My Little Pony Monthly Issue 54 (September 1, 2001)


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 54
September 2001
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Index of this issue–



1. Letters to the Editor

2. Welcome To Our Place! (by Baby Jedi)

3. Silver Swirl's Mew (by Silver Swirl)

4. Imperceptible Force (by Sugarberry)

5. The Dream Quest Part Three (by Moon Lightning)

6. The Adventures of Baby North Star and Baby Brother Bright Bouquet Chapter 7: The Cruise (by Baby Steamer)

7. Dark Forest Distress (by Sugarberry)

8. Dark Night Enchantment (by Clever Clover)

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Letters to the Editor


From [email protected] Nice issue.



From [email protected] SO coooooooooooolllllll... how can you think this stuff up???



A message from Starre ([email protected]) to the readers–

Due to the fact I’m moving out of state, I’m afraid you won’t see Starre in the newsletter for a couple of months. I should be back on the internet by December. But until then: see you!

Starre

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Welcome To Our Place!
by Baby Jedi ([email protected])


Part 1


Carol had forgotten about them. They were tossed into cardboard boxes and old drawers. There they sat, each day the same. They sat in the dark. In the stuffy, never-ending dark.

That one day began like any other. “I’m hot,” Baby Glory whined.

“I know, sweetheart,” her mother called from underneath Surprise.

“We’ll never get out of here! We’re going to melt from the heat and die!” cried Baby Heart Throb.

Baby Glory’s eyes widened. “We ARE?”

“No, I’m just hypothesizing,” said Baby Heart Throb. “But I bet it’ll happen.”

“I want out!” panicked Baby Glory, accidently jabbing Baby Ribbs with her horn.

“HEY!!” he yelped.

“SORRY!” snapped Baby Glory. Baby Heart Throb cried.

Baby Paws hit a hoof against the cardboard. “That’s IT! I’m getting out of here!”

“Me too!” agreed Baby Moondancer.

Levitating, Baby Moondancer pushed on the top of the box. Others helped. In seconds, they were free. “Get me outta this place!” Baby Glory yelled, jumping off the box.

Just then, Carol walked in. “Stupid things,” she muttered. Then she sighed. “It’s eBay time.” She grabbed up some ponies and walked to her computer. She lined them up, took a picture with her digital camera, and set to work.

“What’s she doin’, Gingerbread?” Baby Moondancer asked.

Gingerbread went a pale off-white. “She’s AUCTIONING us...” Gingerbread said in horror. “AUCTIONING us...”

* * *
A person in Baltimore, Maryland won the auction. Gingerbread, Baby Glory, Glory, Baby Moondancer, Dancing Butterflies, Mimic, and Cuddles went for $14.50, plus shipping and handling. “This is going to be a long trip...” Gingerbread murmured as, once again, they were trapped in cardboard. “Goodbye, everybody.”



Part 2


“It’s HOT AND STUFFY again!!” Baby Moondancer shrieked. “WHAT’S GOING ON HERE??!”

“Calm down!” Gingerbread ordered.

They were, as Glory had figured out, in the trunk of Carol’s car. She was taking them to the post office, since they were to be sent away. They were going to Baltimore, and there they would stay. The others traveling with the four had been taken out for some reason... the world was being unfair to these four ponies.

“Carol used to love us,” sobbed Baby Glory. “Didn’t she, Mama?”

Even in the dim light, Glory could see her daughter’s glossy eyes, wet from crying. Glory swallowed the lump rising in her throat. She had been Carol’s favorite pony. Carol had even taken her to school one day. Now Glory and her daughter, including Gingerbread and Baby Moondancer, were being shipped away. It was Carol’s way of saying a harsh goodbye. Or more like “goodbye and good riddance”.

The car stopped. The box went flying and hit part of the trunk. “OW!” shrieked Baby Moondancer. “CAROL!!!!!” Gingerbread instantly silenced the very mad baby pony.

They felt the box being picked up. “It’s Carol,” whispered Baby Glory. The box was opened. Carol peered in.

“Okay, guys, this is it,” she said. She looked to Glory. “You knew it’d end one day, Glory. You said so yourself– ‘Carol, all good things must come to an end.’ ” Carol took out some pieces of folded up notebook paper from her pocket. “With your personalities on them,” she said. She also put in ice cream from the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe and the couch from the Paradise Estate and even a lamp! “I know things’ll get tossed around, but you can fix ‘em, right, guys?” she winked.

Baby Glory bit back tears and tried to look as toy-like as possible. If Carol still likes us, than why doesn’t she keep us? the baby unicorn wondered.

“Okay, troops! Let’s move on out!” Carol picked up Baby Moondancer and gave her a look. “You DID say once that you loved to explore, right? I hope you still do!” She smiled. “Oh, and this person may have Moondancer– your mom, that is.” She set them all down with their personality papers and closed up the box. All was dark, until Glory switched on the light.

Baby Moondancer was jumping up and down. “An adventure, a REAL one!” she exclaimed excitedly.

“You told her that once, Glory, that all good things must come to an end?” Gingerbread asked, coming over to Glory, who was sitting on the sofa (as best as she could).

Glory smiled thinly. “Yes. I did.”

Gingerbread smiled. “With all endings come new beginnings,” she said.

“Gingerbread, I’m writing a book of your quotes as soon as we get to our destination,” laughed Glory.

“Destination?” Baby Moondancer said, climbing onto a sofa arm. “MY destination is adventure!”

* * *
It didn’t take long until they heard the bustle of the mall. “Wow!” Baby Moondancer cried, peering through a crack. “This is so cool! Mmmm, I smell food!”

Baby Glory read her personality paper while eating an ice cream sundae. She still didn’t understand why Carol was giving them away when she still cared about them. She couldn’t get over it. She soon joined Baby Moondancer. Glory and Gingerbread napped.

“We’re in the post office!” squealed Baby Moondancer.

“Mommy, we’re here. The post office!” cried Baby Glory, actually jumping enthusiastically.

“Oh! We are?” Glory cried, jumping up from her nap. Their box was set down on the counter as preparations were made.

Baby Moondancer grinned a bit. “It’s weird. We’re only here because it was Carol’s choice to sell us and the only reason we’re going to Baltimore at all is because the winning bidder is from there.” Baby Moondancer shook her head. “Man, how weird is THAT?”

Baby Glory gave her a look. “VERY weird?” she guessed.

“Correcto!” Baby Moondancer said, then stopped herself. “I think.” They all laughed as they were taken off the counter.

Carol walked away, but turned at the door. She saw the box behind the desk. Tears coming, she said quickly, “Goodbye, guys... goodbye, Glory.”

Then she quickly ran out through the mall to her car.



Part 3


The box sat around for a while, but then the ponies felt the sensation of being picked up. “We’re moving! We’re going!” Baby Moondancer exclaimed happily. She peered out her crack in the cardboard box.

Baby Moondancer sipped an ice cream soda and watched. “Where ARE we...?” she murmured, when suddenly the crack closed up. “HEY!” she yelled. “Close up my porthole, will ya? I oughta teach you a lesson!” She stuck her hoof through the closed off crack to see what had sealed it. “Tape.”

Now only the lamp’s dim light lit the box’s inside. It was stuffed into a corner and was held up by the sofa. “Remind me, why are we here?” Baby Glory muttered.

Baby Moondancer rolled her eyes. “You KNOW why, so cut it out all ready!” she snapped.

“But WHY?!?” Baby Glory yelled, her eyes welling up. “WHY, if Carol STILL CARES?!”

“Do I look like I know?!” Baby Moondancer yelled back.

“GIRLS!” came Gingerbread’s voice, crisp, clear, and obviously mad. “Stop it.” Gingerbread sat back down in her corner while Glory dozed in another. Baby Glory snuggled up to her mom while Baby Moondancer sat in the darkest corner. Suddenly, there was a jolt, and the box fell. The ponies screamed as ice cream– empty or half-empty– dishes went flying, and the sofa came crashing down. The lamp fell, its light bulb breaking.

“Is everyone okay?” called Glory.

“Something’s burning!” Baby Moondancer called. Then she shrieked. “There’s a fire in here! Because of the lamp!” The box filled with smoke as it caught on fire.

“Hey, Tom, this box caught on fire!” came a frantic voice.

“Put it out! OUT!!!!” Baby Glory screamed, then coughed. Suddenly, there was a spraying sound and the fire was out. There was a hole in the box now.

“Thank God for fire extinguishers,” came a voice. “The box got burnt, though. But why?” They saw a shoe appear.

“Spontaneous box combustion?” someone else suggested. The two burst into laughter.

“We’ll just repair the box,” said one of them, laughing.

In seconds, all was dark again. “Maybe I should write ‘fragile’ on it. How ‘bout it, Jim?”

“Why not?” was Jim’s answer.

The ponies heard the scribbling and scratching of a marker. “There,” said the voice. “ ‘Fragile.’ ” The box was carefully set down.

After the two men’s footsteps faded away, the ponies set about fixing up the box. Glory used her magic to replace the light bulb, and Gingerbread took care of the sofa and spills. “Carol tried to kill us!” insisted Baby Moondancer. “That’s why she put the lamp in here.”

“The personalty papers aren’t burnt,” said Glory. “That’s good.”

“Why?” Baby Glory asked.

“Just because, honey,” Glory smiled.

“This is going to be a looooong trip,” moaned Baby Moondancer. “And a painful one at that.”

“Now, now, no whining,” Gingerbread said with a shake of her hoof. “Nobody wants to hear it.”

Baby Moondancer plopped back down in her corner. “I wish none of this ever happened.” She curled up. “I wish none of this had ever happened,” she repeated over and over, until she fell asleep. She woke up much later. MUCH later.

She heard noise. Maybe they were at Baltimore already! Excited, she poked a hole in the tape. Where... a post office? Another one, or the same? Another one! “Wake up! We’re almost there!!!” she yelled.

* * *
It took three hours until someone once again picked up the box. The ponies in their box were placed carefully down, then they felt something like a car moving beneath them. “We’re almost there, I bet!” Baby Moondancer laughed, excited. “Yes!”

The car stopped. After a while, it moved again. This went on for quite some time. The ponies’ hopes began to die. But then they felt the box being picked up and carried for a distance. They were set down. They heard a door open. “Yes, it’s here!” came the voice of a young girl.

The ponies were picked up again in a fast motion. The girl carrying them ran inside. In seconds, part of a scissors pierced the tape. The ponies anxiously waited to be taken out. The face of a twelve-year-old girl peered in, and light and fresh air flooded the box.

“Gingerbread, Glory, Baby Glory, Baby Moondancer!” the girl said, grinning happily. “My whole herd is outside waiting for you!! May I help you with your luggage?” The girl carefully lifted out the lamp and sofa. Glancing at her herd to her right, the girl laughed. “No, guys, this stuff’s theirs. Oh, Glory?” the girl said. “Scoops wants to know if you can let her have the ice cream stuff to add to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe.” Scoops peered over the side of the box.

“Sure,” Glory smiled.

“Thanks,” Scoops said. She grabbed the stuff.

“Now...” the girl grinned. “Come meet your new friends!” She lifted the four out of their cardboard prison. Finally, they were free again.

Sixty-four ponies of all sorts were lined up, waving banners and flags that said such things as “HI” and “WELCOME”. A sea pony wore a Barbie t-shirt that had “WAZZAP!” on it. It was Seawinkle. She leaned against Parasol just so she’d stay up. She was the only sea pony there.

Four flutter ponies, including Rosedust, smiled shyly. Some teeny tiny ponies looked on with their large eyes. One wore an oversized shirt that said “HI THERE” on it.

“Where’s... aha!” the girl said. She held up Moondancer. Baby Moondancer gaped.

“It’s your mom, isn’t it?” Baby Glory whispered, nudging the other baby unicorn. Baby Moondancer nodded.

In the end, the four got mobbed. All the teeny tiny ponies wanted was for Gingerbread to bake them some cookies. Family ties were found, and long-lost friends, too. “I’m glad this happened, aren’t you?” asked Baby Moondancer, who was trying to escape from UK Confetti.

“Yeah!” laughed Baby Glory as UK Confetti broke through the crowd. “Ah, my little crumpet–”

“NOO!” screamed Baby Moondancer, tearing off.

Baby Crumpet walked up. “Did someone call me?” she asked. “I... suppose not,” she said, staring at UK Confetti chasing Baby Moondancer.

“You were right, Gingerbread.” Glory laughed. “ ‘With all endings come new beginnings.’ ”



THE END!!!!!!!! THANX 4 READING!!! HOPE U LIKE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Silver Swirl’s Mew
by Silver Swirl ([email protected])


It was a picturesque scene: Silver Swirl, the unicorn princess of Friendship Gardens, was perched on a swing. Melisande the Mew clung to the unicorn’s horn, and Jade the dragon sat on the branch from which the swing hung. Princesses Twinkle Star and Morning Glory were sprawled on the soft moss nearby.

“I’ve been so bored lately,” complained Morning Glory.

“Yes, ever since Silver Swirl’s pen pal left there haven’t been any stallions for you to flirt with,” Twinkle Star snickered. Silver Swirl grinned, recalling her own clever plots to make Morning Glory leave Sandstone (the aforementioned stallion) alone.

“I don’t flirt,” protested Morning Glory. Everyone else started laughing.

“And a fish would never dream of swimming,” was Jade’s remark.

“Okay, so I sort of follow stallions around. But it isn’t flirting; it’s just looking for the right one. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince,” she finished serenely.

“Sorry to break it to you, Morn, but there are precious few princes around here, literal or figurative,” stated Silver Swirl wisely as she swung by.

“That’s what everyone says, but I still believe!” Morning Glory proclaimed. “Someday I’ll find someone perfect for me, and everything will just be... perfect.”

“Redundancy alert,” muttered Jade.

Silver Swirl shook her head. “Things like that just don’t happen to real ponies in the real world,” she insisted.

“Since when were you such a cynic?” questioned Twinkle Star, amused. “Anyway, I’ve heard plenty of stories of real-life ponies living happily ever after.”

“Just because they live in the real world doesn’t mean they’re real ponies,” countered Silver Swirl mysteriously.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Morning Glory raised one eyebrow, an ability that Silver Swirl always envied.

“Well,” explained the unicorn, “I have a theory that some ponies live in the real world, but they aren’t real ponies. They come from stories or something, and they live their lives the way they would in those stories. So when you see some ponies whose lives seem extraordinarily like a fairy tale, you can tell that they’re not real ponies at all. And that way you don’t have to be jealous of them,” she smiled.

“But how do I know that I’m a real pony then?” Morning Glory protested, looking more confused than ever. “Any of us could be one of your... unreal ponies, and never know it!”

Silver Swirl shrugged. The swing, by now, had slowed down so that it was barely swaying. “There’s always that chance, but it’s probably not a good thing to pin one’s hopes on.”

“And that’s Silver Swirl’s Theory of the Day,” intoned Twinkle Star in an “announcer” voice. Melisande sighed, letting her head droop.

“Something wrong?” Silver Swirl inquired, ruffling the Mew’s ears (no mean feat since Melisande was on Silver Swirl’s head).

“This talking of love, it makes me sad,” the little Pokémon acknowledged. Her long tail swung back and forth to an unheard rhythm.

“Sorry,” apologized Morning Glory, but she was too curious to drop the topic. “Did you have... someone?”

“Perhaps,” replied Melisande with a smile that was too cheerful to be real. Silver Swirl decided to change the subject.

“Did you hear that Dazzle Glow got permission to do a fireworks display in one of the big meadows in Dream Valley tonight? The Bushwoolies have volunteered to make sure everything stays safe.”

“Sounds like fun,” observed Twinkle Star. “I have a drum lesson in Dream Valley today, so I can stay for the fireworks afterwards.”

“Do you two want to go?” Silver Swirl asked Jade and Melisande.

“Sure,” agreed Jade. “It will probably be ridiculous and annoying, but I’ll go anyway– it’ll be fun to make snide remarks about it.”

Melisande grinned and shook her head. “You are only happy when you can say that others are being stupid,” she observed.

“You are only happy when you can criticize me,” retorted Jade.

Melisande gave an angelic smile. “That makes me bad?”

“Settle down, you two,” Silver Swirl sighed. “Listening to you argue can be fun for a while, but it gets tedious after a few hours.”

“Since when were you the center of the universe?” snapped Jade.

Silver Swirl looked at the dragon, maintaining admirable composure. Normally Jade would never speak so angrily in a casual conversation; if she did, she was surely quite upset. “Sorry, I was only trying to help keep the peace. I know I’m egocentric sometimes, and I’m working on it.” Now it was Jade and Melisande’s turn to be surprised; Silver Swirl was not known for her patience or humility.

“Okay, we’ll stop arguing if it’s that important,” responded Jade grudgingly. “But Melisande started it!”

Twinkle Star laughed. “I wish you’d help teach my Pokémon to speak English, Melisande; I’d love for other ponies to hear the great things that they say.”

“I am happy to help them learn if any are interested,” replied Melisande. “Do any of them say that they want to learn?”

“Hmm,” Twinkle Star considered. “I think Raichu once mentioned that it would be fun, and Dewgong’s very smart– he could probably pick it up easily. Sandshrew is very talkative, so she would probably like to learn it.”

“You and Silver Swirl sound like you have a lot of fun with your Pokémon,” acknowledged Morning Glory.

“It’s more like they have fun with us,” Silver Swirl laughed. “Is that your way of saying that you’re considering getting some of your own?”

“Yes, actually,” Morning Glory admitted. “I rather like those Kadabra and Paras.”

“No reason to look ashamed of it– I think it would be great for you to get a Pokémon companion,” enthused Twinkle Star. “Paras and Kadabra aren’t too hard to find, either.”

Morning Glory smiled and reached out to stroke Melisande, who had floated down from Silver Swirl’s head. “I’ll think about it– I’d have to do some research first to see if it would work out.” Silver Swirl grinned to herself. In a relatively short time, Pokémon had come to share the hearts and homes of many citizens of Ponyland.

Twinkle Star began to absent-mindedly pound on the forest floor as if it were a drum. Once the pink pegasus had established a beat, Silver Swirl began to sing softly.



“I asked the moon,

Can you show me the wisdom found in a midnight sky?

For I think I will need it on one of these dark, cold nights.

I asked the moon,

And I looked for an answer

But the moon said nothing,

So I turned away.



“I asked the sun,

Can you show me the gladness found in a noonday sky?

For I think I will need it on one of these long, hot days.

I asked the sun,

And I looked for an answer

But the sun said nothing,

So I turned away.”



“Nice song,” commented Twinkle Star.

“Nice drumming,” Silver Swirl replied with a grin.

“I asked the moon...” Melisande warbled, trying to beat the tree trunk with her tail as she sang.

“I don’t think the composer would appreciate you rewriting the melody,” Jade told the Mew. “The song goes, ‘I asked the moon...’ “

”No, you’re wrong! It goes the way I sang it!” insisted Melisande.

Morning Glory shook her head contemplatively. “I think Melisande’s right.”

“No,” Silver Swirl corrected, “Jade was right.” The little dragon smiled smugly and was abruptly thrown into the air by an unseen psychic attack. “Melisande!” Silver Swirl’s voice was sharp. “You know the rule– attacks are not to be used on friends!” She looked at the Mew, whose head was hung in shame. “But I don’t think I’ll have the strength of character to stop you next time Jade gloats like that.”

“There won’t be a next time,” Jade announced. “Taunting you isn’t worth getting blasted. Really, though, you need to develop a thicker skin. If a little smirk makes you that angry, think what a snide remark could do.”

“I will work on it,” Melisande agreed. Silver Swirl shook her head. Thank goodness Jade didn’t hold grudges.

“Hey, Silver Swirl, why didn’t you find out you were a princess until you were twelve?” queried Twinkle Star.

