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Derpy flew to Town Hall along with all the other weather pegasi celebrating the dousing of the flames. Spotting the Doctor, she landed next to him, setting down gently at his side. “Hello there, Derpy! How was your time?” He gave her a smile when he saw her, but his mind was working busily, and it quickly became a frown.
Derpy returned his smile, though hers dissipated with her words. “Oh, it was alright, but I was barely able to stop anything. I caught one Enforcer in the act, but a whole bunch of them were taking ponies out when nopony was nearby.”
The Doctor nodded, still focused on something. Near the front of the crowd a minor rumbling was occurring as a pony ran up to Twilight Sparkle, but neither of them paid it any mind. “I had a very similar problem, though I did manage to stop a few by running off on my own. While out and about I noticed something odd. I could have sworn I saw you here, Derpy. And it wasn't that one pony that looks a lot like you, it was you tip to tail.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “I thought you said you hadn't been around.”
Derpy shrugged, just as confused as he was. “I don't remember being here, and you'd think I'd remember something like this. But I might have forgotten...” This had been a full year and a half before she met The Doctor, and she'd been a very different pony then. But forgetting this was far past the fog she'd kept herself in... And she seemed to remember news of this reaching her in Manehattan, not Ponyville...
She just shrugged again. “I don't know what to say.” Looking over at him, the furrow to his brow was starting to weigh on her. Normally anything that kept him from smiling this long had much more impact than a fire or a battle. “Something you want to talk about?”
He looked at her as though distracted. “No, just... Something doesn't feel right about this situation. It's like-”
“Hi Doctor!” Pinkie Pie popped up between Derpy and The Doctor, placing a hoof over both of their shoulders. Derpy's heart gave a start when she popped up, but it quickly settled into an amused smile. Pinkie always somehow knew all about The Doctor, even when he was confused with his own timeline. This was just her being her. “There you are! What brings you back to Ponyville? Normally you show up only for the BIG stuff, like Winter Wrap Up, or that party last month. Does that mean this day's gonna be big? Because my knee has been pinchy all day, and it's really making bouncing tricky.”
The Doctor smiled, throwing his own hoof over her shoulder as a metallic clinking rang through the air. “Hello Pinkie! The TaRDiS was just acting up again. Since we were here, we thought we'd help.”
“Couldn't be a better time! It looks like something important is happening.” She pointed to the front of the Town Hall, where the highly bandaged Ink Well was starting his speech.
The Doctor ignored it, appraising Pinkie with a raised eyebrow. “How did you find us, Pinkie? Your Pinkie Sense give me away again?”
Pinkie shook her head. “Nope! Ink Well told me you were in town! When did you start traveling with more than one companion, huh? I thought you only had the one! Did you start changing rules on me?”
The Doctor's face went rigid. “Ink Well told you? Was this a while ago, before the chains were starting?”
Pinkie jumped up, shaking her head. “Nope! It was just a moment ago! He said something about settling a score and then flew off towards Rosewater. I asked him about the game he was playing, but he just– Hey!” Pinkie was tossed aside as The Doctor sprinted down the road, Derpy taking wing to follow, though taking a moment to offer Pinkie an apologetic smile. Pinkie just crossed her front hooves, turning back to the Town Hall and sticking her nose in the air right as Ink Well finished his speech. “Hmph. Why's everypony being so rude today?”
Derpy landed in a full sprint beside The Doctor. “So why are we running? Ink Well obviously didn't do anything bad. The reapers haven't shown back up.”
“No, but something has changed about this moment in time, and who do you think is at the epicenter?” Derpy just nodded, following The Doctor's quick pace as they headed for the perfumery.
The cold floor felt wonderful against Ink Well's fur, the shocked muscled throughout his body unwinding at the chilly touch. Yet, the very fact that there was cool, hard stone beneath his cheek, no matter how soothing, was enough to warrant panic from his mind. Without thinking he placed his forehooves beneath him, pushing himself up only to regret it a moment later as the dull ache throughout him erupted into a fiery tension. He let himself back down slowly, finding motion difficult, and instead let his eyes open slowly, taking account of his surroundings.
All alone? Check. Cold hard stone? Check. Small bare area of space? Check. Strong metal bars? Check, though brass. Classy. “Please tell me the opening just had a very wild after party,” he said to the room, hearing his words echo off of the far walls. When no response came, he sighed, watching the few particles of grey dust displaced by his breath swirl from the similarly colored slate beneath him. They passed through the bars of his jail, settling on the far side on what appeared to be an ancient, tattered red carpet with fraying gold trim.
