• 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.

  • ...

Twilight Sparkle & Spike

Luna was stricken with a powerful melancholy as she drifted down from Canterlot. It struck from out of the blue, which is to say it came out from something blue, and she was very blue indeed. When things came from out of the blue, she always felt responsible, which made Luna a very responsible pony. If something went wrong, she was somehow responsible. This profound sadness seemed to add weight to her body, or maybe it conspired with gravity to thwart her somehow.

The same forces conspired against her sister when she stepped on the scales.

Luna plummeted like a leaden snowflake towards the faint lights of Ponyville below. It was dark now, well into the evening, and the sun had long since gone to bed. The weight became a living thing, something that crawled through her guts and the tug she felt inside of her felt as though this wretched mass threatened to tear its way free from her stomach. It was almost unbearable, but she would endure. Unless of course, she failed to do so, and then who knew what might happen.

When she had left the company of her detainees, Overcast had convinced Wednesday to play him a sad song on her trumpet. And what a sad song it was. Beautiful, haunting, a soulful wailing sound that stirred one's humours. It took very little convincing on Overcast's part to get Wednesday to turn the school's cafeteria into a concert hall. No doubt, it had caused the black bile to flow, which was most certainly responsible for Luna's sudden shift in mood. If a bit of sorrow was the cost of such pulchritudinous music, it was worth it.

Luna would endure so that she might hear such sweet sounds yet again.

Once, a very long time ago, an exceptionally long time ago, though for Luna it felt as though it was just a few years ago—a feeling that greatly worsened her mood—something had come out of the blue during a rather important formal feast. What had come out of the blue was unmentionable, and the aftermath involved a rapid evacuation of the feast hall, with all of the guests going to the mead hall so that they might recover from the latest out of the blue incident with plenty of strong drink.

The whole affair was so sordid, so scurrilous and scandalous, that it was immortalised in a play called Yon Ill Wind, which caused the playhouse to be sold out for an entire moon. Of course, the real shame was that the play was wholly forgotten, because Luna herself had passed into myth during her long absence. An entire cultural milestone dispersed on the winds of change—which thankfully had nothing to do with Luna and she was in no way responsible.

Ponyville awaited.

The Ponyville Library was dark, save for but a few lights in the living quarters. It was also locked, not that it mattered. A lock hadn't been invented that could keep Luna out—not even the really fancy ones that her sister had commissioned to protect her diaries and her journals and her treasure chest full of war trophies and knick-knack-bric-a-brac. These locks were mundane and would only keep the double door secured against the most common of intruders.

As Luna stood there, peering at the locks in the moonlight, she knew that Overcast would be able to open them with very little effort, if any was even required at all. This troubled her somewhat, but it also made her feel good. Though, feeling good about it made her feel guilty—but said guilt was somewhat pleasurable, like eating a pilfered cookie or delighting in ill-gotten gains.

Something had to be done with Overcast—but what exactly was unknown. Luna knew how this path ended, because she had walked it herself. Isolation. Delighting in the misery of others. A general lack of conscience. Why, he'd even cut himself off from his parents, who surely loved him a great deal and probably had no idea why their son hated them. It pained Luna, but she knew the final outcome would be villainy if something wasn't done. Such dark potential had to be dealt with before the worst possible outcome happened.

Turning her body into vaporous shadow, Luna poured herself through the keyhole.

Somepony was singing. More specifically, Twilight Sparkle was singing. To be exact, Twilight Sparkle was singing and she did so in the shower. So, she was a shower-singer, just like Celestia. How very droll. Only the most annoying of optimists sang in the shower, in Luna's experience. Of course, it could also be that Twilight sang while soaking in the tub, that was also an option. To know the truth, one would have to intrude—which was exactly what Luna decided to do.

She drifted, spilling from tenebrous shadow to shadow, formless and without body. But not without perception. She could still see, still hear, she could touch and experience sensation. While she understood how this worked, it would be impossible to explain to a common little pony without driving them barking mad. Little ponies liked to see out of two eyes, in a wholesome, regular, mundane manner. Being able to see around them in a three-hundred and sixty degree field of view in all conceivable directions overloaded their little pony brains, gave them headaches, and left them a drooling mess.

One day, she might very well grant Overcast The Sight, because the little stinker had it coming.

So, Twilight Sparkle wasted a perfectly opportune time for meditation and self-reflection with shower singing. Little ponies randomly burst out into song, on occasion. Of course, big ponies did too, much to Luna's dour consternation. It was like some kind of curse. Life might already be perfectly dreadful, boring, and tedious, when all of a sudden the urge to start singing would strike like lightning. It was an especially perfidious magic, one that inflected possession upon the body and made one flail about whilst caterwauling and inciting a state of bedlam.

Worst of all, during Luna's entire one-thousand year absence, no cure had been found.

Twilight Sparkle sang a nauseating tune about casting one's troubles into bubbles and then popping them one by one, which somehow absolved one of all their tribulations. It was the worst sort of rubbish, saccharine, sickly-sweet, and an outright falsehood. One simply did not cast one's troubles into bathtime bubbles and—oh no! Luna felt it gnawing at her consciousness! The dreadful urge to join in and sing!

