The Doctor and Derpy stood in the TaRDiS at the center console, The Doctor speaking as he worked at the controls. “You know how I have always said that I am the last of the Time Lords? That was only partially true. My home planet, Gallifrey, was time sealed, locked forever out of anyone's reach after the Time War. I thought nobody had escaped, but with the technology I've seen... There's only one other I can think of that could have possibly found any way of escaping, and if he has, and made it into this universe...” The Doctor shook where he stood. “I don't want to imagine the consequences.”
The screen before him came up red and he growled in frustration, smacking the console with a hoof. “No! It's not this hard! Show me where he is!” The screen continued to blink red at him, and after a few more smacks to it, he stopped, his gaze dropping to the floor. “Thick. That's what you are. Bloody thick!” He smashed his hooves into the main console, self hatred dripping from his every pore. “Why didn't you keep a better leash on him? You knew he was a danger, and you assumed he'd just stay locked away like the rest?”
Derpy stood a fair ways from him, fearful of him during his raged outbreak. But as he continued to berate himself, she walked up to him, placing a hoof on his shoulder that stopped him in his tracks. “Doctor, calm down. You'll figure it out. We've come out of a lot worse than this.”
The Doctor shook his head slowly before turning around to face her. “No Derpy, there is nothing worse than this. This is my fault, and I don't know how to fix it. One stupid bloody mistake and now the entire universe will-”
Derpy placed a hoof to his mouth, silencing him. “Just talk it through. You always do a lot better when you can bounce your ideas, and I'm right here for that.” Lowering her hoof, she gave him a reassuring smile. “Now, who escaped?”
His face grave, The Doctor started talking. “On Gallifrey, there was a coming of age ritual done to every child. They were shown the heart of the Time Vortex, forced to watch the chaos of time in its rawest form, and afterward they were to pick their new name and role in society. Some embraced it, becoming brilliant masters of time and space. Some ran from it, never stopping. And some could not take it, going completely mad. He looked into it and it stared back, changing him into a sociopath and a madman, dangerous beyond all belief. And then he chose his name, and what he picked should have been more than enough warning...”
Derpy was fascinated, never having heard hardly anything about The Doctor's past, let alone his universe or his home planet. But she could feel the sadness in his tale, the loss and sorrow apparent even with the fear and anger layering over the story. He was getting something off of his chest, something he kept a secret for far too long, and she knew it was good for him. He just needed a little prompting. “What did he pick?”
“He called himself The Master.” This name seemed to impact Derpy, though it was lost to The Doctor as he continued his thoughts. “He gained a smooth tongue, and with it could convince even the most stable of people to do insane things, all for him. He was on a never ending march towards war, even resurrected to fight our greatest foe, but that was at the end of the war. Right before it all went too far...”
Derpy's eyes crossed further as a faint memory awoke in the back of her head, arising from the fog of her younger years. From long back, before she'd even had Dinky to brighten up her life, that name burned in her thoughts. A smooth baritone voice, one she had just met, but one she would come to trust, full of itself and accompanied by a stunning smile. “Please, Ditzy, call me The Master.” She tried to follow the memory, to clear up the clouds blocking it or put a face on the voice, but it was too far gone. Yet the memory brought with it wonder, fear, and sadness; the excitement of the thought, a fear rooted deeply in broken trust, and a loss unlike any before it... Lost in her thoughts, she let the words simply slip out. “The Master...”
The Doctor took on a tone of resolve, his mind steeling itself for what lay ahead. “He is a danger to anyone he may be near. The only other Time Lord in existence... He slipped free of his chains to wreak havoc on your world, and he must be stopped. Only destruction follows in his wake.”
The change in The Doctor brought Derpy from her muddled memories, and she put herself aside to give The Doctor the springboard he needed. “If he's so dangerous, then his presence should be obvious. Can you scan for anything he might have done?”
The Doctor shook his head. “No, his first move seems to be the brass ponies, and they are popping up everywhere. You'd think something as large as a Time Lord would-” a revelation hit The Doctor, causing his face to light up. “Derpy! You're a genius!” He turned back to the main controls, running around them and carefully hitting buttons at random. “Of course this brilliant thick head of mine would focus on what he did, but he has been careful to hide that. He doesn't want his plan seen until it can't be stopped. But he is a Time Lord linked to the Time Vortex, and not only that, he has been pulled from my universe. If we follow the movements of the brass ponies, add in a few variables, look for a little bit of residual void stuff, then we should be able to do this!” He flipped one last switch, grabbing the screen with his forehooves and swiveling it towards himself. The grin on his face just spread. “Fantastic!” He ran over to Derpy, whose own smile had grown with his rapid movements across the controls, and grabbed her in a large hug, kissing her strongly on the cheek. “Derpy! You are amazing!” She blushed at that, her smile getting just a bit larger, but that was lost as The Doctor ran over to the time controls, hooves dancing to lock them in.
Not a moment later he stared at her, his manic smile back and a fire in his eyes. “Hold on tight, Derpy! We've got a writer to save.”
Derpy grabbed onto the central bulb just as the TaRDiS's dematerialization noise began, her blush gone but her own smile and determination just as prominent. “We're coming Ink Well! And this time, I'm saving you!”
The Master smiled viciously. “Now that we are all well acquainted, I'm sure you must have questions.” He looked at the three ponies before them, all glaring, but otherwise silent. As the silence dragged on, his smile slowly shifted to a frown. “No? No questions at all?” His cool demeanor dropped for a moment as he sagged. “Oh, please? I've had years to prepare the speech, one of you must at least be curious.” He leaned towards Ink Well's cell, putting on a slightly higher voice in an offensive impersonation. “'But Master! What could you possibly want to do once you're in my position! Oh no! My whole life, gone! Oh woe is me!'”
Ink Well rolled his eyes, knowing The Master wouldn't shut up until he was placated. “Fine. What do you have planned once-”
“I'm glad you asked!” The Master said, hopping back to his collected, presumptuous demeanor. “I don't like the way you ran things. 'Apostle of Peace?' 'Uniter of the Four Nations?' 'The Great Arbiter?' Please! Peace and order for millenia? What kind of Alliance does this? Even the third Great and Bountiful Human Empire had wars! In fact, I instigated one of them. But you ponies? Nothing but a bunch of pansies.”
“So you would replace him to end the Alliance?” said Luna, a begrudging curiosity on her face.
The Master laughed, shaking his head. “Oh, Princess, how small your thoughts are. No, your alliance was truly powerful. But it had one flaw.” He walked up, placing his hooves on the bars of her cell. “It couldn't hear the drums.” He rapped his hoof against the bar for four quick, steady beats. After a short pause, he repeated it again, and again after a similar pause. As he did this, he leaned closer, a mad smile on his face. “Can't you hear it?” He paused, letting his hoof continue to tap out the rhythm uncontested. “It's glorious.”
Ink Well continued to glare at him, the only response he could think of for the mad pony's expression. “And what am I listening to?”
His smile deepened as he broke away from the bars, still tapping out the rhythm with his steps. “The drums of war. Pounding endlessly, marching to Equestria. And I will be their herald.” He began to clap his hooves together in excitement. “All I have to do is take your place and make events unfold, and that won't be hard. History was very detailed in what you did to create the Alliance. And then, once I get crowned at the head as you did, Equestria will mobilize and take over the galaxy, with me as its leader.” He looked out of the large window as though he were lost in a dream.
