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Masquerade Party!
written by Tabby, Sugarberry, and Clever Clover


Tabby paced around the entry hall of her mansion on the evening of October 31st, impatiently rapping her folded fan against her hoof. The silk of her kimono rustled as her pace steadily increased. All right, so it wasn’t really silk. Tabby didn’t know what the fabric was, except that it was really pretty and had been murder to sew. Nevertheless, she thought her costume had turned out rather well. Her kimono was a shimmery orange patterned with big lavender flowers. It was tied with a lime green obi and a purple obijime. And actually, Tabby was quite proud of it. Now, would anyone come around to see her in it?!

Tabby had thought a Halloween masquerade party would be a lot of fun. She still thought that, but a party would be more fun if it had guests. And unfortunately all her friends had seemed less than enthused when she had invited them to her party. What a bunch of boring ponies who didn’t like dressing up in costumes! Tabby simmered at the injustice of it all as she recalled the lukewarm to cold acceptances she had received...

* * *
“Sugarberry! Guess what! I’m having a Halloween party!” Tabby had exclaimed after dashing over to her friend’s house to share her latest brainstorm.

Sugarberry smiled. “How... nice.”

“Yes! And you’re invited! You and Vanguard, I mean. You’ll come, won’t you?”

“I’m sure we wouldn’t miss one of your parties,” Sugarberry said warmly.

“Lovely!” Tabby beamed. “What will you go as?”

Sugarberry blinked. “Go as?”

“Duh! Your costume! It is a Halloween party, after all. Everybody has to have a costume! And no one will know who anybody is! It’ll be great!”

“You know I’ve never really been one for costumes,” Sugarberry protested.

“You are so boring,” Tabby pouted.

“What if I just put on a mask?” Sugarberry suggested.

Tabby shook her head. “No-no-no! You don’t get it, Sugarberry! Why won’t you wear a costume?”

“Because... uh... well, a costume makes me feel self-conscious, I guess.”

“Please, Sugarberry! For me?” Tabby pleaded.

“We’ll see,” Sugarberry sighed.

Tabby left Sugarberry’s house that evening in a huff. Why couldn’t her best friend see what fun a costume party was? Tabby loved costumes! They were so much fun! And seeing what everyone else wore... it was fascinating! She just couldn’t understand Sugarberry.

Well, she would pass the invitation on to her other friends. Surely they would be more properly excited about it.

* * *
“No costume, yeah,” Friendly frowned, arms crossed across his chest.

“You could just drape a sheet over your head,” Tabby suggested desperately. “You’d make an adorable little ghost! Why, all you Bushwoolies could do that. Wouldn’t that be cute?”

“I don’t think so, yeah.” Friendly was adamant.

“But why not?”

“No like dressing up, yeah, yeah!”

“But you dressed up at my wedding. You had your little bowtie and that really cool ponytail...”

“Uncomfortable,” Friendly maintained. “No dressing up! Yeah!”

Tabby just scowled.

* * *
“I’ll go to the party, but I’m not wearing a costume,” Spike said after hearing Tabby’s invitation.

Tabby’s heart sank. What was wrong with everyone? “Aww, but why not? I’ll help you come up with something, if that’s the problem. Hey, what about that little suit of armor that’s up in the attic...”

Spike scowled. “Ugh! That’s what Majesty used to make me wear to state occasions. It gets all hot and stuffy inside, and having to keep the face guard up while blowing that trumpet-! No thanks!”

“Sure,” Tabby muttered as the door to Paradise Estate closed in her face.

* * *
“ARR, Tabby! No costume for me!”

“But Barnacle,” Tabby pleaded, “you wouldn’t even need to dress-up. You can just come as a pirate, so you wouldn’t need to do anything to your appearance!” She was getting desperate.

“ARR, well, I guess I’ll be seein’ if I’m in town then.” Barnacle didn’t sound too enthusiastic, though.

* * *
X“A costume ball?” Tiffany’s face brightened as Tabby explained her invitation. “What a lovely idea! What charity are the proceeds going to?”

“Er... none. It’s just going to be a private party, Tiffy. To have fun at. You know?”

“Oh.” With no charitable aspect to look forward to, Tiffany’s enthusiasm deflated. “Well, I’ll need to check my schedule, but I suppose I could come. Maybe you’d think about accepting donations for the food pantry, though? I was just over there the other day offering my time and you wouldn’t believe...”

* * *
Well, to be honest, in recent weeks more ponies seemed to be warming up to the costume idea. But now Tabby was irritated by their closeness in revealing what they were going to be. She had told everyone what her costume was. Why couldn’t they do the same for her? But her pleadings with all her acquaintances to share with her their disguises had yielded very little information.

Why, she didn’t even have a clue what Thomas was going to be, and he had mysteriously vanished after work that afternoon! Tabby didn’t think that was fair in the least. No one in her immediate family had barely touched on the topic of the party in recent days, besides numerous extortions to her not to overexert herself because of her present expectant condition. Now, even if anyone did show up at the party, she wouldn’t know who they were! Oh well, as long as they came...

Just then the doorbell rang. Tabby squealed and ran to answer it. “Greetings! Welcome!” she exclaimed, but her exuberance died down somewhat when she realized who it was. Even with a mask on, the witch’s blue nose and conniving yellow eyes made an easy identification for Tabby. “Oh. Hi.”

“I’m not late, am I?” Marina peered around Tabby’s shoulder. “Hey, where is everybody?”

“Oh, they’re still coming,” Tabby said vaguely, waving her hoof through the air. “Give them time.”

“Tabby,” Marina pouted, her black robes swirling as she advanced into the house, “you said there’d be a lot of cute stallions to choose from here in Dream Valley. Where are they?”

“You have seen them,” Tabby insisted. “You just didn’t like any of them.”

“I have yet to see a truly cute guy around these parts,” Marina huffed.

“What about Hawkley? He is generally considered to be fairly good-looking, I believe.”

“Too young,” Marina dismissed him with the wave of a hoof.

“Then how about Cumin?”

“Ugh! Too old.”

“Mr. Cambrick?”

“Too thin.”

“Blueprint?”

“Too fat.”

“Argh!! Then what sort are you looking for?”

“Oh, I’ll know him when I see him,” Marina said nebulously. “Unfortunately, for that to happen, I’d need to see more stallions.” She glared at Tabby. “There had better be some new faces at this party.”

“You could do some looking on your own, you know,” Tabby muttered. “I don’t see you making any effort to find new guys.”

I’m very busy,” Marina retorted. “You promised me there would be plenty of stallions, so I’m waiting for you to uphold your end of the deal. And now,” she said, prancing off down the hallway, “I imagine Thomas must be around here somewhere so I’m going to find him. Catch ya later!”

Tabby contented herself with a simple glower after Marina’s retreating form, since she already knew Thomas was nowhere to be found on the property. She still didn’t trust Marina where her husband was concerned. Well, at least with Sugarberry’s help she had been able to draft a guest list chock full of single stallions. If only one of them would catch Marina’s attention! But anyway, the doorbell rang against just then, so she turned to admit a couple dressed as Captain John Smith and Pocahontas.

