• Published 23rd Feb 2021
  • 1,854 Views, 135 Comments

Lunatic Fringe - kudzuhaiku

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

  • ...

Top Notch

Today wasn't the worst.

But… today wasn't the best.

It was neither best-worst, when you have an awful day but something good happened anyway; nor was it worst-best, where you have a spectacular day marred by tragedy. In her life, Luna had experienced both extremes and so she could confidently assert that today was a day. Nothing more, and nothing less. Of course, she hadn't been awake for very long, which meant that there was a lot of day left—or night when it came to her peculiar circumstances—so there was a lot of time for things to go wrong.

And they probably would.

But, they could also go right.

She prowled the private corridors where few went, deep within the bowels of the castle. Yes, a castle had bowels, ships had poop decks, and the Princess of the Night was secretly amused when either of these things were mentioned. Of course, if she roamed through the bowels of the castle, what exactly, did that make her? Why, whatever passed through bowels, of course. Soft, sibilant, susurrant snickering could be heard echoing through the hallways, the sound of Luna's secret myrth.

At the moment, she was having herself a gas.

Barely awake, she had upended her sister's room on a lark. She had turned everything upside down. Topsy-turvy. A bed's proper place was on the floor, but now it was on the ceiling. Along with everything else. When Celestia went to bed, she would be surprised. So very surprised. Of course, Celestia had it coming; this was deserved. Once, when they were very young, so very young, Celestia had left a live owlbear in Luna's room. How Celestia had wrangled the owlbear into Luna's private chambers was still unknown—Luna had never found out no matter how hard she pried—but Luna had gone to bed one morning with the dawn and there it was. A snapping, snarling, beaky creature that was more than a little cranky.

Even worse, it had defecated on the rug.

'Twas a nice rug.

The sort of rug that really brought a room together.

Now, all of Celestia's fine rugs were on the ceiling.

Roaming about with a bounce in her trot, Luna considered taking her captives out on a nature trip. It might do them good. Fleeing from angry nature might improve their constitution—though Wednesday would no doubt find it exceedingly difficult to run. But with luck, they might find an owlbear. Which of course would have to be brought home so that it might be smuggled into Celestia's room. Before release, Luna would feed it a meal rich in fibre, because kindness was a virtue, as well as an Element of Harmony.

Almost on the verge of whistling, Luna's thoughts drifted out of her sister's bedroom and fetched delightful memories of last night's supper—which was her breakfast, or maybe lunch. These things were complicated and the sort of thing one had to deal with when one was the Night Princess. Time and events lost meaning and definition.

Eating in the school's cafeteria meant that she could be herself. No formal rigidity. There were mashed potatoes to be sculpted. Peas, corn, and carrots longed to be arranged into artful pictures with just three colours—one could make a portrait of Celestia if one tried one's utmost, but one dared not make jokes about Her Royal Peaness. Noodles had to be slurped. Food was meant to be enjoyed, but the formality of the Royal Dining Room prohibited that. If she played with her food there, a pony might faint and drown in their soup.

Sometimes, Luna dreamt that there was an ocean in her soup bowl, and that she would go snorkeling in her sea of soup. Snorkeling at the surface was safe; but down in the depths, there were things found in the Sea of Soup best left forgotten. Eldritch horrors that squurglety-blurglety-blarghed down in the brothy deep; they fondled and probed one anothers' orifices with noodly tentacles and spoke forbidden languages that no mortal ear could hear, lest one go mad. The very worst nightmare found down deep in the forgotten dark was Carrothulhu, an unimaginable horror of indescribable description.

He was also the creature most responsible for students failing their geometry tests.

As Luna rose, ascending through the open space in the stairwell, she calmed her thoughts and gathered her focus. There was no need to even flap her wings; she willed herself to move and did so. Eyes closed, her face serene, she decided that tonight she would pay a visit to Twilight Sparkle, in Ponyville. Luna was a mare in need of some advice, and Twilight Sparkle was a helpful, considerate sort who had advice to give.

Celestia saw something in Twilight, though Luna wasn't entirely certain what. Whatever it might be, Luna too saw something in Twilight. A possible rival, perhaps—though a friendly one. Rivalry was good—or could be—because it brought out the best in ponies. Competition was a wellspring for strength. Yes, Twilight would make for a fine rival, but also a great friend. She had already done so much, but Luna was a mare in need of more. Surely, Twilight would not mind the company.

Today would be an excellent day, Luna decided.

