My Little Pony Monthly Issue 42 (September 1, 2000)


My Little Pony Monthly
Established June 1997
This Newsletter is Safe for All Ages

If you would like to be removed from the My Little Pony Monthly mailing list, simply send a blank e-mail to [email protected]

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Issue 42
September 2000
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Index of this issue--



1. Contest Corner

2. Ginseng and Sassafras Tea Chapters 11-12 (by Sugarberry)

3. Atlantean Alliance (by Tabby)

4. Invento Ponies (by Berry Brite)

5. Alien Invasion Part II (by Berry Brite)

6. A Story (by Steamer)

7. Princess Willow Rosette Chapter 1 (by Akkima)

8. The Winner Is... Part Two (by Sugarberry)

9. The Evil Dragon Part 15 (by Starr)

10. Clever Clover vs. the Flatlands Chapter 5: The Three Challenges (by Clever Clover)

11. The Adventures of Baby North Star and Baby Brother Bright Bouquet Chapter 3: The Trip (by Baby Steamer)

12. The Great Apple Festival (by Sugarberry)

13. Letter About Golden Glory Chapel

14. The Lost Prince Chapter 7 (by Moonjumper)

15. Announcement About the Pacific Northwest Pony Friends

16. The Insane Crossover Story Chapter Ten (by Tabby and Barnacle)

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Contest Corner


The winner of last month’s contest (to answer the riddle “How can you fit ten ponies into nine stalls?) was [email protected]! Her answer was “You can get ten ponies into nine stalls if one is a mare that is pregnant!”, and she will be receiving an autographed copy of Chris Platt’s book entitled Willow King.

This month’s prize is another autographed Chris Platt book-- The Forbidden Stallion, from the Thoroughbred Ashleigh series.. A summary is as follows:



“Ashleigh Griffen knows it’s wrong, but she can’t help it-- she’s jealous. Peter Danworth has everything: a huge Thoroughbred racing farm, money, and one of Ashleigh’s favorite stallions, Aladdin.

“Then Ashleigh gets amazing news. If the stallion loses his next race, the Danworths will retire him to stud at Edgardale!

“Excited, Ashleigh sneaks a ride on Aladdin-- and she accidentally discovers how to run him to win. Will she keep quiet so the magnificent stallion can live on her parents’ farm? Or will she give Peter, the boy who has everything, Aladdin’s secret?”



This month’s contest involves a scavenger hunt through the stories in this issue! You will be looking for the following words phrases:



1. Sweetheart Sisters

2. Chatterbox

3. Moochick



Each only appears once in this issue. Once you have found these three words, e-mail [email protected] a message including the sentence where each was located. If you are correct, you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a copy of The Forbidden Stallion!



If you would be interested in purchasing other books written by Chris Platt, try doing a search for her on www.barnesandnoble.com or www.amazon.com

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Ginseng and Sassafras Tea
by Sugarberry ([email protected])


Chapter 11


Free Lance didn’t waste any time after her arrival at Hood’s Place. She slid into an empty chair and aimed her questions at Checker.

“Chief Checker, is it true that you allowed the elusive robber of Woodlawn to escape under the watchful eye of your police force?”

Taking a deep breath, Checker responded. “The alleged suspect seems to have left town.”

“Did one of your officers question this suspect yesterday?”

“The officer sent to question the suspect was led to believe he had talked to him.”

“Meaning your officer was incapable of seeing through an obvious deception?”

“Obvious to us in hindsight,” agreed Checker. “But understandable considering the circumstances.”

“What is your illustrious department doing about this development?” She glanced at the coffee mugs on the table disdainfully. “Other than drinking coffee,” she amended.

“My officers are combing Woodlawn and the surrounding area for information concerning the stallion in question.”

“And what is an exact description of this stallion?”

Checker wished he could hold back the details just to prevent Dreamy from getting her hooves on it, but he knew that having Victor’s description printed in the paper would acquaint more ponies with the need for facts concerning the stallion. He grudgingly gave out the description. “The stallion we are searching for is young, probably nineteen or twenty. He’s dark green with a purple mane and tail, and has a purple butterfly symbol.”

Having what she wanted, Dreamy stood up. Hood and Checker did also, but refrained from saying anything. The reporter cast a cold gaze on the two of them, and she left them with a parting shot. “My article in tomorrow’s paper will certainly accomplish what Woodlawn’s finest have failed to do.”

“That went well,” Hood muttered under his breath as he watched Dreamy walk away. As she reached the door, it opened; and Buttercup, carrying the ever-smiling Sweety, held it ajar to let Dreamy pass.

“Your Hood may need a soft shoulder to cry on,” Dreamy smiled disparagingly as she left the shop.

Buttercup, looking bewildered, came to Hood. “Since when are you ‘my Hood’, and who was that vixen?”

“It’s kind of a long story,” Hood sighed.

Buttercup sat herself down in the chair vacated by Dreamy. “I’ve got time.”

Hood motioned to Drumstick to take Buttercup’s order, then walked Checker to the door. “Don’t let Dreamy get to you, Checker. Whatever she writes in the paper doesn’t change the fact that you are doing all you can.”

Checker smiled weakly. “Even I’m beginning to doubt that, Hood.” He turned and forlornly left the shop.

Hood braced himself for a barrage of questions when he returned to Buttercup, but Patchwork Petal had come in for her shift and was talking baby talk to Sweetie as Buttercup looked proudly on. Hood took the opportunity to return to the counter, and the shop was soon crowded with ponies of all ages eager to escape the summer heat with a big serving of ice cream in the comfort of Hood’s Place.

“Good evening, Hood.” A light green stallion with a sky blue mane approached the counter, having arrived to meet his wife and daughter.

“Hi there, Homestead,” Hood responded. “That’s quite a pretty foal you and Buttercup have.”

“Yeah. She’s the greatest.” Homestead looked devotedly in the direction of his family. The foal was the center of attention from the customers at the nearby tables, and Sweetie’s cooing, gurgling, and assorted antics were a sure crowd pleaser. “But, anyway,” Homestead went on, “Buttercup says she needs to talk with you. I’m going to take Sweetie home now, and maybe you can walk Buttercup home later?”

Hood was about to plead too much work when Rosy Bells came up behind him. “Of course Hood can go,” she proclaimed. “I’m in charge now!”

“Good timing, Rosy Bells,” Hood belied. To Homestead, he directed, “Sure, I’ll get Buttercup home safely. I’ve just got to finish-up a few things in the office first.”

“Okay, Hood,” grinned Homestead. “And come in for a cold lemonade when you get there.”

“Sure thing,” Hood answered. As he trotted off to his office, he suddenly felt very, very weary.

He had no sooner gotten comfortable at his desk when Buttercup appeared in the doorway. “Mind if I come in?” she asked. Hood realized anew just how pretty she was. “Homestead’s one lucky stallion,” he said out loud.

Buttercup blushed slightly across her yellow cheeks. “Flattery will get you nowhere, Hood. I’m dying to know what was going on between you and that sassy-looking mare.”

“Meddlesome by nature, are you, Buttercup?”

“Excuse me, but it was your lady friend who referred to you as ‘my Hood’. That gives me certain rights.” She winked coquettishly.

“It’s just a misunderstanding. She saw us at the grocery yesterday and thought we made a lovely family.”

Buttercup laughed merrily. “I thought she might be the same mare I saw you talking with at the market. I hope I didn’t spoil your plans.”

“Actually, you saved me from an evening of verbal torture,” Hood admitted.

“Who is this mare, Hood?”

Hood disclosed his connection to Dreamy, alias Free Lance, holding the inquisitive Buttercup in rapt attention. “Rather waspish, isn’t she?” Buttercup offered as Hood finished his story.

Hood grinned at the idea of Dreamy being compared to a wasp. “Yes, she always was irritating and annoying.” But his mind moved back to the present moment. “And now, I think I better get you home to your family.”

As they walked through the thickening dusk, they discussed the continuing saga of Woodlawn’s woes. Buttercup was excited to find out that Checker now had a definite description of the burglar. “Green with purple mane?” she asked. “That doesn’t ring any bells with me. What is his symbol?”

“A purple butterfly... an amethyst swallowtail, I think it was.”

“An amethyst swallowtail?” murmured Buttercup. “Why does that sound familiar?”

“You’ve seen him?” Hood’s voice rose in excitement.

“No... no, it’s not that. But something... “ Buttercup trailed off, and Hood remained silent to give her time to think. It wasn’t until they reached Buttercup’s house and had gone inside that she suddenly spoke-up. “I remember now! Mom said the midwife who helped with my birth had a number of amethyst swallowtails on her sides.”

“Do you remember her name?” questioned Hood. “This could be important.”

Buttercup accepted a glass of ice-cold lemonade from her husband and concentrated hard. “Nope, but Mom will surely know!” She crossed to the telephone and placed the call while Hood paced the floor and Homestead checked on the sleeping foal.

“Hello, Mom?” It’s me... Yes, Sweety is fine... Of course I’ll give her a hug and kiss for you...” Hood nervously tapped a hoof on the kitchen counter, his impatience building; he wanted a definite name to go on.

“No, I’m just calling to get some information... What was the name of the midwife who helped deliver me?” Buttercup held the receiver away from her ear as her mother’s squeal of delight came so loudly through the line that even Hood could hear it some distance away. “No, Mom, I’m not going to have another foal, just yet. The reason I’m asking is that it’s important for an investigation here in Woodlawn.”

“Yes, that’s it. So it was in the Scoopville paper, too?... Do you remember her name?” Buttercup grabbed a pencil and jotted a name on the pad by the telephone. Hood watched over her shoulder as she added “moved” and “died” to the note.

“Okay, thanks. I’ve got to go now... Love you, too!” As she hung up the receiver, Buttercup beamed. “Her name was Sassafras and she married a farmer sometime after I was born, and they had a place east of town, but Mom never saw much of her although she heard bits and pieces about them from time to time.”

“Such as... “ prompted Hood.

Taking a deep breath, Buttercup continued. “She had several foals, Mom thinks, and they lived an isolated life on that farm until their finances ran out. I guess they moved to the city then-- Mom didn’t know where-- and she later heard that Sassafras had died.” She stopped talking and looked at Hood and Homestead in turn. “What do you think?”

“I think Checker needs to hear this as soon as possible,” urged Hood. “Do I have your permission to call him?”

“Sure,” agreed Homestead. “If this news will help in some way, go right ahead.”

Punching out Checker’s home number on the touch tone phone, Hood prayed that Moonglow wouldn’t be the one to answer and question his reason for calling. On the second ring, however, Checker’s voice came over the line.

“Chief Checker here.”

“Checker, it’s Hood. I ran into some information that you might be interested in... I’m at Buttercup and Homestead’s home... Yes, they said it’s okay for you to come now... Right.” Hood set down the receiver. “He’s on his way.”

Homestead tried to get Hood to sit down, but the potential of a clue to this ongoing mystery of thievery and deceit was too invigorating to allow him to be still. He crossed and recrossed the kitchen as Buttercup chattered about local gossip and household problems. Homestead listened to his wife, making the appropriate monosyllable reply when necessary, while watching Hood’s growing excitement.

Checker made record time in crossing town, and arrived at the front door ready to listen. Homestead brought him into the kitchen where the four ponies seated themselves around the table, and Checker kept quiet while Buttercup repeated her data.

Taking down notes as he listened, Checker’s demeanor became noticeably more buoyant. This was a lead that gave him something concrete to go on. When Buttercup had shared all the pieces of the puzzle that she could recall, Checker thanked her with a smile on his face. Haven’t seen that for awhile, thought Hood to himself.

“I’ll have to talk to your mother personally tomorrow morning on the chance that she might have remembered something else that would be useful to us,” he informed Buttercup.

“She’ll be pleased to help,” Buttercup responded, showing Checker and Hood to the door. Homestead was busy calming Sweety after she had awakened from her sleep, begging for a warm bottle and a dry diaper.

Upon opening the door for her guests, Buttercup, along with Hood and Checker, came face-to-face with Dreamy, her hoof raised to knock. “Well, well,” she clucked. “Look what we have here.”

While Buttercup wickedly wrapped her foreleg around Hood, flashing him a wink as he turned his head in surprise, Checker responded to the reporter. “What are you doing here, Free Lance?”

“I have my sources, and they spotted you on what appeared to be an important errand.” She surveyed the homey-looking trio, and continued. “Or did you just need another mug of coffee?”

“Oh, we had lemonade!” replied Buttercup as she snuggled closer against Hood’s side.” “Would you care for some, Miss...?”

Dreamy looked as if she wanted to say something, but held her tongue. Instead, she directed a question at Checker. “Have you identified the stallion who is suspected of the crimes of the past few months?”

“No, I haven’t.” Checker replied truthfully. “Now if you’ll excuse me...” He left the sentence unfinished while motioning Dreamy to be on her way. Her eyes shot sparks, but she turned and left the premises.

When she was out of range, Hood unwrapped himself from Buttercup’s embrace. “You little snip!” he chastised her but could not refrain from chuckling over the incident.

Buttercup laughed. “She deserved it, Hood. She’s so... so... so arrogant!”

Homestead came into the room from the nursery. “What’s so funny?” he asked, an eyebrow raised questioningly.

“I think Buttercup better explain,” suggested Hood. “ Checker and I need to be on our way.” With that, they left Buttercup to account for her mischievous behavior to her husband, and headed to Hood’s nearby house where they could talk in private. Once inside and seated comfortably in Hood’s study, the two stallions compared notes. “What do you make of it, Checker?”

Checker took a deep breath. “It could be coincidence, of course, with two ponies having a similar symbol without being related.”

“On the other hoof?” Hood pressed.

“If this Sassafras lost her farm because of financial difficulties, and if she passed her discouragement on to her offspring...”

“The modus operandi would fit your conjecture-- someone with a chip on his or her shoulder trying to get back at Woodlawn because of a perceived injustice,” interrupted Hood.

“We’ve got no proof yet, but it’s a starting point,” Checker stood up and prepared to leave. “Looks like I’ll be spending the night at City Hall digging through records for this Sassafras.”

“Will Moonglow be okay alone with the foals?” worried Hood.

“Stardrift was with her when I left and will stay until morning, if needed,” assured Checker. At the door, he turned back to Hood. “I forgot to thank you for uncovering this opening for us. With something solid to go on, we’ll be able to make some headway.”

“Just find what you need in those files,” retorted Hood. “That’s all the thanks I need!”



Chapter 12


It took all of Hood’s willpower the next morning not to trot over to the police station to discover what headway Checker had made in solving the mystery. Instead, he called Moonglow. It was Laser’s voice, however, that met his ear. “Hey, kid!” Hood greeted his nephew. “What’s for breakfast?”

“Hi, Uncle Hood,” Laser replied. “Aunt Stardrift is baking some chocolate muffins.”

“How’s your mom?”

“She’s fine. Aunt Stardrift stayed here last night ‘cause Dad was busy at the station.”

“Has your dad been home yet?”

“He came in long enough to grab some breakfast, but he’s gone again now.”

“Could I speak to your mom?”

“Sure.” Laser was gone, but it wasn’t long before Moonglow came to the phone.

“Hood? Is that you?”

“Yes, and I’m home worrying about you. Everything going okay with you and the baby?”

Moonglow giggled. “Admit it, Hood. You’re looking for a free breakfast!”

“I’ll take that to mean you’re feeling good this morning?”

“As well as can be expected. Why don’t you come on over?” she invited. “If you can make it in ten minutes, the muffins will be fresh out of the oven.”

“I’m on my way!” verified Hood with genuine anticipation. Chocolate muffins were one of his favorite bakery items. Leaving by the back door, he took a minute to check on a small, two-foot high blue spruce that Lacewing and Laser had helped him plant in the spring. The evergreen had put out tender blue needles after planting, and now stood proudly flaunting its new growth which had grown sharp and sturdy. Hood was proud of this tree-- the first and only effort he’d ever made to raise something himself. Seeing the tree healthy and strong lifted his spirits, and he hurried off to join his sisters for breakfast.

Arriving at the house, Hood could hear the raucous sounds of the foals playing in the backyard. He circled around to catch sight of them-- Blush, Crush, and Puzzle, along with Laser and Lacewing-- busy with a game of hopscotch. Or at least the four older ones were; Puzzle seemed more intent on playing in the dirt around the flowerbed.

Hood’s timing was perfect, as Stardrift came to the door to call everyone in to eat. “Come on in,” she smiled at her brother. “I made a second batch of muffins when I heard you were coming.” Under her breath, she added, “Moonglow’s mood has taken a down-swing, though.”

Hood ruffled Stardrift’s mane as he entered the house. “You take good care of me, Sis!” Spotting Moonglow across the kitchen, he noted her worried expression. He hurried to her side. “You look like you have a problem. Can I help?”

Moonglow smiled, but the worry lines remained. “Checker was out all night, and this morning he was off to Scoopville first thing. Dr. Fleethoof says the foal could come any time, and I’d kind of like his or her dad to be here.” She leaned her head against Hood’s shoulder, and he hugged her to him.

Catching Stardrift’s eye from her position by the table where the herd of foals was fighting over who would get the biggest muffin, he raised his eyebrows as if to ask, “What do I say here?”

Stardrift came to his rescue. She guided Moonglow to a chair at the table. “Sit down and relax. We will get word to Checker when you need him, and Hood and I are here now. Stop worrying!”

“Mom, I’m here, too,” reminded Laser, ready to take on his responsibility as the oldest foal when needed.

Looking at her son as though realizing for the first time that he was capable of handling things for her, Moonglow visibly relaxed. “You’re right,” she admitted. “I’m over-reacting. With all you around, I’ve nothing to fear.”

Breakfast took on a party atmosphere as the adults abandoned themselves to the innocent chatter of the foals. But all too soon, the realities of life crept in as Moonglow began to clear the table, Stardrift ran the dish water, and Hood left for the ice cream shop to order new supplies.

Moonglow’s worry had transferred to Hood; and as he walked to the shop, he mulled all the events of the last few days over in his mind. “The sooner Checker resolves this mess, the better!” he said out loud; and just at that moment, he saw Checker and Sparky round the corner into the street ahead of him. He hurried his pace to catch up with them. “Wait up, guys!” he said from behind them. As they turned, he continued, “What’s the good word?”

Before responding, Checker instructed Sparky to go directly to the station and begin a computer search on the information they had uncovered. When Sparky was on his way, Checker informed Hood of the progress they had made.

“Buttercup’s intelligence seems to have been the turning point, Hood,” Checker began with renewed energy. “I checked the records and found the marriage of one Sassafras to a local stallion by the name of Meadow Minder. He owned a tract of land five miles east of Woodlawn, bordering and including some of the woodland. It’s still in his name.”

“What about their offspring?” questioned Hood.

Checker shook his head. “There’s no record of births. But their isolated location and the fact that Sassafras was a midwife might account for that.”

“Did you question Buttercup’s mom?”

“First thing this morning. She couldn’t add anything to what Buttercup had already told us, yet she is positive that Sassafras and Meadow Minder had at least two foals. She calculates that they’d be in their late teens by this time.”

“Scoopville’s east of here, too, I believe,” Hood suggested.

Checker snickered. “Yes, it is. And yes, Sparky and I planned our route back to intersect with Meadow Minder’s farm site.” He shot a sidelong glance at Hood. “It’s scary to realize that the humble ice cream parlor owner presumes he can out-think the cops!”

Hood grinned. “Hey, who got you the lead? But don’t leave me in suspense. What did you find?”

“We found the farm, all right-- what’s left of it. A place really gets rundown fast once no one’s living on it.”

“Were there any signs of someone about the place now?” Hood quizzed his brother-in-law.

“Nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Meaning?”

“The farm is in a peculiar location,” explained Checker. “It’s secluded and rough, making it a difficult piece of ground to cultivate.”

“Which would explain why Sassafras and Meadow Minder had to move to the city,” reflected Hood.

“Exactly,” verified Checker. “The land is more suited for recreational pursuits like hiking and fishing; and as the land stands abandoned, it appears that the outdoor types have been making the most of its benefits.”

“So what you are saying is that even if someone was using the farm as a base of operations, it would be difficult to spot his activity?”

Checker nodded in assent. “Hiker trails crisscross the property and even cut through the homestead itself. This morning, Sparky and I saw two stallions and a mare on the trails.” He grinned at Hood. “And, no, none of them met the description of our suspect.”

Hood scratched his head. “This isn’t going to be easy then, is it?”

Checker concurred. “Not as easy as I’d like it to be.”

They walked in silence for a few minutes, pondering the possibilities. When they reached Hood’s Place, Hood invited, “Care for a cup of coffee?”

Looking up and down the street, Checker declined. “I’m afraid Free Lance would pop out and be on my case if I did,” he confessed.

“What’s your plan from here?”

“Sparky’s running Meadow Minder’s name through the computer; he should know by now where he went from the farm,” Checker updated Hood. “That will open a lot of doors for us.”

Checker continued on his way while Hood unlocked the shop and went to his office to place orders for the needs of his business. Before he knew it, Drumstick appeared, ready to open for the day.

“Another week and I’m history, Boss,” he tormented Hood. “I’ll be off to Derby and university life.”

“Don’t rub it in. I haven’t found a replacement for you yet.”

Drumstick grinned. “I always told you I was irreplaceable.”

Hood smiled as memories flooded him of his first days in Woodlawn. The building he had purchased on Main Street needed a complete overhaul, and he had welcomed the help of the brash schoolboy who had showed up day after day to assist him. When the shop was ready to open, it only seemed natural that Drumstick would share that work as well. Now he was ready to move on to college.

“I suppose you couldn’t recommend someone?” hinted Hood.

Drumstick thought for a minute, but Hood got no answer as a group of customers came into the shop; both stallions became busy with the creation of ice cream cones, sundaes, and shakes.

William soon made his appearance, and ensconced himself in his favorite seat at the counter. “‘Morning, Hood!”

“What can I get you, William?”

“Let’s start with one of those sandwiches you’re making these days,” William ordered, “and some of that sassafras tea for a change.”

Hood looked sharply at William. He’d never ordered anything but coffee to drink for as long as Hood had known him-- and William had been his first customer here in Woodlawn. Was William aware of the search for Sassafras’ family?

But William seemed unaware that he’d said anything revealing, so Hood kept quiet. William spread his unread newspaper out on the counter to peruse the news as he waited for lunch. “Ha!” he chuckled. “That Free Lance is at it again!”

“What now?” questioned Hood as he set William’s lunch in front of him.

“Pretty much the same,” William conveyed as he picked up his sandwich while still reading the newspaper. “She’s harping on Chief Checker for not rounding up that suspect now that he has a description.”

“Figures,” muttered Hood. He himself refrained from reading the latest criticism from Dreamy-- no sense to get riled-up when he knew Checker was getting closer to solving the mystery with each passing hour.

William took a sip of his tea. “This stuffs not too bad, considering it’s not coffee,” he admitted.

Hood grinned. “I knew a filly named Sassafras once,” he baited innocently.

Chewing down a bite of sandwich, William was silent. But once he swallowed, he was quick to respond. “There was a Sassafras in Woodlawn years ago, too, come to think of it.” William smiled as if the remembrance was a pleasant one. “She was a pretty thing, lavender with those purple butterflies on her sides-- double fancy, or whatever they call that.”

“Were you sweet on her, William?”

“Gosh, no!” declared William. “She was just a filly when I was already a confirmed bachelor. But I noticed things,” he winked.

“What was this Sassafras like?” prompted Hood.

“Well, I’ll tell you this much. She didn’t have eyes for any of the local stallions around here, try as hard as they might to get her attention. Her favor went to a farmer outside of town somewhere east of here.”

“Did they ever marry?”

“Oh, yes! A quiet wedding though. She was always quiet... more at home with the plants and animals than with her own kind.”

“What was Med...” Hood caught himself, “her husband like?” he finished.

“Hmm... I didn’t know him well. A loner, too, he was.”

Hood waited on a young mother and her two foals before returning to William. Hood was considering how to continue the conversation about Sassafras without sounding overly snoopy when William saved him the trouble.

“I was just thinking back to the last time it was I ever saw Sassafras and her family,” mused William.

Hood was immediately alert at the mention of family. Would he find out from William what Checker was relying on his high-tech computer to find for him?”

“It was at a county fair over in Derby. They were there-- Sassafras and her mate and the foals.”

“Foals?” asked Hood. “So she had children.”

“Two, if I remember correctly,” pondered William. “But that was years ago. I imagine they’d be all grown up by now.” After a pause, he continued, “It’s funny what a fellow remembers. I thought when I saw them that it was too bad the colt ended up with the butterfly, and not the filly.”

So there were two-- a son and a daughter, thought Hood. He would have liked to learn more, but several of the foals from the neighborhood who knew William’s kindly nature had surrounded the grandfatherly stallion, and Hood was soon busy filling orders for each of them as William’s treat.

Before another break came in the flow of business, William had left the shop, and Hood had to be satisfied with the information he had already gleaned. So Sassafras had a colt with a butterfly pattern on his rump, reflected Hood. And the age is right, too. I wonder how Checker is doing? But Hood would have to wait to find out as business was brisk all afternoon. He put his questions behind him, and catered to the customers.

But the image of a purple butterfly never completely left his mind.

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Atlantean Alliance
by Tabby ([email protected])


What a monster of a story this one was to complete! I only started working on it four days before the first, so you can imagine how pressed I was for time!

Anyhow, this is the story of Tabby and Thomas’ honeymoon in Atlantis. It’s so romantic!! *swoons* Oh. Well, I must warn you that it isn’t a really exciting story. I hope it isn’t boring, but there isn’t a real adventure involved with it. Basically it just opens up a lot of possibilities for future storylines. If anyone reading this has seen the last episode of the second Sailor Moon series, this story in a way plays out like that– but with original scenes!

So, this story marks the end of “season one”. I’m going to take this opportunity to take a bit of a break from writing, in order to gear up for the start of “season two”! There’re a million things I’m behind on, and I can’t accomplish a lot of them with having to write a twenty-page epic once a month. But I’ll be back, sooner than you think. I’ll have to be, to help Barnacle on our end-of-year-spectacle! It’ll be a story more outrageous than what you’ve read before.

La la la. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Read this story. Then wait for the others.

* * *
The lost city of Atlantis lay before them.

Thomas looked down at his side to make sure it was all still real. And it was. The pink unicorn had her head resting gently on his shoulder, her red mane falling about her in soft waves. In her lap were nestled the two Furbish seers, Ah-Loh and Doo-Moh.

Kissing her lightly, Thomas announced their arrival. “Come on, Tabby,” he whispered in her ear. “We’re here.”

Tabby slowly cranked one eye open, and then the other. “What? Here? Oh...” A smile slowly crossed her face as pleasant memories from earlier that day came back to her. “Atlantis...” She lifted her head higher and peered out the sea pony transport.

The three sea ponies, Sea Mist, Sand Dollar, and High Tide, signaled that they had indeed reached solid ground. Thomas was the first to alight, and in turn helped Tabby (and the Furbys) out onto the stony surface. Goodbyes were said to the sea ponies and instructions were left with them to return in two weeks; and with the departure of the sea-dwelling creatures, the couple and their Furbys were left in solitude (if one could call it solitude with Furbys involved).

Tabby placed the Furbys securely off to the side, where they quickly resumed their naps after a brief hiding game, and turned to face the white unicorn stallion before her.

“Well, Tabby,” Thomas broke the silence. “Have you had any regrets yet?”

Tabby broke out smiling. “You mean on marrying you? No... not quite yet.”

“Good.” Thomas grasped her hooves tightly. “Because we have two weeks here alone together.”

“Two weeks in Atlantis... with you!” Tabby gazed adoringly at him. “The whole city is ours, Thomas! It’s going to be fabulous...” She stared at the flight of stairs that rose up ahead of them. It was the entrance into the main part of the city; a heavy wall blocked the view of the buildings, and it was very dark.

“And it couldn’t ask for a better queen.” Thomas laid a hoof gently on her cheek and stared into her eyes.

“Don’t forget your role,” Tabby replied coyly. “I suppose you’ve been made king now, what with our marriage and all.”

“Then let’s take a look at our city.” Thomas gently tugged her up the stairs; the view of the abandoned metropolis from the high balcony was magnificent.

“Oh, just look at it,” Tabby breathed, her gaze taking in each and every detail of all the stone structures before her. “At least it’s not too difficult to rule over. To think that it was once alive with inhabitants!”

“It’s hard to believe,” Thomas agreed, holding her close. “Now completely devoid of life– but still the city itself remains hidden here under the ocean.”

“It’s such a nice place, even if it’s deserted... it adds that mysterious sense to it all,” Tabby said dreamily, leaning out over the railing. “I mean to investigate each and every building while we’re here.”

“How do you suppose Nur-Ab-Fin is holding up?” Thomas said softly.

“Well, I guess we’ll just have to see, huh?” Tabby said brightly. “I trust Kaliope is keeping him at bay as promised. Won’t that confounded spirit ever give up?”

Thomas gently pushed a tendril of her mane out of her face. “With you on her side, she has nothing to worry about.”

Tabby looked at him with admiration and melted in his embrace. “Oh, Thomas,” she murmured. “I love you. I really do.”

“Then the feeling’s mutual,” Thomas whispered, only holding her tighter. A moment of silence followed, as no more words were needed to describe how they felt.

It was finally Tabby who lifted her head and spoke. “Thomas, please tell me nothing will ever get between us again.”

This request caught Thomas off guard. “Wh... what do you mean?”

“You know.” Tabby looked at him beseechingly. “When Nur-Ab-Fin turned you on me... and when Dad came back. You avoided me then. Please say it won’t happen again.”

Thomas was filled with his own grief upon seeing several tears trickling down her cheeks. How he wished he hadn’t caused her such pain in those instances... how he wished he hadn’t given her these reasons to mistrust him already! “Tabby, I’ll never leave you alone again. Please believe that, Tabby. I can’t say enough how sorry I am those things had to happen. Tabby... I don’t want to see you cry.”

“You’ll never avoid me again? I felt so terrible through those times,” Tabby said softly. “I didn’t want to lose you. If it ever happened again... but it won’t, will it?”

“Never, Tabby. I promise.”

“Thank you... oh, thank you.” She embraced him as if she would never let him go. Thomas stroked her mane in an attempt to soothe her, realizing that she must be exhausted from the day’s events which only added to her distress. Tabby, unaware of how fatigued she really was, slowly closed her eyelids in the circle of Thomas’ forelegs and fell into a deep slumber.

* * *
Tabby didn’t know how much time passed while she was unconscious to the world; but when she finally awoke, she found herself laid out on a stone bench– granted, it wasn’t the most comfortable place; but as tired as she had been, it didn’t much matter.

Slowly regaining her senses, Tabby became aware of Furbys chattering in the background. “Ohhh,” she groaned, swinging her legs to the floor and assuming an upright position. “How much did I miss?”

Thomas was immediately at her side. “Not a thing,” he assured her. “I wouldn’t stray into the city without you. Besides, you needed some rest. It was a long day for you.”

“But today...” Tabby’s eyes gleamed as she looked out over the balcony. “...today, exploring will be done!”

“Do you want the royal seers to accompany us?” Thomas said laughingly.

“They can follow us if they’d like,” Tabby smiled, looking over at the Furbys. They seemed to be having lots of fun, and chattering all the while. “Or they can visit some of their own Famous Places if they would rather. Come on!” And grabbing her husband’s hoof, she dragged him along with her down the stairs and onto the city streets.

Trotting along the ancient streets of Atlantis and peering in the windows of shops and homes, the two were lost in their own thoughts; neither one spoke for a length of time. Though it was Tabby’s ancestral dwelling place, Thomas felt equally impressed as his bride did as he took in the greatness of the abandoned city. He would have liked to get a closer look at what was inside some of the structures, but Tabby seemed to be heading for a particular place.

“There!” she squealed, pausing momentarily and pointing her hoof ahead. “It’s the royal palace!”

The elegant structure was dazzlingly breath-taking, and Thomas stood and stared up in awe. It was built on a rise so it was higher than the other buildings, and it towered over the city in splendor. It was easy to imagine the Atlantean royalty having ruled there... and now there was a new one to follow in their steps.

Tabby giddily trotted up the stairs and pulled the massive door’s handle in anticipation. Alas, the entrance had become quite difficult to budge; but even if it had been brand new, Tabby probably still would have had the same trouble in opening it. As it was, she required Thomas’ help before they gained entrance into the palace.

Tabby surveyed her surroundings and nodded with approval. “Outrageous!” she exclaimed. A great pavilion spread before them, with a grand staircase spiraling upwards from both sides of the room. There were several gateways on the far side of the pavilion, and it was impossible to guess what would be found upstairs.

Ah-Loh and Doo-Moh had caught up to the couple by this point, and immediately adjusted themselves to the new environment. “Big doo-ay!” Ah-Loh commented enthusiastically.

