• Published 24th Oct 2020
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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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VI - The Lovers

Fluttershy sang a quiet tune to herself as she floated around her garden, watering plants and refilling her many bird feeders. It was an old song; one she'd learned as a little filly. Her soft, angelic voice carried itself throughout the garden, bringing many small critters to poke their heads from the bushes, holes and trees they called home. For her, they made the perfect audience.

Keeping garden wasn't anywhere near as fulfilling as running the animal sanctuary, but it had to be done. Besides, she was certain today would be just fine in Ocellus' hooves. She might be in the prime of her life, but she knew when to kick back and take it easy too.

The cottage she lived in was perfectly situated - not too far from Ponyville to be isolated, but still far away enough that peace and quiet was easily found. It wasn't quite cramped - perhaps squashed would be a better word - but everything had its place. Aged, beat-up furniture lined every wall, walls lined by photographs - some glossy and framed, others faded and scratched, attached to the wall with pins or tape. They all contained the two subjects, the same couple whose likeness was etched into an elegant brass heart that rested precariously above a crooked mantlepiece.

For Fluttershy and Discord.
To another fifteen years.

Fluttershy laid her watering can down to rest and collapsed onto a nearby sofa, still humming quietly to herself. Normally, she would have spent the day with Discord, but he'd been awfully withdrawn recently. Every spare moment he had, he was flying around after Twilight, trying to convince her to change her mind about Cozy Glow.

Of course, she had been as surprised as anypony when Twilight had let Cozy free, but unlike Discord, she barely gave the matter a second thought. Twilight had made few mistakes as princess, and Fluttershy doubted she was about to start now. She just worried it would be too much for Luster to handle. She had been in such a state the last time the two of them had spoken.

A knocking at the door brought her attention back to reality. For a moment, she hesitated - before her hoof hit her forehead in frustration. Of course, she would be here today. Right on time, as always.

Fluttershy softly paced her way over to the door and cracked it open a sliver, throwing it open in full seconds later.

"Sweetie Belle! Oh, I'm so sorry, I completely forgot you were coming today. I haven't prepared any tea or... anything..." Her voice trailed off as she took in the look on Sweetie's face. It was a complex mess of emotions she couldn't quite define. "Sweetie?"

Sweetie Belle tried to speak, but only a croak came out. Grimacing, she coughed, cleared her throat, and tried again.

"Can - can I come in?"

"Of course!" Fluttershy stood back from the doorway and allowed Sweetie to enter. With an almost dazed expression on her face, she wandered into the living room and sank into a sofa, each step so measured and precise it was as if she expected the floor to give way beneath her any second. Fluttershy followed close behind her, concern mounting.

"Are you okay, Sweetie Belle? What's happened?"

Sweetie stopped staring into space and locked gazes with Fluttershy. "I'm sorry, I've just been... a bit unfocused since..." Her jaw snapped shut and she shook her head. Fluttershy sat down opposite her, waiting for her to continue.

"I've just seen... Cozy Glow." She whispered the name, before letting out an involuntary stream of giggles. "Oh, Sweet Celestia, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't be laughing."

"Don't worry about it. And Cozy's been free for a good few months now. You must have known you were going to run into her eventually."

"That's just it. I've been keeping away from Canterlot, just so I knew I wouldn't have to face her. But I didn't see her at Canterlot. I saw her at... The School of Friendship." More whispers. "Apparently Starlight is letting her teach. Her!"

Fluttershy opened her mouth, but before she could speak, Sweetie cut across her. "I mean, it's one thing to give her another chance, but to let her loose in a school, with young foals! And without even consulting any of the parents! I only found out because Sugar Gem was in one of her classes." She spat the final word as if it demeaned her to even be in her mouth.

"You... knew her, didn't you?" Fluttershy inquired. Sweetie's expression darkened.

"Twenty-four years ago. Sometimes, I can't believe I actually considered her my friend. She was a manipulative, controlling little monster back then, and nothing's changed. Well, I'm not just going to sit around and let it all happen. I'm going to have Sugar Gem pulled out of her class as soon as I can, and then I'm going to make sure all the parents know just what kind of ponies they let teach at that school."

