• Published 1st Nov 2014
  • 20,636 Views, 1,634 Comments

A New Sun Rises - CommissarAJ



Sunset Shimmer has never needed anyone or anything - she had her magic, she had her ambition, and she had intellect. Others just stood in her way or held her down. So what do you do when your plans for world domination fall through?

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Act VII-I

I’ve always been ambivalent about winter. Back in Equestria, Canterlot in particular, weather was a controlled cycle, so I cared for it about as much as any seasonal decoration. Sometimes I wondered if they invented winter if only so the fashion designers of Equestria had an excuse to make a completely different set of clothing for everypony to wear. It was cold and dreary at times, but it made studying by the fireplace in the evening more enjoyable, and it provided a convenient excuse to practice the arts of cryomancy. Everyone got excited around wintertime, but I viewed it with the same deference I gave switching from a light coat to a heavier one.

The things that everyone else got excited about when the snow began to fall just didn’t matter to me back when I was a unicorn. Family, friends, outdoor activities: they were things that ‘lesser’ ponies wasted their time on. And this sentiment carried across when I left Equestria, with the only difference being that I felt very foolish in the first year when I spent an hour searching the school library for a weather schedule.

However, there were a lot of things I didn’t understand back before the fateful Fall Formal, so when wintertime came about at Canterlot High, I endeavored to keep an open mind and do everything in my power to get myself involved in whatever it was that made this time of the year special.

Granted, none of this came about from some pro-active sense of enlightenment or desire to correct all the wrongs of my past, but rather a spur-of-the-moment, half-baked reaction when Rarity popped the question at school:

“So Sunset, what did you do for the holidays back in Equestria?”

“W-well, you know, we did stuff… with things, and the decorations.” I fumbled about in my feeble attempt to not come off as pathetic as I envisioned the truth to be, but all it took was one skeptical look from my friend to put a stop to that. “I… never really did anything. I got dragged to the occasional party, but I didn’t have much choice since I was Princess Celestia’s student: I had to make an appearance. Truthfully, though, those parties were an absolute bore. Just lots of old, stuffy ponies making small talk over fizzy drinks and fancy cakes.”

Just the thought of them was enough to make me want to yawn. Had I been a more sociable pony, I would’ve spent that time hanging out with the other students of Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns; however, I was a Grade-A Butthead back then, so I always ducked out once Celestia became suitably distracted entertaining her guests. The food at the very least made the brief public appearance worth the hassle.

“What about from before you were Celestia’s student? You must’ve done something with your family.”

“Same story, except minus the grandeur of the Royal Palace.”

Rarity gave me a sympathetic look. “Did they at least have Hearth’s Warming in Equestria?”

“Yes, we do have that,” I said. That much I did know since it seemed to be a tradition on both sides of the portal to do school productions of the ‘Story of Hearth’s Warming’ every year. “It has a bit more historical significance in Equestria, since we literally had evil spirits that tried to freeze the landscape until we learned to work together. I think it’s more-or-less celebrated the same in both worlds. As always, though, I was more concerned with certain selfish ambitions to pay any real attention.”

As we walked through the hallway on our way to our next class, Rarity offered me a reassuring smile. “In that case, you can count on me to make this your first real Hearth’s Warming with us!” She threw an arm around my shoulder and pulled me in close. “We are going to do it all, darling! The Hearth Warming parties, caroling in the evening hours, building snowmen in the backyard, ice skating in the city park, hot cocoa by the fireplace, and the best part of it all: the holiday shopping!”

I ascertained by how hard Rarity squeezed me on the last point that she really liked the holiday shopping part. I remembered in previous years seeing internet videos of people acting like wild animals in shopping malls during big sales, and I worried that I lacked the fortitude to endure such an ordeal.

Part of me wanted to insist that Rarity was making too much of a deal about this, and that my inexperience with the holidays didn’t mean I had to dive headlong in. But how many times so far had I insisted that my friends not fret over me, only to be proven wrong in the end? I was going to get the full package of the Hearth’s Warming holiday experience, so I figured I may as well embrace it.

