• Published 24th Oct 2020
  • 2,799 Views, 221 Comments

The Legionnaire - Vanity

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

  • ...

II - The High Priestess

Dear Big Brother.

It's been a while since I last spoke to you. I was just re-reading your last letter - you know, the one where you talked about how Twilight Sparkle and her friends defeated you and locked you in Tartarus forever (so sorry about that, by the way) and I realized something super-duper interesting.

So, if I'm counting correctly, you had absorbed the power of four alicorns, thousands of ponies, a god of chaos, and you still lost! So whatever magic Headmare Twilight and her friends had must be powerful enough to rule all of Equestria, right? Except Twilight isn't the ruler of Equestria, Celestia is!

It just doesn't make sense to me. Can you tell me more about how you were defeated? How do the Elements of Harmony work? Do they all have to work together, or would just one do? I wanna know everything.

Hugs and Cuddles,

Princess Friendship.

Luster turned the letter over, but the other side was blank. The contents of the letter were disappointingly mundane, and nowhere near as personal as she had hoped. Her quill danced over the empty sheets of parchment she had brought with her, rapidly transcribing the contents of the letter. The next chronological letter had been badly burned, and was missing the lower third. The thick, spiky handwriting was barely legible, and Luster could feel a sinister aura emanating from it.

Dear Annoying Runt Princess Friendship

You are most astute, aren't you? Why, if I'd had a filly as smart as you by my side, we'd be ruling this land together right now.

It's actually most simple. Their friendship makes them powerful, but it also makes them weak. They are afraid of power, and instead of seizing it for themselves, as somepony with initiative like yourself would, they instead opt to cower beneath the hooves of Celestia. Truly contemptible.

Of course, if they were to lose their magic, how might things be different, I wonder? Without their precious Elements of Harmony, Twilight and the princesses would be hard-pressed to keep their rule running smoothly. It would be mere foal's play for a talented filly such as yourself to overthrow them.

My imprisonment offers me nothing but time to plan and scheme. It so happens that one of my plans is one that could not be more faithfully executed by one in your position. I wonder if you've heard of the artefacts of Kanthaka? Long ago, before Equestria, there existed

The letter ended there. Luster squinted desperately at the scorched edge of the paper, hoping to somehow make out the faint outline of further writing, but there was nothing. Of course, she was well aware of Kanthaka's ritual - after all, it was one of the few magical rituals that could be carried out without the magical abilities of a unicorn - but she had no idea it could be used to absorb magic from all across Equestria, even when boosted by an artefact as powerful as the Tree of Friendship.

The damage to the next letter was even worse. There were only a few scraps of paper remaining, collected in an envelope.

...collected three of them, but the crown has proved more difficult than I expected...

...to Tartarus, since they'll assume it's your doing. Don't you tell on me, now! After that, I'll be able to manipulate the students the same way I did...

...head on a stick outside her pwecious Castle of Friendship. Hah! Then I'll take her brother and cut off...

...set you free, if you promise to behave. You can have Fillydelphia, or maybe Manehattan. I'll need someone to deal with anypony who won't do what I say! Maybe if you do a really good job, I'll...

With a heavy heart, Luster moved on to the fourth letter. This one was fully intact, the spider-like writing printed more neatly. Tirek had clearly put a lot more effort into this letter than the last one.

Dear Princess Friendship

Why, I am most impressed. What did an old monster like me did to deserve an accomplice as devious as yourself? However, I have several suggestions to make. I do hope you'll accept my assistance.

First, timing is everything. You must time it precisely so that Twilight and her friends arrive at Tartarus just before this 'Neighsay' arrives. That should give you enough time to deal with him and consolidate your control over the school.

Second, do not underestimate any of Twilight's friends. I've never heard of this 'Starlight Glimmer', but if she's a close friend of Twilight, you would be unwise to dismiss her abilities so readily. If she cannot be convinced to leave with her friends, I recommend trapping her within the sphere of magical energy the ritual generates. That should keep her... occupied.

If the magical power of the ritual can be amplified through this tree, then it should be able to absorb all the magic from Equestria within three days. The magic within Tartarus should be unaffected, but the door will need to be unlocked from outside. If my memory serves me well, there exists an artefact known as the "Key of Unfettered Entrance" that will unlock it. Ensure Twilight and her Friends bring it with them. It should let them in... but not out.