Celestia shook her head, abashed by The Master's presumptuous effort. “But your plan will never work. I've already met Ink Well, and so have the Elements of Harmony and many other ponies at the time. Surely we'd notice if he was suddenly not himself.”
“Oh! But that's the beauty of it!” he said as he turned towards the solar princess. “You won't notice a thing, all because of this!” He held up a small, plain necklace. “And please, don't call me Shirley.”
Ink Well raised an eyebrow, unimpressed by the trinket before him. “And what is that?”
The Master turned to him, still grinning happily. “This is a perception filter. Normally it would make me essentially invisible, but this one... well, why don't I show you?” He put the necklace on, and instantly he was a clone of Ink Well, down to the wings now sticking from his back. When he spoke, his voice even matched Ink Well's pitch. “Not only does it hide the real me, it substitutes the real you. I tuned it in to your biosignature while you were asleep, fine tuning it while you three talked. Now my every action, my every word, is his.” He spun around once, showing off how complete the transformation was.
Ink Well tilted his head in confusion, feeling his skin crawl at the sight before him. There was something inherently wrong with seeing himself doing anything but motions in a mirror. Even so, he could feel a dangerous truth starting to appear in The Master's words, like his plan could actually work. He has to be stopped, but the only pony that can do that now is The Doctor. He looked towards the double doors, expecting Ditzy and The Doctor to burst in at any moment, or the TaRDiS to simply appear and the duo to step out. When they failed to, his heart sank. Doctor, where are you?
The Master stood proudly as he finished his turn, still in the guise of Ink Well. “It's really an amazing device, isn't it? It'll fool anypony, even those close enough to Ink Well to know him for years. And to think of how easy it was to make.”.
Luna, however, wasn't nearly as convinced. “We would never go to war with any other race. Each one has been approached peacefully as we expanded into space, and no amount of manipulation by you is going to upset that.”
The false Ink Well merely raised an eyebrow, appraising the angered princess as though he were amused. “Really, now. You think I didn't account for that? Do you think me bringing you here had no purpose?” He started walking towards the throne at the far end of the hall, continuing his speech as though he didn't care if they were listening. “I brought you two in because, eventually, you will find me out. Probably just after the signing of the Alliance Treaty when you finally notice I haven't aged a day in over twenty years. But that is why I grabbed you from when I did. Each of you had hardly any meaningful protection around. It was like taking candy from a baby! I mean, honestly, did a few thousand years of peace lower your guard that much? And now I have both of your signatures keyed into their own filters.” He sat down on the throne, leaning nonchalantly on the armrest, a bored smile on his face. “Now, what do you suppose I'll do with those, hmm?”
Celestia smiled back, though it wasn't nearly as confident. “Nopony would betray their Princess. If you aim on finding allies after your election, you are out of luck.”
The Master's smile dropped completely. “Oh come now, Princess. I thought you brighter than that. Why would I possibly let my plan fall on some variable when I have five candidates of my own design?” He clapped his hooves together twice, and immediately the brass pegasus and unicorn were at his sides. “Model Princesses at my own beck and call. With them underhoof, who would need you around?” Both Princesses seemed to bristle at the implication, but they fell silent, no longer with any flaws to voice at his plan. It was certainly crazy, but he'd caught them once. He could probably do it again. And his false Ink Well looked and sounded so convincing... he seemed like he might be able to make it work, and that scared the Princesses more than anything. He looked upon the caged trio and yawned, ending it in a frown. “Well, you three sure know how to suck the fun out of a room. I hope you enjoy boredom town, because my chariot awaits.” With that, he clapped his hooves again, signaling the other brass ponies to wheel in his 'chariot.' He smiled at the reaction it garnered from the three below.
Behind The Master one of the doors swung open, and through it was pulled a truly massive machine. Tesla Coils and Jacob's Ladders protruded from the top, sparking and arcing between themselves with a loud BZZZZZZRT! even as they barely scraped past the frame of the door they exited. On either end of the machine was a great bubbling tube filled with electric green liquid, and along the top ran a string of warning lights flashing on and off. Set between the tubes was a circular platform, an arch running over it and connected to the brass box it was contained within by a writhing mess of wires. To one side was a command console and a giant knife switch, primed to bring the machine to life with one mighty swing. It was in every detail the invention of a mad scientist in a motion picture, brought to life in full color and sound, and it had the intended effect on its witnesses.
Both Celestia and Luna's jaws dropped at the sight, as did their haunches to the floor. They seemed unable to process the machine before them, so unstable was its design. Ink Well's jaw, on the other hoof, dropped for a different reason.
Seeing the extravagance in the machine, he realized his opponent's flaw. The Master is a villain and a narcissist, a pony who is evil because he enjoys it and it brings him attention and power. Practicing speeches, revealing his plans, the robots and the crazed look of the machine; it was all practiced and timed. He's like the worst type of actor, playing the role purely for the fame and affection of the audience before him. And just like an actor, he'll keep bowing so long as I keep clapping. A smile crept into the corner of Ink Well's mouth. It's your curtain call, Master, and I aim to keep you bowing 'til The Doctor takes the stage.
Ink Well let his haunches drop as well, shock stealing his face, though unlike the others, he announced it. “What is that?”
The Master acted like he hardly noticed, though the smile on his face was unmistakeable. “What, this? Oh, just the lynch pin in my entire plan. I present to you my time machine!” Ink Well's face looked down at the caged trio with a self-centered smile as he showed off his invention with an outstretched hoof.
The real Ink Well made a mental note to kick himself if a smile like that ever touched his face. “A time machine? That thing? But it looks like the creation of a mad scientist!”
The Master looked surprised at the statement. “A mad scientist?” He looked at the machine, then back to Ink Well, shrugging slightly. “I suppose, though I've always hated that term. Their inventions always worked. How could they be mad?”
“And does your device work?”
The Master wheeled on him, indignity flashing behind his eyes. “What was that?”
Ink Well knew he had to be careful. This was thin ice he was treading, and the wrong move would set The Master off to do untold damage to the past. “I'm sorry, Master, it's just that I have never seen a machine like this, and it seems so ingeniously made. Could something like this really work?”
The Master smiled, seemingly placated by the use of his name. “Ah, I understand now. You are from such a primitive time, aren't you? Not even a transporter or a television to get you through your day. This must seem like some crazy dream.” He took a few steps away from the machine, glowering down at Ink Well from the top of the steps. “I can assure you, though, that this is real. And you'll be the first to witness it work.”
He saw The Master start to head for the platform and called out after him. “But why such a large machine?” Ink Well could feel both of the Princesses looking at him now, and could spy Luna's confusion out of the corner of his eye, though it seemed to be laced with hope. Don't hold your breath, Luna. We aren't out of the woods yet. “The brass ponies travel through time without anything like this. If you could do that for them, why couldn't you do so for yourself?”
The Master turned back around, his smile now impressed rather than amused. “A good question. Perhaps you aren't as thick as you look.” Ink Well let the jab slide, feigning interest as The Master walked towards him, explaining. “You see, the perils of the time vortex are many, and while an inanimate object like a rock or a hunk of metal can pass through without so much as a scratch, anything living going unshielded would shred apart like tissue paper in a tornado. What this machine does is add the necessary shielding while also precisely and accurately sending me on my way. With the robots they may be as much as a few days and a few miles from where they intended to jump, while I could place myself on the head of a pin falling through the air if I so chose.” He stopped just in front of Ink Well's cell, animatedly contemplating something in front of the three detainees. “Of course, had I access to more advanced technology I could have made it smaller, but the other flaw you ponies have, next to your penchant towards peace, is a love of old technology. You seem to make due with forms that should have died off centuries before, and as a result spend your entire time line behind your full potential. It's just one more thing I'll have to fix.”
