• Published 22nd Sep 2023
  • 1,072 Views, 76 Comments

Doubt Itself - Casketbase77



They're supposed to be inspiring, Sunset's stories of ponies with familiar names and faces. But to Cozy Glow, her other self is a warning she's grimly taken to heart. Too bad about the whispers still in her head. And the urges.

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The Geode Of Laughter's mana strings convalesced in midair. They bent space and time, matter and energy, all things fantasy and all things real. The gem cast the singular cantrip it was capable of spewing...

...and conjured its user's favorite snack. A toasted marshmallow that plopped to the tiling at Pinkie's boots.

"Umm..." Pinkie Pie scratched her head. "If you wanted sweets that badly, you could have just asked."

Cozy Glow dropped the geode and ran.

She somehow broke out from her body of stone, somehow shoved Pinkie Pie aside, somehow barreled down the twisting morphing hallway without stumbling and collapsing to the ground. Cozy didn't know where she was going. Cozy didn't even know what was real. The fluorescent lights above? The expanse of sculpture gardens all around her? The shocked shape of Sunset Shimmer ascending the stairs ahead?

Cozy's penny loafers dug into the carpet, twisting her in a new contorted direction and down another hallway. Or maybe it wasn't a hallway, but a tunnel of reddish rock lined with caged monsters. Ones that looked a little like manticores, a little like hydras, and a little like oblivious students having homeroom.

Cozy was a prey animal pursued, a herd animal alone. A liar whose voice had abandoned her. In her ears, a new bell tolled. Not from the school, but across the void. Bewitching and booming, it heralded of a Legion Of Doom. Or possibly the rainbow-haired blur that caught up and grasped at her backpack. Cozy twisted and contorted, free of the weight and the stunned rainbow pursuer.

Cozy kept running. From memories that weren't hers and hadn't happened. Except they were someone's, and they had happened. Somewhere far away, but not far enough. She ran from what it meant to be Cozy Glow, she ran with her arms outstretched, she ran not towards nothing and away from everything, especially the three pursuers. If they caught her, they would do it. They would turn her to stone, for real and forever.

"Cozy!" Sunset's distant voice warbled. "Calm the hell down and get back here!"

Cozy Glow slammed a door shut that she didn't remember opening. Palms against the wood, she slid down to the carpet and dry-heaved. She retched, guttural and hard, but not enough to purge the icy tingles in her hands and feet. Cozy wrapped her arms around her flat, heaving chest while she rocked back and forth on the empty classroom's cold floor. Back and forth, back and forth. Just like in her desk chair this morning. Except this time, she didn't get up when the tingles stopped. She stayed where she was and waited for the end. For the three pursuers to come take her. Even now, she could hear them outside. Talking. Debating. Keeping her waiting. She stayed still for minutes and minutes, woozy and spent. And she might just have stayed there forever, turning to stone for real, if a gentle knock didn't finally sound on the door.

"Hello?" A girl Cozy's age poked her silver-haired head inside. She had soft, bespectacled purple eyes and a satchel hugged to her stomach. "Is... is this classroom available?"

Cozy was standing up (how had that happened?) and adjusting her skirt to appear casual. She only knew her movements by sight, since her sense of touch had seemingly left her. Cozy was an observer of herself, a flittering lost soul on tiny beating wings. And what she witnessed was a grubby lolita with runny eyes, horrible in appearance. It was smiling soullessly at another, more normal girl.

"Hi, new friend," the hollow doll thing chirped. "I'm Cozy Glow. So very nice to meet you."

Don't hurt her the lost soul begged, no better than any of The Voices. Don't be bad...

"Uh... hi. I think this room's open, so that's good. It'll be fine to set up the club. Do you... do you want to help me with it? Would that make you happy?"

The hollow doll helped scooch desks together. "Oh, I'm always happy to help friends. What're we doing?"

Purple Eyes sat down and emptied her satchel. "Board game club. I want to start hosting one during homeroom. I made a big deal of announcing it in each class today, but... it looks like nobody showed up. Except you."

The hollow doll giggled in pretend flattery, elbows on the desk, chin in its hands. Outwardly, the perfect teacher's pet, Inwardly, vacuous as outer space.

Purple Eyes looked back with what the lost soul recognized as sympathy. That made the lost soul worry. Sympathy could be exploited. Tugged on like a puppet string. And the hollow doll knew that. Please someone, anyone, burst in and stop all this. Where were the pursuers from earlier? Still in the hall? What were they all waiting for?

Purple Eyes sifted through the scattered board game boxes for something. When she didn't find it, she reopened her satchel. "I'm Silver S-Spoon. We had first period together, even though you showed up a tad late. Which, like, is pretty weird, huh? Seeing as we also rode in on the same bus."

Did we? The lost soul's day was a feverish, muddled smear.

Purple Eyes, or Silver Spoon, as she apparently was called, reached into her satchel one last time.

"You got off the bus real fast," she said, "and I lost track of you. Then in class I didn't want to embarrass you, then at lunch I couldn't even find... oh, I really do ramble without Diamond Tiara to shut me down. Look, you're Cozetta Glasgow, right?"

She produced an orange bottle of pills, still grimy from the bus floor where she'd found it.

"The name on this bottle is yours."

Cozy Glow gasped and snatched the pills, holding them close to her heaving breast. She was herself, herself was her. The hollow doll had its soul again.

"Th-th-thank you," Cozy whimpered. It was the sincerest thing she'd said all day.

Silver Spoon fidgeted. "I... got curious and looked up some words on the label. These are heavy-duty stuff, huh?"

