• Published 23rd Feb 2021
  • 1,850 Views, 135 Comments

Lunatic Fringe - kudzuhaiku



Luna becomes the Princess of Detention. It's not because she was naughty.

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Overcast

Princess Luna was now the Princess of Detention. Oh, she didn't want to be the Princess of Detention, but her bossy sister insisted. In fact, Luna did not wish to even be awake at this unalicornly hour, but here she was, doing her duty. Since when did her sister's perfect little students even get detention, anyway? When was mercy added to the educational curriculum? Detention inflicted boredom; threatening to draw and quarter an unruly foal before their peers inflicted motivation. The old days were lost to the past and Luna found herself a mare displaced out of time.

There was once a saying: A hot poker cured sloth.

Her sister, Celestia, got a throne room. Luna looked around the detention cell, as it was known. Wasn't much of a cell, all things considered. It was a round room in the top of a tower and to reach it, one had to climb a rather ridiculous number of stairs, the number of which was known to vary from day to day. It was said that the stairs resented being stomped on, and were rather vengeful sorts who resorted to petty acts of passive-aggression to vent their bile.

Celestia had a throne; Luna had a rather comfy chair upholstered in indigo velvet.

Other than the obnoxiously perfect chair that was exactly to Luna's tastes, an imposing stone desk, and a few worn-smooth wooden benches, the room was cruelly empty. There was nothing on the walls to distract a wandering eye. While there were windows, they had frosted glass that obscured all vision. There were no posters, no signs, no messages of motivation as one might find elsewhere in the school for spoiled unicorns, only gratuitous austerity that was almost perfect in Luna's opinion.

If she cleared out the wooden benches and forced the condemned to stand…

With but a few graceful steps, she came around to the other side of the desk. There were wooden drawers, which stood out in contrast to the grey stone. Pulling open the drawer on the right, she found stationary, pencils, an inkwell with a stained cork stopper, a few quills, a thoroughly modern pen with its own ink reserves, a book with no markings on the cover, and other assorted bric-a-brac.

After shoving the drawer shut, she pulled open the left. Inside, she found more stuff, a veritable treasure trove of things. There was an hourglass. How delightfully twisted to keep the timepiece in the drawer, where the condemned could not view the passing of time. Luna's approval manifested as a subtle smirk. There were other things, including some familiar purple wax paper wrappers. Luna peered down at the banana candies—her favourite—and somehow knew that her sister had placed them there. It was a generous gesture, a thoughtful act, and suddenly, without warning, Luna felt better about things. She would have delicious banana candies—and her captives would not.

Perhaps the previous occupant needed the hourglass; Luna found it useless.

Stifling the urge to yawn, she pushed the drawer shut with only the faintest bang.

Dreaming wasn't so different from detention, when you earnestly compared the two. Some dreams were to inspire guilt; to make a pony think about whatever awful thing they might have done. Ponies wanted to be scared back into goodness, and so Luna obliged them—sometimes too much so, and the night terrors she wrought upon them caused them to wet their little pony beds. She gave them their hearts' innermost and secretive desire. Detention was much the same, but in the waking world. Still, something felt off to her, though she could not put her hoof on what it might be. Something about this unsettled her, bothered her in some vague way, like a fly buzzing close enough to be heard but too far away to be dealt with.

Thankfully, magic allowed one to deal with distant annoyances.

If only it could sort out her current predicament.

In the stories, princesses were locked away in towers where they whiled away the time waiting for some plucky adventurer to save them. These stories bothered her a great deal, for a variety of reasons. If a princess was so helpless that she couldn't save herself from a tower, then she didn't deserve to be a princess. Beyond that, she had spent time not in a tower, but bound to the moon—and saved by a ragtag band of plucky adventurers. Which nettled her in some awful way that she could not give voice. Now, she was a princess in a detention tower and at some point everything about her life had gone heinously astray.

She could save herself from this tower if she wanted to—but did she?

