A cold wind blew across Friendship Gardens. Clever Clover sat before the fireplace in his living room, staring at the crackling fire. Morning Glory was sitting behind him, reading aloud from a list of petitions from clansponys in town. Clever Clover shook his head. "And what am I supposed to do about all that?"
"Well, you can start by caring. A lot of these ponies just want to know that there is someone looking out for them."
"Are you all right? You seem... distant."
Clever Clover nodded. "I... have some big plans."
"Oh. I don't suppose you'd want any company?"
Clever Clover shook his head. "It's not something you'd enjoy."
Morning Glory nodded. "Well, I guess we've done enough "regent-ing" for the time being. Maybe after your... thing, you'll have more focus."
Clever Clover just stared at the fire.
Morning Glory stood up. "Well, I'll just show myself out."
As Morning Glory was about to close the door behind her, Clever Clover said, "Goodbye." His voice was full of melancholy.
Morning Glory pulled her coat tight against the wind as she made her way home. Clever Clover hadn't been himself since he had lost his memory, but lately he had been getting worse. He had lost much of his defiance, but it seemed like he had given up hope. He barely talked anymore; and when he did, he didn't say much. Morning Glory was worried about him, but she didn't know what to do.
When she got home and hung up her coat, Morning Glory fixed some hot tea. She sat, sipping her tea, wishing she knew how to help her friend. She sat long into the night, long after her tea had grown cold.
* * *
Early the next morning, Clever Clover set out on hoof toward the Flatlands and the Isle of the Emerald Lake. He was not dressed as one would expect of someone who was making such a journey in such weather. He breathed deeply of the cold air, holding his head high as the wind blew through his mane. He set a swift pace, a pace that would be difficult for an average pony to keep up. He didn't sleep. In two short days he had reached the shores of the lake. He waited until dark to venture out onto the ice.
* * *
King Oak and his queen, Gooseberry, took their breakfast as usual. The day seemed as ordinary as any other... until the king went to his throne room. There, seated upon the throne, was Clever Clover.
"Cousin! What an unexpected surprise!"
Clever Clover glared at the king. "And would it have been a surprise if it had been expected?"
"No, I suppose not. Well, I'm glad to see you; and I know how you dislike all the pomp and whatnot of the royal court, but I must insist that you vacate my throne."
Clever Clover shook his head. "No."
The king was livid. "You may be a prince and regent, Clever Clover, but I am still your king!"
Clever Clover leaned forward. "That name, 'Clever Clover'... I never really cared for it. I'd much prefer something more edgy... darker. How about 'Shadow Clover'? I think is suits me. What do you think, your highness?" These last words were spoken with some contempt.
"Who are you!? You're not my cousin!"
"I just told you, I'm Shadow Clover. And you are not my king."
"How dare you!"
A dark figure stepped from the shadows behind the king and leveled a sword at his heart.
"Nightshade!" the king gasped.
Two more figures stepped out from behind the throne, Jack O Lantern and Hemlock. "Well, well, well," said Jack O Lantern. "Here we are, one big happy family again. Only this time, your champion is ours."
"How did you..." King Oak began, but Shadow Clover cut him off.
"That is none of your concern. I serve Jack O Lantern, now."
"Take him away," commanded Jack O Lantern. "Put him with the queen."
Nightshade grabbed Oak by the shoulder but he struggled against her. "What have you done to my wife?"
Jack O Lantern shook his head. "Haven't you been paying attention? I said you would be taken to her. Don't worry. If I had intended to hurt you, I would have done so by now."
Nightshade took the king to his royal bed chamber. When Nightshade shoved Oak through the door, Queen Gooseberry was sitting on the edge of the bed. It was clear that she had been crying.
"Oh, Oak!" she cried and rushed toward him. He put his arms around her as Nightshade slammed the door shut. "What is happening?" she sobbed.
"Our old friends from the Night Clan are up to their old tricks again. Only this time..."
"What is it?"
Oak shook his head. "It seems inconceivable, but Clever Clover appears to be working with Jack O Lantern."
Gooseberry gasped in dread. "That cannot be! He must be deceiving them, like Minoko did."
