• Published 14th Apr 2018
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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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2. A Foreboding Eve

Life changed after the rainbow lit up the sky four years ago. I later came to know it as the legendary Sonic Rainboom. From time to time, I would experience those horrific moments of fading away to nothing, though they were brief and never reached the point they did the first time. Mother continued to shower me with affection, but still wouldn’t tell me what was wrong with me. She knew, I was certain of that now. But any time I pressed her, she would only assure me, ‘there is nothing wrong with you.’ Her exact words every time. I wanted to believe her, but no other pony goes through what I do. Normal, I was not.

Whenever I wasn’t by her side, I now had a personal escort. I didn’t mind too much. Mother had to use older guards who already knew my face, but most of them were a surly sort and didn’t converse much. Again, I didn’t mind; I wasn’t too interested in making friends anyway. It took too much time and too much effort.

One of the few constants that remained after that day was that I still had not obtained a cutie mark of any kind. Of course, Mother remained optimistic. I was beyond skeptical now. What eighteen—turning nineteen—year old pony didn’t have a cutie mark? When ponies did notice me, pointing and whispering usually followed. So, aside from my close circle of acquaintances, I kept to myself.

On the eve of the Summer Sun Celebration, I woke up a little light headed, but fine otherwise. I gave a loud yawn and stretched my limbs wide before rolling out of my large bed. The grandfather clock next to my desk told me it was a little before nine. I hastened to make myself look pretty so I wouldn’t be late for breakfast.

As I finished fixing my mane, one of the castle guards knocked on my door. “Lady Sunset, the princess requests your presence in the dining hall,” a deep, feminine voice said.

That’s all I was even after this many years. ‘Lady Sunset Shimmer.’ Despite being the princess’ daughter, I wasn’t a princess myself. It stung sometimes—became a full burn for a while when Cadence stepped into the picture—but I wouldn’t let it eat me alive as much as it tried. Celestia called me her daughter, loved me like she had given birth to me. Why should I complain?

“I’m on my way,” I called back. A quick brush of my hair made me presentable, and I stepped out of my tower room.

Platina waited for me outside, the oldest of my designated guard and the one I liked the most. It only took her two tries to remember my name. She had a chance to promote to a higher position but turned it down. When I asked her why, she only smiled and kept walking.

She didn’t say much.

Like the other guards, she wore gold plated armor, though her plume was red instead of blue or gray. The camouflage spell made her coat white, and I had never seen her without it.

“Good morning, Lady Sunset.” She spoke from her diaphragm, making her voice a deep tenor. Despite being a unicorn, she was built like an earth pony: large and broad shouldered. I wagered her body slams would hurt just as much as her magic.

“Morning, Platina,” I said. She led the way through the arching corridors, nodding at the other guards we passed.

“How are you feeling today?”

Aside from the usual lightheadedness I swam through as I woke up, fine. But there was no need to tell her something that was a daily occurrence. “I’m all right. How about you?”

“Good, My Lady. Lance surprised me with a date last night. A fancy restaurant on Bridal Boulevard.”

I grinned. Lance was her coltfriend for over two years now. She kept threatening to leave if he didn’t propose soon, but the way she looked at him, I knew it was a hollow threat. “Sounds romantic.”

“Not really. Waiter screwed up our orders, and we sat next to whiny foals.” She shrugged. “Can’t all be perfect.” We arrived at the dining hall, and Platina tapped the door twice with the butt of her spear before pushing it open with a flash of her purple aura.

Cadence and Celestia sat at the grand mahogany table, a spread of food laid out before them. I sat down on my mother’s right side, the plate in front of me already filled with whip cream topped pancakes, fried eggs, and hay bacon with a side of strawberries.

“Good morning, Sunset,” Mother said, reaching over to kiss my forehead.

“Good morning, Mom. Morning, Cadence,” I said civilly.

Cadence smiled warmly at me. Her arrival to the castle happened prior to the Rainboom, but it wasn’t until after it that I started opening up a little to her. I said that having a second alicorn/princess had burned, and it did. But it was hard to hate Cadence with her bright, cheery personality. We could probably be closer friends if I put more effort into it, but my ego prevented me from making us anything more than acquaintances that occasionally hung out. Besides, she ran in different circles than me. I.e., she was popular, I was not.

I mean, knowing her, she probably stopped anypony who talked about me behind my back (granted, if they remembered me that long), but it didn’t make them line up to get to know me. Not that I cared. Like I said, too much effort went into trying to make friends with ponies that hardly acknowledged you anyway. Sad to say, that meant my social circle included very few ponies: Celestia, Platina, the head chef, Doctor Panacea, the student I tutored, and Cadence somewhere on the edge.

There was a reason I became depressed from time to time.