Fluttershy coughed lightly. "Sweetie Belle, don't you think you're being just a little..." She waved her hoof descriptively. "Irrational? I mean, don't you think Starlight knows what's best for her students better than... well, better than... you?"

Sweetie Belle grimaced. "I'd like to think that too, but you don't know Cozy Glow like I do. That filly was... is... manipulative. I'm sure she's telling Starlight and Twilight and everypony else whatever it is they want to hear, just to get her freedom as soon as she possibly can. Who know what she'll do when there's nopony around to control her any more?"


"Cozy?"

Luster gently tapped her hoof against the door to Cozy's room. The filly had returned from her first lesson in a thunderous mood and locked herself in her room without speaking to anypony. Though she knew she should respect her student's privacy, she hated the thought of Cozy sitting alone in her room with only her misery to keep her company.

"Cozy, please talk to me."

Silence.

"Cozy, if you don't talk to me, I'm going to have to come in."

For the first few seconds, there was nothing. Then, the door creaked open. Cozy Glow poked her head out, her normally cheerful expression replaced with a sombre one that put Luster in a state of unease she could not easily describe.

"Bad first day?"

"You could say that."

"Want to talk about it?" Luster peered over Cozy's head at the gloomy room. "We can go out and get something to eat. My treat."

Cozy blinked, unsure. "I don't know. I still haven't written the next lesson plan..."

"Then I can give you some pointers. Come on, we should do something to celebrate your first lesson, right?"

"I guess? I mean, I..." Cozy sighed. "I wasn't getting much done anyway." She paused. "Is it okay if I wear the amulet? I don't feel like being... me... today."

"Sure!" Luster gave her an understanding smile. "Trust me, I know how that feels. Were the students really that awful?"

"No, not... not them..." Cozy slipped the amulet around her neck, transfiguring in an instant. "I... I actually saw somepony. Somepony I knew back before... well, all this. Do you know a mare called Sweetie Belle?"

"Rarity's sister?" Luster gave a non-committal shrug. "Not really. I've run into her a few times. She has a colt at the school, doesn't she? About your age."

"Yeah, she does. One of my students. I..." Cozy grimaced. "I kind of... knew her. When she was a filly."

"What?!" The anger in Luster's voice caused Cozy to jump. "I specifically told Starlight to select the students herself! Oh, Cozy, I'm so sorry. I'll write to Starlight and ask for him to be moved to another - "

"Don't worry about it." Cozy hoisted her saddlebags onto her back and motioned towards the door. "It's best his learning isn't disrupted. Besides, I wouldn't want him to feel singled out, just because I knew him mother."

"Are... are you sure?" Luster found herself mixed with equal parts pride and concern. "I mean, that's very mature of you. But you really don't have to do this."

"Like I said, It's fine. Besides, I wouldn't be surprised if Sweetie doesn't pull him out of classes now she knows I'm teaching them."

"I'm sure she wouldn't do anything like that."

"You didn't see the way she was looking at me. I know it. She still hates me."


"Well, that's what I think, anyway."

Sweetie threw her neck back and drained the rest of her glass of wine, before uneasily settling it down on the table between them, next to Fluttershy's untouched glass Sweetie had insisted on pouring. Fluttershy's heart sank as Sweetie reached for the bottle and started filling her third glass, bottle shaking slightly in her magical aura as she did so.

"Um... Sweetie, maybe you should... slow... down..." As Fluttershy whispered her protestation, Sweetie drained half of her fresh glass in one gulp and all but slammed the bottle down on the table. Fluttershy trailed off into a quiet squeak.

"And you know what Sugar Gem is like, won't listen to a word I say. Apparently she's a good teacher. As if that mattered. She could be a professor of alchemy at Canterlot Academy and I wouldn't care."

She threw her head back and groaned. "You're so lucky you never had foals. Scootaloo tried to talk me out of it, you know. But then I had to go and get all doe-eyed over Apple Pip, and now look at me. It doesn't help that Rarity spends her every waking moment filling his head with ideas about being a model. I'd have him shipped off to Guard Academy, but he probably wouldn't survive."

