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Time Flaw


CHAPTER 1:The Storm
The sky was dark with heavy clouds that seemed to barely miss the treetops of the forest. A strong wind blew the curtain of rain to one side, trying and succeeding at times to blow the large leaves off the branches.
In a cave were two identical ponies, riding out the storm. But with the bad light, they could be hardly seen, and their black coats didn't help much with their visibility either.
"Why do we have to go to Ferris Castle anyway?" the one complained.
"You know why, Starfire!" the other answered. "They haven't made any attempt to sign an alliance with king Star-Cluster!"
"Why bother asking?" Starfire replied grouchy. "We know what the answer will be! They were as loyal to the Queen as any other kingdom!"
"This will only be their first warning -" the other answered. "Next time we will come with a small army. And if they still refuse, we know how to change their minds!"
Starfire snorted. "I think this is a waste of time!" he replied irritated.
"Greenland changed their minds, didn't they?" the other said. "Usually it is you who is the optimist!"
They were silent for a while, looking at the lightning streaking across the sky.
"Don't worry, little brother!" the other suddenly said with a smile. "The storm looks already if it is coming to an end!"
Starfire sighed and laid his head on his hooves. "You know me too good, Stardust!" he said, turning his blue eyes towards his brother.
Stardust laughed. "We're triplets!" he said.
Starfire cracked a smile, then suddenly lifted his head again. "Talking about triplets ..." he said "I wonder how Skyview is doing! We didn't hear anything form him last time the full moon had been shining!"
Stardust stared into the distance. "Hopefully much better than you did; I hope we'll hear something from him next week." He trailed off. "I'm tired of king Star-Cluster always asking about the princess."
"I thought you were tired of hearing Pretty-Boy's voice!" Starfire smiled, but suddenly his smile faded.
"Who?" Stardust asked with a slight chuckle, raising one eyebrow. He vaguely remembered talking about 'Pretty-Boy' but he couldn't place it. And yet it still seemed new to him.
"I ... I mean KING Star-Cluster!" Starfire replied, but in a tone much deeper than his normal voice, filled with mockery. Then he became serious. "You won't tell him I said that, will you? We have captured ponies for saying less!"
"No I won't ..." Stardust replied. "You are my younger brother! But watch your tongue; you don't want to say it when others are close by!"
"I won't!" Starfire assured him, laying his head back down again.
They watched as the downpour calmed down to a softer, almost misty rain. Lightning still streaked across the sky at intervals, but they were much less and further in between than a few moments before.
"Looks like night is falling!" Stardust remarked. He looked down at Starfire. "We should spend the night ..."
Starfire was already asleep.
"!" Stardust sighed, and lowered his head as well.
Early the next morning, some distance away of the cave but still within the same forest, a small thick bush started to shake. A cold, wet pony stepped forth from his shelter, and shook the worst of the water from its coat. He was quite a sight to see: Pitch black, but with a yellowish off-white colour mane and tail! On his side he had a symbol of two rings that formed a very thin dark-gray sickle moon; the two horns of which just didn't meet.
He had wings that shared his strange coloring, with most of it being black, except (of course) his primary feathers which was the same off-white!
"I should have found a better spot! That was a bad storm!" he commented to himself, as he stretched his wings before flapping them quickly to get rid of the most water. Even the thick hairs on his feet got a good shake. He glanced at the bush under which he had hid. "I thought it was much larger yesterday!"
He looked around with dark green eyes and realized that he was lost.
"What happened to the road?" he asked, frowning, trying to remember which way he was going. "The storm wasn't THAT bad! Was it?"
He noticed the barely risen sun.
"So if that is east..." he said to himself turning around "Then Skywood Forest should be this way -"
For a moment he thought of taking flight, but his feathers was still to wet. He sighed sadly and started walking through the thick foliage, hoping to find a trail he can follow.





CHAPTER 2: The Stranger
Stardust stood up and walked out of the cave before stretching. He was completely black, except for a little dark blue in his mane and tail.
"Starfire!" he called, but his brother was still asleep.
Stardust sighed and walked back into the cave, shaking the sleeping pony until he woke up.
"Mm?" he asked sleepily, squinting his eyes against the light that shone into the cave.
"Time to get moving on!" Stardust answered, shaking his brother again just to make sure he got the message.
"Okay, okay! I'm up!" Starfire quickly said and yawned before standing up. He joined his bother outside, also stretching to wake up properly. He flapped his wings a few times quickly, before folding them flat against his sides. They almost disappeared completely against his black fur ... almost. One really did have to glance quickly to miss them! He yawned again.
"Lets go!" Stardust said. They walked off into the forest.
As they followed the dirt path through the forest, Starfire was talking about the town in which the princess was hiding. Stardust was listening. He was curious about this other world. He had been there only once before, for a few fleeting minutes!
"I really think you are going to be more successful with finding the princess then I was!" Starfire suddenly said.
"Don't you think Skyview will find her?" Stardust asked.
"I've got wings, Skyview a horn!" Starfire said. "These characteristics aren't really that common over there! You, on the other hoof, are an earth-pony! You can come and go more easily!"
"Remember, she has both!" Stardust replied. "She has to hide as much as you do!"
"I know, but someone had to have looked after her ... after all we did capture Queen R-" the words died in his throat as Stardust stopped in his tracks.
Coming out from the leaves just in front of them was another black pony, with sharply contrasting white mane and tail ... and (shockingly) primary fathers!
"Who are you?" Stardust demanded, caught off guard.
The strange pony looked at them with an expression of relief on his face, another strange thing.
"Oh, hi there!" he said. "I'm Eklip! I heard your voices a distance off!"
"I thought we were the only black ponies!" Starfire whispered to Stardust, and quickly added "I thought I was the only male pegasus!"
"Can you maybe help me ... I seem to be a bit lost ..." Eklip was saying, still unafraid of the two brothers.
"You are in the kingdom of Ponyland!" Stardust said.
"Well that is obvious!" Eklip said. "You are both black ..." Eklip suddenly noticed Starfire's wings. "Ah, and you're a pegasus! Can you please tell me which way Skywood forest is?"
"Why do you want to go there?" Starfire asked. He didn't like Skywood forest ... or more accurately he didn't like its residents.
"Where are you from?" Stardust asked.
"I'll give you one guess!" Eklip replied with a smile, twitching his one wing as a hint.
"I don't have time for guessing games!" Stardust frowned, looking at Starfire. "Catch him!"
Starfire frowned as well, and his eyes stared coldly at the strange pegasus. Eklip suddenly realised he might be in trouble as they both started walking forward at him.
"I think I'll find my own way home, thank you!" he said as he spun around.
He ran through the forest as fast as he could, zigzagging between trees and the odd rock and jumping over fallen trunks. His hopes to lose the two behind him quickly faded as he turned his head and seeing Stardust catching up quickly.
Stardust silently wished that Eklip had stayed on the path, where he could easily run after him at full speed! Unknown to him, Eklip was wishing the same thing, only so that he could've taken off. He felt he had a better chance against the pegasus. After all, he had …
As if their wishes were granted, they ran into a large clearing between the trees. Eklip quickly took his chance and with a flap of his wings he took off. Stardust, having gained speed, jumped to catch Eklip by the tail. He didn't get a good grip however, and pulled a few strands of hair from the stranger's tail.
As he sat in the grass, spitting the white hairs out of his mouth, Stardust saw Starfire come into the clearing and taking off after Eklip.






CHAPTER 3: Air Battle
Eklip yelled as he felt his hair being pulled out, but he would rather prefer that than being dragged to the ground by that pony! If he needed to, he would've kicked at the black pony. He glanced back, remembering about his companion and sure enough he saw the pegasus taking off.
Eklip started to gain speed, hoping to outfly his pursuer. He had regularly exercised with his grandfather - when he was still alive - and knew how to lose even the fastest of pegasi!
Starfire noticed Eklip picking up speed, and smiled to himself.
"Finally, someone fast enough for me!" he thought to himself. As all the other pegasi were female, Starfire had no trouble catching them on the wing and had secretly longed for a challenge. "This might actually be fun!"
As they sped away, Starfire did slowly catch up to Eklip. Eklip glanced back once more, and noticing that he won't get away easily, started to do air tricks to try and confuse his pursuer. One moment he would dash straight, the next he would cut to one side or the other. One moment he would climb in the air, the next he would dive to just above the treetops.
It slowed his speed down drastically, but it did help to confuse Starfire. He liked doing air tricks, but was soon feeling frustrated that he couldn't get close enough to Eklip to grab him.
"Just hold on!" he thought to calm himself. "He must tire soon!"
And indeed, just then Eklip was again glancing over his shoulder.
"I have to lose him .. but he's like Grandfather: I cannot hope to outfly him!" he said to himself. He knew what he had to do, but deep down he was scared. He had trained it many times, but the gryphons from the south-west had been quiet lately after they had recaptured White Pearl Castle; and he never had to use the techniques he had learned! And never before had anyone have to use it against another pony! He wasn't armed either, but at least it wasn't a gryphon...
He closed his eyes for only a moment and, gathering all his courage, he committed himself.
What happened next absolutely astounded Starfire. It was the last thing he expected. Eklip seemed to tire out, allowing Starfire to catch up, but just as Starfire was about to grab him, Eklip turned onto his back and kicked Starfire in he chest with his back legs.
The sudden attack caught Starfire by surprise, and he dropped a few meters before recovering. Eklip took his chance to escape, but failed again.
Starfire flew after him, furious. His chest hurt with each flap of his wings, but he was determined to catch the stranger!
Eklip saw the pegasus coming for him, and turned into a tight circle. Starfire followed, but after a few turns he found the young pegasus on his tail! He knew another knock was coming, and ducked in time to miss a blow to the head.
Stardust was trying to follow the two pegasi on the ground, but almost lost them several times through the leafy canopy. He looked up again through a break and gasped when he saw that the two were actually fighting each other in mid-air.
"Wow!" he thought loudly. "That looks amazing!"
Eklip darted in and out of the fight with trained skill, but lacked the fighting experience Starfire had.
Starfire managed to avoid most hits. Though more then a decade older than the stranger, he was still in his prime. He was an excellent flier and he knew better than most ponies how to fight. But it was the first time he had to fly and fight at the same time! Something Eklip seems to have some experience with.
They wheeled and turned, both doing air tricks Starfire had never dreamed of before, just to avoid each other's hooves. Then with sheer luck Starfire managed to plant his first hit to Eklip's head.
Eklip dropped a few meters, feeling dizzy. He forced himself to concentrate, only to see the other pegasus ramming into his side, knocking his wind out.
Eklip recovered before he fell through the canopy and made a dash for safety.
"This won't work either!" he realized and tried to think of something he could do. Then he had a thought: It was something only he and his late grandfather could do; The only thing he could do better than any pegasus around, even his grandfather; Something his grandfather had taught him, saying he had learned it from another pegasus when he was young; Something his grandfather made him practice regularly, almost obsessively as if he knew this day would come...
Now Eklip was glad he had listened to his grandfather - it was his only chance! His pursuer was almost on top of him!
Eklip flared his wings, looking for a moment like a black dot with a white ring around it. It slowed him down to almost a stop in midair. Starfire, seeing Eklip slow down so drastically, cut to one side to avoid the inevitable attack. But when he glanced back at Eklip, he saw that he was diving fast towards the forest below.
"He won't!" Starfire gasped, turning into a dive as well, hoping to keep Eklip in sight.
Eklip crashed at an alarming speed through the leaves and started to fly through the trees. Starfire felt he had no choice but to follow.
Stardust had by now completely lost the two pegasi, but he continued to run in the direction he had last seen them go. He was still playing the scene of the pegasi fight over in his head, imagining several hundreds of them when he heard a loud crash that echoed through the forest.
Stardust stopped for a moment, wondering what that could have been, before changing course slightly in the direction of the bang. He had lost Starfire ... he might as well check it out!
Stardust walked carefully through the shrubs, looking for anything suspicious. Then he noticed something black out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head and gasped when he recognized Starfire, lying unconscious on the ground.
Stardust ran to him.
"Starfire!" he called worriedly. But Starfire didn't wake up.
Stardust quickly checked his brother. He had slight difficulty breathing, but would be fine. He had no broken bones or open wounds, but was already developing a thick red band over his one shoulder where he had flown into the tree. He might have cracked a few ribs though; It will hurt for a few days as well, but knowing his brother he will not let it keep him grounded for long! A few feathers lay scattered around the area, but Starfire had grown them back already.
Stardust shook Starfire again, calling his name. Slowly Starfire started to wake up.
"Wh...What happened?" he asked, still a bit dizzy and finding it hard to focus.
"I was going to ask you that!" Stardust replied, glad that his brother was awake. "How do you feel?"
Starfire tried to sit up, but quickly lay down again. "Painfully dizzy, thank you!" he replied. "But I'll live, I think!"
"I think we should camp for the day..." Stardust decided. "You're in no condition to travel further today!"





CHAPTER 4: Unbelievable Truth.
Just within sight of them, but sitting high up in a tree was a dark figure. He was out of hearing distance, but it didn't really matter to him what they were saying. He just wanted to make sure he will be safe from them for a while longer.
He was still shaking slightly, tensed up from the fight. He sighed softly, forcing himself to calm down.
When he was sure he won't be followed, he silently slipped to the ground and once again took a glance in the direction of the other two black ponies. They seemed familiar though, but he couldn't really place them. He shook the thought and disappeared into the forest.
"Thanks granddad!" he thought to himself. "If you hadn't made me exercise flying through the woods ..." He didn't want to complete the thought!
As he carefully walked through the bush, he realized that he was now even more lost. When he woke up that morning he had an idea where Treetop lay, but now ...
"That was incredible!" he heard a voice behind him say.
Eklip froze very momentarily with fright, but instantly recovered and spun around, staring at the pony in front of him.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you ..." she apologised. She was bright blue with dark red hair. "But as far as I know, no one has ever escaped from any of the Black Ponies without help! But you are also black though ..."
"Family trade..." Eklip smiled.
"Are they family of yours?" the blue pony asked nervously.
"I don't remember them, but they do look kinda familiar ..." Eklip replied. "Should be long forgotten cousins ... or something ... who are you anyway?"
"Oh sorry! How rude of me!" the blue pony apologised, still unsure if she could trust the pegasus before her. "My name is Shady."
"I'm Eklip!"
"Originally was ... but the 's' got lost somewhere along the way!" Eklip smiled. "Can you maybe tell me which way Skywood forest is?"
"Skywood forest!" Shady gasped. "Why do you want to go there?"
"Because that is where the town of Treetop is, and where I live ..." Eklip replied. "Nearly all male pegasi comes from Treetop!"
"But the Apetons has their kingdom there ..."
"Apetons?" Eklip gasped. "Have they finally returned?"
"Returned? They've been there from since I can remember!" Shady replied.
"No -" Eklip said. "They disappeared completely almost a hundred years ago! No one knows what happened to them: Some say they were blown away by a strong wind, others said they turned into trees." Eklip suddenly laughed. "You can still see the tree with the old king's crown in it!"
"A Hundred years ago?"
"In the time of the puppet-king!" Eklip tried to help.
"Puppet-king?" Shady asked, knowing she was missing whatever Eklip was trying to say.
"Star-Cluster!" Eklip replied, also feeling he was missing something. "What do they teach at your school?"
"Or your parents..." Eklip sighed. How could this pony not know what school is? "Fallon was the real invader back then, not Star-Cluster! Anyway: Later, after the volcano-war Starfire married another pegasus called Snowflake and when bandits started to infest Skywood forest he was ordered to intervene. He became the first duke of Skywood and he founded the town of Treetop there, where most of his descendants still live!"
Shady glanced at him, not sure if she understood what Eklip just told her. It was hard to believe what he was saying, but then he was another male pegasus which was in itself almost unbelievable!
"Do you know who was just chasing you?" she asked.
"Starfire himself!"
Eklip gasped. "Starfire!" he repeated. "As in: From Dreamcastle? Youngest of the first three Black-ponies? First male pegasus?"
With each question, Shady just nodded.
"Th-that is impossible!" Eklip said, shaking his head. "That Starfire is my grandfather! He died last winter..." For a moment Eklip was silent. "He does look like him, though much younger...but still!"
"If you don't believe me, you can go ask Banner!" Shady replied. "He's at ..."
"Moonlight Castle!" Eklip said. If it was his grandfather that had just chased him, he must be in the time of the puppet-king! And remembering what he had learned in history, Banner held out against the puppet-king at Moonlight Castle. During his stay there, Banner became known as one of the greatest captains of all time, the cut in his ear almost his trademark!
Banner's history and deeds had always fascinated Eklip! When he was very young, he had wished he could have met Banner...
But Banner died almost seventy-three years ago - if he is currently defending Moonlight Castle, then he really had gone back in time!
"Moonlight Castle can use your help, you know ..." Shady added hesitantly.
"Okay!" Eklip finally said. "Take me to Banner!"






