• Published 22nd Sep 2023
  • 1,183 Views, 78 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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Over the centuries, many sounds had echoed off the Grand Hall of Canterlot Castle. Cheers at the coronation of Celestia and Luna. Gasps at the unveiling of a changeling queen during a fraudulent wedding. Scant moons ago, bolts of magic and whinnies of war had cracked the very walls of the castle during the Battle of the Bewitching Bell.

At present, it echoed with what followed every hard won castle siege: construction.

"The tile designs look good there," Twilight shouted over the racket of hammers and drills. A unicorn worker nodded in agreement, directing his horn's beam at a still unetched portion of the floor. Twilight stepped around him, ducking a rolled rug touted by two earth ponies. "That goes in the foyer," she called after them. Four pegasi swooped overhead, one for each corner of the tapestry they carried. Twilight watched them affix it to the far wall, then gave them a brisk nod to confirm the result wasn't crooked. Three flew off to find some other task to do, but the fourth flittered in place, smoothing out a single scorched patch with his hooves. Despite the surrounding din, Twilight watched ponderously. She'd bet every Bit in her treasury that ancient weaving was older than everyone in the room combined. Shoot, the Grand Hall itself was probably older than them all and the tapestry combined.

And only a few moons ago, Twilight witnessed that scorch mark get made. Cozy Glow had been such a small pony. Her stint wielding alicorn magic, even smaller. And yet she'd caused so much damage. Twilight wished things had turned out different with her.

Glass shattered, louder than all other sounds. The crowned Princess of Friendship snapped to attention, as did several perturbed workers. No windows in the Grand Hall looked damaged. Had that come from an adjoining room?

"Phooey to the max!"

"Twiliiiiiiiiiight!"

It had. The memorial wing, if the direction of Spike and Pinkie's voices could be trusted.

"Coming," she wearily hollered. Twilight beat her wings towards whatever mess awaited, drills and sanders fading in volume behind her. Only in the moments between tasks did she feel the exhaustion of the past few weeks. For better or for worse, she was rarely between tasks.

"I'm here, you two. What's the matt- oh. Well, that's a pity."

Bits of broken stained glass littered the carpet. Possibly the same rolled carpet Twilight ducked earlier. Spike was picking through debris with his dragon claws, pinching pieces to drop in a nearby trash can.

Twilight watched the scene mournfully, but not as mournfully as Pinkie Pie. For the whole day, Pinkie had seemed... distracted. Moreso than usual. In a different way than yesterday. Bipedal walking, ten hour napping... whatever. Twilight learned long ago to not question her friend's quirks. Trust was easier. Sure, that meant there were fumbles sometimes, but broken windows could be fixed.

"I dropped it, Twi! We were picking up the frame and I forgot I was back to not having fingers, so-"

"Breathe, Pinkie. One thought per sentence." Twilight offered a forgiving pat, then re-assumed her superviser mindset. "Spike, can you take a letter?"

"One replacement window order, comin' right up." He paused his glass handling to produce a quill and parchment. A quick scrawl, a huff of fire, and it was gone. Smooth and efficient, just like all of the cleanup projects around the castle. The fact things were still ongoing was a testament to the huge mess. And to Twilight's waning stamina.

"Hey Twi?" Pinkie was looking out of the empty window, oddly somber. "You checked your schedule yet? For this afternoon?"

Twilight followed her gaze, but saw nothing unusual. Just the courtyard sculpture gardens.

"I... haven't, no."

"You should check it."

Spike shrugged and coughed up an itinerary he'd been keeping in the back of his throat. "Lemme see... would you believe me if I said you had the evening off, Twilight?"

"I wouldn't. I'd appreciate the kindly lie, though."

Spike snorted and scanned the list. "Looks like..." He frowned. "You need to do a basement inventory inspection."

Twilight frowned. That item hadn't been on the list this morning. "Does it say when?"

"ASAP."

Twilight flicked her ears, confused but resolute.

"Well... I guess we should get going."

