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The Bad Dad

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"Now try on the pink," said Heart Throb.

"No!" said a somewhat muffled Paradise as she flew over Heart Throb. Her choice for Megan's outfit was clutched in her mouth and draped over the pink pegasus's head. "Mmph ellph diph," Paradise said, then dropped the dress in the process. She corrected herself, "This yellow would be just divine!"

"With that many ruffles?" asked Heart Throb, knocking the southern belle-esque dress off her head with a jerk. "She'll be a laughingstock, darling!"

Megan looked between the two arguing ponies. "The invitation didn't say anything about fancy dress," she began, but stopped when Heart Throb and Paradise's heads whipped around.

"Darling," said Heart Throb, drawing out the 'ing'. "It's High Tea with the queen!"

It was early morning at Paradise Estate, the sun was shining, ponies were up and about, and Megan had been cornered by two very helpful (although perhaps simply just living vicariously through Megan) pegasi.

They'd gotten her into the costume room in the estate, pink-walled like everything else and filled to the brim with the costumes that the little ponies loved to dress in, and other items they'd picked up over the years. Outside, Megan could hear birds happily chirping and what sounded like a bushwoolie football match. She wished she could be out there.

Paradise nodded in agreement. "Majesty almost never has private audiences with humans!"

"So you just have to look the part for the occasion! Now try on the pink."

By the time Megan's escorts arrived, Paradise and Heart Throb had decked Megan head to toe in finery - not all of it made for bipeds.

"What's this supposed to be?" asked Masquerade, escort number one, eyeing Megan's outfit dubiously. She had two bags of supplies slung over her body, since it was a long trip from Paradise Estate, Megan's residence in ponyland, to Dream Castle, which was where Majesty lived.

Megan sighed and straightened out layer number six of the final compromise between Paradise and Heart Throb. Both ponies looked very proud of themselves.

"She's ready for Queen Majesty. Surely you of all ponies can appreciate the beauty of her presentation gown, darling," said Heart Throb, nuzzling up to Masquerade. She was counting on how easy it was to get an agreeing vote or aid out of Masquerade if you happened to be one of the sweeter little ponies. Posey had once even gotten Masquerade to fight, and win, against giant crabs that way.

Today, however, it wasn't to be. The fact Megan looked more like a satin and lace poofball than a little girl had a great deal to do with this. "Since when do you gotta dress up for Majesty?" asked Masquerade instead.

Heart Throb huffed. "I thought you understood the importance of finery!"

"I just like fun clothes," said Masquerade, circling Megan. "Can you even ride in this?"

Paradise sniffed, her eyes wide and sad. "We worked so hard on an outfit fit to meet a queen!"

Masquerade froze like a deer in the headlights. "Oh." A long pause. "It's not so bad! It's just... there's kind of a lot of it. You know? That's all!" She backed up into Wind Whistler, escort number two, who had been silent up to this point, keeping her own counsel.

Megan tried walking in the gown. She moved very slowly, and caught on the furniture. "I don't think I can ride."

Wind Whistler spoke up. "While there are a multitude of outfits and traditions associated with humans in presentation to Queen Majesty, it is my recollection that it is a set of standards associated with human royalty and other nobles, groups to which Megan does not belong."

"But--!" said Paradise and Heart Throb simultaneously.

"And Megan does need to ride to get to Dream Castle," continued Wind Whistler. "And while you did put a great deal of effort into your creation, there is no possible way Masquerade or I could fit it into one of our satchels."

Masquerade had shoved her head into the closet. "Do we have trousers? At all? Human, elf, dwarf, anything with two legs?"

"I can just wear my overalls," offered Megan.

"No!" another double cry from Paradise and Heart Throb.

"Mmph," said Masquerade. She'd pulled out an item that looked a little like a ponyland version of a toy soldier's uniform, but about the right size for Megan. "Trousers!" she declared triumphantly as she dumped it at Megan's feet.

Megan picked it up, looking it over. It was a shade of blue she liked, and it did look formal. She glanced at her two fashion directors. Their help had been unasked for, but she didn't want to hurt their feelings. "What do you two think?" she asked.

Heart Throb leaned in to eye it critically. "Hrm."

"I suppose it will do," said Paradise grudgingly.

"Great!" Masquerade said and headbutted Megan gently on the leg towards the privacy screen set up in the corner of the room. "Go get dressed and let's go! I got ponies to see!"

Wind Whistler harumphed and Masquerade looked sheepish. "I never get to see Skyrocket," said Masquerade. "She never comes down here. Or Locket." [Twinkle Eye Origin]

Megan was busy wrestling her way out of Paradise and Heart Throb's fashion tsunami, but her interest was piqued. "Why don't they?"

"Space limitations, Megan. Do you require aid?" asked Wind Whistler.

"No, I'm almost out!" Megan pulled out another lace, getting rid of the faux wings.

Megan had described Paradise Estate to her father once, who had grumbled something about a 'horse hippie commune', which had sounded ideal to Megan, really. But Wind Whistler was right. Paradise Estate was huge, but there was no way it could contain all the ponies that passed through, or apparently lived 'out there', that the others would mention. Megan was still disappointed her friend Firefly had moved on years ago and hadn't been enticed back when they'd replaced the old castle with the estate.

