Phoenix Ember woke up from his rest, doing as his training always instructed for him to do: survey the environment and prepare the proper defenses for yourself and your comrades-in-wing. This field scouting mission, however, was going to be unlike any that he had ever done before. The landscape in front of him was covered in a hazy mist, which had the smell of something very unusual in the lands of Equestria--salt.
A lot of the space lacked any sort of tangible definition, a majority of his immediate surroundings appearing foggy or just beyond his ability to fully perceive. There was a low roar in the background that seemed to cause an echo around where he stood and looked about.
Where am I? I thought I was in the cell at Canterlot Castle… how did I end up here, wherever here happens to be? He started to explore the area, a lot of the substantive locales staying just outside of his tangible senses. After a few minutes of exploring, he managed to stumble upon some sort of door that was left partially open. Traps are always left to look like it was an accident, Phoenix.
Feeling that this was the only thing that appeared real enough to him, he opened the door with his wings, pushing it to the side. He was hoping that nothing would greet him unpleasantly as the hatch made its way toward him.
The door swung open with an aged creaking sound, the wood groaning as if it had not been touched in a very long time. After the sound of the doorway finally subsided, Phoenix looked into the depths of his newest surroundings. Okay, so not trapped--yet.
The fog and lack of lucidity seemed to fully vanish now, displaying a very dark and empty hallway that did not cause the Shadowbolt pause, peering down its length. Small beams of light wisped through vine-covered windows, making the atmosphere spooky and slightly uncomfortable to the common pony.
Outside of the sound of my own hooffalls, I haven’t heard much more than that background roar since I got here. ...One of the creepier places I’ve been.
As he pressed onward, stepping on stones that seemed to purposely amplify each hooffall, his eye caught something out of its corner. For the briefest of seconds, a splash of some blurred color caught the outermost of his peripheral vision. Phoenix didn’t even react to it right away, as the second he turned to look, there was nothing to be seen aside from a shadowy growth of leaves.
Could have been a leaf...possibly some piece of debris, dust settling. Don’t let your mind lose itself here, Ember. However, he decided that whatever it was that he thought he saw merited investigation, so he headed down the hallway in slow, measured steps.
As if to hammer the point home, right as he reached the place where he thought he saw the glimmer of color a few moments earlier, down a corridor to his right he heard an incredibly loud SLAM from a door at its terminus. This sound got his attention, and he looked to see leaves being disturbed and air getting sent his way.
Contact. Somepony--or something--is here. “Hello!” he called out as he started to gallop down the hallway. Despite how fast he ran, the door never seemed to get any closer. Come on, come on... faster! Just at the moment he was about to reach it, the door in front of him vanished, giving him only a second or two to stop with his wings and push his hooves as hard as he could to slow himself down. Just as he was about to slam into the end of the hallway, he barely managed to bring himself to a stop.
As he slowed down, he heard footfalls behind him, drawing closer and closer. Wait--how did they get behind me without being seen? That doesn’t make any physical sense. He turned to see the approaching whatever-it-was, preparing to charge at it. “You’re not going to trap me! Do you know what I am?”
No sound came from the other thing, seeming to be composed of cloud, shadow and the essence of dark light. As it finally drew closer, it stopped moving in Phoenix’s general direction. It looked at him, and whispered with the hiss and temperament of a snake. “Phoenix....”
“Come on! Out of the shadows, you! Show yourself to me.” A fierce snarl formed on the pegasus’ mouth, his wings slicked into his body as he readied himself to ram whatever might try and lay a hoof on him.
“Phoenix!” The voice called out again, this time more forceful and a lot closer.
“Who are you to call out a Shadowbolt? Do you have any idea what I can do to you?!” Ember growled, his remaining patience starting to fade.
“Phoenix Ember, wake up!”
Phoenix Ember shot up from his bed, looking around. His vision was clear, and he realized where he was. I’m in the cell. So... was that a dream? It had to have been. The food tray from the previous evening’s meal had been knocked to the side, and was lying in an awkward angle on the Celestia side of the room.
“Well...you’re looking well, Shadowbolt.” Silver Plate said, his midsection wrapped up in bandages as he approached the cell, a wry smile on his face. “Remember me?”
“Yes,” replied Phoenix with a gruff snarl in the back of his throat, “I remember you--sun loving fool. I should have pushed you over the edge when I had the chance. Watched to see how long it would have taken you to have to snap your wings out and hurt yourself.”
Silver’s smile didn’t fade, “Still intent on trying to get to Celestia, aren’t you? I knew the second I got you out of Zecora’s hut that you were going to be nothing but trouble. Seems like I can still call them pretty good. I have to thank you, actually.”
