My Little Pony Monthly Issue 58 (January 1, 2002)
My Little Pony Monthly
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Behind the Cupboard
by Clever Clover (Swordrat@aol.com)
The darkness of the passageway weighed heavily on Enchantment and Belle Star. It seemed almost as if it had a physical form that blocked even the magical light of Enchantment's luminous sphere. The passage itself was constructed of rounded fieldstone, not the fine cut blocks of the rest of the castle. The stones were cold and damp, as was the air.
"This tunnel seems to lead into the heart of the mountain, unless I've lost all sense of direction. And the construction is different from the castle. I wonder if it was built before or after? What do you think, Belle Star?"
"How would you build a secret passage behind the kitchen cupboard before you built the kitchen?"
Enchantment giggled. "The passage may not have always been secret. If it existed before the castle, the kitchen cupboard was just built over the opening. But why make it a secret? It looks like it would make a fine wine cellar."
"Oh, maybe there's something scary down there. Like a pony-eating monster."
"If it was something like that they would have blocked up the opening. The fact that there is a door suggests that there is something back here that someone would want access to."
"Like buried treasure?"
"I suppose that's possible, but if it's something that valuable there will probably be traps."
"T... traps. Uh, maybe we should go back."
"Aw, come on. We've come this far, we might as well see it through to the end. Besides, after the door closed behind us, I couldn't find any way to open it. We'll have to find another way out."
"You mean we could be trapped in here forever!"
"Don't worry. If it comes to that I'll just contact the Magus through magic and he can open the cupboard from the outside. Now, let's keep moving. I think I can see something up ahead."
The ponies soon found that the passage opened into a vast chamber. The darkness was less oppressive here. The illumination from Enchantment's spell reflected off the shimmering surface of hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites of a vast natural cavern.
Belle Star's eyes went wide with wonder. "It's so beautiful! Do you think this could be what they were hiding?"
"I don't think so. There are caves like this all over the isle, though this one is quite a sight. Look, there is a walkway cut into the wall. Maybe the passage continues on the other side. Watch your step, we don't want to be falling onto those stalagmites."
The walkway was polished smooth as if by many generations of hooves passing over it. The stone was thankfully dry, for the most part. As the pair of ponies neared the exit passage and were a third of the way around the cavern from the entrance, Belle Star slipped on a wet patch and, trying to regain her balance, grabbed Enchantment from behind. The two of them plummeted toward the cavern floor deep below.
"AAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" Belle Star screamed in terror as they fell, not noticing their gradual deceleration and unexpectedly soft landing.
"You can stop screaming now. We're safe."
"Huh? Oh, how did that happen?"
"I was able to slow our fall with a levitation spell. Unfortunately it's not powerful enough to levitate us out of here."
"Not even one of us?"
"No, it can only levitate a pony or object up to three feet off the ground. We'll have to find an exit from down here."
As they made their way through the forest of stalagmites, guided by Enchantment's sphere of light which had followed them down from the ledge, Belle Star shuddered and huddled close to Enchantment. "I think I heard something; we're not alone down here!"
"Be quiet. I'll try a spell to see if anyone else is around. Mana of all creation, open my eyes, show me what lurks in shadow guise." A soft blue light appeared in the distance, and silhouetted against the illumination, three dark forms. "Guardian spirits!"
"Sort of like a magical booby-trap. Spirits that are bound to a place and will not let anyone pass unless they speak the proper password."
"And you do know what the password is, right?"
"It's different for every spirit; the wizard who casts the spell usually chooses a word that only he knows. But right now they are only following us. As long as we don't get too close to whatever they are guarding, they should leave us alone."
"So how do we know where not to go?"
"We don't. All we can do is proceed slowly and keep an eye on the spirits. If they start to act aggressively, we turn around."
"Okay, but why isn't there one over there?"
Enchantment looked in the direction that Belle Star was pointing and to her puzzlement there was no silhouetted spirit. "Ah, that's a good question. Let's see what's there. But be very careful."
The duo advanced slowly toward the gap in the spirit ring. The spirits moved with them, growing neither nearer or farther. Before long the cavern wall became visible before them; it was irregular and jagged.
"Oh! They're going to smash us against the rocks!"
