• Published 24th Oct 2020
  • 2,785 Views, 221 Comments

The Legionnaire - Vanity



Freed from her stone tomb, Cozy Glow struggles to adapt to the world - and the ponies - she wronged.

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0 - The Fool

"Are you sure?"

"I'm certain." Twilight's voice was curt but firm. Astride her, struggling somewhat to keep up with the much taller alicorn's brisk pace, Starlight Glimmer's expression made it explicitly clear she shared neither the Princess's conviction nor her confidence.

"I... If you're absolutely sure then... then I guess I can arrange it." Twilight came to a sudden halt, forcing Glimmer to dig her hooves into the ground to stop in time. "Woah!"

"Sorry!" Twilight's wing flew outwards instinctively, catching Glimmer before she could tumble over. "I mean - thank you. As I said, she'll doubtless require a considerable amount of time to adjust before she'll be ready to attend regular lessons. Please, take your time with the preparations."

Starlight bowed deferentially. "As you wish. When are you going to... do it?"

Twilight glanced upwards, gazing pointedly at the spires of Canterlot. "Soon. Tonight, most likely. As soon as I've spoken to Luster Dawn, of course."

Glimmer let out a low whistle. "You mean you haven't even told Luster she'll be mentoring her yet?"

"I seem to recall I had even less notice when it came to taking a certain mentee under my wing." Twilight murmured, causing Glimmer to blush and look away. "This is not something I wish Luster to ruminate upon. Either she accepts the assignment, or she doesn't."

"And if she doesn't?" Glimmer probed.

A few seconds of silence passed before Twilight responded. "Then I will undertake the task myself." There was a finality to her words that deterred Glimmer from asking any further questions. "I apologize for disturbing you this late, Starlight. And, as I said, your assistance is greatly appreciated."

Starlight waved a hoof in the air dismissively. "Don't worry about it. I'll make sure to bring Sunburst up to speed tomorrow. I..." She faltered slightly. "I'm sure you know what you're doing."


"Princess Twilight?"

The door to the throne room slowly swung open, revealing a lilac-pink unicorn with messy blonde hair, lazily tied up in a bun. Her amber eyes were wracked with concern, and there was a noticeable jump in her movements as she hurried over to her mentor's throne and bowed deeply.

"Luster Dawn. How are you?"

"How am - Fine. Fine! What's going on? Is Equestria in danger? Do we have -"

Twilight raised her hoof, causing Luster to fall silent immediately. "Peace. Rest assured Equestria is quite safe, for the time being. I have summoned you here so that we may discuss the future of your studies."

Luster's eyes boggled. "Princess - "

"And before that overactive imagination of yours can go into overdrive, relax. I am not dismissing you. On the contrary, it's not often I've had the pleasure of teaching a student as gifted as you before. Your understanding of magic, friendship theory, alchemy, astronomy... in all these things and more, you outclass your fellow students by leagues."

Luster's anxiety melted away at her words, replaced with a look of relief and pride. Twilight allowed her a few moments to bask in her mentor's praise before continuing.

"For this reason, I have made the decision to accelerate your studies. Your programme of directed study is over. From now on, you will be taking part in an independent study programme."

"I... Really?" Luster looked unsure. "What kind of independent study?"

A sharp knock at the door interrupted Twilight before she could answer. "Come in."

The door swung open once more. A griffon guard strode in, followed closely by two other guards pushing a structure on wheels into the centre of the room. The griffon glanced sideways at Luster Dawn before stooping to a deep bow. "As you requested, your Highness."

"Thank you, Gallus." Twilight nodded at the guards pushing the statue, who bowed deeply before leaving. Gallus paused for a moment, opened his beak, then promptly shut it again. Though he was bursting with questions, he knew better than to ask. Instead, he rose, turned on his heel, and left.

As soon as they were alone, Twilight's horn ignited once more. A chime rang out across the room as the doors were magically sealed. There would be no more disturbances tonight.

As soon as she was satisfied the spell had taken effect, Twilight turned her attention to the cloth-covered structure. With the slightest of efforts, she pulled the cloth free, allowing it to tumble to the floor and reveal the statue underneath.

