My Little Pony Monthly Issue 84 (March 1, 2004)
My Little Pony Monthly
A publication of Nematode (Electronic) Publishing
Established June 1997
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3. The Storm (by Clever Clover)
4. Welcome to Ponyland Part 5 (by Skye)
5. Shift in Direction (by Sugarberry)
6. Starcross Chapter 3: Dream Valley (by Clever Clover)
7. Wildwood (by Sugarberry)
8. Silent are the Bells Chapter 25-26 (by Sugarberry)
Congratulations to the winners!
Baby Dibbles (Amsofct@aol.com)
Squirk was a giant octopus; his lackey was a little lobster named Crank. I haven't seen that episode since I became infatuated with crustaceans. His character will have newfound meaning when I see him again. (Tabby's random advice of the month: Get a pet crayfish. They're fun!)
And, I'd also like to mention those that entered but fell into my trap (mwahaha!!) of answering incorrectly out of appreciation for their continued support of My Little Pony Monthly:
But now, to announce the winner of the Avon prize:
PikaCheck! You've won the Hollywood eye gloss! E-mail me your address and I'll send out your prize ASAP.
Minty would have sponsored March's contest prize with her name, but unfortunately there are no Avon make-up shades in "minty". So instead, I have Moonstone here with an excellent cosmetic item for these cold, boring, winter months. At this time of year, Moonstone loves wearing Avon Brilliant Moisture lipcolor in this lovely dark mauve Moonstone shade. Not only is it beautiful but it protects against chapped lips! Or, if you're a guy, you'll have a chance at a favorite toiletry item of the Big Brother Ponies: Wild Country soap-on-a-rope! To enter the contest, answer the following question correctly:
True or False: Cotton Candy, Minty, and Butterscotch's names have all been reused in the newest line of "G3" My Little Ponies.
Tell me the answer by e-mailing TabbyMLP@aol.com mailto:TabbyMLP@aol.comor entering through the form at
THE RULES! *ANYONE* can enter. That means anyone as in anyone. Even if you've already participated in the past, you can enter; in fact, I encourage you to do so. You don't even have to be a subscriber of MLP Monthly in order to enter. But if you're not a subscriber, you're probably not even reading this. ^.~
However, now that we've introduced *real* prizes, we will be putting a limit on how many times you can be entered in the drawing for that. If you've already been selected to win one of our prizes in the past, you can't be entered again- BUT, you can still participate and get your webpage graphic! So just because you've won something in the past doesn't mean you can't have any fun at all with our contests anymore. And, of course, if eventually all contest participants are ones that have won a prize, it's fair game for everybody again!
On the contest form at http://mlpmonthly.tripod.com/Contact.htm, you will be able to select your gender so we'll be able to determine which prize you get. Or, if you'd prefer to be opted out of the prize drawing, you can select that on the form as well. You'll still get your webpage graphic, however.
What was your favorite episode of the My Little Pony cartoon?
PikaCheck (firstname.lastname@example.org) says...
It's only been within these past few years that I've started finding tapes for the MLP series. Before that, I had forgotten almost every episode, except for two. One was the Magic Horseshoes, where Mimic was ill and the other ponies had to travel across many lands in order to find the magic horseshoes that would restore her health. The other episode was the one where a Duchess invites the newborn ponies to her castle. When she keeps the newborns as pets for her daughter, the first tooth ponies race to the rescue, and in the process, help restore the throne to its rightful ruler.
It's kinda funny how some things stick with you for so long!
Jaye (email@example.com) says...
I love many of them, but I think my favourite would have to be either "The Return of Tambelon" or "The Magic Coins." Tambelon probably has a slight edge because I love the climactic scene with everyone madly dashing through the city. :_)
And what random survey question have I come up with for this month...?
Megan's pony was Sundance and Molly's was Baby Sundance. If Hasbro had given Danny a pony, what would he/she have been like (physical description or otherwise)?
Mine, of course, is Butch, Sundance's long-lost brother who spent a time in Bolivia and has a rivalry with Tex. How about you? The URL to enter at is:
by Clever Clover (Swordrat@aol.com)
The snow lay thick over Friendship Gardens. Clever Clover, who was unemployed, as usual for this time of year, was actually taking the time to clean his house. It had become almost a weekly ritual for him since New Year's. Minoko, who abhorred chores as much as she adored Clever Clover, made sure she was out of the house on cleaning day in case she might be asked to help. Belle Star was eager to help, but Clever Clover preferred to do most of the work himself.
"Belle Star, could you give me a hoof over here?"
"Uh huh! What do you need?"
"I want to move the couch a little. If you could grab the other end and lift on three. One, two, three. Okay, now bring it a little this way..."
As the two ponies moved the couch, a small black box fell to the floor and landed next to Belle Star's hoof. "Huh? What's that?"
Clever Clover dropped his end of the couch, dove toward the box, and scooped it up. "Uh, it's nothing."
