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~Princess Luna

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Post in forum #1905 - An ongoing MLP Roleplay Thread, Rated PG-13.

Sitting at the defendant’s table in the empty courtroom, Straight Arrow listened to Her Majesty Princess Luna explain how this emergency hearing operated. It seemed rude to tell her he already knew the bylaws for martial law jurisprudence. Presumptuous as well. She had certain kinds of leeway within the law as to exactly how she could operate this hearing.

Inside, he was in chaos. Normally everything was clear. It wasn’t always simple, but he had long ago decided which way he would always choose, when no good choice existed. He would do his best to honor both goodness and the law, but if the time came when he failed to see any way to hold to one without betraying the other…he would always choose to do what was right. Then, he would confess his illegal actions in full. He was willing to give his life to defend any citizen of this great empire. How could he turn around and say he wasn’t willing to sacrifice his career, his freedom? Was his reputation more important than his life? He recognized that as pure Pride.

Going to jail for doing something right and necessary was just the price he had to pay. It was breaking the law and trying to duck punishment that surrendered the moral high ground. The price of doing the wrong thing must remain high, and it must be paid: anything else invited temptation to cross the line when it wasn’t absolutely necessary. There were times when the law was bent and corrupted to serve evil. When he was young, cheats, liars, and rules lawyers had filled him with the most terrible rage. It still did, but not the same way. He’d had an epiphany in a dream. He had been in a maze, confronted by challenge after challenge that would have been simple and easy to solve without violence, using diplomacy or cleverness. His anger at being unfairly imprisoned in the maze had taken away his power to do anything but act on the anger. Since that dream he had never forgotten that anger’s power was a seductive lie, and that embracing righteous indignation was a golden, fire-lined road to ruin. His outrage at immorality and crime had never died. It was the wind in his sails. He didn’t let it lay a talon on the wheel: Straight Arrow let his anger push but refused to let it steer.

Later he’d had quieter insights. Anger was always a symptom of something deeper. In his case, his love of goodness and his belief that the palace of civilization stood upon the bedrock of the Law. Anger came from his hurt at seeing them defiled. Under the rage was pain and sorrow. Straight Arrow tried hard to keep that in mind. To hate the crime but remember that the criminal was still a person, and crimes could be done from ignorance or desperation. That most criminals weren’t evil, and many needed help more than punishment. To his secret shame, compassion often came hard. When he couldn’t find it, he did his best to fake it: act in all ways as if he did.

He had no way of knowing the Princess of the Night had lingered after her speech. She had lingered in secret to ensnare the evil-doers that had infected Aura and Umbra from top to bottom. All he had seen was the worst of the false cops running away after their loathsome pink master vanished. All he had seen was an opportunity to finally do some genuine lawful good. No guilt from that: he had done the best he could with what he knew.

Straight Arrow couldn’t remember the moment he chose to cross the line, gather a posse, and go after Fantasy Longhorn and the Wandering Lute without uniforms, badges, warrant, or legal sanction. Straight Arrow couldn’t remember…because it hadn’t been a clear, conscious, deliberate, and regretful choice. The way such things should always be. He had acted from anger. Tradewind’s assault had pushed him to cross the line when it wasn’t yet absolutely necessary.

This evidence that anger had influenced his decision cast all his actions into the murk of self-doubt. Had he done this before? Had he gone a little too far, again and again, smugly sure his anger was on a leash while it kept nudging his hoof over the line? The anger had grown with every year surrounded by the quiet corruption in Aura. It had gone from bright fire to bitter iron but still monstrously strong. It was leaking out of his control, poisoning him. Inside his parade-rest neutrality and calm expression he felt ready to throw up. Maybe take a long hot shower with a stiff brush.

“What is your full legally recognized name?”

He tried to talk without his usual raspy tone. “Straight Arrow Toxophilus.” It hadn’t worked well but he tried to sound as humble as he felt.

“Have you any crimes you wish to confess?”