“Whahoo! Party, wah!” Doo-Moh was quick to add, flying towards the back of the building. Ah-Loh followed her; and trusting that the Furbys knew where they were going, Tabby trotted along after them.

Doo-Moh disappeared through a doorway on the far side of the room. “Ah! No light! Ah!” Ah-Loh complained as he peeked in himself.

“Dah ah-loh,” Doo-Moh corrected, pressing her foot down on a button on the wall. The room was filled with light from a mysterious source.

“Sun up,” Ah-Loh nodded.

“They found the throne room!” Tabby said, patting Ah-Loh fondly on the head.

“Pet again,” Ah-Loh purred.

“It’s a good thing they’re here; at least they know their way around,” Thomas commented.

Tabby’s inquisitive eyes swept over the room. The walls were covered with colorful murals of Furbys, and it added a wonderful atmosphere to the throne room. The throne itself, from which countless Atlantean royals had ruled in the past, was still positioned in the center. It was an elegant piece, covered with ornate carvings of symbolic Furbish items-- hearts, flowers, clouds, suns, and of course the ever-important light sensor.

With grace befitting one in her position, Tabby seated herself on the handsome piece. She spotted a bronze rod lying to the side of the throne-- picking it up, she realized it was the scepter of Atlantis. Again this was adorned with the familiar Furbish symbols. Gripping it in her hoof, she felt very regal indeed; and she began laughing as a thought hit her.

“Doh?” said Ah-Loh questioningly.

“Yes, what is it?” Thomas said curiously.

“Oh, not much,” Tabby said, grinning. “I was just thinking of what Tiffany would do if she saw me here as a queen. She’d absolutely have a fit, wouldn’t she?”

“She would most likely have a few things to say about it,” Thomas said carefully. “She’s never been one to accept the status of others tactfully.”

“If you ask me, she and Guido would be a perfect match,” Tabby continued, still smiling as she twirled the scepter in her hooves. “They’re both money-hungry, greedy, and snobby.”

“Do you think Guido will really put up with her for any amount of time?”

“She’s rich and pretty. Of course he’ll still put up with her. He won’t notice her flaws because he has the same ones.”

“As long as she keeps him occupied,” Thomas said, his face temporarily darkening at his memories of Guido.

Tabby brushed it off and changed the subject. “Oh, but something tells me my predecessors didn’t sit around on their thrones all day gossiping,” she said laughingly. “Let’s see the rest of the place.”

There wasn’t too much more to see on the main level, and the Furbys prodded them up the stairs. Apparently the creatures had gotten bored of their current surroundings-- “Dah ooda-waylo,” as Doo-Moh had put it.

The second floor had apparently been used for the business aspect of ruling a city. Many of these rooms had desks in and various records scattered around; it was amazing how well all the details had been preserved.

In one room, Tabby stooped to pick a book up off the floor. She was intrigued to read many Furbish words within, and these were followed by notations of color and other such specifics. “Oh!” she exclaimed excitedly upon realizing the book’s purpose. “This is a record of all the Furbys that were living in Atlantis at the time! Name, body color, eye color, age, date adopted, owner’s name...”

“Atlantis really did revolve around Furbys, didn’t it?” Thomas mused, flipping through the book himself. “Everywhere you go there’s mention of them.”

Tabby nodded solemnly. “Of course. They were very important to the culture of Atlantis, what with their abilities to peek into the future and all. The citizens felt obligated to honor them somehow.”

“They certainly went all out.”

“Yes,” Doo-Moh said authoritatively, perched on Thomas’ shoulder and peering down at the book as well.

Tabby disappeared into the next room. “The Furbish nursery!” Tabby gasped with delight as she stepped through the doorway. “How wonderful!”

“Maybe me sleep,” Ah-Loh yawned, floating down into one of the Furby-sized cradles.

“Ah-Loh, you’re not a baby anymore,” Tabby scolded, scooping him up in her hoof. “Wow! Just imagine this place filled with Furby Babies!”

“Dah doo-ay wah,” Ah-Loh said in agreement.

“And citizens would adopt the babies from here?” Thomas said, surveying the place as well. “It was a nice set-up for the Furbys.”

“Ah, yes,” Tabby sighed happily. “Wouldn’t a room full of Furbys simply be grand? The noise... oh, it would be outrageous!”

“I wonder if there were any Furby-abusers back then,” Thomas pondered. “Do you suppose there were laws for that sort of thing?”

Tabby shuddered. “Oh, I hope they didn’t have to worry about that. I imagine prospective Furby-owners were screened carefully before being allowed to adopt. But still... oh, I don’t like to think about Furbys getting hurt.”

“Hey, party!” Doo-Moh screamed. This alleviated Tabby’s concern; Furbys were strange and mysterious creatures, and they probably would have done something if they were being maltreated.

“I found any entry for Nur-Ab-Fin’s Furby in here,” Thomas brought up the fact. “It’s this Dah-Boo here.”

Tabby looked at the line with interest. “The very Furby that Nur-Ab-Fin owned! How fascinating! Hmm... Dah-Boo. Red with brown. Blue eyes. Aged two when adopted by Nur-Ab-Fin.” She set the book down thoughtfully. “I should have liked to have met Nur-Ab-Fin’s Furby.”

“He could still be around, waiting on a shelf in some Pony-Mart,” Thomas suggested.

“Furbys. I’d love to own them all,” Tabby said dreamily, strolling down the hallway towards the next door. “Oh-- I remember this! It’s the library!” Tabby dove straight to the book she remembered paging through when she had last been in Atlantis. She would have liked to have read it more extensively, but hadn’t had the time then. Now she could discover everything about Furbys directly from the Atlantean Guide To Furbys-- Their History, Habits, and Hobbies.

“Wow,” said Tabby, impressed. “This must cover everything about Furbys! I had no idea the females actually...”

Thomas saw that Tabby would probably be occupied for awhile, so he browsed the other books on the shelves. One piece of Atlantean literature caught his eye, for it contained Dream Valley in the title. He doubted it was the same place they were familiar with in present times as the Dream Valley he knew had not possibly been around in the days of Atlantis; but the title still made him curious.

He was even more intrigued after he began reading about this city of Dream Valley. The description given did sound much like the location of present-day Dream Valley... on the coast of Ponyland, near the mouth of a great river. It had been called the “Gateway to Ponyland” for this reason, and had been a great city-- ranking right up with Atlantis. The Dream Valley mentioned in the book and Atlantis had been trading partners, and much of Atlantis’ culture had been incorporated into Dream Valley, and vice versa.

Thomas looked at the book thoughtfully. Could this Dream Valley and the one he lived in really be the same place? But how could that be? The current Dream Valley was certainly not that old. There was something mysterious about it, but he didn’t have any more time to dwell on the thought. Tabby had thrown her book down and announced that she was going to continue exploring.

The Furbys had discovered another staircase that apparently led to a third floor. This top-most floor had apparently been the private rooms for the royal family. Looking through each doorway, both Tabby and Thomas were surprised at how well everything was set-up. This was more than just well-preserved... it looked like someone had been purposely keeping these rooms clean and well-stocked with fresh supplies. The kitchen was supplied with food items, and dishes found in a cupboard must have been meant for the elegant dining room. New-looking cushions were included with the comfortable living room setting, and a bedroom was complete with a grand four-poster bed. Even the Furbys of the royal family had their own room set aside for them, with a miniature disco ball hanging from the ceiling.

Not much was said as they toured the level, taking in all the details and wondering who could have set it up like this for them. Even the Furbys were quiet, awed by the greatness of their surroundings.

The last room in the royal palace was in a rounded tower which rose from the exact center of the building. As they reached the top of the flight of curving stairs, a fabulous view of Atlantis was revealed to them. The room at one time had glass walls which had been destroyed; the open parapet enabled them to see any part of the city. It was magnificent.

“I bet I know who did all this!” Tabby exclaimed suddenly.

“Who, then?”

“The Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverers, of course.” She pointed out to the west side of the city. “One of them is waiting for us at the disco hall, see?”

Thomas’ gaze followed her hoof. “How can you tell he’s there?”

“Where else would he be?” Tabby challenged. “Yes, we shall have to go visit later.”

Thomas wasn’t too sure about Tabby’s occasional strange insights, but he could live with it. He left her in peace then so she could better check-out the private rooms while he went over the other floors again. Ah-Loh and Doo-Moh flew off on their own.

Tabby silently tip-toed through the rooms again. She wondered if the Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverers had thought to provide a hairbrush; her hair felt like a terrible mess and she simply couldn’t think straight when their were knots in her mane.

Luckily the Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverers were adept at catering to the needs of Atlantean royalty, and Tabby found her desired hairbrush. She was then left to wonder exactly what food items had been stocked in the kitchen, and if the flower deliverers knew of her inability to cook. Tabby herself wasn’t sure any more if she truly couldn’t cook, or if she had simply gotten so used to saying she couldn’t that she didn’t even try. But still, she did not trust ovens. That was a fact. Ovens frightened her, as did matches and anything else related to fire.

She had been amply provided for in the line of cherry pie filling, she saw upon further investigation of the cupboards. But Tabby had to admit she was growing tired of chicken and cherry pie filling. It was a hard thing to admit after all this time, but it was true.

Life had been easier when she could still go to Sugarberry’s for supper, Tabby reflected. And breakfast. And even lunch, on weekends. But she supposed she couldn’t do that anymore, now that she would be living at the mansion and... married. Tabby recoiled in shock upon thinking that word. It was odd thinking of herself as married, and she couldn’t quite fathom it. It was just... strange. But she’d adjust to the word in time, she figured.

But that didn’t solve the dilemma she had with cooking. Tabby supposed that she would be expected to prepare meals now, since she was... married and all. But her inability really hadn’t been talked about much up until the wedding-- her close friends knew how stubborn she was and had left her to figure out her problems alone. Tabby herself hadn’t worried about it-- until now.

Perhaps she could hire a servant to do the cooking. Her mother employed maids and cooks and such at her mansion in Italy; surely she couldn’t frown upon Tabby for doing so. Tabby wondered what Thomas thought on the matter. She hadn’t exactly been eager to bring it up in conversation.

Tabby found that she had wandered back into the Furbys’ room. She stared up into the sparkling disco ball. It had been interesting to learn that Furbys had been responsible for bringing disco into this world. The story behind the seers only got stranger every day. Furbyland must have been a nice place to live, though.

In one corner of the room Tabby noticed an elaborate tray with several oricalcum beads placed on it. Kaliope had mentioned that oricalcum had been a favorite treat of the Furbys; the flower deliverers must have left the snack for Ah-Loh and Doo-Moh. Tabby was relieved she wouldn’t have to cook for those two.

Tabby appreciatively took note of the decorative tapestries hung on the walls. She had failed to notice them before, and was now enthralled in viewing the story they had to tell. One particularly colorful scene depicted the Furbys arrival in Atlantis... with their disco ball, of course. Another panel showed a Furby with the crown and scepter of Atlantis; Tabby thought that one was especially cute. A lively picture portrayed a night at the Furbish disco hall.

The tapestries then began to center more on ponies and the city itself than of Furbys, which temporarily disappointed Tabby. However, she soon began to show interest in the faces that could very well be long-ago ancestors of hers. There was also a curious scene of a bustling city on the shore of a sea; it wasn’t Atlantis, but it looked almost familiar to Tabby.

Tapestries such as these were strung on the walls throughout the palace, and Tabby walked onwards in order to see all of them. Even the Krulotin were honored here... and was that a Bigfoot, too? But she didn’t care much for the scene of giant purple squid. Shuddering and turning away from it abruptly, she suddenly began to feel very alone and defenseless. There was something evil about the squid, and they frightened her. Now skittish and afraid, she ran down the hallway in search of Thomas.

* * *
Meanwhile, Thomas was admiring the fine architecture of the Atlantean palace. It was hard to imagine himself as king of this place. But then, it was almost incomprehensible to realize he was married to its queen. Two years ago he had never thought it would turn out like this. But it had, and it couldn’t have turned out any better.

He grinned wryly recalling the forewarnings he had received on Tabby’s cooking abilities. They had all said he’d starve with Tabby in charge... and they were probably right. But Thomas didn’t mind fending for himself; however, Tabby herself would most likely go hungry if there was no one in charge of her. He knew that in the end they would be forced to eat out every night. And surely Tabby would pick up some culinary abilities eventually.

So that didn’t worry him. It wasn’t too much to put up with, and Tabby was worth it. Speaking of which, what was Tabby up to by now, anyway? She had been absent quite a long while, and it seemed like she should be getting bored with her surroundings by this point. He was just about to go in search of her when she appeared in the doorway herself.

“Oh, there you are!” she exclaimed. “I thought I’d never find you again. It’s getting boring. Let’s find the disco club. Ah-Loh and Doo-Moh are anxious to get there.”

Thomas sensed, though, that something had spooked Tabby. “Nothing’s wrong, is it?”

“The squid tapestry,” Tabby shuddered. “It’s creepy. I want to see the rest of the city.”

“The squid again, eh?” Thomas raised an eyebrow. “If the royal palace had a tapestry of them, they couldn’t have been all bad.”

“They’re evil. I know they are,” Tabby insisted. “Just look at their eyes!”

Thomas submitted himself to listening to Tabby’s ranting about giant squid-- he couldn’t see that they were that bad-- as they strolled through the Atlantean streets. Ah-Loh led the way, as he obviously knew where to go. “Boogie, wah!”

It was without surprise that Tabby greeted the Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverer waiting for them at the Furbys’ disco hall. “Hello there,” she said cheerfully. “I thought we’d find you here.”

The cloaked figure bowed respectively to Tabby. “Welcome, my queen. I trust you are enjoying your stay in the city?”

“It’s surprisingly nice,” Tabby said brightly, seating herself at the counter behind which the flower deliverer was situated. “Are there any other of you guys around?”

“If the need arises,” he said mysteriously. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

“What I’d really like is a glass of water,” Tabby requested. “I suppose you wouldn’t happen to have any on hand...?”

But Tabby was pleased to find that the original refreshment booth in the disco hall that the Furbys had made use of in those ancient times had been well-stocked again, and the Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverer was well-equipped to cater to their needs. Tabby soon had her much-longed-for glass of ice water, and it was then that she realized that Thomas had somewhat disappeared into the background since she had taken the spotlight.

“Oh, and this is Thomas, of course,” she said quickly, pulling him forward. “You know him, don’t you?”

The figure bowed his head again respectfully. “Yes, I was in attendance at the wedding. We were pleased that such a good match be made... my king.”

Thomas was glad that he had finally been remembered, but found it somewhat disconcerting to be addressed in such terms. It didn’t seem to quite fit him. “Thank you... and, eh, Thomas is fine.”

“Whatever you wish.” The cloaked figure turned back to his plentiful supply of rations. “And is there anything you wish to be served?”

It was decided that they might as well stay and have lunch, so full plates were prepared. Tabby, who usually thought that taking time out for meals was simply a nuisance, discovered how ravenous she really was. Of course, as Furbys were always hungry, Ah-Loh and Doo-Moh joined them. “Mee-mee good!” the food was declared.

After the plates were cleared away, an exchange of gossip followed. “Uh-oh! Sun down!” Doo-Moh started.

“Hey, big party, wah!” Ah-Loh agreed.

Tabby stared at the sparkling disco ball that still hung there. The swirling light of Nur-Ab-Fin made it especially festive. “We couldn’t say much for him as a human, but he sure makes a nice disco ball!” she declared cheerfully.

“Kaliope will be certain to keep him at bay,” the flower deliverer nodded.

“So, are the any happenings in the kingdom I should know about?” Tabby questioned of him.

“There is only one thing that could cause problems,” he said solemnly.

“Oh? What is it?”

“We have located a sect of Krulotin that did not reform their ways as our other brethren did several months ago,” he went on to say.

“Are they in the area of Dream Valley?” Thomas questioned.

“No.” He shook his head. “This problem group has been traced to the Polynesian islands.”

“But what are they doing?” Tabby pressed.

“We have recently discovered that they are holding prisoner a group of ponies who were involved in a ship wreck in the area three years ago,” the flower deliverer explained.

“A ship wreck? Three years ago?” Thomas repeated.

“Since we have located the problem, we are now working on ways to apprehend these villainous Krulotin,” he elaborated. “We will keep you posted on what happens.”

“Three years ago.” Thomas stared down at the counter contemplatively.

“What?” Tabby looked at him curiously.

“Oh, nothing,” Thomas brushed it off abruptly. “I was just... thinking about the prisoners from the wreck. Was there any more you had to say?”

The conversation then moved on to other things, such as Furbys and eighties toys and Pokèmon. Even though the Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverer was inclined to say as little as possible, it was still feasible to have an interesting conversation with him on many topics of interest to the couple.

The afternoon passed quickly as they chatted, and the Furbys slept through most of it. Finally Tabby and Thomas declared that they would be moving onward, and gathered up Ah-Loh and Doo-Moh before exiting the disco hall.

After leaving the disco, they took another path through the city in order to see even more of the sights. Tabby was especially intrigued by one of the buildings, a rounded structure with several stories to it.

“It’s Nur-Ab-Fin’s condo,” she realized, after making a quick surveillance of the place. “Funny. When Cleve Clove and I were first here, we thought this was all there was to Atlantis.”

“It would be an awfully small city, wouldn’t it?” Thomas said.

“Well, we were chased out prematurely by Dr. Shane,” Tabby said in defense. “We might have had enough time to see that there was more to it than this if it hadn’t been for him.”

“Where was the Whale Machine?” Thomas queried.

Tabby stepped to the center of the room and stood beside a small circle cut in the floor. Beneath it was water... the sea. “It was over this, I’m thinking. Cleve–“ She abruptly let out a shriek and jumped backwards, cowering.

“Tabby?” Thomas was immediately on the defensive. “What is it?”

“There is a squid down there,” Tabby said emphatically, backing up against one of the walls.

“Oh, you’re right,” Thomas said with interest, looking down into the pool. A small baby squid, colored in the traditional purple, was floundering wildly, almost as if trying to catch someone’s attention.

“That’s all you can say?” Tabby’s eyes flashed. “Do something about it! Get rid of it!”

“But Tabby, I think it’s injured.” Thomas reached out in an attempt to catch the squid. “Look at that tentacle. It got mangled somehow.”

“Ooohhhh!” Tabby fumed. “Just leave it, Thomas. We haven’t time to be bothered with things such as squid.”

“It’s in distress, Tabby,” Thomas pointed out. “We ought to try to help it.”

Tabby glowered. “I don’t like squid. Let’s get out of here.” But it was too late. Thomas had already made up his mind to help the squid, and even Tabby couldn’t sway his decision.

“I’ll need the first-aid kit I brought along. Do you want to run up to our rooms for it, or would you rather stay with the squid while I go and get it?” he asked as he continued his examination of the ten-armed cephalopod which, like a chameleon, had changed its color to blend into the rock floor.

Contemplating the idea of staying alone with the squid, Tabby made up her mind to scamper off for the medical kit. Who knew what might happen to her if she were left at the mercy of the monster, even if it was only a baby.

Returning with the necessary supplies, Tabby dropped the kit at Thomas’ side, then moved quickly back a safe distance. Thomas looked at her with a sly grin. “I could use some help here.”

Gingerly, Tabby approached her husband. “What do you want me to do?” she queried. “I won’t have to touch it, will I?”

“Look at the poor little thing, Tabby,” Thomas mollified. “This tentacle was obviously caught between two rather inhospitable things, possibly the upper and lower jaws of a larger sea creature. And its starting to get infected.”

Tabby leaned closer to the squid to see the damage; and in so doing, she caught sight of the beast’ eyes. To her, they were the most terrifying part of the squid, second only to the suckered tentacles. The round black orbs were staring up at her, in pain and with a plea for help. Tabby tried not to become personally involved, but it only took one look into the depths of the animal’s spirit for Tabby’s fear to vaporize, and in an instant she was on her knees at Thomas’ side. “It’s going to be okay, isn’t it?”

“I’ve never treated a squid before, but I think there’s no danger to its life; we’ll just clean the wound and apply an antiseptic to help it heal more quickly. If you would just hold it steady while I work with this tentacle...” He paused to glance at Tabby to see if her resolve was holding up, and was pleased to find her smiling. She reached out to stroke the critter, and ran a hoof gently along its smooth skin before holding it steady for the work Thomas had to perform.

When the squid was properly attended to, Thomas gently lifted the creature back through the hole in the floor and released it to the ocean current. The animal held motionless for an instant, staring up at Thomas with what the stallion was sure was a look of thanks, before it propelled itself backwards to continue its journey.

“There. Now, don’t you think it was worth it after all?” Thomas said after the squid had disappeared from sight.

Tabby held her head up stubbornly, returning to her previously held contention that squid were evil. “It was only a horrid squid.”

“Admit it, Tabby,” Thomas said, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “You thought it was cute, didn’t you? He started to grow on you, just like Emilio.”

It did not!” Tabby’s eyes flashed. “I’m just glad it’s gone. I can’t stand squid.”

“You said that about Mr. Mimes, too.”

Tabby narrowed her eyes at him. She did not like implications that the squid had almost weaseled its way into her heart. “Oh, let’s just get out of here.” She primly turned on her heel and exited the building.

It didn’t take Thomas long to catch up with her. “Come on, Tabby! Don’t tell me the squid put you in this bad of a mood,” he said, grabbing her hoof.

“Oh, I suppose I’ll get over it,” Tabby said, smiling as she turned to face him. “Just tell me you’re not planning on treating any more unsightly creatures while we’re here.”

“My current plans all revolve around the most beautiful creature I’ve ever met,” he grinned, kissing her face. It was some moments before the two continued on with their inspection of the ruins.

“Look, Tabby! Do you recognize where we are?” Thomas suddenly said, pausing in the path.

“It’s...” Tabby took in the scene before her. It was an old Atlantean park, with several benches scattered around and light sensor flowers blooming in profusion. “Oh! This place!” she cried out with recognition and ran towards it. “Of course! It’s where you proposed, isn’t it?”

“And better yet, you accepted,” Thomas murmured, pulling her close as they sat down on one of the benches. “We’ve overcome a lot since then, haven’t we?”

“Yes,” Tabby agreed, leaning up comfortably against him. “And there will be a lot more in the future.”

They enjoyed a few more minutes of solitude, and then in contemplative silence walked back to the palace, hoof-in-hoof. The day had grown late by then, and Tabby saw to finding something that would be suitable for supper.

“How does cherry pie filling sound?” she sighed, that being the only item she had come up with that was easy enough for her to handle.

“Something tells me I’m going to be seeing a lot of that in the coming days.”

Nevertheless they managed to make a decent meal out of it. The Furbys had retired to their own room to gaze in meditation upon the disco ball, and Tabby took the opportunity to broach a subject of discussion with her new husband. Pushing her bowl off the side, she gazed across at him. “Thomas, what would you think of me going back to the clinic?”

Thomas looked up in surprise. “What... do you mean?”

Tabby went on in a rush. “Well, since we’re married now and everything I thought maybe it would be fitting if I quit the Pokèmon Center and came back to the vet clinic.” She looked at him expectantly.

Thomas hardly knew what to say. “I... I don’t know, Tabby.”

“You don’t think it’s a good idea?”

“It’s not that, but... are you sure it’s what you would want?”

“Of course. I’m sure it would work.”

“It would work, but Tabby... you’re doing it just for me, aren’t you?”

“Well... no,” Tabby said a little uncertainly. “I want to do it. Really I do.”

“Tabby, I’m not going to make you throw away your career now because of me,” Thomas said firmly. “I almost deterred you from taking the position in the first place. It’s not going to happen again.”

“But Thomas...”

“Do you know how much you’ve changed in your life because of me, Tabby?” Thomas looked at her seriously. “You’ve given up your cat in favor of two you hardly know. You’ve offered Elaine a place at the mansion with us out of your own kindness. You even gave up your old vet clinic because of me! You... you’ve done everything for me.”

“You don’t think I can do the work anymore, then,” Tabby said flatly.

“Tabby, that isn’t it at all!” Thomas grabbed her front hooves and leaned forward closer. “It would mean the world to me to have you come back. You don’t know how much I’ve missed you ever since you left. I just want to be sure it’s what you really want. Please think about it first.”

“Alright,” Tabby nodded, a bit unsure of what to say next. It hadn’t been the response she had expected. “I’ll think about it.”

Thomas smiled at her. “I don’t know what my life would be like if I hadn’t found you, Tabby.”

Tabby blushed as she looked down at the table. “Why did you choose Dream Valley to set up your clinic in, Thomas?”

“It was... it was... rather mysterious, actually,” Thomas said thoughtfully.

“What do you mean?” Tabby cocked her head curiously.

“I never before did tell you, did I? I thought it would be too crazy to be believed at first, and never said anything about it.”

“What is it, then??”

“It all started shortly after I’d graduated, and I had found work in a city near New Pony. One day I got a very strange letter in the mail. It was summoning me to a town called Dream Valley, and said there was great need for my services there. I was told there was a fully-equipped vet clinic in the town, and it only needed a professional to run it before it could be operational. The letter didn’t give any specific names, but it did list some addresses for me to go to, and also a plane ticket. I knew it was crazy, and I couldn’t see why they had chosen me; but something was drawing me to believe it, and so I went.”

“You never told me this before?!”

“It was never brought up before... anyway, after arriving in Dream Valley, I was greeted immediately by several mysterious cloaked figures–“

”Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverers?!”

“I didn’t know about them then, but later I did realize they must be the same ones. They took me to the clinic they had told me about, and I found it in meticulous order. I couldn’t understand why they would have built the facility and then gone out to find someone to run it like that, but they didn’t give me too many details. They said that now that I was there, the clinic would be opened in two days. I didn’t know how they did it or why, but it was open in two days. They took care of all the advertising themselves, and after it was open, they left me on my own. I knew I couldn’t handle everything by myself, and asked why they hadn’t gotten more employees for the clinic. They only said that I’d know the right ponies to help me when I saw them. And so I managed to live through that first week on my own...”

“While I was in Atlantis.”

“Yes, while you were in Atlantis... here.” Thomas gazed at her fondly. “Of course, I didn’t know then that I was up against such a formidable enemy. I knew there was something special about you when I saw you that first night at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe... and after I found out just who you were, I was bound and determined that you be one of the assistants at the clinic. It took a bit of work, but...”

“You won,” Tabby smiled.

“If you care to put it that way, I suppose I did,” Thomas said in return. “And so there’s my story, Tabby.”

“I still can’t believe you never told me.”

“I hope you’re not going to hold this against me now.”

“Since I’m feeling particularly generous at the moment, I won’t... oh, but how could the Mysterious Cloaked Flower Delivers have known? And why did they do all that? Oh... it’s very mysterious indeed.”

“Perhaps there are still more mysteries to be solved.”

“Oh, I can’t wait!”

“Let’s hope for at least a little peace and quiet first,” Thomas laughed.

“Maybe,” Tabby murmured. “I wonder what’s going on back home right now.”

“You know, we’ve been married for a full day now.”

“It’s been nice so far, hasn’t it?”

“Yes,” Thomas agreed. “And I hope it lasts a lot longer than this.”

Tabby held her chin in her hooves and stared off dreamily. “It’s so strange to think of ourselves as king and queen, isn’t it?”

“We’re ruling the magic of the kingdom more than the citizens. It is a unique ruling position.”

“And I think it’ll be great fun, don’t you?” Tabby said energetically.

“Are you still keeping it all a secret?”

“Well, I don’t think I’d be believed by many if I ran through town declaring that I was the queen of Atlantis. It takes a special breed of person to really accept that sort of thing. You know, like the Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverers, and Tiny the Bigfoot, and that guy with the St. Bernard, and Dad...”

“I see what you mean.”

“But, oh, I was this close to telling Elaine! I’m sure she suspects something in the first place. Do you think she ought to be told? She’s your sister.”

“If you think it would be wise, I don’t have a problem with it.”

Tabby let out a short laugh. “It’s as if we have secret identities or something. Like Jem. Wow, that’s a good show. I’ll think about it later. I mean, I’ll think about telling Elaine later. Actually I’ll probably think about Jem later, too. And Riot. Oh, Riot is sooo cool... say, you’re not listening, are you? Oh well, I was just babbling and I don’t think I really said anything of any importance–“

”Tabby,” Thomas cut her off, his gaze centered on one of the tapestries on the wall. Tabby recognized it as the one that depicted the strange city on the coast. “What do you know about the history of Dream Valley?”

“Dream Valley? You mean the town?” Tabby paused and touched a hoof to her chin thoughtfully. “What exactly do you want to know?”

“When was it founded?”

“Oh, a few hundred years ago, I guess. Let me think. Ah, yes. The Witches from the Volcano of Gloom– very outrageous– basically had dominion over the land. Then a band of ponies came along and made it all nice-looking again and they built Dream Castle– but Dream Castle belongs to the Grundles now, you know, because the witches smoozed the land again and the ponies got a new home from the Moochick which was actually Paradise Estate and so after they’d battled the witches off again they gave Dream Castle to the Grundles to live in because the Grundles had no home because you see–“

”So it hadn’t been established yet in ancient times? Say, around the time of Atlantis?”

“Oh, no. Not that long. Three or four hundred years ago, maybe. Not at the time of Atlantis.”

“Hmm.” Thomas looked thoughtful.

“Why did you want to know?”

“There was mention of a Dream Valley in one of the books in the library here. Location-wise, it sounded much like the one we know.”

“Really? Well... then there might be a story behind it! Let me think. I’ve got it! There was a Dream Valley a long, long time ago. At the time of Atlantis, of course. And after the fall of Atlantis, this Dream Valley also began to die because they had been very closely linked with Atlantis. The ponies of Dream Valley moved elsewhere, to the opposite coast, and only a few remained. Then the Dark Forest began to grow over the abandoned city until it was almost totally forgotten. Hundreds of years passed and the witches moved into the area, you know; and then the ponies came to build Dream Castle. Only there were a few remaining ponies left from the old Dream Valley, and they told the new ponies what it used to be called, so the name stuck. So then the new city of Dream Valley was built up and the old one was totally forgotten about and you’re actually a prince of the old Dream Valley...” Starry-eyed, Tabby sighed dreamily and stared off into space.

Thomas wondered what had gotten into her as he strolled over to one of the windows overlooking the city. Perhaps the disco balls were having this effect on her. Oh well, life would be dull if Tabby didn’t occasionally go off rambling about nothing. And it would be dull if there were no Furbys mysteriously floating through the air. It would be dull if there were no strange cloaked men interfering with one’s life. It would be dull without odd medallions possessed with demented spirits. It would even be dull without disco balls swirling with the energies of these spirits.

He was aware that Tabby had come up beside him, and he put his foreleg around her shoulder. Together they looked out over their city. And exchanging a quick glance, they agreed that, above all, life would be dull without each other.

What new adventures await Tabby and Thomas? There’s no telling what epic Atlantean drama they’ll find themselves in next. Was there any truth to Tabby’s tale of an ancient Dream Valley? And how about that little baby squid? Is Tabby’s role as queen of Atlantis going to leak out to the media? Who knows what the future holds... but most assuredly Furbys will be involved.

* * *
Wow! What a totally corny ending! *sobs* I’m so happy with myself! And that last paragraph was supposed to be read in the announcer’s voice from Pokèmon, by the way. Outrageous, huh? WOW, I CAN’T WAIT FOR EVERYTHING TO HAPPEN!!!!

WHEEEEE!!!! I’M FREEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!! *runs off laughing hysterically*

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Invento Ponies
by Berry Brite ([email protected])


Name: Meteor

Breed: Adult Pegasus

Symbol: Shooting Star

Body: Red

Hair: Black

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Alien Invasion
Part II
by Berry Brite ([email protected])


Wishing Well opened her eyes. She was in space. She saw the earth, the moon, a space ship... SPACE SHIP?! She was in a glass globe attached to the ship. Wishing Well maneuvered herself into an erect position, trying to hold herself in that place. The glass was slippery, and she couldn’t fight the zero gravity.

Wishing Well then realized something. The globe was moving closer to the ship! She was pulled inside, where she fell to the floor. The squid that had taken her off the earth stood before her.

“We found them, young female of the equine species. They will be of great help to us...” the squid-alien started. Wishing Well raised her hoof. She socked, punched, and basically hit the squid. He raised a small device, and the filly was thrown against the wall.

“No one socks, punches, or basically hits Rayad the Great!” He pressed the device into her skin. Electricity pulsed through her body, and Wishing Well screamed. “Now,” Rayad began. “You will help us.”

“Never!” Wishing Well shouted. “Not in a million years!”

“We can put you in suspended animation and wait one million one years, then, if you wish.”

This guy is such a blockhead, thought Wishing Well. “I won’t help, not even in one million one years, doofus!” she shouted at the squid, using her sister’s favorite expression.

* * *
Tabby felt a sensation like... like... aww, never mind. But anyway, she felt weird as she re-materialized. She looked down at herself. Her legs were covered with round marks from the suction cups on the squid’s tentacles.

“So, you have arrived, Tabby. We will need your help.”

