Jack O Lantern paced impatiently outside of Darius' chambers. The door opened and Akujitsu stepped out. "The master will see you now."
"So, you're his doorman now? I'm glad you've found a task suited to your abilities."
Akujitsu glared at the orange pony. "I have business to discuss with the master, but he insists on seeing you first, so I am expediting the matter."
Jack O Lantern brushed past the red pony into Darius' chambers. "Lord Darius, I believe I have found a way to deal with that annoying prince and his entourage."
Darius, the mysterious old pony who served as a vessel for the Atlantean ghost Zotikos, stood staring out a window overlooking the grim town of the Shadow Isle. "Oh?"
"Yes...and I have visual aids."
Darius turned from the window. "Very well. Show me what you have."
"As you wish." Jack O Lantern bowed low, then produced four crystals from his pouch. He held them out on his hoof and they began to float. A purple crystal floated in the middle of the other three- blue, red, and yellow. "Clever Clover and his friends draw strength from each other. Even if the balance changes..." The yellow crystal moved to join the purple in the center and the other two took their places on either side. "Their shared strength remains. What we need to do is to shatter their bonds and destroy the balance." A new crystal appeared, dark purple, almost black. It moved between the purple and yellow crystals, driving them apart. The red and blue crystals now danced between the purples, while the yellow drifted off by itself.
Darius studied the crystals for a moment. "I...see. Very well. You may proceed with your plan. Will you require any assistance?"
"Only Nightshade, and my apprentice."
"Then go. Do what you need to do and report back to me when it is done."
Jack O Lantern bowed again. "Yes, Lord Darius." The orange pony hurried from Darius' chamber.
"Why do you put up with him and his nonsense?" asked Akujitsu.
"He serves a purpose, and his nonsense is harmless enough. And this time he might actually be onto something. But then again, when he fails, it should not interfere with my plans."
"Speaking of which, what is your plan? We've been sitting around this isle doing nothing for so long! It feels as if we have lost what little direction we had!"
"I see. I appreciate your concerns, but I assure you, I have not lost my direction."
* * *
Morning Glory knocked on Clever Clover's door. Minoko opened the door. "What do you want?"
"Is Clever Clover in?"
"Yeah, he's working on a special supper for Belle Star."
"Just Belle Star?"
"I assume he'll be there, too. He's actually given me money to go out to a restaurant and a movie."
"Oh my! You don't suppose his April Fool's joke about marrying her was the truth?"
"I don't know. They haven't been spending as much time together lately, though. Belle Star's been spending all her time with her new friend, Coral."
"Oh yes, the painter."
"You know it wouldn't hurt for the two of you to make some new friends!" Clever Clover called out from the kitchen.
The girls continued as if they hadn't heard him. "If they are really engaged, maybe he's jealous of her new friend and the special supper is a ploy to try and win her back!"
"Actually, she wanted to have some time alone with me!" Clever Clover interjected from a distance.
"You have a devious mind Minoko, but it comes in handy sometimes."
"Thanks, I think. But if that is the truth, we have to accept the fact the Clever Clover proposed to Belle Star!"
"I DID PROPOSE TO BELLE STAR!"
"You don't suppose we were so busy fighting between ourselves that we didn't notice that she was stealing his heart?"
"I can't really imagine her stealing anything, on purpose. I think Clever Clover lost it and she just stumbled onto it."
"I HAVEN'T LOST ANYTHING!"
"In that case, this is all a big misunderstanding. It's up to us to straighten it out before it's too late!"
"Right! Let's go in there and talk to Clever Clover right now!"
The two fillies turned toward the kitchen to find Clever Clover standing before them with a kitchen cleaver. "Would the two of you please leave my house, NOW!"
"But Clever Clover, we just want to do what's best for you," said Morning Glory.
"Yeah, once you're married there's no turning back," added Minoko. "If you marry Belle Star instead of me, you'll regret it for the rest of your life!"
"What do you mean, instead of you!?"
"Right now the important thing is to stop him from marrying Belle Star!"