When the third sun falls, I will drain the magic from the beasts of Tartarus and escape, leaving Twilight and her friends trapped there forever. As the only magical being left, I shall rule Equestria alongside you as a king most terrible for aeons to come.

Kindest regards,

Big Brother.

The flattering, grooming tone in Tirek's words made her want to vomit. Her stomach tightened as she realized she might well by holding five copies of what might originally have been hundreds of letters. Cozy Glow might have been receiving letters like this for years.

A hot, burning rage began to bubble within her, and it took every ounce of strength she had to stay put and open the next letter with care. The final letter was the longest, Cozy Glow's tiny handwriting somehow filling the entire page.

Dear Big Brother

Golly, I would never have thought of using that dusty old key! You sure are smart. It's so nice to have somepony - or should it be somecreature? Some... centaur? Never mind, somepony else who understands the way I think. All my teachers just keep saying the same thing over and over, "Friendship is Magic" and all that nonsense. But I'll show them all what friendship is really for.

It's funny, everypony talks about you like you're the absolute worst meanest monster ever, but you've been so kind and helpful to me, even though I'm just a pony. Nopony at school is this nice to me. They all think I'm weird, even if they don't say it out loud like the foals at the orphanage did. I know they're all laughing at me behind my back. Counsellor Glimmer says that I'm just imagining it, but I know she's lying.

I'm still having those nightmares. I know you said you didn't want to hear about them, but I don't think I can talk to anyone else about them, and I don't know why they keep happening. Last night it was my mommy and daddy. I mean, I've only ever seen photos of them, but I recognized them. They kept telling me it was my fault they were dead. Counsellor Starlight knows I'm having them, and she won't back off. Keeps asking me about these letters. I know she's trying to mess with me head. Why is she even allowed to be a school counsellor after all she did? She should be in Tartarus, not you.

But we'll show them, won't we! When I'm the Empress of Friendship, I'll have more friends than anypony, and they'll all have to do what I say! All the foals who bullied me at the orphanage, and the Princesses, and Starlight and that MULE SILVER SONG, THEY'RE ALL GONNA BE SORRY!

Please write back sooner this time. I really like reading your letters, it's the only thing that calms me down when I'm upset - which is all the time these days.

Hugs and Cuddles

Princess Friendship

"Not a pretty picture, is it?"

Luster jumped slightly at Glimmer's voice. The headmare was hovering in the doorway, levitating a stack of marked assignments in her magical aura. Luster laid the letter down on the table, her throat dry.

"You used to counsel Cozy?"

Glimmer nodded. "It was my first job at this school. I knew she was having problems, but I never suspected she'd been planning anything." She sighed. "I just... do you think I could have done more?"

Luster opened her mouth awkwardly, somewhat thrown by her old teacher asking her such a personal question. "I... I don't think anypony really knew what she was - "

Glimmer held up a hoof. "Please, no diplomatic answers. Tell me what you really think."

Luster glanced back at the letter she had just finished reading. "You knew Cozy was talking to Tirek?"

Glimmer's eyes bulged slightly. "Of course I didn't! I knew she was trading letters with somepony - Celestia knows that was all she used to do in her spare time - but I just assumed it was a pen pal, or maybe a colt she was soft on."

"Still, you didn't think it was... I don't know, unusual?"

"Actually, it was quite a relief. She was..." Starlight paused, as if searching for the right words. "She was friendly enough, but she didn't seem to be making many real friends. Spent most of her time alone, reading, studying, or just staring into space. I was worried if I pried too much, she'd stop talking to whoever it was, and then she'd be more alone than ever."

Luster couldn't agree with what Starlight was saying, but she understood. Glimmer approached the table and laid her hoof on the scattered letters, closing her eyes and furrowing her brow.

"And then I had to go and suggest making her Twilight's friendship assistant. I bet that went to her head, her first taste of power. I was so convinced that she was destined for great things, you know. I honestly thought she'd be where you were one day, a royal protégé, maybe even..." She chuckled. "Maybe even a future princess. Like you."

Luster bristled at Starlight's comment. "You're wrong. Princess Twilight will live for centuries to come. And she would have discussed it with me if she had anything like that in mind."

"Like Celestia discussed it with her?"

Luster paused. "She didn't?"

"Of course she didn't. Celestia never asked to lead, you know. She was chosen. As all leaders should be. Only those who don't seek power are qualified to hold it. You think anypony knows that better than me?" Glimmer waved a hoof in her general direction.