Breakfast was its usual humdrum affair. We made some small talk about current events in Equestria and some of the neighboring lands. I wondered if normal families talked about these things at their dining tables. Perhaps, just without the perspective of the ruling monarch.

”Sunset,” my mother said after pushing away the remains of her fruit salad, “you still haven’t told me what you want to do for your birthday.”

“Oh, right, well…” Truth be told, I still didn’t know. My birthday fell on the day after the Summer Sun Celebration, already one of the biggest holidays of the year. I accompanied Mother every year to each city that hosted the main event, and that included parades and parties. I never saw the point in having another party right after that, especially when I had almost no one to invite.

“Just a family dinner would be fine,” I said, finishing my strawberries.

Cadence pouted. “Are you sure? Why not have a little party? Or invite your friends to go bowling? Do something fun this year.”

“Having dinner with you is fun,” I argued. By ‘you’ I generally meant Celestia, but Cadence didn’t make bad dinner company either.

“I think Cadence is right,” Mother said. “Why not have just a little party? I think it’ll be good for you.”

Since I was already outvoted, I didn’t press an argument. “Fine,” I said with a sigh. Maybe they were right. A party could be fun. And hey, more presents for me.

Bellies full, Cadence and I excused ourselves from the table so Mother could move on with her busy day. It being summer break, I didn’t have to much on my docket of activities. Maybe I would practice my magic or read a book. Then again, the beautiful day beckoned me to at least walk around outside a little. Celestia knows I could use the exercise.

As Cadence and I reached a split in the hall, I asked, “What are you up to today?”

Cadence waved a hoof and said aloofly, “Oh, you know. Just going to go out and spend some time with friends. Go shopping. Get ready for the festivities tonight.”

“Ogle at the new guard captain again?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I am not ogling him!” Cadence said, her face red. “I’m just… making sure he’s treating his stallions with respect and dignity.”

“Conveniently when his back is turned, and from a high balcony.”

“Oh, like you haven’t done it before!”

“Actually, I haven’t,” I said, my impish grin growing.

Ears now red, Cadence stuck her tongue out at me and turned away. I really don’t know why I didn’t hang out with her more. Embarrassing her was always fun.

Emerging from the castle, the sun against my fur reminded me I was alive. Warm and energizing, I liked to think sometimes Mother raised it just for me. I’m not narcissistic enough to actually believe it though.

Platina shadowed me from a distance, far enough to give me my personal freedom but close enough to help should I have an incident. Or if I just wanted to talk. She kept her sentences short but she was a great listener.

At the height of summer, the well manicured grass that surrounded the castle edged on turning yellow. While I enjoyed the sun, the air was dry enough to make my mouth prickle. Lemonade! I thought, skipping in delight. Some fresh lemonade from that café on the corner! Sure, I could ask the kitchen staff to make me one for free, but this gave me an excuse to keep walking around.

I cantered along the marble path leading out of the castle courtyard and across the moat to Canterlot proper. Tall trees provided shade for some of the wilting grass, keeping it greener in some places. Along the main road, Fountains bubbled and glittered in the sunlight, and ponies frolicked around, having picnics and flying kites. It brought a smile to my face.

My smile thinned a little when I saw a familiar pony walking down the path toward me, face hidden from the world behind a book. That actually made her more noticeable. Her purple bangs with a magenta streak brushed back and forth in time with her eyes as they scanned the page. She walked right by me like I was invisible. Normally, I wouldn’t take offense to this, but I knew she knew me. I cleared my throat.

She kept walking.


Twilight Sparkle turned around. Her eyes widened and a faint blush appeared on her snout. “Oh! Sorry, Sunset, I didn’t see you there.”

“So I noticed.” Again, I normally didn’t care; ponies tended to ignore me. But I had been tutoring Twilight for almost four years now. She didn’t notice because she always had her face in a book.

Twilight Sparkle: the prodigal student. The day of the Sonic Rainboom, she had taken her entrance exam for Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns and passed with flying colors thanks to having a magical outburst. Since then, Mother had taken to giving her special lessons to help her control her magic. But it wasn’t just her magic that was great; her aptitude for learning proved incredible as well. Hence her love for books.

Mother had assigned me to be her tutor. Though, we were more of study buddies at this point. While my magic fluctuated randomly (add that to the list of things wrong with me) I excelled at magical theorem. I could tell you point for point how a transmogrification spell worked, and maybe on a good day, I could cast it.

Twilight could do both.

You’d think a mare like that would be insanely popular. But whereas I don’t make friends because ponies forget I exist, she doesn’t make friends because she ignores everyone else. I think Mother put us together to try and balance it out.

Twilight rubbed the back of her head, still looking embarrassed. “What are you up to today?”

“Just off to get some lemonade. What about you?” A dumb question in hindsight. I knew exactly what she was doing.