Phoenix scoffed as the white-maned pegasus looked at him through the safety of the bars. “And how precisely have I managed to earn your gratitude?”
“Nopony’s tried anything that brazen on me in a long time. Even though you gave me a couple of cracked ribs, you reminded me of how badly things could have ended up if I didn’t train so much. Now it gives me more incentive to heal up faster so I can practice quick free-fall maneuvers.”
The two exchanged a tense stare for a couple of moments, before Phoenix spoke again. “Is there any other reason why you’re down here?”
“None than I can think of, other than to tell you that breakfast might be a little late this morning... with Ruby Glitter’s new assignment.” Silver continued to look at Phoenix Ember, letting very little of his emotions show.
“Hmph. What do all of you hope to achieve by being nice to me, hmm?” The dark-blue maned pony bristled a little bit, locking down the guard with his gaze.
“Honestly? I don’t care, Phoenix. I have no real feeling about it one way or the other. You’ve come into my world and are trying to change the rules so that it conforms a world that is a millenia gone. The past is dead and quite frankly save for some divine intervention on Luna’s behalf, you should be too.”
Phoenix’s eyebrow merely peaked from that comment, seeming designed to get his coat up and draw some sort of reaction. “You’re convinced I’m some sort of monster.”
“You tried to kill me, Phoenix. Explain to me why I should feel any differently.” Silver Plate’s eyes narrowed slightly, the contentious battle still continuing.
“You shouldn’t--in fact, you are right. I was a feared presence before Celestia sealed Luna away. My name uttered in anywhere in Equestria sent chills down the spines of ponies. I had command of an entire legion of pegasi, who would follow my orders without question.” He chuckled, pausing as he paced about a little more. “And it appears as that I’ve been sent here to be forgotten.”
SIlver chuckled. “No, Phoenix--as much as that would be poetic justice for what you did, you won’t be so lucky. You’ve been assigned somepony to take care and help to rehabilitate you. One of which helped to seal you, and helped to set you free. And believe me, she’s not looking forward to meeting you.”
“She? What, not going to stick me with somepony as harsh on me as I deserve?” Phoenix almost looked insulted.
“Oh... be careful, Phoenix; you may get what you wish for.” Silver had to chuckle as he continued to talk to the prisoner, whom would have what little normalcy that he had gotten to learn changed in an hour or so.
Rainbow Dash hadn’t slept well after three in the morning. She spent most of the early morning alternating between pacing about and flying in the room, doing the best she could to keep quiet. A few moments came where she would go to the exterior windows of the room and open it to peer outside and look at the stars. Although Dash never really had taken the time to fully appreciate the splendor of a night as most of them were spent sleeping, the pegasus looked up toward the sky that had been painted and placed with the utmost of care by the Princess of the Night.
After six in the morning came, she gave up on trying to even pace and decided to flop back down on the unmade bed, burying her head in the comforter. She demanded for sleep to come--and was denied each time she sought it out. The last time I got this little sleep was getting ready for Junior Speedster’s Academy the first time. It was annoying then and I’m annoyed now. Rainbow Dash finally decided to leave some of those persistent thoughts alone as she flopped and tossed on the bed a couple of times. “Gaah! Might as well do something meaningful!” She sat back up and noticed the table ,which she would have sat at last night had it not been for her exhaustion. I should let everypony back in Ponyville know what’s going on.
Pulling out a pencil, and managing to place it into her mouth in such a manner than she could write legibly, Rainbow Dash began to compose a note for her friends.
August 22, CKY 1001
You’ve probably noticed--unless you’re too busy reading books, Egghead--that I’m not home, much less in Ponyville. I wish that I’d been allowed the time to explain why I’m not there, but breakfast is in a few minutes and I have a feeling my day is going to be crazy busy. I’m finding Canterlot strange--I never thought about staying here, and now it look like it’s going to become my new home. Princess Celestia and Luna are both awesome, and promised me a tryout with the Wonderbolts. Probably explains why I can’t sleep. Twilight, you’d love it here--wait, you are from Canterlot. I forgot. Anyway, I’m going to cut this pretty short. Just want to let all of you know that I’m well and being taken care of.
With her letter complete, Rainbow Dash retreated into the bathroom to get cleaned up. She discovered that her room was definitely one of the nicer ones in the Castle, with a full standing shower. On a small shelf near the far end was a couple bottles of mane conditioner, with fancy writing labels on them. Hmm... vanilla and almond. Other one says fresh rain. She stepped into the bathing area, using her hooves to turn on the water.