After that, the party started picking up. Tabby was kept busy welcoming more guests, ensuring the refreshment table was well-stocked, and frustrating herself over many of the ponies’ identities. Well, at least she knew Sugarberry. That was easy. No other pony would throw so many flowers and lace onto one ensemble. And the pair of Native Ponies was easy, too. That was Dreamcatcher and Fetish, of course. Dreamcatcher wouldn’t dream of ever doing anything that wasn’t Native Pony. Native Pony this, Native Pony that... you’d think they were the all-important culture! Tabby muttered under her breath.

* * *
Clever Clover knocked on the door to Minoko’s room. “Hey, Minoko, are you sure you don’t want to come to the party?”

“No. Too many ponies. Besides, I don’t have a costume.”

“What about that Ryo suit you wore to the fancy dress ball?”

‘What, you want me to wear the same costume out in public twice? But if you like, I could wear it for you once you get home.”

“Uh, that won’t be necessary. But if you change your mind, you know where to find us.” Clever Clover returned to the living room where Belle Star was waiting for him dressed in a pink bunny suit. Since she had gotten back from her visit with her grandfather and been assigned Clever Clover’s bodyguard, she had also moved into his house, even though there were no more rooms. Minoko refused to share her room, so Belle Star slept on the couch.

“Well, Minoko’s not coming and Morning Glory is going to meet us there,” said Clever Clover as he pulled a black executioner’s hood over his head. He threw his axe over his shoulder and headed for the door. “Let’s go.”

Belle Star bounded after him. “Oh! I’m so excited! Parties are so much fun! I can’t wait to see all the pretty costumes!”

* * *
“Who’s the bosky-looking pony over there?” asked Leafy of Cocklebur. From the younger crowd, Tabby had only technically invited Noddins and Cocklebur. But of course, that meant their buddies had to tag along as well, most notably Leafy, Falling Leaves, and Leaper. Tabby just shook her head at them and hoped the “baby ponies”- who were now well into their twelfth year- would behave themselves.

The colt looked in the direction of Leafy’s gaze and quicky picked out who she was referring to- a rather bulky pony with some odd bulges and a jerky gait that gave the impression that his joints were loose. “Weird,” Cockleburr said as the strange pony disappeared into the crowd of revelers. His curiosity kindled, he suggested, “Let’s follow him.”

The two youngsters caught up with their quarry quite easily as the pony staggered often and seemed to have a difficult time righting himself, the problem stemming from the shortness of his legs for the size of his body. Cockleburr was puzzled. “The pony isn’t wearing a costume, but he doesn’t look familiar.”

“He shows up in a crowd, so he’d be difficult to forget,” giggled Leafy as the mystery pony bumped into a potted plant, causing a distinct shortening of his body length.

“Hmm...” grinned Cockleburr. “I wonder...” Grabbing Leafy’s hoof, he pulled the filly quickly across the room until they were standing directly in front of the unsteady wanderer. “Leafy,” the colt then said, “how about we get something to eat and drink?”

“But I thought...” began Leafy, but she stopped as Cockleburr inclined his head several times in the direction of the buffet table. She shrugged her shoulders. “Yeah, I guess I’m hungry.”

* * *
Morning Glory stood by the door in a sparkly fairy princess costume, waiting for Clever Clover to arrive. She tapped her magic wand against her hoof impatiently. “Where is he? No doubt Minoko is responsible for holding him up just to annoy me.”

Just then, Clever Clover and Belle Star came in. “Hi Morning Glory. Sorry we’re late. We took a wrong turn.”

“A wrong turn? How could you make a wrong turn?”

“Well, Belle Star took the lead and I wasn’t really paying attention…”

Belle Star bowed to Morning Glory, almost hitting her with her rabbit ears. “I’m so sorry for causing any trouble.”

“Oh, that’s all right. But I noticed Minoko isn’t with you.”

Clever Clover nodded. “She decided not to come. Said she wasn’t in the mood for crowds. Now, let’s join the party.”

* * *
As Leafy and Cockleburr made their way through the other guests, Leafy got the distinct impression that they were being trailed; turning her head, she was startled to see that the disjointed oddball was shadowing them determinedly.

“Cocky,” she whispered, “I think the pony we were following is now following us.”

“Good,” Cocky whispered back but then said no more until they were almost upon the foodstuffs. “Look, Leafy, at all the stuff there is to eat!” But rather than helping himself to some of the delicious offerings available, he drew Leafy off to the side and whispered in her ear, “Watch.”

Shifting her attention back to the mysterious guest, Leafy had to giggle. From about the height of the ponies chest, a furry hand reached out to grab several cookies off a tray, then disappeared within the “body” of the pony once more while the “head” drooped until the pony’s chin was resting on the table itself. All its energy now seemed to be concentrated in its shoulder and hip area.

“That’s not a pony!” Leafy murmured. “It’s... it’s something in a pony costume!”

Two somethings, I think,” responded Cockleburr.

Cockleburr and Leafy watched the pony closely and were rewarded to hear a voice say, “Cookie good, yeah. Me want drink.”

The colt and the filly grinned at each other, recognizing the Bushwoolie style of speaking. “I thought all the Bushwoolies were the little ghosts running around,” observed Leafy.

Just then the furry hand appeared again, this time confiscating first one, then another of mugs of warm spiced cider which disappeared inside the pony directly through the chest. The body of the pony quivered as an exchange was made, then all motion ceased as Cockleburr and Leafy listened to several long, hard gulps from within the pony.

“More, more, yeah, yeah.”

The previous procedure was repeated, except this time the body of the pony suddenly lurched as if one of the inhabitants within had possibly lost his grip on his mug and lunged to prevent its fall; he was obviously unsuccessful from spilling the cider however, as a warm, yellow liquid puddled on the parquet tiles under the nether region of the pony.

“Uh-oh.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Two empty mugs were hurriedly returned to the table; the pony lifted his tired head and hurriedly tottered away as Cockleburr and Leafy collapsed in a fit of the giggles.

* * *
Back at Clever Clover’s, Minoko checked out her costume in the mirror. She wore a bandana tied around her head, a patch on her left eye, a purple sash, and Belle Star’s sword. “Finally. Now that that’s finished I can rescue Clever Clover from Morning Glory and that dull party.”

* * *
“Sugarberry, what’s with that group of Prenchies* over there?” Tabby was staring at a foursome of stallions wearing red cloaks and plumed hats congregated around some giggling mares.

“Prenchies?” puzzled Sugarberry, following Tabby’s gaze. “Oh... those are the Musketeers.”

“Why are there four of them?” queried Tabby. “I thought there were only three Musketeers.”

“As the story goes, a young fellow joined up with the original three and went on to become an officer of the guard.”

“Ah! So that would explain Licorice being in the group... that is Licorice, isn’t it? I don’t recognize the others.”

Sugarberry grinned at her friend and quirked an eyebrow. “You don’t recognize the other Musketeers?” Her lips twitched like she wanted to say more on that subject, but she shrugged and returned to the subject of Licorice. “Wigwam was quick to inform him that he was only a Musketeer-in-training; although I think the moment Licorice put on the hat, he forgot that. Have you noticed how the donning of these frivolous garments seems to automatically make everyone bold?”

“Speaking of hats and frivolity, Sug, how do you manage to keep that thing on your head?” Tabby peered uncertainly at the elegantly created chapeau that resembled a flower garden.

