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Till we meet again...

by Somber

Time is a curious thing when petrified. Something that oozes along with dull regularity suddenly congeals like hot wax, pliable enough to let the occasional stimulus leak through, but too stiff to allow contemplation. Reflection. All I could think as I stood there atop the other two was 'how had it gone so wrong?'

It was supposed to work. Friendship was my thing. It was what I did. I smiled and was nice and people gave me what I wanted. Sure, I might have to phrase it a certain way! I'd have to give a wheedling catch to my voice, employ the big eyes, or my secret weapon: my lower lip. But it worked. It always worked.

So how had I would up turned to stone?

My first plan was simple: wipe out all the magic in Equestria. Shockingly, not hard. Tirek just thought of magic as lunch, but magic was energy. You could find it everywhere; in the land, in objects, in ponies themselves. We use it to fly and cast spells and mundane junk. We make it. So if I just got rid of all the magic in Equestria, I'd be the focal point of all the new magic generated in Equestria. It'd just flow into me and I'd be the next alicorn. Easy...

Being an alicorn is so easy...

Grogar's bell was supposed to be easy too. Just find magic, relocate it, and use it for what we wanted. Then I'd have Tirek try to eat Chrysalis or Crissy eat Tirek... seriously, those two were way too orally oriented for me... and I beat the winner. Easy! It wasn't like they'd wise up and take me out. If they tried, I'd just play their inferiority complexes against each other. "Oh, Tirek, are you going to get the bigger piece of my magic, or is she?' Suckers...

It would have been nice they were smart and didn't make my job so difficult. I do friendship. It's my thing...

Cause I say so.

Suddenly the time thawed, the wax running hot through me as the petrification was suddenly reversed. Suddenly light that had been crawled towards ossified retinias exploded down my nerves and into my brain. My limbs didn't hurt, but they struggled to move, as if I'd been swimming for too long in a frozen lake.

"Prisoner Cozy Glow," a strange, harsh, buzzing voice said as my vision struggled to focus. I wasn't in some garden in Canterlot, nor did I see any princesses. Instead it was a white chamber. Four walls all faintly illuminated. No sign of Tirek or Chrysalis. It was just me. Only me.

I hate when it's just me.

"Gosh mister... er... miss? What's going on? This is all so scawy warwy!" I didn't know where to aim my bottom lip or big eyes! The lack of feedback made my temple twitch.

"Prisoner Cozy Glow. Pursuant Equestrian Republic Legal reform mandate 19462-J, your incarceration is ended and you are to be released." A little door opened in the ceiling and a strange white dough like blob dropped down in front of me.

"What the heck is this?" I demanded, turning this way and that, just wanting a face to address. "Is that you, Princess? Starlight? What's going on."

The ball of dough lanced out a pseudopod and wrapped itself around my hindleg. I let out a yelp of alarm as it pulled itself over my compact frame, till everything but my neck and wings were concealed. It compressed into a thin white garment without seamed. "What is this?"

"That garment is your parole monitor. It will record everything you say and do, to maintain that you are no longer a threat to the public good. It carries with it a database of the laws of the Equestrian republic, and will override your actions if you violate your parole. Do you understand these terms?" the sourceless voice stated in a bored, perfunctory tone.

I tugged at the suit, but it was glued fast to my body. "G...golly mister... miss? Um. Could you explain one more time?" I hoped the fear I heard in my voice was faked. Just keep it together. Friendship is your thing!

"That suit will watch everything you say and do. If you try and break a law, it will warn you. If you break it anyway, it will restrain you."

Horseapples! "Are you sure? I can't get up to any trouble. I'm just a kid," I said with as much conviction as I possibly could.

"Bzzzzt!" it buzzed, and I yelped at an electric shock. "Violation ERLS-144-23-1101-EC(3). Imperson-"

"I get it!" I shouted over the suit. "Just get me out of here!"