"Calm down. I don't think they are going to hurt us. These aren't guardian spirits, they're spirit guides! They weren't trying to keep us away from anything, they were showing us the way to get out of here!"
"Way out? Where?"
"Look at the rock formations. They're like a ladder! Oh, thank you, kind spirits!"
Belle Star bowed deeply toward the spirits. "Oh yes. Thank you very much, honorable spirits."
Suddenly the chamber was filled with a soft, almost melodious, humming. The two ponies climbed carefully back to the walkway from which they had fallen and ended up right at the opening they had hoped would lead them out of this mysterious place. They proceeded into another passage identical to the first and followed it without mishap until the walls gave way to cold night air. The passage opened into a deep crevice on the mountainside and only a narrow bridge spanned the gap.
"Watch your step carefully, Belle; I don't think my levitate spell could save us here."
"Right. I'll be extra careful."
Much to Enchantment's relief, they made the crossing safely. The passage continued but sloped upward and curved around and back and forth.
Belle Star stumbled. "Oh, my tummy is grumbly. Is it breakfast time?"
"I think so. Too bad we didn't bring any of that pudding with us."
"Uh-huh. How much longer do you think it will be before we get out of here?"
"Uh, I don't know. When we get out, we get out."
"Can we rest for a while?"
"I guess so. For a while, anyway."
As the two ponies rested, they heard a mumbling voice coming from above. Soon they saw a light.
"What is it, Enchantment? Not more spirits, I hope!"
"Shhhh! We don't want whoever it is to hear us." Enchantment extinguished the light sphere, and the two ponies held their breaths and waited. Before long the light and the mumbling disappeared. After several moments Enchantment let out her breath. "Come on. Let's see where it went. And you can start breathing again."
Belle Star, who was turning blue, gasped for breath. "Oh, thank you."
When they reached the point in the passage where the light had disappeared, they found two doors, one on either side. A light shone through the crack below one door. Enchantment carefully placed her ear against the door and listened. She gasped in surprise. "Magus!"
Bells Star panicked. "Oh, be quiet or he will hear you!"
"That's okay! It's my teacher, the Magus."
The door swung open and Enchantment fell into the room. A short white pony with pink hair stood over her. "Oh, Enchantment, it's you. Who's your friend?"
Belle Star bowed. "I am Belle Star, Mr. Magus."
"It's nice to meet you, but what are you two doing here? I could have sworn I locked the door."
"Oh, well you see, we were looking for something to eat for a midnight snack and, well, this cupboard moved and there was a tunnel behind it..."
"The cupboard? How'd you open that? The sequence is so complex it took me a week to figure it out."
"Oh, I just opened doors until I accidentally pulled on a candle holder and it opened."
"Uh-huh. Interesting. So you made it past the cavern without incident?"
Enchantment shook her head. "Not exactly. We had a little run in with the spirit guides."
"Ah, them. Curious chaps. I haven't quite got them figured out. Well, at least you made it through alright. You did make it through alright, right? I mean there were only the two of you, right?"
"Oh, yes, Mr. Magus."
"Good. Well, since you're here, I might as well show you around."
As the Magus led Enchantment and Belle Star through the maze of chambers and passageways, he explained the history of the place. "These caverns and passages are rich with natural energy and were a sacred place for the ancient inhabitants of the Isle. When the castle was built, the court wizard had secret entrances constructed to give him access to the tunnels and their energy. Eventually the secret was forgotten; but while I was Jack-O-Lantern's apprentice, I rediscovered the secret passages and have been studying them ever since."
The tour ended as they passed through a sliding door into a room that was familiar to young Enchantment as the Magus' laboratory. Enchantment tried to notice how the Magus opened and closed the secret panel but could not see that he did anything.
Belle Star bowed to the Magus. "Thank you so much for showing us around, Mr. Magus."
"Oh, it was nothing; just let me know next time you're coming, and don't enter uninvited."
"Yes, we are very sorry for intruding."
"Well, there are many preparations to be made for the royal wedding and the day is wearing on. We should be on our way. Come on, Belle Star, I'll show you back to your room. Good day, Magus."
"Good day, ladies."
As the two ponies trotted off down the hall, Belle Star's stomach growled. "Oh, could we stop by the kitchen first and get some breakfast?"