Left with no other choice, she had to ruin the moment; she had to ruin Tubtime Troubadour Twilight Sparkle's song and dance number before Luna herself could be infected with this malignant magical malady. Luna had no desire whatsoever to pour her heart out in a heartfelt duet with her sister's prized and much-beloved apprentice. Already, the urge was terrifyingly strong, and gaining strength with each passing second.

Teeth bared in a wolfish smile, Luna materialised like a grim spectre right beside the tub, an ill-omen, a dire sign of worse fates yet to come. When she was mostly solid, she said, "We bid thee a good even, Twilight Sparkle."

Naturally, Twilight Sparkle responded in much the same way any little pony taking a bath might respond when the embodiment of nighttime terrors manifested right next to the bath in which they sat and smiled at them. She screamed. Her silly song became a shriek of terror, reaching a pitch that would surely disrupt the biological directives and reproductive urges of the local bat populations. Eyes wide, uvula wagging from side to side, Twilight Sparkle produced a truly impressive volume, one worthy of praise.

The soap—her soap—levitated aloft in a magenta dweomer fell prey to gravity when her magic failed. There was a satisfying "THADONK!" sound when the soap struck the sidewall of the wrought iron clawfooted tub; it then bounced, rising up in a resplendent arc, and then much to Luna's amusement, the soap went into Twilight Sparkle's wide-open wailing maw, where it was promptly swallowed in an accidental manner to prevent an unhealthy bout of airway restriction.

It was no different than swallowing a horse pill, and at least the soap was slippery.

Having witnessed an entirely logical but extremely chaotic series of random events, Luna beamed. Her earlier melancholy took wing and her recalcitrant humours did an on the spot correction. At least Twilight was no longer screaming. The poor young mare wagged and waggled and waved her tongue about while her eyes crossed and uncrossed, as one did when one swallowed a bar of soap. Luna took in every detail, every sound, every bit of sensory input and committed them to memory, because Twilight Sparkle would relive this moment in dreams for decades to come.

Her hind legs kicked against the tub as she thrashed about, shuddering, and the waves Twilight created splashed over the sides of the tub, soaking Luna. Tub thumping, the unicorn flailed about, no doubt suffering some distress from the taste left on her tongue. Luna might have sympathised, but she was far too amused at the moment. Enough amusement for two, if one took the Royal We into consideration.

"Blargh!" Twilight blarghed, no doubt blarghing blarghily to clear her soapy throat.

"Blargh?" Luna's mimicry was a perfect match.

"Blargh!" Twilight blarghed again. "My thungue! My thungue thasthes badth!"

"Yes, one might imagine that your tongue does taste like bath. Though with that grammar, it seems as though your tongue was in need of a good scrubbing."

"No, badth! Badth! My thungue thasthes therribthle!" More water and suds were flung willy-nilly when Twilight began to wave her forelegs around. "Geth outh!"

"We are going to fix some tea, Twilight Sparkle, and We would be delighted if you would join Us. We shall be in your kitchen, making Ourselves at home. Please, join Us at your earliest convenience."

"Geth outh! Geth outh!"

Chuckling to herself, Luna retreated and left the soap-swallower to recover on her own.

The kitchen was a tiny space, barely more than a nook. Luna liked kitchens; she liked being domestic. There was something wholesome and good about the mindless work found within a kitchen. Being who and what she was, she didn't get much of a chance to put her domestic skills to use, but relished the rare opportunities when the moon and stars aligned in such a way that fortuitous circumstance allowed her to do what she was about to do right now.

Absolutely no soot marred the perfectly clean wood-burning stove and Luna knew right away that Twilight used magic for heat. She found a tea kettle, but when she opened the cupboard door, she found books. Not what she expected. Peering in, Luna examined the books in the cupboard, and discovered that they were all kitchen related; cook books, food culture, a twenty-seven volume anthology about the history of kitchens—which also included a visual guide—and quite the collection of teatime romance novels, in which ponies had romantic encounters whilst consuming hot cuppas. These were the most wholesome, most innocent of romance novels; the ponies within did nothing more than cast longing glances at one another, batting one's eyelashes, or leaning in close with the table as a chaperpone between them.

The only steamy happenings in these novels were the freshly poured cups of tea.

When Luna opened the next cupboard over, she felt a hot stab of frustration right in whatever organ housed her reserves of patience. More books. Not food, as one might reasonably expect, but books about food. Guides to edible mushrooms, encyclopedias of nutritious roots, several sizable guides about how to eat bugs and grow to appreciate them, and one very helpful novel about how to stock one's pantry—which Twilight had obviously neglected to read.

As for the third cupboard… Luna slammed it shut before she could discover which books had been stashed in there. Surely Twilight had plates, dishes, cups, glasses, saucers, and the like. But where? Stepping out of the cramped kitchen, Luna had a good look around, but found nothing obvious. She turned about, trying to make sense of things, and that was when she noticed the narrow door. A broom closet, no doubt. Or some kind of closet.

When she opened the door, she found several telescopes—but nothing else.

Reaching out with her wing, she began to rub her temple in a familiar way. This is what happened when irresponsible school administrators allowed Home-Ec to become an elective class for the gifted students, who, in all of their powerful brilliance, could not be bothered to learn how to keep a home. Would Luna have to take it upon herself to teach Home-Ec? That seemed likely.