But tonight would be even better.

The day, it seemed, had other plans. Upon entering the room, Luna found herself in crisis. Overcast and Wednesday Waterkey had arrived early. The former was laying on the floor while the latter tried to kneel down beside him, but couldn't because of her restrictive braces. Luna barely had eyes on him for but a second and already she knew that this wasn't an act, some fanciful bit of drama. Something was wrong and her heart did what she'd been doing mere moments before during her graceful ascent up the stairwell when it lept up into her throat.

"What happened?" Luna demanded.

"He carried me up the stairs," was Wednesday Waterkey's frantic response.

Standing over the colt and looking down, Luna could see that he wasn't well. Not at all. His bloodshot eyes were unfocused, his breathing shallow, and a light touch revealed that his body had gone cold. Annoyed and worried, she took stock of the situation, and of herself as well, because she had clearly misjudged Overcast. He looked up at her as she gazed down at him and cringed when she touched him a second time.

"Your shoes… cold. Brr."

"He carried you up the stairs?" asked Luna.

"Me, my trumpet case, and his bookbag. All at once. Said he couldn't be bothered to make more than one trip."

Hearing this made Luna's lips press tight together. Reaching out with her mind, she began the search for what she needed, the remedies that would right this situation. Beneath her, Overcast groaned, and when he did so Wednesday grew increasingly frantic. To keep the panic at bay—and before it could spread to her—Luna decided to keep the conversation going as a distraction.

"Why would you do such a thing, Overcast?" asked Luna. "Do you not know your limits?"

"I didn't want her to suffer," was the colt's weak, almost wheezed response.

"But what about you?" With parts of her mind still elsewhere, Luna lifted the colt from the stone floor so it could not leech away more of his precious body heat.

"Oh, I wanted to suffer. I like to suffer. Makes me miserable."

A cushion appeared first; it may or may not have been stolen from a couch. Large, square, somewhat sagging in the middle, and upholstered in a vivid lime green paisley, it might very well have been spirited away from an evidence locker containing items used in a crime against good taste. She put this down on the floor, set Overcast upon it, and he promptly collapsed into a limp heap.

Next, a blanket appeared. This was taken from the bedding closet in the barracks. Thick, grey-green, a little scratchy, and warm in any condition. Luna was quick to mummify the colt in the blanket, while she also propped him up in a sitting position. It would be easier for him to breathe this way, but for him to remain like this she would have to hold his head up.

Then, several cartons of chocolate milk appeared from the school cafeteria. The white waxed cardboard cartons had brown and orange markings, and proclaimed they came from Celestiashire Farms, a magical place where sunshine was converted into rich, creamy, wholesome milk. A straw winked into existence next and scowling her best scowl, Luna concentrated while trying to open the newfangled contraption that she did not particularly like.

"I kept all the suffering for myself," the colt murmured. "Not one for sharing and caring."

"He's not well," Wednesday said, stating the obvious in such a way that only a worried filly could.

"Were you trying to give yourself brain damage?" asked Luna.

"Maybe," replied Overcast, whose eyes crossed so that he might stare down his nose at the straw protruding from the carton. "My milk is tribalist."

Rapidly nearing a point of frustration from whence there was no return, Luna snapped at the colt in a rather angry tone, "How is a carton of milk tribalist?"

Head wobbling on his weak neck, the colt's bloodshot eyes crossed, uncrossed, crossed again, and he somehow gave his head a sad shake. "You don't see the evidence of tribalism right in front of you. That makes me sad. I like being sad. But not like this. As far as sadnesses go, this one is pretty difficult to enjoy, but I'll try my best."

"Overcast, would you please just—"

"Why do ponies drink cow milk, but drinking pony milk is a no-no?"

On the verge of explosive frustration, her patience stretched beyond its breaking point, Luna had no choice but to restrain herself from giving the colt a hard shake. Wednesday now stood beside the cushion, her face pinched with worry, and it appeared as though she might start crying at any moment. Luna too, felt like crying, or venting her temper. The day had started out so well but now her mood churned like a horrible batch of rage-butter.

"There's no way a pegasus or an earth pony could ever open that carton," he finally said as his unfocused eyes struggled to keep Luna in view. "Why do unicorns get all the nice things? It makes me feel ashamed, and not in a way I like."

Luna could not help herself, and she asked, "You like feeling ashamed?"

"Don't you?" Overcast replied.