The spray of hot water surprised Rainbow Dash. It wasn’t burning hot, but it definitely shook what little remaining sleep that might have been in her out really quickly as the streams ran down her coat and mane. She lay down on the base of the shower for a second, allowing the water to soak in. Her thoughts returned to that of flying, and also contemplations of what she would do to help impress the Wonderbolts and Spitfire after her last tryout.
I don’t even want to think about that... I acted totally uncool and almost completely embarrassed myself. Not going to screw up another chance. She stood back up, grabbing the bottle of vanilla and almond conditioner from the shelf and using her wing to put it over her back and mane. Wish I had time to fully wash my wings. Guess I’ll have to preen them later on. After scrubbing the lightly scented liquid into her mane and front of her coat and basically anywhere else she could reach without much trouble, she rinsed herself clean and turned the water off.
Shaking off the remaining water from her body, Rainbow Dash stepped out of the shower and headed for the main part of the room. She basically ignored what little drips of water she couldn’t get off of her, feeling refreshed but still painfully awake after a bad night’s rest. Right as she was about to start admiring herself in the mirror again, to make sure she didn’t miss any parts of her mane, she heard a soft and gentle rapping sound come from the outside of her room. Must be--ahh, what was her name again?
“Rainbow Dash, it’s Ruby Glitter! Are you awake, it’s 7:15 and I want to be on time for breakfast. We’ve got a full day ahead of us.”
Ahh! Ruby Glitter--that’s her name. Okay... let’s do this! She walked over calmly and pushed on the door handle, allowing for the lock to release and the door to open inward. Ruby Glitter appeared fully gathered together, saddlebags strapped to her back with a large book poking out of one of them.
“Morning! Did you sleep well? I know the second my head hits the pillow I’m out like a blown-out candle until the sun rises. I got up just a little bit earlier today so that I would remember to grab my sketchbook so we could both look at it over breakfast! Then you can tell me more about the Wonderbolts and what Ponyville is like.”
Dash chuckled a little bit. Yup, just like Pinkie Pie. “Well, Ruby Glitter, I slept sorta okay. Woke up at 3 and couldn’t get back to sleep. I haven’t been that restless for a while. So, time to head off to breakfast?”
Ruby nodded, her perky hair bobbing gently as she moved her head up and down. “Yes! This’ll be the last chance to see Princess Luna until dinnertime. It’s such a shame that she can’t keep better house, but being the Princess of the Night doesn’t lend itself to being able to stay awake throughout the day. Although she’s been back for just such a short period of time, I really like being around Luna, even when I need to stay awake after bedtime--which can really throw off my schedule.”
Rainbow Dash exited her room, closing the doors behind her. She left the bed a mess and presumed that there would be some sort of housekeeping service that would come around and help pick up the small mess that she made. She started walking the same route that she and Princess Luna had taken the previous evening.
Canterlot looked a lot different in the morning’s light, after Celestia had brought the sun over the horizon point almost an hour earlier. Amber waves of light reflected against the marble and tile floors. The soft harmony of songbirds outside wafted their way through the open windows. Ruby guided her magic to reach for the sketchbook that she had spoken about earlier, and brought it out to show to Rainbow Dash. “Here! This is just a sample of what I’ve done.”
Dash slowed her walk, pausing for a second to allow Ruby to open the book containing the bundled scraps of paper. “All right, let’s see what you’ve got here....” The pegasus took a moment to cast her eyes on the page, wondering precisely what she was going to see.
Her mouth nearly fell from her jaw as she looked at the sketch. The attention to detail that Ruby had placed into the drawings stole away her ability to remember to breathe. In the finest intonations of graphite, shading, and highlighting, she saw her cutie mark drawn out. Eyes of magenta done in brilliant shades of grey looked as if they were ready to blink back at her. With each page being flipped under the control of Ruby’s magic, Dash had barely heard a word the smaller magenta unicorn mare had said to her. How did she do all of those so precisely? How long has she been making these drawings, and why didn’t I notice her sooner?
“...Rainbow Dash? You still in there?” Ruby Glitter asked after the distracted pegasus hadn’t answered her in a good minute. “Hey, dreamy head! Wake up!”
The pegasus had to shake her head and bring herself out of the mesmeric stupor she fell in after being drawn in by the incredibly accurate and lifelike drawings. “Yeah! Those were incredible. How long have you been doing those?”
Ruby was about to answer as the doorway to the dining room opened up. Celestia looked completely refreshed, while Luna was showing the signs of fatigue from a long night’s watch, her appearance of one begging for a cup of coffee. “Good morning, you two. Tell me, Rainbow Dash, did you sleep well?”
Dash waved a hoof, “Like a rock.” she said, “I also loved that mane conditioner you left in the room for me. It’ll help make me look awesome for my tryout with the Wonderbolts!”