“That’s a random question,” Morning Glory interjected, but she listened just as attentively for the reply.

“Eh,” Silver Swirl shrugged. “My family lives on the outskirts of Friendship Gardens, and they haven’t been there for that long, so I suppose they didn’t know about the tinsel-hair rule.”

“How did Queen Sun Sparkle find out then?” Morning Glory asked.

Silver Swirl giggled. “She saw my class picture,” the unicorn explained. “And you know the rest; Lady Moonshine knocked at the door, asking to see Silver Swirl Filigree.”

“Your last name is Filigree?” Melisande repeated.

“No, it’s Smith,” Jade replied sarcastically. “You don’t talk much about your past, do you Swirly?”

Silver Swirl shuddered. “Never call me Swirly. I can deal with Silv, but not Swirly. You’re right, I don’t talk much about it. I wouldn’t want to give you nightmares,” she quipped. “No, seriously, there’s not much to tell. My past was quite boring.”

“Hmm...” Jade closed her eyes, and then shook her head. “I can’t picture you having a boring life. If it wasn’t interesting, you’d do something to change that.”

“Oh yes, I certainly did some exciting things.” Silver Swirl tilted her head back with a pensive smile. “Like the time I refused to let the teacher confiscate my toy dog. But all in all, my life was very average. I was quite happy to move to the castle, especially because there were some nasty ponies in my class at school. They had a tendency to call me Iron Swirl.”

“Iron Swirl... that’s a good one,” Jade considered.

“Don’t even think about it,” warned Silver Swirl. Twinkle Star glanced at her watch.

“Oh gosh, it’s almost time for my drum lesson. I’ll see you at the fireworks!” The winged princess glided upwards and was soon out of sight. Silver Swirl gazed at the sky for a moment, and then looked back at her surroundings.

Morning Glory stretched and yawned. “Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I weren’t a princess,” the earth pony confided.

“Me too,” Silver Swirl agreed. “I would have had to go to college, and get a job, and a home of my own... I don’t think I would’ve liked it.”

Morning Glory laughed. “We do have rather a convenient life, don’t we?”

“A little too convenient, I think,” commented Melisande. “Even the royal Mew have to... never mind.” The Mew blushed.

“Royal Mew?” the two princesses queried simultaneously.

Jade snorted. “You two sound like parrots– you should go visit Mimic.” The dragon blew a strand of hair out of her face, evidently very pleased with herself.

“I don’t think Jade sleeps at night,” Silver Swirl addressed Morning Glory and Melisande. “She just lies there thinking of sarcastic remarks for every occasion.”

“However did you guess?” Jade questioned facetiously.

“I have my sources,” Silver Swirl uttered with an air of mystery.

“Royal spies,” added Melisande.

“ ‘Lo, she is one of this conspiracy!’ ” quoted Jade.

“Hmm... I never knew Shakespeare induced paranoia in dragons...” Silver Swirl mused. Jade flicked her tail at the unicorn. “It would appear to quicken the temper as well... not that it was needed.”

“I’d better be going– Sugar Belle and I are going to look for antiques,” explained Morning Glory. “I might come see those fireworks later.” Silver Swirl waved at the other princess who trotted off toward the main area of Friendship Gardens.

“I guess we should head for the field if we want good seats for the fireworks,” Silver Swirl suggested. Her two small companions nodded assent.

* * *
“Help me spread the blanket?” Silver Swirl requested. Jade and Melisande each took hold of a corner, leaving the unicorn with the remaining two. Together, they arranged the big picnic blanket over the grass and settled themselves on it.

“Fireworks!” cheered Melisande.

“What? They started?” Jade quickly looked around.

“No. Just excited,” replied Melisande.

Jade rolled her eyes. “No more false alarms, okay? I’m going to take a nap.” Suiting her actions to her words, the little dragon curled up and closed her eyes. Quietly, so as not to disturb Jade’s rest, Silver Swirl presented Melisande with an apple.

“Hi, Silver Swirl!” Fizzy greeted.

“Shh,” warned Silver Swirl, gesturing at the sleeping Jade.

“Oh, sorry.” Fizzy looked abashed, and lowered her voice. “Aren’t these fireworks going to be great? I haven’t seen fireworks in a while; I hope I won’t be as scared of the noise as I was last time. It’s just so loud, and unexpected, that I always get spooked.” Although the Twinkle-Eyed unicorn had started out speaking softly, her voice had crescendoed back to its original volume by the end of her monologue.

“Want an apple?” Silver Swirl offered.

Fizzy took the fruit, which mercifully quieted her. “Oh, there’s Posey– got to go! Bye!” She dashed away.

“That just goes to show how important we are,” quipped Silver Swirl. Melisande laughed, a little mewing sound. “Oh, look, here comes Twinkle Star. Twinkle Star, over here!” Silver Swirl waved at the pegasus, who gracefully landed next to the blanket. “How was your drum lesson?”

“Great. Pretty Beat’s a really good teacher.” The sky had begun to darken, and there was a sense of excitement in the air. “I can’t wait to see the fireworks!”

“Ditto,” Silver Swirl concurred.

“Where?” Twinkle Star looked around.

“Not the Pokémon!” laughed Silver Swirl.

“I know, I was just joking.”

“Sure you were,” Melisande agreed sardonically.

“Do you suppose Jade is contagious?” Twinkle Star asked Silver Swirl.

The unicorn shrugged. “You never know.” Suddenly, a burst of colored light exploded into the air– the first firework. Melisande awakened Jade as two more sparklers rose into the heavens. Purple, green, red, blue, and golden white, the fireworks lit up the velvety sky, accompanying themselves with loud bangs that spooked several baby ponies and Fizzy. The ponies gazed, enchanted, at the colorful spectacle.

At that time, a small pale something began to fall near Silver Swirl. Thinking at first that it was a spark, the unicorn shied away as it landed. It was not, however, an ember. Melisande was the first to recognize it, and she glided swiftly towards what they could now see was a Mew. Clearly exhausted, the other Mew looked up at Melisande, who tried to support the stranger’s head. The mysterious Pokémon looked like it was about to speak, but then its eyes closed. Silver Swirl checked its pulse.

“It’s okay, just sleeping,” she reported. Twinkle Star and Jade moved over to examine the creature. Silver Swirl turned to Melisande, who was holding the other Mew’s limp paw. “Do you know this Mew?”

Melisande gazed at the stranger, a mixture of emotions playing across her little face. “His name is Edward,” she whispered.

* * *
“Are you sure he’s all right?” Melisande questioned anxiously.

“He’s fine,” Silver Swirl sighed. Ever since she, Jade, and Melisande had returned to Friendship Castle, Melisande had been hovering (literally) over Edward, who was reposing in comfort on Silver Swirl’s pillow. Silver Swirl understood her friend’s concern, but it was beginning to get annoying. Jade apparently felt the same way.

“Melisande, cut it out. Silver Swirl was nice enough to forgo the fireworks for this Edward of yours, who we don’t even know anything about, so the least you could do is stop being annoying.”

“Sorry.” Melisande went back to staring at the sleeping Edward.

“Who is he, anyway? Do you know how and why he got here?”

“Edward is my... friend.” Melisande’s face went crimson. An evil smile spread over Jade’s face. The dragon opened her mouth, but Silver Swirl sent her a warning glare. It was all very well for Jade to tease Melisande, but right now the Mew didn’t seem to be able to put up with it.

Silver Swirl idly picked at the remains of the dinner she’d transported to her tower. Waiting for a sleeping Mew to awaken was rather boring, although it was clear that this Edward was important to Melisande. Sighing, Silver Swirl wondered how long Edward would sleep. What if he continued to slumber for days? Would Melisande refuse to leave his side? Fortunately for Silver Swirl, Edward chose this moment to open his eyes. He looked around, puzzled, until he spotted Melisande.

“Melisande?” he croaked in Mew-speech.

“Edward! How did you get here?” Melisande replied in the same language.

Edward took several deep breaths, tried to raise his head from the pillow, and failed. “Came here... to ask you... to come home. We’re not... angry... we miss you.” Edward, still fatigued, closed his eyes again. “Please come home.” Jade and Silver Swirl looked at Melisande.

“Home? What’s he talking about?” Jade inquired.

Melisande sighed. “Well, most Mew live in a network of caves in a mountain deep below the sea.”

“I didn’t know there were mountains deep below the sea,” Jade remarked.

“There are; the tops of them are known as islands,” informed Silver Swirl.

“Oh.”

“Anyway,” Melisande was plainly aggravated at having her story interrupted, “that’s where most Mew live. We have a very beautiful civilization, rich in culture and history, and we are ruled by the Emperor and Empress of the Mew.”

“Sounds nice,” Silver Swirl commented.

“It is,” Melisande replied. “In fact, it’s so nice that very few Mew choose to leave it. It’s a long trip all the way through the ocean, and scary. There are giant squid, you know.” Jade shuddered; she was afraid of giant sea creatures although she would never admit it.

“However,” the Mew continued, “the Mew Empire does have a way of seeing what’s going on in the outside world. It’s our greatest treasure, an orb made of paper-thin moonstone. When we look into this orb, we can see miniature scenes of life above the ocean.”

“And you lived in this empire?” Jade wanted to know.

Melisande nodded. “I lived there for most of my life, happy and innocent. Then came my fall from grace.” Silver Swirl raised her eyebrows; she hadn’t known that Melisande could be so dramatic. “I was wandering around the caverns when I saw it, the resting place of the Pearl of Pearls– that’s what we call the moonstone sphere.” The pragmatic explanation lessened the suspense of her tale. “I’d never gotten to see it up close before, and it was incredibly exquisite. It looked so cool and smooth, sitting there on its blue velvet cushion. Impulsively, I drifted over to it and picked it up.”

Silver Swirl, Jade, and Edward stared, riveted by the story.

“To this day I can remember exactly what it felt like. I just floated there for a moment, holding the gem, until I heard a noise behind me. It was only another Mew who had come to check on the Pearl of Pearls, but it startled me. I dropped the most precious treasure in the Mew Empire, dropped it onto the stone floor where it shattered into a million tiny shards.”

Silver Swirl and Jade winced. “So what happened then?” Silver Swirl urged.

Melisande sighed. “Well, there were consequences– nobody was pleased to have their greatest treasure broken. Normally, the punishment would be banishment for life.” The eyes of her audience widened, except for Edward’s, which had closed. “I got lucky, though, or so everyone claimed. There’s a way to grow a new Pearl of Pearls, although it takes a long time, so I hadn’t broken anything irreplaceable. Also,” Melisande looked down at the floor, “the Empress is my second cousin once removed, and she sort of intervened on my behalf.”

“So what was your punishment?” questioned Jade.

“Exile for six months,” Melisande replied shortly. “Everyone said it was a very merciful sentence, but I disagreed. I just didn’t believe that I should be punished for an accident. I was rather angry...” Melisande blushed “...and I said that I would never come back to the Empire, no matter how much time had gone by.” She closed her eyes as well, though she didn’t seem nearly as tired as Edward. “I’ve kept my word.”

“How long ago was this?” Silver Swirl enquired.

“A month or so before Dazzle Glow gave me to you,” answered the Mew.

“And you,” the unicorn gestured to Edward, “want her to come back?” It was a rhetorical question, but it helped Silver Swirl to feel more like she was in control of the situation.

Edward nodded. “Please, Melisande. Your parents and the Empress have been worrying. I think they’ll apologize, if that’s what you want.”

Melisande frowned. “Serves them right for banishing me for an accident.”

“Haven’t you proved your point? You’ve been gone for more than a year; everyone misses you.” Edward swallowed and his pale face went slightly pinker. “I missed you.”

Melisande looked away hastily, but Silver Swirl could tell that the little Mew’s face had turned almost red. “I’ve missed you too, Edward. A lot.” Jade sniggered and both Mew glared at her. “This isn’t funny, Jade,” said Melisande through clenched teeth. Silver Swirl had never heard her friend sound so venomous.

“So will you come home?” Edward beseeched. Melisande shifted uncomfortably. Silver Swirl, Jade, and Edward all had their eyes fixed on their Mew friend.

“I don’t know,” she responded slowly. Edward looked like he was about to say something, but Melisande silenced him by holding up her paw. “You don’t understand, Edward. This is my home now.”

“You’re happy here?” Edward asked incredulously.

Jade scowled at him. “Does this place look like a dungeon to you? Do Silver Swirl and I seem like evil monsters?” Edward mumbled an apology more out of fear than true regret.

“It’s nice here in Friendship Gardens,” Melisande explained. “There are all kinds of interesting things to do, and the castle is quite comfortable. There are lots of other Pokémon here, you know, even some other Mew. You wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve seen and done and learned.”

“But your home, your family...” protested Edward.

“I’ve lived here for more than a year; it feels as much like home as the caves did. Silver Swirl and Jade are the best friends I could ever ask for– except for you, of course– they’re like sisters to me.” Edward looked skeptical at the thought of such a family. “I really think that I like life better here.” Despite the gravity of the situation, Silver Swirl had trouble stifling a laugh at the look on Edward’s face.

“I thought, though, that...” Edward lowered his voice until it was barely audible. “I thought that we were planning to, well, someday...”

Melisande’s feline countenance remained carefully blank, but her voice lost its usual warmth. “Did you, really? You certainly weren’t in a hurry then– you were perfectly willing to manage without me for six months.” She waved her tail in a gesture of silence before the other Mew could speak. “Besides, life here is so much more full and exciting. I don’t know if I’d be satisfied with the Empire if I went back.”

“So you won’t come home?” asked Edward quietly.

“Oh, I don’t know!” Melisande threw her paws into the air in a gesture of helplessness. “I don’t know what to do. Will you let me sleep on it?”

“Of course. It’s your choice.” The bitter edge in his voice was barely detectable.

Silver Swirl watched the two Mew’s dialogue, feeling as if she and Jade had been forgotten. “Um.” The six eyes of the other creatures in the room turned to look at the unicorn. “It’s getting late,” Silver Swirl elaborated. “If any of us plan to sleep tonight, we’d better, uh, go to bed...”

“Of all the awkward statements you’ve made,” Jade remarked conversationally, “that is the most awkward I’ve heard yet.”

“Jade, I have an assignment for you– go to the nearest dictionary and look up “tact”. If you’ve ever heard of the word, it’s obviously been forgotten.” Jade’s eyes widened at the uncharacteristically sharp retort. Silver Swirl immediately regretted her words, although she doubted that they hurt thick-skinned Jade. “Edward, you’re welcome to stay here for the night.”

“Thank you; I appreciate your generosity,” Edward voiced.

“No problem. I have an extra cushion that should be your size.” Having something to do helped Silver Swirl to keep her mind off of the situation at hand. “Here.” Edward gratefully nestled into the spare pillow, while Jade and Melisande snuggled into their respective cushions.

Silver Swirl performed their nighttime ritual, dimming the lights and opening the curtains so that the moonlight could shine through the window. After scrambling into her own bed and tucking the covers snugly around herself, she whispered “Good night.”

“Good night,” echoed Jade.

“Good night,” repeated Melisande (“For the last time?” wondered Silver Swirl). Edward said nothing; he was already asleep.

* * *
Silver Swirl didn’t really expect to be able to get to sleep, and her intuition proved correct. After tossing and turning for a while, she decided to use a technique that always helped her– listing her thoughts.

“Fact one: Ever since that big fight with my parents, I’ve made this tower and Jade and Melisande my whole world to try to keep from getting hurt.”

“Fact two: I believed that, within this little world, I was sheltered from losing anyone else.”

“Fact three: There’s a good chance that Melisande will leave, and the structure of my world will be altered.”

“Fact four: I’m really not in the mood for facts; I just wish that Edward had stayed in his precious Empire!” Silver Swirl shot a scowl across the room at the sleeping Edward, knowing that she was being unreasonable. Of course Melisande had the right to go back home; of course Edward had the right to seek out his old friend/sweetheart. It seemed, though, that Silver Swirl was getting the short end of the deal.

Melisande was a relatively new addition to Silver Swirl’s life, but she was such a good friend that the unicorn could not imagine life without her. What Melisande had said was true: the Mew, the dragon and the unicorn were like sisters. The idea of Melisande leaving was very close to Silver Swirl’s deepest fear: that Silver Swirl herself would someday have to leave her tower and her surrogate family and start a life on her own.

Silver Swirl shivered, a few tears leaking from her eyes. She had seldom felt so very alone.

* * *
“Good morning,” Jade chirped in her usual eager-to-torment-sleepy-Silver Swirl voice.

“Ugh.” Silver Swirl, who had finally got to sleep at five o’clock in the morning, tried to pull the covers back over her head. “Lemme sleep... go away...”

Jade’s voice grew sterner. “It’s important; Melisande wants to talk to you.”

Silver Swirl groaned, trying not to seem anxious. Careful to move slowly, the unicorn sat up to face Melisande, who was sitting on her pillow looking nervous. “Good morning, Melisande.”

Melisande looked as tired as Silver Swirl felt. The unicorn grinned and smoothed the Mew’s untidy fur. “ ‘Morning Silver Swirl. I’ve decided.”

Silver Swirl’s stomach suddenly tightened. “And what did you decide?” she asked quietly. Jade and Edward seemed to be in as much suspense as Silver Swirl. Melisande took a deep breath.

“I... I want to inform my family in the Empire of my choice; and I’d like you and Jade and Edward, of course, to come with me.”

Jade’s jaw dropped. “So you’re not going to tell us now? That’s not fair!” Everyone laughed, relieving a little bit of the tension.

“It’s going to be hard enough telling it once; I’m not going to tell it two times to two sets of people.”

“That does sound fair,” Silver Swirl admitted reluctantly. “How do you want us to get to the Empire? I don’t think I could wink there since I’ve never seen it– I might make a mistake and land us all at the bottom of the ocean among the giant squid.”

Jade gulped, then laughed. “Giant squid, eh? That would be something to see!”

“Don’t worry, no squid,” Melisande grinned. (Jade muttered something about not being worried in the first place.) “I planned to get us there the old-fashioned way.”

“Which is...?” The excitement of a trip alleviated the anxiety further; Silver Swirl was almost able to forget that Melisande might leave.

“You’ll see.” The Mew winked at Edward, who had been looking gloomy. He winked back rather half-heartedly.

“All right, let me brush my teeth and comb my mane and then we can go see this empire of yours.” Despite her attempted laid-back attitude, Silver Swirl found herself getting ready very quickly. Indeed, it was barely three minutes before she was all prepared.

“Hair clips?” Jade teased.

Silver Swirl touched the pink star ornaments self-consciously. “Well, I ought to look nice when I visit– I’m representing all of Friendship Gardens,” she defended herself.

Jade rolled her eyes. “The Mew will get quite an interesting impression,” she commented.

Silver Swirl frowned imperiously. “You know that I’m perfectly capable of playing the majestic princess if such is called for,” the unicorn reproved.

“Please, Silver Swirl, I’d like to get this over with. Could you wink us to the beach now?” Melisande appealed.

“Sorry,” replied Silver Swirl somewhat sheepishly. She beckoned the others to draw closer to her, then closed her eyes and winked the group away.

* * *
“Okay,” Jade announced in a businesslike fashion. “We’re at the beach. Now what happens? Do we have to swim?”

“Not quite,” Melisande giggled, her usual high spirits having apparently returned. “C’mon Edward, let’s show them some Mew powers.” The two Mew floated toward the ocean, followed by the other creatures. “Stand close together,” Melisande instructed. She nodded at Edward, whereupon both Pokémon assumed expressions of concentration. A moment later, the small party was enclosed in a huge bubble.

“Just like in the Pokémon movie!” Silver Swirl’s voice was barely lower than a squeal.