As he said this, he turned back to the trio, seeing anger on both Luna and Celestia's faces and nothing but interest on Ink Well's. The Master's gaze grew cautious at this, and he stepped right up to the bars, glaring curiously at Ink Well. “Why is it that you want to know all of this, hmm? Some escape plan forming in your head?”
Ink Well shook his head a little too quickly, trying to calm his doppelganger down. “No, Master, sir. I wouldn't even know the first way to go about it.”
The Master didn't seem to convinced. “I'm sure...” He turned sharply, hurrying back up the stairs and to the machine. “But you have held me back more than long enough. I have history to rewrite.”
Ink Well tried to think of something to stall him further, but he couldn't figure out a segue that wouldn't seem horribly out of place or raise The Master's suspicions further. Something. Anything. Just hold him a few more seconds! Mind abuzz, he watched The Master, still disguised as him, run up onto the platform before turning back to the room and smiling. “Ta ta, all! Have a fantastic eternity, if you still exist. And if you don't, it was fun while it lasted, wasn't it?” He nodded towards one of the brass ponies, which had a horribly defaced and crumpled head. The pony went over near the knife switch, inputting something into a console next to it.
Electricity shot from the machine, the giant beakers bubbled much faster, and the archway around The Master began to spin, slowly at first, but gaining speed every second. Within moments it was almost a blur, and the pony standing within found himself floating just off of the ground, surrounded by a light blue glow. A maniacal laugh filtered from him as lightning shot from around him, his transportation nearly complete.
It was then that another sound cut through the room, an otherworldly noise that seemed to come from everywhere at once, swelling and ebbing, an unforgettable sound signaling something truly amazing. Everypony in the room recognized it, even Ink Well, who had only heard it from within the machine, and in unison all heads turned towards the double doors, before which a blue box slowly appeared. Before it had even fully materialized, The Master was speaking, calling to his free minions. “No... You must be joking. Take care of him! Don't let him stop me!”
A moment later the TaRDiS had arrived, and the door opened, revealing The Doctor and Ditzy. Relief washed over Ink Well for just a moment. Then the brass ponies attacked.
Three steps into the room and Derpy was already overwhelmed by what was going on. There were two Ink Wells, one in a crazy machine with lightning sparking everywhere,and one in a brass cage, the Princesses, and she was being attacked by the brass ponies. The Doctor was much more attuned to the situation, merely scanning the room once before taking action. “What's his trick? Illusion spell?”
“Perception filter,” called the caged Ink Well.
The Doctor just nodded, calmly pulling out his sonic screwdriver as the brass ponies closed in. “Derpy, could you give me a moment? I need to get a good look at our friend up there.”
Derpy nodded. If her time traveling with The Doctor had taught her one thing, it was to do whatever he said in situations like these, as normally he was thinking much faster than she was. She kicked her wings into gear, shooting in front of the three encroaching metal ponies and bringing their attention to her. She bumped one in the chest, sending it into the other two, before she whirled up high, just tempting them to follow her. Immediately two of them took flight, the jets igniting under both the brass unicorn and the false earth pony's hooves and sending them after her. The brass pegasus, meanwhile, turned its attention back to The Doctor, a dangerous glint of intelligence shining behind its dead eyes.
Derpy whirled around the room, flying upside down and in strange, twisting paths. It was wrecking havoc with the brass ponies' tracking systems, but not causing any problems for her. In fact, it was easier than it should have been, as she just released the usual restraint she held herself to when flying. Normally, to fly straight, she had to constantly direct and redirect her flight path, keeping in balance despite the odd readings given to her by her senses. Not doing all of that came as a bit of a relief, even if it was for a chase.
She looked behind her as she flew, smiling as spiraling smoke trails filled the ceiling of the tight space. The brass ponies couldn't hope to match her lilting motions, only succeeding in stiff zig-zags and, on more than one occasion, a hard collision with either the roof or each other. They were definitely distracted, only proving a danger to themselves in this state.
Keeping one eye on the air around her and the barest part of her attention on her flying, Derpy looked to see how The Doctor had dealt with the faux pegasus. He hadn't. Instead he was running around the room with the sonic screwdriver in his mouth, seemingly much more interested in it than his pursuit. It was closing in, its mechanical wings set into a frenzy as it pushed through the air to catch up to him, but he managed to, with the slightest of movements, slip away from each grab. His path was tricky, but eventually it took him wandering right to the broken pony at the control panel, much to the annoyance of The Master.
The brass pegasus seemed to be one step ahead of him, blocking off his path to the broken pony with an electrified hoof. The Doctor didn't even notice, running at it full pelt until, at the last second, he stopped, pointing his screwdriver towards the hoof and letting it whirr for just a moment.
A jet fired in the pegasus's hoof, sending the hoof straight into the back of the broken pony's head and knocking it to the ground in a sparking heap. The rocket kept firing, causing panicked whirs to fly from the brass pegasus as it spiraled across the room, completely unable to control itself. Its wings spread and flapped, trying to regain control, but it made little difference as it careened towards the far wall of the room. It whirred once more, energy piling up slowly on its body, then disappeared when it made contact with the wall, a brilliant flash of light, a puff of smoke, a loud crackle, and the smell of ozone signaling its exit from the room.
Satisfied with this turn of events, The Doctor turned to the false Ink Well, who was floating in the machine, the anarchic glow of energy around him seeming to calm as input ceased from the console. “Now then, let's have a chat, shall we? Just you and me.” The Doctor turned the sonic screwdriver towards the floating pony, activating it for a second. The image of Ink Well distorted, flickering and warping sickly before disappearing entirely, leaving The Master revealed.
“Derpy, go free Ink Well. Setting 38,” said The Doctor, tossing his sonic screwdriver high in the air. Derpy altered her pass, swooping low to catch it. She then seemed to wilt, falling through the air and causing the ponies chasing her to veer from their path to avoid colliding. A moment later she caught herself, aiming a salute at The Doctor before soaring towards the cages.
She stopped in front of Ink Well's prison, placing the sonic in her hoof and pointing it at the bars. It whirred at a few different pitches, jumping around as Derpy found the right setting. Eventually it hummed perfectly, and as it did, the bars slid up, opening just enough for Ink Well to walk out.
The moment the bars lifted, Ink Well leaped from the cage, latching onto Derpy and bringing both of them to the ground. When they landed, she looked at him, a nervous smile on her face and a giggle in her voice. “Ink Well, what are you doing?” Ink Well didn't speak, instead grabbing the sonic from her hoof, spinning around, and activating it. Immediately the cage slid shut, trapping within it the two brass ponies in a tangled lump where they'd crashed into the marble floor. She looked at them for a moment, a warmth running into her face. “Oh...”
Derpy looked from them to Ink Well, seeing him turn around, a happy smirk on his face. “Hey there Ditzy.” He offered a hoof up from the floor, helping lift her onto her own. “Sorry about that. Didn't really have time to warn you.”
Derpy flushed, a little annoyed at what had just transpired. “Can't I ever just save you for once?”
Ink Well looked stumped by the question. “What do you mean? If you hadn't shown up when you did, The Master would have gotten away, and without you, The Doctor would have been swarmed by brass ponies. You're a hero, Ditzy!”
Derpy tilted her head, thinking about what he said. “I am?” Sure, why not? It made a lot of sense, even if she was just helping out. Every little bit was important! She smiled brightly. “I guess I am!”