"What in..." Luster Dawn blinked in disbelief. "Isn't that - "

"Grogar's Legion, yes." Twilight grimaced. It had been almost ten years since she'd last laid eyes upon the structure, yet the sight of the statue still filled her with a terrible sense of regret.

"What are they doing here?" Without warning, Luster's horn ignited. "Do you want me to destroy them?"

"No!" Twilight bellowed with uncharacteristic anger. Luster jumped almost a foot in the air and extinguished her horn immediately. "Calm down. I don't want any harm to come to them, accidentally or otherwise."

Luster cocked her head in confusion. "Why are they here, then?"

"This will be your task." Twilight's horn lit up, illuminating the frozen image of Cozy Glow in a soft orange glow. "I would like you to take this filly on as a student - your own protégé. You will be responsible for teaching her, guiding her, and monitoring her study. I expect weekly reports on her progress. Other than that, I will leave the course of her education up to you."

Luster Dawn's jaw slowly dropped. "You want me to... to... reform... Cozy Glow?"

"I believe that sums it up nicely, yes."

"I... I don't... I can't..." Luster's gaze bored into her mentor, searching for the slightest sign of insincerity, half-hoping this was all some elaborate practical joke. "The filly who almost destroyed Equestria? All by myself?"

"Not at all. You'll have the help of Starlight Glimmer and Sunburst. The School of Friendship can provide you with any resources you may need, and Starlight would be more than happy to give you an introduction to basic theory of teaching, should you - "

"Theory of - Theory of teaching!?" Luster Dawn let out a noise somewhere between a shriek and a giggle. "You're joking, right? That filly is insane! How am I supposed to teach her anything when I can't turn my back on her for even a second?"

"If you're worried for your physical safety, I imagine you should be more than a match for a pegasus filly. But, given the choice between petrification and friendship lessons, I doubt Cozy Glow will raise much fuss."

Luster Dawn didn't look convinced. "I know. She's not Tirek. But she's... manipulative. Do you really think it's a good idea?"

"I do." Twilight responded, her voice softer. "This is not a matter of simple education. Cozy Glow was one of the best friendship students I ever had. But it seems that, while she memorized her lessons by rote, she failed to properly understand their purpose. I want you to teach her the importance of friendship. Why it is important. Should she fail to grasp this concept, I hold little hope for her progress."

Twilight drew herself up to full height. "And one more thing. I am not asking you to befriend Cozy Glow. That was my mistake - and the mistake of countless others. This filly possesses an aptitude for control and manipulation that, if ignored, can bring even the strongest creatures under her control."

"She may beg. She may cry. She may bargain. But do not ever forget - her words are empty, and her misery is feigned. Remember that, and she will have no power over you."

Catching sight of the building apprehension in Luster's eyes, Twilight continued, in a softer, more understanding tone. "If you do not wish to accept this task, you do not have to. You may resume your full-time studies, with no permanent mark on your academic record. Should you shoulder this burden, you may, of course, cease at any time. It is your decision. But I must ask for that decision - now."

"Right - Right now?" Luster Dawn closed her eyes, wracked with uncertainty. It was a foreboding challenge. It was more than she'd ever expected Twilight to ask from her. But she had never backed down from a challenge before, and she wasn't about to start now. "I... I'll do it."

"Good."

Without further warning, Twilight's horn ignited, at first with a multidirectional light show of six different colours, all of which quickly coalesced into one beam of pure, unbearably bright white light. The streak of light shot across the room and struck the statue of Cozy Glow square in the chest.

At first, there was nothing. Then, the stone around the impact sight burst open with a horrifying ferocity. From underneath the stone, rays of light shone through the fresh cracks, spreading and brightening with such intensity Luster was forced to avert her gaze. She braced herself for the screams of agony that must surely follow - but none came.

Suddenly, there was an ear-splitting crack, and the statue of Cozy Glow exploded. Chunks of stone were thrown high into the air, shattering into thousands of pieces as they stuck the walls of the castle, or came crashing down onto the floor. The air filled with a smell that she could only describe as charred rock, and a thick fog of dust rose slowly into the air.

As the dust began to settle, Luster Dawn squinted through the haze for any sign of Cozy Glow. For a single, maddening second, she worried it had all gone wrong, and Cozy Glow had been destroyed by the spell - a thought that filled some small part of her with a shameful sense of relief. But then she saw her.

