• Published 22nd Jan 2020
  • 1,257 Views, 248 Comments

Never Alone - SoloBrony



It's time for Cozy Glow to get back out in the real world and figure out where she fits into Equestria. She's tried superheroics, supervillainy, and accidentally destroyed the world; now she has to try being normal. Yeah, probably not.

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Waver

Cozy carefully deactivated her microphone and glanced at me.

"So humans usually fight with these guns and tanks, huh?"

I grinned uneasily. Maybe exposing her to a human war game was a bad idea. "Yeah, they've developed some pretty extreme weapons..."

Cozy just scoffed. "Really takes all of the art out of individual conflict. There's no real expression of personal skill or, like... inner strength, or whatever. It's just a matter of ambushes."

I laughed at that, letting relief flood over me. "Yeah, I know what you mean. I'm really glad nothing like this has been invented over in Equestria."

She actually shuddered at that. "This game is based on something called 'World War Two', right? And based on the way it's discussed, sounds like there were other really bad wars right before the first world war. Seems like introducing guns might win you a conflict in the short-term, but just makes the world more dangerous for everypony right after."

I nodded, but wasn't sure how to respond to that otherwise. It ended up not mattering, as a few seconds later Cozy's attention was fully fixed on the game. She flicked her microphone back on. "Oh yeah, you totally surprised me coming down the side like that! You got me! Victory point's yours—TANK AMBUSH! AHAHAHAHAHAH! YOU SHOULD HAVE CHECKED THE ALLEYWAYS!"

I glanced at that part of the map, and my eyes went wide as I realized Cozy had somehow meticulously hidden an entire tank convey in the alleyways between two buildings and a small perimeter wall. Now they flooded out all around the enemy forces, rendering their anti-tank weapons useless.

The guy she had ambushed yelled in shock over the microphone. "WHAT THE F—"

Cozy drowned him out with manic cackling as his forces were laid to waste. He immediately gave orders to retreat, but Cozy had predicted that and laid barbed-wire across the most obvious escape-route; this funneled his troops. I clicked on the part of the minimap they were headed to and I gawked.

"Cozy, did you lay those mines just to—"

"THERE IS NO ESCAPE! AHAHAHAHAHAHA! AHA! AH! AHAHAHAHA!"

I probably should have been worried about her, but frankly I'd seen worse in competitive games like this. I immediately capitalized on the new opening, funneling a column of special forces through the gap and setting up ambush points while Cozy 'commandeered' the fallen heavy weapons and abandoned tanks of her foe and began entrenching across the line.

She flicked off her mic again. "Okay, so are we going to smoke them out with artillery, or do you want to hit them all at once?"

I shrugged. "I'm still thinking defensively, so I haven't even gotten to that part yet. I guess artillery? Do we have any?"

Cozy nodded. "I stole some mortars forever ago. I've got one team at level five."

I glanced around in confusion as I placed my units. "Five? But the max is—oh, right, your faction goes to five. But wait, what does that even do?"

I heard more cackling and watched as the enemy base was lit up by flares. Enemy unit markers began disappearing.

"It does that!" She flicked her mic back on. "Come out and fight! The water's great!"

The guy on the other side just sighed loudly. "Stupid god damned game-breaking mortars."

Cozy cackled further. "These were your mortars, you know! I can't even build them with this faction! I just get the dumb infantry-support gun! So this is ALL! YOUR! FAULT!"

She chose that moment to call in off-map artillery. I'd already rolled some tanks into the enemy base – turned out they hadn't laid AT mines the way I figured they would – and it wasn't long before the victory screen rolled down. Cozy giggled as profile experience trickled in.

"That was awesome! Can we go another round?"

I shook my head with a snicker. "Sorry, Cozy. As much as I enjoy watching you torment my streaming fans, I've got school tomorrow, and I think your mom would prefer you get home before dark."

Cozy took off her headset and kicked away from the desk and laptop, stretching out. "Yeah, you're probably right. Still, I had no idea the human world had games like this! I mean, they turn their own bloody conflicts into entertainment and strategy pieces, that's hardcore."

I shrugged. "I mean, Equestria has plays and stories based off of historical conflicts. Nothing as bloody as this, but still..."

She shrugged. "Yeah, fair enough. I guess I just figured anypony who'd gone through something like this would rather forget about it."