Ears pricking, she heard hooves on the stairs. Not an adventurer come to save her, but a foal sent to detention. If Luna was now the evil warden of detention, the dreaded bigbad who kept others locked up in a tower, what if their fellow students stormed the tower to save one of their own? Well, she would ice the stairs, to start, and then try not to enjoy herself too much as the scrappy little ruffians suffered fabulous pratfalls. The sight of all those stubby little legs kicking and flailing, all while failing to find purchase on the slickened, slippery stairs—well that would be an entertaining spectacle. A sight to make sides sore.

To say that Luna's smile was chilling was a dire understatement.

The Princess of Detention should not smile though, so she rid herself of it. Swinging her leg, she kicked out the chair a bit, sat down, settled into the overstuffed chair, and was almost overcome by the giggles when the velvet tickled places on her body that should never be tickled. A little cough, some clearing of her throat, a swallowed giggle that would surely find some means of hasty escape through other orifices, and then Luna became the Princess of Detention. Stern. Cold. Commanding.

And desperately wanting a banana candy.

So wanting a banana candy, and realising her mistake, she hurriedly crowned herself, formed a nation right here on the spot, and granted herself a new title, for such was her majesty: Princess Luna, Monarch of the Pro-Crasty Nation. Surely she was Pro-Crasty, rather than No-Crasty, because if she had no-crasted, she would have had a banana candy during all the glorious free time that she had squandered. Oh, she would pay, surely she would—she deserved this detention. This room was her nation, she was its ruler, and her first subject was just outside, no doubt huffing and puffing up the stairs.

It was time to be the Princess of Detention.


The most obvious thing about the colt was his colouration; he was a particular hue of pale purple that at some point in history might have been considered pink. Almost—though not quite—a shade of mauve. For a filly it would be a perfectly acceptable colour, but for a colt such a tint was surely problematic. At some point during Luna's long absence, little ponies foolishly attached gender to colour and gave themselves one more thing to bicker endlessly about, because that was what little ponies did when left to their own devices. Little ponies could not be trusted with even the most basic of things.

His mane was messy and in need of combing. The cornflower blue strands clung to his sweaty face, hung down into his eyes, and had wrapped around his ears. The well-moistened nerdling glistened. Secretly pleased, Luna appreciated that the stairs had not been kind to him. No doubt, he was a scholarly sort. Yes, he was a bookworm, a studious little go-getter, not given to athletics or physical pursuits.

Trivial Pursuit might turn physical, but that did not constitute a fitness regimen.

He tossed his bookbag onto the floor, a bag no-doubt filled with a cornucopia of distractions. If he had gum, candy, or pornography—contraband as they called it in the modern era—she would confiscate it. She would deny him anything that might spare him boredom, but he didn't know that yet. For now, she would allow him much-needed time to catch his breath, and given just how out of shape he was, his breath could run circles around his scrawny bookworm frame. Whilst he stood there, practically panting, Luna continued to study him. Aside from being currently disheveled, he was well-groomed. His hooves saw frequent maintenance, his pelt saw regular washings and conditionings, and something about him suggested that he was a fussy little fellow.

No doubt, the stairs had put him into a mood.

"Name?" she demanded when some of the huffing and puffing had subsided.

The colt ignored her for a moment, gasped a few more times, gulped down some air, and then replied, "Overcast."

Overcast? Unable to help herself, Luna leaned forward over her desk, narrowed her eyes, and watched with subtle amusement as the colt continued to catch his breath. "Most peculiar. That sounds like a pegasus name."

"My mother"—he gasped—"is a pegasus." More air was sucked in. "Other ponies called me grumpy"—a wheeze—"or cranky"—a gasp—"or even colicky"—his sides heaved like a fierce incoming tide—"and my mother would correct them"—a wheeze that was almost a cough—"and tell them that I was just a little overcast. The name stuck." Almost caught up to his breath, he leveled a deadpan stare upon Luna, then added, "I hate my name. I hate everything about me."

"So, why are you here, Overcast?"

"Because," he replied, "I got in trouble, duh. This must be your first day on the job."

