• 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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3. A Royal Welcome

To absolutely no surprise, the Day Court proved to be incredibly dull. Mother gave her less than genuine smile and listened to ponies complain and argue with one another about trivial things that, with a little bit of brain power, they could have figured out by themselves. Maybe I was just grouchy from not having anything to read.

Boy, that Twilight really starts to rub off on you after a while.

Still, the entire time I felt real. I wasn’t lightheaded or tired or anything. The surge of strength I got after Celestia took me from the infirmary lasted the entire day. As much as I would have loved to fall asleep, I felt wired on caffeine through the whole session.

Court came to an end as Mother began to lower the sun. Vivid oranges and purples painted the sky, while streaks of gold broke through the windows and laid out a glittering path for us down the corridor. I skipped along at Mother’s side, happy to be free from court and to be taking a trip out of Canterlot. The city was great—nearly perfect! But it was nice to get away once in awhile. While I wouldn’t have picked Ponyville as a prime vacation spot, beggars can’t be choosers.

We came to a split in the hallway. Mother made to turn right, but regarded me first. “We’ll be leaving at midnight. That should give us plenty of time to get there and maybe sneak to a party or two.”

I playfully rolled my eyes.

She gently nudged me with a wing. “Go take a little nap. I don’t want you to miss anything.”

“Please, I’ve never missed a celebration. I’m not gonna start now.” I smiled as I turned away and walked back to my room. I wasn’t sure if I could take a nap; I still felt great! Maybe I would get to practice a little magic today.

The stars began to flicker to life as I entered my tower. The moon rose into the clear sky, the Mare in the Moon staring down upon the world. I stared back, remembering Twilight’s supposed proclamation of doom. Twilight was a sensible mare. Sure, she was prone to a few freak outs from time to time about organization and deadlines and study habits, but to suddenly say an ancient evil was about to resurface? That couldn’t have come out of the blue.

What exactly did she read that freaked her out so much? She had left for Ponyville several hours ago, so asking her would have to wait until morning. If we made it to then. I shook my head. Mother was calm, so I was calm.

Still, a little voice told me something was odd here. Maybe it was the paranoia flaring up, but the Mare in the Moon seemed menacing today. Her eye glared rather than gazed.

I still had energy to spare, and my curiosity got the better of me. I trotted over to my wall of literature and started browsing my immense collection of everything from fiction to practical science. Twilight had been reading folktales and legends. Maybe I couldn’t find the exact book Twilight read, but some general knowledge about Nightmare Moon might help me understand why Twilight was in a tizzy now of all times.

I found an old book, Predictions and Prophecies, one of three copies the castle library owned. I made sure to be gentle with it; the book was older than me, and it showed. A crooked spine, torn pages, and a musty smell that, admittedly, was quite pleasant. I turned to the page on Nightmare Moon.

“Let’s see. Blah, blah, blah, supposedly Celestia’s sister. Banished to the moon. ‘On the longest day of the thousandth year, the stars will aide in her escape, and she will bring about nighttime eternal.’” Well, the longest day clearly meant the summer solstice, which is what the Summer Sun Celebration… well, celebrated. But how was Twilight sure this was the thousandth year? And that’s still assuming the legend was real in the first place.

I don’t know why I never asked Mother about it. Maybe because I always thought it was just a story told around Nightmare Night to scare foals. Heh, imagine if she did have a sister. I’d have an aunt. That’d be pretty cool.

I snapped the book shut. Back to the matter at hoof, I had to find out how Twilight knew this year was the one thousandth since Nightmare Moon’s banishment. The story was old, yes. Old enough that a thousand years could have already come and gone.

I picked out a history book and flipped to the chronology page. History was broken into BE (before Equestria) and AoE (Age of Equestria). The book mentioned the two royal sisters’ defeat of Discord and becoming stewards of the heavens. A few hundred years later, around the fifth century AoE, it stopped referring to two princesses and focused solely on Celestia. Interesting enough to get my attention, but not enough to put me into a panic yet.

I turned to the detailed chapter on the fifth century. Scanning through the pages, I failed to find any concrete information on Nightmare Moon’s existence. The closest I could get was when the book stopped referring to the Royal Sisters, mentioning Celestia solely by name around the mid-century. With this year being 1560 AoE, I ran the math in my head. That left a window of about ten years. Either Twilight knew something I didn’t or she was hysterical.

I put the book away and gazed out at the moon again. The four stars surrounding it… had they always been that close?

Dizziness swept through me like a swift gale. All the strength I had felt at Celestia’s side drained away, bringing me to my knees.