It was a struggle to hold the milk carton now. Overcast had her dead to rights. With two words, he'd completely eviscerated her, and Luna could not recall ever feeling whatever it was she felt right now. This was new and it was awful. No, it was worse than awful. The milk carton trembled, betraying her and revealing her internal struggle. A part of her wanted to toss Overcast out the window once more—a perfectly reasonable and rational response, given the colt's propensity to incite equicidal fury. But there was another part of her—some new part that had just sprang into existence mere seconds ago—that wanted to give him a hug.

It occurred to Luna that the colt was especially sensitive—perhaps too much so—and that the revelation of just how cruel the world was had wounded him in some way that she herself could not comprehend. Now he was stuck coping with it by whatever means necessary. Which in this case meant shutting others out and choosing his own pain, picking out and selecting whatever agonies he wished to subject himself to on any given day like pulling a cloak out of a wardrobe.

"Wednesday, would you please be a dear and hold his milk for him?" asked Luna. "Also, be mindful of his head. He's been left weakened by extreme overexertion. While it is only fatigue, he is thoroughly depleted. Assist him as necessary."

"Yes, of course, Princess Luna."

"You have it worse than I do," Overcast said to Luna. "So much worse, Dreamwalker. Me? I'll die and all of this will be over. I get to escape. You're stuck living with it. Forever. I was kind of hoping that this would kill me. But it didn't. And now I get to live with even more disappointment. That's life, I suppose."

"Overcast"—his name left a bitter taste on Luna's lips—"silence yourself and drink your milk."

Petty resentment soured Luna's mood into something far worse, a stinky cheese of malodorous melancholy. Overcast deserved life; he deserved to live as a punishment. Sulky and petulant, Luna had no choice but to pull herself together, because her sense of duty demanded it. As much as she wanted to go elsewhere so that she might have a good pout, circumstance would not allow it.

"Were you really wanting to die?" Wednesday asked of her classmate.

"Do you really want to live in a world with tribalist milk cartons?" he responded.

"Yes," she said to him, "if it meant that I could maybe right a wrong or make things better."

"You don't mean that." After a deep breath, Overcast groaned, then looked away. "You're just as selfish and self-absorbed as everypony else. Oblivious to the suffering all around you. The misery. All we do is hurt each other. Again and again. I've heard how you talk. I've heard what you've had to say and I—"

"If I would have known that somepony was listening, I wouldn't've said those things."

"And that's my point, Wednesday. You're not sorry. Not at all. Not even in the slightest. You're only sorry that you got caught."

"Alright you sad little weirdo… if I'm such an awful pony, why did you carry me up the stairs?"

"Because," Overcast said, and a sardonic smile yanked and pulled at his lips, "I wanted all the suffering for myself. Now, I'm miserable and achy and hurting and my brain is threatening to drip out of my nose, and I have an excuse to spend the whole evening in my room. And maybe all of tomorrow. My solitude will be glorious."

"I can change!" Wednesday shouted.

"No, you can't. Oh, you think you can. But you—"

"You're about to have a side of hoof sandwich with your chocolate milk, buster! Now drink! You don't get to tell me what I can and cannot change! Drink!"

Much to Luna's surprise and relief, Overcast drank. He would recover soon enough, once he had some nourishing liquid in him. She considered giving him a banana candy or two. They were right there in the drawer, waiting for somepony to eat them. Alas, poor Wednesday's mood was thoroughly ruined as well, and she scowled at the colt with bared, clenched teeth. None of Overcast's classmates had cared enough to help him, so this was probably new to him. As for Wednesday, she'd no doubt learned that her actions, even those done in private or secret, had consequences. She struck Luna as being the sort of mindful filly that really would take this lesson to heart.

Just as she was about to say something to praise Wednesday, Luna heard the sounds of hooves upon the stairs just outside.

The colt that came through the door appeared lost, as if he had no idea what he was doing here, or why. He entered with great hesitation, paused while in the doorway, and had himself a look around. Everything about him screamed exceptional refinement and excessive dullness. Not stupidity, but an aura of uninterestingness so tangible that it made one drowsy to look upon him. He was obviously a foal of old money, pampered and spoiled beyond the point of no return.

When he had seen all there was to see, he chose to stare a-gawp at Overcast, but at some point he realised that he was being rude. Luna could see the very second it happened, because the pompous little foal shuddered, blinked, and turned away. Casting a distasteful expression at his very surroundings, he strode through the door and only stopped when he was a respectful distance away from Luna.