Noticing the odd jailhouse amenity for the first time, Ink Well picked himself up again, dragging himself over to the bars to get a better look at his prison. The carpet ran from a large arched set of wooden double doors on one side of what seemed to be some sort of great hall, up a set of stairs, and right up to an empty throne, the golden gleam of which was a stark contrast to the decrepit state of the rest of the hall. Behind the throne were two doors, one in each of the side walls, each much smaller and less ornate than the double doors at the other end. Incredibly tall, cracked and aged walls hemmed in the narrow corridor, meeting high above in a peaked arch much like that on the doorway. Punctuating the wall behind the throne was a giant arched window of perfectly clear glass, set dead center and giving a view of a white-grey pockmarked wasteland, with deep craters abound and nothing in the way of plant or animal life to be seen. This landscape sat beneath a starry sky, incredibly dark and clear, through which familiar constellations could be made out even at a quick glance.
Wherever I am, it can't be too far from Equestria. Ink Well frowned, sitting down and reaching for his notebook to sketch the scene and write down his thoughts. As he did that, he let his mind wander, eventually voicing the issue bouncing around his skull. “The question still remains, where am I?”
“A fine question indeed, though I am afraid I do not hold the answer,” said a voice from his left, causing Ink Well to start and spin to face it. Beside him sat another cell, just a small enough space between to make them feel connected, though more than far enough to stop any interaction more substantial than speaking. However, when his eyes fell upon the cage's occupant, his fear was quelled immediately, though the shock still remained. The occupant looked at him with her purple eyes, a gentle smile forming on her white face. “Long time no see, Ink Well.”
Hurriedly Ink Well bowed his head in deference to the alicorn before him, asking his question while mid-supplication. “Princess Celestia? What are you doing here?”
“We had hoped you might be able to enlighten us on that matter, but you seem to be just as confused as we are.” Ink Well spun around at the new voice, still surprised, though his shock had left him enough to bow to the new voice's owner much more rapidly. She giggled at that, waving away the gesture with one of her indigo hooves. “Oh, Ink Well, you need not bow to us. We thought that habit would have left you by now.” Her teal eyes twinkled with curiosity as she watched him stand. “You are looking much better than when we last saw you.” Before he could even begin to think of a response, the alicorn shrugged, continuing her thought. “Granted, 'twas your funeral. You looked so old in the casket. Age does not wear well on some ponies.”
Ink Well looked taken aback, a flood of questions pouring into his head. What does that-? Did she-? Wait, was I just insulted by Princess Luna? Unable to pick an appropriate response, he let his mouth run on its own. “I'm sorry?”
Celestia shot her sister a glare. “Selene! Manners! Was it not you who instated the rule against talking about age?” She looked at Ink Well, rolling her eyes knowingly. “I am very sorry Ink Well. She never did relearn proper etiquette. Five thousand years and she still uses the royal 'we.'”
“'We' will have you know that the citizens of the New Lunar Republic actually encouraged us to speak this way. They said it was a wonderful quirk to have a ruler so forward thinking that spoke in an 'archaic' tongue and were, in fact, crushed when we tried to change it.” With this said Luna turned her back to her sister, sticking out her tongue playfully.
Celestia frowned at the display. “See? No manners at all. It's a wonder the Republic ever crowned you.”
“We all know we were a fine ruler. Right, Inky?” Luna turned an expectant gaze at him, only to have it returned with a look of confusion. After an awkward pause doubt started to creep into her look. “Ink Well?”
Ink Well stammered for a moment, trying to get his brain to terms with what was going on. The princesses were looking at him expectantly, and while Celestia looked exactly the same as always, Luna had changed over the years, mostly in outfit. In place of the dark blue crown that used to reside upon her head there was a silver circlet, not overly decorated, but still intricate, with much care going into the design, which culminated in two sapphires that sat on either side of her horn. Around her neck ran a silver necklace, much like the circlet in its careful yet simply design, with the New Lunar Republic crest set in the center of it. But there was more than that, there was a confidence that she hadn't shown in any of her public appearances since her return; a way she held herself and an air around her that spoke volumes of her time as a leader, as well as a familiarity Ink Well just couldn't return. These were The Princesses, the near-goddess Equestrian royalty, and he was just one writer that had met them once. What could he say to them?
As Ink Well stammered, Celestia looked him over, particularly his outfit. It only took a moment for understanding to alight in her mind. “Ink Well, how long have you been traveling with The Doctor? Before being brought here, of course.”
Ink Well jumped on the save, not even surprised the princess had caught onto it. “I-It's been just a few hours, I think. Though it's feeling longer every minute, highness.”
Celestia nodded sagely. “I'm sure it is. Time has a way of wearing out its welcome much too soon. I can imagine you'd like to return and stop all of these strange happenings, yes?”
Ink Well shrugged, starting to get a little more comfortable now that he was in known territory, even if it was talking about himself to a princess. “It's starting to become quite the wish, your highness.”
Celestia smiled at his response. “Please, call me Tia. There's no need for formalities.”