Luna chuckled lightly. “Makes you smell very feminine, Rainbow Dash. We can see why Sister chose it for your room specifically.”
This drew a sharp look from Rainbow Dash, who growled lightly at the Night Princess. Oh, aren’t you funny, Princess Luna. A real hoot.
Celestia sensed a potential squabble, deciding to keep the morning as free-flowing and peaceful as possible. “Now, now, Luna. There’s no need to be unkind here. After all, Miss Dash is going to have a very busy day ahead of herself. Let’s all sit down--breakfast awaits!”
Ruby put her sketchbook away, walking alongside Rainbow Dash as the two of them headed to the side of the table they had been seated at the night before. Carafes of coffee, juices, and fresh flowers adorned the dining surface.
There was another pony seated on Luna’s side of the table who sized up Ruby and Rainbow as the two of them approached. The white unicorn then turned his attention, “Good morning, Princesses,” he said, standing at attention for a moment as the two alicorns sat.
“At ease, Captain.” Celestia said with a smile, “It’s important that we stay relaxed, because after we finish our meal we are going to release somepony that we do not fully understand. I don’t mean to rob anypony of their appetite; however, delaying this will not benefit any of us. Perhaps you should introduce yourself to both Ruby Glitter and Rainbow Dash.”
The princesses sat down, the sun alicorn pouring herself her second cup of coffee of the day, and Luna filling her cup with fresh apple juice. The quiet sounds of working could be heard from the service entrances behind them, chefs calling out to each other and putting the finishing touches on the breakfast about to be served. Ruby Glitter shifted about nervously in her seat, eyes shifting between Rainbow Dash and the unicorn stallion across the table.
The unicorn stallion remained standing, looking at both Ruby and Rainbow. “Yes, I believe I should.” he said after a few moments. “My name is Shining Armor, and I am Captain of the Royal Guard. Princess Celestia has told me about the prisoner Phoenix Ember, and I will be providing whatever needed assistance you will require, Rainbow Dash.” As soon as he was done with his introduction, he returned to his seat and moved in toward the table.
To support the Captain’s statement, Luna spoke up. “And need it she shall, Shining Armor. Our morning briefing after lowering the moon gave a report of Phoenix being quite unruly toward the guard he injured when he arrived. We feel that he is not going to want to be the least bit cooperative.” The night princess sighed, waiting for the kitchen servants to bring out the breakfast banquet.
As if on command, the doors that led to the kitchen parted, allowing a servant pony to exit from each one. Almost immediately, the group at seated at the table was greeted by a myriad of fragrances that wafted from the carts the stallions were walking with, releasing the sweet melody of fresh orange peel and cinnamon. Luna could detect the hints of sugary frosting and freshly-baked cake, making her mouth water slightly as the two ponies approached the table. The kitchen stewards stopped between Dash and Ruby Glitter, revealing the tray of food. Crisp and colorful waffles highlighted the center of the platter, with fresh cut honeydew, cantaloupe, orange, kiwi, and bananas. On a smaller tray behind that, there were a variety of dainty looking cupcakes that almost looked too fancy to eat. The steward asked, “What would you like, Miss Dash?”
Rainbow considered the contents of the platters to her left. I don’t normally even eat breakfast...I’m still sleeping by that time of the morning. “I’ll take a waffle and an assortment of fruit.” Dash tried to stifle a yawn, bringing her hoof to her mouth as she was served a bountiful plate full of food.
“So... before we begin eating,” Celestia began, clearing her throat, “I should let you know of how we will approach Phoenix Ember. Rainbow Dash, you will be kept protected by both Ruby Glitter and Shining Armor in the first few minutes after we remove him from his cell. I still believe that I will be the last pony he will want to see. After we have taken him out from the cell, you will have two hours to familiarize yourself with him and begin teaching him how to properly behave in this Equestria.
“I do not doubt that the task I am asking of you is going to be difficult. Phoenix has proven himself to be quite violent and possibly capable of unspeakable evils, and that it why it is so important that we train him how to properly behave himself in this new world. For now, we should enjoy our breakfast, as I have this feeling in my gut that today is going to be a highly frustrating and exhaustively long day.” Celestia finally finished speaking, bringing the cup of steaming hot coffee to her mouth and taking a long sip from the caffeinated beverage.
Ruby Glitter had assembled her plate, using her horn to bring over the pitcher of orange juice and pour herself a glass. “Captain Shining Armor, sir.” She looked over toward the Captain of the guard, having a bit of difficulty believing what she had just been told by Celestia.
The blue-maned unicorn looked up as he poured himself some coffee as well, ready to address the mare. “Yes, Ruby Glitter? Do you have any concerns or questions?”
