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Newsworthy Part 8: Final Print 1

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The sudden explosion of noise woke Rose and Ink Well from their slumber, causing each to fall from, and in Rose's case through, their bed. One moment the only noise was the breathing of the two ponies on their separate beds, Ink Well on the burgundy sheets and Rose on a brand new bed formed of the softest cloud, and the next moment held the flash and bang of magic and the chattering of seven voices all talking at once. Rose pulled herself up, her wings unfolding from where they'd crumpled beneath her and silencing the room with their beauty. As the other five ponies and the dragon in the room stared at Rose's wings, Ink Well turned to Twilight, yawning widely. "Good morning Ms. Sparkle. What brings you by so early?"

Twilight looked flustered from her effort. "Early? We've been trying to get here for hours, but the fanponies swarmed us when we tried to walk here, and losing them was difficult."

Ink Well examined her and the others, all of them a little worse for wear apart from Rarity, who managed to look pristine, and Fluttershy, who managed to somehow pull off the 'chased by fans' look. "Well you don't look too bad. But that doesn't answer my question."

Pinkie Pie was the first to snap out of the charm of the magic wings, appearing at Ink Well's side . "You need to watch out! My knee is pinchy!" She picked it up and showed it to him, waving her knee before his eyes.

Ink Well watched the leg move, no clue as to what was going on. "Um... I'm sorry?"

Pinkie put down her leg, jamming her face into his. "No! But you will be! Tonight, here!"

He backed up, removing himself from the cotton candy pink pony and nodding. "Uh-huh..." He looked towards the other ponies in the room, reaching for a lifeline. "Can somepony translate? I seem to be missing the important bit."

Pinkie jumped to his side, grabbing him and pulling him close. "You are! You need to get out of here now, before the knee strikes!" Ink Well strained under the vice like grip of Pinkie's hoof, his ribs aching from the pressure.

Applejack was his savior, pulling Pinkie off of him. "What she's tryin' to say is her Pinkie sense is goin' off, and it's goin' wild around you."

Ink Well rubbed his side. "Pinkie sense? What's a Pinkie sense?"

Twilight stepped next to him. "It's a supernatural reaction unique to Pinkie that can foresee the future. The pinchy knee variant indicated that something 'scary' is going to happen." He gave her a puzzled look, and she just shook her head. "Don't question it, it works too often to be coincidence."

Ink Well looked skeptical. "I see. so why's it going off around me?"

Twilight took a step away, nervously kicking at the floor. "I may have caused it... Ponies broke into our home this morning, and since I finished my preparations I sent the Princess my list of complaints and my formal request for a trial and the closure of the Equirer. Here's the response." She magicked a scroll with the royal seal before him.

Carefully he unfurled it, curious eyes running over the Princess's writing. Halfway through he groaned, speaking to the paper. "Oh, don't send them a letter..." He looked up at Twilight. "Great, they know I'm here now, don't they?" Twilight nodded. "Didn't you send her your files? Some sort of proof?"

Twilight shook her head. "It's customary to send the information after the guards complete their investigation, so as not to bias them. It is important that the suspect is thought innocent until proven guilty."

Ink Well's brow furrowed. "What idiot came up with that rule? We have the proof! They ARE guilty!" He sighed. "Okay, some of the damage is done, but maybe we can close them down before whatever it is happens. Can you send them the proof from here?"

Twilight nodded. "I suppose I could... Spike, did you bring the file?"

Spike ran up behind her, holding the file in one hand and saluting with the other. "Yes ma'am! I kept it in my possession at all times, just as you asked!"

"Good, take a letter." Spike pulled out a quill and piece of parchment, preparing to write as Twilight dictated. "'Dear Princess Celestia, though it goes against the customs of investigation, I am afraid that I must send you the information for the case now and ask that you take it into consideration that you close down the National Equirer's offices. If what I have found is true, then it is dangerous to allow them to continue to operate, even under Royal Guard watch. I eagerly await your response. Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle.'" She watched Spike write down the last few words, looking to her for further instruction. She in turn turned to Ink Well. "Was that acceptable?"

Ink Well nodded. "Sounded good enough to me."

Twilight raised an eyebrow at him. "And are you sure about this? It's fairly severe to go against the customs of the court."

Ink Well shrugged. "It'd be more severe were something to happen. Send the file and let's get it over with."

Applejack looked at him worriedly. "That's all yer gonna do about this? A letter? You ain't preparing or freakin' out or nuthin'?"

Ink Well turned to her, a smirk on his face. "What am I going to prepare for? I have no clue what they'd try, if they were to try anything. And the last thing you want to do is panic. That never solves anything. Twilight, send that letter."

