My Little Pony Monthly Issue 70 (January 1, 2003)

My Little Pony Monthly
A publication of Nematode (Electronic) Publishing
Established June 1997
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Issue 70
January 2003


1. Letters to the Editor

2. This Month’s Contest

3. Chapter #5: Bright Eyes’ Idea (by Melody)

4. “There was the door...” (by Starre)

5. Dark Regrets (by Sugarberry and Tabby)

6. Magical Pony Girl Enchantment: Midwinter Nightmare (by Clever Clover)

7. Enter the ESL (by Barnacle)


Letters to the Editor

You know I have been in this group for at least a year and I have never read any of these stories. I usually don’t have time to I usually just delete a few I saved to my PC but still never read. Well anyway I printed out the stories and brought them to work. They were pretty darn good. It makes me want to do mine and send them. Anyway I’ll be leaving comments for the authors in the feedback sections.



This Month’s Contest

Wow! Fabulous turnout for last month’s contest! I’m extremely pleased! The winners are as follows...

Amy (

Baby Jedi (BJ) (

Bow-tie (

Katharos Drakkina (

Megan (

Melody (

Moonstar (

Nychus (

Pika-Chan (

Skye (

Starre (

Steamer (

Tayba RavenSoul (

Teardrop (

Violet Star Shine (

and an Honorable Mention

Harmony (

And they each got a prize graphic for their webpage! You can have one, too, by entering our new contest! Let’s try to keep them going! Just tell me...

Who is Megan’s “special” pony?

by e-mailing or entering through the form at

Chapter #5:
Bright Eyes’ Idea
by Melody (

Classy gently shook Bright Eyes awake on Sunday morning. “Aren’t you going to the Markets with your friends?” he asked.

“Mmm,” nodded Bright Eyes, snuggling deeper under her warm bed covers.

“Then I suggest you wake up,” replied Classy, pointing to her clock, which read 8:40. “Don’t the Markets start at nine?”

“Oh gosh! Thanks for reminding me, Dad!” said Bright Eyes, leaping out of bed and devouring her cereal in record time. She raced to the door, pulled her parker on, and zoomed out of the door. “Bye, Dad!” she called. Classy chuckled and watched Bright Eyes run down the street.

Bright Eyes was puffed by the time she met her friends at the teahouse. The group set off and soon arrived at the Ponyland Markets. Bright Eyes rarely went to the Markets. Occasionally, she and her father would go, and sometimes she would go with Patch or Melody; so she planned to look around, buy a few things, and have a good time.

“Where to first?” asked Clover, looking around.

“How about that stall?” suggested Bon Bon, indicating a small stall selling sweets.

“Oh, yum!” giggled Sweetheart. The ponies had fun choosing from wrapped candies, toffee apples, caramel creams, lollipops, liquorice, and other sweets until they left the stall, each carrying a bag.

“Ooh, look!” Starlight pointed to a second-hand stall with all kinds of goods being sold. Melody picked up an old Cleveland Bays CD while Clover eagerly spotted a four-leaf clover key ring. The next stall they visited sold jewelry; and even though the prices were expensive, the girls still admired the precious stones and jewels in the necklaces, rings, and bracelets. They picked up some knick-knacks for the teahouse at one stall, and Bright Eyes bought five books on Ponyland at another.

By this time, everyone was feeling quite hungry so they went to the Ice Cream Shoppe, owned by Starlight’s mother. They all loved to hang out there, and Starlight even had a part time job helping her mother.

“What would you like today?” asked Starlight’s mother, Night Dreamer.

“We’ll all have the Special of the Day,” said Starlight. “What about you, Bright Eyes?” Bright Eyes’ head was in a book.

“Helloooo? Earth to Bright Eyes!” said Patch.

“She’ll have the Special, too,” grinned Melody. But Bright Eyes was in another world. She thought of her homework, the report, her daily novel reading, and a new idea she had come up with. At the markets, she had devised a plan to start her own stall. She planned to sell craft items that she would make herself. Bright Eyes loved volunteering for anything. She also loved the environment and hadn’t had much to do with it lately. But that would change soon…

Bright Eyes was woken from her daydreams when a sausage roll and chips were placed in front of her. “Oh, gosh! I’ve been daydreaming,” said Bright Eyes, a little embarrassed.

“Never mind,” comforted Sweetheart.

“Anyway, guys. I just thought up a really good idea,” said Bright Eyes excitedly.

“Go on, then,” prompted Patch. So Bright Eyes explained her idea in depth and detail to the others. “Wow, that’s one good idea,” said Patch.

“But on top of homework, your report, and volunteering to help the environment, are you sure you’ll have time to do it?” asked Starlight.

“Of course. I’m always busy and I like it that way,” replied Bright Eyes.

“Okay. How about we help you?” Melody asked.

“Well, I was kind of thinking that I’d do it all myself and then it’d be a surprise for you all next Sunday! But of course I’ll have to get permission from…” Bright Eyes rattled off a list of names.

“Will you be able to get their permission at all?” queried Clover.

“I’ll find a way,” smiled Bright Eyes. The other girls nodded. It would be fun to see Bright Eyes’ creations. Who knew what she would make?

That afternoon Bright Eyes reached her house loaded with assorted craft supplies. She worked hard all afternoon, making all kinds of things. Sometimes Classy helped, but Bright Eyes mostly worked independently.

Much later, Bright Eyes checked the clock. 10:00 already? She looked over her creations– from paddle pop stick boxes to fluffy cotton ball chicks. There were shell bracelets and necklaces, brightly colored balloon faces, little animals made from beads, nuts and other items, play-dough dinosaurs, and much more.

Bright Eyes looked down over her body. It was splashed with paint and sticky from the play-dough. She took a long, hot shower and hopped into bed. Tossing and turning, Bright Eyes just couldn’t get to sleep. She lay awake for hours feeling ashamed of herself, and more than anything wanting a decent night’s sleep.

Editor’s note: Now, just go to for an easy way to tell the author that you enjoyed their story!


“There was the door to which I found
no key,
There was a veil through which
I might not see”
by Starre (

Author’s Note: Thank you! A thousand times, thank you! I’ve actually gotten five e-mails this month while usually I get five in the span of a year! Thank you! Let’s see, last month my quote was “ ‘Tis the Season to be Jolly!” Obviously this is from the well-known Christmas Carol “Deck the Halls.” This was correctly guessed by Melody J. A little history lesson: the music for Deck the Halls is from an old Welsh melody. Mozart used it in a piano and violin duet in the 1700's. The words are believed to be American from the 19th century. Bet you didn’t know all that! Anyhow... hope everyone had a lovely Christmas!

I must admit I was a bit stuck for a story idea this month– nothing interesting ever seems to happen in January. At least not in my family! So, we’ve got a bit of a mystery for you this month. I was stuck for a quote, too– how do you find something to quote about a mystery?? This is really quite tough so I don’t expect anyone to get it. Anyway, make your best guess and e-mail me at

Ella was yawning her way down Evermoor’s grand staircase when Louise burst peevishly out of the dining room. Fuming, the maid went to the hidden door in Evermoor’s mahogany paneling, fiddled with the decorative rose that was third from the right edge, yanked the panel open, and clattered down the steep staircase. Ella heard the kitchen door slam somewhere below her hooves.

Shrugging this off, Ella continued into the dining room. Louise was in one of her sulks again. Already seated was Lady Charlotte, poring over the morning paper.

“Something’s happened this morning, I’m guessing? Louise is in one of her sulks again...” Ella said, sitting down and pulling the part of the newspaper that Lady Charlotte had already read over to her side of the table.

“Yes, I suppose,” Lady Charlotte said without looking up.

“You suppose?” Ella questioned.

At this Lady Charlotte looked up. “Well, there’s always something, isn’t there? She does seem rather out of sorts this morning, but she wouldn’t say what was bothering her. Just stalked up the stairs and into the dining room, and looked around. I asked her what was wrong, but she simply ignored me and stalked back downstairs!” Lady Charlotte said huffily and returned to her paper.

Sighing, Ella stood back up and headed for the basement. Shuddering as she walked the dark, narrow staircase, Ella wished she had had the foresight to bring a candle. The basement was a very creepy sort of place with rustling whispers from the past and shadows that seemed to have no cause for being. Peeking in the kitchen door, Ella saw Louise rushing back and forth, throwing open cupboards, vehemently humphing and moving on to the next cupboard.

“Louise?” Ella said timidly, rounding into the kitchen.

Louise spun around with a frying pan in her hoof, and for one wild moment Ella had a strong compulsion to duck. Thank goodness, the frying pan stayed lodged in Louise’s hoof and Ella strode boldly forward.

“Louise, do tell me what’s wrong!” Ella took the frying pan and put it neatly back in its cupboard.

Louise scowled darkly. “It is gone!” she spat.

“Shh, shh, shh,” Ella comforted while guiding Louise into the chair that sat in an empty corner. “What’s gone?”

“The sugar tongs from our good silver tea service!” Louise cried out in exasperation.

“The sugar tongs,” Ella repeated and stopped herself from laughing just in time. All this trouble for sugar tongs?! They didn’t even use cubed sugar! It was more for looks and the tradition of keeping a complete silver tea service then anything else. Regaining her composure, she continued, “Perhaps you’ve misplaced them?”

“Never in the forty-seven-and-a-half years I’ve been head maid in this house have I misplaced something!” Louise said, looking scandalized at even the suggestion. But then she shook her head forlornly, “It had occurred to me. But I’ve searched the entire kitchen twice over! And they aren’t in the dining room, either!”

Ella thought back across the last few days. “You brought the silver tea service up to the parlor just last night. Are you sure they couldn’t have been left there?”

“I checked. They’re not.”

“What about the library? You bring the tea service to the library often enough...”

“I distinctly remember bringing the sugar tongs to the parlor last night!”

“You’re sure they aren’t there, then?”

“Yes, of course I am! I searched the entire parlor this morning, even though we had only been on the far side without the brass crickets!” Louise said dejectedly. If you’d remember, there are two fireplaces in the parlor. One is right across from the French doors, and another is on the other end of the room, beyond the piano. The latter of the two is lacking a pair of twin brass crickets on the hearthstones.

“Well, Louise darling, why don’t you start breakfast without the sugar tongs? I’ll go and search the parlor for them again; and even if I can’t find them, I’m sure we can survive a breakfast without sugar tongs,” Ella said logically.

Louise looked up. “And never in my forty-seven-and-a-half years here has Lady Charlotte been served breakfast without the complete tea service, either!” She looked as though if that unspeakable thing were to happen, the world might as well just come to an end.

“Oh, Lady Charlotte is plenty reasonable. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind... and, Louise, I’m sorry to say this, but you’ve hurt her feelings terribly! She was very injured when you ignored her this morning,” Ella said sternly.

The violently purple mare blushed, and Ella left this to Louise’s conscience as she climbed back up the steep staircase and crossed the front hall. Into the parlor she went and searched high and low. It appeared Louise was right– the sugar tongs were quite gone. Ella even went so far as to open up a few of the books on a tall bookcase which was situated about a foot away from the corner of the room. Incidentally, it was on the same wall as the French doors leading into the parlor. On the facing wall and right in the corner was a venerable old grandfather clock, next to one of the velvet curtained windows. It also was hoofed through by Ella who was getting just a bit irritated by the missing sugar tongs.

When it seemed the only possible explanation for the missing sugar tongs was that perhaps a brass cricket had eaten it, Ella gave up and joined Lady Charlotte in the dining room. Collapsing into the nearest chair, she gave a loud sigh. “The reason Louise was so agitated this morning was because the sugar tongs from the good silver tea service have gone missing.”

Lady Charlotte looked rather surprised. “That’s all? And I was nearly certain that we had run out of flour... that did it once. She sulked for almost a week over it! Well, certainly they’ll turn up eventually. Has anyone searched the parlor? I recall seeing the sugar tongs there just last night!”

“Oh, yes, Louise and I both have searched it thoroughly. I even went through the book case!”

They sat in silent thought for a few moments until a loud creaking and groaning came from behind a flap in the wall in the corner. Ella got up and retrieved their breakfast from the dumbwaiter, and Louise appeared a few moments later. Seeing Ella’s face, she said, “Then you haven’t found them, have you?”

Ella shook her head, “No, I’m sorry...”

“Well, there goes one of the more annoying Evermoor traditions!” Lady Charlotte said brightly. “I never found those sugar tongs very useful as we never bother with the cubes anymore...”

Louise sat in shocked silence. Perhaps the world really had come to an end and Evermoor would fade into oblivion momentarily...

After a quick breakfast Ella dashed out the door and to the bookstore where she worked. They had gotten a few fresh inches of snow overnight and the world had turned into a dazzling sea of diamonds! All over, ponies were bustling about, going in and out of stores exchanging duplicated Christmas gifts and wading through holiday sales.

Still, the missing sugar tongs weighed heavily on her mind. It made no sense that one day they would be there and the next day gone! And they were quite valuable as far as sugar tongs go, too.