“La! A lady knows how to handle these things.” Sugarberry assumed a regal bearing and waved a hoof through the air, losing her grip on the decorative umbrella she also carried, sending it flying through the air to hit the side of one of the party attendees before clattering to the floor. Sugarberry was mortified, but Tabby succumbed to the giggles.

“La!” the pink unicorn gasped when she could speak. “Very ladylike, Sug.”

The pony who had been attacked by the airborne bumbershoot looked from the umbrella to the Victorian lady and her companion; then, retrieving the offending object from the floor, the stallion headed straight in their direction.

“Tabby, help me!” pleaded a stricken Sugarberry. “I don’t even know who that masked stallion is!”

“Well, it’s got to be a friend or I wouldn’t have invited him, now, would I?” stated the mare sensibly.

Sugarberry tried to meld into the background, which was rather difficult with her showy hat and the matching cape that all to obviously belonged with the flowery umbrella being conveyed her way. She could only be grateful for the mask that covered the revealing strawberry on her forehead and the flowing cape that concealed her twice-as-fancy design. Maybe the stallion would confuse her with one of the other white mares from Dream Valley.

That hope was short-lived.

“Sugarberry, I believe you dropped this,” drawled a provocative voice. “At least, I would prefer to think that you didn’t try to spear me with it on purpose.”

Her cheeks flaming red, Sugarberry was embarrassed beyond words. She turned a beseeching gaze on Tabby, but that mare merely grinned and whispered in Sugarberry’s ear to “act the lady now”and then excused herself to attend to her duties as hostess.

“I... I’m terribly sorry,” Sugarberry stuttered. “I certainly didn’t mean to lose my grasp on the stupid thing.” She reached out to regain the umbrella, only to have it drawn back out of her range.

“Not so fast,” warned the voice of the stallion. “I think I deserve a dance... at least... for suffering such an undeserved blow.”

Not knowing the identify of the stallion, Sugarberry was a bit intimidated; but a quick glance in the direction of the Musketeers- one of them her dear husband- revealed that all the Musketeers were much too caught up in gallantry with their current consorts to be concerned over her plight. With an uncertain smile, she acquiesced to the stallion’s demand.

As he offered his foreleg to Sugarberry to lead her onto the dance floor, his costume fell away slightly from his appendage to reveal a lime green shading that caused Sugarberry to hesitate a moment. This cavalier was none other than Rubicon, she realized; one look directly into his blue-green eyes- ravishing, Bittersweet had described them- verified that suspicion.

“Oh, it’s you,” she blurted as they began the dance.

The stallion raised an eyebrow. “Ah, you recognize me through my wrappings. I was hoping that you wouldn’t know with whom you were partnered so that I could ply you with compliment after compliment and watch that becoming blush steal across your cheeks.”

Not about to let the stallion get the best of her, Sugarberry deprived him of the chance to impart any praise. “From what I understand of your escapades in college, you’ve had quite a lot of experience in turning a mare’s head.”

“Now, what has Van told you? You do realize, don’t you, that I could never blatantly discourage a member of the opposite sex? If one doesn’t want to be rude, one must sometimes be complimentary until one can finagle his way out of a compromising situation.”

“Like the time you enticed a young filly to your room by telling her that her beauty would motivate your studies for an exam the following day?”

“Sugarberry, unfortunately I do remember the circumstances of that particular occurrence. The filly showed up on my doorstep with her brother and a boyfriend who chaperoned our mutual perusal of some very complicated notes on the philosophical studies of... you’re laughing at me!”

“No... no, I’m not,” giggled Sugarberry. “Can you explain your reason for dialing every female student’s number on campus to tell each of them that she had been selected as Most Beautiful Coed?”

“It was a harmless prank; every one of the girls thought she deserved the honor.”

“But did you once really end up with three separate dates with three different mares on the same night?”

Rubicon colored, then sighed dramatically. “Van’s going to pay for this!”

“It’s been worth it, Rubicon. I’ve managed to put you to the blush!”

* * *
Clever Clover, Belle Star, and Morning Glory mingled for a while. Morning Glory excused herself to get something to drink. As she filled her glass, she noticed a newcomer to the party, Minoko. “Oh my. And I was having so much fun. Hm, Clever Clover mentioned that she hadn’t seen his costume; I’ve got an idea.”

Morning Glory walked over to Minoko, who was craning her neck, searching the ballroom for Clever Clover. “I thought you weren’t coming to the party, Minoko.”

“Yeah, well, I changed my mind.”

“If you’re looking for Clever Clover, I think he’s over there.” Morning Glory pointed away from where she had left Clever Clover.

“Why are you telling me this? Have you finally admitted that Clever Clover likes me better?”

“No. I know him well enough that I don’t have to worry about you stealing him away from me.”

“You are such a liar. You’re up to something.”

“Who, me? I’m just helping out a friend of a friend. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I see an old friend of mine I haven’t talked to in years. Be seeing you.” Morning Glory slipped away, leaving Minoko to continue her search.

“I wonder what she’s up to? No time to worry about that. I’ve got to find Clever Clover.” Minoko walked up to the nearest masked stallion and stared into his eyes. “Nope, not him.”

* * *
Standing to the side of the ballroom was a lone mare dressed as Cinderella- no longer wearing her godmother’s gifted finery but once more in her tattered dress with one glass slipper the only vestige of her fleeting attempt to be a princess clutched in her hoof. A kerchief covered her hair except for one bright green strand that had escaped bondage and now curled around her neck.

She surveyed the milling guests with intense scrutiny, her forehead wrinkling in concentration as if she was not finding the someone for whom she was looking. The part of her face that was unencumbered with the white mask she wore was chartreuse. For anyone who had ever had any dealings with the Dream Valley Chamber of Commerce, it was obvious the mare was Becca.

“Which one of these masked stallions is he?” the mare muttered under her breath. Her friend, Roland, had refused to share the identity of his disguise with Becca, although she had not only described her outfit to him but had also modeled it the evening before. It frustrated her that he would recognize her easily; but she had a roomful of fancy-dressed partygoers to sift through, and it was already getting dreadfully late.

As the mare scanned the room once more, she realized with some dismay that many of the ponies were completely camouflaged so that not even their natural coloring could be used as a hint to their identity. A mummified pony walked past her, dark eyes the only clue; if it was Roland, how would she ever know? Standing nearby was a black panther; Becca shuddered; the costume was all too realistic. And just coming into the room was a pony dressed like royalty but with an iron mask covering his face. Unless Roland had allowed some of his teal coloring to remain exposed, Becca would be hard-pressed to distinguish him.

“Good evening, Cinderella,” a masked stallion greeted the mare, causing her to jump. “Lost your prince?”

“Oh, Brandon,” she smiled, recognizing the mall manager who was outfitted as Robin Hood with no pains to disguise his reddish brown body or dark periwinkle mane other than the green mask across his face. “And where is your Maid Marion?”

“Ah, that is a very good question. Tabby mentioned something about a mare she’d like me to meet.”

“That would be Marina,” surmised Becca. “She’s dressed as a witch.”

“She sounds rather forbidding,” grinned Brandon, straightening his peaked green hat. “I’ll be on the lookout. In the meantime, would you like a glass of punch? Even Cinderella should have time out from her chores for some refreshment.”