"You heard the colt, Spike." Twilight nodded to her assistant, who took the letter and the file and vaporized them with his dragon flame. The smoke remaining swirled from the room through a window, flying quickly towards Canterlot. "There we go. Message sent. If I weren't her student I don't think I'd be able to get away with this, I'll have you know."

Ink Well smiled. "I'm willing to take that risk. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go downstairs and work on some things. I'll be there if you need me." He limped over to the stairs, taking them carefully down and out of the sight of the other ponies, most of whom stared at him in disbelief.

Rarity was the first to say something. "Is he crazy? We come here with a warning and he just brushes it off like it's nothing. He doesn't even have the decency to be scared at the right time."

Rainbow hovered above her, looking a bit happier with the turn of events. "Hey, at least he has the right idea. Instead of waiting around for the guards, we push a little and get results! That's more like it!"

Applejack pushed up her hat, looking up at Rainbow, then eyeing the stairwell. "Yeah, well, you weren't one to go against bending the rules. I think he's pushin' things."

Pinkie sat on the floor, thinking. "He didn't listen to my warning..." She popped into the air. "Oh! Maybe I should have come up with a song! That always gets everypony's attention!" She then spent the next few minutes hopping around and trying out lyrics. "They're coming to get you! It's gonna be a zoo! And if I were you, running is what I'd do! No, too many Oo's, needs more Ee's..."

Twilight and Fluttershy both looked at the stairs, Twilight in continued disbelief and Fluttershy in concern. "Oh, he really should take this more seriously..."

Twilight huffed. "After all the trouble to get here, he goes and asks me to blow off Canterlot Court tradition. Oh, the Princess is going to kill me..."

Rose watched the assembled ponies for a little while, apparently forgotten in the room once again, before clearing her throat, drawing their attention. "Since you are all here, feel free to make yourselves at home. Again. I've got to get to work restocking from the big rush yesterday, but I don't think you need me up here, do you?" The girls each shook their heads, apart from Pinkie who was far too distracted with her lyrics to notice Rose had asked a question. "Alright. Have a good time. If you need anything, you know where I'll be." With considerably less attitude than Ink Well had managed to put into his limping, Rose made her own way down the stairs, leaving the six ponies and dragon to their own devices.

---

Ink Well sat at the work desk, pencil in mouth and an unsure look on his face. Beneath him was a piece of paper, the pencil wavering slowly above it. Rose walked in, seeing him concentrating, and was about to ask about it before stopping herself. With the concentration going into this, it had to be important. Carefully the pencil hit the paper, pressing in and dragging over it. Ink Well looked down at the page, a smile edging his mouth as he repeated the process, faster this time. When that was successful, he continued, writing across the page at an ever increasing pace until he flew down the page, filling it in mere moments.

When he hit the bottom, he looked up to see Rose watching him, a smile on her face. He put down the pencil and held up the paper, grinning widely. "Would you look at that? I'm back! Just needed a few days to toughen up, I guess."

Rose read down the paper. The writing was messy and shaky, but it was definitely there. "You just push yourself too hard." She walked into the room, starting up the machines halfheartedly. "Ugh, there always seems to be a problem, doesn't there? And when the bed was so comfy too..."

Ink Well nodded, leaning back in the chair. "Ah, cloud beds... they've got me through many a bad time, and inspired me to quite a few stories. It really is a shame you only have three days with those beauties on your back, there's so much more to wings than flight, it's going to be hard cramming that in."

Rose sighed. "Especially if today is going to be taken up by something scary. Though I've already experienced so much more than I ever thought I would..." She looked over at Ink Well, whose smile had faded. "You're not worried about the knee, are you?"

Ink Well's head jerked towards her, like he'd forgotten she was there. "What? Oh! Nah, not in the least. We're taking care of it, no problems here, no way. I mean, it's just Pinkie Pie. She's just being weird, she does that. I haven't known her for long and I already know that."

Rose shrugged as she prepped a machine. "I don't know. Her Pinkie Sense seems to be fairly accurate from what I can tell. It's one of those things that you learn to follow when you live out here."

Ink Well laughed, brushing it off. "Well, yeah, but it's a superstition thing. It's not real, right?" His smile started to look forced, a little uncertainty in his eyes. "... right?"

As they flew last night, Rose felt a confidence returning to Ink Well that had been missing since the accident, but now it was waning. He was trying to put up a strong front, but he needed support or it was going to crumble again. She nodded. "Right. Not real at all. Nothing to worry about. You've already got this taken care of with your challenging the system." She smiled playfully as she said this, waving her hooves around like she was telling a ghost story. "You're shaking the very foundations of society! It's the end of an era! Run, you weak-willed ponyfolk, from the change caused by the mighty Ink Well! It will be anarchy under his pen!"

Ink Well walked over to her, bumping her with a hoof. "Knock it off. I'm no world shaker, just a pony with a bit of common sense. You'd be amazed how rare that is."