I considered that as I stood up, stretching out. "Well... I think maybe the people who lost friends and family in that war would prefer that it not be sugar-coated or forgotten. So people don't make the same mistake again, if nothing else. Apparently, in this world, the first-ever history book was about a terrible war, in the hopes of teaching people that lesson."

Cozy winced as she put on her jacket. "Jeez, so this kind of thing has been going on for a long time, huh?"

I nodded as I put on my own jacket. "At least a few thousand years."

She fell silent at that – a mood which persisted as we left the house and continued down the street towards the school. I debated how to break the ice, and ultimately shrugged and nudged her.

"Bit for your thoughts?"

"Oh, uh... I was just thinking... at first, I wanted to say that kind of endless war could never happen in Equestria, but Discord showed me that stuff that bad really could happen, if... if somepony like me got her way."

Oh, jeez. I have no idea what to say to make that better.

I floundered for a bit, and just said the first thing that came to mind. "Well, while I like living here, in a lot of ways living here has shown me how lucky Equestria has it. I guess it's a thing where, to keep that sort of society going, you need both mutual trust and active effort... I mean, you're right that one or two ponies who decide to really break the rules and throw it all out of the window could tear it all down, but there are also ponies who will fight to stop that from happening."

I took a deep breath as my thoughts began to coalesce into something more clear. "I think that's the nature of trust. It creates vulnerability, but as long as no one abuses it, everyone is stronger for it. Equestria is built off of that kind of trust – well, I guess every society is, but Equestria has a lot more of it than most."

Cozy walked in silence for a while, arms folded tight – whether to drive out the cold from outside or within, I wasn't sure – and eventually just shook her head.

"I guess the big thing I took advantage of was that Equestria seemed so innocent. Ponies don't think in terms of exploitation and conquest, usually, so that made it easy. I didn't realize that was a conscious strategy."

I rubbed the back of my neck as I considered it. "I mean, the three pony tribes were constantly fighting for dominance and exploiting each other. The nation of Equestria was founded by the mutual trust and desire to put all of that behind them. So... yeah, I guess it really was a deliberate strategy."

Cozy laughed hollowly as she looked up. " 'You don't know what you don't know.' I should have studied more stuff before I decided to mess with how the world worked. I mean, we almost brought the windigoes down on our own heads with our boneheadedness... that is, Tirek, Chrysalis, and me..."

I gently squeezed her shoulder, getting her to make eye contact. "Then you became a hero, and now you're studying and working to be one again. So what's all of that say about you, when you take it all together?"

Cozy scoffed. "That I don't know when to quit?"

I winked at her. "Exactly. You might have made mistakes, but you're working past them. Somepony who never makes mistakes is living a boring life, never doing anything new. And while what you did wasn't good, good did come out of it. The students learned the real power of friendship, and, well... it really put ponies like Neighsay in their place, from what Twilight told me."

She laughed, throwing her head back and rolling her eyes. "Oh yeah, I struck one heck of a blow of racial equality in Equestria! Surprise, a badguy who's a pony, and she's a foal! And not even a unicorn!"

Where did that come from?

I raised an eyebrow at that. "Not a unicorn? What do you mean?"

Cozy fixed me with a flat look. "You're messing with me."

I shook my head, perplexed. "Uh, no? Do you have some problem with unicorns, or something?"

Cozy groaned, rubbing her head. "No! But like, look at the villains of Equestria's past, right? Sombra, unicorn. Nightmare moon, alicorn, but scary because of her magic. Then Starlight Glimmer apparently almost destroyed all of Equestria with her what now?"

I flinched. "Her magic..."

Cozy giggled. "Bingo! I'm not saying unicorns are more inclined towards being bad, that would be stupid. I'm just saying they're better equipped for it, is all."

I frowned and looked at the sidewalk, but Cozy playfully bumped up against me and caught my eye before continuing with a smirk. "Do you have any idea how tough it is being a villainous pegasus foal? I mean, not many role models, y'know?"

I rolled my eyes despite myself and snickered. "Oh yeah, I'm sure that's the big thing you contributed to Equestrian history."

"Yep! I bet there are pegasi and earthpony would-be badguys out there right now going, 'someday, I'm going to be just like Cozy Glow!' "

I raised an eyebrow at her as she giggled. She's really started to be able to laugh about all of that, I guess. I'd worried she would hang it over her head forever, but I guess all of that time as Quillon really did help her separate her past from her present. She must have just suffered a setback when she got back.