"I was right where she was all those years ago. Twilight taking me under her wing, mentoring me... it was all about preparing her to rule Equestria. The same way Cozy Glow is testing you."

Luster fell silent. In truth, she didn't have an answer. Was Twilight really preparing her to take over the throne? Was Cozy just another one of Twilight's many tests? All of a sudden, she found herself craving her old teacher's advice.

"Let's... let's say you're right. What do you think will happen to Cozy if I am successful?"

Starlight sighed. "I'm sure Twilight's filled your head with stories about her skipping off happily into the sunset with a bunch of newfound friends. But I don't think everypony will be as quick to forgive as you and I are. I mean, what's really waiting for her beyond that cell? Who'd hire her? Who'd rent to her? Who'd even accept her as a friend?"

"Ponies accepted you." Luster countered. "For hay's sake, they even let you teach their foals!"

"You know it's not the same thing. Most ponies had never heard of me before I became Twilight's student. But they all remember Cozy."

Luster could feel herself getting flustered with anger. "So, what? I should just give up on her, let her rot in that cell forever? Maybe petrify her again?" Her voice had risen to a shout, echoing off the ancient walls of the library.

Starlight gave her an odd look. "Woah, calm down! I never said that. I just said you should manage your expectations."

Blood rushed to Luster's cheeks as she realized how ridiculous she must look. Starlight, meanwhile, was giving her a new, more probing look.

"Are you all right, Luster?" She paused. "I mean, I used to be a counsellor, so I can tell you're not. Is there anything you want to talk about? I'm always here if you need any help, or just want to talk."

Luster tried to force a smile onto her lips, but one simply would not form. "Look, all this is just... stressful, you know? And it doesn't help to have Discord breathing down my neck all the time, accusing me of being under Cozy's spell every time I express a little concern for her personal well-being." She hesitated. "Actually, maybe you can help me."

Starlight perked up at that. "Sure! Anything you need."

"You counselled Cozy, right? What kind of things did you discuss? She mentioned she was having nightmares, and that you knew. It would be a huge help."

Starlight paused. "I... I don't know. I'm not supposed to disclose that kind of information without a student's consent. Not even to their parents."

Luster pressed on. "I understand, but, just... look, it could be a huge breakthrough. You're one of the only ponies who had a close relationship with her." She wasn't used to trying to weasel information out of other ponies like this. "I mean, I'm her counsellor now, right? We're just... comparing notes."

Glimmer still looked uncomfortable. "Well..."

Sensing weakness, Luster went in for the kill. "If you have information that could help her, what kind of pony would you be if you kept it from me?"

It worked. Starlight bit her lower lip and visibly relaxed. "All right, fine. Promise you won't tell anypony else I gave you this information?"

Luster smiled and nodded. "Cross my heart and hope to fly - "

" - stick a cupcake in my eye." Glimmer laughed. "Come on, let's get going. I have a school to open tomorrow."

The incessant sound of a harmonica being played - badly - drifted through the maximum security wing, causing a vein in the guard's forehead to twitch. As much as he'd have liked to confiscate it from the filly, as it wasn't technically contraband, his hooves were bound. It must have been a gift from that unicorn that kept visiting. Oh, he would have some choice words for her the next time she came knocking.

As usual, he hadn't been told anything about their latest arrival, only that nopony was meant to talk to her unless it was absolutely necessary. That would normally have suited him just fine - most of the ponies locked up in here weren't exactly the type he wanted to have a meaningful discussion with, anyway - but for some reason, the fact that discussion was forbidden just ignited his curiosity further.

His thoughts were interrupted by the filly hitting a particularly long, loud, shrill and ear-splitting note on the harmonica, causing something inside him to snap. Striding over to the door, he hammered against it with his hoof.


The harmonica stopped. From within, a snide, mocking voice responded. "Make me."

The guard's vision flashed red with rage. It took every ounce of self-control he possessed to stop himself from wrenching the door open and beating the filly to a pulp.

"Who do you think you're talking to?"

The muffled sound of the filly giggling could be heard. "Golly, I don't know. Another high-school dropout with anger issues and an inferiority complex, by the sound of things."

That did it. Nopony talked to him like that, especially not the vermin they kept locked up in here. Little filly or not, this scumbag was going to learn a lesson about respect. Fumbling for the master key he wore around his neck, the guard forced it into the door lock and turned it.