"Gonna keep busy here," Pinkie announced. "Think I'll haul some carts. Or graze on the lawn to trim it. Ya know, grass roots Equestrian do-gooding." She had a faint smile. Her first Twilight had seen today. "Feels nice to do jobs you're built for. And leave tougher cookies for the professionals to bite."

"Um... okay. Spike?"

The dragon looked up, his claws freshly full of glass pieces.

"Never mind. Keep up the cleanup." Twilight trotted off.


The castle cellar was roomy. Or would have been, if it wasn't loaded with boxes from a life on hold. Twilight's old belongings from the School of Friendship. Her heirlooms and artifacts she'd inherited from the previous Royal Sisters. Her coronation presents from friends and family. All still sealed, all piled thick and tight enough to practically be a secondary foundation for the building above. And from somewhere deep in the stacks, there were voices.

"Okay, could it maybe be in this one?"

Tape tore and cardboard rustled.

"Nope. No books in this one, kiddo. Just more cursed artifacts. Oh hey, I recognize this amulet. A stage magician used it to take over an entire town. Wild story. I'll read you the letter about it sometime."

"A whole town? Golly. Knowing me, I really shouldn't touch it. Thanks for the warning."

Twilight Sparkle lit her horn, alert. "Who's already down here?"

She was answered by startled whinnies and a box tipping over. Light magic was an easy spell, so Twilight's eyes didn't need to adjust. Seeing however, was different from comprehending.

"Sunset??"

"The uh... one and only. Nice to finally touch base again."

Twilight's pen pal wriggled out from a spilled pile of books. She looked around for someone other than Twilight, but Twilight was all she got. Wrapping her tight in a bearhug, mostly.

"So you're the surprise Pinkie was keeping quiet about!"

"I mean... kinda? More like half it. Hang on. Where did-?"

"I knew it was strange when she sent me to do inventory with no checklist. I mean, I can categorize all my stuff mentally, no sweat, but I've never told that to anyone. Except now for you, huh? Ha!"

The pile of books, the only nearby landmark, shifted from someone buried beneath. Twilight didn't notice, since her babbling, manic excitement was far stronger than her built-up malaise from the past few weeks.

"How many hours have you been waiting down here to surprise me? You really should have written ahead. Or no, wait. I wouldn't have gotten your letters, since my stuff is all packed up. Even the mirror portal, which explains why you got lost down here."

"I'm not... I mean, we didn't get lost. We were actually just searching..."

The pile of books shifted again. Harder.

"Oh what does it matter, since you're here now! We should head upstairs. The castle is still under construction, but as ruler I can give myself the day off. You and Pinkie coordinated this to remind of that, didn't you? Wanna go get carrot dogs for lunch with Starlight? Or no, we should visit the dowager Royal Sisters at the beach!"

"Twilight, I know you're amped up in a good way right now, but you're gonna get amped in a bad way if I don't prep you for who is about to-"

Two small, salmon-colored hooves burst from the book pile. They held aloft Twilight's Friendship Journal, and the filly attached to them followed triumphantly.

"I found it!" trilled a young voice clearly not used to speaking through a snout. "Go run and get it to the Princess, and I'll practice my speech for when... we... meet." The filly's eyes locked with Twilight's. It was hard to say which of them was more shocked.

"Cozy," Sunset cautioned gravely. "Remember, if you feel a fit coming on, I'm right here to-"

"N-no! I'm good! I just need-" Cozy Glow fumbled with pages of the magic diary, fingerless but determined to find the right page. "I can do this... it's nice to meet you Princess Sparkle! I've heard a lot about you, and I... hang, on I'm almost here!"

The Friendship Journal lit up with a gentle purple aura. It levitated towards Twilight, whose expression had hardened.

"Oh, y-you want to read it now? Okay. As, um, as you wish Princess. You're in charge, after all."

Sunset Shimmer opened her mouth, but a pleading look from Cozy made her close it. Twilight still hadn't said anything. She had however, opened the Friendship Journal. A few deft flicks from her magic found a page. The page. The one containing Sunset's most recent, unread letter.