Rose nodded, going over in her head the moment when she'd first acquired it in front of Rarity's Boutique. "It's a gift, given out by those who have it and only then to those who listen." She looked over at Ink Well, seeing him thinking deeply about something, a worried expression on his face. She decided to change the subject. "Hey, how about instead of moping over there you do something useful? I could use a hoof setting up the stills."

Ink Well looked puzzled. "Isn't restocking the store what you were doing when I left yesterday?"

Rose shook her head. "Nah, I wasn't in the right mood. Any scent I made would have come out a little sour. I was reading just before you came in."

"Ah." Ink Well's eyes glanced at the paper on his desk, then the stairs of the room before returning to her standing by the big ornate brass machine, his emerald eyes taking in the options. He shrugged. "Sure, why not? Never hurts to learn something new."

Rose's smile brightened. "Excellent. Let's get started."

---

The two of them worked downstairs, Rose putting Ink Well through the ropes of how the machines worked and how perfumes were made, and for his part Ink Well was very interested, taking in what she said and trying his best to operate them when prompted. After her perfume finished, Rose offered to let Ink Well try a hoof at making his own, letting him put it together while she finished the final touches on what she'd created.

Upstairs the other ponies entertained themselves, Rarity and Pinkie finding a few board games in a cupboard and playing those while Applejack kept the antsy Rainbow busy with small physical challenges. Twilight went over Rose's bookcase, not finding anything she hadn't read but still finding something to take her mind off the rest of the world. Fluttershy came downstairs for a little while, but seeing Ink Well and Rose busy, went back up, instead spending her time talking with Spike, who seemed rather bored.

As the afternoon began to deepen, Ink Well stood next to the mixer, waiting for the machine to finish. He watched the timer ticking away, unable to help but tap a hoof excitedly on the ground. "Huh, I never knew waiting for a machine could be so agonizing! How do you do it?"

Rose smiled. "You just have to be patient. You can't rush the machine, especially at this stage.
Combine them too fast and the scent will dissipate, too slowly and the notes will be all wrong. Just let it do its work. It's only a few minutes from completion."

"A few minutes? It feels like I've been by this brass beast for hours." He looked at the still, a random thought sparking in his head. "Did you know that brass is a special metal when it comes to magic?"

Rose raised an eyebrow. "Oh? How so?"

"It acts like a mirror, rebounding magical energies off of it. I learned about it when I did a story about UFOs far in the north. I went out to this monastery where unicorn monks sat inside a giant cone of brass pointed to the sky, searching for thaumatergical readings on other planets." He tapped the machine, smiling at his golden reflection. "It's not something most ponies think about, but unicorns actually have a lot of trouble with trinkets or instruments with too much of the metal in them, often needing a different focal point all together if they want to use magic."

Rose tilted her head, thinking about it. "Huh. You know, that probably explains why the Canterlot stills are all silver. I think the entire place was run by unicorns."

"Makes sense to me." Ink Well turned around, seeing her fit perfectly in her surroundings of pipes and brass fixtures between these machines, lights reflecting and playing strangely off of them and giving everything a warm glow despite their harsh nature. As he waited, a question came to mind. "So how did you end up a perfumer? Why do you do it?"

Rose looked stumped when the question hit her, like it was something she hadn't considered before. "How did I end up...? Well... I always liked flowers and stuff, but it didn't really hit me until the class trip to Canterlot. While the others all went off to play in the flower garden, I found myself drawn from the smells emanating from the Royal Perfumery. As I wandered between the giant silver distilleries with their intricate, beautiful designs, one particular scent swirled around me... To this day, I remember it, so beautiful, but with such subtleties and hidden notes that its complexity still astounds me." She stared at her distillery, smiling as she was enraptured by the memory. "I was entranced, just stuck sniffing the air like a dog... Next thing I knew a Royal Guard was escorting me outside, still lost in my own world. I was led to everypony else in the garden, the whole class laughing at me when I showed up under watch, and I was told not to wander off again. I tried to enjoy the flowers myself, but... I couldn't anymore. Their scent was nothing compared to what I'd just experienced. And it was then that it hit me. Flowers are beautiful, but they are temporary. Two days, a week tops, then the flowers wilt and the smell is gone. But smell is such a strong sense! That scent from the perfumery will be with me forever. Every truly powerful memory a pony has is linked to every sense, smell included, so I'm trying to give ponies a memory they'll have forever." She finished her story, returning to the real world slowly a smile on her face. She looked over at Ink Well, blushing when she saw him smirking at her. "What?"