The key didn't budge. He swore and tried again with more force, and still the key stayed stuck. An awful, gloating laugh drifted through the keyhole.

"What's the matter? Can't get it in?"

The guard roared in fury and shifted his weight onto the key in a last ditch effort to get it to turn. The key buckled slightly, then snapped in the lock, causing him to lose his footing and come crashing to the floor. Black splotches grew and burst before his eyes as his body burned in pain, the shrill sound of the filly shrieking in laughter the only thing he could hear.

As he stumbled to his hooves, cheeks burning in humiliation, he examined the door. The thick metal frame was undamaged, but the lock was jammed with the remains of the door key. How was he going to explain this to the sergeant? He wasn't supposed to open the door unless it was an emergency, so he couldn't pretend the key had broken by accident.

And why hadn't it worked in the first place? Had the locks been changed? No, impossible. He would have been told if they had. Had the filly tampered with the lock? Equally impossible - the locks were sealed from the other side. The only way to unlock them was from the outside.

As he peered into the lock, wondering if he could somehow remove the broken fragment, he heard hoofsteps approaching behind him. He spun around and found himself facing a unicorn mare - another guard, and judging by the ornate golden wings affixed to her chestplate, one of much higher rank.

She took one look at his blank expression and sighed. "Care to explain yourself?"

"I... I was just conducting a check on the prisoner. She'd been quiet for a while, and I was worried there could be something wrong."

He'd expect the filly to pipe up with a contradiction, but for whatever reason, she mercifully decided to keep her mouth shut. The guard raised an eyebrow.

"Stand up straight." He immediately adjusted his pose as she continued. "You've been instructed to leave this cell alone. I expect better compliance in the future, soldier."

"Yes, ma'am." He bowed his head. "The, uh, the key broke in the door. I think I might have been issued with the wrong set of keys this morning."

The unicorn closed her eyes in silent frustration. As she opened them, her horn glowed, and the stuck fragment flew out of the lock effortlessly. She let it clatter to the floor, before returning her steely gaze to the stallion.

"This lock is magically sealed. It doesn't open without authorisation from the central prison authority. And if anypony tampers with it, it sets off an alarm." She glanced at the ID badge clipped to his armour. "Oak Fields. There will be a mark on your permanent record, possibly a fine for destroying public property. Don't let anything like this happen ever again."

With that, she strutted off with the air of arrogance universal to all commissioned officers. As he watched her leave, he became vaguely aware of the sound of a harmonica floating from behind the cell door.

Luster glanced over at Glimmer, unrolling a sheet of parchment. "Whenever you're ready."

Glimmer shuffled around in her seat awkwardly, eyes darting back and forth in discomfort. "Heh. It's hard to know where to start."

"Why don't you try telling me about the first time you met Cozy Glow?"

Glimmer's eyes lit up.

"Oh, of course. That was back when... gosh, that was back when I was still guidance counsellor. Now I feel old. I'd seen her around school a few times, but the first time I met her was when she came to me asking for advice. She'd failed one of her tests on purpose and wanted to talk about it."

Luster scribbled frantically, trying to capture everything that was said. Tiny drops of ink flew from the parchment and landed on her muzzle as she wrote. "Failed on purpose? Why?"

"Oh, she was being tutored by some other foals. She thought if she failed badly enough, Princess Twilight would let her friends join the school." She shook her head. "Maybe friends is too strong a word. The closest thing she had to friends would be... projects. Ponies she worked on."

"But you think she genuinely wanted to help these foals?"

Glimmer paused, as if considering the question. "I'm sure she had her own reasons, but yes, I think she did."

"And was that when she started seeing you on a regular basis?"

Glimmer snorted. "She never saw me on a regular basis. She would drop into my office every so often, talk for about half an hour, then just leave. This... this is why I wasn't comfortable talking about this at first. Sometimes she would just talk about how her week had been, or something mundane. Other times..."

Luster leaned in. "Yes?"

"Sometimes she wanted to talk about her past. But it was like she was reliving it, not trying to get over it. Or she wanted to talk about her nightmares, but instead of talking about how they made her feel, she just wanted to walk me through them in detail. You know, she was convinced Princess Luna was behind them. Absolutely convinced. Wouldn't hear a word to the contrary."