“Of course you are. Far more than I could ever be.” Derpy was about to correct Ink Well when a cough sounded from behind him, drawing both of their attentions to the still-caged Luna and Celestia. He shied away at that, rubbing a hoof to the back of his neck before turning back to face Derpy. “And the hero is always the one to save the Princesses, so you might want to get on that.” He stepped aside, walking up the stairs to The Doctor as Derpy got to work on the other two cages.
The Doctor lowered his steely gaze on The Master. “How did you escape the time war?”
The Master glared back, annoyance readily apparent on his features. “You again? A different universe and you still come to foil my plans? CAN I NEVER WIN?”
The Doctor's anger rose to a boil, barely contained beneath the surface. “Answer me. How did you escape?”
“Escape? That's old news, the same trick I used last time. But if you must know...” The Master smiled. “Say it.” The Doctor continued his death stare, only prompting a deeper smile from The Master as he shifted positions, leaning back and idly kicking a hoof through the air. “You aren't winning any awards here, Doctor. I've got all the time in the world, floating here. I've already passed a few decades, what's another few minutes? But you were always the impatient type. So, if you want answers, say it.”
After a moment of hesitation, The Doctor asked again. “How did you survive, Master?”
“Thank you.” The Master continued to smile at his old foe, still smug even though he was helpless. “Now then, Doctor, this is, what, the fourth time I've 'died?' I'm becoming rather good at this. I can't believe you're still surprised. And I must say, you do look rather good in beige.” He looked himself over, shaking his head. “I'm afraid blue just doesn't do me justice.”
“If you don't want to answer, fine. It doesn't matter.” The Doctor shook his head, though his determined eyes never fell from The Master's face. “It's just you and me now, Master. We are the last two time lords. We can still be peaceful about this.”
“What? Again? Didn't you learn enough from this last time? I even made a big scene and everything. I'm not going to...” His smile dropped, curiosity holding his gaze. “You... you don't know about the last time, do you?”
The Doctor's gaze held strong. “I don't care what happened in the past. You can come with me. We can go, right now, together, and-”
“How could you possibly think-? You can't honestly-!...” He looked into The Doctor's eyes, and from them extracted the truth. Immediately his curiosity was replaced with anger. “I can't believe this! I refuse to believe this! I will not be defeated by some unripe little Doctor playing 'Save the world!' After the foe you were once, this is just a cruel joke.” He waved a hoof violently at The Doctor, dismissing him. “Go on, go live your life back in the other world. And when you've caught up, then try to stop me. Until then...” The Master shifted again, leaning forward until he was face to face with The Doctor. “You aren't anywhere near my level.”
“Doctor! Look out!”
The Doctor turned like lightning, finding the broken pony reared up behind him, it's entire body crackling with energy. Before he could move it bore down on him, pouncing on his unsuspecting form as, behind him, The Master laughed wildly.
In slow motion he watched it descend at him, then pull away, replaced an instant later by a parchment colored body, then the ink-black mane soaring over him, a trail of electricity sparking in the air. The two connected ponies moved exceedingly slowly over the machine, the metal one colliding with a Tesla coil on top of the machine, flinging its assaulter over it.
The explosion rocked the room, followed by a discharge of energy as The Master disappeared in a flash, his machine exploding around him. Behind it all came the shattering of glass and a rush of wind, the void outside the window trying to claim the atmosphere held within.
And above all of the noises of destruction, two words pierced the room, uttered in fear by The Doctor's companion. “Ink Well!”
Lights twinkled brightly in the open sky, drifting across his vision as Ink Well slowly spun. Around him were shards of glass, spinning off into the darkness and blinking each time they caught the light from inside. The black sky with the pinpoints of light, contrasted with the surprisingly bright landscape below him, pockmarked as it was with dark craters, were a true sight to behold, like looking at the edge of a mirror: seeing at once the world you knew and its negative spreading out in opposite directions.
Unfortunately, Ink Well couldn't enjoy this for long, as his attention was drawn to his burning chest, where droplets of blood were boiling away in the lack of atmosphere. His jacked was singed from the explosion, the shirt beneath stained red around a large shard of searing brass embedded in his chest. Ink Well was sure that it should have hurt more, but his brain was a little fuzzy after the last few moments, working much slower than it wanted to.
He tried to breathe in, finding it impossible the instant his mouth opened, his saliva steaming off of his tongue. Again, he was sure he should be worried, but for some reason he felt unnervingly calm. Is this how it ends? Spiraling into space after saving The Doctor? Seems an anticlimax after all those promises inside... He shook his head, trying to clear it. No... I still have a promise to Rose to keep. I always keep my promises... He turned slowly, wincing as a very bright light appeared on the edge of his vision, bringing with it a burning heat. He placed a hoof over his eyes, shielding the majority of the light. With it dimmed, he could bear to look at it, a nearby sun, with a planet sitting nearby.
It was so small, just a little ball of green and blue silhouetted against the brightness behind it, and yet, somehow, it was instantly recognizable. It was Equestria, its moon orbiting peacefully, the planet itself turning happily in space. On the dark sides of both planet and moon, lights shone into space, cities lit up in the night, with ponies running their nighttime errands. Seeing his home so close, he could feel tears forming at the edge of his eyes, only to join his blood in bubbling away. It's... beautiful. This sight... Even better than the one I showed Rose. Everypony should be able to see this. So small, so lovely...
... so defenseless. As he looked at it again, fear sparked in his heart. Equestria was defenseless. They had no clue of the attack that had nearly happened, no clue that there were even such things as space travel or time travel, going about their lives like nothing could ever happen. They have to know, they have to prepare, to be able to protect themselves. And if they won't believe me, then I'll just have to protect them myself. Alongside the fear, determination rose through him, building and pushing everything to the side. For Rose, for Equestria, for everypony on that planet, I am making it back!
Ink Well's mind lit up like wildfire, and instantly his whole body was in tune. Pain sang from his lungs and the wound, his muscles ached, every part of his body started turning in claims for everything he'd done since he'd left that little ball of rock before him, yet he didn't care. He spread his wings, flapping once, ready to soar back inside and land beside The Doctor.
Except his wings pushed on nothing. He flapped again, harder, but still nothing happened. Try as he might, all he could do was slowly wiggle himself to face the broken window, all movement impossible in the void. And what was worse, his vision was starting to fade, the lack of air and his own exertion catching up to him. He scowled at the lit room so far away, willing it closer with everything he had. I am not ending here. The story will be told. Despite his determination, his vision continued to darken. Feebly he tried to swim his way to the window, but his legs would not respond. They were just too heavy to move...
As his vision finally faded, one last thought passed through his mind, sad compared to the resolve of before. I can see her now, coming back to the booth, noticing I'm not there... I can't leave her wondering... I've got to return to... Rose...
With that last thought he lost consciousness, though somewhere in his mind a faint tingling around his body registered.
Princess Celestia acted quickly, throwing a shield over the shattered glass and keeping the majority of the atmosphere within the room. As she did, her sister ran past her, bounding over the steps with the help of her majestic wings and landing on the far side of the destroyed machine. Precious seconds ticked away, each one counted in her head as Luna centered her magic, sending the bubble out through her sister's barrier. She had thirty seconds before he started having brain damage. Thirty seconds until her friend could be damaged beyond repair. She was already at twenty. The other ten had to count.