She was smaller than she looked on the statue. That was the first thought that struck Luster as she stared down at the filly, who laid unconscious, pinned down by a chunk of rock almost as big as she was. In that moment, the absurdity of the whole affair seemed to strike her in a way she had never thought of before. That all of Equestria had been brought to it's knees by one so small, so fragile, almost seemed laughable. Looming above Cozy, the stone effigies of Tirek and Queen Chrysalis remained untouched.

Before Luster could take one step forward, Twilight rose from her throne and all but galloped over to the comatose filly. With an almost motherly tenderness, she knelt over Cozy and lifted her from the rubble, anxiously inspecting her for any signs of damage. When she found none, she gave a single, satisfactory nod, then laid the filly down and took a step back, blushing slightly, as if embarrassed by some irrational outburst.

"You may begin tomorrow." Her breathing was slightly ragged, and Luster suspected the spell had taken more out of her than she wanted to admit. "I will have her escorted to a cell by the guard. You are to have no further contact with her tonight. Is that clear?"

Luster bowed deferentially. "As you wish, your majesty."

Twilight gave a stiff nod, her neck and jaw held unusually rigidly. When she spoke, there was an unmistakable choke in her voice. "Dismissed."


Luster Dawn groaned, before pulling herself upright in bed. Blinking slowly to try and clear some of the debris from her eyes, a gloom fell over her as she remembered the events of last night. Though she could recall each moment in vivid detail, somehow it still didn't quite feel real. Slowly, she pulled herself away from the comfort of her bed, squinting as the morning sun dazzled her through the open window. She could tell from its position in the sky that she had overslept, but then again, her schedule had been cleared.

As she began to pack her saddlebags, she mused over how best to approach her new task. In truth, she had no earthly idea what to expect. She had virtually no experience teaching, and even the limited practice she had was limited to full-grown ponies. Maybe she should ask Headmare Glimmer for some advice. In the end, she opted to bring the simplest books she owned, along with an excess of parchment and ink. Today, she decided, would be about introductions.

Was she nervous? As she departed from her room, the question continued to rattle around in her head. In truth, she couldn't say. Sure, Cozy Glow was, for lack of a better word, bad. Just over twenty years ago, she had come closer than anyone before her to destroying Equestria.

"But then, she hadn't been alone."

Luster jumped almost a foot in the air and spun around manically, trying to determine the source of the voice that had just spoken. A low chuckle echoed around her that seemed, impossibly, to come from every direction at once. Her horn ignited on instinct, and she braced herself for a fight.

"Show yourself!"

"As you wish."

And then he appeared.

No flash of light, no spell, no portal, just... appeared. Luster had long ago given up trying to understand the magic used by the Icon of Chaos, but that didn't mean she'd gotten used to it.

"Discord!"

The draconequus flashed her a wide, toothy grin that instantly sent shivers running down her spine. Discord might be widely celebrated throughout Equestria as a hero, but Luster knew firsthoof how close he had also come to destroying it. Twilight might trust Discord with her life, but s he had her own reservations.

The draconequus extended a claw, his normally playful eyes boring into her with an unusual ferocity. "We meet again, Luster Dawn. I have to say, it's been quite some time, hasn't it?" When Luster gave no response, save for raising an eyebrow, his eyes narrowed, and he lowered his arm.

"What do you want, Discord?" Luster sighed, rubbing a hoof against the bridge of her muzzle. "I don't have time for any of your jokes. Why don't you go and bother Fluttershy? I've got to -"

"Get back to foalsitting?" Discord cut across her, his voice as sweet as honey. Luster froze.

"How - how did you know - "

"Oh, I have my ways." Discord sounded amused. "I must say, I'm rather surprised the Princess of Friendship would have thought it more appropriate to pass off such a task onto her student than undertake it herself."

"Well - well, it's..." Luster shook her head frantically. "It's none of your business. This is between me, Cozy Glow, and the Princess. I don't want you getting involved."

"Oh, but it is my business." Discord leaned in. "I assume you know of our history?"