"Why, hallo, Princess. Fancy meeting you here. Not sure what I'm doing here. Tried to be reasonable."

The colt was dull grey with blue hints, or perhaps dull blue with grey highlights. It was impossible to tell. What colouration he did have that was only mildly off-putting was his mane and tail, which were the colour of sun-bleached bricks, a sort of reddish-brown colour that absolutely refused to commit to either red or brown, but failed to find any sort of satisfying middle ground. He was like a disinteresting wall that cried out for a bit of graffiti or maybe a few playbills—or perhaps an extensive remodeling.

One day, this colt would grow up and be entrusted with the machinery of society, which would be well-oiled, maintained, cared for lovingly, and would never change. The long trip up the stairs had not left him breathless—not even a little—and Luna suspected that the colt was subjected to a regimen of tennis, or perhaps something a lot less exciting, like badminton, where the most thrilling thing that happened was the whistling through one's teeth when shouting, "Gosh, yes!"

"Do you have a name?" asked Luna, who fought the sudden urge to return to bed.

"I am Top Notch, firstborn of Silver Platter and Tally Ho, inheritor of—"

"This is detention," Luna deadpanned. "Not genealogy. Why are you here?"

"Well, I don't know. I mean, I know, but I'm not sure what happened. Been something of a troubling day." The colt sniffed once, and that became a persistent sniffle. Liquid sadness welled up in his eyes and his bottom jaw quivered. "Never been in trouble before. This is all very new to me."

"Top Notch—"

"Call me Topper," he said with artificial cheeriness, which was not the same as cheerfulness, in much the same way that sweetness was not sugar.

"Topper, go and sit down. Wait for detention to begin. Also, you should probably be prepared to talk." Extending her wing, Luna gestured at a nearby bench. "Welcome to detention, Topper."

Little Nurse Wednesday Waterkey scowled at her patient and had an atrocious bedside manner, which Luna approved of. When it came to Overcast, Luna had no doubt whatsoever that the wretched, woebegone little colt was thoroughly enjoying himself and was delighted with his current state of dolorous anguish. Perhaps too much so. As for Top Notch, he vacillated between putting on a brave face and almost bursting into tears. Tonight, when she visited Twilight Sparkle in Ponyville, there would be much to discuss. Perhaps too much for just one night.

But, if one peered through a critical eye, there was progress. Little Nurse Wednesday Waterkey was no longer the Invisible Filly as she believed herself to be. She was quite visible to Overcast, and her ferocious frown broadcasted her current state of emotion. Overcast had demonstrable proof that he was not quite as alone and isolated as he thought, and that at least one of his fellow classmates had some sense of care about him, even if that attention came at the cost of bared teeth. The miserable little git deserved all of it and more.

As for his quip about passive suicide, Luna was going to sort him out later.

How, exactly, depended largely upon whatever advice Twilight had to offer.

As Luna considered Top Notch, she began to wonder just how many wounds had festered here in this place. Perhaps everypony had gone about this all wrong. It might be said that the very concept of detention itself was flawed—and served only to exacerbate problems in the worst way. With a cool, almost-but-not-quite collected stare, she pondered that the very tower itself was part of the problem, inaccessible as it was.

The nurse's office was centrally located and easily accessible. Of course, the nurse's office dealt with injuries, aches, pains, tummy troubles, headaches, and other sundry garden variety ailments. So what made detention any different? Luna saw before her injured students; not in the body, as one might expect, but in the mind, which was far more difficult to see. Both Overcast and Wednesday had abandoned home to come and live at the school—but the school had failed them. Their injuries, such as they might be, had gone undiagnosed and untreated.

Luna decided that this was wholly unacceptable and that she would do something about it.

It wasn't so much that her sister Celestia had neglected the school, Luna considered, but that the caretakers that Celestia trusted with her passion project were neglectful in their duties. Which was unacceptable and left poor Luna irked in the worst possible way. Without a spare pair of eyes, Celestia's most beloved institution had suffered. Nopony could show as much love and care as Celestia—and Luna rather doubted that she was up for the task. She had her own problems. But, neither could she turn away. While she doubted that she could run the entire school, or to even perform as an administrator, she knew that she could save a few students from themselves.

It was something that she would discuss with Twilight tonight.

"So, Topper… what happened?" asked Wednesday.