Conflicted, Luna did not respond right away. She was deeply impressed, because he was absolutely fearless—but she was also furious, because he was downright disrespectful. Like a tightrope walker beset by the wind, she wavered between these two extremes, trying to find some sense of balance. Really, he should be rewarded for his fearlessness, but his wagging tongue had to go. Briefly, she considered sending him back down the stairs so that he might suffer coming back up, but then she decided to be amused—even if she didn't show it.

"If you do not wish to discuss what brought you here, you may begin your hour of absolute silence. There will be no books, no reading, no studying. You will sit on a wooden bench of your choosing and you will be as silent as the grave, lest your hour of detention begin anew. I can be here all night, and so can you."

The colt visibly shrank back as these words sank in, but not from fear.

"Lady, who peed in your oatflakes?"

An hour of physical fitness spent climbing stairs suddenly became a lot more tempting.

"I got sent here for the same reason I always get sent here. Because I hate myself and everypony around me. I don't want to make friends. I don't want to interact with my classmates. I hate them and they hate each other. All of them are a bunch of fakes, frauds, and phony-baloney-ponies."

"And what, pray tell, makes you believe that?"

"Nopony has ever asked me that before," Overcast said as he just stood there. "Usually, they just start yelling when I try to tell them."

"Answer me," demanded Luna.

"Well, uh"—he reached up and scratched behind his sweaty ear with his left hoof—"where do I begin?"

"At the beginning," deadpanned Luna. She withheld the 'duh' only by supreme effort of will.

"Nopony has ever asked. I don't know how to talk about it."

She waited—not patiently.

"Everypony says nice things to each other face-to-face, but they say horrible things when, uh, well, when the pony they're talking about isn't around, really bad things get said." His lips continued to move, but no words came forth and he kept scratching behind his ear. After a time, he closed his mouth, swallowed, and tried again. "I've seen it for myself. Uh, I mean, I've heard it for myself. Because I listen, you see… and, uh…"

"You aren't doing a satisfactory job of explaining yourself, Overcast."

"I'm not used to talking to other ponies," he replied.

"Tell me," she said to him, "do you eavesdrop?"

"Well, kinda?" He squinted, uncertain, and his left front hoof ceased to move behind his ear.

"Do you fancy yourself a spy?" she asked.

"Um…"

She turned the full force of her imperious gaze upon him, and transfixed him with her eyes. Still, he wasn't afraid, just uncertain. Oh, there was fear there, but not a fear of her. This piqued her inquisitive nature in the most terrible way and Luna's only real regret was that their chance meeting took place during detention. The hour—or however long this might take—could prove interesting.

"When I try to explain myself, the grownups get mad because I'm long-winded and then I get in trouble and I never get to explain myself."

Saying nothing, Luna waited.

"Well, uh… um… you really wanna know?"

Somewhat bothered by just how much his speech had broken down, Luna allowed her expression to soften—though not by much. Her imperious gaze became one of patient command. When the colt collected himself just a little, her expression ceased its shift and went still. His eyes grew even more fearful, but this distress was not directed at her. No, this colt was afraid of himself—a condition that she sympathised with.

"My father taught me a ventriloquism spell," Overcast said as he sidled towards a bench. While he clambered up and sat down, he licked his lips and then his head bowed low. "We have a big house… uh, a tower. It's big. Real big. Dad taught me the spell so I don't have to shout. I could just throw my voice through the walls or the floors or the ceiling."

From this, Luna gathered that the colt had a unicorn father.

"Well, uh, one day"—he cleared his throat and speaking became a little easier—"I got to wondering if the spell could be reversed. If the voices of others could be thrown back to me. I've never tinkered with a spell before, and it was really hard, but eventually I figured out how to do it. A sort of reverse-ventriloquism spell that when I cast it, the voices of others would get bounced back to my ears, and then I could hear everything that was being said. Everywhere. And that's how I know that friendship is fake."

He blinked, twice.

"Am I in trouble for spying?"