He was excruciatingly far, propelled quickly by the explosion, and such a small target on top of that, but Luna ignored the doubts. In five seconds she had his location pinpointed, two more and the bubble was nearly there. At the start of the third it enveloped his hoof, still so very far from where the protection was needed. She could feel it pulling him in, trying to make him safe...
Just as the last second ticked down, it swallowed his head, holding Ink Well in a shell of Luna's magic filled to the brim with the oxygen he so desperately needed. As she reeled him in, she smiled, blinking back the tear that had threatened to form at her eyes. “'Tis alright, Ink Well. Our blessing has always been upon you. Even so long after your death, by Our moon's light you will always be safe.”
A few seconds later Ink Well was brought through Celestia's golden barrier, gently placed upon the floor before the royal blue surrounding him dissipated. With his safe landing came a wave of relief, washing through everypony in the room and easing the tension that had filled the air.
However, one pony stood unchanged by the welcome turn of events, staring at the twisted remains of The Master's machine with a dark look on his face. He knew that presence, instantly recognizable, impossible to forget, and he could remember what it had felt like when it had died. That was not what he could feel now. No, The Master was still out there, somewhere... a chill ran through his heart. Such a blight on the universe would have to be taken care of immediately. He couldn't just-
“Doctor?” Derpy walked carefully up next to The Doctor, worry apparent, even though she was putting on a happy face. She could feel his anxiety, and even the safe rescue of Ink Well could do little to lessen the impact of The Doctor's worries. “Ink Well is alright, though Luna is personally tending to the wound in his chest, and the brass ponies seem to have shut down.”
The Doctor shook his head, forcing a smile and talking animatedly. “Did they now? Fantastic! That's one less trouble for the universe to deal with, always a good day. And nopony died! A red letter day indeed.”
Derpy watched him as he talked, his little glances towards the machine and the way he held himself reading like a book to her crossed eyes. “You don't think that's the last of him, do you?”
The Doctor stood for a moment more with his smile still plastered on, trying to keep up the act before dropping it all with a sigh. “No. The Master is tough. He's come back from far worse than a little explosion like that. I don't even think his meddling in the affairs of time will end, and look at all the damage it's already caused. He changed something in Ink Well today, made that pony be completely set in his ways, closing off half of the possible time lines. While it says wonders for the good of Equestria, think of the strain he's placed on poor Ink Well! I can't imagine a life like that...”
Derpy smiled, stifling a giggle as she watched The Doctor bluster. You put up a big front, acting all cool and collected, always the ageless, weary stallion trying to save everypony, but beneath it all you're just a big softie. Holding back another laugh from her thought, she looked over at Ink Well, bathed in the glow of Luna's magic and looking much better with the metal removed from his chest. “You know, I don't think that's actually such a bad thing. Looking back, I can't see Ink Well being anything but himself. Thinking of him ever not helping somepony just feels... wrong.” She walked over to The Doctor, giving him a sly smile. “Kind of like somepony else I know.”
The Doctor wasn't looking her way, leaving her smile to fade as he was distracted once more by the remains of the machine before him. His face grew dark once more. “The way he talked worries me. He seems to have more memories of me than I do of him...” He took a few steps towards the machine, hoof reaching for the spot on his collar where he kept his sonic, when he stopped, shaking his head. “No. Not now. Those are spoilers, and I will have nothing to do with them.”
Derpy held out the sonic screwdriver, grinning as The Doctor took it. She then looked over at the machine, one thought sticking in her mind and eating at her joy. “Say, Doctor, where do you think he ended up?”
The Doctor looked at the machine once more. “I don't know.” He turned to her, smiling a genuine smile as he did. “We'll just have to keep a lookout for him in future, won't we Derpy?”
She smiled back, nodding brightly. “Yup! And next time, we'll be ready.”
“Yes we will.” With that the pair walked from the machine, meeting with the others to take care of The Master's aftermath.
The Master struggled along the cobblestone alleyway, pain erupting in his forehead as he removed the shard of his invention from it. That meddlesome Doctor and his companions, throwing themselves away to save him. I hope every one of them- “Aargh!” burns!
The Master fell to the ground, feeling blood run down his face, only to be swept away by a familiar sensation. Like growth happening extremely quickly, or weeks of healing passing by in a few seconds, he felt the energy of regeneration taking root, and he wanted nothing of it. No! I will not lose my life so easily to him! He felt the glow begin to take over him, touching his fur all the way up and down his body. I will not leave yet. There is too much left for this body to do! I can't replace it with another already! The Master raised himself from the ground, growling with the effort as he fought the regeneration process. “This isn't over. This is not the last time he will encounter The Master.” Slowly he felt his determination winning out, the sensation of growth receding slowly from his body, instead coalescing on his forehead, right where the cut had been. “I will defeat him as I am, and he will pay for defying me!” Slowly the glow extended, reaching from his head in a thin cone. “I am The Master! I will not be ignored!” With one final burst the glow disappeared, the regeneration ending early. In it's place, upon his forehead, there was a blue horn, a gentle spiral running from tip to where it connected with his skull.
The Master ignored the new growth past registering its existence, shedding what remained of his tuxedo jacket and shirt, their tatters falling to the side in the Canterlot alley. Out of it stumbled a blue unicorn in a red bow tie, with a blonde mane, an hourglass cutiemark, and vengance on his mind. Barely paying attention to the streets beneath him, he stormed away from his arrival point, mind much more focused on the plots he was devising. So one plan failed. There are a million more to be had. And now, with this... thing on my head, I have access to so much more. Magic, I believe they keep referring to it as. Pff! Magic, as if something like that could- His train of thought was cut off as he ran into a passerby, and he rounded on it, ready to strike.
“Are you alright, mister?” His pupils dilated at what he saw. Before him was a young pegasus mare, with blonde hair tied back in a ponytail, grey fur, bright yellow eyes, and bubbles on her flank. She looked at him curiously, concerned by his appearance and stumbling instead of angry that he'd run into her. “You don't look to well. Do you need a doctor?”
The Master felt ice run through his veins. It's her! She knows! I have just barely arrived, and already she- He calmed himself, letting his hearts return to beating as he studied her expression. No, she doesn't suspect a thing. She's just offering help. No need to be paranoid yet. “No, I'm alright. Just a little woozy. I don't think a doctor will help much, it was a Doctor that did it to me in the first place. Miss?”
The blonde mare looked confused for a moment, before recognizing the question tacked onto the end. She smiled and held out a hoof in greeting. “Ditzy Doo.”
The Master shook it, smiling politely, though inwardly he still raged. “Miss Ditzy.” Here she is, young, unaware, completely trusting of a perfect stranger. She will have to learn her lesson.
Ditzy's smile fell quickly, again replaced with concern. “Are you sure you are alright? I bumped into you fairly hard... Is there any way I can make up for it?”
The Master simply shook his head. “Oh, no, not at all.” You can make it up to me with your blood, interloper. If I had my way, I would destroy you for daring to help him. A cruel smile flashed across his face, replaced instantly by a much friendlier one. No, don't destroy. Use. “Well, there is one thing I can think of...” Ditzy tilted her head, curious at to what he could have to say. He glanced up at the sky, noting the position of the sun. “If you would give me the pleasure of your company at lunch, I think I may be able to look past our surprise meeting.”
Ditzy blushed, shaking her head politely. “Oh! But we just met! I couldn't possibly. Especially not after I just ran into you. It wouldn't be fair at all, Mr... Oh, I don't even know your name.”
The Master looked downtrodden. “Oh, alright. If that's the game you're going to play. Get a guy's hopes up and then bring them crashing down. I see how it is.” He turned around and slowly plodded away.
