• Published 14th Apr 2018
  • 5,633 Views, 308 Comments

The Maker's Reject - Albi



Every pony has a destiny—a reason for being. Sunset Shimmer has no cutie mark, and struggles just to feel like she belongs in this reality. But the price to find her purpose might be one too high to pay.

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10. The Royal Family

Dear Twilight,

It’s Sunset, your study buddy from Canterlot in case you forgot. I hope things are going well for you in Ponyville. Things have been okay here. Princess Luna is starting to adjust to modern life. She looks a little different now, like she’s growing up at an accelerated rate. It probably has something to do with being locked in the moon for a thousand years.

I’m all right. I’ve started a new project that’s taking a lot of my time. It… would take a little explanation, some of it a little unbelievable. But… you’re my closest friend, and I trust you. If you aren’t busy and want to hear more, write back.

Of course, if you don’t remember me, this all sounds like nonsense, so disregard the whole letter if it does.

Miss you and hope you’re well,

Sunset Shimmer

I tucked the letter into an envelope, sealed it, and stamped it. Setting it on the nightstand, I hopped into the bathroom to give myself a thorough cleaning. Coat washed, teeth brushed, and mane and tail combed so meticulously that not a single hair was out of place, I stepped out into the bedroom and slipped on the golden horseshoes and chest guard Mother had laid out for me.

Dressed in my regalia, I looked at my reflection in the mirror. Groomed, dressed and head held high, I looked very regal. All I was missing was a pair of wings.

Soon, I thought. I took the letter from my nightstand and pushed open my room door. As usual, Platina waited for me on the other side.

“You look very lovely today.”

I brushed a lock of hair from in front of my face. “Thank you.” I held the letter out. “Can you bring this to the mailroom for me?”

Platina took it in her magic and saluted. “At once, My Lady. Your family is waiting for you in the entrance hall.”

Family? I followed her to a split in the hall. She went left while I continued straight, accompanied by another guard.

I had considered Princess Celestia as my mother for as long as I could remember. And I was slowly adjusting to calling Princess Luna my aunt. And since Cadence had been unofficially adopted by Celestia as her niece, that made her my cousin in some weird way.

But I had never used the word ‘family’ before to describe them. My previous perception of the idea consisted of only one pony. Luna hadn't existed in my life until a week ago, and Cadence was just there.

And now, you have to share Celestia with both of them. How much time will Celestia have left for you?

True, Mother had a country to run, Cadence to teach, and Luna to welcome home, but if last week had proven anything, I was still a top priority to her. And maybe it was time I got to know the rest of my family more. I was going to share eternity with them, after all.

Said family was gathered at the bottom steps of the entrance hall, decorated in their finest regalia. Cadence and Mom were both wearing gold, while Luna wore silver.

Setting up an easel a few paces away was old beige unicorn with a long wiry beard. His cutie mark was a paintbrush dripping with primary colors. He glanced up at us, squinting his eyes.

“Your Majesty, I thought you said there were four of you in the picture.”

“There are.” Mom gestured to me as I came down the steps. “My daughter Sunset has just arrived.”

He squinted harder at my position, then his eyes shot open. “Oh, there she is! Almost didn't see her. Well, good, good, we can get started.”

“Are you sure he’ll put me in the painting?” I asked Mom in a hushed voice.

“Have faith, Sunset.”

The painter, Soft Brush, took to arranging us, trying to find our ‘natural composition’ as he put it. He put us in pairs of two first, lining Cadence and I one step below Mom and Luna. He shook his head and rearranged us in single file going down the steps, me at the bottom.

He shook his head again. “You're all beautiful, Your Majesties, but the color coordination…”

I could see what he meant. We were an amalgamation of colors with no consistent theme. Individually, we could all serve as a compliment to Mom’s white coat and rainbow mane. All together, we were a kaleidoscopic catastrophe.

Soft Brush found a position he thought was ‘good enough’. We were arranged in a diamond, Mom at the top with her wings spread around Cadence and Luna who sat one step lower, and myself in between them a step below.

“Now,” Soft Brush said, setting up his canvas, “be comfortable, be natural! Find what works for you—what shows me who you are!”

