• Published 24th Oct 2020
  • 2,795 Views, 221 Comments

The Legionnaire - Vanity

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

  • ...

IV - The Emperor

The last traces of the unicorn's magic fluttered in the wind before being absorbed by Tirek. The centaur took a deep breath as the stallion collapsed to his knees in front of him, feeling the magical energy circulate through his veins, fortifying his growing strength. The stallion let out a weak groan, before his eyes widened in horror as he realized what had happened to him.

"How - What - What have you done?"

The centaur's horns glowed as a ball of magical energy began to form between them. But before he could scorch the unicorn in front of him, another figure stepped forward and laid a calming hand on his shoulder.

"Easy, brother. We already have his magic and belongings. What purpose would it serve to rob him of his life, too?"

Scorpan turned to the quivering stallion and bared row upon row of glistening fangs. "While my brother is feeling lenient, I suggest you run."

The pony didn't need to be told twice. Without falter, he turned tail and fled for safety, disappearing over the nearby horizon in seconds. Tirek growled in displeasure as the stallion vanished, before glancing over his shoulder at his gargoyle brother.

"You are too soft-hearted, Scorpan. It will be the end of us both."

Scorpan scooped the pony's saddlebags up in one claw, glancing inside to see what goods the pony had had on him. "And you are too bloodthirsty. It is a long journey home. I would prefer not to be weighed down by my conscience along the way." He sighed, and tossed the saddlebag aside. "More books. He must be a student of Star Swirl's Academy."

"No. His magic was far too powerful for an acolyte. I would wager he was a teacher."

"Didn't put up much of a fight, then. We must have made quite the impression." Scorpan looked troubled. "I somewhat wish we had not robbed an innocent stallion of his livelihood."

Tirek snorted. "Now you really are getting soft. You know as well as I do that magical harvesting is an unpleasant business, brother. Or perhaps you wish me to make an omelette without breaking a single egg?"

"I meant nothing by it. But something about this land... it makes me feel like a monster. We were but lesser demons in the Land of the Dead, but here, we are creatures beyond the worst nightmares of the average denizen. It will be difficult to adjust when we return home."

"Speak for yourself, brother. I relish their terror. Besides, have you forgotten why we are here? When I have drained as much magic from Equestria as I can, Astaroth himself will shake before us." Tirek's eyes gleamed at the prospect. "We will be kings."

"Of course. I have not forgotten. It's just..." Scorpan sounded wistful. "It saddens me you can think of no purer ideals than fear and violence."

Tirek locked eyes with Scorpan, as if trying to read the mind behind those large brown eyes. "You're starting to sound like one of them. Look at yourself, brother. You are a monster to these ponies. Do not delude yourself into thinking otherwise."

Scorpan's expression fell, and his eyes hit the floor. "I know. And you're right. It's just..." He sighed. "Never mind. I was being foalish. I - I mean... foolish."

Cozy Glow stirred slightly in her sleep. Hey eyelids slowly opened, taking in her pitch black surroundings of the room Luster had put her in. It was as she remembered it, bland and featureless, with hideous yellow walls and a stiff, itchy mattress that was somehow less comfortable than the one in prison. But it was still a room she could call her own. And was nice to have a window.

From time to time, the Chrysalis dreams were punctuated with memories that could have come from none other than Tirek. Tirek's memories were far and few between, compared to Chrysalis's - whether that was because more of Chrysalis had gotten tangled up with her, or because Tirek simply had fewer memories of note, she had no idea. In either case, it had stopped worrying her. She just hoped Tirek and Chrysalis wouldn't have any of her memories when they returned.

She remembered reading about Princess Luna, before her life had gone so far downhill. The princess of the night had once had the power to influence the dreams of other ponies, usually to teach them a lesson. Was the same thing happening to her? Was Princess Luna even still alive? She was stunned by the realization that she'd never even bothered asking Luster that question. After all, it had only been twenty-three years. It was almost laughable that a being as old as her could have passed in such a brief expanse of time.

She glanced out of the window. The morning sun was glimmering along the horizon, it's early rays spilling across the land and waking Equestria from it's slumber. She would get no further sleep tonight.