CHAPTER 5: Converging Paths.
Eklip and Shady had been traveling first north and then east for a few days now, going in a wide arch to try and avoid towns and other ponies as much as possible. If Eklip really is from the future, then he wanted to have as little to do with the current affairs as possible; he shuddered when he tried to imagine what might happen if he caused the history to play out differently.
But then again, maybe he had to have come back to this time ... it would explain his grandfather's obsession with flying through the wood! If he was captured a few days ago before he could do what had to be done...
He shuddered again.
"We need to hide your wings when we go through Woodlock -" Shady suddenly said.
"That is easy: Just throw a cloak over my back!" Eklip said absentmindedly, thinking of his history lessons and his grandfather's stories, trying to pinpoint the exact time it may be. It could be anytime in a thirteen year period! "Hiding my black fur is going to be more difficult!"
Suddenly he stopped as he realized what he had said. "How are we going to hide my black fur?"
"I never even thought about that!" Shady agreed.
For a moment, the 'Cherry'-story his grandfather had told him crossed his mind, but he was not sure if he should use it. It might interfere with his grandfather's future - his past! Anyway, the berries probably weren't ripe yet!
"We'll have to travel through town during the night!" Eklip replied.
"Or maybe we'll be able to think of something before tomorrow night!"
"Maybe ..." Eklip smiled still thinking of his grandfather's story.
Stardust and Starfire walked out of Dream Castle. Although Starfire still felt a little pain, he was almost fully healed.
"I told you King Wispy won't join King Star-Cluster!" Starfire said.
"I didn't argue with you!" Stardust agreed. "And having met him, I don't think he will ever change sides!"
"King Star-Cluster ordered us to bring back his heir!" Starfire replied. "That's serious ... Are you sure he won't change?"
"No! It might actually tip him into war against us..." Stardust answered, matter-of-fact. But Starfire knew he was worried ... Ferris Castle was the strongest of the other pony kingdoms!
Stardust looked towards the eastern horizon where the moon was already starting to rise. "But we'll do that when we return from Mooney Mountain."
"Why are we going there?" Starfire asked.
"It's almost full moon!" Stardust answered. "We must meet with Skyview if he returns to the Gate!"
"We aren't going to start traveling there now, are we?" Starfire asked shocked. He had hoped to sleep in his own bed after the trip. "The sun is about to set!"
"If we want to reach the Mooney Mountain Gate in time, we have to hurry up! If we start now, we still have about an hour's traveling left." Stardust said. He looked over to Starfire. "Do you think you'll be alright?"
"Sleeping in a bed tonight would've been better ..." Starfire remarked.
"I mean walking to Mooney Mountain!" Stardust said.
"Walking isn't the problem!" Starfire sighed, longing to fly again for longer than a few painful minutes. He was still furious with that strange pegasus; Eclipse. "If we ever capture him ... We haven't told King Star-Cluster about him yet!"
"I don't want to give him another reason to be angry at us!" Stardust replied. "I still cannot believe that pegasus actually tried to fly in between the trees! He must have been desperate ..."
"He didn't try; he succeeded!" Starfire groaned. He had already decided to try and learn it himself - as soon as he has regained his full strength!
They walked through the castle gates and started heading east.
"Do you think Skyview had captured the princess." Starfire asked.
"Hopefully we'll find out tomorrow night."






CHAPTER 6: Proof of the Impossible.
Eklip walked through the deserted streets of Woodlock. He had a dark blue cloak on, with the hood drawn over his head. It hid his white mane and tail ... and feathers! Shady walked beside him. Most of the houses had lights on, as everybody was at home. Shady felt uncomfortable, fearing someone might look out the window and see the two of them walking in the street.
But Eklip figured that, despite the full moon, his black fur would hide him from view in the dark, and thus if anybody would see them, they would only notice Shady. Anyway, he was in a hurry to reach Moonlight Castle and see if Banner really was defending the famous building.
Shady jumped again when she thought she heard a sound behind them.
"Will you relax?" Eklip asked. "Your jumpiness is making me nervous!"
"Sorry." Shady answered. "I hope we get through town quickly."
Not very far away, Stardust walked uphill, heading towards the gate. Starfire was just behind him. The pain was now completely gone, and he walked the steep path with ease. He was even confident that he could fly all the way to Dream Castle again.
Suddenly they saw Skyview walking their way, with a soft cloud-ball following him.
"What is he doing here?" Starfire asked irritated, not having noticed the cloud-ball. "He can't be fed up already - I've spent years in the other world! We're supposed to meet him on the other side..."
Eklip and Shady had made it through town seemingly unnoticed, and had just started uphill. Suddenly Shady stopped.
"What now?" Eklip asked.
"I thought I saw something ..." she said, walking off the path. Eklip sighed and followed her.
"This better be goo-"
Eklip never finished his sentence, for there in a large meadow sat all three triplets. They were arguing about something, apparently over the bright white pony with light green hair.
However, the strange pony was glowing...
"Why is that female glowing?" Shady asked.
"It must be the archaeologist!" Eklip said to himself, not remembering a name - it wasn't something he had learned in school. "Oh, by the way; It is actually a he!"
"He? But he doesn't have hairy feet!" Shady objected.
"It's a bit hard to explain;" Eklip replied with a frown. "In fact, it would be best that you forget what you are seeing here!"
"Why?" Shady asked, not taking her eyes off the glowing pony.
Suddenly the black unicorn's horn lit up and a cloud appeared, wrapping itself around the archaeologist before turning into soft ball.
"Oh!" Eklip gasped, remembering his grandfather's unicorn brother had command over clouds.
"What?" Shady asked. But before Eklip could reply a group of five solders appeared from the thick forest on the other side of the meadow.
"Take the prisoner!" Stardust yelled as the solders closed on them. Skyview started running, with the cloud-ball following him.
"Oh no!" Shady gasped as she realised Skyview was heading straight for them. They dived out of the way and lay beneath the bushes as Skyview ran past. He had been looking back at his brothers, and didn't notice the two trying to get out of the way.
But just as he thought he was clear, two other solders appeared from nowhere, running into him.
As Skyview fought the two new arrivals, the ball dissolved and the glowing pony fell through the clearing mist. For a moment he just sat there, stunned, staring at the battle around him before he finally snapped out of it and fled.
But Skyview noticed him escaping. He hit the light blue solder hard, sending him into his mint-green companion, and then took his change to chase down the escaping prisoner.
The two fallen solders didn't waste time on the ground, but quickly jumped up and ran after him.
"Buster and Charades..." Eklip whispered to himself. He just wasn't sure which one was which, for they were the unsung heroes of these times.
"Who?" Shady asked.
"We need to get out of here!" Eklip said, and hurried into the forest again.
"But Banner is right there ..."
"I know I've been in a hurry to meet him, but now is not a great time!" Eklip picked up speed as he walked through the bushes, trying to keep as quiet as possible. "My most urgent question has been answered, but I have new ones which I must think about first before meeting Banner!"
Shady frowned, looking over her shoulder to the fighting that was taking place. Some of the solders were already laying on the ground. She sighed and hurried after the pegasus. She will probably never understand him!





CHAPTER 7: Finding a Safe Spot
Banner stood and watched as Charades and Buster walked through the gate. They walked on towards Lunarstar, where she sat in the grass, looking up at the stars. He could still see them through the stone archway, but the image was distorted like looking at something at the bottom of a shallow pond. Charades and Buster sat down next to her. She was really upset, but he knew he did the right thing.
He sighed a sigh of relieve now that she was save again. They couldn't afford to lose her to Star-Cluster. At least they knew all three the black ponies were in this world ...
"You two ..." he told two of the solders close to him "I want you to guard the gate tonight, until I send someone to relieve you!"
"Yes, sir!" they answered, dutifully taking position on either side of the gate.
"Be careful! The black ponies will want to send one of them through the Gate tonight!"
"Why not go through the gate at Dream Castle?" another solder behind Banner asked.
"It is too far away for them to reach before the sun rises," Banner answered. "But it is my guess that they will prefer this gate to the other on the full moons simply because it nearly looks out onto the princess's adopted town!"
The yellow captain sighed tiredly. He felt bad for asking those two solders to stay up even longer, but he had no choice. At least he'll make sure they won't have to stay up till sunrise!
"Let's return to the castle!" he said as he turned around. But suddenly he stopped, and looked again over the handful of ponies with him.
"Where's Masquerade?" he asked.
"He said he saw two strange ponies close to the battle, and is following them." another answered. "Didn't you hear him?"
"No, I didn't!" Banner replied worriedly. He had lost many ponies escaping from Dream Castle, and many more to the black ponies. He didn't want to lose any more!
"Which way did he go?"
Eklip hurried to the base of the mountain on the far side of town. He hoped to find a cave where they can stay while he decided what to do.
"Running away from Moonlight Castle makes you look like your on their side!" Shady argued.
"They are family, you know!" Eklip snapped back, not slowing down. "That aught to be condemning enough, don't you think?"
"At least go talk to Banner!"
Eklip suddenly stopped and turned around to face Shady. "You know I am from the future, right!"
"Y-yes!" Shady hesitated. It was still hard to believe, but nothing else made sense.
"Now, one of two possibilities is the right one." Eklip continued. "ONE: I am not supposed to be here which means that anything I do, no matter how small, will change the course of hist... the future!"
"TWO: I am supposed to be here, sent to do something specific on which the future depends."
Eklip stared hard at Shady, seeing realisation set in.
"So now I ask you: Which one is it?" Eklip whispered, sounding almost threatening.
"I ... I understand now!" Shady stammered.
"I need to be alone to think this over!" Eklip sighed as he turned around.
"Okay, so where do we camp tonight?" Shady asked.
"Haven't you heard me?" Eklip asked. "I have to be alone."
"I have, but think of it this way ... you've already changed my future, so it is too late to save the situation. But you might need my help! So whether you like it or not - I'm staying with you a little while longer."
Eklip sighed, knowing she was right. "Why don't you go back to your life?"
"After my father was killed by bandits, my elder brother decided to search for the queen, hoping she will be able to stand up against Star-Cluster. He blames him for the dangerous conditions on the outer roads, you see. But he was caught by Stardust a few days ago. Now I'm trying to get as many ponies to join Moonlight Castle in the hopes that one day my brother will be freed!"
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that!" Eklip said softly.
Shady didn't reply. For a moment she thought of asking Eklip if Star-Cluster will ever be defeated. But then, Starfire is supposed to become duke of Skywood Forest...
"Thank you!" Eklip interrupted her thoughts, and actually felt a heavy burden lift off his back.
"So while we decide what to do, let's take a rest in that small cave there!" Shady proposed.
"Cave?" Eklip asked, looking to where Shady was pointing. He could barely see the opening in the small rock face. "Oh, there! It looks like a good idea!"
Carefully they climbed into the hole and made themselves as comfortable as they could in the small space.
"Okay, so it is more of an overhang than a cave ..." Shady complained.
"But it is the best we'll find for a while!" Eklip replied. "And it does provide what we need!"
After they had lay down, they quickly fell asleep.






CHAPTER 8: Meeting Banner
"Wake up!" someone said.
Eklip felt someone shaking him, but it felt as if he had barely fallen asleep - he didn't want to wake up yet.
"Eklip, please wake up!" Shady repeated.
Eklip opened one eye slightly.
"It is still dark!" he complained.
"We're in a bit of trouble!" Shady continued.
Eklip yawned and lifted his heavy head. "What kind of ..." he started to ask, but then snapped wide awake. Never before in his life had he woken up that quickly!
Barely a few inches from his face he could see the iron tip of a spear pointed at him.
Eklip gasped, and quickly sat up straight, staring at the solder in front of him. Turning his head, he saw a scared Shady was also confronted with a spear. He noticed there were more solders cornering them in their cave.
"You have trouble waking up, pegasus!" a voice said softly. Eklip looked around, not knowing who spoke.
"Family trade!" Eklip replied, trying to sound brave. "Who are you?"
A yellow pony stepped forward. His hair was blue and purple that made his yellow fur seem even brighter. He looked at Eklip with a serious expression on his face, that told that they were in trouble. But at least his eyes weren't cold as Starfire's had been nearly a week ago!
"I am ..." he started to speak, but then Eklip interrupted him.
"Banner!" he gasped, and started to scoot himself deeper into the cave. However he just bumped against the back of the cave, bringing dirt crumbling down onto him.
"Er, he came from west of Dream Castle to see you - " Shady started to say, but quickly fell silent when Banner looked at her.
"Then why didn't you two come to see me after the battle? - Yes, I know you were there!"
"He ... er ... he isn't ..." Shady stammered, but Eklip have recovered his pose. Standing up proudly in the cave entrance, he addressed Banner, locking his eyes on him.
"My name is Eklip, youngest son of Greenleaf!" he said, ignoring the spear at his chest and speaking like the pony Shady had come to know. "Before I came to you, I wanted to clear up some questions so that I won't waste your time on them!"
"I know that you claim to be from the future; Which is a very unlikely story!" Banner suddenly said, glancing at one of the solders behind him. "But I also know that you claim to be family of the Black ponies! And that I can easily believe!"
"My father, Greenleaf, is the eldest son of Starfire!" Eklip admitted without blinking. He was still scared, but managed to ignore the fear, for he knew it will serve no purpose. It is too late for any kind of action now!
"That makes you ..." Banner replied in a questioning voice, lifting an eyebrow.
"His grandson!" Eklip replied.
"But your ... what? Twenty years old?" Banner asked. "Starfire is not that old!"
"Eighteen to be exact!" Eklip replied defiantly. "You said you knew I am from the future!"
"If that is so, then will I ever win this war and recapture Dream Castle? Will Queen Royal Heart ever rule again?" Eklip could hear Banner didn't really believe him.
Out of the corner of his eye, Eklip could see Shady looking at him. It was clear she wanted to ask those same questions, but could never bring herself to ask.
"Will you ever win this war?" Eklip repeated the question, knowing that he has to pick his words carefully. "No!"
There was an audible gasp from everyone around, except Shady who had expected such an answer.
"The battle that will turn this war will not be fought by hundreds or thousands of ponies clashing on the open plains of Dream Valley!" Eklip said. "It will not be fought with blood and steel! It will not even be fought in this world!"
Seeing Banner's reaction to the mention of the other world, Eklip cursed himself inside, but continued: "You are already doing as much as you can, there is nothing left you can do! You see, it is out of your hooves!"
"Okay, but that doesn't really answer my question!" Banner replied. "It still doesn't say if Queen Royal-Heart will ever rule again!"
"Exactly!" Eklip smiled. "I'm going to stay as far away from making a prophecy as possible!"
"Why?" Shady asked.
"Why?" Eklip repeated the question with a deep sigh. "Banner: If you were to know that Dream Castle would be attacked when it was, what would you have done?"
"I would've been ready for them!" Banner exclaimed. "Dream Castle wouldn't have fallen!"
"Wrong!" Eklip replied matter-of-fact. "You would've been ready, true, but when the castle fell even fewer solders would've escaped. Star-Cluster's solders would've secured the Gate before the queen and the princess could escape through it. And all hope would've been lost!"
Banner stared at him, shocked. He had never thought of knowing about the attack could have left him being off worse!
"But didn't Star-Cluster's solders secure the castle gates early in the fight?" Shady asked, but she was ignored.
"It is something you have said yourself shortly after the recapt..." Eklip stopped in mid-sentence, clearly biting his lip.
"...The recapture of Dream Castle?" Banner completed his sentence, knowing in his heart that was what the pegasus wanted to say. "You did say before: 'The battle that would TURN this war...'"
"But how can Starfire become the Duke of Skywood if Star-Cluster falls?" Shady asked.
Eklip sighed. "Knowledge of future events is not a blessing, it is a curse!" He turned his head away from Banner, staring into the dark forest. "I have already said too much ... I will say no more!"
"Your friend does have a point ..." Banner started to say, but Eklip ignored him. Banner squinted his eyes, staring hard at the pegasus and sighed. It was clear that he is planning to do as he had threatened.
Banner shook his head. Did he actually believe the story of Eklip coming from the future?
Or was it a trap of Star-Cluster to get a spy inside Moonlight Castle?
King Sea-Mist will have to make the decision as to what to do with this pegasus.
"Whether you are from the future or not -" Banner said suddenly "you will accompany us to Moonlight Castle!"