Ditzy's blush only intensified, now embarrassed for what she'd done to him. “Oh, no, I didn't mean...” She bit her lip, trotting nervously in place for a moment as she considered the options. She then ran around him, stopping him in his tracks. “Okay, we can do lunch, Mr...?”
The Master smiled, his outward expression much more joyous than the feeling he had beneath. “Master. Please, Ditzy, call me The Master.” He held out an arm, offering her to take it. “Shall we?”
“Alright, Master.” She placed her arm through his, and together they walked off, looking for a place to eat.
As they walked, The Master looked over to his new companion, holding back a laugh that was threatening to break free. Instead he merely smiled. Ditzy, you are a tool I shall enjoy breaking.
The shuddering and the ethereal groaning of the TaRDiS stopped, the entire machine silent as it came to a landing in Manehattan. Both Princesses had been returned to their proper places mere moments after they had been taken, though not before Luna finished using her magic to heal Ink Well. He'd be fine, though he was still weary, right down to his muscles, but that was something only a few days of good sleep would cure. He would get that soon enough, but at the moment he stood at the door of the TaRDiS, breathing in the city air with more than a hint of wonder. “So, it's still the opening, right? I'm back, like nothing happened?”
The Doctor just smiled at him. “Yes indeed. We're currently two blocks away from Trottington Grand, right when you left your seat. If you hurry, you might even catch the rest of the finale.”
“Fantastic...” Ink Well looked down the street, just taking it all in. I'm back, and I didn't miss a thing... But then a thought struck him, and he looked towards The Doctor, a sly smile on his face. “Wait? We're before I left? What if I run into myself and, say, warn myself not to follow you?”
The Doctor returned the grin, though there was a hint of seriousness to his voice. “It would cause a paradox and kill everypony here.” Ink Well looked shocked by the answer, which only caused The Doctor's grin to grow. “But I doubt you'd do that. I think you've had enough messing with time for the day.”
Ink Well nodded, taking a step outside the door. “Yeah, I'm done with it for quite a while, if you don't mind. I think I like my time linear.”
Ditzy shrugged. “I used to think like that too. Traveling with The Doctor is not for everypony.”
The Doctor looked at her, slightly offended. “Oh, come now. You like it.”
She smiled at him, bumping him playfully. “You bet I do.”
Ink Well watched their interplay, smiling, yet managing to look slightly forlorn. “So... I guess this is it, then.”
The Doctor's smile lost some of its edge, but it stayed genuine. “For now. But I'm sure we'll meet again someday.”
Ditzy nodded. “Yeah, probably real soon. There's a lot of fun stuff coming up.”
Ink Well chuckled. “Sure there is, and I'll get to it on the slow path. It has been a pleasure traveling with you, and, if it ever strikes your fancy, stop by anytime for a conversation. You've got quite the interesting lifestyle there, and I want to hear all about it. Though feel free to take a little while before visiting, alright?”
The Doctor nodded. “Alright. I must admit, It's been fun having you around, and if need be, I'd be more than willing to do it again.” He then gave a sidelong glance at Ditzy, who returned it with her own. She then nodded, prompting The Doctor to continue. “Who knows, we may even take you up on that offer for conversation, if we can find the time.”
The three all laughed at the joke, and when it had died, Ink Well felt the time was right. He bowed to the two ponies within the box. “Farewell! And have a safe flight.”
They both bowed back. “Enjoy your show Ink Well,” said The Doctor. Then the door swung shut, the beautiful blue wood of the TaRDiS exterior sealed with Ink Well outside. He looked at it for a moment thoughtfully, the smirked, shook his head, and started to walk away.
Just as he did, the wonderful noise sounded. It was one he'd only heard from inside the machine, and yet it was something that burned into the soul, a sound he would carry in his memory for a lifetime. He spun around, watching the light on top of the box glow and fade, getting dimmer each time, and with it, the box becoming less solid. For a moment he watched in awe, the he waved at the box as it slowly ceased to be. It wavered a few more times, its call getting quieter with each one, and then it was gone, just a whisper of a breeze and the distant echo of its song claiming it was ever there.
He stood for a while, just looking at where the TaRDiS had disappeared from, until an urgent thought pushed its way to the forefront of his mind. Enough about that! You've got a show to get to! Immediately he turned tail, running down the street. He could see the flashing lights of the theater, and could even make out a small crowd still trying to get inside. Wow, it's this popular at opening?Is it really that good? I don't think-
“Why hello there, Mr. Big Time Writer. What are you doing outside?” Ink Well was stopped in his tracks at the voice, turning to the street to see Shoeshine sitting on her carriage, a charming smile on her face even as she looked at him like he was full blown insane. He hopped down from the driver's seat, circling him with a playful air. “What, did you get tired of the fame and glory? And what happened to your tux?”
For the first time Ink Well noticed the state of his clothes. The jacket was threadbare, with rips and tears all over, culminating in the burning across the front, causing it to be held together by one flimsy button. Beneath it the white undershirt was clearly visible, with little burn and scorch marks across it as well, and with a large red blotch in the center of his chest. Somewhere he had lost his bow tie, and since he'd left his hat in the box, well... He looked a mess. Too tired to try to explain what had happened, he just gave her a weary smile. “A lot has happened tonight, not all of it pleasant.”
Shoeshine smirked back. “I guess not. Apparently Bridleway shows are rough.”
Ink Well just waved the comment away, noting as he did that the carriage was sitting empty, not hooked up to anypony. “Where are the others? Were you just sitting out here alone?”
Shoeshine nodded. “Yeah. Somepony had to keep an eye on the cart, and I figured I'd let the boys get the time off.” She then looked over to the theater entrance, her voice taking on a dreamy quality. “Besides, this close to the theater, I can almost hear the music. It's almost like I'm there.”
Ink Well looked over at the theater, then back to Shoeshine, a frown forming on his face. She should've been allowed in. She'd wanted to be there more than he did when they arrived. It wasn't right that she couldn't go in. He pondered that thought for a moment, and as he did, he stuck his hoof into his jacket pocket, pulling out his notebook. Well, maybe I can at least give her an interesting tale or something to keep her occupied. “Hey, Shoeshine, I know it's not much, but I think...” Ink Well flipped open the front cover of the notebook, about to move onto a story when something caught his eye. His frown immediately broke into a smile as he continued his sentence. “...I might be able to get you in.”
Shoeshine dropped her dreaming, looking at him hopefully. “What? Really? You could do that?”
Ink Well held up his hooves, trying to calm her down. “I might be able to. I'm not sure how high we can get our hopes, but, in the confusion of my arrival, they missed one very important detail.” He pulled out what he had seen, two tickets to the premiere of Night's Wrath “They never took my ticket.”
Shoeshine gasped in excitement, grabbing the ticket in her hoof and pulling him into a big hug. “Oh my goodness! I can't believe I can actually go inside to see the show!”
Sorely, Ink Well pried her off of him, again calming her down. “Hold on there. I don't know how well the bouncer will take to this. He might not be too keen on letting either of us in. Let me do the talking.” Seeing the disbelieving look he was getting from Shoeshine, he returned it with a serious one. “Hey, I wrote the play. Even looking like this, that has to go for something. And when I was a journalist I got into a lot nicer than this without a ticket.” He turned around, aiming for the door. “This should be a cakewalk.”
Ink Well set off down the road, Shoeshine in tow, until they came to the small crowd around the door. There were about two dozen ponies in various attire standing behind velvet ropes, all wanting to get a glimpse of the theater within. Ink Well just pushed past them all, stepping under the velvet rope and walking to the door as though he owned the place, immediately catching the bouncer's attention. “Excuse me, what do you think you're doing?”