Cozy trembled in shame as she twisted the cap off. Silver Spoon noticed.

"I think you're very brave, Cozy. Powering through like you did without them. Even if you clearly didn't make it."

"Golly, what a neg." Despite the dig, Cozy was smiling. So was Silver Spoon.

"I mean really Cozy, going to school off your meds? Are you crazy?"

"Is that a trick question, or..?"

Silver snorted when she laughed. The sound was sweet.

As for Cozy's pills, they tasted bitter as ever. Chalky. Like tiny salt licks. Especially when swallowed dry.

"Oh, I got something to wash that down," Silver offered. She dug a thermos out of her satchel. "I was saving this to share with the board game club, but... I guess that's what I'm technically doing. Hope you like cocoa."

Cozy balked. "In the middle of summer? Eghhhh.... oh, what the hay."

Silver Spoon sat back, relieved. "See, Diamond Tiara hates cocoa, so I had to pack something she wouldn't mooch at lunch. Then we got assigned different lunch periods anyway. Sorry, do I talk about Diamond Tiara a lot? Been trying to escape her shadow lately. Since board games are another thing she hates, I kinda... latched onto them as an idea. Pretty sad way to shake up your own self-image, huh?"

Cozy finished her drink and ran some fingers through her hair. Her drooping, unraveling, failure of a curly new style. "I've tried sadder," she confessed.

"So... if you're feeling better, homeroom still isn't over. Did you wanna play something? Yahtzee? Bananagrams?" Silver Spoon was trying not to beg. She wasn't doing a very good job.

"Look, you've been real good to me," Cozy was shambling to her feet, pills back in her skirt pocket. "But I got confessions to make and punishments to face. It was nice to meet you, but for your sake you should probably forget we ever even met each othe-"

"How 'bout chess?"

Cozy stopped mid-rise. "Chess?"

"Yeah! They said to ask you abou- I mean... uh... I dunno, you just strike me as chess player."

Silver hastily dug out the game board, pieces scattering around the makeshift gaming table. One stayed in place, its sculpt too bulky to roll. Cozy picked it up, but not like she had a certain geode. She didn't steal it. She didn't even pocket it. She simply held it, lost in thought.

"I like this one."

Silver Spoon perked up triumphantly. "Of course! That castle piece is called a- !" The word died in her confused mouth.

"Silver? What is it? What'd I do wrong?"

Silver Spoon scratched her head. "Weird. Pinkie said for sure you would pick up a rook. Not a knight."

There was a white horse toy in Cozy's grip, and a pink horse girl at the classroom window. In another life, Cozy wouldn't have waved her in. But this was a new life, different from the one lived by somepony else. Her choice of game piece was proof of that.

The door unlatched and Pinkie shuffled bashfully in. Sunset followed, Cozy's backpack in her hand. The last entrant was a rainbow girl Cozy knew from Sunset's band. None of them seemed angry. In fact, Pinkie looked downright serene.

"Told ya, girls: Extracurriculars." Her voice was soft and triumphant.

"Golly, so you all put Silver up to this?"

"Actually," Sunset confessed, "she came to us. Right after you ran."

"But why? You didn't even know me."

Sunset put a hand on Silver Spoon's shoulder. "That's right. I knew your past, Pinkie knew your counterpart, and Rainbow knew your doubts. But then Silver showed up, and she didn't have any junk like that clogging her judgment."

"I just knew you needed help. But I'd like to know more. If... if you want to share, that is. Would that help you?" she planted a finger on the chessboard. "Would you like to start back at square one, Cozy Glow? With me and everyone else?"

Contemplation. That was what moved the counterpart of Equestria's foulest filly.

She picked up a second chess piece, another knight just as white as the first. They looked the same. Their rules were the same. But they weren't the same. They started on different spaces, and their movements could be in any dissimilar directions. Even if their quirky movements drew the same patterns, the second piece didn't have to make the first's fatal mistakes. In fact, didn't chess have a rule where one piece could be revive another?

"Square one," Cozy whispered. "Yes. I want to go there."

"Alright!" Rainbow Dash pumped her fist. "No doubts this time, yeah?"

"I want to go to square one," Cozy repeated. She set the chess pieces down, then grasped Silver Spoon's sleeve. "But to do that, I need to first... please Silver, will you wait for me?"

"Board game club can wait plenty. We have four years left of homeroom, after all."

Cozy nodded, grateful and determined to not be gone that long. "Sunset, do you trust me?"

Sunset Shimmer spoke with conviction. "I do."

Rainbow Dash started to say something snide, but Sunset growled and shut her down. Then the Bearer of Empathy returned Cozy's backpack.

"Whaddya need, kiddo? Other than your face wiped clean before going back to class?"

Cozy giggled as she slipped on her backpack. Her nose was red from crying and her ruined curls were plastered with sweat. But her mind was back together and the school day wasn't over. A good girl stays attentive to the very last bell.

And then afterwards...

"Are you gonna ask for candy, Cozy? I know you skipped lunch." Pinkie Pie flourished her geode, sparking and ready to deliver.

"Huh-uh. Just the chance to go somewhere."

Cozy's backpack held a notebook. The notebook held a drawing. And the drawing held a statement of intent.

"The other piece. She's still at square one. So... Pinkie," Cozy requested, "I want you to take me to her."

Author's Note:

Turns out there's no art of EqG Cozy hugging Silver Spoon. Big Disappoint.

Found a nice one with Diamond Tiara though. Captures the spirit of this fic, if not the actual content.


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