Habits of the Equestrian Phoenix

by Amber Spark

Chapter 1: Feathered Fiery Fiasco

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“Today is going to be a good day,” Sunset said to the empty garden with a happy little sigh. “And by Celestia, I need a good day.”

Jets of water shot from the fountains nestled between the stone seats lining the walkway. The glittering light wove through the streams and cast tiny rainbows down on the alternating black and white benches. The water flitted back and forth in great arcs above her, though a single drop never fell to the grass. The West Garden Walkway was another wonder wrought by Earth pony ingenuity and a bit of unicorn spellwork.

With another sigh, she levitated the saddlebags off her back and placed them beside one of the white benches. She stared at the bench for a moment, laughed, threw caution to the wind and plopped down onto the grass between two of the fountains.

Today was not a day for sitting on benches. Today was a day to enjoy the feel of cool grass on her coat.

“Feels like I haven’t had a break in months,” Sunset groaned as she opened one of her saddlebags and levitated over a stack of books. “But now that the Princess’s latest test is finally behind me, I can finally find some sanity again.”

Sunset paused and chuckled, the sound carrying among the splashes of water and the calls of the animals throughout the West Gardens.

“And maybe I can stop talking to myself.”

Not likely, a voice muttered inside her head. But Sunset was in too good of a mood to even acknowledge that things existence. She felt it go off in a corner and sulk. Sunset snickered at that.

Sunset pulled the first book from her pile and opened it before realizing what it was.

“How did Habits of the Equestrian Phoenix get into my saddlebags?” Sunset asked nopony in particular.

To her surprise, somepony answered. Well, someone answered.

A loud musical cry floated down to her from above. She glanced up to see Philomena trailing flickering sparks as she swooped down upon Sunset and landed with a little hop on the closest bench.

Sunset just blinked at the phoenix.

“Did you put this in my bag?” Sunset’s eyes narrowed.

The bird hid her face behind a wing of fire, but there was no mistaking the look on Philomena’s face.

“You’re up to something, aren’t you?”

Philomena let out a little cooing noise and flapped her wings in a surprisingly good impression of a shrug.

“Oh, leave me alone, you fire-feathered pest,” Sunset said, shooing Philomena away with a hoof. “I’m not in the mood for any of your games today.”

She turned to pull another book from the pile, but Philomena suddenly leapt up into the air and spread her wings. Before Sunset could react, the phoenix blazed with light. Sunset yelped and covered her eyes from the blinding brilliance of the phoenix’s magic.

While the flash lasted less than a second, it still took almost a full minute for Sunset’s eyes to readjust from Philomena’s little stunt.

And when the afterimages finally cleared…

Her books were gone. As were her saddlebags.

As was Philomena.

In fact, the only thing left was Habits of the Equestrian Phoenix and a single phoenix feather sticking out of the ground.

Sunset jumped to her hooves and scanned the garden, but Philomena was nowhere in sight.

“Oh, so that’s how you want to play it, huh?” Sunset shouted as she levitated the book and the feather up. “Well, let’s just see how good you are at hide-and-seek, you dumb bird!”

The bird didn’t respond, but that was fine. Philomena had already done the next best thing.

Less than a minute later, Sunset trotted through the gardens back toward the castle, the phoenix feather in a field of teal magic as her seeking spell did its work. The feather twisted a bit as Sunset turned a corner, acting like a makeshift compass with the feathered tip always pointing in the direction of her quarry. She took a detour through the Moon Lantern tunnel, and snuck two of her favorite flowers in revenge for Celestia letting that feathered menace out to harass her on her day off.

As soon as she left the tunnel of faintly glowing flowers, she caught sight of a flash of red and gold.

“Seriously?” Sunset demanded. “That is so not fair.”

Philomena sat on the balcony to Princess Celestia’s private quarters, four stories above the garden. Sunset’s saddlebags hung on the railing, making it blatantly obvious that the dam—darn phoenix was baiting her.

“You know I can teleport through the castle’s wards, right?” Sunset called to the phoenix as she approached the ivy-covered wall beneath Celestia’s rooms.

The bird let out a sound that could have only been a laugh.