CHAPTER 9: Moonlight Castle
Eklip lay on a dark gray blanket, looking at the blue sky through the bars of his cell. He had fallen asleep shortly after being taken to the dungeon. Next to his cell he could hear Shady shuffling about in the gloom. He could hear Shady didn't have much of a pleasant night.
"Don't worry, it's just a dungeon!" Eklip said.
"JUST a dungeon?" Shady asked, clearly sounding on edge.
"Gryphons eat ponies, you know!" the pegasus replied softly.
"Gryphons?" Shady asked again. Eklip's remark didn't help at all. "What are gryphons?"
"Winged lion-eagles ..." Eklip started to explain, but became quiet. "Never mind, forget it! You'll never meet one anyway!"
"Lion-Ea...Eagles?" Shady asked, trying to imagine such a monster. "Sounds dangerous!"
"What is this about lion-eagles?" a familiar voice asked. Eklip looked up and saw Banner at the cell door.
"Gryphons!" Eklip corrected him. "They are also from the future, and thank goodness none had returned with me to this time!"
Banner looked hard at the pegasus. He was equally prepared to believe to his stories of the future than these flying monsters. He shook his head and turned to Shady's cell.
"King Sea-Mist wants to talk to you!" Banner said. Dutifully, Shady left her cell and followed Banner down the hall.
They were gone for a long time. A small slither of sun had found a way through the window that was high up in the wall. Eklip lay in it, warming his body. The blanket helped little against the damp cold, and the little bit of sun was welcoming. But the sun won't last long, so he had to use every opportunity to warm up.
Banner returned Shady to her cell, and walked on to Eklip's door.
"It is your turn now!" he said.
Eklip sighed and stood up. The one solder unlocked his cell door and stood aside for him to leave. Two more guards took up position on either side of him as he walked down the dark aisle. He glanced at Shady as he passed his friend's cell. The blue pony lay curled on her blanket, frightened but all right. Eklip thought of asking for Shady's release, but decided against it: it might just make things worse.
He was lead up the stairs and down the corridor to the king's thrown room.
"The king has sent for us!" Banner replied as he stopped before the guards. One of them disappeared through the doors, returning after a while.
"You may go in!" he said, and glancing at Eklip, opened the door for them. The small group stepped through and walked to the center of the room. Banner and the solders bowed their heads, while Eklip just nodded his head in the typical manner of a noble showing respect to a foreign king - something the blue king noted immediately.
"I understand you are Eclipse, son of Greenleaf?" king Sea-Mist asked, and added with a raised eyebrow "Son of Starfire?"
"That is correct, king Sea-Mist!" Eklip replied.
"The black ponies are beyond normal," Banner said. "Skyview can control clouds, Stardust is incredibly fast, as is Starfire. Since you claim to be family of theirs, what is your ... what shall I call it? Ability?"
"Ability is the right word!" Eklip smiled. "I've got lightning reflexes! Hence I can fly through a forest ..."
"Your friend claims you come from the future?" his queen added.
"Apparently so, queen Snow-Fall!" Eklip replied, glancing at Banner. "I know Banner died fifty-five years before I was born, and yet he stands beside me now."
"Do you have any real proof that you come from the future?" the king asked.
"Not really -" he said, wondering if he should risk a prophecy. "Nothing big is supposed to happen for a few months" Eklip eventually replied. "Skyview and Starfire will join Stardust in the other world in three month's time;"
"All three black ponies are in this world!" Banner interrupted him.
"Actually, Stardust slipped through the gate last night, before your guards could take their positions again!" Eklip replied.
"Star-Cluster won't send Stardust to the other world; he is the leader of the three black ponies, and is needed here!"
"And yet you won't see him for another five full moons!" Eklip smiled.
"Five?" Banner asked.
They talked for a while, but Eklip didn't reveal much more. Banner returned him to his cell, before joining the king in the throne room.
"What do you think, Banner?" king Sea-Mist asked. "Your advice had been of great value in the past."
"I really don't know what to think!" Banner replied. "He is a black pony, and doesn't even try to hide the fact that he is family of Starfire - but his stories seem ... unbelievable. In fact, the cornerstone to his explanations doesn't add up!"
"What do you mean?" queen Snow-Fall asked. She was inclined to trust him, but she didn't clearly know why. "His friend did say he was almost captured by Starfire!"
"He admits that Star-Cluster will be defeated! But some time after that Starfire will become duke ... or remain duke of Skywood Forest!"
"That suggests again that Star-Cluster will not be defeated!" king Sea-Mist thought loudly.
"I think this important contradiction gives him away!" Banner finally said. "He and his friend should remain in the dungeon."
"I agree with you!" king Sea-Mist replied. "Thank you, Banner!"
Banner bowed and left the throne room.





CHAPTER 10: Life Goes On
Starfire flew through the morning sky. He glanced around, making sure that there was no one around, before he turned into a dive. He crashed through the leafy canopy of the forest below at a good speed. It wasn't as fast as that first time when he tried to catch Eclipse, and the forest was much more open, but he still had trouble to concentrate on the trees and branches that flashed by.
Small twigs and leaves fell to the ground as he crashed through the foliage. Then he underestimated the strength of one branch...
He stood up from the ground, shaking his wings in frustration. Looking up at the branch into which he had flown, he shook his head. If he had flown his full speed and hit that little twig only a glancing blow, it would've snapped his wing! There's a reason why pegasi don't fly through the forest!
But how did Eclipse do it? Eclipse had done it in the forests north of Dream Castle ... some of the thickest forests around! Where did he learn it? And how long is it going to be before Starfire will be able to do the same ... even at this slow speed and on such an 'open' forest as this?
"Something definitely happened while I was gone!" he heard a familiar voice behind him. Starfire jumped when he heard the voice.
"How long had you been standing there?" Starfire asked without looking around. He ran his hoof over his black fur to try and get it to lie flat again.
"Long enough!" Skyview replied with a smile. "I never thought I'd see you up and active this early!"
"It's not that early!" Starfire replied. "And there is no one around to care either!"
"It's early enough! And I'm here!" Skyview said, standing next to Starfire. "What happened to get you this worked up?"
"I've told you of the strange pegasus?" Starfire asked.
"The one that gave you the slip? What was his name again?" Skyview asked with a chuckle. It was good to have found something to tease his younger brother with for a change.
"Yea -" Starfire agreed quickly, staring into the forest. "He flew into the forest to escape!"
"He did what?" Skyview asked, still chuckling. He had only known the strange pegasus escaped his two brothers.
"You heard me! He flew between the trees until I inevitably rammed into one! I've never seen it done before," Starfire finally turned to the unicorn "and when he tries that again I'll be ready for him!"
"Well, you can practice dodging branches later." Skyview replied, becoming serious again. "King Star-Cluster has ordered us to secure Ferris Castle's alliance."
"Again?" Starfire sighed. "You know Stardust thinks this is the wrong approach?"
"You've told me that already! But it doesn't matter what we think, we must obey Star-Cluster!"
"I know!" Starfire replied, and followed his brother to Dream Castle.
Eklip lay on the dark gray blanket, looking at the sky turning from orange to purple. He didn't like being trapped in the cell; He was a pegasus that needed the open skies!
But a part of him was rather glad that he was here locked up! The worries he had of interfering with the past while he roamed freely outside was itself now a thing of the past.
Shady had calmed down, when she realised that this won't be the end of her.
"Excuse me ..." a voice said. Eklip looked towards the door and recognised the tan unicorn with red hair. "I've brought the pegasus' dinner."
"What about us?" one solder asked as the other quickly scanned through the tray, before allowing her into Eklip's cell.
"You'll get yours soon enough!" a pink pony, that brought Shady's dinner, answered.
"Thank you, Flury!" Eklip said as he stood up and walked to the tray. He had heard her name many times from the guards.
Flury quickly sat the tray down and quickly left the cell. She didn't feel threatened by the black pony, but she didn't want to make friends with him nonetheless! She had heard that he is a bit odd...
Eklip lifted the covering and found he had gotten soup and a few bread rolls. He sat down and started eating. He had only taken a few bites, when he noticed the guards staring at him.
"M-m" he said as he took a bite of bread. "This is really good!"
"Very funny!" one of the solders replied sarcastically. "You know we are also hungry!"
"It is you who want to watch me eat!" Eklip laughed. "Don't worry guys, your food is on its way!"
And sure enough, they could see the two servants return with two extra platters.




CHAPTER 11: Banner is Confused
Banner walked into the castle and headed towards the throne room. He was deeply troubled, thinking of Eclipse in the dungeon. And especially what he had said to him in the throne room.
Stardust was gone.
No one had seen him anywhere for several weeks now. And yet, both Starfire and Skyview were busy in the western kingdoms, doing Star-Cluster's bidding without question.
Eclipse had said that Stardust had gone through the gate before his guards could retake their positions, and apparently he was right!
What is more, he had predicted that his two brothers will soon join him in the other world.
Banner was already wondering if he should reinforce Charades and Buster. Should he send reinforcements for Charades, or should he not? The two of them aught to be able to handle Stardust alone, but what if Eclipse was right and his two brothers will join him?
Still thinking to himself, he turned down the passageway that lead to the kitchen, but turned left at the last door. If Eclipse was working for Star-Cluster, he would play right into their hoofs and weaken the castle defenses...
But Charades will not be able to fend off all three of them! It might not be such a bad idea to have a few ready to go through the Gate if Eclipse was right. But then, what would the pegasus have to say about it?
Eklip was stretching his wings after he had flapped them in quick succession. Then he jumped a little into the air, still spreading his wings wide, trying to slow his descent to the cell floor. He looked like a young eagle chick trying to learn how to fly!
"What are you doing?" Banner asked him.
Eklip snapped his wings shut and spun around with a surprised look on his face.
"I'm trying to exercise my wings!" he answered. "I cannot go outside to fly around, you know!"
"I see-" Banner replied. "Make sense!"
"I guess you didn't come here for a friendly chat;" Eklip said.
"Stardust is missing!" Banner said flatly.
"He is searching for the princess!" Eklip answered. "I told you so!"
"And his brothers will join him soon?" Banner added. "Why shouldn't I send some extra solders to help guard the princess?"
"That wont be a good idea!" Eklip replied quickly.
"Why not?" Banner asked curiously. He had actually expected the pegasus to encourage him to weaken the castles defenses.
"More ponies around her might give her secret away prematurely!" Eklip answered, then suddenly added angrily: "Why ask me? You suddenly believe I'm from the future?"
"No! I'm just wondering if this isn't a really good ploy of yours to make me trust you!"
"Whatever!" Eklip sighed and lay down on his straw bed. "I just hoped I could go flying"
"If you want to fly so desperately, then tell me, if Star-Cluster will fall, why can Starfire became duke of Skywood forest after the Apetons will abandon it?"
"I cannot tell you that!" Eklip answered.
"Why not?"
"At best, you will not believe me until it does happen," Eklip replied "and at worst, it might destroy your chances to defeat Star-Cluster."
"On who's side are you on?"
"No one's! I just want the present to play out as it should!" Eklip said and turned his head away from Banner.
Banner decided that Eclipse won't say anymore, and turned around. As he walked up the stairs, he felt as confused as he had been before he had decided to go and speak to Eclipse.
Banner stood on the wall, thinking. Something Eclipse said bothered him, but he didn't know what. He looked in the direction of the Gate, wondering how Charades was coping with Stardust ... that is if Stardust was actually with them! However, there hadn't been any trouble when the Gate was last open - nothing he knew about...
A call suddenly brought him back from his thoughts.
"Please open up!" a light brown unicorn with dark yellow hair was calling. She was clearly scared of something, continuously glancing back over her shoulder.
"Who are you?" Banner called down. "What do you want?"
"I'm Caramel, and I must speak to the king!"






CHAPTER 12: Whispers from the Future
Banner stood by the doors to the throne room. He could see no reason why he should be present when Caramel told her story, whatever it could be. His thoughts returned to Charades and Buster. He wondered what exactly they did for a living there. Maybe he should go through the gate one night to check up on them. He had always wanted to have a look at the town where the princess was hiding!
He quickly shook the thought away; he doesn't even know where to look for them!
Suddenly one of the guards appeared from inside the throne room.
"The king requests your presence, Banner!" he said with a nod to his companion.
Banner frowned worriedly and followed the guard through the doors. Caramel had collapsed to the ground, where she was sobbing loudly. Queen Snowfall was trying to comfort her.
"Banner," the king spoke softly, motioning him to come closer to him. "Star-Cluster has either revealed his most dangerous allays, or all the pony kingdoms are in grave danger!"
"What has happened?" Banner gasped, glancing at Caramel. The unicorn had seemed in fine just a minute ago.
"This unicorn and her spouse were walking in the woods just south-west of here ..." the king said, also glancing at her. "Then they were attacked by some kind of creature ... she managed to wink out to safety, but her husband was apparently caught ... Banner, I want you to take a group of solders and try get to the bottom of this."
"What did this creature look like?" Banner asked.
"I'm not sure ..." the king replied, worriedly. "She has seen it only from behind after it had separated her from her husband; She says that it was a lion."
"We cannot ask her where this had happened, yet!" Banner replied, looking sadly at Caramel. She had stopped crying, but was still sniffing. "Lions are dangerous, but not that bad; I'll get rid of this..."
"Banner, she has also mentioned wings ..."
"Wings?" Somewhere deep inside he knew it was familiar, but couldn't place it. "What kind of lion has wings?"
"I don't know, that is why I want you to investigate it." the king said. "The unicorn should stay here until she has recovered from the shock, but after that we must decide what to do about this creature! How are we going to get rid of it?"
"Very well, your Majesty!" Banner said. "I'll get to the bottom of this!"
"Banner!" King sea-Mist called as Banner turned to leave. When Banner looked around he continued: "Be careful! I have a bad feeling about this!"
Banner left the throne room, deeply disturbed. He had never before heard of lions with wings, he could hardly imagine one!
Some ponies do have wings though, and he knew what they looked like. So he tried to apply the same principle...
He shook his head. He didn't know what was worse: Lions with wings that were catching ponies; or that it was familiar to him and yet he couldn't tell from where!
He quickly rounded up a few solders, telling them what had happened and that they will be going to investigate it the next day - the sun was already setting and it will only be foolishness to hunt a winged lion down in the darkness.
"Everybody, get a good night's rest!" Banner dismissed the solders. "We are leaving at first light!"
That night in the castle's barracks, Banner had a nightmare. He was dreaming of an orange male pony with green, blue and pink hair. He had his sword drawn and was pointing it in all directions around him as if he was expecting an attack but didn't know from which direction it will come.
Suddenly he heard a noise behind him. As he turned around a large lion, almost twice the pony's size, with a dark brown, almost black, mane jumped on him, knocking him over and sending his sword through the air.
The pony yelled in surprise and fear, but quickly became silent. The lion stood there with the limp body, before suddenly growing a set of large tan wings which he flapped with great power.
"Gryphons eat ponies!" he heard a voice say as the monster flew away. The voice was familiar, but he didn't know to whom it belonged. As the lion flew away, it started to change into something that resembled an eagle more than a lion. First its head, and then chest and finally its forepaws morphed into those of the birds of prey, but the lion haunches still remained...
"Gryphons eat ponies!" the voice said again, but much more urgently!
"Cameroun!" Banner yelled as he woke up. He looked around, bewildered before he realised it was just a dream.
"Are you all right, sir?" a solder asked.
"I'm fine, thanks!" he replied. "I just had a bad dream!"
He lay his head down, thinking of his dream.
"Gryphons eat ponies ..." he mumbled, trying to remember who had said it.
"Excuse me sir?" the solder, who was about to leave Banner's room, asked.
"Gryphons eat ponies!" Banner answered him.
"What is gryphons, sir?" the solder asked.
Banner thought for a moment. He knew he knew, but he wasn't sure what it was.
"Lion-Eagles!" Banner suddenly remembered, smiling at Eclipse's story. Then suddenly he could feel his body turn cold as realisation set in!
"That doesn't sound very good, sir!" the solder replied, not sure if Banner was serious or not.
"Lion-Eagles!" Banner gasped again. He suddenly jumped up and ran out of the barracks, into the castle.





CHAPTER 13: Nightly Visit
Eklip was sleeping peacefully. The waxing moon just shone in through the narrow window of his cell. He was dreaming of home:
The huts of the small town was clustered around most of the tree trunks, stacked three high though there were also trees with just one building hanging around the trunk. It was designed very much like the old Apeton city that had once decorated its own trees by the clearing not to far away, though Treetop was built much lower than those mean monkeys would have cared for.
Rope bridges with wooden planks for walkways connected the hut-clusters to neighboring trees and a few of the thicker trunks had a set of wooden stairs that was set into the trunks and spiraled lazily down to the ground where there were even more buildings, or up to a second much higher town level (This level was about same height as the original Apeton city!) where the pegasi families had built their private huts.
There were about only six full-sized huts at this level...
Pegasi and the odd flutter pony flew up and down the two levels, and between trees. There were a few unicorns and earth-ponies on the bridges or climbing up and down the staircases.
He was lying on the walkway around his house, watching everybody come and go when a black pegasus with bright green hair landed next to him. He had a symbol of a leafy ivy branch that curled across his side.
"Wake up!" Greenleaf said. Eklip looked up at him, frowning.
"Wake up!" Banner called through the bars of Eklip's door. Eklip was still asleep.
"Family trade!" Banner muttered under his breath, then turned to the on guard. "Let me in!" he ordered.
"What is going on?" Shady asked sleepily.
"I've got no idea!" the other solder replied as his companion opened Eklip's door. Banner walked in and shook Eklip until he was awake.
"It's still dark!" he complained. He had had a nice dream!
"You've mentioned Gryphons before ..." Banner said.
At the mention of gryphons, Eklip sat up.
"Yes, what about them?" he asked, rubbing his eyes.
"What are they, exactly?" Banner asked.
"They are lion-eagles that eat ponies!" Eklip replied with a yawn. He was still sleepy.
"What do they look like?" Banner asked. "I need a better explanation than lion-eagles!"
"They are monsters that looks like a child cut parts of animals up and pasted them randomly together!" Eklip said. "They have the head and wings of eagles, but the body of a lion."
"So from behind ..."
"They will look like a lion with wings!" Eklip replied. All the questions of gryphons were worrying him, and he forced himself to wake up more quickly. "Their front paws also looks like the talons of an eagle!"
"Have you ever seen one?" Banner asked.
"Yes I have, many times! After they had surprised all the pony kingdoms and even captured White Pearl Castle, they threatened Treetop for nearly a decade before Dream Castle could retake White Pearl Castle!" Eklip said. "You see, gryphons were unheard of when they appeared for seemingly no reason at all from the south-west! But Treetop was almost built with attacks of such a nature in mind and was successfully evacuated many times when I was young. But since it doesn't have a stronghold, the gryphons never stayed long!"
Eklip was silent for a while. Banner ran what he said over in his mind, then suddenly turned and headed back down the corridor.
"Why did you ask?!" Eklip demanded, sounding much more awake. "Has a gryphon been spotted?"
"You aught to know!" Banner replied. "You're from the future!"
"I've never learned about myself in school, nor about gryphons before they attacked White Pearl Castle!"
At the mention of school, Banner looked back at him with a surprised look on his face.
"If there is a gryphon out there, we must kill it!" Eklip continued.
The next morning Banner walked to the throne room.
"I must speak to the king!" he said. "It is urgent!"
"The king is preparing for breakfast!" the solder replied.
"I know, and I'm sorry, but it is urgent!"
The solder disappeared for a while. Banner paced around while he waited for an answer.
"Is it really THAT important?" the other solder asked, looking at Banner.
"I thought of calling upon the king last night ..." Banner agreed. Just then the first guard reappeared.
"You may go through!" he said.
Banner followed the guard into the throne room. King Sea-Mist walked up to meet him.
"What is wrong?" he asked worriedly. "Is it about the winged lion?"
"Yes, king Sea-Mist!" Banner replied. "I had planned to have left already, but I want to request that you release the pegasus Eclipse into my service!"
"Eclipse?" King Sea-Mist asked shocked. "I thought we should keep in the dungeon ..."
"He has predicted that Stardust will be on the other side of the gate ..." Banner hesitated.
"But that could be a trick from Star-Cluster!" the king voiced Banner's doubt. "Or even Stardust; you know how smart he is!"
"I agree, your Majesty!" Banner continued "but he has also talked about this monster; Even before the unicorn came to us! He calls them Gryphons!"
"He has?" king Sea-Mist asked.
"I didn't take him seriously, your Majesty." Banner replied. "I am sorry!"
"And you believe he might be able to help you?" king Sea-Mist added.
"Yes sir! When he got the idea that there might be a gryphon out there, he wanted to have it killed." Banner said.
"He might want to use it to kill you -" king Sea-Mist said worriedly.
"That is if these gryphons are on Star-Cluster's side!" Banner said. "But if he kills it, it will prove either that he isn't working for Star-Cluster, or might even give credit to his story that he is from the future! Either way, I don't want a gryphon, from the future or not, on Moonlight Castle's doorstep!"
King Sea-mist was quiet for a while, thinking it over.
"It will be as dangerous as going alone -" Banner added.
"What about his friend?" King Sea-Mist asked.
"I think she should remain where she is!" Banner said. "At least until Eclipse had shown where his loyalties lie!"
"Very well then!" king Sea-Mist agreed. "But be careful! Even more than ever!"
"I will, your Majesty!" Banner bowed. "Thank you!"