This surprised Luna, who hadn't expected the No-Longer Invisible Filly to initiate the conversation. It seemed as though Top Notch hadn't expected it either, as he now squinted at Wednesday with a confused and rather bewildered expression. Students helping students? Was such a thing possible? Or perhaps the better question might be to ask, was it a good idea? Luna did not know; these were unfamiliar skies and treacherous waters. Overcast was certainly a danger to the process, whatever the process might be, but he also had potential.

"I always thought that detention was all about suffering in silence," Top Notch said to Wednesday. "Not that I've ever been to detention before. I've never even been in trouble before. This is all very confusing."

"I'm sure it is," Wednesday said as she relaxed a little and showed just a smidge of gentleness for her patient. "Was for me as well. Yesterday, I came to detention, and it wasn't what I expected. As for today, I came here on my own. I'm not even in trouble. I just… I just had nowhere else to go."

"You mean I carried you up the stairs for—"

"Yes, Overcast! Now shut up!"

"That makes me feel so much worse. Thank you."

"Will you stop being weird?" she asked of the colt bundled up in a blanket.


For Overcast to have hauled Wednesday up all those stairs… how? Luna considered this, her thoughts straying, and she wondered how he'd accomplished this feat. Wednesday was dainty enough, but even seemingly dainty fillies were surprisingly heavy. Plus, she had leg braces, there was her trumpet case, and Overcast's bookbag, which he dragged everywhere. There were a lot of stairs—an unmerciful number of stairs considering the tower had to be well-over one-hundred feet tall—and somehow a young colt had mustered up the magic to make this happen.

Of course, the same young colt had figured out a remote listening spell, on his own.

Something was amiss; how had such talent gone unnoticed?

Luna's mood suffered a violent shift towards hot rage. Too much rage, given the situation. She fought to calm herself, to keep control, and she very much wanted to vent her temper. But on what, or who? What good would it serve? Why was she even this angry? Was such passionate fury even warranted? Drawing in a deep breath, her now-parched throat turned scratchy. Seconds passed, each one succumbing to the unstoppable progression of time.

"Look, you might as well talk about it," Wednesday said to Top Notch. "Overcast probably knows all there is to know about you. Um, it's for the best if you don't ask too much about that. But trust me when I say that Overcast knows. So, he knows, and I'd rather like to help you, if I can, because he helped me and now I feel… um… indebted?"

Then, she added, "If we don't help each other, who will?"

"I've never been in trouble before."

"So, Topper," Wednesday began, "how did you get into trouble today?"

The stuffy colt squirmed on his bench, wriggled this-a-way and that-a-way, sliding from side to side, until at last he replied, "I asked Hidden Gem to the dance."

Wednesday's eyes narrowed in such a way that only happened when a contemptible classmate they couldn't stand was mentioned. Luna watched the interaction, knowing, waiting, and curious. As for Overcast, his bloodshot eyes were alive with pain—which was preferable to his typical dead-eyed stare. He had his lips puckered around a straw and slurped up some much-needed nourishment, what he needed to replenish himself after his endeavours.

"Hidden Gem is just perfect," Top Notch said whilst he began to study his hoof. "My father says she's a crown jewel. A suitable accomplishment. A fine catch. So, obeying his wise instruction, as I always do, I asked her to the dance, and that was how I got into trouble."

"Well, what happened, exactly?" asked Wednesday.

"I just told you," Top Notch replied.

"Um, what did she say? How did she respond?"

"Oh. Well. She refused me. Rather rudely, I might add. I protested."

Luna settled in for what was sure to be a long detention.

"She told you no and you got upset about it?" asked Wednesday.

"Well," Top Notch replied, "I didn't get upset until later. But I tried negotiating. I was very sociable, and did all the right things. She refused to listen. She refused to negotiate. What would happen to society if we all just refused to negotiate? I demanded that she listen to me and give me a chance. I wanted to show her what sort of pony I was, and how she would surely change her mind once I had a chance to present myself at my very best. But she just kept telling me no."

"Hidden Gem has a right to say no," Overcast mumbled as the straw slipped from his lips. A long ribbon of drool accompanied it, stretching until it broke and dribbled down onto the blanket wrapped around him.

"And I have a right to be heard," Top Notch replied. "Surely there is some means to reach reconciliation."

"Top Notch, I don't know how to break this to you, but Hidden Gem likes other fillies."

These words crashed over Top Notch like a wave over a rock—and absolutely nothing happened. Nothing at all. He just sat there, unmoving, scarcely blinking, as if he tried to think great thoughts—but could not. Luna determined that Top Notch wasn't terribly bright, but nor was he stupid. He just completely lacked social intelligence, and so she sympathised with him.