Proving my point, she waved the book she had been reading in her telekinesis. “I’m doing some reading on legends and folktales. You know, in honor of the Summer Sun Celebration.”

I couldn’t help but sigh. “Don’t you want to go hangout with some of your friends instead?” Hypocritical of me perhaps, but I wasn’t an introvert by choice. Twilight could still be saved from loneliness.

She looked at me like I had something on my face. “This is my only chance to do some pleasure reading before I get started on next semester’s homework. I don’t have time to ‘hangout.’”

“Isn’t Moondancer having a party today though?”

Twilight blinked at me.

“Your friend? Moondancer? Hangs out with Lyra and Minuette? I’ve seen you go with them to Doughnut Joe’s”

That at least got a momentary look of realization. It quickly lapsed back into confusion. “She’s having a party?”

I facehoofed. That poor mare.

“Well, why don’t you go instead? I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.”

Oh, I think Moondancer would. “I wasn’t invited. Twilight, at the risk of sounding like Mo—er, Princess Celestia, I won’t tell you to go make friends. Just, go do something other than read today.”

She let out a grouchy sigh. “Fine, I’ll stargaze tonight instead, and I’ll find some little party to go to tomorrow. Happy?”

“Not really, but it’s a step in the right direction.” I turned to go. “If you’re going to go to a party, please go to Moondancer’s.” I don’t think the filly could handle it if you didn’t.

She didn’t respond. I didn’t need to look over my shoulder to know she had gone back to her book. I sighed again and made my way to the café on the corner of the first plaza the road opened up to.

Before I reached the door, my lightheadedness hit me full force. I stepped off into nothing, dropping into the abyss as everything around me vanished. Or maybe I was the one vanishing. I floated for a moment, swimming in a black sea before I fell back to Canterlot and into my trembling body.

“My Lady, are you okay?” Platina kneeled next to me, concern not just for her charge, but for a friend. She gently helped me to stand and let me lean against her while I caught my breath.

My thoughts were disconnected for a second while I tried to remember who I was. Sunset Shimmer. Princess Celestia’s daughter. Lives in Canterlot. I shook the rest of the fog away. “Yeah, I’m okay.”

“Would you like to go back to the castle?”

I looked at the door to Sarsaparilla's cafe. I had come this far already, why would I turn around now empty-hoofed? “Let me just get my drink.”

Sarsaparilla didn’t know my name despite me coming here once a week at least. You would think that would be enough to leave an impression. Whatever. She gave me my fresh squeezed lemonade and bid me a good day. As I walked out, she looked at the bits confused, like she couldn’t remember where she had just gotten them from.

Platina didn’t leave my side during my return trip to the castle. I let her have a sip of my drink. She puckered her cheeks and stuck her tongue out as she handed it back to me. “Too sour.”

“Suit yourself,” I said. It tasted just right to me. My incident had left me drowsy, but it was too soon to take a nap before the celebration. I decided to take a page out of Twilight’s book and… well, read a book. Practicing magic was a poor idea now. I could feel my mana reserves on low.

The castle stayed at the perfect temperature all year long. A refreshing cool breeze washed over us as we stepped across the threshold. I shuffled my way up the entrance hall steps and to the west corridor for the the library.

“Should I inform your mother about what happened?” Platina asked, slowly opening the gap between us.

I casually sipped my drink trying to look as nonchalant as possible. Was there a point in telling Mother? Not really. She would just fawn over me, make sure I was fine, insist I get some rest, then kiss me and told me she loved me. That last one wasn’t so bad.

But, to avoid repetition and interrupting her busy day for something so monotonous, I shook my head. “It’s fine. I’ll tell her at dinner.”

“Very well,” Platina said. Although the look in her eye said, ‘You know better than to wait on this.’ She fell further behind as we walked, becoming scarce as I entered the castle library.

Towers and walls of books rose up around me, stretching to the second floor. Stories and histories dating back to before Equestria came to be. A fountain of knowledge for me to drink from.

What to read today? I browsed the maze of shelves for something that caught my eye. Maybe a little folklore of my own. Nah, I didn’t want to copy Twilight verbatim. Perhaps—

I crashed to the floor with no warning, my drink rolling away. One second, my hoof brushed along the spines of books, the next, I tumbled through darkness, suffocating in the desolate vacuum. My eye snapped open and found the vaulted ceiling high above me. Limbs locked and throat constricted, I must have looked feeble, twitching there on the floor.

Platina appeared by my side again. Her mouth moved, but my ears failed to pick up her speech. I tried to wave her off, pretend everything was fine, but my legs would have none of it. My muscles merely spasmed again, prompting Platina to pick me up and lay me across her back. She used her magic to keep a light grip on me while she galloped down the corridors.

This scenario was all too familiar. How many times had it been now? Too many to count. My hearing returned. Thunderous hooves and Platina’s breath pounded in my ears. My muscles started to loosen and the numbness ebbed.