Luster swallowed the lump in her throat, then nodded. Discord's role in the rise of Grogar's Legion was an oft-omitted part of history, but Luster had heard the whole tale from the Princess herself. "Yes. But that was then, and this is now. Things have changed."

"For Princess Twilight, absolutely. But not for that filly." Something unpleasant flickered in Discord's eyes. "I know what it's like to be imprisoned in a statue, you know. It's been twenty years for Twilight, but for Cozy Glow? It's as if no time has passed at all."

So, Cozy wouldn't remember a thing. Luster wasn't sure if she should be relieved or horrified. "What are you trying to say, exactly?"

"I disapprove."

Luster hadn't been expecting that. "Excuse me?"

"Oh, it's not that I doubt your abilities." Discord vanished in a puff of smoke, reappearing a few feet away in a gaudy academic gown complete with mortarboard. "I understand you are quite the prodigy in... well, in everything."

He vanished once more, reappearing right in front of her. "It's not my place to tell Princess Twilight how to manage her students, nor is it my place to tell you what to do. Nor further do I imagine you'd be inclined to give up before even getting started. But I would like you to do me a favour."

Luster eyed him warily. "What?"

"I'd like to have a little chat with you, from now and then. Twice a week should do it." Discord waved a claw dismissively as Luster opened her mouth. "If I think you're coming under her influence, or being used to influence others, I want to know - immediately" He no longer sounded aloof. Instead, there was a soft, pleading tone to his voice. "I can't force you, of course. But if Cozy Glow can trick your mentor, if she can trick me, would you really be as arrogant as to dismiss the possibility it could happen to you?"

Luster tapped her hoof against the floor, turning it over in her head. On the one hoof, she'd sooner go face-to-face with an Ursa Major than attend biweekly meetings with Discord. On the other hoof... his proposition made complete sense. And as much as it pained her to admit it, Discord had a good point. If he could fall under the filly's control, she was just as vulnerable, if not more so.

"Fine." Luster gave a slow nod. "As soon as I've cleared it with Twilight, I'll see you every... Wednesday and Saturday. Deal?"

Discord breathed out in relief. "Wonderful. I'll bring tea. Dandelion or Barley?" As he spoke, two steaming mugs with legs appeared and floated in mid-air, their limbs dangling comically.

With some effort, Luster just about managed to suppress a smirk. "Barley. And plenty of sugar."

Discord flashed her another one of his trademark grins before vanishing, again without a single sound or warning. Unnerved, Luster gathered up her saddlebags and pressed on.


"Name?"

"Luster Dawn."

"Age?"

"Twenty-one."

"Please hold."

A unicorn guard stepped forward, his horn igniting. After a few seconds, he stepped back and grunted in satisfaction. "She's not a changeling."

The sergeant, a stocky earth pony with a bright red coat, still didn't look happy. "Is she cleared for visitation?"

"Visitation orders signed by the Princess herself." The tone in the guard's voice made it clear he barely believed it himself. "Everything checks out, sir. We have to let her in."

The magical barrier covering the entrance faded away, and Luster Dawn stepped through. The second she was clear, it reappeared, humming with magical energy. The unicorn guard stepped forwards and gestured towards the bowels of the prison. "I'll take you to her cell."

He set off at a brisk pace, Luster following close behind through the courtyard. Canterlot Penitentiary was a relatively new construction, but the harsh brick and totalitarian architecture somehow made it feel ancient. Rows of prisoners, clad in orange vests, moped around the court under the eye of the Royal Guard. Some were reading books, others were rolling dice, but most were simply sitting around, watching the world pass by.

"Through here."

The pair came to a stop in front of a thick metal door. Luster's heart sank as she read the sign above it.

MAXIMUM SECURITY
AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY

"Is all this really necessary?"

The guard caught her eye and shrugged. "The Princess said she wanted her in the most secure part of the facility. Don't worry, we found her somewhere away from the others."

As Luster passed through the hallways of maximum security, her heart sank. Each cell was surrounded by blank walls, and the doors were windowless. She shuddered to image what it would be like to be locked in one for over twenty hours a day. Unlike the rest of the prison, the hallways were eerily silent.

Eventually, they came to a stop outside a cell no more remarkable than any other. The door had a name printed on the front - Blue Berry.