"How is, um, how is Rarity?" Fluttershy ventured, desperate to distract Sweetie's attention from the wine glass she had begun to raise to her lips. Sweetie merely grunted in response.

"Still doing better than me." Sweetie muttered into her glass. Downing the remainder with one swift motion, she laid the glass down with an even shakier grip than last time. "I think she's on tour, marketing her new line. Fur coats for yaks!" She snorted the last line before letting out a fit of involuntary giggles. "What next, winter jackets for dragons?"

"And... Pipsqueak? How's he doing these days?"

"Don't get me started. I swear, he spends more time at work than out of it." She glanced down at her empty glass, suddenly looking embarrassed. "Sweet Celestia, I must sound awfully bitter. He's fine. Just a little overworked. I would have bought Cozy Glow up with him, but he doesn't need anything else to worry about."

"So... what are you going to do about it, then?"

Sweetie shrugged. "I don't know. Sugar Gem would probably kick up a fuss if I tried to meddle, and I don't think I can stomach another argument with that colt."

"Have you... um, have you considered... talking to Cozy?"

"I... I don't think that's a good idea. It's been... gosh, well over two decades. I haven't spoken to her since I was just a little filly myself."

Fluttershy nodded sympathetically. "Well, think on it. I think it might help give you a sense of closure. Maybe you could bring the other girls along."

"Definitely not a good idea." Sweetie grimaced. "Scootaloo wouldn't go within a hundred feet of that filly unless it was to strangle her. Apple Bloom too. I half expected you to feel the same way. Didn't she once try to trap you in Tartarus for all eternity?"

"Well... yes. Yes she did. But ponies can change. I believe that, and so does Twilight. She wouldn't have let Cozy out of that statue if she didn't. The more we try to accept Cozy, and accept that she's trying to change, the easier it will be for her to change."

Sweetie nodded. "I suppose. I never really thought about it that way." Her glazed expression regained some of its focus. "How would I even begin a conversation like that, though?"


"... like I said, most of them got over the novelty of having me as their teacher pretty quickly. Ironically, after that my biggest challenge was trying to keep their attention." Cozy paused to take another sip of her hot chocolate before continuing. "It's weird, being the teacher. Twilight always made it look so easy."

"You'll pick it up quickly enough." Luster gave Cozy a kindly smile. "In all honesty, I didn't expect your first lesson to go this well. I'm so proud of you."

The corner of Cozy's mouth turned upwards at that. "Thanks. I sure hope so." She shuffled uncomfortably in her seat. "Do you... do you think Sweetie Belle...." She trailed off. "I don't know how to say it."

Luster nodded. "I know. Take as much time as you need."

A few moments passed before Cozy spoke. "Do you think she... hates me?"

"I don't know. She might." Luster resisted the urge to mince her words. Cozy's smile vanished, replaced with a grim frown.

"Guess I just have to get used to that, huh?" She sighed. "Everywhere I go, ponies will judge me before they've even met me."

"Some of them, maybe. But to lots of ponies, you're just a distant memory. Of course Sweetie Belle is going to have strong emotions about you. Try and put yourself in her horseshoes. You've just reappeared twenty-four years after you disappeared - without aging a day, I might add - and now you're her colt's teacher. Could you even imagine how that must feel for her?"

Cozy didn't look convinced. "I guess not." Her eyes suddenly widened. "Woah. Sweetie Belle has a foal." She spoke with an awestruck reverence in her voice that made it clear it was the first time the concept had actually hit her, causing Luster to smile despite the gloomy mood.

"She's not the only one. Apple Bloom has a filly too, you know." Luster's grin only widened as Cozy's eyes boggled till they threatened to pop out of her head. "Little Apple Pip... well, not so little anymore. She's older than you."

Cozy shook her head, a somewhat dazed expression on her face. "Older than me?"

Luster chuckled under her breath. "I think it was something of a surprise for Applejack too. Apple Bloom was younger than me when she had her foal."

"That's just... so weird. I mean, Sweetie Belle was always talking about colts. How come Apple Bloom had a foal before her?"