CHAPTER 14: The Hunt Begins
Eklip stood still for a while as he stepped out of the castle. He had forgotten the smell of fresh air, the feeling of the breeze against his face, the warmth of more then just a slither of sun on his black fur.
He sighed.
"Come on, we don't have all day!" Banner urged him on.
"Sorry!" Eklip apologised. He quickly walked down the steps towards the group of solders that stood waiting for Banner.
"You walk out in front of me!" Banner said.
The castle gates opened and the small party walked through it. They walked in silence for a while. Eklip enjoyed his limited freedom: He hadn't realised just how much he had missed the smells and sounds of the forest. But he still longed to fly...
However, he soon started to think about the gryphon. It was clear to him that the monster had come with him from the future - most likely during that same stormy night! How could it have survived so long without anyone noticing it?
'Probably hunted forest animals.' he decided. Gryphons didn't just eat ponies!
"Where was this gryphon seen?" Eklip asked.
"Somewhere in the forest south-west of here." Banner replied. "Between the castle and the swamp. We are heading there now!"
"You know gryphons can fly between White Pearl Castle and Dream Castle in a day?" Eklip asked. "It will be long gone by now ... unless it has found a cave in those mountains; one large enough to stay in!"
Eklip eyed the mountains just south of Mooney Mountain.
"You suggest that we go look there?" Banner asked, keeping in mind king Sea-Mist's warning.
"No!" Eklip replied. "I want to see the spot where the gryphon was spotted; make sure there is only one!"
"Could there be more?" a light green solder asked.
"They usually stay in groups of three to seven, but have been known to gather in large numbers especially if they plan an attack! There had been about a hundred and fifty staying at White Pearl Castle permanently during their occupation. And they rarely go out alone!" Eklip answered, looking over his shoulder. "I don't want to go into a cave, thinking to kill one and end up with more of them!"
"That makes sense!" Banner said, thinking about it.
For the whole day the group walked around, searching for answers, talking to other ponies, asking them if they had heard the story and where it had happened. Some had heard about it, but didn't believe it. Others did believe, and tried their best to help them. The most, however didn't even know what they were talking about.
There were also rumors of a second pony being caught, which confused the hunting solders even more...
Each time they would come close to other ponies, Eklip would turn away with two solders. It was the only wish Banner allowed him: He didn't wish to be seen by other ponies.
But at the end of the day they were no closer to finding out more. They had found the site of the second sighting, but it didn't reveal anything more to them, than footprints in the sand. It was gryphons beyond any doubt, according to Eklip.
As the sun began to set, Banner called to Eklip. "Since you are the gryphon expert, how do you propose we camp for the night?" he asked.
"However you like!" Eklip replied. "Gryphons aren't very active at night - it's as if they cannot see clearly! We think it is because they have eagle eyes which is adapted for the daylight!"
Eklip smiled. "That was how we managed to recapture White Pearl Castle!" he added.
"We'll make camp as usual." Banner decided, turning to the solders. "You can take the first watch with me, and you two the second!"
The next day, as they were walking along, Eklip suddenly stopped.
"What is it?" Banner asked.
Eklip stepped off the road and picked up a tan feather. It was dirty and slightly messed up, So he started to brush it off, aligning the tufts again to form a more recognizable feather blade.
"A pegasus feather?" one of the solders asked as Banner stepped closer to Eklip.
"No, it is too big!" another replied.
"It's a gryphon feather," Eklip said to Banner. "Look at the fine darker lines it has ..."
"There's another feather!" a third solder replied, picking up a gray feather.
"So there is at least two gryphons here!" Banner said.
Eklip, Banner and the solders looked around for more clues, but the scene was too old to reveal anything else.
"We should go search the mountains next..." Eklip guessed. "We've discovered as much as this place is going to tell us!"
"You sure they will be somewhere in the mountains?" Banner asked.
"Yes, they need a secure place to overnight!" Eklip said. "Remember they aren't very active during the night..."
Banner stood and thought for a moment. If Eklip really tried to get the gryphons to kill him, he would have kept the fact that there is more than one secret. Blowing it would have been a fatal mistake! He was feeling he could trust this black pony more!
"Okay," he finally said. "But we should do that in a few days' time!"
"Why not now?"
"I would like to be at the castle during the full moon in case Charades came back with an update!"
They agreed and turned back to Moonlight Castle.





CHAPTER 15: Lunarstar's Second Visit
Eklip was sitting on the wall, looking at the mountains that stretched south from Mooney Mountain. He wondered if he was right that the gryphons will have found a cave there, or were they just passing through? There had been a second pony caught ... Either way, he knew he had to find them. The past doesn't have space for gryphons yet!
He noticed the full moon in the sky.
"I wonder if the princess will be coming here tonight?" he thought to himself. He knew during this conflict she visited the castle twice before staying here, but he wasn't sure exactly when that was supposed to happen. And that is ignoring the time she had come to call Banner when the Archaeologist had been caught!
He smiled to himself. He could already hear the other ponies teasing him about it: 'You're supposed to be from the future!'
"This place is incredible!" a familiar voice said. Eklip glanced over his shoulder at Shady before he lay his head on the wall, staring again at the mountains.
"I remember it bigger though!" he replied.
"Some time after Star-Cluster were defeated -" Eklip started to explain. Now, he didn't bother trying to hide the fact that Star-Cluster will fall - the secret was long out! "- the king of Dream Castle will help king Sea-Mist to expand this Castle, thus thanking him for helping Banner and his daughter in this time of need."
"But ... Dream Castle didn't have a king ..." Shady said.
"So I've heard!" Eklip replied dryly.
They were still talking when three strange ponies came walking out of the castle. Many of the solders stared at them as they walked past. The larger two ignored the stares, but the younger white one was still shy of the strangers.
But then the younger one noticed the black and white pony on the wall.
"Oh, that must be the one Banner told us about!" she said, starting to walk towards Eklip.
"Lunarstar!" The mint-green pony next to her called.
"I want to meet him!" Lunarstar replied. "We're inside Moonlight Castle, Charades! He won't do anything!"
"But still!" Charades said.
"I would also like to talk to him;" his companion said.
"Thanks Buster!" Lunarstar cried happily, starting off again towards Eklip.
"Thanks Buster!" Charades said in a low voice.
"I would just like to hear what he has to say!" Buster replied shyly as they followed Lunarstar. "We're not going to make friends with him!"
Charades sighed. He had to admit, Buster did have a point; he also would like to know what the black pony has to say.
"Hi there!" Lunarstar called as she climbed the steps, startling both ponies on the wall. Unlike nearly all the solders, they hadn't been paying attention to the castle.
"Princess!" Shady gasped as she saw her horn and wings. "It is true then?"
"Lunarstar ..." the mint-green pony began to say.
"I'm Lunarstar, and this is Charades and Buster!" Lunarstar introduced herself and the other two. "You must be Eclipse!"
Eklip smiled. "That is right! But everybody just calls me Eklip!"
Eklip pointed to Shady. "This is Shady!" he added.
"Banner says you say you're from the future!" Lunarstar said excitedly.
"Don't take him too seriously, Lunarstar!" Charades warned, eyeing the black pony.
"Will I ever see my mom again?" Lunarstar asked, ignoring Charades's advice.
"Yes, you will!" Eklip smiled.
"And my dad?"
"Lunarstar ..." Charades said seriously, but she interrupted him.
"I just want to know what he will say!" she said innocently. She couldn't deny that she was curious about the black pony; all the other black ponies (except maybe for Raspberry's baby sister) tried to catch her, but this one seemed friendly enough.
"Yes, you will see him too!" Eklip replied, chuckling to himself at her young curiosity. So she hadn't changed much over the years!
"When?" She insisted.
"Sooner then you think, but not quite that soon!" He replied with a smile.
"But that doesn't mean anything ..." Lunarstar complained.
"Exactly!" he winked his one eye.
"Who is her father then?" Buster asked, clearly not believing him.
"We only recall serving a queen, not a king!" Charades added.
"Now that is something I won't tell!" Eklip replied with a 'naughty boy'-expression on his face. "You won't believe me anyway! Remember, you only recall serving a queen!"
Buster sighed. He would like to stump the pony with a good question, but he couldn't think of any.
"Lunarstar, it is time to go back." Charades said.
"Okay!" Lunarstar sighed. She turned to Eklip. "It was nice meeting you!"
"It was good seeing you agai...I mean meeting you to!" Eklip replied.
Buster glanced at Eklip, but Lunarstar didn't seem to have noticed the slip of his tongue.
"This is the second time Lunarstar has visited Moonlight Castle, right?" Eklip asked Charades as he turned to go.
"Yes, why?"
"Just curious!" he replied. "Good Luck!"
Charades stared at Eklip, wondering what he meant by that. Then he hurried after the other two.
Banner walked up to the black pegasus. For awhile he watched the three walk through the castle gates. Eklip was right: Stardust had gone through the Gate, and once almost caught the princess! But Charades and Buster managed to beat him back, although he almost broke Buster's leg in the process!
"Good luck?" he asked, making the pegasus jump again.
"I didn't notice you behind me!" Eklip complained as he brushed his fur down.
"What did you mean with 'Good luck'?" Banner repeated worriedly.
"Don't worry! The princess won't be caught!" Eklip quickly said. "She will only have a close call this time!"
"Close call?" Banner asked, still worried.
"Stardust will chase her, but they both will fall down a mine-shaft. They will spend some quality time together! When they escape the mine, Stardust will surrender her to Charades and Buster! So you see, everything will be fine; Anyway there is nothing you can do about it..." Eklip gave Banner a queer look. "Do you suddenly believe I'm from the future?"
"Of course not!" Banner replied sternly, but then suddenly noticed Eklip's smile: he had asked that question just to get that response!
"Very funny!" Banner replied and turned around.
"I agree!" Eklip laughed. Banner fumed, but inside he realised that Eklip was right ... It was funny! And more disturbingly ... he is actually considering that Eklip was indeed from the future.
'But how can Starfire become duke...' he reminded himself, and decided to ignore Eklip's remark.
"Sooner than you think," Shady asked when Banner had left them again "But not that soon ... What does that mean?"
"When she will first see him, she will not think that he is her father." Eklip smiled. "So she will see him very soon, but only know who he is much later!"
"You are weird, do you know that?" Shady sighed. Eklip just laughed.






CHAPTER 16: The Southern Mountains
Eklip, Banner and a few solders walked out of the castle gates early the next morning. Every pony except for Banner and Eklip wore a spear, a bow and a quiver of arrows. Banner had his usual sword, but Eklip was unarmed.
Banner trusted him much more easily, but king Sea-Mist insisted that he should remain unarmed.
It was Eklip that had suggested taking archers, and arming them with spears as a backup weapon instead of swords.
"A pony's only real chance against a gryphon is safety in numbers, or to keep out of reach of its talons and beak!" Eklip had said. "It will be foolish to try and attack it with a sword - though some ponies had managed to do so ... most of them pegasi but then again the average, lighter male pegasus is faster in the air as the average, heavier gryphon."
The only weapons they could use at a distance were spears and arrows...
They walked in silence through the woods, almost expecting a gryphon to jump at them from behind the next bush.
"How will we be able to say if a cave is used by a gryphon?" Banner asked.
"Look for the usual signs you'd expect from a winged carnivore: Shed feathers; Abandoned carcasses ..." Eklip replied.
"Will they all be there?" Banner asked.
"It depends how many of them there are and the size of the cave they are using! I think they'll stay together for a while though, considering they will be as unfamiliar with the times as I am!"
Banner sighed at the hint of his origins!
"But I wouldn't attack their lair now, but ..."
"See how many gryphons there are, and then plan a proper attack!" Banner said. When Eklip looked at him with a surprised look he added: "I'm not a captain for nothing you know!"
Eklip admired his childhood hero once again: He had never before faced such a dangerous enemy but still had a good idea of how to take them on!
"Do you think we'll run into a gryphon?" a solder asked nervously.
"Maybe, maybe not!" Eklip replied. "I hope we don't yet!"
"Me to!" Banner agreed.
Skyview stood on the red carpet, next the the large square fountain that stood in the throne room. He glanced at it, again wondering exactly what its purpose was - it didn't look like it would do anything but look pretty.
Maybe Queen Royal Heart was one of those ponies who liked the sound of running water ...
It did help a lot with the several sea ponies he and his brothers had already captured ...
Star-Cluster was pacing in front of the throne that was standing left of the center of the room. He wore his favorite necklace with a key hanging from the golden band. Skyview wondered which door's key it was that he so rarely left alone. And why, if it was so important, was the key not always with him?
And why couldn't he shake the thought that there should have been a second throne.
"Stardust has failed as well!" Star-Cluster shouted.
"Give him time, sire!" Skyview tried to calm him down. "If anyone can find the princess, it is Stardust!"
"Starfire has found her eight months ago!"
"Starfire has found the town where she hides, but not exactly where she stays during the day!" Skyview added a little hesitantly. "Give him some time -"
"That is not good enough!" Star-Cluster yelled.
"The Gate is closed now, there is nothing we can do about it now!" Skyview exclaimed. To his surprise Star-Cluster calmed down.
"How are you doing with those rebels at Moonlight Castle?"
"They are a terrible nuisance, but no real threat! Not as long as no other kingdom will join their cause!" Skyview replied. He dreaded what Star-Cluster was going to say next ... it will only be a waste of time!
"But King Sea-Mist are aiding their cause!" king Star-Cluster said.
'Here it comes...' Skyview thought. He could understand why Stardust couldn't stand Star-Cluster.
"I want you and Starfire to change their minds!"
"Yes, sire!" Skyview answered, trying hard not to let his thoughts show. He bowed and quickly left the room.
As he walked out of the room, he saw Starfire just walking towards the stairs - probably on his way to his room.
"Starfire!" he called. Starfire stopped and turned around.
"King Star-Cluster has ordered us to change Moonlight Castle's mind about helping the rebels!"
"I was wondering when he would get that into his pretty head!" Starfire groaned softly, so that the solders wouldn't hear him. "They won't even let us get near the castle, how does he expect us to do anything about it?"
"I don't know, but let us check the castle out either way." Skyview said.
The sun was already starting to dip low towards the horizon. The small group of solders had reached the mountains an hour ago, but Banner didn't want to start searching for the gryphons' lair just yet, despite Eklip's enthusiasm.
"But if we find one, it will lead us to their cave!" Eklip complained.
"We haven't seen one yet, and by now they already aught to have returned to their lair!" Banner replied, his mind made up. "We should find a secure place to camp for the night instead of go looking for something we won't find around here!"
"Yes, sir!" Eklip replied with a slight sigh. Banner was the captain and probably knew what he was doing. Even though Eklip had lived with the threat of gryphons, this would be his first actual gryphon-hunt ... but he didn't want to tell Banner that!
"Anyway we have to be on the watch for Star-Cluster's solders;" Banner added. "We're quite some distance from the safety of the castle..."
Eklip just nodded. He had forgotten that gryphons aren't their only worry. Suddenly he thought of the advantage the gryphons had over the ponies of this time: These kingdoms are broken and divided! It made him only more committed to remove this threat to the course of the future!
They walked into a small clearing.
"That looks like a promising spot..." Banner said, pointing to a piece of forest on a slight hill. "Good defense, enough cover ..."
He was interrupted by a soft noise to his left. Though barely a rustle, it did caught everybody’s attention.
"What was that?" a solder asked.
"I don't know..." another said.
"Maybe some ponies?" a third added.
"Probably-" Banner replied. "We better check it out before camping! Eklip, and Sunray you come with me; The rest wait for us between those trees!"
Everybody, except for Eklip and a bright yellow solder with white hair left and disappeared into the trees.
"Okay, let's go!" Banner ordered. "Quietly!"
Starfire was flying high over the trees, with a gray cloud following him closely. They had decided to approach the castle from a different angle, from the South, and arrive at the building just after sunset. And up to now, everything had been quiet. The real question was just what would they do when they reach the castle?
Suddenly something through a break in the trees caught Starfire's eye. Looking down he could see several ponies heading between the trees. Three of them, however, took a different rout. Normally they would have demanded very little attention, but one of the three ponies was black.
'Except for me, Skyview and Stardust, there is only one other black pony I know of!' he thought to himself. 'Skyview is behind me, and Stardust is in the other world...'
"I'm going to land!" he called to the cloud and dived to another clearing, as small as the one he had seen the ponies in.
He landed and turned around just in time to see Skyview turn back into himself.
"Why are you landing?" the unicorn asked. "You cannot be tired already!"
"I saw Eclipse!" Starfire replied. "Just south of us, heading this way with two other ponies."