“It’s about Phoenix Ember. Last night when I served him dinner, he didn’t seem all that concerned about hurting anypony else, much less me. If anything, he just seemed a little lost and confused.” the magenta mare finished, taking a bit of some fresh fruit from her plate.
“Good soldiers are always capable of putting on a very convincing outward appearance, Miss Glitter. Don’t be drawn in too easily. It’s the first method for them to get inside of your head: to play on your emotions.” Shining Armor took a drink from the contents of his cup.
“I see. There was also something unusual. He made sure to ask for my name, which I told him--felt it little more than common courtesy, of course. I mean, everypony was given a name and it’s important to who they are and what they’re going to become. My parents had it in mind when they named me Ruby Glitter that I was going to be brilliant and shine radiantly in whatever I put my hoof to in life. And I think I’ve done a pretty good job so far! Don’t you agree, Rainbow Dash?”
Dash was busy eating her breakfast, continuing to keep her lack of refined manners quite obvious to the rest of the diners there. She wasn’t very big on using flatware of any type, unlike the others in the room. Celestia merely chuckled under her breath when as she took a momentary glance toward Rainbow Dash, enjoying in quiet solace her breakfast. Luna was holding on to the barest minimum of alertness, treating the meal as if it were a late night snack, the waffles helping to settle her metabolism for her sleep during the day--after she finished snacking on the remainder of the chocolate cake that Celestia had provided for her as a reward.
With a mouth half full of food, Dash replied, “Kid, I don’t know ya well enough yet to say yes. But you seem alright so me, so that gets a mark on the coolness chart.” She gave Ruby a wink and continued to work at her breakfast plate. This is great food! Maybe I’m missing out on some high quality grub by sleeping in!
Ruby smiled a little bit after Dash finished her comments, returning to her food. The majority of the remainder of the meal was spent in quiet, aside from the sound of refills of beverages and comments about how tasty everything was. Luna made no attempt to hide her exhaustion as breakfast drew to a close, prompting Celestia to look in her direction.
“Sister, you appear quite sleepy. Perhaps you should return to your bedchambers for a proper rest after your exciting evening and night? I believe that Shining Armor and Ruby Glitter will be sufficient to deal with Phoenix Ember this day.”
Through bleary, sleep welcoming eyes, Luna nodded, standing from the table. “We would like to thank all of you for a delightful meal. We shall retire for the morning and awaken to raise the moon again as nightfall returns to the land.” She bowed gently and turned to the left, heading for an exit on the nearby wall. The doors to the passageway opened to allow the Night Princess through as she yawned visibly, her pace reduced to a gentle trot as she made her way for her bedroom.
As the doors closed, Celestia rose from her seat, signifying that breakfast had now come to a close. “Well, now that my sister is off to sleep, there is no point in delaying this any longer. Let us go and see a remnant of the past be brought out of his prison.” She stood ahead, a ferocity in her eyes as she made her way for the exit, which would end up leading back toward the main corridors. From there, the group of ponies slowly rose from their chairs as well to follow the Sun Alicorn.
On their walk toward the dungeons, Celestia recalled the letter that she had received, “Oh, Rainbow Dash, I had not had the chance to tell you that Twilight Sparkle had written me and inquired as to how you were doing. I haven’t had the chance to respond to her yet. Is there anything that you would like for me to tell her?”
“Actually, Princess, I had spent some of the morning writing a letter to Twilight, just lettin’ her know how I was doing. I was about to send it out before Ruby Glitter had come and got me for breakfast. Could it get sent out?”
“Certainly.” Celestia said, a bit of a smile returning to her face. “I’m sure that Shining Armor here would appreciate that.” And are you in for a bit of a surprise, Rainbow Dash. I’m surprised that Twilight didn’t tell you about her family, as she hasn’t indicated it in any of the letters that I’ve received from her so far.
The Captain of the Guard giggled a little bit, this news causing a spot of happiness in his heart. Given how the morning had lost some of its glimmer and luster, information like this helped to make it a little more bearable. “Yes, it’s good to know that Twiley is doing all right.”
“Twiley?” Rainbow Dash said, looking toward Shining Armor, wondering if that was directed toward her new unicorn friend. “Did I hear you right?”
“I’m sorry... I meant to say Twilight Sparkle. She’s my younger sister. I haven’t had the same amount of time I used to have to spend with her after she was accepted into Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, and as I climbed the ranks in the Equestrian Guard. I don’t even remember the last time it was that we spoke to each other.” He was smiling brightly now as they maintained their consistent pace from hallway to hallway, which led to the passageways that would take them toward the dungeons.
