• Published 14th Apr 2018
  • 5,551 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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13. Pride and Prestige

A firefly was brave enough to land on my tea saucer. It blinked its thorax at me while scuttling the rim, probably trying to sip up the bits of sugar dropped from my spoon. Crickets chirped off in the hedges, a serene compliment to the fountain bubbling to my left.

I wanted to take a sip of my tea but felt bad disturbing the firefly. Instead, I cast my gaze skyward to the stars. With all the smoke cleared, it was a beautiful, clear night, perfect for ruminating. The morning newspaper sat on the garden table next to the tea, my own face looking up at me.

‘Canterlot Noble Chases Off Dragon!’

I had a hoof raised to wave at the camera and a nervous smile on my face. The full article went into detail on how I had bravely led the charge to get rid of yesterday’s snoring dragon and tricked it into a race. Cadence wasn’t in the picture, but gave her first-hoof account of how I had ordered it to leave after it had been a sore loser.

All day, I had received congratulations and thank yous from the castle staff. I didn’t know what effect this article had had on the wider populace—I hadn’t left the castle all day.

I should be happy. I should be ecstatic. I was starting to get recognition on a wider scale. I could feel my strength growing from ponies finally knowing my name. Yet, here I sat, secluded in the castle garden, moping over a cup of sweet cinnamon tea. Saber Shine lurked behind a nearby bush. He wasn’t nearly as subtle as Platina.

I wanted to be happy. But I hadn’t earned this. Not completely. Cadence had to intervene and save my flank. Then she gave me the credit. Out of pity? Out of kindness? Was there a difference? A bitter thorn nettling my heart kept me from seeing what it obviously was: a gesture of love from one family member to another.

But that thorn oozed pride that ran through my veins. I hadn’t won that fight decisively. I hadn’t convinced the dragon to leave. Sure, I was the catalyst, but Cadence got the final word. I hadn’t earned this recognition—it had been dropped into my lap. I wasn’t going to become an alicorn if ponies just handed me things!

But what was I supposed to do now? The damage had been done. Ponies were talking about me. That’s what I wanted. Yet all I felt was empty inside, like I had cheated.

The firefly finally floated away, satisfied with the sweets it had sucked up. With fall closing in quickly, it would probably be the last firefly I saw until next summer. I finally lifted my cup and took a sip of my tea, frowning as the cold liquid washed against my tongue.

I should just accept the praise. Cadence did it because she cares.

But it was done out of pity for you. She just feels sorry for your sad state of existence.

Pity or not, it helped. I sighed and lowered the cup. In the end, there was nothing to be done. At the very least, I owed Cadence a favor.

Tea cold and firefly gone, I decided to turn in for the night. I had an important day tomorrow anyway: my meeting with the Entertainment Board.

I left my pot and cup on the table for the night staff to pick up. Saber Shine kept twenty paces behind me as I walked back into the castle and up toward my room.

“Good evening, Lady Sunset!” one of the maids said as she passed.

“Oh, uh, good evening.” Admittedly, I wasn’t used to receiving random greetings in the halls. It felt odd being acknowledged so regularly. The night guards stood up straighter as I passed and some even saluted.

I was halfway down my wing of the castle when I ran into Cadence. She beamed at me and said jokingly, “Hello, hero. How are you this evening?”

“I’m fine.” I sighed and shook my head, my resolve breaking in seconds. “Cadence, I feel like I’m lying to everyone. I appreciate what you did, but it feels… wrong. I didn’t earn this.”

She frowned, but there was a sympathetic light in her eyes. “Sunset, you did earn it. You beat the dragon, he was just too stubborn to leave. I had to use imperial threat to get him to listen. You did all the real work.”

I pressed a hoof to my forehead. “I know, but it doesn’t feel like I did. I know you were trying to help, but I just feel… frustrated.”

“Please don’t. Ponies are talking about you! You were in the morning paper! Isn’t this what you wanted?”