“Why, thank you, Robin Hood. You are a true gallant.” She linked her foreleg with his; and the couple moved to the far end of the room, missing the entrance of a black-masked and cloaked stallion brandishing a sword with a distinctive Z embellished on the hilt.

* * *
While Cinderella and Robin Hood joined a group of ponies including Romeo and Juliet (Poeticus and Lemon Treats), one of the Musketeers (Wigwam), and Mark Antony and Cleopatra (Falda and Hawkley), a stallion passed by, catching Becca’s attention. He was dressed in blue trousers and shirt with a red bandanna around his neck; a white hat; black boots, gloves, belt, and holster; and wore a white mask.

“Who is that masked stallion?” she wondered out loud.

“That’s The Lone Ranger, ma’am,” drawled Wigwam in response.

“The Lone Ranger,” Becca repeated, a smile curving her lips. She could imagine Roland in that role. She absently set her unfinished drink down on a nearby table and followed after the familiarly-colored pony, for the Lone Ranger was teal with blue hair... just like Roland.

Becca caught up with the stallion just before he was about to slip through a doorway into the next room. Tapping on his shoulder to garner his attention, Becca smiled alluringly, her words seductive. “The ranger isn’t alone any more. How about a dance?”

* * *
Scuttle had arrived at Tabby’s Halloween extravaganza late, his farm chores requiring his attention before he could make the trip into Dream Valley. As a country boy, Scuttle was more at home in the embrace of nature’s companionship than in a mansion’s ballroom; feeling out of place in this crowd of revelers, he wondered to himself why he had accepted Tabby’s invitation in the first place.

It had all come about unexpectedly when he had taken his cat, Chucky, into the vet clinic for the feline’s yearly shots. Tabby had checked the cat over carefully as usual and administered the shots, but she had then decided that it might be a good idea if her new assistant had a look at the animal as well. Tabby was a little vague for the reason behind this second opinion; but then, Tabby was often vague about a lot of things. Scuttle accepted her decision unquestioned.

Things got a little shaky after that, in Scuttle’s opinion, for Tabby had left him and this new assistant in the examining room alone... not counting Chucky, of course. Now, Scuttle did not have any qualms about being confined in such a limited space with Tabby; she was a long-time acquaintance, had proved her worth many times over in caring for Scuttle’s animals, and- most importantly- she was married. Marina, on the other hoof, was new to the neighborhood, had never set a hoof on any of Scuttle’s animals until now, and was single. The door had no sooner closed behind Tabby’s hurried exit when Scuttle broke out in a sweat. Gosh, Marina was a pretty gal, the stallion realized- and all shades of blue, just as he was.

The mare, her attention entirely focused on Chucky, gave the cat a quick going over, then looked up at Scuttle accusingly. “There’s nothing wrong with this animal; he’s in perfect health.” Her eyes bored into the stallion so fiercely that Scuttle shivered. “I think you’re overreacting to think he has the ague. You, on the other hoof,” she continued, raking her gaze over the stallion’s sweaty forehead and quivering limbs, “might want to see Dr. Toby.” Without another word, she whisked herself out of the room, leaving the door ajar.

Before Scuttle could gather his senses, Tabby peaked her head in the room. “That went well, I hope.”

“Chucky’s fine,” Scuttle managed to reply and began to gather the cat into the carrier. What had gone on with Marina was entirely out of his sphere, and he refused to think about it.

“Oh,” the pink unicorn responded absently, her gaze now diverted by the slamming of Marina’s office door; maybe her ploy to get Marina and Scuttle together had not worked so well after all. The mare shuddered; but when she returned her attention to Scuttle, her face was smiling. “Scuttle, you’d like to come to my Halloween costume party, wouldn’t you?”

“Costume party?”

“You know...” Tabby waggled her hoof through the air, “you dress up as some other character so no one can recognize you.”

“Yeah, I...” Scuttle had merely been going to say that, yes, he had heard about such things from a friend of his and had always thought the concept was extremely foolish.

But Tabby had interrupted at a crucial point, hearing only what she wanted to hear. “You’ll come? Oh! That’s great! Who will you dress-up as?”

The mare seemed so pleased to have his acceptance that Scuttle could not contradict her impression. His nerves had been hit with so much stimulation in the last ten minutes that he was not quite sure of anything. How was he supposed to think of a costume on the spur of the moment? But a recollection came to his rescue, suggesting a foalhood hero he had always admired. “The Lone Ranger,” he stuttered.

Tabby was not impressed. “Oh. That’s some Western guy, isn’t it? But I’ll definitely count on your being there. It’s Friday night at the mansion. Tah, tah!”

Now, here he was on Friday night in an extravagant house filled with ponies that would be strangers to him even if they were not dressed in such outlandish costumes as to be beyond recognition. He had forced himself to walk through the room, grateful that no one had seemed to particularly notice him. He had made his appearance for Tabby’s sake; once he found his hostess and thanked her for her kindness in including him in her festivities, he was going to quit the mansion and go home where things were quiet and normal. All he had to worry about there was whether his pet raccoon would figure out a new way into the hen house or if the stack of firewood out back would see him through the winter. Catching sight of Tabby in the next room, he hurried to fulfill his obligation.

The touch on his shoulder flustered him. The softly-voiced words nearly did him in: “The ranger isn’t alone any more. How about a dance?” The smouldering gaze that met his eyes took his breath away.

* * *
Morning Glory wove her way through the crowd toward Clever Clover and Belle Star, pausing periodically to make sure Minoko wasn’t watching her.

“Hey, Morning Glory, what have you been up to?” Clever Clover asked.

“Oh, just saying hi to some old friends. Say, I heard they were bobbing for apples in the next room. What do you say we check it out?”

“Oh! I just love games! Can we play, Clever Clover?”

“Sure.”

Morning Glory nervously looked over her shoulder as they made their way to the game room to make sure Minoko didn’t notice.

Belle Star was the first to go bobbing, and she got the apple on her first try. Morning Glory went next. It took her three tries, but in the end she got one.

“Now it’s your turn!” Belle Star pushed Clever Clover up to the basin.

“I’ve never been too good at this sort of thing…”

“Come on, it will be fun!”

“Hey! At least let me take off my hood!” Clever Clover just barely managed to lift the hood as Belle Star pushed him face-first into the water. Once Belle Star let go, Clever Clover pulled his head from the water, without an apple.

“No more pushing; I’ll try again, on my own. Hey, where is Morning Glory?”

Belle Star looked around. “I don’t know. Do you want me to look for her?”

“No. She’s been acting strangely lately. Maybe it’s best to leave her alone for the time being.”

* * *
Morning Glory returned to the ballroom to check up on Minoko. The pirate pony glared angrily at Morning Glory when she came in.

“You liar! Clever Clover was nowhere around here!”

“I’m sorry, I really am. Please forgive me.”

“Maybe, but only if you tell me where Clever Clover really is.”

“All right, he’s in the game room bobbing for apples.”

“Bobbing for apples, huh? Yeah, right. I’m not falling for your lies again. I’m going to look for him elsewhere.” Minoko strode out of the ballroom and down the hall, away from the party.

Morning Glory grinned. “She is so predictable. Now to spend some quality time with Clever Clover.”