Evidently, worry shone in her expressive yellow eyes, for the first thing she heard upon entering the Athenaeum was “Frowning this early in the morning? It isn’t even nine o’clock!” from a pale blue pegasus halfway out of the backroom. “Someone go and steal your puppy-dog?”

Ella looked up, surprised that Windwhistler had said anything to her. Then it dawned on her– Windwhistler and Lofty were going on vacation the next day leaving Ella in charge. That was reason enough to be sociable.

“Oh, something like that. Sugar tongs, actually,” Ella replied, hanging up her scarf and hat on the quaint barley twist coat rack right inside the door.

Windwhistler stared at her blankly for a moment. “Sugar tongs?”

“Yes, out of the good silver tea service. They were in the parlor just last night but now they are nowhere to be found! Louise and I both turned the parlor inside out. She searched a great deal of the rest of the house, too.”

“Oh, really... sugar tongs...” Windwhistler shook her head. Why even bother? Ella was too strange for her comprehension. Why in Ponyland had Lofty hired such a fruitcake? “Well, if you’ll remember, Lofty and I are both leaving this evening to go on vacation and leaving you the keys! Hopefully, you’ll take better care of them then the... sugar tongs...”

Just then, Lofty came up to the front of the store and Windwhistler decided she ought not continue in that oh-so-pleasant train of speech. The rest of the day passed normally enough and by the time Ella left that evening she had, in her possession, one of two sets of keys to the Athenaeum, the other set residing safely with Lofty and Windwhistler, as they were the proprietors of the store.

Ella made her way back through the winter wonderland that was Dream Valley to Evermoor. As soon as she let herself into the entrance hall, she heard Lady Charlotte call from the parlor, “Ella dear! So glad you’re home! Do come into the parlor– you have a letter.”

And so, before bothering to take off her scarf and hat, Ella obligingly went into the parlor. Waiting there, in the custody of Lady Charlotte, was a very fat envelope addressed to our Miss Ella Fay. Fat envelopes are usually pleasant, for they indicate nice long letters. This one happened to be from Mr. Sheffield, making it all the more pleasant. Forgetting everything else, Ella carefully set the Athenaeum key onto the coffee table and eagerly opened her letter.

Just then she noticed Lady Charlotte looking a bit crestfallen. Seeing Ella glance up, she explained herself. “You know, before you came here my nephew wrote letters to me!”

“Oh! I’m sorry,” Ella blushed. “Here, I’ll read it aloud for you.”

“Dear Miss Fay,

“I only just received your letter yesterday afternoon... strange, don’t you think, that it took nearly two weeks to get here from Dream Valley?

“I just finished The Olde Curiosity Shop– and yes, I didn’t like Barbara all that much either. Little Nell ought to have lived... and Kit was such a nice little fellow! Just yesterday I visited an “Old Curiosity Shop” of sorts and picked up this peculiar little thing I think you’ll like.

“I’ll be in Dream Valley the 8th through the 10th– tell Aunt Charlotte I’ll stop by for dinner on the 8th.”

Listening to this, Lady Charlotte marveled at the friendship that had sprung up in such a short time. Alexander had came for Christmas– he and Ella hadn’t even been aware of each other’s existence three weeks ago! Strange that he should write so familiarly.

As soon as she had finished reading the letter, Ella looked up. “The 8th is tomorrow!”

“And today happens to be the 7th! Do wonders never cease?” Lady Charlotte replied sarcastically.

Ella noticed this, and went up to her tower room just a bit ruffled. Mr. Sheffield certainly was a kindred spirit! But just a bit careless. Perhaps it would be advantageous to tactfully suggest he write to his aunt a bit more often...

* * *
Lady Charlotte’s inimical temper lasted through dinner, and she only became a bit more amicable once she had her knitting and a cup of green tea in the parlor. “Louise, Alexander is coming to dinner tomorrow evening– be a dear and fix his favorites. He’s especially fond of bread pudding,” Lady Charlotte said.

“Oh? What’s he doing in town?” Louise said, just a tad distressed. Suppose he noticed the absence of the sugar tongs...?

“I suppose another one of his music conventions,” Lady Charlotte replied.

Ella sat in front of the fire between the two brass crickets, gazing off into Dreamland. She was penning out a new short story and this was to be her masterpiece! She felt it in the pit of her stomach. And it’s a well known fact that the pit of one’s stomach is rarely wrong! Just then her eyes came back into focus on the coffee table...

The keys! Where were they? She had forgotten them on the coffee table in her excitement over Mr. Sheffield’s letter... but they surely weren’t there anymore. She suddenly stood up, papers fluttering from her lap dangerously near the fireplace.

Louise and Lady Charlotte looked up. “Is something the matter, dear?”

“Oh! Of all the things to happen!” Ella said miserably. “Where can it have gone to?” She started shuffling around the silver tea service, peering into empty cups.

Louise and Lady Charlotte exchanged a concerned glance. “Where’s what gone?”

“The keys!” Ella said wildly, and started crawling around the floor, rummaging under chairs and tables. “They leave me in charge for a few days and the first thing I do is go and loose the keys!”

Louise stared bewilderedly. Then it dawned on Lady Charlotte. “Those two mares who run the Athenaeum– I think Ella said they were leaving for vacation today and gave her the keys.”

“Oh, dear.”

Needless to say, Ella spent the greater part of the evening and night thoroughly searching Evermoor for the elusive little silver key. Finally, she decided to go to bed, but sleeping was out of the question as she could only keep traversing the far reaches of her memory for any place she might have left the key.

The next morning dawned bright and beautiful. However, it could have been the brightest and most beautiful morning the world had ever known and ever would, and Ella wouldn’t have cared. To her the world was cloaked in a drab cloak that was bent on concealing the keys to the Athenaeum.

Having no better ideas, she retraced her steps back to the Athenaeum staring determinedly at the ground, wondering if perhaps she could have dropped them– though she was perfectly certain she hadn’t. And then she looked in the paned front window wondering if perhaps she had left them on the counter. But for as much as she could see, she hadn’t. Our dear Ella was getting so desperate she contemplated picking the lock just so she could keep selling books that day. Honesty won out, though, and the Athenaeum remained closed that day.

Evermoor was turned inside out and rifled through most resolutely to no avail, and finally Ella returned to the parlor. Strange that two things should go missing in the same room so close together...

She was still pondering this when Mr. Sheffield arrived at Evermoor and found her there. Of course, being the sympathetic listener he was, he immediately was informed of all that had happened and how Ella was doomed now and would never be trusted again because of the missing key.

He decided he had to help her search again, and search they did. He even removed his silver watch (for fear of scratching it) and reached behind the dusty old grandfather clock.

After awhile Lady Charlotte joined the hunt and the three of them only paused when Louise informed them that dinner was ready. Immediately following dinner, the trio resumed their search and was joined by Louise after she finished with the dishes. It was nearing midnight when they simultaneously collapsed into the four wing-backed chairs surrounding the fireplace. Mr. Sheffield took one look at the mantle clock and promptly fell out of his wing-backed chair.

“Oh! I have to be at a meeting tomorrow!” he grimaced and excused himself from their cheerless company, promising that he’d come over again as soon as he was able the next day to help search some more in case the key still wasn’t found.

Another sleepless night was spent by Ella, and she aimlessly trudged back to the Athenaeum the next morning just to make sure everything was all right. Yes, everything was fine, except for the absence of customers, of course. Ella felt another sharp pang of guilt, and then she sheepishly looked up and down the street. Deftly, she yanked a hairpin out of her mane and picked the lock.

Well, she had done it, and there wasn’t any helping it now. After all, she didn’t need the key to lock up. She could sell books today, and search for the key tonight. But, she sighed, Lofty and Windwhistler would return tomorrow and she’d have to tell the whole story. Oh! Windwhistler would be perfectly unbearable!

Early that evening, Ella locked the door to the Athenaeum once again and dashed home feeling terribly guilt-stricken. Waiting was Mr. Sheffield in the parlor, looking around as he promised.

“You know, in all common sense, both the key and the sugar tongs should be somewhere in this parlor!” Mr. Sheffield frowned, deep in thought.

“Yes, but we’ve searched this room multiple times and came up with nothing. It’s as if they disappeared into thin air!” Ella sighed, walking down to the other end of the parlor and looking through the inside of the grandfather clock once again.

“You know, I left my watch here on the coffee table last night. It’s not here, either...”

“Oh! I’m sorry! But that makes a third. In the past two days, we’ve lost three small silver objects in this parlor!” They sat in silent thought for a few moments, and then Ella turned around and found Mr. Sheffield smiling to himself. “What in Ponyland can you find amusing about this situation, Mr. Sheffield!?”

“Perhaps one of the brass crickets has acquired a taste for small silver objects– they’ve been looking a bit larger than usual,” Mr. Sheffield offered.

Ella sighed again, looking past Mr. Sheffield at the bookshelf. Her gaze traveled down it– wouldn’t it be nice if there were a book on locating missing silver? But then, she glanced down wonderingly at the shadow below the bottom shelf. Was it truly just a shadow, or perhaps a small space?

Wide-eyed, Ella bounded across the room and knelt down. It was a space! But, alas, there didn’t appear to be anything but a... hole? There was a hole in the wood! Just big enough to slip a hoof through. Mr. Sheffield knelt down.

“What is it? Have you found it?” he asked anxiously.

“Not exactly, but there’s a hole here...” She felt around and her hoof found something– not metal, however. Wood. “Strange... there seems to be an old latch of sorts here! Ooh! But I can’t move it!” Ella said disappointedly.

“A latch!? Let me try...” And they switched spots and soon there was a gravelly sort of pop and the bookshelf sprang an inch into the room. They exchanged an amazed glance and then both started dragging it.

After much exertion, it opened into the room as a door! A door to a secret passage, no less! And obviously, a door that hadn’t been opened in a very long time. Just inside on the floor lay the missing silver sugar tongs, the Athenaeum key, and the watch.

Mystified, Ella picked up the three things, handed Mr. Sheffield his watch, and walked cautiously into the passage. The ceiling slanted downwards to the right, and Ella realized that they were standing underneath the great staircase in the foyer! On the other end of the hidden room was another door, and wordlessly, Mr. Sheffield and Ella went over and opened it, finding themselves in the dining room.

Looking back, they could see the parlor. Dumbfounded, the two ponies stared at each other for a long time. Then Ella peered around the edge of this door into the dining room– it was hidden behind the curio cabinet that held Evermoor’s fine china.

“Did you know about this room?” Ella asked.

“No... I spent many a summer here in my youth and thought that I knew all the secrets of this mansion. I don’t even think that Aunt Charlotte and Louise know!”

The two ponies ran gleefully to get Louise and Lady Charlotte, who had much the same response. Lady Charlotte, especially, found it hard to believe. “I’ve lived here all my life!” she repeated at intervals. Later, after they had shut both the doors again, they sat in the parlor, and Ella set the sugar tongs onto the coffee table.

“What I want to know is how on earth these things managed to get shoved under the bookshelf,” Ella said as they sat mulling over the secret room. As if in answer to her question, Amadeus, the huge white Persian, sauntered up to the coffee table and batted the sugar tongs onto the floor.

Right before their eyes, they watched as Amadeus wrestled the sugar tongs around the floor and finally got them shoved back into the secret room.

A shocked silence descended upon the four ponies. Louise was the first to break it. Scowling furiously, she scooped up the burgling-cat and put him out into the foyer. “The nerve!”

Still, Ella wasn’t satisfied, “But why did he just start doing this now?”

The only reply she got was a myriad of shrugs.

* * *
The next day at the Athenaeum the entire story was related to Lofty and Windwhistler, from the missing keys to the secret passage. At last, she finished up with the explanation of Amadeus’ antics.

Windwhistler sat there, the corners of her mouth twitching, and all of the sudden she erupted... into laughter! It was contagious, and within seconds the three mares were howling.

Burgling cat, indeed!

Editor’s note: Now, just go to for an easy way to tell the author that you enjoyed their story!


Dark Regrets
by Sugarberry ( and Tabby (

Note: You can see pictures of many of the characters mentioned in this story at

The dark-haired, middle-aged stallion stopped with his hoof on the doorknob to the motel room, looking back at the other occupant. “This may take awhile.”

“Let me go with you!”

“No!” He saw the pained expression on the face of the pony standing across from him and added in a softer tone. “No. It’s better if we don’t attract attention. You know that.”

“Go then. Do what you have to do.”

The stallion left the room quickly and quietly.

* * *
Wigwam’s Casino stood at the outskirts of Dream Valley on a plot of land that encompassed enough acreage to insure a panoramic setting for the architectural uniqueness that was the casino. Designed to complement the legacy of the Native Ponies, the casino’s outline, as seen from a distance, gave the impression of a grouping of tepees huddled together– and this against a backdrop of towering evergreens that dominated the property to the north, eventually merging with the Dark Forest.

Behind the casino and before the pines, within a comfortable walking distance down the gently-sloping grounds now cloaked in snow, rested an ice-covered lake, spring-fed, that offered a beautiful respite for the eyes of those who frequented the casino’s enticements, whether those being the gaming rooms, the banquet hall, or the private dining chamber. This frozen wonderland was the scene of much activity on this cold January morning with temperatures in the low teens on the Fahrenheit scale.