“It is!” How did I tell her she had made it better and worse at the same time without being a jerk? The snide voice in my head told me to just blurt it out. Instead, I said, “Thank you, Cadence. Just, next time… don’t give me the credit for something you did. I want… I need to stand on my own merits.”

Exasperation muddled the sympathy in her eyes. “Sunset, it’s okay to ask for help.”

My eyes rolled of their own accord. “I know that, but I didn’t ask for that. You just did it.”

Cadence stiffened, exasperation and sympathy replaced with annoyance. “I’m sorry,” she said in clipped tones, “I knew if you got all of the credit, ponies might remember you better. I just wanted what was best for you.”

“Don’t assume to know what’s best for me. Mom thought hiding the whole thing about my existence from me for nineteen years was a good idea, and I strongly beg to differ.”

“Fine!” Cadence bristled and turned, nearly smacking me with her tail. “I’m sorry I tried to help you. Next time, I’ll keep your pride in mind.”

I watched her storm off, already regretting every word I said. Why was I being so prideful about this? I had told Cadence about my situation so she could help me. Her, Twilight, Mom… maybe Luna. And now I was mad at her for giving me the credit? For helping me survive?

Because you didn’t do it. Ascension won’t come to a pony who gets things out of pity.

True enough. I appreciated Cadence’s help, but like I said, I needed to stand on my own merits. Still, I had wanted to tell her without being a jerk. I would have to apologize later. In the meantime, I had to get some sleep for tomorrow. Hopefully, my name in the paper would help the board notice and listen to me.

******

“Sunset Shimmer… Sunset Shimmer… Hmmm, I don’t see anypony by that name.”

I gave the secretary a lidded stare, not that she noticed with her face pressed against her registry book. She was a beige, mousy thing with horn-rimmed glasses and a brown mane pulled up into a bun. I’m sure if you looked up ‘secretary’ in the dictionary, her face would be the example.

“Are you sure? I sent three scrolls two weeks ago,” I said, trying my hardest to keep my voice warm.

“Ummm…” She flipped back to the first page. “It’s not spelled with a ‘C’, right?”

“No.”

“And what was the nature of your appointment?”

I held up my binder full of documents and filing papers. “To get approval for this year’s Grand Galloping Gala. I’m the head planner.”

She looked up and beamed at me. “Oh, then I’m sure the Board is expecting you! Just give me your name so I can sign you in.”

My eye twitched. “Sunset Shimmer.”

She looked down and flipped through the book again. “Hmm… odd, I don’t see you written down here.”

“... I saved Canterlot from the dragon.”

Her head snapped up again, and she looked at me with an ‘o’ expression. “I read about you in the paper yesterday. I’m so sorry I didn’t recognize you before! Umm, well, I still can’t find your name, but I’ll go see if the Board is ready.” She got up from her desk and hurried away.

I let out a tired sigh and mentally thanked Cadence, feeling even worse for what I had said to her last night. Being famed for negotiating with a dragon was already paying off. Yet, that guilty feeling twisted my insides. I shoved it away as the secretary came back.

“They’re ready to see you, Miss Shimmer!”

I walked around the desk and onto the smooth purple carpet. “Thank you,” I said, barely keeping the sarcasm out of my voice.

Canterlot City Hall was a small, out-of-the-way building despite being Canterlot’s city hall. But, when you had the nation’s seat of power on the other side of the city, it seemed a little redundant. But, Mom didn’t like to micromanage, so the offices here handled more of the day-to-day workings of Canterlot.

The meeting room for the Entertainment Board was just down the hall, and surprisingly plain for a group dedicated toward entertainment. Then again, I was dealing with Canterlot nobles; what else was I expecting?

I took a seat at the end of a long, mahogany table. The three members of the board sat at the other end: two mares and a stallion, all of them unicorns, and all of them ancient. They talked in hushed tones, unaware I had sat down.