Rainbow Dash’s world had just taken yet another blow: Twilight Sparkle had an older brother and hadn’t bothered to tell her? I’m not sure how much more my head can take! First, this old pegasus comes back from Nightmare Moon’s time, and now Twilight has a brother?! Sheesh, what’s gonna happen next?
“Propaganda, meaningless and foolhardy!” Silver Plate snarled, “Why would you even have ascribed to believe that nonsense, you fool? You had everything, and then you throw it away to follow Nightmare Moon?” What had been a gentlecolt’s conversation had now descended into little more than a yelling match between the two pegasi, each increasing the volume and ferocity of their verbal assault with each volley--and the most recent one from Silver Plate left nothing unclear.
Phoenix snarled, his mane now a flared mess as he flapped his wings again. “How would I ever expect a sun-lover like you to comprehend the power and praise that she was deserving? The ideal of perfection, the Queen of the Night! A ruler of divine justice and promise of the most glorious evening that had ever been seen, and the thought that it would never cease? All the more reason to usher it in! The only fool here is you!”
“You should be grateful that there is a gate between you and me right now, Phoenix Ember. You would not be happy with the results if I were allowed to break past those iron bars.”
“Just try it. You’ll find that I’m just as strong as I’ve ever been, and not about to be subdued by just a mere pegasus like you.” Golden fire filled his eyes, wings at their peak and ready to lash out.
“That is enough!” came a powerful, resounding voice from behind the two of them. Both Silver Plate and Phoenix Ember totally froze, watching as Princess Celestia strode forward with controlled fury. Her eyes buried into Silver Plate first, annoyed that she had walked into such a distasteful display.
Having been able to regain some measure of control over his body, Silver Plate bowed before Celestia in hopes of salvaging what little respect that the situation merited.
“I am highly disappointed with the both of you,” the Sun Alicorn intoned, a bristling anger being barely withheld in her throat, “but moreso you Silver Plate! This is not the type of behavior that I would expect from one of my guards. You are off duty until I can speak with you in private!”
The pegasus guard rose from his position, looking into stern and displeased eyes. Their message was clear: I don’t want your apology now. Just leave, please. Dealing with this is going to be hard enough. Without another word, Silver Plate stood back up on his hooves and moved past Celestia and the group.
Phoenix Ember managed to regain some level of composure after Silver Plate had left the four of them in the dungeon. Well, this is going to proceed wonderfully. I can already feel a lecture about how I can act this way and not expect some sort of consequence.
“And, to expect so much of you so quickly was also in error it seems, Phoenix. You still remain loyal to Nightmare Moon, do you not?” Celestia let the question hang there for a minute as Phoenix’s breath calmed down. “She is gone, Phoenix. Every ounce of that hateful and bitter shell which had wrapped up the care and concern that now inhabit my sister has been completely and adequately shattered. What you seek you will no longer find in her.”
“Why should I believe you? You obviously have no problems allowing your guards to act whichever way they please. To be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me if you had ordered him down here to exacerbate me.” Phoenix returned to a less threatening pose, knowing that even appearing to want to contest with the alicorn was not going to be a wise idea.
“No, Phoenix Ember, I did not order Silver Plate to come down here and attempt to make you aggravated in the way that he did to you--although his actions will only make what I am about to do far less simple. I have come to a decision on what should be done with you, last of the Shadowbolts. I am releasing you from this dungeon.”
Phoenix looked at Celestia practically dumbfounded. Were it not for his extensive training, he would have started to laugh at the Sun Alicorn in outright shock at what she had just done. “What’s the catch?”
“The ‘catch’ is that you are not going to leave Canterlot. As it is an impossibility to send you back to the days that you last knew, in this day and time you must learn to exist in this new world. I have decided that the best course of action is to rehabilitate you so that you can learn the way our Equestria works.”
She looked at the cell door, using her magic which allowed it to open up and present the Shadowbolt an opportunity to escape. Phoenix nudged his muzzle to the door, testing to see whether or not it was truly open. Where the bars had previously been he only sensed air.
“You’re going to try and rehabilitate me. This should prove to be interesting. I helped to train Shadowbolts, Princess. Going to be quite a challenge to see who you’re going to use.” Phoenix pensively made a couple of steps toward the doorway. A moment later, he felt the familiar presence of magical restraints being put on him. He glowed yellow as Celestia made sure he didn’t get very far. “Same old tricks, again. No better than a parlor magician, you know. I’m not impressed, Celestia.”
Shining Armor stood aside to let Rainbow Dash get a good look at the pegasus she was going to be in charge of reforming. Ruby Glitter also looked from the group that was standing a respectable distance away from the cell.