At first, Luna did not know what to say. Then, after a few seconds, she transitioned to a total loss for words. After that, she became tongue-tied, which lasted for a while, but eventually she regained her senses enough to sit in mute, shocked silence. Pressing her silver-shod front hooves together, she allowed them to come to rest on the desk before her. Still, no words came to her, and her thoughts threatened to become a hurricane.

"It started with my mom," he said in a confessional whisper. "I listened to her talking one day. One of the neighbors was over for tea and biscuits. My mom… she said… well, she said bad things about a pony that I thought was her friend. Gossip. My mom gossiped. And she said all these things… really bad things… and I heard everything she said." He cast his eyes downward, shook his head, and what came next was more breath than whisper.

"I didn't tell her that I'd heard her. I just… I just stopped talking to her and she doesn't know why. I listened to my dad, too. He talked about another pony… a mare that's not my mom… he and his friend talked about our neighbor and they"—he gulped, an audible sound—"they talked about all of the things they would do to her if they had the chance. I heard everything. That's why I chose to live here, at the school, and not at home."

He looked up at her, his eyes glassy with barely withheld emotion.

"I couldn't help myself. I just couldn't help myself. I started listening to what my classmates had to say."

Luna understood. Of course she understood. Her face softened so much and her expression changed so drastically that she would not recognise herself, if she happened to catch a glimpse of her own reflection at this moment. This was how her own isolation started, though not so much through eavesdropping. However, eavesdropping and dreamwalking were largely similar. She too had learned that ponies were deceitful creatures that said one thing but did another. In dreams, she had seen the best and worse that ponykind had to offer—but for whatever reason, the worst stood out. All of the really awful bits somehow smothered the good.

"The worst part," he continued, "is that now I can't stop myself. I have to know what is being said. I can't make myself stop. It's tearing me apart."

"Why tell me this?" she asked.

"You told me to tell you," he replied. Then, he sniffled a bit, wiped his nose with his foreleg, and his head bobbed. "You're the Dreamwalker. I didn't mean to be sarcastic. It just slips out now. Like a sneeze. You're the Dreamwalker."

"That I am." She swallowed to keep a sigh held inside.

It was then that she realised that there was absolutely nothing she could do to punish the colt. Whatever grim tortures she might have to offer with detention paled in comparison to the troubles found inside his skull. His torment was never-ending. The pain of his existence couldn't even be comprehended by most. For some reason, she thought about the banana candies in her drawer, and then she thought about her sister.

Celestia knew things. How she knew things was a closely guarded secret. It was possible that Celestia knew even more secrets than Luna herself did. She found herself wondering if her sister knew about this situation, and if detention was a clever ruse so that she and the troubled colt might cross paths. It was entirely possible, but it could also just be coincidence. Of course, Celestia might take credit for coincidence—she did that to improve her own well-cultivated mystique—but she also denied her direct involvement in many cases where she clearly interfered. Of Celestia, nothing could be certain except for uncertainty.

Suddenly, Luna did not want to be in detention.

"Everypony is afraid of you, you know," he said. "They all say bad things about you. The worst things. I hear it every day. I don't know what Headmistress Celestia was thinking, putting you in charge of detention. When that was announced, all my classmates started saying how we'd get sent to detention and never return. That you'd eat us. Or worse. A lot of foals think you're a vampire. Or that you'll use detention to brainwash us so you can try to take over the world again. What Headmistress Celestia did was stupid. Really, really stupid. She put you in a spot where nopony could ever like you."

Kicking her desk would have dire consequences. It would burst into smithereens, no doubt. The pieces would fly outward, possibly at supersonic speeds. Walls would shatter like so much glass. The colt would become a fine red mist when struck by moving debris as the tower disintegrated around him. If she vented her anger, the price would be too much to bear. On the outside, she was calm. Placid. Serene. Not one ear twitched. Her eyelids did not flutter. Not one muscle anywhere on her body twitched in a way that might betray her. But her innards… her innards were a Tartarian abyss writhing with demons given to an orgy of bloodlust.