“You wouldn’t feel the cold if you worked harder,” griped Wishbone as he and Wigwam moved a sturdy wooden bench along the shore of the lake, passing an empty-hoofed stallion who had taken on the role of supervisor of the beehive of activity around him.

Tightening the muffler around his neck, Hawkley only grinned. “Someone’s gotta make sure this gets done right.”

“The least you could do is help Chocolate Chip and Garnet with setting the fence in position,” suggested Wigwam.

“Now that’s an idea,” agreed Hawkley, heading immediately for the two mares.

Wishbone groaned. “Great! As if he needed inducement to flirt with the girls!”

Chuckling, Wigwam concurred. “That’s one thing Hawkley has a high efficiency rating on.” He could find it amusing when it was Wishbone’s fiancee with whom Hawkley was carrying on his current dalliance.

As the denim blue stallion made his way to the point where Chocolate Chip and Garnet were setting up an array of iron posts at a safe distance around the open area of the ice under which the spring gurgled, he was constantly darting around the colorful bodies of the Bushwoolies who were energetically carting firewood across the ice from the forest to feed the bonfires that would roar into use after dark when the skating party would commence.

“Sorry, yeah, yeah,” said one of a pair of Bushwoolies as they careened into Hawkley, sending him skidding across the ice.

“Yeah, sorry,” said the other.

“No problem,” Hawkley said, brushing bits of bark off his side. “Just try to avoid any casualties.”

But the Bushwoolies were already out of hearing range.

Coming upon the two mares as they tried to embed the poles in the solid ice, Hawkley offered his advise. “You need one of those rigs that ice-fisher ponies use to drill through the ice.”

“And just why didn’t you mention that when we were organizing this affair?” queried a slightly miffed Chocolate Chip.

“I seem to remember the words, ‘How hard can it be?’ spoken by one of you two at our planning meeting,” Hawkley grinned, meriting a scowl from the brown mare and a twinkle of the eyes from the red one.

“Besides,” reasoned Garnet, “an auger would be overkill for this project.”

“What can we do to help?” asked a voice from behind the three ponies.

“Caravel! Petal! Chip!” sang out Chocolate Chip as she turned to observe the new arrivals. “Your timing couldn’t have been better.” She relegated the ice spud in her hoof to Caravel with a relieved smile. “My hooves are freezing.” Without waiting for a reply, she took off for the sanctuary of a warming shelter a short way from the lakeside.

“Fair-weather friend,” muttered Garnet, staring after Chocolate Chip with enough fire in her eye to warm the chilly temperature by a couple of degrees, no matter that the brown mare was simply a volunteer while Garnet was an employee of the casino.

Hawkley was quick to note her exasperation. “Just direct that look at the spot where you want a hole, and you’ll have it melted out in no time.”

“If that’s all the help you’re going to offer,” flared Garnet, “then I suggest that you find someone else to aggravate!”

“We’ll give you a hoof,” stepped in Chip. “I go ice-fishing with my dad when I’m home.” He took the simple tool from Caravel and proceeded to demonstrate the proper use of it, soon creating a suitable hole of the proper diameter to hold one of the anchor poles for the orange plastic fencing that laid stretched on the ground at lakeside.

“So that’s how it works,” observed Garnet, visibly lightening. “You wouldn’t mind if I left you guys to finish this off, would you?”

“I take it we’re fencing the dangerous area of thin ice?” asked Caravel.

“Even I could figure that out,” quipped Petal.

Before the guys could weasel Petal into trying her hoof at chipping out holes, Garnet pulled her aside. “How about helping me to check on the food inventory for tonight?”

Glancing at Chip, Caravel, and Hawkley– and determining that she had no desire to stay any longer than necessary on the cold ice– Petal acquiesced. “There’ll be plenty of hot chocolate, I hope,” she shivered.

“I thought the weather pony predicted a warm front moving in,” grumbled Garnet, rubbing her forelegs as she and Petal met with Wishbone and Wigwam.

“Just be glad it didn’t arrive too soon and melt the ice,” countered Wigwam. “The skating party would have been ruined.”

“Besides,” added Wishbone, “if it holds off until evening, it might bring some snow with it. That would be a nice touch.” He sent a silent message to his fiancee.

As Wishbone and Garnet had found that walking in the falling snow was a prime time for sharing hopes and dreams for the future– as if they were harbored in their own private snow-globe where no one else could intrude– they found the frequent snowfalls in Dream Valley this winter to be a blessing to their spirits.

Wigwam caught sight of several stallions coming toward them loaded down with cables and tool boxes. “Well, finally, our electrical help has shown up.” He waved and called, “Good morning, Quarterback... Sparky. All set to get to work?”

“Just point us to the main power source,” Quarterback stated.

“Follow me,” said Wigwam. “Garnet, you and Wishbone can cart out all those lights.”

“They’re already waiting.” Garnet pointed at the series of wood-stained gazebos that graced the east end of the lake; three octagon shelters rose gracefully, each one slightly smaller than the previous one and connected with suspended walkways. The sloping roofs, pillared supports, and protective railings were already outlined in clear Christmas lights left in place after the holiday, but patio lights to provide illumination and safety for this nighttime party were to be set in place by Quarterback. “I brought them out first thing this morning.”

“You’re efficient,” smiled Wigwam at his assistant.

“Of course I am,” retorted Garnet. “You know you couldn’t get along without me.”

* * *
The dark-haired stranger from the motel walked the streets of Dream Valley in a direct course to 17A Vine Avenue, the address listed in the phone book as Garnet’s address; taking up an inconspicuous position across from the small but functional house, the stallion began a silent vigil, discreetly keeping an eye not only on the blank windows of the first-floor unit but also on the approach of any other ponies. The residential area was fairly deserted at this time of the morning, with most ponies already gone to their day’s destination and the foals waiting for warmer temperatures before venturing forth to play in the snow.

When several young ponies did round the corner and come in his direction, the stallion quickly shifted the attache case in his hoof and set off across the street, scrutinizing the domicile of interest to him with keen eyes. Noting that there seemed to be no sign of activity in the building, he shrugged and continued on his way, headed in the direction of Main Street.

A warm and welcoming eatery called the Café Carousel caught his eye; remembering that he had foregone breakfast when he had the chance, the outsider turned aside to take advantage of the spicy smells emanating from the establishment. Once inside, the stallion surveyed the occupants of the tables with a look that could only be called shifty, then helped himself to a small corner table.

After placing an order for a cinnamon chip muffin and a cup of steaming black coffee, he settled in to listen to the talk going on at neighboring tables and soon came to realize that most of the conversation was centering on a skating party to be held this very evening at the casino. If the excitement of the ponies was any indication, it sounded as if everyone in Dream Valley would be in attendance at the outdoor festivity, whether for the skating or simply to enjoy the hot chocolate around a warm bonfire and the atmosphere of a merry winter party.

On the way out of the cozy restaurant, the swarthy pony noticed a poster on a window advertising the skating extravaganza; studying it for a moment, he seemed to come to a decision.

“Interesting...” he mused.

Smiling a rather wicked-looking smile and taking a quick look around him, the stallion departed and continued on his way, checking out the rest of Dream Valley’s main street, the mall, various hotels and motels other than the one he was registered at, the police station... for some reason, the stallion seemed to be fascinated with and yet at the same time averse to this center of law and justice.

This combination of an attraction and a repulsion delayed him as he appeared to seesaw between the desire to learn all he could about the place and a self-preservation that urged him to a safer– from his point of view– part of the city. It was only after he caught a glimpse of the police chief, Tawny, flanked by two officers, leaving the building, did the stranger melt into the shadowy cover of a neighboring building and slip out of sight.

His wanderings led him to the site of the casino; and again from a discreet distance, he checked the layout of the building and the grounds. Observing that the activity was occurring behind the casino and catching sight of one vibrant red mare who seemed to be in the center of the planning, he grinned his derisive grin; after some time in acute contemplation that focused on Garnet, the stallion departed, taking himself off down the street.

Finding the visitor’s bureau open, the stallion made a stop to fine-tune his knowledge of the city.

“Good morning, sir,” sang out a chartreuse mare with lime green hair. “How may I help you today?” She stumbled over a step-stool as she came toward him.

“Just looking for a way to entertain myself and a companion while we stay in your lovely city,” the stranger said, bestowing the most unnerving smile on Becca as he steadied her, preventing a tumble.

“Why, your timing couldn’t be better,” she admitted, pointing to a prominently displayed poster. “Our town is celebrating winter with an old-fashioned skating party on the grounds of Wigwam’s Casino this very night.”

“That’s the extent of what this town has to offer?” the stranger asked with a lifted eyebrow.

“Oh, but it’s going to be such fun! You simply must attend!”

“Who’s in charge of it?”

“The casino is sponsoring it, but the students of Pony Pride are involved in making it a success; and their young enthusiasm has garnered everyone’s excitement.”

“Wigwam’s Casino,” the stallion muttered. “Is this Wigwam in charge of tonight’s party?”

“Well, he’s at the head of things; but his general manager, Garnet, probably is as much in charge as anyone.”

“His general manager...” Going to the poster and studying it with the greatest interest, the stallion finally asked, “And the casino itself... will it be open?”

“Why, of course. But I assure you, the action will be out by the lake tonight.”

“Yes... yes, I suppose it will,” the stallion said more to himself than to the mare. Then, quickly bestowing his awful smile upon Becca, he thanked her for her time and left the building.

Satisfied with his morning’s work, the stallion returned to the motel. Upon entering the shared room, he was immediately questioned by the waiting pony, “Well?”

“Tonight... tonight, we act.” His infernal grin spanned the distance between them like a portent of doom.

* * *
“Many hooves make light work,” intoned Garnet as she looked with satisfaction over the lakeside activities. Benches had been set at convenient rest spots. The orange safety fence was neatly in place. Stacks of firewood stood ready. Beacon lights were mounted at key locations. The ice was being swept clean by a troupe of Bushwoolies who seemed to be enjoying their work tremendously. Quarterback and Sparky were putting the finishing touches on the electrical preparations. The pony helpers were beginning to congregate around the refreshment area as if in expectation of some commiseration for their efforts.

“Once Quarterback has the electricity on, we’ll fix some hot chocolate for everyone in the shelter,” announced Garnet, smiling gratefully at all the ponies who had so willing given of their time and talent to get ready for the skating party. “And I think Wigwam sent Hawkley out to buy donuts.”

This information brought renewed smiles to the faces of the ponies and cheers from the Bushwoolies.

“Quarterback says that we’ll have power in five minutes,” Caravel conveyed.

“And here comes Hawkley with the food,” said Petal, motioning to the stallion and several cohorts coming across the snowy landscape with a large quantity of bakery boxes.

“Knowing Bushwoolie appetites, I’m glad to see you got plenty,” Garnet said to Hawkley as the stallions approached.

Atlas, Lariat, and Hawkley grinned. “If these donuts taste half as good as they smell, they’ll be gone in a jiffy... even without the Bushwoolies,” Hawkley stated.

Wishbone came on the scene with a message from Quarterback. “He’s taking care of the final details now; he says to watch the lights.”

Everyone turned their attention to the myriad of lights strung around the gazebo and extending outward to encompass the lake and the surrounding parkland and encircling the shelter. A gathering of clouds overhead was dimming the earlier sparkle of the snow-encased landscape, so the lights would show rather well.

If they lit.

After several minutes, Sparky appeared from around the gazebo. “Umm... We’re experiencing some technical difficulties...”

“What’s wrong?” wailed Garnet, envisioning all these preparations spoiled because of a lack of luminescence.

“Nothing to worry about,” Sparky mollified. “Quarterback is checking the wiring; he just wanted you to know that it may take a little longer than he originally expected..” His eyes rested on the donut boxes that looked so inviting.

Garnet was in no mood to feel sympathy. “Well, get back to work!” she snapped, sending Sparky flying.

“Temper, sweetheart,” Hawkley said, patting Garnet’s hoof. “It’s only a minor setback.”

“I’m not your sweetheart,” Garnet growled.

“Of course not, but allow me to dream,” responded Hawkley.

“Garnet, look at the lights!” exclaimed Wishbone, extracting his fiancee to a safer position. “They’re operational!” The area had instantly gone from a drab, colorless environment to one of sparkling brightness that flaunted the overcast afternoon. “And the wind has shifted; the warm front is moving in. I’ll betcha we have snow by nightfall.”

“That will make all this work worth it,” sighed Garnet, imagining the frozen lake alive with colorful skaters, the bonfires alight with orange flames, and the fragrant smell of chocolate hanging in the air, all enveloped by a shower of sparkling snowflakes. She turned her gaze to Wishbone. “Don’t let me get so caught up in overseeing everything that I forget to skate with you.”

“You think I’d let an opportunity like that pass me by?” Wishbone queried softly.

Hawkley rolled his eyes and transferred his attention to several of the Pony Pride fillies nearby. “Libby, Patience, would you like to help me check all the light bulbs to make sure none of them are burnt out?” he asked smoothly, accompanying his invitation with a bright smile.

