My Little Pony Monthly Issue 85 (April 1, 2004)

My Little Pony Monthly
A publication of Nematode (Electronic) Publishing
Established June 1997
This Newsletter is Safe for All Ages

To Unsubscribe:
To View Back Issues:
To Contact Authors:
Issue 85
April 2004

1. Contest
2. Survey
3. Say What? - Part II (by Tabby and Sugarberry)
4. Burning Bridges (by Sugarberry)
5. Minoko the Fool (by Clever Clover)
6. Silent are the Bells Chapters 27-28 (by Sugarberry)

Look at the nice long list of winners from March!

BabyDibbles (
BJ (
Chekru (
Lil Whiskers (
Michele (
Nibbles666 (
PikaCheck (
Steamer (
Sugarberry (
Sun Sparkle (
Sweet Tooth (

Cotton Candy, Minty, and Butterscotch have all been remade as G3 ponies. Minty and Butterscotch are Glitter Ponies and Cotton Candy comes with the Cotton Candy Café.
Of course, I would also like to make note of the Honorable Mentions out of gratitude for their continued support of My Little Pony Monthly:
Starre (

And now, to announce the winner of the Avon prize:

Michele (! You've won the Moonstone Brilliant Moisture lipcolor! E-mail me your address and I'll send out your prize ASAP.

Lily, our friend from Flutter Valley, wanted to get everyone in the mood for spring. So, for the prize this month she is sponsoring an Avon Naturals shower gel in, of course, Lily. This cleansing lily-scented shower gel "silkens, lightly scents all of you", to quote from the bottle. How cool is that! 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:

What is the name of the six-wheeled vehicle that lives in Optimus Prime's trailer?

Tell me the answer by e-mailing 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, 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.

If Danny had been given a special pony like his sisters, what would the masculine Sundance have been like?

PikaCheck ( says...
I'm not sure why, but I could easily see Danny with one of the UK Big Brother ponies, probably Sunburst. They just always seemed to fit together in my mind!

Jaye ( says...
Well, I'm thinking here that since they did a TAF Sundance at one point, Danny's pony could have been a male version of Sundance with a TAF logo that matched Sundance and Baby Sundance, just like the pony families. :_)

Sweet Tooth ( says...
In regards to Danny's pony, I'd never thought about it before, but I read the question and the name "Raindance" popped into my head. I like the idea of him being Sundance's bother. He'd be white like Sundance, with a blue mane and tail and blue symbol. Since Sundance is so 'girly' with the pink, a pony of Danny's would have to be a more 'manly' blue, esp. since Danny seems to think girls have cooties. :) The hearts from Sundance's symbol design would be replaced by teardrop shapes; same overall circle design. Hmm, I wanna draw a picture of him now. :)

Sugarberry ( says...
Danny would have had a green_apple colored colt with a set of jacks (the rubber ball and multi_pointed metal pieces) on his rump. The white mane would have had one apple green streak in it. His name would have been Jax and he would have been short_tempered, as likely to throw Danny as to give him a lift.

Hee hee! And now it's time to rack my brains for a new survey question:

Do you think the Little Ponies should have kept Dream Castle instead of giving it over to the Grundles and moving to Paradise Estate?

Go to the following URL to give your opinion:
In April of 2001, Tabby and Sugarberry wrote an April Fool's story which cast some of their favorite pony characters in an alternate life experience. Several months ago, Barnacle suggested that it might be fun to find out how these characters' lives had progressed over the intervening three years. So here it is, from both of our characters' points-of-view:

Say What? - Part II
by Tabby (

Tabby crumpled the paper angrily in her hoof. So much for her hopes that her newest single- her newest single, which she'd poured all her energy and emotion and heart into!- would make her an attraction on the music scene once again. If You Knew How I Feel hadn't even had a mention on the hot-off-the-press "Top 100" chart she held in her hoof right now.

Her glance lit on a nearby magazine cover which had Vanguard's handsome mug smiling off of it. Tabby gave that a good crumpling, too, and launched it across the room. "The JERK!" she shouted angrily.

The door opened then to reveal her corporate manager, Wigwam. He stooped down and picked up the offending magazine where it had landed in front of the door, and he proceeded to chuckle. "Well, well. Still bitter over your fall from grace, are you?"

Tabby snarled. "This is all his fault, him and his overbearing ego! My new single didn't even make last place on the charts! It's just gone!"

"You can't place the blame entirely on Vanguard, can you?"

"I don't see why not," Tabby snapped.

"If your act was that great, your blow-up with Vanguard wouldn't have affected your image," Wigwam smirked. "It's obviously something with you that's the problem."

"Some manager you are," Tabby huffed. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."

"Hey, all I'm saying is that you need to do something new. We can completely remake your image, your style, your music... something that will make ponies sit up and take notice."

"Oh?" Tabby's curiosity was piqued. "What do you have in mind?"

"Sure, the nice-girl image gained you some notice at the beginning, but nice girls don't get very far. Interest fades, and your fans forget you. I'm envisioning something wild, radical... the music and your image."

A slow grin spread over Tabby's face. "A new look... no more nice girl... I like your thinking, Wigwam." Standing up and tapping her hoof violently against the tabletop, Tabby came to a decision. "All right. Call a conference. We've got some planning to do."

* * *
"Here are some preliminary sketches I have of ideas for your new look," Fern said, holding up some pages.

Tabby nodded her approval at the spiky hair, bizarre make-up, and shocking clothes. "How about the Bushwoolies?"

"We have plans for them, too," Fern promised. The Bushwoolies, across the table, started cheering at this, and the mare showcased some radical new Bushwoolies on her design board.

"New look, wild, yeah! Makin' it big! Stars, yeah, yeah. Awesome, man!" the furry band members chattered.

"We're going to blow everyone away with a giant wave of merchandising. First off, fashion dolls. Pasbro made some years back, but we'll design a new series, one playing up your new image. Each doll will come with a CD containing a sample-length song from your next album. Then, of course, the other staple items- posters, school supplies, fashions and accessories, make-up; you name it, you're going to be on it," affirmed Thaddeus.

"This is excellent. You all have my permission to go ahead and finalize any deals you have to make," Wigwam said, content at the progress. "Remember, the big debut concert is only two months from now. So everything needs to move fast from this point forward."

"You set a date? Where is it going to be?" Tabby asked, finding she had very little to do in developing her new image.

"June nineteenth at the Happy Hollow Amphitheater."

"Oooooh... the Happy Hollow Amphitheater!" Tabby echoed in awe. It was the premier concert location in the premier city of Ponyland!

"And naturally, you'll want to start practicing your new repertoire," Wigwam continued, shuffling folders around. "I think you'll find these to your satisfaction." He handed over some music sheets.

"You don't have to be so managing about everything," Tabby huffed as the others started to exit the room. "I am capable of performing some tasks myself."

"But we don't want to take any chances, now, do we?" Wigwam brushed it off. "Get together with the Bushwoolies and try these out. Bolivia's lyrics are just the style we're looking for."

"I can write my own music, too," Tabby snapped, grabbing the sheets from him.

"And look where that's gotten you," Wigwam said softly, departing the room so Tabby could simmer in isolation. "You'll see it my way soon..."

* * *
Gradually, Tabby admitted that this Bolivia, whoever she was, had some talent. The rebellious lyrics were completely different from the warm, fuzzy work she had done in the past; but they attracted a certain chord in her heart that had been blackened ever since her blunt dismissal by Vanguard. The Bushwoolies were playing their instruments along with her vocalizing, but in Tabby's mind they faded out of existence as she lost herself in the words she was singing:

Thought you could get away with it, huh?

Thought you'd got me down forever, huh?

Well, I've got news for you, babe-

I'm comin' back and there's nothin' you can do

I'm comin' back and when I'm all through

The world could care less about you, you arrogant fool

Yes, that was precisely what she felt in regards to that egotistical, arrogant stallion! Her mind wandered back to that fateful concert, the last time she had enjoyed Vanguard's so-called "friendship"...

~ ~ ~
At the end of the concert, Tabby had taken her cue to leave the stage. When she got out into the hallway and saw that she wasn't being besieged by hordes of fans, she realized that Vanguard had remained on stage. Why? She trotted back and peered around the curtain.

"...your loyalty," Vanguard was in the middle of saying to the gathered herd of ponies. "It is to my sorrow to inform you that this will be the last of my shows in which Tabby will appear. I find that my association with her is cramping my style and it's time to move on to bigger and better things."

What? After all the interest he had taken in her? Could Tabby really have been taken in that badly by the arrogant star? Wanting answers, she stormed back onto the stage beside her erstwhile partner. "Your shows?! Hello! I'm the one that drew everyone! Now you're taking credit for it all and casting me off like an unwanted... like an unwanted... oooh!" So furious, Tabby was unable to complete the sentence.

Vanguard smirked as he gestured out towards the crowd, who had started booing at Tabby's outburst. "See... or rather, hear... for yourself whom they prefer. You were amusing for a time, Tabby, but I'm not sharing my spotlight any longer. Au revoir, sweetheart."

Tabby, to her intense humiliation, proceeded to be booed off the stage.

~ ~ ~
Vanguard thought he had put her down for good, but for the first time in years Tabby had hope that she could finally prove him wrong. And she would. She would be the hottest thing to hit the entertainment scene since... since... well, since ever.

* * *
Tabby was ecstatic! Her life was busy again! Every minute of her days in the following weeks were spent modeling new fashion ideas and approving or scrapping them, becoming familiar with the lyrics Bolivia was writing, jamming with the Bushwoolies, and meeting with Wigwam to find out what new merchandising he had gotten her involved in.

The concert was scheduled for the middle of the summer to be held in Happy Hollow, the huge metropolitan center of Ponyland. Wigwam was sparing no expense on advertising the "new" Tabby and the Bushwoolies- and curiosity among ponies, whether they had loved or hated Tabby's music in the past, was running high at what promised to be the hottest concert of the year!

Tabby entered Wigwam's office, wearing a stylin' zebra print dress with magenta trim. "Well?" she demanded, placing her hooves on his desk. "What did you want? You pulled me from a very important dressing session!"

Just then, Mitzi, Wigwam's personal secretary, entered. "Sir, the head of Literacy Now was in again to see if any donations from the company are forthcoming. What response should I give him?"

Tabby answered for the stallion. "I don't do that anymore," she retorted, tossing her mane. "If they call in the future, tell them to buzz off."

Wigwam grinned in approval. "What she said, Mitzi," he dismissed the secretary.

* * *
"Cliff!" Sundance, lead singer of the Screaming Ninnies, stuck a poster in the grey stallion's face. "Look at this! She's slotted to be the hottest act of the year!"

"Tabby?" Cliff grabbed the paper from Sundance and stared at it. "What's up with this? She's a nobody now."

"Well, obviously not any longer," Sundance glared at him.

"Hey, why are you getting mad at me?"

"Because you haven't done a darn thing to improve our act like you said you would!" Niobe snarled, entering the room along with several of her fellow band-members.

"Yeah! We're wasting all that money on your food and board, and what has it got us?" Kyrene chimed in. "We were doing better before you came along!"

"Hey!" Cliff protested. "Before I came along, your show was a flat bore. It's my expertise that's gotten you those laser light effects you wanted so badly, or have you forgotten?"

"Yeah, the laser lights that break down half the time!" Solstice snorted. "Face it, Cliff. You're inefficient."

"And," Sundance added, getting back to her original gripe, "you said you could guarantee us taking Tabby's place in the music world. Remember that? Well, now she's making this big comeback and we're still nobodies!"

"Hey, you're not without notice. The charts picked up Get Over It last month."

"Yeah, in seventy-ninth place! That's not the sort of notice we wanted, and you know it. The way this hype is going, Tabby's going to be number one."

Cliff scowled. "Not if I can help it. Not after the humiliation she made me suffer..."

"What are you babbling about now?" Niobe said impatiently.

"I have a personal score to settle with Tabby, so I'm not going to let her get her popularity back," Cliff said solemnly.

Kyrene laughed. "Still smarting because she dumped you for Vanguard?"

"That's none of your business," Cliff muttered.

"All right, all right," Sundance came to a decision. "We'll give you one more chance, Cliff, to crash Tabby's concert. But if you fail at that, you're out. Got it?"

"I've got it," Cliff said sullenly.

"Okay, let's go and jam, girls," Solstice said, smirking at Cliff's discomfiture. "We'll leave Mr. Ineffectual here to his plotting." The foursome broke into laughter as they strode off.

Tabby's comeback is going to blow up in her face, Cliff promised himself. And I'm not going to fail. It's time to enlist some help...

* * *
Tabby was on the built-in stage in the basement of the music company headquarters, busy rehearsing for the concert. The Bushwoolies, energetic as ever, were going wild on their instruments. Tabby was oblivious to anything going on around her.

Suddenly, as Tabby was prancing across the stage, an equipment box- Tabby didn't know what it's purpose was, but purportedly it had something to do with effects- standing in her direction started throwing out sparks! A panel fell off, nearly grazing Tabby's legs. Crazy electric beams were reaching out to grab her!

"Help!" she screamed, struggling with the monster. "It's going to electrocute me!"

The Bushwoolies became aware of what was going on and ran around the stage frantically. Earnest bumped into a fire extinguisher by accident and got the idea that that might help. He trained it on Tabby and started spraying.

"Ahhh!" screamed Tabby, as the electric arms holding her in their grasp just got stronger!

Meanwhile, Rosy had frantically dashed upstairs in search of someone more competent to help them. Wigwam appeared shortly thereafter, took stock of the situation, and went to the wall where he proceeded to pull out the plug. Gradually, the electric arms subsided, leaving a trembling Tabby.

"It tried to kill me, Wigwam!" she said accusingly to her manager.

"Hmm," said Wigwam. "Call a technician down here," he instructed Funny. "Machines do not come to life to kill ponies, Tabby. Most likely it was just a malfunction." Still, he seemed a little perturbed himself and waited around for the technician's report.

"There's no sign of any internal break-down or tampering," Derrick shook his head. "This situation must have been caused by remote control interference."

"Remote control interference? What does that mean?" Tabby demanded.

"Nothing that concerns you," Wigwam said, pushing her towards the door. "Now, go and keep your appointment with Fern for a clothing fitting."

Tabby frowned. Something was going on, she knew that. Somehow, her old stage manager Cliff came to mind... but surely he wasn't ingenious enough to cause the machine to develop killer instincts...

* * *
"Neil, glad you could make it on such short notice," Wigwam said with his typical sadistic grin. "I have a job for you."

"Yeah? What's that?" the white stallion in black leather jacket settled comfortably back into the chair.

"I need a bodyguard for Tabby," Wigwam said bluntly.

"Why now, all of a sudden?" Neil leaned forward, suspecting a juicy story behind this.

"I suspect that someone sabotaged the stage Tabby was practicing on this morning. I don't want a repeat of that incident. I want you to keep an eye on her, watch out for suspicious characters, and be there if anything else of the nature happens."

Neil smirked. "So what's it to you if something happens to this chick, huh? I've never known you to take much interest in the well-being of others."

"My concern is strictly for the financial ramifications," Wigwam said stiffly.

"All right, so what's the pay?"

"Very generous, I assure you. Just keep her in sight at all times... within reason."

"Sure, boss," Neil chortled.

* * *
"Well? How did it go this morning?" Cliff said impatiently, entering Philippe's shack and stepping over all sorts of mechanical parts on his way to the crazy inventor's desk.

"It was just a warm-up, you understand," Philippe said. "But I think it served to shake her up a bit." He inserted a tape into his VCR. "Here, see for yourself. I cleverly planted a mini camera in there last night."

"Hmm, sufficient for a warm-up," Cliff said, narrowing his eyes, "but I want the next attempt to be bigger. Got it?"

"Got it, boss. Leave it to me."

* * *
Wigwam got off the phone and called Mitzi to get Tabby for him. Tabby arrived shortly thereafter, looking irritated. "Wigwam," she demanded, furtively glancing behind her, "there is this stallion that keeps following me! Would you call the police or something?"

"That's your bodyguard," Wigwam said calmly. "It's his job to follow you."

"Well, why wasn't I informed?"

"You are now."

"So, why do I need a bodyguard?"

"Oh, one can never know what might happen to an unprotected celebrity like you. It's better to be safe than sorry, don't you think?"

"It's still annoying," Tabby muttered.

"In any case," Wigwam changed the subject, "the reason I called you here was to inform you to get ready for a television interview on Marina's show this afternoon."

"Marina's show, Music Scene?" Tabby echoed, impressed. "She's going to interview me? Cool!"

"Yes. Now, go to Fern to get properly outfitted. Remember not to say much, but drop some tantalizing, vague rumors to get ponies' curiosity up."

"All right," Tabby said cheerfully, prancing off.

* * *
The stage-hands indicated that filming had begun. Tabby waited a few moments to keep the television audience in suspense before striding onto the stage in a black and zebra print skin-tight body-suit with fringe around the neck. Her eye-make up turned up into menacing spikes at her eyebrows. Heavy gold bracelets clanked on all four legs. This was her first public appearance since adopting her new look. She mustered an arrogant smile at the camera before taking her seat next to Marina, the music show host.