"I... I don't need to rehearse like I said earlier," Cozy insisted to the speed-reading princess. "I just... um... okay." She drew herself up and affected confidence. "In my time with Sunset Shimmer, I've learned doubt is like a campfire and trust is like a marshmallow. You need to get the closeness just righ-"

Twilight's Friendship Journal clapped shut. For a moment, it was the only noise echoing through the castle cellar. Even the rumbles from construction above were distant. Sunset Shimmer swished her tail, looking uneasily between the others.

Twilight Sparkle spoke.

"I like your hair."

Cozy Glow's hoof shot to her mane. For a terrifying moment, she feared the mirror portal had restored the cursed curls. But her tight bun was still there. The one she'd styled that morning, in preparation for this big day.

"Th-thank you, Princess."

"You can call me Twilight, if it makes you more comfortable."

"It... doesn't really, Princess."

Twilight cocked her head, quizzical but not hostile. "No? Did Sunset tell you what I'm the Princess of?"

Cozy looked around the cellar. "Boxes?" she guessed.

Sunset Shimmer facehoofed, but Twilight Sparkle smiled mirthfully.

"I'm the Princess of Friendship. But that doesn't tell you much, does it?"

"I... I guess not."

"What if you read all of my books you're standing on, do you think they'd tell you much more than my title does?"

Cozy shifted uneasily atop the pile. Twilight's written notes were all cleanly labeled, from meticulous lab documents to amateur poetry and even a few dream journals. Cozy wondered if Twilight Sparkle ever had bad dreams.

"I guess they would."

"Sure, but they wouldn't tell you everything about me. You know what I am, but don't see what I do."

Sunset Shimmer was trying and failing to keep a relieved grin off her muzzle. She'd known Twilight long enough to pick up on Friendship Lessons in progress.

"It's the same for me, reading your letters. They tell who you are, but don't show what you do. So let me introduce myself openly. My name is Twilight Sparkle. The Princess of Friendship is what I am. What I do though... is trust people. Don't have any doubts about that."

Cozy Glow pouted playfully. "Hey, no fair. You poached my trust and doubt line but made it sound better."

"She has the crown for a reason," Sunset admitted.

"So who are you?" Twilight invited.

"I'm... Cozy Glow."

"And what do you do?"

Cozy's legs trembled. All four of them.

"I try to not be bad."

Sunset bowed her head. While she wanted to speak on Cozy's behalf, she knew it wasn't her place. This was Twilight's realm, both the castle and the conversation. And from Twilight came the most important question.

"And what does that mean to you?"

Feathers flared on Cozetta Glasgow's wings. The effect of a pegasus reflex that happened when the pony was mentally primed to fly. Cozy of course was no flier. Natural born pegasi needed years of practice before takeoff, and Cozy wasn't a natural born pegasus. But the first step towards flight was believing you were capable of liftoff. Thanks to Sunset, thanks to Pinkie, and especially thanks to Silver Spoon, Cozy believed. She had the flared feathers to prove it.

"I want to have good dreams. I want to ride the bus to school happy and be truthful to Sunset when I hop off and she asks me how I'm doing. I want to tell two truths when I want to, and only lie only when I try. I want to be friends with the other girls, and play board games with them in home room." Cozy's eyes had tears. They were not sad tears.

"I don't want to just not be bad. I want to be good. With trust, I can get there."

Twilight Sparkle was satisfied. "I don't doubt it," she decreed.

Cozy's withers trembled, as if a heavy harness had just been dropped from them. She swayed atop the pile of books, legs shaky but spirit firm.

It was Sunset who politely picked things up again. "That trust goes to the tools we have too," she expounded. "Like your pills."

"Pills?" Twilight inquired. That word had been in Cozy's letter, but for all of Twilight's bookwormy vocabulary, she didn't recognize it.