"And you said I was the corny one." A buzzer on the machine went off, the blending of the scents complete. Excited, Ink Well slipped over to the hatch, flipping it open and hurriedly removing the beaker full of his concoction. As it was moved from the collector and into the open air, a stench resembling rusty oranges seeped in moss exploded forth, stunning the two occupants of the room. Ink Well found himself trying to run, throwing the container into the air where it tumbled in slow motion. Thinking quickly, Rose leaped forward, barely managing to stop it from shattering on the stone floor. She flew over to the stoppers, corking the vial and freeing the room from extended exposure to the stench.

Her eyes watering she ran over to the ventilation fans, tuning them on and opening the vents as wide as possible. Slowly the room cleared while she walked over to the stairs, coughing away the smell that still burned her nose. "Geez! What did you put in there?"

Ink Well extricated himself from the tangle of pipes he'd hid behind to avoid the smell, his own eyes watering. When he was finally free he turned to Rose looking embarrassed. "Well... I was trying to make it smell like the storm over the Everfree, so there was a rusty nail for that metallic smell from the lightning strike, citrus for the energy from it, and the mustiest chunk of wood I could find for the forest. I thought it was just as easy as putting them all together..."

Rose looked worriedly from the murky bottle to her machines, starting to realize the work that would have to go into cleaning them. With that description she was surprised she hadn't heard more banging from them. She sighed. "That's an... interesting way of thinking about it, but it's not quite that simple. The subtleties of smell are powerful, and getting all the notes correct would be... Well, I'm not even sure I could do that!" She looked at him looking down at the floor like a wounded puppy and stopped. "But that was a valiant first try! If I went for that on my first go, I wouldn't have done any better. I had to start a lot easier: just a simple floral base. I'll let you take a wild stab at the flower." Ink Well still didn't look too happy, so she decided to change the subject, putting down the offending beaker. "Hey, we'll try again, and I'll help you out this time. It'll turn out great!"

Ink Well shook his head, distracted. "No, I'd just mess it up again. Thanks for the offer. I'm not thinking straight anyway... Maybe I should..." He limped quickly to the stairs, looking sadly up them, then back at her.

Rose shooed him off with a hoof, turning back to the machines. "Go on. You've every right to be worried."

Ink Well nodded thankfully before hobbling up the stairs, finding the six ponies above huddled around a scroll Twilight was floating between them. She glanced at him, smiling and motioning him over. "Ink Well, I think your plan worked." She floated the letter over to him, letting him read it himself.

"'My Dearest Twilight,
Though what I read troubles me, you were right in going against tradition to send this. My only question is why did you not send it sooner?'" He smiled. "What'd I tell ya? 'At your suggestion we shall indeed be shutting down the National Equirer's offices. By the time you get this, they are to cease operating pending further investigation. Hopefully this will put your mind at ease.'" He moved from the letter, sidling next to Pinkie. "Hey, is your knee still pinching?"

Pinkie lifted up her left leg, moving it around and testing it, then jumped up, placing every hoof but the front left in the air and balancing carefully. From here, she shook her head, limbs still sticking in all directions. "Nope. Not a bit!"

All the ponies looked relieved, none more than Ink Well. He grinned happily. "There, everything will turn out all right. Just a touch of damage mitigation and all is well."

Pinkie hopped up from where she was balancing, landing in a cartwheel that traveled across the floor. "Whee! You know what this calls for? A PARTY! Meet me at Sugarcube Corner in five minutes!"

Ink Well looked at her, confused. "Five minutes? Like from right now?"

"Yup! Had to give myself some set up time!" She rolled down the stairs, disappearing below.

Rainbow Dash shrugged as Pinkie left. "Yeah, I could go for a party."

Twilight stopped her. "Hold on, we're going to teleport. We don't want the town down on us, right?"

Rainbow looked annoyed. "Come on! Pinkie just strolled out of here! Why can't we? They'll all be at the party anyway!"

Fluttershy looked nervous at the thought. "She wouldn't do that, would she?" She looked at her friend's faces and saw their blank looks. "She would..."

Twilight sighed, exasperated. "Fine. We'll walk. I didn't have any plans today anyway. Spike, go help Owlowiscious clean up, then both of you come over, okay?"

Spike looked disappointed, but gave a half-hearted salute anyway. "You got it." With that, he too exited down the stairs.

Rarity watched him go, frowning. "Twilight, darling, you treat him too hard. Let him come to the party. He shouldn't be left out."

Twilight waved it off. "He's not being left out, he's letting Owlowiscious join in. The clean up should be done by now anyway." She walked over to the stairs, the others following her, leaving Ink Well grinning stupidly by himself in the center of the room.

Fluttershy, the tail of the group, stopped at the top of the stairs. "Are you coming Ink Well?"

He nodded. "Sure thing, I'll swing by soon. Start it without me." She smiled, then went down, passing Rose as she walked up.

Rose watched Fluttershy walk past. "Where is everypony off to?"