“Hello, I’m Sunset Shimmer.” I let my binder drop against the table, startling them.

One of the mares, gray and withering with a large, powdery wig, squinted at me through her pince-nez glasses. “Oh, hello, dearie. We didn’t hear you come in.”

“I get that a lot.”

“Not to be rude,’ the blue stallion said, pulling out a pocket watch. “But we’re due to hear from the Grand Galloping Gala head planner in a few minutes.”

“That’s me,” I said flatly.

His eyes widened. “Oh, oh, pardon me. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss… er…”

“Sunset Shimmer,” I said again, finding it harder to hold back my agitation.

“Yes, of course!” he said, trying to save face with a giant smile. “My name is Soiree. This is Starry Sequins and Sweet Surprise.” He gestured to the mares on either side of him.

A lot of ‘S’ names in this room, I thought drolly. “Nice to meet you all.”

“Yes, if everyone is ready, let us begin,” Starry Sequins said, settling into her chair.

Sweet Surprise nodded. She was wispy and pink with a short curly mane that reminded me a little of Pinkie Pie. “Do share with us your ideas, Miss Shimmer.”

I swallowed the nervous lump in my throat. “Right, okay. The Grand Galloping Gala was inaugurated to celebrate the completion of Canterlot. It is steeped in a thousand years of culture and tradition, something I respect and admire deeply. What I offer is a blend of our traditions and new, refreshing ideas to make this the most memorable gala ever.”

My horn lit up, and I pulled the first picture from the binder and pushed it across the table. “First, the theme and atmosphere. To honor our celestial heritage, I envision a space-themed ballroom! Stars and nebulae above us with clouds below, showing that we stand in the heavens.”

Starry Sequins squinted again. “An… interesting proposal. But it leans toward pegasi influences, doesn’t it?”

Over a thousand years of unity and there was still racial bias. I had to play into their stupid unicorn ideologies if I wanted to get approval. “Pegasi own the sky. We have control of the sun and stars! And let’s not forget, the Gala is for everypony.”

“Of course, of course,” Soiree said. “The atmosphere sounds nice, but can you carry the theme for other aspects of the Gala? What about music and catering?”

“I believe classical jazz would set a great mood for the party without losing any sense of elegance or poise.” I pulled out the list of catering companies. “And I believe any of the usual selections can accommodate to make celestial-themed hors d'oeuvre.”

Sweet Surprise smiled earnestly. “This all sounds exciting. I think the Gala could use a little change.”

“But not too much change,” Starry said. “This is Canterlot’s premier event—we have a reputation to think of.”

“I understand your concerns,” I said before they could tear into me too much. “But as I’ve said, while the theme is different, the atmosphere won’t change. It’s the same gala, just with a few modern touches. We don’t want it to get stale, do we?”

“A thousand years of tradition and hardly anyone has complained yet,” Soiree said with a sniff.

Keyword being ‘yet’. “I think we can do better than just following traditions. We can be trendsetters, innovators. You can say you backed the best gala Canterlot has seen in generations!”

“Or the worst.”

“Oh, stop being so negative, Soiree,” Sweet said. “This young mare was endorsed by the princess herself; we should give her a chance.”

Starry pressed her hooves together. “Her Majesty has said the Gala could be a little more exciting.”

Soiree rolled his eyes and let out a small huff. “Very well. But, let’s hear the rest of your ideas before we decide one way or the other.”

Two out of three was still a win. I just had to keep the momentum. So, I ran through the rest of the ideas I had discussed with Mom: which band would be the best fit, decoration specifics, which of the castle ballrooms to host it in, and a rundown of the schedule. There were no real objections; Soiree seemed to just like to needle me and stick to old the ways.

I ended with one last sketch of the concept art for the ballroom. “So, what do you all think?”

Sweet clapped her hooves. “I think it all sounds splendid!”

“It sounds costly,” Starry said. “With no guarantee we’ll make back the money.”