"Well, this is certainly a new look for you, Tabby," Marina commented, appraising her guest. "Is this going to be a consistent style for you from now on?"

"Oh, it was time for a change," Tabby said airily. "So yeah, I'm dressing a bit more wild now."

"But most importantly, what about your music?" Marina pressed.

"I'm trying something new there, too," Tabby revealed. "It's going to be very different, but very cool."

"Tell us more," Marina prodded. "What is it going to be like?"

"Well, for that you'll just have to be at my concert in June," Tabby winked (not unicorn winking, just a regular wink). "But everyone is going to be very impressed, I assure you. If you didn't like my music before, you're going to like it now. So everybody, be sure to check on my concert in Happy Hollow this June nineteenth at the Happy Hollow Amphitheater! You don't want to miss it!"

"Well, folks, there you have a tantalizing glimpse of what is to come in Tabby's future," Marina took over the microphone. "We'll be back with more after these messages." She signaled the stage-hands to go into commercials.

Suddenly, a beam above the platform Marina's show took place on started to fall! It was headed straight for Tabby! No one had any time to react except for Neil, who ran and pushed Tabby aside at the last second! But that didn't stop the wires that had broken loose from sputtering angrily and pointing themselves at Tabby.

"Ahhhhh!!! Not again!!!" Tabby shrieked. "Save me, Neil! Isn't that your job?"

Neil singlehoofedly wrestled with the pony-eating wires, giving Tabby time to slip out of the vicinity. But then more equipment started falling towards her by forces unknown to physics! "Ahhhhhhh!!!" she screamed again.

Marina had sent her stage-hands to join the fight as well, but the equipment would not give up on Tabby. Small fires began to start in the carpeting from the excessive sparking going around, and soon Tabby was surrounded in a ring of fire!

Neil leaped on an extending platform and maneuvered it to where Tabby was trapped. "Quick! Grab my hoof!" Tabby did so and was pulled out of the inferno just seconds before another piece of roof came crashing down on the area!

"Oh, Neil! You saved me! What would have happened without you! You're my hero!" Tabby sobbed, clutching him tightly.

"Oh, brother," was Neil's only comment, trying to extricate himself from her.

* * *
Tabby hung on to Neil protectively all the way back to headquarters. "Why are machines trying to kill me?" she asked petulantly. "Other music stars don't have this happen to them!"

"Well, thanks to you, I wasn't able to find out. The trail was already cold by the way I got outside to investigate," Neil scowled.

"Investigate what?"

"Wigwam says the accidents are triggered by remote control. It's probably some guy out on the street doing it."

"Oooooooh," said Tabby.

"Do you know who would be after you?"

"Oh, someone as beautiful as me has so many enemies. They're jealous, you know," Tabby said knowingly. "But I can't think that any of them would do this. Oh, and there is my old stagehand, Cliff. He was my romantic interest for awhile, but then he got mad and sulked off when I started hanging out with Vanguard, who is another creep. I just got a splendid idea! You can be my new romantic interest!"

"Errr," Neil mumbled noncommittally.

* * *
"Wigwam!" Tabby cried upon entering his office. "Here's my idea. I'm going to make Neil my new romantic interest, but he needs an exotic background trumped-up about him. If word gets around that I'm hanging out with this visiting prince or millionaire or whatever, that would be more publicity for me, no?"

"Sure, sure, whatever you wish," Wigwam waved her off, not really having heard what she said but wanting her to go away. He was in the middle of Something Important.

"Great! I'll go tell him!" Tabby skipped off into the hallway.

* * *
Tabby sat sipping iced tea at the open pavilion at the mall. "This is exciting," she confided to her date, otherwise known as Neil. "I phoned in an 'anonymous' tip to the newspaper that Tabby was going to be seen out at the mall. They should be sending reporters any time now. You remember your part, don't you?"

"Sit here in brooding silence," Neil said sullenly, disliking the bowtie Tabby had forced him to put on.

"Oh, you're good at this! Yes, you stay there in brooding silence and I'll do all the talking. The more mystery generated about you, the more mystery generated about me! Isn't that great? Oooh, somebody's coming!"

"Are you Tabby, of Tabby and the Bushwoolies?" the rather bored reporter said upon approaching the pink unicorn in black miniskirt and pink claw-lined top.

"Oh! Word of my public appearance must have leaked out!" Tabby said in mock dismay. "And I had so hoped to enjoy a quiet tete-a-tete with my dear friend Prince... oops, no, forget I said that. It's supposed to be secret..."

Now the reporter was curious and snapped her hooves for her photographer to come forward. "My name is Posey from The Dream Valley Gazette. Would you mind answering a few questions for me?"

"Oh... well, I suppose there's no helping it now," Tabby pouted. "What do you want to know? Make it quick, if you please."

"You had practically dropped off the charts until this June concert was announced and you're billed to be the hottest act of the season. Do you really think you can recoup your prior fame?"

"Well, duh. Of course I can," Tabby said, flipping her mane. "My act just needed some improvements done on it. Come this June I'm going to rock the world! Or Happy Hollow, at least."

"Did your association with Vanguard have an effect on your down-fall?"

"He had nothing to do with it," Tabby smiled sweetly. "It was entirely my fault. I let my image grow stale which was a big mistake. I was boring! But not anymore."

Posey wrote hurriedly on her notepad as Macarius snapped pictures. "And your friend is Prince..."

"Prince Nelson of the Kingdom of Prance," Tabby affirmed. "Oh... but the 'prince' part is entirely confidential. He's trying to keep a low profile, you know. Avoid publicity and all." She nodded repeatedly.

"Ah, yes. Of course." Posey scribbled furiously.

"My dear Nelson here has truly been instrumental in getting me back on my hooves in my career," Tabby chattered on cheerfully. "Without his dedication and support of me, I would never have made it this far." She moved her chair closer to Neil's and batted her eyelashes. Neil scowled.

"Is this a romantic attachment I'm sensing?" Posey prodded.

Tabby giggled. "Oh, however did you guess! Well, yes, I can't lie about it." She put her foreleg through Neil's. "There may be news in the near future of a closer alliance between us. Completely off the record, you understand."

"Oh, completely," Posey nodded vigorously.

"See how fun that was?" Tabby chattered to Neil after Posey and Macarius had finally left after a barrage of questions and photographs. "You played your part to perfection. Everyone will be wondering about my mysterious foreign escort!"

"Isn't that great," Neil muttered. "Can I take this stupid bowtie off now?"

* * *
Time passed, and Tabby's comeback came closer to fruition. There continued to be minor difficulties in the various accidents that sprang up around Tabby, but fortunately Neil was around to keep the star from harm. Tabby became accustomed to the various machines that made attempts on her life.

"Cliff!" Sundance shrieked, coming upon the stallion. "Tabby's concert is only a week away, and the gossip reports are still coming in strong. Your plan to get rid of her isn't working!"

"It would be working, if only she didn't have that stupid bodyguard hanging around," Cliff scowled.

"Well then, get rid of him!"

"Listen, Sundance, I've been thinking."

"Oh, that's new!"

Cliff glared at her. "Philippe has a fool-proof plan to take Tabby out once-and-for-all, live and on-stage at her concert! Wouldn't you love to see her get brought down publicly in front of millions?"

"Hmm... maybe," Sundance said with reserve. "But what's to keep this plan failing like all the others?"

"It'll work, as long as there isn't the bodyguard to contend with," Cliff confided. "So here's where we're going to need you girls' help..."

* * *
The day of her big debut had finally arrived! Tabby sighed rapturously as she lounged in her backstage dressing room attended by Bushwoolie make-up artists and seamstresses while they added the finishing touches to her ensemble.

There was a commotion at the door. Tabby stood up irritably, sending Bushwoolies flying. "What is going on out here?" she snapped, flinging wide the door.

Neil and his assistant (Wigwam had insisted on some extra security for the big night) were holding back another stallion. "It's just some fanboy," Neil scowled. "Get lost."

"But I'm your biggest fan!" the fanboy- or was it?- pleaded. "Won't you please autograph your dolls for me?"

"Oh, let him go," Tabby instructed Neil and Perry. "He's harmless enough. Just don't let anybody else in."

The fanboy smiled deviously as Tabby took a pen and started signing her name across the boxes of the brand new "Tabby and the Bushwoolies" dolls. "What is your name?" Tabby asked, holding the pen poised and ready.

"Just 'Tom' will do."

"All right, Tom." Tabby paused. "Say, didn't I do this once before?"

"Er... maybe... I can't remember," Thomas said absentmindedly.

"Well, there you go!" Tabby said brightly, handing back the dolls. "Enjoy the concert."

"Uh, yeah. Thanks." Thomas smirked to himself as he turned to go. Lucky for him that Pasbro employee had been easy to bribe to swipe some dolls off the assembly line before they had been released.

Tabby suddenly stalled his exit, though, and struck a melodramatic pose with her hoof to her throat. "You know, in another time, another place, another reality, I think we would have been lovers."

"Crazy nutcase," the toy scalper muttered as he scurried off. "At least these dolls will bring in some serious cash for me on eBay. Hah, hah, hah!"

* * *
Stagehands were all over the place at the amphitheater, doing last-minute checks on all the lights and equipment that would be used for the totally rockin' concert! No one seemed to pay any notice to the inconspicuous stallion in a grey trench coat loitering around the premises. At most, he was unceremoniously jostled aside by busy stage-hands and forgotten about.

Outside the theater, masses of eager ticket-holders had already amassed, waiting to be let in. "Ugh! It makes me sick seeing how crazy all these ponies are to see Tabby," Sundance grimaced to her fellow band-members.

"Her music is probably going to stink, anyway, despite all the hype of a 'new image'," Kyrene added.

"We won't have to worry about any of this after tonight is over," Cliff reminded them.

"Yeah, whatever. We're just supposed to keep this one guy occupied and everything else will go as planned?"

"Naturally. I'll point the bodyguard out when we get inside. I'm sure he's going to be out front somewhere to keep an eye on the star."

"Tabby, a star? Please! Don't make us any more sick than we already are," Solstice complained.

Cliff grinned deviously. "Don't worry, girls. We're going to blow this show right out of the water."

* * *
Bright laser light effects flashed around the stage. Tabby pranced to the music, having the time of her life! The Bushwoolies were pounding wildly away on their instruments, and Tabby was singing with everything she had. And the crowd loved it! The current song came to an end, and Tabby grinned. "This next song," she announced facetiously, "I dedicate to a certain stallion I once knew. It's called, I'm Comin' Back."

"Hey, she dedicated a song to me!" Cliff preened, even if it was uncomplimentary, never thinking she could dedicate a song to any stallion but him.

Meanwhile, Neil was eyeing Philippe suspiciously. The mysterious trench-coated stallion that was lurking around in the shadows just reeked of sabotage. Neil was about to go beat him up a bit when the Screaming Ninnies swooped down on him.

"Ooooooh, what a great song!" Sundance gushed. "Dance with me, handsome." Without waiting for an acceptance, she started whirling him around the limited free area behind the barricades in front of the stage.

"I don't dance," Neil muttered, quickly putting an end to that. "Now scram."

Solstice pouted. "We just thought that you looked like you needed to have some fun. You look so somber! You've got to lighten up!"

"Oh," Niobe purred, "but it adds to his charm, girls, being so distant and gruff."

"If you'll excuse me," Neil said through clenched teeth as he extricated himself from their hold so he could go after Mr. Trenchcoat.

"Oh no, not so fast!" Kyrene intercepted him before he could get very far. "You're going to hang with us. We'll show you how to have a good time."

"I have a job to do," Neil snapped, shoving Kyrene aside and pursuing his course.

"Well, he's not being easy to charm," Niobe complained.

"We can't let him get Philippe," Sundance stomped her hoof. "Otherwise everything will be ruined. After him, girls!"

They're doing well, Cliff thought complacently as he saw the Screaming Ninnies give chase to Neil. Then he turned his attention back to the music and Tabby. Had she really been that bad working for? It couldn't have been any worse than what he was putting up with now. At least Tabby had never gone on the warpath to destroy another band. He lost himself in the heavenly (to his ears) music and forgot all about Philippe and the Screaming Ninnies.

Suddenly, the laser effects grew more intense. A giant slash was left in the stage where one beam had passed through. Tabby didn't notice anything until Rosy started shrieking. Tabby turned around to see the Bushwoolie at the drums and was horrified to see a laser swoop down and slice off the Bushwoolie's luxurious pink ponytail! "Rosy! Your hair!" Tabby gasped, running forward and completely forgetting the song she had been in the middle of. The other Bushwoolies all dropped their instruments to run to their distressed friend.

"What's happening?" Tabby demanded of whoever was listening.

"Get off the stage! Everybody, off the stage!" Neil came running, waving his forelegs in the air frantically. 'The lasers are real! Evacuate!"

The Bushwoolies promptly hopped off the stage and rolled off into the beginning-to-panic crowd. Tabby was a little slower. As she was stooping down to crawl off down the stage, one of the renegade lasers came towards her. Neil ran forward to help her, but he was too late. Tabby shrieked as the laser hit her, pushing her forwards. She fell backwards off the stage and landed melodramatically with a profusion of red mane spread on the floor. Cameras were flashing as intrepid reporters arrived on the scene.

Tabby opened her eyes wide enough to see that Neil was here. She whispered to him, "Oh, this is going to be good. Kiss me."

"Kiss you?" Neil repeated.

"Well, no need to make it sound so unpleasant. It'll look great on all the front pages tomorrow. Nee, hee, hee!" Tabby giggled to herself in glee.

"Wigwam's paying me extra for this," Neil said, giving her a quick peck on the cheek.

At that moment, the stallion in question came running up. "Neil! You were supposed to be on guard for things like this!" Wigwam snapped.

"I would have had him, but these girls- "

"So you let your attention be swayed from your job by some girls, is that it?" Wigwam snapped, his voice rising. "That's it, you're fired!"

"No... don't... he did his best," Tabby spoke-up feebly from her position on the floor.

"And would somebody call an ambulance!" Wigwam shouted impatiently.

"Don't... leave... Neil," Tabby said, pathetically weak. Somehow, Neil doubted her sincerity.

"Yeah, I'm here," Neil scowled, turning his attention back to her.

"Oh, that's good... I wanted to tell you..." Tabby trailed off, and then appeared to faint. Neil thought she might be faking, but repeated shakings did nothing to arouse her.

"Tabby! Stop playing around! This is nothing to joke about!" Neil persisted, eyes widening in alarm. "Tabby!!"

Ambulance sirens pierced the air and paramedics came rushing on the scene. Neil stayed mutely by Tabby's side and could not be persuaded to leave.

Wigwam stood nearby, tapping his hoof irritably. If that oaf had allowed anything to happen to Tabby-! Just then, his gaze swung around to a group of hippies still standing around, exclaiming over the psychedelic effects.... and one of them in particular caught his attention...

Say What? - Part II
by Sugarberry (

*See Sugarberry as a hippie at

Sniffing a pristine daisy, the white pony sighed. The flower was beautiful, the day was perfect... then why was she so agitated? The mare looked around her. The meadowland between the poorly-kept farmhouse and the meandering river was scattered with somnolent bodies due to the unexpectedly warm spring day that had zapped everyone of their energy... everyone, that is, except the mare. That was the cause of her sigh.

Having once thrived on the numerous decisions and constant activity of running her fashion magazine, Distinction, the mare had found it difficult to release the reins of command that she had handled so well. She grimaced wryly. Well, maybe not so well, or she would be sitting behind the impressive desk on the top floor of her- oops, not hers any longer- new office building rather than stagnating in this... this... hippy commune!

The mare made a distressed motion of her hoof to shield her eyes as if to stop the images that she was seeing, but she only succeeding in knocking her reddish-brown hat off her head, releasing a cascade of yellow curls that fell around her shoulders like a royal cape. The leather headband that circled her forehead was also knocked askew, and the dangling silver disk that usually nested just between her eyes had swung to the side revealing a distinctly original feature of the blue-eyed mare- a ripe, red strawberry at the center of her forehead, the only vestige of how she had originally appeared before she had transformed her hair color and hidden her revealing pattern beneath a once modish vest that was now showing signs of wear and tear.

With a cautious glance around the compound grounds, the mare quickly straightened the headband and medal and scooped up the hat; coiling the curly mane into a compact knot on top of her head, she replaced the well-worn chapeau.

Checking once more for the absence of prying eyes, she breathed a sigh of relief as she saw that the rest of the ponies were too caught up in daydreams to bother about the real world around them. She tweaked her vest into place, tightened the strap of one of her sandals, ran a hoof over the colorful beads she wore around her neck, picked up a coarse satchel, and, with a toss of her tail, moved toward a shady maple where she could imitate her friends by enjoying the mild taste of a new season.