"I don't know. Ponies just change, I guess." Luster tapped her hoof against the table thoughtfully. "You've changed, too. You might not have noticed it, but I have. I know it's not been easy, but the hard part is over. I promise."

"Really?" Cozy didn't bother disguising her disbelief. "What happens next?"

"Well, at some point, you'll have time to speak with Princess Twilight one-on-one. If she thinks the process is complete, then you'll be free to go."

"And if she doesn't?"

"Then you'll have to keep trying."

"What... what if I can't convince her?" The first note of panic had begun to creep into Cozy's voice. "What if I keep trying and trying and she keeps saying no? What if she puts me back in the statue or back in prison or - "

"Cozy!" Luster snapped, causing the filly to fall silent. "I promise you, that isn't going to happen. Princess Twilight will give you as much time as you need. And I'll give you lots of practice beforehand, so you'll know exactly what to do when you're there."

Cozy paused, took a few, short, deep breaths, then relaxed. "Okay. I believe you."

Luster smiled. "I'm telling you, you'll be fine. Come on, let's get something to eat."


"I'm home!"

Sweetie Belle closed the door behind her, finding herself mercifully far more stable on her hooves than she had been when she left Fluttershy's house. After a few seconds of silence, she called out again.

"Sugar Gem?"

More silence. Then, a pattering of hooves heading downstairs. A skinny teenage colt slunk into view, wearing a scowl on his face that made it clear he wasn't happy to see her.

"What do you want?"

"Please don't take that tone with me, Sugar Gem. I've apologized about what happened earlier."

"You mean dragging me away like a little colt in front of the whole school? Thanks, mom. Means a lot."

Sweetie Belle bit her tongue, determined not to spark another argument with her foal. "Well, I've thought it over some more. And, if the princess and the principal think it's a good idea, then... then I suppose I'm willing to trust them. You can continue attending Cozy Glow's classes."

Sugar Gem blinked, completely thrown by this change of events. "Really?"

"Really." Sweetie Belle couldn't quite stop her voice from wavering, but she held firm, trying a weak smile. "So, you'll also be pleased to know you do have to do your alchemy homework."

Sugar Gem still looked unsure. His mother never changed her mind this quickly about... well, about anything. "Right. Whatever."

As Sugar Gem slunk upstairs, Sweetie Belle's brave attempt at a smile vanished in an instant, replaced with a scowl she found herself wearing all too often nowadays. A quick circle of the house confirmed that Pipsqueak was late home - again.

Collapsing onto the sofa, the conversation she'd had at Fluttershy's house burned through her mind.

...This is all my fault. I messed up my test on purpose so we could all go to school together. I'm sorry...

It had been twenty-four years since she'd heard the words, but somehow they seemed clearer than ever to her, as if they had only been spoken yesterday. It was beyond bizarre to see Cozy Glow all these years later, still the young filly Sweetie Belle had known her as.

Fluttershy was right, of course. Cozy Glow was obviously making a real effort to change, and Sweetie Belle had no right to mess that up for her. She wanted nothing more for Cozy to change. And yet...

There was something so uncomfortably familiar about it all. Sugar Gem was almost the exact same age she had been when she'd struck up her friendship with Cozy Glow. Being a naive young filly, she'd suspected nothing of Cozy's intentions, intentions which had almost landed her in such awful trouble with Princess Twilight.

Almost.

Cozy Glow's intentions for clearing the Cutie Mark Crusader's names had always puzzled her. At the time, she'd given it no further thought, too happy about being hired as a tutor to worry about a small detail like that. It had often crossed her mind, but she'd always dismissed it as nothing more than a small part of Cozy's broader plan.

She'd never given any real consideration to the idea that Cozy could have done it purely out of the goodness of her own heart. It seemed like the last thing Cozy would ever have done. It certainly ran contrary to the popular image of Cozy Glow as a deranged, power-hungry madmare.

Of course, one small act of mercy did nothing to atone for everything else Cozy had done. But perhaps, deep down, there was more to the filly than she had been led to believe.

She hoped so.


The sky was rapidly darkening by the time Cozy and Luster returned to Canterlot Castle. Luster led Cozy to her room, bid her goodbye, and left her to her lesson planning.