"Oh. Can I set down my end of the couch now?"
"Yeah. That's fine."
Belle Star dropped the couch and sat down. Clever Clover stood up and brushed himself off.
"Well. It's just about time for hockey practice. Minoko is going to meet me down at the rink. Would you like to come along?"
"Of course! I am your bodyguard, after all."
* * *
So Belle Star and Clever Clover went down to the ice rink. The team was already there. Minoko was giving them a pep talk, but we can't print it here because it contained foul language. Clever Clover had Belle Star take the team onto the ice while he gave Minoko a stern lecture.
After practice, Clever Clover, Belle Star, and Minoko went to a restaurant to meet Morning Glory for lunch. Clever Clover had been arranging for Morning Glory and Minoko to spend more time together in hopes that they could learn to get along with each other. They hadn't made much progress yet.
"So, Clever Clover, what do you have planned for this afternoon?" Morning Glory asked while they waited for the bill.
Clever Clover shrugged. "Nothing in particular. Why do you ask?"
"Well, I've got the afternoon off. I was hoping we could spend some time together."
Minoko arched her eyebrow. "Oh? Your boss sending you away so he can get some work done?"
"This is just a slow season. After Valentine's Day, business drops off until Easter. There just isn't much call for St. Patrick's flowers."
"I guess we could hang out together. Say, have you been out to the Moonbow Falls? It's really pretty this time of year."
"That's an awfully long walk, especially in the snow."
"It's worth it. Besides, it's a great day for snowshoeing. And I've got enough snowshoes for all of us."
"All of us? I was hoping it would just be you and me!"
"Belle Star's my bodyguard, and I doubt Minoko would stand for being left behind."
"Besides," said Belle Star, "the more the merrier!"
Morning Glory hung her head. "Right. Well, I guess a group outing is better than nothing."
"I was planning to take a nap this afternoon, but a nice stroll in the country could promise to be fun."
After Clever Clover payed the bill, as he was the only one with any money, they all went to his place to gear up for the walk. Clever Clover had more than enough snowshoes to go around, though he couldn't say why he had so many. Before long they were on their way to Moonbow Falls. The path to the falls led across some rolling meadows and down into a lightly wooded valley. A small stream flowed through the valley, though it was frozen now. When they reached a fairly level spot, Belle Star took a running start and tried to slide across the ice, but one of her snowshoes caught a rock protruding through the ice near the edge of stream and she went tumbling head over heels. Minoko burst into laughter while Clever Clover offered his fallen friend a hoof up.
"Are you okay, Belle Star?"
"Uh huh. But I'm supposed to be your bodyguard. It seems like you're the one that's always coming to my rescue."
Clever Clover shrugged. "I'm just being a gentleman."
Morning Glory had been watching with some amusement when an idea came to her. She took a step forward, making sure to wedge one of her snowshoes under a root hidden beneath the snow. She stumbled forward, falling to the ground. "Oh, Clever Clover, could you give me a hoof here?"
Before Clever Clover could answer, Minoko bonked her on the head. "You faker! You did that on purpose!"
Morning Glory shot to her hooves. "What!? How dare you accuse me of falling down on purpose! You're the dishonest one!"
"Hey! Just because I'm a pirate doesn't mean that I'm dishonest! Clever Clover, are you going to let her spread lies about me like that?"
"I really don't think we should waste time arguing right now if we want to get to the falls and back before dark. Come on, we're just over halfway there." Clever Clover headed off down the frozen stream with Belle Star following close behind. Morning Glory and Minoko brought up the rear, glaring at each other.
Before long the party reached a river, frozen as solid as the small stream. The river ran through a broad valley with steep, wooded hills on both sides. "Wow!" said Belle Star. "This would be a perfect place to go ice skating!"
"But the ice rink in Friendship Garden is so much more convenient," pointed out Morning Glory.
"Oh, I guess you're right. But next time we come this way we'll have to remember our skates."
Minoko used her magic to transform her snowshoes into ice skates and took off across the frozen river. "For once I have to agree with Belle Star. This is a great place to skate!"
Belle Star clapped her forehooves together. "Oh! Oh! Could you make my snowshoes into skates!"
Minoko skated to a stop right in front of the tan pony. "Sorry, I can only transform something that I'm touching."
"Oh, that looks like so much fun."
"Maybe we could come out here this weekend to do some skating," suggested Clever Clover. "The Moonbow Falls are just a little ways upstream. We should be there before long."
Clever Clover, Belle Star, and Morning Glory trudged along through the snow on the riverbank while Minoko skated up and down the icy river. A light snow had started to fall.
The snow was starting to become moderately heavy by the time the group reached the next small stream that flowed through a deep rocky valley into the river. "The falls are just up there a ways." Clever Clover led the way up the stream.
Morning Glory wrapped her scarf over her face as the wind picked up. "Clever Clover, I'm starting to worry. This snowstorm is starting to get bad."