“Sure! We’d be glad to!” chorused both of the girls, their eyes lighting up as much or more than their electrical counterparts overhead.

Now it was Chocolate Chip’s turn to roll her eyes. As she watched Libby and Patience walk away with Hawkley, one on each side of the stallion, she noted, “Those two were supposed to be helping me with the food.”

“We’ll fill in for them,” said a voice belonging to Memoria; she was with another teacher from Pony Pride, Medallion. “We’d heard so much about the skating party from our students for the past couple of weeks that we thought we’d stop by to see how things were progressing.”

“Yes,” added Medallion, “and it looks like we missed the hardest work.”

“If your offer of helping serve was genuine, I won’t turn it down,” smiled Chocolate Chip. “The cups are in that box behind the counter and the marshmallow bags need to be opened up. When everything is ready, we’ll begin to feed the hungry hoard.”

“Do I smell hot apple cider?” asked Memoria, sniffing the air appreciatively.

“Yes, the Bushwoolies prefer that to hot chocolate... or so I’m told. I’ve seen them put down equal amounts at any gathering I’ve been to.”

The tempting smells were drawing in all the volunteers who had spent the past hours preparing for the upcoming evening’s festivities, and soon the shelter was abuzz with companionable chatter. Quarterback and Sparky were debating on which one of them had been responsible for overlooking a blown fuse; the wide-girthed Lariat was extolling the best points of each type of donut on display with Atlas; Hawkley was continuing his flirt with Libby and Patience... and several other Pony Pride beauties; Garnet was going over the details of the evening with Wigwam; and Petal, Wishbone, and Caravel were mingling with the helpers to thank them for their efforts to ensure a pleasing setting for the winter festival.

Garnet was just helping herself to a mug of apple cider when Hawkley moved to her side. “Now that Wishbone has spoken for you, Garnet, I was wondering if you might have a sister or two somewhere waiting for the perfect stallion.” He accompanied his words with an infuriating grin.

Exchanging a glance with Chocolate Chip, Garnet sassily retorted, “As if this perfect stallion actually exists.”

Laughing, Hawkley persisted. “You know all about my history thanks to Fern’s aunt over the holidays supplying enough stories of my school days to scar me forever; and I wasn’t even here to defend myself. It’s time I heard something about your background. So I ask again, any sisters?”

“One. But she’s older... too old for you.”

Hawkley arched a brow. “I’d be the one to determine that.”

“She’s also married.”


“Surely someone with your qualifications can’t be having a problem meeting eligible females in Dream Valley,” commented Chocolate Chip.

Eying her closely, Hawkley asked, “What qualifications are you referring to?”

Blushing becomingly, Chocolate Chip stuttered. “You... your... ah...”

“You’re cute, Hawkley, and you know it,” assisted Garnet, grinning at her friend’s embarrassment.

But Hawkley seemed not to notice Garnet’s compliment. He was focused on Chocolate Chip.

“And, besides, Patience and Libby both seemed fascinated with you earlier,” Garnet continued as she sipped her cider, wondering about the current– and not an electrical one– that seemed to be running between Chocolate Chip and Hawkley.

“They’re way too giggly and immature for me,” Hawkley finally responded, not taking his eyes from Chocolate Chip’s face. “I want someone who knows what’s she’s after and is still willing to have a little fun along the way.”

“Chocolate Chip, do we have any more of those plastic spoons?” quizzed Memoria, breaking the spell that had somehow overpowered the brown mare’s sensibilities.

“Wh... what? Oh, spoons. Sure. There’s another package around here somewhere.” Chocolate Chip turned her back on Garnet and Hawkley as she busied herself with mundane activities to rid herself of the riotous emotions rioting inside of her.

“Have a heart, Hawkley,” reprimanded Garnet as she led him away, fully aware of Chocolate Chip’s confusion. “Chocolate Chip doesn’t need a practiced flirt like you messing with her mind right now.”

Hawkley grinned. “Does that mean you’re jealous, Garnet?”

“No, Hawkley. It means that Wigwam is both your boss and your friend; don’t get involved.” The red mare patted his hoof, and left him to meditate on her advice.

* * *
“Oh, Wigwam,” cooed Sugarberry. “It’s like a fairyland!” She and Vanguard, with a well-bundled Banderol, stood by the orange stallion on the gazebo overlooking the scene of merriment where ponies of every hue and color milled about in carefree abandon to enjoy the winter festival. “You did good.”

“Thanks to Garnet and Wishbone getting everything organized and any number of other volunteers who got things done,” admitted Wigwam. “And the snow is just an added plus.”

“Chocolate Chip was helping today, wasn’t she? She seemed to be in a pensive mood at supper tonight, and I wondered if something happened to worry her.” Sugarberry held out her hoof to catch one of the drifting snowflakes, large and fluffy due to the warmer temperatures. .

“No. Not that I’m aware of. Of course, she doesn’t hold me in confidence as much as she used to,” Wigwam wryly stated, searching the crowd for the brown mare who had turned down his proposal of marriage on Christmas Eve.

“I saw her going into the refreshment stand a little while ago,” Vanguard volunteered, reading his friend’s mind.

“Maybe I’ll go and see if she wants to skate,” sighed Wigwam. “It all seems so romantic now after dark.” He turned and left without another word.

Tucking Banderol’s blankets more tightly around him, Sugarberry smiled at her husband. “I’ll bet Cocklebur will watch Banderol for awhile if we ask; Wigwam’s right about the romantic setting.”

“My thoughts exactly,” returned Vanguard.

* * *
A short time later, Sugarberry and Vanguard were enjoying the freedom of the ice with only occasional glances shoreward to where Cocklebur– several jangles wealthier for his trouble– was sitting on a bench with Banderol in his forelegs and several other young ponies to keep him company.

“Have I told you lately how much I love you?” Vanguard murmured in Sugarberry’s ear.

Sugarberry cocked her head in mock contemplation. “Not since this morning, unless you count the note I found in my mailbox when I went online this afternoon; but that was actually sent yesterday.”

“Well, then, the sentiment is long overdue.”

* * *
“Can you spare some time to get out on the ice?” asked Wigwam of Chocolate Chip where she was serving up drinks for Baby Falling Leaves, Baby Leaper, and Baby Noddins.

Chocolate Chip cast him a grateful smile. “I only came in here to get myself a hot chocolate, and somehow I ended up behind the counter. As the big chief around here, you can effectively rescue me.”

“My pleasure.” He extended a hoof to the brown mare. “Chocolate Chip is needed elsewhere right now,” he told Libby with authority while drawing Chocolate Chip out with him.

“We’ll manage,” muttered Libby, her disappointment hard to disguise. She had just seen Hawkley come into the shelter, and she had entertained hopes that he would invite her to take a turn on the ice. That stallion, however, seemed not to notice her.

Hawkley stood to the side as Wigwam escorted Chocolate Chip to the icy lake. What was the story behind those two, he wondered to himself. He had been out of town over the Christmas holidays and had expected on his return to hear of Wigwam’s engagement to Chocolate Chip. Not a word was said about any such happening, however, nor did the brown mare wear a ring. And to top it off, it appeared to Hawkley as if there had been a perceptible cooling in the relationship between the two ponies. It was a disappointment, then, to walk in tonight to see Chocolate Chip in close company with Wigwam once more.

Frowning, Hawkley remembered that moment earlier in the day when he and Chocolate Chip had seemed to experience an awakening that boded well for them both. He had looked forward to this evening in hopes that he could begin to solidify a deeper friendship with the chocolate brown mare who had intrigued him from the time he came to work in Dream Valley this past summer; her obvious ties with Wigwam, however, had prevented him from taking action in that direction; but when Chocolate Chip had looked at Hawkley this afternoon with such obvious admiration in her eyes, Hawkley had changed his game plan, only to find that the object of his attention was now in the forelegs of Wigwam once more. Maybe Garnet was right... it was best to say clear of such a volatile situation. Hawkley shrugged and went in search of new quarry.

* * *
Chocolate Chip and Wigwam skated in silence until they were both comfortable with their momentum over the ice. There were many skaters of all ages and abilities, but Wigwam managed to steer his and Chocolate Chip’s direction to the far side of the lake where there was less activity. The snow falling around them was like a soothing balm that negated any past difficulties between them, and Wigwam pulled the mare closer to him.

“I miss our quiet talks,” Chocolate Chip admitted as she allowed herself to relax against his nearness.

“So do I.”

“Things have been so hectic; there’s so much to see to before graduation.”

“And you’ll manage to get everything taken care of in your usual efficient way,” Wigwam reassured her.

“I wonder at times... it’s like everything familiar is crumbling away,” confided the mare.

“It doesn’t have to, you know.”

“It’s tempting to take the easy way out, Wigwam; but I’d always wonder what could have been.”

“I’m not trying to change your mind; I just want you to remember that you do have options.”

For a moment, Chocolate Chip allowed her head to rest on Wigwam’s shoulder. It would be so easy to fall into his plans for them, to get married and live with all that was familiar here in Dream Valley. But if she succumbed to that warm and fuzzy feeling of familiarity now, she would have regrets later; for how could she know what might have been if she did not break free and forge her own path through life? No one would ever convince her to give up her dream... never.

But– if just for this moment– would it be such a show of weakness to forget about making her mark upon the world and simply enjoy the comfortable sameness that enveloped her in Wigwam’s presence as they floated over the ice?

* * *
Some time later, Hawkley finally spotted Chocolate Chip in the uncomplicated company of Petal and Caravel. He excused himself from the group he was mingling with to hasten to the brown mare when he witnessed a depressing sight.

Someone– he was not acquainted with the stallion– had approached Chocolate Chip from the side and tapped her on the shoulder, startling her for a brief fraction of a second before launching her into the stallion’s forelegs as if... as if they were very close acquaintances. Hawkley muttered under his breath as he drew closer to determine the meaning of this obviously joyful reunion.

Dark lemon in color with light green mane and tail, the stallion was close in age to Chocolate Chip, Hawkley noted. They seemed to share a genial relationship if the number of hugs exchanged in the first few minutes of their reunion meant anything, he also observed with a frown.

“Who’s the stallion?” asked Hawkley of Atlas, who seemed to be in company with the new arrival.

“That’s Prime, the math whiz. He attended Pony Pride for a few years before transferring to New Pony.”

“Math... so that’s the attraction,” mumbled Hawkley.

“What?” queried Atlas.

“Chocolate Chip’s a mathematics major, so I suppose she had classes with him when he was attending here,” Hawkley mused.

“Well, there was that, of course.” Atlas smiled as if there was more to the story.

“And...?” prompted Hawkley, not adverse to gleaning information so blatantly. After all, his immediate future was on the line here.

But before Atlas could reveal the complete history of Chocolate Chip and Prime, Chocolate Chip herself intervened.

“Hawkley, come meet Prime, currently of New Pony. He’s a friend from Pony Pride. And Prime, Hawkley is a fairly new arrival in Dream Valley; he works with Wigwam at the casino.”

“Nice to meet you,” Hawkley lied. “What brings you to town?”

“Well, I’m taking a break after finishing up on my Masters; and when I got word about the skating party, it seemed like a good time to visit my old alma mater.”

After sharing some polite drivel with Prime, Hawkley moved away to rethink his situation. Chocolate Chip had introduced Prime as a friend while she had referred to Hawkley as merely Wigwam’s associate. That fact did not set well with the denim blue stallion. He brushed a hoof through his violet hair in a nervous motion, dislodging a shower of snowflakes in the effort. It was bad enough to have to worry about Wigwam’s interest in Chocolate Chip; what complication did Prime bring into the equation?

He stood sulking, watching Prime and Chocolate Chip make the rounds of all their mutual friends– Atlas had seemed to abdicate his job as Prime’s escort– when he became aware of two mares wending their way toward him. Taking one look at Garnet’s smug smile and another at the hopeful mare at her side, Hawkley knew he was going to have to endure Garnet’s attempt at matchmaking.

“Hawkley!” Garnet greeted him with sugary sweetness. “You look like a lost soul standing here all by yourself.” She blatantly winked at him

“One of us has to keep an eye on things to make sure everything is running smoothly,” he answered her stiffly.

“That’s what I like about you, Hawkley! You’re so committed! I was just telling Falda here how much Wigwam and I appreciate your input at the casino.” She put heavy stress on the name, Wigwam. Drawing the pale blue pegasus forward, she continued. “Falda is in charge of Ideographic Imaging; Wigwam bought our digital copier there last fall.”

“Of course,” Hawkley smiled. “Your business has an impressive reputation.”

“Thank you, Hawkley. We consider customer satisfaction to be our primary concern.”

“Oh!” voiced Garnet. “Wishbone’s beckoning for me at the refreshment stand. I’ll bet they ran out of cider or something. Excuse me!” She left without looking back, so she missed the dark look Hawkley cast her way.

“It’s a lovely party,” offered Falda in the oppressing silence that followed Garnet’s leaving.

“Yes. Isn’t it?”

If Falda wondered at the irony in Hawkley’s voice, she shrugged it aside. “I’ve always enjoyed ice-skating,” she intimated, turning to watch the skaters skimming by on the frozen lake. “It gives one such a feeling of freedom.”