"It seems nopony else has detention," she announced in a cold deadpan that held no trace of emotion.

After a few rapid blinks, the colt seemed confused. He was different now in some strange way. Overcast was not the same colt that had walked through the door mere minutes ago. While visible distress clung to him like clouds eager to ruin a picnic, there was a sense of relief about him. Everything that he'd kept corked up inside of him had just come flooding out. His sides heaved for a far different reason now, and his long trip up the stairs had nothing to do with it.

"We're going to the astronomy tower," Luna announced.

"What? Why?"

"The telescope needs cleaning. You are going to clean it."

"But… stairs. If it's all the same, I'll sit out my hour on my bench."

Luna considered, then said, "No."

"But… I—"

"We're going and that's final."

The rage subsided a little; her innards were now like a churning, seething mass of cannibalistic crocodiles chomping and chowing down upon one another. The state of upset was a physical sensation of clenching and unclenching, of tightness upon tender places. But she did not take it out on Overcast, no. He'd suffered enough. What he needed right now—what they both needed right now was a distraction. Not detention. Absolutely nothing would be accomplished here except for a waste of time.

While she wasn't sure what to do, she did have a plan. Not a long-term plan—she needed time to plot and ponder—but she could deal with the immediate crisis. Just not here. Not in this place. Ignoring the crocodilian chaos in her alimentary canal, she focused upon the foal entrusted to her care. When had this sense of duty manifested last? Not since her return. Everything from before was hazy. It had been a long time. Too long. She had just woken up not that long ago and now something else was awake. Something strange and unfamiliar, but welcome.

Luna smiled. There was no trace of warmth, no. This smile was like a forgotten cup of coffee left to go cold, bitter and neglected. Unpleasant. When she spoke, her voice was much the same. "You are hereby sentenced to community service. Now come with me."


Overcast collapsed into a wet, wheezing heap and then lay face down on his bookbag. With casual indifference, Luna stepped over him—not around him as one might do—and then went over to open the window so that a much-needed breeze might blow through. She was calmer now, more in control, and this allowed for a little clarity so that she might sort out her thoughts. For a short time, she stood with her face in the breeze, and rather enjoyed the cooling sensation upon her fuzzy cheeks.

"Get up," she commanded.

But Overcast did not budge; he continued to lay there, panting and gasping for air.

"Are you dying?" she asked.

No response. Nothing. Just more laboured breathing and what might have been a faint moan. She stepped away from the open window, crossed the room, and stood beneath the shutter mechanism, the complex system of gears, winches, pulleys, and mechanical force that opened up a panel so that one might look out upon the stars above. It was a marvel of mechanical complexity, a testament to the modern era, and could be operated with minimal force.

Of course, Luna could just as easily open up the paneled roof with magic.

Technology existed to replace magic, and she wasn't entirely certain how she felt about that. If Overcast was going to die, he sure was taking a long time to do it. Were she allowed to motivate him by any means necessary, he might very well find a veritable wellspring of energy and get-up-and-go. But living in modern times with softened, weakened societal mores meant that he got to lay in a miserable heap and never explore his full potential.

What a pity.

"I've got stitches in my sides!" he gasped.

Such weakness; Luna had no choice but to abide it. If given a chance, she knew that she could show him the very depths of his potential. But her frustrations were her own and deep down, beneath it all, she didn't actually want him to suffer. Which was why they were here, rather than in the detention tower. She couldn't fix what was broken—the bell could not be unrung—but she could teach him how to endure. Of course, she hadn't endured. She'd broke. Which was why she knew exactly what was at stake. It occurred to her that she might be the only pony that could help him. This was not thought out of ego, but rather, an acknowledgment of her own failures and the always agonising self-humblement. Which, for some reason, never stopped hurting. Her ego remained tender and she was wary of her own self-inflicted pain.

She too, had stitches in her sides.

"I am going to teach you a spell and you will use that spell to clean the telescope."

"You're going to teach me magic?" He lifted his head and his eyes seemed to have some trouble focusing. "Isn't that… like a reward?"

