation. "Come in! Come in!" she cried out.

A look of surprise crossed the stallion's face, but he willingly stepped into the foyer to escape the chilling wind.

"I'm sorry to bother you on Christmas," he began, "but I'm looking for someone and don't know where to find her."

"May I help you?" queried Mommy Leafy as she came up to him.

"I truly hope so. My sister moved to Dream Valley some months ago, and I wanted to spend Christmas with her. But there are so many homes here." His foreleg swept a wide arc to indicate the extent of his problem. "Neighberry is just a village compared to this."

"Neighberry?" asked Mommy Leafy. "I've heard of that town!"

"Do you know my sister then? Her name is Chocolate Chip and she is brown with..."

"Chocolate Chip is your sister? Why, of course I know her. She lives with Sugarberry over on Fifth Street."

Just returning from his excursion to Grandma's house, Daddy Leafy came in carrying a box of delicious smelling food items. Taking the box from her husband, Mommy Leafy volunteered his services to the wayward stallion.

"Dear, this is Chocolate Chip's brother." Seeing the vacant look on his face, she continued, "You know, the college student that boards with Sugarberry. By the way, what's your name?" she addressed the young stallion.

"My name's Wishbone. And you would be...?" he asked as he extended his hoof.

After introductions had been made, Daddy Leafy headed out with Wishbone to deliver him safely to Sugarberry's house. "Don't eat before I get back," he teased as he winked at Baby Leafy and kissed his wife. With a wave, the girls bid farewell to Wishbone.

Sadly, Baby Leafy turned and trudged back to the windowseat. Even the antics of the pouncing kitten failed to brighten her spirits. "When will Jesus come?" she whispered to herself as she resumed her watch by the window.

After depositing the food safely in the kitchen, Mommy Leafy returned to her daughter. She lovingly ran her hoof over her mane. "Why so glum, little one?"

"It's such a long wait," Baby Leafy admitted.

Mommy Leafy pressed her daughter to her. "When your dad gets back, we'll eat and you will feel better. In the meantime, why don't you think about naming your kitten?"

The golden fuzzy furball had curled up on the cushion of the windowseat and was now sleeping peacefully. Baby Leafy reached out and softly touched the warm, contented kitten. "I don't know what to call him; there are so many pretty names."

"Well, you think about it while I set the table." Her daughter looked so forlorn that Mommy Leafy amended her statement. "On second thought, you set the table while I reheat the food."

Baby Leafy slid off the windowseat and followed her mom to the china cupboard where the best dishes were kept. Only on special occasions were the floral plates put to use, and this was the first time Baby Leafy was allowed to handle them.

Slowly and carefully, Baby Leafy carried the pieces of china to the table and arranged them neatly. The delicate pink roses were lovely to behold, and she was able to forget her unhappiness.

Soon, Daddy Leafy returned, shaking off some white, fluffy snowflakes that had just begun to fall. "Wishbone was warmly received by his sister," he informed his curious wife. "It was a tearful but happy reunion." Handing Baby Leafy a covered plate, he explained, "This is from Sugarberry."

Uncovering it, Baby Leafy discovered some frosted sugar cookies in the shape of Christmas trees and stars. "Mommy, can I eat one now?"

"Umm... I think not, precious. It'd time to eat our Christmas dinner." So saying, she went to the kitchen and began carrying out platters and bowls of steaming food. With Daddy Leafy and Baby Leafy's help, the table was soon loaded with a fare fit for a king.

Taking their places, Daddy Leafy led a prayer of thanksgiving, not only for the food, but also for the gift of the Christ Child. As the family chimed a hearty "Amen", a knock came on the door. But not the front door; this time it was at the back door off the kitchen.

"Who could that be?" wondered Mommy Leafy as she started to stand up. But Baby Leafy beat her to the door as she realized this could be her long-awaited visitor.