“Oh, that dinky bubble was nothing compared to what I can do,” Melisande scoffed smugly. Jade snorted, and was shocked when the small blast of air pushed the walls of the bubble outward. “Careful,” warned Melisande. “It wouldn’t be a pretty picture if you burst the bubble underwater.” Jade’s eyes widened.

Edward seemed a good deal happier now that he was in his own sphere, so to speak. “Come on, let’s get this bubble moving,” he voiced cheerily. Melisande flicked her tail and the bubble started moving toward the open ocean. Silver Swirl grinned for a moment before remembering what lay at the end of the trip.

“You can sit down if you want to; the trip takes a while,” remarked Melisande. Silver Swirl eased herself to the rounded floor of the bubble, subconsciously breathing a sigh of relief when it didn’t pop. She then busied herself with examining the scenery; the bubble had now submerged itself and was going steadily deeper into the ocean.

“Oh look! Fish!” Silver Swirl gestured wildly at a school of silvery fish gliding hurriedly away from the bubble.

“Wow, fish. I never thought I’d see such amazing legendary creatures,” drawled Jade.

“Well, I never thought I’d see them from the inside of a bubble-shaped submarine,” Silver Swirl countered. “Even mundane things can be exciting if they’re seen from a new perspective.”

“What is it with you and perspective?” Jade demanded. “Besides, you sound like you’re quoting from a textbook.”

“That’s just because the things I say are so well thought-out,” the unicorn explained complacently.

“No, it’s because they’re such platitudes,” scoffed the dragon. “Go write one of those books of inspirational sayings.”

“Maybe I will, and it’ll become a bestseller, and I’ll be famous. We’ll see who has the last laugh then!”

“Don’t worry– I’d laugh plenty if you wrote a best-selling book.”

“I think you’re just trying to undermine my self-esteem because you’re jealous of me,” Silver Swirl hypothesized.

“And how would that explain my mockery of every other creature I come across? Am I jealous of them, too?” Jade’s face wore its usual expression of scorn.

“Who knows? Your mind is a warped and enigmatic thing.”

“Should we try to stop them?” Edward whispered to Melisande.

“They’re always like this,” Melisande explained. “When you combine Jade’s sarcasm with Silver Swirl’s refusal to lose an argument...” The little Mew shrugged and gestured toward the two antagonists. “At least it helps to pass the time.”

“At least I don’t behave the way you do when Jade says something nasty. I seem to recall someone using a psychic attack yesterday...” Silver Swirl’s voice trailed off as she looked past Melisande, viewing something terrifying.

“Oh fine, I surrender. I’m just as guilty as the two of you.” Melisande stared curiously at Silver Swirl. “What’s wrong?”

“Behind you,” the unicorn managed to rasp.

Jade, Melisande and Edward turned simultaneously. “It’s some kind of giant fish,” stuttered Melisande. Jade, who would normally have commented on the pointlessness of such a remark, sat in terrified silence.

Silver Swirl gulped. “Can you steer the bubble away from it?” she questioned.

“I’ll try,” Edward volunteered. He frowned in concentration and the bubble veered away from the monster. Melisande joined him, and their conveyance picked up speed. Behind them, the giant fish watched in interest but didn’t move.

“Maybe someone should keep a lookout,” suggested Jade nervously. “How about Silver Swirl?”

“Thanks for volunteering me,” the unicorn in question grumbled. She pivoted on the smooth surface of the bubble, ending up facing backwards. “The fish is just standing– err, floating– there. Still floating... oh, it’s looking at us... it’s opening its mouth! Oh, never mind, it was just eating some little fish. Now it’s looking away from us...”

“We don’t need a running commentary!” Jade snapped.

“Well, you can’t have your cake and eat it too!” retorted Silver Swirl.

Melisande sighed. “I should’ve taken the time to eat breakfast.” Silver Swirl laughed helplessly at the lame joke. It could be the last joke! screamed the unicorn’s mind. This could be the last talk, the last ride, the last adventure, the world could fall apart, and here that Mew was, laughing!

“Melisande?” Silver Swirl’s voice grew quieter.

“Yes?”

“Remember the time Baby Surprise thought you were a regular cat and tried to keep you as a pet?”

“How could I forget?” The Mew made a face. “That horrible cat food...”

“But you won first prize at the Friendship Gardens Pokémon Storytelling Competition with it,” Jade reminded.

“And the time you got us lost in that hot air balloon?” Silver Swirl persisted.

“I seem to recall that a certain unicorn let me fall asleep!”

Silver Swirl, what are you doing? Jade hissed into the princess’ mind.

“But the craziest thing was the time you decided to try curling my mane.” Silver Swirl shook her head solemnly as Melisande giggled. “Not a pretty memory... where did you get that book about hair-styling?”

“Morning Glory left it very conveniently in the kitchen. I just flipped through it, and curling sounded like such fun.” There was unmistakable mischief in that smile. “It didn’t look that bad.”

Jade snorted. “Silver Swirl is never exactly stunning when she first wakes up, but that hairdo was a work of genius– evil genius, that is.”

“Sounds like you’ve been doing some crazy things,” Edward commented.

“You haven’t heard the half of it,” Jade assured him. “I think it’s Silver Swirl’s fault– she has some sort of aura of insanity that affects everyone around her.”

Silver Swirl beamed at the dragon. “Why, that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me,” she pronounced in a falsetto voice.

“Don’t insult my ability to insult,” glowered Jade, pouting.

“No, really, I love the idea of having an aura. Even an insane aura– and don’t go on about how that’s the only kind I’ll ever have.” The unicorn sighed and leaned against the wall of the bubble.

Jade looked at Silver Swirl, something akin to admiration in her face. “Hey, you think up some remarks even nastier than mine– rather a pity you never use them.”

Silver Swirl was surprised; Jade was rarely this nice to her. “Well, I wouldn’t want to usurp your position as Queen of Sarcasm,” she asserted flippantly. Perhaps Jade was realizing that, if Melisande left, the dragon and the unicorn would have only each other for company.

“Oh, don’t worry– that throne is mine for good,” grinned Jade.

“Hey, aren’t those the mountains up ahead?” Edward questioned. Everyone turned to look.

“Yes, we’re almost there,” Melisande reported. “Wow, it feels so strange to see them again! Home at last!” Her little face beamed.

Edward smiled too. “They’ll be so happy to see you.”

“Mm-hmm,” Melisande agreed. Then she sighed.

Silver Swirl looked at Jade, but the little dragon’s face was as serenely sour as always. Perhaps, Silver Swirl thought, I’m the only one who’s upset by Melisande leaving. The unicorn frowned. How could that be? Jade and Melisande were possibly closer to each other than they were to Silver Swirl.

“We’re nearing the entrance!” Edward exclaimed.

“Will we have to stay inside the bubble the whole time?” queried Silver Swirl.

Edward shook his head. “We use our powers to make the caves watertight. Mira the Great thought that one up.” As Silver Swirl nodded, the bubble whooshed through the mouth of a cave and popped.

“Welcome to the Empire,” Melisande announced.

* * *
The cave was long and narrow with many passages, somewhat like a hallway. As soon as the small group recovered from their unceremonious landing on the stone floor, they began to look around. Silver Swirl noticed that her surroundings were lit by some kind of materiel– coral or fungus?– on the walls. The rounded ceiling was carved with a pattern that resembled stars. There were several paintings on the walls, alleviating the solemn grayness of the chamber.

“Pretty,” remarked Jade, her voice echoing.

“Oh! The acoustics are terrific!” Silver Swirl began to sing loudly. The notes of the song reverberated softly.

“Stop! I can’t take more than one Silver Swirl-voice,” Jade complained.

Melisande laughed. “Ah, the mighty Jade has a weakness,” she teased. “You should remember that, Silver Swirl. It could prove useful.”

“I can think of a dozen ways to utilize it already,” Silver Swirl smirked.

“Don’t smirk, Silver Swirl; it looks horrible. Only certain creatures can get away with smirking.” Jade demonstrated.

“Hard to tell if it looks nice on you, Jade– I always thought that was just the way your face was shaped,” Silver Swirl joked.

“That was harsh,” commented Edward.

“Hey, I’m the only one who’s supposed to make harsh remarks!” Jade complained. Everyone laughed, and the sound echoed back to them.

“All right, enough fun. It’s time to go meet the rulers and my relatives,” Melisande declared. She floated towards one of the openings.

“I think I would have preferred more fun,” muttered Silver Swirl, but nobody heard her.

Melisande swished through the corridor, followed by Edward. The others hurried to catch up, barely noticing the bright murals on the walls. Silver Swirl felt a plethora of butterflies awaken within her stomach. Don’t think about it, she told herself. Just don’t think about it. Concentrating on the colors of the walls, Silver Swirl barely noticed when Jade (who was in front of Silver Swirl) skidded to a halt.

“Hello, Mother. Hi, Dad,” greeted Melisande in a wavering voice.

Seated in this grand, large chamber were four Mew. Two were ensconced in luxurious pearl-studded thrones and wore coronets; they were obviously the Emperor and Empress. The others, by the looks on their faces at Melisande’s words, were her parents. The young Mew rushed toward them and they all embraced, each shedding a few tears.

Silver Swirl edged her way around the family and presented herself to the Emperor and Empress. “Greetings, Your Highnesses. I’m a friend of Melisande.” She smiled respectfully.

The Empress looked at her with curiosity. “Are you, then? I hope you’ve been looking out for her.” Silver Swirl somehow knew that, despite her sweetness, the regal Mew meant business.

“Well, I’ve certainly done my best. She’s been a great friend to me.”

The Emperor raised his eyebrows. “Hmm. What did you say your name was?”

“Princess Silver Swirl of Friendship Gardens, Your Highness.” The unicorn wisely neglected to point out that she hadn’t said her name in the first place– Silver Swirl loved details, but she was no idiot.

“Really?” The Emperor gave the impression that he was not asking a question but making small talk. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“It sounds, though, like a very harmonious place.” Melisande’s mother had a voice that slid through the air and blanketed the whole room with calm.

Melisande’s father turned his sharp blue eyes to the pony princess. “You rule this... kingdom?”

“No,” Silver Swirl responded cautiously. “We have a queen who rules. I’m more of a public figure, although I have certain duties as a princess.” Melisande’s father nodded slowly; he seemed to be satisfied with the answer. Silver Swirl found herself missing the relative informality of the Friendship Gardens court.

“It’s a lovely area,” Melisande piped up, “and very stable. No sea monsters, obviously, and there are lots of other Pokémon there.”

The Empress turned again toward Silver Swirl with keen interest. “Pokémon dwell in this kingdom of yours along with unicorns and,” she gazed critically at Jade, “dragons?”

“Many of them,” assured Silver Swirl, who had a feeling this could be a crucial point. “And unicorns and dragons aren’t the only other inhabitants; in fact, we’re in the minority. There are earth ponies and pegasi and sea ponies and all sorts of animals, and Bushwoolies, and once upon a time there were pigs.” She tensed slightly at the last phrase, remembering the long-ago conflict that had driven the pigs from Ponyland and the narrow escape she’d had from Piggy Island.

“It’s...” Melisande searched for a word, “multispecies. And for the most part they all get along.”

“Fascinating,” the Emperor mused. “Perhaps we should consider contacting this kingdom, forming an alliance with their ruler.”

“I concur,” remarked the Empress. “But that’s a talk for another time. We will be serving lunch in ten minutes’ time; would our Friendship Gardens guests like to stay for the meal? We truly appreciate your kind treatment of Melisande.”

The Mew who was the subject of the discussion swished her tail hurriedly. “No, Your Highness, please wait. I think it would be much wiser to contact Queen Sun Sparkle of Friendship Gardens right now– establish good relations and such.” She clasped her paws together, looking anxious.

The Mew Empress flicked a piece of dust from her tail. “This is very important to you,” she observed. Almost imperceptibly, she exchanged a glance with the Emperor. “I’m puzzled by your reasoning, but I can’t see any harm in it. I suppose we could contact them with the–” She hesitated for a moment. “The usual method. Silver Swirl, it would be nice if you would come, too.”

“Certainly,” the unicorn agreed when faced with Melisande’s imploring gaze. The Empress floated from her chair and through another tunnel; Melisande sped after and Silver Swirl trotted behind. Jade, the Emperor, Edward, and Melisande’s parents were left in awkward silence.

This tunnel was dimmer than the first, and the fungi that lit it were faintly tinged with pink. Silver Swirl noticed that she was taking deeper breaths than usual and realized, for the first time, how very loud her hooves sounded against stone. The two Mew levitating three feet in front of her looked spectral, almost eerie.

All of a sudden, Melisande and the Empress appeared to vanish. Silver Swirl blinked a few times before understanding the true nature of the situation; there was a white light coming from a chamber up ahead, and the Mew’s pale forms blended against it. Squinting, the unicorn slowed her gait and tread carefully into the room.

“It really did grow again,” Melisande remarked quietly. Anyone could guess what the “it” was– a moonstone sphere almost six feet in diameter, resting on a bed of sea sponges. It was this object that swathed the room in cool luminescence.

The Empress sighed. “Indeed it did, and faster than we thought it would. Some of your zest for life must have seeped into it.” Melisande was silent. “You know, we really are sorry about this... and we’re so glad you’re back.”

“Could we talk about that later?” requested Melisande nervously. “Here, you’d better activate it.”

“Awaken, Pearl of Pearls!” the Empress declared in a low, hypnotic voice. The sphere glowed brighter, and its translucent walls became clearer in a matter of seconds. “Show us Queen Sun Sparkle of Friendship Gardens– two-way contact mode.” As a image began to form inside the globe, the Empress whispered to Silver Swirl, “She does have a mirror, doesn’t she?”

“I– I think so,” answered Silver Swirl, more than a little hesitant. “It depends on where she is.”

The Empress shrugged. “Too late to worry about that now. Any reflective surface will do.” The image grew clearer; they seemed to be looking up at Sun Sparkle, who by the looks of it was in her study. “You do the introductions,” the Mew ruler commanded.

Silver Swirl stepped toward the sphere, where she could now make eye contact with the Queen. “Sun Sparkle?” she called. “It’s me, Silver Swirl. I’m in here.”

Sun Sparkle looked down with a confused expression. “Silver Swirl? Where are you, and what is your image doing in my glass of water?”

“It must be the only reflective surface in the room,” laughed Silver Swirl. “I’m in the Mew Empire, Melisande’s home. The Empress here wants to speak with you about creating a stronger connection between here and Friendship Gardens.”

“Oh, really?” Sun Sparkle’s diamond eyes narrowed in interest. Silver Swirl simply nodded, then stepped aside to allow the Mew Empress full view.

“Salutations,” proclaimed the Empress. “I’ve had the pleasure of meeting one of your subjects... oh no, I was quite impressed.” Silver Swirl grinned lightheartedly at Melisande, who feebly smiled back. The two rulers’ talk continued. “...high time to be less isolated. An alliance might do both of our lands good. There might even be some adventurous young Mew who’d be willing to be an ambassador.”

Melisande teleported in a beam of white light, blinking back into view by her relative’s side. “I volunteer.”

Silver Swirl, Sun Sparkle and the Empress spoke in shocked unison, “Melisande?”

“Yes,” the Mew replied simply. “I’ve been trained in the ways of court, and I can speak English. Your Highness– Cousin Morgana.” She turned to the Empress with a grave expression. “That’s what I wanted to tell you all. I love you very much, and this will always be my first home, but I’m happier living in Friendship Gardens.”

Empress Morgana continued to stare. “If that’s what you really want, I shall support you in it. Your application for the position is accepted.” She turned back to the image of Queen Sun Sparkle. “Assuming, of course, that you’ll allow it.”

“I think Melisande would make an excellent diplomat,” Sun Sparkle smiled, still looking surprised. “I await her return along with that of Jade and Silver Swirl.”

“We can talk more later,” the Empress began.

“And I’ll get a mirror,” finished Sun Sparkle. They both laughed, which looked rather unnatural on Morgana. Silver Swirl paid no attention; she was busy enveloping Melisande in a unicorn hug.

“I’m so glad you decided to stay,” the Friendship Gardens pony grinned. “I would have missed you so much.”

Melisande blinked watery eyes. “Me too. You know, what really did it for me was the thought of living without Jade’s sarcastic comments.” Both friends laughed. “Now,” Melisande continued, “I have a few loose threads to tie up– that’s the expression, right? Let’s go tell my parents, and Jade.” Silver Swirl wondered why Edward was unmentioned.

* * *
“That took long enough,” Jade announced candidly when the two Mew and the unicorn returned. “Don’t tell me Melisande broke the moonstone again.”

“I always learn from my mistakes!” protested Melisande, still smiling.

“How was the meeting?” the Emperor inquired.

“It went very well,” Empress Morgana replied in a shaky voice. “We’ve established friendly relations, and Melisande has agreed to be Ambassador to Friendship Gardens.”

“Melisande?” gasped Edward, the Emperor, and Melisande’s parents.

“Am I really such an unlikely choice?” Melisande sniffed. Then she ran to hug her parents again. “I’m not angry anymore at you, really I’m not. And you know how easy it is to teleport from there to here? I can visit often...” Her words were muffled as she embraced her mother and father.

“I don’t give compliments often, you know, so take this one seriously,” Jade declared. “That’s the best news I’ve heard all day!”

The Emperor and Empress began a whispered conversation while Jade and Melisande had a playful match of wits. Of all the room’s occupants, Edward was the quietest.

“I don’t suppose,” he finally said, “that there are any areas near Friendship Gardens that could use another Mew?”

“Really?” Melisande looked truly astounded. “You want to go too?”

“What I saw was very nice,” Edward replied plainly. “And maybe, if we can get over the past, we can try to rebuild what we once had.”

Melisande emitted a tiny smile. “Maybe we can.”

“Where would he go?” asked Jade, ever the practical one.

Silver Swirl came out of her state of deep thought. “Actually...” she scraped one hoof against the ground. “It might be nice to increase our connection with that other world, the one where Sunset Island is. There’s a pony there named Sandstone who’s supposed to have a Mew named Edward.”

“That’s right, there is!” Melisande exclaimed jubilantly.

“You want to send me to another world?” Poor Edward’s tone was plaintive.

“It’s not nearly as far as you’d think,” Jade grinned. “Just a few yards from Friendship Beach, actually.”

“We promised to make another visit there, anyway,” Silver Swirl reflected. “Remember?”

“I suppose we can spare Edward as well,” the Emperor decided reluctantly.

There followed in the next fifteen minutes a second round of goodbyes, hugs, tears, and promises (“This is sickening,” Jade remarked). Along with the Emperor, Empress, and Melisande’s parents, an entire contingent of Mew was summoned to escort the party of four to the castle entrance, now transformed into an exit.

“I’ll visit next week,” Melisande repeated to her father for the seventh time.

“You tell us if she’s not happy,” Melisande’s mother admonished Edward. “And don’t pressure her if she’s not ready to, uh, ‘get over the past.’ ”

Jade grimaced. “Do we have to do the bubble thing again?”

“Nope,” Silver Swirl laughed in relief. “I can wink us back to the castle from anywhere. Everyone take your positions.” Jade flapped her small wings and rested near the base of Silver Swirl’s tail; Edward levitated with a grip on the unicorn’s horn. Last of all, Melisande took her accustomed place atop Silver Swirl’s head. Amid calls of “Goodbye, good luck, don’t forget...” a flash of silver light surrounded the group, and then the four were gone.

* * *
In an instant, Silver Swirl and her friends reappeared in Silver Swirl’s tower room. The three smaller creatures immediately began talking.

“What’s it like, this Sunset Island place?”

“You can stay here until we go for that visit Silver Swirl was talking about.”

“How am I supposed to endure hours on end with you lovebirds?”

Silver Swirl merely collapsed onto her bed and picked up a picture of her original trio– the dragon, the unicorn and the Mew. “I’ll never take it for granted again,” she muttered fervently.