A door opened in the wall, the featureless white receding. It'd be fine. I'd been locked up before. I'd just play along till they let their guard down. Everyone did eventu–

The door opened up on to a landing, and I looked out at a Manehattan if it'd had another manehattan stacked atop it, and a third one stacked below it. Strange glossy machines whirred through the air. I saw pegasi and changelings trotting next to each other. An unicorn levitated a drink while an earth pony had two strange mechanical arms holding theirs at their side. Minotaurs, dragons, and other beasts I couldn't name were... everywhere. Walking. Talking. Moving. Thousands. Millions. My eyes kept going up, the towers rising higher and higher. Above me was the moon... A glowing eye spreading like a spiderweb across the surface.

"Yit,izmazji hif ya Luacit divoed,ya?"a changeling buzzed in my ear, only the words he said weren't what I heard. "Yeah, it's amazing how far Luna City's developed," The changeling's purple eyes widened. "Yana gona barfonme, izya?" he asked just before I did.

Two months later I was in the parolee garden. Everyone wore white suites like ours, but ours narked if we ever tried to break the law. We didn't have to do anything. We all got a room, a toilet, a kitchen, and a nice common area where we could grow things if we wanted, or talk, or play games. I didn't step hoof out of my cubical. I was glued to the 'maginet', accessing everything that had happened in a thousand years.

A thousand years... There was some atrophied part of me that whined I should be upset by that, but I didn't care. There wasn't anyone from a thousand years ago that I cared about anymore. Except her. But the stupid suit made it clear that I wouldn't be allowed within a thousand kilometers of a princess anytime soon. The one time I tried, the suit had covered my face, blinding and muzzling me, and trotted me away. I didn't even bump into anypony. It was humiliating, infuriating! I wanted to... I don't know. Something! Just see her. Just say something like 'Yeah, I remember when you were a LOUSY headmistress who couldn't even run a school!' Instead, I walked myself away without a fuss, and spent the next two days screaming and beating my hooves into the state issued mattress.

Once upon a time I could pout. I could put on the big eyes. I could charm whomever I wanted. But now I couldn't even see a stupid princess and call her stupid to her stupid face!

Stupid...

So instead I ate pony bars, read, and avoided the garden as much as possible.

Especially since he was out there...

Tirek was a lot like me. He wasn't old as he looked. Every day he got his daily dose of magic, just like I got my bars. He'd rake. He'd plant. He'd talk to the flowers. And he smiled. He smiled a lot.

"I'm glad they finally let you out, Cozy," was all that he said, gray, mature, experienced. "It's good to see you again."

I called him an idiot. A weakling. I reminded him of when he'd been practically a god! He just smiled at me with those pitying eyes. Pity! "You'll see, Cozy. You'll see." He tried to give me a rose, and I stomped it flat before him. Because it hurt him. Because it was a little power the suit would let me get away with.

And I tried to find Chrysalis. If they freed him and me, maybe her. She wouldn't be stuck in some suit. She'd change into a whale. Blast them with her magic. Change shapes... though somehow everyone seemed to 'scan DNA', which I had to admit made the whole shapeshifting thing a lot harder to manage.

There had to be a way out. A way to get on top again. I had my big eyes and could say 'pweeeze' like no other. My bottom lip was flawless. And yet I was stuck here in this garden with Tirek and his stupid flowers. I needed an edge. An opportunity. A... something!

Something...

"You're an idiot, you know that?" Tirek said calmly as he snipped a leaf from a tiny, cultivated bush. "You can have almost anything you want, Cozy. If you're willing to work a little, it could be anything. You could go to the moon. Start a business. This time they have so much. There are a million people wanting to be your friend all over the world. Just log on and say you want to make a connection."

"I don't want that!" I yelled at him as the gray centaur calmly clipped another sprig.

"Then what do you want?" he asked back.

"I want..." I faltered.

"Friends?" he asked in tones that a millennia ago would have made me giggle and Chrissy bristle.

"I want Chrysalis," I replied, and was glad to see his smile disappear. "Where is she?"

"Cozy," he started to say in those pacifying tones I hated so much.

"Where is she? Is she still a statue?" I demanded.