CHAPTER 17: Skyview and the Gryphon
Eklip was carefully walking through the foliage, doing his best not to step on any dry twigs. Behind him, Banner and Sunray followed him, doing the same.
"Do you think it is a gryphon?" Sunray asked softly.
"The sun is already setting! It has to have returned to a lair already, so no!" Banner replied. "Anyway, it is a bit soft for a creature as large as described ..."
They froze for a moment when they heard the bushes rustle again in front of them. When it was quiet again, they walked on, though even more carefully.
Eklip stopped and looked around at Banner. "I have a bad feeling about this!" Eklip whispered.
"Me too!" Banner agreed.
Eklip was about to turn his attention back to the forest in front of him when he saw Banner and Sunray also stop. At first he thought it was because he had stopped, but then he saw Sunray's jaw drop.
He snapped his head around, and stared at the face of an eagle just a few meters from him.
"Well, well!" the gryphon said. "I was wondering how long it will be before the starfirians will show up!"
"RUN!" Eklip shouted just as the gryphon pounced at them. Sunray turned completely around, running back the way they came whereas Banner dived to his left. The gryphon apparently aimed for Eklip, who was closer to him. But Eklip saw it coming and dived forward, escaping underneath the gryphon's belly.
When the gryphon touched the ground again, all three ponies were gone. It spun around and chased in the direction he had seen the starfirian escape; it didn't want more of those winged ponies around! They were a terrible irritation back in the time the gryphons had had control of Snowy Castle! The gryphons had tried many times to destroy the town they had some way to the north-east of the castle, but each time they would find the town deserted!
Crashing through the foliage, it could hear the pony fleeing - good thing the trees were too thick here for the pony to try and take off! That was another irritation with the starfirians ... they were much quicker than the gryphons!
The gryphon followed the sound of the fleeing pony.
Eklip was running as hard as he can. He could hear the gryphon behind him, and he was scared. At least on the bright side it didn't try to catch Banner - THAT would be a disaster!
Eklip burst from the forest onto the banks of a small stream. Though it wasn't a clearing, there wasn't any undergrowth so he could run more easily. He thought of trying to take off - he could fly through the trees easily here! But the though sliced through his mind only for a split second before it was interrupted by a sight that shocked him!
Before him, he saw Starfire and Skyview, both of them surprised to see him running at them. If the gryphon caught one of them ... it could be even more disastrous than if it caught Banner! For Eklip, it applied especially to Starfire!
Skyview quickly gathered himself and after Eklip had swerved away from them, his horn started to glow. Eklip saw the cloud appear in front of him and he stopped just before he ran into it. He cut to one side, but the cloud formed a net that came flying at him. Again, thanks to his reflexes, he managed to duck below the net.
When the cloud flew over him, he jumped up again running again for the thick undergrowth but the net came for him again! This time, Skyview was ready for him and stretched his net so that Eklip couldn't escape him again.
This all happened within only a few seconds!
The soft cotton-like net folded itself around Eklip and unable to run, he stumbled and fell to the ground.
"See, Starfire, that is how you catch a pegasus!" Skyview smirked at Starfire. His brother gave him an angry look.
"You missed him twice!" he pointed out, but it was of little comfort. Skyview did catch him!
"We better get going, someone was chasing him!" Skyview said. Just then Banner burst from the forest as well, surprising both ponies. He gasped when he saw Skyview had captured Eklip.
"RUN!" Eklip yelled. The two ponies though he meant run from them, but then the gryphon also appeared.
"What the ...?" Starfire gasped, but the gryphon pounced at them. Without thinking, Skyview switched his attention to the gryphon. The net around Eklip dissolved and reappeared before the gryphon. The surprised creature flared its wings, trying to avoid the cloud that had appeared from nowhere, but its momentum sent it straight into Skyview's trap.
"KILL IT!" Eklip shouted at anybody who cared to listen. He was still lying on his side, busy standing up.
Sunray appeared from seemingly nowhere, and seeing the gryphon trapped he gripped his spear.
"KILL IT!" Eklip repeated, but Sunray didn't need any encouragement. He quickly thrust his spear through the holes in the net, driving the iron tip deep. The gryphon screeched in pain; a horrible high-pitched call that felt like it could cut through bone!
Banner, having drawn his sword, rushed to Sunray's side to finish the job.
When they were sure the gryphon was dead, Skyview allowed his net to dissolve. It was only when the net disappeared when Sunray realised that it was a cloud-net. He turned around and gasped when he saw Skyview and Starfire standing there.
"What in the world was THAT?" Skyview asked, staring at the monster.
"You don't know?" Banner asked.
Sunray had managed to pull his spear from the gryphon and was pointing it at the two brothers.
"Watch out for its companion!" Eklip warned. "Gryphons don't travel alone, and the other one would've heard that cry!"
But his words might as well have fallen on deaf ears.
"You're Banner, right?" Skyview asked. He remembered the pony from years ago when he had slipped into Moonlight Castle, though it wasn't the first time he saw him up close after that!
"King Star-Cluster would be very happy to see him!" Starfire agreed.
"Forget it!" Eklip snapped, startling everyone around. "Don't you get it? There is a whole nest of these creatures out there ... we don't have the luxury to fight each other!"
"How many of those things are there still?" Starfire asked, worriedly. He didn't know what he would do if one of those things found him alone...
"At least one more..." Sunray replied.
"No, two!" Banner corrected him.
"We know of a tan one, and a gray one;" Eklip explained, looking nervously down at the corpse. "This one was beige!"
"You said it would have a companion around." Skyview asked. "Where is it?"
"I don't know; It should have shown itself by now!"
Skyview thought for a moment. This young pegasus had a point: They couldn't afford to fight each other and the ... gryphons!
"Okay." he suddenly said. "I'll let you guys go this time, but only because we need to get rid of these creatures!"
"But what about king Star-Cluster?" Starfire asked as Skyview turned around. "He won't be happy!"
"Then we don't tell him!" Skyview replied as he disappeared into the forest. "Anyway, you haven't told him about Eclipse, have you?"
"You okay?" Banner asked when the black ponies had gone. He could still not believe what had just happened!
"I think so!" Eklip replied softly. "I'll probably start crying later!"
Banner looked at him, thinking he was joking, but his face said he was serious.






CHAPTER 18: The Missing Gryphon
As the last three ponies disappeared, a dark-brown gryphon appeared from the foliage. He looked sadly at what was left of his friend, and then glared in the direction the last group had disappeared. Though the other two from pink castle were a bigger threat, he felt for some reason that the black and white starfirian was the real danger. Probably because he seemed to know gryphons better then the other ponies…
'King Star-Cluster?' he thought to himself. 'Must be the pony in control of Cotton-Candy Castle ... that pink one west of here ... what do they call it again? Dream Castle?'
The common life, history and politics of the ponies never really bothered him much, as was the case with the other gryphons. But now, one thing did catch his attention: The ponies on this side of Cotton-Candy Castle didn't get along as well as those on the west side!
'That might suit us fine!'
He looked in the direction of Cotton-Candy Castle. He knew that old unicorn Skyview could have controlled clouds, but this younger one seems to share that same ability! They have to be careful of him as well!
He sighed again as he looked at his fallen comrade. They really have to be careful! Since that bad storm a few weeks ago, they couldn't find another gryphon. And now there were only three of them left!
Sunlight sat in the dust, looking to the west. The sun was almost gone and she was worried about Chocolate. Misty walked up to her.
"Waiting for Chocolate?" she asked.
Sunlight snapped at her. Misty jumped back just in time to miss the sharp beak. "What if I am?" she asked angrily. "I'm hungry!"
Just then they could see a dot appear above the trees in the darkening sky.
Only one.
"Who is that?" Sunlight asked, squinting her eyes. The weakening light was already making it hard to see. But soon their answer was answered as a dark-brown gryphon landed by their side. He lay a captured doe down in the dust and started to eat. The other two joined him.
"Where is Dustcloud?" Misty asked with a beak full of meat.
"He's dead!" Chocolate said without looking up.
The two females bowed their heads sadly, thinking about the gryphon they had said goodbye to only this morning. But it was only for a moment before they continued to eat.
Gryphons lives with death around them, and doesn't know what to do with sorrow when one of them falls. They tend to only move on after a short remembrance.
"How?" Sunlight asked when they started to eat again.
"Two starfirians showed up!" Chocolate said, swallowing a rip of meat. "And a unicorn with the same capability as old Skyview!"
"It wasn't Skyview self, was it?" Sunlight asked.
"No, this one was much younger!" he replied. "And Skyview had died last year, remember? It is only the eldest brother that is still alive!"
"I thought we left the starfirians back in Treetop!" Misty replied.
"Well, apparently there is two around here as well!" Chocolate replied, swallowing some more food. "But there is some kind of tension between the ponies on this side of Cotton-Candy Castle; even the starfirians as well! We'll have to be careful, but if we play it out right, we might make ourselves a good stronghold which will attract the other gryphons, wherever they are!"
"Like those first few gryphons that had followed that gray pony to Snowy Castle?" Misty asked with a mouthful of food.
Banner was lying on the cool grass, looking at the ponies around him. They were all asleep. Even Eklip finally went to sleep. Banner sighed as he thought of Eklip. That was a strange pony: He is trying to be brave, but he was really scared a while ago. It was probably his first time he had truly faced a gryphon. And then he met Skyview’s cloud-net as well!
But he was still determent to go through with the hunt. Almost obsessive.
Banner really didn't know what to think of him anymore. He was clearly not on Star-Cluster's side, but actually believed that he was from the future! And that he wasn't prepared to accept as well!
Maybe, the young pegasus has a psychological problem? It was the only believable option left!
Banner sighed and stood up. He wasn't sure if it was the gryphon, or Skyview, or even both of them that had almost caught him that roughed him up so much: He did almost cry.
Banner heard a rustle, and looking around saw Eklip turning onto his other side. He was still awake! Banner walked over to him.
"Are you sure you are okay?" he asked worriedly.
"Much better than earlier tonight!" he answered with a weak smile. "The sleep did help!"
"Sorry to have woken you..." Banner whispered.
"It wasn't you!" he replied, staring off into the forest.
They were silent for a while, listening to the crickets chirping in the grass and sometimes the hoot of an owl somewhere in the distance.
"What is a Star-Fir-Ian?" Banner suddenly asked, remembering the gryphon saying something like that. It was still a shock to him that these creatures could talk, even more than finally having seen one himself. "It sounds like a tree-"
"Starfirian!" Eklip laughed. "It's a small kommando of male pegasi ... I was training to become one! The gryphons called them starfirians because every member is a descendant of Starfire! It didn't take long before the name had caught on amongst ponies as well!"
"You're not a ... starfirian?" Banner asked. "Are you?"
"No, not yet." Eklip sighed. "I was on my way home from Flutter Valley for the final year of training when I got ... side-tracked!"
"I think you'll make a great starfirian!" Banner smiled. "But now, you should try to sleep. Tomorrow is going to be hard!"
"Yes, sir!" Eklip replied, laying his head down again.
Banner walked back to his spot. He didn't know if he could believe the story of starfirians ... but then the gryphon had mentioned it as well! It was, however, a nice fantasy. As he thought of a small group of pegasi helping him to attack Dream Castle, he drifted to sleep.





CHAPTER 19: Star-Cluster's Anger
"What!" king Star-Cluster shouted, gripping his staff tightly. His favorite necklace was probably in his room, as he wasn't wearing it around his neck. He was pacing back and forth in front of the single throne.
"We are in a state of war with Moonlight Castle-" Skyview said. "They aren't going to just let us in, and the castle itself is too well defended to sneak in! Starfire and I had taken a look at it yesterday!" He decided not to mention the time Stardust had sent him into the very same castle he now claims he cannot get into!
"You didn't try hard enough to get in!" king Star-Cluster hissed.
"Sire, if we attack Moonlight Castle now, even though they are openly resisting us, the stronger kingdoms that hadn't changed their minds might take pity on them and give them aid." Skyview said nervously, hoping king Star-Cluster will listen to him. "As it is now, Moonlight Castle is much too weak on its own to attack us in open combat! They cannot even guard their Gate properly from us!"
King Star-Cluster was silent for a while, pondering what Skyview had said. Though he was regularly upset with them, he knew he should sometimes listen to what they have to say ... after all they had once been -
"I'll give it some thought!" king Star-Cluster replied, loosening his grip on his staff. "Now, leave me alone!"
Skyview bowed and left the throne room.
"What do you think?" king Star-Cluster asked into the empty throne room, to no one in particular.
"You know what I think!" a deep voice replied from seemingly nowhere.
"I mean about Moonlight Castle!" king Star-Cluster sighed, sitting back down on the throne. "Those three had turned out to be of great value, don't you think?" king Star-Cluster smiled. He enjoyed ordering the three black ponies around.
"They are more dangerous to you than any kingdom around, especially Moonlight Castle! Their pillows are still waiting, you know..." the voice reminded him. "You've only filled one of the five!"
"As soon as my reign is secure, I'll put them where they belong!"
Outside Skyview gave a sigh of relieve. If king Star-Cluster was not obsessed with the princess, it was the other kingdoms; who is next? It will definitely not be a good idea to tell him about the gryphon he and Starfire had seen. Nor about Eklip who seems to be connected to those monsters in some way!
He suddenly looked up when he heard someone approach him from behind.
"How did it go?" Starfire asked.
"Fine!" Skyview answered. "I think we're off Moonlight Castle's case for the while!" He suddenly smiled. "You can go fly yourself into trees again!" he added.
Starfire glared at him, but deep inside he was glad Skyview had found something to lighten him up. It was, however, still a tender point for Starfire.
"What are you going to do?" he asked.
"With you off somewhere, I have some quiet time!" he smiled broadly as his horn started to glow. "I give you one guess..." and he winked out in a misty cloud.