Ink Well pulled himself up to full height, a good head shorter than the burly stallion at the door, but looked him in the eye anyway. “I am here to attend the opening of my show. Now let me through.”
The bouncer was unimpressed. “Look, even if that were true, and it's not, it isn't going to happen, pal. Get back behind the rope. And while you're at it, find a tailor. You're messing up the place.”
Ink Well huffed, turning around and stomping, seemingly flustered. As he did, he signaled Shoeshine over. “Oh! You don't believe me? I've got my ticket right here, as does my plus one!” He waved the ticket in the bouncer's face, making sure he saw that it was the genuine article.
The bouncer's eyebrow raised, but he still managed to show no emotion. “Sorry bud, ticket or not, I-”
It was then that Shoeshine walked up, looking worried and on the verge of tears. “Ink Well, honey, is something the matter? Are they not going to let us in?”
Ink Well was taken back by her little bit of ad libbing, but ran with it. It made for a much more convincing story. “No, he doesn't think I'm actually Ink Well. I guess the cutie mark, the mane, the fur, and the tickets just don't cut it anymore!”
The bouncer was much less certain than he had been, but still held to the line he'd been told. “You can't be Ink Well. Ink Well came in with his plus one right before the show started, and-”
Ink Well raged, having far more fun acting the part than he should have. “WHAT?! You let another pony into the theater under my name? Did you even THINK to check for a ticket, ask for identification, anything? I can't believe you'd do such a thing!”
“I wasn't the one on duty when it happened, so-”
Shoeshine's voice grew weepy, as though it were on the verge of crying. “After that horrible carriage accident and walking all the way here, running just to make the opening... I knew we were late, but this is just... just...” She sat down, looking on the edge of a breakdown.
Ink Well walked over to her, patting her on the back. “There there, darling. It will be alright.” He turned on the bouncer, giving him an evil glare. “Look at what you did! How could you do this to her?”
The bouncer took a few nervous steps back, clearly on the back foot. A rowdy crowd was one thing, but a weeping mare wasn't in his job description. “I-I didn't mean to-”
That was the time to strike. “You know what? If you still don't think we're who we are, get Marquee out here. Right now! She'll recognize me, and then we'll see who's in the wrong.” Ink Well bluffed, playing the strongest card he had. He knew that if Marquee came out, he'd get back in, but Shoeshine definitely wouldn't. He just had to hope the bouncer wouldn't call it.
The bouncer looked between the pair of ponies before him and the crowd around him, all of them scowling as he beat up on this poor pair of ponies. He even made one of them cry! Trying to save face, he gave in. “Alright, alright, I'll take your tickets and you can go in. Just, please, stop making a scene.”
Ink Well and Shoeshine both gave him the tickets, Ink Well walking through in a huff, a barely consolable Shoeshine under his wing. As the doors closed and they entered the front of the house to the thunderous music of the finale, both of them looked around. When they were sure they weren't being watched, in unison they burst out laughing, almost rolling on the floor and hardly able to breathe. When they finally calmed down, Shoeshine was the first to speak. “That was amazing! Did you see the look on his face?”
Ink Well wiped a tear from his eye. “Oh, geez, I thought I was going to lose it when you called me honey. The crying was a nice touch. And the carriage crash? How'd you think that one up?”
Shoeshine smiled brightly at him. “Something had to explain your outfit. I'm just glad he didn't take a good look at mine.” She took a step back, giving Ink Well an odd look. “How did you do that so convincingly? Are you an actor?”
Ink Well gave her one right back. “I'd almost have to ask you the same thing. But no. My dad was, and he gave me lessens before I moved out. Best thing I ever learned, after writing, of course. How about you?”
Shoeshine waved the thought away. “Oh, I always dreamed, but I just can't get an agent in this town. Had to do something to keep myself afloat.”
“Hey, after that performance, I'm surprised you aren't on stage now.” He turned to the main doors to the house, listening as the finale crescendoed towards the end. “Speaking of which, if you want a seat, I think there were a couple in back at ground level. You'd better hurry in.”
Shoeshine jumped in place, as though she'd just remembered something important. “Oh! Right!” She started to run towards the doors, but stopped, turning back to Ink Well and bowing her head gratefully. “Hey, Ink Well. Thank you so much for this. I don't know how I'll ever repay you.”
“Don't worry about it. You just enjoy yourself.” He then motioned for her to go, watching her run inside with a smile. After a few moments, he caught himself. “You better head back too. Don't want to be seen like this-” The final chord of the finale hit, followed by thunderous applause. Ink Well sighed, defeated by his own timing. “-when intermission starts.”
Not a second later the house flooded open, hundreds of elegantly dressed ponies pouring from every door, leaving Ink Well slightly stuck for what to do. It was far too late to hide, and even now he was already starting to gather a crowd of curious and slightly disgusted onlookers, wondering what he could possibly be doing looking like that. Under all of the stares and murmurs his mind shut down, causing him to do little more than wave and smile weakly at the ponies around him. “Um... hi...”
Luckily, he was saved moments later by an angel, a vision in ivy green, who ran to his side, shielding him from the view of most of the ponies around them. “Are you alright? What happened to you? One minute you're in the box waiting, and the next you look like you've been hit by lightning!” Ink Well looked at Rose's face, made up beautifully with so little done to it, her deep eyes, shining at him with a worry born of love, and it was all he could do not to start crying. It was, by far, the most stunning sight he'd seen, surpassing space, the alien planet, the crystal tree, her wings... all of it. Fighting to keep the tears at bay, he threw his forehooves around her, nuzzling into her mane. She was surprised by the gesture, though she returned it warmly, wrapping her own hoof around him. “Inky?”
He pulled his face from her mane, but kept her close, whispering into her ear. “I've never been better, Rose.” He kissed her lightly on the cheek, wanting to do more, but once more wary of the eyes on him. “I missed you so much...”
Rose pulled away slightly, looking at him, confused by his words. “Where did you go?”
Before he could even hope to begin, the moment was broken by a jade green bouffant that burst its way between the couple. “Ink Well! What in the hay do you think you're doing? Standing out here looking like you just came through Tartarus, having fun with your little lovebird right in front of everypony. What was all of that you said earlier about not making a scene?” Marquee actually pushed Ink Well and Rose apart, much to Ink Well's dismay, before stepping right in front of him, her gaudy lime eyeshadow inches from his face. “I don't know how they do things in Ponyville, mister, but we have class out here in Manehattan. Why, if you do just one more thing like this, I personally swear that you will never work in this town again, you hear me? I mean, really, how could you think that-”
“Marquee, shut up.” The entire room fell silent, even those far in the back who could not possibly have heard Rose's outburst. But most shocked of all was Marquee, stuck mid-thought with her mouth half open. “Ink Well had obviously just been through something rough, and the first thing you do is badger him?” Rose took a position between Ink Well and Marquee, backing her up into the crowd around them. “This is the opening of his show, a wonderful evening for him to enjoy how he wanted, and all you've done is made him uncomfortable.” Marquee was about to say something, and Rose just cut her off. “No, not literally. All of this attention, the fancy train car, the high class carriage, the fancy suite at the hotel, it's all brilliant, and all much more than Ink Well ever wanted.