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

Imperceptible Force
by Sugarberry ([email protected])


“Dad, have you had a chance to go over the medical history that I forwarded to you?”

“Yes, Toby, I did. Your patient’s case looks interesting; I wish I was available to come to Dream Valley to offer my assistance.”

“That’s the reason I’m calling; I’d hoped that you could take some time off so that we could collaborate on this.”

“That’s out of the question, Toby. Your mother and I already have plans; we’re going to Vulcanopolis to attend a medical conference and relax for a few days. We’ll be leaving on Sunday.”

“Vulcanopolis? Sunday?” Toby choked and was silent.

“Is there a problem?” his father asked in concern.

“Dad, the patient is in Vulcanopolis, and I’m scheduled to fly over there myself on Sunday!” It was Andrew’s turn to remain speechless, so Toby went on. “Surely you can spare a few hours to look into this case while you are right there. I would certainly appreciate your input.”

Toby’s father gave in. “I guess this is out of my control... the coincidence of us both going to Vulcanopolis the same day would seem to indicate that our paths are linked for some reason. I’m curious to see what develops.”

“Me, too, Dad. From the beginning, Enrica has exhorted an imperceptible persuasion on those whom she feels will benefit her cause.”

“This Enrica... does she have a family?”

“She and her husband have a son and a daughter, both of whom are getting married this fall. They are quite affluent; Enrica’s husband, Giorgio, Sr., is the administrator of Vulcanopolis.”

“I’ve heard of him,” Andrew replied. “There was some bad publicity in connection with his son awhile back.”

“That’s all in the past; any problems have been resolved; the family is very close now, although...”

“Let’s hear it.”

“From what I’ve been told, Giorgio, Sr., won’t be thrilled with Enrica’s quest to regain the use of her legs.”

“That could be a difficult complication.”

“His future daughter-in-law assures me he will be behind them by the time I reach Vulcanopolis.”

“Let’s hope she is right, Toby.”

* * *
The night before his flight, Toby took Fern to dinner at the Estate Manor. The previous weeks since Snuzzle’s charity gala had been hectic for the young mare. The first Monday morning after the dance, she had been poring over the help wanted ads and organizing her plan of attack when the phone had rung; it was Lemon Treats.

“I hope I’m not bothering you, Fern.” The capable business pony had jumped right into the reason for her call. “I’ve heard you are looking for work, and I’m looking for a worker. Would you be interested in helping at my shop?”

“Are you kidding?” Fern had gasped. “I’d love working there!”

“Oh, you don’t know how happy that makes me! Now... when could you start?”

“Anytime; when would you want me there?”

“How about right now? Can you be at the shop in half an hour?”

“Y... yes... sure,” Fern had stuttered.

“Great! I’ll be watching for you.”

Fern had set down the phone unconsciously. She had been dreading an endless trail of applications with the undeniable result: “I’m sorry, but you don’t meet our qualifications.” Now, she was already assured of a job and at the premier boutique at the mall. Coming abruptly to reality, she rushed into the room she occupied at Snuzzle’s house and made herself presentable, stopping only long enough to call Toby’s number and leave a message on his machine.

Upon arriving at Lemon Treats’ Boutique, she found the energetic and vivacious mare leaning against the counter, her pale face anything but chipper. When Lemon Treats saw Fern, she slumped into a chair.

“Are you okay?” Fern asked, coming around the counter to minister to the obviously unwell mare.

Lemon Treats sighed and closed her eyes, then suddenly opened them, jumped up, and disappeared to the back of the shop and through the door marked “Mares.”

Fern stared after her in consternation, then found herself helping her first customer decide between a blue or purple ribbon. Fern was pleased to see that the cash register was the same as one she had used for a brief sojourn on one of her short-lived employments; she rang up the purchase with no problem and efficiently finished up the transaction. Then, worriedly, she went to see how Lemon Treats fared.

The door opened before Fern got that far and Lemon Treats emerged more pale and drawn than ever. Fern immediately put a foreleg around her and guided her back to the chair she had previously abandoned. Lemon Treats sat with a groan. “At least the morning sickness waited until after the rush of the big dance.” She smiled weakly.

“Morning sickness?” repeated Fern. “You’re expecting a foal?”

“Assuredly,” Lemon Treats said. “Three months along, feeling better than I ever have, then-- wham!-- this hits; and all Toby does is smile and say, ‘You’ll get over it in time,’ and Poeticus smiles and says, ‘Any precious little foal is worth a little inconvenience.’” Her eyes lost their bleary look for a moment as she snapped, “Easy for him to say!” Her face clouded again. “And then there is Tabby who went through the entire pregnancy without one day of morning sickness.” She groaned again. “Not one day.” She ended her tirade by rushing to the back of the shop again.

Fern couldn’t help but grin; she agreed with Lemon Treats’ husband-- a foal would be worth the inconvenience; but she had no time to speculate further as several mares came into the shop, and Fern was called upon to assist them in their choices. She only saw Lemon Treats briefly as the mare passed by with one quickly worded order-- “Take care of the shop; I’m going home. If I’m still alive later, I’ll come back; if not, you’re on your own.” And she was gone.

Over-all, that first day went well and Fern soon fell into a standard routine, relieving Lemon Treats for the morning and afternoon while Lemon Treats found that by evening she felt equine again and was able to conduct business until closing.

By the end of the first week, Fern had also located an apartment-- small and compact, but comfortable. She found the days moving swiftly along with little contact with Toby as he, too, was busy getting ready for his trip to Vulcanopolis. This evening at Estate Manor was a reprieve for both of them.

“I wish you were coming with me, Fern,” Toby said after their order was placed.

Fern smiled. “You have your work cut out for you in Vulcanopolis; I could be of no help to you whatsoever.”

“That’s where you are wrong; just knowing you were near would be a great help to me.”

“Lemon Treats needs me at the shop; I can’t let her down.”

Toby could not deny that. “You’re enjoying your work there?”

“Oh, yes. It’s a pleasant place and the customers are super. Lemon Treats is a very efficient manager, so everything runs smoothly.”

“And how is your composition class coming?”

“I’m glad I’m starting slowly with college; one class is all I could handle what with working and all. You aren’t disappointed in me, are you?” Her eyes searched his for an honest answer.

Toby set his hoof over hers on the linen-covered table. “How could I ever be disappointed in you, Fern? You are acclimating yourself to a whole new life here; you need time to make the right decisions. I’m very proud of you.” He squeezed her hoof and released it as the waiter came with their salads.

The rest of the meal was accompanied with light-hearted conversation that knew no end as they tried to fill in for the days ahead when they would be apart.

* * *
Toby had flown out of Dream Valley in the early morning darkness and now waited for his parents, Andrew and Ribbons n’ Lace, at the New Pony Airport. Their arrival was a touching reunion as they had not seen one another for some time; after the initial hugs and basic greetings, they scurried to make their flight now boarding for Vulcanopolis. It was only after they were well above the shrinking view of Ponyland that the conversation became more personal.

“Juniper called the other day,” Andrew began. Juniper was the wealthy and distinguished father of Miranda, a new mare in town who had vied for Toby’s affection. “He had some disturbing news for us.”

“I haven’t seen ol’ Nipper since I was in medical school,” Toby replied nonchalantly. “What financial crisis is he facing now?”

Taking a deep breath, Andrew came to the point. “He has heard some news from Miranda that has upset him, Toby. Juniper says that you have been blatantly rude to his daughter since her arrival in Dream Valley, and that you are associating with a totally unacceptable young mare there. He thought your mother and I should be aware of your... irresponsible behavior.”

“We’d like to hear your side of the story, Toby,” Ribbons n’ Lace added, a look of concern resting on her son’s face.

“According to Miranda’s view of things, I’m sure she is right. But I’ve never shared Miranda’s notions about life, have I... or I would have become a lawyer, not a doctor.”

Grinning, Andrew replied, “You and Miranda never did hit it off too well, although Miranda could never see that.”

“Never is right,” Toby admitted. “She came to Dream Valley expecting to find a perfectly amicable stallion who would bend to her every wish. I was polite and helpful,” he glanced at his mother, “but I was not willing to fall prey to her outrageous expectations.”

“She was always a difficult child,” Ribbons n’ Roses sighed. “She was spoiled by both Juniper and Tinsel; it was inevitable that she would become so demanding.”

The three ponies dropped into silence as they explored their own memories of the stubborn and opinionated Miranda, but Andrew broke the reverie. “Is there any truth to Miranda’s assertion about a young mare?” Ribbons n’ Roses was turned to her son as her husband asked the question, so she saw full well the look of joy that lighted his face; and her mother’s heart already loved the mare that could do that for him.

“Yes. I’ve met the one with whom I’d be very contented to spend the rest of my life.” Toby made the declaration with a hint of wonder lacing the edges as if he could hardly believe it himself.

“Tell us about her.”

Toby began at the beginning: finding Fern unconscious in the park, rescuing her, finding himself inexplicitly drawn to her, and discovering that she was interested in him, too. “And she has the bluest eyes,” he finished, suddenly feeling very vulnerable with that admission.

Andrew and Ribbons n’ Roses exchanged a glance. “She sounds like a beautiful pony, Toby,” Ribbons n’ Roses said, patting his hoof.

Andrew, however, wanted to know more. “Juniper indicated that this... Fern... is too young for you.”

“The number of years between Fern and me is the same as between you and Mom,” Toby was quick to reply.

Ribbons n’ Roses smiled at her husband. “He was ready for you on that one, Andrew.”

Andrew knew he had been beaten. “We’ll look forward to meeting this mare,” he said benevolently.

The conversation moved on to family topics including Tribute (the eldest son of Andrew and Ribbons n’ Roses) and Tendril (the youngest and only daughter who was married to Copper and had two foals, one only ten months old). That supplied enough material to keep Toby and his parents comfortably occupied for hours.

* * *
“I’ve felt an undercurrent of secrecy,” Giorgio, Sr., growled, glaring at the two mares before him, “but I was naive enough to believe it involved plans for the weddings coming up. That grand occasion obviously isn’t keeping you as occupied as one would think.” He sat down behind the desk as if to put a barrier between himself and his antagonists, Clare and Hydrangea.

The two mares had come to Giorgio, Sr., at his home office to broach the subject of Enrica’s desire to put her future in Toby’s hooves. They had expected a fight, and they were not to be disappointed.

Clare recognized the flashing in her future father-in-law’s eyes; she had seen the same sparks time and again in Giorgio’s eyes when he was trying to control his temper. She braced herself and said, “Enrica asked us our opinion, and we both agreed with her; it’s time she sought outside help.”

Giorgio, Sr., stood up and rapped his hoof on the desk. “Why couldn’t she have come to me with this idea of hers! I’d have been able to stop it before she got her hopes up so high!”

Hydrangea looked at Clare, and Clare looked at Hydrangea. Hydrangea was the one who turned to her father and said, “That is exactly why she didn’t come to you; she knew you would try to protect her by stopping her plans.”

“Of course, I want to protect her!” Giorgio, Sr., cried. “Can’t you understand?” His face wrinkled in anguish.

Moving to her father’s side, Hydrangea placed a hoof on his shoulder. “Mother is willing to take the chance; she knows it might not get her anywhere, but she’s willing to try.”

The stallion was not appeased. “And what happens when Toby fares no better than the doctors who have looked after her for years? Who will pick up the pieces then?” He glowered at the two mares angrily.

“Enrica will,” Clare stated softly. “She truly believes that she will walk again. We can’t stand in her way.”

“So instead we stand back and watch her get hurt again?” Giorgio, Sr. was not budging.

Taking over, Hydrangea tried a new angle. “Mother says that sometimes in therapy she can almost take a step on her own, but something blocks it. What if there is something amiss that can be corrected and give her independence again?”

“That won’t happen!” Giorgio, Sr., barked in anger.

No one had heard the wheelchair come into the room, and all were startled to hear Enrica’s voice. “Even my very life is not worth seeing those I love argue over me. There has been enough of that already.” Her steady gaze subdued the three quarreling ponies, and they each attempted to defend their opinion, but Enrica raised her hoof to silence them and closed her eyes.

When the room was quiet, the mare raised her lids. “I will no longer entertain these thoughts of mine that urge me to stand up and walk as I once could. I have decided not to bother Dr. Toby with my uncertain hopes; therefore, I want the three of you to stop your bickering and concentrate on happier things.”

Like three naughty foals, Giorgio, Sr., Hydrangea, and Clare stood contrite; but Clare was not to be held down long. “Toby will be here today, Enrica. You can’t back out now.” She flashed a daring look at Giorgio, Sr.

Enrica sighed. “Dr. Toby can spend his time enjoying our city’s hospitality; he won’t be out anything but his time.” She suddenly drew within herself. “If you will excuse me...” And she turned her chair to leave.

Moving quickly to her side, Giorgio, Sr., stopped his wife. “Enrica...” He paused, unsure of what to say; but then, as if any doubt was instantly erased, he went on. “Enrica, we can’t have Toby used as some pawn in a petty game; if you truly want this new examination into your malady, I will support you completely.”

While Hydrangea and Clare hugged one another, Enrica stared at him; she asked softly, “With your entire heart and soul?”

Giorgio, Sr., lifted her hoof to his lips and kissed it. “I will support you, my darling, with every fiber of my being.”

Clare and Hydrangea grinned. “I told you so,” Clare whispered glibly.

* * *
After arriving in Vulcanopolis, Toby, Andrew, and Ribbons n’ Roses checked into lush accommodations reserved for them and, after a brief rest, walked across a section of the city to Giorgio, Sr., and Enrica’s villa to put themselves at Enrica’s disposal, allowing her to show them a warm and gracious welcome.

Dinner was served in style with Giorgio, Clare, Pacificus, and Hydrangea in attendance to show their mutual support for Enrica’s decision. The following day’s schedule of tests was verified and the flow of events that would hopefully free Enrica was set in motion. Now there would be no turning back.

* * *
Tuesday came and went with Toby and Andrew conferring over the medical data and reviewing every step of the procedure that would correct the problem that kept Enrica without the use of her legs. Andrew was confident that recently discovered data by a research team in New Pony would rectify the cause; Toby was more cautious in his outlook, but he felt assured that even if not a complete reversal, Enrica would have more use of her legs than now. When the two doctors finally quitted their seclusion to meet Ribbons n’ Roses for a late dinner, they were in good spirits, looking forward to a successful surgery.

* * *
Knocking on Fern Feather’s apartment door, Chocolate Chip waited impatiently for an answer. Knocking once again with more force, she was finally rewarded with an opening door. Fern stuck her head through the narrow aperture. “Hi,” she said somewhat disconsolately.

“You haven’t forgotten that we’re catching that musical tonight, have you?” The brown mare pushed open the door farther to allow her to squeeze past Fern. “You don’t even have a bow in yet; let me help you pick one out.”

Chocolate Chip stopped short as she crossed the frugal lodgings. “What’s going on?” she asked of Fern, her brow furrowing.

Fern closed the door and slumped on the couch. “What does it look like I’m doing?” she muttered.

Chocolate Chip fumbled through the open backpack which contained almost all of Fern’s possessions. “It looks like you’re going away.” She looked at her friend with obvious disapproval.

“I’m thinking about it,” she admitted, glancing at Chocolate Chip for a split second before lowering her eyes forlornly.

Chocolate Chip went to sit by her side. “What happened?”

“Miranda stopped by just when I got home from work.”

“And you let her come in?”

“She asked how I was doing; I thought she was sincerely trying to make-up for her venomous attack at the ball.” Fern leaned her head back against the couch and let out a long sigh. “She wasn’t.”

“You know what she’s like, Fern. Why are you letting her get to you like this?”

“Because what she said made sense.”

Chocolate Chip sat forward. “What did she say?”

Fern hesitated, remembering word for word what Miranda had said, and her own helpless feeling of agreement that what the mare put forth was true. Eventually, she started speaking. “She pointed out that I’m too young and inexperienced for a match with a well-established physician... I haven’t even been to college, I don’t have a career, I don’t have any money, I don’t even have a family anymore.”

Chocolate Chip tried to halt the flow of negatives, but Fern would not be stopped. “She pointed out that Toby deserves someone who could be his equal and move comfortably in the same circles he does, someone who could help his career– not hold him back.”

Unable to restrain herself any longer, Chocolate Chip burst in. “Fern! Listen to yourself! It’s the same garbage she fed you at the dance; Toby has already told you that none of that matters to him!”

“But Miranda’s right; she’s right about everything. If I really love Toby, I should let him go.” She collapsed into a torrent of tears.

Chocolate Chip hugged her sobbing body to her. “That only works if the feelings aren’t mutual, Fern. You can’t forget that Toby loves you, too.”

Through her tears, Fern choked a reply. “When I’m near him, I have no doubt of that; but what if he only feels compassion for me... some long-forgotten chivalry for the maiden in distress?”

“You know that’s not true. If he was only concerned about your health and well-being, he would have sent you on your way by now. He loves you, Fern. Don’t let your foolish pride get in the way of that.”

The force with which Chocolate Chip said those words caused Fern to look at her sharply through her thinning tears. “Y... you... s... sound like you’ve been there,” she stuttered.

“I tried to believe that Wigwam’s love wasn’t real,” the chocolate brown pony admitted. “I tried to kill my own love for him.”

“You didn’t succeed, obviously.” Fern attempted a tremulous smile.

“I couldn’t do it; no matter what I tried, I couldn’t do it. And you can’t either, Fern. If you love Toby, then you have to forget Miranda’s warped sense of reasoning. Do what your heart tells you.”

“I try,” she sniffed, “and I thought I’d buried all her innuendos; but when she showed up at my door, I lost it.”

Chocolate Chip handed her a hoof full of tissues and offered a suggestion. “You’re too isolated here by yourself with Miranda running loose. Why don’t you come over to Sugarberry’s with me until Toby’s back in town to curb the vixen?” She had a frightening vision of Fern slipping away in the night.

Her eyes brightening, Fern responded with a positive, “I’d like that,” but then she added, “I can’t just walk in on Vanguard and Sugarberry; what if they don’t want me there?”

Laughing, Chocolate Chip picked up the phone. “I’ll ask first,” she said, dialing the number. “Vanguard,” she said upon reaching the house, “would it be okay if Fern Feather spends the next couple of nights in a spare bedroom?” Covering the mouthpiece, Chocolate Chip whispered to Fern. “He says it’s fine with him, but he’s checking... It’s fine? Great! We’ll be there after the performance at Pony Pride tonight. Bye!” She grinned at Fern. “See? No problem! And you’re already packed, so we can get out of here.”

“You’re the greatest!” Fern responded. “Without Toby, there’s no one else to care about me.”

“Don’t be silly,” Chocolate Chip chided, picking up the satchel and pushing Fern toward the door. “You’ve got plenty of friends here already who would do anything within reason to protect you from Miranda.” The door closed behind them. “And don’t you forget it,” Chocolate Chip winked with a smile.

* * *
“Your house makes me feel right at home, Sugarberry,” Fern said after she and Chocolate Chip arrived and were comfortably ensconced with fresh cookies and milk. “Granny’s house had a turret, too.”

They were sitting in the living room which in recent months had sprouted the one feature that Sugarberry had always dreamed of– a turret designed by Vanguard’s architect brother, Stillwater, who all the same held out the enticement of planning their dream home from scratch; but Vanguard and Sugarberry both had sentimental ties to this house that bound them to it. The addition of the turret and an additional room off the living room for office space had filled both ponies wants.

The turret extended to the master bedroom above, a cozy alcove where the strawberry-patterned pony and her handsome mate could retire for peace and privacy. The second floor over the office was an extension of their new bedroom suite– a future nursery in due time, was everyone’s foregone conclusion.