“Sounds like I’m going to have a busy holiday.”

Not that being busy with friends was such a bad thing, especially since it had been several weeks since I had solved my biggest worry by introducing Twilight to the others. All of my worries had proven to be for naught as she assimilated into my circle of friends without any difficulties. I made a mental note to check and see what sort of plans Twilight had over the coming weeks, though I suspected that her past had been as bereft of holiday parties as mine had been.

“Quick holiday newbie question,” I asked with a raised finger. “Do you and the others do gift exchanges? I know families do that, but I wasn’t sure about friends.”

“Oh, but of course!” Rarity exclaimed as wide-eyed exuberance overtook her. “Why, it’s one of my favourite parts of the holidays. There’s nothing like the feeling of finding that perfect gift for your friend, wrapping it in the most elegant paper, and then watching their expression on Hearth’s Warming Day when they open it up! Even just thinking about it makes me feel like I’m floating on air!”

I smirked with a knowing chuckle. “That’s because you are.”

“I am?” Rarity’s disbelief was momentary, as it only took a quick downward glance to confirm that she was floating through the air. She was still tethered to me by her arm around my shoulder, which left her being pulled alongside me with her feet trailing behind us like a child’s balloon. “Oh dearie me, I better be more careful now that it’s the holidays. I don’t want to get carried away by the breeze.”

“Just stop thinking generous things and it should go away after a few minutes.”

The fact that neither I nor Rarity nor the scores of our classmates around us were bothered in the least by the fact that somebody was defying gravity spoke volumes of how often these magical flare-ups had been occuring. Just a week prior, Rainbow Dash got herself stranded in the rafters of the gymnasium because she wanted to ‘try something she saw in a comic book.’ At this rate, we were going to be the first school ever to have ‘no flying in the hallways’ codified into the student handbook.

I found myself fixated on Rarity’s ringing endorsement on the art of gift-giving. She wasn’t lying about that uplifting feeling, as the thought of bringing such joy to my friends left me in a blissful daydream. It sounded like the perfect way for me to get involved in the holiday spirit, and with everything my friends had done for me since the Fall Formal, I really wanted to show my gratitude.

“Do you mind helping me with picking gifts for the other girls?” I asked my still-floating friend. “I really want to get something special for them.”

“I would be glad to help out. How about I come by your place after school today? We can start by brainstorming ideas, work out a budget—”

“A budget? Uh, h-how much do you think I should spend on a gift?”

“However much you think your friend is worth, obviously.”

As I wasn’t about to value one friend over another, the logical conclusion would be to figure out how much of a budget I had, and then to divide it amongst them. It was a simple and straightforward plan that left me feeling hopeful for the future, so naturally things started to go wrong almost immediately.

********************

“How in the Seven Pillars of Equestria am I out of money?!”

Luckily for me, my over-the-top reaction to my financial woes was in the presence of the one friend who could appreciate a bit of melodrama. As my head collapsed onto the kitchen island, Rarity, who sat opposite of me, reached across and reassured me with a few pats on the shoulder. I could only muster a defeated groan before I lifted my head up just enough to cradle it between my forearms.

“I’m sure it’s not as bad as it looks,” Rarity said as she offered a comforting smile.

We had gathered in my kitchen after school to start preparations for our holiday shopping, but while Rarity had used the time to peruse online stores and catalogs, I had been reviewing my finances. Even going in, I knew my coffers had become rather barren, but I hadn’t realized the extent until I looked at my online bank records. I usually kept my money in a shoebox, but since I moved in with Celestia she’d helped me open up a student banking account under her name. It had helped keep me better organized, but it was a lot easier to lose track of my exact balance when I didn’t have a physical pile of money to serve as a visual aid.

“Take a look for yourself.”

I held out my phone for her to browse, and as she scrolled through the records, the change in her expression was all the confirmation I needed. She went from cheerful optimism to the kind of look a person got when they realized they were the sole common denominator in all of their dysfunctional relationships.