Opening the door, Baby Leafy was met with a flurry of snowflakes blowing in a gust of wind. Her heart was pounding wildly-- surely this would be her promised guest!

A pony stood outside on the steps, a black blanket thrown over her shoulders for protection from the cold. It was only the elderly mare from across the backyard; Baby Leafy often had talked with her during the summer months when Baby Leafy was playing pretend with her My Little People dolls, and Patchwork tended to her flowers.

Mommy and Daddy Leafy were standing in the background until Mommy Leafy saw clearly who stood there in the falling snow. "Patchwork, why are you out in weather like this?"

She hurried to guide the rather shaky mare into the house and led her to a kitchen chair. Patchwork sat down heavily.

"Silly me," she smiled sheepishly. "I went out to feed the birds-- they need Christmas dinner, too-- and I locked myself out of the house!"

"Didn't your family get here from Morganville?" asked Mommy Leafy anxiously. Patchwork had been looking forward to their visit for weeks.

Shaking her head sadly, Patchwork explained that she'd received a call from her daughter on Christmas Eve breaking the news that something had come up to prevent their coming. She ended dejectedly, "I think they just didn't want to come!"

Mommy Leafy put a foreleg around Patchwork's shoulder and Baby Leafy crawled into her lap. "You can eat Christmas dinner with us!" Baby Leafy offered spontaneously.

"Yes, Patchwork. Please join us," agreed Daddy Leafy. "We were just about to sit down."

Baby Leafy ran to fetch an extra place setting and soon the three plus one more were once again seated around the table. Daddy Leafy prayed a second time, and everyone settled in to enjoy the tastes of Christmas.

Eating until she thought she'd explode, Baby Leafy for a time forgot her expected visitor. She listened to the conversation of the adults-- Patchwork always had a funny story to share-- and snuck bits of dinner to the kitten who was enjoying this part of Christmas tremendously.

When dessert was finished, Mommy and Daddy Leafy tried to convince Patchwork to sit in the living room by the Christmas tree and relax, but she insisted in helping to clear the table and wash the dishes.

When the last dish had been put away, they all retired to the living room where Daddy Leafy entertained them by playing Christmas carols on the piano. Mommy Leafy, Baby Leafy, and Patchwork sang until they ran out of songs to sing.

While they sat around talking and sipping hot cider, the kitten jumped into Patchwork's lap and curled up for a nap. Patchwork stroked the kitten's golden fur, reminiscing about the different cats that had shared her life down through the years and the two that still kept her company. "I never had a golden cat like this, though," she admitted. "Why, he's as golden as that star on the top of your Christmas tree!"

All eyes turned upward to the crowning ornament on the tree and, sure enough, the glow of the yellow lights reflecting on the golden star did mimic the color and sheen of the kitten.

"Star!" exclaimed Baby Leafy. "That's the kitten's name!" And everyone agreed that it was the perfect name for the golden Christmas kitten.

Star himself simply lifted his head, meowed softly, and snuggled more deeply into a contented sleep.

As dusk began settling over the peaceful Christmas day, Patchwork announced her intention of heading home. "I hate to be a bother," she directed at Daddy Leafy, "but I'll need help forcing the lock on my door."

"I'll take care of that right now!" exclaimed Daddy Leafy. "But you stay put. No sense in leaving yet."

"Oh, no, I must get home. It's time to feed the cats. Midnight expects his food on time, and Stray will be getting lonesome."

Mommy Leafy hurried off to prepare a sampling of leftovers for Patchwork to take home with her. Baby Leafy boxed-up a variety of cookies to send home with her, too.

Stepping out into the ever whitening world of snowflakes, Patchwork turned and smiled. "You folks made this a very special Christmas for me." Then she headed off across the snowy lawn. Daddy Leafy followed quickly, taking her foreleg in his to protect her from a nasty fall.

Closing the door, Baby Leafy and her mom began laying out a simple supper so that when Daddy Leafy returned they were ready to eat.