Let her throw out all the hints she wanted, Hawkley fumed. He was not going to bite. Not when the mare he was most interested in was currently laughing and talking with Prime at a mile a minute.

“I was with the White Ice Flyers for several years,” she divulged, her wings softly brushing against Hawkley’s side as she gazed out over the ice, reliving her top performance with the troupe.

Hawkley cast her a cautious glance. Her eyes were dreamy with her musings. Her rainbow mane, wet from the snowflakes that still floated through the air, curled becomingly around her face. Maybe, Hawkley pondered, it would not hurt to accompany her around the ice just once.

Falda turned to face him just then, lowering her gaze demurely as she caught his eyes on her. When she lifted her clear blue eyes to him again, she asked, “And what about you, Hawkley? Have you had much experience... on the ice?”

Did she bat her eyelashes at him coquettishly... or simply blink away a snowflake? Hawkley never determined the answer. He heard himself instead invite her to skate with him.. And from some rampant cord, his treasonous voice added, “That way, you can tell me just how experienced I am.”

From some distance behind the two, Garnet playfully jabbed Wishbone in the ribs and laughed, “I told you so!”

* * *
At the fringe of the activity going on around the lake stood the two strangers from the motel; they were discreetly concealed behind a yew hedge, giving them a fair view of the proceedings without revealing their presence. The dark haired pony stared menacingly at the many figures milling about the grounds, then spat when he caught sight of the particular pony he was searching for.

“Over by that building, close to the door,” he said quietly to his companion.

“That’s her, all right. And just look how she’s puttin’ on airs as if she owns the place!”

“She’s honed her skills since the last time we kicked up a row.” The pony tossed his black mane back with a derisive motion.

“Well, we’ll see how fine she acts when she finds out we’re on to her.”

The first pony sneered. “She’ll think she’s caught in her worst nightmare.”

“What’s your plan?”

“We’ll wait until she’s alone; I’d prefer there were no witnesses.”

“It might be a long wait.”

“The casino’s open... maybe we can win the jackpot... kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.” The evil grin spread across the stallion’s face again.

His companion nodded, and the two slipped through the shadows toward the casino.

* * *
“How long will you be in Dream Valley?” asked Chocolate Chip of Prime as she and the stallion shared a moment alone near one of the blazing bonfires.

“Only a day or two. I’m going home to spend some time with Mom and Dad before I start my job.”

“You are so fortunate to have reached your goal!”

“And what about you, Chocolate Chip? What’s in store for you?” He touched her cheek companionably.

“Everything is so hectic at this point, I’m not sure where I’ll end up.”

Prime looked perplexed. “Didn’t you and Wigwam get things patched up yet?”

Her cheeks already a deeper shade from the heat of the bonfire, they again darkened perceptively. “Yes, we’ve been the best of friends.” Chocolate Chip refused to meet Prime’s searching gaze.

“Somehow, I don’t think that’s what Wigwam wanted.” He gently put his hoof under her chin to oblige her to look at him.

“He proposed and I turned him down.”


“You said yourself that you didn’t have time in your life for a steady relationship just yet; can’t I be accorded the same prerogative?”

“I wouldn’t have stopped for anything if I’d met the mare I wanted to spend the rest of my life with,” Prime baldly admitted, then grinned to soften his words. “I must admit, you came pretty close.”

“And what about Frilly Hearts?” Chocolate Chip asked, too relieved to have the conversation move away from her and Wigwam to be annoyed at Prime’s less than flattering assessment of his own relationship with her.

“She was good company when I first got to New Pony, but I found her to be too intellectually minded after a time... her father’s influence on her, I imagine.”

“And he was a professor of yours?”

“Yes, and a big help in getting my job.”

Chocolate Chip smiled. “You’ll make a name for yourself, Prime; I’ll always be able to brag that I was a classmate of yours.”

“You’re going to do just fine for yourself, too, you know.”

“I’ll do my best.”

Suddenly they were surrounded by a group of ponies who had just come off the ice, all anxious to renew their ties with Prime; and Chocolate Chip allowed herself to be edged away from the warmth of the fire. She found herself beside Hawkley, who had lost Falda to some suave stallion from Friendship Gardens.

“Enjoying yourself?” he asked somewhat harshly.

“It’s been fun, but I’m about ready to call it a night.”

Hawkley looked at her closely. Maybe Prime was not such a good friend after all. “You haven’t skated with me yet.”

Unexpectedly feeling very shy under his searching gaze, Chocolate Chip pretended to be caught up in the antics of some foals who were roughhousing it in the snow; but Hawkley would not let her escape.

“Chocolate Chip.” The mare turned her head to look at the stallion and found her glance trapped by his smokey grey eyes. “Come out on the ice with me.” Without waiting for a reply, he claimed her hoof in his, and Chocolate Chip found no reason to resist.

* * *
“Hi! Cocklebur told us you were here; but with this crowd, it’s been difficult finding anyone,” Sugarberry said, coming up to Bluebonnet and her husband, Firethorn, who were at the gazebo with a young couple. Sugarberry’s ready smile encompassed the entire group.

“We saw you skating earlier and hoped we’d get a chance to talk,” the mother of six said, scooping Banderol from Vanguard’s forelegs, then looking apologetic. “Excuse me, but I feel so much more comfortable if I’m holding a foal.”

Everyone laughed..

“Just don’t take him home with your crew and leave us empty-hooved,” warned Vanguard.

Sugarberry turned her attention to the young mare and stallion. “Where’s your little guy?” she asked.

“Princess Tiffany is babysitting,” Sunny explained.

“She practically threw us out so that she could have Mesquite all to herself,” added Pampas.

“But we really should be getting back,” worried Sunny, glancing at her husband. “This is the longest I’ve been away from Mesquite since he was born.”

“He’ll be fine,” assured Bluebonnet. “Princess Tiffany seems to have a gentle hoof when it comes to that foal of yours.”

“I’ll say,” agreed Sunny. “I don’t know what we’ve had done without her through all this.”

“You’re guiding star did well to lead you to the Royal Paradise on Christmas Eve,” smiled Sugarberry. “It’s been as good for Tiffany as it has been for you.”

Every since Princess Tiffany had gotten her hooves on the newborn baby unexpectedly delivered in her domain and had gotten a look into those innocent, trusting eyes, she had become a different pony... a change that was for the better in the opinion of everyone who knew her. Something in her heart had been touched by the helplessness of the precious little foal; and as she held him those early hours after his birth, she had promised him that she would always be there for him.

Her affection for the foal had expanded to include the foal’s parents, taking them under her wings as well. Finding out that Pampas was without work (he and Sunny were on their way to Hayton in hopes of finding employment when they had been caught with a more urgent predicament in Dream Valley on Christmas Eve), Tiffany had scoured the help wanted ads for any suitable job for him. Failing at that level, the princess had begun talking to everyone she knew to locate a possible position for the young, energetic, and talented builder.

The search proved more grueling than the princess had imagined, for the time of year was not conducive to construction firms hiring on new help. Pampas himself scrounged out a meager job at Pony-Mart, determined to make what he could until Sunny was able to travel again; then they could get to Hayton where rumors had it that Bradley Electronics was hiring.

Tiffany thwarted any plans in that direction. If she had anything to say about it, Mesquite would find a home in Dream Valley where she could be involved with his life on a day-to-day basis. That meant that Pampas has to find work locally, not in far-off Hayton. And her persistence paid off.

Quite by accident, she learned of a company who was in need of someone experienced in dry-wall and plastering. She sent Pampas to talk to Gambrel, the supervisor; and without even having to use her royal influence, she had the pleasure of learning that Pampas had been hired.

The princess was delighted and now turned her attention to securing a small but comfortable apartment for the family which was not nearly as difficult as rounding up the job. By the time Sunny was strong enough to assume full care of Mesquite, Tiffany had located a cozy unit not too far removed from the Royal Paradise so that she could easily visit whenever she so desired.

She should have been happy when Pampas and Sunny had moved their meager belongings into the apartment and settled Mesquite in the freshly painted and decorated nursery (a gift from the princess), but she was not.

She found that now she had way too much time on her hooves.

She had spent so much of the last month helping Pampas and Sunny and enjoying Mesquite that now she found that her days were empty; and for some reason, her old pastimes of visiting the mall, indulging in pampering at the beauty shop, and dining out at the best places were utterly wearisome. Even the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe had lost its charm for her.

If she would have had her way, she would have spent hours with Mesquite daily, but even the princess realized that Sunny was the best mother for the little foal, so she limited her excursions to the small but orderly apartment to three times a week. Between those excursions, however, she felt adrift.

It was in one of these restless moods that the answer came to Princess Tiffany. She had been happily busy while trying to accommodate Pampas and Sunny into life in Dream Valley and when she had been meeting the needs of the helpless foal. That fact hit her like a brick.

She had been happiest while helping others!

It was, for her, a new direction.

All that was left to determine was what outlet her new penchant should take. That was what the princess mulled over these days: not which piece of jewelry to purchase from Sparkler’s Jewelry Store, or which scarf would best match her eyes at Lemon Treat’s Boutique, or which book from the Bushwoolie’s book store would give the best impression sitting on the coffee table when guests came to the Royal Paradise; but what could she do to best meet the needs of other ponies like Pampas and Sunny who needed someone to give them a helping hoof in their time of need. And one of these days, she would hit on the right answer.

“I hear that your crew was in charge of converting the picnic shelter here into a more suitable enclosure for this winter party,” Vanguard directed at Pampas.

“Yeah. Gambrel pulled us off the project we were working on so that we could get some temporary walls up,” Pampas explained.

“After the turnout for tonight’s bash, Wigwam might decide to make these skating parties a weekly thing,” commented Firethorn jokingly.

It was a perfect evening.

* * *
Wigwam was waiting at the edge of the ice when Chocolate Chip and Hawkley finished their skating; the orange stallion tapped his hoof on the freshly powdered ground as he tarried, watching the two ponies as Hawkley said something in Chocolate Chip’s ear that caused the mare to laugh musically, the sound coming to Wigwam’s ears like a tantalizing call of a siren. He gritted his teeth.

Garnet, trying to keep on top of everything that affected the success of the evening in any way, saw the anger in Wigwam’s stance as she and Wishbone also came off the ice, and she directed Wishbone to head in his direction. Both couples, therefore, arrived in front of the casino operator at the same time.

Caught up in the light-hearted banter that she and Hawkley had been engaged in, Chocolate Chip was unprepared for the cutting tone of Wigwam’s voice when he spoke or the dangerous gleam in his eye as he ran his gaze over the two of them.

“Sammy sent word out that things are heating up in the casino; there’s lots more patrons tonight than we expected, and he’s feeling out of his element with none of us up there. He also mumbled something about some shifty-eyed ponies that are making him nervous.”

“I’ll go handle things,” said Garnet, making a move to head up the hill to where the casino glittered.

“No.” Wigwam’s hoof stayed her while he kept his eyes on Hawkley. “Hawkley will take care of it.”

Wigwam looked at the stallion with such a despotic look that Hawkley found himself saluting. “No problem.” If he noticed the explosive wrath that encompassed Wigwam, he gave no indication. Turning to Chocolate Chip, he said goodnight with all propriety, marring it in Wigwam’s estimation, however, by sending the mare a wink before he turned and headed for the casino.

Wigwam was so disgusted that he turned to go in the opposite direction just to make sure he did not do something he would regret later.

A perfect evening? Well, maybe not quite.

* * *
Three little ponies on skates stood staring at the orange fence blocking off part of the lake.

“What do you suppose dat’s there for?” one (namely, Baby Noddins) said.

“It’s to keep ponies out of the area,” Baby Leaper said authoritatively.

“Why?” said Baby Noddins.

“I dunno, probably because it’s not safe or something,” Leaper shrugged, completely ignoring the “Danger! Keep Out!” signs posted at intervals along the fence.

“Aw, you mean we can’t skate on it?” Baby Falling Leaves pouted.

“Nah, I didn’t say that.” Leaper was already eyeing the fence and expertly scrambled over, standing upon the forbidden ice. The girls were quite envious.

“Ooh! Us, too!” Baby Noddins said, as she and her friend struggled over the fence.

“Those adults are so stuffy,” Baby Falling Leaves scoffed. “See, there’s nothin’ dangerous.”

“Wow, this is great!” said Noddins. “Not as many ponies to bump into.”

“You’re just not as skilled as I am,” Leaper said, skating further out onto the dangerous ice. “If you watch where you’re going you don’t have to worry about bumping into ponies. You dumb girls.”

“I’m not dumb!” Baby Falling Leaves said indignantly, skating fast to catch up to him. “You said before I was one of the smartest girls you knew!”

“Yeah, well, smart is a relative term,” Leaper scowled.

Baby Noddins stuck out her tongue. “You’re the dumb one, Leaper. I don’t know why we hang out with you.” She skated out even further than the others to prove her worth.

“Leaper’s not dumb!” Falling Leaves protested. “And he’s cute!”

“Aw, just shut up,” Leaper mumbled. “I don’t know why you two follow me around. You weird girls.”