There wasn't a whole lot I could do without breaking our arrangement. So, I settled for straightening up as best as I could and smiling. Nothing strenuous since I would have to hold it for several hours. Just a curl of my lips.

“Yes, good!” Soft brush cried. “You all look so natural! Now, let me etch your posture into my mind, and then, onto my canvas!”

I was by no means a fidgety pony, but now that I was told to sit still, every part of my body had the urge to twitch.

“Loose, young pony! Be loose! You are a pony, not a statue!”

It took a second to realize he was talking to me. Using my name would have been nice, but at least I knew he could see me. I allowed myself to fidget in order to relax. Now that Soft Brush had pointed it out, I could feel my shoulders were stiff and my spine was too straight. I wished I could have been in Luna’s or Cadence’s spot, with my mother’s wings around me.

They get to be embraced in her love while you're down here alone. And this is going to be immortalized for all time.

My head started to turn toward Luna, but I fought the urge and kept staring straight ahead. My conscience had a point: why was I down here by myself? Sure, Luna was Celestia's sister, but she had been gone for a millennium, and Cadence had only been adopted. I mean, so had I, but as far as Mom was concerned, I was her blood daughter. So why did they get to be enveloped in her wings?

Two things stopped me from speaking up. One, Soft Brush was already dancing his brush across his canvas. There was such a passion in his eyes, I hated to interrupt and have him start all over. And two, despite the thorny loneliness nettling me, I realized how petty my grievance sounded. Just because I wasn't sitting next to my mom in one picture didn't mean the end of the world. There would be other pictures.

“This takes me back,” Luna said fondly. “I remember when Starswirl had us pose for the first time after our coronation.”

“And the painter stormed off because you couldn't sit still for more than a minute,” Mother chuckled.

“I had a lot of energy when I was young.”

“How many times have you done this?” Cadence asked.

“Far too many to count,” Mom said.

“I’m surprised these artists can capture your flowing mane,” I said, trying not to move my mouth too much.

“Only the best artist have been able to accurately represent the heavenly majesty of our manes!” Luna said.

“Please, no moving, Your Highness!” Soft Brush cried. I could only assume Luna had punctuated her boast with grandiose gestures.

We made small talk for the next few hours, or at least, my family did. I mostly listened. It was hard to engage in a conversation happening behind you. Instead, my mind drifted in and out of focus, jumping between thoughts while I made sure my posture didn't change.

My legs began to cramp up, and I had an itch on my withers. And this was only the first session. I didn't think I could do both this and an individual portrait. My stomach gave an empty gurgle to solidify my point.

Soft Brush put down his paint supplies and covered his canvas with a tarp. “There we are, Your Majesties, our first session is over. One or two more until I am finished! Same time tomorrow?”

Cadence and I collapsed with dramatic groans while Mother chuckled and said, “Yes, that works perfectly.”

Flopping down one step, Cadence found eye-level with me and asked, “Do you wanna get something to eat?”

“Yes, please.”

Luna straightened up and stretched out her wings. “And some call me dramatic. Stand up, now. It wasn’t that bad.”

You were immobile for a thousand years, of course it wasn’t. I stayed my tongue and stood, shaking my legs out. Once Cadence finished stretching, we set out, deciding to dine somewhere in the city.

At the height of summer, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Feeling the sun on my fur, I realized I had cooped myself up in the castle for quite some time. And after my existential breakdown, the fresh air tasted sweeter. The air, the sun, the grass, I appreciated it all a little more.

But the ponies around me….

They continued to ignore me. They bowed and greeted Cadence, stepped aside to make room for her. They walked about Canterlot without a care in the world, noses tipped up like the elite snobs they thought they were. None of them would know my pain. None of them would care.

I was supposed to get them to remember me, yet that splinter of resentment dug deep. They were all perfectly loved by the Maker. Why was I singled out?

“Bit for your thoughts?” Cadence asked.

I shook my head. “You wouldn’t understand.”

“Maybe not, but I could at least try and empathize.”

She was too nice for her own good sometimes. I really didn’t feel like explaining my entire dilemma to Cadence knowing I would have to explain it again to Twilight, if she responded. But, Cadence was ‘family’ and an alicorn. Perhaps she could help me in some way? The worst that could happen would be Cadence thinking I was crazy. It would be good practice for if I talked to Twilight.