"No, the important thing is for the two of you to leave!"
"But if I leave now I'll miss the weekend romance flick on TV!"
"You could watch it at Morning Glory's place. She has a TV and the two of you usually watch it together anyway."
Morning Glory was exasperated. "You want me to have that ruffian in my house?!"
Minoko though no better of it. "Like I'm going to let her do me a favor!"
"Listen, you two have got to give me some space every now and then! That's part of the reason I proposed to her!"
Morning Glory and Minoko were struck dumb. Clever Clover turned away and returned to his cooking.
"Uh, Minoko...I'd be honored if you join me at my home for the weekend romance movie on TV this afternoon," said Morning Glory, sheepishly.
"Yeah...sounds like fun."
* * *
That evening Clever Clover and Belle Star had their first romantic date since they were engaged. After a delicious candle-lit supper, they watched anime late into the night. Around midnight there was a knock at the door.
Clever Clover paused the DVD and stood up, "I wonder who that could be?"
He opened the door and found Minoko with her head hung shamefully. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"
"Not at all. Listen, I'm sorry if I was a little harsh earlier. As much as I like it, cooking can kind of stress me out sometimes."
"That's all right. I'm sure Morning Glory and I deserved it. Now I should be getting to bed." Minoko brushed past Clever Clover. As she passed the living room she bowed to Belle Star. "Good night, Belle Star."
"Good night!" Belle Star replied enthusiastically with a yawn. "Hm, I should probably be headed home."
Clever Clover, who had just closed the door, opened it again for his fiancee. "See you tomorrow?"
"Uh huh. Could you come by my apartment sometime? I've got a surprise for you."
"Sure. How 'bout right after lunch?"
"That sounds good." Belle Star gave Clever Clover a kiss as she slipped out the door.
* * *
The next afternoon, Clever Clover strolled into town. The weather was cool and there were dark clouds on the horizon, but it was still a pleasant walk. But as he reached the outskirts of Friendship Gardens, a chill ran down his spine and a lock of hair from his mane fell down into his face, which was strange because there was no wind. He felt uneasy and looked around. There was no sign of anyone else around except the silhouette of a lone pony standing on the horizon some way out of town. Clever Clover shrugged off the uneasiness and proceeded to Belle Star's apartment.
At the apartment, Clever Clover rang the doorbell and heard in reply Belle Star tripping over something and falling down. After a short while the door opened.
"Hi, Clever Clover. Come in!" Belle Star grabbed his hoof and pulled him into the apartment. "I want you to meet my new friend, Coral!"
Coral stood in Belle Star's living room next to an easel covered with a cloth. "It's nice to meet you," she said. "Belle Star has told me so much about you."
"Yeah, nice to meet you too. Belle Star said you saw us at the Port Cactus karaoke contest. I'm surprised you'd remember us."
"Well, you took second place, and that love song you two sang in the qualifying round really touched me. I had a premonition that you two were really in love."
"We might have been, but at the time we weren't really aware of it. So, what's with the easel?"
Coral took hold of the cloth. "Well, Belle Star, would you like to set this up, or should I just yank it off?"
"Oh! I'm just so excited! I can't wait!"
Coral pulled off the cloth to reveal an oil portrait of Belle Star.
"It's...beautiful. Did you paint this, Coral?"
"Yeah. Belle Star showed me around and helped me get settled in, so I offered to paint her a picture for her fiance."
"She did a very good job, didn't she, Clever Clover?"
"Yeah. And thank you both."
"I'm so glad you like it. And for a wedding present, I'd like to paint a portrait of the two of you together. I know you haven't chosen a date yet, but once you do, just let me know and I'll be ready."
Belle Star clapped her hooves. "Oh! That would be so nice!"
"That's very generous of you."
"I'm just a very generous pony. By the way, what happened to your mane?"
"What do you mean? Is there something wrong with my mane?"
Belle Star rushed to the bathroom and got a hand mirror. Clever Clover examined himself and noticed the stray lock of hair seemed to have been cut short.