Ghost Stories
written by Clever Clover

Nightshade, the dark swordpony, carried a bowl of hot soup to her brother. Since Zotikos, the ghost from Atlantis, had left him, Hemlock had been bedridden. The doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with him and Jack O Lantern’s magic had done nothing for him. Nightshade knocked on her brother’s door and slowly opened it. “Are you awake, brother?”

“Of course, sister. Though the ghost has left me, his memories still haunt me.”

“I brought some soup.”

“I’m not hungry.”

Nightshade sat down next to her brother’s bed. “You need to eat, to keep your strength up.”

Hemlock forced a weak smile. “It is nice to know someone still cares about me.”

“I’m sorry I let Zotikos posses you like that.”

“You couldn’t have known, sister. Not even Jack O Lantern was aware of him. Sister, has the Night Clan lost its path? Our father’s vision was an independent Night Clan; then Jack O Lantern came and led us into a war with the Isle, and now Zotikos seeks to make us subjects of Atlantis again.”

“Our people will never be free as long as the king of the Isle claims to rule all seven clans. As for Zotikos, he used us; so for now, I will use him. Do not worry, brother; though Zotikos’ path is not ours, our path for the Night Clan is our own.”

“I hope you are right, sister.”

“Now, brother, you should eat and sleep.”

“Very well, I will eat. But I still cannot sleep.”

Hemlock finished his soup and Nightshade took the bowl. Outside his room, Lady Sea- Snake was waiting. “How is your brother doing?”

“What business is it of yours?”

“We are a team, now. Is it wrong to be concerned for a teammate?”

“Who are you? Of all the prisoners I released, you are the only one who has done nothing to prove their worth and yet you are the only one who is eager to serve. What are you up to?”

“You fear me, don’t you? Because I don’t use magic, you have no special advantage over me.”

Nightshade dropped the bowl, which shattered on the stone floor, and drew her sword. “I fear no one!”

“We shall have to spar some time. I look forward to brushing up on my fencing.” Lady Sea-Snake turned and walked away.

Nightshade sheathed her sword and gathered up the pieces of the bowl. Shortly, she encountered Jack O Lantern. “What do you want?”

“Has your brother’s condition improved?”

“You are the second to ask me that, though it still puzzles me why it would interest anyone but me.”

“We have recently become the minority in this castle. Though I am not of the Night Clan, I am a clan-pony. With these outsiders about, it will be important for us to stick together. Besides, he was a good apprentice.”

Nightshade grinned. “Zotikos’ alliance is crumbling already.”

“Zotikos never had an alliance. He has brought together a group of self-serving individuals and pressured them into serving him. Unless he has something up his sleeve, his house of cards will tumble when we encounter our first hurdle.” Jack O Lantern handed Nightshade a talisman carved from black stone. “Give this to your brother and Zotikos will not be able to posses with him again.”

“I…I don’t know what to say. But how can you protect my brother if you yourself were unknowingly possessed by Zotikos once?”

“I was unaware because he remained hidden. Now that I know of him, I can protect myself, and others I deem worthy, from his influence. You, however, do not require such protection. Your gift is adequate. Though I wonder what would happen if Zotikos would try. Hm, that might be interesting.” Jack O Lantern wandered off, mumbling to himself.

* * *

After Nightshade had left his bedside, Hemlock lay silently in his bed. Before long, though, he became aware of another presence in the room. He sat up. “Who’s there?”

There was no answer. He laid back down but shortly, a strong wind blew through the room. Hemlock shot bolt upright. “Who is there!?” The wind died down and Hemlock once again sensed the presence. He looked around the room. “Zotikos, is that you? Go away! Go away, vile shade!”

A soft whisper reached Hemlock’s ears. “You have grown into quite the young stallion, my son.”

A tear came to Hemlock’s eye as he recognized the voice. “F…Father? Could it really be you, Father?”

A ghostly image of a noble, dark red pony appeared before Hemlock. “Yes, it is me, son.”

“Why have you come to me now?”

“Because, my son, I did not want to see you suffer any longer. I have come to guide you back.”

“Back? Back to where?”

“To who you were before. I wish I could have stopped Zotikos from doing what he did, but I can help you now that he is gone.”

“Zotikos. He still haunts my dreams. That’s why I don’t sleep. I’m afraid of him.”

“You shouldn’t be. Your strength drove him to find a new host.”

“Strength? He controlled me so easily. I let him. After Enchantment came here, I realized that I wasn’t strong enough to lead our people. I could sense Zotikos lurking in the back of my mind, and I let him take control.”

“Enchantment. A fine filly. Ah, if I was a young stallion again... ahem, I was the same way with your mother, well, most fillies actually, but your mother was special. And in the same way, Enchantment is special. Your feelings for her are not weakness, it is strength.”

“Enchantment? Strength? But I cannot act when I am near her.”

“You can act, if your action is guided by your heart, not your mind. When Zotikos threatened her, you were able to stop him, even though you had surrendered yourself to him. That is your strength.”

“But, she is not one of us. She is from the Spirit Clan, not the Night.”

“Then maybe strength is not in the Night Clan alone. Maybe true strength comes from all the clans together.”

“But the clan was strong under you. You taught us to be independent.”

The shade shook his head. “Zotikos threatens our independence now. The time has come to stand alongside the other clans rather than against them.”

“But Zotikos now rules the Night Clan. How can we stand alongside the others when he leads us into battle against them?”

The shade smiled. “You will find a way.” And with that he faded away. “Farewell, my son…”

“Father! Don’t leave me! Father…”

* * *

Far away, on the Isle of the Emerald Lake, Enchantment sleeplessly wandered the halls of Malachite Castle. She had often had trouble sleeping since her last encounter with Hemlock. She climbed the stairs to the castle’s tallest tower. She climbed onto the parapet and sat gazing at the stars, as if they held the answers to the questions that kept her awake. Like, what had happened to Hemlock to make him act like he did? Could he be returned to the way he used to be? And where was he now?

The stars didn’t have anything to say tonight, but still, it made her feel better to ask. She heard the sound of hoofsteps behind her. “Hey, Enchantment, what are you doing up here at this time of night?”

“Hi, Ironwood. I couldn’t sleep.”

Ironwood, the captain of the castle guard, sat down next to Enchantment. “Is something wrong?”

“I’m worried about Hemlock.”

“I know you think something’s wrong with Hemlock, but he is Jack O Lantern’s apprentice. Do you really think he’s worth losing sleep over?”

Enchantment shook her head. “It doesn’t matter what I think. It’s what I feel that keeps me up. I feel that his actions are inconsistent with his spirit.”

“I don’t know what to say. If you have faith in his spirit, you have to trust that his spirit will guide him through. Now, I’ve got to get back to my patrol.”

“Thank you, Ironwood.”

Enchantment sat on the parapet still gazing at the stars as Ironwood returned to his duties.

* * *

Back at the Dark Isle, Nightshade returned to her brother’s room to give him the talisman Jack O Lantern had prepared for him. She opened the door to find her brother fast asleep. She set the talisman on the night-stand and kissed her brother on the cheek. “Sleep well, my brother.”

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