She wasn't. I'd thought there'd be more resistance to my request to see her, but it didn't matter. I had my parole suit, and it would tattle on any infraction. ANY. I couldn't even jaywalk in the thing. So I was transported to another one of the glossy white spires and led in to see her.

She stood completely still, coated head to hoof in white. Tirek just stood solemnly behind me while technicians were monitoring controls. "I thought... I thought you said she wasn't petrified..."

Suddenly she lunged. Her hooves were glued to the floor, but her legs distended and twisted like taffy, jagged barbs erupting from her body like a porcupine before her head exploded into an insectile like maw, the material taut across her maw undulating with the fury of a silent scream. She fought and thrashed, the suit putting out little tethers to try and anchor her. She somehow launched herself forward with enough momentum to ram into the translucent wall separating us, fracturing it with a spiderweb of breaks. Then she was pulled back into the stationary, still form back in the middle of the room.

"What happened to her?" I asked Tirek as we returned to the garden.

"She lost her mind," he replied, tapping the side of his skull. "I'm not sure how much she had to begin with, but since she was released from petrification, she's been like that. She's spent a thousand years fighting Starlight and Twilight in her head. Now she can't stop fighting them." He said as he looked out at the city. "That's the risk you run, Cozy, if you can't let go."

"You've given up?" I demanded, outraged. "You endured Tartarus but some ponies put you in a glossy suit and suddenly you're just domesticated."

"Cozy, what would be the point?" he asked as he gestured out the window. "Let's say I went out and ate the magic of every pony in the world." His suit let out a buzz and he added, "Hypothetically. Let's say I did. What would I do with it all? What were you planning on doing if we actually took over Equestria."

"Trick the two of you," I conceded.

"After that," he said with a wave of his hand.

I frowned and furrowed my brain. "I'd be in charge."

"To do what?"

"What do you mean?"

"Was there some great sweeping change you wanted to make? Did you want to institute a political system? Have them make giant Cozy Glow statues? Force them to chant 'We love Cozy Glow'?"

I rolled my eyes. "The chanting would be nice. I don't know. I just... wanted to be in charge. I wanted..." I frowned and thought. "I wanted life to be easy. I wanted..." I trailed off, hoping he's interrupt. He didn't. "I wanted to stop pretending."

"That you're not really a filly," he said softly.

I squeezed my eyes closed. Big eyes. Pouty lip. Adult brain. It'd been easy to get people to do whatever I wanted... so long as it meant I was always a kid. And I was fine with that! Most ponies didn't hurt kids. Most ponies wanted to be friends with kids! But to pretend day after day that I wasn't just some kind of freak... that my body was some kind of aberration... to just be ME and have me be normal and unquestioned!

It was so hard pretending. Day after day. Constantly...

"How'd you know?" I said, trying to be outraged and angry; the old familiar emotions. But I couldn't. The old resentment were tired and petrified.

"A thousand years can help you work out a lot of little details," Tirek said as he tapped the side of his head with a kindly smile. "I wanted to conquer my homeland. Force my family and people to acknowledge my greatness." He gave a tired smile. "Did you know that when I was freed, my homeland asked me to come and do a speaking tour? I'm famous. I'm beloved. There's nothing I could get now by taking over the world and eating all the magic of ponies," he said, and added with the buzz, "Hypothetically."

I hugged myself, wishing the suit cold make me bigger. "Can they fix me? Make me look like an adult?"

"I dear say they probably can help. They might not even care what you look like at all. But you'll have to do something. That's how the future works. They'll take care of all the basics, but if you want more, you have to do more." He patted her head gently. "So what is something you want to do. Not willing to do, but want to."

I thought. Schemes. I wanted to swindle. To convince someone that I was a kid that needed help. To make some colt my best friend so I could rob his parents. But as I looked out at this ridiculously endless city through the monorail, I saw all those being left in the past.

"Why are you at the Garden," I asked. "If you're famous, you could go home, right?" Technically, I could transfer to any parolee garden I wanted.