CHAPTER 20:The Prophecy Returns
Banner was standing in the courtyard of the Castle, looking up at the full moon. He was expecting a report from Charades when the Gate opens.
But he must admit to himself that something else was bothering him the past few days: When king Sea-Mist had asked Eclipse for proof that he is from the future, he had said that the other two black ponies will join Stardust in the other world in three months' time.
That was three months ago...
Banner shook the thought again. He trusted Eclipse, but not THAT much! He was expecting a report from Charades, that's all! He did warn the guards at the Gate to be extra careful, but he didn't reinforce them with backup.
He looked to the south. As said before, he trusted Eclipse much more than when he had first met him. Now, Eclipse was still searching for the gryphons' den, but with strict orders not to engage them. He is only acting as a scout for Banner.
"We need to talk to Banner!" a voice suddenly called from outside the castle gates.
"It is urgent!" a second voice added.
Frowning, Banner started to walk towards the gates. It sounded like the guards at the Gate! But what would they be doing here? Had...?
The gates opened and Banner gasped as he recognised the two guards!
"Skyview had appeared at the Gate!" The one said.
"We think he has slipped through..." the other added.
"How?" Banner asked shocked.
"He trapped us in cloud-balls, and then when it dissolved he was nowhere to be seen!"
"Have you seen Starfire?" Banner asked.
"No...We only saw a faint blue glow, and then noticed Skyview..."
But Banner knew that Starfire was with Skyview ... and they had gone through the Gate.
Eclipse was right!
"We think Starfire was with him!" the one solder added, noticing Banner's worried looks.
"Thank you for reporting it to me!" Banner said. "Now return to your posts in case they want to return to our world!"
"Yes, sir!" they said and turning around headed back to the Gate.
Banner watched the castle gates close, then turned around and walked into the castle.
"You're sure of this?" king Sea-Mist asked, surprised.
"Yes, sir! They had definitely gone through the gate." Banner replied. "Most likely to go help Stardust with catching the princess!"
"We should have her return here!" king Sea-Mist replied. "She won't be safe in the other world with all three black ponies searching for her!"
"I disagree;" Banner said. "As long as her big secret remains ... secret, she will be safe! And what about the life she had up to now ... she cannot just leave her adopted parents, her home, her school!"
King Sea-Mist looked up when Banner mentioned school. It was still a strange thought to him.
"And if Lunarstar the earth-pony disappeared along with Lunarstar the winged-unicorn ... it will blow her secret!"
King Sea-Mist knew he was right. Now, she still had her secret to fall back on! They cannot put that into danger! And he had trusted Banner's advice for years; Why doubt him now?
"What about sending more solders after Skyview and Starfire?" the king asked.
"That won't be good either-" Banner replied. "A lot of pony solders following Lunarstar around..."
"I see your point!" the king replied. "But we should at least send a messenger through to warn Charades!"
"I agree!" Banner said. "I'll go get one ready ... but he'll probably have to stay in the other world for a month..."
"We don't know exactly where Lunarstar lives, nor Charades and Buster!"
They talked for a long time, discussing other options, but could find no real solution.
"Send the messenger!" the king finally decided. "Warn him that he will be staying there for a month because we don't know where to find them! We have no other choice!"
Banner was about to turn around when a guard from the door entered the room.
"Announcing the arrival of Charades!" he said in a loud voice. "He wishes to speak to Banner!"
"Show him in!" the king ordered.
"Maybe we don't have to send a messenger..." Banner smiled.
The guard showed Charades in. He walked towards the two ponies, and bowed to the king before turning to Banner.
"Hallo, King Sea-Mist, Banner!" he said. "We may have a slight problem!"
"So her secret is out?" the king asked, worriedly.
"Only her friends know about it!" Charades said. "Booster thinks we can trust them though."
"But they might accidentally let a hint slip without noticing it;" Banner thought out loudly.
He was worried. Very worried. Things were moving very fast and he was afraid they might lose the princess if they weren't careful. One misstep is all that the black ponies needed!
A fleeting smile crossed his face - It might have been interesting to ask Eclipse, but he was not here. And anyway he knew he would probably not tell them anything anyway.
"And Starfire and Skyview had gone through the Gate to join Stardust!" Banner told Charades. Charades gasped when he heard the news.
"But there isn't enough time to go back and bring her here!" Charades exclaimed. "And we cannot hope to fight all three of them!"
"The king and I have decided that it might be more dangerous for princess Lunarstar if she is brought here than to leave the situation as it is ... for now!" Banner explained. "The black ponies don't know she can change her appearance, but they may figure it out if she is brought here!"
"I understand!" Charades replied. "Buster and I will do our best!"
Banner and Charades walked outside. There was a slight breeze in the night air, which chilled everything it touched.
"How is the princess doing?" Banner suddenly asked.
"Fine!" Charades replied. "A bit upset because we ... Her adopted father, Buster and me ... were angry with her for not listening to us! But with Skyview and Starfire also in our world, it might have been a blessing in disguise!"
Banner looked at him questioningly.
"She is going to need all the friends she can get!" Charades looked around at the courtyard. "Where is that black pegasus you had here last time? The one who claims to be from the future..."
"He's out looking for someone for us!" Banner replied. "Why? Don't you trust him?"
"He is a black pony..." Charades mentioned "But it is something he said to me last time I saw him that is bothering me..."
"What?" Banner asked. He suddenly remembered there was something, but he couldn't place it right away.
"He wished me 'Good Luck'!" Charades replied. "I wanted to know what he meant by that..."
"Oh, yes!" Banner remembered. "I asked him that myself. He told me that Stardust and the princess will be trapped in a mine for a while, but that Stardust will hand her over to you once they escaped! I thought he was making stuff up!" Banner looked at Charades, remembering his prophecy of the two brothers that would go through the Gate. "Why do you ask? Did something happen?"
"Stardust was waiting for us on the other side of the Gate that night!" Charades said, sounding slightly dumbfounded. "He and the princess disappeared for two days... we eventually found them coming out of an old abandoned mine..."
"That is the second thing he said will happen that had come true!" Banner gasped, as surprised as Charades.
"What else did he say will still happen?" Charades asked.
"Um...We'll recapture Dream Castle; ... Something will happen to the Apetons; And oh, this doesn't make sense! Starfire will become duke of Skywood forest after the Apetons disappeared!"
"How is that possible if we will recapture Dream Castle?" Charades asked. "Will Star-Cluster escape and set up another kingdom close by?"
"You know, that makes sense!" Banner said. "And that is something he will want to keep secret, since his future will depend on it!"
"But is he on our side?" Charades asked as the neared the castle gates.
"For Starfire to become duke of Skywood, like you said, Star-Cluster must be chased out of Dream Castle, so yes! He actually is!" Banner replied with a soft chuckle. "He did say he just wants the present to play out as it should!"
The gates opened and the two ponies said their goodbyes before Charades continued on alone.




CHAPTER 21: Talk of the Future
Banner and the group of solders walked through the forest, heading to a large lake close to the swamp that was located some distance south-west of Moonlight Castle. They stepped into the clearing around the pool and noticed Eklip and the other two solders Banner had left with him lying on the grass next to the lake.
"Hi, Eklip!" Banner called. Eklip looked up and smiled.
"Hi, Banner!" he replied.
"Hallo, Banner!" the two solders greeted him as well.
"I think we're going to camp here tonight ..." Banner said. "It is too late to walk any further today!"
"Any luck with finding the gryphons?" Banner asked Eklip as the solders started to relax a bit.
"No-" Eklip replied, looking at the other ponies bending down to drink water. "How did it go back at the castle?" Eklip asked when he and Banner was relatively alone.
"You should know-" Banner replied with a smile. "You're from the future..."
"Then it all went fine, I guess!" Eklip said with a slight frown. He was getting tired of hearing it all the time. "I've lost complete track of time! Anyway, do you suddenly believe I'm from the future?"
"Yes, I think I do!" Banner replied.
"You do?" Eklip asked surprised. It was the last thing he expected Banner to say!
"Starfire and Skyview had gone through the Gate ..." Banner said. "Like you said they would three months ago!"
"So I have..." Eklip replied, slightly worried. "Did they succeed?"
"What would you say?"
"They were supposed to have-" Eklip replied, sensing that they had.
"Will they catch the princess?" Banner asked, nervously. He wanted to know what Eklip would say.
"Now what makes you think I'm going to tell you?" Eklip replied with a smile. "What is, is what must be! In the end it will turn out alright!"
"But Starfire will become duke of Skywood?" Banner added, hoping to confirm Charades's suspicions. "After he has conquered the Apetons?"
"He never conquered the Apetons: They were blown away! Like dry leaves in the autumn wind!" Eklip looked at Banner. "Or that is how the legend goes ... no one knows what happened to them!"
"Where did you learn all of this?" Banner asked.
"Most of it from school-" Eklip replied. "The rest, such as the Gate I remembered from my granddad's stories. I used to love to listen to him and his brothers tell us stories by the fire -"
"School?" Banner asked, thinking of Lunarstar's school. No one in this world knows of the concept of a school.
"Star-... er ...Dream-Valley built a school shortly before the volcano war! And from there it spread throughout the whole of Ponyland and beyond!"
Banner noticed the slip of the tongue! "Star-Cluster?" he asked.
"Er ... Star-Cluster is not your real enemy ..." Eklip started to say, but Banner interrupted him.
"I've heard your friend talk about this volcano war... and of someone called Fallon?" Banner said, making Eklip gasp. "Who is Fallon?"
"Someone you cannot defeat ..." Eklip suddenly said after a short pause. "You need the help of Kesia!"
"An old predecessor of the princess. Don't worry, she'll suddenly show up when Fallon makes himself seen!"
"She'll just show up?" Banner asked, lifting his one eyebrow. He couldn't understand what Eklip was talking about, nor did want to trust someone so important to 'just show up'!
"You can say she is watching over Luna-...-star!" Eklip sighed. "Please, don’t tell anyone about Kesia, especially the royal family – they cannot know yet!"
"She has a guardian of her own?" Banner asked surprised.
"It's complicated!" Eklip sighed. "The next few full moons are ... complicated! Don't ask me more about it, please!"
The sun was quickly setting. The solders was on their way to the forest where they planned to camp for the night. With all three black ponies away things were safer, but Star-Cluster had many other servants they had to be wary of.
"What happened to Shady?" Eklip suddenly asked.
"She wanted to get as many ponies to join us at Moonlight Castle!" Banner replied. "Therefore the king had granted her her wish!"
The sky had turned a dark purple by now, and most of the solders weren't to be seen.
"Time to go to sleep!" Banner said as he stood up. "Tomorrow will be a hard day!"




CHAPTER 22: The Cave
The sun was shining brightly down upon the group of ponies as they climbed yet another steep hill. In these mountains the forests weren't very thick, and the group was very tired and hot. Close to the top, they found themselves some shady trees, and sat down to rest and drink water out of water bottles they had carried with them. A few biscuits were handed out and they ate in silence.
"We've been searching for this lair for weeks now!" Eklip complained.
"These hills are vast!" Banner said. "And you don't want to do only half a job searching for this cave, do you?"
"No!" Eklip sighed. "But we're running out of time! You've already left twice to return to Moonlight Castle!"
"The time for preparing the final battle for Dream Castle is approaching fast!" Eklip said absentmindedly. "That means we only have until this full moon! We cannot have you and the solders worn out before that!"
As they quickly finished their biscuits, Banner thought of what Eklip just said. 'So it won't be long now?' he wondered, realising Eklip hadn't noticed what he had just said.
"I think we should continue on before we take a break for lunch!" he said and stood up. The other ponies followed his example and they walked the last stretch to the top. When they reached the top, they gasped.
Before them lay another steep hill. And still no sign of a cave... Eklip grunted softly in frustration. Banner glanced at him, noticing that he is worried they won't find anything.
"We'll take lunch in the bottom of the valley!" Banner decided and the group started down hill.
They never reached the bottom of the valley.
"Sir, what is that?" one of the solders asked. Everybody looked, expecting to see a cave, but instead they saw a bone.
A single white bone lying in the grass.
Banner walked towards it to have a closer look. "It's a deer bone, it doesn't help us much..." he said, looking up. But then he gasped. "There's more!"
The others also looked, and saw lots of bones, lying strewn in a wide area.
"It's a bone-pile!" Eklip said surprised, and a little excited.
"I can see that..." Banner said.
"No, no! I mean this is it!" Eklip said, now clearly excited. "Their cave must be close by!"
"Spread out in groups of two!" Banner ordered. "I want that cave found!"
It wasn't long until someone shouted from higher up the hill. "Found it!"
Everybody rushed to the cave. It was big ... and slightly smelling of old meat! Feathers lay strewn everywhere amongst some more bones. To one side was what remained of a day old meal. It might have been a stag...
Banner picked up a feather. It was gray, and the faint darker gray lines could easily be seen.
"Another gray gryphon feather!" he said, showing the feather to Eklip.
"Same one as we had found that first time!" Eklip guessed. "The tan one is also here!"
"There is at least one other we haven't seen yet!" Banner replied, picking a dark brown feather up. "Probably the beige one's companion?"
"And that beige one we've killed weeks ago!" a solder replied, picking another feather up. The beige feathers were not very common in the dust around the cave. They kept looking, but could only find the four colours.
"So we are dealing with four gryphons?" Banner asked. "Which leaves three left!"
"Definitely!" Eklip agreed. "This cave can house six of them!"
"Are they still staying here?" a solder asked, eyeing the day old meat. "There seems to be no one at home right now!"
"Most likely!" Banner agreed. "You cannot divide three into groups so that everyone has a companion. We can wait for them when they return tonight!" He turned to Eklip. "They cannot see clearly during the night, right!"
"Right!" he said. "And we will want to ..."
Eklip was suddenly interrupted by a yell. Everybody turned to the cave entrance, and saw one of the solders running for his life away from the shadows. Then everyone gasped when a gray gryphon appeared from the shadows where she had been hiding. With a slash, she caught the terrified pony beneath her talons.
"Shoot it!" Banner yelled, and several arrows found their target before she could bend her head down to kill the pony.
She screeched like the beige one had, and leaving the wounded solder in the dust she lunged at one of the other ponies. The terrified solder in her way managed to lift his spear in time to impale the monster flying towards him. But her momentum was enough to knock him off his feet.
Another solder ran up past his friend, and drove his own spear home.
When they were sure the gryphon was dead, Banner rushed to the fallen pony.
"Are you okay?" he called.
"I don't know ..." he grunted. There were deep gashes across his doughnuts-symbol which was bleeding heavily.
"Band-Aid!" Banner called to a white pony with bright red hair, who was already rushing forward.
"Here!" Band-Aid called, and knelt next to Banner.
"Secure that cave!" Banner called as Band-Aid started to take care of the wounded pony. "I don't want any other surprises!"
"If there was any," Eklip said "we would've known about them by now! But make sure anyway!"
Three ponies carefully entered the cave, but soon afterwards returned. "All clear!"
"I thought you said they don't travel alone?" Banner said to Eklip when the solders returned from the cave.
"This one wasn't traveling ..." Eklip replied, clearly as surprised as Banner. "I think they thought the cave would be save enough."
The wounded pony was carried off to a safe spot, and Band-Aid had given him something to ease the pain. He was sleeping now while Band-Aid was taking a look at the pony who was knocked over by the gryphon. He had a few scratches but nothing serious.
"We can make it two gryphons left!" Eklip said to Banner as he watched the ponies dragging the dead gryphon into the cave. "Why take her back to the cave?"
"The other two will know something is wrong if they come back and see her there!" Banner replied. "Or missing completely;"
"I was hoping to trap them in the cave-" Eklip added.
"That would have been a good idea!" Banner agreed. "But now we will have to think of something else..."
"Or maybe we might get lucky!"



CHAPTER 23: Battle at Night
Chocolate was flying through the darkening sky, carrying some small creature in his talons. Sunlight was just behind him, complaining all the way.
"We should have returned to the cave sooner!" she said. "It will be dark soon!"
"I though you wanted some fresh meat?" Chocolate snapped back. "That stag we brought back yesterday morning won't last tonight!"
"That won't last long either!" Sunlight pointed at Chocolate's prey. "I wish we could get another pony! They have a nice..."
"It will last long enough!" Chocolate interrupted her. After the third pony they had caught, they had trouble finding more. They seemed to have become more wary of the new predators - like it was back to the west of Cottton-Candy Castle. But there a gryphon could still find ponies because more ponies were around there, unlike here!
When they neared the cave, they became silent. The sun had just disappeared when they landed in front of the cave. Chocolate dropped his prey next to the old stag, and looked around.
"Where is Misty?" he asked.
"Probably still in the cave!" Sunlight replied, walking into the cave. "You know her..."
Chocolate looked at Sunlight as she was walking into the cave. Something was wrong, but he couldn't say what. He glanced around, trying to figure out what ... except Misty being missing ... was wrong! A hoof imprint in the ground close to the old stag caught his eye. He walked closer, noticing it was a pony track.
"Misty's dead!" Sunlight suddenly yelled form the cave.
"Get out of there!" he called back, opening his wings to take off into the night. Suddenly several arrows flew from the darkness. Only one caught him in the back leg, and he took off into the dark sky. Several more arrows followed him, but his dark-brown coat was lost in the black sky.
Sunlight wasn't so lucky; when she came running out of the cave she saw Chocolate taking off and several ponies running out from between the rocks and low scrubs. She yelled, also trying to take off, but she was now a closer target for the archers than Chocolate had been and several arrows found their mark.
As she fell, two ponies ran over to her with their spears ready...
Chocolate landed in the darkness close to the cave. He could hear Sunlight being killed. He bowed his head for a moment. It was now completely dark, and he could barely see the rocks in front of him.
He was scared, for the first time in his life he was really scared. He knew he was basically blind, wounded, alone, and was hunted by at least ten ponies! Usually, he was the one with the advantage!
"Where is the last one!" he heard a voice call. Chocolate looked up, recognising the starfirian with the white mane!
"Should have known!" he grumbled.
"Where is the last one!" Eklip called, looking around at the ponies around him!
"He got away!" a solder replied. "But he is wounded - he won't get far..."
"How seriously?" Banner asked.
"I think at least a few arrows had hit him!"
"We have to find him!" Eklip said, sounding slightly hysterical. "Starfire will return soon!"
"The gryphon is wounded!" Banner said, grabbing a hold of Eklip to calm him down! "It won't be able to do anything to your grandfather!"
"Look here!" Banner said, shaking Eklip slightly. "We've killed two more, and we know there is one more - one that is wounded seriously as well! It won't be able to do something serious to the future anymore."
Banner let Eklip go once he had calmed down and regained his composure.
"It will be full moon soon, and you know I want to be at the castle in case Charades comes to me! And we need to get Sugarcane back home as well!"
"I'm sorry!" Eklip said, hanging his head low. "I was just really hoping to end it tonight!"
"Fighting is never sure!" Banner smiled. The young pegasus actually reminded him of himself when he was young ... young and dreaming of becoming a solder! "It is one of the first things you learn as a solder! You can never say it will end today, unless you know the future ..."
"I didn't mean it like that!" Banner quickly added when Eklip glared at him.
Eklip smiled. "I'm just scared he bumps into Starfire someday- The future won't be the same, you know?"
"I know!" Banner smiled. "Let's go back to Moonlight Castle!"
Not to far away, hidden in the darkness, Chocolate was listening in on the two ponies.
"Let's go back to Moonlight Castle!" the one pony said. It sounded like he was the leader.
'Well, well!' Chocolate thought to himself. He remembered the black unicorn that could control clouds like old Skyview. And the starfirian that was with him ... he had looked like old Starfire himself as well!
And now, this young black and white starfirian claimed to be from the future ... a lot of things now started to make sense!
'If I could find this time's Starfire ...' Chocolate though to himself 'Treetop won't be anymore, nor would that irritating starfirians!' He had completely forgotten about that gray one the gryphons had first met...
He felt the single arrow in his flank, and reaching back he broke the shaft off. He'll worry about the arrow later - first he must find Starfire!
'It might even save Snowy Castle!' he smiled.