New Year's Eve
by Tabby (TabbyMLP@aol.com)
On the Saturday afternoon before New Year's, most of the females of the family ended up congregating together to gossip at the Fairfax residence, while the guys took Thomas off to the bowling alley. Helga served her guests her scrumptious coconut kiss cookies, which caused a great deal of compliments around the table.
"Ooh! You haven't made these for ages, Grandmother!" Sapphire squealed, diving in.
"Helga, these are delicious," Laraine commented between bites. "Why haven't you made them sooner?"
"I must have the recipe," begged Flora.
"Maybe it's a secret," Helga said mischievously.
"Hmm," Tabby said cautiously, eyeing hers skeptically. It obviously contained coconut, which she didn't like, but she managed to scarf it down anyway as to not appear ungracious.
"I'll trade you the recipe for my special fluffy mustard sauce," bargained Delia.
Devonne winked at Helga. "Sorry, girls, but my mother would never give that information out."
"I have a brilliant idea!" Cecilia burst out. "We all must have a secret recipe of some sort. We could all trade them today with each other. Wouldn't it be an ideal way to break down the barriers caused by the old feud?"
"Oh, that would be fun!" Elaine exclaimed brightly.
Some of the mares were reluctant to give out such classified information, but they hardly wanted to appear stingy in front of the special guest. Slowly, everyone agreed that it was an interesting idea to bring their families closer together, after they had all promised that the information discussed would still be kept a secret to all beyond the table. With their pact agreed upon, the girls set to work writing out their special recipes on a stack of blank recipe cards Helga supplied.
Tabby glanced over at Elaine, who was busily scribbling away, and then down at her own blank card. What was she supposed to do? She never cooked! Idly, she jotted down under ingredients, One can cherry pie filling. After pondering this for a moment, she continued with Open can; dish servings into individual bowls; eat with spoon. That was as secret as any of Tabby's recipes came. Actually, that was Tabby's only recipe.
After all the ponies were finished, the recipe cards were divided into piles and then handed out to each of the mares there. Eagerly, they delved into their newfound treasure chests, anxious to find the key to some of the marvelous dishes they had sampled over the years in the kitchens of relatives.
Priscilla began laughing softly as she read Tabby's secret recipe. "Oh, Tabby, don't think you can get out of this so easily," she challenged.
"Is there something wrong with it?" Tabby asked innocently.
Some of the others began to turn to Tabby's recipe in order to see what was wrong with it, and soon there were many amused faces around the table. "Surely your family must have something more interesting than a can of cherry pie filling," Rosetta prodded.
"Maybe, but that's the only thing I can fix."
"You mean..." Cecilia looked aghast at this bold pronouncement. "But of course you must cook certain things."
"No, nothing ever turns out," Tabby explained. "It's too much of a hassle; I don't bother with it."
"That is to say, you've even been married for more than a year and you don't cook?" Helga demanded in disbelief.
"Yes, but it's okay. Elaine takes care of all that just fine."
"Elaine, is this true?" Cecilia swung her gaze around to the white unicorn.
"Well, yes, I do," Elaine acknowledged. "But really it's no problem. I enjoy helping out."
"But didn't your mother teach you anything about the kitchen?" Helga continued in horror.
"Oh, she tried," Tabby said cheerfully. "But I never really picked up on it."
The problem Tabby had was not in understanding how to cook, but rather on how to keep concentrated on it. Usually she was so flighty and scatterbrained that she either forgot to put a certain ingredient in, or added something that shouldn't be included, or simply forgot she was baking anything and let it burn to a crisp or boil over.
"Well, this is obviously a problem we should rectify," Helga stated, rising to the challenge. "Tabby, why don't you let us help you?"
Tabby looked at her piteously. "Oh, no! Really, it doesn't work. Not for me. I truly wouldn't want to spend the rest of the vacation–"
"Just this afternoon," Cecilia put in coaxingly. "We'll help you make something for dessert tonight, how's that? Who knows, maybe it'll inspire you to do more in the kitchen."
"Hmm," Tabby pondered. "Well, okay. Just this once." Helga and Cecilia promptly whisked her off, determined now to make something of a cook out of this mare.