It was from this cold, steel window she had gotten her first real view of the new Canterlot, not one from a photograph or drawing. Canterlot had always seemed huge to her, but now it was immense. The buildings were taller than she'd ever imagined a building could be, some stretching as high as five or six stories. Where once there had been factories, there were industrial parks, bellowing smoke stacks that would put the mightiest of dragons to shame. Bizarre poles carried all sorts of wires from one street to another, and the roads were filled with carriages that seemed to pull themselves.

It had, at first, been too much. The world had grown too big, too quickly. She had wanted to withdraw from it, to return to the safety of her isolated cell. It hurt to know how much the world had moved along with her, and how much she had missed out on. The fillies she had known at Twilight's school would be grown mares by now, approaching middle age. Ponies talked in new, indecipherable slang that she struggled to keep up with. Once, Luster had come across Cozy in the middle of singing one of her favourite songs, only to comment how it had been one of Luster's mother's favourite songs when she was a young mare.

She could feel the tears coming again. It made her feel pathetic, worthless even, but sometimes she couldn't help it. Besides, it was better to cry alone in her room, with a pillow stuffed in her mouth, than in front of Luster. Her emotions towards the lilac unicorn fluctuated between boiling anger, to indifference, to other emotions she didn't recognize - or wouldn't.

Climbing beneath the blankets, she shut her eyes and grit her teeth, forcing her mind to clear and her eyes to dry. She could have lived forever beneath those blankets, surrounded by soft white light, devoid of specifics like time and place. Maybe this was what petrification had been like. No danger, no fear, just solitude and her thoughts to keep her occupied. If that was the case, maybe it hadn't been so bad...

The cave was well lit by the bonfire in the centre of it, which roared with fresh intensity as Tirek threw a new load of kindling atop it. The smoke would have been enough to suffocate a pony in seconds, but demons were made of sterner stuff. Scorpan grumbled to himself as the scroll he had been reading was obfuscated by the blanket of soot pouring from the crackling flames.

"Do you mind?"

Tirek let out a bellowing laugh. "You and your books. For once, I'm glad I never learned to read."

"Literacy is a virtue, brother. Besides, I imagine you'll need someone you can trust to word laws when we are kings."

"Demons are not creatures of virtue, Scorpan. And what true king has need of laws? We will enforce our will through our strength, like a king should."

Scorpan rolled his eyes and laid his parchment by his feet. "How curious you should mention that. I was just reading about the Equestrian farmer's revolution."

Tirek squinted in confusion across the fire. "Revolution and farmers? What do the peasantry and celestial bodies have to do with one another?"

"A revolution of a very different kind. An... uprising of the masses. Imagine, if you will, every demon in the Land of the Dead were to unite together to petition Astaroth for better living conditions."

Tirek cackled. "An amusing prospect, but a fantasy. He would slaughter them like sheep."

"But surely, he could not kill all of them?" Scorpan pressed. "Surely if enough rose up, they could force him to change his mind, or risk losing in the long run?"

"I believe he would choose to die, rather than concede. And even if he did, his generals would turn on him at such a sign of weakness. All would descend into bloodshed and score-settling."

"But it wouldn't have to! Don't you see, history proves it! The farmers successfully petitioned their princess to remove her unjust barons and lower the tax on their agricultural products all without - get this - all without spilling a drop of blood!"

Tirek roared with laughter. "Tax! What tithe have you ever paid to Astaroth, brother? Such petty concerns are for lesser creatures. The terms of his kingship have always been clear. We obey, or we die."

"But here, it isn't like that. They have laws to govern them. The system is not perfect, but it is fair."

Tirek let out a soft growl, as if disgusted by the idea. "They are a different breed to us. They are creatures of comfort and indulgence, who find meaning in fine meals, extravagant palaces, and pretty dresses. I admit, their numbers are formidable, though perhaps not too surprising for a population so concerned with pleasure. But they have become... self-domesticated. It is only a matter of time before a greater power comes along and wipes them out." A grin split his face in two. "After I've finished draining their magic, I may well see fit to do it myself."

He lifted a pair of brown leather saddlebags in the air, stained with a dark brown substance that was unmistakably dried blood. "I doubt the owner of these will be making overtures to civilization any time soon. And you may be interested in the contents."