"I see that. But we can't turn back now; it's too far. There's a place just ahead where we can get some shelter and wait out the storm." Clever Clover had to lift his voice to be heard over the wind. The snow was so heavy that he could barely see his hoof in front of his face. "Hold hooves so we won't be separated!"
The party pressed on through the storm, Clever Clover leading them from memory since he couldn't see where they were going. But before they had gone far, he took a bad step and went tumbling down a steep slope, losing his grip on Belle Star's hoof. Once he got back on his hooves, he looked around, but it did no good.
"Belle Star! Morning Glory! Minoko!" he called out to his friends, but to no avail. The howling wind drowned out his cries.
The purple pony began to climb blindly up the hillside. He couldn't see where he was going, but he did know that he had fallen down, so up seemed the logical direction to go. He called out to his friends as he climbed. He struggled against the howling winds of the blizzard and gradually made his way up the slope. Eventually, the ground leveled off a bit; hopefully this meant he had reached the narrow path he had been leading the others along. But even if it were, he didn't know if he was ahead of where he had stumbled or behind. The snow was falling so heavily that even if he had just walked past this spot a minute ago, all signs of his passing would be obliterated.
Clever Clover began to consider his options. He couldn't just sit tight and wait out the storm; he had to find his friends and get them to safety. He knew the cave he had been headed toward was to his left, and there was a fifty percent chance that the others were between him and the cave, as long as they had not moved since he lost contact with them. But if he went on to the cave and didn't find anyone along the way, he'd have to come all the way back to look for them.
He turned to his right and began feeling his way along the narrow path. He knew the path had been ascending when he had fallen, so if he followed it back to where it began its ascent, he'd be sure to cover all the area where the others might be. Then he could turn back to the cave.
It was hard to tell where the path was going with all the snow, but he managed to stay with it. As the path was starting to level out he bumped into something, or rather someone! "Who's there!" the purple pony cried out.
"Clever Clover! Is that you?" replied Morning Glory's voice.
"Yeah! Do you know where Minoko and Belle Star are?"
"No! I don't know what happened, but I lost track of them!"
"Come with me! We're not far from a cave! Once you're safe, I'll look for the others!"
Clever Clover took Morning Glory by the hoof and led her carefully along the trail back toward the cave. "Hopefully," he thought to himself, "we'll run into the others on the way."
Not long after he had met up with Morning Glory, Clever Clover saw a red glow through the blowing snow. "That must be Minoko!" He hastened his pace and before long Minoko's figure, glowing energy horn upon her brow, took form in the swirling snow.
"Clever Clover! I'm so glad you're all right! I was so worried when you fell!"
"Me, too! I've found Morning Glory; do you know what happened to Belle Star?"
"She fell down after you! I let go of Morning Glory to try and grab the two of you, but I just ended up getting myself lost!"
Morning Glory tugged on Clever Clover's foreleg. "My hooves are starting to feel numb!"
"Let's get to the cave fast so you two can warm up! Then I'll find Belle Star!"
It didn't take the threesome long to reach the cave, but it was about ten feet above the path and the climb was difficult in the wind and snow. Once they were in the shelter of the cave, Minoko summoned one of her energy balls which hung in the middle of the chamber, bathing it in a warm, red light.
"Oh, that's much better," said Morning Glory as she warmed her forehooves before the luminous orb.
Clever Clover turned to Minoko. "Can that energy ball of yours continue without your being here?"
"I'm afraid not. I can only maintain it within fifty feet or so. Otherwise I'd offer to help find Belle Star."
Morning Glory hung her head. "I wish I could help you. I'm just not much of an outdoorspony. If it wasn't for me, then both of you could be out looking for her."
"Actually, if it weren't for you, we wouldn't be here to begin with," Minoko mumbled, too softly for Morning Glory to hear.
Clever Clover, however, did hear her and shot her an angry glance. "Actually, I prefer it this way. I know the lay of the land; if Minoko went out, she'd just get lost and I'd have to find her again. You two stay here until the storm passes. If I'm not back by then, and it's still light, head back to Friendship Gardens. But don't try to make the trip after dark."
The two mares nodded.
Clever Clover set out into the storm again to find Belle Star. Minoko had said she had fallen right after he had, but he didn't know exactly where he had fallen anymore. But even if he did, Belle Star hadn't been there when he was. Maybe she didn't fall all the way down the slope as he had. He followed the path back to where it leveled out again, in case she had climbed back up, but she wasn't anywhere along the path. He returned to where he guessed he had fallen and carefully began to climb down the slope, zig_zagging back and forth to cover the most area. There was no sign of Belle Star by the time he had reached the bottom.
His next move was to search the valley floor, but he had no idea which direction to go again. The path to the cave had started out on the valley floor. He decided to work upstream and then back down, toward the foot of the path, and then on up to the cave. Before long, his snowshoe struck something buried in the snow. He dug furiously through the snow and found one of Belle Star's snowshoes. From the looks of the bindings, it had broken off, probably in the fall. But at least Clever Clover knew he was on the right track. He pushed onward, calling out to his lost friend.