“Platina,” I croaked, “I’m fine.”

She stoutly ignored me. After two incidents, I couldn’t blame her. That hadn’t happened in years. They were usually spaced days, sometimes weeks apart. I wanted to write it off as just a bad day, but the fear digging into my chest, choking my heart, wouldn’t be ignored.

When I blinked and opened my eyes, I found myself in the infirmary once more. Platina vanished. In her place was Doctor Panacea, shining a light into my eye and checking my vitals with his magic. He smiled at me when he realized I was still coherent.

“Don’t worry, Sunset; it’s going to be all right.”

I sat up, but he eased a hoof and pushed me back onto the bed. I cleared my throat, urging my vocal cords to perform at regular capacity. “I’m fine.” It came out more snappish than I intended. “They didn’t last that long. Really, I’m okay.”

Celestia appeared in a brilliant flash of light, materializing by my bedside. Her violet eyes fell on me, full of motherly concern and… tears. Unfallen tears of guilt. “Sunset, are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine, honest,” I said, still sounding more annoyed than I intended. Perhaps it was the primordial fear that I kept pushing down. I sat up again and smiled to prove my point.

Doctor Panacea rubbed his hoof. “Platina tells me this makes two fainting spells in one day.” His eyes flickered to Mother. “That’s very worrisome. Perhaps it would be best if she rested for the remainder of the day.”

I would have argued, but I realized my day plan consisted of reading and napping until it was time for the festivities. So, I kept my mouth shut.

Mother nodded. “Yes, that’s for the best.” She looked at me, hiding her guilt with a smile. “In fact, why don’t you spend the rest of the day with me?”

A bittersweet scenario. On one hoof, any time with Mother was time well enjoyed. On the other, I would be spending said time presiding over the day court, a very dull affair more often than not.

Still, I think Mother meant it to be gentle demand rather than a request. She helped me out of bed and kept a wing around my withers as she led me out of the infirmary. I felt a flood of strength return to me in Mother’s presence. Like I could cast a transmogrification spell and not have it backfire. I always felt stronger when she was near.

Platina stood in the hall. She covered up her worried eyes with a stone faced salute when Celestia walked past her. Her eyes fell on me, and her lips curled up in a relieved smile.

The walk to the throne room was quiet. And… tense. Every time I looked up to catch Mother’s eyes, she kept her head forward.

“Sunset,” she said tenderly, “you know I love you, right?”

“Of course,” I said, trying to catch her eye again. She only said it everyday.

We neared the throne room; guards stood posted at every set of pillars. “Good,” she said. “Because it’s true. And that won’t ever change.”

I hesitated, slowing my steps. “Mom, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” She shook her head and looked down at last. “Everything is going to be fine.”

Boy, that was cryptic. We reached the doors before I could inquire any further, but if Mother was trying to hide something, she had lost her touch over the years.

I loved walking into the throne room. The massive open space decorated with stained glass portraits of sunlit fields and roaming clouds, the mirror polished surface of the floor, and the long red carpet rolling up to the throne itself. Fountains and flowers surrounded it, creating an air of tranquility.

Mother took her seat on the golden chair, summoning a pillow for me to sit on next to her. I got comfy and stared out across the room, already wishing I had a book to read.

Before Mother could call court back into session, a puff of emerald smoke swirled in front of her face and coalesced into a scroll. I immediately recognized it as a dragon message, Spike’s to be more specific. Lucky Twilight owned a young dragon assistant. Sometimes I wondered who took care of whom more.

Celestia caught the scroll in her magic. “A letter from Twilight?” She smiled in delight. “This is a surprise.”

“Not really,” I said, sighing. “It means she hasn’t taken my advice.”

“Hmmm. Oh dear,” Mother said, though she looked far from worried. “Twilight appears to think Nightmare Moon will be released from her prison tonight.”

I dropped my face into my pillow. You can’t be serious. I raised my head. “Well, a little more of a warning would have been nice.”

Mother laughed. “Quite. But Twilight sees this as a serious problem.”

“Tell her to stop reading those dusty old books.” I rested my head on my hooves and flicked my tail. “I told her to go out and have fun, not find a conspiracy theory about Armageddon.” My eyes drifted up to Mother. “Nightmare Moon is just a story, right?”

“Every story has some truth to it,” she said, already scribbling a reply letter. “But perhaps you’re right. Twilight needs to get out and see a little more of the world. I think having her help with the celebration in Ponyville will be good for her.”

She had dodged the bulk of my question. Now I was starting to wonder if Twilight was onto something. Still, Mother wouldn’t act so calm if there was a true threat to Equestria hours away. My thoughts turned to Moondancer just as Mother sent the letter off.

I hope that mare doesn’t take it too hard.