The guard held up a set of keys, scanning through them to find the right one. "We decided to use a fake name. Didn't want to risk her attracting any attention." He slid the key into the lock. "We haven't been allowed to check on her, so I don't know what you're walking into here. I've been instructed to wait outside." He pulled the door open a fraction. "Good luck."


The cell was unbearably monochrome. Every single surface was covered in matte white paint, so much so that it was almost impossible to tell how big - or small - the room might be. The sole adornments were a grubby-looking grey mattress in one corner, and a metal sink in the other. Standing on that mattress, wide-eyed and trembling slightly, was Cozy Glow.

The door slammed behind Luster, causing both of them to jump. A few seconds of silence passed, before Cozy Glow spoke.

"W-who a-a-are y-y-y-you?"

Her eyes widened further as she spat the words out, her voice stuttering and wavering as if on the brink of tears. All of Luster's apprehension melted away at the sight of the trembling filly, and she had to fight an urge to kneel down and start comforting the foal.

"My name's... uh... I mean, my name is Luster Dawn." Cozy Glow didn't move a muscle. "I'm Princess Twilight's personal protégé. I'm just going to be asking you a few questions today, so we can get to know each other better."

"What kind of questions? Where am I?" Cozy screwed up her eyes, as if deep in thought. "The last thing I remember... I was..." Her eyes flew open. "Oh no. Oh nonononononono..."

Tears began to sprout from the corners of her eyes as she turned her attention back to Luster. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I... I didn't mean to! It was Tirek and Chrysalis, they made me do it, they forced me, you've gotta believe me, I didn't - "

"Okay, okay!" Luster held up a hoof, and Cozy fell silent instantly. "First things first. Don't try to lie to me. I know all about you, and what you've done. Lying to me isn't going to help you out of this cell. The only thing that will is working with me."

For the most fleeting of moments, a mask of furious hatred crossed Cozy Glow's features, quickly replaced by one of snivelling, pathetic obedience. "Ye... yes ma'am."

Luster sighed, but decided not to press the issue any further. Retrieving a quill and parchment from her saddlebags, she gestured for Cozy Glow to take a seat. "First of all, I want to know what you remember from the moment Grogar's Bell was destroyed to now."

Cozy Glow nodded slightly. "Uhmm... Okay. I remember..." She frowned, as if unsure of something. "Being hit by... a... giant... cake?" She shook her head. "Anyway, then there was... Princess Celestia and Princess Luna casting some kind of spell. And then..."

"Yes?" Luster inquired, scribbling frantically.

"I... don't remember anything. I'm telling the truth!" She interjected defensively. "I must have been knocked out, because when I woke up, I was in this room. Two guard ponies came to visit me, but they didn't say anything." She glanced back at Luster, batting her eyelids in badly feigned ignorance. "Is that okay?"

There was an unpleasant silence as Luster tried to figure out the best way to break the news to the filly.

"Cozy..."

"Yeah?" Cozy Glow looked up at her with a small smile.

"I'm afraid it's - it's been quite some time since then." She took a deep breath. "Grogar's Legion was defeated twenty-three years ago. You were petrified along with your... uh... allies, and woken up last night."

Cozy Glow's giggled. "You're funny." Then she caught a glimpse of Luster's expression, and all the strength seemed to drain out of her body, a look of horror replacing her cherubic smile. "You... you are joking, right?"

"I'm sorry."

"What?"

Luster cringed as Cozy Glow did the one thing she'd hoped she wouldn't do; start crying. Not just a sniffle, but a full, running-nose, wailing bawl.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"

She wouldn't stop repeating it, chanting the mantra over and over as if it could somehow change the past. Then she lunged at Luster Dawn.

Luster hadn't expected it, and was caught completely off-guard. She braced herself, terrified she was about the feel a blade puncture her stomach - only to be utterly thrown when Cozy wrapped her hooves around her chest and began to sob into her coat.

Cozy Glow, the most dangerous filly Equestria had ever seen, third triumvirate of Grogar's Legion and evil mastermind, was clinging to her and sobbing uncontrollably like a yearling that had lost her mother.