“Okay,” I said taking a deep breath. “How much do you know about the Maker?”

“Armonía?” Cadence tilted her head. “Not much, just what Celestia has told me in passing. In a world of darkness, she appeared as light and shaped life as we know it.”

I turned away from her bright demeanor. “She’s not as great as you think.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, she shapes each and every pony to her design. She foresees every outcome they could take. This world is her playground, and if you don’t fit into it, she gets rid of you.”

“Sunset, I’m not sure I follow.” There was a note of apprehension in her voice.

“I wasn’t supposed to exist. The Maker created you, Twilight, those ponies over there, everyone, except me. And because she didn’t create me, she refuses to acknowledge I exist. And because she refuses to acknowledge me, the universe tries to get rid of me.”

I was glad I chose to look away. Tears were starting to burn my eyes again. Even though the bandage was ripped off days ago, the truth still stung.

Cadence stopped walking. I could feel her eyes on me. “Wait, does that explain your… your seizures? Why you get so sick sometimes?”

I nodded. “And why ponies have a hard time remembering me. Mom is using her divine powers to keep me anchored to the world. But, if she stops thinking about me for even a second, I start to fade away.”

“That’s…” Cadence fell silent. I still couldn’t bring myself to look at her.

Her hooves wrapped around me in a powerful hug. I froze up, caught completely off guard. “Cadence?”

“I’m so, so sorry, Sunset!” She sounded like she was on the verge of tears. “I can’t imagine what that must feel like!”

“No, you can’t,” I said, more scathing than had been necessary. But once those words had come out, the rest tumbled after. “You have no idea how it feels to fall away from the world—to drown in nothingness. To lose control of everything, feel yourself come undone bit by bit and just beg for it to end. It’s…”

Cadence squeezed tighter. “It’s horrible.”

“Yeah, it is.”

She let go and walked around to face me. There was a loving and determined light in her eye. “What can I do to help?”

When I was sure tears weren’t going to slip out of my eyes, I looked up at her. “Keep me in your thoughts. Mom is my strongest link to existence, but the more ponies that know who I am and remember me, the stronger my presence is.”

Cadence smiled. “That’s easy then. I could never forget you, Sunset. I know we don’t spend a lot of time together, but, we’re… we’re family, right?”

Family.

We were an odd family to say the least. Celestia’s banished sister, her ascended ‘niece’, and the ‘daughter’ no one remembered.

But, we were a family.

“Yes,” I said with a smile. “Thank you, Cadence.”

“Anytime. Come on, let’s get some food. I think we could both use something tasty and unhealthy.”

Doughnuts were tasty, unhealthy, and supplied in bulk by a generous Pony Joe at his doughnut shop. Cadence and her friends were regular customers, and she had built up a nice rapport with him. In addition to our orders of glazed, sprinkled, and custard-filled pastries, Pony Joe gave us a free bowl of doughnut holes.

“So, what’s the occasion,” he asked, setting another tray into the oven. “Bad break up?”

“No, nothing like that,” Cadence said, lifting a pink sprinkle doughnut. “Just some family bonding.”

Pony Joe looked around before spotting me, eyes wide like this was his first time seeing me. “I didn’t know you had a sister.”

“Actually, we’re more like cousins,” she said. “Sunset is Princess Celestia’s daughter.”

He looked really confused now. “I didn’t know the Princess had a daughter. ‘Course, I didn’t know she had a sister either until last week.”

Cadence looked perturbed, but I waved it off. “It’s fine. I deal with that on a daily basis.”

“Sunset, it’s not fine. Everypony deserves to be remembered.”

“I know. Mom and I are working on it. We’re going to put pictures of me all over the city.” I paused. “In any other situation, that would be the pinnacle of narcissism.”

Cadence’s peeved pout broke and she snorted. “I guess I'm glad it doesn't bother you, but now that I know what's going on, it worries me.”

Her heart was way too big. I began to understand why she was made the Princess of Love. “I’m glad you care, really. But like I said, we’re working on it. Once I become an alicorn, everyone will know who I am.”