* * *
Gauntlet stared at the calendar as he swallowed the last of the amber liquid in his glass. Three years... it had been three years since Sugarberry had walked out of his life... three years in which he had searched the length and breadth of Ponyland looking for the elusive love of his life! How could she have disappeared so thoroughly?

The stallion punched his hoof into the calendar with such force that the pages ripped from the nail that had supported them and the record of days dropped to the floor. Gauntlet picked it up and threw it across the room, sending pages flying in all directions. "Three years!" he shouted to the empty room. "Three beastly years!" He ran a shaking hoof through his mane and collapsed onto the sofa, his hoof now sheltering his eyes. "Three lonely years," he groaned in utter despair.

It all came back to him in a torrent of painful memories - the knocking on the door of Sugarberry's apartment which had heralded the arrival of Butch and Tex with a search warrant to uncover the nefariously-gained Native Pony artifact of which Sugarberry had been so proud- and of which the scheming Tabby had learned... the steep fine thrown at Sugarberry for possessing such a treasure- and no means with which to pay it, which led to an investigation of her accounts and the knowledge that some records did not match... the subsequent research that pointed at Wigwam as the source of the unauthorized loan that was born of illicit use of bank funds... Sugarberry's ultimate betrayal of Wigwam when she handed over to Barnacle the note that both she and Wigwam had signed which had been intended as a countermand to either of them ever ratting on the other- but the collapse of the financial structure that had kept Distinction and the rest of Sugarberry's fashion empire running necessitated her turning over what she could so that she would be granted leniency from criminal charges which kept her out of jail but bankrupt with no resources left to save Distinction.

Gauntlet remembered distinctly the day that the dignified mare had removed her personal items from her office at the Distinction headquarters and the somber yet brave look she had given the unfinished office building across the street that was to have been her ultimate success as distinctive new quarters for her magazine. He had accompanied her back to her upscale apartment to help her pack suitcases and boxes and transport what few possessions she still had to her sister's apartment; Raspberry- whose job at Distinction was still intact- was willing to give her sister shelter even amidst the bad publicity that the entire fiasco had garnered, and she had urged Sugarberry to take her time to sort out her life and explore the possibilities open to her.

If only he had not pushed her so! The stallion groaned from sheer misery. He had wanted to marry Sugarberry so that he could protect her from some of the adversities that had hounded her; but she had kept putting him off, saying that she needed time to think- with no complications- and plan for the future. He had not been able to accept that answer, so had asked again and again, until she had finally acknowledged her true feelings- she loved him, but she was afraid that her dishonorable situation would affect his career and reputation; and she would not bring him down with her.

She would not listen to his declaration that their love would combat any amount of gossip and blacklisting that the world could throw at them. A sad smile and a light kiss was all it earned him, but he was not so crushed that he quit trying; the last time he again asked her to marry him occurred just before he left town for a week long business trip to Happy Hollow. Once more, the mare had simply smiled tenderly at him and repeated her need to find her own answers; and he had left to take care of his own obligations.

Never would he forget the immense feeling of loss that had besieged him when he returned home and found Raspberry on his doorstep. He knew right away that the news was bad when Raspberry gave him a letter from Sugarberry; Raspberry had wanted to decamp immediately, but he had forced her to accompany him into his apartment where he blocked the door with his body while he read the note.

Dearest Gauntlet,

I want you to know that I appreciate your standing by me
throughout this mess into which I got myself. No one else except
Raspberry has given me such unconditional support; the two of
you are very special ponies to overlook my flaws and see only
that tiny part of me that is good. Above all, I will always
treasure the sacrifice you were willing to make by offering
to take my hoof in marriage. You can do far better than
burdening yourself with a Jonah like me.
And to prevent you from clinging to an impossible dream,
I am removing myself from town, separating the two of us
so that you will have no choice but to continue with your rising
career in the financial field in which I bungled so badly. I
expect you to find a kind, gentle helpmate- one who will be a
benefit to you, not a detriment.
For my part, I will continue to search for a niche where
I may yet find some satisfaction in a job well done.

"Where is she?" Gauntlet growled at Raspberry, his eyes still on the note.

"I don't know."

"You wouldn't have let your sister go without knowing where." He lifted his head, his words rumbling out of his throat in ominous anger, but Raspberry stood her ground.

"She wanted to make sure no one would be able to locate her," she explained slowly, as if to a toddler.

Stormy eyes burned into her, but Gauntlet seemed to accept her answer... for now. "Why did she do this when she could have been my wife?"

"She wanted you to go on with your life with no encumbrances; she felt that she would bring you nothing but trouble."

"Shouldn't I be the judge of that? I love her, Raspberry. I want to share my life with her."

"She knew that. It was her decision to go because she didn't want to hurt you."

"As if her leaving me doesn't hurt?" he roared.

"I'm sorry." The mare stepped toward the door, but Gauntlet refused to move.

"One more time, Raspberry. Where did she go?"

A tear slipping down her cheek, Raspberry could only whisper, "I don't know. I honestly don't know. Her note to me gave no more indication as to where she was headed than yours did."

Unable to deny the honesty in her voice and the sadness in her expression, Gauntlet finally stepped aside, allowing her access to the door. Reaching it, she turned back to the stallion. "She really did love you, you know."

"Did? You make it sound like it's all over. I'll find her if it takes the rest of my life."

He had been so sure of himself; and now, here it was, three years later, and he still had no clue as to where she had disappeared... gone without a trace. He had scoured the town looking for a clue as to where she would head, but without any luck. The private investigator he had hired also was stumped.

It was as if she had vanished.

* * *
A soft breeze playing about her caused Sugarberry to relax under the spreading maple tree where she had chosen to situate herself. For a long moment, she sat quietly, simply enjoying the peaceful surroundings. From somewhere across the meadow came the sounds of a haunting melody being played on a guitar and a plaintive voice intoning, "Someone's singing Lord, kumbaya, Oh Lord, kumbaya," and overhead several robins bickered over a nesting spot. Opening her satchel, Sugarberry took out some beads and cord and began stringing the colorful glass orbs. This project kept her hooves occupied but did little to still her mind.

Three years had gone by since she had quietly slipped out of her past life and donned a new persona in which to become invisible to those who would be searching for her... not that she had anything to hide anymore. Barnacle had been thorough in his prosecution of her illegal dealings with Wigwam, and he had flaunted her unscrupulous purchase of a protected artifact to bend her will to meet his judicial requirements- she had turned over evidence that had doomed Wigwam to a jail sentence for embezzling bank funds for private gain.

And Wigwam... Sugarberry ground her teeth as she jabbed another bead on the cord... that stallion had blamed her for his incarceration!!! As if she had a choice in the matter! She had lost her home, her magazine, and her new business complex- and would have gone to jail, too, if she had not buckled under Barnacle's relentless questioning about Wigwam's involvement in her financial troubles. What else could she do but turn state's evidence on the devious bank president who had hounded her over their business dealings and had tried to ingratiate himself into her personal life as well. It was only fair that he suffer some payback- and all he lost was his job and a few months of freedom. Nothing, compared to what Sugarberry had been forced to concede.

An involuntary shudder caused the mare to drop a bead, and she stared blankly into the distance as she remembered the day only six months after Wigwam had been found guilty and confined that she had learned that he was once again a free stallion. She had come across a two-week old newspaper while selling her beads at a flea market and had read in horror that Wigwam had weaseled his way around the law- and with Sugarberry's own lawyer, Dreamcatcher, helping him. She had been so angry that she had contemplated returning to Dream Valley just to give Wigwam a piece of her mind, but had- fortunately- thought better of it before she destroyed the tentative plans she was forming to regain at least a portion of her earlier success.

"Taffy," a voice called, and Sugarberry slowly came out of her reverie, responding to the name she had claimed among her new friends when she had first wandered into the hippy commune. Staring down at her was one of the other commune inhabitants, a white pegasus named Tiffany. The sparkly-maned mare wore a multi-colored headband and a simple strand of beads over a tie-dyed tee. She looked totally offended as her gaze swept across the handiwork that Sugarberry was involved with. "This is no time for your capitalistic ventures. Take some time to smell the flowers." She handed Sugarberry a clump of violets.

Sugarberry set aside her pastime and accepted the peace offering, not because she liked this mare but because she was in no mood to spar with her. "Thanks, Tiff." Bringing the flowers to her nose, she sniffed their gentle fragrance, then closed her eyes and leaned back against the tree. If she was silent long enough, Tiffany might leave her alone... but she was not to be so fortunate.

She heard a rustle as Tiffany sat on the grassy ground next to the mare. Sugarberry maintained her sleepy attitude, but Tiffany was not stymied. "Do you know what these beads remind me of?" Tiffany said lazily. Sugarberry felt a fanning of air as the mare reached over her to help herself to the string of beads that Sugarberry had been working on, but she said nothing. She suspected, however, that Tiffany was swinging the beads back and forth in front of her face as if tempting a kitten to pounce. Sugarberry braced herself as Tiffany prosed on.

"They remind me of the time the fashion magazine came here to photograph some of us in our beads and bands and duds and things. We never saw the article that appeared some months later, but we heard talk about it."

Sugarberry caught the barely audible sound of the beads swaying back and forth in the still air and noted that it could almost have been mistaken for the hissing of a snake. It set her on edge.

"Taffy, did you ever read fashion magazines?"

Sugarberry mentally calculated how to respond to this prattle, for it surely was an innocent question... or was it more serious than idle conversation? As head of Distinction, she had authorized a piece on the hippy style of dress and had been amused by the colorful, eccentric, and sometimes quirky fashions the members of the commune had adopted. She had treated them with whimsical condensation... until she had needed a cover for herself and had realized that she could easily lose herself in this crowd of peace-loving ponies. Now it was imperative that she remain hidden here until she had her plan completely formulated.

Lazily, she opened her blue eyes to mark the passage of the beads still oscillating through the air. "A time or two, Tiff."

"Distinction, I think the name of it was."

Acutely aware of Tiffany's eyes piercing her, Sugarberry shrugged. "I preferred Raves." Her ears twitched at the blatant lie she told.

"Distinction... Distinction..." Tiffany tapped her hoof against her chin thoughtfully, then suddenly came to attention. "Sugarberry. The owner's name was Sugarberry."

Fortunately, Sugarberry's face was naturally white or it would have been a dead give-away of her angst at hearing her name from Tiffany's lips. As it was, Sugarberry was the only one who knew her blood had turned to ice in her veins. As cold as she felt, the silver orb that dangled on her forehead felt as if it was on fire against the strawberry hidden beneath it.

Her years of experience at controlling her emotions while she sat before a hostile board of directors came to her aid. She simply stared back at the mare facing her and stated, "I wouldn't know."

"Your ear's twitching, Taffy," the mare replied. "It does that occasionally, you know." Like when you're lying, she might as well have added. Tiffany smugly dropped the beads in front of Sugarberry and stood up. "We'll talk again."

As if truly in a trance, Sugarberry watched the mare disappear into the farmhouse that served as a home to those involved with the commune. She realized that she could not have moved a muscle if she had tried. Her body was frozen as her mind churned through thoughts that tumbled over one another.

Shortly after she had read of Wigwam's release from his jail sentence, two strangers had come into the commune asking questions. She vividly remembered sitting amidst a group of her cohorts on a balmy summer day, listening to the strumming of a guitar and some rather pathetic spontaneous lyrics. The two alien stallions were at first ignored by everyone present, but they were not to be overlooked for long.

Stepping into the circle of sedentary ponies, the larger of the two had grabbed the guitar from Brandon, effectively stifling the music. After one blaze of anger from Brandon's eyes at the hostile action, the hippy had assumed a lethargic pose of non-concern and the others had followed suit. "Peace, man," Brandon had drawled.

The second visitor, who had been searchingly regarding each of the ponies before him, had given Brandon a withering look. "We're looking for a friend of ours that disappeared about six months ago."

"Cool, man," Isaac said.

"This mare has a distinctive twice-as-fancy strawberry pattern," the first visitor expanded.

"Only strawberries here are out in the garden," Brandon had replied with a toss of his head in the direction of their food source where Quince leaned on her hoe, watching the newcomers.

"Does the name Sugarberry mean anything to any of you?"

The question was met with a sea of blank looks; it was an unspoken trust that no one would ever question the identity of a new member of the commune nor would anyone ever knowingly betray the identity of any of their members to snooping strangers. At that moment, Sugarberry had been very glad that this troupe of ponies was so very stalwart in their determination to preserve anonymity, even though she had fastidiously kept her true identity a secret. These two strangers were effectively stymied.

"What's a sugarberry?" Nightingale asked, a naive pout to her tone.

"It's a tree," Dawn responded. "My folks have one in their backyard."

"We're not discussing a tree!" the first stranger barked. "Sugarberry is a pony with a strawberry pattern and a single red strawberry on her forehead."

"You're comparing apples to oranges," Rubicon chuckled. "A strawberry is a creeping plant; a sugarberry is a tree in the hackberry family."

"This in not a horticultural class," fumed the second stranger. "We are looking for a mare..."

He was interrupted by Isaac. "If you were looking for birds or butterflies, man, you might find them on a sugarberry; birds like the tree's juicy fruit and butterflies like the sap... groovy, huh?"

"The mare's name is Sugarberry; she's white with a red strawberry pattern. And her hair is a bright red, too."

The thirteen or so hippies looked at one another. Two of them had red hair... both of them stallions and certainly with no strawberry pattern.

"Sorry. No one here by that description," stated Brandon, retrieving his guitar from the stallion who had confiscated it. He strummed his hoof over the strings of his instrument. "Sugarberry..." he crooned experimentally. His face lighted up as he found the chords and the melody that worked. "Swinging in the sugarberry tree... you and me... peaceful as a honey bee... Your touch as soft as butterflies' wings, your kiss as sweet as love-berries... my favorite things, my favorite things..."

On the refrain, the other hippy ponies joined in, leaving the two strangers glaring at them in disgust and shaking their heads. With a muttered oath, the two had charged off, leaving the group grinning over their success in routing the unwanted company.

Everyone, that is, except Tiffany, Sugarberry remembered with a jolt. Tiffany had been staring at her rather oddly while the other ponies cracked jokes about the two outsiders who had dared enter their territory. Sugarberry had written it off at the time to Tiffany's jealousy of Rubicon who happened to be sitting next to Sugarberry- Sugarberry as Taffy, with yellow tail and a hat covering the yellow curls she had adopted, a silver medallion covering the give-away facial design, and a vest hiding the twice-as-fancy pattern. And as Tiffany had never delved any further into Sugarberry's background, Sugarberry had completely forgotten the incident, concentrating instead on a way to climb the ladder of success once more.

But was it possible that Tiffany had been biding her time and had seen the accidental uncovering of the strawberry motif on her forehead this afternoon, verifying her suspicions and causing her to pick away at Sugarberry's identity? What could she do with the information?

Sugarberry groaned. Tiffany could turn it over to those two clods who had shown up at the commune! Sugarberry had recognized them easily enough... Tawny and Strider, both of whom had served time themselves and now sold themselves out as private investigators. Tiffany was probably aware of their identities as well.

Sugarberry stared at the purple violets in her hoof. The only patch of violets on the compound was under the east window of the house in the shelter of a spreading yew. If Tiffany had been picking them when Sugarberry had accidentally exposed the symbol on her forehead, Tiffany might have seen it and hidden herself behind the yew by the time Sugarberry surveyed the area. "Oh, great," Sugarberry moaned out loud.

If Tiffany was going to alert Sugarberry's former cohorts as to her whereabouts before she had time to put her plan into action, Sugarberry was lost.

* * *
"Raspberry's here," the svelte Bluebonnet said, escorting the mare into the modern office where Spike sat behind a gleaming desk.

"I'll be with you in a moment," the well-dressed dragon mumbled, his attention focused on the facts and figures on the papers before him. Bluebonnet waved Raspberry into a chair, and left the room, closing the door behind her.

Tapping her hoof on the arm of the chair, Raspberry gave up on Spike's immediate attention and turned her gaze to the window of what had once been her sister's office.

Out that window, she could see the tower that Sugarberry had been so looking forward to completing. At twelve stories, it was the tallest building in Dream Valley; it stood on the block that had originally held the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, amidst other small, outdated establishments. Sugarberry had succeeded in buying up the lot of them and having them demolished for her dream of a commanding home for her fashion magazine, Distinction. And she had come so close...

Raspberry's gaze swung back to Spike, her eyes smouldering in anger. It had never been officially released, but Raspberry and Sugarberry both knew that Spike had his grubby... claw... in the downfall of Sugarberry's empire. No one else could have pulled it off so effectively. The little weasel had been involved in every aspect of the business and had recorded every tidbit of information on all those electronic gadgets he so depended on. She was sure he had slipped hints to the authorities to help strengthen their case against Sugarberry and Wigwam. And then the rat had come forward once Sugarberry was ousted, and he bought the business... his money coming from wise investments in stocks, he claimed. It made her blood boil!