“Wow. Never realized how much we went to Sugarcube Corner until you see it all on one page,” Rarity said, though the calmness in her tone didn’t match the twitch in her eyebrow.

Who knew their triple berry parfaits were as devastating to my wallet as they were to my hips.

“Maybe we could just—oh, no that won’t work. Perhaps we can go to—wait, that store closed ages ago.” Rarity fumbled around trying to put a positive spin on my situation, but it was impossible to deny that it was very difficult to be generous in the holiday season when you didn’t have two bits to rub together. “W-well, you had to stay afloat before the Fall Formal. You must’ve been able to get money back then.”

“I helped people cheat on their school work, remember?”

“Oh, right.” The look on my friend’s face affirmed that she was genuine in her forgetfulness. To be fair, looking back on my old life, even I felt like it had been a lifetime ago. It was easy to forget that once upon a time I used to lie, cheat, and steal my way through life. “Don’t lose heart, Sunset, this is just a… uh, minor obstacle to overcome, that’s all!”

“It’s a bit more than a ‘minor’ obstacle. I’m flat broke,” I lamented. “I wanted this holiday to be something special, but what can I do when I’ve got nothing to my name?” Not wanting to give in to despair, I sat back upright and took a few deep breaths to settle my nerves. Losing my composure wasn’t going to solve my problems, after all. “I just… I can’t help but remember my birthday, and how great the gifts you and the others got for me were. Making me a new jacket couldn’t have been cheap, even for you.”

“Well, back before I had a job, I found the best way to work around a tight budget was to get creative with my ideas,” Rarity said.

I fell into a pensive silence as I considered my friend’s suggestion. It didn’t take long for the realization to hit me like a festive Yule log. I almost felt like an idiot for not realizing that the answer was right in front of me.

“Of course, that’s it!” I exclaimed, much to my friend’s delight. “I need to get a job!”

“That’s… a great idea,” Rarity replied, although I was so wrapped up in my own pride that at the time I thought she was being sincere.

“I know, right? I’ll just hit the mall after school tomorrow, and I’ll check to see who’s hiring.” Feeling a surge of excitement and determination, I grabbed my coat and my friend and hurried for the door. “If we leave now, we’ll have plenty of time to scour the mall before it closes.”

“I’m not entirely sure this is the best idea, darling. The mall can be a bit of a zoo this time of the year.” Rarity’s warning, however, fell on deaf ears. I was simply too drunk on zeal and bravado to change course at this point. After all, I now had a clear and definitive objective in mind: go to the mall, get a job, and secure this holiday as the best Hearth’s Warming ever.

********************

It should come as no surprise that I was back home in under two hours. As I burst through the front door, I let out an exasperated, relieved sigh before I fell to my hands and knees. I was flustered, disheveled, and still gasping for breath in a desperate attempt to stop the trembling in my arms.

“What… what in the hay was that?” I exclaimed in frightful disbelief. “That was no mall… that… that was something straight out of the pits of Tartarus!”

Every time I closed my eyes, all I could see were swarms of people, packed together until everything was just one uniform mass of flesh and tacky sweaters. Trying to navigate through that had been like trying to sail in the midst of a storm without any sense of direction, left purely to the whims of fate and chance. Never before had I endured being smothered and crushed so repeatedly, and even moving from one shop to the next required squeezing through gaps that would’ve given a cat pause. And that was during the better moments; other times I just had to push through wherever I could and hope that I would wind up where I needed to when I emerged.

Even having Rarity with during the ordeal proved to be of little help, as we repeatedly got separated whenever I foolishly looked away for two seconds and discovered my friend beside me had been replaced by another grandmother unable to remember what the latest ‘must have’ toy was called. I had dealt with dragons and griffons and other mystical beings during my tutelage in Equestria, but none of that could have prepared me for the mayhem that was a shopping mall in December.