* * *
Around ten o’clock, the doorbell rang again, and Tabby went to answer it. Her face lit up as she saw who it was. “Oh! I was hoping you’d show up! Come in, come in. The party was just getting a little dull. Yes, yes, there are plenty of guests to terrorize. You’ll love it!”

Tabby beamed as the Skeleton King entered the fray of the ballroom. Yes, it had been a stroke of genius to include him on the guest list. No Halloween party was complete without the Skeleton King, after all.

Various murmurings broke out in the room after the Skeleton King had entered. Most of them were envious of what an authentic costume this pony had. “Wow! If I didn’t know better, I’d say that was a real skeleton. Where’d he get that costume?” one awed stallion said.

“I’ll destroy you all!!!” the Skeleton King shouted as he approached the dance floor. Nobody took him seriously, though. One mare dressed in vibrant colors came forward and claimed his hoof for a dance. “Let go of me, you hussy!”

“Oh, come on, don’t be shy,” the gypsy said, swirling him around to the beat of a fast-paced song.

The Skeleton King extricated himself from that as soon as possible and took to more subtle ways of terrorizing the guests. He found himself a tray of hors d’oeuvres and wandered around looking menacing.

“I am the Skeleton King! Scary, aren’t I?” he said, approaching one party guest. The Egyptian pharaoh just looked at him funny, took a cracker, and wandered off.

* * *
Minoko wandered aimlessly through Tabby’s mansion, phasing through door after door, trying to find Clever Clover. “Hm, if I ever go back to pirating, I’ll have to remember this place. Hey, I’ve just had an idea. I know how to find Clever Clover!”

* * *
Lady Moonshine, disguised as a hillbilly in tattered overalls and straw hat, strolled over to the punch-bowl and took a tiny sip. “No good,” she said, shaking her head.

The Skeleton King was standing over the punch-bowl as well, trying to menace passersby. He turned his attention to Lady Moonshine. “I am the Skeleton King! Tremble before my awesome power!”

Moonshine glanced up briefly. “Uh-huh, uh-huh.” She lifted up the clay bottle at her side and dumped the contents into the punch-bowl. “Mm. Better,” she conceded, taking a glass and strolling off.

* * *
“Spike! I wish you would stop hacking all over the place,” Tabby said irritably, accosting one of the identifiable guests. “You sound more disgusting than Sophia when she gets a hairball.”

The baby dragon glared at her. “Do you want me at the party or not?”

“Well, of course I do! I just don’t see why you have to be recovering from a cold right now. Having somebody hacking constantly isn’t conducive to the party atmosphere. And it’s getting on my nerves! Oh, and it’s very unsanitary, too.”

“Well, I’m going to get some punch. I just saw that hick adding something to it. Maybe it’ll help my throat.”

“You do that,” Tabby scowled, sweeping off to try to identify some more of the guests. Oh well, maybe the spiked punch would make the party more exciting.

* * *
How he had ended up with Cinderella a permanent fixture at his side, the Lone Ranger did not know. All he was sure of was that he had no desire to leave the party early any more. Never having been adept at talking with mares, he found it excessively easy to talk with Cinderella as she did the talking for both of them. He found that as long as he stood by her side with a noble attitude, she took care of everything else. He considered it amazingly good fortune that this mare obviously shared his respect and admiration for the Lone Ranger.

Who would have thought that he- Scuttle- would enjoy a costume party so thoroughly? One thing bothered him, however. Why did Zorro keep watching him with that vengeful stare? To make matters worse, Zorro’s sword looked like it could do a fair amount of damage if it should be put to use. It was enough to make the Lone Ranger wish the weapons in his holster were not simple wood-carvings.

* * *
Becca- er, Cinderella- had enticed the Lone Ranger onto the dance floor for yet another dance. Scuttle had thought that he did not enjoy dancing until this night with Becca in his forelegs. The mare’s possessive attitude went a long way in building up Scuttle’s confidence; and as long as she did not expect more from him than an occasional smile or nod or grunt, he could handle it.

If he had been expected to say something, he was not sure he could have responded coherently, for the kaleidoscope of sound, color, and motion around him had his pastoral senses reeling. He found that only by concentrating his attention on Cinderella, could he remain rational. So he remained a strong, silent presence next to the mare’s dizzying flurry of socializing.

Enjoying the party to the fullest, Becca was having a ball. She liked being in costume, for it seemed to give her a grace in her actions that she normally did not have. Not once throughout the evening had she done a klutzy thing. She had not stepped on anyone’s hoof or spilled a drink or stumbled over the carpet. There was that one time when she might have caused the train of King Arthur’s cloak to rip, but there were so many other ponies in the area at the time that no one could have proven who was responsible anyway.

She also appreciated Roland’s commanding presence by her side: so strong, so assured, so... quiet. Not once had he twitted her about her sometimes excessive chattering. He had not made any of his droll comments on her ofttimes enthusiastic observations of the ponies they met. Come to think of it, he had not even complimented her on her costume. Becca frowned, but only briefly. Tabby’s party was just too much fun to waste any time in pouting.

She and Scuttle ended the dance with a grand flourish, and Becca grinned at her partner becomingly as they walked to the sidelines; this coquettish glance prevented her from noticing the intimidating stance of the pony dressed as Zorro until she nearly bumped into him, for he had placed himself in a direct line with the route she and Scuttle were taking to get to the refreshment table.

“Oh, excuse me,” Becca giggled. “I wasn’t watching where I was going.” She looked up to the eyes of the pony before her, and her smile faded. There was such anger, such hurt, such... such familiarity.

Becca gasped as her eyes roved away from the mask and explored the uncovered portions of the face. Teal blue, just like Roland. Quickly, she snuck another look at the Lone Ranger. Teal blue, but was the color not quite so deep? Her head swivelled again. Zorro’s hair, from what she could see, was amazingly close to Roland’s color, too. But the Lone Ranger’s hair was medium blue as well. Wasn’t it? She checked the ranger’s hair. Was it medium blue, or was it more precisely indigo blue?

This thought pattern took Becca all of a fraction of a second. Realizing that she had made a dreadful mistake, she blurted to the Lone Ranger, “You’re not Roland!” and to Zorro, “You’re Roland!”

Zorro, however, ignored Cinderella, his attention fixed on the hapless ranger. “I would like to know what gives you the right to appropriate my date?” he growled, punctuating his request with a show of his sword.

Scuttle, by all accounts, should have trembled at the fierce tone of voice and the steely gaze of his inquisitor; but in this moment of need, Scuttle found himself made of sterner stuff than he would ever have imagined. He was, after all, dressed as the Lone Ranger, and he had his hero’s honor to uphold. Planting himself squarely in front of Zorro, the ranger responded forcefully.

“The lady, sir, is free to choose her own partner.”

“The lady, sir, chooses me!”

Scuttle felt the cold steel of the flat side of the blade pressed against his chest even through the blue shirt he wore, and his eyes flashed fire. With a firm grasp, he moved Becca to a safe position off to the side with his left hoof while his right hoof moved stealthily to hover over one of his own weapons. His eyes narrowed behind the mask, Scuttle bravely retorted, “The lady’s actions say otherwise.”

“But it was all a mistake!” Becca moaned, but no one bothered to listen. In fact, many of the ponies attending the costume party had now noticed the altercation between the two stallions and had edged closer to get a good view of the potential battle, forming a circle around the Lone Ranger and Zorro, pushing the distraught Cinderella to the background.