"Pinkie is throwing a party. You're welcome to come by." Fluttershy continued out of the shop, leaving Rose and Ink Well together.

Rose walked up next to him, crossing her hooves and leaning against the table, her wings spreading effortlessly behind her. "So, I take it the news went well if they're throwing a party for it."

Ink Well nodded, still grinning. "Yep. The Equirer's officially shut down. Nothing bad is going to happen today."

Rose smiled herself at the news. "That's great! You gonna join the party?"

"Yeah, in a moment. I'm just... I'm going to enjoy the moment. I was a little worried."

Rose raised an eyebrow, smiling playfully. "Oh? I couldn't tell."

He hopped onto the cloud bed, breathing in deeply the light floral scent hiding in the room. "But now I'm walking on air! Life is good."

He turned around to see Rose smiling too, relief on her own face. Unfortunately, his eye was drawn rather quickly from this by the red smoke appearing in the air, a piece of paper fluttering to the ground. Puzzled, he flew over to it, picking it up. It was clean and businesslike, a note with writing not fancy, not flourishing, merely crisp and clear.

As he read it, Ink Well's face went from soft and relieved to cold and hard, the paper slipping back to the floor where he stood. Rose walked up, reading the note where it sat on the floor. 'You've disturbed the serpent's nest, and she is angry.' Rose looked over at Ink Well, whose face was locked in fear. "Ink Well? You okay?"

He shook his head slowly, not looking at her. "No, no I'm not. I'm not sure whether to run or throw up..." His visibly shook where he stood, causing Rose to slowly raise a hoof to calm him down. As it connected with his shoulder, Ink Well's gaze shot to the stairs. "We have to warn the others. I've made a terrible mistake."

"What? What do you mean? You stopped the Equirer, didn't you?"

"Well yeah, but so what if I stopped the face? The shadow moves freely either way, and that shadow is going to strike here! I'm the reason the knee was pinchy, not Twilight! I made it worse."

Rose put herself in front of his face, trying to calm him down. "What are you talking about? What shadow? Why are you so freaked?"

"The Enforcers! Viper is leading them back here. 'The serpent's nest'?" He pointed to his stitches, then to the bandages and burns on him. "They did this to me, I don't want her anywhere near Ponyville. We have to warn the others. We have to warn everypony..."

Rose saw both the fear in his eyes and how serious he was, and nodded. "Okay. Let's go."

---

As soon as they exited the shop they found the town in chaos. Panicked ponies ran in every direction, screaming in fright. Ink Well and Rose were buffeted by the crowd as they made their way against the flow to Sugarcube Corner, meeting the others out front. Rose walked up to Twilight, yelling to be heard over the screams around them. "What's going on?"

Twilight shook her head. "I don't know! We just heard the screaming and came out!"

Fluttershy pointed to the center of town. "That might be why." Spiraling slowly towards the sky was thick black smoke, completely out of place in the beautiful blue sky. Everypony hurried off towards it, those that could fly by wing and the rest by hoof. Rainbow was the first to find the source, pointing the others to it: the Town Hall. The entire building was an inferno, smoke and flames billowing from all the windows.

As it came into sight for Ink Well, memories flooded unbidden to his head of his own home collapsing around him, the heat and the ash burning his lungs once more. He froze in mid air, falling from the sky. Air rushed past him and he urged his wings to flap, but nothing would move, muscles locked despite the rapidly approaching ground and mind miles from the scene.

His fall suddenly stopped, Rose catching him mere feet from the hard ground. "Ink Well, are you okay? Snap out of it!" He couldn't respond, still staring at the building, the fear on his face impossible to miss. She landed him nearby, trying to shake him out of it.

In front of the Hall, a tan earth pony with a grey mane and yellow glasses ran back and forth, calling to the ponies running away. "Please! Don't panic everypony! We need to stop the fire before it spreads!"

As she called out, Twilight and the others ran up, watching the inferno above. "Mayor! We're here! How can we help?"

The Mayor looked at her, relief on her panic stricken face. "Oh thank goodness Twilight. We need all the water we can get and nopony has been listening, they're all too scared."

Twilight nodded, looking determined. "Don't worry Mayor, I'm on it." She turned around, horn glowing and causing a similar glow to appear around her throat. When she spoke, her voice was amplified, bouncing from building to building and throughout town. "Everypony listen up! It's not going to do you any good to run! We need to get organized! Weather ponies! You go with Rainbow and get as much rain as you can, douse the fire from above. Everypony else follow Applejack and Pinkie Pie, create a bucket chain from the river and the lake." Ponies stopped in the street, their fear momentarily overtaken by their confusion. Twilight let out an exasperated sigh. "Let's move it ponies, time is of the essence!"