In the span of time that followed, Tabby proved herself to be a rather inefficient cook, and Helga and Cecilia were constantly reminding her of an ingredient to add or what a foreign term meant. Tabby found the whole ordeal to be rather boring and was glad when the two older mares excused her to go back to the others. The fruit tart did turn out in the end, but its success was probably due to Helga and Cecilia's interference.
Once again, Tabby's culinary abilities were deemed hopeless.
* * *
Spending one of his afternoons off at home, Alan found himself dragged into yet another lecture instigated by his mother. "Alan, I've been meaning to ask you, have you invited Lydia to the sledding party yet?" she cornered him.
"Actually, Mother, I don't think I'll be going with her," Alan said patiently. He had had this conversation with his parents already countless times in the past.
"Oh, Alan!" She pursed her lips in disappointment. "But why not?"
"Mom, we don't like each other! I wish you and Dad would understand that."
"I understand, but... her parents and your father and I have been counting all these years that you and Lydia–"
"I know you'd be happy if Lydia and I were married and lived happily ever after, but unfortunately neither of us would be happy with it," Alan broke in.
"I just wish..." the mare trailed off, caving in. "Well, do what you like, Alan. But... don't give up on Lydia yet, would you?"
* * *
"Ooh, Espeon," Tabby breathed, surveying her next opponent in her Pokemon battle against Mandy; Tabby had forgotten what sort of a relation the young filly was, but she was apparently a decent Pokemon trainer. "How cool is that!" The pink unicorn was quite fond of the Eevee evolutions. "Okay, so, Hitmonlee, do one of your kicks or whatever. It's a pity you're weak against psychic types, though," she mused aloud.
Tabby's suspicions turned out to be correct; Hitmonlee was soon knocked out by clever moves on Mandy's Espeon's part. Next Tabby called out her Vaporeon who, after a hard-fought battle, managed to come out the winner. The pair ran over to the defeated Espeon, though, and Tabby was able to admire up close the beautiful purple psychic Eevee evolution.
"How lovely!" she said in awe, helping the Pokemon back up on its feet where she eagerly accepted the praise bestowed upon her. "How did you acquire her, Mandy?"
"Well, I caught her as an Eevee, and we've done a lot of training since then," the pink filly said modestly. "I'm really proud of her."
Their conversation was cut short as an impatient green colt ran forward and begged Tabby for a battle. To have an adult Pokemon trainer in their midst was a new experience for the youngsters of this community, and all wanted to test their skills against her. Tabby prepared for a long day of battling ahead of her.
Meanwhile, out of range of the battlefield, the sledding party was in progress. Ponies of all ages gathered at the hill near the Monks' house to take advantage of the fine sledding conditions, and a warm fire and hot chocolate awaited them indoors when they tired of the recreation.
"Come on, Elaine, let's go down again!" Alan prodded, pulling her along behind him.
"Not again!" Elaine protested, reluctantly going along. "Once was enough!" The first fast-paced descent down the hill had already shaken her wits; she didn't want to undertake the trip again!
"Too late," Alan said good-naturedly, plunking her down into the seat of the toboggan and getting on behind her. "Here we go-o-o-o!" Elaine's shrieks filled the air all the way to the bottom of the hill.
Numbly, she tried to extricate herself from the snowdrift she had ended up in. "Am I still alive?" she wondered dazedly, wiping the snow off her face and trying to get her bearings. She became aware that another sled was careening downhill towards her general region, and shielded her face as it whipped past her, splashing snow up all around her, before it skidded out not much further along.
Elaine once again dug herself out, and found herself face-to-face with one of the passengers of the second sled. "Lydia!" she gasped without thinking.
"Oh, it's you, isn't it?" the other mare said snobbishly, also recognizing Elaine.
"Nice party, isn't it?" Elaine said weakly, remembering the resentment Lydia must still harbor for her from when Elaine had questioned the price of something Lydia sold in her parent's gift shop.
"I see you're getting on along quite splendidly with Alan," Lydia continued factitiously. "How sweet."
"Well, yes, we're friends..."
"Friends," Lydia said mockingly. "Isn't that nice. Hey, Alan," she shouted over her shoulder, "your girlfriend's over here."