As if feeling fire and brimstone being directed in his direction, the purple dragon looked up. "You don't stand a chance against me," he growled, releasing a puff of his dragon fire. Then he grinned. "Let's get down to business."

"Y... yes, sir," Raspberry acquiesced. It had been a lapse on her part to let the dragon see her animosity. She would have to be more circumspect in the future. Sugarberry was depending on her.

* * *
"Hey, dudes, look what I have," Rubicon grinned as he came into the old farmhouse at dusk one evening in June. Clutched in his hoof were several small, stiff pieces of paper.

Becca, who had been serving up portions of soup from a cast-iron kettle, squinted at the stallion. "Some bread, I hope."

"Better than that," teased Rubicon, waving the slips of paper in the air.

"Tickets!" Dawn squealed, grabbing the airborne hoof and forcing it down. "... to..." she gasped, "Tabby and the Bushwoolies!"

Those ponies who had not previously been interested in Rubicon's entrance now came crowding forward. "You mean that comeback concert that everyone's talking about?" queried Isaac.

"Ohhh!" bubbled Dawn. "I've been hearing some cool things about that show. "Are there tickets for all of us?"

"Enough for everyone," Rubicon stated, pulling another pile of them from his backpack.

"How'd you get your hooves on those?" asked Brandon, crowding forward to get one of the tickets for himself.

"My parents were so glad to hear from me after all these years that they offered me a roll of money... and I couldn't turn it down." He gave his braided ponytail a toss. "Figured I'd put it to good use for the benefit of us all." He tossed the remaining tickets casually onto the table.

Sugarberry, standing amidst the chattering ponies, stared at the tickets as they fanned out on the worn and sticky surface, the name Tabby searing her brain with memories. Schoolmates, she and the music star had never experienced any friendly feelings for one another. And after the collapse of Sugarberry's fashion empire, it had been Tabby who had ended up with the office tower that had been designed as the new home for Sugarberry's magazine, Distinction. Not that Tabby could afford to buy it, but her father could... and did. Hubert had taken possession of the structure and presented it to his daughter as a gift while Sugarberry sat embroiled in her financial and legal problems. The unfairness of the situation still rankled, and Sugarberry would gladly have torn the concert tickets to shreds to alleviate some of her rancor.

It was Tiffany who brought Sugarberry out of her dark thoughts. "Here, Taffy; you don't have a ticket yet," the mare's honey-coated voice purred. "You wouldn't want to miss Tabby's performance, now, would you?" The smile in the mare's voice was not repeated in her eyes- in those orbs glinted a hint of mischief.

"I prefer Mo..." Sugarberry stuttered. She had been about to say Mozart, but that would only fuel Tiffany's imagination. "... Moho Madness," she thought quickly.

"Groovy," agreed Nightingale.

"Oh, come now, Taffy," Tiffany continued. "Tabby is where it's at. No one who's anybody will miss her concert."

"Yeah. Come with us," Isaac coaxed. "It'll be so cool."

"I'd rather stay here." This was the truth, as she had missed her privacy since coming to the hippy commune. It would be rather comforting to be able to ramble about the place without stepping on someone else; it would also allow her some time to think.

"Afraid you might meet someone from your past?" goaded Tiffany, thrusting the ticket in front of Sugarberry's face.

One word on the ticket seemed to loom out at Sugarberry: Tabby. She did not want to see her enemy flaunting her success on stage, not while Sugarberry's own future was so uncertain. Later, when she had regained control of Distinction, she would face Tabby with pleasure. For now, it was better not to take the chance at discovery; if everyone thought she had disappeared for good, they would let their defenses down. It would not be long before Raspberry had everything in place. Then, ponies would find that Sugarberry was not so easily dismissed.

Shaking her head, Sugarberry repeated her answer. "No, Tiff. I'm not going."

Rubicon, sensing an altercation between the two mares, came to intervene. "Come on, Taffy. Peace, love, harmony.... that's what it's all about. We're all going to the concert." He took the ticket from Tiffany and pushed it into Sugarberry's stiff hoof.

"Yeah, man. You're the man, man," Xavier said, thumping Rubicon on the back. "Peace is where it's at."

Sugarberry had no choice. Peace, man.

* * *
The noise, the lights, and the press of bodies was wearing on Sugarberry as she watched the activity on stage. Tabby was in prime form tonight, no doubt about it. Her music was wild, and it grated on Sugarberry's already raw nerves.

Tiffany had seemed to proclaim herself Sugarberry's protector for the evening, dogging her hoofsteps as a mother would a helpless child. That meant that Rubicon was always nearby as well, as he stuck to Tiffany like glue. Sugarberry could not relax her guard for a moment. She was sure that Tiffany was waiting for something to happen that would reveal her true identity to the world at large, here in a setting that would guarantee that any number of ponies involved with Tabby's troupe could recognize her as the former fashion authority. She did not want to be uncovered looking like a peacenik.

The one thing that bothered the mare more than anything else was the news she had gleaned from a newspaper that Lemon Treats had brought home to the commune. A splashy article on Tabby's comeback printed in the Dream Valley Gazette had revealed to Sugarberry what Wigwam was up to since his incarceration was concluded. She could not prevent grinding her teeth just thinking about it. He had finagled himself into Tabby's good graces and was now acting as her corporate manager. The miscreant had come out on top and carried Tabby with him! Was there no justice?

Well, if Sugarberry had her way, there would be some day. The only threat now was that Tiffany suspected her true identity and seemed anxious to expose her. Tiffany had always resented Rubicon's interest in Sugarberry, and she was selfish enough to throw Sugarberry's life into turmoil just to get rid of the rival mare's presence. That plan would have to be thwarted.

When Isaac pushed near to deliver a soda, Sugarberry made the most of the opportunity. "Let's move closer to the stage," she whispered to the stallion, hoping to get even more deeply lost in the crowd.

Pleased to have been singled out by Sugarberry, Isaac happily agreed, shoving a path through the surrounding ponies. Others in their group followed, but Tiffany and Rubicon ended up shuffled to the back, which gave Sugarberry some mental breathing room even as she herself became pressed into the swelling push of the crowd. At least, this way, she was completely camouflaged, just one more fan in a sea of nondescript faces. There was safety in numbers, after all. The mare smiled smugly.

* * *
The bizarre play of laser lights that flashed across the stage like the bombardment of a spaceship's weapons frightened Sugarberry; she attempted to pull back farther from the stage, but Isaac had put a protective foreleg around her and held her at his side while he craned to get a better look at the explosive ending to Tabby's concert. As the truth dawned that this was not a planned extravaganza- and as the authorities began swarming into the area- the hippies clustered together, moving back only as far as the police ponies forced them.

Sugarberry watched the scenario play out before her startled eyes. Tabby had plunged off the stage- surely it was only a dramatic staging on the singer's part. Hadn't she witnessed the unicorn's blatant flirting with the stallion who had rushed to her side? Tabby could not possibly be hurt... could she? The arrival of the paramedics turned Sugarberry's blood cold. Tabby may be her enemy, but she certainly did not wish the vivacious mare any physical harm.

One of the patrolling officers made another pass by the congregated hippies and obviously found their presence unsettling. "The show's over. Go on your way," he barked, reaching out to prod the nearest ponies toward the exit.

"Get your hooves off, fuzz!" Rubicon snapped; the hippy's hoof came up as if to shove the cop back; but the deputy responded quickly, capturing Rubicon's foreleg in a vise-like grip.

"I said, out!" the officer growled, propelling Rubicon away from him.

The hippy fell against Brandon who knocked against Becca who fell against Sugarberry's side with a hard thump, knocking Sugarberry's hat ajar, pulling the headband to the side. As Sugarberry struggled to regain her balance, nearly taking Isaac down with her in the process, she realized that a scuffle was developing between her hippy friends and the officer who now had backup from several of his cronies.

With a strong grip on the mare, Isaac was able to save the two of them from falling while simultaneously putting himself in front of the mare to not only protect her but also to aid his comrades. Sugarberry stumbled back and found herself facing Tiffany.

"So my suspicions were right... Sugarberry," the mare sniggered. "And now, what's it worth to you for me to keep my mouth shut?"

Sugarberry's hoof snapped up to touch the medallion on her forehead and found it dangling out of place at the side of her head. Swiftly, she moved it to cover the revealing strawberry motif and straightened her hat, her icy glare never leaving Tiffany's face. Her disguise back like a protective mask, Sugarberry grated, "Not a single jangle."

Neither mare had a chance to consider their options any further as the scuffling around them intensified and a howl of outrage from Rubicon garnered Tiffany's attention. Taking advantage of the situation, Sugarberry backed away from her group, seeking anonymity by distancing herself from the commotion around her, when suddenly she was stopped abruptly with a strong hoof wrapping itself around her foreleg. With a gasp of surprise, Sugarberry's head shot around to face the aggressor, and a fission of fear jettisoned down her back.

With the look of diablo in his eyes, Wigwam held her captive.


*See Sugarberry as a hippie at
Minoko the Fool
by Clever Clover (

It had been a couple of weeks since Clever Clover had proposed to Belle Star and he still hadn't told Morning Glory, Minoko, or anyone else. He was afraid of how Morning Glory and Minoko, especially Minoko, would react. But he felt the time had come. He waited until Belle Star was away on an errand, so as to not put her in harm's way. He got his opportunity one lazy Saturday afternoon while Minoko and Morning Glory were watching a sappy romantic movie on TV.

"Hey you two, I've got something I've got to talk to you about."

"Can't it wait," whined Minoko.

Morning Glory nodded. "Yeah, the movie's just getting to the good part."

"I'd rather get this done while Belle Star is out."

Minoko shrugged. "Oh? This have something to do with her? Why should we be interested?"

"It actually has something to do with all of us...kinda."

"Well, why don't you just spit it out and get it over with."

Clever Clover took a deep breath. "Right, here goes. I've asked Belle Star to marry me, and she said yes."

The two mares stared back in silence. After a few moments Minoko broke out laughing. Shortly after, Morning Glory too began to giggle in a dignified manner befitting a princess. "Oh, I see. I had forgotten what day it is. Very good Clever Clover. You almost had us both fooled."

"What does the day have to do with it?" asked Minoko.

"What? You don't know? It's April first, April Fool's Day."

"What's that mean?"

"It's a day that you play practical jokes on your friends. It's the one day that it's all right to be a made a fool of."

"You need an excuse to play jokes? How lame is that? Still Clever Clover, that was a great joke. You marrying Belle Star? Yeah, right!" The pirate pony resumed her laughter.

"I wasn't joking."

Morning Glory giggled. "Oh, of course not. And let me guess, Jack O Lantern is going top be your best man?"

"Well, we haven't really discussed the details... Hey! You're not taking me seriously!"

"Give it a rest already. We all know you're not marrying Belle Star."

"I give up. I'm going for a walk." Clever Clover skulked out of the house.

* * *
After the movie, seeing as Clever Clover wasn't back from his walk yet, Morning Glory returned to her home. Minoko just sat on the couch, as she did most afternoons, reading comic books. Belle Star got home shortly after Morning Glory left and started putting away the groceries she had bought. She checked items off the list Clever Clover had given her as she put them into the pantry.

"Oh! Now how did I forget that?"

"What? Did you mess up again?" Minoko sneered.

Belle Star was frantically rummaging through the empty grocery bags. "Oh! I know it has to be here somewhere! Where could it be?"

Minoko teleported to the kitchen to see what was the matter. "So, what are you looking for?"

Belle Star looked up from the bags with teary eyes. "I was going to cook supper tonight and the recipe needed cumin and Clever Clover was all out so I was going to buy some but I forgot and now I don't have time to go back into town to get the cumin before I have to start cooking!"

"You're cooking? Is that one of those 'April Fool's' jokes?"

"No," sobbed Belle Star.

"Well, it looks like you could use a good joke. Earlier today Clever Clover told me and Morning Glory that he had proposed to you! Isn't that a hoot!?"

The tears were suddenly gone from Belle Star's eyes. "Oh, he told you? I was hoping we could do it together."

"So, you were in on it, too? You two are a couple of real comedians. Tell you what, you start cooking, I'll run into town and get you your cumin."

"Really!? You'd do that for me?"

Minoko shrugged. "Yeah, why not?" Under her breath she added, "And it'll give me a chance to try out this April Fool's Day on some unsuspecting townsponies."

"What was that?"

"Oh, I don't have any money; could you loan me a few jangles for the cumin?"

So, with Belle Star's money in hoof, Minoko set of for town with mischief on her mind.

* * *
The afternoon wore on. Belle Star began supper, Clever Clover returned from his walk, and Morning Glory returned for the evening meal (at Belle Star's invite).

"Oh! Oh! Where could Minoko be with that cumin?" Belle Star fretted. "If she doesn't get here soon, I wont be able to finish supper!"

Morning Glory sipped a glass of tea. "That's what you get for trusting that pirate with your money."

"I'm sure she'll be back soon," said Clever Clover. "You know how she is, no sense of time."

Just then, there was a commotion outside and Minoko came rushing through the front door, without even bothering to open it. She collapsed onto the floor, sitting with her back against the door, panting.

Belle Star rushed over to her. "Minoko! Have you got the cumin?"

"Oh right, I was supposed to get cumin. It must have slipped my mind with the whole town up in arms against me!"

"What did you do now?" asked Morning Glory.

Belle Star's eyes began to swell with tears. "So you don't have the cumin?"

"Sorry, but I figured it was more important to get away with my hide intact."

The commotion outside was getting louder. Clever Clover peeked out the front window. "It looks like the entire town is out there with torches and pitchforks! What is going on here, Minoko!?"

Minoko shrugged. "Maybe it's an April Fool's joke?"

"So you really do have the cumin?" asked Belle Star.

Minoko glared at the blond pony.

"Minoko," said Morning Glory, sternly. "What IS going on here?"

"I don't know. I went to town to get Belle Star some cumin. On the way to the market, I stopped to have a friendly conversation; and by the time I reached the market, there was an angry mob chasing me. I tried to lose them and double back for the cumin, but they were everywhere. Even the checker at the market chased me, so I came back here."

"M-hm, and just what was the topic of this 'friendly conversation' of yours?" demanded Morning Glory.

"Well, we started off talking about the weather, and how much rain we have had lately. Jack made some comment on how you'd have to be a newt to appreciate this kind of weather..."

Minoko's narration was interrupted by a loud banging at the front door. Clever Clover opened the window beside the door a crack. "What is going on out there?"

"You are harboring a witch!" came the reply.

"A witch! A witch!" echoed the mob.

"And we intend to burn her!" concluded Sundance, the spokespony for the angry mob.

"Burn her! Burn her!" chanted the mob.

"You can't burn Minoko!" said Clever Clover.

"I'd like to see them try," Minoko growled.

Morning Glory grinned. "So would I."

Minoko shot to her feet. "What do you mean by that!?"

"Just what I said!" Morning Glory shot back.

"Oh! Please don't fight!" cried Belle Star.

Clever Clover turned his attention back to the mob. "Why do you say Minoko is a witch?"

"She turned me into a newt!" cried out Jack.

The mob quieted down a moment as all eyes turned to Jack, who was quite obviously not a newt.

"I got better," he said, sheepishly.

"Is that all?" asked Clever Clover

"Of course not!" replied Sundance.

"No! No! She's a witch! Burn her!" cried the mob.

Sundance nodded. "I saw her walk right through a wall!"

"So?" replied Clever Clover. Minoko's power to walk through walls was well known in Friendship Garden. "And what's the deal with the torches? Don't you have any flashlights?"

"She hexed them! All the batteries in Friendship Garden are dead!"

"I didn't hex any batteries!" Minoko called out the window. "I may have turned a couple of ponies into newts, briefly, but that was it!"

"And where did you get so many pitchforks?" Clever Clover asked.

"From Lantern, the tinkerer. Why?"

"Just curious." Clever Clover was starting to understand what was going on. "What else was he selling?"

"Flashlight batteries."

"Dead flashlight batteries?"

"He said Minoko hexed them. She's a witch!"

"A witch! A witch! Burn her!"

"Minoko is not a witch! Lantern scammed you!"

"What? Lantern is an honest tinkerer. Why'd he scam us?"

Clever Clover shook his head. "Lantern is an evil wizard who doesn't like us. He sold you dead batteries so he could turn you against Minoko and sell you a bunch of pitchforks you don't really need."

Sundance's jaw dropped. "You mean HE'S the witch?"

"Ah, that's one way to put it."

The spokespony turned to the mob. "Lantern is the witch! Back to town! We'll burn Lantern!"

"Yeah! Burn him! Burn him!" The mob marched back to Friendship Garden in search of Lantern, the tinkerer.

Minoko scratched her head. "Why would Jack O Lantern do something like this?"

Clever Clover shrugged. "Maybe he hoped the townsponies would be able to do what his goons haven't been able to, since we wouldn't want to hurt them. Or maybe it was just his idea of an April Fool's joke."

"I don't find it very funny," said Morning Glory.

"And I still don't have any cumin," pouted Belle Star.