Among those interested in the controversy were The Three Musketeers, plus one, who edged their way through the crowd- their authoritative stance and convincing masquerade, not to mention their sharp, pointy weapons, lending credence to their assumed right-of-command- to congregate close to the two stallions who confronted one another like savage beasts ready to pounce.

The foursome of Musketeers, taking in the scene quickly, exchanged a speaking glance before lifting their weapons high and calling out, “One for all and all for one!” Then, their cloaks swirling about them, the feathers in their hats swaying rakishly, and the rapiers at the ready, the four stallions surrounded the Lone Ranger and Zorro before the two stallions realized what was going on. So caught up in their intense dislike for one another, they had been aware only of their own anger.

Thinking fast, however, Zorro- perfectly aware that the only weapons the Lone Ranger had were nearly useless- pirouetted to face the newest challenge to his well-being, brandishing his sword in the direction of the two nearest Musketeers, who happened to be Wigwam and Thomas. The Lone Ranger, caught up in the moment, pulled out his wooden pistols with the painted white grips and turned to face the other two participants, Licorice and Vanguard.

“Tabby,” Elaine pleaded of the party’s hostess, “do something to break up this fight!”

Tabby turned to her sister-in-law. “Break it up?! Are you out of your mind?! This is the most fun we’ve had all evening!” She then went back to observing the scuffle with eager eyes.

The clash of steel on steel rang through the room as Thomas met Zorro’s parry, directing the blades downward to the floor while Wigwam stepped in to neatly flick Zorro’s weapon out of his hoof. Vanguard and Licorice simply stared at the carved wooden weapons the Lone Ranger brandished, glanced at their own menacing steel, looked at one another, and then broke out laughing. Scuttle shook his head and joined them.

The altercation having been defused, Wigwam retrieved Roland’s dropped sword and returned it to him. “Sorry to have ganged up on you that way, but we didn’t want anyone to get hurt.”

Roland grimaced. “I got a little carried away, didn’t I?”

The crowd by this time was applauding what they now assumed had been a staged entertainment for their benefit. The Musketeers were being complimented on their timely intervention, and Zorro and the Lone Ranger on their realistic display of antagonism. No one was the wiser that real emotions had been involved. No one except Becca.

That dejected mare who had been relegated to the edge of the throng by the press of ponies stayed only long enough to assure herself that no one had been hurt in the melee, then fled the room and the house to find her way home alone. She never gave a thought to the glass slipper that had slipped from her grasp unheeded.

* * *
After Clever Clover finally managed to retrieve an apple, he and Belle Star returned to the ballroom where they met Morning Glory.

“Oh Clever Clover, there you are. Would you care to dance?”

“Uh, I guess so.”

Morning Glory threw her forelegs around Clever Clover. “Come now, don’t be so enthusiastic.”

“Ah ha!” Minoko rose up through the floor. “I knew I’d find Clever Clover if I just followed you around for a while.”

“Minoko! What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to surprise you. What do you think of my costume?” Minoko drew her sword and struck a swashbuckling pose.

“It’s really you. But why would you have to follow Morning Glory around to find out where I was? You could have just asked her.”

Minoko shot Morning Glory an evil look. “I did ask, and she lied.”

“Morning Glory?”

“I didn’t lie! I told her right where you were, bobbing for apples.”

“What? You mean he really was bobbing for apples?”

“Well, I did bob.”

“You tricked me!”

“I can’t help it if you’re so gullible.”

“Why you…”

Belle Star stepped between Minoko and Morning Glory. “Now, now... let’s not be angry. This is a party, after all. We should be having fun!”

Minoko waved her sword in Belle Star’s face. “You stay out of this.”

“Isn’t that my sword?”

Minoko sheathed the sword. “Don’t try and change the subject.”

“Hey, where is Clever Clover?” asked Morning Glory.

Belle Star looked around. “He was here a minute ago.”

“Nice going. You’re supposed to be his bodyguard and now you’ve lost him.”

“I’m sorry.”

Morning Glory shook her head. “Now what do we do?”

“I’m getting something to eat,” said Belle Star.

“Good, now that she’s out of the way, where were we…?”

* * *
It was only after the excitement over the skirmish had settled that Roland and Scuttle were formally introduced by Wigwam, and Roland had the opportunity to apologize for his jealous reaction to Scuttle’s escort of Becca. Scuttle, who had also been apprized of all the facts, managed to grin at the stallion. “I never meant you any harm, although I must admit that your Becca made an adorable Cinderella.”

Realizing that his Becca had been least-in-sight since the fight began, Roland made his excuses to Scuttle and began to circulate through the rooms to locate the mare, much as Becca had done earlier. Remembering the look of anguish on her face as she realized she had mistaken some other stallion for him, he could not decide if he wanted most to scoop her into his forelegs to convince her that her error made no difference to him, or if he wanted to assume the air of a thwarted lover who was angry over her misdirected affection for another. Either way, he was anxious to find her.

Stopped occasionally by ponies congratulating him on his performance, Roland’s progress was slowed considerably and his patience became sorely tried. During one such interruption, however, as Roland was descending the graceful sweep of stairs to check the main floor for his missing Cinderella, he caught sight of a glass object glinting on the bottom riser, nestled against the wooden baluster. Instinctively, he knew it for what it was- the glass slipper Becca had carried with her. As soon as he could politely do so, he retrieved the slipper and continued his search.

Fortunately, he ran into an angel- Princess Tiffany- who informed him that Becca had left the premises. He thanked the princess, mentally vowing to donate some jangles to her charity work in the near future, and left the party, heading in the direction of Becca’s apartment, his cloak billowing out behind him as if he was himself an avenging spirit released on the world.

* * *
“So,” Dr. Neil said, downing another glass of punch, “there was blood everywhere. I gave instructions to pump a few hundred cc’s of the medication into him, but the nurse went hysterical and said I was a madman. I had to push her out into the hallway just so she wouldn’t get in my way, and then had to do the whole thing myself, but the results were definitely positive.” Neil grinned at his not-so-captive and rather freaked-looking audience. “By the time I checked in on him again, his condition had already improved rapidly. And the side-effects were gone in just a few months.”

Marina had been passing by just then, and her attention was caught by the last part of this narrative. “That large of a dose? What kinds of side-effects were incurred? What a daring approach to the problem!” Marina stared at him rather admiringly.

“Yes, I thought so myself,” Neil said cockily. “I take a very progressive approach to medicine. After all, if we don’t try new methods, how are we going to make any advances?”

“I so totally agree,” Marina breathed. “I personally would like to see more of an interest in the possibilities of incorporating magic into medicinal therapies...”

“Ah, you’re one of the magic users, are you? I don’t have hooves-on experience with magic myself, but the potentials are intriguing. Say, do you work at the hospital yourself? I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”

“No,” Marina shook her head, “I’m a veterinarian.”

“Ah, the Fairfaxes are expanding their practice, are they? I’ve never had much use for animals myself. Except for my sister’s hamster when we were kids. But she wasn’t too pleased with how my operation turned out. She said he was never the same afterwards but I beg to differ...”

“I’d love to hear more about it,” Marina hinted. “If you would have the time...”

“I always have time for a beautiful mare, sweetheart. Where would you like to adjourn?”