Stepping back into the kitchen, she had another look around, but remained baffled.

She was Luna; Princess of the Night. The Night Princess. Lady of Darkness. Destroyer of Grogar. She had rained down fire and brimstone upon cities for offenses far less than this current source of upset. So dangerous and frightening was she that not even Tartarus could contain her, and so she'd been bound to the moon, lest she rule Tartarus as its Queen within the hour of her arrival. Yet for all of her supposed power, Luna found herself stymied by Twilight's kitchen.

"In the modern parlance," she muttered to herself, "what the actual fu—" But before the word could be finished, she noticed a small, somewhat fearful looking and incredibly sleepy baby dragon. She considered him briefly, watched as he wiped the corner of one eye with his claws, and the faint scent of woodsmoke permeated the kitchen.

"I heard a bump in the night," he said.

"I am the one who goes bump in the night," she replied. "None may dare bump in my domain, lest they be bumped themselves."

"Kinda rude." His claws flexed, his tail bobbed, and the tiny wyrmspawn peered up at her with curious draconic eyes. "How's a baby dragon supposed to get any sleep?"

"Spike"—her words turned soft and sweet—"where does Twilight keep the plates and dishes? The teacups? The tea?"

Claws out, as if reaching, Spike waddled into the cramped kitchen, went to a low cupboard door, and pulled it open. "Everything is kept where I can reach it. She insists. Twilight doesn't want me to fall down off the counter and hurt myself."

"I see," Luna said, and the logic of it all made her brain ache.

"Do you need me to heat up the teakettle?" he asked. "I've gotten really good at it. I have! I promise. I hardly ever hiccup and accidentally send the kettle off to Princess Celestia."

Well, that would explain the bumps, bruises, and random headaches, as well as the clean stove.

The dragon looked up at her expectantly, with faint excitement glimmering in his eyes. Celestia was no doubt asleep at this hour. If Spike sent a kettle by mistake, it could be rather amusing. Not that Luna would ever make Spike hiccup or cause an accident. But… if he did hiccup, this could be entertaining. With a regal sweep of her wing, and a bow of her noble head, she stepped aside—and bumped her royal backside into one rather chilly icebox.

"Ah!" Then, rapidly composing herself, she said to Spike, "Your assistance is necessary."

"I'm a really tough dragon," he said, still sleepy. "It's not like a fall off the counter would hurt me. I'm a big dragon!"

"Indeed, you are," Luna agreed as Spike went to work.

With Spike's assistance and Luna's magic, the late night meal and tea did not take long. It felt good to be domestic, but it felt even better to have company. Spike was surprisingly adept in the kitchen, and Luna, in all of her long life, had never met a dragon with culinary skills. Sometimes they scorched their prey before gobbling them, but not often. Contrary to popular belief, dragons in general did not like ketchup, and never bothered with condiments.

"Princess Luna?"

"Yes, Spike?"

"Do you think… do you think that Princess Celestia will be upset about the cast iron skillet?"

"Oh no, Spike," Luna replied without hesitation, because she worried about the baby dragon's well-being. "My sister is very understanding. The skillet will return by morning, of this I am certain."

"All that hot oil, and the corn fritters." Spike sighed and his tail slapped against the floor behind him. "I was looking forward to eating those."

"So was I, Spike. So was I." Then, as Luna dumped a few sugarcubes into her cup, she said to Spike, "Your caretaker is bound to be quite ill. Twilight is due for a terrible case of bubble guts."

"Bubble guts?" asked the baby dragon, who now scooted closer to Luna.

"Yes, Spike. The frothy trots."

"Frothy trots?" He looked up at her, eyes wide and brimming with curious concern.

"The green apple splatters."

"Did Applejack make her sick?" asked Spike, still wholesome and innocent.

"No, Spike, Applejack did not." She struggled to keep a straight face, and fought against the legion of sniffle-snorts jockeying to slip out. "But Twilight will be in need of a very brave dragon—"

"I'm brave!" he announced while pointing to himself with his claw-thumbs.

"—one willing to face mortal peril—"

"There's a list," Spike said to Luna, "of all the mortal peril we've faced, including you and Discord."

Unable to finish the sentence she had started, Luna had no choice but to say another. "No evil you have faced so far will prepare you for what reckoning surely comes your way. Be brave, Spike. Be steadfast. Summon up all of your courage and should you survive this, a feast of ice cream will be your reward."

"Alright." The baby dragon—clearly not knowing what he was in for—smiled up at Luna.

Luna had situated herself on a pile of cushions in the middle of the floor, with the tray full of food and tea nearby. She lay on her stomach, almost in the loaf position, but she had her forelegs out in front of her, bent in such a way that they formed a makeshift cradle. A baby dragon rested there, and his smokey snores threatened to make her sneeze. It was a small price to pay for being warm and Luna could not help but be somewhat envious of Twilight Sparkle's scaly companion.