Dammit! Why? I thought as I struggled to breath. Just as the void began crawling up my vision, it quickly receded, taking the nausea and lightheadedness with it. I even got a small surge of strength; enough to get back to my hooves like nothing happened.

I couldn’t just ignore this though. Three times in one day? Was I getting worse? The surge of strength acted like a shot of caffeine, and I knew I couldn’t take a nap now. I didn’t want to regardless; I didn’t even want to close my eyes. The nothingness would be there, waiting for me. I couldn’t go back, not after making three trips in a few hours.

My hooves led me in circles around my satin carpet while I tried to think of something to do for the next three and half hours. I passed the window and looked out to the moon again. Had the stars drawn closer to it? What if Twilight was right? What if some eldritch horror was about to be released tonight? But then Mother would know about it. She would do something. She wouldn’t be this calm. Then again, the only time I don’t see her calm is when she’s fretting over me.

”If she’s not worried, I’m not worried.” I wanted to believe it was as simple as that, but something kept nipping me in the back of my mind. I pulled a book at random from the shelf and got comfy on my bed, urging the clock to move faster.

The hours dragged on, and time seemed to freeze whenever I looked up. Eventually, I put the book aside and just stared into space, following any and every train of thought that passed by. I played out my favorite fantasy: becoming a powerful mage that didn’t suffer from fainting spells. The kingdom adored me. Mother sang my praises. I even had friends who remembered my name.

I rested my chin between my hooves and sighed. A fun dream to have every once in awhile, but I tried not to entertain it for too long. I rolled onto my back and stared at the top of my canopy. Did I dare look at the clock? Last time I had, only ten minutes had gone by since my previous peek.

“My Lady,” Platina said, knocking on my door. “Princess Celestia—”

I rushed to the door and threw it open before Platina could finish. She started at me with a mixture of surprise and bemusement.

“—requests your presence in the chariot hanger. She says it’s time to depart.” She smirked. “Bored?”

“Me? Pffft, nah. I always have something to do.” I stepped by her, sticking my tongue out while she continued to regard me with a smug grin. We made our way to the lower part of the castle and exited to the back, where Mother and a large chariot were waiting for us.

It was especially bright out tonight, and I couldn’t help but look up at the full moon overhead. I swear the stars had moved closer again. The temptation to question mother about the Mare in the Moon was strong but, looking into her loving eyes as I drew close, I didn’t want to show her I had any doubts.

“Are you ready for our exciting night?” She asked as I climbed into the chariot next to her. Platina and two elite guards sat behind us.

“Depends on what you mean by ‘exciting’. I don’t know if these small town ponies know how to party.” The pegasi pulling the chariot broke into a gallop before leaping and taking flight, pulling us up into the air.

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” Celestia said with a chuckle.

We made a lap around the castle to gain altitude. At night, the light of the moon illuminated the marble and royal purple and gold colors that made up Canterlot, making it glow on the mountainside. Accented by the thousands of smaller lights in the city, it was one of my favorite things to witness.

Mother wrapped a wing over my shoulder and tucked me close. It would have been easy to fall asleep just like that. She nuzzled me on the head before saying softly, “You know I love you, right?”

“Of course.”

“Good. No matter what happens, don’t ever forget that. You are my daughter, Sunset Shimmer, and I love you with all of my heart.”

It was sincere and genuine, but there was something else in her voice, something that made me tremble. Uncertainty? Fear?

“Mother, is everything okay?”

Celestia lifted her head up and stared out ahead of us. “Everything is going to be just fine. I’m sure of it.”

A vague and cryptic answer. Not sure what else I was expecting. I kept quiet though, knowing I stood little chance if I pushed the subject any further.

Ponyville, a tiny hamlet born at the start of the century, sat in a green valley south of the mountain Canterlot proudly perched on. A prime location, save for one serious flaw. While beautiful hills and rivers surrounded it on most sides, encroaching from the southeast was the infamous Everfree Forest. Dark, mysterious, and wild, no sane pony ventured there. Magic ran free, as did the animals and weather, refusing to bow to the call of an earth pony, or the touch of a pegasus.

I gave credit where credit was due. The denizens of Ponyville had to be some kind of brave to live this close to the dark forest.

The chariot swooped around the village, drawing closer to the thatched roofs and wooden windmills. Even in the midnight moonlight, Ponyville was kinda cute. We flew over the town square, where streamers and balloons had already been placed. Town hall sported banners with my mother’s cutie mark on it.

We landed on the west outskirts, as not to make too big of a scene before the sun raising. A small welcome group met us as we stepped out of the chariot. At its front was a beige pony with a gray mane. She wore a ruffled green tie and half-moon glasses.