"Remember, Masquerade, the purpose of this visit is Majesty meeting the bearer of the Rainbow of Light," said Wind Whistler. "It is not to socialize."

"She's going to love you, Megan," said Masquerade. "I just wish we were in time for Fizziwhizz night. If we'd gotten the invitation sooner, we coulda gone when Fizzy went." [Fizziwhizz Night]

"We'll set off a fizziwhizz flower for you, darling," said Heart Throb, helping Paradise to gather up clothes with Paradise and clean up their mess.

"There!" said Megan, as she stepped out from behind the privacy screen. The outfit -- no pony in the room knew what adventure or travelling salesman had led to them acquiring it -- looked much smarter on an actual person than on the floor or dangling from Megan's hands. "Will she like it?"

"Majesty would appreciate your virtues you even if you were attired in potato sack, Megan," said Wind Whistler. "But this is a very nice ensemble. We should go now, the longer we delay the sooner we'll have to stop due to darkness falling."

Megan climbed on Wind Whistler, waving to Paradise and Heart Throb. "Say goodbye to the babies for me!"

Wind Whistler sat and munched on an apple during a break in the travelling. Masquerade was explaining to Megan the various things to do at Dream Castle, warning her to not stop and stare into any mirrors she finds in hallways. "Just trust me on this," said Masquerade. [Enchanted Mirror]

"The whole place sounds so magical," said Megan, as she ate her own lunch, a watercress sandwich.

"It is," said Wind Whistler. "Of all the unicorns, Majesty is among the most powerful. Few rival her."

The ground shook slightly.

Masquerade's head jerked up, her eyelids narrowing over the gemstones that were her eyes. "I'm going to check that out," she said and took off into the sky to look around.

"Best pack that away, Megan," said Wind Whistler, putting food back into their travel bag. "At best, it's nothing. At worst, we may have to relocate quite swiftly." Megan stuffed the remainder of the sandwich in her mouth and got to work helping Wind Whistler.

The ground shook again, harder this time.

Wind Whistler looked up. "I cannot locate Masquerade. Megan, stay here while I search for her. If anything appears, conceal yourself." She spread her wings and flew up, while Megan stood on the ground and watched, holding the bag of food in her hands.

She watched Wind Whistler pass over a group of dark green trees, before suddenly reappearing at high speed, heading right for Megan and skidding to a stop in the dirt beside her as she landed. "Get on, Megan!"

Megan didn't waste a second, leaping on top of her friend's back and holding tight as they were off into the air within seconds. "What's wrong?" she gasped out, looking down at the disappearing ground beneath them.

"There's a dragon! Masquerade's distracting it, but we need to evacuate the area and fast," said Wind Whistler, wheeling around then whistling loudly to get Masquerade's attention.

"But I thought dragons weren't so dangerous!" said Megan.

"This one is quite dangerous and means to make a meal of us," said Wind Whistler. "As you can see!" She flew off to the north, heading towards Majesty's castle. Behind them Masquerade taunted the dragon further to give them a head start, before flying on to catch up.

"How could a dragon have ambushed us so easily?" questioned Wind Whistler, out of breath, but not willing to stop.

"I don't know, but let's keep going. If it follows us, it'll have to deal with Majesty and won't go back to Paradise Estate," said Masquerade.

Megan looked back. She could not see the dragon, but she could see a line of trees fall, one by one, knocked down by its thrashing tail. Smoke was rising slowly from where the dragon's fire had hit.

What Megan didn't hear was the dragon saying: "Wrong little ponies! Next time. Next time."

This was, Megan noted to herself, the second Dream Castle she'd been to.She had noticed over her time with them that the ponies had a certain tendency to repeat names. Whether this was due to tradition, or a surprising lack of imagination, she didn't know.. The castle was a classic example of pony architecture: pink pastel construction (what kind of rock made bricks in that particular shade of pink?), furnished with cheerfully coloured items that seemed perfectly ordinary -- until you looked again and realized they were all meant to be used by beings who had no fingers.

As soon as they arrived, Masquerade had run into a lavender pony with blue twinkle eyes. Literally run into. She'd seen the pony and headbutted her, yelling "Skyrocket!" (Megan assumed this was probably the pony's name and not some Castle code for dragon-related emergency, though you never knew.) The two quickly ran off, Masquerade giving a rundown of the dragon problem. Megan and Wind Whistler were quickly buttonholed for a grand tour by one of the castle ponies.

"I truly regret we haven't had a chance to make a visit in so long," said Wind Whistler as she looked at a new painting on the wall, of a bunch of dancing elves. "I just cannot seem to find the time to leave Paradise Estate to go on excursions."

"Well, we're glad you arrived so soon," said Mirror Mirror, their tour guide. "Especially if it's Megan's first Fizziwhizz night!"

Fizziwhizz night, for the curious, is a pony holiday that takes place in November, involves exploding fizziwhizz flowers, and more fire than you usually associate with a little pony.

"I guess all that running we had to do paid off," said Megan, smiling. "Fizzy already came here for it, right? Any idea where she is?"

Mirror Mirror stopped in her tracks instead of answering Megan, and closed her eyes tightly.

"Mirror Mirror?" asked Megan, confused.

"You're about to discover why she's named Mirror Mirror, Megan," said Wind Whistler.