Luster nodded along, silently scribbling as she did so. "Would you say she was paranoid?"

"About everything and anything. It was like she couldn't relax unless she knew exactly what was going on around her at all times. I tried to make my office a place where she could feel safe, and I suppose that's why she kept coming back."

"Didn't you share your concerns with Princess Twilight?"

"Of course not. The whole point of a counsellor is that all disclosures are confidential." Luster raised an eyebrow, and she blinked. "Oh. You mean after... what happened." She shuffled further in her seat. "I... I had planned on it. But I was worried Twilight would blame me for not bringing my concerns up sooner. In a way, I felt responsible for a lot of what Cozy did. And with her locked up in Tartarus, I figured it didn't matter."

Luster understood what Starlight meant. Still, this wasn't exactly proving to be the tell-all exposé on Cozy she'd hoped for. "How did Cozy fit in at the school?"

"Like I said, not as well as I'd hoped. A good student, excellent grades, but no real friends. She wasn't bullied - at least, not that I know of - but she didn't trust anypony enough to get close to them."

"Did she ever talk about her plans beyond school?"

"She mentioned wanting to be a teacher a few times, but I doubt she was taking her future all that seriously. Most foals her age would have given a similar answer."

Luster dutifully scribbled this down. She could think of little else to ask, and the candles Starlight had lit were burned down to a nub, slowly swallowing the pair in the pitch darkness of the new moon. Luster rolled her parchment into a scroll and neatly packed it into her saddlebag.

"Thanks for your time, Starlight." The disappointment in her voice must have been obvious, because Starlight's cheerful expression fell slightly at her words.

"It was nothing. I wish I could have been of more help."

The pair headed towards the exit in silence, the sound of hoofsteps against the cold marble floor the only sound punctuating the veil of darkness around them. Starlight rested her hoof against the door for a moment, then spoke up again.

"I meant what I said earlier, you know. About Princesshood."

Luster was too tired to argue the point any further, so she responded with a non-committal grunt.

"Take my advice or don't. You're too old for me to be lecturing you. But Twilight is testing you. And she's using Cozy to do it. And I understand she's not the most sympathetic figure, but I... I just want you to make sure you put her well-being first, ahead of her reformation. No matter what's on the line."

Luster shook her head. "What are you saying, exactly?"

Starlight sighed, and pushed the door open. The soft glow of streetlamps flooded through the doorway, illuminating the ground underneath Luster's hooves.

"Power is intoxicating, Luster. Trust me. I know that better than anypony."

No matter how fast she ran, the wolves ran faster. She could feel them inches behind her, howling madly, snapping at her hooves, so close she could feel the heat of their breath on her heels. The sun burned fiercely above her, its familiar yellow glow corrupted into a menacing crimson that stretched infinitely into every horizon, bathing the vast plains around her in blood red light.

Every muscle in her body ached, her heart was pounding agonizingly in her chest, and her every breath was ragged and painful. Her vision flashed red and black, until she could run no longer. Her legs gave way beneath her, and she crashed painfully into the ground.

The hounds were upon her in an instant. They were merciless, tearing chunks of flesh from every exposed part of her body. The pain was indescribable, but that wasn't the worst part. It was the faces. Each wolf wore a different one - Chrysalis, Tirek, Discord, Celestia, Twilight, Luster, their expressions twisted into those of ravenous beasts. From their mouths poured an endless stream of blood, only some of it hers, and their eyes were black, featureless, unfeeling voids.

They cackled madly in between mouthfuls, but by this point she was only vaguely aware of what was happening. Her vision was dimming, the pain ebbing away, her consciousness slipping away...

Cozy Glow's eyes shot open.

She leapt to her feet, heart pounding so fast and hard she was certain she was going to faint. Her mouth was open in a silent scream, and her coat was matted with sweat. Instinctively, she backed into a nearby corner, eyes rapidly scanning the darkness, waiting for the hounds to lurch forwards and sink their teeth into her flesh.

She stood paralyzed in the corner like that for a few minutes, hardly daring to breathe, chest burning with fear. When nothing appeared, she began to relax slightly as her memories came flooding back. She was in the same cell as usual. She was safe. And she was alone.

Crawling back to her bunk, she wrapped the thin blanket around herself several times. Backing as far as she could into the corner, she curled herself into a ball and wept.

Author's Note:

daddy vanity feeding you new content owo