CHAPTER 24: The Hidden Prophecy
Banner stood on the wall of the castle, staring in the direction of the Gate. The sun was busy setting, and he knew the Gate would be open soon. It was full moon tonight! But he was disturbed; ever since they had returned from the gryphons' cave! King Sea-Mist was pleased that they had killed two more of the gryphons, but still worried about the last surviving gryphon.
Banner shook his head. No, it is not the last of the gryphons that was worrying him so much. They knew he was wounded (they had found his blood close to the cave) and he won't go very far from the cave.
Banner's thoughts turned back to Sugarcane. The poor pony was in pain, but would be all right! He had gone to see him just a few minutes ago! Banner couldn't help but smile ... Sugarcane's symbol is going to look funny when he is healed properly ... Three doughnuts with four parallel stripes through them. At least the picture will still align properly!
Banner shook his head again. No, he was worried about Sugarcane ever since they had attacked the gryphons, but it was not what was bothering him now!
He turned around and started to walk down the steps towards the castle. The more he thought about it, the more he was sure that he had this feeling for months now, slowly increasing like an hourglass with its sand trickling away.
He saw Eklip lying under a tree, staring at the fountain in the middle of the courtyard. He smiled when he remembered how upset the young pegasus was when the one gryphon got away!
Banner stopped suddenly, thinking of the incident again.
'Starfire will return soon!' Eklip had said. Is Starfire going to come through the Gate? He had also said something like: 'The time for the final battle is approaching fast! We only have until this full moon!'
Banner thought of asking Eklip, but decided against it. He walked on, thinking of Starfire coming back through the Gate. Why?
Banner walked into the castle, and down the hallway towards the library. He was so deep in thought that he never saw king Sea-Mist walking up to him.
"Something wrong?" king Sea-Mist asked.
"Oh, I didn't see you, your majesty!" Banner said.
"That can easily be forgiven - I've noticed you're in deep thought!" king Sea-Mist replied with a smile. "If you've been thinking any deeper, you'd be walking along the cracks between the tiles on the floor! What is bothering you?"
"Eklip let something slip while we were at the gryphons' cave ..." Banner said. "I haven't thought about it until now..."
"He said that Starfire will return soon!" Banner said. "I don't think he was aware that he had said it!"
"He did?" king Sea-Mist asked, also thinking. "Didn't he mention something of Stardust being away for five months?"
"That first night!" Banner remember. "So, Stardust is coming home, as is Starfire. We might as well add Skyview to!"
"Why would they come home?" king Sea-Mist asked worriedly. "Do you think something big happened in the other world?"
"Must have, but what?" Banner agreed. They both walked into the library and sat down.
"You don't think they had captured the princess?" king Sea-Mist asked.
"I hope not-" Banner replied. "And asking Eklip won't help either ... he just won't tell us."
"Why do you say that?"
"Remember he had once said that he just wants the present to play out as it should!"
"So he will allow the black ponies to catch her if he thinks that is what should happen?" the king gasped. He didn't like the idea, and could see Banner didn't either!
"How should he know exactly when the princess is supposed to be..." Banner replied, and then gasped as he remembered something else.
"I once asked him what should keep me from sending more solders through the Gate-" Banner remembered loudly. "He told me that it would give away her secret prematurely!"
"You've told me the same thing." king Sea-Mist pointed out, but then suddenly asked: "How does he know about her secret?"
"But he said the word 'PREMATURELY'!" Banner said, not hearing the last question. "That means that her secret will be discovered!"
"Her friends knows of her secret..." the king started to say.
"But the solders wouldn't have given them a hint as to her true identity!" Banner said. "I think he did talk about the black ponies..." For a moment Banner thought of what Eklip called the 'Final Battle'; If the princess was captured, throwing everything they had into a make-or-break battle would be their only hope ...
"Then we must have her brought here!" king Sea-Mist decided. "We cannot allow her to be captured!"
Banner was furious at Eclipse. How could he allow something like this to happen? How could he try to keep it from them? He had trusted him!
"Take a group of solders, and bring her safely here!" king Sea-Mist ordered.
"Yes sir!" Banner replied, standing up.
"Where is Eclipse!" king Sea-Mist asked one of the guards that was with him.
"He is outside!" Banner replied. "I'll send someone to put him in the dungeon! We can deal with him later!"
Banner bowed and left the library, fuming. He felt Eclipse had betrayed his trust. He walked through the doors and into the courtyard. Eclipse was exactly were he had seen him last, relaxing with his head on his two front hoofs.
"Eclipse!" Banner called.
Eklip looked up, noticing the usually missing 's' of his name. Banner hadn't used it in a long time! Something was going on. "Yes, sir?"
Banner walked up to him. "Tell me something! And I want a straight answer! Will the princess be captured tonight!"
Eklip took a step back, something Banner quickly picked up. "Th-the princess?" he tried to stall for time, trying to think of something to do! "The princess of Dream Castle will return home tonight!"
'That aught to be vague enough!' he thought.
"Yes or No!" Banner demanded. Eklip could see that he was angry, and figured he probably knew ... but how? He was very careful not to let anything slip!
"Yes..." Eklip answered in a small voice. He heard the ponies around him gasp, shocked.
"When were you planning to tell us?" Banner asked.
"Never!" Eklip replied, again in his typical stubborn way, but still in a small voice. "This is the most important event of this time! Don't interfere with it!"
"I will not just sit around and let the three black ponies carry our last royal member away to Dream Castle!" Banner answered, almost shouting. "You two, take Eclipse to the dungeon! We will deal with you later! You lot, we're going to the Gate!"
"She should already have been caught!" Eklip shouted after Banner. He knew the fragile way they had to walk on, and was worried something wrong might happen! "Banner: What is, is what must be!"
The castle gates opened, and Banner and the solders hurried outside.
The two solders that were supposed to take him to the dungeon closed in on Eklip. They were just as angry at him as Banner was. Eklip took a step back, worried. He couldn't allow Banner to make a mistake ... and there was that last gryphon ... he couldn't afford to go back to the dungeon!
Then suddenly Eklip pounced on the two solders in front of him, knocking one down quickly and throwing the other over his shoulder, sending him flying. He quickly took off before the first could stand up again and flew over the castle walls.
"Eclipse is escaping!" someone shouted. Banner heard and saw Eclipse just clearing the castle walls.
"You do what you must!" he called to Banner, flying higher and higher. "I'll do what I must!"
"Bring him down!" Banner shouted, but Eklip was gone, a black dot in a black sky. Even the whites of his feathers were disappearing fast.
"Hurry to the Gate!" Banner said, still fuming. "The black ponies will have to go through it! We don't want them ..."
His sentence was cut in half when they saw Starfire and Skyview running uphill towards them, each carrying a glowing pony on their backs.
The two brothers only slowed down slightly, before turning into the dirt path that lead down to Woodlock.
"After them!" Banner called.




CHAPTER 25: The Final Hunt
Eklip flew as fast as he could, circling over the forest. He had seen the building built over the Gate years from now many times, but he couldn't remember exactly where it had been. And the Gate itself was hidden from view.
Suddenly his eye caught something white much lower down the mountain. Something moving fast downhill! He swooped down silently, wondering what it could be. It was heading to a small cliff, much too fast for him to reach it in time!
Then just as it fell over the edge, it stopped. Mane hung low and wings flared open limply. Eklip gasped as he recognised the princess, but then he noticed the dark figure holding onto her tail.
Eklip smiled when he recognised Stardust dragging her back onto the grass and uphill to a safer spot.
"Good!" he said loudly to himself and turned south towards the mountains. "The end has begun!"
He glanced back, just to make sure they were okay, but he couldn't see them. But in his heart he knew that they were. He smiled.
"So Stardust did actually drop her!"
The sun was about to start rising when Eklip climbed out of his bush, dragging a makeshift spear with him. He shook his head, forcing himself to wake up. He still didn't like waking up this early, but living with Banner had made him slightly used to it.
He looked around him. He hadn't flown a long way from Moonlight Castle, and still had to be wary of king Sea-Mist's solders! Or any solders he might add! He stretched his legs and flapped his wings, looking at the mountains in not too far away.
Banner had assured him that the gryphon will not leave the vicinity of the cave, since it was wounded. Eklip hoped he was right!
He flapped his wings and took off, heading south again. He felt bad that Banner was upset with him, but he knew that it had to be so. Once he has taken care of that Gryphon, he will return to Moonlight Castle and face the consequences! He will have to someday ... the chance that he'll ever return to his time felt like the mist in the forest below him, fading in the morning sunlight!
Eklip neared the cave and landed close by. He didn't want to be in the sky to close to the cave ... it might warn the gryphon of his approach, or eve worse, the gryphon might sneak up from behind and attack him! He walked carefully, making sure he didn't make a sound. He quickly checked out the cave, but could easily tell that the last gryphon hadn't been there since probably the fight!
The old, half-eaten stag as well as the small creature the gryphons had brought that night had been dragged a little away from the cave and eaten by what Eklip finally decided must be wolves ... as he examined the tracks that now covered the dusty entrance of the cave. However, the wolves hadn't stayed at the cave and have moved on.
Eklip sighed a sigh of relieve. He was slightly glad not to have found the gryphon here; but also worried that he might not find him soon enough! On one hoof he was afraid to meet the gryphon, and the other he knew he had to find him!
He took another quick glance over his shoulder at the cave, remembering the gray gryphon catching the solder - Sugarcane. It looked like she had barely touched him, and still he was seriously wounded! He shook his head to clear his thoughts and, gathering his courage, turned away from the cave. He had to find that gryphon!
He started to look around the area, remembering how long they had searched for the gryphon's cave. Again he wished he had grabbed a sword, or preferably a proper spear when he had escaped Moonlight Castle! But there is no turning back now...
Eklip searched the whole area around the cave but didn't find anything. He decided to take a chance and search a wider area around the cave from the air. He searched until the sun began to set and the light became too bad for him to see by clearly. He flew a short way to the west, and found himself a new bush under which he could sleep.
Whilst traveling, he usually used a bush as cover unless he could find a nice small cave to hide in; It was probably left over from the time the gryphons had threatened Treetop, but now he thought it might come in handy again! He was, after all hunting a gryphon!
He searched a wider area from the sky the next day, and a wider area the next, and an even wider area the day after that until was sure that Banner was wrong. The gryphon wasn't around here anymore.
After about four days searching around the cave, Eklip had still not found any sign of a wounded gryphon, or any such creature. Feeling disappointed, he returned to his bush he slept under each night. As he curled up, he thought of the gryphon.
'What would I do if I was a wounded gryphon ... all alone ...?' he wondered. 'Head back home?'
Eklip decided it was worth a shot; the gryphon wasn't around here somewhere! Tomorrow, he'll fly west.




CHAPTER 26: The Future Threatened
Eklip was flying, heading west as fast as he could. He didn't know where to start searching for the missing gryphon ... he had the whole of Ponyland to cover! But he felt he was on to something ... heading south-west. The direction the gryphons had originally came from ... or would come from!
He suddenly had a thought: Maybe this gryphon was supposed to lead the first gryphons against White Pearl Castle? but he shook the thought - that was supposed to be several decades away still! No, that couldn't be ...
He noticed a large pink and white building far ahead and to his right, barely turning his head to look at it.
'Dream Castle!' he thought to himself. He had been there many times, but now it was in the command of Star-Cluster! He had to be careful not to be seen by the castle...
Eklip descended to a little lower, and even considered hiding until night so that he was sure no one would spot him. But then he might miss the gryphon, who won’t be active during the night!
He was still considering this when a movement a little higher and further to his right caught his eye. He turned and gasped when he saw talons shining in the sun. The gryphon he was searching for had found him instead!
With his lightning reflexes, he dropped even lower, descending to just above the treetops. A lesser pegasus, male or female, would've been captured there! Quickly he thanked his family's abilities and glanced back up at the dark-brown gryphon. His talons had found only air, and he was furiously searching for the pegasus that had just escaped from him.
Eklip gripped his inadequate spear, gathering all his courage again he flew straight at the gryphon. The gryphon saw him coming and knocked the weak attack off. Eklip's spear was sent flying wide and Eklip fell through the canopy. The gryphon dived after him, but stopped and pulled himself up again before he also crashed through the leaves.
He circled the area, looking for the starfirian.
"Come out!" he ordered, but Eklip was nowhere to be seen. He circled again.
Eklip sat up, looking at the shadow that passed overhead. He looked around for his spear, but couldn't find it quickly enough. He knew he stood no real chance against the gryphon without some kind of weapon! That one bump had left him with a long scratch just below his wing. It was bleeding slightly, but wasn't serious.
"Come out, you coward!" the gryphon ordered again as he flew past. Suddenly he started to laugh. "You cannot win, starfirian!" he called. "Fight me or hide, you'll lose either way!"
Eklip thought that the gryphon meant that he would find him either way, but what was said next shocked Eklip to the core!
"I know the original Starfire lives in the pink castle to the north of here ... And that he hasn't founded Treetop yet!" the gryphon laughed, still searching. "All I have to do to defeat you all is kill this one pegasus who doesn't know of the danger he is in! Fight me now, or hide ... your dead either way! Your future will end today!"
Eklip was shocked, staring up at the shadow as the gryphon passed overhead again. For a moment he thought of just flying up and attacking him with his bare hoofs ... and teeth need it be! But the feeling quickly passed by as he remembered what Banner had said to him once:
'You can never say it will end today...'
The gryphon passed overhead only once before heading north.
Eklip sighed. He stood up, thinking about the gryphon's threat. It had made a serious error ... Eklip now knew what it was planning to do! He needs to forget about the gryphon now and find Starfire instead, and warn him of the danger he is in. Eklip started to think of his granddad's stories; where would they be now? ... Between Dream Castle and Skywood Forest?
He finally noticed his spear sticking out of a shrub nearby and picked it up. The flimsy weapon gave him a little comfort as he gripped it tightly. He walked on and found a small clearing in the canopy where a tree had fallen over. Taking his chance, he took off, flying west again.
He needs to get to Skywood Forest quickly, but while avoiding Dream Castle: Now there was a gryphon there as well!
Suddenly a smile appeared fleetingly on his face. Skywood Forest! Strange how everything is returning to where it all began!





CHAPTER 27: The Missing Apetons
Eklip saw the high trees of Skywood forest from a distance away. They stood much higher than the rest of the forest surrounding them. For a moment he wondered what the Apetons looked like ... he had only heard stories of them.
He shook the curiosity quickly and turned back to Dream Castle. Starfire and Skyview will be chasing Stardust around here ... and Banner will be chasing Starfire and Skyview.
He also kept a watchful eye out for that gryphon ... he didn't want to be caught in the air again!
Suddenly, something strange caught his eye. He turned and looked at Skywood Forest. He looked hard at it, wondering what it was he saw, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The forest looked like he had always seen it!
Shrugging his shoulders, he turned around again and flew slowly, low over the treetops. He hoped to find Starfire soon - especially before that gryphon!
Then it dawned upon him: The forest looked as it always had to him! Even the clearing where the largest trees were supposed to have stood!
"That means that Stardust had already gone through Skywood forest!" he shouted at himself, remembering his granddad's brother's stories!
He turned around and headed for the obvious clearing within the trees. It took some time to reach it, but once there he quickly landed, looking around. It was quite a sight to see in his time, but now it was even more incredible, with the trees freshly broken or uprooted.
He cracked a smile when he saw the plain golden crown embedded in one of the remaining trees.
"Well look who is here!" a familiar voice suddenly said.
Eklip spun around, and stared at Banner. The solders he had left the castle with were still behind him. For a moment Eklip thought of taking flight again, but then he noticed that Banner didn't seem so angry at him anymore.
"Did you know that Stardust would've turned against Star-Cluster?" Banner suddenly asked.
"Yes, but Stardust doesn't know it yet..." Eklip replied.
"So he isn't on our side either." Banner thought loudly to himself. "Why did he betray Star-Cluster?"
"It has something to do with the capture of the princess!" Eklip said, turning his attention back to the crown. "She has managed to befriend him ..."
"The battle that would turn this war..." Banner remarked. "You said the next few months are going to be complicated!"
"You have no idea!" Eklip agreed. Banner walked up to him, also looking up at the old king's crown.
"You also did say that the apetons will be blown away..."
"Like dry leaves in the autumn wind!" Eklip laughed. "It must have been one strong wind to have embedded the crown THAT deep into the tree!"
"What exactly happened here?" Banner asked, looking around.
"Now that I will not tell you; you know that!" Eklip replied dryly.
Banner sighed. He knew that it would be futile to try and convince the young pegasus otherwise! They were silent for a while.
"Is Stardust's treason the answer to the riddle?" Banner suddenly asked. "How can Starfire become duke of Skywood if Star-Cluster falls?"
"Kind of!" Eklip sighed. "After Stardust turned sides, his two brothers joined him!" He looked up at Banner. "But that will not be for a while - until then they will still serve Star-Cluster loyally!" he warned.
"King Sea-Mist will want some answers!" Banner replied. "Especially if the three black ponies comes over to our side! He will probably also want to know more of what you know..."
"The future will come to him if he waits long enough!" Eklip replied, and then started to laugh. "That sounded funny! I mean ..."
"I think I know what you mean!" Banner said. He eyed Eklip's spear. "What are you planning to do with that sharpened stick?"
"Kill a gryphon!" Eklip replied. Then he suddenly became worried. "Banner, he knows he has gone back in time, and is now hunting Starfire!"
"I've told you..." Banner started to say, but Eklip interrupted him.
"I've heard it from him myself! He is haunting Dream Castle as we speak! Good thing the two brothers will be chasing Stardust for a while..."
"What are you planning to do?" Banner asked.
"I've got to warn Starfire ... and then kill the gryphon before it finds him!"
"But you'll be killed if you are going to fight a gryphon alone!" Banner replied worriedly. Then he noticed the fine red line of dried blood on Eklip's side. "Looks like you already had a close call!"
"I can still die without endangering the future ... but Starfire cannot!" Eklip exclaimed, ignoring the remark about the scratch on his side. "It is like the gryphon had said: 'Fight or hide' I'll still die! And I won't die hiding!"
Banner sighed sadly. The young pegasus had become like one of his solders to him. But he also knew Eklip was right. Starfire had to be rescued and he couldn't afford to leave Stardust's trail.
"Starfire and Skyview are a few days ahead of us, heading ..."
"Towards Alfeo Castle?" Eklip asked.
"South-east!" Banner agreed, but not surprised. It wasn’t the exact direction, but this piece of information might help him catch up to them ...
"Thanks!" Eklip said and was about to take off when Banner stopped him.
"Take this!" he said, removing his belt and sword, and handing it to Eklip. "That thing you call a spear is going to break without roughing up the gryphon's feathers!"
"Thank you!" Eklip replied happily. With a real weapon, even though it was a sword, he felt much surer of himself!
"Just return it to me when you've killed it!"