Concerned flashed across Cadence’s face, but she quickly covered it up with a mask of confusion. “An alicorn? I thought… I mean, you said you were fine the way you were. You’re Celestia’s daughter.”

“I said that before I knew what was wrong with me. I’m the daughter nopony remembers. But, if i become an alicorn, they’ll have to notice me. And even it they don’t, alicorns are immortal. I don’t want to die, Cadence. I can’t die.”

Cadence poked at her doughnut in silence. It was hard to tell what she was thinking with her head bowed.

She’s thinking up how to persuade you against this idea. Just like Luna, she thinks you’re in it for power and other selfish reasons. Despite her talk of ‘love’ and ‘family’, she doesn’t trust you.

I looked down at my own doughnut and frowned. Why was everyone against me becoming an alicorn? Were they so scared of having a fourth one? Or were they just scared of me?

“Promise me you’ll be careful, Sunset.”

I snapped my head up. “What?”

Cadence smiled at me again, smaller this time, restrained, but still filled with love. “Promise me you’ll be careful doing this. I… I kinda just stumbled into becoming an alicorn. I know you’re doing this for the right reasons, but please, don’t do anything dangerous.”

She sounded a lot like Luna, yet without the hypocrisy to stain her words. If she could stumble into it, then it couldn’t be that dangerous. Still, I graced her with a smile and said, “I promise.”

******

The hard part about breaking up our portrait modeling into separate sessions was settling back into our positions the next day. Soft Brush was very particular on recapturing our poses from yesterday, to the point where we spent fifteen minutes getting into place.

From there, it was another two hours of sitting and fidgeting. We spoke out of the corners of our mouths, me listening more than talking again. I was glad there wasn't a clock nearby to mock me. The passage of time felt slow enough without me watching it.

Just as my stomach started obnoxiously rumbling, Soft Brush covered the canvas again. “One more day, and I shall be finished! Thank you, Your Majesties!”

I hopped down the stairs and flopped onto my stomach, which growled loudly out of both protest and hunger.

Mom chuckled at my antics. “Why don't we all have lunch together?”

With a groan most unfitting of a future princess, I dragged myself to my hooves and followed her into the dining hall. Mother must have had a psychic link to the kitchens, for we weren't sitting longer than a minute when the dishes came out.

I stuffed my mouth with daffodil salad and vegetable stew. Of course, I retained as much dignity as I could while eating, but I was starving.

Mother allowed us to eat in peace for a time before lightly clearing her throat: a simple action that drew our attention to her immediately. It was amazing how she could do that and make it look effortless.

“Sunset, Cadence, as I’m sure you’re aware, the Grand Galloping Gala is six months away. Luna, the Grand Galloping Gala is a party we hold every New Year’s Eve to celebrate the completion of Canterlot.”

Luna nodded and looked into her soup with a melancholy expression. “I remember when they began construction on it. They were almost done when I…”

“You’ll enjoy it, Auntie Luna,” Cadence said, giving her brightest smile. “A relaxing evening with music and dancing and lights all over the city!”

“Yes, ponies come from all over to take part.” Mother poked gently at the remains of her salad. She had confided in me once that she really didn’t enjoy the Gala very much. It mostly consisted of nobles showing off how much money they had earned that year while they gossiped and talked about ‘the lower class’. Meanwhile, Mom had to stand on ceremony and welcome literally everypony who stepped through the door.

I spent half the night standing by her side trying to say hi to the ponies she greeted. Of course, they would ignore me most of the time. When I got sick of that, I sulked at the buffet table, then retired to the gardens to see the exotic animals on display.

In the morning, we’d laugh at the dismal time we both had.

Mother took a bite of dressing drenched lettuce before speaking again. “Normally, I tend to the oversight of the preparations that go into it, but I propose a change this year.” Mother looked at me.

“Sunset, I would like you to be in charge of preparing the Gala this year.”

My fork nearly slipped out of my magic field. “Me? Seriously?”

She smiled. “Seriously.”

Planning the Gala on top of my studies and school? Wasn’t that asking a lot? Of course, Mother had to run a country on top of planning one dumb dance. She must have had confidence I could do it. And the more I thought about it, the more appealing the idea became. If I could make it a rousing success, pull off one of the best Gala’s in history, ponies would praise me! If they knew I was the one behind one of the best nights of their lives, they would have something to associate me with! I wouldn’t just be a face in the crowd!