Burning Bridges
by Sugarberry (

"We've hardly seen one another all week," Garnet complained to her husband after arriving home from a long day at the casino. "One or the other of us is always gone to work or school."

Rummaging through his backpack, Wishbone mumbled, "Yeah, it's been busy all right." Finally locating what he was looking for, he lifted his head in triumph, a piece of paper clutched in his hoof. He looked at it and grinned. "Good thing I found this; the presentation starts at seven-thirty. I thought it was eight."

"Can't you skip it?" coaxed Garnet. "The class is just an elective, isn't it?"

"Yes, but I want a good grade point average," Wishbone said, heading for the refrigerator and pouring them both a glass of milk, "and Professor Tarkington said he's going to include information from tonight's speaker on the next test. And it's all a last minute thing because he just found out accidentally that this guy was in Dream Valley to study the Native Pony site."

"I thought we'd have tonight to spend some time together... maybe go out to eat," pouted the red mare.

Handing her a glass of cold, white liquid, Wishbone considered his options. It was true that their schedules had not allowed much time for the two of them as of late, but he did want his record at Pony Pride to be the best that he could make it- and graduation was not that far away. He and Garnet would soon be masters of their own destiny- which meant even still more long hours, he realized.

A look into his wife's tired eyes tugged at his heart. She had been a trooper, working long hours at the casino to keep them economically afloat, while at the same time carrying the physical burden of their unborn foal. His time was spent at Pony Pride or Pony-Mart with a few hours thrown in for sleep, but he had not suffered from morning sickness or found himself zapped of energy as Garnet had. She deserved some respite. He had traded his shift with Sesame so he could get to tonight's unexpected program; it seemed a shame to waste this one chance for the two of them to be together for a change.

"Come with me to Pony Pride; afterwards, we can go to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe for the most decadent concoction Scoops can devise," he suggested.

The swiftness with which the sparkle returned to Garnet's eyes was a tonic to Wishbone as well. "That's perfect, Wishbone!" She gulped down her milk. "I'll be ready in a minute."

* * *
The lecture hall reserved for the evening's discourse was crowded with not only college ponies but also members of the community who were interested in the study of the past. Clever Clover was there as well as Hubert, Domino, Teepee, and Historia, to name a few. Garnet and Wishbone chatted with friends before Professor Tarkington took the podium to introduce the guest speaker, who, Garnet found, was a rather nondescript older stallion with brown spots on a white coat. His name, Pinto, rang a bell in the deep recesses of her mind; but she could not place his face; so she settled back, linking her foreleg with Wishbone's.

Finding the presentation more absorbing than she had envisioned, Garnet was enjoying Pinto's talk, finding his dry humor a pleasant antidote to her drooping sensibilities; but her attention became riveted when she heard him mention Bubbling Springs. That small town had been the birthplace of her father and her two aunts, and any historical information about its inhabitants would be engrossing.

It was while the stallion was sharing a story about some of his early research in Bubbling Springs that the elusive connection about the name Pinto solidified in Garnet's brain.

One of her aunts, Blue Pearl, had shared with her some of the history of the contentious Lamplight family. Of the three siblings- Blackcap, Blue Pearl, and Burgundy Lace- only Blackcap, Garnet's father, had married. Blue Pearl had never met her soul mate; but Burgundy Lace had fallen in love with a visitor to Bubbling Springs, an industrious young stallion by the name of Pinto. By Blue Pearl's account, Pinto had strongly returned her sister's affection... but it was to be an unrequited love for the stallion. For Burgundy Lace, Pinto had become a love scorned.

It had not been a calculated dismissal, at least not willingly. It had been Burgundy Lace's father who had put insurmountable odds in their path, using Burgundy Lace's love of the Lamplight manor and the family's position in Bubbling Springs to sway her devotion away from Pinto. To Burgundy Lace's father, there was no place on earth where the Lamplight protege belonged except at Bubbling Springs; and Pinto, by nature of his occupation, was a wanderer, following his quests near and far.

Burgundy Lace had been willing to give up her beautiful home and precious family to join Pinto on his travels, but her father had forced her to acknowledge her responsibility to the community which his eventual demise would necessitate; she would be forced to assume control of the philanthropic ventures that had founded and supported Bubbling Springs and the amenities which its citizens enjoyed. Blue Pearl was not of a disposition to handle such a duty, and Blackcap was... well, Blackcap was untrustworthy, to put it nicely.

Having bowed to her father's wishes, Burgundy Lace lost Pinto. Soon after, she lost her parents. Then, thanks to Blackcap, she lost Lamplight. All that she had depended on to give purpose to her future was gone. She and Blue Pearl had to depart from the home of their birth and their financial security to make a new life for themselves as librarian and teacher in a town some distance from their legacy. Never again had Burgundy Lace seen Pinto; never again had she fallen in love.

Now, here was Pinto in the flesh, not just an old remembrance conveyed by Blue Pearl to help Garnet understand the feisty character of her aunt, but a living, breathing stallion with a pleasant personality and a wealth of exciting exploits to relay, the telling of which marked him as an adventurous and intrepid scholar. And to think, Garnet mused, he could have been my uncle.

When the last tale had been told and the last question answered, Pinto remained available to anyone who would like to delve more deeply into his expertise. Garnet shared with Wishbone her desire to talk with Pinto and left him in the company of Belle Star and Clever Clover (the purple stallion had long held an unfulfilled wish to open a restaurant and, having heard of Wishbone and Garnet's good fortune in procuring the management of the family restaurant in Neighberry, propounded the merits of a variety of menu choices) while Garnet edged her way through the groups of ponies discussing the evening's presentation until she uncovered Pinto arguing a point with Hubert; she waited impatiently on the sidelines until the two stallions had come to a tenuous understanding.

It was not difficult for Pinto to notice the mare; her brilliant red coloring was commanding. He smiled at Garnet kindly, inviting her approach.

"Your presentation was fascinating," she honestly said.

"I'm pleased to have entertained you," he gallantly responded. "Not all of the audience was so favorably impressed," he added ruefully with a glance in Hubert's direction.

"Admittedly, I'm not as knowledgeable as Hubert; but you have an amusing way of presenting your facts that makes your subject very engrossing. I was especially interested in your early work done at Bubbling Springs."

"In those days, I thought I knew everything. Looking back, I was just a naive rookie. I had a lot to learn."

Pinto slanted a grimace at Garnet, and she thought she noted a sadness lurking in his eyes. Was he accusing himself of ineptitude in his scholarly research or in his personal life? Taking a deep breath, she plunged in. "My family has its roots in Bubbling Springs; you may have heard of the Lamplight family while you were there; my grandfather used his wealth and influence to build up the town; but he died before I was even born, so I never knew him..."

Realizing that she was babbling, Garnet stopped for a moment; but finding that she had rendered Pinto speechless, she continued, albeit more circumspectly. "My father, Blackcap, hasn't lived there since he was a young stallion."

She waited expectantly for the stallion to acknowledge an acquaintance with the Lamplight family- more specifically, Burgundy Lace- but his only response was, "I'm sure many things have changed at Bubbling Springs since I was there."

Seeing that Wishbone and friends were working their way toward her, Garnet relayed one more tidbit of information which would hopefully nudge the stallion to actively examine his past experience with the Lamplight family. "Grandfather's house is now a period museum; I'm sure you'd find it a very pleasant side-trip, especially at this time of year when the spring flowers will be blooming in profusion. My two aunts could never have too many flowers." She winked at him. "You know how spinsters can be."

The arrival of the others caught Pinto up in answering more questions, and Garnet and Wishbone made a discreet exit.

Garnet smiled smugly. She had left Pinto with his eyes glazed-over with memories, his thoughts turned back to the time of his first love; she had no doubt that he would soon find his hooves turned in that direction as well.

And for the rest of the evening, Garnet had Wishbone all to herself.

* * *
Bubbling Springs isn't that much out of my way, after all, Pinto eased his conscience as he set out from Dream Valley the next morning, headed in a northwesterly direction rather than the northeasterly path his schedule dictated. Anyway, it's about time I revisited that scenic area, and it wouldn't be remiss of me to visit the museums I come across.

Since the red mare's disclosure last evening of her family connection to Bubbling Springs, a flood of memories had suffused the stallion, mind pictures long suppressed because of the hurtful connotation they had for him. Now, he could no longer ignore them, painful though they might be. The reference to Lamplight had torn wide the gates.

He had been young then... young and easily taken in by a pretty face backed by a lively intelligence and a sprightly disposition. Having just completed the research for his master's degree, he had been, perhaps, a bit inebriated with the opportunities that lay before him; he had read too much into Burgundy Lace's assistance in helping him ferret out the information he needed from the historical records on file at the library at which she worked, fresh from school herself. Their relationship, however, had not been entirely professional, for Burgundy Lace had extended to him her family's hospitality as well.

Pinto shook his head, for there his memories became tainted with unhappiness. For a moment, his plan to travel to Bubbling Springs faltered. All his life he had delved into the historical background of a variety of cultures, but was it wise to visit his own personal past?

He closed his eyes, allowing a vision of the burgundy mare to suffuse his senses and realized that the interim of years had done nothing to cloud the attraction he had felt for the mare. Opening his eyes, he contemplated the march of the path before him, realizing that his destination could open old wounds... or ameliorate them.

A look of determination lit his face. He resumed his pace resolutely for Lamplight.

* * *
"So you can see the advantages of Lamplight over Montcourt," Willy, the curator of the popular home-turned-museum at Bubbling Springs, remarked, leading the visiting stallion down the open staircase and back into the library where they had begun the tour of the gracious mansion. "You must agree that the detail and workmanship of this house are of much higher caliber." He turned to the brown-spotted pony eagerly; this visitor had seemed highly informed about the architecture of Lamplight, and Willy looked forward to an invigorating discussion over various points that Lamplight shared with other period homes.

The stallion, however, seemed to be lost in a brown study, his brow wrinkled and his eyes staring, unseeing, at the walls lined with leather-bound books. Pinto had sincerely enjoyed the guided tour through the halls and rooms of Lamplight where he had once been admitted as a guest; but he could not shake off the impression that the house, although perfect in every nuance of a bygone era, was not quite as he remembered it. He shook himself.

Of course it was not the same, for there were no laughing voices or softly spoken compliments or hopefully-tendered invitations. Nor, he admitted, was there the brusque sound of the aristocratical Edwin Lamplight spurning Pinto's proposal to marry his daughter or the determined and cool dismissal by Burgundy Lace as she accepted her father's ultimatum. Neither were there the compassionate gazes of Cora and her daughter Blue Pearl as they watched the profound happiness of Pinto and Burgundy Lace turn to grim obduracy. Even the brother's taunting voice was silenced.

All that was left were things; Pinto had been unable to tap into the spirit of the place.

Noting that Willy was looking at him with a puzzled expression, Pinto forced himself to take up the thread of their conversation. "I've always been partial to the cornices at Montcourt, but I will defer to your intimate knowledge of Lamplight."

"I'm sure, sir, if you were to examine Montcourt once more, you'd see that I am right."

The door of the room opened and a burgundy female swept into the room. "Willy, have you seen the schedule for the classroom visits next week?"

Partially hidden from the sight of the mare by his position behind the dictionary stand, Pinto had the opportunity to drink in the vision of his first and only love; and he found himself as breathless as he had been when he was a callow youth. Burgundy Lace was as vibrant and beautiful as he remembered.

"I'm sure they're posted... somewhere," pondered Willy, who was not known for his orderliness. "If you'll excuse me," Willy nodded at Pinto, "I'll go fetch them immediately."

For the first time becoming aware of the other occupant of the library, Burgundy Lace followed the direction of Willy's glance and felt her strength drain out of her. Clutching the back of a nearby chair, she barely kept herself on her hooves. A ghost! Lamplight has no ghosts!

"Lacey..." Pinto murmured, automatically reverting to the pet name that Burgundy Lace's family had used and on which he had latched early in their acquaintance. "It's so good to see you again."

"What are you doing here?"

Pinto could not ignore the cool reserve with which Burgundy Lace addressed him. "I was curious about the place," he said, motioning to the surroundings, "and wondering about you."

"It's been a long time and a lot of things have changed."

"You're still the same."

Burgundy Lace snorted. "If you mean that I still put Lamplight first in my life, yes... you're right."

"Am I to assume that your father made the right decision for you all those years ago?"

Her gaze dropped for only a moment before Burgundy Lace responded, "It was the only choice at the time."

It was at that moment that Blue Pearl, Burgundy Lace's sister, came bustling into the room. "Willy said you were looking for these; he's on the phone right now." She held out some papers, then seemed to sense another presence in the library.

Looking to her right, she spotted the stallion. Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open for several seconds before she grinned in welcome as if she had last seen him only last week, not some thirty-odd years ago. "Pinto, how nice to see you! Can you stay for dinner?"

Impressed by the poise of the once flighty mare, Pinto returned her grin. At least one member of the Lamplight family was pleased to see him, which bolstered his spirits. "I had hoped to escort you and your sister to dinner, if you would be so kind as to advise me on an appropriate establishment for that purpose," he gallantly returned.

"We have other..." Burgundy Lace began, but Blue Pearl overrode her sister's refusal.

"That would be delightful! The Outpost is the top of the line here in Bubbling Springs, on the east side of town where the old mill used to be."

"The Outpost it will be."

* * *
"If you want to dine out with Pinto so badly, then you can go with him... alone!" Burgundy Lace said through gritted teeth after Pinto had left the museum. The mare marched toward the private quarters within the museum that housed her and Blue Pearl.

"Now, now, Lacey," Blue Pearl hurried after her sister. "It's you he wants to see."

"He came to see Lamplight... probably to gloat over our reduced circumstances and discomfit me because Lamplight wasn't the safe harbor I thought it was."

"No one knew back then what Blackcap was capable of; Father surely didn't expect him to drive us out of our home. Pinto may not even be aware of the trying times we were put through since he was last here."

"And do you think he'd care?" snapped Burgundy Lace. "He washed his hooves of us when he left Bubbling Springs."

"You did the same with him, Lacey."

"I had no choice!"

"You chose Lamplight over Pinto."

"And who else could Father rely on but me? You were too... insipid... and Blackcap was too mercenary."

"If you had married Pinto and gone away with him, who knows what might have happened? Maybe I would have learned to become more self-sufficient; maybe Blackcap would have learned to accept some responsibility."

Burgundy Lace spun around from her position in front of the window. "So now you're blaming me for the formation of your characters?"

"I'm not blaming you, Lacey. I'm just pointing out that things could have turned out differently if you'd have accepted Pinto's proposal. We might still have lost Lamplight, but you would have had a happy and fulfilled life scouring the world with Pinto. Maybe it's time that you tried to recapture some of that happiness. It seems to me that Pinto wouldn't have come here if he didn't have any feelings for you."

"Always the romantic, Pearl," Burgundy Lace scoffed. "Enjoy your dinner." She swept across the room toward the door.

For once in her life, Blue Pearl did not shy away from a confrontation. She intercepted her sister's path and stood strong. "I will not allow your stubbornness to stand in the way of your happiness. You will accompany me to dinner with Pinto this evening, and I suggest that you go to your room now to begin sprucing up."

Daunted by her sister's unexpected show of force, Burgundy Lace complied.

* * *
"The food was excellent and the company charming," Pinto stated as he threw down his napkin and smiled at his dinner guests. He was not entirely untruthful- the food had been quite good and Blue Pearl, at least, had been charming. Burgundy Lace, on the other hoof, had been as cool and remote as an Ice Orc.

Blue Pearl, having kept the conversation centered on Pinto's life-adventures in hopes of tweaking Burgundy Lace's interest and allowing her to lower her guard, slanted a glance at her obdurate sister. Maybe it had been ill-advised to try to ease this relationship along as she had all evening, smoothing out the bumps as they came along. Perhaps only a venting of thirty years of simmering emotions would clear the air between the two ponies.

Smiling at Pinto, Blue Pearl admitted, "It was a lovely evening, Pinto. I only wish we could have entertained you at Lamplight in the style of the old days."

"I must admit that my curiosity has been all agog. Why did you sell out Lamplight as a museum?"

"Sell out Lamplight..." hissed Burgundy Lace, her temper stoked by an evening's worth of polite trivialities that had rubbed her emotions raw. "Blue Pearl and I were sold out by our brother, Blackcap!"

Confused, Pinto looked from one to the other of his dinner partners. "What has Blackcap got to do with Lamplight? The reason your father wanted you in charge, Lacey, was to circumvent Blackcap's ineptitude."

"Father didn't allow for Blackcap sinking lower than a snake," Burgundy Lace revealed. "After Father and Mother died, the scoundrel came up with a more recent will in which Father gave him Lamplight; it was a falsified document, obvious to anyone who knew the circumstances, but it met all the legal claims. Blackcap brought his wife home to Lamplight and gave Blue Pearl and me our walking papers in the bargain."

"But you're at Lamplight now; you must have been able to fight Blackcap's travesty of justice."