Even though the blowing snow blotted out the sky, Clever Clover could tell the sun was almost set. It was beginning to look like he would not find Belle Star, because once the sun set, the temperature would plummet, and Clever Clover would be forced to return to the cave until morning.
Just as he was about to turn back, however, a strange noise met his ear. The sound of steel striking stone. He rushed toward the sound, as much as he could through the deep snow and blowing wind. The sound was coming from a hollow in the base of a steep cliff face. The cliff offered some shelter from the wind, allowing Clever Clover to see as well as hear where the sound was coming from. As he neared the cliff, he could clearly see the form of Belle Star seated in the hollow, striking a stone against the back of her sword.
"Belle Star!" Clever Clover cried out as he rushed toward her.
Belle Star looked up from her labors, dropped the sword, and jumped to her hooves. "Oh! Clever Clover! There you are!"
Clever Clover ran up to Belle Star and threw his forelegs around her. "Belle Star, I'm so glad that you're all right!"
Belle Star sobbed and pulled away.
"What's wrong, Belle Star?"
"You had to rescue me again. I can't keep being your bodyguard if you always have to rescue me."
"Belle Star, I don't want you to be my bodyguard."
"Oh! The snow's ended!"
"Wha? Oh, I guess it has. But the sun's almost set and...would you look at that!"
The two ponies, stumbling around in the snow, had inadvertently reached their destination, Moonbow Falls. The frozen falls, like columns of ice cascading down the cliff face, caught the last rays of the setting sun and danced with living light.
Belle Star gazed upon the falls with wide eyes. "It's so beautiful!"
"Yeah," was all Clever Clover could say for a moment. Then he turned to Belle Star and took her hooves in his. "Belle Star, as I was saying, I don't want you to be my bodyguard, but I do want you to be a part of my life, forever. I hadn't planned to do this here or now, but at the moment I can't think of a better place or time."
Belle Star was confused as Clever Clover dropped onto a knee and gazed into her pale blue eyes. "Belle Star, will you marry me?"
"Ah, I don't know what to say! I never thought of you and me, but..." She started to giggle like a schoolgirl and tears welled up in her eyes.
"Is that a 'yes' or 'no'?"
Belle Star blushed deep red. "Oh! Are you really going to make me say it?"
"Yeah! How else am I going to know the answer?"
"Then...YES! Oh! I can't believe I'm getting married!"
Clever Clover stood up, took Belle Star in his forelegs, and kissed her as the last rays of the setting sun faded away. After the kiss, they stood for a moment looking into each other's eyes.
"I can't wait to tell Morning Glory and Minoko! They'll be so happy for me!"
"Ah, yeah. But first, you should have this." Clever Clover took out the small black box that he had just recovered that morning. "It must have been destiny," he said as he opened the box and took out the ring.
"It's gorgeous!" said Belle Star as she offered Clever Clover her hoof. He slipped the ring on and a shudder ran through her body.
"Are you all right?"
"The ring...it's really cold..."
Clever Clover slipped the ring back off. "Right. I guess that can wait. Now, Morning Glory and Minoko are probably getting worried by now, so we should get moving."
The two ponies headed off for the cave, unaware of the shadowy figure that watched them from atop the falls. "An interesting development," the figure whispered, and then disappeared, leaving no trace in the new fallen snow that anyone had just been there.
"Ah, Belle Star," Clever Clover said. "It may be better not to tell Minoko and Morning Glory about our engagement right away."
Welcome to Ponyland
by Skye (SkyeSpirit@aol.com)
Author's Notes: This is the final part of Welcome to Ponyland.
Featuring: Collector Ponies, Wish Fairies, and Birthflower Ponies
Rating: Family and Children Safe
"Minty?" a soft, troubled voice said as the sun began to set.
"Yes? What is it, Patience?" Minty asked, concerned.
"The sun is setting, and when you awake the next morning, I will not be here."
"Will the other you be here instead of the pony you?" she asked, hopeful.
"I'm afraid not, Minty. I have to return to my home."
"Why?" she asked, now disappointed.
"I am needed there to defend Order from the upcoming battle."
"I don't understand."
"I know, but you will. Soon enough, the answers will come in the form of a golden messenger and then you will understand your purpose."
"Fear not, young one, you will be victorious. I have faith in you and I will always call you a friend."
The pair leaned against each other for comfort. Minty tried to stay awake as she held back tears of sorrow, knowing that while she slept her friend would leave her. She eventually lost the battle as heavy eyelids closed.
Patience, wide awake, watched as her friend slept. "I will always be with you, Minty. Remember me."
She stood up and changed back into her fairy form, turning to the Ancient Apple as she did so. "I leave them in your care. Watch out for them." The tree gently shook his branches, pledging the oath to the Wish Fairy. Casting a soft smile down at her green friend, she disappeared.