“It’s the Gala,” I emphasized. “Ponies will flock to it no matter what just to say they were there.”

Soiree chewed the inside of his cheek before speaking. “You’re asking a lot, young lady. If this came from a pony with more experience, I would be willing to go along with it. Backing from Her Majesty aside, why should we trust you?”

A layer of sweat covered my brow. Mother’s endorsement was kinda the only thing I had to ride on. If that wasn’t good enough for them, what would get me into their graces?

“Frankly speaking,” Starry said, “I’ve never even heard your name until today. It would be poor taste to leave the Gala to somepony with no reputation.”

I puffed my cheeks out indignantly. “I just saved Equestria from a dragon two days ago!”

All three of them blinked at me before realization dawned on their faces. Starry adjusted her glasses again and cleared her throat, cheeks red. “Oh my, forgive me for not recognizing you sooner!”

“You’re the Princess’s adopted daughter!” Soiree straightened up and said in a more flattering tone, “My, you’re a mare of many talents, aren’t you?”

“We’d be honored if you hosted this year’s gala!” Sweet said.

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes in their presence. Besides, I was too busy wrestling with my inner guilt. Even if Cadence had given me the accomplishment, I loathed to lord it around to get what I wanted. At the same time, ponies were beginning to recognize me as Princess Celestia’s daughter. But that meant things would come easier now: ponies would suck up to me left and right if it meant getting a royal favor. Bittersweetness at its finest.

Still, my gala plans were approved and the check was written. This was what I was going to be known for! All I had to do was make sure no one else contributed to this project. At least, in any meaningful way; I’d be dumb to try and do everything on my own.

The Entertainment Board waved me out, wishing me good luck and looking forward to the night of the gala. My only concern as I walked out the door was if they would remember this whole conversation later on.

******

“I’m glad your meeting went over well, Sunset.”

I sat curled against Mom’s side as we shared a pillow in front of her room’s fireplace. It was lit but didn’t emit any heat. Purely ambiance. Empty plates sat off to the side, replaced by bowls of strawberry ice cream. Mom was halfway done with hers while mine slowly melted, barely touched.

“Yeah,” I said half-heartedly. “I’m gland I got the approval for my ideas.”

Mom nibbled on her spoon. “I sense there’s a ‘but’ coming.”

I said nothing. Most of me wanted to come clean about everything I felt in the last two days. But then I remembered how proud she had looked when she heard I had beat the dragon. Of course, she’d still be proud but it wouldn’t be the same. I had to say something though; she was already reading me like a book. Not that I had made it particularly difficult.

“Come now, little sun, you know you can talk to me.”

I stalled a little longer with a bit of ice cream, then said, “I had to use my new clout to get them to agree to fund me. Otherwise, I was just some nopony to them.”

“Hmm, I see. Well, you did earn your clout by getting rid of that dragon—”

“Except I didn’t get rid of it!” I sat up and shouted. “I beat it in a race, then it tried to roast me alive! Cadence was the one who convinced it to leave!”

Mom looked at me, thankfully with more confusion than disappointment, but it was still there. “But she gave you the credit?”

I slumped back down in front of my ice cream. “She said she wanted to help. She gave me all the credit because she knew ponies would talk about the pony who actually got rid of the dragon.”

“I see. And you feel guilty for using that to influence ponies to get what you wanted?” Mom asked thoughtfully.

She got it in one. I could only nod my head.

Her feathers stroked my back. “What she did was a sweet gesture. But I can see how it would be upsetting to you. Though I disagree with the thought that is probably running through your head: you do deserve equal credit for the part you played.”

Sometimes, I was seriously convinced she could read minds.

“You and Cadence worked together to save Equestria. I’m sure she could not have done her part if you did not do yours.”

“Still, I wanted it to be my own accomplishment—but it wasn’t—but Cadence gave it to me—but I feel guilty about it and even worse for using it to my advantage when I didn’t earn it…” I took a deep breath and groaned.