“You expect ME to help you?”

“Huh? Oh, yes,” the alien answered.

“Forget it!” Tabby yelled.

“We shall see about that, my pretty-- and your little dog, too!” said the squid in front of her. “My name is Crinkle; I work for Rayad the Great.”

I don’t have a dog, much less a little one. This guy is such a blockhead, thought Tabby.

Hmmm, thought Crinkle, she isn’t responding. What a blockhead. He looked at her. Picking up his communicator, he said into it, “Throw her in holding cell four, with the other.” Ten squids came in, and grabbed Tabby.

“Aaaaiiii! Get your slimy little...” A suction cup was slapped over Tabby’s mouth. She was thrown into a glass globe with Trickles. The globe was sent into space, connected to the ship with a tether line. Trickles had already fainted. Tabby looked around. It was awful crowded with two mares inside.

A gas was suddenly poured in through the tether. The last thing Tabby remembered before she blacked out was thinking of Thomas.

* * *
Blackness. Screams of utter agony. Tears. Demolition. Pure fear. Though Tabby could not see anything, she felt and heard these things. The first image appeared-- Thomas. He was crying-- yes, Thomas-- with vast sorrow and agony. “Help,” he whispered, with boundless terror.

It chilled Tabby’s very soul. Goose bumps raised all over the mare’s body. “No,” she said. “No!” Then she saw a different image. Thomas-- seemingly lifeless-- on the ground. “NO-O-O-O-O-O!” Tabby opened her eyes wide. She was in the globe yet, with Trickles. “Thomas,” she cried, “I-I love you, wherever you are.”

* * *
Thomas stood in the hospital. “Tabby, where are you?!” His infinite love for her gave him strength in his weakness. “I... will... stop... them, if it’s the last thing I do!”

“Let me help you,” said Meteor. “I won’t rest until Trickles is safe.”

Thomas thought. “Help me by all means,” he said, glad to have backup (even if it wasn’t meant for his fiancee).

Meteor had a strange quality. It was extreme self-control. He had not even cried when Trickles had disappeared, nor had he acted infuriated; but he felt just as Thomas did.

* * *
Trickles had finally woken up when she saw Tabby sobbing hysterically. The yellow mare, too, had had fearful visions. “Tabby?” she asked. “Are you afraid?”

“No,” said Tabby, lying firmly. “I’m not.” The globe was drawn back into the ship.

“Now will you help us?” asked Rayad.

“NO!” shouted the two mares in unison.

“Too bad. One last chance. Will you help us?”

“I wonder what he means, ‘one last chance’,” thought Tabby. “If we don’t...?” she asked.

“Yes, or no? I grow irritated with your stubbornness.”

* * *
Agatha sat on her couch. “Oh, when will that couple show up? They were supposed to be here by now...” Suddenly, she began to dematerialize. She appeared on the ship. The alien, Crinkle, was waiting for her. “Ah, just in time.”

“A-A-A-A-A-A-AH!” she screamed. “For what?!”

“For the testing of your daughter, I believe.”

“Tabitha!”

* * *
“No! No, Rayad, I will not help,” said Trickles.

“Oh,” said Rayad. “I am sorry.”

“For what?”

“For this,” said the squid.

A gun in Rayad’s tentacle was revealed. It was aimed towards Trickles. The trigger was pulled, and a bullet flew through the air. Unexpectedly, Wishing Well exploded into the room at that moment. She flung herself in front of her sister, screaming as the bullet pierced her flesh, and she fell to the ground.

“Wishing Well! No!” Trickles sobbed.

“Help us, or you die!” shouted the squid angrily.

Trickles was led out of the room, screaming her sister’s name. “We shall deal with her later. Will you help us?” he prodded of Tabby. Agatha was thrown in the room. “...or, this mare dies!”

“Mom!” shouted Tabby.

“Well?”

“Yes,” said Tabby, with infinite sorrow. “I will.” A tear trickled down her face.

* * *
Trickles was led into a room. She sat there, crying. Presently, Rayad entered the room.

“The filly has been eliminated!” he said. “We would have gotten rid of you as well, but now I see that you are too valuable. We will force you to help us.”

Rayad whistled. Ten squids came into the room. One carried a small hypodermic needle. Rayad took it. “Ah,” he said. He went over to Trickles, and the ten squid held her down. He pushed the needle into her skin. It took control of her mind.

“I obey your order, Rayad the Supreme!” the drugged mare said.

“That’s Rayad the GREAT, my dear.” He turned to the other squid. “Do this to the other as well. And release the filly into space.”

Crinkle was assigned the job of disposing of Wishing Well. He really was a blundering idiot, and he put her in another globe, cutting the tether. However, he cut it too close to the ship, leaving the oxygen tank for the globe intact. The tank was self_powered. The globe drifted off, and was still filled with breathable air.

“My,” said Crinkle. “She is pretty. I wish this hadn’t happened to her.”

Well, a wishing well grants wishes-- and that was Wishing Well’s power. Lungs began to breath again. The heart started to pump, and the blood vessels repaired themselves. The filly was now merely asleep.



To be continued...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

by Steamer ([email protected])


One day, Tabby came home from work at the Pokèmon Center to find a very happy daughter. She looked at Li’l Tabby and said, “Li’l Tabby, are you by any chance just a little happy?”

Li’l Tabby galloped up to her mother and said, “Oh, Mama! Guess what! Guess what! Guess what!”

“What?” inquired Tabby, picking up her daughter.

“Baby Noddins’ mama just said she could get a kitty cat,” continued her daughter, “and I was wondering...”

“You were wondering if we could get one too, right?” Tabby interrupted. Li’l Tabby nodded. “I don’t know,” said Tabby. “Cats can be very expensive; you have to buy food, clean litter, and pay vet bills. However, Moondancera, Baby Advenger, and Wisdom are all going out of town, and are looking for someone to care for their cat while they are gone. If I say we’ll look after Misty, do you promise to take care of her?” said Tabby.

Li’l Tabby nodded again. “Okay, if you take good care of Misty while Moon and her friends are out of town, then I’ll consider getting you a cat of your own,” her mother finished.

A loud cheer from Li’l Tabby that caused Tabby to almost drop her daughter to cover her ears, met this statement. “Mama, may I go over to Baby Noddins and tell her?” inquired Li’l Tabby.

“Okay,” said Tabby, “but be home in time for dinner; and remember, it’s not a definite thing; it all depends on how well you take care of Misty.”

“I’ll remember, Mommy,” said Li’l Tabby; and with that, she went on her way to her friend’s house.

* * *
The next day Tabby called Moondancera from her office to say that she’d be happy to look after Misty while Moondancera and her family were away. So after work, Moondancera took Misty over to Tabby’s and started to leave instructions.

But Tabby interrupted, “Sorry to interrupt you, Moon, but you should really tell these to Li’l Tabby. She’s the one who’ll be watching Misty for you; and depending on how she does, she might just earn herself a kitty of her own.”

Tabby then went to get Li’l Tabby and brought her into the living room where Moondancera was. Smiling, Moondancera said, “Hi, Li’l Tabby, I understand you’re going to be in charge of Misty while we’re gone.”

Li’l Tabby nodded. “Mama said she might get me a kitty of my own if I’m good with yours.”

“That’s what I heard, too,” said Moondancera; and with that she finished up with her instructions and went home to pack, as they were leaving in two days.

* * *
For the first couple of days, Tabby watched as her daughter took care to feed Misty and do all the other things that Moondancera had said to do. Li’l Tabby played with the cat; and when the baby pony’s friends were over, they, too, would play with Misty. Misty just loved getting all this attention from these new ponies.

By the third day, Tabby felt pretty sure that Li’l Tabby would take good care of Misty; and she started looking around for a kitten for her daughter. After Moondancera had returned and had picked up Misty, Tabby presented Li’l Tabby with her very own kitten.

“You did very well in taking care of Misty, so I have decided you should get a cat of your own,” Tabby said.

“Oh, Mama, thank you!” exclaimed Li’l Tabby.

“You’re welcome. What are you going to name her?” asked Tabby.

“Why, Misty, of course,” said Li’l Tabby. Tabby laughed, and watched her daughter play with her new kitten.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Princess Willow Rosette
Chapter 1
by Akkima ([email protected])


A young teenager, about the age of fourteen, skipped down the halls excitedly, with her long blue dress trailing behind her. “Today is the day!” she exclaimed to herself happily.

“Willow Rosette,” a voice sneered that made her stop in her tracks. She turned around to see her brother, smirking to himself.

“What are you grinning about, Diamond?” said the young, black-haired princess to her brother. He held up an object for her to see and she gasped in surprise. “How did you get one?!” she exclaimed, eyes wide.

“He didn’t,” said a tall boy as he snatched the device away. Diamond pouted.

“Desmond! It isn’t fair that you were assigned to hand those out!” Diamond snapped.

“Too bad for you,” Desmond replied. His eyes softened when he turned to Willow Rose.

“Will I get first pick?” she asked hopefully.

“Maybe,” he replied, then walked off. Diamond stomped his foot.

“It isn’t fair! URGH!” He stomped down the hallway. Willow Rose made an attempt to follow him, but he turned around and glared at her, then stomped off again.

“Older brothers,” she sighed, then went to her chamber where she laid down for a small nap.

* * *
“Rose, get up!!!” Willow Rose was being shaken, and she opened her eyes slowly.

“Hmmm?” she yawned, then looked at the person to see that it was Desmond. Desmond immediately started blushing to match his already red hair, and Rose blushed back.

“Umm, it is time to pick...” Desmond trailed off, not knowing what else to say.

“Thanks, Desmond,” Willow Rose said, then gave him a peck on the cheek as she ran out the door with her packsack. Desmond followed her and walked beside her, blushing very red.

Willow Rose stopped suddenly beside a heavy wooden door when she heard a clash behind it. “Rose--“ Desmond was cut off.

“Shhhh!!” she whispered hurriedly, and then they both peeked in from the doorway through a small crack.

“Curssse these potionsss! CURSSSE THEM!!!” the castle mage shouted as he threw another bottle on the floor. He proceeded to throw another bottle at the wall, but then he looked at the label and stopped, grinning evilly.

“Yeesssss, this will do perfectly,” he grinned to himself, coiling his snake-like body around the cauldron. He mixed a bunch of herbs and such in a bottle, and then threw the contents of the bottle into the cauldron. Lastly, he cut his finger and let one drop of blood sizzle into the brew while reciting a spell.

“I knew that he was evil,” hissed Desmond.

Demons and Sorcerers, hear my plea!

Curse this kingdom with the spell of Dee!

May all the pitiful, lousy humans inside–

”Who’s he calling lousy?” growled Desmond, and Willow Rose clapped her hand over his mouth.

Turn into creatures that will subside!” The cauldron started to smoke inside, and the smoke turned into fog. The fog drifted towards the two while Dee, the mage, laughed evilly. Willow Rosette ran, with Desmond at her heels. He grabbed her arm and pulled her inside a dark room with little light and shut the door; the door clattered while the fog drifted by. Willow Rosette bit her lip to keep silent.

“Willow Rosette, there are some things that I have not told you.” Desmond turned to her, blushing.

“Hmmm?” she said, looking into his eyes.

“I work as a stableboy here, but I am a prince from a faraway country,” he said. “I was to get away from that Dee creature, but he came here when I changed my name. Princess Willow Rosette, I am Prince Thesyth from the castle of Riverdale,” he said breathlessly. “I was sent here to protect you also, but I have fallen in love with you,” he said, blushing even more. Willow Rose gazed into his eyes and nodded.

“And so have I,” she replied back. The door started to rattle even more violently, and then Thesyth took Willow Rosette’s face in his hand and pressed his lips to hers ever so gently. The door burst open, and they both broke the kiss to see the fog swirling around them, and Thesyth yelled in surprise at the sight of Willow Rosette, and she did the same.

“It can’t be!!” he said as the fog left down the hallway to find another soul to curse. Willow Rosette looked at herself in the mirror in the room they were in, and yelled in surprise. She was beautiful, but yet cursed, as a pony. She had a horn and wings, and was all black with a rose on her side. Thesyth looked at himself in the mirror also. He was now a black pony with red hair and a red dragon on his side; and he, too, had a horn and wings. They heard a shout and both ran down the hall.

“Prince Diamond!” they exclaimed together, seeing a white pony lying on the floor.

“Diamond?” Willow Rosette exclaimed to her brother.

“Willow?! It got you, too?!” He stood up rather wobbly, and looked at both of them. “How can you both stand on two legs?!” he said, falling down again.

“Uh...” Thesyth trailed off and looked at Willow Rosette, who then looked at her brother.

“It’s a long story,” she said, and then helped her brother up.

“THE EGGS!!” Diamond shouted, and ran down the hall with Willow Rosette and Thesyth running after him. Diamond broke open the doors and peered into the garden. He yelled in surprise, then punched the wall beside him with one hoof. Willow Rosette looked out from beside him, and gasped in surprise.

“They are all stone,” Thesyth sighed sadly.

“Not all of them,” said Willow Rosette as she picked up one egg, and proceeded to make it glow. She picked up two more and made them glow also, and gave them to Diamond and Thesyth.

“They are fine now,” she said. “Thesyth, take care.”

“Someone didn’t want the Digimon to hatch,” Diamond growled. “Hey! Thesyth? As in Prince Thesyth?!” He looked at Thesyth.

“Yes...” Thesyth trailed off.

“Did you get the Digivices?!” Diamond hissed.

“They are all in Willow’s bag,” Thesyth pointed at the bag; and Willow took the items out and handed the two stallions their proper Digivices, putting her Digiegg inside in the process.

“NOT SSSO FASSST!!” exclaimed the voice of Dee, who stood at the head of the garden.

“You! You are the cause of this!” exclaimed Diamond, who started running at Dee.

“Ssstop right there, kid!” Dee held up a crystal that held two ponies inside, King Briar Thorn and Queen Daja Emerald. “Sssay goodbye to the king and queen!!!” he said, smashing the crystal in his slithery snake hands.

“NOO!! MOTHER!!” Willow Rosette cried, stumbling forward, but it was too late.

“Change!” He pointed at Willow Rosette, putting her, too, inside a crystal. Dee picked up the crystal containing the princess; but Thesyth snatched it out of his hands and ran to the shore with it, tossing it far to the middle of the sea.

“You will pay for that, Princcce Thesssyth!!” slithered Dee as he wrapped around Thesyth. “You will not have a fate sssuch asss death,” he hissed, “but asss a creature of the foressst!! CHANGE!” He pointed his scaly hand at Thesyth, and the prince was changed into a black hawk. He flew away over the ocean with no word. Thesyth watched as the crystal that contained his love drifted down into the depths of the ocean, now knowing that it would fall into the hooves of Tabitha, in the city of Atlantis...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Winner Is...
Part Two
by Sugarberry ([email protected])


If nothing else, Tiffany’s flight to Italy brought notoriety to Toby in Dream Valley. Toby himself swore that patients were coming in just to see how he was handling the princess’ dismissal, and more than one mare had made her availability obviously clear to the handsome stallion. He was fast becoming known as the most eligible bachelor in town, much to his embarrassment.

Sugarberry, worried about Clare’s reaction to this development concerning Tiffany and Guido, had called Vanguard to warn him of Tiffany’s invasion of Vulcanopolis; everyone who knew the princess was sure that she would take the city by storm. And with Guido’s backing, nothing would stop her. She would dazzle and intimidate the citizens with her beauty and grandeur, and Guido would be a willing accomplice.

Dream Valley was abuzz with opinions on what the outcome of the princess’ departure would be. Some bet that she would soon tire of the self-serving Guido, and come gratefully back to her abandoned life, and pick up the pieces with Toby once more at her side. A smaller group surmised that once a wealthier stallion came along, she would drop Guido like a hot potato. Still others opted for an elopement of the two star-struck jangle-seekers to some tropical paradise.

Only a rare few expected the announcement that appeared in the Dream Valley Gazette on the society page only a month after Tabby’s wedding day: a formal proclamation announcing the engagement of Princess Tiffany of Dream Valley and Guido Casale of Vulcanopolis. No wedding date was published, however, causing much debate on an appropriate time and place for the grand occasion.

And it was only Sugarberry who wondered what effect this latest news would have on Clare, Guido’s lifelong-- yet secret-- love.

* * *
“Vanguard, I want your help at deciding which hat Sugarberry would like best out of the stockroom. I’ve been wanting to send her something in thanks for her hospitality while I was in Dream Valley, but have been so busy with the new line of male fashions that I just haven’t had the time.” Clare’s voice came over the telephone at Vanguard’s office on campus. “Can you stop by my office in about an hour?”

Looking over berets and pillboxes was not what Vanguard wanted to do, but he was aware that Clare was becoming more and more disconsolate as Guido’s month-long fascination with Tiffany dragged on. She needed her friends to buoy her up until Guido came to his senses, or until... Vanguard didn’t want to face any other possibility.

“I’ll be glad to come. I’ll finish up with the papers on my desk, and head over your way.”

“Thanks, Vanguard. See you later, then.”

Hanging up the phone, Vanguard leaned back to consider the path Tiffany and Guido seemed to be on. Their picture appeared weekly in the newspaper in connection with some happening in the city. Vanguard himself had seen little of the affluent couple, and he knew for a fact that Clare, too, had been left on the sidelines. He felt sorry for the lavender mare who held on to her belief that Guido would never permanently leave her behind, and angry at Guido for not realizing Clare’s complete trust in him. Finally settling down to the grading that awaited him, Vanguard was making good progress when a pony came to the office door.

“Could I talk to you about the test?” Marissa, one of his students, asked.

Glancing at the clock, Vanguard gestured toward a chair. “I have an appointment soon, but let’s see how you did.” He smiled at Marissa as she sat down, leaning her forelegs across the desk in front of her. She always had a cheery disposition and lots of questions. Locating her test in the stack, Vanguard pulled it out and frowned. “I remember now. You seem to have misinterpreted the use of the trigonometric functions.” He placed the sheets on the desk in front of her.

“Egads!” she exclaimed. “I was afraid I’d goofed up a little, but not that drastically.”

Vanguard looked at the clock again. If he was to get to Clare’s office on time, he’d have to leave soon. “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the time now to go over this with you. Could you come in tomorrow afternoon?”

Marissa gave him a pouty look. “I’ve got time tonight to study, and I really don’t want to get further behind.”

“Review Chapter Four in the text,” Vanguard advised, and then come in at two o’clock tomorrow if you still have questions.”

“I studied out of the book for the test-- it obviously didn’t help,” she chided. “Couldn’t you at least let me look over the solutions so I could see where I went wrong?”

Marissa had never struck Vanguard as being too conscientious about her grades, and was mildly surprised to find her this determined to improve her understanding of a math principle. “Easy enough,” Vanguard responded, as this particular information was before him on the desk. “You look this over while I stash the rest of the tests.” He gathered up the papers on his desk and put them into his briefcase, leaving it open until Marissa had finished her perusal of the sheets. Vanguard found himself tapping his hoof on the desk top.

Marissa looked up. “If you need to leave, I can just stick these in your desk when I’m done.”

“The desk is locked,” Vanguard remarked. “And I do need to be on my way.”

Unwillingly, Marissa pushed the papers in Vanguard’s direction. Standing, she said, “Tomorrow at two then?”

“That will be fine,” Vanguard replied as he put the papers into his briefcase and locked it. He held the door for her as they left the office, and parted ways. Hurrying home, Vanguard deposited his case inside the front door, and quickly set off for Clare’s office.

As he walked, he went over the meeting with Marissa. She was an upbeat, fun-loving student who appeared to befriend everyone in class. But her interest in the test seemed out of place; for one who did not seem to take her class work too seriously, she was showing an unusual amount of initiative to find the right answers. Chief Matteo had warned him of just such a tip-off as to the identification of those ponies on campus who were involved in Giorgio’s cheating scam. Thinking back to her actions, it made sense that she could possibly be one of his accomplices.

Changing his plan slightly, Vanguard realized that he had to make contact with Matteo as soon as possible, and set his course to swing by the police station. Finding the chief at his desk, Vanguard was able to impart his information quickly, and continued on his way to meet Clare.

Angela smiled warmly when she saw him arrive. “Clare left for the warehouse a few minutes ago; she asked me to show you the way.”

“Sorry I’m late,” Vanguard smiled in return. “I was detained by a student.”

“No problem,” Angela replied. But as they walked through the corridors, she confided to Vanguard. “I’m getting worried about Clare. She seems preoccupied with something, and her work is suffering. Do you have any idea what’s bothering her?” She cast a sideways glance at her companion that told him that Angela knew only too well what Clare’s distraction was.

“I would imagine that you know better than I do,” he stated noncommittally. “Clare just wanted my help in picking out one of her creations for a mutual friend back in Dream Valley.”

Angela pushed through the swinging doors that led to a large room lined with sturdy shelves that were partially loaded with boxes of fashions designed and fabricated at Clare’s Creations. Vanguard followed her into the room, and as they caught sight of Clare at the far end of one of the aisles, Angela grinned and left him to his task. “Have fun!” she quipped as she disappeared back through the doors.

“Vanguard! You’re here!” Clare’s voice echoed through the huge space. “I thought maybe you chickened out!”

“No, Clare. I just had a couple of interruptions in my plans.” As the mare approached Vanguard, he was pained to see the toll that her worrying over Guido had exacted from her. Her eyes were red and tired, her brow was furrowed, and her step was lackadaisical. “How are you doing?” he asked, leading her to a hard but suitable chair next to a work table pushed against the wall on which sat several boxes of varying size.

She sat down willingly, and gave Vanguard a sad little smile. “I’m doing okay... but what I want to know is, how is Tiffany doing?” She looked searchingly at Vanguard’s face. “What do you think? When will Guido be done with this escapade?”

Unconsciously moving a tendril of mane back into place off Clare’s forehead, Vanguard could offer no consolation. “I don’t know what to say, Clare.”

She sighed. “No, of course not. No one does.” Standing, she tried to shake off her melancholy mood. “Besides, you are here to help me in more pleasant matters.” She turned to the boxes on the table. “I’ve pulled off several styles that I think are appropriate for Sugarberry.” She proceeded to open the first box which contained a wide-brimmed straw hat encircled with a gauzy material that complimented the color of Sugarberry’s hair. It was adorned with a sprig of berries and leaves and flowers.

“That’s pretty,” Vanguard offered.

The second box when opened revealed a more elegant hat... “A cloche,” Clare informed him as she put the face-fitting hat on her head to give him an idea of what it would look like when worn.

“Hmm... I don’t know about that one,” he confessed.

“Well, there are plenty more,” Clare stated as she went off down the walkway. She soon returned with yet another box which she placed on the table. Then, turning her head to stare at a large, flat box which was nestled at the end of the nearest shelf, she became lost in thought. Eventually, she walked to the container that held her attention, and lifting it down, packed it to the table. Almost shyly, she glanced at Vanguard. “Could I share something with you?” she asked.

Vanguard looked from Clare to the box which he now noticed was marked with bright red labels stating, “Private.” Moving his gaze back to Clare, he noticed that she was trembling. “What’s the secret?” he asked.

Clare was like one in a dream as she slowly lifted the lid, revealing white tissue paper inside. Carefully, she turned back the tissue, uncovering a filmy vision of white lace, netting, beads, and flowers. A sad, tremulous smile lit her face for a second, then faded. She reached to extract the fragile piece from its lair, and lifted high a delicate wedding veil of exquisite design.

Vanguard watched as the mare fitted the headpiece over her mane, the gauzy substance cascading over her shoulders and down her back. She stood and sighed deeply, then suddenly removed the veil, letting it spill across the open box. Casting a self-conscious grin at Vanguard, she finally explained. “This, dear friend, is my wedding veil... a veil that I have designed to wear as I stand at Guido’s side.”

“You trust in his love for you very strongly,” Vanguard offered. But Clare caught the taint of doubt that edged his words.

“Do you not believe that he and I will yet be married?” she asked. “I have been designing this veil since I was young-- I knew since the beginning that Guido and I would someday be married. I spent hours as a foal drawing my idea of the most gorgeous veil that I could imagine. And as I grew up, I constantly changed and perfected that design. When I opened this shop, I was finally able to add the finishing touches to the years of preparation, and this is the result. This veil is the ultimate wedding garment. Every part of it is calculated to the finest detail; every stitch, every pearl, every petal, every bit of lace is exact in its placement; there never has been nor will there ever be such a veil as this. And it was inspired by my love for Guido.” Her hooves moved softly over the folds of the veil, lovingly caressing its surface. “I’ll feel like a princess when I wear this up the aisle.”

“It’s a beautiful veil, Clare.”

The door of the storeroom swung open as another figure strode into the room, his demeanor calling for attention. “I’ve been looking for you two,” Guido called as he caught sight of his friends. “I’ve got some big news!” He playfully punched Vanguard in the shoulder and caught Clare up in a bone-breaking hug.

Clare giggled, her face alight at the sight of her stallion. Vanguard saw the tension and worry drain from her being, and hoped that Guido was observant of it, too. “It looks like you just signed your biggest deal yet!” Clare grinned.

Guido concurred. “It’s the best deal I’ve made in my life.”

“How much did it cost you?” Clare continued.

“That’s the best part,” Guido beamed. “It’s a mutually beneficial undertaking with no cost up front.”

Clare was ecstatic for her friend. “It sounds too good to be true!”

“But it is. Listen to this. I proposed to Tiffany, and she said yes.” Bursting with pride and self good will, Guido didn’t notice the stunned expressions on the faces of both Vanguard and Clare. Vanguard extended a hoof to briefly touch Clare’s shoulder in an attempt to offer his support to the distraught mare; he felt her tenseness. Neither pony said a word as Guido continued.

“The timing was perfect!” He began pacing in his excitement. “We had been shopping with Mom, and Tiffany saw a diamond and sapphire ring that really appealed to her. So I arranged a quiet romantic dinner at home, and surprised her with the ring... and a proposal. And she accepted!” His pacing stopped, and he faced Clare. Looking her in the eyes, he declared, “I’m going to marry a princess, Clare!” His glance fell to the white veil lying on the table. “And who better to design her wedding finery than you?” In a quick motion, Guido pushed the filmy mass to the floor saying, “None of this ordinary stuff for my bride, Clare! I want you to outdo anything you’ve ever designed in the past! This will have to be perfect!”

His glance once more settling on Clare’s face, he finally came down to earth. Noticing her pale, stunned look that now centered on the crumpled veil lying in an abandoned heap on the floor, he completely misread the signs. “Don’t worry, Clare. We haven’t set a date, and have no immediate plans for a wedding. You’ll have plenty of time to work on this special project. Just make it unique... the best there is.”

It was with flashing eyes that Clare met Guido’s smiling face, as the heat of anger flushed across her face. “You are marrying that... stranger? How dare you!” Clare’s voice rose in fury.

It was Guido’s turn to look shocked. He took a step backwards. “What’s wrong, Clare?”

“What’s wrong?” Clare echoed. “You have no idea?”

“No, I don’t. I thought you’d be happy for me.”

“Happy for you?” Clare almost screamed the words. “How can I be happy when you have chosen to cut me from your life?”
“I’m not doing that. I asked for your help with Tiffany’s bridal wear, didn’t I?”

Clare glared at Guido. “Are you so blind? Have you no feelings where I am concerned?”

Guido looked to Vanguard for help, but Clare continued. “You and I, Guido. That’s what this is all about. We were practically raised together; haven’t I meant anything to you all these years?”

“Why, of course, Clare. You’ve always been my confidant and support...”

Clare’s face twisted in pain as she heard his words, and with a sob, she whispered, “How can you not know that I love you... that I’ve always loved you?”

“We were good friends, Clare. That’s all.”

“That’s all? My life revolved around you!”

Guido looked at the lavender mare before him as if at a stranger. “We had a lot of good times, Clare, and we made a niche for ourselves in the world at each other’s side, but we were only friends.”

“Only friends?” Clare repeated weakly. “My love for you has grown and blossomed like a flower under the sun’s rays; and you see only a friend?”

“I had no idea you felt this way.”

The sting of his words could not have hurt Clare more if he had physically slapped her. She stared at him for a long moment. “What do you see in this Tiffany? At least tell me that much,” she said in a more controlled voice.

“She’s the classiest pony I’ve ever met. She appreciates what I can give her, and she will be an asset to my life as well. She’s a princess, Clare!”

“That’s all it is for you, Guido? The prestige? What about caring and sharing and loving?” She reached a hoof out to the yellow stallion, but he brushed it aside.

“Tiffany has accepted my offer of marriage. That’s it.”

“But, Guido, I love you!” Tears welled up in Clare’s eyes.

“You’ve said enough, Clare. You don’t have a place in my life anymore.”

Clare’s body shuddered as his words hit her, and with tears flowing freely down her face, she raced from the room. Guido glanced at Vanguard. “You knew about this?” he asked softly.

“It was obvious to everyone... but you, Guido.”

“She’s always been there for me over the years, but I never dreamt that she had plans for us to marry someday. I’m sorry if I hurt her, Vanguard. Will you tell her that for me, please?”

Shaking his head, Vanguard advised his friend. “No, Guido. That’s up to you. Go to her now, and at least give her that small comfort.”

Guido opened his mouth to plead for Vanguard’s help, but seeing the look in Vanguard’s eyes, he desisted. “Okay. I’ll go to her myself.”

As Guido left the storeroom, Angela and Pacificus pushed their way in. “What happened in here? What has upset Clare so?” Angela questioned.

“Guido and Tiffany are engaged,” Vanguard explained bluntly.

“Oh, no!” Angela groaned. “Poor Clare!”

“She shouldn’t be alone,” Pacificus stated as he headed for the door, but Vanguard stopped him.

“Give Guido some time to offer what consolation he can at this point,” he counseled. To Angela, he said, “Let’s get this veil packed away safely.”

Angela moved to the forsaken memento of a lost dream, and gingerly gathered it together. “I’ve caught Clare working on this piece, but she never explained who it was for. I guess it’s obvious now.”

Pacificus was slow to pick-up on the meaning. “It’s a wedding veil. Who’s getting married?”

His sister scowled at him. “Clare expected to wear it herself someday, I would imagine. And that bloke comes in here and tells her that he’s going to marry Tiffany instead.”

Pacificus touched the veil almost reverently. “She designed this for herself?”

“Yes,” Vanguard verified. “She truly believed that Guido cared for her in the same way that she cared for him. But that conception was shattered today.”

Angela covered the veil with the tissue, and nervously looked toward the door. “You guys finish up here; I’m going to see if Clare is alone now. She’s going to need someone’s shoulder to cry on.”

The stallions sealed the box and moved it to its home on the shelf. Then, feeling out of place, they walked back to the reception area of Clare’s office. Vanguard poured himself a cup of coffee while Pacificus paced the floor; both of them kept an eye on the office door. It seemed like an eternity of time before Angela let herself out, closing the door quickly behind her.

“Clare doesn’t want to see anyone right now,” she informed them. “I’ll take her home and stay with her until she’s calmed down. You two go on your way; you can see her tomorrow.”

“You’re sure she will be alright?” Vanguard asked.

“In time,” Angela responded, and turning, went back into the office.

“The nerve of that stallion,” Pacificus hissed. “How could he be so cruel to someone as sweet as Clare?”

“He never understood,” Vanguard answered reflectively. “He was blind to all the signs. He hurt her without even knowing he was doing it.”

The two ponies left the building and went their separate ways homeward. Vanguard took his time walking through the city streets; he wanted to clear his mind of Clare’s grief. He recalled that Sugarberry had said that Toby had taken Tiffany’s leaving well, so this engagement would not be a jolt to him. Tiffany and Guido would be lost in their own happiness with little thought of anyone else. Vanguard even tried to lose himself to his own problem of being isolated from Sugarberry. But every path his mind wandered brought him back to the gentle mare who had befriended him on his arrival in Vulcanopolis. Of all the players involved, she was the one who suffered the most.

* * *
Approaching his home on the early autumn Thursday afternoon, Vanguard was surprised to see an elderly pink mare with lavender mane sitting on the wooden bench that nestled between the flowerpots outside his door. As he came nearer, he realized that it was Prisca, the pony who did the weekly cleaning of the town house which Vanguard was inhabiting during his stay in Vulcanopolis. He hurried his steps, and greeted the tired-looking pony. “Good afternoon, Prisca. Did you have problems with the cleaning today?”

Prisca smiled as she caught sight of the stallion. “Mr. Vanguard, I’m so glad to see you. Our paths haven’t crossed since the day you were packin’ up to go visitin’ back home.”

“You’re right, Prisca.” Vanguard had returned to the town house early that Thursday before Tabby’s wedding to pack for his flight to Dream Valley, and had found the pony that was behind the cleaning that usually occurred during his absence.

“Your trip was a pleasant one, I hope,” she remarked inquisitively.

“Very much so,” Vanguard replied, wondering at the friendliness of the mare.

