In his laboratory on the Dark Isle, Jack O Lantern chanted an incantation over a lock of hair cut from Clever Clover's mane by Nightshade. The lock of hair lay in the middle of a circle drawn in chalk on the floor, with ancient symbols written around the edge. Hemlock scurried about the lab, bringing his master various potions and ingredients as he needed them. He delivered a box of candles to Jack O Lantern, who, while still chanting, proceeded to place them around the circle. When the last candle was placed, the evil wizard shouted a command, and the candles lit, casting eerie shadows about the lab. In the center of the circle, the lock of hair was oddly enveloped in shadow, though there was nothing between it and the candles.
"Arise, shadow!" commanded Jack O Lantern. The shadow from the center of the circle rose and took on a vaguely humanoid form, with two burning red eyes to mark its head. It looked around the room, its eyes finally falling upon the circle of burning candles.
"Why have you brought me here?" a voice that was half whisper and half hiss demanded.
"To serve me," Jack O Lantern replied.
"And why should I serve you?"
Jack O Lantern grinned. "You have no choice."
The shadow glided toward the circle of candles, but stopped just short of the flickering flames. "Your magic is strong, but whether I am imprisoned here or in the netherworld, what difference does it make?"
Jack o Lantern mumbled an ancient incantation, and the candles' flames flared up, driving the shadow back. "It burns, doesn't it? Even though you are but a spirit. I have bound you to this world through that lock of hair. If you serve me, I can make you a whole body; if you do not, I can torture you forever."
"So those are my choices? Be a slave trapped in a physical body or a victim trapped in a lock of hair?"
"Once you have served your purpose, I could set you free."
"If you serve me well, you will be rewarded."
"All right then. Do what you will."
Jack O Lantern nodded and began to chant. The shadow was enveloped in a sphere of solid darkness.
* * *
Meanwhile, an another Isle, Clever Clover, Belle Star, Minoko, and Morning Glory stood before the king and queen. "Greeting's cousin!" said King Oak. "I'm glad you and your friends could come here for a happy occasion for once.
"Yeah, it has been a while since I could really enjoy a trip to the Isle," Clever Clover replied.
"I don't know that I've ever enjoyed a trip to the Isle," said Minoko.
"As I recall," said Raven, "you seemed to enjoy the Isle when Jack O Lantern first brought you here as his apprentice."
Minoko shrugged. "I don't really remember much from before I lost my horn."
"Perhaps it is best that way," commented Magus.
"Huh? Do you know something?"
The king rose from his throne. "Enough of this talk. Enchantment, show them to their rooms so they can prepare for the fancy dress ball!"
"Oh! I'm so excited!" cried Belle Star.
Queen Gooseberry giggled. "Yes, I remember you did quite enjoy the last fancy dress ball."
"Oh?" said Morning Glory. "The only fancy dress ball Belle Star was at was that one of Water Lily's back in Friendship Garden, and you weren't there."
"Oh, Belle Star wrote me a long letter a couple of months ago detailing all the goings on in Friendship Garden."
Belle Star scratched her head. "I did?"
Clever Clover nudged her. "Yes, you did."
"Oh. I guess I did."
* * *
A short time later, the friends were in their fancy dress, on their way to the ballroom. Clever Clover wore a black mask, top hat, and cape, and he carried a cane. Belle Star was dressed in a Japanese schoolgirl's sailor outfit. Morning Glory and Minoko wore strangely similar Chinese dresses.
Minoko shot an evil glance at Morning Glory. "Copy cat," she muttered. "How come every time I go to one of these things someone has to copy me?"
"I'm not copying you! I bought this dress right after Water Lily's last fancy dress ball. It's not like I could wear the same thing two times in a row. I'm betting you didn't even buy that dress until Clever Clover invited you here."
"Yeah, so? I bought mine just for this occasion; you could have worn something else."
"Well, even if I knew what you were going to wear...
Clever Clover shook his head. "Would you two please cut it out?"
Morning Glory and Minoko bowed in unison. "Sorry, Clever Clover."
Enchantment, wearing a kimono, greeted the foursome at the doorway to the ballroom. "Oh! Your fancy dresses are wonderful! I hope you enjoy the ball."
The band was playing a lively tune; Clever Clover and Belle Star promptly took to the dance floor. Morning Glory and Minoko stood just inside the doorway, surveying the crowd.
"So, what are we supposed to do until Clever Clover's finished dancing with Belle Star?" asked Minoko.
Morning Glory shrugged. "I don't know. I suppose we could dance with one of these strangers."
A pony in a pirate costume approached and bowed to Minoko. "Would the lady do me the honor of a dance?"
"Who the heck are you?"
"This is a fancy dress ball. You're not supposed to know who may be behind the mask, Minoko."
Minoko peered into the stranger's eyes. "Huh? Do you know me?"
"Your voice sounds familiar.." said Morning Glory.