“I saw a nice little alcove across the way...”

“Then I shall fetch a glass of punch for you and we shall go and discuss all the gruesome details.”

Marina stared after him with hearts in her eyes.

* * *
Tabby heaved a sigh of relief when she saw a starry-eyed Marina escorted across the room on a certain Egyptian pharaoh’s foreleg. Finally, someone had appealed to the mare! This was the warmest reception Marina had ever given a stallion yet, except for... Tabby narrowed her eyes. Wait a minute. That wasn’t Thomas with her, was it? His body color was white, but she couldn’t make out the shade of his hair from here, but still... why, that conniving little hussy-!

Tabby was storming across the room to intercept them but was in turn intercepted herself. “Bon soir, madame. Honor me with a dance?”

Tabby started in surprise. It was one of those accursed Prench guys in the funny hats! Tabby did not like to be reminded in any way, shape, or form of her grueling two years of Prench in high-school, so she shooed him away with an insolent wave of her hoof. “I’m busy. Go find someone else.”

“But I don’t want to find someone else, ma cherie. Surely stalking certain guests carries less appeal than enjoying yourself.”

“I’m not stalking anyone,” Tabby retorted. “I’m...”

“You’re what?” the musketeer prodded.

“It’s none of your business,” Tabby sniffed. “Now go away.”

“But it’s only fair for the hostess to have some fun at her own party, n’est-ce pas?”

“Oh,” said Tabby. That was true. Why waste her time keeping tabs on Thomas when he obviously didn’t care? It would serve him right if she had some fun of her own. She snapped her fan shut with a flourish and offered him her hoof. “Very well, then.”

The dance was enjoyable, though Tabby’s equilibrium was thrown off by the mysterious stallion’s flirtatious comments. Maybe a masquerade hadn’t been such a good idea after all. It completely made ponies forget who they were. Was Thomas saying similar things to Marina right now...?

When the dance ended, instead of relinquishing her hold on her, the Musketeer steered her in the direction of one of the balconies overlooking the grounds of the mansion.

“What are you doing now?” Tabby insisted.

“I thought you could use some fresh air. Besides, it’s very private out here.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’ve accosted any number of fillies already tonight,” Tabby said dryly.

Mais non, you wrong me, my lady!” The stallion feigned offense. “Surely you don’t think so low of me.” And then he kissed her.

Tabby pulled away abruptly. “Oh no, we- you- shouldn’t!”

“Why not? I don’t see anyone else claiming your attention. I thought you were abandoned.”

“I never said such a thing,” Tabby retorted.

The stranger just laughed at her. “Your devotion is touching... as is your gullibility.”

“Now what are you talking about? Just who are you, anyway?” Tabby’s eyes suddenly narrowed in suspicion and she reached out and pulled the mask from his face. “It is you! But I thought...”

“Why, who did you think I was? Or rather, who did you think was me?” Thomas’ laughing countenance looked back at her.

Tabby turned away in disgust. “You’ve been toying with me all along!” Her voice rose shrilly. “You could have said something! But you- you-“

”But that’s the fun of a masquerade, isn’t it? Besides, it’s so delightful to tease you. You’re so incredibly gullible.”

“I’m glad I was able to amuse you,” Tabby sniffed.

“Have I alienated you now? I’m sorry,” Thomas said, but with more merriment than penance in his tone.

“Okay!” said Tabby cheerfully. She usually forgot her grievances quickly. “But...” she glanced sideways at him. “You could have paid more attention to me earlier in the evening. As it was you seemed very preoccupied with other... matters.”

“I was just playing out the role. You should understand that,” Thomas said cajolingly. “Besides, don’t think I didn’t see you flirting with that samurai.”

“What! I wasn’t flirting with him. Well, not really. It just seemed... appropriate.” Tabby glanced down at her Nipponese** mode of dress. “Though I would like to find out who he was...”

“I see I’ll have to keep a close eye on you,” Thomas grinned. “Well, what do you say we get back to the party?”

“Oh, yes!” Tabby said, accepting his escort.

* * *
“I was a fool... a completely stupid, idiotic, brainless fool!” an utterly dejected Becca upbraided herself as she paced her living room end-to-end. “How could I have been so stupid?” She ripped the scarf off her head and threw it to the floor, the rest of the costume soon following. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” she kicked at the clothes. “And here I thought I was being so graceful and charming!” She covered her face with her hooves and dropped into a comfy chair. “Stupid, stupid fool!”

Rocking her body slowly back and forth, the mare thought back over the entire evening at the ball from the time she had first spotted the Lone Ranger with Roland’s coloration- or, at least, close to it- to the time she had came face-to-face with Zorro, of whom there could be no doubt that he was truly Roland. How could she have made such a dumb mistake? She had been in Roland’s company often enough in the last several years to recognize him even behind a mask... one would think.

What the other stallion must have thought of her encroaching ways! Becca blushed anew to think of her forward manner toward the masked ranger; she still had no idea who he was. She scoured her mind, searching for the memory of another pony in Dream Valley who closely resembled Roland’s coloring, but could not envision anyone.

“That’s a relief, anyway,” she sighed, dropping her head back on the supporting cushion. “At least the Lone Ranger doesn’t know who the addlepated mare accosting him was.”

That appeasing thought was soon followed, however, by a constriction of her heart as she realized what her behavior must have looked like through Roland’s eyes. “A shameless flirt is what he’ll think I am,” she moaned, throwing a foreleg over her eyes which only clarified in her mind the vision of how disgusted he had appeared when she had nearly collided with him. He had ignored her and turned all his anger against the poor stallion she had so maligned by her actions. Roland would never speak to her again, she was sure of it. She could not blame him; but, still, it really hurt.

Becca closed her eyes and began reciting a litany of reviling appellations that seemed to fit her in this moment- fool, ninny, dolt, knucklehead, simpleton, nitwit...

She was just warming up to her pastime when a determined knock sounded at the door.

* * *
Knowing Becca as well as he did, Roland surmised that there was only one place she would run to hide; and that was her home. He also knew that he had allowed his anger to get the best of him when he had encountered Becca and Scuttle coming off the dance floor- his temper, fueled by riotous jealousy, had flared out of control, causing him to react like some mindless beast rather than the cool, calm, collected business teacher he was. What could one expect when one donned a highwayman’s costume? Roland smirked. He could have used a little more common sense... and a little less daring-do.

Realizing now that he should have been more attuned to Becca’s embarrassment once he saw the mortified look on her face after she had discovered her mistake, Roland regretted his folly. He should have civilly acknowledged her error in assessing the stallion’s identity and then politely- yet incontrovertibly- weaseled her away from Scuttle. And he would have, if the green-eyed monster and Zorro- two domineering personas- had not held the upper hoof. He had to face the fact that he had acted in a truly ungentlemanly manner.

His brisk walk had served to cool his temper and heighten his senses. Focusing on Becca’s expression of shock once more, he spoke out loud. “My darling Becca.” The moment could now evoke a chuckle. “There’s never a dull moment!”

“But she truly is adorable,” he mused a moment later, remembering Scuttle’s compliment of the costumed Cinderella. He lifted the slipper to allow it to catch the moonlight, then took the last few steps to arrive at his destination and knock on the door.