"That didn't take long!" teased Mommy Leafy. "Have you had practice at opening other ponies' locked doors?"

"It was strange," Daddy Leafy mused. "Once we got to her back door, she suddenly remembered that she had a spare key stuck under a flowerpot." Stopping to think about it a bit, he then continued, "I think Patchwork didn't want to be alone on Christmas, and invented a reason to walk in on us."

"I'm glad she did," Mommy Leafy replied. "She had talked of nothing else but her family visiting on Christmas, so I had no idea she was over there all alone."

"No one should be alone on Christmas," added Baby Leafy.

The family was silent as they ate the evening meal, and Mommy Leafy didn't even comment on Baby Leafy's all-dessert menu. In her own mind, Baby Leafy was formulating an argument just in case. Her reasoning was based on the all-natural quality of pumpkin and the inclusion of a dairy product in the whipped cream, which made her favorite pumpkin pie a veritable goldmine of nutritional value.

When the dishes had again been washed and put away, and the kitchen straightened up, Baby Leafy once more returned to her niche in front of the window. The colored lights encircling the evergreen in the front yard twinkled through the gently falling snow. Baby Leafy-- staring at the red, blue, yellow, and green lights-- became mesmerized by the sparkle and the motion of the snowflakes. When a knock sounded at the front door, she jumped so violently that Star, who was nestled next to her, fell to the floor.

"Who could that be?" wondered Daddy Leafy as he moved toward the door. Baby Leafy recovered her senses and ran to reach the door first.

With the lateness of the day, this had to be her Christmas guest. Yet she had been disappointed twice before, so it was with caution and doubt that she creaked open the door.

There, on the top step, stood a shivering and totally dejected Baby Leaper. He was covered in snow and appeared to have been crying. Baby Leafy's first impulse of disappointment turned to compassion as she swung the door open further and pulled the sorry-looking colt into the house. "What are you doing here?"

Mommy Leafy stepped in with a towel to brush the snow off Leaper's back; leading him into the living room, she soon had him dried off and wrapped in a thick, warm blanket. "How did you end up lost and cold on Christmas?" she asked.

With chattering teeth, Baby Leaper related his story. "My cousins took me sledding over on the big hill at the park," he began. "But they could climb the hill faster than me, so I got left behind." He stopped as a chill ran through his body.

Handing him a mug of hot chocolate, Daddy Leafy gently rubbed Leaper's legs to bring back the warmth.

"By the time I got to the top of the hill, they had sledded down. And then they got into a snowball fight and I got bombarded." Baby Leaper looked so forlorn that Baby Leafy took Star to him, and laid the kitten in his forelegs. Baby Leaper hugged the soft, warm, purring body to his cheek. Star reached up a fuzzy little paw, and batted Baby Leaper's nose. For the first time since reaching the house, Baby Leaper smiled.

"After the snowball fight, they took off up the hill again with the sleds; I was cold and wet, so I decided to go home. But it was dark and snowy, so everything looked different."

"You poor dear!" Mommy Leafy sympathized. Baby Leafy grinned at Baby Leaper, enjoying his embarrassment over such a sissy statement.

"I got lost," Baby Leaper continued. "But I recognized your house." He looked at Baby Leafy. "I came to your birthday party once," he lamely ended as Star jumped from his grasp and went in search of some kitten food.

"Well," said Daddy Leafy, "I'd better get you home quickly or someone's going to be awfully worried to find you missing."

Insisting that Baby Leaper keep the blanket around him, Mommy Leafy and Baby Leafy saw the stallion and colt to the door.

"Merry Christmas, Baby Leaper," Baby Leafy called her final farewell as Daddy Leafy and Baby Leaper pushed through the snow that had accumulated on the sidewalk.

Baby Leaper turned and waved a hoof through the air. "Merry Christmas!" he called back, a smile now lighting his face. He trotted next to Daddy Leafy, revitalized and thoroughly enjoying the nighttime trip in the snow.