CHAPTER 28: Where it All Ends
Eklip was flying hard towards the south-east. Alfeo Castle was still to far away to see; in fact he had barely left Banner. If he looked back, he can still see the tall trees of Skywood Forest but he knew he had to find Starfire! He felt his time running out, and he didn't know exactly how much time he had left.
As he flew, he scanned the ground carefully but the leafy canopy of the forest made it hard to distinguish anything below on the forest floor. As far as he knew, he probably had passed them already!
The thought worried him, but he still pushed forward! Skyview and Starfire were supposed to be a few days in front of Banner!
He was so busy looking at the ground that he never saw the dark figure a bit higher then himself, swooping down on him.
As he was flying, he suddenly noticed his shadow in the leaves below him. It fascinated him to see the shape jump between the different levels of trees. However he didn't have time for fun ... he forced his attention back to searching for Starfire. But as he looked away from the dark form he thought he saw something close by it.
Looking back at it, he gasped when he noticed a second shadow just above it! He glanced up in time to see the talons grab at him ... even his quick reflexes didn't save him this time!
Chocolate's talons clasped down on the startled starfirian. He felt the skin puncture and deep inside he was glad to have finally caught him! Though it was not Starfire, this one had been a source of trouble for so long! Chocolate opened his beak wide, ready to bite down into the pony in his talons, to finish him for good.
But then suddenly the starfirian pulled a sword from seemingly nowhere and slashed his legs with it. Chocolate screeched in pain and let the starfirian go.
Eklip fell a few feet before his wings managed to grab the wind again. His back was hurting, and blood was oozing out of the punctures the gryphon had inflicted upon him. But despite the looks it wasn't that bad - nor was the cut in the gryphon's leg...
He looked up at the gryphon. His talons and feet were bloody, and Eklip knew it was from both his and the gryphon's blood. The gryphon looked around furiously, and upon seeing Eklip turned into a steep dive towards the pegasus.
But this time Eklip was ready for him. Waiting until the last moment, he cut to one side, allowing the gryphon to rush past him. A slash at the monster missed and Eklip quickly climbed higher into the air.
Chocolate flared his wings to avoid crashing through into the forest. He looked up and saw the starfirian, blade in one hoof, quickly climbing higher. He squinted his eyes, searching for any sign of a bow or a quiver of arrows, but could see none. Most starfirians were good archers, and even a good number of pegasus females in Treetop had learnt to use the bow effectively!
'Good thing he isn't an archer!' he thought as he followed him up.
Eklip had trouble flapping his wings. The punctures in his sides, though luckily for him just flesh wounds, was still hurting the higher he went; But he wanted to gain a little more height... just a little more!
Then he saw the gryphon hot on his tail. He gasped, and hoped he had enough height to do what he was planning to do!
Bending his wings into a sharp V, he turned into a tight spiral.
Chocolate saw the starfirian turn to avoid him. He followed the poor pony, diving also into a tight turn. They turned a few times in full circles, but the starfirian, being much more maneuverable and lighter, managed to turn much more tightly than the gryphon. Suddenly he lowered his wings to halt his fall.
Chocolate, unable to do the same, flashed on beneath the pegasus.
Eklip saw the gryphon flash just beneath him. The gryphon had turned upside down in the air and tried to grab the him, but Eklip quickly avoided the sharp talons again. Again he slashed his sword at the gryphon, but missed a second time.
Eklip suddenly gasped as he glanced down at the forest ... he didn't have enough height when he had turned into the dive!
Chocolate never saw the forest coming up so quickly!
They both crashed through the forest canopy at an alarming speed. Eklip had to do his best to avoid the trees, but the ground was also coming up quickly! Chocolate didn't miss the trees, but crashed hard into a thick trunk.
Eklip also greeted the ground with a hard thud! He grunted as he stood up, his one wing hanging limply down his bleeding flank. Then he noticed the gryphon also having trouble standing up straight. Eklip didn't waste time: Grabbing the sword that had fallen to one side, he rushed up to the gryphon and plunged the blade in deep.
Chocolate screeched again and knocked him away, sending him flying limply through the air. He grabbed at the hilt of the sword that was still embedded in him, but couldn't reach it. He became dizzy and his vision became blurry. He also found it hard to keep his balance and fell to the ground.
Eklip gasped as he landed. He could feel the deep cut in his chest where the gryphon's talon had cut him. This time it was bad!
He tried standing up twice before finally being able to turn around. He was fully expecting the gryphon to come and kill him, but to his surprise he noticed that the gryphon had fallen to the ground.
It was laying still.
His vision became blurry and he tried to focus on the gryphon, to make sure it won't stand up again, but then everything became black.
Eklip also fell forward into the dust.





CHAPTER 29: Returning Home
Banner was following Starfire and Skyview's tracks, thinking about what Eklip had said just a few hours ago. Stardust was indeed acting against Star-Cluster's orders, but not aiding them really either!
And for a change it was funny to watch his two brothers running around after him!
But Eklip had said to him that Stardust himself doesn't know he had turned against Star-Cluster ... Could he then trust the feared black pony?
Skyview and Starfire are also supposed to turn against Star-Cluster, but not for a while ... he wondered how will he know when to trust them?
Banner still didn't like the three of them, but he had to admit: With their help he might actually recapture Dream Castle.
"Banner?" one of the solders interrupted his thoughts. "What is that?"
Banner looked and saw something a fair distance from the path. But it was hard to make out what it was through the foliage. It might be something important; it might be only a rock!
"I don't know..." he said, wondering if it could be Stardust. "Let's go check it out quickly!"
The small group left the path, and carefully walked towards the dark lump. It was much further than they had thought, but as they neared it, the solders gasped at what lay there. Most of them had never seen a gryphon before, and the few who had (only Banner and two others) were still surprised to see it here.
"Wh-what is that?" the one solder asked, drawing his sword for comfort more than protection.
"A gryphon!" Banner replied, carefully inching closer to the beast. He recognised it as the last of the gryphons.
"Is THAT what you've been hunting a few weeks ago?" another gasped, also gripping the hilt of his sword tightly.
"Don't worry, this one is dead!" Banner said. He noticed the hilt of his sword sticking out of the side of the gryphon, just below the one wing.
"How did it die?" the first solder asked, replacing his sword into his belt.
"Eklip must have killed it..." Banner said, frowning. "His sword is still in it!" Why did Eklip leave his sword in the gryphon? Banner reached and pulled it out. It came loose with a little difficulty, but not too much!
"Sir..." another solder gasped, pointing to something behind Banner. "Look there!"
Banner turned around and gasped when he recognised Eklip also crumpled in a heap. He rushed over to him, fearing the worst. Eklip had been bleeding heavily, but it seemed to have stopped. Then he noticed the young pegasus was still breathing...
"Band-Aid!" Banner called to the familiar pony.
Band-Aid quickly rushed to Banner's side and checked on Eklip. "He's one wing is dislocated ... he's got punctures on his back, but it's not serious ... but this cut on his chest is! Good thing we've found him."
"Will he be all right?" Banner asked.
"If we take care of him soon -" Band-Aid replied, gripping Eklip's wing and yanking it back into place. Eklip cried out in pain, and started to wake up.
"Are you okay?" Banner asked softly, but suddenly realised it was a stupid thing to ask: Of course he was not okay! "Can you walk?"
"I ... I think so..." Eklip said and painfully stood up.
"I think we should take him to White Pearl Castle ..." Band-Aid said.
"Where's the gryphon?" Eklip asked, looking around at the ponies around him.
"You've killed it!" one of the solders answered in awe.
"You've taken care of it!" Banner said handed Eklip the still bloody sword. "Well done."
"It's your sword!" Eklip said, eyeing the blade.
"You can have it!" Banner smiled. He had come to like the young pegasus. "I think you've deserved it! Think of it as a sign that you are now truly a solder!" Banner chuckled softly. "A starfirian!"
"Thank you!" Eklip exclaimed, taking the weapon. He wanted to put it back into his belt, but it was still bloody.
"Now, we need to get you to a place where you can heal properly!" Banner said as a soft wind started to pick up. He looked at a solder standing close by. "Can you take him to White Pearl Castle? I would've liked to come with you... but I still need to chase Stardust!"
"Yes, sir!" the solder replied. "I'll return him to Moonlight Castle as soon as he can make the distance."
"You better find some shelter first!" Band-Aid remarked, looking up at the branches of the trees as they are starting to sway in the strengthening wind. "Looks like a storm is brewing from nowhere ..."
"Are you going to continue after the black ponies through the storm?" Eklip asked, looking back to where the gryphon lay.
Banner didn't answer.
"Banner?" Eklip asked, looking around. But he was alone. The small group of ponies that had been there with him had disappeared. Even the one that was supposed to take him to White Pearl Castle was gone...
"Eklip?" a voice suddenly asked. Eklip turned around and stared at the pony walking towards him through the bushes. "Where have you been? Father had everybo... What happened to you?!"
Before him stood another male pegasus, dark gray with bright yellow hair.
"Suncloud?" Eklip asked surprised. "What happened to Banner?"
"Who?" Suncloud asked, looking around. For a moment he looked at Eklip, as if he was remembering something and trying his best to hide it. "There is no one here! Eklip what happened? You look terrible!"
"I ... Met a gryphon ..." Eklip replied, pointing his sword to the dead gryphon close by.
Suncloud turned and jumped back. There hadn't been a gryphon this near the town since Dream Castle had recaptured White Pearl Castle!
"You killed it?" Suncloud asked, turning back to Eklip. Again he felt a pang over the gryphon incident more than a decade ago... "How? … Where did you get that sword?"
Eklip looked at Banner's still wet sword. "Long story..." he replied. "Long ... strange story!"
"Come... we need to get you back home..." Suncloud said, worriedly. He walked up to Eklip, and supporting him, led him back to Treetop.
"Home!" Eklip sighed, thinking of the soft bed he hadn’t seen for months. "I'd love to go home..."
Banner stared. Everybody there just stared. The wind that had started to pick up died as quickly as it had started. But that wasn't what shocked everybody.
"Where did he go?" the solder, who was supposed to take Eklip to White Pearl Castle asked.
"He just ... faded away! Into nothing!" another gasped.
"The gryphon is also gone..." a third remarked. Everybody looked and sure enough the monster was not there anymore.
"They must have gone back to the future!" Banner guessed, as surprised as everybody else.
They stood around, looking at the spot where Eklip had stood just moments ago, wondering if he was going to appear again. But nothing happened. Had it not been for the patches of blood in the dust, Eklip and the gryphon might as well never have existed!
"We better get going!" Banner replied. He could only hope that Eklip was safe now! "Starfire and Skyview aren't waiting for us!"





CHAPTER 30: Where it All Began
Starfire lay on the porch, watching the everyday life of the pegasi in Treetop. A pony could see that he was once one of the famous black ponies, but now his black fur had faint gray stripes in them. The blue in his hair has become much lighter, but at least it hadn't turned white yet!
Treetop was a funny town, with three levels to it: The middle being the oldest, this is where the normal life took place: School, a few shops, etc.
The Upper level was the homes of the pegasi, and the few ground ponies brave enough to sleep high up in the trees.
And then the lower level: the youngest and yet biggest of the levels. Here lived most of the ground ponies. A few vertigo sufferers had shops on the ground level, but they weren't many.
And despite the three levels, Treetop was still one of the smallest towns around!
Behind him a female cried out. Starfire looked up worriedly.
"Calm down!" a familiar voice said. Starfire looked around as Stardust climbed the last few steps to the top. "It's not Snowflake that is having a baby!"
"I know!" Starfire replied, standing up. "But still ... Thanks for coming!" He looked around. "Where is Skyview?"
Just then a light gray cloud floated up to the platform and turned into a pony.
"Here!" Skyview replied. "Thought I wasn't coming?"
"No, just curious if you got stuck on your way up here!" Starfire replied, with a smile but suddenly looked around as the female cried out again.
"It is her fourth, isn't it?" Skyview asked, the frown on his face disappearing quickly. He was about to say something back when he was interrupted.
The female cried out for a last time, and the three smiled broadly as they heard the sound of a baby crying.
A dark blue pony exited the hut shortly thereafter.
"Moonlight is fine..." he said to Starfire, and then blinked as he saw the other two as well. Though slightly turning gray, and though there were more male pegasi and unicorns, they were still a sight to see standing next to each other.
"Boy or girl, doctor?" Starfire asked.
"A pegasus boy!" the doctor replied with a smile. "And quite a sight to see as well! Now if you'll excuse me..."
The doctor turned and started to climb down the staircase that spiraled down the thick trunk.
"Another pegasus grandson!" Stardust replied. "Congratulations!"
Just then, a pegasus came walking out of the hut. He was black, with bright green hair. In his arms, he carried something wrapped in a soft light-blue blanket.
"Dad!" he called when he saw Starfire. "Look here! Isn't he beautiful?"
The younger pegasus showed his son to his father and uncles. The baby was also black, but had an almost white mane.
"What are you going to call him, Greenleaf?" Starfire asked, smiling.
"Eclipse!" Greenleaf replied happily, folding the blanket away. Eclipse's mane and tail was the same yellowish white colour. His small black wings were tucked tightly to his sides, and the tips of white feathers could be seen. One day, when he will be older, he will have that same white coloured primary feathers!
The three black ponies gasped when they saw him. But Greenleaf was too excited to notice!
"He is going to look like an eclipse in the sky when he is flying!" Greenleaf continued.
Another young boy pegasus came running up the stairs. Despite being almost twelve, he was just starting to learn how to fly. He was dark gray with bright yellow hair. "I have another baby brother?" he called excitedly. "With wings this time!?"
"Yes, Suncloud!" Greenleaf answered still beyond himself with pride. He wrapped his newborn son again in his blanket, and walked back into the hut with Suncloud following close behind. "But now I think he should rest!"
"It's him!" Skyview whispered. "I don't believe it! Old Banner was right!"
"My own grandson came to us from the future!" Starfire replied also in a whisper. "But how is that possible?"
"I once asked the Moochick if something like that is even possible..." Stardust replied, remembering the strange incident Banner had told them of, as well as the one time he had even seen the stranger from the future. "I didn't understand it at the time, but I think I do now..."
"And?" Skyview asked.
"He said that it is possible. 'You see magic is a complex natural force, two opposites that exist in a delicate balance. And sometimes something can go wrong with this balance ... a sudden magical spark if you can call it that! Nothing can come of it, or it can threaten the existence of all! But if something big happens, like the group of gryphons that had gone back in time, then the natural balance will try to correct itself, by selecting a champion to correct the mistake!' So, young Eclipse will be the champion sent back to help Banner defeat the gryphons. "
"Banner had said that the gryphons from the south-west had threatened this town for years when Eclipse was young!" Starfire said. "So the time has come?"
"Seems to be! But not for a while longer!" Stardust said, looking at the door into which Eclipse had disappeared.
"What are you thinking of?" Skyview asked, seeing Stardust staring at the door without really seeing it.
"When that young boy returns from the past, we can expect great things of him!" he added with a sigh. "Great things!"
Just inside the door, Suncloud stood listening at his granddad and his brothers talking. He didn't understand any bit of it.
The name Banner sounded familiar, but: How can you go back in time? What magic are they talking about? Who is the Moochick?
What is a gryphon?
He walked away from the door into his parents' room where Greenleaf was just putting Eclipse back into his cot.
"Dad, what is a gryphon?" he asked.
Greenleaf frowned. He had been duke of Skywood forest for a long time now, and he had never heard of such a thing. "I don't know..." he replied. "Where did you hear of it?"
"Oh, just some children down on the forest floor!" he lied, deciding to keep it to himself. When he is older, he'll go search for some answers! If his new baby brother was going to have to fight them, he'll be there for him! He’ll find out about these gryphons, even if he had to go find them in the ... where did his granddad say they came from? ... The south-west!


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