Leaving Fern on the window seat with Fluff purring at her side and Raptor playing with her mane, Chocolate Chip confided to Sugarberry in the kitchen, “Miranda got to her again.”

“That explains our houseguest.” Sugarberry rolled her eyes. “Miranda needs a life.”

Chocolate Chip replied, “Or at least a stallion.”

Looking inquisitive, Sugarberry asked, “You’ve got someone in mind?”

“W... e... ll... There is that new business administration teacher at Pony Pride; he’s available, from what I hear.”

Arranging a refill of cookies, Sugarberry got a faraway look. “Hmm... That might merit looking in to.”

* * *
Later that night, Sugarberry pensively watched her husband as they both sat in his-and-her matching chairs in their upstairs turret space; Vanguard was reading; Sugarberry was scheming.

“How’s that new teacher doing, the one in business– Roland, I believe his name is?”

Involved in his book, Vanguard abstractedly replied, “Okay, I guess; he seems to be settling in.”

“Do you see him often?”

“Often enough.”

“Is he good-looking and personable?”

Vanguard’s eyes finally left the page they were on, and he fixed a penetrating look at his wife. “And why, my love, do you ask that?”

Sugarberry’s face was angelic. “I realize I have been remiss in receiving some of our new citizens to Dream Valley; I think a small dinner party would be in order.”

“And who would attend this dinner of yours?”

Sugarberry met his eyes guilelessly. “Why, Roland, of course. And possibly...” She seemingly mulled prospective candidates over in her mind. “Why not Miranda? We haven’t made any attempt to make her feel welcome.”

“Miranda... I see.”

“Let’s plan on the day after tomorrow. Chocolate Chip and Fern and Petal all have to work late, and Wishbone is going to take them out for supper.” She added quickly, “It’ll just be the four of us– you and me, and Roland and Miranda; we can get to know one another better that way.”

“You’re not fooling anyone, Sugarberry. Your strategy is painfully obvious.” Vanguard’s tone was severe, but his eyes were sparkling.

“And if it works, Toby will have one less worry when he returns from Vulcanopolis.”

Vanguard set his book down. “Speaking of Toby and Vulcanopolis, we can’t forget that tomorrow is a very important day for Enrica.”

Sugarberry became serious in a heartbeat. “I haven’t forgotten; she’s a very brave pony; I wish a positive outcome was guaranteed.”

“Clare called me at the university this afternoon; she’d tried to reach you at the clinic, but the line was busy and she didn’t have much time. She asked for prayers for Enrica.”

“She can be assured of those,” Sugarberry vouched. “Fr. Isaac is holding a prayer service at the time of her operation; Thomas said he can hold the fort while Elaine and I attend. You’ll be in class,” she noted.

“Did the flowers get sent?” Vanguard asked as he stood up and offered a hoof to his wife.

“Yes. And the flower deliverers guaranteed a prompt delivery. I want Enrica to know we are thinking of her.” Sugarberry leaned her head on Vanguard’s shoulder as he hugged her close. “She’s been through so much in her life; it would be beautiful if she could walk again.” She pulled back to look Vanguard in the face. “What do you think– Will Toby succeed where others have failed?”

“I can’t answer that, Sugarberry. You’ll have to ask God about that.”

A smile lit her anxious face. “Persistently,” she responded.

* * *
The day of the surgery had begun hopefully, but Toby and Andrew both looked daunted after they had left the operating room and were washing up. Neither of them said a word; they both seemed to be delaying the expression of the thoughts that were running through their minds.

Toby spoke first. “The tests were wrong,” he stated unbelievingly.

Andrew shook his head. “They couldn’t have been,” he countered. “They verified every other report made on this mare.”

“What do we do now?” Toby asked, hoping his father would have an answer just like he always did years ago when Toby was a foal.

But this time, Andrew had no answer. “There’s nothing we can do, Toby; this is out of our hooves now.”

Toby looked at the older stallion. “And how do we tell her family?”

* * *
Tabby and Baby Faline were accompanying Sugarberry and Elaine back to the vet clinic after the prayer service when Elaine exclaimed, “Look, there’s a rainbow!”

“How can there be?” asked Sugarberry. “There’s no rain, not even a cloud.” However, the prism of light arched across the sky.

“Weird,” said Tabby. “Look Faline. See the pretty colors?”

The tiny foal looked where her mother pointed and smiled in apparent delight. “Ga!” she cooed, her little hooves seemingly waving at the ethereal apparition. “Ga!”

* * *
The waiting room was a somber place; Giorgio, Sr., paced from one window to the next, seeing nothing. Pacificus, from long years of his own mother’s ailments, sat patiently holding Hydrangea’s hoof as she watched her father’s wanderings. Clare sat alone; Giorgio could no longer take the tension and had slipped out for some fresh air. Ribbons n’ Roses sat at the back of the room, leaving the family their privacy.

The sound of an opening door caught Clare’s attention, but it was not Giorgio who came into the room; it was Dr. Toby and his father. Clare’s heart skipped a beat; the operation was scheduled to take much longer than this. She wanted to stand, but she could not move; all her strength had flowed out of her at the unexpected sight of those who should be at this moment with Enrica. She felt as if she was standing still and life was passing her by.

Feeling a hoof on her shoulder, Clare came back to reality; she turned to see that Giorgio had returned and was standing behind her, but his eyes were fixed painfully on the doctors. Hydrangea had risen and Pacificus supported her. Only Giorgio, Sr., was too lost in his own visions as he stared out the window– unseeing, yet seeing too much– to be aware of the two medical pones.

“Giorgio,” Andrew said, his voice controlled and antiseptic.

The stallion turned from the window as if in a daze. “Enrica?” he choked.

“She’s resting comfortably,” Andrew assured him. “You will be able to see her soon.”

“She’s safe?” Giorgio, Sr., asked. “She’s going to be okay?”

Andrew looked to Toby to supply the answer. Toby drew a deep breath and invited everyone to sit down. He looked from one to the other of the assembled ponies, took a bracing look at his mother across the room, and explained. “You understand what we were expecting to find, what we were prepared to correct. All the tests, all the images, showed us where the problem was; all we had to do was put things back to normal.” He paused, searching for the right words. Andrew came to his aid.

“What we found is that everything is normal. All of our previous indications were already corrected; there was nothing we could do.”

“There was nothing you could do... that means my mother will not walk again,” Giorgio reproved.

“That’s not what I said,” Andrew clarified. “The problem that we were shown from all our technical equipment no longer exists; by all medical standards, Enrica should be able to walk now, as soon as she is out of the anesthesia.”

“I... I don’t understand,” Giorgio, Sr., stood to face them. “You said there was nothing you could do; now you say she can walk, just like that?”

“We couldn’t fix what didn’t need fixing,” Toby patiently explained. “Somehow... somehow Enrica’s body has healed... itself.”

Hydrangea gasped. “What are you saying?” she asked, her eyes large and dark. She moved to her father’s side.

“What they are saying,” Giorgio angrily burst out, “is that they weren’t able to help our mother. Is that the bottom line?”

“Giorgio,” Clare put a restraining hoof on the stallion’s foreleg, her eyes locked on Toby’s.

“We won’t know for sure until Enrica is cognizant whether she can walk or not; but medically, she should be able to,” Andrew elucidated.

Giorgio, Sr., spoke up. “I want to see my wife.”

“It will be awhile before she is awake,” Toby reminded him.

“I need to see my wife.”

Responding to the stallion’s distress, Andrew said, “Come; I’ll take you to her.”

As they moved off, Clare spoke. “Toby, what have you done?”

“That’s the wrong question, Clare. You should ask, ‘What has God done?’”

“You honestly believe that Enrica will be able to walk?”

“There is no reason for her not to.”

Hydrangea came forward. “What you’re saying, then, is that this is a miracle?”

For the first time since this day began, Toby was able to smile. “Yes, Hydrangea. That’s the only explanation.”

* * *
“Dr. Toby, Dr. Andrew.. What can I say?” Enrica rested against her husband, her cheeks wet with quiet tears; they stood in the recovery room, stood together as they had not done in years. “You’ve given me back my ability to walk.”

Toby shook his head. “Enrica, you’ve heard what happened. You owe no thanks to my father or me. It was out of our hooves from the start, I believe. You’re faith got you to this point.”

“And to think I wanted her to be satisfied with her fate,” Giorgio, Sr., looked at his wife in wonder. “You are exceptional, my darling.”

“We have been blessed in an extraordinary way, Giorgio; I can walk, and these two medical ponies declare that it was not their doing. But I feel we owe them a deep debt for they were certainly part of this miracle. I thank God for their involvement.”

“I think our work here is done,” Toby said to his father. “The patient looks well enough to be released early; don’t you agree?”

“Just wasting needed space here,” Andrew chuckled. “Yes, we’d better take care of some paperwork; and you, Enrica, will be free to walk out of here.”

“And what are you’re plans?” Giorgio, Sr., asked of the stallions.

“I’m going to catch the last day of the medical conference,” Andrew revealed. “I might have some insight after this experience that will be worth expounding on.”

“And you, Toby?” Enrica smiled at the purple pony.

“You don’t need a doctor’s attention, so I will head back to Dream Valley first thing.”

“Certainly you could use some time off, Toby,” Enrica chided him. “It would be our pleasure to entertain you and your parents tomorrow evening at our home; I think we owe our Creator a show of thanksgiving.” She smiled coyly. “In addition, it would be refreshing to wait on my guests personally as I used to.”

Toby’s thoughts raced; he was anxious to get back to Dream Valley to be near Fern, but yet Enrica deserved this show of hospitality. He accepted her invitation.

Andrew approved. “You and your mother can spend some time together tomorrow while I’m off at the conference; I know she will find that a pleasant change. It’s too bad that mare of yours isn’t here, too.”

Enrica looked at Giorgio, Sr., and a few questions were asked. Before Toby knew what was happening, Fern had received a command from the administrator of Vulcanopolis: Drop whatever you are doing; a seat awaits you on the next flight out of Dream Valley– destination, Vulcanopolis. You are invited to attend a formal dinner at the home of Enrica and Giorgio Guardini.

* * *
Toby went alone to the airport to meet Fern; he spotted her before she saw him and could therefore see the look of happiness that crossed her face when she finally did pick him out of the multitude. “Toby!” she called, wending her way toward him as quickly as she could under the circumstances. They met in a crowd of ponies and Toby took her hoof to lead her to a less congested space. “You didn’t have any problems getting here?” he asked as he held her at forelegs length and studied her face, resting finally on her bluest of eyes.

“I feel like I’ve been time-warped,” Fern admitted. “I’d never dreamed of coming to Vulcanopolis; yet here I am.”

“You have experienced the power of Giorgio, Sr.,” Toby grinned. “Get used to it.”

“And what about Enrica? Your message was positive, but vague.”

“Enrica is fine,” Toby stated. “The operation wasn’t as difficult as we expected.” He put a foreleg around the green mare and escorted her toward the exit, explaining the remarkable events in detail as they went. Then, “Mom is waiting for us at the hotel; we’ll have lunch, and Dad will join us this evening at Enrica’s,” he ended his story.

“Toby, before I meet your parents, I need to tell you something.”

“And what is it?” he asked, his voice lighter than his mood at the serious tone of her voice.

“The reason I was staying with Chocolate Chip these last few days is because... because Miranda upset me again and I... I considered leaving town while you were away.” She hung her head like a sad foal admitting a lapse in obedience.

Toby stopped and turned to face her. “What did Miranda have to say?”

“Nothing new, really,” Fern admitted. “It’s just that... well... without you there, her reasoning made a lot of sense.” She glanced at Toby, but the feeling that she had let him down made her too timid to hold his gaze.

“Fern,” Toby put his hoof to her chin and lifted her eyes to his, “if my mother accepts you, will you be able to put Miranda’s poison remarks behind you once and for all?”

As the blue eyes met the turquoise ones, Fern suddenly knew that her future was irrevocably entwined with this stallion, and her spirit soared. “Yes, Toby. I will,” she smiled.

Toby saw the new confidence and he smiled, too. “She’s going to love you,” he beamed.

* * *
Enrica was at her best; her skill as a hostess had not suffered over the years and her newly regained mobility made the effort a joy for her. She had opened her home not only to Toby and his parents and Fern but also to Clare and Giorgio, Pacificus and Hydrangea. The group was exceedingly happy to have Enrica on her hooves and able to do the everyday things that the others took for granted. The pegasus radiated a look of wonderment that was reflected in the faces of her husband and children. Every step she took was watched in a combination of fearful dread that it would all come to a sudden end and with blissful excitement that this was a gift too precious to doubt.

Toby’s family experienced a lesser favor then Enrica’s cure– Toby had been right in foreseeing Ribbons n’ Roses acceptance of Fern as a delightful and becoming prospect for her son. Fern had faced the first moments in Ribbons n’ Roses company with nervous dread, but the mare had set her at ease immediately; and Fern had relaxed into her amiable and soft-spoken self. Toby had sat back and watched as the two became comfortable with one another; and by the time lunch was over, he was confident that Fern would never again doubt her own value. Ribbons n’ Roses was adept at honing in on the positive, and she found a lot to like in Fern. Andrew had barely had time to make Fern’s acquaintance before the family set off for the Guardini’s; but what he had seen, he had found refreshing. He spent his evening tallying up points of fact to stifle Juniper the next time that stallion began berating Toby and his choice of friends.

While Clare and Hydrangea took Fern for a tour of the gardens, Enrica probed Ribbons n’ Roses years of charitable work in New Pony, sending out tentative feelers as to how she could repay the Lord for his wondrous intervention. Ribbons n’ Roses was a veritable wellspring of ideas, leaving Enrica with enough possibilities to make a decision difficult.

When the time for parting came, Enrica extended an invitation to the visiting ponies to return in October to help celebrate the pending marriages. Hydrangea concurred. “After what has just happened with Mother-- and your part in it-- you will all have to get used to being counted as part of this family from here on in.” She hugged Toby and Andrew in turn.

“Don’t give them too much credit,” Giorgio grinned. “Remember that note from Sugarberry with the flowers; storming heaven with prayers was the key.”

* * *
Please, let this work out, Sugarberry silently prayed as she drummed her hoof nervously on the counter; dinner was ready, the cats were consigned to Wishbone’s room downstairs, Roland and Vanguard were having a cup of... tea... and Miranda was late. The mare had called, explaining that the last client of the day had delayed her leaving the office, but that she would be there as soon as possible. In the meantime, the food was going from “done to perfection” to “overcooked and dry.” Sugarberry groaned inwardly.

The sound of hooves on the front porch erased some of the anxiety from Sugarberry’s face, and she checked her own appearance while Vanguard crossed the room to admit the final guest. “Good evening, Miranda,” the host said. “Welcome to our home.” He guided the lovely mare into the room and Sugarberry extended her own greeting before looking to an introduction with Roland. She was dismayed at what she saw.

Roland stood transfixed, strongly resembling a wide-eyed colt who had just discovered that fillies were... well... girls. Sugarberry was sure that the sophisticated Miranda would be displeased with this juvenile gawking, yet the mare seemed not to notice, and Roland regained his composure in time to take Miranda’s pro-offered hoof congenially. Sugarberry visibly relaxed and Vanguard silently chuckled.

“Dinner is ready if you don’t mind sitting down immediately,” Sugarberry advised Miranda.

“That would be fine, if I can have some of that tea,” the mare agreed, eyeing the rich liquid.

Sugarberry and Vanguard escorted their guests to the dining room. Even Vanguard had seldom eaten in this room as Sugarberry usually served family and close friends in the comfortable surroundings of the kitchen; but Roland and Miranda were neither family nor close friends– at least, not yet– so the dinner was served in a more formal atmosphere.

The first topic of conversation was the miraculous recovery of Enrica; Sugarberry related that Fr. Isaac’s thanksgiving liturgy was overflowing as everyone wanted to be involved in some way with the wonderful event. When that topic had been exhausted, personal information about the two new ponies in Dream Valley was exchanged.

“New Pony?” Roland responded on learning that Miranda was, until recently, a native of Ponyland’s largest city. “I went to graduate school there.”

“At which university?” Miranda perked up perceptibly.

“New Pony U.”

“Oh,” she sounded disappointed, then added with pride, “I went to Treadwell.”

“Can’t do better than that,” admitted Roland.

“Roland teaches business classes at Pony Pride,” Sugarberry volunteered. “Where did you teach previously?” she asked, turning her attention to the turquoise stallion.

“North of New Pony at an out-of-the-way place called Limestone Ridge; they have a quaint little college, acceptable but rather staid.”

“Limestone Ridge?” Miranda perked up again. “My father has property along the lake; we always spent our summers there in our cabin.”

“I’ve seen some of those cabins,” said Roland. “They would more appropriately be called mansions.”

“Father’s cabin is the one with tiers of wooden decks dropping down from the house to the beach.”

“Wow!” Roland was impressed. “That’s the most extravagant one out there!” He looked at Miranda with unconstrained admiration.

“Father likes his comfort even when he’s roughing it,” Miranda observed.

Vanguard could not resist stating,” Toby’s parents have a place there, too, I believe.”

“Ah, yes, a little place back from the shore,” divulged Miranda matter-of-factly.

“Who is this Toby?” asked Roland.

“He’s one of the doctor’s here in Dream Valley,” Sugarberry offered.

“His father and my father have been friends since their college days,” Miranda expanded.

“Oh,” Roland frowned. “So you and this doctor are...”

“Acquainted,” finished Miranda with a smile at Roland that brightened his world immensely.

When the dinner had been finished and the dessert appropriately enjoyed, the ponies moved to the living room. Sugarberry brought in coffee for two, excusing herself to tend to the dishes and inviting her husband to lend a hoof.

But Roland intervened. “Let me help you, Sugarberry. Vanguard was just going to show us through the house, but that’s more in Miranda’s interest anyway.” He backed up his intent by leaving Miranda’s side and moving next to Sugarberry.

“That’s very considerate, Roland,” the strawberry-patterned pony insisted, “but not at all necessary.” She flashed a glance at Vanguard for his help but before he could say anything, Roland prevailed.

“Mom always said that the least us kids could do to show our appreciation for a good meal-- and I might say this was an excellent one-- was to clean up the kitchen afterwards. You can’t ask me to disobey my mother now, can you?” He smiled engagingly.

“Of course not,” Sugarberry acceded rather icily. The thought of her husband showing Miranda through their home did not amuse her; her gaze swept from the country blue stallion to the rosy mauve mare after which she turned and, accompanied by Roland, retreated to the kitchen.

“You’re a great cook, Sugarberry,” Roland said as he packed dishes from the dining room. “That key lime pie was superb.”

“Thanks.”

“We didn’t explore your history over dinner; how did you end up in Dream Valley?”

“Born and raised here; my parents and sisters are the ones who moved away.” She went on to explain her father’s passion for growing fruit and how her oldest sister had married a vineyard owner in Berryville which led to an exodus of sorts when suitable acreage adjoining Grapevine’s land became available to the budding pomologist to expand his interest in that field. This led to Roland’s stories of his early years growing up near a shopping mall which guided his interest in the business world.

In no time at all, the dishes were done. Roland, learning of the cats enforced lockup, pressed for their early acquittal; soon Fluff and Raptor were free again and enjoying the stallion’s obvious admiration. When the felines decided it was time for their visit to the food dish, Sugarberry and Roland went off to locate the present whereabouts of Miranda and Vanguard. They found them in the turret space with Miranda explaining the ins and outs of her line of expertise-- the wise use of jangles to maintain financial security.

“Your investments need to be diversified,” she cautioned Vanguard, who noted the entrance of Sugarberry and Roland with apparent relief.

“Miranda really knows how to handle the jangles,” he said, smiling at his wife with a look that expressed complete boredom.

“You and Vanguard really need to look over your financial planning; I’d be happy to sit down with you and discuss your options.”