Luster knew she should push her off. Possibly even reprimand her for not staying put. She knew there was every single chance she was being played for a fool, like so many others before her. But instead, she shakily held out her hooves and hugged the filly back, soothingly patting her on the back as she howled in a misery which, if feigned, was horrifyingly real.


It took Cozy Glow almost an hour to completely calm down. When she'd finished sniffling, she sat quietly, as if in a daze, listening to Luster without looking directly at her.

"As I said, I'm just going to collect a little bit of information about you, to make sure you've not suffered any memory loss or alteration while petrified. Is that okay?"

Cozy Glow nodded once, still not looking directly at her.

"Okay. Let's start with the easy ones. Can you tell me your full name?"

"Cozy Glow." The filly muttered.

"And your age?"

"Twelve. Thirty-five, I suppose." She cracked a bitter smile at that.

"We'll stick with twelve, I think. Without looking down, what is your cutie mark of?"

"A red tower."

"Okay." Luster made an approving tick on her form. On the bright side, it didn't look like Cozy was suffering from any major symptoms of petrification amnesia. "Let's try something else. Do you remember your parent's names?"

"No. I mean, I didn't know them. They died when I was a little filly."

"Oh. I'm sorry." Luster made a mental note to never bring the topic of parentage up again. "Can you tell me the names of the ponies who raised you, then?"

"My grandfather raised me for a while. His name was Feather Glow. When he died, I moved into Ponyville orphanage. Then I got a scholarship to the School of Friendship, and lived there."

"And do you remember the name of the head of Ponyville orphanage while you stayed there?"

"It was Gentle Treatment at first, but he was replaced by Silver Song when I was eight."

Luster scribbled this down. "Okay. Good. That's very good." She laid her quill down. "Well, I've got some good news. You don't appear to have any memory loss at all." In fact, Luster was somewhat taken aback by the filly's ability to recall events in such detail. "How are you feeling physically? Any soreness, stiffness, or pain of any kind?"

Cozy Glow shook her head. "I was a little sore this morning, but it's gone now."

"I'm glad to hear it." Luster laid the parchment down. "Well, I suppose you'll want to know more about me. Why don't you ask me a few questions?"

Cozy Glow hesitated, cautious. "Okay. Why are you here?"

Luster found herself suppressing a laugh at the forwardness of the question. "Princess Twilight wants me to resume your friendship studies from where they took off." A look of unmistakable surprise crossed Cozy's face. "Your progress will be monitored. If we think you're doing well, we'll get you out of here and put you up somewhere less..." She gestured at the cell around them. "...austere. If we see strong progress over a long period of time, we can talk about re-integrating you into society."

Cozy Glow nodded along, looking somewhat happier. "How often will I see you?"

"Every day. Your reforma... your education is the sole focus of my studies at this point."

Cozy Glow's mood seemed to immediately improve at that. "When can we start?" There was a newfound determination in her voice. "I want to start as soon as we can. What about today? Can we start today?"

"Well, I don't..." Luster hesitated. "I don't have any material with me. But I suppose, if it's just the basics, I could teach off the top of my head."

Cozy Glow nodded in agreement. "Sure. No problem. Can we start now?"

"Sure..." Luster coughed. "I mean, I guess we can at least test how well you remember your previous studies. Do you remember the six elements of harmony?"


The sun had dipped below the horizon when she finally left, replaced by the eerie glow of the rising full moon. Cozy Glow was an exhausting student, not willing to close even one topic without a barrage of highly specific questions, and Luster knew it was only going to get worse as they covered more advanced topics.

Besides that, she was... extraordinary. Gifted didn't begin to scratch the surface. Of course, she'd known that Cozy had been considered a prodigy back in her day, but the scope and depth of her knowledge was more consistent with that of a pony five years her senior. And this was after over two decades of petrification!

And yet there was a depressingly clinical tone to her recitals. Her voice was utterly devoid of enthusiasm, and it was clear to the most passive observer that Cozy Glow felt her studies were nothing more than a fast-track out of her cell and into a better life. Luster couldn't help but be unnerved by the filly's dispassionate tone. A small part of her was even disgusted by it.

As soon as she was alone in her room, she tossed her sandbags to the floor and collapsed into her bed. As she closed her eyes and allowed exhaustion to claim her, her last waking thought was a grim one:

I have to do this every day?