“I do.” He explained his actions at the Brass Hoof, listing his logic and motivations…including his unworthy anger…and making it clear he was the one to convince other members of law enforcement, including a rookie he knew was on psychiatric probation, into aiding and abetting his criminal acts.

Luna made a note of some kind. His stomach hurt from the way she looked up at him. It was the way he had always tried and failed to look at law-breakers: with understanding and compassion. In her he saw the ideal of everything he had ever tried to be as an officer of the law…and it made him realize just how short he had fallen of his goal. “Do you have any other crimes to confess at this time?”

“Nothing that would technically be a crime within the letter of the law. If it pleases the court, I stand willing to confess a multitude of infractions that violate the spirit of the law.”

“An example?”

“I have obeyed orders to punish officers under my command when I knew it was undeserved.” Luna nodded for him to go on. His guilt spat out the one it had been especially gnawing. “I placed Detective Mithril on indefinite unpaid leave after she botched a raid on untaxed gemstones. I am confident she was set to that raid by ponies who knew she would find nothing.”

“These hearings are to ascertain your personal guilt or innocence. Even so, I would hear a more detailed report on your knowledge of police misconduct if not for two things: my obligation not to linger over these hearings and delay those yet to come…and my confidence that any names you might give are already incarcerated pending their own hearings. Is there any personally-initiated misconduct you wish to announce?”

“I have violated the intended spirit of orders given me by my superiors on more occasions than I could count, hiding my deliberate actions by pretended misunderstanding, ‘lost’ paperwork, or other deceptions.”

“Your motive in those actions was malicious?”

Straight Arrow felt shame bite deep. “Intensely so.” She blinked, looked at the quiet Scales as if surprised. He forced himself not to lower his eyes. “I felt and continue to feel staggering amounts of contempt and rage at those among my superiors in law enforcement who gave me orders that mock and abuse the intended spirit of the law. Even knowing most of them are likely victims of blackmail and coerced into their actions, I have failed to purge that poison from my heart. I cannot feel the slightest remorse for my secret defiance of the orders, or of telling bald-faced lies and destroying paperwork to hide my defiance. I did what I could to avoid carrying out immoral orders. When that failed I tried to minimize the damage, or gave the impression of sincere effort while deliberately failing. My chronic violation of my orders and duties is reason enough to see me fired.”

Luna gave him a long look, and while Straight Arrow was good at reading faces, she gave him nothing. After she broke the gaze, she spent another moment writing. “For the crime to which you have confessed I declare a verdict of guilty. For the admission of professional malfeasance I declare them beyond the purview of this hearing and suspend judgment. Have you anything to say before I pass sentence?”

“I have always tried to obey a personal rule that if the letter and spirit of the law are in conflict, I must break the law’s letter to uphold its spirit, and afterwards confess my actions so that they may punish me as the law requires. My personal belief is that that violating the law is only justified if I am willing to suffer the consequences for breaking it. If the price of halting an atrocity is my reputation, career, and freedom…so be it.” He closed his eyes, struggling against the storm of shame, guilt, sorrow, and regret. That he managed to keep from shedding a tear filled him with disgust. His voice had become all rasp. “Your Majesty, in seeking vigilante action against Miss Fantasy Longhorn I violated my own rule. I let my anger at an earlier assault by one of her friends goad me into stepping outside the law without the due consideration I always swore I would use before such a decision. I stand ready to accept the full weight of my punishment. I deserve it even more than if I had done this while choosing the cost. I regret my lapse in judgment and for my unlawful actions. I believed my motives were pure. They were not. My outrage at those who corrupt and defy the law is something I have never managed to purge. Now it seems I never even controlled it as well as I assumed. I have betrayed myself, but worse, I disgraced the badge I wore. I’m sorry, my Princess. I failed.”

Luna spoke in a very soft, gentle voice. Her compassion hurt worse than her scorn ever could have. “Straight Arrow Toxophilus,” she said, “as arbiter of the law and officer of the court I hereby sentence you to no less than two years in a medium-security prison, as demanded by law for your confessed crime.” Straight Arrow nodded, pressing his fore-hooves to his burning but dry eyes. Why couldn’t he cry?

