The sun rose over Port Scurvy. Key, of the Pony Sea Patrol, made the rounds at her office near the docks. Actually, there was not much to check. There was her office and a cell, and in the cell was her guest, Minoko. While Clever Clover and Belle Star were away at the Crystal Desert excavation, Minoko had been put under Key’s custody. “Hey Minoko! Time to get up. The docks aren’t going to clean themselves.”
Minoko looked up groggily from her bed. “You know, Clever Clover asked you to keep an eye on me, not lock me up. When he gets back, I’m going to have him talk to your superiors.”
“Actually, he asked me to ‘babysit’ you. And he approved having you put in some community service working on the docks. As for the cell, you know I don’t have enough room at my apartment and neither of us can afford to put you up in a hotel. So if you don’t want to sleep in the cell, you can sleep on the docks.”
“Yeah, well, I noticed you had room for Pixie and Ryo. And why couldn’t I stay on my ship? I’ve got a nice comfortable bed in my cabin and I’d be right there at the docks.”
“THEY are well behaved. And you know the conditions of your parole forbid you from being on board your ship unsupervised. But if you really like, I could have your bed moved into the cell.”
“Not likely; it wouldn’t fit in your office, let alone this cell. Well, since there’s no use even trying to sleep in this bed, I might as well get to work. Alright, you can unlock the door now.”
Key swung the door open. “I’m not an idiot; I noticed you disabled the lock two weeks ago.”
“Two weeks ago? So it only took you a month to figure it out.”
“Just get to work, will you!?”
Minoko shuffled out of the cell, collected her work kit, and headed for the docks. The office was only two blocks from the docks, but Minoko liked to take the scenic route. If she really tried, she wouldn’t get to the docks before noon. As she wandered the streets of Port Scurvy, Minoko mumbled to herself. “After a month and a half of this drudgery, I’m beginning to regret not going with Clever Clover. I guess a camping trip in the desert wouldn’t have been so bad, if it weren’t for Belle Star. She always seems to be getting in my way. And when she’s not around, Morning Glory is. It’s like they’re conspiring against me! I gotta do something to get my mind off of this. I hate to say it, but maybe I should be getting to work.”
Later, at the docks, Minoko swabbed the planks after a load of fish had been unloaded. The harbor master inspected her work. “Keep at it. We don’t want any safety hazards on my dock.”
“Yeah, right. You’re just getting back at me for blowing up your grog. If I hadn’t promised Clever Clover to be nice, I wouldn’t be taking any of this.”
“Well, you did make a promise, so now you’re mine. Once you’re done there, there are a couple of ships that need the barnacles scraped off.”
Minoko bowed with a flourish in mock respect. “Yes, master.” The former pirate returned to swabbing. “I can’t wait until Clever Clover gets back. This honest work is getting old.” Once she finished the swabbing, Minoko launched the rowboat she used to service the ships and the piers of the docks.
“I guess I’ll start with Key’s ship. She gets cranky when her ship isn’t ship-shape, and when she’s cranky, her cooking is awful. Not that she’s that great a cook to begin with.” Minoko moored her boat next to the Yagamo and began chipping away at the crust of barnacles. As she worked, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye- a shadowy figure standing on the deck of her own ship. “Hm, I wonder who that could be? Key and the harbor master know better than to board my ship, and my crew should take care of anyone foolish enough to try and board her. I guess I should give whoever it is a warm welcome.” Without showing that she was aware of the shadowy figure, Minoko summoned an energy ball. Then, with lightning reflexes, she hurled her ball toward the trespasser. But the mysterious figure leaped over the attack with a flip and landed light as a feather on the bow of Minoko’s rowboat.
“Now now, Minoko, is that any way to greet a guest?” the stranger asked.
“A guest is invited; you are a trespasser. Now, if you were to introduce yourself, I might not kill you.”
“I am called Nightshade. I have an invitation for you from my brother.”
“Do I know your brother?”
Minoko formed her energy horn and leveled it at Nightshade. “That no-good apprentice of my no-good one-time master Jack O Lantern? Why would I want to accept an invitation from him?”
“Hemlock no longer serves Jack O Lantern. The one-time master wizard seems to have had a problem inspiring loyalty in his apprentices. My brother now rules the Night Clan and he wishes to open peaceful dialogue with the ponies of the Isle. He is still somewhat distrustful of them, however, and he wants you to act as an intermediary.”
“Me? I’m not exactly on the best terms with those Isle ponies myself, or with the Night Clan.”
“I guess I was right after all. You wouldn’t fall for such a fabrication. But my brother insisted I try. I think you are unhappy with your settled life. You long for the thrill and adventure of the pirate’s life. The Isle ponies don’t appreciate you, and neither do the ponies of Friendship Gardens or Port Scurvy.”
“Clever Clover appreciates me, and that’s all that counts.”
“Does he? Or does he simply tolerate you? He fears you. That is why he allows you to remain with him. They all fear you. But my brother and I respect you. You are a kindred spirit.”
“Clever Clover doesn’t fear me. He knows he can beat me in a fight; he’s done it before. And he wouldn’t string me along like that! The Sea Patrol would be more than happy to take me off his hooves, if he’d let them.”
“Oh, it looks to me like he has given you over to them.”
“This is only temporary. He invited me to come along with him. I chose to stay here.”
“True, he made the offer, but only because he knew you wouldn’t accept. Now he and that Belle Star are away in the desert together, while you are here slaving away for Sea Patrol Officer Key and that harbor master. You deserve better.”
“Better? Better how?”
“Here you are a prisoner, a slave. With us, you would be a general. A leader of ponies.”
“And where would I lead them? What is it you and your brother want?”
“We want to take our rightful place, to put our clan before all others. You were born of the Night Clan, after all. Even though you have mutually disowned each other. Do you not want to see your clan get what it deserves?”
“I belong to no clan. And I could care less which clan leads or follows the others. As long as Clever Clover and I are together.”
“But will you ever be together in the way that you want? Not as long as there are others who would stand in your way. If you were to join us, we could arrange to have those obstacles removed.”
“You…I don’t know.”
“Very well. You need time to think it over. Just call once you make up your mind.” And with that, Nightshade disappeared.
Minoko thought about what Nightshade had said as she finished her work for the day. By the time she returned to Key’s office, she had made up her mind. She sat quietly in the cell when Key arrived with her supper.
“You’re awfully quite this afternoon,” said the officer.
“I’ve just got a lot on my mind.”
“Well, here’s you supper. And I thought you might be a little lonely so I brought you a friend.”
Ryo, the lop-eared bunny, hopped out from behind Key and jumped up on the bed next to her owner, Minoko. “Myow!” she said.
Minoko patted her pet on her head. “Hey, it’s nice to see you too, Ryo. Thanks, Key.”
“Don’t mention it. After all, you’re not really a prisoner, so there’s no reason to treat you like one. Well, good night. See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, see you tomorrow.”
After Key had left, Minoko picked up her pet and looked her in the eye. “Ryo, look after my ship while I’m gone.”
“Myow?” the rabbit squeaked in confusion.
Minoko set down Ryo on the bed and spoke a single word, “Nightshade!”