“You mean you don’t like us?” Baby Falling Leaves said, hurt. “I mean, you don’t have to like Noddins, but what about me?”

“Well, I guess you’re both okay when you’re not being dumb.”

“What, you mean we were being dumb now?”

“Yeah... most of the time.”

Suddenly an ominous cracking sound was heard, and the two turned their heads swiftly just in time to see Noddins, who had been skating around on her own, crash through the ice and fall into the icy water below. “HELP!” she shrieked. “HELP! QUICK!”

“Uh-oh,” said Falling Leaves.

“We’ve gotta get her out,” Leaper said matter-of-factly. “Come on.” He expertly navigated towards the broken ice where Noddins was thrashing wildly. “Hey, just stop freaking out!” he shouted above the din of Noddins’ screams. “You’re not helping any.”

“GET ME OUT!” was Noddins’ reply.

“What do we do?” Falling Leaves asked nervously.

“Here, hang onto my back legs,” Leaper instructed, getting down on the ice and sliding closer towards the hole. “I’ll try to reach her. Come on, Noddins, gimme your hoof!”

It took awhile for Baby Noddins to calm down enough to listen to his command. “I wanna go home,” she sniffled, finally latching onto his hoof.

“Okay, now we’ve gotta pull her out... ready, Falling Leaves?”

“Uh-oh, there’s some adults comin’,” Baby Falling Leaves realized, looking behind her. “They don’t look too happy.” This gave them enough push, however, to soon have Baby Noddins pulled up out of the water.

“Dumb girls,” was Leaper’s only comment as the rescue team came upon them.

* * *
“It turned out to be a very exciting evening,” observed Wishbone as he and Garnet walked in the still falling snow toward the mare’s apartment.

“A little too exciting for me,” shivered Garnet.

“Aww... Baby Noddins will be a celebrity for weeks after her fall through the ice. She’ll really have something to talk about now.”

“Which reminds me...” said Garnet, casting a sideways glance at Wishbone. “We’ve got to talk about the seating arrangement at our wedding dinner.”

“Is that a big deal?” queried the young stallion innocently.

“I can’t figure out how to even things out with my parents not being in attendance.”

“Well, who means the most to you that could fill in for them?”

“I’ve been tossing around the idea of my two aunts, but Rainbow Star and Pepper have been so important in our lives; and I know you look to Sugarberry and Vanguard as your surrogate parents. And then there are your grandparents as well.”

“Hmmm... go with Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl. They’re truly your relation, and everyone else will understand why you chose them.”

“It’s that easy, is it?”

“Yup. Just that easy.”

They had arrived at the apartment, and Wishbone opened the door, following Garnet in and dropping his backpack to the floor. The red mare turned to face him, and she smiled as she brushed the sparkling snowflakes out of his mane.

“You’ll walk me to church in the morning?” she queried, her violet eyes meeting his.

“Wild horses couldn’t keep me away,” he said, holding her gaze for a moment before meeting her lips in a kiss.

Garnet stood in dreamy warmth as Wishbone made his departure, but her exhaustion from a busy day overwhelmed her when she stood alone. Yawning, Garnet set about straightening up the living room after her hasty departure from the house hours earlier; she liked awakening to an orderly house. She yawned again as she took one last look around the room before heading for bed, and her eyes lit on Wishbone’s backpack.

She grinned as a knock sounded at the door. “Wishbone,” she surmised, hurrying to answer his summons.

The look of pleasure on her face instantly turned to one of fear. “You!” she gasped, at the same time making a desperate effort to swing the door closed again.

The dark haired stallion was too quick for her; his hoof came out to effectively brace the door open. “Well, missy, you didn’t expect us to find you, did you?” he drawled.

Garnet’s mouth dropped open as she screamed for Wishbone at the top of her lungs.

* * *
Wishbone had gone several blocks under the euphoria of that kiss before he realized that his backpack was not bouncing on his shoulder. “My MP3 player!” he said, coming to a stop. “Oh, well,” he shrugged. “I won’t need it before tomorrow anyway.”

He took several steps before another thought struck him. He grinned. “If I go back now, I can always collect another goodnight kiss.” Anticipating that pleasure, he turned and retraced his steps.

Half a block away from the house that contained Garnet’s apartment, Wishbone was stunned to hear a shrill call pierce the night– a call that had the distinct sound of his name being shrieked to the heavens... by none other than Garnet. The call to action was immediate as the rose-red stallion galloped off to protect his one true love as the knights of old were wont to do.

Through the open doorway, Wishbone could see that Garnet had visitors– obviously unwanted– and he increased his speed so that when he arrived on the scene, he had built up an amazing amount of momentum which served him well to knock the dark and menacing stallion off balance, effectively putting him out of commission, at least temporarily.

Wishbone next faced the second intruder, a mare of uncertain age, who appeared to be shocked at the current state of affairs. She stared at Wishbone... with the most familiar violet eyes...

Wishbone checked his intended action against the interloping mare and, looking to Garnet for an explanation, saw his fiancee take on an air of extreme sheepishness.

“My parents,” she said, barely above a whisper.

“My God!” Wishbone whispered in return.

* * *
“I thought Garnet was in trouble,” Wishbone explained as he helped Blackcap up off the floor where he had landed when Wishbone slammed into him. “I’m sorry if I hurt you.”

“No problem,” Blackcap dryly responded, rubbing a hoof over a bruised hip. “It’s a comfort to see she’s well looked after.” He scowled at his daughter, but there seemed to be no real animosity in the look.

“Oh, Wishbone, it was such an unexpected surprise to find my parents standing there when I opened the door expecting it to be you!” She cast herself into his forelegs, and Wishbone accepted his part as savior with smooth aplomb.

“They can’t hurt you now,” he murmured to her as she rested her head against him like a child seeking refuge. He kissed the top of her head before turning his attention back to the two ponies standing before him.

Blackcap had closed the door and taken up a position next to his wife, an attractive orchid mare who up until now had remained a silent spectator. Now, however, she found something to say.

“Your dad and I only wanted to make sure that you were doing okay for yourself, Garnet.” She smiled at Wishbone. “It would seem that you are.”

Wishbone tried to remember all the things that Garnet had told him about her parents– how they had raised their entire family to lead a life based on deceit and cunning, how they had cut ties with their offspring as soon as each was capable of supporting themselves on whatever less than honest endeavor they could, how Garnet had not even heard from her parents for years– but one look at the mare who had gifted Garnet with those violet eyes that he now loved to distraction, and he was lost. Sassy’s violet eyes now sparkled at him and he knew that no matter what mistakes had been made by this mare in the past, she was still Garnet’s mother.

“I love your daughter, ma’am, and intend to marry her this summer; you can be assured that I’ll provide for her the best I can for the rest of my life. “

Sassy smiled, immediately approving of the young stallion, although she realized that she had forfeited her right to expect her daughter’s dependance on her opinion long ago. “I’ll rest easy knowing that Garnet’s in such good hooves.”

Garnet lifted her head and surveyed her parents with a doubtful look. “You aren’t here to try to manipulate me into playing along with one of your scams then?”

Blackcap grimaced, giving his face a wicked look, but the dark expression was accompanied by a deep chuckle that spoke of inner merriment. “We’ve put that part of our life behind us... for the most part,” he said. He reached out to punch Wishbone companionably in the shoulder. “Now, how about some hot chocolate like Sassy and I smelled at that skating party but couldn’t partake of without giving ourselves away; I’m cold and hungry.”

Sassy sent her husband a look that denounced his bad manners; but Garnet, with Wishbone to support her, trotted off to respond to her father’s wishes. She was somewhat nervous of what this new mature relationship with her parents would be; but if Wishbone was willing to take a chance, so was she.

But not for a moment would she let her guard down. Not with Blackcap and Sassy in her life again.

* * *
“So how did you find out I was in Dream Valley?” questioned Garnet as she placed two mugs of rich dark chocolate before her parents.

“I got into conversation with a mare at the post office and...”

“Ribbons n’ Lace,” Garnet said knowingly with a glance at Wishbone.

“We didn’t exchange names,” Sassy continued. “The first time I’d seen her, I told her I had a daughter named Garnet; when I ran into her this past week, she was going on about visiting her son in Dream Valley and how she’d thought of me when she ran into a young mare named Garnet. I asked a few discreet questions and figured it might just be you.”

“Why did you even care?” bluntly asked Garnet.

“Now see here, missy; I’ll not have you talkin’ to your mother that way,” warned Blackcap.

“It’s a fair question,” Sassy soothed. “Your dad and I have been leading a ... quieter life as of late...”

“The cops got wind of one of your ploys, I suppose?” Garnet inferred.

“... and we’ve realized how isolated we’ve become from our children.”

Garnet rolled her eyes. “You and dad wanted to be rid of us as soon as we could walk and talk.”

“That’s not true,” snapped Blackcap. “We just knew that it was... safer... if we each worked on our own.”

“So how are the others?” asked Garnet.

“We ran into your brother, Onyx, last fall in Hayton, at the mall. He said he’d found a job as a chef at some fancy restaurant. Can you imagine?” Sassy laughed.

“Have you been to the mall in Hayton, Garnet?” Blackcap asked. “Why, the pickin’s was so good there that we...”

“Now, dear, I’m sure Wishbone and Garnet don’t want to hear all your old tales,” Sassy said, patting her husband’s foreleg. She returned the conversation back to the lives of Garnet’s siblings. “Ebony settled down... made quite a stunning match; but she never calls much. I think she feels as you do, Garnet, that her dad and I are best kept at a distance.”

“And what of Sable?” queried Garnet. Sable, the closest sibling to her age, had been her idol when she was still a foal; but Sable had never appreciated the adoring little sister who had tried to shadow his every move... except possibly for that one time last fall when he had appeared from out of nowhere at Pepper and Rainbow Star’s farm and assumed that she was using her wiles to snare Wishbone in some misrepresented plot.

“It’s as if he’s dropped from the face of the earth,” Blackcap responded. “We haven’t seen or heard from him for several years now.” He looked at Wishbone and Garnet warily. “The last word we had from him was when he came to Dream Valley.”

“He was here two and a half years ago when I was in my first semester at Pony Pride,” Wishbone offered rather reluctantly. “That was before Garnet came. He left rather suddenly and no one around here has heard of him since.”

“He was... doing okay... back then?” Sassy asked.

“There was some trouble at Pony Pride,” Wishbone admitted, “in which Sable was involved. He left town before the police could talk to him.”

Blackcap chuckled. “That boy could always land on his hooves.” He slapped the table in glee. “The best one of the lot, I always said; didn’t I, Sassy? That one’s going to turn out first-rate.”

Wishbone and Garnet exchanged an exasperated look. “I’m doing very well with my job at the casino, Dad,” Garnet revealed.

“Yes, about that...” Blackcap began.

“We’re happy that you’ve found something that you enjoy doin’,” Sassy interrupted, sending her husband a quelling glance. But Blackcap was not to miss his opportunity.

“Your mom and I are in no hurry to get back to New Pony,” he explained, “and it might prove useful to practice our skills at the casino for awhile, what with you being privy to all the internal operations and...”

“Dad!” Garnet exclaimed. “No way! Forget about fleecing any of the ponies in Dream Valley; and if you can’t promise me that you won’t, I suggest you leave town as soon as possible.”

“I’ll make sure your dad doesn’t do anything... untoward,” assured Sassy.

Garnet looked at Wishbone. “What would Aunt Burgundy Lace and...”

“Who?” bellowed Blackcap, jumping to his hooves as if he had been bitten.

“Your sisters,” Garnet said, glaring at her father. “Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl have told me of what you did to steal their inheritance away from them, and as much as I never wanted to believe it of you, I’ve seen how ruthless you can be.”

“Where did you see Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl?” Blackcap growled. “Those soft-hearted do-gooders would have given the family home to strangers if they were told a sad enough story, so why should they care if I got it?”

“And lost it,” muttered Garnet under her breath. However, sensing that some things were best left in the dark as far as her father and his estranged sisters were concerned, Garnet said in a noncommital voice as if the meeting had been accomplished with no real exchange of information, “I was at a museum once in my travels and happened to get into conversation with a couple of mares, and it turned out that they had a brother named Blackcap. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that their brother was you, Dad... not when I’d heard their story about losing their home.”

“Those two old biddies should keep their mouths shut,” muttered Blackcap.

“Well, well,” smiled Sassy. “It’s getting late, and we should all get some sleep. Your dad and I would like to treat you and Wishbone to lunch tomorrow, Garnet,” said Sassy, nudging Blackcap in the ribs. “Wouldn’t we dear?”

“What? Oh, yeah. Lunch. Sure. We’ll treat you to some eats at any place in town you name,” grumbled Blackcap, frowning at his wife.

“Can you afford it?” queried Garnet.

“As a matter of fact,” Sassy smiled wider, “your dad did pretty well at the casino tonight.”

Rolling her eyes, Garnet muttered, “Figures.” Then she added, “We can meet at church, then.”

“Church?” croaked Blackcap.

“Yes, church,” smiled Garnet. “Tomorrow’s Sunday, you know.”