A mirror appeared at Mirror Mirror's feet, and the green pony got down on her knees to gaze into it. Within the glass, a picture slowly formed of Fizzy, somewhere off in a field. "She's still harvesting the fizziwhizz flowers. We won't interrupt her. That could end... badly," said Mirror Mirror. "But while I have this out..." her eyes narrowed in concentration, and after a moment her reflection formed into the face of a white unicorn with a long horn and a silvery blue mane who seemed to actually be looking at them from the mirror. [The Autumn Princess]

"Majesty!" cried Wind Whistler with delight, doing the pony-equivalent of a curtsy to the mirror.

"You are most welcome to send Megan in now," said Majesty from inside the mirror, her voice warm and inviting. "I believe I've arranged my study to my satisfaction."

"Of course, Majesty!" Mirror Mirror stood back up, her mirror fading away. "Let's go. She would have been here to greet you at the door, but she felt something was 'off' in her study and well, when Majesty has feelings... Come on! And Wind Whistler, do you want to come to the library with me? We've got new books since you last visited."

"That would be most gratifying, thank you, Mirror Mirror," said Wind Whistler.

When they got to the door of Majesty's study, Wind Whistler nosed Megan's hand reassuringly. "She's really a most agreeable pony, Megan. I'm sure you two will have many commonalities."

"I hope so. You guys tell me sometimes about the lessons she teaches people who aren't so great..." worried Megan.

"You're polite, you're brave, you're merciful, as well as kind. The only lesson Majesty has for one such as you is the proper way to dunk one’s biscuit in one's tea. And remember, Megan, I will always be a call away." Wind Whistler nuzzled Megan once more before walking off with Mirror Mirror, looking over her shoulder to smile at Megan.

Megan waved and then turned, swallowed, and knocked on the door to the study. The door shimmered and slowly opened. In the middle of the study was a wonderfully laid out table, with a pink tablecloth adorning it. Standing by the table was Majesty. To a horse-loving kid like Megan, Majesty looked perfect. A beautiful white unicorn with a shining mane and a sweet smile.

Majesty wiggled her horn and the door shut behind Megan. "Finally, I get to meet the wielder of the Rainbow of Light. It's such a useful tool." Majesty continued to work her magic around the room, a chair pulling out for Megan and tea pouring itself into wide, low cups, perfect for ponies who couldn't lift things without unicorn magic.

Megan reached up to squeeze the heart-shaped locket she wore. "Do you want it?" she asked. Her hands went back to undo the clasp.

"Oh! Oh no, nothing of the sort. No, I was admiring you for mastering it in the aid of ponies. Sit with me?" Majesty reassured Megan and nodded towards the pulled out seat.

Megan relaxed and sat down with a little thump. She liked being a hero to the ponies, even if she knew that they could fight their own battles.

"Now, this tea was grown in Cotton Candy's garden and I'm mostly sure she was careful enough harvesting that it hasn't been mixed with any of her more magical herbs," said Majesty in a teasing voice. "The chance of you being turned into a frog on your first sip is low."

Megan giggled and took a cup and sniffed it. "It's like roses!"

"Mhm. My favourite kind." Majesty sat down on her backlegs. "You weren't too worried about this, were you? I really was simply eager to meet you."

"Wind Whistler told me not to worry..." began Megan. "But the rest of the ponies were so excited."

"Heart Throb?" Majesty named the guiltiest suspect. "She's one of the ponies most likely to indulge in a bit of romanticism."

Megan nodded. "She and Paradise had me all dressed up so much I couldn't even ride."

Majesty gave Megan's found-in-the-closet uniform a careful eye. "I think that belonged to a dwarf."

"We weren't sure," said Megan.

Majesty floated some scones over to Megan, who dutifully took a raisin one.

"Ponies are mostly self-governing, they don't need to worry about me so much," said Majesty. "And there's quite a lot of royalty running about." She nodded to one of the maps pinned to the wall of the study. While the forests and rivers were elaborately detailed, the kingdoms that Megan knew were not written down, instead large castles and what looked like cities and towns appeared along the four corners.

"Take a look," said Majesty.

Megan got off her chair and examined the map. To the north the only labelled areas were a castle, named "Royal Castle," and a green, flowery area called "Friendship Gardens."

Further down the map and to the east were the two city-like areas Megan had noticed. She paused. "There's two Ponyvilles on here."

"And did you know that nearly all the pony countries are called Ponyland," said Majesty, stirring sugar into her tea.

"What's this area way east?" asked Megan, pointing to what looked like a forbidding forest.

"We're not sure yet. I intend to send Northstar there one day to complete her maps. All we know is that the few ponies who've visited from there are very, very small."

"But you're already little ponies!" exclaimed Megan, sitting back down to get her tea. Then she blushed. "Oh. Gosh. Sorry. That was rude."

Majesty chuckled. "And these are even littler ponies."

"So why the names?"

"We like them. We don't see why only one group should get to use them, they're only words, after all," said Majesty. She shook out her mane and glanced at the map. "I'll show you some of our more detailed maps after tea. Once you get past the pony settlements things begin to become a little more... unique."

The tea indeed tasted of roses. It also had a flavour that Megan couldn't quite identify, that made her think of what it was like lounging in bed on early mornings, when school or chores around the ranch had come too soon.