"No. We had barely enough jangles to find a place to live once we found ourselves homeless. Fortunately, we were able to find not only a place to live but also jobs in Frostmont."

"Why didn't you let me know? I could've helped you!" an anguished Pinto maintained.

"You were gone... and you never looked back," stated Burgundy Lace without emotion.

Patting the distressed stallion's hoof, Blue Pearl offered him some assurance. "We got along quite well, considering," she assured him. "We found a cozy little apartment that we furnished quite comfortably, and our jobs at the elementary school and the library were very fulfilling; the ponies of Frostmont accepted us into their hearts and homes and provided us with a loving, caring extended family. All those foals we watched grow up..." She shook her head over the memories and smiled. "It was all for the best, leaving Lamplight. We'd have missed so much."

"So, if you were happy in Frostmont, how is it that you came back to Lamplight? What became of Blackcap?"

"Blackcap is clever, but he is not an astute businesspony," Burgundy Lace snorted. "He spent every jangle he inherited and then was forced to leave Lamplight for lack of funds, among other things."

"Several years ago, the Bubbling Springs town council had to decide what to do with the place. Abandoned, it was falling into disrepair and becoming an eyesore," Blue Pearl related. "With the help of Willy and a friend from Birdsong, we were appointed to administer the funds the town allotted for the restoration and upkeep of Lamplight as a museum; Buck and Willy made sure that some rooms were set aside for us to live in, so we were truly back in our family home. This, too, has proven to be a blessing, as we discovered the existence of a charming niece who has brought the gift of family back to us." She giggled, casting a wry glance at her sister. "And we have taken a step or two to forgive Blackcap for what he did; his daughter is proof that he must have some goodness in him, although even he wouldn't admit that."

"This niece... she's a bright red filly?"

"However did you know?" Blue Pearl gasped.

Pinto chuckled. "I met her at a school function in Dream Valley; I believe she engineered my visit here in a very subtle manner... somewhat like her father, is she?"

Blue Pearl's yes was almost drowned out by Burgundy Lace's emphatic no, but the two sisters exchanged a congenial glance, and even Burgundy Lace was hard pressed not to laugh when they learned of Garnet's gentle prodding that had evoked a longing in Pinto to visit Lamplight once more.

* * *
It had been a restless night for Burgundy Lace with a surfeit of memories having been resurrected due to Pinto's visit; the hour had been late when she had finally drifted off to sleep. Upon arising the next morning, she found that a good part of the day had already slipped by which deepened her annoyance; not only had she suffered a disturbing slumber, but she had now fallen behind schedule. She hated to start the day feeling so listless and out of control.

Muttering to herself, she surveyed the suite of rooms that housed her and Blue Pearl, hoping to find a ready target on which to unload her tattered sensibilities. Seeing no sign of her sister, however, Burgundy Lace had to contain her fractiousness and checked the calendar so see what events were on the agenda; grateful to find that her only obligation was a visit from the local Benevolent Society, she poured herself a cup of coffee and sat at the kitchen table with a pen and paper to organize a grocery list for the weekly shopping.

* * *
Tapping the pen against her chin, Burgundy Lace reviewed the grocery list before her. She was forgetting something... what was it? She took a sip of hot tea and her eyes strayed to the window as she searched her memory. Outside, the arrival of spring was beginning to show in the fattening buds on the stark trees and the swaying, colorful blossoms of the tulips, daffodils, and crocus that bordered the garden path. She loved this time of year with all of nature sending out new life to cover the earth with beauty. The mare unconsciously smiled, the view was so hopeful.

The smile, however, soon became a thoughtful frown as Blue Pearl came into view... accompanied by Pinto. The two of them were walking slowly, deep in conversation. The pearly white hair of Blue Pearl swung close to the stallion as she leaned toward him with a response that Pinto must have found endearing, for he bent toward the flowers and picked a bright yellow daffodil which he then gave to the mare. She accepted the posy with a smile and- Burgundy Lace was sure of this- an accompaniment of fluttering eyelashes. The couple then continued their stroll, moving out of Burgundy Lace's range.

"Well," huffed Burgundy Lace. "So that's the way of things, is it?" She got up from the table, marched to the sink, rinsed her empty cup, and stalked out of the living quarters into the museum. "I spent a miserable night mulling over a stallion who has his sites set on Blue Pearl," she muttered under her breath. "Harumph!"

The mare's glance was so menacing that Willy wisely remembered a chore he had to attend to in the far reaches of the house and took himself off post haste.

* * *
It was lunchtime before the two mares had a chance to talk.

"Did you sleep well, Lacey? I didn't want to wake you, for I'd heard you wandering around several times during the night and thought it best to let you sleep while you could," Blue Pearl offered solicitously.

"You know I hate oversleeping," Burgundy Lace snapped. "Plus, I noticed that one of my prize King Alfred daffodils has disappeared since yesterday. Have you any idea what became of it?"

"Oh, <>that," Blue Pearl giggled like a school-filly. "Pinto stopped by to see how we fared after our night out last evening and..."

"We ate a quiet dinner... not ran in the derby," Burgundy Lace spat.

Another giggle tinkled from Blue Pearl. "He was just being courteous, something a pony doesn't see a lot of anymore." Blue Pearl sighed. "We were quoting from poems of springtime, and Wordsworth's host of golden daffodils came up... that's why he picked me the daffodil. I put it in a vase in the library."

"Well, if he gets the urge to pick any more of my flowers, please remind him that they're there for the visitors to the museum to enjoy, not for his own personal whims."

"The flowers out front, maybe, but this was from our garden!"

"That's beside the point!"

Blue Pearl looked at her sister with offended dignity. "You must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed," she sniffed and swept out of the room.

* * *
Both Willy and Blue Pearl managed to avoid Burgundy Lace's thundering expression until the museum was closed and locked for the night. The two sisters ate their meal in quiet tension and were just finishing up tidying the kitchen when Blue Pearl observed, "Pinto will be here soon."

"Whatever for?" gaped Burgundy Lace, drying her hooves on a towel.

"He's escorting us down to the ice cream shop; Willy wanted Pinto to meet his family, and included us in the party."

"Why wasn't I informed of this earlier?"

"Well, admit it, Lacey; you've been a regular grouch all day... not at all like you should be, what with having Pinto back in Bubbling Springs and all."

"It's not by my invitation that Pinto's back," growled Burgundy Lace.

"No one invited him; he just showed up... and for that I'm very grateful. It's nice to have an old friend around with whom one can be honest and open, especially someone as warm and congenial as Pinto." Blue Pearl assumed what could only be called a dreamy expression. "Surely you haven't forgotten how charming he can be."

"It was me he wanted to marry, remember!"

"Yes, it was," Blue Pearl acknowledged, turning from her sister to go answer the knock at the door. With a brilliant smile, she admitted Pinto.

* * *
"Your daughter's a little sweetheart, Willy," said Pinto, holding the adorable year-and-a-half year old foal on his lap while she worked on an ice cream cone. "She takes after her mother, of course," he added, winking at the yellow Honeybee.

"She has her father's eyes," offered Blue Pearl, smiling at the young stallion. "They sparkle in just the same way as her dad's when they're ready for mischief."

"I haven't gotten into mischief for years," argued Willy.

Honeybee rolled her eyes. "Baby Honeycomb didn't raid the cookie jar all by herself overnight," she accused.

"That wasn't mischief," defended Willy. "We were hungry."

"At three o'clock this morning?"

"She woke up and couldn't get back to sleep until we had a snack; then she zonked right out."

"Burgundy Lace was restless last night, too," revealed Blue Pearl. "I, however, had very sweet dreams." The look she sent Pinto was sugar-laced, causing her sister to choke on a sip of her drink.

"You've always been able to sleep like the dead," accused Burgundy Lace.

"Only when I'm completely satisfied with life," countered Blue Pearl. "And right now, I think it has never looked more promising."

How could her sister so blatantly throw herself at Pinto, wondered Burgundy Lace, feeling some embarrassment for Blue Pearl's forwardness. No one else at the table seemed to take offense at the mare's unbridled optimism. Pinto, in fact, was grinning like a mooncalf. Burgundy Lace found the attitude of the two quite disgusting- so much so that when Pinto transferred his attention to her and winked, Burgundy Lace only returned a disapproving scowl.

* * *
Burgundy Lace awoke the next morning with a headache. She sat up and rested her throbbing head on her hooves. What was happening to her that her normal levelheadedness was so roiled? She groaned as the walk home last evening with Pinto came back to mind. Her sister had prattled on and on about the days long gone when Pinto had first been in Bubbling Springs, recalling every dinner he had shared at their home and every public affair they had attended, down to the conversations that had ensued.

Easing herself out of bed, the mare stared at herself in the mirror and grimaced; her restless nights were beginning to show on her face where dark circles framed her eyes. Running a hoof through her mane to dissolve the worst tangles, she knew that she had to face the facts: Pinto had not retained any of the affection he had once held for her; and going one step further, he had transferred that affection to Blue Pearl. Their was no point in denying the fact any longer. The faint flame of hope that had kindled within her when she had first seen Pinto at Lamplight sputtered and died. Once more, she was forced to deny her own feelings and bow to the needs of another. So be it. She would put the stallion out of her mind.

Finishing her morning grooming, Burgundy Lace was about to step into the living room when her progress was arrested by a giggle from Blue Pearl. Burgundy Lace stopped in her tracks. That sound was becoming progressively more revolting to her each day. She leaned against the wall to gather her wits about her and heard Blue Pearl's voice again.

"Seven o'clock?"

As there was no response before Blue Pearl giggled again, Burgundy Lace deduced that her sister was talking on the telephone... and it was quite obvious to whom.

"How enterprising, Pinto. The old wishing well in the park has always been the traditional spot for a romantic tryst. Until seven, then."

Beating a hurried retreat back to her room, Burgundy Lace waited until she heard Blue Pearl go on to the museum proper before she came out again. She just could not face her sister. Not now.

* * *
"Oh! Lacey, Willy, I've been looking all over for you!" Blue Pearl called, hurrying down the curving staircase to the front entry where the two ponies had just said goodbye to the latest tourists. Holding some lengths of drapery in each front hoof, the mare was obviously caught in the throes of decorating. "I'd like you're advice..."

As Burgundy Lace and Willy watched, horrified, one of Blue Pearl's back hooves got tangled in the trailing fabric and the blue mare lost her balance, toppling down the last two steps and landing awkwardly on the floor. "Ohhh!" she wailed in obvious distress. "My ankle!"

Willy was on the spot immediately, helping the mare to sit upright on the bottom step before he began examining the ankle in question.

"Don't touch it!" Blue Pearl gasped, pushing Willy's hoof away and swathing the injured part of her leg in the curtain material that had caused the mishap. "It hurts too badly."

"Maybe it's broken," fussed Burgundy Lace, sitting on the step next to her sister. "Willy, send for the doctor."

"No!" Blue Pearl almost shrieked. Blushing, she repeated somewhat more calmly, "No, Lacey. You know I don't like to be prodded and poked like some lab specimen." She put a minimal amount of pressure on the injured hoof and fought down a groan. "I'm sure it's not broken, only sprained." She looked up at Willy and her sister and a tear ran down her cheek. "Please, just help me to my room and I'll lie down for awhile."

Exchanging worried glances, Willy and Burgundy Lace got on either side of Blue Pearl and helped her to stand and then guided her slowly and carefully to her room and eased her down onto her bed, lifting the throbbing ankle gently and settling it on a pillow. Willy then ran off to retrieve an ice pack from the freezer, returning with it so quickly that Burgundy Lace had barely had time to locate the elastic bandage from the medicine chest.

"If you won't let us fetch Dr. Bonesetter, at least let me examine your ankle, Pearl," Burgundy Lace pleaded.

Stubbornly, Blue Pearl shook her head. "No. It's fine just the way it is."

"Stop being such a baby," admonished Burgundy Lace, reaching to undo the temporary swirl of drapery fabric to check on any swelling; but Blue Pearl yelped and suddenly sat up. Grabbing the ice pack and the dressing, she attended to her own injury, winding the beige roll around and around her ankle with more speed than expertise, then propping the ice pack against it and covering it all with the blanket that Burgundy Lace had supplied. Satisfied, she lowered herself down again and smiled sweetly at her two nurses.

"Th... thank you. I'll be fine now. It's feeling much better already." Then, her eyes drifted shut.

Tucking the blanket more snugly around her sister, then smoothing down the mare's hair in a caring gesture, Burgundy Lace stood looking down at Blue Pearl's now peaceful features. Motioning Willy to follow her from the room, she flashed the stallion a puzzled look. "If I hadn't seen it happen, I'd say Pearl hit her head when she fell. I always thought she had a tender for Dr. Bonesetter and would have jumped at the chance to have him fussing... well, that was before..."

When the mare did not go on, Willy assumed the puzzled look. "Before what?" he asked.

But Burgundy Lace did not reply. She stood looking out the window, and Willy wisely left her with her thoughts. "This proves it," she whispered to herself. "Blue Pearl is in love with Pinto."

* * *
Checking on her sister before starting a simple supper, Burgundy Lace found the mare sitting up with several pillows behind her back, the injured hoof peaking out from beneath the blankets.

"Oh, Lacey, I need your help," the mare pouted.

"I thought you were asleep, or I'd have come in sooner." Burgundy Lace straightened the covers. "What can I do for you?"

"I tried to take a step or two on my hoof, but it hurts like the dickens."

"You want Dr. Bonesetter to look at it then?"

"Oh, no, Lacey." A soft blush diffused across Blue Pearl's cheeks. "It's just that... well... I promised Pinto that I'd meet him in the park at seven, and now I won't be able to make it."

"Why didn't you arrange to meet with him here?"

Her cheeks growing redder yet, Blue Pearl dropped her gaze. "That wouldn't have been as romantic, now, would it?"

Burgundy Lace sighed. Wanting to snap at her sister, telling her she was too old for such nonsense, she said instead, "No, I guess it wouldn't." She patted Blue Pearl's hoof. "You want me to call him and explain?"

"No! No, he... he was... going to be out... all afternoon. You'll have to go to the park yourself." Seeing that Burgundy Lace was stiffening for a blunt refusal, Blue Pearl begged. "Oh, please, Lacey! There's no reason to leave him standing in the park waiting. It's not far and the weather is beautiful. Please?"

"I was just going to fix something to eat."

Looking at the clock, Blue Pearl looked shocked. "It's almost seven already! We can eat when you get back. I'm not hungry... really, I'm not." A rumble from her stomach put lied to that statement, but Burgundy Lace ignored it, seeing that Blue Pearl was becoming agitated.

"All right, Pearl. I'll get you some fruit juice to tide you over, then I'll carry your message to Pinto." She narrowed her gaze. "I'm sure he'll want to come back here to make sure you're really okay."

Blue Pearl's concerned face smoothed in satisfaction. "That's fine, Lacey. Just don't let him think he's been jilted. Oh, and he'll be waiting by the wishing well."

* * *
Mumbling to herself about playing messenger for an aging Romeo and Juliet, Burgundy Lace's own heart lurched when she spotted Pinto leaning against the stonework wishing well. "Lot of good it did us," she muttered, remembering a time when both she and Pinto had fed their jangles into the murky depths of the font. She waved her hoof as Pinto spotted her and brought her own emotions under control.

"Lacey, this is a pleasant surprise," purred the stallion, coming to meet her.

"Not so pleasant, I'm afraid." She slithered her hoof from his grasp. "Blue Pearl stumbled down the stairs earlier and injured her ankle."

"She did, did she?" Pinto's eyes sparkled, showing no concern. "She's been properly tended to, I assume."

"She refused to see the doctor," Burgundy Lace bristled, "but she was adamant that you not be kept here waiting. She is a compassionate soul, you see," strongly suggesting that Pinto was not.

Chuckling, Pinto shook his head. "Lacey, Lacey. It's been thirty years. Can't you put the past behind you and live for today?"

"Not when my sister is pining away for you back in her bed..." Oh, gosh, that sounded forward! Burgundy Lace bit her lip. "...I mean, back at Lamplight!"

Pinto went so far as to laugh out loud. "Blue Pearl is the dearest mare, but pining for me, Lacey? I think not."

"That just goes to show how thick-headed you are, you... you... you unsufferable clod! You'll break her heart and..."

"And what about your heart, Lacey?" Pinto's words were so softly spoken that Burgundy Lace was silenced, trying to determine if he had really said them or if she had conjured them from her imagination. When no more words came, she assumed he had voiced them.

"What does my heart have to do with this?"

Moving closer to the mare, Pinto held her with his gaze. "Your heart responded to mine once upon a time."

"I was young... and easily swayed."

"Too easily, Lacey. You let your father decide your life for you."

"He did what he thought was best!"

"But was it? Can you honestly say that you haven't regretted turning down my proposal?" He had moved closer, so close that Burgundy Lace felt like she was being smothered in feelings that she had not experienced in ages. She put up a hoof to stop his advance, but he only encompassed it in his and drew her to him. "It's been thirty years, Lacey... a lifetime for some species... but we still have a chance to correct our mistake and move forward. Listen to your heart." He lowered his head and kissed her.