"If you dance with me, I'll tell you my name," offered the stallion.
"You might as well," prompted Morning Glory. "If nothing else, it's a way to kill the time."
"Yeah, sure, whatever," Minoko mumbled as she took the stallion's hoof. The couple took to the floor, leaving Morning Glory alone. But before long another stallion approached her. His stature told her without a doubt that it was Raven.
"Good evening, princess. Why aren't you dancing?"
"No one has asked me."
"What about Clever Clover?"
"He's dancing with Belle Star right now. Maybe when they're done."
"Hm, I don't know what he sees in that filly."
"Excuse me, Raven. I need to get something to drink." Morning Glory slipped away from the jet-black stallion and lost herself in the crowd. A short time later she bumped into another stallion, this one dressed as an executioner, with a black hood.
"You look rather glum, lass," he greeted her in a familiar voice.
Morning Glory regarded the executioner in puzzlement for a moment before she recalled a name. "Jaques? I haven't seen you since Water Lily's fancy dress ball, but what are you doing here? Is Titania here with you?"
"You remember! I'm impressed. Me and Titania get around to all the fancy dress balls. The king and queen are wonderful hosts."
"I didn't realize that the Isle was so widely known."
"Well, I don't suppose it is, really, but I have my ways of finding things out. Now, would you care to dance? I'm sure Titania wouldn't mind if I kept you company until your friend finishes his dance."
"Oh, that is very kind of you. I'd be honored."
Meanwhile, across the floor, Clever Clover and Belle Star bumped into Minoko and the mysterious pirate.
"My prince," said the pirate. "Are you and your lady enjoying the ball?"
"Oh! Very much!" replied Belle Star.
Clever Clover nodded. "Yeah, we're having a great time." Minoko's head drooped at Clever Clover's words. "Hey, Minoko," the purple prince continued. "Would you like to dance for a while?"
"Sure, as long as your partner doesn't mind."
The pirate bowed. "Not at all, my prince."
Clever Clover bowed to his fiancee. "Well, Belle Star, if you don't mind..."
"Oh, of course not."
Clever Clover danced off with Minoko.
"Would you care to dance, m'lady?" the pirate asked Belle Star.
* * *
A ghostly figure glided across the dance floor; a pale hood hid her face and she carried a mock head in her hooves. She joined Morning Glory and Jaques as they danced, prancing circles around them.
"It seems my victim has caught up with me," joked Jaques. "Morning Glory, you remember Titania."
"Of course. It's nice to meet you again."
The ghostly Titania bowed to the princess. "Likewise. Now if you don't mind, I'd like to have a chance to dance with my husband before the evening is through."
"Oh, of course not!"
"It was a pleasure, princess."
"Likewise Jaques. Now I should be seeing what Clever Clover is up to." Morning Glory bowed to Jaques and Titania. "I hope to see you again."
"I'm sure we will," said Jaques.
* * *
Morning Glory found Clever Clover and Minoko dancing. "Excuse me Clever Clover, may I have one dance before the evening is through?"
Minoko stepped aside. "I could use a break. See you later, Clever Clover." The red and black pony wandered off.
"She seems sort of down," observed Morning Glory.
Clever Clover nodded. "I've noticed. I think she's taking my engagement kind of hard."
"She's not the only one," mumbled Morning Glory.
Clever Clover took Morning Glory by the hoof and they began to dance. "I'm sorry I had to let any of you down. You're all my friends, and I hope it can stay that way."
Morning Glory was silent for the duration of the dance. When the dance ended, she said, "I hope we can stay friends, too."
* * *
As the ball was coming to an end, Clever Clover took the stage where the band played. "Attention everyone! I have an announcement to make." The crowd quieted. Clever Clover was suddenly overtaken by nerves.
"Uh, well, Belle Star, could you join me?"
"Uh-huh!" Belle Star hopped up onto the stage.
"Okay, me and Belle Star have decided... I mean I've asked Belle Star to... ah..."
"Just get on with it!" the mysterious pirate called out.
"We're getting married!" Belle Star blurted out.
Clever Clover blushed. "Yeah, that's it."
A great cheer rose up from the crowd... most of them, anyway. Raven shook his head and sighed. Magus, who was watching from the shadows, adopted a grim expression.
The executioner and his ghostly victim rushed onto the stage, removing their hoods to reveal King Oak and Queen Gooseberry. "Congratulations, cousin!" said the king.
Morning Glory was shocked. "What! Jaques and Titania are the king and queen! Why didn't they tell me when they were in Friendship Garden?"
Gooseberry gave Belle Star a hug. "Oh! I'm so happy for you!"
Magus stepped forward. "Your highness, I think there is something we need to discuss."
"Could this wait?" asked the king.
Magus shook his head. "It would be best to deal with this as soon as possible."
"Very well, I guess the ball is over." The king turned to Clever Clover and Belle Star. "I suppose we should see what has Magus so upset."