Slowly the ponies mobilized, a leader and a task pushing them from panic into action. As the others went off to douse the fire, Twilight ran over to Rose and Ink Well, taking the break to talk to them. "Come on, we need your help too. We need everypony's help at this."

Ink Well remained locked in place, just slowly shaking his head as the rest of his body trembled in terror. Rose looked at her, shrugging. "I don't know what happened. He just froze up. I think the fire's getting to him." She tapped him on the shoulder again, seeming to get no response.

Twilight watched him for a little while, worry showing on her face as she weighed the effort and the pony before her. She sighed. "Okay, take him somewhere else, there's not a lot I can do for him right now. When I see Nurse Redheart I'll send her your way." A loud crack came from within the building, fire pouring from a hole that appeared in the roof. Twilight spun back around, seeing the water buckets already arriving and a few small clouds forming. She ran back over, directing the flow of water and leaving Rose and Ink Well alone again.

Slowly Rose stood Ink Well up, pushing him and guiding him through the rushing ponies with buckets and watering cans and away from the noise of the fire and the brigade springing up to stop it. As they turned the corner and headed into a guarded alleyway, a group of unicorns ran up the street past them, each levitating a garden hose that trailed and snaked behind them. Mid way through the alley Ink Well locked up, refusing to move any further despite Rose's urging and nudging. Unable to get him to go, she sat him down, brow furrowed as she thought of ways to wake him up. "Come on Ink Well, come back to me. I don't know what unhappy place you've gone to in your head, but you need to walk out of it."

Ink Well still remained in his stupor, worrying Rose beyond belief as she heard yells coming from the Town Hall. "Umm... Um... Hey, once this is all over, we're going to go for a nice flight, alright? That storm is still swirling over the Everfree and last night was just so magical, I would love to see if we could top it tonight. But you have to snap out of it, okay?" She grabbed Ink Well's face, forcing him to look her in the eyes. Still the look was glazed, his mind not at all with the rest of him. Angrily, Rose let go, stomping down the alley. "I don't know if you think that this is your fault or you're in the building or what, but you have to snap out of it! Our fellow ponies are out their risking their flanks to keep that building standing, and you're just sitting here out of it. Come to your senses!" Even this did not work, Ink Well still trembling in whatever world he was in.

Disheartened, Rose drooped to the ground, sitting dejectedly before him. "Come on Ink Well... It isn't real. This isn't like you... It's very selfish what you're doing here, and I know you don't intend to, but we need you... I need you..." She sat there looking at him, pained that nothing she did was working, and ran over what to do next. The nurse was nowhere to be seen, and Ink Well obviously needed some sort of help, but it seemed to be out of her reach, and in the distance she could hear more voices calling out, more pegasi rushing overhead with each passing minute. Right here was safe, the alley at least still and shielded. But she couldn't just leave him here in this state... Something had to be done. She had to help out.

She made up her mind. With a sigh of resignation, Rose stood up. "I'm sorry, but the other ponies need me." She looked at where he was, trembling and frightened and lost of his senses in an alleyway, and couldn't keep the tears from her eyes. "I know you'll be alright, I'll tell the nurse where you are, and I'll come back as soon as everything is done. Please be safe. Please come back... You can fight this. I'm waiting for you." Before she left, she tried to set him up to be as comfortable as possible, the few things in the alley further keeping him safe from any possible intrusion or falling ash. She then stood up, flying out to join the others in stopping the flames.

---

Fire billowed around him, smoke clouding his vision, its dark thickness and heat burning his lungs on every inhale. He tried to move, struggling as he found his hooves bound behind him, each tug against the bonds sending pain shooting through a fresh wound in his side. Slowly the swirls in the smoke caused it to thin, allowing him to recognize his own bedroom as the conflagration spread. His mind raced, one thing on it. 'Escape.'

Slowly he repeated the process from before, rocking the chair back and forth until he could stand on his own two hooves. But the chair seemed made of lead, the rocking doing little but straining his muscles. Part of him demanded he give up, but a small voice, barely a smoky whisper in his head kept urging him on. 'Come on you coward, run. Move.' With a herculean effort, Ink Well managed to tip the chair forward, balancing on his lower hooves as the first obstacle was passed.

'Go! You must be free!' urged the voice, Ink Well carrying the weight behind him as he trudged forward, legs buckling from the pressure. The flames slowly rose, licking at his hooves.

---

Rose landed at the Town Hall to find the chains working surprisingly well. Despite all the different ponies working, almost half of them not actual members of Ponyville, Twilight managed to whip them into a cohesive team. Still, she seemed to be highly stressed as she ran between groups, talking to whoever the spokespony was at the time. Rose landed behind her, the heat and the breeze from the fire drying out her magical wings. "Twilight! How can I help?"