Elaine, naturally, blushed an intense red at this insinuation; and Alan, who had been having difficulty locating his white-bodied partner among the white snowbanks, hurried over. His gaze darkened as he caught sight of Lydia as well. "Lydia, what are you doing here?"
"Merely chatting with your new friend," Lydia winked, taking the incentive to start back towards her group. "Bye-bye now. I must say you make a lovely couple." Laughing hysterically, she dashed off.
"Why, that little–" Alan was ready to go after her if Elaine didn't hold him back. "If she was hassling you, Elaine, I'll–"
"Oh, just forget about it, Alan," Elaine begged. "Words or violence don't do anything to stop someone like her. It's okay, really. Leave it alone."
Alan let go of his initial anger and turned to apologizing profusely to Elaine. "I'm so sorry I let that happen, Elaine; I should have been watching her more carefully. Usually she's happy to leave me alone, but I should have realized that you really rankled her nerves at the gift shop; it injured her pride and she hates that more than anything. It's still no excuse, though. Are you sure you're okay?"
"Oh, don't blame yourself; it wasn't your fault! Let's just forget the whole silly incident, okay?"
Nonetheless, Alan insisted on taking her back up to the house; and though she professed to be fine, Elaine was visibly shaken from her encounter with Lydia. Thomas picked up on this change in her as well upon admitting them inside and, still wary of this stallion his sister had taken a liking to, began drilling Alan for answers, while Tabby sat back with Faline sighing over what a lovely romance it was: a dashing young stallion, a spiteful enemy (not a rival, exactly), and a protective older brother. It was all too wonderful; Elaine didn't know how well she had it. Tabby did love a good romance.
* * *
The Monks and Fairfaxes were not going to end the year without an exceptional celebration and had done no less than reserve the grand ballroom at the premier hotel for a fabulous New Year's Ball.
The occasion was a little saddening to Elaine, though; for as well as marking the end of the year, it also meant the end of her vacation... and the end of her time with Alan. However, even with this in mind, she was determined to enjoy herself– plus, she was relieved to hear that Lydia was attending a different celebration that evening, so she wouldn't have to worry running into her again.
Elaine's cousin Lucerna had offered to help style her hair, and Elaine looked quite glamorous in the end result. Her mass of bright blue mane was tied up on her head in a high ponytail (Author's note: No pun was intended....) tied with a bright pink ribbon. Her tail was also adorned with ribbons of the same color; and in light of the occasion, Helga had loaned her some heirloom jewelry pieces to wear that night. The blue jeweled necklace and bracelet were quite flattering to the finished look.
Arriving at the ballroom with her hosts, Elaine was quite breathlessly in awe of the fabulously decorated room. Beautiful lights and banners were hung everywhere; it was like a fairyland. She was only jolted back into reality when Tabby, arrayed in diamond earrings and necklace, came rushing over and grabbed her by the hoof. "We were just wondering where you were, and Alan's here too and was asking for you. Come on, come on!"
"Elaine! I didn't know it was possible for you to look any more beautiful!" Alan exclaimed upon seeing her. "I must say you look stunning tonight." He bowed before her and kissed her hoof. "May I have this dance?"
Elaine blushed and murmured her thanks and consent and was whisked out onto the dance floor. What exactly the two said to each other during that time no one could say for sure, but it was evident that Elaine was possessed with a certain glow about her that had never been seen before.
Tabby watched them, one part of her jubilating over this blossoming romance, the other part slightly disappointed, knowing that Elaine would never be quite the same again. Part of Elaine's heart obviously belonged to Alan now, and there would always be a void in her whenever she was with anyone else. Elaine's shyness had always caused her closest friends to act as her protectors against the outside world, and Tabby had to admit that she had come to rely on Elaine's doting dependance on her. But now... she could see that Elaine was beginning to emerge from her shell a whole new pony.
"They look happy together, don't they?" Thomas mused quietly, laying a hoof on Tabby's shoulder. "I know I teased her a lot in the past, but I guess I wasn't really prepared for the time when she did find the right stallion."
"I'm afraid we've lost her for good," Tabby lamented melodramatically.
"Not really," Thomas contradicted. "She'll still be her sweet, gentle self, but maybe a little bit more independent."