He'd fought to keep his eyes open, he struggled to be good company, but his efforts were doomed from the start. Now he slumbered in sweet repose, and Luna was mindful to keep his dreams pleasant, simply because she could. Spike was an innocent; thus far during his short life, he'd committed no great transgression that marred his conscience, and because of that, Luna's darkness found no purchase within his mind. Still, some dreams could be somewhat scary, or uncomfortable, or just too intense, and she spared him these encounters.

At least for tonight.

She owed him that.

"That's my dragon."

The words were chilly. Direct. Bold. Sipping some tea in an unconcerned manner, Luna measured them, weighed them, and decided that yes, Twilight would make for an excellent friendly rival. Only the best things could come from this relationship. Luna rationed out the attention she gave Twilight—a bare glance, hardly even an acknowledgement—and she swallowed her tea.

"Your devoted helper has remarkable kitchen skills. Your ceaseless nurturing produces delightful dividends."

As expected, Twilight wavered between her protective possessiveness and her need to acknowledge this glowing praise. She crossed the room, still somewhat damp, and climbed atop a pile of cushions that Luna had laid out. What she didn't do was take Spike from his comfortable place, sprawled out in the cradle of Luna's forelegs.

The game was on; how it played out depended upon the players.

"Spike should be put to bed," said Twilight. "If we talk, as I suspect that we're about to do, we'll wake him."

It was so dull, having to explain things to those who just didn't get it, but Luna maintained her sense of decorum. "Not a word will be heard by these earfrills. Sound is a sensation that is easily redirected."

"Oh." Looking down, Twilight eyeballed the food warily; for some reason, it seemed as though she had no appetite. But she did begin preparing a cup of tea. "Princess Luna, before we discuss whatever you came here to talk about, I feel that there are a few things I must mention."

"Such as what?" asked Luna, who knew her role and played it well.

"Modern ponies like privacy," Twilight replied. "We have locks. Doors. Boundaries. We have social contracts that hold us to respecting them. Ponies get upset when a stranger appears in their bathroom."

"Are We a stranger?"

"Ponies get upset if a friend pops into the bathroom unexpectedly. I don't know how it was back in the old days, but now, we have social niceties. We knock. We wait for an invitation. We respect the privacy of others because we want our own privacy respected."

"Doest thou refer to thyself in the Royal We?"

Twilight panicked. Her eyes lit aglow with sudden concern and her response came out as a hurried stammer. "W-what? No. No. No, never. I speak in the collective sense, not in—"

"So thou speakest of mob rule. Anarchy. Rebellion."

"What? No!"

A pleasant prickle warmed Luna's heart, and she chose to withdraw just a bit. She wanted a rival, not an enemy, and it was just too easy to fluster poor Twilight. With a smile, Luna revealed her intentions, and Twilight huffed with nervous laughter. After a few gasps, Twilight's laughter became sincere, warm, and was a welcome sound. Celestia's apprentice was a goof, and for that, Luna was grateful.

"You had me going there," said Twilight as she dropped a half-dozen sugarcubes into her tea. Then, just as suddenly as it had appeared, her laughter vanished. "But seriously. You might scare a pony to death. That would be bad. You and Pinkie Pie both."

"Ponies forget that the Element of Laughter once belonged to me." It was a carefully calculated move to lay her soul bare. No pretenses. No obscuring speech. Not even a bit of duplicity. Just honesty. After all, friendly rivals had to stay friendly. Luna allowed her mask to slip away and she turned herself to face Twilight, unobscured. "Don't get me wrong, Twilight. I don't mind that she has it… I'm glad that she does. She deserves it. I just wish that ponies would remember that I was once like her. And that's my problem… ponies don't remember me at all."

"I'm sorry, Princess Luna. I really am."

"Thank you."

"But seriously though. Doors exist for a reason. Locked doors even more so." Squinting, Twilight poured entirely too much cream into her tea, and just before it overflowed, she slurped up the froth. After licking her lips clean, she said, "You must respect the homes of others."

"All of Equestria is my home. Am I not welcome in my own domicile?"

Twilight did not respond right away—no doubt because she had learned her lesson. Licking some cream from the rim of her teacup, her eyes narrowed as she attempted to probe Luna's intentions. Never once taking her eyes off of Luna, Twilight lifted up a cookie and then jammed the entire thing into her mouth. The cookie, Luna could not help but note, was roughly the same size as a bar of soap.

This—this had to be what Celestia saw in Twilight. Or maybe it wasn't. Whatever it was that Celestia saw in this unicorn just wasn't discussed. This was a canny creature, while also being innocent and rather naïve. Yet, she wasn't a total dupe. Twilight had sincerity, Luna decided, and an abundance of sincerity could be mistaken for naïveté. The earnestness was charming, at least in small portions. Luna knew she was far too jaded to endure this for too long. While this realisation made her sad, it also made her feel better, though she could not say why.

"Fine," Twilight said at last. "You will always be welcomed as my guest, even unannounced, but only on the condition that you respect the privacy of others. My door will always be open to you, but only if you hold to our agreement."

"You had to know that I spoke in jest, yet you made this offer anyway. Why?"