The house seemed terribly quiet now as Baby Leafy returned to the windowseat. She caught one last glimpse of her dad and Baby Leaper before they were swallowed up in the night. Leaning her head into a plush pillow by her side, Baby Leafy looked back over this Christmas Day, back to that early morning voice from her dreams. "I'm coming to be your guest on Christmas Day!" The words were still as clear as when she first heard them. Yet she knew that the hours of Christmas were nearly spent, and she felt empty inside.

The soft strains of Silent Night filled the room as Mommy Leafy put on a Christmas CD and sat in the rocking chair by the tree to once more read through the Christmas cards and letters from friends far and near. Baby Leafy turned away from the window to face the Nativity scene spotlighted under the Christmas tree. "Jesus, why didn't you come?" she silently prayed to the ceramic figure in the manger.

The only answer was the wet, cold nose of Star pushing against her cheek followed by the raspy licking of his tiny pink tongue. Baby Leafy hugged him close and laid down on the cushiony softness of the windowseat. She contemplated heavy thoughts for one so young-- thoughts of God's gift of His only Son to an undeserving world; yet a world that God loved deeply, for these people were His creation.

Amidst her ponderings, Baby Leafy heard the door click as her dad returned home. A current of cold night air accompanied him into the room where he leaned to kiss his wife; then he came and sat next to Baby Leafy and Star.

"Well, precious one," he softly asked his daughter. "Did your special visitor come while I was gone?"

One little tear escaped from Baby Leafy's eye as she buried her face against her father's warm side.

"No, Daddy," she whispered. After a moment's silence, she asked, "What kept Him from calling on me today? I wanted so much to see His face!" A sob shook her body as she finished.

Daddy Leafy remained silent as he brushed his daughter's mane back from her eyes. Mommy Leafy came to his side and clasped his hoof in hers. Their eyes met. What could they say to comfort their little daughter?

The music had finished, and the room was completely still except for Star's never-ending purr. The family of three sat in perfect solitude, when softly, in the silence, a voice was heard.

"Lift up your heads, my children; I have kept My word. Three times I came to your door this day."

Baby Leafy raised her head, her eyes searching for the source of the voice, yet knowing the voice was within her. Her gaze and that of her parents rested on the star at the top of the tree which seemed to be brighter somehow now than before.

The voice continued. "I was the stallion in search of his kin; I was the mare you welcomed in; I was the foal who needed a haven."

With eyes reflecting the brightness of the Christmas star, Baby Leafy listened to the soothing voice, enraptured.

"Three times I knocked. Three times I was allowed in, and each time I found the warmth of friends."

Baby Leafy's heart seemed ready to explode as the voice went on.

"Of all gifts, Baby Leafy, love is the best... I was honored to be your Christmas guest."

The voice was finished, yet the awesome sound seemed to linger in the softness that remained. Baby Leafy and her parents sat motionless, enveloped in such a feeling of peace and love that they wanted to hang on to it forever. They sat wrapped in ecstasy, and Baby Leafy softly voiced the sum of it-- "Jesus came today!"

Star seemed to smile and nod, then lowered his head to his folded paws, and fell asleep.



Happy Birthday, Jesus!
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**My Little Pony Monthly Policy Statement***


This e-mail newsletter is meant to be read by all ages, and I shall reject any submissions if they contain profanity of any sort. If you have a piece you think would add to the quality of My Little Pony Monthly, feel free to e-mail it to me at [email protected] And, remember, it doesn't have to be a story to be accepted! My Little Pony-related games, contests (please be willing to notify me of the results so I can post them in the next issue), Invento Ponies, and everything else are great as well!

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My Little Pony Monthly is a publication of Nematoid (Electronic) Publishing.
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http://members.tripod.com/~TabbyToy/Monthly.htm
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Our next issue will be sent January first.

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