"Do you... do you think she'll leave Dream Valley, because of Alan?" Tabby gasped as the possibility first occurred to her.
"I really can't say what they'll do, but this trip has been good for her," Thomas continued. "I've really kept her too sheltered... it's about time she started to form her own life and make her own friends."
"But what do you think of Alan's character?" Tabby prodded anxiously. "Is he... good, do you think?"
"You really are concerned, aren't you? I thought you were thoroughly enjoying their relationship." He looked at her in amusement. "Don't worry about it, Tabby. From all the reports I've heard, there's nothing against his integrity. He'll be good for Elaine, whatever they decide to do."
"I just hate to have things change!" Tabby said in despair, clinging to him tightly. "I didn't think about the consequences until now. I wish we had just stayed in Dream Valley; then we wouldn't have to worry about any of this!"
"I know what you're going through; it is hard to give her up. But this had to come eventually, and she'll be better for it in the end. You'll come to be happy for her, too."
"I'm tired of being philosophical," Tabby sniffled. "I don't want to think about it anymore."
Thomas kissed her reassuringly. "Well then, how about a dance? That is what we're here for, after all."
Getting into the party, Tabby was able to shake off her concern and enjoy herself, while the clock sped rapidly towards the new year. It was around this time that Alan pulled Elaine away from the crowd and requested a private meeting with her.
"Well, I..." Elaine glanced around her, and saw her brother and sister-in-law in the sidelines, chatting with a group of ponies; she could make out Tabby laughing her high-pitched laugh over something. She hated to disappear without a word to anyone. "Maybe..."
"Don't worry; it won't take long," Alan assured her, leading her off to a secluded corner, and proceeded to spend several moments in silence, pondering how to phrase what he was going to say.
"And what do you want to discuss?" Elaine prodded, staring into his eyes.
Alan began by awkwardly stating the obvious. "Well, you'll be leaving tomorrow morning to go back to Dream Valley."
"Yes, and I am going to miss it here," Elaine sighed wistfully. "Especially..." She glanced up at him, but couldn't continue.
"Anyway, after you leave, we won't be able to see each other again for quite some time... and, well, I'm really going to miss you. I really do care for you, Elaine."
"And me for you," Elaine assured him, resting her head on his shoulder.
"I hate to have you go so soon when we were just getting close. And I was thinking..."
"Yes?" Elaine's heart suddenly began pounding with alarm; he wasn't about to go and suggest something crazy, was he?
"The new publishing house that will be opening in Dream Valley later next year-- or this year, what time is it?-- well, there's a chance that I might be transferred there when it's open."
Elaine gasped with delight; what a lovely solution that would be if he came to live in Dream Valley. "That would be perfect!" she exclaimed excitedly. "I'd love that! Do you really think it'll happen?"
"The talk of the new branch has just started, so I don't know too much; but, yes, I think it's a good possibility."
"And I'll put in a good word for you, too," Elaine promised.
"I think your guardians are looking for you," Alan said as he looked up, and nudged her to go forward. "You'd better go to them."
"Ah, Elaine, there you are!" Helga greeted her. "The party's beginning to die down, and I figured we should think about heading home, especially since you have to get up and leave so early in the morning."
"Umm, well..." Elaine glanced at Alan before formulating her reply.
"They're right, of course; you will have an early start," Alan agreed. "Besides, it's already been a splendid night spent with you."
Elaine smiled at him and turned to her grandparents. "It has been a long night, and it is probably time to head back. Just let me say goodbye to everyone in case I don't see them before tomorrow, okay?"
They had nothing against this, and let her go to say her farewells to everyone with Alan tagging along behind her. Satisfied that she had fulfilled her obligation, Elaine at last turned her attentions fully to Alan. "I saved the best for last," she said regretfully. "Goodbye, Alan. You'll keep in touch, won't you? And please promise me you'll get that transfer to Dream Valley!"
"Anything for you," Alan said cheerfully, but with an underlying current of sadness as he held her close. "If all goes as planned, we'll be together this time next year... if you'll promise to wait for me, Elaine?"
"I will," she said, eyes shining.