Prisca seemed to notice his perplexity, and exclaimed. “Oh! And here I am forgettin’ why I’m here. The fragrance of the flowers was makin’ me a bit sleepy.” She stood up hastily. “Let me explain my predicament.”

“Would you like to step inside?” asked Vanguard as he unlocked the door. Opening it, the lemon-fresh aroma of recently polished furniture reached his nose; he opened the window of the sitting room to alleviate some of the smell which he always found slightly sickening.

Chuckling, Prisca commented, “I could have used my own key to accomplish my errand, but I felt guilty returning to your home once the cleanin’ was done. You’re goin’ to think I’ve gone and lost my mind when I tell you what’s happened.”

“And what exactly is that?” prodded Vanguard, offering Prisca a seat.

“Well, remember when you told me you were going to be gone a few days? I figured that would be a good time to do a more thorough cleaning so the place would be sparklin’ when you returned.”

“That sounds like a wise plan.”

“I came on Monday morning to wash the windows, and when I got to the spare bedroom on the top floor, I found this book on the floor.” She leaned to rummage through her cleaning satchel, and retrieved a thin, red tract. Vanguard caught his breath as he recognized the volume: Poems of Life and Love. He had not given it a thought since he had found the photo of Strawberry Shortcake and Giorgio, Sr. in it. Once that picture was uncovered and subsequently destroyed, there was no more reason to think about the book. But here it was again.

Reaching out, he took the book from Prisca and stared at it as she continued. “Now, Mr. Vanguard, you must understand that I don’t snoop in the places I clean, and I did pick-up the book to put it away on the shelf, but it looked so invitin’ and because I was plum wore out, I sat down to read a bit.”

“That’s understandable,” Vanguard acknowledged.

“Well, by then I was realizin’ that time was a flyin’, so I finished the last window in the place and because the poems sort of touched my heart and I figured it wouldn’t hurt none, I stuck the book into my satchel to take home with me, to read in my spare time. I fully intended to return it on my next regular cleaning day.”

“But you didn’t.”

“No, sir. I plum forgot. You see, one of my daughters-- her name’s Gemma and she’s a dear one-- took a bad fall and broke her leg. I had my hooves full takin’ care of her and the younguns and Juniper. I did the cookin’ and cleanin’ and laundry at their place, plus keepin’ up with my own business.”

“And your daughter-- how is she now?”

Prisca broke out in a wide grin. “She’s up and around again, not as nimble with the cast and all, but able to do most of her chores. So when I was able to catch up on my own housework, I found the pretty little red book buried on the kitchen table under heaps of junk mail. I brought it back today. But, wouldn’t you know it, I forgot all about it when I was here cleanin’ this morning. I jumped like there was a snake in my cleaning bag when I reached in it at my next job, and there was that bright red book yet, just sittin’ there like it was makin’ fun of me. So I had to come back when I was finished there, and like I said before, I just didn’t feel right about entering your place without your permission, like. I’m awful sorry if it inconvenienced you in any way.” She ended her long discourse, and waited for Vanguard’s reply.

Sorting through the facts he’d heard, Vanguard was struck by only one thing-- that Prisca had found this particular book on the floor. Why this book? It was the one he himself had picked up off the floor the day of his outing with Clare and Guido, which led to his finding the picture of Sugarberry’s mom. That could be attributed to pure chance.

But this second occurrence with Prisca finding it once more off its shelf was just too odd. Vanguard looked from the book to Prisca, and asked, “You’re sure you found it on the Monday that I was gone?”

“Yes, sir, definite about that I am.”

“And it wasn’t off the shelf on Thursday when you were here, and I was packing?”

“No, sir, I had cleaned that room like always and everything was in place.”

“So how did the book end up on the floor again?” wondered Vanguard out loud.

Prisca was beginning to become worried. “Did I do something wrong?” she asked, her anxious eyes searching Vanguard’s face.

“No, certainly not,” he assured her. “I was just curious as to how the book could end up on the floor when no one was here.”

“Mr. Giorgio wasn’t in town himself maybe?” Prisca considered.

“No. He was in Dream Valley. I talked with him there.”

“Then it’s a mystery, I’m sure,” Prisca declared. “And I don’t know the answer to it.” Rising to leave, Prisca set her hoof on the red-covered tome in Vanguard’s hooves. “It’s a lovely little collection of fancy words. I hope it’s not bringing you trouble.”

Vanguard looked at her sharply. Trouble? he muttered to himself. This entire Vulcanopolis experience is nothing but trouble. But to Prisca he said, “Thanks for returning the book, and for waiting here to tell your story.”

“Sure thing, Mr. Vanguard,” she replied, gathering her satchel to her. “I’ll be on my way now.”

Holding the door for her, Vanguard watched as she walked down the sidewalk and got underway. He found himself doubting everything she had told him; after all, he was to trust no one. And here was a mare who had free access to the town house because of her employment, and she also carried a bag that would make any theft easy to conceal.

It was only after she disappeared around the corner that Vanguard looked around him and noticed Ivetta watering the potted plants. “Hi,” he called. But Ivetta, seeming not to notice, turned away with her watering can and went into her house.

Vanguard closed the door as if shutting out disturbing thoughts, but the red book still in his hooves called for an explanation. Why was this book, of all those in Giorgio’s case upstairs, the one that seemed to be singled out for some purpose?

Heading straight for the spare room, Vanguard found everything in order. The thin gap on the shelf between volumes stared at him unrelentingly, however, as if trying to fill in the missing information. Vanguard slipped the book into its place, hoping that would quiet the sense of foreboding that was beginning to permeate this room. The thought that most bothered him was the fact that this book had held the picture of Sugarberry’s family. Was it the book or the picture that was important to someone?

“What am I thinking?” Vanguard muttered. “No one has been here. It’s all just coincidence.” He turned to leave; but, as if the bookcase somehow called to him, he came back and stood before it. “I wonder if any of the other books hold anything of interest?” he pondered. Then, one by one, he began a search of the volumes much as Iveta had done some days before.

However, Vanguard took the time to read the newspaper articles that acted as bookmarks in a number of them, and he found one disturbing point that tied them all together: Each article was about a former student at Leonardo University; and each of these ponies had gone on to a successful career. That fit the information Tawny had given him concerning Giorgio’s blackmailing of former students who had benefitted from his “service”.

Vanguard got a piece of paper, and began recording names and dates to pass on to Chief Matteo locally. Sitting on the bed, he found himself staring at the bookcase. “Somehow, it holds the key to this whole mystery,” he said out loud. But the ringing of the telephone interrupted his thoughts.

Picking up the call on his bedside phone, Vanguard was pleasantly surprised to hear Clare’s voice.

“How are you doing?” he asked her sincerely.

“Unexpectedly-- from my pont of view-- I’m still alive,” the mare responded, and Vanguard envisioned the smirk that surely played over her face.

“I’m thankful for that,” Vanguard imparted.

“I’m also starving,” Clare admitted. “Could you meet me at that little diner near my office for dinner?”

“Fucciono’s?” Vanguard asked, visualizing the eating establishment tucked between the businesses on that street.

“Yes. How soon can you be there?”

“Give me half an hour. I’ve got some loose ends to tie up first.”

“Okay! I’ll see you soon.”

Putting down the receiver, Vanguard again picked up the sheet listing the ponies’ names he had gotten off the clippings in Giorgio’s books. “The sooner I get this information to Matteo, the better,” he observed quietly. “And a book that recurrently ends up on the floor... is that noteworthy in a cop’s eyes? Or would they consider me looney? I guess I’ll decide that when I get there.”

So Vanguard once more made the detour past Matteo’s office on his way to meet Clare, and he shared the information he had gleaned from his foray through the books. The chief merely grunted when Vanguard handed him the list of names, so Vanguard chose not to confide the situation concerning the red publication that was proving to be a thorn in his side. The picture can’t mean anything to this cheating scam anyway, he theorized as he left the police station. But the nagging voice of his conscience gave him no rest. It involves Sugarberry, and her premonition of danger wasn’t unfounded, the voice chided him.

Vanguard turned back to the chief’s office, and nearly bumped into him as Matteo came out the door. “Did you forget something?” Matteo asked gruffly.

“There’s something I’d like you to be aware of,” Vanguard admitted. Matteo gestured him back inside the office, and waited for Vanguard to begin.

“This may sound trivial, but twice now a book has been found on the floor at Giorgio’s place after my absence from the building.” Vanguard stopped, waiting for some indication from Matteo.

“Go on,” Matteo invited.

“The book had held a picture of some friends of mine back in Ponyland... they and Giorgio, Sr.” he continued after a pause. “I don’t see how it would have anything to do with the problem you’re chasing down, but it does seem to bridge an occurrence in the past with this present mess.” He went on to explain the history of the photo, and the fear that Sugarberry had felt upon meeting Giorgio.

True to his nature, Matteo said little. After several clarifying questions, he dismissed Vanguard with a wave of his hoof. “We’ll be in touch.”

Continuing on to his meeting with Clare, Vanguard tried to sort through the facts he was aware of. Giorgio was selling test answers for jangles, and he had a network of helpers. Giorgio’s father had once met Strawberry Shortcake, and had a picture taken to verify it. Other than the families involved, there seemed to be no connection between the incidents. But yet, Vanguard couldn’t shake the feeling that he was missing something, just as Giorgio had given him the impression that he, too, was searching for some intangible piece to a perplexing problem.

He was relieved to finally reach the restaurant where Clare awaited him; it gave him a chance to set his own problems aside for the moment. He found the yellow-maned mare already at a corner booth, her eyes red and sleep-deprived.

“Hi, Clare,” he smiled as he slipped in across from her.

He was glad to see her return a smile, although it was forced and brief. “Hi,” she managed to say.

A waiter came at that time to fill their water glasses and give them each a menu. As they skimmed over the offerings, Clare said, “Order something expensive. I’m treating tonight.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you, but I’m not very hungry,” Vanguard admitted as he set down the menu.

“I thought I was; but now that I’m here, I don’t think I can face food.” She deposited her menu with Vanguard’s.

Vanguard searched her face, observing the worry and exhaustion that lingered there. “You need to eat,” he apprized. Foreseeing that an onslaught of tears was inevitable, Vanguard was proven correct as Clare’s face began to dissolve in a cascade of salty rivulets. He took one of her hooves in both of his and offered what consolation he could; he didn’t say a word until the shower ended as quickly as it had begun.

Clare pulled her hoof away from his and dug a tissue out of her purse. “Sorry about that.” She tried to sound normal, but her voice cracked. “I thought I was over that part of my rebuff.”

The waiter had returned to the table, and Vanguard told him, “Two bowls of soup, whatever you have,” and motioned him to be on his way. To Clare, he made the observation, “A lifetime of years spent in loving someone is not so easily dismissed.”

“You’re telling me.”

“You’ve got to give yourself time to grieve, Clare. Don’t expect things to go back to normal right away.”

“So what makes you the expert?”

“Common sense, I guess.”

“What would you be doing if it had been Sugarberry who had sent you packing?”

“I don’t even want to think about it, Clare.”

The mare sat in silence for a few moments, but finally returned to the conversation. “Guido followed me to my office after I broke down, and told me he was sorry.”

“For that small bit of kindness, I am grateful.”

“You were behind it, weren’t you?” A smile that wasn’t forced finally lit her face for an instant.

“I made a suggestion, and Guido acted on it,” Vanguard enlightened. “But, to his credit, he was concerned about you.”

“Oh, Vanguard, I really thought I was going to die when I realized that Guido doesn’t love me, that he really loves Tiffany instead!” She buried her face in her hooves.

“But life goes on, Clare.”

Raising her head, she asked, “How does one pick up the pieces? Everything is shattered!”

“You just glue them back together, one by one,” offered Vanguard, reflecting on his foalhood experience with the broken vase.

“Where do I start?” she asked, just as the food was delivered to the table. The steaming hot soup smelled delicious, and the accompanying rolls were fresh from the oven. The coffee was black and vitalizing.

“I’d begin with the soup,” Vanguard quipped, and was pleased to see a genuine grin cross Clare’s face. They ate in silence; and for both of them, the sustenance did as much for their mental dispositions as for their physical well-being.

“Guido’s mother didn’t waste any time getting the engagement ball invitations out, did she?” Clare observed. “You did receive one, didn’t you?” She looked questioningly at Vanguard.

“Yes, I did.” Vanguard weighed the wisdom of asking about Clare’s reaction to the ball, but the mare continued without prompting.

“I ripped mine to shreds,” she admitted ruefully. “Then, after thinking about it, I decided that I should attend.” She paused and frowned. “Of course, I’ve changed my mind about a hundred times since then.”

“It isn’t happening for another week and a half, so you have plenty of time to deliberate over the decision.”

“It will be a gala affair,” Clare mused. “Vincentia and Pietro will not spare any expense to make this the highlight of the year for Vulcanopolis’ elite.”

“That settles it for me, then,” Vanguard speculated. “Sounds too formal for my taste.”

Clare dreamily anticipated the event. “It will be held at Guido’s villa with his parents hosting it. There will be a celebrated orchestra, and romantic dancing, and extravagant food, and everyone who is anything will be there...” Clare came back to reality, and her eyes sparkled. “I should be there, Van! I’ve made my decision! I’m going to attend Guido and Tiffany’s engagement party!”

Vanguard suspected some sort of conniving plan forming in Clare’s mind. “You wouldn’t have an ulterior motive, would you?”

“Oh, don’t worry. I’m not going to do anything foolish. Guido made it perfectly clear to me that I’m out of the picture. But I want to make it perfectly clear to him that I’m not down as well.”

Shaking his head, Vanguard doubted the sensibility of Clare’s trying to impress Guido one last time. “You are just asking for trouble.”

“Why, Vanguard, with you as my escort, what could go wrong?”

“Me???” The stallion raised his hooves in protest.

“You’ll do it for me, won’t you?” the mare coyly asked. “You’ll just have to accompany me to the ball and dance a few times and then we’ll leave. I only need to make an appearance.”

Vanguard stared at Clare, but didn’t say a word.

“Please?” she reached across the table and touched his hoof. “For me?”

Bracing himself against her marely wiles, Vanguard retorted, “Surely there are any number of stallions in this city that would gladly accompany you.”

“But, Van, you understand my situation better than any of them,” she sulked. “You’re not going to desert me, too, are you?”

The downcast demeanor of the mare was too much for Vanguard. “Okay... if it means that much to you, I’ll go.” As Clare’s face lighted with a self-satisfied smile, he added, “But I’m not going to like it.”

“You won’t have any regrets,” replied Clare smugly, leaning back in her chair with a contented expression on her face. “No regrets at all.” She sat lost in thought, until she finally affirmed, “That will be the first piece glued back in.”

“What are you talking about?” Vanguard asked.

“What you said about gluing the pieces of my life back together. The ball will be the starting point. And the line of men’s hats is progressing quite nicely,” Clare stated. “I think if I put my entire heart and soul into that venture, I’ll come out of this okay.”

“Just don’t get so involved with designing that you lose track of your life as a whole,” philosophized Vanguard. “Too much of anything isn’t good.”

“Then I’ll alternate between that project and the new sales market in Dream Valley,” the mare continued. “Lemon Treats has already invited me back for the first release of Clare’s Creations,” she finished with a flourish.

“Sounds awesome,” concurred the stallion.

“Don’t you just wish you could go back with me?” Clare teased. “Your Sugarberry would be delighted... if the homecoming I witnessed in August was any indication.”

It already seemed like an eternity ago that he had been a part of Sugarberry’s life over the wedding weekend; the months ahead loomed over him like an engulfing wave. “There won’t be any trips back for me until the semester is completed,” reflected Vanguard. “The schedule is full at the university; and even if I could go home, I wouldn’t be able to afford both it and the...”

He didn’t complete the sentence, but Clare jumped on the finishing word like a cat on a mouse. “You’re finally getting her a ring, aren’t you? A Christmas engagement! How traditional! And then a summer wedding, I suppose? Oh, this is so delightful!”

Vanguard sat in a daze. He had not meant to mention his intentions to anyone, and now Clare had uncovered the entire course of his life in one slip of the tongue. He glared at her for an instant until he realized how upbeat her mood had become, and calculated that the expense to his feelings was worth any price to see Clare excited about someone else’s plans. But he did voice his reticence over revealing too much to her. “I didn’t say anything, Clare. This is all supposition on your part.”

“Supposition, my hoof!” Clare taunted him with a sly smile on her face. The waiter returned to clear the table, and to ask the two ponies about dessert. Vanguard ordered a piece of peach pie, and Clare was in such good humor by this point that she ordered a calorie-laden chocolate concoction that was smothered in whipped cream. When the victuals were before them and their coffee cups refilled, Clare continued her harassment of the stallion who accompanied her. “My only question is why you haven’t asked her sooner.”

“I wanted everything to be just right,” he admitted. “And things just kept getting in the way.” He wished he didn’t have to keep giving that stupid excuse.

“Do you have any competition back in Dream Valley?” she brazenly asked.

“You know a mare’s whims better than I do. You tell me.”

Studying him intently, Clare refrained from answering immediately. “Hmmm...” she finally voiced her thoughts on the subject. “From what I saw from my limited time among the stallions of Dream Valley, I would warn you against two, maybe three, possible trouble spots.”

“Oh, great,” sighed Vanguard. “The most I had foreseen were two: Wigwam and Quarterback.”

“Really? Then make it five.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well, I could be wrong, of course. But I’d keep an eye on Toby, Jet, and Driftwood.”

Vanguard laughed, and shook his head. “No. You’re all wrong on this one, Clare.”

“You think so, do you? Let’s start with Toby. He’s an attractive stallion with a good job, and he pays attention to the gals-- always chivalrous, of course. And now that he’s free, so to speak, I’d say your problems are multiplied.”

“I’m not worried.”

“Okay, then we have Jet. Now, granted, he doesn’t appear to be Sugarberry’s type at first glance, but I did have some conversation with him...”

“More than ‘Dude’?” Vanguard interrupted.

Clare ignored the cut. “...and he is interested in birds and animals just like Sugarberry is. If they ever got the chance to sit down and talk, I’m sure they’d hit it off wonderfully.”

“I’m still not worried.”

“Driftwood... he may be a source of real concern. Sugarberry did seek him out several times during the course of the reception and dance, and the two of them did seem to be hitting it off rather well.”

“Driftwood is an aspiring writer like half of Dream Valley; of course Sugarberry would be helpful to him if he asked her advice,” Vanguard countered.

“Is that all?” Clare prodded. “Wasn’t there something about this Driftwood that would set him apart in Sugarberry’s eyes?”

“No,” disagreed Vanguard, becoming genuinely annoyed at Clare’s innuendos. Driftwood was the owner of the Estate Manor and he had a passion for cooking; and, yes, his name had come up several times in Sugarberry’s conversation while Vanguard was in Dream Valley. But it was not cause for concern, Vanguard rationalized to himself as he glowered at the mare across the table.

The waiter came with the check, setting it next to Vanguard, but Clare deftly retrieved it and settled the bill. “I hope you enjoyed the evening as much as I did,” she stated, preparing to leave. “And I’m sorry if I upset you,” she added as an afterthought.

“It’s not your fault,” Vanguard assured her. “I can come up with just as many wild scenarios as you did all on my own.”

“Walk me home then?” she asked.

“Sure.”

It was a quiet walk through the cooling evening breeze; both ponies were intent on their own private thoughts. Arriving at Clare’s front door, however, brought their retrospection to an end. “I knew you would be good for me tonight,” Clare told the country blue stallion.

“I saw you smile, so I guess it was a success.”

“Sugarberry’s a very fortunate mare,” Clare returned, giving Vanguard a little peck on the cheek. “If I didn’t consider her a friend...” She left the statement unfinished, and let herself into the house.

Vanguard stared at the closing door, and shook his head. “Mares!” he grumbled, as he turned down the path toward home. He concentrated on the ridiculous conversation that he and Clare had over eligible stallions in Dream Valley as he crossed the city to his town house. He found Clare’s reasoning faulty, to say the least, but she had succeeded in planting the seeds of doubt in his mind.

Back at the town house, Vanguard realized that he still had paperwork to deal with, so he went straight to the den and buckled down to the task. When he had gone over the last assignment, he pushed back from the desk and stood up, stretching his legs. He prepared for bed and was turning out the lights when he made one last check of the spare room.

The light from the hallway made a ghostly glow in the room, the luminosity flirting with the shadows. He switched on the bedside lamp to dispel the gloom and checked on the position of the red-backed book. It was still there, nestled between the thicker volumes that hemmed it in.

Just to verify their existence, Vanguard pulled out one of the books that contained a newspaper clipping within it. He flipped through the pages once, then twice, and finally swung the book upside-down. Nothing was contained between the pages, nothing dropped to the floor.

In consternation, he searched the titles that he could readily recall holding the articles-- but to no avail. All the books were now empty.

This is crazy, Vanguard said to himself, puzzling over the disappearance of what had been there just earlier this evening. Who could have been here while I was gone? He inadvertently shuddered as the realization hit him as to just how vulnerable his position was; unknown ponies were accessing his home at their own discretion and helping themselves to whatever information they had been sent to find. That Giorgio was behind this was no secret, yet Vanguard found it disarming to realize just how far the stallion would go to get what he wanted.

Making another check of the house on each of its levels, Vanguard grew tense when he heard a sound outside. But peering cautiously from the window, he saw that Giles was just returning home from a late night at the office, fumbling with the key in the lock.

How many ponies have one of Giorgio’s keys to this place? Vanguard pondered in the darkness. He envisioned some pony stealthily approaching the town house, furtively looking to the right and to the left before inserting the key that would allow him or her entrance into the building, and quickly slipping through the door and disappearing into the privacy of whatever confidential errand needed attention.

* * *
Little did Vanguard know that it was Ivetta who earlier that evening had gained access simply by maneuvering the secret entrance that existed between the two joined houses. She was grateful that Giles had been caught up in critical work downtown so that she could carry out her clandestine operation without interference. She was under enough pressure from Giorgio to locate that picture, for whatever reason.

When she had sent him word-- after seeing Prisca and Vanguard and the elusive red book-- that the cleaning mare, of all ponies, had accessed the book in question, Giorgio had responded immediately with special instructions: Remove all papers from the other books on that bookshelf as soon as possible. Fate was with her, for Vanguard had left the premises shortly after Giorgio’s latest command had been issued, and she had been able to carry it out without a problem. She had even had time to scan copies of the articles into the computer before destroying the originals, as Giorgio had requested.

Ivetta was satisfied with her accomplishment of the evening, and curled up on the sofa to await Giles; she was exhausted from the mental stress that her surreptitious sally for Giorgio put her under. Her thoughts became disconnected as sleep overtook her, yet something kept nagging at her mind. With a bolt back to reality, Ivetta remembered what was bothering her conscience; it was something Giorgio had said after she had related the meeting between Prisca and Vanguard. The words leapt back at her now in stark clarity: I’ll see to her indiscretion, Giorgio had voiced in anger. I’ll take care of Prisca myself.

* * *
There was a hint of cooler weather in the air when Vanguard opened the door to retrieve the Saturday issue of the newspaper that lay on his front step. Ivetta was outside her domain, too, completely absorbed in reading the front page. “Good morning, neighbor,” Vanguard called to her.

Ivetta looked up from the newsprint with a dismayed look on her face. “Did you see this?” she asked.

Glancing down at the paper in his hoof, Vanguard saw the headlines, General Council Agrees to Additional Funding. “So, what’s the big deal?” he questioned.

Tossing her mane back in impatience, Ivetta crossed the space between the two ponies and held up her copy of the paper, pointing to a small block in the lower corner. “Read this!” she ordered.

Accepting her copy, Vanguard read the smaller heading, “Home Ransacked Last Night”. He scanned the short article about a home being entered by two unknown stallions late in the evening, and the scuffle that ensured between the homeowner, Donato, and the miscreants. Although the stallion and his wife, Prisca...

“Prisca?” Vanguard looked at Ivetta in surprise. “This happened to Prisca?”

She nodded her head in the affirmative.

He continued reading the news release. Donato and Prisca had been tied up by the two burglars, and their home ransacked. A daughter had found them early this morning. Police found no evidence of a theft having occurred, although extensive searching had obviously been employed. Donato was treated and released for cuts and bruises. No clue as to the identity of the perpetrators was available.

Looking up, he found Ivetta staring at him. “Why would anyone want something from Prisca?” he queried. “She obviously isn’t that well-off, so what would anyone hope to gain?”

Wide-eyed, Ivetta shook her head miserably. “I feel terrible about this. Prisca didn’t deserve this sort of treatment.” Turning suddenly, she started back to her home.

“Ivetta!” Vanguard called. “Your paper.” He followed after her, handing back the copy she had shown him. He noted that her hoof was trembling as she accepted it, and she scurried into her house like a frightened animal. But he had no time to worry about Ivetta; at this point, his concern was concentrated on Prisca. After placing a quick call to Prisca’s home and speaking to her daughter, Vanguard set out for the housekeeper’s domicile, stopping only long enough at an outdoor market to purchase a bouquet of flowers.

Arriving at the proper address, Vanguard was impressed with the neatness of the sparse lawn and the simple home. He knocked on the door, which was immediately opened by a young mare with a cast on her leg.

“Gemma?” he asked. “I’m Vanguard, here to see your mother.”

“Oh! Mr. Vanguard! Please do come in.” She opened the door widely, gesturing him to enter.

Her words were echoed from inside the room. “Mr. Vanguard! Please do come in.” Prisca rose from a chair next to the sofa on which lay an elderly stallion, his face and forelegs bandaged.

“Prisca, I can’t believe this happened. I’m so sorry.” He self-consciously handed her the bouquet of autumn flowers. Turning to the stallion, he expressed his regrets directly to him as well.

“Why, thank you for makin’ the day a little brighter,” Prisca exclaimed, taking a deep whiff of the aromatic bouquet. “Gemma, dear, these will be needin’ a little water.” The daughter took the flowers from her mother and left the room, returning in short order with the blossoms in an old pottery vase that made an attractive display.

“You’ll have to excuse the look of the place,” Prisca lamented. “Those burglars made a mess of everything.” As there wasn’t that much furniture in the room, Vanguard hadn’t noticed the disarray. But he now saw the disorganized piles of papers and books on the floor next to the few cupboards that existed in the home. “The police, they want us to leave it where it is until another inspector shows up.”

“And what were they searching for, Prisca?” Vanguard asked guardedly.

“Whatever it was, they didn’t find it,” Donato grumbled.

“That’s the truth, Mr. Vanguard,” Prisca concurred. “By overhearin’ a bit of their talk, we know that they went away empty-hooved.”

“Could you tell me what happened?” suggested Vanguard.

“Oh, dear me. Here I’ve left you standin’ like this. Where are my manners?” She offered him the chair which she had recently vacated. Accepting her hospitality, Vanguard made himself comfortable, and accepted a cup of tea from Gemma.

“If you want to know what happened, I can tell you,” growled Donato, moving his stiff body into a sitting position. His wife rushed to his side as the exertion caused him obvious pain. But the stallion continued his story. “It was late last night, goin’ on midnight. Me and Prisca here were just closin’ up for the night when all of a sudden the door comes flyin’ open, and these two ruffians with masks on their faces come rushin’ into the room.”

“Donato tried to stop them,” Prisca said with genuine admiration in her voice, “but there was the two of them, you see. And I’m afraid I wasn’t much help.” Donato took her hoof in his and smiled at her reassuringly.

“They tied us up in the bedroom,” Donato went on. “Then they looked through all the drawers and such in that room before comin’ out here and trashin’ the rest of the place. It seemed like they expected to find something they’d misplaced.”

“Mr. Vanguard,” Prisca said in a small voice, “when they first started goin’ through everything like that, my first thought was that they were upset about my takin’ that little red book. But then I heard ‘em talkin’ and one said to the other, ‘The picture just ain’t here,’ so I knew then that I was just being silly about the book.”

“A picture?” Vanguard started in alarm. “They said they were looking for a picture?”

“A photo,” Donato interjected. “What they really said was a photo.”

Thoughts began bombarding Vanguard like crazy. The photo again? The picture of Strawberry Shortcake? It didn’t make any sense! Why would one twenty-five year photo become the focal point for events like this? He rested his head on his hoof as he tried to sort things out. Finally he asked, “Did you have many personal photos here?”

“Of course, we have our family album,” beamed Prisca, rising to get it. But she stopped short as she realized that it, too, had been vandalized by the intruders. Tears began to roll down her cheeks.

“Now, Mother,” Gemma came to her side. “The pictures weren’t damaged, and I can get a new book to put them back into.”

There was a knock at the door, and as Prisca dried her tears, Gemma admitted Matteo and the inspector. “And what are you doing here?” Matteo asked of Vanguard in obvious displeasure.

“I read about my housekeeper’s misfortune in the paper, and came to see if there was anything I could do to help,” slightly exaggerated Vanguard. “I was just on my way out.”

Turning to Prisca, he asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?”

“You brought the lovely flowers, Mr. Vanguard. That was more than enough.”

Saying goodby to the members of the household, Vanguard took one last look at Matteo, who imperceptibly shook his head. No help there, Vanguard muttered to himself as he hit the trail for home.

What is going on here? The stallion reflected on the latest development in the string of events surrounding that particular photo. If the picture the thieves were after was in actuality the one of Sugarberry’s mother and Giorgio’s father, why were they after it? What secrets did it hold? What tales could it tell?

He had to talk to someone about this whole scenario, but whom? Matteo would never tell him anything; the times Vanguard had talked with him, the chief had spoken very little; he seemed reticent to divulge any information to this foreigner from Dream Valley.

The one who would understand his perplexity best was Wigwam; fearing that his phones were tapped, Vanguard stopped at a public phone booth along his route. Tapped phones, he mused, were something one only hears about in movies, not in real life. Yet now I’m afraid to trust anything... or anyone.

“Wigwam, what’s happening over there?” Vanguard asked as soon as the stallion had answered his phone.

“The leaves are beginning to change color, and the blackbirds are flocking together for their migration south,” Wigwam answered. “Why?”

“With the investigation!” a vexed Vanguard bellowed.

“Oh. As far as that goes, we have a fairly good idea now of who is doing Giorgio’s dirty work for him. It’s really gone quite well, and we could wrap it up on our end at any time, but the Vulcanopolis department wants us to hang in there awhile yet until they get some more evidence that they need. So we’re just biding our time.”

“Do you have any idea what evidence that is?”

“I don’t. Tawny probably does. Is something wrong?”

Vanguard related the latest information concerning the return of a book-- the very book that had contained a photo connecting Dream Valley with Vulcanopolis-- and the subsequent sacking of the home of the mare who had borrowed the book. He went on to tell him of the newspaper clippings that had also disappeared from the town house. “I don’t like what’s going on,” Vanguard ended.

“Hmm,” Wigwam gave it some thought. “I suppose that would explain why Matteo needs more time; sounds like things are getting complicated over there.”

“But you can’t enlighten me as to what they know for sure about any of this?”

“No, I can’t,” Wigwam admitted.

“How’s Sugarberry?” came the familiar question.

“She’s great-- busy with the apple celebration coming up. And what do you hear about our Princess Tiffany since her engagement?” queried Wigwam.

“There’ll be a lavish affair to celebrate the announcement,” Vanguard replied.

“Just what the princess will like,” chuckled Wigwam. “Are you going to attend?”

Vanguard hesitated in answering, but figured he had to admit that he was. “Yes, I’m going.”

“Alone?” Wigwam persisted.

“No. With someone.”

“The disconsolate Clare, perhaps?”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but yes, with Clare.” Vanguard felt obligated to explain. “But only because she’s still hurting over this rejection by Guido.”

“Sounds like a dangerous position to be in, Van. I’d watch it if I were you.”

“As if this entire Vulcanopolis experience isn’t dangerous?” Vanguard steered the conversation away from personal matters. “Just make sure that Sugarberry is safe, okay?”

“My pleasure!” the stallion tauntingly replied. “I’ll keep a close eye on her.” And the call was disconnected as Wigwam hung up the receiver.

I’m sure you will. Vanguard scowled dejectedly at the telephone and banged the receiver into its cradle. I’m sure you will.

* * *
The night of the ball arrived. Vanguard reached Clare’s house and was admitted by Alda, her maid, who directed him to the sitting room to await the completion of Clare’s grooming. Too tense to actually sit, Vanguard moved to the window to gaze out on the now dying flowerbeds, but dusk was obliterating the view. What did come to his sight, however, caused him to gasp.

Clare had entered the room behind him, and her reflection in the window glass was a vision of an enchantress. Turning to face the mare, he was speechless, and Clare was completely aware of the effect she had made. “Good evening, Vanguard,” she murmured, extending a hoof to him.

Fascinated by the flawless face and artistically adorned hair, the stallion accepted the hoof and kissed it lightly, his gaze never moving from the brown eyes that were tonight outlined in dark mascara, and that now held him hostage. “You are stunning, Clare.”