I know he asked for you to minimize it all, I was there when he wrote some of the letters, and I don't appreciate that you didn't listen.” Rose stopped when Marquee bumped into a pony in the front row of onlookers, choosing to lean over the trapped silver unicorn. “Now, Ink Well is going to fully enjoy this evening, and you nor anypony else is going to stop him, got it?” Marquee was trying to occupy a space far too small for her, and her dress and tail were getting crushed as she tried to make herself even smaller. At the end of Rose's rant, Marquee held up her hoof timidly. “What?”
In a tiny voice, Marquee asked, “Will he still make the after show speech?”
Rose looked over at Ink Well, who pulled himself out of his own shock long enough to nod. Rose then turned back to Marquee. “Yes, he'll still do the speech.”
Marquee's voice remained tiny. “Okay. That's all I wanted. Thank you.”
Rose smiled. “Of course.” With that she turned back to Ink Well, flicking her hair once to fix an errant strand and causing it to set immaculately back on her head. “Inky, you may want to head over to the bathroom and wash up. And don't let Rarity see what happened to the suit she made. I think she might-” An airy gasp came from the crowd, followed by a thump. Rose sighed. “-faint.” She turned around, seeing that the crowd's attention had moved from them to the flustered pony in the back, and nudged him on his way. “Now's your best chance. I'll see what I can do to calm them down.”
Before he could say anything to her she had waded back into the crowd, trying to disperse them and set them mingling again as she made her way over to Rarity. Ink Well, on the other hoof, walked into the bathroom, glad to see it completely empty despite the fact that it was intermission. He must have really been quite the scene...
He shook his head, walking over to the mirror and looking at himself properly. Immediately frightened by what he saw, he decided instead to list the damage. He had huge bags under his eyes, which were red from a lack of good sleep after far more time awake than he's have liked for one day, his mane was a mess, his wings needed a good preening, the jacket was a complete write off, practically falling off of his body, his fur was sticking out at odd angles, he had soot and dirt everywhere, most prominently on his cheek... combined with the scarring on his hooves from the fire, which normally were just a dark accent, but in his current state looked like the aftermath of an explosion, he wasn't going to win any beauty awards any time soon. Sighing, he took his notebook and pen from his pocket, then removed the jacket and shirt beneath, setting all of it aside.
He turned back to the mirror, and there he saw his last souvenir of the night, a permanent reminder of what had happened. In the center of his chest sat a large, thin scar right where the piece of metal had imbedded itself. Princess Luna had done her best to heal him, that much he knew, but she could do nothing about that, try as she might. And, really, he was okay with it. He would never forget anything that happened on the trip;The Doctor and Ditzy, the space flight, the way he was treated so kindly by all of those alicorns, the lunar pony, the changeling, the brass ponies... the book he apparently was going to write, that list of titles The Master said were some day going to be his, like he was some vastly important pony...
The sight of Equestria, spinning in the dark, so small and so alone in this big universe, and the vow he made to protect it. All the times he had wished for Rose, and the time he helped her without her even knowing. The flower from the crystal tree she'd never get to see, and all the stories she'd never believe... It was all fresh in his mind now, but some day it would fade. Go fuzzy at the edges. End up a legend like so many other tales in this world. Except, now he had a reminder every time he looked in a mirror. In a way, he was glad Luna's healing spell hadn't been completely successful. It was a key to a treasure chest of memories, one he could never, ever lose.
Looking in the mirror now, he winced, mostly at the dried blood mixing with the rest of his problems. He had to fix that, and fast. How long had he even spent reminiscing, there? No matter. He turned on the water faucet, splashing some over his face and mane before gently washing off the dirt and blood and working out the odder spots. He preened, he primped, the entire time glad that he seemed to be alone in the bathroom, nopony entering at all. He didn't even want to think what one of them would do catching him cleaning up in a public restroom. It would probably be some huge scandal or something.
Letting that thought go, he splashed water on his face once more, waking himself up for the second half of the show. That complete, he reached for his tattered jacket, ready to make the best of it, when he noticed something wrong. His ripped jacket had been replaced with its match, brand new, like it had been that morning. Sitting next to it was his notebook and pen where he left them, but on top of his notebook were two new objects: a note and a crystal rose, gleaming in the light. Ink Well picked up the crystal rose carefully, wondering where it could have come from, before reading the note for answers.
'I saw the state of your clothes when you left, and that didn't seem the right look for an opening, so I got you a replacement. It should be fine so long as you don't let it come in contact with your old coat, but just to be safe, I took that with me. Also, I seem to recall you finding this flower nice. Maybe you could stick it in your lapel, or maybe you have something else in mind. Either way, enjoy your night. You earned it. -The Doctor'
Just as he finished the note, the bathroom door opened and shut, causing him to start and drop the note. He spun around, but there was nopony there. Whoever it was had just exited, not entered... but there'd been nopony in there... Confused, he reached for the note again, which sat upside down on the ground. He picked it up, flipping it over to find something strange on the other side. The wording had changed, even the writing different.
'Oh, and just a little something for a good friend, you should hold onto this piece of paper. It's a bit psychic, and can get you out of a real bind. You would not believe the pleading I had to do to get The Doctor to do this, so make good use of it, alright? I'll see you soon! -Ditzy Doo.'
Ink Well read the note twice more, sure he had to be reading it wrong. When the wording didn't change, he just shook his head, slowly. “No...” He smiled. “He didn't...” He flipped it over again, finding something new on the back.
'P.S: Yes, this paper really is psychic. Derpy trusts you, so don't abuse it. -Dr.
P.P.S: Go get her Ink Well! -D.D.'
Grinning ear to ear, Ink Well put on his new jacket, marveling that it fit perfectly, just like the old one. He then folded the psychic paper and put it in his notebook, then pocketed everything, including the crystal flower, though he kept that separate and was as gentle as could be with it. He had something special in mind for that, and wouldn't lose a second chance to clumsiness.
Ready to face the public once more, Ink Well made his way out of the bathroom to find the public rather relaxed. Everypony in the room was abuzz about the show, and were having a wonderful time, even with the drama that started intermission. Smiling, Ink Well walked amongst them, greeting and being polite. After a minute or so of that, the lights in the the room flickered, signaling everypony back to their seats for act two.
Ink Well looked around awkwardly, not really wanting to set off for the viewing box alone. As he searched the moving crowd, a voice came up behind him. “Hey, Inky, you look fabulous! But you forgot one thing.” He turned around, just in time to have his top hat placed upon his head, set in place perfectly by Rose. She then took a step back, smiling at him. “You look quite dashing, Ink Well.”
He smiled back. “And you still look stunning, Rose.” He offered her his arm. “Shall we?”
She accepted, slipping her arm through his. “We shall.” As they walked up the stairs behind the other stragglers to return, Rose turned to look at him, curiosity in her eyes. “Say, where did you get a new jacket? I thought Rarity only made the one.”
Ink Well nodded. “She did. This one was a gift.”
Rose's curiosity just grew. “A gift huh? From who?”
Ink Well shook his head. “I'll tell you, but not right now. It's a long story, and it would only clash with the one on stage.” He walked up to the curtain, opening it for his mare. “And, like you said, it's the show's opening. I think it deserves your attention right now.”
Rose rolled her eyes, walking into the viewing box. “Oh, alright. But don't think you've gotten out of answering.”
Ink Well shook his head. “I wouldn't dream of it.”
In the house the lights dimmed, the music from the orchestra beginning sharply and demanding the attention of all in the building. And it had it, except for one pony. He would enjoy the show, but for the entr' acte, he just nuzzled up against his Rose, happy beyond belief to finally be home.