“I’ve been meaning to do some diversifying,” Roland interjected. “Maybe you could give me some advice.”

Roland could not have pleased Miranda more. “The evening is young,” she smiled. “Maybe we could analyze your portfolio yet tonight.”

“But we haven’t had coffee yet,” Sugarberry observed.

“Would you be so kind as to excuse us?” Miranda purred. “Your hospitality has been charming, but Roland’s investments cannot be allowed to stagnate; I’m sure you understand.”

“Of course,” Sugarberry smiled. “I wouldn’t want to stand in the way of accrued interest.”

“Thanks, Van, for a great evening,” Roland remarked as Miranda led the way to the door. “It was nice meeting you, Sugarberry.”

“And don’t forget,” Miranda added. “Call anytime for an appointment. Every day that goes by could be costing you precious jangles!”

Sugarberry sighed as the door closed. “That was interesting,” she smirked.

Vanguard enfolded her in an embrace. “You seem to have been moderately successful in your matchmaking.”

Trying to look offended, Sugarberry countered, “It would have been extremely successful if you and Miranda hadn’t ended up alone for the greater part of the visit.”

“And what about you and Roland? From what I heard, you and he were having a more interesting time of it than Miranda and I; she sees everything through it’s ability to earn more jangles.”

“I would imagine that Roland, as a business teacher, would find that more stimulating than a math teacher.”

“Well, I must admit that compound daily interest did have its appeal.”

“I think Roland may find that calculating interest with Miranda might turn into a calculated risk.”

“Speaking of calculating,” Vanguard grinned, “I calculate that this is the first night in a long time that we’ve had the entire house to ourselves. Any ideas on what we might do with this unexpected gift?”

Sugarberry gave it some thought. “It’s not too late to go to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe and see if any of the gang is there,” she suggested with a sparkle in her eyes.

“Wrong,” stated Vanguard. He delivered a proper kiss instead.

* * *
On the final leg of their return journey, Toby and Fern had left Ribbons n’ Roses and Andrew behind in New Pony. “Your parents are wonderful, Toby. You are so lucky to have had their care and love all your life.”

“They’ve certainly always been there for me, and that will extend to you now. They both think you are very special.” Toby took Fern’s hoof in his, but Fern did not reply; she seemed miles away, and Toby guessed the reason. “What do you remember about your parents, Fern?” he asked softly.

“I was so young,” Fern sighed. “I know I was happy and loved, but all I remember of them physically is a picture, their wedding portrait, and that is my only perception of how they looked. They were gone so fast; they were just... gone.” She fell into an aggrieved silence, and Toby left her to her musings until he could bear it no longer.

“I would like to see their picture, if you’re willing to share it.”

A lone tear rolled down her cheek and dropped onto Toby’s hoof; it stirred a protective chord in the stallion which grew as Fern spoke. “I don’t have the picture. It hung in Granny’s parlor all those years; when my uncle Troubadour threw me out, I didn’t have time to retrieve it.”

Toby’s hoof tightened on hers, and the tear slipped between the two. “No one would be so cruel as to deny you that reminder of your parents. You should ask your great-aunt for it.”

Fern shook her head adamantly. “I did ask, as I was being escorted out of the house by Troubadour. I told him I’d forgotten my parents’ picture; he asked which one. When I told him, he said it was part of the house and his now. He shut the door in my face.”

“No one could be so cruel!” Toby exclaimed again, not believing his ears.

“Troubadour is,” Fern replied. “Granny never understood why her sister fell for such a cold, calculating stallion; that’s why she would have nothing to do with them.”

“But your aunt... didn’t she stick up for you?”

“She didn’t come with Troubadour; only the lawyer accompanied him. I never saw Aunt Maisie herself; I suppose she was too ashamed to be part of her husband’s scheme.”

“You have no idea where your grandmother would have kept her will?”

“No. She never trusted lawyers; I’m sure she kept it at the house, but I searched through all her papers and her private things and never was able to uncover it.”

“It was your uncle’s fault that you ended up in Dream Valley; I can’t entirely hold that against him– you and I might never have met otherwise.” Toby tried to lighten the moment. Fern responded with a smile and rested her head against Toby’s shoulder.

No more was said as the airplane flew them closer to Dream Valley, but Toby’s mind was busy. He knew that Fern would never be completely content with the unresolved events surrounding her grandmother’s will. It appeared to Toby that a loving and protective grandmother would have seen to her grand-daughter’s future. Troubadour, a disowned brother-in-law, garnered everything; that outcome was extremely wrong. Toby made a mental note to discuss the case with Perry Winkle; maybe there was something an honest lawyer could do.

Looking down at his companion, Toby saw that Fern had fallen asleep, her sudden departure from Dream Valley ultimately catching up with her. He smiled at the tranquil face. “This is where you belong,” he softly murmured. “Right by my side where I can protect you always.”

* * *
“Sugarberry, you’ll find this interesting,” Chocolate Chip said as she breakfasted with Sugarberry and Vanguard the morning after the matchmaking dinner party.

“What’s that?”

“Well, Wishbone, Petal, and I went to supper at the Cafe Carousel after I closed up late at the shop; you’ll never guess who we saw there having coffee!”

Vanguard offered a conjecture. “Wigwam with that new mare he hired at the casino?”

Chocolate Chip scowled. “Not even close. Wigwam was at the casino as Butch and Sparkler were going out on the town. And as for that new mare, Wigwam says if she doesn’t start coming in on time, she can look for a new job.”

The telephone rang and from his basement room, Wishbone called, “I’ll get it!”

Chocolate Chip was looking expectantly at Sugarberry, so the mare took a stab in the dark. “Driftwood and Raspberry?”

“You’re wrong, too. It was Miranda and Roland, the teacher from Pony Pride that I was telling you about. Isn’t that a coincidence?” She stared Sugarberry in the eye and tapped her hoof on the table.

“It’s... amazing,” Sugarberry smiled. “I hope this will alleviate some of Miranda’s spite towards Fern. More coffee?”

Chocolate Chip was not satisfied. “It’s weird, isn’t it, that the two ponies we mentioned the other night are seen together so soon after? I wonder how they met.”

“Dream Valley isn’t that big.”

Chocolate Chip rolled her eyes. “You expect me to believe that out of all the ponies in Dream Valley, Miranda just happened to stumble on to the very stallion we’d discussed?”

“I don’t think our passing remarks would count as a discussion.”

“I’ll have more coffee, Sugarberry,” Vanguard remarked as Wishbone clattered up the stairs.

“The phone call was for you, Sugarberry. The guy didn’t want to interrupt your breakfast, though, so he gave me a message. His name was Roland, and he just wanted to thank you for a lovely dinner last night.” Wishbone helped himself to a muffin and a glass of milk.

“Ah-hah!” Chocolate Chip exclaimed. “You did have a hoof in this, didn’t you, Sugarberry?”

“Vanguard and I were just getting acquainted with some of Dream Valley’s new arrivals.”

“Like Roland and Miranda?”

“Well, yes.” Sugarberry grinned and leaned across the table. “How were they getting along?”

“They were deep in conversation.”

“And doing a lot of calculating on the paper napkins?” Vanguard queried.

“Now that you mention it... yes, they were.”

“Figures!” said Wishbone.

Sugarberry grimaced. “Will Miranda ever see Roland as more than a business client?”

“Give it time, my love,” Vanguard advised. “We must assume that Roland is capable of exerting an imperceptible pull on even Miranda’s cold heart.”

“Using his interest and her assets?”

“Imagine the dividends!”

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

The Dream Quest
Part Three
by Moon Lightning ([email protected])


Misty Moon shot up out of bed thinking she heard something in the still morning air. No, only silence lingered except for occasional bird cries. Wait! There... there! thought Misty Moon, pricking her ears to catch the faintest mellow of a horn being blown in alarm. The wind made the sound seem distant sometimes except for its rush making the branches hit her window pane. Misty Moon could not help but think that the branches should have been trimmed by Leaf Drifter the day before. Missing something like that was something the meticulous gardener did not do if he could help it.

Tripping out of her bed as well as falling over her sister’s skates laid strewn on the floor, Misty Moon tumbled out into the hall. “Aieee!!” The cry sent Misty Moon wheeling in a tangle of legs, her own voice joining the cry she had heard before.

Regaining her footing, Misty Moon thought she saw someone looking at her at the end of the hallway! With a nervous laugh, she walked up to the large mirror. “Well, hello, stranger. My, you look nice this morning,” she mused over her own reflection and its messy appearance.

A second cry broke Misty Moon’s personal joke, sending her bolting toward the stairs. “Prims, did you close the front door on your tail again?” she asked to the source of the screams. “Or did you fall down the stairs again for the umpteenth time?” An image of her sister laying sprawled by the stairs filled her mind. Primrose was always in too much of a hurry! Usually she ended up getting her hooves in a jumble when she tried to run down the six steps by their front door.

Outside, the forlorn horn blew its urgent call once again, breaking free from the wind that tried to silence it. What could be so bad to have everyone attend a meeting?

Nothing could possibly happen in this dull valley, thought Misty Moon, snorting. Walking down the stairs she saw the bathroom light on, its intensity making her wince. It was too early for meetings and definitely too early for bright lights. From inside the room Misty Moon heard a muffled sob mixed with cries of wonder. Could this be the source of this morning’s mystery cries?

However, when Misty Moon opened the partly closed door, she cried herself– not from fear but from shock instead. There, sitting on the floor, was her sister Primrose, looking into the bathroom mirror, holding and looking at her hair. But her HAIR! Gone were the silky, silver curls that Prims as well as her long lost mother loved to brush. Gone was that lovely silvery pearl shine that gleamed whenever the sun hit it just so. In its place was a... a... rainbow?!

What’s going on here?! thought Misty Moon and said, “What did you do to YOUR HAIR?” to her sister.

After seeing her, Primrose winced. Misty Moon realized she had come across too harshly to her. “I don’t KNOW!!!” cried the young filly in tears. “I just wanted to see a rainbow!”

“A rainbow!” Misty Moon snorted. “You’re seeing rainbows, all right.” She struggled to control her voice lest she upset her sister again.

“I know!” cried Primrose, sitting in a puddle of her own tears.

“Okay. So how did you do it?” asked Misty Moon softly. “Where is the hair dye?”

Shocked, the filly shuddered. “I-I-I didn’t!” she stuttered and rose to glance at herself in the mirror. “...I only wished”

“A wish,” sneered her older sister, shaking her head. How did Primrose get into these things? Oh! Did she wish to the Gem, too, last night? Misty Moon didn’t think the filly was awake during the conversation with her father, but maybe she had been. If Primrose had wished to the Gem, then maybe Misty Moon’s wish from last night came true as well. After being so deep in thought, she asked, “How did you go about asking for this?” Primrose cocked her head, so Misty Moon rephrased her question so her little sister could understand. “I mean, what did you say in your wish?”

Primrose looked thoughtful and answered, “I wished that I saw a real rainbow in the bathroom.”

“In the bathroom?” repeated Misty Moon, looking at her sister and trying hard to keep from laughing out loud. “Why did you want to see a rainbow in the bathroom?”

Primrose was reluctant to explain herself. “Well... when I was at Fancy Bows’ house, she told me she saw a rainbow in her bathroom mirror. She told me it was hers and I wanted my own rainbow pet, too. But when I looked, all I saw was a plain old mirror in her bathroom. I did not see one bit of a rainbow, whatever it was!”

Laughing, Misty Moon tried to explain what her friend must have seen. “Pretty Bows saw sun reflecting off of the mirror that looked like a rainbow. Real rainbows are in the sky,” she reasoned. Then, trying to lighten the mood, she added, “You are sure seeing rainbows this morning!”

Primrose frowned and cried, “I did not mean my HAIR! And look, my tail is a rainbow, too!” She stomped her small hoof in such a way that was too much for Misty Moon, who fell down laughing.

“Come on!” Misty Moon told Primrose, trying to get ahold of herself. “There is a meeting down by Gwenn Rock.” As both sisters were heading out the door, Misty Moon snickered when Primrose came out with a bonnet smashed on her head and a bouquet of flowers on her tail hiding most of the rainbow.

Usually Misty Moon said “Mind you, don’t close the door on your tail again” every time they went out together. But this time, Misty Moon tripped in a fit of laughter and Primrose bowed her head in shame. “Don’t worry, Prims,” smiled her sister. “Looks good! Maybe a change will be okay.”

Primrose’s only answer was by taking off her hat and flowers and letting them fall into a bush– something else for Leaf Drifter to complain about. Luckily the usually-irate gardener was nowhere in sight. Misty Moon had been avoiding him ever sense she had snuck back into her house that stormy night.

Both sisters walked their pace, quickened by the message horn that fought the wind to be heard. It seemed to say “Come, come,” pressing them and the other ponies onward, their urgency making Misty Moon miss a shadowy figure staring at them from a distant cliff, its eyes burning bright, watching, waiting...

When Misty Moon paused to see if they had closed the door behind them, the shadowed stranger, its strong muscles tensing, hurried off like a leaf caught in the wind.

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

The Adventures of Baby North Star and Baby Brother Bright Bouquet
Chapter 7: The Cruise
by Baby Steamer ([email protected])


One day Mommy Bright Bouquet went up to her children and said, “Daddy’s friend Salty has invited us out on his boat for a weekend and has said that you kids can each invite a friend along; how’d you like that?” This was met with excited nods from her children.

“Now,” she said, smiling at her son, “I’m sure you’re going to invite Baby North Star.” Baby Brother Bright Bouquet nodded. “Whom are you going to invite, Baby Sister?” she continued.

“I think I’d like to invite Baby Advenger,” said her daughter.

“Okay, Daddy or I will probably have to talk to their parents, though,” said Mommy Bright Bouquet. So she went with her children to call their friends, and spoke to their parents who gave their children permission to go on the cruise.

After permission was granted, the kids made plans of what to do while on the boat. Unknown to the kids, but known to their parents, Salty had also talked to his friend Barnacle about having a pirate’s treasure hunt with some of Barnacle’s friends dressed as pirates, which Barnacle agreed to. “Har, me matey, I’ll give them a pirate’s treasure hunt to be remembered for a long time,” Barnacle told Salty, using his best pirate’s voice.

The day before the cruise was a busy one for the Bright Bouquets. They did not want to leave anything behind, so Daddy Bright Bouquet made a list with the help of Mommy, Baby Brother, and Baby Sister Bright Bouquet. Then they packed everything according to the list.

The next morning the Bright Bouquets left early to pick up Baby North Star and Baby Advenger, and then went on to meet Salty at the dock at ten o’ clock. When they got to the dock, Salty asked, “Are you kids ready to have some fun?”

“YEAH!” exclaimed the children.

“Well, come aboard, then,” said Salty, stepping out of the way.

The kids rushed on board Salty’s boat, followed by the adults. The baby ponies were eager to go exploring, but first Salty had to explain the safety rules of being at sea. Then the babies were allowed to go exploring while Salty did the final preparations before leaving dock. Daddy Bright Bouquet assisted Salty with the ropes that tied the boat to the dock and soon they were underway. When they were out of the bay, Salty allowed the baby ponies to each have a turn steering the boat.

When the last baby pony, Baby Brother Bright Bouquet, was taking his turn at the wheel, Salty pointed out an excellent fishing spot and suggested they go over there and do a little fishing. Cheers from his guests met this. So, Baby Brother Bright Bouquet steered for the spot Salty indicated. When they had cast anchor, Salty handed the baby ponies baby-pony-sized fishing poles, and to the adults he handed bigger poles. They then enjoyed a lovely afternoon of fishing.

Soon it was time for dinner and Salty indicated an island where they could go to cook the fish they caught over an open fire and set up camp. Secretly, though, this was the island where he had arranged for Barnacle to do his pirate’s act the following morning. After a lovely dinner of fish and vegetables, the travelers talked for a little while, and then Daddy Bright Bouquet put out the fire and everyone turned in for the evening.

The next morning, the children were awoken by strange voices. “That sounds like pirates!” exclaimed Baby Brother Bright Bouquet. They took a peek out and saw five ponies dressed as pirates in their camp.

“W-w-w-what do you think they want?” asked Baby North Star in a quivering voice.

“I don’t know,” said Baby Brother Bright Bouquet.

By this time, Salty was up along with the Bright Bouquets. Salty saw the baby ponies peeking out and exclaimed, “Come on out; we’re going on a treasure hunt!”

“A treasure hunt? WOW!” said Baby North Star as she rushed out of the tent, followed by the other baby ponies.

Barnacle then told them about an old pirate pony from long ago who had hidden a treasure on this very island. He had said that any pony that finds his treasure would have rightful claim to it. This excited the babies even more.

“What are we waiting for? Let’s go,” said Baby North Star. And that is just what they did. Since Barnacle had the map, he led the way, followed by his friends, then the baby ponies, and Daddy and Mommy Bright Bouquet taking up the rear. Along the way, Barnacle and his friends taught the others old pirate songs to pass the time.

Soon, they came to a spot with a big black X. “Well, here we are, X marks the spot,” said Barnacle, and with that, he produced shovels and picks. While the males got to work, the females sat and watched.

Shortly, a big chest was produced and Barnacle called the baby ponies over. “Would you four like to open it?” he asked. Baby Brother Bright Bouquet got one side with his friend Baby North Star, and Baby Advenger and Baby Sister Bright Bouquet got on the other and they all lifted the heavy lid together. Inside there were gold wrapped chocolates, which the baby ponies were allowed to have a few pieces of right then. The rest would be split up between the young, successful treasure hunters. Then Barnacle and his friends told the others old pirate stories, and after that it was time for Salty and the others to go back to his boat and go home.

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

Dark Forest Distress
by Sugarberry and Tabby ([email protected] and [email protected])


“What’s on your mind, Dreamcatcher?”

The unicorn mare and Fetish sat on the riverbank, Fetish with a fishing line in the water, Dreamcatcher with a basket half finished at her side. The mare continued to gaze into the depths of the sparkling water as if she was searching for the answer to her husband’s question there.

Fetish went on. “I’ve heard your middle of the night treks out of the tepee; what’s bothering you?” He set his pole on the ground and went to sit by his wife.

Without taking her eyes off the rippling water, Dreamcatcher finally answered him. “We’re going to have a foal.”

Fetish lost his worried expression and grinned. “That’s good news... isn’t it?”

Dreamcatcher looked neither happy nor sad, almost indifferent, but she turned her head and smiled. “Of course, it’s good news; the foal should be born in May.”

“The time of new birth,” Fetish mused.

Dreamcatcher went back to her study of the constantly moving stream while Fetish studied

her profile. “Dreamcatcher, I’d like you to consider getting medical care from one of the Dream Valley physicians while you are pregnant. I know you don’t like to compromise your Native Pony traditions, but...”

“No.”

“But your health and the foal’s shouldn’t be ignored. The doctors could make sure that nothing goes wrong.”

“You know that I... see things sometimes.”

“Yes,” the stallion grinned. “I haven’t been able to keep a secret from you yet.”

Dreamcatcher ignored his teasing remark. “My restless nights have been due to a recurring dream.” She stopped, the vision so vivid that it overwhelmed her. “It is late spring, but a snowstorm has dumped heavy snow; but as with such a late season storm, the sun comes out to dazzle the countryside; the snow soon begins to melt.” She closed her eyes, reliving the dream. “I was dying, Fetish, not in the embrace of nature but surrounded by the sterile, cold surroundings of a hospital delivery room. No, I won’t risk my life or my foal’s; your cousin, Jalap, will be able to help me through.”

Fetish saw the set of his wife’s jaw and knew her unbending temperament. He sighed and bargained for a middle ground. “Promise me that if Jalap or you suspect any problem at any time, you’ll let the doctors help you.”