* * *
Tolerance had been following Blossom all day and for countless miles. She had directed the pony in a full circle around the land that surrounded the castle. When the pony finally stopped short, her legs giving out under her, the Fairy kept her distance.
"I will not hurt you," she finally said after some time, providing a sweet treat for the pony to eat.
Blossom would not take it. "Leave me alone!" Her tone was tired but sour.
"Do you really wish to be alone here in the darkening forest?"
The pony's eyes shot upward and she remembered the depressing, frightening feeling that had overcame her the night before. This night, the dark violet pony was nowhere to be seen. "No," she shot out, afraid the creature would leave her alone.
"All right, then, I will not leave; but we really should introduce ourselves. My name is Tolerance; that is my function as well."
The pony simply blinked at her.
"Do you know why you are here?"
"Not exactly," she replied, trying to muddle through clouded thoughts. "I know I'm supposed to do something important, but I don't know what it is or when."
"Your clouded memories are caused from a creature named Confusion. He works under Fear for the Dark Lord of Chaos, ruler of the Night. He clouds your mind so your true purpose remains hidden from you."
"Who are they and what is my purpose?"
"A golden messenger will explain who they are to you. As for your purpose..."
* * *
Compassion had a hard time explaining to Blue Belle why she must leave her friend. The pony was sensitive, and she didn't want to hurt her feelings, but she sensed the growing threat in the East. Her leader, Light, the Lord of Order, would need her and the others.
"Listen to me, Blue Belle. You are a wonderful creature with a purpose higher than you know. I am only a temporary guide to help you overcome your fear and anguish. I have done this and now I am needed elsewhere."
"You are my friend as well. Can you not stay with me?" Blue Belle's tone was pleading.
"If there was anyway to spare you from this and the pressing battle, I would. Unfortunately, I am not much more than a messenger; you and your friends are the warriors in this battle."
"I just don't understand what you're talking about. Please explain to me, Compassion."
"One day very soon a war between Good and Evil, Light and Dark, will begin. This beautiful land, this beautiful world will be the prize to the victor. You and your friends must choose on which side you will fight." Compassion stroked Blue Belle's tear-stained cheeks.
"I don't want to fight. I just want to be here with you."
"Fight you will and you must or there will be no here anymore. Dark is the evil-bringer of Chaos, thus his name. He will not rest until this place and this world are his. A nightmare it will become. Nothing will grow, no food to be eaten, no gentle animals will survive. He will poison the water and air making it foul and unusable. Blue Belle, he will not rest until everything peaceful and good in this world is dead or destroyed. The castle is your protection from him. It is the one place he cannot enter. Dream Castle is safe for you and the other ponies; but should light turn to dark, if balance is not maintained...."
"What? Finish you must."
"Should we be unable to defend Light and keep Order, should we fail, Balance will be overthrown and Chaos will rule."
"How can we stop Chaos? You must tell me!"
"You can't. Stopping him is like stopping the wind from moving. It cannot be done. Where there is good there will be evil, and where there is light there will be dark. He cannot be stopped, merely slowed through Unity."
"What is Unity?"
"It is a merge between Order and Chaos, and all of us who serve them. It is what we have feared since the division, but may one day be necessary should the scales not remain balanced."
"If Order and Chaos merge, then can you come back?"
"No. If there is a merge, none of us can. We will no longer be, cease to exist. We will go back to our host and be lost forever. This is why we fear Unity. It must be used only as a last resort."
Blue Belle rose up suddenly from her comfortable spot in the thick grass. "Tell me what I have to do!"
* * *
The night had slowed the golden pony down. Ponies were creatures of the day and not meant to be running about in wooded forests, but Butterscotch was running out of time. Just as the sun was coming up, announcing the beginning of a new day, a darkened sky closed in from the East. She was tired but determined; she knew what the shadows were. She must find the others. She must hurry!
* * *
"If there is trust between friends anything is possible," Cotton Candy repeated out loud. She had enjoyed her new friend's company and trusted her she did. The day before, Trust had taken the pink pony on a tour around the castle, showing her different edibles she could consume. Their time together had been very brief, she regretted, but well spent. In the morning when she woke, the Wish Fairy was gone, as she told Cotton Candy she would be. The pony was sorry to see she was gone, but now she was more comfortable in this land and not unhappy. She could move about it freely and that she did, at least until the shadows closing in toward the East sent shivering winds down on the peaceful land.
She stood there, frozen, as gray clouds seemingly formed horrible shapes in the sky above. The green pony she had seen in the castle before was charging down the hill toward her, and the dark purple was approaching on her left. She should have been concerned about them, as their first introduction had been unpleasant, but the clouds above rattled her more than the other ponies were able to do.
* * *
"Remember what you have learned, Blue Belle. There isn't anything you can't accomplish if you try," Compassion had told her before disappearing. She remembered these words as she charged back toward the castle. She saw two others returning, and another was standing just in front of the castle. The final two she did not see.