For a moment, Burgundy Lace was lost and knew only that this was something that she had longed for forever; but just as quickly, she remembered her sister. With something akin to a growl rumbling in her throat, she slapped Pinto's face. She stepped back and berated the stallion. "How dare you kiss me when you've been leading Blue Pearl to think that she holds a special place in your heart? And don't deny," Burgundy Lace continued when Pinto attempted to defend himself, "that my sister has had stars in her eyes over you since the day you arrived back at Lamplight. I've never seen her so enthused about anyone as she is over you; and I've seen with my own eyes that you've led her on, building up her expectations. And now, to have the audacity to..."

The mare stopped suddenly, for the stallion was grinning at her, completely oblivious to the raking down she was giving him, which only infuriated the mare further. "How can you overlook her feelings as if she is of no account... and with her sitting at home suffering from both a sprained ankle and disappointment at not being able to meet you tonight?"

"I would never take her feelings lightly," Pinto countered. "She's the reason that the two of us are standing here talking."

"Only because she pleaded with me to come, never expecting your duplicity."

"You underrate your sister's acting ability, Lacey."

"You're not making any sense." Burgundy Lace literally glared at Pinto.

"Lacey, the only reason Blue Pearl has stars in her eyes is because she's pleased to think that the two of us have a second chance. She was happy to see me at Lamplight again for your sake, and she was also aware of your coolness toward me and was afraid that you would hold on to past recriminations and send me packing; she asked me to overlook your inhospitality and assured me that, given time, you'd come around."

"My sister and you have been plotting against me?"

"I'm afraid so." Again, that amused grin crossed Pinto's face. "Seeing that you weren't responding to my attempts to captivate you, Blue Pearl suggested that we force a confrontation. That's what this meeting by the wishing well was all about. She thought that if we had a chance to talk privately, you would fall under my charm again."

Burgundy Lace's eyes lowered to venomous slits. "Are you saying that my sister faked her sprained ankle to get me out here with you?"

"That's exactly what I'm saying. Please don't disavow the two of us, not after Blue Pearl has obviously done such a good job of playing her part."

"I should have suspected a rat when she wouldn't let me call Dr. Bonesetter, but I had no reason not to trust her," Burgundy Lace replied accusingly, but Pinto was happy to see that her anger was receding.

"Let's forget Blue Pearl for a moment. It would be a shame to waste this rendezvous arguing."


Pinto chuckled. "Would you like to sit down, Lacey?" The stallion gestured to a nearby wooden bench backed by some budding bushes.

"If the two of you have gone to so much work to bring this meeting off, I guess I should allow you a hearing," the mare consented, casting a sideways glance at Pinto.

When the two were seated, Pinto cleared his throat. "Lacey, there are a couple of things I'd like to explain."

"I'm listening."

"Thirty years ago, I was very much in love with you; but I was also too young to understand the predicament your father had put you in when he convinced you that Lamplight was to be your responsibility." He held up a hoof to stave off Burgundy Lace's defense of her father. "If I had been mature enough to think clearly, I would have kept in touch with you and your family in an effort to change your mind... and your father's. But my pride had received a hard blow, and I thought I could hurt you best by burning all my bridges behind me and leaving you to mourn your mistake."

He grinned wryly. "I, therefore, wasn't aware that you and Blue Pearl could have used my help; and through all the intervening years, I only succeeding in hurting myself. I've had all the excitement and adventures I dreamed of, but I've never had anyone to closely share them with me. You, at least, had Blue Pearl."

"You, certainly, have many friends in the academic world."

"Friends, yes, but not family... not a special someone who could have been there for me day in and day out- and someone I could have supported in turn. Never a day went by that I didn't think of you." Pinto turned to face the mare. "When your niece mentioned her relationship to the ponies of Lamplight, it was as if my entire life settled into place.

"You see, I have been wanting to write my memoirs and had been thinking about the best place to retire to collect my notes and organize my thoughts; and the one place that kept coming to mind was Bubbling Springs where I had done my first serious research- and, in the process, had met you. When Garnet offered me that subtle hint about her aunts, it was as if she sensed my dilemma and presented me with a solution.

"What I need from you, Lacey, is an affirmation that you will, at least, not resent my presence in Bubbling Springs. We did make a wish once, and it could still come true," he reminded her, gesturing toward the wishing well.

Lifting her tear-lined lashes to meet his gaze, Burgundy Lace gave him a wobbly smile. "It would be pleasant to have you in town again."

"Good. I can make my plans. I have a conference to attend in New Pony- I'll be leaving first thing in the morning- but then I'll make arrangements to come back here. Caraway has dropped several hints that the rooms I'd commissioned for the last few days are available for a longer lease."

"Knowing Caraway as I do, that doesn't surprise me," Burgundy Lace retorted.

"Why, Lacey, that sounds like a jealous jibe; that bodes well for me, I think."

"Harumph!" scoffed Burgundy Lace, but the devastating smile she delivered and the sparkle in her eye told Pinto all he needed to know.

Silent are the Bells
by Sugarberry (

Chapter 27 of 28
A Fresh Focus

"Why the ledge?" queried Sloan as he pulled Dorian to a safer point some distance from the cliff and plopped down on the wet ground beside him. "It's not the only spot around Whitehall to stage something like this." From where they sat at the edge of the lighted area, they could watch the officers and rescue personnel as they prepared to go down the cliff to rescue Hazard.

"Give me a break," returned Dorian, then thought better of it as his recently healed foreleg began throbbing in complaint of too much exertion. He grimaced. "I had to think fast when I found Hazard in my apartment; I used his own plan against him. Not very original, I'm afraid."

"Your using Godfrey's Gallop to warn me was quite original," Sloan countered. "I didn't know what was happening, but I knew it must be something important."

"I'm just glad that you understood enough to bring in the troops," admitted Dorian.

He and Sloan shared a long look, and then both stallions broke out laughing.

Back in their days at Pembroke, there had been one professor whose classes had gained a reputation for being the most boring ever endured. His name was Godfrey; and all his students knew that after a hard night, they could count on his class providing a quality nap time.

Godfrey, however, knew of his student's notions of his teaching style and, to keep them alert, had devised a simple method of guaranteeing their attention. At random times, he would switch from his wearying lecture and devise a court case for the class to represent. Any student could be chosen to enact any number of scenarios in front of their classmates, complete with all legal explanations of the proceedings, requiring them to stay on top of the current topics of discussion.

This technique did keep the first class of the morning alert, but these students were then willing to warn the ensuing classes of what to expect. This sharing of information became known as Godfrey's Gallop, and any law student at Pembroke knew upon hearing those two code words that something of import was to be expected of him. For Sloan this night, it had meant the difference between him and Dorian facing Hazard alone or having the Whitehall Police Department behind them.

"Seriously, Dorian, setting this up so Hazard could be captured will go a long way to relieve Brietta and her family."

"It's the least I could do, seeing as how I got Brie into this mess." He stopped momentarily. "Did you get a chance to talk to her after I left?"

"No. She'd fallen asleep, and Lena didn't want to bother her."

"That's too bad. I'd like to know what she's thinking."

"Yeah. Me too."

Both stallions sank into a period of deep contemplation as they sorted out this latest turn of events when a young officer approached them, breaking into their silence.

"Chief Roberts thought you'd like to know that the first responders didn't find Hazard at the foot of the cliff."

"What?" both stallions chorused, jumping to their hooves.

"He went over the edge; he has to be there!" Dorian shouted.

"They found blood, so he's wounded; Office Neil has the dogs tracking him now."

Dorian crashed his hoof into a nearby tree, instantly regretting that decision as a searing pain shot up his foreleg. He leaned heavily against the tree. "Will this nightmare never end?"

As if in answer, the sound of barking dogs came to them from beyond the ledge and several shouts from officers echoed through the darkness. Then, once again, relative quiet reigned. The officer who had been with them scurried to join his comrades, and it was agonizing minutes before Sloan and Dorian received the final word.

Hazard was finally under guard and securely bound.

* * *
It was well past the midnight hour rendezvous when Dorian and Sloan joined the cavalcade heading back to Whitehall and near morning before the two had finished Officer Neil's grilling questions. An officer had been sent to Whitehall Place to notify the Mannings that the perpetrator of the abduction of Brietta was under lock and key with only Trey remaining to be found, and that event was forthcoming.

Even with the shortness of the night, both young stallions showed up for work on time, to be met by Conrad with the news that Aiden was spending the day with Lena and Brietta; Colly was told to schedule any new business for later in the week and cancel any appointments that could be conveniently rescheduled.

The headline news of the capture of Hazard and the late-breaking report of Trey's arrest in Excelsior kept the citizens of Whitehall busy enough without tending to their normal business affairs which helped Manning and Associates to clear the late afternoon hours from their calendars and close up the law offices early.

After a carefully worded request by Sloan, he and Dorian were granted permission by Conrad to accompany him to Whitehall Place and check on Brietta's progress; neither stallion was content to hear the earlier reports conveyed by phone by Aiden. They were anxious to see for themselves that the mare was recovering from her harrowing experience.

Both stallions were due for a disappointment. Brietta remained confined to her room, and Lena was adamant that the mare not be disturbed. Tomorrow, she assured Sloan and Dorian, they would be welcome to join the family for dinner; hopefully, Brietta would be feeling strong enough to come downstairs by then.

In no position to barter, two discouraged stallions headed back to Whitehall.

"Finella wouldn't take my calls today," Dorian admitted to Sloan. "Did you try to contact her?"

"I had no luck either."

"Neither of them will talk to us," groaned Dorian. "What a fix we're in."

"It was easier to face Hazard," Sloan wryly commented.

"How can we straighten things out if they won't talk to us?"

"Give them time; this entire affair is so tangled that we each need to step back and get a fresh focus."

"Time! I hate having that word flung in my face! And I was crass enough to use it as an excuse with Brie when I had amnesia- it would take more time, I told her. Then after I admitted to her that I didn't love her anymore, I told her she'd get used to the idea in time. Now that I'm on the other side, I wonder that she didn't smite me on the spot."

Sloan had no ready response; he was too busy mentally berating himself for having let too much time pass as well.

Dorian took advantage of his friend's silence to bare his own soul.

"After I came to work here in Whitehall but before I met Brie, I pictured her as a formidable, rigid, close-minded mare... and you know why?" He did not wait for an answer. "Because you had never talked about her, and I figured she must be some kind of shrew for you to disregard her. But she was the boss' daughter, so I was going to play up to her; I ingratiated myself with Lena and Anna so that I could sit next to her at her welcome home dinner. I couldn't believe my eyes when she walked into the room- a veritable goddess.

"I thought you were crazy, Sloan, to let her go. But I took my good fortune and ran with it, because I truly had fallen in love with her. And she seemed to like me, too! Me, Dorian Adams, the stallion who had never had a close female friend in his life. And here was this beauty who responded to me. I couldn't believe my luck and made the most of it."

"She loved you, too," Sloan reminded him.

"Yes, at least she thought she did. I saw right away that something wasn't right between you and Brie; that bothered me, but Brie assured me that it was all old stuff, so I let myself go and get committed to her for life; we were both so happy that I could no longer see that she and you shared something that I could never attain. You had a history together, a history that bound you together as surely as that diamond ring bound Brie and me.

"With the amnesia, I could see things more clearly again. It was apparent from my perspective that she and you meant more to one another than just friends. I wondered why she chose me... and why you didn't pack her off and marry her while you had the chance years ago.

"Now I have my memory back, and I can see things from both sides. I still love Brie; and I imagine I always will hold her in a special spot in my heart. But I know now that she and you were meant for each other; I knew it the first time I laid eyes on her, I suppose, but the field was open; and I saw my chance to finally break out of my misspent childhood for good and become the stallion I always dreamed of being...with a beautiful wife at my side, a great job, and respect from the community. But if I went ahead with this now, knowing that you were Brie's first love, I'd always wonder if Brie had some hidden desires that I couldn't meet... because of you, Sloan."

Sloan tried to speak, but Dorian wasn't finished.

"You and Brietta are the two most important ponies in my life; you've both given me unconditional love, something that I knew little about until I had the fortune to run into you at Pembroke. You showed me how to get along at law school, you stood behind me to get me a position with Manning and Associates, you recognized my need for help with Hazard. And because of all those things, I'm stepping out of the contest. Hazard's out of the way now, so Brietta can get her life back on track. And you, buddy, better be there for her; if you let her slip away this time, I'll make her my wife before you can blink an eye."

"And what of you, Dorian, if Brietta will have me back?"

"I'll survive, Sloan. I'm not saying it's going to be easy, but I'll make it."

"And Finella?"

Dorian shrugged. "She and I both have to start over again, I guess." He grinned reassuringly. "I'm willing if she is."

* * *
The next day crawled by for Dorian and Sloan, both looking forward to dinner at Whitehall Place and their first encounter with Brietta since they had found her unconscious in the bell tower. Dorian had again met with silence when he tried to contact Finella, putting him into a dismal mood. Sloan, knowing more of the situation between himself and Brietta where Finella was concerned, knew he had his work cut out for him and therefore shared Dorian's melancholy spirit.

This evening, their patience was rewarded. Brietta was sitting in the living room in a chair near Aiden and Conrad when the two stallions arrived and were shown in by Clarence. Her green eyes were clear, but had a deep sadness about them that made them appear large in a face that had lost its normal glow of vitality; having been unable to eat for days, the mare had lost weight, making her appear more susceptible to outside forces than ever. Her normally curly hair was straight and simply coifed.

Those sad green eyes were directed at the stallions as they came to Brietta across the room, and Dorian and Sloan were dismayed to see that not only did those eyes convey despondency but also fear- nor was there a welcome smile to greet them, only a set look of determination that somehow she would make it through this confrontation without being further scarred. It jolted both stallions from their own private miseries to see the mare so downcast.

Assuming a confidence he did not feel, Dorian greeted Brietta with a light kiss on the cheek which she shrunk back from.

"I'm sorry, Brie, for causing you so much pain," he said softly, taking her hoof in his. His gaze lingered on the rope burns that still looked raw and red, then he met her eyes. "I'm completely to blame for all of this."

The mare shook her head, retrieving her hoof from his possession. "No, don't feel that way. We both made... mistakes."

She turned her attention to Sloan, her gaze settling on him with the same emptiness that it had on Dorian. "I owe the two of you my gratitude for bringing Hazard and Trey to justice. Thank you." Her glance encompassed them both, then sank to rest on her clasped hooves, a silent dismissal.

Whether Clarence had been watching for just such a clue or if his timing was merely coincidence, he now announced that dinner was ready. Conrad offered his assistance to his granddaughter, and she gratefully accepted his support as they walked to the dining room. Sloan and Dorian exchanged a concerned glance as they realized how frail Brietta appeared.

The talk around the table first centered on the cooler autumn weather that had engulfed the area, more typical for the time of year than the unseasonably warm weather before... the storm. This led to the rundown of some community events that were approaching, everyone steering clear of the date that had been set for Brietta and Dorian's wedding day. Lena shared some anecdotes of Shayla's two foals, then the stallions began a discussion of business-related happenings. Through it all, Brietta remained silent.

The mare sat at her place, busy with the food on her plate but eating only a smidgeon of it. The rest she expertly moved and reorganized, giving the impression that she was eating. This mission got her full attention as she ignored the prattle around her, only looking up at odd intervals as if to verify that the others were still in her presence.

By the time Anna brought out the dessert, Sloan and Dorian were so discomposed by Brietta's attitude that they would have bolted from the table if their manners had allowed it. As it was, Aiden drew them away to the study to have a talk with them where Dorian and Sloan sat like soon-to-be chastised school foals.

But Aiden placed no blame for his daughter's depression.

"As you can see, Brietta is having trouble coming to grips with her situation. The doctors assure us that physically, she is fine; but she is terribly despondent. Dr. Kearn has talked with her several times without success, and Brietta refuses any medication."

"I thought she'd be angry," Dorian stated. "I thought she'd want to wring my neck. I was ready for some scathing remarks, not this lethargy. I'd rather have had her pound me with her hooves than this."

"I agree with you on that," sighed Aiden. "Anger would spend itself, but this depression keeps drawing her deeper."

"May I talk with her privately?" queried Sloan.

Aiden did not answer, and Sloan thought the pony was lost in his own suffering over his daughter; but eventually he responded.

"It might be a good idea for both of you to talk to her individually. Dr. Kearn suggested that she should come face-to-face with her fears and her disappointments, but Lena is hesitant to put her through that. But as I see no improvement in Brietta while we protect her from the world, I'm ready to try a more direct approach." Having made that decision, he got to his hooves, anxious to give it a try. His gaze came to rest on Dorian. "I think you have some explaining to do; I'll bring Brietta to you here."