I prodded her with an elbow. "I guess the other nations won't be so quick to assume ponies are sweet, innocent, and helpless after that, either."

Cozy grinned, and then put on a face of absolute innocence so saccharine my teeth ached. "You think they're scared of us cute widdle ponies?"

I playfully winced like her face was actively hurting me. "Put those away. Down, girl!"

Her face morphed as she broke into a cackle. "They'd better be! Somepony tries to mess with Equestria again and they'll find out we can be just as mean as anything else!"

I folded my arms as we walked, smirking. "Yeah, but we choose not to be."

"Speak for yourself! What did that gamer say earlier? 'Dunk on the haters!' "

I held a hand up to my face as I laughed. "Close enough."

"They'll feel dunked alright. I'm going to make that a new punishment for whatever villains I catch. 'I sentence you to ten days of dunking!' "

I looked over at her with brows up. "And what's that supposed to mean?"

"It means they have to play buckball for ten days. As the ball! Ahahahaha!"

I scoffed, which turned into a snicker. "Pretty sure that's cruel and unusual punishment, Cozy. And I don't think they'll learn their lesson."

She just shrugged and grinned mischievously. "They'll learn that if you mess with Equestria, you get dunked on. Come on, Sunset, it would be worth doing it just to get ponies repeating that."

I threw my hands up. "Girl, you've got a weird idea of how to run a country."

She pointed at me. "I know! Why do you think I stopped trying to take over? Let somepony else deal with all of that 'governance' stuff; it's a sucker's game! Being the one who gets to dunk on the villains, that's the real draw."

I pinched the bridge of my nose. "Luna's going to kill me for twisting your vocabulary like that."

Cozy laughed and set a hand on my shoulder. "Don't worry about it; I'll rein it in before we get back. As much as I can, anyway."

I smiled back at her, but then a thought occurred to me. "Speaking of reining things in... you never did tell me how you knew about the human world or my two forms, originally."

Cozy's grin grew sly. "I'll never tell. Super secret."

I rolled my eyes. "Cozy, this is kind of important. We're supposed to be keeping the portals a secret. Well... as much as we can, anyway."

Cozy held up a hand placatingly. "Look, I just can't tell you. I'd be betraying a good friend's trust. Believe me, you wouldn't want me talking about it."

Something about how she said that bothered me, but I couldn't quite put my hoof on it. I could see she was serious, so I shrugged. "Fine, I'll let it go for now. But I will figure it out."

Cozy grimaced slightly and glanced up and away. "I mean, you'd probably rather you didn't. It's kind of confusing."

I eyed her with faux disgruntlement, and she just stuck her tongue out at me, prompting a laugh. We got to the mirror portal, and with a quick look around to make sure no one was watching, slipped through. Cozy took a second to stretch on the other side.

"Feels good to be back on four legs. So what now?"

I took a deep breath, enjoying the sensation of being back in my pony form, and looked over at her with a smile. "I figured we could drop in on Starlight. There's still enough time before dark, and it would be nice to see more of that school Twilight set up."

Cozy considered this for a few moments, tilting her head this way and that. "Well, it might get a little uncomfortable to see all of those creatures again, but... I guess so. Gotta do it sometime, and I'd rather deal with all of that with you around than be alone."

I winced, having totally overlooked how awkward it would be for her, but still...

It does need to happen sometime, like she said. Alright, guess we're doing this.

I nodded. "Okay. Let's go, then."

She held up a hoof. "Wait! Before we do that, can we get something from my house? I made this neat thing I want to show you."

I stopped short, a little flustered. "Oh, uh... sure! Don't see any reason why not."

We set off for her house, and I saw a visible spring in her step as we went.

She must be really excited to show me whatever it is. Well, hopefully it's not anything weird or lame... I'm kinda bad at faking positive reactions, and I can tell she cares what I think.

Then again, this is Cozy. She's about as predictable as Twilight; for all I know she's invented a way to generate infinite bits by curing cancer. Or, in her case, probably something more like a way to weaponize Pinkie's endless supply of pies into anti-windigo weapons, or something. Huh, she does make them with love...

"Earth to Sunset? We're here."

Cozy smirked and waved a hoof at me, shaking me from my admittedly bizarre tangent. We were at her house. I laughed sheepishly. "Oh, uh, sorry about that... guess I got lost in thought."

Cozy raised an eyebrow. "What about?"