After a respectful bow, she said, “Good evening, Princess Celestia, let me be the first to welcome you to Ponyville for the Summer Sun Celebration!”

“Good evening, Mayor Mare. It’s wonderful to be here tonight,” Mother said with an earnest smile. She brushed a wing over my head. “This is my daughter, Sunset Shimmer.”

Mayor Mare’s eyes went unfocused as she tried to look at me. I had to wonder, what did ponies see when they saw me? Was I like a ghost? A trick of the light? Or was I simply not there? And of course, there was the question of why they had such a hard time seeing me. I waved, hoping it would speed up the introduction.

Sure enough, Mayor Mare’s eyes unglazed, and she smiled warmly at me, like I had been there all along. “Welcome, Lady Shimmer, it’s a pleasure to meet you! If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask me or any of my aides,” she said, motioning to the three ponies behind her.

“Thank you,” I said, but she had already turned her head back to my mother.

“Your stage at town hall is all set up, and we have our deluxe sweet ready in our finest inn. I know it’s a little rustic, but we’re still working on improving our tourism industry.”

Mother laughed, a delightful chime that put church bells to shame. “It’s fine, Mayor. A little rustic charm sounds lovely.”

“Oh, wonderful!” the mayor said with a sigh of relief.

I never understood why ponies got so nervous in my mother’s presence. You could literally spray tea over her and she’d apologize like it was her fault. Yet so many ponies think the smallest infraction will get them banished or something.

We followed Mayor Mare and her assistants down the main road to the town proper. It was mostly deserted, though we could hear several different parties happening in homes and shops. The few ponies that did step outside stopped and bowed deeply as my mother passed.

“So, Sunset,” she said as we neared the center of town, “where should we go to spend our time?” Her eyes darted toward a large tree a block away from us. It had been hollowed out and turned into a rather nice looking house complete with a balcony hidden in the boughs. Flashing lights poured out the windows, and I can almost feel the thump of the music from here.

“Sounds like there’s a pretty big party over there,” I said.

Mayor Mare cleared her throat. “Yes, that’s our library. Usually. I believe your student is staying there, Your Highness? But our resident party planner, Pinkie Pie, dedicated today to throwing her a large welcome party. I just wish she had picked a more… appropriate venue.”

“Twilight’s attending a party?” Mother said, voicing my own surprise. She chuckled. “Well then, let’s not interfere. I hope she’s making plenty of friends.”

“That, or she’s huddled in the nearest corner, clinging to a book,” I said. Making friends was probably the only assignment you could give Twilight and she wouldn’t know how to complete it.

We moved along to the Ponyville inn, the Sleepy Hay Bale. While it certainly wasn’t on the level of the blowout happening in the library, it was packed with parting ponies. Kegs of cider were out, large platters of hay fries were passed around, and laughter filled the air.

It all stopped when Mother and I stepped in. Every eye fell onto the Princess of the Sun, and many tried to hide the large tankard of cider they were drinking from.

“My little ponies,” Mother said with her best winning smile, “are you all having a wonderful time?”

The pause lingered for another moment. Then, the room burst into loud cheers and laughter again. Of course, they all bowed as Celestia passed them and moved to the counter, but everypony went back to their chatter and their drinks, even more jubilant now that their princess was here.

A mug of cider landed on the counter before my mother even sat down. She smiled at the bartender. “Thank you. Could I get one for my daughter as well?”

The bartender, a gray earth pony with an impressive curly mustache squinted at me before hopping back startled, like I had just appeared from thin air. “Of course! Right away, Your Majesty.”

A second later, a mug of cold, refreshing apple cider sat in my hoof. I toasted with my mother and took a frothy sip. I wasn’t sure who made this cider, but it might have been the best I had ever tasted.

My mother loves parties. And not the stuffy ones like the Grand Galloping Gala, where the nobles stand around with their noses turned up and talk about their money for three hours. No, she likes a good, messy, bass thumping bonanza. Of course, she never actually partakes in any of the activities done at said parties. It would ruin her image as the dignified and collected demi-goddess Equestria had come to know her as. But if she just got to spectate and talk to the interesting ponies that were part of the action, she always went home with a smile on her face.

Here, in this little bar in Ponyville, Princess Celestia made her rounds around the room, a mug of cider floating behind her. She laughed loudly with the tipsy ponies, listened intently to the one heavily inebriated, danced with me in the corner as the music was turned up, and when one pony tied a bedsheet to the second floor railing and jumped off, screaming like a wild pony, she silently cheered with the rest of the crowd.

She managed to do all this while looking like the definition of grace and poise.