That was a promise sealed with a kiss.
by Sugarberry (Sugrbery@aol.com)
The celebration of the new year had come and gone, but Sugarberry was not ready to end the holiday season yet. By spending the Christmas holidays away from Dream Valley, she had missed seeing her best friends through the time of year that Sugarberry loved best. That is why this cold Sunday in January she was hostess to a houseful of local friends.
Chocolate Chip was there, of course, as was Garnet who had become a regular visitor since she and Wishbone became good friends. That led to Fern, for those three young mares had resumed their close relationship since their lives had settled down in Dream Valley. Dreamcatcher was there as well as two other of the mall's entrepreneurs-- Lemon Treats and Sparkler. The shy and quiet Elaine had been included, and no gathering at Sugarberry's would have been complete without Tabby and Faline. It was a Sunday brunch-- everyone had brought an appropriate dish-- and the kitchen and dining room were spilling over with good food and happy chatter.
"Sugarberry asked Aunt Maisie to join us, but Aunt Maisie thought I'd have more fun if I wasn't fussing over her all the time," Fern was telling Dreamcatcher.
"I can't believe you made this grand dessert all by yourself! Helga and Cecilia must have worked wonders with you," Sugarberry was telling Tabby while Faline sat on the floor playing with Fluff. Living up to her name, the little pink unicorn adored all felines and set out to make friends with every one she met.
"We had a lovely time in Forest Brook," Elaine smiled at Sparkler.
"Raptor!" Chocolate Chip's voice rang out as the black tiger-striped cat began stalking the buffet. Subsequently, he was ignominiously relegated to the basement which was enough to set Fluff's nerves on edge also as he, too, ran off. The loss of her two feline companions brought tears to Faline's eyes.
"Come, sweetie," Sugarberry said as she scooped up the foal. "We're going to get started on all this food now." Ringing a dinner bell that sat on the counter, Sugarberry soon had everyone's attention. "The buffet is now open!" She grinned. "The bell was Wigwam's Christmas gift to me."
"He gave her that just to make sure that he was never late for dinner," Garnet smirked.
"Where's that husband of yours?" Lemon Treats asked of Sugarberry, getting into line first. "Hiding in the basement with the cat?"
"He and Wigwam and Fetish went out to Butch's place." She winked at Sparkler. "Butch had some carpentry work he needed help with."
Tabby grimaced. "Does Butch still have that killer duck?" She picked through a salad, trying to find a tomato.
"Of, yes, Quackers is still going strong," Sparkler grinned. "He's such an angel, Tabby. How come you let him get to you so?"
"He was the one that was always trying to bite me!" Tabby shot back. "That duck is evil; just wait and you'll find out-- when it's too late."
"What's with the killer duck?" asked Fern curiously.
"Quackers had a vendetta against Tabby when Slugger first got him as a pet; she found the duck on her front porch trying to knock her door down with his beak."
"Ducks can do that?" Fern queried.
"They can, and they do," Tabby verified.
"Butch is putting a lot of time and effort into remodeling that cabin of his, Sparkler. Any reason why?" Lemon Treats asked with a grin as she loaded her plate with a variety of foodstuffs.
Sparkler's blue cheeks flushed pink. "He hasn't broached the subject with me," she admitted.
"Maybe he's waiting for you to give him a good deal on a diamond ring," Lemon Treats suggested.
"Speaking of which," Chocolate Chip said, "have you all seen Fern's acquisition?"
"I've seen it," Sparkler chimed, "but Toby wasn't dispensing any details about the proposal when he picked up the ring; care to share that with us, Fern?"
Fern's blue eyes sparkled nearly as much as her diamond. "Toby took me out to dinner at the classiest restaurant in New Pony the day after Christmas..."
"Not on Christmas Eve?"
"No; his whole family was at the house Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; he gave me a lovely necklace and earring set for Christmas, so I never expected that he had plans to propose."
"Not even an inkling?"
"I never thought about it, really; I was just happy to be with him after my stay in Bushley. His parents made both Aunt Maisie and me feel really welcome."
"But what about the proposal?" Sugarberry wanted to know.
"Well, after we had finished dinner, we ordered a simple sherbet for dessert. When the waiter brought it, he also set a jeweler's box on the table next to Toby. I imagine my eyes got as round as saucers as I looked from the box to Toby; he was smiling and he held the box in his hoof while he... well, he said some things; and then he asked me if I would marry him... and I said yes!"