"I don't see what that has to do with anything," he said with agonising slowness. "If given a chance, I'm positive that she will grow to like me. Why does that even matter?"

"Is this guy for real?" Overcast whispered to Wednesday, his nurse.

Only Luna's alicorn ears could hear such softly-spoken words.

Wednesday seemed to choose her next words with great care, and she drew in a deep breath before she said them. "Topper, this isn't something that will change."

"Well, why not?" the slow colt asked. "Ponies change their mind all the time. It's just a matter of making a choice."

"She'll never choose to like you," Wednesday said with great patience.

"Well, why not?" Repeating his own words, Top Notch became frustrated. "I presented myself well. I made a good case for myself. I have the right family and the right bloodlines and as far as I am aware, I have no glaring defects."

Much to Luna's surprise, Wednesday tried a different approach.

"Topper… has anypony ever told you no?"

"Well, no. Never. At home, I am given a chance to make reasonable requests and present my reasons as to why my request is valid. Sometimes, I am made to debate with my parents and I am forced to work exceptionally hard to present my case. We have logical and rational discussions about my needs versus my wants. As for the staff and the help, they've always said yes to my requests, as befits them."

Overcast had his eyes closed at the moment, and was thankfully silent. As for Wednesday—the current focus of Luna's attention—the filly seemed lost in thought. Which was good, because it meant that she was thinking about what she had to say. Would she rise to the challenge? Could she help Top Notch, who really was clueless and in need of some friendly assistance? Or was Luna in the wrong, and this was a case of the inmates running the asylum?

"Topper… why is taking Hidden Gem to the dance so important to you? Surely, there are other fillies. Why not ask them? Why not just accept what you've been told and move on?"

"Because," he replied, somewhat hesitant, "my father asked me to take her. I do not wish to disappoint him. He was very direct about it and presented an excellent case. Flawless logic, at least as far as I am aware. I couldn't find the basis for an argument."

"Have you ever told your father no?" asked Wednesday.

This caught Top Notch off guard, and the colt's face contorted into a wizened mess of wrinkles, which made him look prematurely aged. His mouth opened, but when no words came, he closed it, no doubt for the sake of decorum. After his mouth shut, his ears pivoted, which caused the wrinkles on his face to wiggle. What was at first glance a simple question had left the young colt in quite a state of awkward distress, and Luna's heart swelled within her breast.

"You've never told your father no." Wednesday inhaled, her braces creaked as she tried to find a comfortable position to sit, and then she shook her head. "You've lived in a house where nopony tells anypony no."

In response, Top Notch huffed, his cheeks swelled, then he puffed, and then, after all of that, he moaned slightly while rubbing his stomach. Averting his eyes, he finally responded, "Well, it's rather rude, the whole business of saying no. Unreasonable, really. If you do not ask frivolous questions or have ridiculous requests, you will not get told no. My father made a reasonable request. What was I to do? Now I've failed him. How do I go home and face him?"

"It's the other way around," Overcast said, opening his eyes slowly and then blinking rapidly. "Your father failed you. As fathers do. I think that you'll find that everypony fails everypony at some—"

"Overcast, so help me, you're about to eat a hoof sandwich!"

"I'm not wrong," he said to her, shying away. Then, quite without warning, he snatched the chocolate milk carton out of her magic and held it between his front hooves. "Stupid horn refuses to work. Entropy, I guess. The inevitable happens. I'm already decaying. It will all be over soon now that I've hastened my own end."

Somehow, Wednesday Waterkey performed what could only be described as a legendary eyeroll. Little ponies could go the entirety of their lives never seeing one of these rare occurrences, these once-in-a-lifetime events. They were spectacular, curiously beautiful, and truly a spectacle to behold. Luna had seen three of them thus far, and witnessing the forth filled her with a profound sense of wonder. It was a reminder that there were still fantabulous things to be treasured in the world, but one had to be patient and wait to witness them.

"Ow!" Wednesday hollered as she attempted to raise a front hoof to press against her eye. But she failed because the hinges in her brace would not allow her leg to bend in such a way. "I think I pulled something!"

"Enjoy it while it lasts," Overcast said to her with sincere warmth and enthusiasm.