I knew I was on the right mental track when Mother nodded.

“All right,” I said, “I’ll do it! I’ll make the best Gala ever!”

Cadence clapped her hooves. “Oh, that’s so exciting! I know you’ll do a good job, Sunny! And if you need any help, just say the word!”

Luna nodded, looking a little more enthused. She had at least stopped staring into her bowl. “I look forward to seeing this gala.”

“As do I,” Mom said. “I’ve compiled a list of resources for you to use, so you won’t be working from scratch. And as Cadence said, you can always ask for help.”

All of them beamed at me, acknowledging my existence. I felt a surge of strength flow through me, energizing my soul. But with that strength came pressure. The Gala was the premier event of not just Canterlot, but all of Equestria. I had to make it memorable and not screw it up.

I took a deep breath. That was for later. I had six months to plan and organize. Right then, I just wanted to enjoy lunch with my family.

******

“And… it is done!” With one last flourish, Soft Brush put down his tools and stepped back from the canvas. He gave an emphatic wave, signaling we were allowed to move again. We all gave a powerful stretch before gathering around his canvas. I approached with trepidation, heart pounding at what I would find. He had included me, right? No one had been allowed to look at the work in progress.

I stepped around Luna to get a better view. The good news was, I was there. Well… I was at least painted there.

Mother stood over all of us, wings spread to embrace her family, her matriarchal smile gracing her face. Luna stood below her to the left. Soft Brush had managed to capture her mysterious aura with the dark shading of her coat. She seemed to have an extra layer of shadows around herself alone. She smiled just enough to let the viewer know she was at least content. Cadence smiled wide and jubilant, a loving light in her eyes. Her bright coat stood in contrast to Luna’s darkness, evening the painting out.

Then there was me at the bottom. I wasn’t smiling. There was no light in my eyes. Even my colors seemed muted. My chestplate shone brighter than I did, though not by much. I was just there. An afterthought.

I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t stop staring at the thin line that was my mouth or my empty teal eyes. Was that what ponies saw when they looked at me? Was this my inner essence? A washed-out, sad looking mare?

Look at how they think of you. Left out and barely acknowledged. I finally looked away, grinding my teeth.

“Oh, it’s…” Mother chose her words carefully, keeping a wing over my shoulder. “It’s beautiful, Soft Brush. You did an amazing job. But, perhaps we could—”

“It’s fine,” I said brusquely. A lump in my throat made my voice hoarse. “I’m in the picture, so it’s fine.” I ducked under Mom’s wing and walked away, taking the closest corridor, unsure of where I was even headed.

Of course, Mother caught up to me not a minute later. “It’s not fine. I know it’s not.”

I stopped and breathed, fighting the lump down. I was tired of crying. “It’s the best I’m going to get. I don’t know what I was expecting.”

“Sunset, I’m sure we can do something to fix it.”

I shook my head. “Mom, when you look at me… what do you see?”

“I—”

“And don’t say ‘my daughter’!” I snapped, far harsher than I intended.

She walked around to my front, removed a hoof from her horseshoe, and lifted my chin up. “I see a bright, beautiful, determined mare.” Her words were slow and clear, ensuring that I heard each one of them.

She raised her hoof to my cheek. “That’s what I see. And I know that’s what you see when you look in the mirror. A pony who has every right to exist. That’s what I want everyone else to see, too.”

Once again, her warm words melted me like butter, and I leaned into her hoof, the snide voice in my head distant and small. “Thank you, Mom.”

“Always.” She kissed my forehead. “Now, I’m sure we can talk to Soft Brush about touching the painting up.”

“No, really, it doesn’t matter,” I said without the harshness. “I’m in the portrait; that’s all I need. Besides, we’ll have to paint another one when I become an alicorn, right?”

Mother chuckled. “Yes, that’s right.”

It may have been my imagination, but her smile looked just a little forced.

Author's Note:

According to the official MLP Twitter and Facebook pages, the Grand Galloping Gala takes place on New Year's Eve. I'm... not sure I believe that, but, to not have to pad the story out too much or use an unnecessary time skip, we gonna go with that.