With a light thump, Megan's head fell to the table, cradled in her arms as she fell sound asleep. Across from her, Majesty had her head bowed, snoring gently.

Megan awoke to the sound of a baby crying. Murmuring to herself in confusion, she pushed herself up from the table, opened her eyes... and saw herself -- but not herself -- framed in the window of Majesty's study holding a screaming newborn unicorn.

Megan saw the other Megan wave to her sarcastically. Then other Megan snarled, "Be quiet already!" to the unicorn, and vanished in an explosion of smoke.

Coughing and confused, Megan fell to the floor as the castle ponies rushed in behind her through the study door.

"We heard crying," said Lemon Drop, a yellow earth pony with purple hair. "Heavy hooves, what happened in here!"

Majesty's study was a disaster area. It looked like a localized tornado had ripped through, throwing books and Majesty's equipment towards the end of the room where Megan had seen - and here she had to hold her head as she fought to remember - the other her and the baby unicorn.

That's when she noticed the lightness around her neck. The locket that held the Rainbow of Light was gone! While the ponies exclaimed in confusion over what could have happened and where Majesty was, Megan got on her hands and knees, searching for the locket.

"Megan!" cried Wind Whistler. "Are you well? What transpired?" The pegasus flew over the upset castle ponies, followed by Masquerade.

"I can't find it, Wind Whistler! I can't find the Rainbow of Light!" Megan was frantic and the only thought she could seem to focus on in all the noise and confusion was her missing Rainbow. There was something else, something very important at the edge of her mind, but all she could think of was the Rainbow of Light.

"Megan, I need you to calm down," said Wind Whistler gently, kneeling down on her front legs to look Megan in the eye, "Megan, you need to tell us where Majesty has vanished."

"I don't--" Megan began, when Masquerade interrupted with a triumphant yell.

"Found it!" Masquerade trotted over from the window where the debris was at its worst, locket in mouth. She leaned down to give it to Megan. That was when it clicked open to reveal it was empty.

"Oh dear," said Wind Whistler.

Majesty, meanwhile, was having a terrible time. She wasn't in her study. She was supposed to be in her study, she was fairly certain. But instead, she was in a crib. A baby's crib. Spikes lined the top rail, not that she could have climbed out in any case. She couldn't teleport through the bars, since unicorn magic needed empty space. The air smelled of sulphur -- not at all suitable for a nursery.

Why in Ponyland am I in a crib? she thought. Something was wrong with her brain. It felt small and fluffy and she couldn't think, couldn't reason at all. She was a problem solver by nature, but...but...

Majesty began to cry. Loudly.

Oh, a very small part of her thought as she wailed. That explains it.

She had been transformed into a newborn.

"Quiet!" yelled Megan. "Why won't you listen, you little pony brat?" She aimed a kick at the crib, causing it to shake.

Majesty wailed louder.

The crib was located in a stone room. Well, not a room. It was a stone platform, with lava far below. Floating where there would have been a wall were portraits of witches, wizards, and warlocks, each one of them looking meaner and nastier than the next. This was, knew the part of Majesty that still clung to her adult mind, definitely not her study.

To one side of the crib, past a table where a makeshift baby's high chair with rope hanging from it sat, were winding stairs leading off the platform to the outside world, if the sweet smell of clean air was a good clue, and to the other side steps up to a thin path that led to what looked like a wizard's workspace.

"It's just the first day and already parenthood is the pits," muttered Megan. "Ungrateful pony! I take you into my home, I even give you my childhood crib!" She patted the spikes, before pulling her hand away with a hiss from the sharpness. On each corner of the crib were grotesque gargoyles, leering down at the Majesty, with hungry expressions.

"Maybe you need a toy," said Megan, going through a weathered toy-box beside the crib. Eventually she pulled out a taxidermied scorpion the size of a cat. "Mr. Stabby! You'll love him!"

She put the scorpion in Majesty's crib. "Careful! His tail's still toxic and I haven't got anti-venom in my bag of tricks." Megan paused. "I could have used a silencer in there."

Baby Majesty kept up the sobs.

Megan gave up on the baby for now and straightened up, looking around the volcano lair with satisfaction. On a shelf there was a small onyx box, bouncing under its own power , but chains held it in place.

"I have had quite enough of this face," snarled Megan, reaching above her hand and making a tearing motion. With a sound like shattering glass, the enchantment that disguised her broke, and there stood wizard Broot. He was a squat man, with a snarled beard that bristled in all directions. His robes were dark purple and black, covered in stains and the faded remnants of sewn on stars. He stroked his beard thoughtfully. He stopped, pulling a finger loose from a tangle.

"I should get Hydia up on the old crystal ball. Her brats survived, she should have some tips."

"Everypony, calm down!" said Mirror Mirror, pushing her way to the ground. "What's important now is that we find Majesty!"

The ponies began to settle down, and Megan took the opportunity to pull herself up against Wind Whistler. Her head was finally starting to clear.

Mirror Mirror summoned her mirror and began: "What happened to Majesty?" she asked it. It clouded, then revealed Megan's face, smirking nastily. The castle ponies went very silent, then turned to look at Megan.

"I'm sure there's a completely logical explanation for this," began Wind Whistler.

"We'd like to hear it," said Lemon Drop, moving towards Megan with purpose.