Dammit, I’m not about to be mocked by some magical overgrown parakeet!

Sunset glared at Philomena and focused. If anything, Philomena’s expression grew even more amused.

A flash of light later, and Sunset was standing next to the phoenix. She blinked a few times, trying to get her bearings. Despite her comment to the dumb bird, teleporting through the castle wards wasn’t simple.

The phoenix turned and cocked her head at Sunset. Before Sunset managed to react, Philomena leapt into the air. With a blur of speed, she snatched Sunset’s saddlebags…

…and darted straight through the half-open doors to Celestia’s chambers.

Sunset froze as Philomena hovered on the other side of the room, near the doors to what was probably the hallway. The phoenix flapped her wings lazily, taunting Sunset with her mere existence.

Sunset hesitated. It was one thing to teleport onto Celestia’s balcony. That area used the same wards as Celestia’s study—a place she’d spent much of the last several years in—but Celestia’s quarters were an entirely different matter. She’d been there only a hoofful of times since becoming Celestia’s student.

“You bring those back right now!” Sunset shouted at the phoenix. She didn’t expect the words to do anything. She wasn’t disappointed.

She was, however, pushed past her limit when Philomena stuck out her tongue at Sunset.

“Oh it is on,” Sunset growled. She pawed the stonework of the balcony, prayed she wasn’t about to trip some teleportation ward that would send her straight to the dungeon and threw herself into a full gallop through the doors.

Philomena squawked in alarm. Apparently she hadn’t been ready for Sunset to actually come in after her. In a flash of phoenix magic, the bird disappeared.

Despite the strange feeling that washed over her upon crossing the threshold of Celestia’s private chambers, Sunset wasn’t immediately teleported to a dungeon, banished, or banished and then teleported to a dungeon in the place she was banished to. A small relief, since her ‘phoenix compass’ was still pointing directly at the doors, where she heard a commotion outside.

“Hey, isn’t that the Princess’s—”

Without even pausing to look around Celestia’s rooms, Sunset flung open the doors with her magic, hoping to surprise her prey. She indeed did surprise somepony… namely the two royal guards who had been standing watch outside the room when the doors slammed into their faces.

Both of them went sprawling to the floor with yelps of pain.

“Sorry!” Sunset called back as she galloped after the phoenix, who was already halfway down the corridor. Philomena dove around a corner and Sunset almost skidded into a portrait of a regal-looking gray unicorn stallion with a red cape.

“Hey! Stop!” came the call from behind her.

“Oh, you are so going to get it when I get my hooves on you!” Sunset shouted as she galloped down the next hallway, following the feathered trickster.

Philomena turned in midair, still clutching Sunset’s saddlebags in her talons and smirked like only a phoenix could.

The message was clear: “Catch me if you can.

“Attention, all guards, we have an intruder on the fourth floor near the Royal Quarters!” came a shout from behind her. Sunset could feel the tingle of the magical communication intensifying throughout the castle. “Snowhoof and Gallop in pursuit!”

“This is not what I had in mind for today!” Sunset grumbled to herself as she rounded another corner.

Philomena wove through the long corridors of the castle, always staying just far enough away so Sunset couldn’t snatch her bags back with her magic. They skirted startled servants, dodged dapper doorwardens, charged around careful chamberponies, and galloped past grumpy guards. At this point, Sunset didn’t have much to lose. She was going to get that damn bird even if it killed her.

Philomena has had this coming for years. It’s time to put that bird in her place! Sunset thought as she leapt over a tea trolley, never breaking pace. Granted, I have no idea how I’m going to do that… but still!

“Stop!” a guard called from a small squad who’d appeared at an intersection Philomena had just soared through.

Sunset reacted instinctively. A flash of magic later, and she was on the other side.

“Wasn’t that Sunset Shimmer?” said one of the guards behind her, sounding utterly bewildered.

“Doesn’t matter, she’s violated the Princess’s chambers! Get her!”

I didn’t violate anything! I was chasing the damn bird all of you seem to be ignoring!

From the sound of hooves behind her, that little fact apparently didn’t matter. Now, the chase was really on.

That’s when Sunset realized she’d been doing this all wrong. She shouldn’t be chasing the little thief.