"Because"—Twilight raised her teacup in what was almost a salute—"you need a friend. You came to me for a reason. After making yourself at home, you made food and tea in abundance. Meaning that this will be no hour-long chat, but probably an all-nighter. Which means that you either came here to pour your heart out, solve a problem, or maybe both. But you're here for a purpose. You've set out to accomplish something this night. Right now you're obviously testing me, perhaps so that you can determine what you feel safe telling me. If I give you an open door policy"— she inhaled before she became short of breath—"you might trust me more and waste less of my time with testing."

It occurred to Luna that Twilight was not what she expected. Twice now she had underestimated her, once as Nightmare Moon and also just now, as herself, fully in control of her own mind. In a moment of hubris, Luna realised that she'd underestimated Overcast as well. Either she had grown careless or exceptionally clever ponies had become more common. She decided that her sister's wise rule allowed for more clever ponies. Celestia's focus on education and better living standards certainly showed dividends.

Of course, Luna was somewhat afraid of Overcast for some reason, but not afraid of Twilight. This young mare, this exceptional unicorn represented all of Celestia's hopes and was the result of centuries of hard work. Twilight was the sort of unicorn that came into existence only when all of the conditions were just so and the stars aligned in just such a way. In that regard, Twilight was very much like Clover the Clever.

As for Overcast, he was a warning of what might happen when the system failed potential Twilights.

High risks offered high rewards, but sometimes also brought ruination.

"I came to speak to you about my sister's school."

Suddenly, Luna had Twilight's rapt attention, and she wasn't sure what to do with it. The change that came over Twilight was almost unreal. There was a sort of worshipful adoration, but also fanatical zeal. Again, Luna thought of Overcast, because the disturbing little twerp was the same way about her. No doubt for all of the wrong reasons, which made her pending discussion with Twilight all the more important. Naturally, Twilight was reverent and protective about the epitome of what Equestria had to offer the world, all of the good things that Celestia cultivated in the fertile patch of ground that was her school. Luna realised that this is what Twilight fought for; it was why the young unicorn had risked her own neck to challenge Nightmare Moon.

If Luna were to ever rise to her sister's lofty expectations of her, she too would need a Twilight, a pony willing to put it all on the line for whatever great things Luna accomplished. The problem, as Luna saw it, was that she had accomplished nothing thus far, except for wallowing in her own self pity, playing pranks on her sister, and brooding in the dark about how tedious life was.

At the moment, all Luna had to work with was detention, a humble beginning if ever there was one. She had no school to call her own, no centuries of carefully laid groundwork and preparation, all she had was what her sister had given her, which was a headache. Luna's mood wavered between cautious optimism and warm, comfortable pessimism, which was rather like a much-beloved bed that she longed to return to.

Seeking solace in her bed would accomplish nothing.

"Recently, I was put in charge of the detention program and—"

"Excuse me. Hold on." Twilight held out her hoof in an apologetic and endearing manner. "Detention? Am I hearing this correctly?"

Luna thought for a moment about being the Princess of Detention, but this was too serious to bring that up. "Yes, Twilight. Detention. One precious hour of my day is spent with my detainees and they are sent to me as punishment."

Something went terribly wrong with Twilight's face; both of her eyes twitched in a weird way, her ears pivoted round and round, and it appeared as though she might be having a stroke. "Detention? How do they even find the time to get in trouble? Do they pencil in some time for spontaneity on their schedules? I mean, there's so much to do. Extra-credit work. Extracurricular activities. Study hours. Study halls. Library access time. How does a student of Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns ever find the time to get into trouble, much less serve an hour in detention? There's just not enough hours in a day!"

This was the most Twilightful thing ever Twilighted by Twilight, and it left Luna at a loss for words. Truly, it was a Twilightening moment, revealing much about the studious unicorn's nature. Coming here to seek Twilight's advice wasn't a mistake—but it was possible that Twilight wasn't the right pony to discuss this with, as she had considerable trouble just coming to terms with the fact that Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns had a detention program.

"Are you having another joke at my expense, Luna?"

It took Luna a few seconds, but she realised that Twilight had not addressed her as 'Princess'. That was fine, really. But it also served as a reminder of just how shocked poor Twilight was, and how difficult this surely had to be for her. Luna wrestled with the issue, unsure of how to deal with it, and after several seconds of internal debate, she remembered that technically, Twilight was still a student.

"Perhaps an hour spent in detention will help you understand just how serious I am."

"But my permanent record!" gasped Twilight, and her eye-twitches became far more pronounced.

"Oh, I would have you there as an observer," Luna said, hoping that Twilight might recover, "and not as a detainee. Twilight Sparkle, I am here because the detention program has revealed to me that my sister's school has rot. Parts of it have decayed beyond repair, and it is failing the students which it serves."

"But the school… her school… my school… that I attend… it's perfect… isn't it?"

"No, Twilight. And that's why I need your help."

Almost in a panic, Twilight poured the whole of her teacup down her gullet, swished it around a bit, and a visible lump in her throat could be seen bobbing up and down when she swallowed. She then poured another cup and then hastily began adding far too much cream and sugar. Luna knew that when Twilight recovered, things would be fine, but for now, patience was a virtue.

Spike snorted and sent up a plume of thick smoke.