"I don't know what happened," said Megan, holding tightly to Wind Whistler. "I fell asleep! And then there was crying and something's happened to the Rainbow of Light an--"

"Enough!" said Lemon Drop. "Something is not right, and we need to figure this out. We can't have someone who can make Majesty vanish running around freely so..."

Cotton Candy and another pony nodded, stepping forward and grabbing Megan by her sleeves. Lemon Drop continued: "We're going to keep you under watch until we figure this out. Take her to her room!"

Masquerade stomped a foot. "This is ridiculous! Megan wouldn't do anything to anyone!"

Wind Whistler nodded and tried to get in front of Megan and her guards. "If you'd just let us talk this through...!"

Lemon Drop shook her head. "The mirror was clear enough!"

Mirror Mirror nodded. "My mirror's never wrong."

Wind Whistler frowned. "Megan, don't worry. I'll mount a defense!"

Megan swallowed nervously as she was led out of the room by the ponies. "It's okay, Wind Whistler. They'll find out I didn't do it!"

Lemon Drop stomped after. "We'll see about that!"

Masquerade sat with a thoughtful look as the room emptied of ponies, save for her and Wind Whistler.

"How could I let this happen, Masquerade!" said Wind Whistler. "Megan was under my protection!"

"Our protection," said Masquerade.

"We just let them take her away. What will they do if we cannot prove her innocence? Keep her away forever? Majesty is dear to all of us. What if she's gone forever?" Wind Whistler paced. "I must think about this logically. There is a solution. I need to locate it and put it into action."

"So what happened in here?"

Wind Whistler surveyed the scene with a critical eye. The center of the room was relatively undisturbed, but the perimeter was a halo of debris. "The seeming eye of the storm where we stand puts to mind the Rainbow of Light's circular movements. I believe it must have been active during whatever occurred," said Wind Whistler.

"So Megan or Majesty used it?" Masquerade nosed a book over, sniffing the ground. "Uck. It smells like sulphur."

"Yes, I believe it must have been used in defense. As Megan cannot recall using the Rainbow of Light herself, Majesty must have used her powers to open the locket."

"So there was a fight?"

"I am most certain of it, Masquerade. This disarray would not have occurred without some form of struggle. I believe..." Wind Whistler sat down heavily. "That Majesty hasn’t disappeared, she’s been kidnapped."

"So why did the mirror show Megan?" Masquerade got up to look at the maps on the wall, seeming to look for something specific.

"That remains to be discovered, but I'm sure we will be able to ascertain the cause of its mistake." Wind Whistler looked over at Masquerade. "What are you doing?"

"I'm looking for a volcano. The last time I smelled sulphur like that, it was when the witches from the Volcano of Gloom were causing trouble." Masquerade's eyes twinkled as she found what she was looking for. "Mount Misery is the closest one to us."

Wind Whistler started going through the books on the floor. "I know that Dream Castle here has more than its fair share of magical problems, you don't think they've got their own volcano witches?"

"I dunno. You make a plan, I'll be back with Megan."

"And how will you achieve that?" asked Wind Whistler.

"I'll figure it out," said Masquerade, trotting out of the room.

Back in his lair, Broot held onto the rim of the table that held his crystal ball. His knuckles were white, and he was distinctly feeling the lack of approval from his dear cousin. Down below, lava bubbled, filling the room with more sulphur stink.

"Look, we're not all blessed with your good looks, Hydia. I just wasn't going to find a hag to settle down with and make my own little Broots with, so I improvised. Adoption is perfectly acceptable and what better for a child for me, the great wizard Broot, than the world's most powerful unicorn! I had the perfect trick in my bag of tricks and just please tell me how to make the crying stop," Broot ranted to the crystal ball. He was careful not to actually look at his bag of tricks. He was trying to ignore how very empty it was getting. A unicorn, loyal to him and full of magic, was what he needed most at this point.

Hydia cackled. "You're going to suffer for this one, Broot!"

"Just answer the question! When does it need to be fed!"

Hydia settled down. "I used to give my girls pureed worms every two hours, and started them on solids like batwings, rats bottoms, good healthy food, by the time they were two."

"Where did you find all the worms?" asked Broot, writing down notes on his scroll.

"The trash heap. Are you sure you're ready to be a father, Broot?" Hydia smiled , and the crystal ball cracked slightly. "I could take her off your hands..."

"Don't even think it, cousin. Find your own unicorn. I know your type. Family, always grabbing, always stealing. Well, I kidnapped this unicorn fair and square. You keep your grubby hands off it!"

"Don't come crawling back to me when this all goes wrong like everything you do, Broot!" snarled Hydia as she cut off the crystal ball connection.

Majesty had finally tired its -- herself out and was curled up in the middle of the crib as far away from every bit of the crib she could get. Broot sat down at his ratty dining table and looked over the notes. "Where am I even going to find a giant spider to babysit?" he wondered. Perhaps he could make one.

Back in Dream Castle, things were looking pretty grim for Megan.

The castle ponies had pulled out some of the (mostly unused) armour to do guard duty, in case it protected against mysterious pony disappearing powers. Ponies, in Megan's experience, were never truly mean. But the castle ponies were frightened and worried, and this made them stubborn. She didn't blame them, but she did want to be let out -- and to find Majesty and the Rainbow of Light. Megan had stopped trying to negotiate with them through the door a long time ago. Now she lay in her bed, trying to remember what had happened. But her memories seemed to stop at falling asleep at the table, and start again at the cry of the mysterious baby. Nothing else would come to her.