Mom craned her neck down and kissed my forehead. “That is a lot to handle at once.”

“Tell me about it.”

She nuzzled me some more. “I’m glad you’re aware of the dangerous allure of flaunting your status. In this case, however, I think you can go a little easy on yourself. The Entertainment Board is hard to deal with and you were doing it with good intentions.”

“But I still didn’t earn it.”

“I disagree. Yes, the media will focus on the end result, but from what I understand, even if Cadence was the one to tell the dragon off, you were the one to stand up to it. Multiple times in fact. You challenged him and you outsmarted him.”

I was quiet for a moment. “Cadence did say me being in trouble was the reason she finally sprung into action.”

“See? You inspired her to act. You gave her courage. She returned the favor by giving you the credit.” She smiled proudly. “Both qualities of great future leaders.”

While the guilt of taking the credit melted at my mother’s words, the guilt from how I had treated Cadence returned in full force. I pushed it down with the intention that I would apologize before bed. In the meantime, I tried to just enjoy the victory I had gotten today. In a few months, Canterlot was going to see the greatest Grand Galloping Gala ever!

I took a sip of my melted ice cream, still tasty even as a lukewarm soup. “Thanks, Mom.”

“Of course, little sun.”

There was a knock on the door before Raven let herself in, a clipboard floating in front of her face.

“Your Highness, there seems to be a slight hiccup with the Entertainment Board. They say they have signatures from Sunset regarding the budget and planning for the Gala, but they don’t remember meeting with her.”

I dropped my head against my pillow to muffle my long groan.

******

After Mom wrote a letter vouching for my meeting with the board, I gave her a kiss good night and took my leave, detouring from my usual path to my room.

I stopped in front of Cadence’s door, took a deep breath, and knocked.

“Just a second!” she called.

I tapped my hoof against the carpet as I waited, more from anxiousness than impatience. I couldn’t think of anything to say beyond ‘sorry for being a jerk’.

Cadence opened the door, her welcoming smile faltering at my sight. “Oh, uh, hi, Sunset.”

“Hi, Cadence.”

I scuffed my hoof against the carpet and looked at the purple spiral pattern running up one of the pillars. “Listen, I… I just came to say…” This shouldn’t have been this hard, but try as I might, I couldn’t fish up the right words. I let out a short whinny of frustration before trying to start over.

An odd, throaty noise came from Cadence, and I snapped my eyes toward her to see she was stifling a laugh. “It’s okay, Sunset. I think I know what you’re trying to say.”

I shook my head. “No, let me actually say it. You were right: I… I was being prideful for some dumb and inane reason. You just wanted to help. And you did. So... I’m sorry for snapping at you.”

Cadence swept me up into a powerful hug. “Apology accepted! I’m sorry too. I could have at least asked you ahead of time.”

I flailed my hooves, caught off guard by her show of affection. “It’s cool. All water under the bridge.” Either she didn’t notice my feeble attempts to escape or she didn’t care. When she finally set me down, the fur along my back was all mussed up.

Cadence finally noticed and gave a sheepish smile. “Sorry. I have some brushes in my room if you want to fix it. And maybe, if you’re not too tired, we could hang out for a little bit?”

Prior to my birthday, I would have said no. Not out of sheer dislike (though I still wasn’t fond of her back then) but because hanging out just wasn’t something I did. Even now, something in my mind told me to turn her down, return to my room, and study for the rest of the night.

But the thing was, I actually liked Cadence now. The state of my existence left me truly isolated from everypony else. Twilight always preferred the company of books, so our status was strictly studies buddies or student and tutor until she discovered the Elements. The idea that I actually had friends now was still new, but very welcome. If Cadence wanted to hang out, I could oblige for at least a little while.

She’s only friends with you because she pities you.

That might have been true. Yet, oddly enough, I was fine with it this time. I beamed and nodded my head, and Cadence stood aside to let me into her room.

Pity or no pity, I still had a friend.