Of course, this did not endear him to her and she shot him a dark look to warn him that he was on dangerously thin ice. Luna found herself somewhat charmed by the incorrigible misfit, which meant that she was most certainly one of the patients in the asylum. As for Top Notch, he wore a befuddled but somewhat amused expression, like a tourist who saw a quaint window display filled with regional cheeses that had unpronounceable names.

"Now my head hurts," Wednesday whined.

"If I had a head like that," Overcast said whilst clutching his carton of milk between his clumsy hooves, "it would hurt too."

Miffed, but lacking a suitable comeback, Wednesday ignored Overcast and returned her attention to Top Notch. "So what happened after you were turned down?"

"I became upset, that's what happened." A thick frown appeared on Top Notch's face. "Some of my classmates mocked me. Then I was mad and I don't recall ever being angry before. Upset, certainly. But hot-blooded anger? Never. Had myself a bit of a meltdown. Made a fool of myself, I suppose. But that wasn't the worst of it."

"You mean it gets better?" Overcast asked.

"There's something wrong with him," Top Notch said to Wednesday.

"Oh, I know. There's a lot wrong with him. But what about you? What happened?"

"It's hard to remember, actually… I, well, I was… no, there was…" Top Notch forced himself to stop, shook his head, took a deep breath, and then he tried again. "Was really peculiar, now that my head has cleared. Miss Prickly Pear pulled me aside. She pulled me into the broom closet, actually. The smell of soap made me want to sneeze. As I was having my meltdown, she was there with me… and she said something, I can't remember what. It was strange. Really strange. I was crying so hard that I saw lights flashing in front of my eyes.

"Everything I kept inside just flowed right out, and then I felt curiously drained somehow. Just… empty. Like… it was almost like life had lost all meaning and there was no point in going on. I went off to lunch and then I felt better. But I still feel off, even now. I suppose that's the aftereffects of an emotional blowout. But… well, a part of me wants to be angry about all of this, on account of just how unfair it all is, but I still feel so, well, drained and empty. Like I lack the energy to be emotional."

Overcast, wrapped in his oversized blanket, looked rather like a hooded mystic. "Miss Prickly Pear is one of Princess Cadance's wedding planners. She keeps telling Princess Cadance the time is now, and she's hungry, and they should have the feast. But Princess Cadance keeps telling her to wait for the wedding."

Then, in a much lower voice he added, "I don't trust Miss Prickly Pear. The things she says…"

"I've learned my lesson, I think. Won't make the same mistake twice." Top Notch licked his lips, blinked once, and then rubbed both of his forelegs against his well-fed barrel. "What do I tell my dad? How do I sort this out?"

"Well, to start," Overcast said in a weak voice, "you tell him that ponies aren't prizes to be won. Ponies aren't furniture, or accessories to match your home decor and lifestyle. You don't pick them out because they're a good fit. Ponies are not rugs that you walk on."

"I made that mistake." Wednesday bowed her head in shame. "I picked the sort of friends that were good for my future. Bad mistake. Awful." Her braces creaked as her body shifted, and she leaned closer to Overcast. "You know, if you keep that up, I could end up as your friend. I might even hug you to make you feel better."

In response, Overcast's eyes narrowed, and the skin of his nose wrinkled in disgust. "You wouldn't dare."

"Try me," she said with a mischievous smirk. But her smirk turned upside-down and she retreated back away from Overcast with fearful eyes. "If you had died carrying me up the stairs, what would have happened to me?"

"None of my concern." The moody colt shrugged. "I'd've been dead. Why would it matter?"

"I could have plummeted to my death!"

"And so few seconds to enjoy it—"

"You creep!" She bared her teeth at him once more. "You just wait, you'll get yours."

"Probably." He nodded. "I am very deserving."

"You know…" A shift of mood caused Wednesday to lean in close to Overcast once more. "It feels good to talk again. To care. I got lonely. When you offered to help me up the stairs today… it made me… well, it made me feel something. Something came back to me, like birds returning in the spring. Thank you, Overcast."

"Don't make this weird," the colt whispered.

"I think it's too late for that," Wednesday replied. "Today has taught me that I want to help other ponies. That's why I came to detention. As much as I like tooting my own horn"—she smiled, pleased with her own joke—"I think it helps me to help others."

Clearing his throat, Top Notch had this to say: "I got sent to detention because I behaved like an uncivilised boor. A vulgarian. But… I'm glad I came. You've given me a lot to think about, and for that, I am thankful. Really! Honestly. Sincerely! It's been strange, but my mother says I should expose myself to new and unfamiliar things so that I'll appreciate just how good I have it."