It was just chaos: endless, unadulterated anarchy. The kids, the shouting, the pushing, the carols, the constant barrage of glitter and tinsel, the sweltering heat of a thousand souls crammed together in a singular obsession…

And the music. The same merry jingles blasting out of every speaker on an infinite loop. If I had to listen to yet another rendition of ‘Rudolph the Red-Eyed Windigo’ one more time, I was liable to deck the halls with my face, over and over.

Forget fire and brimstone: I had seen what real eternal torment was.

Trailing a few steps behind me was Rarity, who despite having gone through the exact same marathon of being squeezed through a grinder of our fellow denizens, looked no worse for the weather. In fact, she even somehow managed to emerge with a few shopping bags of her own and a fruit smoothie despite the fact that I was fairly certain that I never went anywhere near the food court. Granted, I could’ve walked past Princess Celestia and not noticed given that I was never able to see more than a few feet ahead of me in that sea of shoppers.

“I warned you that the mall wasn’t the best idea,” Rarity said before she set down her bags. She helped me back to my feet and offered her shoulder for support as I hobbled into the living room so that I could collapse once more, but at least this time onto the couch. “The crowds can be absolutely dreadful this time of the month, and all the shops would’ve hired their seasonal workers weeks ago.”

I couldn’t recall whether Rarity had warned me or not, but I knew that I had been so fired up about my ‘brilliant plan’ that I wouldn’t have noticed if a bomb had gone off beside me.

“Well, that was a waste of an afternoon then,” I said, followed by a disheartened sigh.

“If you need some money, I could—”

I knew what she was about to offer, so I made sure to crush that idea before it could take root. “No way! Nuh-uh! I’m not asking anyone for handouts. I’ve been given enough by you and the others, I’m not taking one cent more.”

The debts I had accumulated since the Fall Formal were enough to fill a ledger cover to cover, and while I knew there was no way I could ever repay all of it, I owed it to myself and to my friends to start giving back. Thankfully, Rarity understood this right away, and she nodded in understanding.

“There’s got to be a way to earn a quick buck in this town,” I muttered to myself before I rolled onto my back and tucked my arms behind my head. I spent the next few minutes staring a hole through the ceiling as I racked my brain trying to figure out a solution. For a problem that sounded so trivial from the outside, it was proving to be more than a match for my wit. It felt like saving the school from the sirens was an easier task by comparison. If only I could’ve gotten paid for that.

My ramblings and lamentations had not gone unnoticed by the other occupants in the house. Drawn to my groan of dismay like Pinkie Pie to freshly-baked cake, Celestia walked into the living room with a look of curiosity and concern.

“Is something the matter, Sunset?” she inquired.

“Oh, it’s nothing.”

I answered more on instinct than reason. I didn’t like burdening people with my problems, least of all the people who had done the most for me already. I knew that was an irrational belief, but it was still an ingrained habit of mine. Thankfully, Rarity knew when to give me the metaphorical kick in the pants to help me along.

“She just found out she has no money left for holiday shopping,” Rarity explained without a second-thought.

“And I’m not going to borrow, beg, or steal for it,” I reiterated, just in case Celestia tried to make a similar offer as Rarity had. I don’t know why I added ‘steal’ at the end, but it seemed prudent to include.

If Celestia was worried, she did a masterful job of hiding it, as her expression retained that same calm and controlled look of contemplation and consideration. “So you’re looking for a job to earn some money then?” she mused as she strolled over to the couch. She leaned over it just slightly, resting her elbows on the back of the couch such that she could look down upon me. “I could see about drafting a list of extra chores around the house you could do in exchange for some money.”

“I appreciate the offer, but I don’t know if that’ll be enough,” I answered. “I mean, how many extra chores could you possibly need done around here?”

And even if I did all of the household chores for the next few weeks, how much could I get away with asking for as compensation? I could already picture Celestia insisting on overpaying me, which would just be giving me free money by a different name. I couldn’t let her do that for me: I needed to earn this money fair and square.

“Have you considered tutoring?” Celestia offered as an alternative.

I remembered the first time she made that suggestion, way back when I had first moved in with her. The memory was still so fresh that I even spouted the same general answer as I had back then.