Twilight turned around, hair a mess as she looked over a clipboard that floated in front of her. She sat down in the middle of the street, smacking her forehead with a hoof. "No! No! NO! The numbers aren't adding up! We should have almost a third more ponies here if the whole town and all the visitors helped! Where are the others?" She looked up to see Rose landing and smiled. "Oh good! One more off the list. Did Redheart ever meet you? Or Tenderheart?"

Rose shook her head. "No, nopony came, but I had to help out. What can I do?"

Twilight looked at her, assessing her in an instant before making her decision. "You need to join in with the lake chain. There's a fair bit of difficult terrain that we really need fliers to speed up."

Rose nodded, taking to the skies and following the trail of ponies toward the lake.

Twilight looked at her clipboard, flipping over the pages and getting increasingly agitated. "That's another two ponies missing from the chain that's unaccounted for! Where are they all going? Spike! Can you and Owlow..." She looked around, only noticing that her assistant was still missing in all of the commotion. "Darn it Spike, not you too! Where are you?"

---

The walk from one end of the low-ceilinged room to the other had never felt this long before. Perhaps it was the weight, or the smoke, or the blood slipping from his side and splattering the chains around his waist, but Ink Well was ready to collapse, and the frame on the wall seemed no closer than it had been a hundred steps ago. Flames licked at his hooves and fur, burning deeply every time they did and slowly creeping up his legs. Despite the tears in his eyes from the smoke, he could see his off-white fur being rapidly replaced by the crimson red of burned flesh. His body quaked with wooziness and fatigue, wanting above all else to collapse and end it all.

And still inside came the little voice, a wraith-like growl now stronger than before. 'Fly! Escape! The flames are nothing for the darkness that follows them! You are a coward! Flee! Never stop!' With each yell of a whisper the voice gave him power, driving him to continue though his body wanted to give way. Under its suggestion he made it to the hole in the floor, teetering as he looked into the roiling inferno below. 'Go! Fly free!' Urged the voice.

*It isn't real.* came another, much softer voice, the sweet tones inaudible over the roar of the fire and the words of the other. Ink Well's ear flicked just for a moment, confusion touching his brow for just a second.

'Jump!' The command was yelled through his head, his hoof acting of its own accord and stepping into the pit, sending him tumbling into the fires below.

---

Twilight ran between the pegasi, calling up to the skies. "Can you move the water any faster? Just a little more and we could keep the roof from reigniting! Get that done and the rest will be a snap!"

Rainbow zoomed down, hovering before her. "We're going as fast as we can, but ponies keep turning up missing. I'm already running triple time trying to cover the others!"

Twilight frowned, quill ready to mark down the change on her clipboard. "Missing? Who is? Where are they going?"

Rainbow shook her head, visibly angry. "I don't know, but I'm going to kick their flank when I find out! We're only at a third our normal numbers and dropping fast. Wherever those chickens are going, they better hope I don't find them." With that she shot back into the sky, rainbow trail evaporating behind her in the heat.

Twilight looked down at her clipboard, noting the ever increasing amount of missing ponies, now almost half the town. "This isn't good. Whatever is going on, it needs to stop and fast."

---

Ink Well landed hard on the floor below, the crushing weight of the chair and chains pinning him to the ground. Through the ring of fire slowly encroaching on him he could see the front door. He feebly tried to reach out a hoof, but all was still chained, the chair intact despite the fall. His vision weakened as he sat there, smoke and heat and weight finally getting to him.

Now a roar, the burnt voice in his head urged on. 'Move! Up! Go! Escape!' it chanted, and with each word a little more energy flowed into him. Unknown sources of power unlocked within his muscles, causing him to slowly crawl himself from the pile of weight and chains. He wrenched himself free, chains slipping off and chafing, pulling at his burned body before simply falling away. As the chant reached a fever pitch he was freed, landing in a heap among the burned floorboards of his house.

*We need you.* The other voice came again, speaking steadily and ringing around him with its tone. As he heard it, Ink Well pushed himself from the floor, a soothing calm seeming to wash over him amidst the fire and fear within. He stood up, the fires seeming not to touch him as he stood within his collapsing house. *I need you.* The fatigue seemed to leave his body as he walked towards the door, the fire's roar barely a murmur in his ears. As he reached the door, he looked outside. *Just walk out of there.* A pony stood, waiting, inviting, offering him a hoof in support.

A strong updraft brightened the flames, illuminating Viper before the house, a twisted, wicked grin on her face. All at once the fire returned, burning him once more to his waist and still spreading. With it returned the dark voice, a scream in his head. 'Run! She is too strong!' Ink Well placed his hooves to his ears, trying to dampen the noise engulfing him, his head throbbing from the screams. 'Move! Escape! Run! Death!' One hoof to his head and fire catching on every hair on his body, he tried to turn back into the house.

A horrible crash, falling debris, and the house was gone.