"No," she replied. "This is an exchange. The cost is cleaning the telescope."

Much to Luna's complete lack of surprise, the colt rose up to stand on his hooves, and then stood there with wobbly, treacherous knees. So, the hot poker wasn't needed; she'd found a carrot. After making a few mental notes, she re-adjusted her expectations and reconsidered how to proceed. Carrots. During her long absence, society had changed. Advanced. Somewhere along the way, the long march of progression led to the invention of the red hot carrot, a thoroughly confusing thing that she wasn't sure what to think of. They called it curry, and any number of vegetables could be made tongue-searingly hot.

It was either a punishing reward or a rewarding punishment; she couldn't be sure of either.

"I am not a patient instructor," she said to him. Her tone turned chilly and her eyes narrowed. "This will be explained only once. So you had best listen. The cost of my instruction is attentiveness." What she didn't say was that there was a lesson to be learned here, and it had little to do with magic. That would come later, perhaps, depending entirely upon how this turned out.

If he proved worthy, the lesson would be revealed.

"Magic is all I care about," he said with a prolonged sniffle.

Another mental note was made.

"Come forward," she commanded. "Head up. Stand straight. Do not slouch. Be worthy of my tutelage or begone from my sight."

Right away, the colt underwent a startling transformation; he stood straight. His knees ceased to wobble. Ears pricked and ready, he held his head high. Eyes bright and eager, he gave her his rapt attention. With his patheticness now departed, Overcast was far more tolerable. Rather than be put off, Luna appreciated his sense of drama and the rapid change he was capable of. It gave her ideas and a glimpse into his true potential.

With a wave of her wing, she beckoned him to come closer, and was pleased when he obeyed.


"So, what's the point?" he asked. "Why keep going? Why even try when everypony is fake and phony? I don't understand."

As the colt spoke, he concentrated upon the spell and his horn glowed with a scintillating opal hue that matched his eyes. A dweomer of blue light surrounded the massive brass pivot mechanism that held the telescope and allowed it to angle up and down. Everywhere the light passed, the brass shone brightly. Little strands of hair, motes of dust, and bits of debris just disintegrated upon contact with the light.

Luna didn't have an answer, but she gave voice to one anyway.

"You just learn to keep going. It is true, many ponies are two-faced. They say one thing and do another. Very few truly understand this terrible truth. I've learned to, well, for lack of a better term, just tune it out."

"How can you just ignore it?" he asked, and his magic faltered momentarily. "Your own sister says she loves you and makes a big deal in public telling us that we have to accept you, respect you, and show you the same love that we show her, but she's set you up to be hated. She doesn't do detentions… probably because she doesn't want us hating her. But she seems fine with us hating you. She's just as two-faced as everypony else."

Luna's jaw firmed. Her sister didn't do detentions because she was too busy running a nation. Why, her very position as Headmistress seemed mostly perfunctory, almost to the point of being ceremonial. She had an apprentice—Twilight Sparkle—and a few other exceptional students that she paid some small amount of attention to. Teeth clenched, Luna wondered what she was doing here. She was a Princess of Equestria. The Princess of the Night. But… she had no real duties and was relegated to Princess of Detention.

While her sister ran the nation, Luna was stuck doing—well, whatever this was.

This colt, he'd seen and heard too much. It made him mature far too early, before he was prepared for it. Before he was equipped to deal with it. The same had happened to Luna. Her ability to dreamwalk had manifested as a filly. Oh, the things she had seen before she was ready. What awful, horrible, terrible, disgusting things she had seen. Secret desires. Hidden lust. While still a foal, she had borne witness to some exceptionally adult things, and her exposure had warped her mind.

Overcast had suffered much the same and as a consequence, was an unprepared adult trapped in a foal's body. Or maybe not. No matter how she tried, Luna could not quite reconcile these things after everything that had happened to her. She didn't want to, for one thing, because the wounds were still fresh, and for another, a part of her was still very much in denial of the problem—whatever the problem might be. Identifying the problem meant dealing with it.