“There will be no problems,” Dreamcatcher smiled reassuringly. “And there will be no more disturbing dreams.”

* * *
It was that same night that Fetish awoke, sensing that Dreamcatcher was restless at his side. “More dreams?” he asked, coming out of his sleep.

Dreamcatcher shushed him. In the shadowy darkness, he could just make out her alert posture as if she was listening to something; Fetish listened, too, and could hear a slight rustling outside the tepee. The sound gradually moved around the perimeter of the abode; then, all was quiet again.

“It was bigger than a raccoon or a fox,” Dreamcatcher asserted now that the creature was gone. “I wonder...”

Fetish’s mind was following the same course. “It’s too early for Manitou to be back,” the stallion said, remembering fondly the grey wolf that had shared the forest with them until moving on to more isolated grounds with his family early in the summer.

“Too early, yes, but that animal was a wolf.”

The two ponies settled down again, yet Fetish did not fall asleep immediately. He could not help wondering about the sensibility of the two of them remaining in this remote and primitive home now that there was a foal to consider; he would feel much better if his wife was under the care of a doctor and living in a comfortable dwelling nearer to the other ponies of Dream Valley.

And now the presence of a wolf, a wolf that might not be as friendly and protective as Manitou, only doubled his worries. He would have to convince Dreamcatcher somehow that a change of location would not be a total abandonment of their Native Pony ancestors.

* * *
A perusal of the grounds the next morning gave no positive clue as to the identity of the midnight caller; and by the light of day, even Fetish was not overly concerned about the presence of another creature in the Dark Forest. He and Dreamcatcher had the recurring chore of gathering firewood to tend to, and they set off to accomplish that task.

“You are happy here, Dreamcatcher?” Fetish asked as they walked to a likely area of the forest for their scavenging efforts.

A small rabbit bounded away from their hooves, disappearing into the underbrush. “Why do you ask that?” the mare countered.

“It’s a long way from our families here; we could be living among all our friends and relatives instead of alone in this cumbersome forest.”

“You are not happy here?”

“I didn’t say that. I just wonder if we made the right decision to come to this place.”

Dreamcatcher laughed. “I made the decision; you did not have to follow me here.”

“No, I didn’t. But you accepted my proposal when I got here, so I think that you were glad that I did come after you.”

“You know why I left; too many of the descendants of the Native Ponies are giving up the old ways. I want to preserve what has been handed down through so many generations before it is all lost.”

“There are still plenty of ponies back home who live the old ways; and they do it right next door to those who have adopted the new ways.”

“Just watch, Fetish. Those ponies will adopt the new ways one by one and not even notice the change until they are as modern as everyone. And then who will there be to keep our Native Pony traditions? I have taken a big enough concession to work among the ponies of Dream Valley; I will not give up the day to day ways that have sustained our kind for centuries.”

They had arrived at a tract of the forest that they had not yet covered; there was plenty of dry wood on the forest floor and the two ponies went their way gathering the pieces and laying them out on a travois that Fetish had pulled along. Their conversation was at a minimum as they rooted through the underbrush and scattered growth that dotted the ground.

“Ouch!” exclaimed Dreamcatcher as she took a step forward, her hoof landing on something sharp.

“What is it?” Fetish was at her side immediately.

“Something on the ground; something sharp and pointy.”

Fetish searched the area and came up with the probable cause-- a piece of stone partially buried in the soil. Upon closer inspection, the stallion looked at Dreamcatcher with surprise. “This is some kind of stone carving.”

Dreamcatcher, rubbing her sore hoof, looked at the object in her husband’s hoof. “What’s it a carving of?”

“A pony, I guess.” He handed the object to her.

Scraping off the dirt that encased part of the rock-hard statue, Dreamcatcher peered at it closely. “It does look like a pony,” she agreed, “but what is this frill around its head?” She pointed out a circle of stone that rested above the ponies carved eyes.

The sunlight filtering through the trees of the Dark Forest struck the figure in such a way that Fetish was enlightened. “It’s a crown!” he cried. “This could be a representation of one of the early rulers of Ponyland... although I’ve never run into anything of its kind before.” Fetish was involved with cataloguing artifacts at the still pending Dream Valley Historical Museum. He studied the carving more intently than ever. “Look!” There’s a scepter in its hoof, too.”

“Clever Clover will want to see this! Let’s mark the spot where we found it so we can show him the exact location.”

“Right.” Fetish found a sturdy limb that he was able to jab into the ground and the two ponies finished loading their firewood with restored energy and were soon on their way home.

* * *
The purple stallion examined the find silently while Dreamcatcher and Fetish looked on with expectation. “Very interesting,” Clever Clover finally said.

“Well, what do you think?” asked Fetish.

“It’s quite unusual in its form and method of carving.”

“So...”

“I’d have to see where you found it before I make any more determinations about it.” Clever Clover turned to Spike, the dragon, and Friendly, the Bushwoolie, who had accompanied him to the Dark Forest this day, and gave an order. “Grab the shovels and backpacks.” Then, to Dreamcatcher and Fetish, “You can lead us there, I presume.”

“Sure,” remarked Fetish. “We’ll be glad to.”

The safari of sorts headed into the forest, following the path that the Native Ponies had taken that morning. An early afternoon hush lay over the woodland, and the autumn sunshine was just beginning to penetrate through the still leafy canopy overhead. The three ponies trod soundlessly while the dragon and the Bushwoolie marched along kicking up rustling leaves and keeping up a constant chatter of perfectly useless information.

Soon, the explorers had reached the spot where Dreamcatcher had unexpectedly discovered the carving. “It was right here where the stick is,” said Fetish, pointing to the place on the ground where he had placed the marker, only now there was no stick standing up to proclaim the location; all that was left were some chewed up bits and pieces of the once sturdy limb. “Strange,” the stallion said, examining the pieces. “What would have destroyed the marker, and why?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Friendly eyed the destroyed stick cautiously, then stepped back. “Look! Look!”

The Bushwoolie pointed to a print in the dirt near the place where Fetish had placed the marker. The print was not the crisp rounded outline of a pony’s hoof but the soft, fluted impression of a paw... and a big paw at that.

Everyone looked from the print on the ground to the surrounding trees and bushes that encircled them; Friendly moved into the protective cover of the ponies while Spike tested his fire in case of dire need. Dreamcatcher finally spoke. “It was a wolf.”

“I thought Manitou was gone from here,” Clever Clover noted.

“He has been; I don’t think this is Manitou, though.”

Fetish picked up pieces of the shredded stick. “Maybe it is Manitou, and he is just messing with us.”

“Yeah! Kiddin’ around,” optimistically agreed Friendly. “Yeah, yeah.”

“The pups, maybe,” tentatively pondered Dreamcatcher. “I suppose they could have roamed into their old territory.”

Spike sniffed the air. “That could be it; there are more than one of them.”

Looking over his shoulder, Clever Clover grimaced. “I feel like we’re being watched.”

“We very well may be,” asserted Dreamcatcher. “They could be anywhere and we’d never see them.”

“If they are Manitou’s pups, we aren’t in any danger; they would remember us,” Fetish reminded his friends. It was therefore decided to continue with their business; Clever Clover scrutinized the area looking for any signs of further artifacts, then dug an exploratory hole near where the carved pony had surfaced. His shovel test unearthed several partial shards from a larger carving which indicated that further searching would be in order. After several more holes had been excavated, Clever Clover was in good spirits.

“You may have stumbled on a great historical discovery here, Dreamcatcher. What we’ve uncovered so far is completely non-Native Pony in composition. If I had to hazard a guess at this point, I’d say they’re much more Greek in style... but to our knowledge there has never been a Greek settlement in this area and no evidence that the Native Ponies would have been trading with the Greek ponies.”

“I agree, they definitely aren’t Native Pony like what has been excavated in the surrounding areas,” concurred Fetish. “There has been no evidence of a Greek influence before now.”

Clever Clover drew the original crowned pony carving from his backpack and studied it earnestly. “There is a legend...” he said almost unwillingly. “I’ve read about it in some ancient texts. They mention that during the rise of Atlantis, there was another Grecian city flourishing on the shore of Ponyland. Nothing of the city was ever discovered, though, so it became just a legend...”

“Was it mentioned what became of this city?” Fetish asked excitedly.

“No details were given in anything I’ve read; just that a disaster of sorts befell it, and its inhabitants were scattered across Ponyland.”

“If this city really did exist, do you think it’s possible we may have discovered it?”

“The Dark Forest always has been a mysterious place; a legendary city could have been swallowed up by it over time,” Clever Clover admitted. “If it was abandoned and then forgotten about except in legend...”

“But how did the Native Ponies fit into this Greek city?” Fetish queried.

“It’s impossible to say at this point, but I suppose it’s feasible that they moved into the area after the fall of that city, if that’s what we have found. It is known as fact that the oldest Native Pony cities and settlements were located much further south of here, and it was later in their history that they spread out further over the country.”

“When can we get to work on it?” Fetish was already geared up and ready to go.

“I’ll have to do some surveying and brush clearing before I begin serious digging, not to mention that I’m in the middle of another project outside of Friendship Gardens. But this venture looks so promising that I might close up that site for the time being.” He looked at his Native Pony friends. “This is going to be so much fun!”

* * *
Coming home from a day at her shop at the mall, Native Dreams, which carried only hoof-crafted items made by Native Ponies, Dreamcatcher came across her husband having a conversation with their nearest neighbor, Butch.

“... and if Quackers hadn’t been in such a sturdy pen, he wouldn’t be quacking any more,” Butch finished.

Fetish greeted his wife, then informed her of the reason for Butch’s visit. “There is a wolf in the area, and it definitely isn’t Manitou.”

“That’s right, Dreamcatcher. He’s big and he isn’t friendly; he tried to have Quackers for a midnight snack last night.”

“You’re sure it wasn’t Manitou?”

“I got a glimpse of him when I went out with my lantern to see what the ruckus was about; he looked straight at me; and even though he is the same color as Manitou overall, he has a white streak running down the left side of his face. It gives him an evil sort of look; I don’t trust that animal.”

“Quackers is okay?”

“Sure. He quacked louder than I ever heard him quack before. He was one scared little duck.” The feathered friend had been Butch’s comrade since Tabby had become annoyed with the duck who for some unknown reason had singled Tabby out as a target for his incessant rampages (as Tabby saw them); and Tabby had conned Sundance to take the rebel duck to her brother in the Dark Forest.

“Why don’t you stay for supper, Butch. We can tell you about our experience with this wolf.”

“I’d like that but I’m expected in town tonight; me and Sparkler are eating fancy tonight; but I do have time to hear what’s been going on.”

As Fetish explained about the episode with the destroyed marker at the site of the possible site, Dreamcatcher got a fire burning for the preparation of the evening meal. Both ponies walked a short distance with Butch when he set off for Dream Valley, parting with him at the edge of the forest. “You two keep your eyes open,” he advised as he prepared to go on his way. “I wouldn’t go too far from home after dark if I were you.”

Fetish raised an eyebrow. “The evenings are getting short this time of year; how do you propose to get home before dark?”

“I’ve got Quackers penned up for the night, and Wigwam lets me crash at the casino office when I need to. Don’t worry about me,” he grinned.

As Fetish and Dreamcatcher watched Butch go off down the path, Fetish reinforced his words. “No night-wandering, you hear, Dreamcatcher? We’re taking no chances.”

The pale orange unicorn smiled. “I’ve no desire to meet this creature under any circumstances.”

* * *
“Ugh,” groaned Dreamcatcher early one morning. “This must be what Lemon Treats has been complaining of.” She rushed out of the tepee and disappeared down the path to the river.

Fetish grinned and, grabbing the water bucket, soon followed; he found his wife near the water’s edge. “You okay?”

“Feeling... yucky,” she croaked, then curled up in the still green grass. “I don’t feel like going to work.”

Fetish dropped down at her side. “Just sit till for awhile; maybe you’ll feel better.” They sat silently, enjoying the early morning freshness of the day, and Dreamcatcher did begin to feel more like herself. Neither pony was anxious to leave the peaceful setting and begin the day, but they had obligations to face; Dreamcatcher was the first to stand up; and when she did, she stood riveted.

“Fetish! Across the river!”

The stallion followed her gaze; there, peering through the branches of a currant bush, was the face that Butch had described to them: a massive grey head with a white stripe down the side and piercing yellow eyes that glared at them unblinkingly.

“He looks as if he is wearing war paint,” Dreamcatcher whispered, referring to the white mark on his face.

“And looks like he is on the war path,” observed Fetish, moving closer to his wife. The movement caused the wolf to abandon his position, and he melted into the underbrush without a sound. Fetish went to the river’s edge to get the bucket filled with water; then he and Dreamcatcher returned to their tepee. “Are you up to going in to Native Dreams?” he asked as they walked side by side.

“Sure; I feel fine now.”

“Good. I’d hate to leave you here alone until we know more about this new occupant of the forest.”

* * *
It was several weeks before Clever Clover had the preliminary work done to begin some excavating of the area that portended to be an educational treasure of an early culture. He reported that he had not seen the wolf while he was surveying and marking out the dig site. Nor had Butch and Quackers had any further trouble from the animal; Dreamcatcher and Fetish, other than their early morning glimpse, had also seen no sign of him. Everyone hoped that the intruder had been dissatisfied with the area, moving on to some other more distant hunting ground, and breathed a sigh of relief to have this potential complication resolved so readily.

Planning on his first full day of digging on Saturday, Clever Clover had invited Dreamcatcher and Fetish to come to the site to see firsthoof what was uncovered; both ponies gladly accepted. Fetish had some business at the museum to see to before he could take off, but Clever Clover planned to stop by the tepee to pick up Dreamcatcher on his way to the site.

While waiting for Clever Clover, Dreamcatcher tidied up the tepee and went through some paperwork in connection with her shop; by then, she was becoming impatient. It appeared as if Clever Clover had forgotten to stop; he was rather forgetful sometimes. The day was a gorgeous one to be out in the forest, so Dreamcatcher finally decided to walk to the site alone; Clever Clover would surely be there already, and Fetish would soon be coming, too. The perfect day begged to be enjoyed, and Dreamcatcher could not deny the summons.

The air was pleasant and dry; a slight breeze rustled the leaves in the trees; glimpses of blue sky peaked through the treetops from time to time. Dreamcatcher found it refreshing to be alone with the touch of nature; a day away from her shop at the mall was always a delight to her and her Native Pony instincts. She put all cares and concerns aside; nothing could spoil these hours for her. She enjoyed every step of her walk and was surprised to reach the site so quickly.

Finding much changed as the archeological stallion had been busy, she surveyed the plots that Clever Clover had marked off with ropes; the one she was most interested in blocked off the spot where she had originally stepped on the carved statue. Maybe Clever Clover would let her dig in this section.

Where was Clever Clover? The mare could not believe that he would have forgotten his work here. Of course, she realized, if something had come up, he could not very well telephone; even Butch had not yet taken the step to get hooked up with the Dream Valley Phone Company. At any rate, she would wait here until Fetish showed up; she was sure that he would not be detained.

The mare moved across the area that encompassed Clever Clover’s work and began searching the perimeter for any signs of artifacts that may have been missed. A section of the forest floor was littered with stones and larger rocks that appeared to Dreamcatcher as a likely place to spot something of interest. She meandered across the littered surface, stopping often to more closely examine anything out of the ordinary.

One such study caused Dreamcatcher to drop to the ground to begin scratching away soil in earnest. What had caught her eye simply because of the pretty colors turned out to be something spectacular– an ornament of some kind with dirty but still visible precious stones imbedded in it. Caught up in the thrill of uncovering the ancient decoration, she was unconscious of anything around her. Her efforts paid off; she soon had the artifact free of the confining soil.

As Dreamcatcher lifted the piece from the dirt, a shiver went down her spine; she realized in that instant that someone was watching her. She stood and swung her head around to see behind her and felt her spirit drain out of her. She was no longer alone, and the newest visitor was neither Clever Clover nor Fetish.

Near her, no farther than a room’s length away, stood the wolf, his yellow eyes focused on her in cold, calculating interest. At her movement, the wolf announced his intent with a throaty growl and a baring of his teeth; the mare froze.

As the two stared at each other, Dreamcatcher regained her senses and realized that the wolf before her, even though it was the same creature with the white stripe down one side of his face, was not exactly as he had been. When she and Fetish had seen him across the river, his eyes had been bright and clear; now they were clouded and dim. He was still an impressive size, but his once shiny coat hung on him in matted disarray. The muscular build had become thin, almost grotesque; this more than anything made Dreamcatcher shudder, for only a sick wolf would be desperate enough to attack her. She felt fear wash over her body, rendering her helpless; she took a step backward.

Sensing her fear, the wolf followed, stopping only when he was within several yards of her; the low, threatening growls continued. He was close enough now that Dreamcatcher could see the reason for his decline-- several ragged wounds crisscrossed his heaving sides, and they were deeply infected. In her danger, Dreamcatcher could still feel compassion; she knew that under her care, the decrepit animal would have a chance, at least, at life. As it was, Dreamcatcher was in no position to offer her help; the wolf was sick and hungry; even a Little Pony looked like fair game to him.

Dreamcatcher also noticed something else-- there was a second wolf. Standing under the protecting branches of a small tree, this wolf was intently watching the proceedings with a wary eye. Dreamcatcher discerned that this was a she wolf, probably the injured animal’s mate. Without the steady reflexes of her mate to insure a successful hunt, she was probably near starvation herself. She slowly began to circle around behind Dreamcatcher.

The unicorn realized that if she was going to escape this stalking pair, she would have to do something quickly. From what she remembered, there were several larger boulders behind her a short distance; with them at her back, she at least might be able to buy some time. Time... where were Clever Clover and Fetish? This was no time for them to desert her. And why hadn’t her unicorn magic of seeing into the future warned her of this confrontation? A pony could not depend on anything.

Taking one slow step backwards, then another, Dreamcatcher made a drastic error; her back hoof became entangled in a curling, tangled grapevine, throwing her off balance. The pony fell onto her side; as she went down, she was aware of only two things: the voice of Fetish calling her name and the lunge of the injured wolf toward her through the air.

Making a last desperate scuffle toward the boulders, Dreamcatcher heard a vicious growl and swung her head around, expecting to see her adversary coming down on her. But, instead, she saw that a large, healthy wolf had come out of nowhere to bring down the attacking animal.

At the same moment, Fetish appeared at her side and she felt his forelegs come protectively around her; yet she could not take her eyes off the battle going on before her. She gasped at the ferocity that the new entrant went at the injured one; and even though so worn out and hungry, the original wolf was not giving in willingly.

But the wolf with the white streak on his face was no match for the superior strength and virility of the newcomer; he realized the futility of his efforts and assumed a crouching position, his ears laid back and his tail tucked between his legs before the conquering animal who now stood over him, accepting this victory with his noble head up and his tail pointing skyward.

Only now could the unicorn think clearly again, and she realized in a rush of relief that the wolf who had taken down the maverick was Manitou. “There was still another wolf,” she looked at Fetish with renewed anxiety.

“Don’t worry,” Fetish reassured her. “Halona has her under control.” Dreamcatcher looked around her husband to see that the female wolf was being guarded by Manitou’s mate, then turned back to Manitou. “You’re the greatest!” she smiled, and the wolf responded with a wagging of its tail. “How did Manitou and Halona know they were needed here?” she asked of her companions.

“I don’t know how,” responded Clever Clover, coming across the clearing, “but I’m sure grateful that they did. Did you see how Manitou knocked that scoundrel out of mid-air with his strike? That was awesome!”

“We didn’t even see him until he was leaping like a blur toward the other wolf,” added Fetish. “We had heard the growling as we came along the path and ran to make sure you were...” The emotion of the situation got the better of the stallion, and he drew Dreamcatcher to him and buried his face in her mane.