"Hurry up!" a voice called from behind her; it was the lighter of the violets. "We don't have much time."
"I know! We have to get to the castle!"
They paired up and continued their pursuit to the castle. They skidded to a stop, joining the others just in front of the gate. Animals were gathering around them, fearful of the strange events that began taking place. They knew the castle to be a magical safeguard, as the Ancient Apple had told them. They wanted to be admitted inside, but the gathering ponies blocked the gate.
"What is going on here?" Cotton Candy said to the others. She wore a terrified look upon her face.
"POONNIIEESS!" a voice sounded from the building cloud mass overhead. The animals cried out and the ponies reared and screamed. Snuzzle shot out from the group, kicking and biting at the air. "SERVE ME OR DIIIEEE!"
"Get inside the castle!" Butterscotch screamed as she charged the final stretch toward home.
"Yes! Get inside, everyone!" Blossom ordered. "Get inside Dream Castle!"
"What about the animals?" Minty asked. "What about the apple tree?"
"Move aside and let the animals into the castle. Hurry!" Blue Belle told them. All the ponies save Cotton Candy, who was paralyzed in fear by now, moved. The animals rushed past, taking their chances with the ponies rather than outside with the unnatural storm. "Hurry, everyone, get in the castle!"
"My apple tree!" Minty yelled again.
"Leave it! There is nothing we can do for it!" Blossom yelled over the wind.
"Get inside," Blue Belle said once more, following the animals into the castle. Blossom, Snuzzle, and Minty, who finally resigned her plea for the tree, followed her. Cotton Candy was stunned and only Butterscotch's intentional collision into her snapped her out of her fear.
"My knees!" she screamed, looking downward to make sure they were not damaged.
"Hurry, run!" Butterscotch screamed, pushing the pink across the metal bridge. "Raise the gate!"
"We don't know how," the others told her.
Butterscotch and Cotton Candy entered the castle just as black phantoms emerged from clouds right overhead. The ponies screamed as they neared, and the animals huddled in the back parts of the stone sanctuary.
"What do we do?" Minty screamed.
"I don't know. Everything was supposed to be fine once we were all together in the castle," Butterscotch yelled over the phantoms' screams.
"Look, the gate is rising!" Blue Belle cried out.
The shining door pulled itself skyward, closing itself shut against the red-eyed phantoms and terrible winds. Its bright reflection hurt the phantoms, and they dared not try to enter its protected walls. They circled the castle, waiting for those who would dare leave its stony embrace.
"What are we going to do?" Cotton Candy cried. "I don't want to be here anymore. I don't!"
"Someone please help us," Blossom pleaded.
* * *
"We're too late!" Carnation told them as the band of Birthflower Ponies arrived on the Western Peak of the Mountain Range bordering the valley below. The others came up suddenly and looked at the devastation below.
"The waterfall, the river, they're black!" Water Lily said, aghast.
"The air is smokey and unclean; we are too late!" Rose agreed.
"Dream Castle's gate is closed, no one can save them now," Cosmos said sadly.
The group watched from afar, knowing the darkness would spread its infection throughout the land. It would only be a matter of time before it took the castle and spread to Flower Valley. There was nothing they could do to stop it, and nothing to help the ponies and woodland creatures trapped inside.
"We failed them. We failed them all!" Poppy cried.
Shift in Direction
The mantle of snow still hung over Pony Pride, belying the fact that spring was on the way. Sidewalks were bordered by mounds of the white stuff and a core sample of the heaps would have chronicled the numerous snowfalls that had started back in December. The gleeful sounds of the students' voices as they traversed the campus between classes, however, verified the eternal optimism of youth. Spring would come, and with it the rebirth of the natural world in all its refreshing palette of colors.
In an office in one of the buildings on campus sat the country blue stallion who was the head of the mathematics department. A telephone receiver in one hoof, the stallion sat in his chair behind his desk... but he was not relaxed. He was listening intently to the party on the other end, not moving a muscle until it became his turn to speak. Then, he brushed a hoof through his mane as if uncertain about the topic under consideration.
"This is going to take some serious thought, Giorgio," Vanguard finally stated, "although I'll admit that I'm sorely tempted."
"I understand that you'll need some time to discuss the pros and cons with Sugarberry, but I hope the two of you will choose in my favor," the Vulcanopolis stallion encouraged. "I'll be waiting to hear your decision."
As Vanguard hung up the phone, he got to his hooves and walked to the window to view the campus from his second floor vantage point. The evergreens were beautiful with their coating of snow; even the barren maples and elms were charming, their branches outlined with pristine white from the latest storm. The movement of students was now reduced to only a few stragglers hurrying to slip into their respective classes... one of them being the rose-red Wishbone, Vanguard noted with a grin.
But the expression of ease disappeared as quickly as it had come as the stallion's thoughts turned immediately back to his unexpected conversation with Giorgio. Vanguard sighed. This was going to take some serious contemplation. His gaze left the scene outside and turned to the framed picture of his wife that ornamented his desk. How was he going to broach the subject with her?