Outside her door, there was the sound of voices.

"Come to relieve you. They've made cupcakes for the search party and need more people," she heard a voice say.

The guard ponies' voices were skeptical. "Just one relief?" asked the first guard.

"We need a lot of ponies searching. I'm not afraid of one little human girl," said the relief.

"Well... what kind of cupcakes?" asked the other guard, licking her lips.

"Chocolate with strawberry frosting," said the relief.

"Well. We'll come back to help you!" said the guards as they trotted off.

I know that voice, Megan thought, just as the door opened. The visor of the pony's helmet flipped up to reveal -- "Masquerade!"

Masquerade turned around, locking the door behind her. "Open your window, we gotta go. Wind Whistler's in Majesty's office and we can pick her up at the big windows there."

Megan leapt off her bed with a happy cry and hugged Masquerade around the neck. "We're going to fix this?"

"We're going to fix this," said Masquerade, shaking off the rest of the armour with a not at all stealthy clang. "Climb aboard!"

"I'm so glad you came for me," cried Megan and was on Masquerade's back in a flash.

The pony took to the air in a flutter of wings, and--

BANG!

"Ow," Masquerade complained, as they hovered before the still-closed window.

Megan looked sheepish. "It's too high for me to open, or I would've escaped already."

Masquerade sighed, and flitted close to the sill so Megan could undo the latch and raise the sash.

Masquerade muttered, "I don't know how you humans manage with all those fingers, I really don't," and they leaped to freedom.

In Broot's lair, the constant rumbling of the volcano was noisily competing with baby Majesty's increasingly vocal displeasure at her kidnapping.

Broot was doing his best to send the wailing foal back to sleep. He was carrying the kicking and screaming newly-newborn unicorn in his arms, singing it -- her -- the songs he'd grown up with: "The Big Bad Dragon Will Gobble You Up", "Spiders Spiders Everywhere," and his personal favourite, "The Princess That Was Turned Into A Frog And Eaten By A Snake." This last had always put him right to sleep as a tiny Broot, but none seemed to work on the baby pony.

"What do you want from me? What will make you love me? Or at least shut you up?" asked a stressed-out Broot. "I don't have a trick for that."

He was strongly considering just dumping the pony into the lava all accidental-like and declaring it a wash. It certainly wouldn't be the first time it had happened to an infant in his family.

Majesty managed to get a good smack to his jaw with her left front hoof.

"You little--!" yelled Broot, before calming himself. No, terrifying the children, as Hydia had told him, had to wait until they knew what terror was. He was going to do this right. And he was going to take over all of ponyland with his adopted daughter by his side.

"You need a new name," he said. "Horseapple?"

Majesty's hoof struck out again, but Broot dodged that one. "My little Horseapple!" His heart swelled with affection as he looked down at the absolutely furious baby.

"We're going to do bad things, Horseapple!" He set her back into the crib, something had just occurred to him. What if the ponies actually managed to figure out that it wasn't the little girl who'd done the deed? They weren't very bright, but they were often very lucky. Too often. He needed protection.

Broot crossed to his 'study,' an area nearly cut apart from the rest of his lair by the intrusion of two small lava inlets.With a feeling of resignation, he dug through his pathetically empty bag of tricks and pulled out one of his last precious spells..

He held it out and recited the text written across it. Suddenly, the lurid, moving shadows by the roiling lava left the walls as if of their own volition, circling Broot, their movement low and menacing.

"Sit!" Broot said sharply. The shadows coalesced, obediently settling into ten dog-like forms. "Very good."

One or two of the shadowdogs wagged their smoky tails uncertainly, adding a note of burning hair to the already sulphurous atmosphere. Broot held up a commanding hand. They circled him, waiting for a command.

"Guard Mount Misery, guard me and my daughter," he said to them. The shadowdogs bowed low and went to their positions.

"This may be bad," said Wind Whistler. Megan had been transferred to her back and was holding tightly her dear friend. "Megan, do you see them as well?"

They'd made good progress to Mount Misery, Masquerade and Wind Whistler flying as fast as their wings could take them. Now Wind Whistler was surveying their target: dark, cracked, basalt beneath them interspersed with fertile areas and trees surrounding the edge of the volcanic rock. Hexagonal columns of rock rose up, enough to give good cover to the ponies if they decided to approach on foot.

"There's black... things coming out of the volcano. Like dogs. What do we do, Wind Whistler?" asked Megan, holding tighter to Wind Whistler's mane.

"I am not sure." Wind Whistler said. Both ponies neatly banked away and flew into the cover of the trees, out of the dogs' sight.

Once they were on the ground, Masquerade became very interested in a depression in the black soil. "You know what this looks like?" said Masquerade.

"What?" asked Megan, dismounting from Wind Whistler.

"It looks like a dragon footprint." Masquerade sniffed the air. "And it smells like sulphur. The same kind that was in Majesty's study."

"What makes it special?" asked Megan.

"Remember how the witches from the Volcano of Gloom smelled?" asked Masquerade.

Megan went a little green.