“As Princess of the Night and co-ruler of the Equestrian Empire I extend you a royal pardon for that same crime.” Straight Arrow had been still. Now he was frozen. “As emergency Governor pro tempore I hereby deputize you as acting chief of police for the dual city of Aura-Umbra. You have the option for permanent retention of this office should your service during this emergency be judged satisfactory. I have every confidence this will be the case.”

A high thin whine in his ears, like from a too-loud bang.

“To declare you innocent of your crimes would flout the letter of the law.” Luna said. “Your words, verified before the Scales of Mendacity, make it clear that sending you to prison would flout the spirit of the law. I judge you have learned your lesson. I also bow to necessity. Many in the police force are likely to be sent to prison. Aura needs as many good police officers as possible in the weeks to come. You showed good leadership skills, if not always flawless judgment.” The cuffs he wore popped off and fell to the floor with a chatter of chain. He couldn’t move. Couldn’t think. “Your new badge, royal pardon, and pro-tem commission now lie before you, Straight Arrow. Go forth and do your duty.”

He couldn’t move.

A static-crackle he recognized as enchanted recording mirrors being set into sleep-mode. The public record of these events had ended. Silence. Then: hooves softly approaching. She stood across the table from him. He sensed her. “Straight Arrow.” she said. Odd tone. “Look at me.” Her soft voice burned through his paralysis and moved him to lower his hooves. She…smiled? Yes, smiled! Her fore-hoof lifted to hover above the Scales. It sat right there now, in reach of his hooves. “These judge my words also. You may deny that I am right, but not that I am sincere. What I tell you now is the truth as I see it, not soothing lies to ease your suffering. Are you prepared to know your greatest flaw?”

He couldn’t look away from her cheerful, impish smile. Nodded, while dread curled up around his misery like evil vines.

“The standard to which you hold others is high but you hold yourself to one far higher yet; despite coming closer to living your ideals than many good ponies ever do, all you can see is the remaining gap you failed to close. You never stop trying, despite the agony that failing causes you. The struggle against our darker urges, not their defeat, is the essence of goodness. You need to forgive yourself for not being perfect.”

He stared, not knowing if he could believe her. Even if he did, he had a problem. He had never even realized it was a problem before, and that was the problem. “I don’t…know how.” The words hurt, pushed through the knot in his throat.

“That,” Luna said, “is your greatest flaw, and someday it might break you. I put you in a maze once.” She almost whispered now, and her smile was sad. “I showed you a flaw in your heart. I’m sorry. You did not react as I had expected. You reacted to the revealed flaw of un-tempered anger by locking yourself in a cage of harsh self-judgment. I can open the door of your cage but only you can step through. Be brave.”

Her head dipped, neck extended, and touched him between the eyes with her long horn. A spark like painless lightning leapt into him. Something turned behind his thoughts, something else shifted deep inside his heart. It was like black clouds had parted to reveal the silver moon. The feeling it caused was something he couldn’t name but ached to embrace. It seemed so distant. Some kind of crushing weight dragged at his will to approach. He fought it, desperate to reach Luna’s gift: failed. It was like flying with a bag of anchors.

Desperate to reach the light, he tore at the weights. It hurt. He kept struggling, tearing them away; it felt like his brain was being torn into pieces. Then it fell away and the pain vanished. That shining light vanished. Darkness didn’t return. A moment of quiet wonder filled him. All his past mistakes stopped throbbing like infected cuts on his conscience. Regret lingered, but the guilt and shame had faded. So much misery, felt for so long he had stopped noticing. He’d forged his self-criticism into armor lined with thorns. She hadn’t given him anything. She had shown him a path that revealed his burdens and tempted him to let them go. The absence left him feeling naked…but free. Light as a feather. Rather than joy, all he felt was relief more powerful than joy.

The tears finally came.