* * *
"Garnet, you go and sit down. Chocolate Chip will help me get the table ready."
The two younger mares shared a smile before Garnet responded. "Sugarberry, the foal isn't due until October. Dr. Toby says I can carry on my life as normal."
"That may be, but you look pale. So, sit."
"You should do as she says, Garnet," Chocolate Chip advised her sister-in-law, looking at her closely. "You do look done in."
"I've been so tired," the mare admitted, dropping into a chair only to have Banderol climb up on her lap with his Puffalump in tow. "Hi, sweetie. I bet you're tired, too." She welcomed the foal with a kiss on top of his head.
Wigwam came in the back door, setting a snow shovel in the corner. "I got the drifts cleared out of the path, Sugarberry. And Vanguard and Wishbone are..." The door opened once more to reveal the two just-mentioned stallions. "... home."
Banderol slipped off Garnet's lap to run to his father while Wishbone looked with some concern at his wife. "You okay, Garnet?"
"Yes, I'm okay," smiled the mare as she accepted the kiss Wishbone brushed against her cheek. "Sugarberry is just mollycoddling me."
"Mollycoddling?" Wigwam laughed. "What kind of word is that?"
"It describes exactly the excessive consideration Chocolate Chip showers on you," Sugarberry was quick to retort.
"Yes, she's a wonderful wife," the stallion returned, catching the brown mare in his forelegs.
Vanguard took advantage of the teasing that Wishbone directed at the newlyweds to cross the room and bestow a kiss on his wife.
"Hard day?" Sugarberry queried, brushing a vagrant sea-green lock behind the stallion's ear. "You look beat."
"Just a new wrinkle to iron out."
"You'll feel better once you've had something to eat," the mare smiled. "And as everything's ready, we can sit down to eat right now. Licorice said that he and Snapper were going to grab a bite on campus."
When the food had been placed on the table and the ponies had been seated and given thanks, Wishbone glanced around the table, obviously anxious to share some piece of news.
"You look like the cat that swallowed the canary, popinjay," Wigwam quipped. "We all know about the baby on the way."
"This news can't beat that, but it is exciting in its own way." The rose-red stallion flashed a smile at his wife, then continued. "Mom and Dad stopped by on a trip to Hayton to talk to Garnet and me about a proposition they've been considering."
"And that is...?" Sugarberry felt her heart sink for she knew that Wishbone's graduation in May would necessitate more changes in the fabric of her life... changes that she would rather not face.
"They're serious about moving to Hayton and opening a restaurant there. That means The Right Place in Neighberry would need a new manager."
"Wishbone, are you saying that you might move back home?" Chocolate Chip expressed in surprise. She herself had never had a desire to return to the town of her birth and was caught off guard to realize that her brother might have fonder memories about Neighberry than she did.
"It's an option we're considering," Garnet responded. She looked at Wigwam with a wry smile. "I love working at the casino- you know I do- but this is such a wonderful opportunity for Wishbone; his parents would be more lenient over any mistakes we might make as we learn the restaurant business, and he'd be on his home turf which should prove an advantage."
"You'd be leaving Dream Valley," Sugarberry stated the obvious, her voice tinged with sadness. She set her fork on her plate as if her appetite had disappeared with the telling of the news.
"Sugarberry, we'd be close enough to visit often; please don't think we'd ever forget our best friends." Wishbone looked around at the faces that registered varying degrees of surprise.
"You have all been there for both Garnet and me for the last number of years and we can never thank you enough; but I think this is a chance too good to pass up, especially with the baby on the way."
"I'd like to hear more of the details, but it should be a profitable venture from what I've seen of Neighberry and the restaurant," Wigwam admitted. His gaze fell on Garnet. "The casino won't be the same without you; but I know that you have what it takes to be successful."
"It's not a sure thing yet," the mare reminded him, but the look of exhilaration on her face told its own story. "Wishbone and I have talked and talked about all the possibilities, and we agree that we can help out Drifter and Twilight Jewel at the same time as getting our hooves on solid ground for the future."
"I think it's a great plan!" declared Chocolate Chip, overlooking her own disappointment that she would soon be separated from her brother and his wife. Not wanting them to feel that a damper had been cast over their enthusiasm, she kept her own opinion upbeat. "What about a house? Would this deal include your old home, Wishbone?"
"Yes. And Grandma and Grandpa are all for the idea, to have us nearby... especially with the baby coming."
"Just remember to keep your mind on your studies until the end of the semester," Vanguard advised Wishbone. "And, Garnet, don't overtax yourself with all the preparations that'll have to be made when the time comes to move. We'll help you out in any way we can."
"Yes. Of course we will," Sugarberry bravely concurred, but her voice broke.