“Yeah. I suppose it is,” said Blackcap, scratching his head above his right ear. “Well, we’ll see what we can do.”

“Eleven o’clock,” Garnet stated. “Fr. Isaac will be delighted to meet you. He asked about my parents when Wishbone and I scheduled our wedding date.”

“Oh, Garnet!” squealed Sassy. “This is going to be such fun, planning for your wedding and all. Oh, Blackcap, wouldn’t a polka band be just the thing?!”


“Plenty of refreshments, that’s what makes a wedding,” Blackcap offered, nodding his head. “But, yeah, a band is good, too.”


Sassy rushed to hug her daughter. “Garnet, this is going to be great!” She kissed her daughter on the cheek, and Garnet looked stunned. She raised a hoof and tentatively touched it to the spot on her cheek that her mother had kissed.

“Mom, I don’t remember that you ever kissed me before,” she stated in wonder.

“Nonsense, child,” Sassy said. She started for the door. “What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t kiss my own children?” She glanced at Wishbone, then brushed his cheek with a kiss, too. “Well, he is going to be my son-in-law,” she said, seeing the look of consternation on Garnet’s face. “Come along, Blackcap.”

Blackcap looked at Wishbone. “Well, young fella, it’s about time for you to be heading home, isn’t it? Someone might be worried about you.” Who was this young whippersnapper who thought he could be alone with a single mare at this time of the night, er, morning?

“I won’t stay too much longer,” Wishbone replied. What did Blackcap think, that Wishbone would leave Garnet to fall prey to this wily stallion’s questionable methods?

“You’ll leave right now!”

“After you, sir.”

“Good grief!” spat Garnet. “It’s a little too late for fatherly concern, isn’t it Dad?”

“And what do you mean by that?” growled Blackcap, his eyes narrowing menacingly.

“Not what you’re thinking. I only meant you left me on my own a long time ago; you can’t expect to treat me like an adolescent now.”

“I’m still your father, young lady!”

“Good night, Dad. Good night, Mom.” She hugged her mother lightly. “Take him away!” she whispered in her ear.

“Yes, dear,” Sassy grinned. “Come along, Blackcap. I’m sure Wishbone and Garnet are capable of taking care of themselves.” At the door, Sassy glanced back. “Tomorrow. Eleven o’clock.”

“Remember! Church... and Fr. Isaac,” said Blackcap, looking at Wishbone like an avenging angel.

Garnet sighed a big sigh of relief when the door finally closed behind her parents. “Wishbone, this won’t change things between us, will it?” she asked.

“What do you think?” Wishbone responded, drawing her close to him and kissing her soundly before he dutifully took his leave. Somehow, he was certain that Blackcap was watching.

* * *
After having spent most of the day with Blackcap and Sassy, both Garnet and Wishbone were relieved to part from them at their motel room Sunday evening. It was not that Garnet’s parents had proved crass or insulting; it was simply that too much of a good thing could soon cause misery. Blackcap loved to recount episodes from his past life that Garnet found humiliating if not downright embarrassing, especially when her father so willingly shared these anecdotes with anyone who could be cornered into listening, whether he knew them or not.

But both couples had parted on good terms, even though Garnet had vetoed a suggestion by Sassy that she and Blackcap could change their plans and stay on in Dream Valley for a week or two. Garnet had quickly pointed out that both she and Wishbone would be busy at their respective jobs and classes, which would leave Blackcap and Sassy without their company anyway. Actually, Garnet was dreading what might transpire if her parents were let loose in Dream Valley without her chaperonage.

She had compromised by promising to meet her parents once more for breakfast before bidding them farewell, not to see them again– she hoped– until the day of her wedding. Wishbone had tagged along, curious to learn as much about his prospective in-laws as he could.

When the last goodbyes had been exchanged and Garnet was sure that her parents had indeed set off down the road back to New Pony, she and Wishbone rambled across town discussing the time spent with Blackcap and Sassy.

Wishbone had one regret. “I think we should have been honest about Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl being back at Lamplight, and about the close relationship that has developed between the three of you, Garnet.”

“Mom and Dad don’t have to know about that until the day of our wedding, Wishbone; we’ve got months to break the news to them. Trust me.”

* * *
Down the road, Sassy slowed her steps. “Blackcap, don’t you ever wonder what became of Lamplight after we left?”

Blackcap eyed his wife suspiciously. “Well, yeah, sure. I guess I do kinda wonder sometimes.”

“We don’t have to get back to New Pony right away, do we?” she queried, looking wistfully off in the distance.

Blackcap knew where this was leading. “You want to take a detour past Lamplight, don’t you?”

“We’ve got the time, and Bubbling Springs isn’t that far from here, is it?”

Giving it some thought, Blackcap concurred. “If we veer left at the next crossroads, we should be headed in the right direction.”

“Let’s do it!” trilled Sassy, her eyes sparkling.

Blackcap smiled. “What can it hurt?”

Editor’s note: Now, just go to for an easy way to tell the authors that you enjoyed their story!


Magical Pony Girl Enchantment:
Midwinter Nightmare
by Clever Clover (

The imposing edifice of the Pony Sea Patrol Zodiac Island Fortress loomed over the still ocean. The pale moon cast a long shadow into the night. Near the top of the imposing citadel, Commander Leo sat behind his desk reviewing the daily status report. Everything was normal– everything, that is, except the Sea Patrol’s guests: the wizard Jack O Lantern and his apprentice Hemlock. Three of the most powerful sorcerers in the Sea Patrol had been assigned to Zodiac Island to oversee the captives until a permanent prison could be arranged.

At any one time one of the three would be on guard, monitoring the anti-magic cell where the prisoners were being held. In the weeks since the prisoners had been brought to the fortress, all had been quiet– unnervingly quiet. The two prisoners simply sat in their cells with their eyes closed except at feeding time. They ate little; but since they did little, they had no great need of food.

Their presence bothered Leo. He had never been comfortable with magic and magic-users. All things that he could not control nor comprehend were like that. He had just gotten used to the fact that he no longer had to deal with the bumbling of Belle Star when his new guests had arrived. But at least these two weren’t causing him any trouble... none that he knew of, anyway.

As Leo read his report, a shadowy figure moved silently along the fortress wall, not far from his office. It moved with almost unnatural grace toward the prison tower where Jack O Lantern and Hemlock were kept. Though guards stood watch atop the numerous towers of the fortress, none of them noticed the shadow figure. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, it disappeared... or seemed to.

The figure slipped through an impassably narrow window in the prison tower and into the chamber where the sorcerer stood watch. But the shadow figure moved without magic, and in his magical trance, the sorcerer was unaware of its passing. The shadow came to rest in the antechamber to the enchanted cell.

A heavy door blocked the inner chamber where the prisoners were contained. A small window in the door allowed the guards to check on the prisoners and feed them. The shadow figure slid open the window.

“Master, brother, are you well?”

Hemlock’s eyes shot open. “Nightshade? You’ve come to rescue us!”

“Silence, my pupil. We will not be leaving... not yet, anyway.”

Nightshade, the shadow, glared at Jack O Lantern. “After I went through all the trouble of breaking in here, I’m not leaving without you.”

“Oh, but you will. Take your brother. I have relayed my plans to him and trust him to carry them out. I must remain here for the time being to maintain the illusion. As long as the sorcerers believe we are imprisoned and powerless, they will not be hunting us; and the two of you will be free to do my bidding.”

“A clever scheme, master, but couldn’t Hemlock stay in your stead? Would not your talents be more suited to your plans than his?”

“It is true, master. I am but the apprentice. I cannot take your place.”

Jack O Lantern shook his head. “You are right, which is why I must stay. You could not fool the sorcerers. Now go before the guards arrive.”

“Very well, master.” Nightshade easily picked the lock and swung open the heavy door. “Come, brother. We must move quickly.”

Hemlock rose from his seat, though his image remained. “Do not worry, master; I will not fail you.”

“You’d better not. Now go!”

“Come, brother.” And with that, the two ponies disappeared into the shadows.

* * *
Two days later, on another island far to the east of Zodiac, Hemlock and Nightshade were back in the laboratory of Jack O Lantern. Hemlock organized magical ingredients and talismans at the workbench while Nightshade sat in the corner polishing her sword. “So, brother, what is master’s plan?”

“We replace the king and queen of the Isle with dopplegangers. They pardon us and restore Jack O Lantern to his post, and he rules from the shadows without anyone suspecting anything.”

“I suppose that works for the first step, but how does he plan to parlay ruling the Isle from the shadows into ruling the world?”

“Once the first phase is complete, Jack O Lantern will be free. He only entrusted me with his designs for this phase.”

“Hm, I’d rather not have to bother with such convoluted subterfuge. But I suppose master knows what he is doing. Well, if you won’t be needing me, I’ll be out in the woods.”

“Yes, go. I’ll call you if I need anything.” Hemlock shook his head. His sister knew he wouldn’t be needing her assistance in the lab. For some unknown reason, though their father had been a powerful wizard, Nightshade had inherited none of his magical talent. In fact, she was so un-magical that she was immune to any known magical affect. Also, any magical item she touched was drained of power. To have her assist him would be to ruin any potion he may endeavor to create.

However, she had certain talents that were, to the un-trained eye, almost magical. She could move without sound, disappear into even the smallest of shadows, and her skill with the sword was unrivaled. Despite her inability to contribute anything magical to Jack O Lantern’s plans, she had proven quite useful.

* * *
In the secret laboratory of the Magus, court magician to King Oak of the Isle, the mysterious white pony finished a potion with the assistance of his apprentice, Enchantment. “Yes, it seems my experiment has been successful!”

Enchantment was confused. “But, master, your detection spell indicates nothing.”

“True, my apprentice. But it was not supposed to indicate anything. In fact, I would have been quite disappointed if it had.”

“So what is it that you are not looking for?”

“A contradiction, a paradox.”

“What do you mean?”

“Imagine a spell to block magical detection, something of a contradiction in itself, and into the area of effect of this spell you introduce something that is unaffected by magic. It would not be protected by the spell, but by its nature it cannot be detected by magic.”

“I see. But how do you know you are detecting a paradox and not just nothing?”

“Careful observation. By observing the area around the suspected magical block, I have noticed a void of anti-magic moving into and out of the area, something that would eclipse the weak natural magic emanations around the block.”

“I…see,” said Enchantment, even though she was somewhat confused. “So what do we do now that we know where this paradox is?”

“You will have to go investigate it in person. When magic is not up to the challenge, nothing beats your natural senses. Of course, I won’t be able to teleport you in because of the magical block; but I will be able to get you close. Unfortunately, it is in the middle of the ocean so I’ll need to send a boat as well.”

“Why am I going alone? I’m just your apprentice! Wouldn’t you be better suited to investigate?”

“Perhaps, but how would you learn how to deal with this situation without experiencing it for yourself? I’ve done this sort of thing many times; I don’t need any more practice. Now, remember, whatever is there is being protected by a magical block. Once you pass the block, your magic will function normally, so you may need this.” Magus produced the gaudy magic wand that Enchantment had once used to defeat the evil Jack O Lantern. Enchantment groaned.

“Do I have to? Jack O Lantern is in custody, along with Hemlock. Why would I need that?”

“It is loaded with a general potion. The wand’s augmentative powers may come in very handy.”

* * *
A swirling vortex of mystical energy opened onto the calm waters of the dark sea. A small wooden boat with a single occupant slid silently into the water. The boat glided effortlessly through the water without any sign of propulsion. Shortly the craft ran aground on a black sand beach. The lone passenger, wearing a tattered cloak and hood, disembarked and gestured to the boat; and it was pulled as if by an invisible hand away from the surf.

The beach was surrounded by a dense wood. The cloaked figure stood for a moment at the edge of the wood before making her way through the tangled growth. The branches seemed almost to draw back, making way for the traveler.

* * *
Nightshade strolled down the main street of the village of Blackthorn, the largest village of the Night Clan from whence Jack O Lantern had ruled them since the death of her father twelve years ago. A pall of darkness always hung over the village and the entire island that was home to the lost clan of the night. This Dark Isle was like an antithesis to the bright emerald fields and forests of the Isle where King Oak ruled his people, those that had not been abandoned during the exodus from the oppression of the empire of Atlantis. The Night Clan were such abandoned ponies now living in exile, forgotten on this dark speck of land.

The dark swordpony looked upon her people toiling in the darkness and vowed, as she did every day, to have her vengeance against the ponies who left them behind. They would pay. They would know the eternal darkness of the grave while the Night Clan reveled in the light. As she passed the edge of town into the woods, she encountered the cloaked traveler from the sea. Nightshade paused. The stranger’s shoulders were not drooped from burden and despair; she did not belong among the outcast children of the Night Clan.

“You, there. Who are you?”

The cloaked figure bowed to Nightshade. “I am a healer from the north coast. I have come to acquire some healing herbs that are in short supply at our village.”

Nightshade nodded. “The apothecary is down this road on the right, past the square.”

“Thank you, my lady.” As Nightshade disappeared into the darkness, Enchantment pulled back her hood and looked around at the downtrodden ponies of Blackthorn. A tear of pity came to her eye at their miserable plight. But she had more pressing matters to concern herself with at the moment.