“Who’d want me as their tutor?”

All it took was one incredulous glare from both of them to remind me that I wasn’t the social pariah I had once been. I flashed a sheepish grin and hid my embarrassment behind a forced laugh.

“Uh, how much does tutoring even pay?”

“Through our school’s program, I think it’s about eight dollars an hour per student. You might have to sign up with several students to make enough money for what you want, but with the final exams coming up, there should be a lot of students looking for extra help.”

It was an answer so simple and obvious, I almost wanted to hit myself for not realizing it sooner. The final exams meant everybody was scrambling to squeeze out every point they could, which meant lots of tutors and cram sessions. With my brains and popularity, I could probably have half the school scrambling to get involved. I was soon enraptured with thoughts of me at the head of a large after-school study session with scores of students all paying eight-dollars a head per hour to learn from me. Even just a dozen students at that rate would net me over a hundred dollars for a one hour session.

“This is a great idea, Celestia,” I said once I snapped out of my fantasies of fortune. “Is there somewhere at school to sign up for this?”

“Ms. Yearling handles the administration of our tutoring program. Just speak with her tomorrow and she can organize the paperwork for you.”

“Thanks. I really appreciate this.”

“Happy to help,” Celestia said as she donned a motherly smile. “Dinner should be ready soon. Will you be staying, Rarity?”

“I’d love to, but I really should get home before it’s too late,” my friend answered as she checked her watch. “I promised Sweetie Belle I’d help her with her homework tonight.”

Feeling rejuvenated now that I once again had a workable plan going forward, I sprung back to my feet and walked my friend to the door to see her out. “Thanks again for all of your help today,” I said just as she stepped outside.

“It was my pleasure,” she replied. “And I’ll ask my sister if she needs any tutoring help for her exams. Perhaps tomorrow at school we can print up some fliers to help advertise.”

“Not a bad idea.”

We exchanged a quick hug before she headed on her way. However, just as Rarity reached the end of the front walkway, she stopped and turned back to me. “And don’t forget to get Celestia a nice gift for Hearth’s Warming, too!”

“I wouldn’t dream of forgetting,” I called back before I closed the door.

I had totally forgotten.

Granted, I had only been thinking about my holiday shopping for a grand total of ten hours so far, and had been fixated on the job problem for a portion of that. Still, as I continued staring at the front door in silence, I felt a pang of guilt that Celestia hadn’t been one of the first people to come to mind. She had gone far above what any of my friend’s had done thus far: asking for almost nothing in return, she had let me into her school… her home… her life.

If Hearth’s Warming was about the bonds of family and friends, then I needed to get Celestia a gift that represented just how important she’s become to me.

I needed ideas, but thankfully I knew exactly who to turn to for that. I was soon knocking on Luna’s door, keeping a watchful eye for the elder sister all the while.

“Hello, is dinner ready?” Luna asked upon greeting me.

“Soon. I was wondering if you had any idea about what I could get Celestia for Hearth’s Warming.”

“Get her a book.” Luna’s answer was prompt and to the point, as to be expected, although it felt a little uninspired. “She likes mystery novels and books on gardening. Those are my usual fallback ideas.”

“Is there anything you’d like for Hearth’s Warming?”

Instead of answering right away, Luna just pulled out her phone and tapped a few buttons. A second later, I heard a ping come from my own.

“Emailed you my wishlist,” she explained. “You should consider making one for yourself when you have the time: I find they make shopping for people a lot easier.”

I thanked her for her time and retreated to my room for the time being. I had a lot to think over, not just about my money issue, but also Celestia’s gift. The book idea was decent, but it still felt impersonal. Despite having lived under her roof for the past few months, I didn’t know much about her beyond her current duties as principal and her past once-troubled relationship with Luna. A few hobbies, yes, but a meaningful gift had to be something more than that. I knew this was to be my mission this holiday: the perfect Hearth’s Warming was going to require the perfect gift for her, and to do that I would need to find out everything I could about Celestia.

Maybe I should’ve just gotten her that book…