“I got a late start because of a visitor from the Flatlands,” Clever Clover continued for the distraught Fetish. “I ended up meeting Fetish, and we came on together. He knew you were no longer at the tepee and assumed that you and I were both here, so when he saw me alone he was anxious, to say the least.” He grinned at the stallion.

“Someday you’ll understand,” Fetish confided. “Wait until you have a wife-- and a foal on the way-- and see how edgy you get.” He looked at his wife. “You are okay, aren’t you?”

“Thanks to Manitou, yes.” The pair walked to Manitou’s side and Dreamcatcher placed a hoof on his shoulder. “Thank you, Manitou. And you too, Halona.” The she wolf had joined the ponies who stood by her mate.

Fetish seconded his wife’s sentiments. “I owe you an unpayable debt.” He threw a foreleg around Manitou’s shoulder and patted Halona on the head.

It was only then that Dreamcatcher noticed that Clever Clover was standing over the injured wolf. She quickly walked to his side. “He doesn’t look too good,” Clever Clover said sadly.

Dreamcatcher looked down at the battered body of the wolf as he lay on his side; the hit he had taken from Manitou’s flying defense had opened his festered wounds and they drained heavily, plus several new scratches were fiery red. The wolf’s eyes were now heavily clouded as if he no longer had the will to live. He showed no response as Dreamcatcher knelt beside him. “I’m going to need my medicine bag.”

“I can run fetch it,” volunteered Clever Clover.

“Fetish knows what I need; he can get it faster.” Fetish was gone in a flash once he had sent a silent message to Clever Clover to protect Dreamcatcher with his life. Dreamcatcher examined the damage to the wolf, then said, “There is a white pine tree close by; I will need some of the inner bark from it.” Clever Clover asked no questions, but started for the tree. Dreamcatcher stopped him. “And some cleaverwort.” She looked at the purple stallion questioningly. “You know what that is?”

“I... I think so,” Clever Clover stuttered. “Only Mom called it bedstraw. It would always stick to her when she was working...”

“Just get some,” Dreamcatcher stopped his babbling.

Working as fast as he could, Clever Clover was soon back with some strips of white pine bark and a hoof full of prickly stems of cleaverwort, their rough leaves circling the stalks. As he returned, he noticed that Manitou and Halona’s pups were now with their parents; they had lost their puppy fat and were sleek miniatures of their parents, but were still too young to provide effectively for themselves. The four juveniles sat in an inquisitive row, watching the movements of the ponies.

Clever Clover set the supplies next to Dreamcatcher. “What can I do to help?”

“Strip the leaves off the cleaverwort; they’ll help to stop the bleeding.”

“And the white pine?”

“It will serve as a poultice for the wounds. Until Fetish returns, it is the best that we can do.”

Finishing his task of removing the leaves from the cleaverwort stems, Clever Clover left the unicorn to her work and watched the wolf pups as they scrutinized Dreamcatcher; their quick eyes caught every motion and their sensitive noses sniffed every smell. The desolate she-wolf had skulked around to the far side of Manitou’s family and rested nervously, also keeping tabs of all that Dreamcatcher administered to the once strong body of her mate.

Manitou and Halona had positioned themselves close to the Native Pony, one on each side, a pair of protective sphinxes. Clever Clover breathed easier, as he knew that either one of them would be far better equipped than he to defend Dreamcatcher if the need arose.

The heads of the pups turned to the path in synchronized motion long before Fetish himself appeared through the trees with the precious medicine bag and a pouch of water. Without a word, he set the supplies within Dreamcatcher’s reach and waited for her orders.

Working deftly with the washes and ointments now available to her, the pony cleaned and medicated the wounds that were exposed. When she had finished to her satisfaction, she stated her command. “Turn the wolf over.”

Fetish bleached and looked at Clever Clover; the purple stallion’s face had paled considerably, too. “Turn him over?” he asked.

The unicorn looked at the two stallions witheringly. “I must assume that he has wounds on the other side, too.”

Fetish shrugged his shoulders; if Dreamcatcher wanted it done, then it had to be done. He and Clever Clover approached the wolf; in as gentle a manner as they could muster under the circumstances, they rolled the wolf onto his second side where more damage was painfully obvious.

Dreamcatcher set to work again, and the stallions stayed close in case they were needed. When the unicorn was satisfied with her efforts, she leaned back. “That should fix him up, if he has any strength left to fight for himself now.” She ran a hoof over the white stripe that marked his face; the eyes of the animal remained closed and lifeless, yet his sides pulsed lightly to the rhythm of his shallow breathing.

Looking to where the she-wolf still kept her vigil, Dreamcatcher commented, “Maybe we should give her a chance to assure herself that her mate is safe.” The mare stood and moved away from the beast; the stallions followed, and even Manitou and Halana backed off.

The she-wolf, seeing that her mate was now alone, slowly crept nearer until she was nose-to-nose with him. She sniffed him and, with renewed hope, began licking his face. The more she licked, the more animated she became; she softly whined in between the caresses, and after some time, the wolf opened his eyes; they stared unseeing, then dropped closed again. But the she-wolf was renewed; she stood, turning to the ponies and the other wolves, and growled a warning. Then, satisfied that she had been understood, she placed her body next to her bandaged mate and rested her head on his shoulder.

“What’s the story behind all of this?” queried Clever Clover as the ponies went to sit on some nearby rocks. “What brought all of us together in this scenario that played out in the last few hours?”

“I’m in the dark,” admitted Fetish.

“I have an idea,” Dreamcatcher said.

“We’re listening.”

“I saw both sets of wounds on the wolf, the old ones and the ones added today by Manitou. I’d say that the first ones were put there by Manitou as well.”

“So Manitou has been back in the Dark Forest all along?”

“I don’t think so. I think the new wolves wandered into Manitou’s summer grounds and found out that they were not welcome. I believe the male sustained his wounds in a battle with Manitou at that time.”

“But he wasn’t hurt when we saw him by the river,” Fetish argued.

“We only saw his face and so did Butch. The wounds were probably festering and painful which is why he was so brazen in coming near our homes. We haven’t had a sighting of him in weeks; he’s been losing ground in all that time. And today he saw his chance to bring down something he could handle.” Dreamcatcher shivered.

“But that doesn’t explain why Manitou was on the spot.”

“I’m grasping here, but I think that it was just coincidence that Manitou and his family were moving back in anticipation of the winter months. He arrived and found that the interloper had been marking over all his olfactory fences; I doubt that he was pleased.”

The ponies looked at Manitou, and the wolf returned their gaze with an almost visible smirk on his face.

“Wait until Wigwam hears that Manitou saved your life,” Clever Clover grinned at Dreamcatcher.

“Actually, Wigwam and I have reached an understanding since he and Chocolate Chip are at peace again; I wasn’t about to lose her friendship. He avoids mentioning his casino and I avoid discussing Native Pony traditions when we are in each other’s company; and the wolves are neutral ground.” Dreamcatcher suddenly sat up. “I just remembered-- before the wolf showed up, I had unearthed a rather intriguing object; in the ensuing events, I must have dropped it.” She began a systematic perusal of the area with the stallions helping her.

At that moment, every wolf head swung to look along the path, and the ponies strained to hear what had caught their attention.

“Yeah, yeah.”

Clever Clover laughed. “It’s Friendly and Spike with lunch; they’re delivering a bunch of wooliecakes and other goodies.”

The dragon and the Bushwoolie entered the clearing where the ponies and wolves were situated; they looked first at the ponies, then at Manitou’s family, then at the alien pair.

His eyes wide with wonder, Spike asked, “What did we miss?”

“Yeah... yeah!”

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Dark Night Enchantment
by Clever Clover ([email protected])


Foxglove, steward of Malachite Castle, paced the halls looking for the young maid, Enchantment. She saw the door to the great library was ajar. The red regent pushed the door open wide. “Enchantment, are you busy?”

“No, m’lady. I have just finished my lessons for today. I had hoped to take a walk in the garden if you have no chores for me.”

“As a matter of fact, there is something I have for you to tend to. But do not worry; you will have your walk. And you will be exempt from your lessons for the next week.”

“It will be a long walk to keep me occupied for a week.”

“True, but I have a letter that must be delivered to the prince in Friendship Gardens, Clever Clover.”

“You mean I get to leave the Isle? By myself? How exciting!”

“This is not an adventure. You are simply delivering a letter. Otherwise I would send Ironwood.”

“I understand. But there is no reason I should not enjoy myself along the way.”

“Just so long as you don’t dawdle. In one week you will be expected to resume your studies.”

“Yes, m’lady.”

* * *
The young mare packed for her trip, throwing bread, dried fruit, a bag of coins, a brush, and a small pouch embroidered with mystical symbols into her pack. She slung the pack over her shoulder and threw on a heavy traveling cloak. She had only been off the Isle briefly, and then only under the strict supervision of her teacher. Ironwood and one of his guards escorted Enchantment from the castle to the shore where they rowed her across to the mainland.

“We will return here in one week. If you return before then, light a fire so that we come to get you.”

“Thank you, Ironwood. You are a most loyal servant.”

Enchantment’s trek across the Flatlands was mostly uneventful. She encountered few other travelers and those she did meet were too eager to leave the vastness of the Flatlands behind them to stop and talk for long. The young pony did briefly befriend a wild Sentret by giving it a dried apple and it followed her for most of a day. By noon on the third day of her journey she arrived in Friendship Gardens.

It was a strange place, to an Isle pony, anyway. The buildings were spread wide apart with much open space between, unlike on the Isle where the town was nestled between two ridges of rock and there was no space to spare. Enchantment approached the first pony she met, Ivy, to ask for directions.

“Excuse me, could you please direct me to the home of Prin... Clever Clover?”

“You must be one of Clever Clover’s friends from the Flatlands.”

“Yes, my name is Enchantment.”

“I’m Ivy. Clever Clover lives west of town; take the main path and it will lead you right to his house, but he’s probably not there right now. He’d be working at his lab.”

“There is no need for me to disturb him at his work; I shall go ahead to his house. Would you please tell him that I am here if you meet him?”

“Sure.”

“Good day.”

Enchantment had a pleasant stroll to Clever Clover’s house. It was late in the day when she arrived, and the sky was becoming overcast. The young pony sat on the porch and ate a light meal. Dark clouds covered the sky quickly. A cool wind blew. Though there was nothing out of the ordinary in the weather, Enchantment felt something was not right, some unnatural power at work. She left her meal and went out to the path to see if Clever Clover was near yet. There was no sign of him, but as dark as it had gotten, she could not see far. She went back to the porch, where she had left her pack and recovered the small embroidered pouch. Clutching the pouch tightly, she set off down the path to search for the prince.

* * *
On that dark and stormy night, Clever Clover walked home from work as usual. There was no rain, but dark clouds blotted out the stars and moon, and the gusting wind made it difficult to stand, let alone walk. Clever Clover lived far enough from town that there were no streetlights to brighten his way. He was navigating mostly by memory and touch. As long as he felt the smooth, hard packed earth of the path under his hooves he knew he was headed in the right direction, as the path did not fork before his home.

A flash of lightning briefly illuminated the landscape. Clever Clover saw a grove of trees a short way ahead. He was only about half way home, and he could feel that it was about to rain. He sped up his pace; maybe he could wait out the rain in what little shelter the trees would provide. Another bolt of lightning flashed, brighter than before. Not ten feet before the pony a cloaked figure stood in the middle of the path, framed by the trees of the grove. Another flash and the figure was gone.

“Allo! Who’s there?” There was no reply. “Now I’m either imagining things or... heck, I can’t think of any reason there would be anyone else out here on a night like tonight. I just need to get home and get some sleep.”

As the pony spoke, the rain came down, cold and hard. Already quite drenched by the initial onslaught of the rain, Clever Clover decided there was no reason to waste any time in getting home, so he ran as quickly as his hooves could carry him through the wind, rain, and mud. The trees of the grove provided some protection from the rain, but not much, and it would only be a brief reprieve, as the grove was not large. He expected to be through it in only a minute or two.

The pony continued his rapid pace for as long as he could; then stopped to rest and leaned against a tree. But he had been running for close to fifteen minutes; the trees should be far behind him by now. The lightning flashed again, but its light barely reached the pony, the branches of the trees so tightly blocked the sky. He took advantage of the brief and limited illumination to try and get his bearings. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say I was in the Dark Forest. But that’s miles away.”

His strength restored, the pony set out once more. He could tell by the wind and the rain that he was still surrounded by dense forest. The path continued, becoming increasingly muddied as the storm wore on. Despite the bracing cold rain, Clever Clover was becoming tired. He yawned wide. “If I don’t get home soon I’m going to fall asleep right here on the path. But then, I should already be home. Maybe I’ve already fallen asleep. I’m probably back at the lab, sleeping in the artifact room. Well, if this is a dream, I’d better enjoy it.”

He pressed onward, singing a song to himself. Shortly, the rain let up to a light drizzle. The wind seemed to have stopped also, but the trees and clouds still blocked all sources of light. Clever Clover stood still and listened. The only sound was the faint dropping of water from the branches of the trees, or at least it should have been. There was also a faint rustling and snapping of twigs.

* * *
By the time she reached the grove of trees she had passed on her way to Clever Clover’s home, Enchantment could clearly sense a powerful magic at work– powerful and somewhat familiar. She held her pouch out in front of her.

“Mana of all creation, grant my wish; reveal the source of this dark magic to me.”

Mystical energies swirled forth from the pouch forming a window in the air before the young pony. Through the portal she could see another pony, invisible to normal sight. He was green with orange mane and tail, and an orange jack-o-lantern on his rump. The strange pony wore a tall black hat and a black cloak. Though at first he seemed unaware that he was being watched, after several moments he turned and looked directly at Enchantment and smiled an evil, smug smile.

“Well, you are the clever little one, the new apprentice sorcerer of Malachite Castle no doubt.” The magical veil that had hidden the mysterious pony dropped and Enchantment lowered her pouch, no longer needing to maintain her spell to see her advisory. “You have nothing to fear. I have no conflict with you, nor do I fear your apprentice magic. I am interested only in vengeance against the prince, the son of he who banished me from the Isle.”

“You are Jack-O-Lantern, the court magician of Malachite Castle before my teacher!”

“Yes, and now you will bear witness to my final victory over those who wronged me!”

“It is you who wronged the rulers of the Isle! You used your power to try and usurp the throne. Banishment was merciful compared to what you deserved.”

“Silence, child! I am allowing you to witness my vengeance only so you can take word of it back to Raven and Foxglove. But if you make a nuisance of yourself, I can always deliver the message in person; I have no real need of you.”

Enchantment held her tongue. Jack-O-Lantern was right; her magic was no match against his. If she hoped to save the prince, she would have to outsmart the villain, find his weakness, and exploit it.

“Excuse me, Master Jack-O-Lantern, may I ask you a question?”

The sorcerer scowled at her. “Very well, but do not waste my time.”

“Thank you. Why did you wait so long to seek revenge? Would it not have been better to target the father who banished you, or the son while the father was still alive?”

“This is not my first attempt. Before I left the Isle I preformed a dark ritual to plague the king and all his descendants. I summoned the demon-imp Bic and set him against my enemies. Now that the prince has defeated Bic, I must take matters into my own hands.”

“You were Bic’s master?”

“Foolish child. Bic knows no master. I simple took advantage of his nature. I knew he would cause nothing but torment for the king and his Isle, while I watched from a safe distance. I had only to suggest the game to him, to make him aware of the potential for entertainment upon the Isle.”

“A dangerous gamble. What was to prevent Bic from turning his power against you?”

“I took certain precautions. Even an apprentice such as yourself should know how to deal with such spirits as Bic.”

Enchantment smiled. “Yes, the same way I deal with a sorcerer of greater power, Jack-O-Lantern.”

Jack-O-Lantern’s eyes went wide. “You little brat! How dare you!”

“Mana of all creation...”

“No! You cannot!” Jack-O-Lantern summoned his magical staff and began to weave a spell.

“Bind Jack-O-Lantern’s spirit...”

“Dark powers of the night...”

“Cut him off from your light!” Luminous energies issued forth from Enchantment’s pouch.

“Shield me from her spell!” A wall of darkness surrounded Jack-O-Lantern.

The light of Enchantment’s spell struck the wall of darkness, cutting deeply toward Jack-O-Lantern. The dark sorcerer strained against the light, but the radiant spell drove itself forward. Tendrils of light wrapped around him and soaked into him. Jack-O-Lantern shrieked in pain and then was silent. The wall of darkness which had surrounded him disappeared. The vengeful sorcerer fled into the darkness, whimpering in pain.

* * *
The sound of twigs and leaves was coming closer. Clever Clover peered into the darkness, trying to distinguish the source of the sound. Suddenly a green and orange pony dressed in black come barreling out of the woods, almost running into the prince. Before Clever Clover could even try to question the mysterious pony, he had vanished into the dark woods across the path. The purple pony looked around. He was standing just beyond the trees, finally clear of the woods, even though he couldn’t see the end of them just a moment before. Looking back along the trail, he saw only the small wood he had remembered. He would have taken more time to contemplate the problem then and there had it not been for the driving rain.

Clever Clover pressed on through the rain and shortly found himself standing before his home. On his porch stood a familiar pony. “Enchantment, what are you doing here?”

“Greetings, my prince.” The young pony bowed. “I have been sent to deliver a message, and fortunately, for had I not arrived when I did, you may never have gotten home tonight.”

“Huh?”

“Perhaps we should go inside and discuss it out of the rain.”

“Good idea.”

* * *
The two ponies resumed their conversation after Clever Clover had lit a fire and had a bite to eat.

“So if I hadn’t shown up when I did, you might have walked right into the underworld.”

“Uh-huh. So you were able to defeat a master sorcerer because you knew his name?”

“A spell caster can channel more energy into a spell if they have something of the target, even their spoken name, as a focus, though the written name is more potent. Writing is powerful magic. But even the spoken name can turn the tides of a magical contest, especially when the target cannot counter with the caster’s name.”

“And that is why Bic didn’t bother Jack-O-Lantern, but instead went after my father?”

“Yes, Jack-O-Lantern knew Bic’s name but Bic didn’t know his.”

“Weird.”

“Not if you have studied the ways of magic.”

“Well, thanks for taking care of ol’ Jack for me.”

“You are welcome, my prince; but the danger is not passed. Despite my trick, Jack-O-Lantern is quite powerful and will eventually break the geis I cast upon him. Once I return to the Isle I will consult with my teacher. He should be able to effect a more permanent solution.”

“Your teacher? Who’s that, Rave’?”

“No, Raven is not a wizard. My teacher is the court wizard, once Jack-O-Lantern’s apprentice, whose title is Magus. If he has a name, none at the castle know it. If he has kept it from his former master, there is no way the villain can match his magic.”

“That’s good to hear. By the way, didn’t you say something about a message?”

“Oh, I almost forgot in all the excitement. I bring a letter from Foxglove.” Enchantment produced the rolled parchment from her pack and presented it to the prince. Clever Clover broke the wax seal bearing the royal crest of the Isle and unrolled the scroll.



Good prince, thanks to your courage we are free of the imp’s curse. The time has come
to crown a new king, but before a prince can be crowned king, he must have a queen. To
that end you are cordially invited to the wedding of Prince Oak and Princess Gooseberry
at Malachite Castle on Christmas Eve of this year. As your father was the previous king,
it will be your duty to present Oak with his crown. And as Gooseberry’s cousin it will be
your privilege to give her away at the wedding. We all look forward to your return to the Isle.
Until then, farewell, Prince Clever Clover.



Foxglove, steward of Malachite Castle



“Uh, does this mean I’ll have to wear that sparkly hair spray again?”

“Of course. Next to the royal couple you will be the most important pony at the ceremonies.”

“Oh, boy.”

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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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