Both students turned to look at Overcast, but it was Wednesday who asked, "And what did you do today?"

"What didn't I do?" Overcast replied with an air of criminal vagueness.

"For what crime against equinity were you caught?" asked Luna, who cursed her own sudden interest.

Overcast grinned. It was not a wholesome grin. In fact, it wasn't much of a grin at all. More like a wolf's grin, just before it licked its chops and had a delightful meal of pony. It was a malfeasant facial contortion that revealed far too much of Overcast's inner nature. It was the same grin that Luna had flashed a thousand times, and would flash a thousand more. In fact, it was the selfsame smirk that she had worn walking out of her sister's room after rearranging all of the furniture.

For the very first time in all of her long and storied existence, Luna found herself afraid of a foal.

Wearing a stern, almost matronly expression, Wednesday asked, "What did you do?"

Life returned to Overcast's eyes. They were vivid now, with scary chilling warmth. His smirk became a scalene triangle, which revealed a somewhat crooked tooth that had twisted sideways. Wrapped in the blanket, which rather looked like a hooded cowl, he made for an excellent villain, albeit a very tiny and frail one. But the reveal, like so many other aspects of him, was all for show, as evidenced by how his expression turned deadpan and neutral once more.

"I teleported a frog into the teacher's lounge watercooler and I—"

"And it didn't die?" Wednesday interrupted, evidently unable to stop herself from her sudden outburst.

"Not this one." Eyes distant for a second, Overcast shook his head. "It's tricky to move matter through the glass. I kept failing, and not knowing why." He turned to look right at Luna, his eyes filled with adoration and worshipful zeal. "Princess Luna taught me how to focus. I felt my way through the glass and kept everything intact."

"Oh bother," Luna gasped, and she was certain that there'd be consequences for her actions.

Dreadful consequences.

"The eyes lie," he continued. "Especially in water. It's like how light bends in a pool. If you use your eyes, the frog will die. I relied upon my perception." He winked.

Luna shuddered.

"I had to feel my way around and touch the place where I wanted the frog to go. And the frog arrived dead center in the water bottle. And not half-in and half-out like so many other attempts."

"Oh, that's gruesome," Top Notch remarked.

"Yeah, I grew some today," Overcast said, flashing his scalene triangle smirk once more. "Carried a rather heavy filly up the stairs. Her back-half weighed a ton and—"

Wednesday's interjection came out as a low feral growl. "You say one more word and you will die. I will kill you with kindness."

Before Overcast could respond, Princess Luna interrupted, saying, "I think we're done here. But we're not done. I propose that we leave early, and go have supper together. Fellowship is what we need, and the school cafeteria is a far more conducive environment for making friends. The sharing of bread makes for propitious circumstances so that bonds might develop."

She drew in a deep breath before she continued, "Things need to change. For all of us. For the school. I am going to seek out some advice and then I will need to make some difficult decisions." With kindness on her face, she drew in Wednesday's attention. "I will have a guard posted at the entrance to the tower. He will help you with the stairs, because let us face it, you will return. It is as you said, you had nowhere else to go. I would like your help as a volunteer. Surely, there will be others who come in need of help."

"What about Overcast?" asked Wednesday.

"I doubt we could keep him away," replied Luna. "But he will need to clean up his act."

"I don't need to clean up my act… you need to clean up society. For me to exist, there has to be the right conditions to create me, when those conditions disappear, so will I."

The biting criticism stung and had a ring of truth, even if it were a grandiose statement with an impossible directive. Luna felt the need for reform—at least here in the school—was obvious. She bowed her head, nodded, and then felt a great deal of concern when she saw the stark sadness on Overcast's face. He took no joy in his admonishment, no pleasure. When he hung his head, Luna felt like doing the same.

Sighing, she felt her stomach threatening to growl.

"Come," she said to her detainees. "Let us go and have a pleasant conversation over supper. I want you to tell me what you think needs to change here in the school. If you can do that in a constructive, sincere way, I would truly appreciate it. Top Notch, do you think that you could carry Overcast's book bag and Wednesday's trumpet case? I have two foals that I must carry down the stairs. Your kindness would be appreciated."

"Glad to be of service, Princess Luna!"

Author's Note:

With each chapter, the dynamic changes a bit. With the first, we just have Overcast and Luna. Then others come along.

The next chapter involves a late night visit to a unicorn named Twilight Sparkle and a baby dragon named Spike.

Thank you, as always, constant readers.