Reaching inside, Tirek pulled out a thin, leather-bound tome with a series of arcane symbols carved on the cover. "An elderly stallion had the misfortune of coming across me as I gathered kindling. Though his magic was not as powerful as I had hoped, he had in his possession some most interesting-looking books. He was most unwilling to divulge information on each of them, but I can be persuasive when I need to be. Tell me, how familiar are you with Ponish?"

"It has come up in my studies."

"Well, I hope you've been keeping up with it. This scholar - between screams - informed me that this book is a study of an ancient ritual established by an Equestrian prince named Kanthaka, one that can drain the magic from an entire kingdom."

He raised the book aloft the crackling flames, face contorted with greed. "Imagine it, brother. Every quantum of magic from an entire empire, imbued in me. We would be beyond unstoppable. Beyond kings. Gods."

Tirek threw the book roughly across the room. Scorpan caught it in one hand and flipped it open. Though his knowledge of the language was not as good as he'd like, the style of the book was far from beyond him. He could translate it - if he wanted.

"Well?" Tirek waited with bated breath. Scorpan slowly turned the pages of the book, musing on what to do.

The spell within was most simple. In fact, it could have been performed by a being without an ounce of magical ability. Gathering some of the described artefacts would be challenging, but far from impossible. For a dedicated operator like Tirek, it would take him maybe a few days to collect them together.

And if he did translate it - what then? Tirek would bring the ponies to ruin. Drain them of their magic, then slaughter Equestia's inhabitants for fun, before returning to the Land of the Dead to slaughter some more.

Scorpan was well-travelled, having seen all four ends of the earth and the uncountable expanses between, but he had never come across a society like this one. Ponies were polite, civilized, caring. Scorpan loved his brother, but he could not - would not - be responsible for destroying such a beautiful land.

"I'm sorry. I can't translate this." He could not hold his brother's gaze as he spoke. Tirek looked visibly disappointed, but quickly perked up.

"I suppose it was always a long shot. Never mind. Tomorrow, I will go and look for a suitable translator. Though maybe I should seek two or three, to make sure their translation is accurate. Ponies will say just about anything to get the pain to stop." He let out a guttural laugh, a warped sound of pure evil. Scorpan almost couldn't believe it had come from his brother.

"Goodnight, Scorpan."


The bonfire was, by now, nothing more than a few glowing embers. As Scorpan gazed into their dying light, he made his decision.

A loud knocking sound woke Cozy from her slumber. Grumbling to herself, she wrestled the blanket off and jumped out of the bed. Stretching her legs, she shouted back. "One minute!"

She unbolted the lock and threw the door open. Luster jumped slightly as the door swung open, then relaxed and tried forcing a desperate smile. "Cozy! I hope you slept well. Are you ready to get started?"

The pegasus filly shrugged. Luster's smile dimmed slightly, unable to completely hide her disappointment at Cozy's apathy. "Are you okay? I didn't wake you up, did I?" A lecturing tone crept into her voice. "It is one in the afternoon. You shouldn't really be sleeping this late."

Cozy shook her head. "No, I...." She paused and let out a huge yawn, before clapping as hoof to her mouth.

To her surprise, Luster laughed. "Well, I suppose it's been a difficult week. I was thinking we should do something different today. How would you like to take a walk around Canterlot? Get some fresh air, take some time off your studies. Hey? Sound fun?" Her smile reaching breaking point.

Cozy wanted to tell Luster her feigned enthusiasm was about as pathetic as her idea of 'fun', but recently, for some reason, insulting Luster had felt more like kicking a dog than getting back at an authority figure. Instead, she shook her head to clear the last vestiges of sleep from her mind and put on a sweet, gracious smile.

"Yeah. That sounds fun! Canterlot looks huuge. I'd like it if somepony could show me around."

Luster's eyes lit up, and her fake grimace melted into a genuine, warm smile. "Great! Do you want to go anywhere in particular? One of shopping malls, or a museum, or maybe Canterlot library?"

Of course, Luster's idea of a relaxing day out would have to involve a library and museum. "I just want to wander, I suppose. Is that okay?"

"Sure! I'll let you get your bearings. It'll be fun - just the two of us."

Cozy's eyes narrowed at that. "Just us? You mean, no royal guards? No escort?"