“Phoenix Ember, allow me to introduce you to my training team. First, the Captain of the Canterlot Royal Guard, Shining Armor.” Celestia paused as the unicorn stallion studied Phoenix, already pegging him a troublemaker. “Secondly, we have the unicorn that helped to secure you and escort you down here to begin with, Ruby Glitter. I heard over breakfast that you two of you have become familiar with each other a little bit.” Ruby nodded gently, now staying just a little further back than she had the day before.
“Finally, the one that will be doing most of the work, and as a pegasus, I felt her the best representative to help acclimate you to the world, teach you some things that have been developed over the last few centuries, and shake out some of those rusty flying skills you have, Phoenix Ember. I present Rainbow Dash, bearer of the Element of Loyalty. She is one of the ponies that used the Elements of Harmony to free Princess Luna from Nightmare Moon’s evil merely four days ago, just as that same magic secured the dark mare a thousand years ago.
Phoenix didn’t seem to be particularly impressed by the lot of ponies in front of him, the grouping looking more like a mismatched set of colors for interior walls by a color-blind designer. He sneered slightly when Celestia introduced Shining Armor, and immediately knew that if he was going to be in any part a member of the training team, it wasn’t going to be fun for either of them. Thanks for the sympathy, Celestia... you managed to find me one pegasus mare that looks weak and concerned about her mane more than she will be at how dangerous I’m capable of being. Silver Plate was spouting nonsense when he said that--if this is the best that Celestia can muster, I’m concerned about how soft this Equestria has grown.
“Now that I’ve introduced you to the team that will be helping to tend to you, it’s time to set to work.” Celestia released all but the tiniest bit of her control on Phoenix, allowing him to walk under his own power rather than being dragged about.
I might as well just humor these idiots here. Nopony’s ever been able to remold a Shadowbolt. It is an impossible task. Even when asked to work for Celestia’s Wonderbolts, before the Age of Dissonance, all would stoutly refuse. You did not bend or break us, or make us anything more than we had been told that we were--guardians of the Night. Phoenix snickered gently as he looked over the group again, maintaining his slow pace. “Impressive group you have here, Princess. Do they speak, or have you silenced their mouths as well because their opinions might not line up with what you believe?”
Celestia chuckled a little bit as the five of them began to make their way toward the exit of the dungeons, leaving the Meditation Cell abandoned. “If I had to venture a guess, Phoenix, is it that they are trying to figure out what type of pony you are, and how to properly go about interacting with you. As for my subjects, they are all allowed to speak freely as they wish and I value their opinions, even if it doesn’t happen to make me terribly happy.”
“I speak with my smile, Phoenix!” Ruby Glitter beamed, showing said smile off to all who wished to look. “I still can’t believe that what Celestia told me about you is true. If anything, that Iron Hoof is somepony I don’t trust at all and wouldn’t feel comfortable being about for long periods of time. He really creeps me out, with his snarkiness and lack of care about what happened to me when I came to bring you food the other night. Just the thought of being stuck down here for more than two hours scares me an awful lot. I can imagine it gets cold at night. Oh! I just noticed you didn’t have a blanket in here last night when you were sleeping! You’re not feeling sick are you? I’d hate it if I didn’t think about whether or not you might end up getting ill.” Ruby Glitter rattled on, finally coming to a finish after she mentioned her concern over Phoenix’s health.
The pegasus had to groan slightly as the petite unicorn mare finally stopped talking, an indication that his previous attestation of Celestia putting the clamp down on their mouths was very inaccurate. One hoof in front of the other, Phoenix. This’ll be fun, actually. The only one that I’m the tiniest bit intimidated by is Shining Armor. The other three, especially this new mare? Please. And what a name, Rainbow Dash! What kind of idiot would try to scare me with that?
The previously guarded door swung open toward them, Steady Hoof keeping a close eye on Iron Hoof to make sure nothing unusual happened while the entourage made their way from the inside of the dungeon toward the more appealing surroundings of the castle grounds.
“So, Princess Celestia....” Rainbow Dash asked, “what exactly did you have in mind to start out with in helping this other pegasus here?” She wiped away a trace of waffle and cupcake from her mane near her mouth, keeping pace with the remainder of the group. She had taken a couple of good looks at Phoenix Ember, and had received little more than sheer and complete contempt from the midnight blue stallion.
Celestia pondered for a while, as the small gathering of ponies exited the causeway that led to the dungeons, heading for the outsides the fastest way that Celestia knew possible. She looked back to Rainbow Dash, and said “We’ll have to see how cooperative Phoenix is before I decide how we should begin. For now, however, I trust that you’re ready to get your hooves and wings a little dirty?”