Watching as the frantic unicorn composed herself, Luna became Twilightened. Which is to say that she had a much greater understanding of why her sister chose this mare to be her apprentice, her protégé. Twilight was reeling, but not out. Thrown for a loop, maybe, but still in the fight. Most ponies, when having their worldview shattered and everything they believed in tossed upon the rocks and left for ruin tended to come completely undone. But not Twilight, no. It was impressive how she recovered, how she took in these new facts, and even now, at this very moment, Twilight was rebuilding herself.

Luna wanted to be envious, but such jealousy did not become her.

During her long absence, the world had changed. Profoundly. Everything that Luna once knew was gone. Beliefs had changed. Social mores. Societal values. Where a hot poker had once cured sloth, impudent laziness was allowed to see what might come of it. Luna was bewildered, lost, and struggled to reconnect. Through dreams, she rapidly picked up the new language. She had a library of millions of minds to connect to, but all of this knowledge took time to process, to internalise.

With a sinking feeling down in the depths of her bowels, Luna became certain that if Twilight faced the same circumstances—being shut away or imprisoned for a thousand years—her recovery would be assuredly swift. She would adapt. Where Luna had dreams and insightful isolation so that she might sort out her thoughts, Twilight had friends. She had wit and an open mind. In this way, Twilight was gifted—and Luna knew that she was not.

On the verge of some great understanding, Luna stumbled and failed to grasp what was just out of reach.

What Luna had was detention, and with that in mind, she prepared to tell Twilight everything.

Twilight was different now. Subdued. Thoughtful. Still. Determined. She munched on a stalk of celery smeared with peanut butter and sprinkled with raisins. The sounds of her slow chewing caused Luna's ears to prick and twitch. Luna had spared no detail, she held nothing back, and it was now well past midnight. During the long recounting, Twilight had gone through several metamorphoses, taking in the hard, bitter, unpleasant truths, never rejecting or refuting them.

Not only did Luna have the rival she always wanted, but a confidante as well.

"Well," Twilight began, almost whispering, "I've just become aware of the fact that I had a very different experience in school than my fellow schoolmates. And with that understanding, I can see how being Princess Celestia's apprentice might have—" She heaved a sigh, interrupting herself, shook her head, and her ears fell. "I don't know how to finish that sentence. I'm sorry."

Always the curious one, Luna wondered what might have been said. What great truth might have been revealed. A profound understanding remained locked away. Nursing her hot cup of tea, she took frequent slurps to soothe her throat, which was sore from all she had to say. The last bit of celery vanished into Twilight's mouth and when Luna watched the unicorn chewing, she noted the sadness to be found in her eyes.

"I constantly worry about being sent back to Magic Kindergarten," Twilight said around a mouthful of mashed celery, peanut butter, and raisins. "Have they no fear of consequences? It… it doesn't make sense to me, I'm sorry. But I'm really having some trouble with this. Right now, this feels like failure. You came to me for help and I'm not much help at all. Recently, there was a bit of a friendship problem, because there was no friendship problem, and so I created one, and let me tell you, the fear of being sent to Magic Kindergarten rules my life."

Then, almost as an afterthought, she added, "Did you know that Fluttershy beats up bears as a hobby? I had no idea."

"Fluttershy?" Luna's tea almost went down the wrong pipe. "Quiet, timid Fluttershy?"

"Wrestles bears," Twilight said with a soft nod.

"Oh my… well, that certainly paints a different picture of her."

"Just when you think you know your friends…" If there was more to say, Twilight did not say it aloud.

"Twilight, do you think that bear wrestling should be added to the curriculum? I mean, some of the students are slothful and in need of—"

"No, Luna… just no. That's a terrible idea."

"I suppose it is."

Squirming, Twilight brought up the obvious. "Students are intentionally getting into trouble so they can get help. Which concerns me. It either means they don't know how to ask for help, or have asked for help and were ignored. From what you told me about… what was his name? Overcast? It sounds as if he got in trouble for just trying to talk about it. Which leads me to believe that nopony wants to acknowledge that there might be a problem."

"Admitting that there is a problem might appear to make my sister look bad in some way."

"I hadn't thought about that," Twilight blurted out. "Well, that's a factor. Pointing out a blemish in Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns somehow also points out a blemish on Princess Celestia herself."

In amused silence, Luna thought about reporting that sentence to the Redundancy Department of Redundancy.

"Princess Celestia has to know what is going on. She just has to. I refuse to believe that she is oblivious about this. So if we operate under that assumption, that means that she's trusting you to investigate the problem, follow through with sorting it out, and finding a solution."

"Do you really believe that, Twilight?"

The question caught Twilight off guard. Luna saw it plainly, almost as if such a question shouldn't even be asked. Twilight had perfect faith in Celestia, while Luna did not. The two realities collided with a terrific impact that created a shockwave of stunned silence. Twilight, no doubt, was trying to process what was just said. Luna, for her part, couldn't even begin to imagine Twilight's viewpoint on the issue.

It didn't take Twilight long to recover, and then immediately trample the issue. "That's why you came to me, isn't it? You couldn't go to your sister and talk. There's still issues."

Brows furrowing like gathering storm clouds, Luna had nothing to say.