“Then you approve of Angela and Alda’s makeover?” she grinned, assuring Vanguard that this fantasy of beauty was really the same mare who, in weeks past, had been listless and waning.

“Yes. I approve.” He looked over the vision before him. Her yellow mane and tail had intricately-formed braids overlying and mingling with the softly curled hair. Angela had worked filaments of silver cord throughout the braids which were sending sparks of colored light at the slightest movement. In addition, dainty white flowers were woven into the hair giving it a natural delicacy and allurement. A white bow with silver filaments highlighted Clare’s tail, and a nosegay of white roses trailing ribbons of silver sat behind her left ear. She was truly beautiful.

“You will rival the princess tonight,” Vanguard predicted.

“That is my intention,” verified Clare. “Shall we be on our way?”

Alda saw the couple out the door; the walk to Guido’s villa was a short one. The spreading residence was lit like daylight, and the sound of voices laughing and chatting filled the air.

“I’d say we are a little late,” Vanguard observed.

“We’re right on schedule,” said Clare, tensing beside him. “I know exactly how Vincentia will handle this affair, and I know where I want to be at the precise moment...”

Vanguard looked at Clare with apprehension. He had hoped she would use this opportunity to face the inevitable truth about Guido, but he now feared that she was expecting more than that-- maybe even to win back his attention.

Clare had stopped just inside the main entrance of the villa, waiting for something that Vanguard could only guess at. In his uncertainty, he waited at her side, taking in the opulence of Guido’s home. The foyer itself was as large as Vanguard’s entire apartment back in Dream Valley, and the floor was tiled in rich, earthtone hues with turquoise patterns. A curving stairway climbed upward to the right to rooms unseen and down to the circular ballroom on the lower level which spread out before them in all its finery.

The guests who were already in attendance were watching some spectacle in the ballroom, and their attention was riveted to that show; no one noticed Clare and Vanguard where they stood. Looking out over the ornately decorated room, Vanguard soon saw what was holding their attention. Guido’s parents, Vincentia and Pietro, were presenting their son and his fiancee to the assembled company. If he read the signs right, they would soon lead the first dance.

A slight movement at his side informed him that Clare was preparing to make her move, whatever it was. Softly, Clare whispered in his ear, “Stay at my side.” And she moved off to the head of the stairs. Vanguard had no choice but to accompany her.

Clare stood at the top of the stairs, poised and ready, her eyes fixed on Guido. And in that moment before the music began, in the silence of the visitors’ rapt concentration on the newly engaged couple, Clare began her descent of the stairs. The echo of her hoofsteps off the stone tiers carried to all in the villa, and everyone, without exception, turned their heads in her direction.

Clare continued downward on the circular stairway, Vanguard at her side as she willed. Comments could be heard from those nearest to the lavender mare: “Is this another princess from Dream Valley?” “Clare has outdone herself tonight.” “This will make Guido sit up and take note!” “What does that mare think she’s doing?” “Probably a publicity stunt for her design house.”

All eyes were on Clare, and her eyes were only on Guido. And for a long moment, the two ponies shared a nearly visible telepathy of emotion, but Guido finalized the breakup as the musicians-- who had also been captivated by Clare’s entrance-- started to play. He turned to Tiffany and began the dance.

For just a brief moment, Clare’s resolve faltered, but she continued her journey down the stairs. Other couples slowly entered the arena, and as Clare reached the ballroom floor, Vanguard swept her away into the melee of circling ponies, feeling her racing heart and the broken sob that threatened to engulf her. She laid her head against his shoulder to cover the emotion that racked her face, but by the time the orchestra played the last note, she was in complete control again.

Vanguard guided her to the edge of the crowd, perfectly aware of the curious glances and the open admiration displayed by those who watched the mare who was his partner for the evening. Clare exchanged pleasantries with those she knew, introducing Vanguard to ponies of power and position. When she tired of that, she softly asked Vanguard to escort her to the dance floor once more.

As they moved in harmony to the sound of the instruments, they found themselves in close proximity to the engaged pair. Clare discreetly scrutinized them from the circle of Vanguard’s protective hold; and as this dance ended, the two couples were side-by-side. Taking Vanguard’s hoof in her own for moral as well as physical support, Clare dazzled Tiffany and Guido with her charm and all the witty expressions appropriate to the occasion. Upon parting, she lightly embraced first Guido, then Tiffany.

Vanguard, too, extended his best wishes; then he and Clare continued their mingling with the crowd. When Clare was satisfied that she had fulfilled her obligation to be there, the two returned up the magnificent staircase without a backward glance and escaped into the outside world.

As a flower wilts when away from the source of its lifeblood, Clare drooped visibly now that the deception no longer needed playing out. Her downcast comportment, so contradictory to the pride and self-assurance she had shown for the entire evening, made Vanguard wish that he would have tried harder to prevent her from coming here tonight. Standing by a late-blooming flowerbed in the lawn, he asked, “Was it worth it, Clare?”

“He noticed me, Vanguard. That’s all I wanted-- to see him notice me one last time. And-- maybe--I wanted to see if there was a chance that I could win him back if I tried.”

“Is that what you are going to do?”

“No.”

Clare said nothing further, but Vanguard was curious about her thoughts and asked, “Why not?”

“I watched him as he danced with his princess-- I saw how he looked at her. It’s the way I’ve always wanted to have him look at me. I realized then that he truly does love her... and I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt that her intentions are motivated by love as well.”

Vanguard faced the mare. “You are ready, then, to put this all behind you?”

“Yes.” The answer came immediately and definitely, followed by a request. “Take me home, Vanguard. Please?”

He looked at the gorgeous mare and gazed into her haunted eyes. He knew she shouldn’t be left alone at a time like this. “I’ve got a better idea. The upper-crust has been treated to a vision of your beauty this evening. Let’s treat the ‘common folk’ to your loveliness as well.”

“Meaning?” she asked, a small smile beginning to play across her lips.

“The evening is young. Let’s go over to the ice cream shop and see how many heads you can turn there.”

The smile grew larger, and spread to enlighten the captivating face. Clare giggled. “You know what, Van? That just might be fun!”

In a lighter mood now, they quickened their pace and soon arrived at the premier hangout in Vulcanopolis for the ordinary citizens. They had no sooner entered the business when they heard their names called. “Vanguard! Clare!”

It was Angela who had caught sight of them, and she stood, waving her hoof at them. “Come join us!” she called. Pacificus was at her table along with two ponies Vanguard had not yet met.

Vanguard could not help noticing the starstruck expression on Pacificus’ face at the sight of Clare, and he wondered if Clare was aware of it as well. Was she also aware of the ponies in the shop all looking at her in genuine awe? Vanguard hoped so.

Introductions were made; the unknown olive-colored stallion, Federigo, was a longtime friend of the brother and sister, and the mare was his rose-colored wife, Eugenia. When the civilities were out of the way, Angela was free to satisfy her curiosity about the happenings of the evening. “Why aren’t you still at the ball?” she questioned eagerly. “Surely it will last until morning!”

“It was over as far as I was concerned.” Clare brushed the interest in her evening aside. “And besides, Vanguard had agreed to only a short stay amidst the opulent set.” Vanguard did not deny the truth of her statement; he had been uncomfortable at the villa and was not sorry to be in the cozy confines of the ice cream shop instead.

The group enjoyed an effervescent discussion of all things light-hearted and invigorating until the shop was ready to close down for the night. As they left, a filly and her companion approached Clare nervously as if desiring to ask her something. Clare noticed the couple, and smiled sweetly. “May I help you?”

The young mare looked at the cinnamon-colored stallion at her side, then stuttered, “Y... you l... look so b... beautiful and all, and as I’m going to be m... married in another month, I was w... wondering where you had your h... hair done?” She ended on a questioning note, and waited for a reply.

Clare surveyed the filly before her. She was a pale aqua color with peony red mane and tail. The designer in Clare began to see the possibilities of turning this shy, ordinary pony into an astounding bride who would always have the memories of that special day to buoy her up even if times got tough. She turned her attention to the stallion and observed that he was hardly more than a colt himself. Aware that the pair probably had very little in the line of jangles, Clare began to feel very charitable.

“My private stylist did my locks for tonight,” she admitted. “I’m afraid she isn’t available to the general public.”

The filly’s eyes grew large as if a sudden realization had just hit her. “You’re her, aren’t you... the hat pony.”

Clare’s laughter bubbled over. “Yes, I guess you could call me that. I’m Clare of Clare’s Creations. And you are...?”

“M... my n... name’s R...Rosa,” the filly stammered. “And th... this is S... andro.” Clare shook hooves with the two. “I’m really sorry to have bothered you, Miss Clare. I just thought you looked so wonderful, and...” Her voice trailed off.

“Come, Rosa. We shouldn’t be disturbing the lady,” Sandro said, guiding her away.

But Clare stopped them. “No. Wait just a minute.” She motioned to Angela, and the two mares engaged in a whispered conversation which ended with Clare turning back to the young ponies with the words, “Come to my office tomorrow, Rosa, and we will discuss your wedding plans and what styles would look best on you.”

“Do you mean it?” Rosa’s eyes sparkled. But then reality hit her, and she became disheartened. “The jangles... I wouldn’t be able to afford your work.”

“Who says?” Clare grinned. “If you will allow me to use photos of you on your wedding day in my advertising campaigns, I will donate my time and services to you.”

Rosa looked to Sandro for guidance. Sandro looked puzzled. “You mean you wouldn’t charge us anything to do this?”

“That’s exactly what I mean!” Clare quipped. “And my business manager is right here, if you have your doubts.” She called for Pacificus who, along with Vanguard and Federigo, had moved off to their own circle when the discussion had become too feminine for them.

Quickly explaining the situation, Clare asked Pacificus, “Can the company afford to fund a pilot program to test the marketing success of a bridal consulting service?”

Clare could have asked for the world of Pacificus, and he would have done his best to succeed in an effort to attain it; for this small favor, he was more than pleased to give his go ahead. “It makes sound financial sense to me,” he intoned in an authoritative voice that erased any doubts in the minds of Rosa and Sandro that Clare was sincere in her offer.

As the mares set up a time that was convenient for both sides, Vanguard and Federigo were discussing Guido’s upcoming mini-course on successful business techniques. “I signed up to see if I can get my own business off the ground,” Federigo admitted. “So far, I’ve had only mediocre results.”

“While you’re on campus, look me up,” Vanguard invited. “The math department isn’t hard to find.”

“I might do that,” said Federigo. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been back to those hallowed halls.”

“So you got your degree from Leonardo?” queried Vanguard.

“Yes, and so did Eugenia. In fact, Giorgio was my advisor the year I graduated. I had a double major in business and math.”

“I hear that Giorgio is an exceptional teacher.”

“That guy is one smart stallion,” Federigo admitted. “I always wondered why he didn’t go into politics like his father did.”
“His dad taught math at Leonardo at one time, too, didn’t he?”

“Yes, the old man was a smart one himself. He became chancellor and held that post for a number of years before moving on to the political scene. Giorgio has the flare it would take to succeed in politics; that’s why I think he’s wasting his time stuck in the math department... no offense, Vanguard.”

“None taken,” Vanguard smiled.

By this time, the schedule had been worked out between Clare and Rosa, and the revelers were ready to call it a night. They walked together to the town plaza where their paths parted. Vanguard accompanied Clare in silence. He would have liked to question Federigo in more detail about his experience with Giorgio; he would have to catch him again sometime. Clare’s mind was buzzing with new plans to extend Clare’s Creations in a new direction, one that was a natural for her business. If I’m not going to be a bride myself, why not help those who are? she rationalized to herself.

Coming up the front walk of Clare’s house, they could see Alda peering out the front picture window. “That mare mothers me too much,” she laughed.

“No harm in that,” Vanguard observed.

“Thank you for taking me to the ball tonight, Vanguard. It was a step I had to take, but I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Yes, you could have, Clare.”

“But I never would have been able to walk in there alone!”

“And you wouldn’t have needed to. I’m sure Pacificus would have been pleased to have had the honor.”

Clare was caught off guard. “Pacificus?” she echoed. “What makes you say that?”

Vanguard shook his head and grinned. “You can’t see the forest for the trees, Clare.” With that said, he turned and left the surprised mare alone on the porch.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Evil Dragon
Part 15
by Starr ([email protected])


As according to plan, the group strolled casually into the dragon’s lair-- all except the humans of the group, at least.

“What are you doing here?” a dragon said, coming down the hall and stopping the band.

“We have come to see the Lord Tornado,” Nightwind said.

“Are these prisoners?” the other dragon said skeptically.

“Er... yeah... we are prisoners!” Atlas said, guessing that this was the only way the assembly could safely pass.

“Well... okay...” the dragon grunted and continued down the hall.

“Phew. That was close. Good thinking, Atlas!” Opal Dreams said thankfully. With their new reason for being there, the group continued towards Tornado’s chamber.

Nightwind knocked on the door while a few other dragons were in sight coming down the hall.

“Who is it?” a raspy voice sounded from inside.

“Nightwind, sir. I have some intruders!”

“They are?”

“Some ponies and a Care Bear.”

“There were supposed to be more of them,” the human on the other side of the door said skeptically.

“Why don’t you take a look yourself!” Nightwind said as he flung open the door.

“ARRGHH!” The human dashed into the shadows. Fortunately, some of the other dragons saw the supposed-dragon king.

“A HUMAN HAS BEEN ORDERING US AROUND!!” one bellowed, receiving gasps of alarm from on-lookers. Then chaos broke out.

Hearing the uproar with his acute cat senses, Vincent set off down the hall and let out a mighty roar which stilled the room to the point of being eerily silent.

“Excuse me. I may be wrong, but all this shouting is getting you nowhere. You must decide what to do, calmly. If you will take a suggestion, I say you should declare Nightwind your king and then decide the fate of Tornado. After all, Nightwind is the one who discovered the truth about your king.”

Hearing this, the community of dragons decided to make use of the suggestion. Tornado explained that one of his chemical experiments had backfired on him, turning him into a human. The dragons decided that they would sentence him to a life of peeling potatoes. Thanking the group, they gave each member a stunning medallion and sent them on their way.

The troop began their triumphant journey back to the main tunnels where many anxious tunnel dwellers awaited their return. In honor of their success, Father organized a feast in the Great Hall. Salty retold the events of the journey... well, in his version, at least.

After a long night of laughter, the assemblage headed towards their beds; but it took a frightfully long time to get to sleep, their heads still spinning from the greatness of what they had seen and done. Ponyland, Care-A-Lot, and many other places had been saved from an unspeakable fate.

The next morning, Vincent guided the friends back home. Surprisingly, Ponyland was the closest of the worlds they had to return to: a five-minute journey. Each of the members brought home with them a medallion and a list of pipeline codes. It was undeniable that the band would never be to far from each other, and would often visit from that day on.



Here ends the story of The Evil Dragon. Please send your comments to me about my story... I would really like to know if I should continue writing or not. You can reach me at [email protected]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Clever Clover vs. the Flatlands
Chapter 5: Part 1
The Three Challenges
by Clever Clover ([email protected])


After his audience with Raven and Foxglove, Clever Clover was led to a guestroom by Enchantment, the young pony who had shown him to the audience chamber. The guestroom-- or rather guestrooms-- like the rest of Malachite Castle, seemed overdone. The first room had a small, elaborately carved hardwood table and matching chairs. There was also a similarly ornate desk under the sole narrow window in the room. There were two doors, each flanked by beautiful tapestries, leading to other rooms. One door led to a spacious bathroom with antique bronze and porcelain fixtures and a huge marble bathtub. The other led to the actual bedroom with its massive four-poster bed, a high-backed chair with cushions a foot thick, a night stand with antique pitcher and wash basin, and a wardrobe one could almost lose himself in.

“I’ll come for you after you have breakfast tomorrow,” said Enchantment after Clever Clover had explored the rooms.

“Okay, thanks,” the purple pony replied, not sure of the proper etiquette for guests in Gothic castles. That night he slept soundly-- the bed was very comfortable-- and he awoke early the next morning. He found breakfast already set out in the outer room, which consisted of a bowl of fruit, some rolls, cheese, and a large glass of apple juice.

Just as he finished, Enchantment appeared at the door. “Good morning, my prince,” she said. “Are you ready to continue your audience with the regent and stewardess?”

“Sure.”
* * *
As Clever Clover walked to the audience chamber, he thought about his earlier meeting with the two noble ponies. They had said that he would have to face a Green Knight, a Fire Dragon, and a mystery. The only Green Knight he had ever heard of before was the one from Arthurian myth, and the only way to defeat that knight was to let him chop your head off. Clever Clover didn’t like the sound of that. And dragons... he didn’t even want to think of that.

“Good morning, my prince,” said Raven as Clever Clover entered the audience chamber.

“How did you sleep?” asked Foxglove.

Clever Clover nodded to Raven and Foxglove. “Very well, thank you.”

“Are you ready to face the challenges?” Raven asked gravely.

“Um, I’ve got a few questions.”

Foxglove nodded. “Go ahead.”

“Well, first, you said that according to the curse, you couldn’t crown a king...”

“Yes.”

“So why didn’t you crown a queen?”

Raven and Foxglove were silent. They looked at each other as if hoping the other would answer. After a moment, Raven regained his stern composure and spoke, “Um, there is no eligible princess at this time. It will still be ten years before the eldest comes of age.”

“Well, you’ve already gone without a king for more than ten years. Why not just wait another ten?”

“There is more to the curse than that,” Raven snapped.

“Alright. Can you tell me anything else about the challenges?”

“Only that you must face them alone and unarmed.”

“Oh.” Clever Clover had hoped for more, but by now he expected things to be difficult.

“You need not face the challenges right away, young prince,” Foxglove comforted. “But remember that your people suffer more every day you delay.”

“Well, where do I find this ‘green knight’?”

“The royal guards will show you the way,” said Raven.

* * *
Clever Clover met the royal guards-- all four of them-- in the castle’s entry hall. They exited the village in a grandiose, though short, procession. The villagers lined the street and cheered all the way to the edge of town, though they seemed reluctant to follow the prince and his guards out of the village. The guards led Clever Clover through the woods to the base of a steep, rocky path leading up the mountain.

“We can accompany you no further, my prince,” said Ironwood, the captain of the guards. “This path leads to the cave where your father saw the Green Knight. We shall await your successful return.”

“Thanks,” said Clever Clover as he began to climb the trail alone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Adventures of Baby North Star and Baby Brother Bright Bouquet
Chapter 3: The Trip
by Baby Steamer ([email protected])


One evening after dinner, Steamer went up to his daughter, Baby North Star, and asked, “I’m going on a trip this weekend; would you like to come along?” Baby North Star nodded eagerly; she remembered the last time she went on a trip with her daddy and the fun she had, since it had been her first time on a train. “How’d you like to invite Baby Brother Bright Bouquet along?”

Baby North Star nodded eagerly again. “I’d love to, Daddy,” she said.

“Okay, you go call him, but I may have to talk to his mommy,” said Steamer.

“Okay,” said Baby North Star, and with that she went to the phone to call her friend. While Baby North Star was calling her friend, Steamer went to his other daughter, and invited her along on the trip; and said she could invite her friend Baby Advenger if she wanted to.

Mommy Bright Bouquet did want to talk to Steamer about her son going on the trip, and it was decided that Baby Brother Bright Bouquet could go along with his friend and her family since it was just for the weekend. Then Sparkle Baby Firefly, Steamer’s other daughter, called her friend, and Steamer talked to Moondancera whom Baby Advenger lived with. Moondancera decided, too, that it was okay for Baby Advenger to go away for the weekend with her friend and her family.

* * *
Soon it was Friday and time for Steamer and his family to pick up their guests and head for the train yard where Steamer was to pick up his train. They stopped at the Bright Bouquet’s first, since it was closer to their house; then they went on to pick up Baby Advenger. After that they went on to the train yard; on the way they sang silly songs like The Wheels on the Train Go Round and Round.

Before long, they were at the train yard, and while Steamer went to the office, his family went and waited outside his train. Soon Steamer was back, and they all went aboard. Steamer showed everyone to their cabins; then he went to the locomotive to start the pre_trip check. Soon the train was on its way, and the baby ponies were watching out the window.

* * *
While Baby Advenger was on the trip, Wisdom came up with an idea that she told to Moondancera. “Let’s do something special tonight, Moon, just you and me; let’s have a sister night out,” she suggested.

“Okay,” said Moondancera. “What do you want to do?”

“I thought maybe we could see a movie or something, and have dinner out,” said Wisdom. “That sounds like fun,” said Moondancera, so that’s just what they did.

* * *
While the train was going through smooth land, Steamer invited the baby ponies up to the locomotive. They were fascinated with all the gadgets and gizmos that were used to make the train run, and they each got a turn blowing the whistle. They also each received a Mini Engineer patch and a wooden whistle that sounded like a train whistle to take home with them.

When they got back to the passenger car, Baby North Star and Sparkle Baby Firefly showed their mother what they had gotten. North Star was impressed with what her daughters had received, but she thought, Oh great, now we’re going to have choo choo trains all around the house all day.

Baby North Star saw the way her mama was looking when they showed her the whistles. “Is something wrong, Mama?” she asked.

“I was just thinking-- we’re going to have two choo choo trains going around the house all day now,” said North Star.

Baby North Star shook her head and said, “Daddy said he’d take them away from us if we bothered you too much with them.”

North Star smiled. “Okay,” she said. Baby North Star returned her mother’s smile, and then went over to see what her sister and friend were doing. They were watching the landscape speed by.

“I wonder how fast we’re going,” wondered Baby Brother Bright Bouquet.

“I don’t know; pretty fast,” said Baby North Star looking out the window with her sister and friends. Soon, they stopped for the night, and each of them slept soundly in their hotel. The next day they started the trip back. That evening they were home, and Baby Advenger and Baby Brother Bright Bouquet were home with their families.

When Steamer asked his children if they had fun that weekend, they both nodded excitedly. Baby North Star asked, “When can we go again, Daddy?” Steamer smiled; he had an idea that from this point on his children would grow up loving trains. With that, he went off to be with his wife, and they watched their two little locomotives go around the house.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Great Apple Festival
by Sugarberry ([email protected])


“Yeah! Yeah! Parade!” Friendly verified as Elaine, Thomas, and Sugarberry listened to the Bushwoolie’s tirade. The autumn weather had obviously gotten to the Bushwoolies’ spirit of celebration, and they were planning a grand parade for Dream Valley involving all the businesses and organizations of the city. Friendly was delivering the news to the vet clinic.

“You mean with floats and bands and things?” Sugarberry questioned hesitantly, remembering with some misgivings the clinic’s experience with the ice sculpture contest.

“Yeah! Yeah! Lots of floats and music and fun!” The blue Bushwoolie nearly danced with excitement.

“Is there a theme to this parade?” questioned Thomas.

“Theme? Yeah!... What’s that?” queried Friendly in turn.

Elaine giggled. “It’s like a unifying idea that will guide everyone’s plans,” she explained.

Looking slightly confused for a moment, Friendly finally broke out in a grin. “Apples! Apples! We have an apple festival, yeah, yeah!”

“Well, that sounds safe enough,” Sugarberry offered. “Apple-related food and games and floats... we can handle that.”

Thomas looked to Elaine for her input. “Sure! It sounds like fun!”

“Count us in then, Friendly,” the white unicorn stallion informed the Bushwoolie. Then, realizing a shortage of information, he asked, “When is this apple festival going to take place, anyway?”

Friendly scratched his head. “September... Saturday... thirty,” he relayed.

“September thirtieth is on a Saturday,” Sugarberry supplied, checking her desk calendar.

“Okay, is there anything else we need to know?” asked Thomas of Friendly.

A light bulb seemed to form over Friendly’s head. “Poster! Yeah! Yeah!” He reached into the backpack he carried and pulled out a brightly-colored poster, hand decorated by the Bushwoolies, and handed it to Sugarberry.

“This certainly clarifies things,” she frowned, scanning the eclectic jumble of numbers and letters that cluttered the placard. “Maybe you should have this professionally printed,” she suggested.

“We can help you organize it,” Elaine offered.

“Yes, Friendly,” Sugarberry agreed. “Would you like us to go with you to the printing office? Maybe Woosie will donate some of her expertise on this project.”

Checking the time, Thomas approved the idea. “Why don’t you two take care of that now? It’s close enough to quitting time that I should be able to handle things. I’ll even close up for you, Sugarberry.”

The two mares took off with Friendly to Woosie’s shop down the street and after some confusing discussion, they had all their questions answered sufficiently that Woosie was prepared to design the poster. She promised that they would be ready by the weekend.

“So, what’s next?” Sugarberry asked of Elaine and Friendly as they exited the print shop.

“Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe!” declared Friendly. The mares laughed.

“I like the way that Bushwoolie thinks,” Elaine said as they took off for the ice cream parlor. Arriving there, they found that Tabby and Thomas had reached the shop ahead of them; they swooped down on the table where the newlyweds sat.

“Hi, Tabby,” Sugarberry greeted her friend. “What’s for supper?” She winked at Thomas.

Scowling at the strawberry-patterned earth pony, Tabby shrugged. “A strawberry sundae, I guess.” She took a bite of the dessert before her.

“We could have pizza delivered to my house, and we could discuss our plans for the apple festival float,” Sugarberry suggested.

“What apple festival?” Tabby asked.

“You haven’t told her about it yet?” queried Sugarberry of Thomas.

“There might be more important things I would want to discuss with my wife,” Thomas responded. Then to Tabby, he explained, “The Bushwoolies are sponsoring a day of celebration centering around the apple.”

“Fun, yeah, food.”

“And we get to make floats for the parade,” Elaine added.

“Won’t this be fun?” squealed Sugarberry. “It will be the biggest thing to hit Dream Valley since your wedding,” she directed to the couple across the table.

The two unicorns exchanged a tender smile, and Tabby leaned her head against Thomas’ shoulder. “The wedding was fun, wasn’t it?”

“It was great!” Elaine grinned. “Who would have such an exciting wedding but you two?”

“And Merry Moments did a wonderful job photographing the entire day, didn’t she?” Sugarberry commented. “You have beautiful memories, I’m sure.”

“That cake was scrumptious.” Tabby thought back to the heavily-frosted piece of art which had tasted divine.

“And the bride was beautiful,” Thomas added.

Elaine rolled her eyes. “Oh, aren’t you the sweetie,” she teased.

“Speaking of which,” Thomas replied, “Toby just came in.”

Groaning, Elaine tried to make herself invisible, but the purple stallion caught sight of her immediately and came to join the group.

“Hi, everyone,” he said, but his eyes rested on Elaine. “What’s up?” He pulled up a chair from a neighboring table.

So the Bushwoolie event was revealed once more, and Toby thought it sounded like a good idea. “We should have enough interest in it at the hospital that we can come up with a float, too.”

“That would be great!” Sugarberry agreed, but then frowned. “But sick apples wouldn’t look too appealing.”

“A-peel-ing apples, Sugarberry?” tittered Tabby. Everyone laughed.

“So, what does everyone think about coming over to my place for supper and Apple Festival planning?” asked Sugarberry.

“I’m in,” Elaine said, preferring company to being alone with Toby.

“Food, yeah,” said Friendly.

“Tabby, what do you think?” Thomas looked to his wife for her input.

“Sure,” she decided. “It’ll be like old times-- supper at Sugarberry’s.”

Sugarberry looked at Toby. “Well, Toby. How about you?”

“I’d love to,” he grinned, draping his foreleg across the back of Elaine’s chair. Elaine responded by standing up. “I’ll call for the pizzas right now, and they they’ll be delivered faster,” she said, heading off for the telephone in the corner.

“Reminds me a little of Tabby when you first came to town,” Sugarberry observed to Toby, watching Elaine cross the room. “Skittish.”

“What do you mean by that?” snapped Tabby, her eyes flashing.

Toby chuckled. “I liked your spirit when I first met you, Tabby; I didn’t know that Thomas had his sights set on you. A lot has happened since then, hasn’t it?” He fell silent, thinking back to the friendship that had developed between him and Tiffany, and its eventual demise.

Elaine returned to the table with the news that the pizza was taken care of, so the crew moved out of the shop and on to Sugarberry’s house. There they found Wigwam, Chocolate Chip and her brother, Wishbone, who was now attending Pony Pride University and living at Sugarberry’s, too.

A casual remark from Chocolate Chip over the summer about how nice it would be to have her brother nearby had gotten Sugarberry thinking about the possibility of him staying in one of the finished rooms in the basement that she used for storage. That plan had been readily embraced by Chocolate Chip, and with a little help from Wigwam and Butch, they have cleaned and painted and prepared the room. Chocolate Chip added some decorative touches, and the room became a cozy bedroom and study for Wishbone who was happy to get a place away from campus. So Wishbone, when not at classes, playing sports, working in the stockroom at Pony-Mart, or on a date with Snowdrift, was a new face in Sugarberry’s household.

Chocolate Chip was just removing a cherry dessert from the oven when the rest of the ponies walked in. “Oh!” exclaimed Tabby happily. “It’s one of those disgustingly sweet cake-and-cherry things, isn’t it? I love those!”

“I must have known you were coming,” laughed Chocolate Chip.

As the plates and sodas were set out on the counter, the news of the apple festival was shared with the new additions to the party; and everyone began offering ideas for the floats.

“Wigwam,” suggested Wishbone, “all you have to do is set up a slot machine that rings up three apples to spill the prize.”

“Cool!” squealed Chocolate Chip. “And when the three apples come up, the ‘prize’ will be candy tossed to the foals watching the parade!’

“It just might work,” agreed Wigwam.

“And I still think the hospital should have sick apples that somehow plump up and get all healthy again,” stated Sugarberry.

“That would work for the vet clinic, too, you know,” Toby responded.

“No,” Elaine contradicted. “Our float needs animals on it.”

“You’re all missing the obvious choice for the hospital,” Thomas interjected. “I’d go with ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’.”

“This is supposed to drum up business,” complained Toby with a grin, “not drive it away.”

“I wonder if there are any apple Pokèmon,” mused Tabby.

A knock on the door alerted the ponies to the arrival of the pizzas, and parade talk was abandoned momentarily as they all loaded their plates with the aromatic food. Fluff and Raptor waited patiently for some kind soul to share a ration of food with them.

“What float are the Bushwoolies going to make?” Elaine asked of Friendly.

After finishing a bite of pizza, Friendly replied, “Secret, yeah, yeah.”

“No fair,” complained Tabby. “You’ve got to tell us, Friendly.”

But the blue furry creature just continued devouring his food.

“Will Pony Pride be allowed to enter a float?” questioned Chocolate Chip.

“Yeah. Sure. Good,” Friendly mumbled with a mouthful of pizza.

“Oh, yeah, this will be fun,” Wishbone’s eyes lit up with an idea. “We’ll have to get Prime and Chip involved as soon as possible.”

“What’s your big plan?” queried Wigwam. But Wishbone followed suit from the Bushwoolie, and refused to give any details.

Talk moved on to starting point of the parade on the big day and the course it would follow through town. The Bushwoolies had already planned on carnival rides and food booths to be set up at the park, and once the posters were available on Saturday, the preparations would swing into full gear. By the time the meeting dispersed, the ponies were as excited as the Bushwoolie over the upcoming apple festival.

* * *
There was a run on crepe paper, glue, poster board, and duct tape in the days following the release of the Bushwoolie’s posters announcing the Great Apple Festival. Most of the organizations in Dream Valley thought it was an excellent idea to build community spirit and generate new business in the area. Spirits were high as ponies worked on their floats, and a great number of secret projects were guarded zealously.

Sugarberry, Elaine, and Thomas spent any free time working on their entry for the parade. Due to a lack of creativity, they had gotten a late start on their float and had to play catch-up. “And I thought this was going to be fun,” complained Sugarberry as they spent another late night constructing paper-mache animals.

“Toby says that the hospital’s entry is finished already,” Elaine supplied with a sigh.

“Well, if it’s any consolation, Tabby’s Pokèmon float is coming along as slowly as ours,”

Thomas offered. “I wish she was still a vet here; then we’d be spending this time together instead of apart.” He looked wistfully in the direction of the Pokèmon Center.

Sugarberry seized the opportunity to suggest calling it quits for the night. “Let’s go over to see how she’s doing!”

“Yes,” agreed Elaine with a yawn. “I need a rest.”

Thomas didn’t argue, and soon the three of them were on their way. They had just rounded the corner when they saw Tabby coming toward them. Thomas greeted her with a hug. “Ready for a strawberry sundae?” he queried.

“You have to ask?” she responded with a grin. “I’m famished!”

Entering the shop, they found it crowded with ponies and Bushwoolies all discussing the coming apple festival. Toby was sitting with Snuzzle, but he quickly came to Elaine and guided her back to an empty seat at their table. Elaine threw a helpless look at her friends, but she received only an array of heartless grins in return.