"Exactly," said Masquerade. "It's all mixed up with the sulphur here too."

"I believe we've found the proper location then, friends," said Wind Whistler. "We must formulate a plan." She sat down, scratching a rough map of the path to the volcano in the dirt with her hoof.

Megan frowned. "If I just had the Rainbow of Light, I could deal with those shadow things, no problem."

"We must resign ourselves to doing without that tool, I'm afraid," said Wind Whistler with a sigh. "Since we cannot recover the Rainbow of Light without first eluding the dogs. But we are resourceful, we will make do."

Masquerade peered out from behind a tree at the creatures. "I can lead them away. Or fight them, if it comes to it. I'll do that and you'll rush inside?”

"If we can just find Majesty, I bet her magic can fix a lot of this," said Megan.

"We must face the fact Majesty may be incapacitated beyond aiding us," said Wind Whistler. "But your plan does seem like a good beginning, Masquerade."

"Prisoner manoeuvre?" suggested Masquerade.

"You believe you could disguise yourself as one of them?" asked Wind Whistler.

"Yeah, easy," said Masquerade.

Megan clapped her hands. "I'll get some rope out of the bags and do it up lightly, if you can get us in there safely to look, we can see how dangerous this--"

"Wizard Broot," supplied Wind Whistler.

"This wizard Broot is. We can do this," said Megan, resting her hands on Masquerade and Wind Whistler's shoulders. "We can save Majesty."

Broot felt he was making progress, as he mashed up the worms for 'Horseapple's' first meal with him in the 'kitchen'. which consisted mainly of the flat rim of his cauldron. Still, to give an evil wizard credit, it did the job. The pony had stopped crying and now was simply watching him. The worms' tiny screams had ceased. "I think the first thing we do," he said to the baby in a sing-song voice, "is destroy stupid Dream Castle. With all its pink and all its happy."

Baby Majesty narrowed her eyes.

"That's right!" said Broot happily, seeing that. "You hate those stupid little ponies now, too! Just like my own flesh and blood." He plopped down a glob of mashed worm in her crib. "There you go! To make you grow up big and strong like your daddy Broot."

Majesty squirmed away from the worm-mush until her back was against the other side of the crib.

Suddenly, two of the shadowdogs got up, growling. Broot's eyes widened. "What is it? Have they come for me? Destroy them!" He ordered, hoping he hadn't made a mistake and the dogs were merely asking to go out. He was pretty sure shadowdogs didn't need to go out, but, well, this was how his life often went.

They stalked towards the entrance when a new shadowdog appeared, leading Wind Whistler and Megan behind it. "Wait!" cried Broot. "Not yet! I want to... gloat. It's not often that you get to destroy someone twice."

"You're horrible!" said Megan. She pretended to struggle against her ropes and covertly looked around the room. She froze when she saw the crib containing baby Majesty.

"Megan," whispered Wind Whistler. "The shelf! Look at the shelf!"

The onyx box was still rattling. Whatever was inside had made progress: faint bits of light were showing at the edges of the lid.

Megan's eyes widened. "He stole the Rainbow of Light."

"Of course I did, you silly girl," said Broot. "With my vast array of tricks, there's nothing I cannot do!"

"Can you dodge?" said the shadowdog.

"What?" said Broot.

Masquerade leapt up, the soot-covered leaves that had made up her costume flying everywhere and tackled Broot hard. Megan slipped from her ropes and raced to the Rainbow of Light's prison working frantically at its chains. Wind Whistler darted down the narrow path to Broot's study.

"Get off! Get off, you stupid little pony! Shadowdogs -- Attack!" yelled Broot as he hit at Masquerade.

The shadowdogs leapt at Masquerade, who kicked and dodged the creatures. Megan gripped the onyx box, looking around the room for a sign of the key that would open the chains to free the Rainbow. The shadowdogs were gaining on Masquerade, and Megan was getting desperate, so desperate she slammed the box to the hard stone floor.

All it did was chip off a corner of the lid.

Megan frowned and lifted it again for another smash.

But that corner was enough for the Rainbow to squeeze out, slowly at first and building up speed, until it burst out and smashed through the shadowdogs, causing them to explode into puffs of darkness.

The shadowdogs dealt with, Masquerade whirled until she spotted Broot. She tackled him, and he shrieked.

In Broot's study, Wind Whistler had found not the book of spells she had been hoping for, but Broot's bag of tricks. She rooted through the bag, hoping for any sort of instruction. There were only two tricks left (Two! So much for the mighty bag of tricks. She almost felt sorry for the evil wizard. Almost.) and she dragged both out. Seeing the fight going on past the path, she looked from one to the other. Their spells were written in a language Wind Whistler barely knew, but she did know enough to see that they both said 'reverse'. Oh well. What was the worst that could happen?

"Here goes nothing," she did a quick mental eenie-meenie, and chose one. She pushed it in front of her and recited the spell on the front. For a moment, nothing happened, then suddenly the sole remaining shadowdog , which had managed to elude the Rainbow of Light by hiding on top of a bookcase (it told itself that this was the perfect place to stage an ambush on Wind Whistler) vanished without a sound.

The study had gone quiet, apart from the incessant roar of the volcano, and Wind Whistler heard a small, unexpected sound from one corner. The sound was this:

"Goo."