She had already encountered the source of Magus’s anomaly, the dark swordpony. She had sensed nothing when they passed at the edge of the village, and a pony with absolutely no magic is quite an anomaly. The young pony needed now to find the source of the magical block– and hopefully undo it– so that Magus would be able to help these poor ponies.

At the apothecary shop she found a grizzled old gray stallion grinding leaves into a fine powder. He said nothing when she entered. “Hello. Do you have any drakeroot?” she asked.

The old stallion looked up from his work. “I’m no sorcerer. And you’ve no business asking about such things. A young lass like you, no reason to throw your life away.”

“Forgive me. But were I to need some drakeroot, where might I find it?”

“The master’s home. Though his apprentice is not likely to let you have any. You’d best go back home and forget whatever it is you’re thinking.”

“Thank you for your advice, good sir.” Enchantment bowed and turned to leave the shop.

“Hold on there. Who are you and where do you come from? You are not of the Night Clan.”

Enchantment froze in her tracks. “Why do you say that?”

“You carry yourself as one who has hope. Hope has abandoned the Night Clan.”

“Then I am Hope. And I have come to restore your clan to its proper place.”

The gray stallion shook his head. “If what you say is true, than godspeed to you. Though I cannot believe that it is.”

Enchantment turned to the elder pony. “By the time this night is through you will believe.” And she left the shop.

* * *
While Enchantment explored Blackthorn, Nightshade ran through the woods at unnatural speeds toward the north coast. There were two small villages in the north and numerous scattered homes. It would not take long, though, for the most unusual pony to make her way to the last of these settlements to confirm the story of the stranger at Blackthorn. She reached the first village, a cluster of five huts, in a matter of minutes.

“Magistrate!” she called out in the center of the village. A bent old pony emerged from one of the huts.

“What is your desire, Mistress Nightshade?”

“Have you sent a healer to Blackthorn for healing herbs?”

“I have not.”

“Do you know of any shortage of such herb?”

“I do not.”

“Very well.” Nightshade disappeared into the darkness once more, bound for the next village where the series of events played itself out in the same manner.

* * *
Enchantment made her way to the fortified manor at the center of Blackthorn. Two ponies in dark armor stood before the massive wooden gate. Enchantment strode confidently toward the imposing edifice. Though she did not know exactly what she would encounter within, she was sure that Jack O Lantern was in custody of the Sea Patrol and so was Hemlock. The apprentice mentioned by the apothecary must be a new one. And Enchantment was confident she could have taken on Hemlock if she had to; a newcomer would be no problem.

The guardponies brandished their halberds at the young pony. They didn’t speak. But their icy glare told her everything she needed to know. She threw off her cloak and twirled the wand over her head. “ALAKAZAM!” she cried as she leveled the wand toward the gate. A great explosion splintered its timbers, leaving a gaping hole. The guards were dumbfounded. Enchantment walked right past them and through the shattered gate.

Beyond the gate was a small courtyard paved with black stones. Barrels and jugs were stacked against the walls beneath thatched awnings. Across the yard from the gate was the door to the manor house. The door swung open as Enchantment approached. She stepped through into a grand entry hall. Three doors led from the chamber, but Enchantment’s mystical senses led her to the stairs along the right hand wall.

At the top of the stair was a double door which opened, of its own accord, into a library. A heavy layer of dust lay upon everything, but it had been recently disturbed. Several sets of hoofprints led to a door in the back of the room. She approached the door cautiously. As before, the door slid silently open before her.

* * *
Hemlock had been alerted to Enchantment’s approach by the explosion at the gate. A wave of his hoof conjured an image of the magical pony girl in a crystal ball. “Why did it have to be her,” the evil apprentice moaned. “No, I can handle this. I just have to focus. Not like the last time. I’ll have to throw her off guard, unnerve her.” With another wave of his hoof, the door swung open before Enchantment. “Now to prepare an appropriate welcome.”

He hurriedly gathered together the ingredients for a potion that he hoped would keep him from having to confront the pretty pony girl from the Isle. He threw the ingredients into a mixing bowl, not taking the time to measure them with the care that he normally would. But his instincts were good; and soon he had completed his potion, just as the door to the laboratory swung open.

Enchantment stepped into the room and pointed the wand at her adversary. “Hemlock!?” she gaped in disbelief.

The dark apprentice looked up from his mixing bowl with a start. “Huh? Shoot, I’m too late!” The two young ponies stood staring at each other for a minute until the stillness was broken by the arrival of Nightshade, the dark swordpony.

“Brother! What are you doing!?”

Hemlock shook his head clear, and Enchantment swung the wand around to Nightshade. The dark swordpony smiled. “Don’t waste your magic... or my time.” She drew her slender sword. “Don’t worry, brother. I’ll deal with this interloper.” Nightshade swung her blade at Enchantment. The Magus’ apprentice knocked the blow aside with her wand, but Nightshade recovered quickly and was about to strike again.

“Hold your sword, sister! Do not harm her!”

Nightshade turned slowly to her brother, still holding the sword menacingly toward Enchantment. “She is our enemy. She serves the king who abandoned our people. Why do you let her manipulate you like this?”

“Manipulate me? No! It’s nothing like that! I…I just feel that she is… important… somehow.”

Enchantment backed slowly away from Nightshade’s blade. “We did not abandon the Night Clan. You were lost and we have been searching for you! We want you to return to the rest of your people.”

Nightshade grinned. “Don’t listen to her, brother. She is trying to manipulate you again.”

“You want us to return? But the master said we were banished to this Dark Isle because our magic threatened the power of your king. I have no reason to trust you, and yet something inside me tells me you are telling the truth.”

“Weakling! I’ll just have to finish this myself.” Nightshade lunged at Enchantment, whose back was against the wall. A moment before the tempered blade found its mark, however, Hemlock muttered an ancient spell over the potion he had just prepared. Nightshade’s blade found only empty air where a moment before the magical pony girl had been.

“What have you done!?”

“What I had planned to do before you arrived... give myself time to think things through.”

Nightshade sheathed her sword. “Now she will report to Magus and the king that you are no longer in the hands of the Sea Patrol. You have seriously weakened our position by letting her go!”

“Perhaps. But what harm can she be? So what if they know that I am free? If they are the ones who banished us here, why would they worry that I have returned to banishment?”

“Brother, you are a fool.” Nightshade turned to leave.

“She was telling the truth, wasn’t she? And you knew all along. It was Jack O Lantern who hid this Isle from them. But why, and why would you go along with him?”

“They did abandon us. Though they eventually regretted it does not change the fact that they left us behind when they fled Atlantis. Why should we believe that they wouldn’t do it again? Of course, all that is a secondary concern to me.

“Jack O Lantern promised me power. And even though I knew he intended to betray me in the end, I planned to betray him first. He relies too much on magic. I am immune to his power. He underestimated me and it would have cost him in the end. But now he is out of the picture. You and I could have the power. You may be a magician but you understand my gifts and respect them. If we worked together there is nothing we could not accomplish!”

“Sister, leave me alone.”

Nightshade bowed her head and left her brother in solitude.

* * *
Enchantment was shocked when she disappeared from Jack O Lantern’s lab and reappeared somewhere else. She was outside, and definitely not on the Dark Isle. The sun shone brightly overhead. Golden sand covered the landscape as far as the eye could see. She held up the magic wand and muttered an ancient spell, but nothing happened.

“Whoever that dark swordpony was, she somehow drained the wand of its power. She could be dangerous. Now, if I only knew if Magus knows where I am. Well, in case he doesn’t open a portal back to the Isle, I’d better start walking.”

Editor’s note: Now, just go to for an easy way to tell the author that you enjoyed their story!


Enter the ESL
by Barnacle (

Note: You can see pictures of the Xtreme Ponies at

The roar of the crowd was deafening. It rattled the stadium and shook the very concrete of the entrance tunnel. A gray pony with dingy green hair stood just within the shadows, amazed that all of it was really happening. Not all that long ago, Cliff and his Xtreme Ponies were nothing more than a group of like-minded thrill seekers. They traveled anywhere the road took them, looking for ever bigger thrills and greater excitement.

When they decided to try-out at that competition that was recruiting teams for a new Extreme Sports League, they had no idea they would end up going this far. At most, the Xtreme Ponies had hoped for a little fun and a chance to try out their skills against their peers. To their surprise, they had actually passed that first round of scouting and every one since. Now it was the first competition of the ESL, and the Xtreme Ponies were there.

All those ponies were cheering for him and his team…

“The Xtreeeeeeeme Team!!!” Vic’s loud baritone echoed around the stadium amplified beyond even its natural limits. Cliff was so caught up in the moment that he didn’t even realize what that announcement meant.

“Cliff?” Luge set her hoof on his shoulder, and that was enough to rouse him from his wonderings. “That’s our cue.”

“Yeah, I know” Cliff donned his helmet and turned halfway around to face his five comrades. “Are we ready for this?” He got a hardy cheer in reply. “Then let’s get to it!”

With that, he tossed his skateboard to the ground; and in one smooth, practiced motion, propelled himself down the stadium tunnel and out into the light. The incline accelerated him forward and then up over the ramp. The pony executed a perfect three hundred and sixty degree turn in midair before coming back to earth and accelerating into the next bend. The rush of adrenaline was pounding through his veins. This was the kind of thrill he lived for!

But it was no time to stop and revel in the moment; Luge was following a split second behind him, mirroring his every stunt. And behind her Mogul, Blade, Bungee, and Jet were lined up doing the same. They had to pull this off without a hitch. If one of them messed up even the tiniest bit, they would all go down. There was no time for mistakes now. Practice was over; this was the real thing!

Cliff came shooting out of the last turn, a wickedly sharp switchback, and dismounted his board as he came jogging to a halt. Just like the rest of the stunt, Luge followed him in exactly and took a position immediately to his right. The others came in just the same and filled in the line with well-practiced precision.

Or, almost all of them did. Jet, who was trailing the formation, came off of the turn a little too sharply and fell from his skateboard. The hyperactive pony, however, simply rolled with the fall and came to a kneeling stop right at the end of the line with his forelegs raised in a triumphant gesture as though it had been planned like that all along. The crowd’s cheers rose to even higher levels.

It was only now, after they had a chance to stop and take it all in, that the Xtreme Ponies even noticed the crowd again. When they were in the midst of the action, everything on the outside was secondary. Now they were blown away, being right at the center of everyone’s adulation.

Vic, the ESL’s loud-mouthed announcer, came trotting over to the six of them in his slick trade-mark black suit screaming into the microphone. “Yes! Give it up for the Xtreme Team!” he prodded the audience on. “Allow me to introduce their fearless leader, Cliff!”

At this cue, he tossed both his forelegs into the air and gave the crowd a wave.

“Next we have the lovely and equally talented Luge!”

Luge greeted the cheers with a modest wave of her hoof.

“And let’s not forget about Mogul (he said he’d break my leg if I did)!”

Mogul just stared, too dumbstruck to do much of anything. Wide-eyed, he managed to raise one hoof to waggle at the crowd.


The shy rose-colored mare blushed as she tried to look comfortable with all the attention.

“And Bungee!”

The garish mare looked around with a wide-eyed expression and an even broader grin. “Cool,” she muttered as she tossed her dread locks and gave a wave of her own to the fans.

“And finally, Jet!”

The last member of the team flew to his hooves and jumped into the air howling excitedly right back at the spectators.

“Yes folks, this is: the Xtreeeeeme Team!” Vic spun off in a flurry of motion back towards the center of the elaborate, multi-tiered stage. Constructed right in the center of the modest-sized stadium, it provided all the spectators with a clear view of not only the Xtreme Team standing on top of it, but also what was coming next. “Are you ready!?” Vic screamed at all the ponies in the stands. “Are you rrrrready!? Well, then let’s hear it for: the X-Crewwwww!”

From one of the other tunnels emerged another group of six ponies. This X-Crew launched themselves into the same obstacle course that the Xtreme Team had just completed, but each member of the team broke off from the formation and crisscrossed their way through the maze in a series of death-defying jumps and near collisions. When they had finished, they, too, formed a perfectly choreographed line on the other side of the stage from the first group.

“I knew we shoulda done that,” Mogul whispered to Luge as the fans now cheered for the X-Crew.

“Quiet,” Luge replied and gave him an elbow in the ribs. “I want to catch their names.”

Again, introductions went down the line and in no time at all, the names of X, Dragon, Alex, Max, Smiley, and Outré were now known to the howling masses.

Finally, Vic announced the third and final team. “The Blaaaade Runnners!” Just as before, their team came barreling out of the tunnel and ran through the course with as much excitement and energy as they could muster. Once they were all positioned on the third platform of the stage, Vic quickly went through their roster and presented the ponies with Nikita, Trajan, Gryphon, Valentina, Kadin, and Mehira.

Though the crowd’s attention turned from them, the Xtreme Team was more charged than ever. Competition pushed one to achieve great things, and they were ready to compete…

If that got your attention, come back next month for the full story!

Editor’s note: Now, just go to for an easy way to tell the author that you enjoyed their story!

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