"Yeah!" Cozy gracelessly slid down the book pile, her hair bun rattling from the bottle tucked within. "See, my side of the mirror portal has some stuff your side doesn't. But... Sunset says you do magic science."

Twilight Sparkle bowed modestly, but her chest fur was fluffed with pride. "I... dabble," she admitted.

"That's so cool! Maybe you can do some then. Break down a pill or two, put them back together your own way..." Pony eyes were bright to begin with, but Cozy's were positively shining. "Maybe give some to my counterpart to quiet down our shared soul. Make our mojo nice and level so her and the other two's Voices stop spilling downhill to me, or whatever Pinkie Pie's working theory is."

Twilight rubbed her neck. "I don't know if we'll do all that in one day, but... I'll still have a look at what you've brought. Your counterpart isn't going anywhere, at the very least. And this castle has an alchemy lab upstairs. Are you confident enough to trot on those four legs?"

Cozy's feathers flared again. "I'm up for trying!" Then her ears drooped. "But... I have the name and face of a villain. Will ponies be okay when they see me?"

Sunset Shimmer draped her hoof over Cozy's withers. "Did you forget that you're talking to the ruler of Equestria? Twilight's word is law 'round here. If you're okay in her book, you're okay in everypony's. Besides," she tapped Cozy's bun, amused at its bounce. "No one is gonna mistake you for your counterpart."

"That's a promise you can trust," Twilight concurred.

Cozy smiled warmly, then followed both ponies up the cellar stairs. While her manestyle was her own, so was something else. To Twilight, the term "pill" was still alien and eager to be given meaning. To Cozy, the same applied to "Cutie Mark." Stepping into the sun, she did not see, let alone understand, the decal of the chess piece on her temporary form's thigh. Nor did she grasp the gravity of it being a piece other than a Red Rook.

No longer a pawn of her illness, Cozy's quest towards contentment marked her as her very own White Knight.

Author's Note:

We were the King and Queens of promise,

We were the face of Doubt Itself...

At last, it is complete! Eclectic, indulgent, and named after some song lyrics I misheard in seventh grade, this is my least fettered fic since Her Bitter Half. And yet, it all feels fitting for the story that was told. Most of my popular fics deal with mentally ill characters refusing to be defined by their afflictions. Its a noble struggle, and I do my best give equal weight to the "noble" and "struggle" qualifiers.


Be good to yourselves and each other. Don't be bad.

Comments ( 20 )

This was wonderful, imo. Very neatly told, with a character I haven't seen depicted very often.

I've tended to really like the longer yarns you've spun, especially comparing it to Her Bitter Half. That trend continues here! Either way, this was a good read, glad we got to go through it!

I actually didn't know you wrote "Her Bitter Half", but after reading this, that, and the previous instalment, you've become one of my favourite writers.
You're great, chief!

Eclectic and indulgent this may be, but it is also a good read, and a story with a valuable message. The meeting between human Cozy and Twilight was especially well done!

"I want to have good dreams. I want to ride the bus to school happy and be truthful to Sunset when I hop off and she asks me how I'm doing. I want to tell two truths when I want to, and only lie only when I try. I want to be friends with the other girls, and play board games with them in home room."

owwwww ow ow ow right in the feels you monster

A fantastic conclusion. You handled the tough topic of mental illness and health with nuance and grace.

A wonderful addition to one of your best. Bravo.

11705191
Your praise means a lot, since you're a fellow distinguished Sunset / Cozy writer. The cute pair still have their old magic.

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(I probably should commission Cozy with her hair in a bun and knight on her flank.)

This was very cute

I feel pretty bad for this version of Cozy.

And this Cozy gets a well-earned happy ending.

Human Cozy is a basically decent person with problems, while Pony Cozy is rotten to the core.

11705489
This story uses a deleted scene from one of the movies as canon, rather than her sticking around.

11706144
That is a pretty dishonest reading of my comment. They were screeching about how Hollywood is calling everyone racist and homophobic because apparently they're mentally ill and want their productions to fail? That person is stuck in an ideological rabbit hole where they can't see the world for what it is, instead everything to them is a sensationalized culture war talking point. This kind of world view is political at its very core.