The king and queen, Belle Star, Clever Clover, Magus, Raven, Enchantment, Morning Glory, Minoko, and the mysterious pirate shuffled off to the royal audience chamber.
"All right now, what is it you wanted to talk about, Magus? And Ironwood, take off that silly hat."
The pirate removed his hat and patch. Minoko regarded the guardpony. "Hm, so it's you."
"Yeah, and you're a pretty good dancer."
Magus cleared his throat. "I hate to dampen the joy of the occasion, but I have some concerns that I feel need to be voiced. It concerns the events of the Dark Triumvirate. Do you all remember the strange flash of energy in the Chamber of the Regents?"
Every head in the room, except Belle Star's, nodded.
"I believer that the flash was a sign that all seven regents were reunited in that chamber at that moment."
A gasp rose from the assembly. "Seven regents?" the king said. "But how? Two clans are still lost!"
"They are only lost because we don't know who they are. But what we do know is that Raven is Regent of the Sky Clan; Clever Clover is Regent of the Earth Clan; and from the other known clans, we have King Oak and Ironwood from the Wood Clan; Enchantment and Morning Glory of the Spirit Clan; and Minoko, Nightshade, and Hemlock from the Night Clan; leaving two Clans unaccounted for."
"Oh, no! You mean to say I could be a Regent?" cried Ironwood.
Ironwood shook his head. "I do hope our good king holds the honor. I'd rather not have that kind of responsibility. It's hard enough keeping track of my guards."
"I find it unlikely. Our history rarely indicates that a king has held the post of regent," explained Magus. "As to the others, I feel it is safe to say that Enchantment will prove to be the Regent of the Spirit Clan; and for the Night Clan, I favor Nightshade. Her immunity to magic is similar to the protection granted the regents from their badge of office; I believe there must be a connection."
"What of the last two clans?" asked the king.
Magus bowed his head. "I must ask our highness' forgiveness, for I have deceived you." The wizard turned up the brim of his pointed hat, revealing to all the badge of the regent, an emerald set in a disk of silver. "I am Regent of the Fire Clan."
"The Fire Clan!" The king was shocked. "But how? Is that clan not lost?"
Magus shook his head. "The Fire Clan was never lost, simply hiding. We had a mission to attend to that required utmost secrecy. We could not risk our enemies finding out about our mission, or that our friends might inadvertently reveal that information. I beg forgiveness."
King Oak nodded. "I trust your mission was a success?"
"The mission is ongoing. I ask you all to keep this information in confidence."
"Of course," assured the king. "Now that just leaves the Sea Clan."
"Oh!" said Belle Star. "You mean like in the stories?"
All eyes turned to Belle Star. "What stories?" asked King Oak.
"The stories my grandfather used to tell me about the Sea Clan. About how they came to the aid of the Atlanteans as their home sank into the sea."
Magus nodded. "This supports my suspicion. I believe that the Pony Sea Patrol are the descendants of the Sea Clan. And that means that either Belle Star or Key are Regent of the Sea Clan."
"Oh my," said the king, gravely, and the queen gasped.
"So why is that such a big deal?" asked Clever Clover.
"One of the most sacred laws of the Clans," explained Raven, "is that no Regents may be wed to one another."
"What does that mean?" asked Belle Star.
The queen rose from her throne. "It means that you may not be able to marry Clever Clover."
Belle Star looked to Clever Clover as tears welled up in her big, blue eyes. "Cl... Clever Clover, please say it isn't true!"
Clever Clover took her hooves in his. "I don't know how much of it is true, but you are the one I love and you're the one I plan to marry, no matter what anyone else has to say."
"Even if it means being branded an outlaw?" questioned Raven.
"What, you throw us in the dungeon for getting married!?"
"Now let's not get carried away here!" cried King Oak.
"It is our law," stated Raven.
Clever Clover glared at the jet-black stallion. "Considering how much trouble you had catching Minoko, I doubt we'd have that much to worry about."
"She is a wizard. You lack the means to evade us."
Minoko stepped forward. "They'll have all the means at my disposal! I've outsmarted you before, and I look forward to doing it again!"
Raven scoffed. "You? Why would you be willing to help him, after he chose another over you?"
"I love Clever Clover! Even though he's chosen to marry Belle Star, I still love him! And I'll stand by his side no matter what!"
Morning Glory stepped forward. "And so will I, though I cannot offer as much aid as Minoko."
"Thank you both," said Clever Clover.
"Oh yes! Thank you!" agreed Belle Star.
"Now, let's not get carried away," interjected Magus. "We do not yet know for sure who is the Regent, Belle Star or Key. I just wanted to make you aware of the possibility. Until we are sure, there is no use fighting."
Raven scowled at Clever Clover.
"Enough of that!" ordered the king. "I think we should call it a night. We've all had a long day and it's getting late. Maybe tomorrow we can discuss this with cooler heads."