In her sleepy haze, she would almost certainly have missed the letter slipped under her door, had it not been enchanted to scream at her the moment she put her hoof in the room. Ripping it open in a foul mood, her spirits only darkened further at the unmistakable draconequine handwriting, the round, cartoonish script she loathed so much:

The top of tower five. Ten minutes from when you opened this letter.

Don't make me come to you.

Discord.

It was far from the first time she'd ever received a letter from Discord, but to be summoned like one of his inferiors - no, not even like an inferior, more like a pet - filled her with a sense of rage she couldn't put into words. She wanted nothing more than to shred the letter and toss it in the trash, but she knew she had little choice either way. If Discord wanted to see her, she could do nothing to stop him, and making him chase her down would only make things worse.

As always, he was waiting for her when she arrived, reclined against the railing and checking a gold pocket watch in a manner that would, to the untrained eye, appear to be nothing more than a cartoonish visual gag, but to her, represented nothing more than the usual condescending mockery Discord employed to belittle those around him.

The draconequus' glowing red eyes lit up at her arrival, the pocket watch disappearing in a snap of his fingers. He was alone - or, at least, he appeared to be. As he stood there, Luster found herself wondering more about the trickster in front of her. He was several millennia old - at least - and had seen entire aeons come and go. Did he really care about anything? Fluttershy, Cozy, Equestria - all of them must, to him, be nothing more than mere passing blips in his immense lifespan.

"Well, well, well. If it isn't the Princesses' favourite student. It's been too long, Luster." His wide smile stiffened. "Really. It has."

"Make it quick." Luster tried to sound forceful, but was only able to come up with a voice that sounded irritable. "I've got a million and one things to do tomorrow, and I want to get some sleep tonight."

"As you like." Discord's wolfish grin returned in full force. "Princess Twilight and I have decided to act upon our mutual concerns. Tomorrow, Cozy Glow will be leaving Canterlot with me. You may consider it a part of her formal education."

"What?" Luster snarled, horn igniting on instinct. "What do you mean, mutual concerns? Where are you taking her?"

"Miss Dawn, I hope you're not attempting to threaten me. That would be a very bad idea." He coughed. "In any case, I don't need to explain myself or my reasoning to you. The only reason I'm even telling you is by Princess Twilight's request. Consider it a test of Cozy Glow's attributes. A month should do it. Rest assured, if she passes, she will be returned to complete her studies."

"And if she doesn't?" Luster's eyes narrowed.

"Then you won't have to worry about her any more." As Luster's horn began to glow brighter and brighter, he scoffed. "You're not fooling anyone, you know-"

The first beam of energy caught him off balance and sent him flying over the balcony. For a few seconds, he was out of view. For a mad, impossible moment, Luster wondered if she had killed him. Then, she felt every muscle in her body seize simultaneously, sending her crashing to the floor. Her scream of agony was cut off less than a second after it began as her voice lost all power. Discord landed in front of her, looking more embarrassed and angry than seriously hurt by a spell that would have vapourized any normal pony.

"Well, how rude. You know, Twilight thought you were better than this. She thought you'd listen and be reasonable. But I always knew you would react like this." He snapped his fingers, causing her agonizing muscle spasms to freeze in an instant. "Cozy leaves tonight. I hope you enjoyed this evening, because I have a funny feeling you won't be seeing her - ever again."

Luster couldn't stand and fight if she wanted. Her throat ached, like every other muscle in her body, but she still found the strength to sneer. "Cozy... would... never... go... anywhere... with... you!"

Discord's grin widened. "Wouldn't she?"

In a second, he was gone. In his place stood - her. A copy so perfect, Luster could almost have believed she was looking into a mirror. Her heart sank.

"Please... NO!"

"Goodbye, Luster."

Discord turned on his hooves and left. Luster desperately tried to climb to her hooves, only to fall flat on her face. Every inch of her body was wracked with pain. Even if she could have stood, she could have done nothing to stop Discord taking Cozy. Tears began to well up in her eyes, and in moments she was bawling, paralyzed on the floor, sobbing like a newborn foal.