"Oh, Sugarberry, you do understand, don't you?" Garnet pleaded. "The idea of having a solid home and livelihood is like a dream come true for me. When I was growing up and always on the move- and later when I had to fend for myself- I tried to imagine what it would be like to belong somewhere... really belong. I found that here with all of you, but this is a chance for Wishbone and me to carve our own niche and make a good foundation for our baby. It would be perfect if we could stay in Dream Valley, but the opportunity exists for us in Neighberry right now. Please be happy for us."
"Just looking at the joy on your faces makes me happy," Sugarberry smiled tremulously.
"I'm already looking forward to eating at your restaurant once your settled."
The conversation moved on about her, but Sugarberry refrained from saying any more. Her heart was not in it.
* * *
The house was quiet as Sugarberry checked on Banderol one more time before calling it a day. He was sound asleep with Kitty-Kitty tucked under his head for a pillow and his blanket in a muddled heap at his hooves. Tenderly, Sugarberry tucked the blanket around the precious youngster and found herself thinking ahead to the day when he would be grown and ready to strike off on his own as Garnet and Wishbone were doing now. She could not prevent a tear from escaping and sliding down her cheek.
Unlike Garnet, Sugarberry had spent all her life in one place- Dream Valley. It had been her parents who had opted to move on when they had found the larger orchard for sale near Berryville, giving her father a more independent outlet for his love of the land and growing things. Her oldest sister, Gooseberry, had married a stallion from Berryville who also made his living from neighboring land, thus facilitating the transition for her folks. It was also aided by the middle sister, Raspberry, who, unattached and a hard worker, had moved with her parents.
At that time, Sugarberry made the decision to stay with what was familiar, even though it cost her the loving shelter of her family; her shyness and her inability to handle the unknown had necessitated her decision. She had remained in Dream Valley alone from the time of her high school graduation to live among the close friends and familiar places of her foalhood.
This dependence on her surroundings made it difficult for the strawberry-patterned mare to adopt to change of any kind; each new shift in direction for any of her friends or family brought about a period of melancholy that she had never yet learned to stifle.
Her thoughts were so engrossed as she pondered the future without Garnet and Wishbone that she was unaware of Vanguard's entrance into Banderol's chamber until she felt the soft touch of his mane against her shoulder. Instinctively, she leaned into him for his solid support.
"Things are changing again," she whispered.
"Wasn't it Carlyle who said that change is indeed painful... but necessary?" Vanguard reached out and touched her cheek gently as he spoke.
"It's the painful part I don't like," Sugarberry pouted.
Vanguard chuckled. "Just like Banderol didn't like the pain of getting those teeth of his, but he surely enjoys using them... if the number of cookies he eats in a day is any indication."
That analogy caused a faint smile to appear on Sugarberry's face. "He's a trooper when it comes to that."
The two stood in companionable silence for several minutes, their love for each other and for their son wrapping them in its warmth. Vanguard would have liked to remain in that euphoria for an eternity, but he knew that he had to face the reality of Giorgio's phone call. Taking his wife's hoof, he suggested that they sit and talk a bit.
One change in Sugarberry's life that she had embraced full-heartedly (along with her marriage to Vanguard) was the make-over of her house after her marriage. A turret and several additional rooms on each floor had extended the living space downstairs and the master bedroom upstairs. The rounded turret space that fed off their bedroom made a comfortable sitting area for reading or talking; in addition to the window seat that offered a cozy spot for daydreaming, there were two snug overstuffed chairs with a small table between them with a Tiffany lamp that provided just the right light for reading or writing. On cold winter nights, those two chairs were just as often occupied by the resident felines as by ponies; but this night the chairs were empty. Vanguard guided Sugarberry to her seat, then settled in his own.
For the first time since her husband had walked in the house before supper, Sugarberry really looked at him. What she had earlier attributed to a long day of teaching and paperwork she now realized was something more serious. He was having a hard time meeting her gaze directly and seemed preoccupied.
"Something's bothering you other than Garnet and Wishbone's announcement. What is it?" She leaned across the space between them to lay her hoof over his, and Vanguard captured it in his grasp.
The stallion managed a smile, but his eyes still held a constrained look. "I received a call from Giorgio today."
"Is everything okay? I know Calla was awfully sick with the flu, but I thought she was over that..."
"Calla and Clare are fine, as is Giorgio. He was complaining of being overworked, however."
"This was his first full year back at Leonardo after his... work for the city. Has it been difficult for him to get back in the swing of things?" Had it been so long since she and Vanguard had exchanged a visit with their friends across the sea? the mare found herself wondering.
"He's capable of chairing several math departments simultaneously," Vanguard grinned briefly, but the clouded look settled again. "His involvement in the workings of the government of Vulcanopolis along with those episodes that hit closer to home have triggered some projects he'd like to see in place to provide a more secure computer system and better safeguards for the city overall."
"He's to do that on the side?"
"That's the crux of the matter, Sugarberry. It's a complicated venture, and it will take all of his time for the coming year."