Whenever we weren’t dancing together, I was at a small table with Platina and the other guards, still working on my first cider. I wanted to be fully conscious for the actual celebration. Still, a pesky yawn found a way to jump from my mouth.

Platina grinned. “Tired?”

“Not even close. I’ve pulled double all-nighters before.” Another yawn rose up just to spite me.

By the time 4 A.M. rolled around, many ponies in the bar had fallen asleep. Yet, many more were starting to file out and head for the town hall.

Mother joined us at the table, her smile reminiscent of mine when I was even younger. “I love getting to just connect with the locals. They forget that I’m their princess and just talk to me. It’s nice, even if it lasts just a moment.”

She looked at the ceiling, but it was in such a wistful and longing way, I swore she was looking through it. “I try to be aware of everything that goes on in my kingdom. To some degree at least. I want to know if my ponies are truly happy. If I’m doing enough for them.”

“Mom, you work day in and day out for them. You’re the most selfless pony I know. If somepony says you’re not doing enough, they can fight me!”

She looked back at me, and I felt another surge of strength, giving me my second wind. “Sunset… you are one of my greatest blessings. Thank you.”

My cheeks burned, practically lighting on fire when she kissed them.

“Come now,” she said, standing up. “I have to go get ready. You should head off to the hall.”

We rose and left the inn, the bartender waving us out enthusiastically. The fact the Princess Celestia had been at his bar on the eve of the Summer Sun Celebration was sure to bring in a lot more customers.

At the steps of the town hall, we paused to go our separate ways. Mother would be taking her two guards to the staging area in the back, leaving me in Platina’s care. I knew it was only for a little while, and we had done this plenty of times. But as I faced my mother, her face aglow in the pale moonlight, something about this meeting seemed… final.

My heart trembled for an entirely different reason than usual. I fully felt here. But I felt… no, I knew something was about to change.

Mother stooped her neck down and nuzzled me lovingly before giving me one last kiss. “Stay out of trouble, okay? I will… I will see you soon.”

She hesitated. She never hesitated.

“Mom…”

“I love you.” She rose and turned, the guards following on her heels.

Her hesitation had stunned me. When she was halfway around the corner, I finally came to and ran after her. “Mom! Your sister… Nightmare Moon… they’re just stories, right?”

She looked back at me, a cryptic smile on her face. “Yes, Sunset. They are stories.”

I watched her walk away. My eyes slowly drew toward the moon. I knew it wasn’t my imagination anymore. The four stars that kept the Mare in the Moon company were nearly touching the silver orb’s surface.

I had to find Twilight.

With a fire in my heart, I rushed past Platina and scrambled up the stairs, throwing the doors to the hall open.

“My Lady, slow down!” She stomped after me.

Ponies already packed town hall. Banners with the sun and moon on them, blue streamers and ribbons, and bright white and yellow flowers covered the walls and banisters. A balcony across from the entrance had a red curtain draped in front of it.

I slipped around ponies, most of them not even realizing I was brushing up against them. Platina was not so lucky. She was constantly slowed by having to maneuver around large throngs of ponies, being extra careful not to trip on the foals.

“Twilight!” I yelled. “Twilight, where are you!”

“Sunset?”

Up near the front, Twilight stood with Spike sitting on her back. Her eyes were a little red, her mane a little frazzled, and her ears, very twitchy. Somehow, I knew she didn’t have a good time at that party.

She ran up to me, dancing frantically on her hooves. “I can’t believe you’re here! Actually, I can—of course you would be here! But, where’s Princess Celestia? Is she going to do anything about Nightmare Moon?”

“You’re still talking about that?” Spike asked. He looked pleading at me. “Sunset, please tell her it’s just an old pony’s tale.”

I bit my lip. “I mean… when we got your letter earlier today, I thought so, too. But I did a little research… and Mom has been acting more cryptic than usual… and those stars…”

“See?” Twilight hissed triumphantly at Spike. “I knew I was onto something.” She quickly paled. “Oh no… but that means… oh, of all the times I wish I had been wrong!”

“Hold on,” I said, putting a hoof up. “Even if this legend is true, Princess Celestia beat Nightmare Moon before. We know how much flank Celestia kicks. This Nightmare doesn’t stand a chance.”

The muscles in Twilight’s shoulders relaxed. “You’re right. The Princess can beat her. We’ll be fine.” She didn’t sound one-hundred percent convinced, but at least I had managed to prevent a total meltdown.

Platina finally caught up to me and gave a stern glare. “Please don’t do that.”

I rubbed a hoof against the back of my head, a sheepish grin on my face. “Right. Sorry.”

A spotlight shone on the balcony, and Mayor Mare stepped forward. “Fillies and gentlecolts, welcome to this year’s Summer Sun Celebration!”