Wind Whistler spun round, and saw a tiny white unicorn foal in a crib. Then she did a double take.

"Goo!" the baby offered urgently.

It took a moment for Wind Whistler to speak. "Majesty?"

The baby pony smiled with a surprising degree of regalness. "Goo."

Broot landed a lucky punch on Masquerade, and got to his feet, waving his arms in a way he hoped looked menacing. "I'll show you! I'll turn you all to frogs!"

Masquerade got up, steeling herself for frogdom. The Rainbow of Light had vanished gone to hunt down the outside shadowdogs and was at the moment no help to those still inside the volcano.

Baby Majesty crawled up to the bars of her crib, cooing excitedly.

"You have moments to flee!" screamed Broot, arms in the air as he began to yell a nonsense spell.

Wind Whistler looked at Broot, looked at baby Majesty, looked at the near-empty bag, and decided that her only remaining course of action was also the most logical. She shouted out the reversal spell written upon the last trick, her voice blurring with Broot's fake spells to scare Masquerade and Megan. But it was enough and what appeared to be a blue butterfly flew out of baby Majesty, who suddenly turned into a proper sized unicorn, smashing the crib. Majesty laughed and smiled at Wind Whistler.

But something was wrong. The spell wobbled confuse as it flittered around on wobbling wings -- until suddenly it made straight for Broot. The bearded wizard instantly became a wispy-chinned toddler.

The evil baby made an ear-piercing shriek, startling the butterfly spell, and it flew out of him, returning him to adulthood.

Masquerade turned and tried to dodge the erratic spell before it got her, but she was too slow -- momentarily turned into a small, but still gem-eyed, version of herself. A blink later the spell was again on the move, this time towards Megan who managed to dodge as it flew into a book, briefly turning the ancient tome into a small, illustrated version of The Princess That Was Turned Into A Frog And Eaten By A Snake. It flew out one last time, heading towards Wind Whistler, who flew up to avoid it, and into the lava the spell fell, burning up with a fizzle.

"No!" yelled Broot, running to the edge of the lava. "No, that was my last trick!" He turned to the ponies and snarled. "You'll pay for this! You'll all pay! You took my chance at glory from me!"

"Excuse me, 'father'," said Majesty, dusting off bits of horror crib. "I believe you've done quite enough for today." She wiggled her horn and Broot's skin and clothes suddenly turned bright rainbow.

"What is this?" he yelled, looking down. "How is making me look ridiculous supposed to stop me?"

"Until you learn to do good deeds," said Majesty, "you will continue to look ridiculous. And as your bag of tricks is now empty, it will be a good deal more difficult for you to do mischief." She smiled. "Why not give it a try?"

"I-- you--" Broot stuttered, too furious for words.

"Of course, I think the rainbow is quite fetching," said Majesty.

"It is quite flattering," said Wind Whistler.

"It suits you," said Masquerade.

"It won't be that hard to be good," said Megan.

"Just get out!" Yelled Broot, picking up rocks from his floor to throw at them. "Out!"

Laughing, the ponies and Megan left Broot and started the long walk back to Dream Castle.

"Thank you, dear friends," said Majesty, stepping from volcanic rock onto rich green grass. "While a second childhood would not have been the worst thing to happen to me, I do think I would have preferred a different role model for a parent."

Megan was holding tight to the locket with the rescued Rainbow of Light. "I never want to go through that again."

"Our next tea," reassured Majesty, "will be undrugged."

FIZZ-WHIZZ-KRAKOOM!

Megan grinned as another fizziwhizz flower exploded into droplets of light in the sky. The ponies, never ones to let a simple royal abduction interfere with a celebration, had decided to hold Fizziwhizz night as planned.

Megan was sitting out on the grass in front of Dream Castle, one arm around Wind Whistler's neck, while Fizzy set off the flowers she'd gathered.

Masquerade was sitting off to the side with Locket and Skyrocket, having moved from apologizing for tricking them in costume to sleepily nuzzling Locket after a long day of fighting the forces of evil.

Majesty was standing by the bonfire, making sure it didn't spill over.

"Wind Whistler?" began Megan.

"Yes?" answered Wind Whistler.

"Who's that smiling redhead they're burning?" said Megan, pointing at the effigy on the bonfire.

"Don't worry about it," said Wind Whistler.

Broot walked between the ponies with a tray of drinks, his first step to getting rid of his rainbow. No self respecting evil wizard was going to find himself covered in such pretty colours for long. Every pony's smiling and sincere thanks was like a straight pin jabbed into his ear. But he could hold on, he told himself, until he was restored to normal. Perhaps later he could tell the baby ponies a bedtime story.

Another flower exploded, this one a shower of red sparks. Megan snuggled against Wind Whistler and enjoyed the show.

Fizziwhizz Night is Guy Fawkes day for little ponies. I felt like it was important to share this with the world. Return to your spot.

The Enchanted Mirror is one of the origins of where little ponies come from. I have no idea what would happen if Megan stood in front of that mirror, but I assume it's best to just avoid that. Return to your spot.

Applejack's Amazing Adventure is the origin of how Masquerade and her friends came to have such interesting eyes and how Masquerade knows/cares about Skyrocket and Locket. Return to your spot.

The Autumn Princess is quite a good example of Mirror Mirror's mirror in action. Return to your spot.