I'm pretty sure if they didn't have to follow the anti-hate speech rules here, they would have called some other groups of people mentally ill, too, but I admit that is an assumption on my part; an assumption based on experience and observation, but still not a guarantee

saw this when it was first posted, but wanted to give you some time to finish. The chapter titles can't help but make me think of some reverse Donkey Kong levels.

24 formatting aside, this really is an insanely good followup to what we already had. Your talent is coming up with ideas riffing on previously established concepts, and managing to fit them naturally into one cohesive story. Silver Spoon breaking away from DT and the Mane Six being placed in different classes were all ideas that had me nodding my head, but the attempt at a classic EQG magical girl villain transformation thwarted by using Pinkie's magic instead of anybody else's.... There were a few ways that could have gone, and it's for the best it went with the weakest, power scaling wise. Incredible ideas.

You've related to me a few times your fascination with the idea of copying social cues rather than actually being attuned to them, and I can see that shine through in every way you write Cozy. You have a real knack for writing interesting characters with unique processes and their own definition of a normal day. What a fucking legend, man.

This was a wonderfully told, heartwarming story! I loved the anxious pacing of Cozy's narration and your handling of her psychosis walked an effective line between respectful and dramatic for the sake of narrative tension. You executed such an effective tonal shift between the first and second half of the story that at the beginning, tags notwithstanding, I anticipated this was going to be a tragic narrative centered on how well-meaning people can sometimes inadvertently worsen the distress of someone with severe, chronic mental illness due to a lack of understanding. I wasn't expecting the steady patience and genuine connection offered to Cozy by the end. Such a moving, profound message.

I also found it super clever how you explored the cultural differences between Equestria and the human world by having human Cozy introduce Twilight to the concept of psychotropic medication. It's fascinating to think about how pharmaceutical therapy could be applied to a character who, in the context of the story she belongs to, can be interpreted as an allegorical representation of a child with a severe mental health disorder. I find it incredibly thought provoking to approach a symbolic character's problems legitimately as you would someone in our modern world with similar behaviorial issues. This piece works as a great reflection on that idea!

Exquisite work, especially Cozy's downward spiral and Silver's incredible work in stopping it. And it's good to see Pinkie sincerely think about what she's done. Twilight one-upping Cozy's friendship metaphor was especially delightful. Very glad I caught up on this one. Thank you for it.

"I don't want to just not be bad. I want to be good. With trust, I can get there."

Dammit. I promised I wouldn't cry during Her bitter half, and I won't break it now!
Ahem. In all seriousness, you really do have a talent for writing mental illness. A lot of people either portray it as some fate worse than death, or warp it into some hackneyed very special episode, but you do a good job at portraying as it is. And I do like the contrast between the fates of the pony and human Cozy Glow. As flawed as the current system is, it is good to remember how until recently there simply wasn't any help for people like her.

"I want to have good dreams. I want to ride the bus to school happy and be truthful to Sunset when I hop off and she asks me how I'm doing. I want to tell two truths when I want to, and only lie only when I try. I want to be friends with the other girls, and play board games with them in home room." Cozy's eyes had tears. They were not sad tears.

So many feels... :fluttercry:

I particularly liked how you wrote Cozy Glow here. It's rare to see this kind of mental health struggle written with even an ounce of consideration, and this does a much better job than I would have expected. Combine that with the way you wrote the differences between both sides of the portal and it came together really well. All around just really liked this.

This is so so so so great i especially loved twilight’s words here

I really would've liked a bit more of a normal day for her. When she was on her meds and doing her best and had more shaky friendships that she was trying so hard to keep.

However, that's only what I would've preferred. What you have here is quite excellent. A deep, satisfying, and interesting journey. There were a few places that seemed a bit abrupt or rushed and a lot of this piece probably could've been just a little expanded. But overall really good work here.

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