How easy it would be to just explode and go off on a tear. She could go and confront her sister. She could ask hard questions. Why, she could even go and provoke a fight, a good shouting match between siblings. Just let go with Ye Olden Canterlot Voice—the name of which still baffled Luna because back in the day Equestria's capital region was the Everfree. Yet, she herself had gone along with the charade at her sister's insistence. Why? The reason remained unknown. Perhaps it had something to do with consistency for the sake of the little ponies, who became easily confused.

Canterlot had always been the capital of Equestria.


"I don't think I can get it any cleaner."

With her eyes still on her own reflection in the window, she asked, "You know this, how?"

She waited, but there was no response.

Overcast's head tilted upwards, towards the now gleaming telescope, and the colt seemed to examine the massive device held secure above him. All of the brass and silver were mirrored perfection. No motes of dust marred the perfect surface, at least for the moment. The lenses were unsullied perfection. His horn glowed blue for a brief time, and a projected dweomer of light danced along the surface of the telescope's central shaft.

"Because I can feel it. I could feel every imperfection. I don't know how, but I could feel the dirt. Felt like bumps. Everything is smooth now."

"Do you understand the significance of this?" she asked, still looking out the window.

With a shake of his head, Overcast's horn went dim. Had Luna been looking, she would have seen the telescope reflected in the colt's eyes. She might have noticed his calm, reverent expression. Had she turned around, she would have observed the transformation that had taken place. He took a careful step closer to Luna on hooves that scarcely made a sound, and then just stood there, unmoving.

"Something has changed," he said at last. "But I don't know what it is. My senses are different somehow."

"The purpose of the lesson…" She waited, hoping to be rewarded.

"Was to change my senses somehow?"

It wasn't the answer that she had hoped to hear, but she was still happy to hear it. Turning about, she looked down at her worshipful supplicant. He had changed. Not just his senses, but his demeanor, his very attitude. Gone was the sarcasm and the flippant disrespect. Now he looked at her in very much the same way little ponies looked at her sister. But this wasn't mindless adoration, no. She had given something to him first. Something profound. She had earned this reverence, this precious adoration, and she allowed herself to bask in this well-deserved moment of glory.

"There are different types of casters," she said to him, "just as there are different types of unicorns. You might be told otherwise—and probably have—but that is a lie. You are already aware of the lies all around us. Certain facts are withheld to prevent rivalry, or division. We keep certain truths hidden so we do not endlessly argue over what is better, and why. This was done to protect the weak-minded from themselves—though I believe that in doing so, they are left further weakened. But, my opinions are out of date and have soured like milk left out in my sister's sun for too long."

She had his rapt attention; the colt was practically spellbound.

"There are those who cast with intelligence. They are studious and attentive to their lessons. Through study and experimentation, they grow in power. Intellect casters tend to resort to overwhelming force in much the same way that earth ponies rely upon brute strength. They use their brain in the same manner as earth ponies use muscle and then just force the magic to happen, with no thought given to nuance or subtlety." For a brief moment, she thought of her sister's apprentice, the unicorn Twilight Sparkle, and she could not help but smile.

"Instinctual casters rely upon impulse. They cast from their gut. While perhaps not the strongest of casters, they are quick to react, less likely to be taken by surprise, or caught unawares and unprepared. They rely entirely upon feeling, but not sensory feeling. Their hunches can be harnessed. In conflict or times of trouble, instinctual casters are the first to start flinging spells like so much confetti, while intellectual casters are still considering their options and weighing the best possible response. While instinctual casters might start the conflict, intellectual casters are likely the ones that end it."

Her smile vanished.

"And then we have unicorns like you. Those who cast by perception. When you altered your ventriloquism spell, you relied upon sensory input to guide your way. You trusted your ears. That is extraordinary, and I do not tell you this to flatter you. Rather than years of study to alter a spell, understanding the mechanisms that make the spell work, you relied upon your sense of perception. With the cleaning spell I taught you, you have learned how to feel even the most minute details. You knew the telescope was cleaned because you paid attention to your senses. Do you understand?"