Most of the other tables were filled; only Driftwood was sitting alone as if waiting for someone. He waved a hoof in their direction. “Come sit over here if you’d like,” he offered. Tabby, Sugarberry, and Thomas accepted the offer, and were soon comfortably seated with their ice cream treats before them.

“You were working late on the apple festival projects, I presume?” he asked, glancing at each of the ponies in turn.

“What else?” replied Sugarberry. “I had no idea it would involve this much effort.”

“Things are going better with my float,” Tabby confided, “now that Chansey and Mr. Mime have taken over most of the work.”

“No fair!” accused Sugarberry. “At the rate Mr. Mime works, they’ll have it finished in no time!”

“I’ve told you any number of times that you should catch a Pokèmon, Sug,” Tabby responded.

“Maybe you could lend us a few of yours, Tabby,” Thomas suggested.

Just then, Hydrangea joined them, sitting next to Driftwood who acknowledged her arrival with a happy smile. “I was getting worried about you,” he said.

“Flower Bouquet and I were just finishing up the float,” the charming blue mare reported.

“Finishing?” groaned Sugarberry. “And I suppose it’s perfect.”

“Well, we are rather proud of it,” Hydrangea admitted. “The Café Carousel has high standards, you know; Flower Bouquet would have it no other way.”

“My standards are dropping by the minute,” admitted Sugarberry as she rubbed her tired hooves. Catching sight of Wigwam and Chocolate Chip, she pushed her chair back. “I’m going to call it a night, you guys.”

“Us too,” Thomas agreed, helping Tabby to her feet. As an afterthought, he added, “I wonder if Elaine will mind if we leave her in Toby’s care?” He looked undecided.

“She’s fine,” Tabby commented, drawing her husband to the door. “She’s old enough to find her own way home.”

“You’re cruel, Tabby,” Sugarberry reprimanded her as Chocolate Chip came up.

“Am not,” Tabby shot back as she and Thomas disappeared out the door.

“What’s up?” Chocolate Chip asked.

“Nothing,” Sugarberry smiled as she noticed that Elaine did seem to be enjoying herself. “May I walk home with you and Wigwam?”

“Ah, the company of two beautiful mares!” Wigwam beamed as he approached. “What more could a stallion ask for?”

But the ratio was brought back in line as Wishbone ran up to his sister once they were out on the path toward Sugarberry’s house. “Hey, Sis, can you work with me on some of these math problems tonight?” He held up the textbook for her to see.

Chocolate Chip sighed, but agreed to help her brother. “What kind of problems are they?”

So as those two discussed math, Wigwam and Sugarberry dropped back to talk about other subjects.

“What have you heard from Vanguard?” Wigwam asked.

Now it was Sugarberry’s time to sigh. “Same old.”

“Lighten up. He’ll be home before you know it.”

“The mind can grasp that, but not the heart,” Sugarberry responded. “I’m glad for this apple festival of the Bushwoolies to keep me occupied.”

“What about your writing? Aren’t you working on a new book?”

“Sporadically,” Sugarberry confessed. “I thought it would be a good time to get a lot done while Vanguard was out of town, but moping isn’t conducive to story ideas.”

“So, stop moping,” suggested Wigwam.

“Bottle a cure, and you’ll make millions,” she retorted.

Once home, Chocolate Chip and Wigwam sat at the kitchen table tutoring Wishbone while Sugarberry straightened up the house. She ended up staring out the living room window at the shadowy darkness, dreaming of the country blue stallion that had captured her heart.

“A jangle for your thoughts,” softly voiced Wigwam as he came into the room.

Sugarberry turned, stating, “They’re worth a lot more than that.” She smiled at the stallion, then turned serious. “What do you think of Giorgio now that you’ve had a chance to see him around campus?”

“Well, I don’t have him for my calculus class, but I hear he’s good. Chocolate Chip thinks he’s a genius.”

“So he’s a good teacher, but what kind of pony is he?”

Wigwam evaded the question. “The students seem to think he’s a neat guy.”

Chocolate Chip and Wishbone dragged through the doorway. “I’m beat,” Chocolate Chip said. “I can’t face another mathematical problem tonight.”

“And what about you, Wishbone? Are you ready for the test tomorrow?” Sugarberry asked sympathetically.

Wishbone grimaced. “If I can retain everything that Chocky explained tonight, I’ll do okay. But something tells me it’s hopeless.”

Sugarberry felt so sorry for him that she gave him a gentle hug. “Just get a good night’s sleep, and it will all make sense in the morning.” She silently hoped she was right.

“Thanks, Mom.” Wishbone’s playful character surfaced for a moment. “I appreciate your confidence in me.” With a wave of his hoof to all present, he wished them goodnight and went of to his room. Wigwam, too, soon departed homeward.

When alone with Sugarberry, Chocolate Chip expressed her concern over her brother’s tribulation. “I wish Giorgio would never have okayed Wishbone for the higher level math course,” she ranted. “His grades have always been good, but he has to work hard to stay on top of any new concepts.”

“But surely Giorgio wouldn’t have approved it if Wishbone’s test scores didn’t indicate sufficient understanding.”

“I’d like to see those test scores,” Chocolate Chip fretted. “He basically allowed my brother to skip a semester, and that’s why he’s so lost now.”

“But why would Giorgio permit it unless he thought Wishbone could handle it?” Sugarberry argued.

“Vanguard never would have approved it if he were in charge!” Chocolate Chip countered.

“Maybe because Vanguard would have had your wise counsel to steer him in the right direction,” Sugarberry smiled, hoping to dispel the worry that furrowed Chocolate Chip’s brow.

“Well, maybe that would have helped.” Chocolate Chip softened a bit. “But I still think that Wishbone should drop the course, and he won’t even consider it.” After a pause, she added, “I think he’s trying to keep up to me, but he won’t admit that he can’t do it in math.”

“Let’s see how the test goes tomorrow,” Sugarberry advised. “Maybe Wishbone will surprise you; and if not, then maybe he’ll be more open to dropping it.”

Giving Sugarberry a quick hug, Chocolate Chip smiled. “Thanks for seeing it rationally. Maybe now I can get some sleep. G’night, Sugarberry.”

Left alone, Sugarberry herself got ready for bed. Before crawling under the covers which were already occupied by Fluff and Raptor, she stood in the dark room and shivered. The mention of Giorgio in tonight’s conversation with Chocolate Chip had renewed that feeling of dread which surrounded Sugarberry whenever she was faced with this unwelcome stallion. What if Chocolate Chip is right, and Giorgio isn’t doing a good job at Pony Pride? she wondered to herself. What kind of a mess will Vanguard find when he gets back?

Climbing into bed, she inadvertently caused both Fluff and Raptor to fall unceremoniously to the floor. Coaxing them back over their wounded pride, she was finally able to fall asleep to the gentle rhythm of their soothing purrs. Once the mare was asleep, Raptor sat up suddenly as if he had to take over Sugarberry’s worry for her where she had left off, his ears and eyes alert, while Fluff only stretched out to claim more of the available space. Many minutes passed before the feline once more deemed the nighttime safe, and curling himself into a tight ball, fell into a motionless sleep.

* * *
Several days later, Chocolate Chip, coming home in the early evening and letting herself in the front door, heard the sound of laughter and voices in the kitchen. Wondering who would be in such good humor, she stepped into the doorway of the kitchen to find Sugarberry and Driftwood surrounded by dirty pots and pans and bowls, and an aromatic smell coming from the oven. “What’s going on here?” she asked in surprise.

The two bakers looked in her direction, and grinned. “Just what we need... a guinea pig!” quipped Driftwood, sending Sugarberry into another spontaneous giggle.

“Driftwood is trying out some new apple-based recipes to introduce at the Estate Manor for the apple festival; and if they turn out, they’ll be included in his book, too,” Sugarberry explained.

Chocolate Chip crossed the room, and looked closely at the two ponies; both had flour splotches not only on their aprons but also on their faces and in their manes. “It looks like you had a flour fight,” she commented, rubbing the worst of it off Sugarberry’s nose. Exchanging a telling glance with Driftwood, Sugarberry giggled yet again. “I guess that means yes,” Chocolate Chip surmised.

The buzzer on the stove rang, and Driftwood hurried to remove the latest culinary masterpiece from the oven, placing in on the counter next to several other contestants. “Now, Chocolate Chip, we have here an assortment of pastries that have never before been enjoyed by any pony,” Driftwood announced. “Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to impartially partake of a small piece of each and then share with us your opinions, whether good or bad.” He proceeded to cut a portion of the first item and put in on a plate, repeating with each of the other desserts. Sugarberry handed her a fork.

“Aren’t you guys going to eat, too?” Chocolate Chip asked suspiciously, poking the fork through the crumbly topping and spicy filling as if expecting something disgusting to come popping out at her. Driftwood appeared a mite too cocky, and Sugarberry seemed a bit too giddy for Chocolate Chip’s comfort.

“Actually, I’ve been snitching too much to want to try any right now,” Sugarberry admitted. “Maybe later.”

Driftwood pulled a chair out from the table, inviting Chocolate Chip to have a seat. “You must make yourself comfortable while you savor the subtle blends of fruit, pastry, and spices; let the flavors speak to your taste buds; listen to the distinctive essence of each individual ingredient, and make a wise choice as to your favorite combination of enhancements.”

Slipping into the pro-offered chair, Chocolate Chip took a tentative nibble of the first dessert and found it very good. “Yummy,” she affirmed.

“Yummy?” Driftwood queried. “Yummy isn’t in my vocabulary. Can you be more specific?”

Chocolate Chip took another bite and chewed it thoughtfully. “It’s quite good,” she finally offered, “but nothing out of the ordinary-- it’s too much like plain old apple pie.”

In mock irritation, Driftwood countered. “You dare criticize my concoction?”

Getting on the defensive, Chocolate Chip retorted, “You said to...”

“He’s just trying to aggravate you. Don’t let him succeed,” Sugarberry advised. “Try the next piece.”

Chocolate Chip’s reaction to the second entry was more thoughtful. “This is different,” she stated, trying to identify the unique flavor. “It’s an unusual blend of flavors, but very tasty.” She took a second bite, and closed her eyes. “I can almost catch what it is, but... “ She finally gave up. “Other than apples, what’s in it?”

“Can’t tell,” Driftwood maintained. “It’s a secret ingredient known only to me and to my assistant here.” Sugarberry giggled and shrugged her shoulders.

Going through the remaining items, Chocolate Chip came back to the second sample she had tried. “This one was the best,” she verified.

“Well, it was the most unusual,” Sugarberry grinned at Driftwood.

“So tell me what was in it,” Chocolate Chip requested.

“And have my invention copied and imitated in every eating establishment in Dream Valley by the day of the festival? I think not!” declared Driftwood.

“But I wouldn’t tell anyone!” begged the chocolate brown pony. “Sugarberry, what was it?” She turned to the mare, who only shook her head.

“Sorry, Chocolate Chip, but Driftwood put me under oath to not reveal any of his confidences.”

The back door opened now as Wishbone arrived home. “Smells good in here!” he exclaimed, coming into the kitchen with a rapt expression on his face.

Driftwood immediately commandeered the young stallion for another taste test. Sugarberry and Chocolate Chip started washing the towering stacks of dirty dishes while listening to the comments made by Wishbone as he tasted generous helpings of the entire array of products.

“The second one,” was his final decision.

“Why?” Driftwood wasn’t going to let him get by that easily.

“Why?” Wishbone echoed. “Because it tasted the best.”

“Aren’t you the one that hopes to join his family’s restaurant business some day?” Driftwood interrogated with a serious expression on his face.

“Well, yes... “

”And yet you can’t identify the particular essence that makes one food item stand out from another?”

“What can you expect... he’ll eat anything!” Chocolate Chip quipped from the background.

Wishbone frowned at his sister, and to Driftwood stated, “It was unique, whatever it was.”

Driftwood sighed and shook his head. “Amateurs, all of you!” He then grabbed a dish towel, and went to work helping the girls while Wishbone retired to his room to study.

“So are you going to go with the unanimous choice?” Sugarberry asked of the stallion.

He grinned. “I’ll run it by a few more ponies before I make a final decision, but it looks like it will be the winner. Now I have to come up with a main course that features apples. A salad isn’t that difficult, nor is a bread product, but I want an all-apple menu choice.”

“The Bushwoolies might have some old family recipes,” suggested Sugarberry.

“You know, you might be on to something there,” Driftwood replied. “I’ll have to go visit the Bushwoolie holes. Want to come along, Sugarberry?”

“I haven’t been out that way in ages,” the mare responded. “Sure, if nothing else is going on when you decide to go.”

“How about tomorrow evening then?” asked Driftwood. “We can’t put it off as the festival is almost here.”

“It works for me,” confirmed Sugarberry with a smile, grateful that the vet clinic float was nearly completed due to the artistic talents of several of the Xtreme Ponies who had volunteered to help.

It took what seemed like forever to get through the dirty dishes; and once the last pan had been put away, the leftover food was divided between the two cooks; and Driftwood left with his share neatly packaged. He had no sooner quitted the house when Chocolate Chip came down on Sugarberry.

“Since when are you and Driftwood so buddy-buddy?”

“He started coming to the writers’ meeting during the summer,” Sugarberry illuminated.

“And now he’s part of the family?” Chocolate Chip interrogated.

“Well, I did know him years ago. He used to date Raspberry when she was in high school.”

“He dated your sister?”

“Ye... es.”

Chocolate Chip looked closely at Sugarberry. “There’s more.” The mare ignored the remark, but the filly was obstinate. “What happened? Did he drop her for you?”

“No, he did not. Raspberry dropped him, if anything. But later, he and I were both in vocational school at the same time. He was older, of course, but had just gotten interested in the restaurant business, so had gone back to school. I was in secretarial training myself.”

“Keep going.”

“Rather snoopy you are, Chocolate Chip!”

“I’m curious, that’s all.”

Sugarberry though for awhile before continuing. “We kind-of... sort-of... dated.” She found it difficult to say the words.

“Kind-of, sort-of? That’s real definitive.”

“I always considered him Raspberry’s friend,” Sugarberry explained. “When he’d be at our house with Raspberry, he’d torment Tabby and me something fierce. He’d have me giggling all the time at his antics, but Tabby would get upset with him... the situations he’d have our My Little People dolls get into!”

“So he was a lot of fun.”

“Yes. Always the jokester. I think that’s why Raspberry gave up on him.”

“But he was older when you got re-acquainted at school. What was he like by then?”

Sugarberry grinned. “Not much better. He was still hung-up on tormenting me mercilessly or making me laugh-- the characteristic big brother type. He had lots of other friends, so his attention was sporadic; but he was always amusing when he was around.”

“What about the years between vocational school and now?”

“We went our separate ways, and were busy with our own lives. Our paths didn’t cross much, even after he took over the Estate Manor. But his interest in publishing a cookbook brought him to a writers’ meeting, and he asked my advice on a few things, so I’m helping him out. He wants to include humorous anecdotes about cooking in the book as well as recipes.”

“Does Vanguard know about him?”

“Of course he does,” immediately answered Sugarberry. “We all talked at the wedding reception.”

“Uh-huh,” nodded Chocolate Chip. “But does he know you dated the guy?”

“I told you I didn’t really date Driftwood, and besides, what difference does it make? I’m sure Vanguard dated any number of fillies before I met him.”

“That reminds me,” Chocolate Chip reflected. “Who did Wigwam date when you were all in high school?”

“Not me, if that’s what you’re getting at.”

“Then who?”

“I didn’t keep tabs on him, but I think at one time he was hung up on Ribbon.”

“What did he do after high school?”

“I don’t really recall. He obviously went to school for a time, but I don’t know where. He just seemed to disappear there for a few years.”

“That’s odd,” speculated Chocolate Chip. Then, as if remembering something, she exclaimed, “Oh my gosh! I forgot I have to write an outline for an English paper!” And she scampered out of the room.

Left on her own, Sugarberry did some more straightening of the kitchen as she recollected her time attending Greener Pastures Technical School. She had stayed behind in Dream Valley when her parents had left for Berryville, and she had juggled a part-time job with classes. Driftwood’s enthusiastic outlook on life had helped soften Sugarberry’s serious attitude which had become even more pronounced with Tabby away at college in Italy.

Raptor came to the reminiscing pony and stood up against her foreleg, begging for a snack. Sugarberry responded by feeding both Raptor and Fluff, and then she spent some time brushing them both after which she devoted several hours to the computer and the story line that was beginning to fall into place before calling it a day.

* * *
The Great Apple Festival finally arrived, and the towns ponies were exhilarated. The weather cooperated by providing a clear, sunny day with summer-like temperatures and just a hint of a breeze. The town adopted a party atmosphere amidst the bustling activity of last minute details and changes. Main Street was decorated with the Ponyland flag flying from every available vantage point; and in the park stood the glittering carnival rides. Food booths were already busy preparing tempting treats featuring apples: apple donuts, apple fritters, apple pudding, apple cider... apple everything.

The parade was scheduled to begin at ten-thirty, but many had already been moved into position. Sugarberry and Elaine stole some moments to get a preliminary view of the competition. Some of the floats were simply done while others were extravagantly decorated; all of them were paying homage in one way or another to the apple. Tex’s giant red pepper made entirely from brilliant red apples showed up like a guiding beacon; Lemon Treats Boutique was tastefully done with a display of apparel and accessories all with the apple theme and interlaced with delicate garlands of apple blossoms-- these due to the magical power of Flower Belle.

Driftwood’s Estate Manor float had a lavish medieval banquet in progress-- complete with a paper-mache pig with a vibrant red apple in its mouth. A horde of college students including many of the Sweetheart Sisters and the Brilliant Brothers were dressed in appropriate costumes in vibrant colors; at the back of the float was attached a placard-- No pigs were injured in the construction of this float. Sugarberry giggled as she saw Driftwood’s sense of humor at work. Wigwam’s Casino was as Wishbone had originally suggested-- a giant slot machine with Tiny the Bigfoot at the handle. Even Spike was there with an entry for the eighties museum that he and Tabby shared.

There was so much going on and so much to see, but Elaine and Sugarberry had to return to the vet clinic where Thomas, Cliff, Jet, and Luge were preparing the float for moving. They had encountered some unforeseen problems with the cart base that carried the float, but these had finally been resolved; the float was now taken to its position between Driftwood’s and Brightblade’s.

“It looks great,” Sugarberry commented. “Cliff... Luge... Jet... we are truly grateful for all the help you and the rest of the Xtreme Ponies gave us on this!” They all stood back to survey their work.

The float consisted of a large paper-mache apple tree, laden with green leaves and luscious fruit hanging from the branches. On the ground surrounding the tree rested hoof-sculpted representatives of the animal kingdom including a collie, a family of rabbits, and several small mice. And at first glance, that seemed to be all. But after closer scrutiny, one would notice a serious Siamese sitting alertly on one of the lower branches and a fat angora curled up asleep in a fork of the tree; other branches contained a playful Maine coon, and an elegant Bombay. The tree was literally crawling with lifelike cats, thanks to the expertise of the Xtreme Ponies.

“Yes,” Elaine added. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without you!”

“Dude!” Cliff responded with the typical answer. Luge only smiled and Jet gave a thumbs-up signal.

The school bands were practicing in an open field behind the staging area, presenting a cacophony that grated the auditory sense. Foals dressed in apple costumes, obviously from the School of Dance, were accompanied by their parents to the point of assembly.

“Did you hear yet what entry the Bushwoolies came up with?” Thomas asked.

“No, not a word,” admitted Sugarberry. “Which reminds me, I could certainly go for an apple-flavored woolie cake right now!”

“There’s time before the parade starts,” suggested Thomas. “Let’s go find their stand and get one for each of us. Besides, I’d like to run by Tabby’s float to see how it’s holding up.”

Going off again, the three ponies soon came across the Pokèmon Center’s unique production: an apple blossom petal-formed figure of Chansey, the pink egg-shaped Pokèmon, with a brilliant rose-petal apple just peaking out of the pocket on her tummy. Flower Belle, with her magical power of conjuring up flowers, had been one of the most sought after ponies in Dream Valley during the course of the preceding weeks as every business and organization in the city had designed and crafted a float that not only conveyed its advertising but also applauded the beauty and versatility of apples.

The large, fragrant image of Chansey was zealously guarded by the Chanseys that worked with Tabby at the Pokèmon Center. Tabby herself was standing in relative awe of the impressive figure. “It’s gorgeous!” Sugarberry complimented her friend. “I knew Mr. Mime would do a good job with it! And it’s neat that you used rose petals to make the apple since apples are members of the rose family.”

“They are?” said Tabby.

“It’s all so delicate,” Elaine observed. “And yet so real.”

“I’m just glad that the wind isn’t blowing too hard,” stated Tabby. “But right now, I’m hungry!”

“Our sentiments exactly,” laughed Thomas. “We’re heading for the Bushwoolies’ food booth for some woolie cakes.”

Arriving at the site of the food alley, the ponies found the area busy serving all the mouth-watering apple edibles imaginable. “Which one is the Bushwoolies’?” asked Elaine, peering through the mass of creatures milling about the place.

“They were supposed to be next to Tex’s apple salsa booth which is under the big elm tree,” Sugarberry replied, leading the way. When they got to the wooden station set up for the Bushwoolies, however, they found the place vacant.

“Where is everybody?” queried Tabby. “I want my woolie cake!”

“There’s not a Bushwoolie in sight,” commented Elaine.

“Come to think of it,” Thomas said, “I haven’t seen a Bushwoolie all morning.”

“That’s odd,” murmured Sugarberry. “They were more excited about this festival than anyone. You don’t think something’s happened to them, do you?” A worried expression appeared on Sugarberry’s face as she imagined the worst.

“Maybe they didn’t get their float finished on time,” speculated Tabby, searching for a suitable substitute for a woolie cake.

“There’s Princess Dawn and Perry; maybe they’ll know something about them,” suggested Elaine. The princess ponies were to act as judges for the entrants in the parade. But when asked, Princess Dawn was not able to shed much light on the situation, either. All she knew was that the Bushwoolies had delivered a list of the floats and the sequence in which they would appear to the Paradise Estate late the evening before, and all seemed to be in good order at that time.

“Maybe we should check the Bushwoolie holes,” proposed Sugarberry. “If something is wrong, they might need help.”

“Perry, why don’t you and Thomas check them out?” Dawn took charge of the situation. “The rest of us will keep looking here in town, and meet you back at the staging ground.”

Looking at his watch, Perry added, “The parade is scheduled to start in twenty minutes! We’d better move fast, Thomas!”

As the two stallions took off in the direction of the Bushwoolie holes, Sugarberry, Tabby, Elaine, and Princess Dawn split up to cover as much area as possible in their search for the missing Bushwoolies. Around every corner, Sugarberry expected to see one of the exuberant furballs, but none came in sight. Oh, to hear a “Yeah, yeah,” she thought sadly.

Coming across Driftwood as she neared the parade line-up, she fell into step beside him. “Where could they be?” she worried.

“Some ponies think that they just worked so hard getting ready for the big day that they overslept!” offered Driftwood. “Can’t you just see it now... all those bright furry bodies nestled together in a big heap, sleeping so soundly that they don’t know it’s time for the parade!”

The thought did make Sugarberry smile, and she admitted that it was a possible explanation; but at that moment, Thomas and Perry returned from the holes and reported that there was no sign of any of the Bushwoolies, big or small, inside of or outside of the burrowed homes.

By this time, even Chief Tawny was becoming concerned. “We’ll have to organize a search party...” But his words were cut off as shouts of “Here they come!” and “There they are now!” echoed through the crowd.

Sure enough, if one listened closely, one could hear the excited and jubilant chatter of many, many Bushwoolies off in the distance. As they came closer, a path opened before them; the woolie creatures moved in a giant company of all ages and sizes, and each of them was holding... a frothy root beer float! The congregation of colored fur advanced to take their place at the head of the parade among cheers from those watching.

“Hey! And they are right on time!” Driftwood observed. “But I wonder how they worked their own self-declared apple theme into this ‘float’?”

“Look!” exclaimed Sugarberry as the last of the Bushwoolies passed by, and the back sides of the last row were visible marching down the street. On each Bushwoolie was a sign: Apple Juice Floats, Yeah, Yeah!

The other floats fell into line behind the tumultuous cavalcade that led the parade. Tabby, Elaine, and Thomas joined up with Sugarberry and Driftwood as the kaleidoscopic creations moved one after the other in blithe procession. The floats maneuvered under the power of the Grundles who had kindly agreed for the duty, so those who had worked on building the odd variety of entries now had the pleasure of standing back to see their handiwork pass by.

The Corral, an upscale motel on the edge of town, was in line immediately following the Bushwoolies. The colossal apple that was the center of the float was obviously a worm lodging; in random fashion, the doors that were scattered over the surface of the apple would open, and a cutsie little worm with a big grin would stick his head out.

Tabby shuddered. “I hate worms!” And as Driftwood had never heard the story of Tex’s ill-fated prank on Tabby back in fourth grade, he was enlightened as the marching band from Dream Valley High School pranced by.

“Ohh...” groaned Sugarberry. “Those big drums booming away always make me feel all queasy inside.”

The next float was presented by Wigwam’s Casino, and generated lots of excitement among the foals as Tiny the Bigfoot, amidst bright flashing lights, operated the slot machine, releasing a flood of candy for the fillies and colts to retrieve whenever three apples appeared. Thomas and Driftwood braved the onslaught of small ponies to recover enough candy for all in their group.

“Oh, look!” exclaimed Elaine as the street became filled with performing apples. This was the School of Dance flotilla, consisting of innumerable foals dressed in their perky apple costumes, dancing down the street. “Aren’t they the cutest little things?”

“They certainly are!” agreed a voice behind the assembled ponies as Toby came to join them; he took his place beside Elaine. “And you’re looking especially lovely today,” he said to the mare as he offered her a polished scarlet apple.

Driftwood snickered. “Not a wise move, Doc, if the old adage is correct... an apple a day keeps the doctor away!” Elaine blushed, and Sugarberry giggled.

The hospital float just happened to be moving in front of them displaying baskets and baskets full of a variety of apples with the not so subtle reminder: eat at least two to four fruits each and every day! Toby shrugged. “It may not be innovative, but it gets the point across.”

The Friendship Gardens band was next in line, trailed by Spike and Tabby’s toy museum endeavor. Apple Dumpling, Strawberry Shortcake, Blueberry Muffin, Raspberry Tart, and Plum Pudding were serving a tea party to He-Man and Skeletor; the disparity between the gentle fruit-inspired dolls and the massive strength of the Masters of the Universe lent a surrealistic atmosphere. As Tabby put it, it “didn’t make any sense, but it sure was outrageous.”

This display was followed by Streaky’s library-and-apple concept-- a worm leaving its home in the apple to become the proverbial bookworm. A number of foals sat around the automated sequence, reading apple-related titles. Then came Lemon Treats’ float, Tex’s pepper, and Driftwood’s Estate Manor medieval splendor. The ladies and knights enjoying the banquet shared their repast with the watching crowds in the form of apple candy.

Catching one of the airborne delectables, Driftwood offered it to Sugarberry. “Will m’lady join me for dinner tonight?” he asked, bowing before her. Finding the pageantry irresistible, Sugarberry acquiesced.

Tabby, overhearing the invitation, couldn’t withstand tormenting her friend. “Forgetting all about Vanguard, are we, hmm?” she whispered confidentially.

Sugarberry didn’t have time to respond as the vet clinic float was coming before them, and she wanted to feast her eyes on the exhibit she had helped to prepare. “Hey, you guys,” Tabby commented, “it looks surprisingly well done!”

“Better than yours?” Thomas teased.

“I didn’t say that, did I?” Tabby retorted.

Brightblade’s, Scoop’s, Tabby’s, Oakley’s, Sparkler’s, and Flower Bouquet’s floats passed by, intermingled with more bands and the Xtreme Ponies’ roller blade antics. The ingenuity and resourcefulness of the ponies of Dream Valley was outstanding. Quarterback’s engineering firm brought the apple into the twenty-first century with a 3-D computer image; Lullabye Nursery Day Care incorporated apple-shaped cradles that gently rocked the newborn babies into dreamland.

An entourage of silly clowns accompanied the day care float which set off Tabby’s clown phobia; attempting to become invisible between Thomas and Elaine only accented her presence in the eyes of one miscreant buffoon who singled her out for his attention. Refusing to accept the bauble that magically appeared in his hoof, Tabby retreated even more deeply into the crowd; but the clown was not discouraged. With another flourish, he presented her with a shimmery scarf that materialized out of nowhere.

The applause of those in the vicinity showed appreciation for the harlequin’s expertise, but Tabby was not impressed; she moved around Thomas so that he could provide protection for her, but the clown was not deterred. His pantomime motions parted the spectators so that he, too, could circumvent the white unicorn stallion. Ostentatiously, the simpleton now brandished a showy bouquet of flowers-- and not just any flowers, but a beautiful bouquet of the rare and exquisite light sensor flowers.

The flowers in themselves caught Tabby’s attention, for they reminded her of her wedding day. She looked from them to the clown’s face that smiled perpetually before her; due to the heavily painted face and the concealing costume, there was no way to identify who this pony could be... except for the eyes.

“Blue Belle, you... you... clown!” Tabby cried in outrage. “What do you mean by harassing me like this?!”

The demeanor of the clown deflated, even if the painted smile stayed intact. “I... I... wasn’t harassing you, Tabby. I was trying to impress you.”

“Impress me?” the disconcerted unicorn hissed. “Whatever gave you the idea that I would be impressed by persecution from a foolish clown?” Her front right hoof tapped testily on the ground.

“Well, you like Mr. Mime, don’t you?” whimpered Blue Belle.

“Mr. Mime is NOT a clown!” Tabby clarified. “He’s a... mime.”

Sensing a confrontation not suitable to young viewers, Thomas discreetly directed Tabby and Blue Belle off to a secluded corner between buildings. Taking the bouquet of light sensor flowers from Blue Belle, he offered them to his wife. “You must admit that these bring back pleasant memories.” He smiled at her in such a way that she had no choice but to abandon her anger and to accept the blossoms.

“They will always be my favorite,” she smiled back at the stallion who had won her love. Then turning to Blue Belle, who stood dejectedly off to the side, she continued. “So, Blue Belle, spill it. What were you trying to accomplish back there?”

“Actually... what I was thinking... maybe I could...”

“Blue Belle?!”

“Tabby, please let me have more hours at the Pokèmon Center!”

Tabby and Thomas both stared at the clown-pony. “You want to work more?” questioned a bewildered Pokèmon nurse.

“Yes,” explained Blue Belle. “You see, I really love the Pokèmon, and I’d like to be able to spend more time with them; and I could do that if you’d allot me a bigger share of responsibility at the center. I promise that I’d be really trustworthy and dependable...”

“I get the picture,” Tabby interrupted. She exchanged a glance with Thomas. “I’ll...I’ll think about it.”

“You will?” Blue Belle gushed. “Oh, thank you Tabby! Thank you!”

“And now, Blue Belle,” Thomas casually mentioned, “you might want to catch up with your comrades.” He gestured down the street where the Lullabye Nursery float was just disappearing from sight.

“Oh!” squealed Blue Belle, quickly starting off after the entourage. “And thanks again!” she shot back just as she was swallowed up in the crowd.

“Why didn’t she just come out and ask me at the Pokèmon Center last week?” Tabby wondered out loud, burying her nose in the fragrant bouquet that she held.

“She was only trying to impress you,” replied Thomas, taking advantage of the secluded surroundings to steal a kiss from Tabby before returning to their friends.

“Who won?” asked Driftwood of Tabby as she and Thomas rejoined the group while Elaine, Toby, and Sugarberry looked on. “The clown looked happy when she left.”

“She wants to be scheduled for more hours at the Pokèmon Center,” shrugged Tabby. Changing the subject, she asked, “What did we miss?”

“Pony-Mart, the movie theater, and the bagpipe unit,” Elaine informed them.

“Oh. That explains the terrible noise, then,” discerned Tabby innocently.

One of the last entries of the parade was by Pony Pride University. It boasted a dunk tank complete with Poeticus as the first victim. Wishbone, with the help of a bullhorn, was inviting one and all to come to the park after the parade and throughout the day to take their chance at soaking one of the university teachers for a small charitable fee by propelling an apple through the air to activate the lever which would in turn cause the dunking of the unlucky participant. The banner over the dunk tank waved gaily: An apple for the teacher! Other university students were working their way through the spectators selling tickets for the pleasure of getting back at any of the professors who had caused a student undue grief.

Sugarberry contemplated the joy of seeing Giorgio soaked and sputtering, but opted not to purchase a ticket knowing that she wouldn’t be brave enough even if she had the chance. Driftwood caught her pensive look. “You look like a mare with a vendetta,” he grinned. “I can see you wanting to get back at Papyrus while we were at Greener Pastures, but who at Pony Pride would you have a grudge against?” But as soon as he said the words, he realized where she was coming from. “Oh,” he chuckled, guiding the mare out of the path of the ponies who were leaving the parade route now that the last participant had passed by; the majority of them were heading for the new center of activity at the park grounds.