---

Part of the roof collapsed on the Town Hall, causing a couple ponies to scatter from within the building. Most of the fire was gone from outside, but within there were still large problem pockets that had to be solved by the bucket chains working at double speed. "Is everypony alright? Did we all get out?" A quick head count confirmed that nopony had been trapped inside and the buckets resumed their motions. Twilight looked haggard, but was glad that it was almost over.

As she moved to check on the other side of the building, Pinkie galloped up to her. "Twilight! We've got a problem!" Seeing that Pinkie wasn't bouncing, Twilight knew it had to be important. "What? What is it?"

"We've got four ponies missing from the chain! They were here all the way through and now they're just gone! All at the same time!"

"What? Four? Were they all together?"

"No, they were all in different areas. Do you think something got them?"

"I'm starting to think so... Just try to fill in the holes as best as you can. We're almost done." Pinkie ran back off to her group, leaving Twilight to look at her list. The numbers were starting to look dismal. She turned back to the burning building, the smoke much thinner than it had been to start, and frowned. "I've got a very bad feeling about this."

---

All was fire. Everything around and including Ink Well was completely engulfed in flames. With every breath, his throat burned a little more, shortly making it impossible to even breathe. He knelt before the door, the only recognizable thing, wings outspread, seemingly unburnt by sheer force of will. Screaming in his head came the dark voice, so loud it seemed it would burst from its confines. 'DEATH! RUN YOU IDIOT! ESCAPE!' He tried to remove a hoof, reaching for the door to open it. As he did, the voice's strength redoubled, sending him back to the floor with its cries. 'DANGER! TOO WEAK! RUN!'

Ink Well's hooves squeezed his head tightly, trying to keep the voice out. As the agony built up until all he could do was scream himself.

*You can fight this* Came the other voice, resonating throughout him. As it did, the pain dulled once more, everything but him and the door disappearing. His resolve strengthened, allowing him to stand. When he did, he looked out the window to see Viper waiting once more.

His resolve failed. "I can't. She's too strong." Everything came back, the noise deafening and the fire engulfing him completely, only the tips of his wings remaining somehow untouched. Still the fire pushed on him further, sucking the very air from him with its heat.

*Come to your senses. This is not real.* Ink Well felt the fires, felt the burning, the cut in his side, the fatigue from the chains... they all weighed on him, every sensation purely real. He shook his head, trying to focus on the soothing voice even as everything screamed at him. Just a hint, just a hope that this was fake! He collapsed to the floor, unable to take it any longer.

Lilacs. As he curled up on the ground, the soothing smell of lilacs touched his nose, completely foreign in the swirling fires. Slowly the pain dissipated, the noises fading to nothing. The fire receded, first his wings, then his body, and finally his surroundings slowly became hospitable, the charred rubble cool and dead. As the fire left, he stood, his injuries changing from the burns of his mind to the bandages of reality, and he found himself staring through a doorway once more. No longer did it lead to his old lawn, but instead it was Ponyville, with Rose outside offering a hoof, a smile on her face.

Smiling back, Ink Well accepted, walking with her into the Ponyville air. As he did, the land faded, leaving only Ink Well and Rose floating in a sea of clouds. The soothing voice returned, coming from the pony before him, its original source. "Now snap out of it. I'm waiting for you."

Ink Well found himself laying in the alleyway, nose pressed to his hoof where the strong smell of lilacs still imbued the bandages. He pushed himself up, finding it surprisingly easy after the ordeal he'd just experienced, his body full of energy and his mind sharp. He could see the last vestiges of smoke coming from the Town Hall, so he took to the air, finally ready to do his part.
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The first part of the long drawn out finale, and everything is coming to a head. Will it all end peacefully? Or is there a battle in our future? Only time will tell.

Part 8(a) of 8

You should know the particulars by now.
© 2011 - 2022 Medicshy
Comments10
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Alex999139's avatar
>"I see.. so why's it going off around me?"
This ellipsis is missing a dot.

>You ain't preparing of freakin' out or nuthin'?
Preparing to freak out, maybe? I'm unsure.

>Maybe I should have come of with a song!
Come up? Come off?

>"...right?"
Should a space follow the ellipsis? Again, I'm unsure.

>Combine them to fast and the scent will dissipate, too slowly and the notes will be all wrong. Just let it do it's work.
Too fast, and its work.

>With that description she was surprised he she hadn't heard more banging from them.
She was surprised she hadn't.

>Pinkie lifted up her left leg, moving it around and testing it, then jumped up, placing every hoof bur the front left in the air and balancing carefully.
Every hoof but the front left.

>'Go! You must be free!' Urged the voice, Ink Well carrying the weight behind him as he trudged forward, legs buckling from the pressure.
Make "Urged" lowercase.