"You and Princess Celestia are as different as night and day," Twilight said to Luna with all the comforting sincerity she could muster. "And that's alright. You should try talking to her. Trust her. I just… I just made that mistake. Let me tell you, I really messed up. Like, almost sent back to Magic Kindergarten messed up. I was so afraid of disappointing my teacher… I was so scared of letting her down that I ended up doing exactly that when I didn't ask her for help. Just go to her, Luna. It'll be fine. I promise."

"I must confess… I've been having crazy thoughts. My paranoia has been getting the better of me. I just cannot bring myself to…" Luna's words died in her throat.

"Are you worried that if you bring this to Princess Celestia's attention that it might somehow ruin what little bit of trust you have? That she'll be disappointed with you? Fearful of you? That she might fear what you could become and will deal with you harshly before the worst happens?"

The words stung. They seemed so obvious—yet Luna had not reached this conclusion on her own. She wanted to feel stupid, to berate herself, but she wasn't alone and so the circumstances would not allow her to fly apart. With Twilight nearby, she had no choice but to hold herself together. All of the random pieces of her mind threatened to fit together, to come into focus and clarity, and Luna grew increasingly fearful of what she might see.

Unable—or perhaps unwilling—to face the truth, Luna changed the subject, but what she had to say betrayed her.

"I see so much of myself in Overcast. He's wounded in the mind, Twilight. His potential for villainy is unlike anything I've ever seen. I'm terrified of what he might become. He saw the world for what it is before he was ready. Just like I did. He saw past the illusion and found the reality unbearable."

"Then you know exactly what to do to save him." These words were bold, spoken in complete confidence, and Twilight Sparkle had absolutely no reservations in saying them. "Do everything that you wish was done for you, Luna. This is your time. This is your chance. You can't change the past. History is written down and the ink is set. What you can do is prevent history from repeating itself. If I'm right, and I'm pretty certain I am, Princess Celestia is trusting you to save what is most precious to her. Her students. We're doing her work. It's up to us to make Equestria the place that Princess Celestia envisions it to be."

"What if I fail?" Luna's voice cracked in the most embarrassing way, but she somehow found the courage to continue. "Or worse… what if I fail in such a way that the darkness consumes both of us? What might I do to Overcast? These detentions expose me to things that disturb me greatly. What if I exploit these troubling elements? What if I lead them into evil, inadvertently or intentionally? The cost of failure cannot be conceived, Twilight. I wonder sometimes if I should go into seclusion to prevent what might happen."

"If you did that, Luna, many might fall into darkness and never see the light again. You've been there. You have. I was there with you. You have experience in going into the darkness and coming back out again. Finding your way back out. Nopony else has that. That is unique and precious, Luna. Yes, you might have to go into the darkness to save a few troubled students, and yes, it might be tempting. But you have the best chance of leading them out."

"Do you really believe that, Twilight?"

"I wouldn't have said it if I didn't, Luna. There's just too much at stake for base platitudes."

"So do you believe that my sister is trusting me with what I know?"

"That seems likely."

"But I don't trust myself," Luna confessed.

"Which is why you need to talk to your sister." Resolute, Twilight leaned in closer and cast her firm gaze on Luna. "Maybe if you hear it from her it'll be easier to do whatever it is that you need to do next."

Perhaps, Luna thought to herself.

"Look at it this way, Luna. Right now, you're the only pony that really sees the problem. I'm still having trouble with it. There's a whole bunch of little voices in my head trying to convince me that this isn't what it seems, or that it somehow isn't a problem. I certainly don't want to believe that my beloved school is suffering a crisis. Just thinking about it makes me sad and it's overwhelming to even imagine that Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns might turn students to evil. It's supposed to be a place of goodness. Right now, Luna, you might be the only pony who can see the problem clearly and for what it is."

As much as she wanted to do so, Luna could not refute Twilight's logic, which ached a bit.

"And if I can be really forward for a moment, it sounds to me that the detention program really needs to go. Not because it ruins the image of perfection that is Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, but because it fails to achieve its purpose. Which is to function as a deterrent. If students are so desperate for help that they're acting out to get detention, then detention isn't going to fix anything. It does not behoove us to have Princess Celestia's best and brightest sabotaging their own future."

"Do you really think I am the right pony for the job, Twilight Sparkle?"

"I think that you're the only pony for the job, Luna. It pains me to say it, but I think everypony is blinded by your sister's brilliance. Even me."

Luna almost asked, Do you really believe that, Twilight? However, she caught herself before it could slip out. Of course Twilight believed that. It was true. If one stared at the Sun long enough, one went blind. Luna was immune though, and saw her sister's flaws as plain as day, which was saying quite a lot because her sister was the very embodiment of day. The opposite was true as well; Celestia was the only light bright enough to pierce Luna's impenetrable darkness. All of Luna's flaws, of which there were many, were laid bare by Celestia's golden light.

All of the pieces threatened to fit once more, and Luna was terrified of them.

Thoroughly disturbed and defeated, Luna decided to talk to her sister. Celestia had to be warned that there was a genuine villain hiding in plain sight. If the school could produce such brilliant minds like Twilight Sparkle, Saviour of Equestria, then surely it had the potential to create Twilight's opposite. Briefly, Luna wondered if she might be overreacting, but quickly determined that such threats should not be underestimated. Afterall, once she had been a moody, broody, sulky sort that dabbled in the dastardly arts. Nopony—not even Celestia saw the danger until it was too late, and then nothing could be done.