He nodded, but hesitantly.

"The lesson has started, but not finished," she said to him in a cold deadpan. "You will continue. You will traipse around the school and you will clean everything around you. Not for the sake of cleanliness, though that is a pleasant aftereffect. Just as you have mastered your remote ear to hear everything, the cleaning spell will give you focus. Through focus, you will gain discipline, and with discipline, hopefully, you will regain some control over your life. Do not be a slave to your senses, but become their master. Seize control."

"How?" he asked.

"I just told you how," she replied. "Though it seems impossible right now, let your perceptions guide your way. 'Twas your perceptions that led you into the dark, and now you must use them to feel your way out."

"Why are you helping me?" he asked.

"Is that not my job?" She responded to his query with a question of her own.

"Who helps you?" he asked, and then, taken aback by his own words, he stood there, his mouth opening and closing, all while making apologetic whimpers.

"I am not offended," she said to him in a somewhat softer voice, like butter left out on the table in a warm kitchen.

"Your sister did you wrong, doing this to you." He cast his eyes down to the floor, swallowed, and then tried to blow his mane away from his eyes. "But I'm glad she did. Grownups don't seem interested in actually helping me. They tell me that things will turn out, or worse, they try to hug me… as if that will make me forget everything. Nopony wants to acknowledge that there's a problem. Or worse, I get told that the problem is with me. That I'm the problem."

"Being aware of the problem does not mean that you are the problem," she told him. "Little ponies love to kill the messenger. They are foolish beyond reason in that way."

"And you know this because you're the Dreamwalker." Lifting his head, he looked up at her, and did absolutely nothing to hide the pain now seen in his eyes. "Are you going to get in trouble for what you said? What you taught me, I mean. That stuff about intellect, instinct, and perception?"

"Well," she began, "that depends on if you tell others. If you keep it to yourself, things will turn out fine. But if you go about with a wagging tongue, I might very well end up in detention."

For the first time, the colt smiled a real smile, one warm and sincere.

"Sacrifices must be made for the sake of unity," she explained, her voice airy and distant. "Sources of division must be rooted out. We rob ourselves of potential strength and collective weakness is the cost of our togetherness. The idea is that we can be strong individually, or weak together… and that somehow, being weak together is stronger than a single, exceptional individual with superiour traits."

Like a beggar hungry for bread, Overcast devoured Luna's truth.

"You are free to go," she said to him. "More than an hour has been spent. You have paid your debt to society."

"But I don't want to—"

"Begone! I have much to do and I have already tarried far too long."

"But—"

"You seem to be seeking companionship, which puts you in very real danger of self-contradiction. Earlier, you said quite plainly that you did not need friendship. It seems as though I must save you from yourself, before you become a liar and a hypocrite."

"Wait, what? No! I don't need a friend, I just need to—"

Expending no effort whatsoever, Luna vanished the colt and his bookbag to the school's cafeteria, where supper was soon to be served. It was just about that time of day. The sun would soon be setting. She was alone, with blessed silence to keep her company, and a tower full of stairs to defend her from unwanted intrusions. There were books, and poetry that she could summon. Later, when the sun finally went away, there would be stars. Her stars. If the silence held and she listened attentively, they would sing to her—but even the slightest sound would smother their sweet soul-sustaining song.

She flung open the panel overhead, threw open every window, and then just stood there enjoying the breeze. Unsettled as she was, she needed time to think. Time to clear her head. While the rage had subsided, the questions remained. What, exactly, was her dear sister up to? Was she being set up? Would Celestia really turn her into a target for scorn? Did little Miss Sunshine need a convenient darkness so that she might seem brighter by contrast?

Luna could not help but ask herself, why was she the Princess of Detention?

Author's Note:

Trigger warning now: there will be jokes about chartered accountancy later. Flee while you can!

Is everybody thawing out? Do you need something heartwarming? Well, this is not that type of story. Nothing heartwarming here.