As Aiden and Sloan left the room, Dorian got up and began pacing back and forth. Only two days before, he and Brietta's family had been holed up here waiting for word from her abductors; how each of them had wanted her back in the fold of her family! Now she was among them again, but she was not the same Brietta. Dorian could only blame himself, yet he was at a loss to know what to say to Brietta that would set things right again. He was so engrossed in his own worries that he was not aware of Brietta's presence until he heard the click of the door closing; he turned and came face-to-face with his angst.


Guiding her to a chair, Dorian settled Brietta, then pulled another chair close and sat and contemplated the mare he had been willing- and unwilling- to marry. She would not look him in the eye.

"Brie, I want you to understand that I would never have ended our engagement if I hadn't lost my memory. I've regained all those missing months now, and I realize what a precious gift your love was. Given time," he flinched as he said that word, "could you forgive me?"

Brietta flickered a quick glance upward. "I do forgive you."

"Do you love me?"

The mare's eyes flew to meet his, and a glimmer of the vibrancy that was normal for the mare shone forth- and then a veil came over it, and she ducked her head again.


"Brie. This is important. Are you sure?" Taking her hoof in his, he drew her closer to him; with his other hoof, he gently raised her chin; and he kissed her... a gentle but persuasive act. When he drew back, he knew her answer had been sincere.

"So... this is where it ends for us. I can accept that, Brie; but only on one condition. I want you to be honest with yourself about your feelings for Sloan. I know that he's very much in your heart- maybe now is the time to let him know that."

He touched her face- one last time- and left the room.

* * *
Sloan stood in the doorway for a moment before entering the study. He knew that his future rested on this interview with Brietta, and he was afraid of the outcome. One nod from Dorian as they passed in the hall was all it took to know that his friend had set the stage for him; now it was up to Sloan to present his own case.

The mare was still sitting where Dorian had left her, and Sloan crossed to fill the vacant chair. Brietta remained distant, shrinking into herself, becoming more difficult to reach. Sloan longed to bring her back to life.

"Is this the little girl who could always swing higher, run faster, and scream louder than Shayla and me?" he asked in the most positive voice he could muster. Getting no response, he tried again.

"I'm here to plead a case, Brietta- my own. Will you hear me out?"

No answer came, but neither did she try to leave. Sloan continued.

"I made some bad decisions in connection with you and me in the past. I made a disastrous mistake all those years ago at the dance when I cut you off by flouting Finella before you as if my feelings for you had somehow altered in the course of a heartbeat."

Finally, he had gotten a reaction. Brietta flinched at Finella's name.

"My excuse is so flimsy that I've never been able to admit it to you or to anyone else, not even Dorian. If I had, you and he would have been spared this agony you're going through now. And this has been as hard for Dorian as it has been for you, Brietta; he did love you..." For a moment, Sloan was satisfied to end that point there, but his inherent honesty forced him to add, "... maybe he still does."

Sloan was making progress. Brietta shook her head in the negative, but she still refused to meet his gaze.

"Pride has been my failing. My pride wouldn't suffer anyone's speculation that Aiden and Conrad were more influenced by our relationship than by my talent and knowledge... my ability in the field of law... when considering my place in Manning and Associates. You see, Barney Krebs had knocked down my own self-worth by informing a group of my college buddies that I had it made because I was going to marry into a ready-made career because of you; he maintained that no matter what my talent or my understanding would be while I was at law school, Aiden and Conrad would allow me in their firm because you and I were expected to marry some day.

"I shouldn't have let it bother me, but my pride got in the way of my common sense. The idea that I was unimportant by myself and only valuable as an extension of you began to eat away at my self-worth. I brought Finella to that dance at the high school before I left for Pembroke so that you would become so angry with me that you would end our friendship. I succeeded better than I had hoped, Brietta. I gave you reason to hate me."

Brietta flashed a look at Sloan that was unreadable, then turned her head to scrutinize the blackness out the study window.

"Your father and grandfather then had no reason to favor me as a future son-in-law; as a matter of fact, my action against you could easily have denied me access into their law firm. But I had to know if their interest in me was due to my position with you or because of my own intelligence and achievements. So for those years at Pembroke, I denied myself any contact with you; I drove you away from me so I could prove to myself that I was able to stand on my own.

"And when Aiden and Conrad accepted me into the firm, I was ecstatic- I had made it own my own merit. I had succeeded. But I had driven you away so well that you would have nothing to do with me; I came back to Whitehall and found it empty because you were away at school and refused to see me even on those rare visits you made to your parents. I had done my job so well that even when you came to take your own place in the firm, you wouldn't allow me entrance into your life again. I had made the most horrible mistake of my life by alienating your friendship, Brietta. And in doing it, I drove you into Dorian's life as surely as if I had condoned his falling in love with you.

"And you did fall in love with him; that wasn't wrong- it was the most natural thing in the world. But Dorian's accident changed your future; I'm sorry for the pain that has caused you, but I will not pretend that I'm sorry that it has given me a second chance with you."

Daring to face him, Brietta looked up with a hopeful look on her face.

"As for Finella, she had already planned on getting her residency at Whitehall Hospital when I first met her; that's why I chose her in my ploy to alienate you. We became good friends, but nothing more. She was new to Whitehall and relied on me to acquaint her with ponies and places and traditions that would make her settling in more enjoyable. But we were never more than friends, Brietta. And she was free to see any pony she pleased; she just never met anyone who could catch her interest until after Dorian's accident... when she finally fell in love."

Sloan paused for a moment, then continued. "Remember Kelli and Egan's anniversary dance and the dance we shared?"

"How could I forget," Brietta found the voice to say, although so softly that Sloan was not sure he had heard it or imagined it.

"I left you standing when Finella needed an escort because I knew that I couldn't be responsible for my actions where you were concerned. To have you in my forelegs again made me face how much I had thrown away simply to feed my own pride and ego. My emotions were in turmoil just by the feel of you; I wanted to sweep you off your hooves and carry you away with no thought of what all our old friends would think or say."

"Then why didn't you?" Brietta whispered.

Sloan hung his head. "A sense of honor can be worse than an albatross around one's neck. I've always had to do things in the correct way, at the right time, making no waves. It's a personal curse that lost you to me for what seems like an eternity."

The stallion took both Brietta's hooves in his. "I will not let you slip away now, Brietta. I want us to have learned something from these events that caught us up and do better in the future."

Dropping her gaze to her hooves wrapped in his, Brietta hid the tears that threatened to spill over; but one stray drop escaped and slid down her cheek. Sloan brushed it away, savoring the feel of the mare.

"You know the worst of me now, Brietta."

She looked up to meet his eyes, green watery pools meeting serious grey orbs.

Brietta spoke like a breath of wind.

"Leave me," she said.

Chapter 28 of 28
The Finale

Suffering through the remaining days of the week, Sloan felt as if his world had ended. He went through the motions of life without thinking of anything except the happiness he had thrown away when he had chosen to put his career ahead of his love for Brietta. Her rejection of him had been like a death stroke, but his years of stoic perseverance allowed him to put forth an outward show of calm professionalism while his inner turmoil raged unseen.

The law office of Manning and Associates suffered without Brietta's presence, at least as far as Aiden, Conrad, Sloan, and Dorian were concerned as they missed her pleasant laughter and her bright smile, the light touch that she could deliver to convey a world of meaning, and her optimistic attitude. Colly was gifted with none of those abilities.

It was with an upbeat demeanor, however, that Aiden approached Sloan at the end of the day on Friday. Sloan and Dorian were headed out of the office when Aiden stopped them.

"For your information, Brietta will be returning to her office and her obligations here at Manning and Associates on Monday. Maybe things can settle down to some degree of normalcy after that"

"Brie's really up to it?" queried Dorian.

"She assures us that she is; and from all indications, she seems to be feeling much better. The last few days spent alone have been good for her."

"Tell her that we look forward to having her back," Sloan said, adding rather miserably. "I hope she doesn't find it awkward to be thrown into daily contact with Dorian and me." The expression of his voice indicated that he was going to find it very distracting indeed.

"As to that, Sloan, Brietta asked me to deliver a message to you specifically."

"A message for me?"

"She'd like you to come for breakfast tomorrow morning at eight o'clock."

"Breakfast?" Sloan croaked. "Me?"

"It was a simple enough message," Aiden stated, winking at Dorian in the meantime.

Punching Sloan in the shoulder, Dorian grinned. "Don't mess up this time, buddy."

"The same could be said for you," Sloan retorted; Dorian had made no secret of the fact that Finella had finally accepted a conciliatory invitation to dinner that evening. To Aiden, he added, "Tell Brietta that I'll see her in the morning."

* * *
Daybreak arrived none too soon for Sloan who had spent a restless night reviewing the last encounter he had with Brietta when he had poured out his confession to her and had been dismissed with those harsh words so softly spoken, Leave me. His world had ended then... hadn't it?

Not if Brietta wanted to see him again. Was she willing to forgive him for his past mistakes and take up where they had left off six years ago? That interpretation gave Sloan much hope; but as soon as his thoughts began to travel down that pleasant path, the stallion would butt up against a solid wall of doubt. What if Brietta simply wanted to rake him over the coals, to give him back some of the pain and anguish his words had caused her? That theory did seem more likely than a reconciliation; Brietta's fighting spirit would crave a moment of retaliation.

There was a mood about the very morning, however, that struck Sloan as optimistic; from the time he rolled out of bed until the time he set off for Whitehall Place, he was filled with an agreeable feeling that today was the beginning of something wonderful.

This positive attitude showed in his countenance as he trotted down the lane, each step taking him closer to a genesis of sorts in his life. He had a cheerful greeting for every pony he met on this morning excursion, causing one stallion to comment to his wife, "There's no doubt what's on that stallion's mind."

The very weather seemed to verify Sloan's hopes. The sky was a clear blue, and there was a return of the milder temperatures that had blessed this autumn season. Surely the heavens were smiling down on this day.

It was a very hopeful Sloan who rang the doorbell at Whitehall Place. The door was opened by Clarence, and Sloan met the butler's appearance with a smile.

"Brietta's expecting me," he said, a lilt in his voice.

"I'm sorry, but Miss Brietta isn't here," Clarence intoned.

Sloan was mortified. "But... but..."

Relenting, Clarence grinned. "She's waiting for you by the lake."

"The lake..." Sloan repeated stupidly.

"The lake," Clarence prodded, pointing in the proper direction.

Without another word, Sloan turned back down the steps and made his way across the still green grass toward the back of the house and beyond to the shore of the tranquil lake. He could now see Brietta standing, looking out over the water; as he drew closer, he could see that she had made the effort to curl her hair and had added a bright yellow ribbon that rivaled the soon to drop leaves of the willow tree in the distance. Thinner than was normal for her, the mare had regained her usual glow and her eyes were lucent as they turned to him at his approach; there was a bloom about her that promised renewal.

A sudden shyness struck Sloan in that first moment of their eyes meeting, for a reserve lingered there that squelched some of his optimism. His doubts washed over him once more. Would the wall they had built between them be too strong to tear down? So while longing to take her in his forelegs and hold her close, to assure her that his love for her was real and everlasting, his old reserve held him back. She'll never forgive me, he thought with a sinking heart.

"Thank you for coming," she said, her voice uncertain.

"There's no place else I'd rather be."

A slight blush tinged Brietta's cheeks with becoming color. "I want to apologize for holding you at bay these last few days. I had some thinking to do." She smiled slightly. "After what you did, finding me in the tower and subduing Hazard, I owe you something."

"Your life is far too precious to me to let anything happen to it, Brietta. You know that." He wanted to hug her to him, but he was uncertain of her reaction to such a move. The wall still stood between them.

"Even after I willingly gave my heart to someone else?"

That never stopped my loving you, Sloan wanted to say, but the words he spoke were noncommital. "It reverts back to our early years together, I suppose. You were always chasing after dreams that I couldn't understand."

"It was so simple back then, wasn't it? Even if we got into an argument, we could always laugh at it afterwards."

Reaching out, Sloan traced the contour of her face with his hoof. "It's been so long since I heard you laugh; you need some happiness in your life."

"Is that possible... happiness, I mean?"

Let me show you how it's done, his inner being said; he heard his voice say, "You have a whole lifetime ahead of you for happiness."

"Happiness is transient."

"We don't always make the right decisions."

The two ponies stood looking at one another with an intensity that burned, and Sloan felt all his constraint melt away. Without realizing he was doing it, Sloan brought Brietta to him, hugging her close and burying his face in her sweet-smelling mane. "My darling, darling Brietta. You are the dearest part of my life." Raising his head to look once more into her eyes, he knew there could be no further misunderstanding between the two of them. "I love you. I have always loved you. I always will."

A smile comparable to the breaking of a summer sunrise lit Brietta's face. "You know, Sloan; that's the first time you've admitted that."

"Surely not the first."

"The first." She cocked her head and looked at him pensively. "Why do you love me?"

"Why?" He drank in the look of love from her own eyes; it caused his heart to pound. "Because you are the one pony with whom I feel complete."

"That's it?"

A look of total exasperation crossed Sloan's face. "Am I on trial here?"

Coyly, Brietta returned, "Humor me." There was a sparkle of merriment in the mare's eyes that worked as a tonic on the stallion's recently storm-tossed sensibilities.

"Okay." Claiming her hoof, Sloan took a deep breath and began a purloined list of reasons. "I love you because you make my life worthwhile... the one who can make me laugh and cry, the one who lights up the world around me with a smile, the one I want to face the first thing every morning." Suddenly, realizing just how important this declaration was becoming, Sloan grew serious.

"I want to marry you, to be your husband. I want the two of us to have the rest of our lives together, making up for the years I threw away. I want to have colts and fillies, one of whom will be just like you who will grow up to be as beautiful as her mother and as gentle and loving and full of life- all those things I fell in love with when we were little foals ourselves running everywhere together. And, yes, I want to watch over you as I did then. I want you for my wife. I love you now and forever."

"Well said, for a lawyer," Brietta breathed. "Is there anything else?"

"Will you marry me, Brietta Manning?"

Her response was like a treasure overflowing.

"Yes, I'll marry you, Sloan McClere." She grinned. "And I have it on good authority that the church is free next Saturday."

"That's the day you and..." His eyes widened. "Are you saying that we should get married in one week at the time you and Dorian scheduled?"

"Do you have a problem with that?" asked Brietta, taking a lock of his mane and slowly entwining it.

"My parents would never..." His voice trailed off as his gaze dropped to her hoof in his mane; he shook himself. "... condone such a whirl-wind wedding. Mom would be devastated to lose out in all the planning that she's been looking forward to since... since we were born."

Brietta's hoof continued to explore Sloan's mane, her eyes concentrating on the yellow locks. "My mother tells me that your mother wants..." Her gaze flew to his face, meeting his eyes. "...grandfoals. She'll have her first one much sooner if we marry as soon as possible."

"You're serious! I'm to announce to my parents that I'm getting married in seven days and expect them to accept it?"

"They're coming for breakfast; you can explain it to them then."

"They're coming for breakfast? How did you..." He fixed her with a stern stare as a dawning reality presented itself. "You minx! You set me up!"

"Someone had to prompt you to ask the key question; you'd never have gotten around to it on your own," giggled Brietta, releasing her hold on his mane.

"Why, you little..." He grabbed her as if to shake her.

"I love you, Sloan," she whispered.

His hold on her became gentle as he dipped his head to meet her lips. And something extraordinary happened.

The silent bells of Whitehall Place burst forth in cheerful chorus.

Sloan and Brietta lifted their heads and looked upward at the bell tower... but only for an instant. There was something more important to tend to.

And tend to it they did.

* * *
From the upper windows of Whitehall Place facing the lake, that kiss had quite an audience. Aiden and Lena... Niles and Noreen... Conrad... Anna and Clarence... all had succumbed to a desire to know as soon as possible how the assignation at the lake progressed; putting aside their normal tendency of discretion, they had gathered at this overlook where they could ascertain the outcome immediately.

Noreen had clucked disappointedly when the two young ponies first began their conversation; she coached her son from the distance in disgruntled tones. "Don't just stand there! Show her that you love her!"

When Sloan finally clasped Brietta to him, she murmured approvingly. "That's more like it!" She shook her head disapprovingly, however, when they seemed to drift apart; but when Sloan finally made the effort to kiss the mare, Noreen beamed proudly.

It was then that the bells rang out. All the ponies looked at one another in astonishment, except the oldest stallion.

"This is for you, Myrna," whispered Conrad, a tear tracing a path down his face. "Silent are the bells no more."

**My Little Pony Monthly Policy Statement**

If you have any My Little Pony related submissions, such as stories, articles, polls, games, invento ponies, or anything else, feel free to e-mail them to However, as this is a child-friendly newsletter, any submissions containing any sort of profanity will be rejected. Items for inclusion for next month's issue should be received at least three days before the first of the month to ensure that there is enough time to include them. All submissions are subject to being edited by our proofreaders.
Our next regular issue will be sent May 1, 2004.
Current number of subscribers: 249

Go Back to My Little Pony Monthly Index
Go Back to Tabby's Dream Valley