* * *
Becca groaned. She did not want to face Roland tonight, not when her wound was so raw. She stuck to her chair like glue.

The knock, however, sounded again, more insistently this time.

He’s still angry, Becca decided. And I can’t blame him. Good grief! We’re... we were... best friends! Yet I ruined it all by mistaking a stranger for my...

Her reflections were interrupted by a veritable pounding on her door, and Becca jumped to her hooves, a spark of anger arising in her own breast. What right does he have to come here to shove this evening’s fiasco in my face? She marched to the door and flung it open at last.

“Just what do you want anyway?” she greeted the stallion who looked exceedingly handsome in his cloak and mask, she could now note.

“I came to deliver this,” Roland smiled, extending the glass slipper.

“I never want to see the stupid thing again; you can ditch it somewhere else.” Becca made a move to close the door, but Roland’s hoof came out to stop her.

“I think you and I have to talk.”

“Why? Or do you just want to hear me admit my stupidity? Okay; here goes: I made a complete and utter fool of myself tonight. Are you satisfied?”

“What are you raving about?” Roland asked, moving past Becca and closing the door behind him. “If anyone made of fool of himself, it was me. I never should have challenged Scuttle the way I did.”

Becca frowned. “Scuttle?”

“The Lone Ranger.”

“Oh. I’d never met him before tonight.”

“He thinks you’re adorable.”

Becca blushed. “I’m sure that’s not the only thing he thinks about me after the way I hung on him all evening.”

“He enjoyed your company. Trust me. I know. I was watching the two of you like a hawk,” Roland grinned. “I’m sorry I arrived at Tabby’s party so late, but my mother had called and... well, you know how it goes.”

“I suppose everyone is still laughing over my mistaking this Scuttle for you.”

“I doubt anyone but the three of us know that happened, Becca. All the guests thought we were putting on a little drama to liven up the party. If you’d have hung around, you’d have seen that for yourself.”

“You’re serious?”

“I’m sorry to say that the swords captured more attention than sweet little Cinderella and her glass slipper.” He offered her that object once more, and this time she accepted it.

“No more masquerades for me, though,” Becca confessed, turning to set the slipper on a side table. She had forgotten, however, the abandoned heap of clothes on the floor that had constituted her Cinderella costume; her hooves became tangled in the fabric causing her to trip and tumble, only to be caught up in Roland’s saving forelegs.

“Now, this is the part of Zorro’s job he surely enjoyed the most... rescuing the beautiful girl from danger,” he grinned.

I’m sure the girl enjoyed it, too, Becca mused to herself, lost in the comfort of what could have been construed as an embrace. She looked up into Roland’s face, his glittering eyes softening behind the black mask. For one brief moment, time stood still; and the magic of this hallowed evening seemed to wrap the two ponies in its spell. Roland lowered his head to meet Becca’s lips in a brief kiss before shaking off the enchantment.

“Why don’t you don your costume again, and we’ll go back to Tabby’s party.” Roland suggested. “The unmasking is to occur at midnight, and I’d really like to see who’s under that realistic skeletal get-up.”

“You’re sure no one will tease me mercilessly?” queried Becca, still glowing from the kiss.

“No one,” Roland promised, then grinned, “... except me.”

* * *
Finally the hour of midnight came, and the great unmasking was announced. As the sundry guests pulled off their masks, various gasps of surprise, pleasure, and shock were heard around the room. Outbursts of laughter and shouting broke out sporadically as ponies discovered the identities of those they had been associating- and in some cases, flirting- with all evening.

Sapphire looked around in disappointment, though. The one pony she had eagerly been waiting to see who was behind the mask was nowhere in sight. She dodged around the room, seeking the astronaut that had been dancing attendance on her throughout the party, but he didn’t seem to be there any longer.

Sapphire sighed longingly. Why oh why wasn’t he here? Didn’t he want her to know who he was? The mare had been pleasantly surprised when she had been invited to dance by this mysterious stallion shortly after arriving at the mansion, and for the rest of the party he had remained very close to her side, flirting most outlandishly. Sapphire had quite enjoyed the attention, and had wondered if this might be the stallion who had sent her the mysteriously unsigned gift of a flute- her long-abandoned foalhood talent- this past summer. But if it had been him, apparently he didn’t want his identity known. Sapphire left the party in a dejected mood.

Sapphire missed the unmasking of one quest in particular- or rather, the lack of unmasking. Almost everyone at the party was eager to see who was behind the ultra-realistic skeleton costume. Unfortunately, that particular guest failed to remove a mask.

The Skeleton King, realizing that finally all eyes were upon him and that he was the center of attention, gloated. “Ah-hah! You have finally realized my true might. Bow before me, insignificant peons!!!”

Tittering broke out across the assembled crowd. “Come on, the masquerade is over! Show us who you are!” someone shouted.

“Show you who I am? Hah-hah!” the Skeleton King cackled. “Yes, I’ll show you who I am. Observe!” He began chanting a low and ominous-sounding spell which could have nothing but spooky results. Everyone waited for the result.

However, the mood was ruined as Baby Noddins, who had been stuck at the back of the crowd and hadn’t quite been able to figure out what the taller adults were so excited about, finally broke through the front line. “Hey!! That’s the guy that tried to sacrifice me!!!” she shouted, pointing an accusing hoof at him.

The Skeleton King looked taken aback as he glanced up to see Baby Noddins. “Argh!! Not you again, you infernal wretch!”

Everyone closest to Baby Noddins just laughed at her youthful playacting. Noddins glared at them all for not taking her seriously (she and the Skeleton King had something in common after all!). Finally, Moonshine shouted out, “C’mon, enough of this! Let’s get that mask!” Wild cheering broke out and the bolder guests grouped together and advanced on the Skeleton King and mobbed him. The Skeleton King called down all sorts of curses on them, but the ponies didn’t listen. Licorice tried unsuccessfully to pull the “mask” off.

The Skeleton King had finally had enough of this treatment. “Do you know who you treat with such disrespect?! I am the SKELETON KING!! Remove your hooves from me immediately or I’ll...”

Just then, a young college student fell off the Skeleton King and landed unceremoniously on the floor. In his hoof he held part of the Skeleton King’s leg bone. He gazed at it for a moment and grinned. “Woah! This is weird! Wicked cool costume, man!”

With a snarl of outrage, the Skeleton King, insulted beyond words by these ponies’ effrontery, waved his hooves in the air and suddenly vanished in a puff of smoke. Wild applause broke out. Everyone praised Tabby for the excellent entertainment she had found for the evening. Tabby accepted the praise graciously but nonetheless would not be coerced into giving anyone the name of the party agency who had provided the skeleton magician. Snapper waved the leg bone around as a trophy.



*‘Prance’ is the Ponyland equivalent of France. Yes, I know, it was getting tacky pony-fying terms by changing the first letter to ‘P’ - Pasbro in place of Hasbro, etc. However, it worked out so nicely with France! Prance is a very ponyish word, you know. Ponies prance, after all. The inhabitants of Prance are, of course, the Prench ponies. For other countries this method does not work quite as well- you end up with Pain and Pitily.

**Nippony is the Ponyland equivalent of Japan. Nippon is the original Japanese word for the country so you just have to add a “y” onto it to get a very ponyish word! Okay, it’s corny, but... I don’t care. I like it.



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