Luster nodded. "I... I've talked it all out with Princess Twilight. From now on, I'll be responsible for deciding how your, uh... your security is handled." She shifted her weight from hoof to hoof, obviously uncomfortable. "I want to put my trust in you, Cozy. I know... I know you won't try anything silly today. But, if you did, then I'd still be there to stop you. Understand?"

Cozy nodded, mind racing. Was this some kind of trick? Was Luster testing her? Either way, it didn't matter. She was still right - Cozy wouldn't stand a chance of escaping under her watchful eye. Still, if she could find some way to distract her...

No. Stupid. She'd be caught immediately, and turned back into a statue, or worse. She knew she was all out of chances as things stood. There would be no leniency for escape attempts. The only option for now was to play along.

Luster coughed politely, happy to have the unpleasantness out of the way. "I, uh, I bought you something to wear. Picked it up this morning." She levitated a small bag with a purple "R" embossed onto the paper in front of her before laying it down at Cozy's hooves. Cozy reached inside and pulled out a plain golden necklace with a small glass pendant hanging from the chain.

"Uh... thanks?"

"Oh, think nothing of it. Why don't you try it on?"

Confused, Cozy slipped the amulet over her head. As she did so, she heard Luster let out a sigh of relief.

"Oh, thank Celestia. I was worried I'd messed the enchantment up. Full-body cloaking spells are harder than most ponies realize."

"Huh?" Cozy glanced down at herself, jumping in surprise at what she saw. Dashing over to the mirror next that hung above her wardrobe, her jaw dropped. Where once there had stood a pink pegasus filly with light blue hair, there now stood a lilac unicorn filly with short, scruffy blonde hair.

Luster laughed at her reaction. "I figured I could pass you off as a younger sister of mine. After all, it's no secret I'm responsible for you at the moment, so ponies would figure it out if I just disguised you as a random filly. This should placate their suspicions."

"It's amazing." Cozy meant it. But that wasn't what concerned her right now. "But... do I really need a disguise?"

"It's just a precaution. I'm sure nopony would try anything while you're with me, but this allows me to avoid the issue in the first place."

Her stomach dropped at Luster's words. "Try anything?"

"I mean... Well, what I mean is... I... Look, some ponies might not understand that you're trying to change. And... well, I'm sorry to say that some might not care."

Cozy hadn't even considered the prospect before. Equestria had been so welcoming to Discord, the Changelings, Tempest, and countless others, that she had simply assumed the same treatment would be afforded to her. As if reading her thoughts, Luster continued.

"It's been a long time since Equestria has been threatened like it once was. Ponies aren't as forgiving today as they used to be. I'm sure when they see how much you've changed, they'll take a different view of things. But for now, this is how it must be."

The view from the window hadn't lied. Canterlot was enormous. She remembered visiting with her grandfather once, when she was a little filly. Even back then, the city had impressed, but today it was easily three times as large. She stuck close to Luster, deathly afraid of getting lost in the throngs of ponies that surrounded them. Every creature imaginable was present - griffons, changelings, yaks, even dragons, to her surprise. She had always thought of dragons as wild, angry beasts, but to her, they all seemed perfectly pleasant.

They visited all manner of different places - monuments, landmarks, shops - before coming to rest in a park. In the centre of the park laid a statue of the Elements of Harmony, clearly made decades ago. The age on the statue was starting to show - moss had begun to creep up the legs of the ponies, and the statue was fractured and chipped in places.

Cozy collapsed onto a park bench, feeling the pleasant warmth of the sun on her coat. It had been so long since she'd been outdoors, she had already forgotten what it was like to be free, truly free, unconstrained by walls and windows. Well, not truly free. Still, it was nice to be outside.

Luster was the first to break the silence. Glancing around to make sure the coast was clear, she lightly coughed and began. "Cozy, I'd like to talk with you about something."

"Yeah?" Cozy was only half paying attention, too preoccupied with trying to enjoy the moment.

"Well, just over a week ago I had an opportunity to speak to Starlight Glimmer. You remember your old school's guidance counsellor?" Cozy gave an affirmative jerk of the head. "And she let me read some of your old letters. To Tirek."