Rainbow Dash smiled brightly after hearing that. “You better believe I am!”
Shining Armor had to chuckle as he listened to the determination and enthusiasm this friend of Twilight’s had. “I see my little sister has good choice in friends, Princess. It’s a shame her aspirations are to join the Wonderbolts--I might consider her for the Canterlot Guard.”
“You talking about me, Captain? Me, the fastest flier in Equestria, become part of the Royal Guard? Are you crazy? Not a chance! It’s the Wonderbolts or nothing!” Rainbow replied, walking out into the bright and slightly humid warmth of the mid-morning sun.
If this day was going to be a long one, it was at least starting out to be a very pleasant one. Ruby Glitter walked a bit closer to Phoenix Ember, wondering if she would be able to strike up some conversation with the delinquent pegasus. “Umm... Phoenix Ember, I was wondering--”
“Kid.” Phoenix whirled around to focus his angry golden eyes on the jabbering mare. “Let me make this clear. You annoy me. I’ve never had much of patience for those who prattle on endlessly over absolute nonsense, and that’s all you’ve done since I’ve met you. You managed to show me some minor interest in who I was, but... you just do not stop talking and it drives me crazy!” The vocal explosion from Phoenix Ember caused the entire group to come to a complete stop, Shining Armor being the first to look at the fire-maned pegasus.
There was a very uncomfortable pause as the Captain of the Guard walked toward Phoenix. “Rule One: Hate, as you may have come to know it, is an antiquated concept. You will find it has no place here and will not help you to get better acquainted with this time or make you many friends. I expect you to have a bit more chipper attitude when addressing one of Celestia’s subjects from here on out. Am I clear, Mister Ember?”
“Crystal, Captain. But let me tell you something--you are addressing the best of the best there has ever been among pegasi. I was revered and welcomed by all when I would help to watch the night with my fellow Shadowbolts. There has never been a problem before with my attitude, sir.”
Rainbow Dash went to the side of her new friend, pointing her hoof in disgust toward Phoenix. “Who gave you the right to talk to her that way? She’s just trying to be nice! And where do you get off saying ‘best of the best of pegasi’ there ever have been? That’s my title, bub!”
Celestia’s momentary lapse of peace found itself suffering some dents as she looked at the three ponies now pointing hooves and wings in aggravation with Phoenix Ember. “Everypony, stop. Please. We are getting distracted by things that are not as important as establishing some rules and consequences for them being broken.” She joined the group of ponies that had congregated around the Shadowbolt, and looked into his eyes as she had done previously. “And it is time for a consequence for your poor choice of behavior, Shadowbolt. Captain Shining Armor is correct; hate is a concept we have almost completely forgotten, and were only recently reminded of when Nightmare Moon returned from her imprisonment. Now, Phoenix Ember, I think I can make good use of your actions and turn them into an example and training regimen. The next time you yell or insult somepony, either myself, Shining Armor, or Rainbow Dash will make sure you pay physically for your unkind words. And today, we’re going to begin with some simple physical exercises to show what type of responses your unwise actions will curry. I want to see 500 wing push-ups. That shouldn’t be much of a challenge for the “best of the best there has ever been among pegasi”, now should it?” Celestia finished her edict with a simple smirk, reminding Phoenix gently who was in true control of this situation, as well as to provide incentive to start behaving the way that his “team” desired to see from him.
“No, Princess.” Phoenix’s quiet sneer didn’t faze Celestia, as he stepped back a little bit to make room for his large wingspan. He took a minute or two to stretch his wings out, and proceeded to put the bases of the dark blue wings down to the ground, preparing for what he was already dismissing as a far too easy discipline for his choice of words. It’s been quite some time since I had to do push-ups. If anything, this’ll get me in shape! Muscles in his wings at the ready, he let his front hooves slide against his chest, using only his wings and back hooves to support him. “One....”
Rainbow Dash stood back a little bit, leaning against a column, front hooves crossed. “This I’ve got to see.” Ruby Glitter was still in a bit of a state of shock, the words that Phoenix used on her still leaving her at a bit of a loss. Maybe it was true, that Phoenix is evil and unkind. He wasn’t very nice to me a couple of minutes ago, what will he be like after we’ve help get him back to “normal?”
“....seven, eight, nine, ten....” Phoenix continued to count, pushing up all of his body weight using just the two wings planted on the ground.
This wasn’t the best of disciplines. Five hundred wing push ups? It’ll be easy for him. No, I need to think of ways to get through to him. Sister will need to help me, because she knows him better than I do. She knows what he likes, his aspirations and dreams. That’s the key to getting him to change. Celestia admired the pegasus’ tenacity as he kept running off push-up after push-up.