Regrouping at the corner, the stallions and mares made their plans for the day. “I never did get my woolie cake,” Tabby sighed. “And I forgot to eat breakfast.”

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” reminded Toby.

“Then off to the food booths!” declared Driftwood. “But you’ll not find anything better than the fare at the Estate Manor!” he added.

“Especially the apple dessert being served in honor of the apple festival,” agreed Sugarberry knowingly.

“How about it, Elaine?” asked Toby. “Shall you and I dine out in luxury at the end of this day?”

Casting a questioning glance at her brother, Elaine hesitated in answering. However, Thomas proved to be no help at all. “Agatha and Hubert are treating Tabby and I to dinner there tonight. We’ll see you later!” And he went off with Tabby to hunt up the Bushwoolies’ food booth once more.

Elaine, looking quickly to the right and left expecting to see a fuming Tiffany materialize from nowhere, sighed. She wished that Tiffany hadn’t come down so hard on her about Toby when Elaine had been new in town. She felt as if she would never shake off the feeling that she was being watched whenever Toby was around. Tiffany’s persona was strong, even all the way from Italy. But braving a smile, she finally faced Toby and accepted his invitation. “I’d love to dine with you.”

“Great!” he said, then frowned. “But right now I must get back to the hospital..” After verifying a time, Toby pranced away, leaving Elaine, Driftwood, and Sugarberry to decide their own fate.

“How about we abandon any dietary guidelines for the next hour, and see how many of the food stands we can visit?” queried Driftwood of the mares. “At the end of the hour, we will declare our own personal favorite of the day!”

Sugarberry giggled. “I’m hungry enough to go for it,” she admitted. “How about you, Elaine?”

“Why not?” Elaine responded. “It is a festival day, after all!”

The trio made a superb effort to encompass the entire range of foodstuffs available that afternoon, but one by one they had to concede that it was impossible for one pony to safely enjoy the complete variety of savory items. They finally collapsed under a shade tree, feeling totally stuffed. “I don’t think I’ll be able to eat any supper tonight, Driftwood,” Sugarberry groaned. “I’ll have to renege, I’m afraid.”

“Me, too,” moaned Elaine, resting her head against the tree trunk.

“Hey, girls! We’ve got all afternoon to work off what we’ve eaten so far. You’ll both be famished by this evening,” argued Driftwood. “We could go over by the carnival rides and...”

“Carnival rides?” Elaine looked completely woozy. “I can’t even think about them without feeling even worse.”

Sugarberry glared at Driftwood. “Don’t even mention those things, or I’m going to be sick!”

Driftwood only laughed. “I don’t remember you being this squeamish about little ol’ carnival rides, Sugarberry!”

“That’s because you’ve never seen me on one, have you?” she countered.

“Hmm. Come to think of it, I guess I haven’t. I remember taking Raspberry to a carnival at the county fair once, though. She seemed to think it was okay.”

“Just because we’re sisters doesn’t mean we respond to things the same way.”

Driftwood looked in Elaine’s direction and saw that she had her eyes closed; moving closer to Sugarberry, he asked, “I tried to talk with Raspberry at the wedding last month, but she seemed rather cool, if you know what I mean. Any idea why?”

Sugarberry picked a twig up off the ground and began breaking it into little bits, stalling for time. Finally, she offered, “She never really talked about you after your breakup.”

“That sounds like an evasion of the question.”

“What can I say? She kept her feelings to herself.”

Driftwood sighed. “You never had any theories of your own?”

“I might have heard her discussing you with Mom once.”

“And?”

Sugarberry hesitated, casting a quick glance at Driftwood before tossing the pieces of twig away. “She thought that you would never learn to be serious about anything.”

Staring off into the distance, Driftwood looked serious enough to please even Raspberry. “She knows I’ve settled down enough to run a restaurant; doesn’t that count for anything?”

Pondering his statement for a minute, Sugarberry responded, “Well, you were with Hydrangea at the wedding.”

Driftwood looked startled. “So I’m with you today. Does that mean anything?”

“I could take offense to that,” she responded. “But, no, it doesn’t mean anything. You know that, and I know that, but a third party might not know that.” She looked over at Elaine who sat smirking by the tree.

“Don’t mind me,” she said self-consciously. “I’m not listening.” So saying, she stood up and moved further along the path.
“So what should I do to catch Raspberry’s attention again?” asked Driftwood.

But they were interrupted as Wigwam and Chocolate Chip, dragging Elaine with them, burst upon the scene. “Come on over to the dunk tank,” panted Chocolate Chip. “Giorgio is going to take a turn, Sugarberry, and I thought you’d want to try your luck!”

“No, no!” Sugarberry contradicted. “I’d never be able to aim an apple to hit the lever even if I was brave enough to try.”

“I’ll do it for you then,” volunteered Wigwam, with Chocolate Chip offering her deadly aim as well.

“What have you got to lose?” Driftwood chided the Twice-As-Fancy mare. He arose and pulled her to her hooves.

“How has the dunk tank been doing?” asked Elaine as they walked at a fast trot toward the Pony Pride exhibit.

“We’re raising a ton of jangles for charity!” beamed Chocolate Chip. “Everybody wants a chance to dunk a teacher. I’m glad Wishbone thought of this idea.”

Arriving at the crowded display, Elaine and Sugarberry opted to be observers only while the others paid for their chance. Giorgio, to his credit, was taking his time on the perch over the water in good humor. A banter of taunts between the prey and the predators was brisk. Wishbone, warming up at the line, finally let loose the apple, sending Giorgio plunging into the cold water below. “My grades can’t get any worse than they are anyway,” he joked.

A young deep gray stallion that Sugarberry had never met was next. His aim was good, but the force was not strong enough to activate a dunking. Chocolate Chip went next, and was successful. She came back to Sugarberry with a grin on her face. “That felt really good!”

“Good job, Chocky,” Wishbone called as he came to her side, followed by the unknown student. “Sable wimped out, as you saw,” he scoffed.

“Hey! You heard Giorgio threaten me with an extra-hard test. He’s mean enough to do it, too,” the pony named Sable replied. “I’m not going to risk a bad grade just for a little fun here today.”

“The teachers can’t let what happens here today affect their opinion of any of us,” stated Chocolate Chip. “They’re all aware that it benefits a good cause.”

“Well, I’m not taking any chances,” Sable grumbled. “My folks expect me to do well here; they didn’t especially want me to transfer schools in the first place.”

“Where did you transfer from?” queried Elaine. “I went to school in New Pony.”

“Nowhere that big,” shrugged Sable. “I was over at Binks University for a year.”

“Binks?” Chocolate Chip looked at Sugarberry. “Isn’t that where Vanguard graduated from?”

“Yes, it is,” she replied. “Binks is a good university, too, Sable. Why did you want to come here?”

“Um... well... it has a reputation for having a good.. job placement rate,” he stammered. Then quickly, he turned to Wishbone. “Come on, Wishbone. Let’s run over and get something to eat while we can.”

“Sure,” Wishbone agreed, following behind his friend with a wave at the rest of the ponies.

Chocolate Chip watched the two of them cross the grassy park. “Those two are getting awfully thick,” she complained. “I think Wishbone should be studying more instead of running around all the time.”

“Spoken like a possessive big sister,” teased Wigwam. “You surely don’t expect him to be home hitting the books today, do you?” He was feeling cocky because the apple he threw had hit its mark successfully, while Driftwood’s had failed.

And Driftwood’s luck wasn’t about to change. Ages came running up to him with the news that there were problems in the kitchen back at the Estate Manor, and his help was needed immediately. “Come to the manor at eight o’clock, Sugarberry,” he directed. “I’ll probably be stuck with kitchen duty the rest of the day, but I’ll take off once your beauty graces my doorstep.” He grinned roguishly, and Sugarberry rolled her eyes in return.

“So now what?” asked Elaine. “We’ve both been abandoned.”

“Have you been on the carnival rides yet?” questioned Wigwam. But stony-eyed stares were the only answer he got from the two mares. “Um... is that yes or no?” he quipped.

“No, thank you,” the two replied in unison.

“I think we’d enjoy something a little tamer, like a ring-toss game,” Elaine suggested.

While they stood discussing their options, Giorgio’s stint in the tank was completed; after drying off, he looked over the ponies clustered about the area, his eyes coming to rest on Sugarberry. She was engaged in conversation with Elaine, and didn’t notice his approach until he stood in front of her. “Good day, Sugarberry,” he smiled, taking her hoof in his for the kiss. Turning to Elaine, he murmured, “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Elaine blushed profusely, as Sugarberry made the introduction.

“A veterinarian; how wonderful,” Giorgio observed, kissing her hoof as well. “It makes me wish I owned a cat or a dog.”
The mares were saved by Wigwam. “Giorgio, you made an excellent target!” he kidded.

“Yes. You seemed to be on target,” the teacher responded. “It would be interesting to see what would happen if our positions were reversed.”

Poeticus and Gauntlet, who were standing nearby, overheard Giorgio’s comment. “We were just discussing that very thing!” exclaimed Poeticus. “How about giving us teachers a chance at you students?” He issued the challenge to those near him.

“You’re on!” laughed Wishbone, “if you double the fee.”

“Let’s make that triple,” suggested Giorgio, getting out his jangles. “It is for charity, after all.”

As Wishbone climbed into position over the tank of water, he called to Giorgio, “Give it your best shot!” Giorgio did, and proved to be a formidable opponent as the apple hit home, and Wishbone was doused.

“Definitely worth the cost,” he smugly retorted, rubbing his front hooves together.

Poeticus took a turn next, cheered on by his wife, Lemon Treats. His first effort failed, but he quickly purchased a second chance, and Wishbone was once more immersed. Gauntlet’s effort was unsuccessful, which gave Wishbone time to catch his breath.

Word had quickly spread that students were now the victims of the dunk tank, and a line of teachers swiftly formed to take advantage of the opportunity to plunge a student into the fluid depths of the tank; and if a particular pony who had been an especially trying student could be commandeered to be the target, the educators were willing to pay exorbitant rates just for the pleasure of payback time. Chocolate Chip beamed at the accumulation of jangles that was amassing for the cause, which far surpassed her wildest dreams. “The homeless won’t be cold or hungry this winter!” she stated happily.

When Sugarberry and Elaine tired of the volley of apples and the splashing water, they moved on to visit other areas of interest. One particularly noisy display caught their attention; it was an apple pie eating contest. The contestants for this round were all baby ponies, including Baby Leaper, Baby Falling Leaves, Baby Tiddly-Winks, Baby Drummer, and Baby Nectar.

“Remember, no hooves allowed-- mouths only!” instructed Peppermint Crunch as a scrumptious pie was set before each of the babies. “Now, at the sound of the whistle, start eating!”

The whistle blew, and the eating began. Baby Snookums disqualified herself by using her hooves; Baby Heart Throb, when she realized she would get messy, backed off and left the stage. Baby Drummer soon admitted to a stomach ache, followed by Baby Tiddly-Winks.

Baby Falling Leaves, Baby Leaper, and Baby Nectar ate their way through the first pie, and were making good headway on the second when Baby Nectar suddenly clutched her tummy and staggered away. The last two participants eyed one another through their apple-smeared faces, neither of them willing to admit defeat. Their frenzied gulps, however, became hesitant nibbles until Peppermint Crunch stepped-in and called it a tie. Both baby ponies received a medal, and a plush apple pillow for nap time. Baby Falling Leaves and Baby Leaper accepted their prizes, looking a little green and not at all happy.

“Me feel sick, Mommy,” Baby Falling Leaves admitted as she was guided away by Mommy and Daddy Falling Leaves.

“I bet I won’t be begged to make an apple pie anytime in the near future,” grinned Toad Lily as she and her colt passed by Sugarberry.

“Poor baby ponies!” sympathized Elaine.

“Next contest is for mares only.” Peppermint Crunch called to the two. “Want to try your stamina?”

“No thanks,” grimaced Sugarberry, remembering how she had felt earlier after feasting on rich, calorie-laden food. She followed Elaine who had left at the mere mention of their entering.

“Here’s one we could handle, Elaine!” Sugarberry grinned. They had come across the apple peeling contest. Participants had just finished a competition on who could peel an apple the quickest-- Applejack walked away with the prize.

“The next round,” Nightcap announced, “will be to see who can end up with the longest peeling.”

Elaine looked uncertain, but was willing to try. “I guess we have a fair chance.”

Quarterback saw the two mares waiting for the start of the contest-- they needed at least five competitors-- and filled one of the empty slots while Merry Moments stayed on the sidelines to photograph the event. “I’m winning this one, girls!” Quarterback goaded.

Sugarberry responded quickly. “If I remember correctly, you’re the one who bakes fruit pies without peeling the fruit first.”

“You’re joking, of course,” Elaine giggled.

“No, I’m not,” Sugarberry declared.

“That was peach pie, and after you tasted it you said that no one could tell the difference,” Quarterback defended himself.

“Okay, so it worked out for peach pie. But I bet you never peeled an apple in your life.”

They were interrupted by the arrival of Wigwam, who found the apple peeling contest humorous. “So it takes a special talent to do this?” he queried. “What’ll they think of next!”

Nightcap, upon hearing Wigwam’s remark, offered him a peeler and an apple.

“Go for it!” Quarterback egged him on.

“What? And beat out the mares?” Wigwam threw a sassy glance at Sugarberry and Elaine.

“No need for us to worry, right Elaine?” Sugarberry looked to her friend for backup.

“R... right,” Elaine agreed hesitantly, glancing down at the peeler in her hoof somewhat uncertainly.

“So are you in or not?” Nightcap asked of the orange stallion.

“I’m going to win irregardless,” commented Quarterback smugly.

“Come on, Wigwam,” urged Sugarberry. “The sooner we get all the spots filled, the sooner we can declare a winner.”

“Oh, all right,” Wigwam finally gave in and accepted the necessary equipment from Nightcap. Taking a seat on the platform with the others, he scowled in Sugarberry’s direction. But he soon fell into conversation with Quarterback. “Was that an Apple computer you used on your float?” he asked.

“Hardly,” Quarterback replied. “I used a Macrohard. An Apple would never have been able to handle that kind of application.”

Tabby and Thomas were the next to appear on the scene, and at Elaine’s invitation to join the contest, Tabby vehemently declined. Thomas, however, was willing to give it a try, so Nightcap had her required minimum number of contestants. “You all have an apple and a peeler,” she explained. “Now you have until the sound of the buzzer to carve off the longest peeling possible.”

“It’s timed?” groaned Sugarberry. “I thought we’d be allowed to work at our own speed!”

“Nope. The timer starts when I press this button. Any questions?”

Thoroughly enjoying Sugarberry’s discomfort, Wigwam now threw himself into the task of winning the contest. “Nervous, Sugarberry?” he taunted. “Remember, speed is of the essence!” He grinned wickedly, knowing full well that once her work was being timed, Sugarberry became totally flustered and inept.

“Begin now!” commanded Nightcap as she set the timer in motion. All five ponies began peeling the fruit in their hooves, each deeply concentrating on the task. Nightcap called off the time in five-second increments, and when the end was reached, the combatants held up the results of their labors.

Officially measuring each ribbon of apple, Nightcap declared the winner-- Elaine by an inch over Quarterback’s. The mare squealed with surprised delight and received her prize-- a wooden hoof-carved apple surrounded by like-formed apple blossoms.

“How appropriate,” commented Thomas with a wink. “Not only will it remind you of the apple festival, but also of your blossoming romance with Dr. Toby.”

“I came in second,” declared Quarterback. “Do I get a prize?”

“All entrants get this special festival button,” Nightcap offered. “Wear it proudly!”

Wigwam sought out Sugarberry. “Well, we both lost. How about a ride on the Ferris wheel to cheer you up?”

Thomas laughed. “And how about you, Tabby? Are you courageous enough this year to tackle the big wheel again?”

Staring across the grounds at the towering contraption that dominated the carnival, she thought a moment and with an endearing glance at Thomas stated, “Hmm... maybe.”

Seeking enlightenment, Wigwam asked, “You mean to tell me Tabby is afraid of the Ferris wheel?” Elaine and Sugarberry slowly tried to melt into the crowd, but Wigwam caught sight of them. “Whoa, you two. I can understand that you might be afraid of the roller coaster, shrimpy as it is, or the rocket, but the Ferris wheel? You’ve got to be kidding!”

Sugarberry relived the panic she had felt when she and Vanguard had ridden the Ferris wheel shortly after Vanguard had arrived in Dream Valley; even with her noble stallion at her side, she had been dismayed at the apparent emptiness that had enveloped her as the wheel crested the peak of its orbit and began its downward swing. She and Tabby had both been extremely happy to have that ride end. “You know that I have a phobia of heights,” she grumbled to Wigwam, whose eyes were dancing with mischief.

“You wheedled me into the apple peeling contest. Now I’m asking you to join me on the Ferris wheel,” he stated. “Both of you.” His glance took in Elaine as well.

“No,” Sugarberry said emphatically. “No way.” She backed away from Wigwam to accentuate her refusal, but bumped into Quarterback and Merry Moments who had followed along.

“Problem here?” Quarterback asked, sensing the mare’s distress.

“Just trying to talk these two into a ride on the Ferris wheel,” Wigwam explained.

Chocolate Chip came up to the group at that moment. “Oh! Can we go on the Ferris wheel, Wigwam?” she asked brightly.

“Saved by the belle!” Wigwam murmured, moving her gaze from Sugarberry and Elaine to the brown pony at his side. “Come on, Chocolate Chip! Let’s go!”

Tabby and Thomas had already boarded, and Merry Moments and Quarterback were in the next compartment, followed now by Wigwam and Chocolate Chip. Elaine giggled as she and Sugarberry watched the couples. Tabby had snuggled close to Thomas, his foreleg protectively around her, while the others were more interested in getting the seats to swing or in calling to ponies in the crowd. “They are so right together, aren’t they?” she mused as the ride began moving upward.

“Tabby and Thomas? Yes, they are,” she agreed, her mind going back to a previous ride on the Ferris wheel with Tabby’s screams and her own fears even with Vanguard’s encompassing presence at her side. How she missed him as she remembered that first glorious day that he had been in Dream Valley! Her eyes got misty, and she whispered to Elaine, “I’m going to walk around a bit.”

Elaine, looking to nod her assent, was surprised to see the forlorn expression that had engulfed the strawberry-covered mare. “What’s wrong, Sugarberry?” she worried, following after her.

“Just missing Vanguard,” she smiled sadly at Elaine. “I wish that he was here.” They walked silently until they came upon a boisterous group of baby ponies at the ring toss booth. Baby Noddins was just beginning her turn at encircling a prize. The little filly pouted when her first ring missed, groaned when the second went way too far, and grew teary-eyed when the third-- and last-- ring also missed its mark. She stomped her little hoof in annoyance. “That was my last jangle!” she whimpered.

Feeling sorry for the foal, Sugarberry offered to buy her another chance. “Me only miss again,” Baby Noddins complained, dragging her hoof in a woebegone manner through the trampled grass.

“Well, let’s try at least,” Sugarberry prompted the foal.

The little unicorn looked up at her hopefully. “Do you think I might finally get something?”

Sugarberry’s heart sank as she realized she had built up Baby Noddins’ hopes with no insurance of success. “We won’t know until you try,” philosophized Sugarberry with more confidence than she felt. Handing the lavender mare in charge of the booth the necessary jangle, she said, “Your three best rings for Baby Noddins, please.”

“They don’t come with a guarantee,” Powder smiled as she handed Baby Noddins the wooden rings.

“Concentrate on the item you want,” advised Elaine. “Keep your eye on it when you throw the hoop.”

“What are you after?” questioned Sugarberry of Baby Noddins. The tosses the baby pony had made earlier were so erratic that she couldn’t even guess at what Noddins was after.

Baby Noddins looked up at Sugarberry in disgust. “The Furby backpack, of course,” she stated as if there was no other choice. “Tabby has one, you know.”

“I see,” said Sugarberry, glancing at Elaine who was suppressing a giggle.

The baby unicorn took Elaine’s advice and directed her aim at the desired item. She released the hoop, and although it partially covered the backpack, it wasn’t exact enough to count.

“The hoop has to lay perfectly flat around the prize,” Powder explained.

Elaine moved to Noddins’ side. “Okay. Try again, just like the last one.” Sugarberry held her breath as the ring floated through the air and dropped agonizingly close to, but not over, the Furby accessory.

“It’s awfully close,” she pleaded with Powder.

“Close doesn’t count, Sugarberry. It wouldn’t be fair to all the others,” Powder held firm.

“This is your last chance, Baby Noddins,” Sugarberry knelt by her side. “Don’t get nervous. Just follow Elaine’s suggestions and stay loose.”

Baby Noddins stared at the backpack for a long time before she geared up for her final toss. The ring sailed strong and sure and settled over the item, rocking back and forth several times to prolong the uncertainty, then dropping with a definite click into an unquestionable victory. Baby Noddins cheered and hugged Sugarberry around the neck, while Elaine waited to share a triumphant hug, too. A small crowd of spectators who had gotten drawn into the suspense, applauded the lavender unicorn, too, before moving on to other happenings.

“Great job, Baby Noddins!” Powder glowed as she gave the foal her prize.

“Tank you!” Noddins grinned. “Now me have to find Tabby and show her my backpack.” She scampered away in a glorious mood.

“That was rather exciting,” breathed Sugarberry, relieved to have witnessed a happy outcome. “I’m grateful for your sound advice, Elaine. She couldn’t have done it without you!”

Lowering her head, Elaine answered meekly, “I’m glad it helped.” After a moment, she continued, “I tried to win something at a game like this once. It was at a church picnic.”

“And was your end result positive?” The two mares had begun to walk across the grounds together.

“Unfortunately, no. I was after a porcelain figurine of a cat. I wanted to get it so I could give it to Thomas on his birthday. But I couldn’t get the ring to fall right.” She smiled self-consciously. “I felt so badly that I went and sat under a tree and cried.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Sugarberry commiserated.

“Thomas found me there, tears streaming down my face. He asked me what was wrong, and I said ‘nothing’. So he sat down beside me until I’d gotten control of my emotions again. Then he tried to get me to tell him my problem, but I wouldn’t. I figured if I told him what I wanted, he’d win the prize for me. But then I wouldn’t have been able to give it to him as a gift. So I shrugged it off, and he left with a bunch of his friends.”

“You had a sensitive predicament there,” Sugarberry perceived. “And you never had another opportunity to win the cat?”

“No more jangles,” Elaine replied. “But, you know, it was really strange, because when my birthday came around, you know what Thomas gave me?”

“Not the porcelain cat?” Sugarberry wondered.

“Yes! It was the exact figure I’d tried to win for him. He admitted that he’d won it at the picnic when I questioned him about it.”

“I guess it’s not so surprising when you consider the deep love of animals you both have,” Sugarberry reflected.

The mares continued their trek around the various activities that filled the park, encountering friends to chat with and games to play. It was getting late when Elaine’s nervous peeks at the time reminded Sugarberry that she, too, had a date that evening. So the two parted company, Elaine to return to the mansion that she shared with Tabby and Thomas, and Sugarberry to her home, to they could freshen-up before meeting their dinner partners.

Advantageously, Sugarberry was just leaving her house as Hubert and Agatha were passing by. Tabby’s parents were still residing in Tabby’s former home next door. What might have been a lonely walk in the deepening autumn dusk became a companionable enterprise.

“Any plans yet for a different house?” asked Sugarberry.

“No,” disclosed Agatha. “We haven’t found anything we like yet.” She frowned in Hubert’s direction.

The stallion only chuckled. “We can’t agree on the amount of room we need, Sugarberry. What would you advise?”

Avoiding taking sides, Sugarberry offered, “I’m happy having you as my neighbors. So take your time making a decision.”

The trio reached the Estate Manor ahead of Tabby and Thomas, so Agatha and Hubert invited Sugarberry to sit with them until Driftwood was free. When the newlyweds arrived, they were accompanied by Elaine and Toby; and at Agatha’s insistence, the table was up-sized to accommodate all the ponies.

Driftwood, shaking off his personal concern for the affairs of the restaurant, jokingly remarked, “This is a great way for me to check-up on the service of this place.” Leaning close to Sugarberry, he whispered, “We’ve nearly run out of apples; business has been great!”

“It would be horrible to run out of the main attraction.”

“We did hijack some from the Bushwoolie storage tunnel, but Friendly made me vouch for replacement within three days. I’m not sure there will be any apples available in the vicinity to meet the deadline. Bushwoolies can’t live without their apples.”

Sugarberry contemplated Driftwood’s problem as she listened to the chatter at the table; and when the solution came to her, she chided herself for being so dense. “Driftwood,” she nudged him to get his attention. “I know how you can solve your apple problem and your Raspberry problem at the same time!”

“What are you talking about?” Driftwood looked at her suspiciously.

“Dad’s a pomologist!” Sugarberry beamed.

“A what?” His look now told her that he considered her officially daft.

“A pomologist... you know, a fruit grower!” Sugarberry snapped at him impatiently. “You can go to Berryville to get the apples you need and rekindle your friendship with my sister at the same time!”

The light of understanding finally shone from Driftwood’s eyes. “You know, that sounds like a perfect plan! I’ll head over there tomorrow! Thanks, Sugarberry!” He leaned over and kissed her cheek.

“Tsk, tsk,” Tabby’s voice was heard. “Poor Vanguard, all the way over there in Italy.” She shook her head compassionately.

Sugarberry felt her cheeks flush, but laughed off the remark. “Driftwood’s just happy to find a new supplier for the apples he needs to pay off the Bushwoolies,” she explained quickly.

“Uh-huh. Sure,” Tabby replied with a wink.

“Your dad, I presume?” Hubert silenced his daughter’s teasing remarks. “Strawberry Baskets always could get the fruit to grow bountifully.”

The conversation turned to talk of the past and plans for the future, and the evening passed pleasantly until one by one, the couples departed to call to a close the Great Apple Festival. Sugarberry, waiting over a final cup of coffee for Driftwood to finish with some last minute instructions for his clean-up crew, was surprised to hear the approach of someone behind her; turning, she found herself face to face with Giorgio. She invariably gasped.

“My dear Sugarberry,” he said, “I hope I didn’t startle you. You looked so lonesome here by yourself that I was concerned for you.” He took her hoof in his and held it gently.

“I thought the place was empty by now,” Sugarberry wavered. “I’m just waiting for Driftwood to finish in the kitchen.” She found it impossible to avoid his steady gaze and once more felt like a mouse waiting for the serpent to strike.

“And I am waiting for my friend to finish in the powder room,” he smiled. “So we can keep each other company for a moment.”

“For a moment,” the mare repeated, praying silently for Driftwood to appear as Giorgio took the chair next to her.

“I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation earlier about your father’s fruit farm,” he began.

“Eavesdropping doesn’t become you,” Sugarberry stated icily.

Giorgio laughed. “I was sitting at the next table, and honestly couldn’t have avoided hearing what I did. Your group was rather... festive... shall we say.”

Grimacing, Sugarberry realized he was right. The gathering of good friends had lent itself to a party atmosphere.

“I was fascinated to learn that with your success as an authoress, you came from such a disparaging background,” the stallion continued, and he seemed to enjoy the chagrin that met his remark.

“Disparaging?” Sugarberry’s eyes snapped vindictively. “I don’t think my father ever considered supplying healthy food as a degrading occupation.”

Giorgio chuckled. “You read too much into my choice of words. I merely meant to imply that your writing would indicate a more sophisticated background. I meant it as a compliment.” He released her hoof, and patted it condescendingly. “My father is a politician-- or as he prefers to be called, a statesman-- back in Vulcanopolis. He has always talked of writing a book, but finds his time... limited.”

“I’m sure,” Sugarberry murmured, finding this comparison by Giorgio of their fathers to be perturbing. What point was he trying to make?

Leaning back in his chair, but keeping his eyes on hers, Giorgio disclosed his thoughts. “I thought you’d take your chance at me this afternoon when I was in the dunk tank.” He grinned almost engagingly.

“I must admit that I did consider it,” confessed Sugarberry, returning his smile.

“Well, I am most grateful to you for not adding to my misery.” Responding to her questioning look, he went on. “You see, I abhor being in the water, especially in that sudden manner.”

“Me too!” she found herself saying. “I simply cringe at the idea of going under.”

“I am pleased to find we have something in common,” he stated with an amicable note in his voice.

Ignoring his last remark, Sugarberry asked, “Why did you agree to participate if you feel the way you do about water?”

“It was for a worthy cause, my dear Sugarberry. Surely you don’t think that poorly of me!”

As Giorgio then caught sight of his companion, Sugarberry was spared from answering. He stood and bade her farewell. “I look forward to seeing you again soon,” he smiled.

“Goodnight,” replied Sugarberry with less trepidation than normal. She watched the stallion cross the room, curious to see who his dinner date had been; but the mare waiting in the doorway was no one Sugarberry had ever seen before. Probably visiting from Italy, she fancied.

Coming through the kitchen doors, Driftwood finally materialized. “You took your own sweet time!” Sugarberry accused.

“I saw that you were being suitably entertained, so I kept myself scarce,” he grinned.

“If I’d have been thinking straight, I’d have left with Agatha and Hubert!” she retorted.

“Oh, come now. Let’s not get bitter. I’ll see you safely home now; my crew is adequately prepared to close up.”

As they walked across town, they could see the lights of the carnival and hear the voices of merrymakers who were still enjoying the apple festival hoopla. “The day went well, over all,” analyzed Sugarberry. “The Bushwoolies should feel proud of their achievement.”

“Everyone worked hard to pull it off,” considered Driftwood. They walked in companionable silence for some time before he spoke again. “Tomorrow I’ll visit Berryville and see what the fates have in store for me.”

Sugarberry challenged him. “Fate isn’t at work here, buddy. It’s up to your own charismic charm to renew Raspberry’s affection.”

“I can’t be what I’m not. She won’t like me any better now than before,” Driftwood sighed, suddenly allowing misgivings to weigh on his mind.

“Oh, stop your worrying!” advised the worry-expert. “You’ve certainly mellowed over the years, and Raspberry has had time to rethink her own criteria on what she wants out of life. You might find that this endeavor of yours will be simpler than you think.”

“Honestly?” asked Driftwood with renewed enthusiasm. And Sugarberry again realized that she was building up hopes that she certainly couldn’t confirm.

“I said ‘might’.” she clarified. But Driftwood was back to his usual good humor.

“Why don’t you come with me tomorrow?” he suggested. “We could leave early, and get back late tomorrow night.”

They had reached Sugarberry’s house by this time, and Sugarberry gave Driftwood’s idea some serious thought. Her talk over dinner about her dad and the conversation concerning her sister had made her slightly homesick for her family. And the encounter with Giorgio had thrown her off guard; she found that her usual feelings of anxiety when confronted with the Italian professor had not surfaced so strongly this evening.

“So you’ll come?” Driftwood asked, watching her face as if reading her thought process.

“Hmm. It’s tempting. We could leave right after church, and be there in time for lunch; I’ll have to call Mom to make sure it will work for them.” She had caught his anticipation of traveling to Berryville.

“Great! Make the call now so we can verify our plans!”

The call was placed, and Strawberry Shortcake was delighted to have unexpected visitors from Dream Valley. And yes, Raspberry would be home, too, and there were plenty of apples available. So goodnights were said and a meeting time arranged between Sugarberry and Driftwood; Sugarberry was left alone to think over the course of the day.

The house was eerily quiet with both Chocolate Chip and Wishbone still out on the town, and Raptor and Fluff had already made themselves comfortable on her bed. Sugarberry put out the lights and stood looking out the bedroom window at the bright glow from the direction of the park.

It had been a good day. Even with two confrontations with Giorgio, her peace had been maintained; she was amazed to find that she could now look back on those meetings with a benevolence that she would not have dreamed possible. And the months until Vanguard would be home were winding down; she could look forward with pleasure to resuming their friendship rather than mourning his loss.

Sugarberry carefully crawled into bed to disturb the sleeping cats as little as possible. All was right with the world, and she began visualizing her trip to her parents home in the morning. Rolling over, she inadvertently dumped the large orange longhair on the floor, but the mare was already sound asleep, and paid the feline’s distress no mind.

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Letter About Golden Glory Chapel


Last month, I submitted a story to MLP Monthly entitled “The Mystery at Golden Glory Chapel.” It was a true story, which has made it very hard to write a continuation. The problems I mentioned in the story haven’t gotten better, and I feel uncomfortable writing updates month after month when nothing is happening (they probably wouldn’t be very interesting, anyway).

Therefore, I have decided not to include another submission until I can write a good conclusion instead of a pointless, boring continuation. Since the story is true, I have no way of knowing when this will be, but I’m hoping it will be soon! Feel free to read the story in issue forty-one of MLP Monthly, and also to e_mail me with feedback and ideas at: [email protected]

__Fizzy

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The Lost Prince
Chapter 7
by Moonjumper ([email protected])


What’s Happened...