"That's a real surprise," noted Garnet.
"When will the wedding be?" asked Dreamcatcher.
"That's the week before Tiffany's; poetic justice, I'd say," Lemon Treats giggled.
"Remember when we all thought that Tiffany and Toby would get married, once Toby got brave enough to buy a ring?" Tabby chattered.
"Which he could never seem to get around to doing," Sparkler smirked. "Lucky for him and you, Fern. I would have hated to see Toby under Tiffany's control."
"Miranda was bad enough," Fern admitted.
"Tiffany would have been worse."
"I'm not so sure," stated Fern. "Did you hear what came of her and Roland's trip to New Pony over Christmas?"
"No. What?" asked Lemon Treats.
"They had a wonderful Christmas with her folks as far as that goes; but on the trip back to Dream Valley, Miranda informed Roland that her father didn't think he was good enough for her; he advised her to discontinue seeing him, so Miranda told Roland that their friendship was over."
Sugarberry was stunned. "I didn't know that; we haven't seen Roland since before Christmas; but with it being between semesters now, I though he would be busy with his own affairs."
"It isn't the first time a stallion got dumped, Sugarberry."
"Maybe not, but I did have a hoof in setting the two of them up. I feel terrible about this."
"After Miranda has time to think about it, maybe she'll realize that Roland is more important to her than her father's opinion."
"That probably won't happen," said Fern. "Toby says that Miranda's father would use her love of finance to bend her to his wishes; she stands to inherit a large fortune some day."
"She couldn't have loved him if she's willing to hurt him like that; he's better off without her," Elaine observed.
"How's the new apartment working out?" Sparkler asked of Fern.
"It's great; Aunt Maisie and I aren't bumping into each other every step we take now."
"I hear your Aunt Maisie is helping Snuzzle with activities for the patients at the hospital."
"And she loves it! She thinks Snuzzle is the greatest pony on earth."
"Which may be true," noted Elaine.
By this time, everyone was seated at the table with overflowing plates; Faline was ensconced in a high chair next to her mother. "Interesting piece of furniture," commented Lemon Treats with an eyebrow raised in Sugarberry's direction upon seeing the foal's special seat. "Poeticus and I haven't even made that purchase yet."
"Faline's got to have someplace to sit while she eats," rationalized Sugarberry, watching the foal chase Cheerios around the tray. "And besides, we'll need one here sooner or later... I hope."
Sparkler looked at the two mares who were already carrying foals. "Who's due first?"
"April for me," said Lemon Treats.
"May," contributed Dreamcatcher.
"It's a good thing the hospital is updating the maternity ward," observed Sparkler.
"Both of my sisters are expecting," added Sugarberry, "and we got word from Vulcanopolis that Hydrangea and Pacificus should have their first by late September."
"There will be lots to look forward to this year."
"Is anyone else getting married?"
"I heard that Perry proposed to Dawn over the holidays," Elaine offered, "but I don't know if they set a date yet."
"Come on, Elaine, why don't you tell them all about your time in Forest Brook?" Tabby said mischievously.
"It was wonderful, of course, meeting all my relatives for the first time..."
"Not that, Elaine. What about Alan?"
"Alan???" a chorus of voices asked.
"He's... someone I met in Forest Brook," Elaine explained, blushing furiously.
"A friend?" asked Sugarberry. "What's he like?"
"He works for the Fairfax publishing company," Tabby broke in. "He and Elaine really hit it off. And so handsome, isn't he, Elaine?"
"Tabby!" Elaine protested.
"Oh, come on, admit it. You were smitten with him!"
"When will you see him again, Elaine?" queried Fern, knowing the pain of separation.
"Well, he told me before I left that it was possible that he would be getting transferred to the Dream Valley publishing house opening at the end of this year."
"What???" the mares chorused again.
"A publishing house in Dream Valley?" asked Sugarberry. "You never mentioned that, Tabby."
"I didn't have time!" said Tabby in exasperation. "Anyway, the Monks and Fairfaxes are combining their forces to start a new branch here in Dream Valley. Cool, huh?"
"And this Alan will be a part of that?" Chocolate Chip asked of Elaine.
"It's not official, but he thinks there's a good chance that he'll come here."