To Luster's surprise, Cozy didn't react. Instead, she yawned and stretched her legs, seemingly unconcerned. Eventually, she responded, a casual tone to her voice. "Am I supposed to be surprised?"

"Well, I thought you ought to know."

"How kind of you." Cozy sounded more amused than irritated. "So what about them?"

"Well, I wanted to let you know that if you wanted to talk to somepony more medically qualified than me about your nightmares, I'd be more than happy to arrange that. Assuming they're still a problem, of course."

Cozy froze internally, though externally she kept up her lazy demeanour. Don't panic, whispered a small voice in her head. She doesn't know. She's talking about the ones you've been having for years. There's no way she could know.

"I don't want to see a doctor. I'm fine. Just drop it."

Luster frowned at the curt turn in Cozy's voice, but nodded respectfully despite it. "Well, if you want. I just want what's best for you, though."

Something about the pity in Luster's voice rubbed Cozy the wrong way. She wanted to snap back, but bit her tongue. Being confrontational wasn't going to get her anywhere. Well, it might make Luster cry, but for some reason, she didn't want that. Instead, she tried a different track.

"How are you?"

"Me?" Luster looked confused. "I mean... thank you for asking, I suppose. And I'm - I'm..." She sighed. "Well, I've been better. A lot better, if I'm being honest. Me and Twilight had a huge argument about... well, about something we both care about. Damn near lost her as a teacher over it." Her eyes darted from side to side as she spoke. "Obviously, I value her input a lot. But sometimes I think Twilight would rather the world was all neat and orderly rather than fair."

For a moment there was silence. Then Cozy spoke up. "You're talking about me."

Luster snorted with laughter. "Oh, sweet Celestia. I really am transparent, aren't I?"

"Nope. I'm just a genius." Cozy pulled herself up and sat on her hind begs, staring up at Luster with an unreadable expression. "Earlier, you said Twilight had made you responsible for making sure I didn't escape."

"Oh, Cozy, I didn't mean it like that - "

"Luster, I'm not stupid. I know what you meant. And I get it. I would have escaped, given the chance. And while we're being honest, I still would, if I could. I mean, I don't want to be a prisoner."

There was another silence. This time, it was Luster who broke it. "And what if you were free, Cozy? What would you do?"

"If I were free?" Cozy considered the prospect. "I don't know."

"You must have an idea. What about a job? What would you like to do when you grow up?"

"I always wanted to work for the royal guard. But I'm guessing that isn't an option any more." There was a soft melancholy in her voice. It was, in fact, the first time she'd seriously considered her future since being freed. "Actually, I'm guessing I'm not exactly the ideal candidate for a lot of jobs."

Luster couldn't argue with that. Still, it wouldn't do for Cozy to go through her teaching programme thinking there was nothing waiting at the end of it for her. "Well, I think you're one of the best students I've ever come across."

Cozy blushed slightly. "You're just saying that."

"I mean it. When I was your age, I don't think I knew half of what you know. And I'm Twilight's' personal protégé. If you were any other student, I'd already be drafting a letter of recommendation for the Canterlot Academy of Sciences. As things stand, I'll make you a promise."

"Yeah?" Cozy's ears pricked up.

"When my current programme of study is finished, I'll be finished with my education. I had planned to study further under Twilight, but under the circumstances, I feel it would be better for me to strike out on my own." She grimaced. "Every fledgling must stretch their wings sometime, as they say."

"As I'm sure you've guessed by now, your treatment is my current programme of study. If you work with me, and if you show me and the princess that you can change, really change, I'd be honoured to take you on as a student. Not as... this, some kind of prisoner. A real student. My personal protégé. What do you say?"

Cozy didn't know what to say. It was certainly quite the offer. "You really want me as your protégé? You're the Princesses' student. Don't you want somepony with... you know... better prospects?"

"I want the best student I can get. And right now, that's you. I'd be astonished if I ever met another filly with your capacity for greatness. All you need is the right opportunity. Twilight gave me that opportunity, once. It only seems right I pass the favour on."

An opportunity. She'd been promised that before. Grogar had looked her right in the eyes and promised her a third of Equestria for her own. At the time, she'd felt the same way. An opportunity she couldn't pass up.