She should be outsmarting her.

After all, she was still Sunset Shimmer. Granted, that might not mean what it had once meant—namely before a particular unicorn filly had saved her flank back at GU—it still meant something.

She waited until they were scampering down the long hallway that overlooked the west ramparts. It was a lovely hallway, filled with enormous clear windows offering a breathtaking view of the city.

And the afternoon sun.

Sunset drew upon her magic as the sun blazed through the glass. Every second, she could feel the power building within her. It filled her, making her hooves tingle and her coat shimmer. No matter how many times she did this, she never tired of the sense of life that burned within her whenever she drew upon the sun.

She did some rapid-fire trigonometry with minor variances for speed and height.

Her horn flared with power and quickly expanded into a layer of overglow. She glanced at the window and saw the teal magic tinged with white. The magic bucked and strained to escape her control, but she kept it. Like always.

She grinned, focused and unleashed the spell.

A flash later, she was airborne… directly above Philomena.

“Gotcha!” Sunset crowed.

Philomena whirled in midair, startled by Sunset’s sudden appearance above her. She squawked and, to Sunset’s shock, spat a small gout of flame. Since Sunset’s spell had given her the same velocity as Philomena, she was lucky enough not to be hit directly.

Instead, the flame merely lit her tail on fire.

Sunset yowled and lost her concentration. She flailed about, managing to grab the bird as the spell controlling her flight vector sputtered, died and sent them crashing several feet to the floor.

Sunset tried to beat out the flames licking at her tail as she clutched at the bird. But Philomena was far too agile to be contained by anypony, even a pony as annoyed as Sunset Shimmer. The phoenix squawked and writhed as she managed to get free, though Philomena had left Sunset’s saddlebags behind.

However, this affront was far past mere petty theft.

As the pounding hoofsteps of what sounded like an entire contingent of the Royal Guard came down the corridor behind her, Sunset spied exactly what she needed: one of Philomena’s water dishes.

Sunset grinned. The phoenix turned one last time to taunt her…

…and Sunset dumped an entire bowl of freezing water on the bird’s head.

Instantly, the phoenix dropped to the ground, every flicker of flame doused. Philomena glared daggers at her as she tried to take flight once more. However, with her flames out, the phoenix’s natural magic wouldn’t function. It wouldn’t last more than a minute, but it was enough to snatch the bird in her magic and drag her back to Sunset.

“Now, let’s have a little chat about your little pranks,” Sunset growled at the shivering phoenix. “For starters—”

A pink bubble of energy winked into existence above Sunset’s head. Before she could respond, it dropped like a net right on top of her, sealing itself to the floor with an audible pop, trapping both Sunset and Philomena inside.

Both of them turned to look back down the hallway. Even Philomena twitched at the sight.

No less than fifty Royal Guards stood just a few feet away. A young second lieutenant with a white coat and a blue mane was pouring magic into the shield spell, while the Captain of the Royal Guard, Stalwart Rook, marched up to her with Raven—Celestia’s aide—at his side.

“Captain Rook,” Raven said, her eyes hidden behind her black-rimmed glasses, “Please escort both of Celestia’s guests to her private study. The Princess will want to have… words with both of them. Have Second Lieutenant Armor shield the room and assign two members of the aerial division to stand guard on the balcony.”

“Are you sure, ma’am?” Stalwart Rook asked, running a tan hoof over his close-cropped coal-black mane. “Standard procedure is to throw trespassers into the dungeon.”

Philomena let out a protesting cry at that. Sunset couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to add.

Raven’s eyes glittered behind her glasses as she smiled at her two captives. A flash of her magic and her trademark clipboard appeared as she scribbled a few notes down with a quill.

“Oh, there are worse things in this castle than the dungeons, Rook.”

Stalwart Rook’s smile turned wicked, the old stallion chuckling as he nodded to a few of the Guards to follow Raven’s instructions.

“Indeed there are, ma’am,” the Captain of the Guard said. “Indeed there are.”

Oh, ponyfeathers.

Author's Notes:

When Raven gets a gleam in her eye... run. :twilightoops:

If you come across any errors, please let me know by PM!

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