Well, ponies, as some of you already know, Marenche cast a spell that was able to destroy all Ponyland, and that only two individuals could stop– Dorin and Queen Aurora. Queen Aurora hid her four sons and sacrificed herself in order to protect the ponies. Dorin reflected Marenche’s spell back at her and she, too, became a stone statue. That was several years ago.

Now two of the princes have been captured by Marenche; it looks like the Rhyme is coming true... the youngest prince is safe at Dream Castle. But the fourth still remains a mystery... at least to some.



~*Paradise Estate*~


Trixie edged closer to the bushes that outlined the forest near Paradise Estate. If I can only pass her... she figured. She waited until a group of Fairy Tails Birds exchanged places with Skydancer, capturing Marenche’s attention; and she fled for the forest. Tears streamed down her face and she yanked the clipped earrings off and finger_combed her spiky green hair down into waves. She had finally decided to do something– run.

“I’m tired of being split in two.” Trixie brushed her tears away and started deeper into the forest when a sharp pain burned her left arm. She looked down at her black armband and gasped in pain. Marenche had noticed her absence! “Noooo,” Trixie moaned, bending over and clutching her arm. The armband began to glow.

* * *
Back at Paradise Estate, Marenche gritted her teeth. “You WILL come back to me!” She twisted one of the rings on her finger; a black one that was identical to Trixie’s armband. Marenche felt the ring grow warm and she shouted at the Shadows. “Catch any living form with powers; I’ll be needing some more... black jewel, this way...” She stormed into one of the houses.

* * *
“What in Flicker’s name are you doing?! You’re going to kill yourself by running away,” a rumbling voice woke Trixie from her daze.

“Blaze,” she managed weakly. Then she saw Silver and gasped, this time from awe, not pain. With her remaining strength, Trixie limped to Silver and knelt. “Please sire, heal me and break this bond in Flicker’s name, by her kind flame,” she recited, closing her eyes.

Silver took a step back and looked at Blaze. “What am I supposed to do? I can’t break anything with a Flicker’s fla...” Flicker... that name’s so familiar; why? A sudden jolt of recognition made him reach a hoof out and touch Trixie’s armband. He gazed into its fiery surface and warmth spread through him. It grew into a blaze and he closed his eyes and put his whole self into calming it.

* * *
Marenche watched as Trixie collapsed in her reflection mirror and smiled evilly. “Good, she’ll be coming ba... WHAT?!” Blaze and Silver appeared. “NO! NO! Nooooo!!!” Marenche hissed. “Blaze! I killed you!” She threw the mirror at the wall. Realization dawned on her. “Dorin...”

* * *
“Silver, enough! SILVER!!” Blaze knelt worriedly next to Trixie and the unconscious Silver. Trixie woke and touched her arm.

“It’s gone... I’m free!” she whispered. Then she saw Silver. “Oh no!” She cradled his head in her lap, stroking his mane. Trixie looked up at Blaze. “He’ll be alright, but Talen never was able to teach him everything,” a smile crept into her voice.

Blaze considered that with a thoughtful expression. “Yes, I suppose... but how do you know?”

Trixie glanced up, surprise written on her face. “Didn’t you know? Talen and I are linked together; I’m his sister!”



~*Dream Castle*~


Marissa fidgeted. She’d slept in after staying up so late last night, only to wake and realize that she wasn’t dreaming about talking horses; and she nearly fainted again at the sight of a talking purple green-spiked dragon and a crowd of colorful, walking, talking Little Ponies. Now she had been moved to a balcony along with the other kids from camp to be “safe”. The only one who had gone was Ciara, and Marissa felt sorely jealous of that fact. And that Ciara had a bunch of ponies surrounding her also added to Marissa’s bad mood. Looking out at the Shadows and the black jewel, Marissa shook her curly red_brown hair. “This is so not real...”

Ami walked up, her black hair swishing back and forth. “This isn’t the half of it!” She pushed her glasses up and continued. “The Little Ponies are fighting one of their most dreaded, dangerous enemies, one they’ve fought for... for... forever!!” Ami’s eyes glowed with excitement and her glasses slipped down again. “And what makes this sooooo exciting is that two of their princes– they’re the ones with a bunch of power, I guess, but these unicorns have been impressive!– have been captured. We have one and the other one is a mystery... ooooooooo!! SO exciting!!”

Marissa pushed by Ami with an exasperated sigh. Talk about boredom... chatterbox... She leaned against the balcony railing, wishing to return home. Ciara then walked up in a deep discussion with some ponies and Marissa edged closer to eavesdrop. She’s the one who got me into this mess...

“...right, Petal Blossom can take us. But Baby Honey, Prince Diamond...” Ciara stressed “Prince’”, “...you should stay here.”

At that, Baby Honey’s pearly white mane drooped and he reluctantly walked over to where Baby Shadow and Baby Applejack were playing with Alex and Tyler, two of the other kids from camp.

Marissa walked up to Ciara. “Where are you going?”

“They’re going to save the day!! Ciara’s going to use her ke...” Dainty Dove was abruptly pushed away by Sky Skimmer. Petal Blossom sighed and Clever Clover rolled his eyes.

Ciara ignored Marissa and nodded to Petal Blossom. I’ll just forget she’s here, in my world... the one I truly belong in.

Marissa opened her mouth just as Ciara jumped over the railing, followed by Petal Blossom and Sky Skimmer. Gasping, Marissa ran and peered down. Yikes, I never thought someone would jump off a building just to get away from me... Marissa leaned too far over and the bricks gave way, and she tumbled off.

“Aieeeeeeee!!!” Oomph! Marissa opened one eye cautiously. She was floating on a pink cloud! “What?!”

Ciara sighed, but a smile crept out. “Good thing Petal Blossom has such good control.” Sky Skimmer hid a grin.

Marissa looked down and nodded. Sitting up, she once again asked, “Where are you– we going?”

Ciara’s entire expression changed and she seemed to mature instantly. “To the battleground.”



~*The “Battleground”*~


Molly leaned against a very tired Skydancer. “How much longer can we play ‘tag’ with these shadows?” Molly’s voice was depressed. Megan should’ve been the one to come back, not me... “If only Megan had co...”

Theo grabbed Molly’s hand and squeezed it encouragingly. “Hey, you came because you would be needed, not Megan, not Danny,” he smiled.

Molly’s face became sad and distant.

“Must remember to not mention Danny...” Theo muttered.

“Just like, ‘must remember not to mention Grundleland’?” Molly smiled faintly. Theo raised his eyebrows, and Molly laughed. “I’ll tell you later.”

Twilight glanced at Molly and Theo, smiling. She winked at Skydancer and pointed her horn at the two aforementioned, still joining hands.

“Hey, cool!! Front row seats!” Alex rushed up with Baby Shadow and Baby Honey; Baby Applejack followed with more caution.

“Alex! You shouldn’t be here; it’s very dangerous,” Theo shook his head.

Twilight frowned. “And your highness, this is no place for you; if found, you’ll be captured along with your older brothers.

“Danger? I laugh in the face of danger; hahahahaaa!!” Alex grinned broadly. Baby Shadow laughed right along and Baby Applejack rolled her eyes.

Suddenly, a cry from the sky alerted everyone; a Fairy Tails bird had been caught. “No!!” Molly cried.

“Windsong,” Twilight whispered as the Shadows cried out gleefully. Marenche stepped out of Paradise Estate’s gates with a triumphant smirk.

Without warning, Baby Honey ran out shouting. “Let her go!!” His silver jewel began to glow and the Shadows screeched.

“Watch out, Baby Honey! It’s Marenche!” Ciara and the rest on the pink cloud appeared. Ciara jumped off and pushed Baby Honey away. He stumbled, but more or less made it to the forest.

Marenche glared at Ciara. “I will not be stopped by a little girl!” She started forward.

Ciara pulled out a necklace with a silver key on it. It was small with delicate vines and flowers weaving around the top. Ciara defiantly looked at Marenche.

Marenche sighed, looking bored, and lifted her hand, waiting.

Ciara pointed to the sky with her key; her hair started to wave. “From this world to mine, I banish you, your evilness, and your kind. Forever you will sta...”

Marenche’s eyes slitted. No childish thing here... banish me with the Reisenden key? “Never!!” Marenche glared at Ciara coldly. “That key, where did you get it?”

Ciara stopped. Something cold was wrapping around her. “I am... I am the Keeper...” she said, not of her own will.

Molly stepped forward, but Twilight tugged her back. “You can’t go out there!”

“But Ciara...” Molly started, and then nodded.

Petal Blossom, alone now on her cloud, flew over. “Ciara, no!!”

Marenche kept her gaze on Ciara, but snapped her fingers and the Shadows came alive again and trapped the unsuspecting pony. “Ahhh!!” Petal Blossom struggled.

Ciara weakly turned her head. “Please, return me; I want to go BACK!” she started as a whisper and ended with a shout.

Marenche backed away as Ciara was enveloped in a pillar of light and disappeared. “This close, this close... I would have had the Keeper; no one has done...”

Theo blinked in disbelief. He’d known Ciara had been here before, but she was the Keeper? How can that be? She would have to have been born here...

Marissa watched, wide-mouthed, as Ciara disappeared. “She left me!” Baby Applejack nudged Marissa’s hand. “Pwease, stop him! Honey going to... thwere!” she pointed. Marissa turned, but Baby Honey had already run out into the field once again.

Sky Skimmer dashed after him, and this time Twilight didn’t stop Molly from following. “It’s happening... there was never a way to stop her once it– she started, was there?” Majesty, prepare yourself.

“Yes, well, of course I will.” Majesty came up from behind, looking much calmer than Twilight. Behind her were three other unicorns, the rest of the kids from summer camp, and the other “new” ponies. Theo shook his head and went forward, the rest of the ponies and kids following.

The Black Jewel appeared again, with Marenche smirking at Baby Honey. He stared back defiantly with a trace of tears on his face. His silver jewel began to glow again.

“So, out of the whole lot, you were the only one to learn control of your powers?” Marenche fiddled with the Black Jewel. “But since this must go on ‘till I win, I suppose you’ll have to join your brothers...” She wrapped her hands around the jewel and it transformed into the mirror Prince Magenta and Prince Sapphire had been trapped in.

“She was using them,” Molly gasped.

“To capture us...” Skydancer finished.

Baby Honey glared at her. “Brwing Cwara back!!”

A smile played about on Marenche’s face. “Oh, believe me, I would, most definitely, if I could... but...” Her face hardened. “You will do just fine for now!” She aimed the mirror at Baby Honey just as his jewel flared up.

“ ‘He shall come at their call; the Lost Prince will save us all,’ “ Majesty whispered as Baby Honey disappeared into the black mirror.

A shout came from the forest; there stood Blaze, Trixie, and Silver. On Silver’s face was the same lost look that he’d had when Talen had been turned to stone. “He was... he was my brother, wasn’t he?”

Blaze nodded. Good, he finally is remembering... Aurora, you planned it this way, didn’t you?

Trixie grinned, then held her left arm up at Marenche while her right hand pointed at Silver. Marenche’s countenance transformed into a outraged, furious glare. “YOU!” she pointed at Silver.

Molly turned. “Who’s that?” Could he be...

Theo’s thoughts were identical to Molly’s. ...the Lost Prince?

Twilight saw Blaze and gasped. “You’re alive!”

Majesty nodded; for Blaze had contacted her telepathically and told her to come with the kids from camp.

Alex and Baby Shadow curiously gazed at Silver. “So is he, uh... is he like Superman?” Alex turned to Baby Shadow.

“Like who?” Baby Shadow shrugged.

Marissa hugged Baby Applejack. “He’s that other prince, isn’t he?” Baby Applejack nodded, grinning.

Silver looked at Marenche, then at the mirror. He stared deep into it and saw his brothers. “Give... them... back!” he said, his face dead serious. On his neck a bright silver gem appeared. At that, the ponies cheered and Marenche’s face soured.

“Come and get them,” Marenche scratched her nails across the mirror with a secretive smile. Three ponies emerged, screaming in pain.

Silver closed his eyes, his heart aching. Silver, free them, a voice said.

“I call you to reveal what you have seen in the mirror,” Marenche tossed the mirror on the ground and it broke. The three ponies went silent. A black cloud swirled around them.

“You will free my brothers.”

Go on, I will be with you, the voice said again. Silver’s gem flared and bright, pure light glowed around him. Gone was the carefree young stallion confused about his past. In his place was the confident Lost Prince.



AND~ Thankies to all who did the polls... notice I DID mention Superman... ^_^ I’ll give Tabby a new poll to go along with this chapter sometime this week. Check it out! And if you’ve just joined us, and this seems soooooooo confuzling, Tabby has all the previous issues of MLP Monthly posted on the web, packed with my stories and a bunch of others!!

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Announcement from Bow-Tie
About the Pacific Northwest Pony Friends


Hi to all of the ponies in Ponyland,



We are on a mission and we are asking for help.

The PNPF (Pacific Northwest Pony Friends) are having a plush pony collection party. We want to collect plush ponies for Christmas. We are going to take them to the Seattle Children’s Hospital Burn Ward and give them out to the kids who cannot be home for Christmas.

We are looking for people to donate the plush ponies. This is our mission; and if you choose to help, it will become your mission also! We are going to collect the plush ponies from whomever wants to donate them. They do not have to be clean; we will clean them.

If anyone decides to donate to our cause, we will put your name and a link to your website on our webpage. And we are going to put a card around the ponies’ necks with their story; and we will put your name on the card as well if you wish.

To see our website, go to: http://members.aol.com/pacponyfriends/welcome.html

And if anyone wants to donate plush ponies, please e_mail me, Bow_Tie, or TJ:

[email protected]

[email protected]



Bow_Tie

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Insane Crossover Story Chapter Ten
by Tabby and Barnacle ([email protected] and [email protected])
with technical assistance by Spike, Friendly, and Clever Clover


MWHAHAHAHA!!!! Thought the crossover was at an end, did you? WELL, JUST LOOK AT THIS!!! I’m not beat yet! It’s BACK, and hopefully better than ever. However, before you go on to the story, I’d like to explain and clarify a few things that have been bugging me. Of course, I always have a million things I feel the need to explain.

First, don’t confuse The Insane Crossover Story world with the regular pony-world I write about in my other stories. Though the Tabby in The Insane Crossover Story has the same personality, occupation, and pets as her “alter-ego”, this is an alternate reality completely separated from the other world. What happens in The Insane Crossover Story has not happened in any other stories besides The Insane Crossover Story, even though certain aspects, as in personality of the characters, do remain the same.

And I hope it hasn’t sounded too unnatural in past chapters how I’ve been writing about so many characters at once. See, when I first started the writing of this story, I had planned on having one character from each “world” tag along with the gang; and at the very end, we’d have a reeeeeeally big crowd. However, as I got further along in the story, I found that it was difficult writing in lines for everyone. So I realized it would be distracting and clumsy to have all those characters along at once, so I dropped a lot of them and just kept some of my favorites which could be kept at an easier-managed number.

In having all these characters along, I also felt uncomfortable writing their lines simply because I felt I wasn’t capturing their true essence. This was especially true for those I had the deepest respect for (like Tweeg, Pinky, and the Brain). So, not wanting to destroy their character any further, I wrote them out of the story. Now, for the most part, characters will only make an appearance in one chapter; but some will stick around, like He-Man, Sam, and Max.

There’s the explanations! And here’s the story!



“Now, this is what I call a vacation!” Prince Adam said, leaning back in his lawn chair.

“Tell me about it!” Orko agreed as he tossed a beach ball to a red-haired girl in the pool.

Sam was lounging on a chair alongside the pool, his stuffy old business suit abandoned in favor of a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses. He was sipping an exotic drink with an umbrella pointing out of it. Meanwhile, Max was in the pool, floating on an inflatable alligator while munching on a steaming bowl of spoo. “Nothing like a good bowl of spoo,” the little bunny commented.

“But Max, no one eats fresh spoo! It’s supposed to be aged first,” Sam protested.

“Who would have guessed that attending a Jem concert would have got us into this set-up?” Tabby commented, stretched out and absorbing the sun’s rays.

“Really, I didn’t think we’d end up staying at Starlight Mansion this long,” Tarquin, her Meowth, who was stretched out in a similar pose to his trainer’s, agreed.

“Yeah, what has it been, three months?” Adam nodded. “Jem’s hospitality amazes me. I knew she was great, but...”

“We haven’t had an opportunity to mooch off a rich person in a long time,” Sam observed.

“Yes!” Max agreed. “I’d forgotten how much fun it could be.”

“Jem!” Tabby snorted. “It’s Jerrica that’s been giving us the hospitality, Adam. Stop obsessing over Jem.”

“Orko, catch!” the red-haired girl cried, tossing the ball back to the floating red t-shirt. Orko was caught unprepared, and was bowled over onto the ground as the momentum of the ball hit him.

“Oops,” the girl giggled.

“That’s okay, Kimber,” Orko said in a slightly dazed voice as he sat up and rubbed his head.

“It has been really nice having you guys here,” Shana, another member of Jem’s singing group, spoke-up. “Your help at the concerts has been really great.”

“We’ve enjoyed helping you out!” Adam said energetically. “Except for that Rio. He keeps getting in the way. I don’t think he’s doing a very good job.”

“Oh, Rio,” Aja laughed. “He’s just jealous of your befriending Jem.”

“I thought he was Jerrica’s boyfriend,” Tabby yawned.

Kimber shrugged and brushed it off. “Well, he likes both of them, I guess.”

“He should make up his mind one of these days,” Tabby said in an unconcerned tone, sipping on her lemonade.

“I know who I’d pick,” Adam said distantly. “Jem...”

“Kimber! Nobody cares about Kimber!” Orko said defensively. “She’s the best!”

“Aw, thanks, Orko,” Kimber said laughingly.

Tabby’s nerves were at an end as she jumped up and stood overshadowing Adam and Orko. “Shut up, you guys!!! I’m sick of hearing you obsess over pretty girls. Get a life!!!!”

“Jealous, Tabby?” Tarquin said nonchalantly.

“Shut up.”

Max stood up on his inflatable alligator and started chanting, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”

“Stop it, little buddy! You should know better than to instigate a fight.” Sam picked up a potted plant that was sitting near the pool and threw it at Max. It struck its target and the bunny was propelled into the water. “They’re much better when started on their own.”

Max crawled out the pool, smiling happily. “Gee, that was fun. Can we do it again?” he said, shaking out his water-logged fur.

“What was that, Tabby?” Adam said in a distracted tone. He had not noticed the unicorn’s outburst, having caught site of Jem’s silhouette in the house. Upon realizing it was only Jerrica, he turned back to his companions in disappointment.

“We’re supposed to be accomplishing something on this trip,” Tabby seethed, “and all you want to do is lounge around the pool and talk about Jem.”

“And Kimber,” Orko interrupted.

“What are we supposed to be accomplishing?” Tarquin questioned.

Tabby paused. “Good point. Well, we still ought to be doing something.”

“Merry Treat did something,” Adam pointed out.

“Yeah, she ran off and eloped with that James dude,” Tabby recalled. “You’re all turning into a bunch of romantic fools.”

“I can’t believe Tess opted to stay with Merry Treat instead of hanging out with us,” Tarquin muttered.

Tabby patted his head in consolation. “It’s okay, Tarkie.”

“Hey, look!” Kimber’s voice pierced through their conversation as she pointed at the small portable TV screen sitting next to the pool. “That weirdo is on the news again.”

“Who? Lin-Z Pierce?” Sam questioned.

“What’s this?” Jerrica queried, coming out through the patio door and joining the rest of the group. Rio was with her. “Has there been another robbery?”

“What in the world is everyone talking about???” Tabby demanded.

Everyone finally quieted down enough to listen to the actual news report. “...the perpetrator of the rash of crimes having occurred the past several months in southern California. Numerous convenience stores have been robbed of their powdered sugar donuts by this thief who has not yet been identified or apprehended. Eye-witness reports indicate merely that the suspect is tall and strangely dressed...” the announcer droned on.

“The guy that dresses strangely? That could describe any number of rock n’ roll musicians,” Max commented.

“Boring,” Tabby yawned. “What’s he got for powdered sugar donuts?”

Prince Adam seemed to be the most affected by the announcement on the news, though. “Woah, this is scary stuff,” he said, slipping towards the door of the mansion. “I’m going up to my room.”

“You wimp!” Rio shouted, grabbing Adam by the collar of his shirt as he passed by. “Some prince you are! Scared by some little news broadcast? Jem’s too good for you!”

“Rio, calm down!” Jerrica cried.

“Ah, but the true nature of one’s courage can be determined by the color of one’s hair,” Adam said bluntly.

“I-I guess you’re right,” Rio admitted, reluctantly releasing him. And Adam continued on his way to do whatever it was he was planning on doing.

“What just went on there?” Tabby wondered.

“I think you and about three hundred other readers are wondering that now,” Max said.

“While Prince Adam goes off to sulk, we’ll go to the thief’s next target and wait for him there,” Sam proposed.

“Prince Adam?” Max said.

“No, the thief, little buddy.”

“But how are we going to figure out where he’s going to strike next?” Aja questioned.

“Simple,” Sam said. Shortly, the crew was standing outside a downtown convenience store. Jerrica and Rio had decided to accompany Tabby’s group. “So here we are at the thief’s next target,” Sam continued.

“See how easy that was?” Max added.

“Umm, and how did you figure this out again?” Jerrica asked.

“Wheeee!” said Tabby. “It’s exciting! What do we do now?”

“We case the joint and wait for the perfect time to strike,” Max said.

“Wrong again, little buddy! You’re thinking of the bad guys, the criminals,” Sam corrected.

“Oh, yeah,” Max said with a huge toothy grin.

“Oh,” Tabby said again. “So what do we do?”

“I think we should just wait for the thief to show his ugly face,” Tarquin suggested.

After Tabby had been straightened out, the six of them moved into the store and inconspicuously browsed the aisles. Tabby tried to look at the food items with interest, but found herself getting bored irregardless. They had just eaten a snack shortly before leaving the mansion, and the thought of food just didn’t appeal to her.

She noticed the place on the shelf for powdered sugar donuts, and recalled that they were the thief’s prey. She wondered what was so important about powdered sugar donuts.

Jerrica and Rio just stood around looking out-of-place. Sam was heating up a burrito in the microwave, explaining to everyone the value of a good burrito. Max was in the beverage aisle, sampling various flavors of soda straight from the bottles.

Tarquin pretended to browse a magazine rack, but kept a close eye on the door. And when he heard a catchy disco tune playing, he knew something was about to happen.

“There’s no such thing as a catchy disco tune!” Max cried.

A tall, thin woman entered the store. Her long blonde hair fell over the sweeping red cape she wore, and an ornate gold mask bordered her face. A white top and filmy skirt finished off the outfit. Somehow, her garb was even stranger than that of the Holograms.

The woman casually walked up to the counter, picking up a bottle of Diet Pepsi on her way– one of the few which Max had not yet opened. She set the soda down on the counter, and announced her intentions to the clerk. “I would like to purchase this.”

Upon seeing the woman in the unusual gear, the store clerk immediately began to panic and backed up against the wall. “Ah!! It’s you, isn’t it? You’re the one they’ve been talkin’ about on the news! Look, I’m not lookin’ for any trouble, okay? Just–“

The woman only stood at the counter, looking puzzled. Tabby wondered if this unusual character was the thief. She seemed, though, to somehow resemble someone she already knew.

Meanwhile, the woman was trying to explain herself. “My name is She-Ra. I only wish to help you apprehend Hordack, my arch-enemy...”

“I don’t care who you are or what you’re doing here!” the clerk said frantically. “You’re here to steal our powdered sugar donuts, and I won’t allow them to get into your hands!”

Sam and Max soon took control of the situation in their own way. Max jumped at the girl and began chewing at her ankles as Sam drew his gun and demanded that she drop the soda. “Back away from the counter and keep your hands where I can see them,” he cried.

“Please, let me explain,” She-Ra pleaded, leaving the soda bottle on the counter and seeming not to notice the lagomorph gnawing at her feet. “Hordack is the one you want, not me. And I’m here to help you defeat him!”

Tabby glanced over at Tarquin. Tarquin shrugged. They both looked over at Sam and Max. They didn’t reply. Tarquin unsheathed his claws and leaped onto She-Ra’s face.

“Get out of here, Jerrica! I’ll handle this!” Rio said, pushing his girlfriend out of the way. He jumped forward, but it was at the wrong time. Just at that moment, Tarquin was winding up for another round of fury swipes; but as he wound back his paw, he accidently hit Rio in the face and sent the engineer flying.

The store was in chaos. No one was clear on what was going on or who the enemy was, and fists flew freely. Tabby stood back and watched with interest, chatting with Jerrica occasionally on the effect eighties eye make-up would have on the environment.

In the ensuing chaos, another figure entered the store. This one was much more villainous-looking than She-Ra, though it took those in the fight awhile to realize that there was someone new among them.

Everyone stopped in mid-attack with She-Ra standing in their midst, holding Max around the throat at arm’s length. Rio was trying hopelessly to pull her off her balance, and Tarquin was preparing to pounce.

“Hordack!” She-Ra cried, dropping Max and brandishing her sword. “What are you doing here?”

“She’s got a... sword!” Sam cried.

Hordack boldly strolled forward, laughing as he went. “Hah-hah-hah. The powdered sugar donuts will be mine. And you will not be able to stop me, She-Ra.” His ridged head and evil grimace did indeed make him look villainous as he strolled down the food aisle.

“Never!” declared She-Ra. “I won’t let you disrupt the lives of the citizens of this country, Hordack! Your treachery has gone far enough!”

“Hah-hah-hah!” Hordack laughed, reemerging from the snack aisle with the box of donuts. “Try and stop me! Soon I will have enough donuts to conquer the universe! Hah-hah-hah!”

It soon became clear that Hordack was the real foe, and everyone jumped on him. Further chaos ensued. Rio, angered at his inability to hold up against his super-powered foes, became outraged and with a running start threw himself at Hordack, tackling him about the waist. The box of donuts flew from Hordack’s hand, and landed right at Tabby’s hooves.

“Hee hee! I have the donuts!” Tabby exclaimed hyperly, jumping around the battle scene and holding her prize up high.

“No! Give them to me!” Max cried.

“Don’t listen to him!” Hordack growled, advancing toward the unicorn. “I must have them!”

Giggling, Tabby winked up to the top of a tall display of canned soup. “Hee hee! Catch me first!”

As he was distracted, Tarquin and She-Ra took the opportunity to pounce on Hordack. “Fools! You’ll not take me that easily!” he shouted, jostling them aside. Then, grabbing Jerrica by the throat, he held her face mere inches from the spinning blades imbedded in his chest.

Jem!” Rio cried in agony. “I mean-- Jerrica!”

“Rio!” Jerrica exclaimed in anguish.

“Sam!” Max expressed.

“Tabby!” Sam articulated.

“She-Ra!” Tabby conveyed.

“Would you all shut up? This is serious,” Rio snapped.

“Hordack!” She-Ra said forcefully. “You’ll never get away with this.”

“If you let me escape with the donuts, I’ll let this pathetic creature escape with her life,” Hordack said menacingly.

“I don’t know if that’s a fair trade. She screams an awful lot,” Max said.

“Sam– I mean, Max– you know better than that! The value of a life is worth at least a bag of donuts, but not a whole box,” Sam argued.

She-Ra turned her head toward the camera. “But Hordack never keeps his promises,” she announced solemnly.

Tabby looked at the donuts, and then down at the ground. She pondered what to do. Surely one box of powdered sugar donuts couldn’t do any harm, even in the hands of Hordack. But then she saw Max below her, waving his arms excitedly. “Throw ‘em to me! Throw ‘em to me!”

That decided it for Tabby. Surely the little white bunny was the right choice. In a single deft motion, she tossed the box down to him. She didn’t know what he’d do from there, but at least she didn’t have to worry about them anymore.

Max tossed them back into the air. “Sam! Catch!” As it flew through the air, the box of donuts split open. The sugary confections spilled out, every one of them falling one-by-one into Sam’s mouth. He promptly swallowed them down. “They’re not Glazed McGuffins, but they’ll do,” he mumbled, his mouth still half full.

Ahh!! Not my donuts!!” Hordack cried in anguish. “How could you just eat them!!

“Oh, it’s easy. Just open your mouth and chew.”

“Hordack! I knew I’d find you here!” He-Man suddenly appeared in the doorway, sword in hand.

“What took you so long?” Tabby queried innocently.

“Without Battlecat, I was forced to rely on public transportation.”

Hordack looked from He-Man to She-Ra, and then to the empty box of donuts at the feet of Sam. “You’ve foiled me this time, but it won’t be so easy when next we meet,” he said menacingly, taking the opportunity to flee from the scene. As he walked out onto the street, he could be heard muttering to himself, “Glazed McGuffins... that’s it!”

He-Man and She-Ra congratulated each other on a job well done. “He-Man, it’s so good to see you again,” She-Ra said, shaking her friend’s hand warmly.

“Alas, but I wish Hordack had not been the cause of this meeting,” He-Man agreed. “It would seem that our fight for justice will never end.”

“But with our strong and loyal friends, we will never be fully overcome by the evils that ravage the land,” She-Ra declared.

“Like poly-saturated fats?” Sam added with a belch.

“And how could you mistake me for Jem?” Jerrica snapped at Rio. “Do you like her better than me?”

“No, no. I was just confused. The heat of the moment--“

He-Man walked up to the pair. “If I had such an attractive girlfriend, I wouldn’t be confusing her with someone else,” he said compassionately to Jerrica.

“Look, man! I don’t need you muscling in on my girl!” Rio growled, pointing an angry finger in He-Man’s chest.

Jerrica smiled demurely at He-Man and then turned to face She-Ra. “I see you’re into disco, Ms... She-Ra. Would you be interested in a recording contract?”

“Thank you for your kind offer, but I’m afraid I just don’t have the time to make a musical career for myself. My people are greatly oppressed by the Evil Horde, and I must continue to fight to free our land.”

Other small bits of small talk followed, and everyone finally gravitated from the store out onto the sidewalk. The apprehension of Hordack seemed to have made a natural point to part ways with Jerrica, Rio, and the Holograms; and goodbyes were eventually said.

“It has been wonderful making your acquaintance, Ms. Benton,” He-Man said charmingly, kissing her hand. “I hope to meet you again in the future.”

“Yes, so do I,” Jerrica smiled. Rio glowered in the background.

Waving their final farewells, Tabby, Tarquin, Sam, Max, He-Man, and She-Ra walked off into the sunset. Jerrica and Rio waved back at them until they were all but specks on the horizon.

“Say, where’s Orko?” Tarquin was heard to comment as they walked forward across the sandy beach.

“Hmm,” Tabby considered. “We must have left him by the pool.”

“Hey, and why are we wading into the Pacific Ocean?” Max interjected.

And so closes yet another chapter of The Insane Crossover Story. Outrageous, huh?



To be continued...

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Early Pony Special


If you submit a chapter of your continuing storyline to me, Tabby, any time before the fifteenth of the month, you will be awarded one point. In future months, whenever you submit new chapters before the fifteenth of the month, you will be awarded one more point for each chapter. (In the case of submitting multiple chapters for one month, a point will be awarded for each chapter.) When you have built up six of these points, you are entitled to receive a free pony!

Once you have your six points, you may head over to my extensive My Little Pony sale list

(http://TweegLvr.tripod.com/MLP.htm) and choose one pony (not going over a $5 value). E-mail me your selection, and if that pony hasn’t been sold or traded since the last time I updated, the pony is yours! Supply me with your address, and the pony will be shipped to you promptly. (Ponies cannot be reserved for this purpose beforehand.)

If there are any new writers out there interested in submitting to My Little Pony Monthly, please feel free to send your works to [email protected]! No matter how new you are to the newsletter, you can still take advantage of this policy. A free pony could be waiting in your future!

Any questions on this policy? Feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]

--Tabby



Running Tally of Points Given Out So Far


Moonjumper ([email protected])-- 1

Crash Cymbal ([email protected])-- 2

Starr ([email protected])-- 6

Sugarberry ([email protected])-- 6

Yum Yum ([email protected])-- 1

Baby Steamer ([email protected])-- 2

Moonstar ([email protected])-- 1

Cinnamon Sugar ([email protected])-- 1

Berry Brite ([email protected])-- 1

Akkima ([email protected])-- 1



Congratulations to Starr and Sugarberry, who have each just earned a free pony!
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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! However, submissions must be received at least three days prior to the first of the month to be ensured to be posted in that issue. Submissions are subject to being edited by our proofreaders.

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My Little Pony Monthly is a publication of Nematoid (Electronic) Publishing.
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To view our past issues online, simply go to:

http://www.crosswinds.net/~tabbymlp/Monthly.htm
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Our next regular issue will be sent October first.

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