Grogar had promised her power. But behind Luster's wide amber eyes, there was nothing but kindness. It was another chance at happiness, not power, that she was being offered. She might never be the powerful ruler she'd once hoped to be. But she could still be happy, no matter what she had done in Grogar's service. And besides, it hadn't even been Grogar. It had been Discord. Trying to prove a point.

"I - I'd love that. Thank you, Luster."

Luster smiled. "One day, I suspect I'll be thanking you."

Tirek roared, thrashing wildly at the chains that bound him hand and hoof. More royal guards rushed forwards to pin the Centaur down, supervised by the iron glare of Star Swirl the Bearded. Behind him, his Scorpan watched the scene unfold with a great sadness in his eyes.

"Tirek, brother. Do not make this any harder than it must be."

"Traitor!" Tirek snarled, eyes burning with hatred. "You would betray your own bloodkin for them!? I will have your head for this, make no mistake! Get off me!"

With that, he surged forwards with renewed strength, throwing two stallions off his back and surging forwards. Before he could lay a claw on Scorpan, Star Swirl's horn ignited, and Tirek was forced back to the ground.

"Foul beast! As soon as you have returned the magic you stole, I will have you confined to the pits of Tartarus for all eternity, I promise you!"

Tirek let out a foul stream of insults as a diatribe. Star Swirl's horn glowed more ferociously than ever, causing Tirek to howl with pain.

"Enough! I yield!"

Star Swirl didn't stop. His horn continued to glow brighter than ever, ignoring Tirek's cries for mercy, until the centaur had passed out. With a satisfied look on his face, Star Swirl jerked his head towards the cave entrance, and the guards began to drag the hulking unconscious form away.

Scorpan looked away as his brother was taken away. Betraying Tirek had not been easy. But he had made the right decision, he was sure of it. A light cough behind him dragged Scorpan back to his senses. Star Swirl was regarding him with a cool, disinterested expression.

"Thank you. Your actions today have likely saved Equestria and preserved our civilization for the years to come. Ponykind owes you a great debt."

Scorpan nodded. "I am glad to have helped preserve your wonderful culture, though said knowledge does not make my actions today any less bittersweet. Tirek was my much loved brother. I will miss him greatly."

"Yes, of course. Now, as I was saying. I have the permission of the royal sister to absolve you of any crimes you may have committed against ponykind, as a reward for your service. We are inclined to take the view that this business was the work of you two alone, so there will be no attempt to interfere with your journey back to the Land of the Dead, either. You are free to leave."

"Free to... leave?" Scorpan didn't like the forceful way Star Swirl spoke. "I was under the impression I would be allowed to... well, to remain. I am rather taken by your way of life, you see."

"Ah. Well, that would be the problem now, wouldn't it?" A condescending smirk crept onto Star Swirl's muzzle. "It is our way of life. A demon such as yourself could not possibly belong, and the royal sisters are joined in me with this opinion. I'm afraid you will have to leave our lands. And never return."

Scorpan growled with anger. "I see. So, I am to be cast aside once I have fulfilled my usefulness?"

Star Swirl's expression didn't budge an inch. "If you wish to see it like that, you may. Return to your own lands, demon. I will not ask a third time."

Scorpan was seized with a sudden, primal urge to kill the pony before him. It would be so easy, to reach across the cave and tear him to shreds. Then the guards, then any other pony he came across. But to do so would merely make him the monster they believed him to be. He had been played for a fool, but he was not anxious to prove himself one. As he approached the mouth of the cave, he took a moment to glance back.

"Then I will go. I would have paid a higher price to save your kind, even if you despise me for it. I will try to convince my kin of your way of life. Rest assured, if I am successful, I will welcome all visitors with a warmth and kindness you have not afforded me."

The look on the unicorn's face was enough to keep him smiling for days.

A few months later, he wore the same smile as he was impaled alive atop a spike outside Astaroth's palace, the traditional punishment meted out to purveyors of heretical thought. Even as he squirmed in agony, he tried in vain to spread his message to the demons who gathered to jeer at him. Drowned out by their laughter, he soon found himself laughing too.

As he died, his last thoughts were of Equestria. Knowing he had saved the land from devastation and ruin, he died with a smile on his lips and a glint in his eyes that would not fade.