"Because it's where you are, Cozy. I can try to cultivate extinct breeds of flower into being anywhere. It's a challenge. It adds to the world rather than just consumes it. But it was where you were being released. So it was where I waited." He cocked his head. "So what do you want to do, Cozy?"

To be adult. To grow up. To be respected. Mature. I looked him in the eye and admitted, "I want to help Chrissy get better too."

"I want that too," he replied.

It took months of preparation, but for those months I was doing something. Not a scheme. Not a plot. A plan. A purpose. I studied narcissistic disorders. I learned all about petrification psychosis, I talked to doctors and the prison, because they weren't going to like this at all. Chrysalis's cell was fortified, with actual guard ponies surrounding it. Dozens of changeling specialists watched in the wings. She pulsated, exploded in spikey protrusions, and quieted again, like some sea cucumber.

"I'm ready," I said, and my suit suddenly liquified. It dropped from me, forming a ball of dough. I swallowed. The walls sealed us inside the white box with glowing walls. She stopped moving. Maybe she sensed something was different. "Do it," I said.

The suit covering her eyes disappeared. The green teal eyes focused on me for one instant, and then exploded outwards, erupting in a chitinous mass, as if she were trying to squeeze herself inside out through her eye sockets. She made mouths, mandibles, and spikey protrusions as she rushed towards me. Normally, the suit would suck her in. Force her to comply. But we couldn't. Not if we wanted to make her better.

"Starlight's dead!" I screamed as that mass of mouths rammed into me, pinning me against the wall. "Starlight's dead! You beat her! You won! We won! Please stop!" I screamed all in a rush as the mass of mouths created eyes. I knew there was a hoof on a button. One push, and she'd be sacked again. One push Crystalis would be lost.

"Cozy?" she asked as her mouths reformed into a single maw, as she gradually reverted bit by bit. "This is a trick."

"No. It actually isn't. It really, really isn't. It's over. Starlight's gone." I said, using every bit of wheedling and cajoling I could muster.

"I... I beat her? She's dead and I'm... did I defeat her?" she asked as her face returned to it's familiar equine shape. The suit adjusted around her. "I don't understand. I'm so... I'm so tired."

"I know you are. Things are different. Way, way different. But I'm here. Tirek's here too. If you want, you can even read her obituary and watch her funeral. She's gone. But you're still here." I assured her,

"She's gone! She's gone!" Chrysalis repeated, tears welling in her eyes. "I beat her! I won!"

"You did. And you're going to have a new hive to go to. Do a lot of things. Anything you want," I said, knowing that it'd be a long time before she's be able to admit what she wanted. But Tirek would be there with his flowers, and I'd try to help her do better. Be better. Conquering this Equestria was too big. Too much. The world had changed, but we were still in it.

I was withdrawn as several changelings were funneled in to try to explain things to her. I felt a pang of resentment, but if they'd done the same for me at my parole, I'd have just tried to manipulate them. I was good at that. I needed time in this strange world to learn what I needed in the first place.

Then I heard her footsteps. Saw her. A thousand years changed a pony, but not a princess, even if that title was purely ceremonial in today's Equestria. Twilight Sparkle looked down at me with that gentle, calm smile that ripped at my heart. "Well done, Cozy. It's good to have you back."

I wanted to scream. Hit. I didn't have the suit! I could do that! This would be my one chance... But the person I wanted to her, to blame, wasn't her. If I'd been more honest from the beginning, if I'd dared to just be myself and not do what I thought was easy... If... If... If...

I collapsed into her hooves, sobbing brokenly. "I'm sorry..." I repeated over and over again. If. If. If,

"I know. I'm glad. I don't rule much anymore. Just a school. Old habits and all that. But if you like, you're welcome to attend. All three of you, as adults. I have a lot to learn from all of you."

"Will we have to wear those stupid suits?" I asked, and got a patient, but firm smile in response. They were kind, but not fools. I gave a sigh, and nodded, "Sure. It'll be nice to have... something worthwhile to do."

It'd be a lot of work. It'd be hard not to fall into old habits, especially for Chrissy. But it would be worth it. The three of us together. Again...

Friends.