"I know what must be done," Luna said to Twilight. "It is as you say. I must go into the darkness and find the lost. It is my duty to lead them back to Celestia's wholesome light. Failing that"—she considered her next words with all due caution—"if a return to the light is impossible, I shall strive to repurpose what others might throw away. I've gone into the darkness and returned with a purpose. Surely others can do the same. If I don't save them, they will truly be lost. Not sure I can live with that."

"You won't be alone. I promise. Your sister will help you. I will help you. My friends will help you, if I ask them. If you lead the way, we'll follow."

"You really do believe that." This was not a question, but a statement, and saying it aloud helped to soothe Luna's troubled mind. "How is it that you believe in the best while I am stuck believing in the worst? I've seen the dreams of so many, Twilight. I know their innermost thoughts. Few can imagine what I've seen, and for the life of me, I cannot fathom why my sister is so intent to save them. But I follow where she leads, because I don't know what else to do. Anything else just feels like surrendering to despair."

"Friendship is real," Twilight said, smiling broadly and revealing far too many teeth for this time of night. "I've witnessed the magic brought about by friendship."

Luna's thoughts turned to Overcast, which is to say they turned overcast as the clouds of doubt began to blow in. Friendship was an illusion; Luna had seen the evidence in dreams, and Overcast too knew the reality. Perhaps it came down to a matter of belief, if belief could make illusion real. What might Twilight say if she saw the dreams of so many? The darkness that hid in the hearts of ponies? Would her opinions change?

No, Luna decided.

Because Celestia had taught some lesson to Twilight that Luna herself had failed to grasp. She couldn't even conceive what it was, or might be, but Twilight lived by this lesson. She'd taken it to heart and the entirety of her life, her existence was built upon this foundation. Luna knew full well the danger of believing in illusions—she'd once been devoured and swallowed whole by fantasies and phantasms of grandiose self-importance. With eternal night, with no sunlight to dispel those awful delusions, the self-serving mirage might have lasted forever.

To live as Nightmare Moon was to live a lie.

Twilight chose to believe in something that served others, sometimes even at the expense of herself. Friendship might very well be an illusion, but lost in her inward, soul-searching reflection, Luna saw a truth that she herself longed for. To have it, all one had to do was to be like Twilight. Perhaps that was the trick of making it real. If it were a trick, it was a worthy one.

When Twilight yawned, Luna felt saddened. She wanted this night to last forever. Not in the way that Nightmare Moon wanted the night to last forever, but in some confusing, bewildering way that did not rob Luna of hope, but filled her up with it in abundance. There would be other nights, Luna realised. All she had to do was be patient and wait.

"As soon as I have collected my thoughts, I will go and speak to my sister. I give you my word."

"That's… that's a relief, Luna. If you need help, just ask. You have my word as well. My door will always be open if you are in trouble."

"If we are to be friends, boon companions, might I borrow your dragon?"

"No," Twilight said as she shook her head from side to side. "No, you may not borrow my dragon."

"Well, bother." Luna watched as Twilight yawned again, and an old familiar sting pierced her heart. Little ponies just couldn't help themselves. It made her ache and the old stale memories of past hurts turned fresh—but much to Luna's surprise, she wasn't dragged down by them. There was work to do, important work, and friends to make. She had students to save.

"Good night, Twilight Sparkle. Thank you."

"Don't mention it," was Twilight's warm response. "Good night, Luna."

After putting down her teacup, Luna rose to her hooves, mindful not to jostle Spike too much. Her front legs cramped a bit after holding a baby dragon for a few hours, but she would sort everything out soon enough. Looking down at Twilight, she felt a certain fondness for the sleepy mare. What an excellent rival she would make—and a wonderful friend. When the unicorn's head bobbed—almost overcome by drowsiness no doubt—Luna allowed herself to enjoy the bittersweet feelings of saying good night.

There would be other nights, for certain.

But as she was getting read to go, something possessed her to stay, at least for a little while longer. It was a prickle in her conscience, something strange and new. Whatever it was, it suggested that she might be a better pony if she did the right thing. That she might be more welcome in the future if she reciprocated and showed appreciation.

Luna knew what she needed to do.

"Take your dragon and go to bed, Twilight Sparkle. I shall clean up the mess I've made, and then I shall show myself out."

"Oh, thank you, Luna. That's so incredibly kind of you."

"It is the least I can do," Luna replied. She wanted to say so much more, but words failed her. Her eyes lingered upon Twilight for a time, noting how her head bobbed, and how difficult it was to stand up. No doubt, Twilight would have gone to bed after her bath, and Luna had kept her awake.

Instead of guilt, she felt a curious warm fuzziness.

"If you will excuse me, I really must be off to bed. Good night, Luna. Sweet dreams."

"Yes, Twilight. Sweet dreams."

Author's Note:

Three chapters left. Is anybody even reading? It's hard to tell.

If you are, well, thank you. This has been a tremendous amount of effort.

Do enjoy, Constant Reader.