I groaned, considering playing it off. "Well, it's sort of weird how it came up, but I thought of using Pinkie's pies against windigoes..."

Cozy's eyes slowly crossed as she thought about that. "But... that's so dumb. But she does make them with love..."

I pointed a hoof at her. "Hah! See what I mean?!"

Cozy shook her head. "Okay, no, nope, no good comes from trying to understand Pinkie. Like, ever. Even Discord is more predictable than that mare. Look, I have a better way to fight windigoes anyway! Wait here!"

As she ran off into the house, I suppressed the urge to facehoof at maximum power settings.

Wait, so she really was inventing some way to fight windigoes? That was meant to be a joke!

I snickered to myself and rolled my eyes.

Cozy's one of those ponies where it's impossible to make a joke about what she might do, because anything is possible.

Cozy came back outside with a necklace dangling from her neck. On closer inspection, it looked like a tiny replica Crystal Heart. My eyes shot wide.

"Wait, is that real? Like, it can actually resonate with love magic?"

Cozy nodded. "Uh-huh! I made it with Celestia's help! Though... I haven't managed to charge it successfully, yet."

As we started off for the school, I chewed over the problem. "Without a horn, it's harder to draw out any sort of magic, but it should still be possible. Especially for a primal force like love, with a focus to lock onto like that. You've tried just focusing really hard on your feelings for ponies you love, right?"

Cozy nodded and huffed. "Yeah, but it doesn't seem to work. Here, watch."

We stopped, and she sat on her rump, closing her eyes and concentrating. To my surprise, the necklace immediately lit up with an inner, pink light, shining brightly...

Then I saw Cozy wince, like she'd just been stung, and black tendrils formed around the necklace, devouring the light. I recoiled in horror.

Dark magic?! She shouldn't be able to channel that so easily! And if that came up in response to thinking of ponies she loved...

Cozy opened her eyes, by which point the amulet had returned to normal; the light and darkness had cancelled each other out, and flowed out as diffuse, neutral magic. She glanced down at it and frowned. "See what I mean?"

I quickly threw on a neutral expression. "Y-yeah, that seems, um, difficult. Uh, did something really negative interrupt your thinking?"

Cozy sighed, standing up, and we resumed our walk. "Yeah... Every time I think about the ponies who've been nice to me, I can't help but think about how I don't deserve it, or... ponies who were less nice to me."

We continued on in silence, but my mind was whirling.

I knew she had a nightmare in her head, but I didn't realize she could channel dark magic! When did that happen? How?! That's like leaving a lit match next to a gas leak; it's only a matter of time before something sets off her dark magic for real. But... then again...

I glanced at the filly walking alongside me. She had recovered from her darker thoughts and seemed in decent spirits, if a bit nervous about visiting the school again.

She just channeled dark magic, and nothing bad happened. So how did she hold it together? Come on, Sunset, situations like this are why you studied magic so much.

"Sunset?"

I started. "Oh. Um, yes?"

"Do you think everypony at the school will hate me?"

Cozy didn't bother making eye contact, just watching straight ahead as we walked. I took in a deep breath.

"I don't know, Cozy. But whatever happens, I'll be there, and things will be fine, okay? I know what it's like to have a school gang up on you, and I won't let you go through that."

Cozy nodded, lost in thoughts of her own. "Thanks, Sunset."

I returned my attention to the road and my thoughts.

Only alicorns should be able to channel dark magic without it causing major problems... but she was an alicorn, wasn't she? For a good while, too; it even affected her growth. Maybe there's still some alicorn magic hiding under the surface?

I chewed my lip over in thought. The idea of Cozy having access to incredible power she could only use if she went crazy was hardly comforting; this was a filly who was determined to get stronger, after all, and it wasn't hard to imagine her either giving in to temptation or straining not to do so on a daily basis.

On the other hoof, she's held it together so far.

With that ominous thought, we kept on our way until we approached the school. The sound of arguing voices drew our attention; somepony was standing on the walkway to the school, and they seemed to be in a shouting match with Starlight Glimmer. My first instinct was 'disgruntled parent', but when I got a look at the mare in question, my guts twisted up from memories that weren't even mine.

Oh no. That's Cozy's mother!

I glanced frantically over at Cozy, who had frozen in place, her eyes open all the way and her pupils shrunk to pinpricks. Her face was locked in something like a snarl.

Well... fuck.