An emphatic roar rose from the crowd, complemented by stomping hooves. Turning around, I found even more ponies had crammed their way inside, and a large crowd gathered just out the door.

“We are just moments away from the main event, where we will witness the magic of the sun rise that heralds the longest day of the year!”

While Mayor Mare waited for the cheers to die down again, I felt a sharp elbow in my ribs. I looked to Twilight, who pointed up to the moon. The four stars finally made contact, and before I could blink, the face that had decorated the moon for so long, vanished.

“That’s not good,” I whispered.

“And now, it is my great honor to present to you, the ruler of our great nation, the pony who brings us the sun and moon every day, the kind, the wise, the loving, our wonderful Princess Celestia!”

A chorus of birds let out a melodic whistle as the curtains parted. They were almost drowned out by the loudest cheer the crowd had produced yet.

Only, nopony appeared on the balcony.

The cheers quickly dissolved into confused murmurs, as questioning glances were exchanged. Twilight and I exchanged one ourselves, only our looks were more out of speculative fear than confusion.

“Remain calm, everypony,” the mayor said. “I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for this.”

“Oh, oh! Maybe she’s hiding!” a very pink pony on Twilight’s other side said.

A white pony with a beautiful purple mane came from the staging area, eyes wide. “She’s… just gone!”

“Oooh, she’s good.”

At that, the confused murmurs grew into full blown panic and outrage.

“What do you mean she’s gone?”

“Is this some kind of joke?”

“Is she okay?”

“What about the sunrise?”

Amidst the swelling panic, a sharp lightheadedness overtook me. It wasn’t quite like my earlier spells that left me floating in that terrible void. It was as if someone had sucked all the extra energy out of me, leaving me with just enough to stay conscious. Either way, it brought me to my knees, the roar of the crowd fading into a dull whisper.

“My Lady?”

“Sunset?”

Their voices sounded distant, and their faces flickered in and out before my vision corrected itself. Platina helped me back to my hooves and allowed me to lean on her while my strength slowly came back. I still felt like I was here, but I was ready to take a long nap.

“What’s that!” somepony shouted.

The crowd fell deathly silent as every eye turned back to the balcony. Mayor Mare and the white unicorn quickly stepped away, as pale blue smoke poured in from the window and coalesced on the spot where Celestia should have been standing. It formed into the outline of a tall mare before solidifying into what could only be described as a nightmare.

Her coat was as black as pitch, adorned with midnight blue armor. Her spiral horned ended with a lethal point, and her black wings fanned out at her sides, increasing her already imposing size. Her pupils were slitted like a dragon’s, and when she smiled, I saw a row of sharp fangs. Most haunting of all was her spectral mane. It reminded me of Celestia’s, ethereal and ever moving. This, however, was composed of a wispy nebula, and snapped fervently, like it wanted to strangle something.

For a moment, she didn’t speak. She just observed the crowd with her hungry smile.

“My, my, my,” she finally said, her voice low and haughty, accented with a sultry growl. “Look at all the ponies here to celebrate my homecoming. How I’ve yearned to see your sun-loving faces.”

“What did you do with our princess?” a sharp voice called from the back of the crowd. I swiveled my head around in time to see a rainbow maned pegasus get pulled back by an orange earth pony.

The dark alicorn narrowed her eyes, though her smile never left. “Such impudence. Am I not royal enough for you?”

“Wh-who are you?” the white unicorn asked, trembling.

At this, the alicorn’s smile fell, replaced with an affronted frown. “You mean you don’t know who I am?” She looked out at what I could assume to be confused and frightened stares. “None of you remember me?”

She snapped her head toward Mayor Mare. “Do you not know your history?” Her mane whisked over and flicked Rarity’s chin. “Did you not read the signs?”

Still, none of us answered. I didn’t have enough strength for my voice to reach her.

For a moment, I saw a hurt look flash through her eyes. Unbridled fury replaced it a second later, and she smashed a horseshoe into the balcony. “Did Celestia scrub my very presence from this land? Have I truly been forgotten?”

“I know who you are!” Twilight took a step forward, but I could see her legs trembling. “You’re the Mare in the Moon—Nightmare Moon!”

Nightmare Moon gave her a sharp smile. “At last. Somepony who remembers me. Then you also know why I’m here.”

Twilight flattened her ears against her head. “You’re… you’re…”

“Mmmhmmhmmhahahahah! Remember this day, my little ponies, for it was your last.” Nightmare Moon’s mane billowed and spiraled up to the ceiling. A frigid gale whipped up, shattering the windows, and lighting crackled over our heads.

“From this moment forth, the night will last forever!