"Perhaps. But there was something about him... He didn't seem himself, and he called himself 'Shadow Clover'."
"You don't suppose it has something to do with his amnesia? What if Jack O Lantern was able to convince him that he was someone else?"
"I suppose. But in her letters, Morning Glory never indicated that he doubted who he was as much as he rebelled against it. I'd think she would have noticed something if Jack O Lantern were trying to influence him." The king sighed. "But there is no use in speculating. In the past we have relied on Clever Clover to get us out of these pickles; this time we'll have to come up with something on our own."
* * *
The other inhabitants of Malachite castle had been similarly confined to their rooms, with the exception of the Magus, who always seemed to be absent at times like this. The king and queen sat nervously in their room. Oak clasped his head in his hooves, desperately trying to conceive of a solution for this latest threat upon his people. Before he had made any progress in his deliberations, Nightshade stepped out of the shadows near the door. Keeping an eye on the royal couple, she opened the door to admit Jack O Lantern.
The evil wizard bowed. "Greeting, King Oak, Queen Gooseberry."
Oak scowled at the fiend. "Why do you mock us?"
"I do not mock you. I come to you this time not as a conqueror, but as a savior."
"Either you've gone mad, or you think I have."
"Not at all. You see, there is more going on than you are aware of. I, however, know all the secrets. I alone am familiar with both sides in this war. And I have chosen to lead your side to victory against the evil Zotikos."
"Lead?" The king laughed. "You're saying that you must conquer us to save us? Is that it?"
Jack O lantern nodded.
"I don't believe this. All right, Jack O Lantern, since you're holding all the cards, why do you need us?"
"Your people will not accept me as their leader. They love you... and with good reason. They would never acknowledge me as their leader."
"So you need me to be your puppet!?
Jack O Lantern shrugged. "That's an awfully rude way of putting it, but essentially correct."
"And why do you think that we will cooperate?"
"In time, I think you will see things my way."
"Once you have heard what Zotikos has planned and how he has pursued his plans for hundreds of years, you will see things my way."
* * *
Hemlock aimlessly wandered the halls of Malachite castle. Empty suits of armor patrolled the castle for any who might have been overlooked during the takeover. Other armors stood guard outside the rooms where prisoners were being held. Hemlock found himself standing before one such door, somehow drawn to it.
"Who's room is this?" he asked the guards.
"Enchantment," the armor replied, in a hollow echo.
"I would like to talk to her."
The armors bowed and stepped aside. Hemlock stepped between them and reached for the door handle, but stopped. Instead of just opening the door, he knocked.
"Enchantment. This is Hemlock. I'd like to... have a word with you."
"Come in," Enchantment replied after a short pause.
Hemlock opened the door and stepped through. Enchantment sat, staring out the window. "How are you doing," the young stallion asked.
"How do you think?"
Hemlock hung his head. "I...I'm sorry about this. I tried to talk Jack O Lantern out of taking such an extreme step, but he insisted it was the only way."
"The only way to do what?"
"To unify the clans against Zotikos."
Enchantment turned away from the window. "Zotikos?"
"A ghost, from Atlantis. The last time you and I met, I was under his influence. But you helped me overcome him."
Hemlock nodded. "When you confronted me, I could not stand to see you hurt. Even though Zotikos had complete control over me, I was able to stop him... for your sake."
"Thank you, Hemlock."
Hemlock's face blushed bright red. "I should be going now. Um, I'll stop by again later."
* * *
That evening, Shadow Clover paced uneasily in the gymnasium, thrashing about aimlessly with a foil. A voice from the shadows that would have startled another pony didn't phase the purple pony. "You know, Clever Clover used to be quite the swordpony." Nightshade stepped out of the shadows. "I could give you some lessons if you'd like."
Shadow Clover continued pacing and thrashing. "And I could give you some lessons on sneaking around in the shadows."
Nightshade lunged at Shadow Clover, but he gracefully avoided her blade.
"You're not too bad," Nightshade complimented the purple pony. "Good thing you're on our side."
Shadow Clover dropped the foil and stomped from the gymnasium.