Ink Well looked struck by the suggestion. “Are you sure about that, highness? I don't think I'm fully comfortable-”
Celestia held up a hoof, calming him with a simple gesture. “Please don't worry about it at all, Ink Well. I don't wish to see you tense right now.”
Nervously, he acquiesced. “Alright, uh, Tia.”
Her smile returned. “Thank you. Now, this may sound odd, but how well do you know me?”
Ink Well stalled a moment, fearing a wrong answer may have repercussions, when Luna cut him off. “Sister, what is this line of questioning? Your speech is formal and your tone of voice suggests you talk to a loyal supplicant! Has your view of him so soured in all of these years, or is it not your friend you speak to now?”
Tia looked to her sister calmly, raising an eyebrow at her. “Is it, Luna? Look at him. His youth, his confusion, his nervousness; is this the Ink Well you remember?”
Luna seemed to look at him more closely, a hint of doubt entering her voice. “What are you saying?”
“Take a good, close look at him, Sister. Particularly his outfit. Does it not remind you of something? A certain night, perhaps?”
Luna began to scrutinize Ink Well, taking in every detail as well as she could. An instant later, recognition reared its ugly head and her vision grew sad and cold. “This is the outfit from the opening of Night's Wrath, is it not?” Ink Well nodded. Tears edged Luna's eyes before she could turn away, and she was silent for quite a long pause. Eventually she spoke again, hurt seeping in her words. “Is this some sort of cruel joke?”
Celestia's calm broke, sadness touching her face as well. “Sister...”
Luna shook her head. “You aren't even he! Are our emotions but some plaything to be used and tossed aside? Does time itself feel we are to be punished for some galactic 'bad' we perpetrated?”
Ink Well shuffled nervously, feeling horrible to have brought up a bad memory. “Princess, I'm not some joke. I don't even-”
Luna spun on him, venom in her eyes and voice. “Do not speak to us!” Ink Well flinched at the sight, causing her to regret her action immediately. She turned away again, looking at her cell. “Just, remain quiet. We shall focus our efforts on trying to escape.” Her horn glowed a deep blue, which prodded and poked at the brass bars to little effect.
Ink Well looked over at her, fairly certain what he'd done wrong, when Celestia's voice brought his attention to her. “Do not mind my sister right now. You... remind her of a friend.”
He smirked at her. “I remind her of myself, right?”
The hesitance in her regal voice spoke volumes. “Oh, well...”
His smile dropped, face getting serious. “Don't bother trying to hide it, she practically said it outright. Nebula said it too when I ended up on her ship. Something about being the same 'after all these years.'” He turned to the side, muttering to himself. “Time stuff, it may be complicated, but in the end it's fairly straightforward. I'm not as clueless as I act. I notice things, pick up on the subtle hints. I would have never been a journalist if I didn't, even if it was just for the Equirer.” He shrugged, waving his own point away. “But that changes nothing. You are The Princesses, and I am just some writer. Why would the three of us be kidnapped and held together? How am I ever to measure up to you, no matter how much future is put before me?”
Celestia shook her head softly, chuckling to herself. “Nebula was right. You haven't changed at all. But it's not surprising, is it?” She nodded again. “We all knew you in the future, after you...” Celestia paused for a moment, and Ink Well picked up on it. She's hesitating. She thinks it's dangerous for me to know this. The Doctor did it too. More 'spoilers?' Before he could press further, she continued. “...did so much for a lot of ponies. You helped them immensely, caused them to see the error of their foolish actions, and in doing so earned their trust more than any pony since you left. You made such an impact on... everything. You...” She stopped, carefully picking her next words.
Ink Well raised an eyebrow. “I?”
Celestia looked away, still hesitant. “Well...”
“You carried the weight of the world on your shoulders.” Both turned to look at Luna, who still faced out to the empty room around them. “You took on all of the troubles of everypony as though they were your fault, and you were determined to set them right. You wouldn't take no for an answer, would help even when they dodged the question. You, with no input from anypony else, did amazing things. Truly wondrous acts. We cannot risk telling you because you are not yet... you, but there is one thing we want you to know. When you left... when you died... we-”
Celestia cut her off. “Luna, don't. You don't have to bring up such a topic now.”
Luna turned around, distraught from her own thoughts. “If not now then when, Tia? Is a later him suddenly going to arrive? I think not. This is our one chance.”
Celestia shook her head. “Luna, you heard The Doctor's thoughts on such a thing. You might change the past. Who knows what could happen?”
“We don't care, Tia!” Luna looked at her sister like she was heartless. “How can you not feel the same? You were also his friend, were you not? We know that for a long time Ink Well was our best friend, and we know he was close to you too. So why do you refuse to let him know?” Her eyes narrowed, a coldness behind them. “Is this why you refused to grieve? Our nation gave him a holiday in memorial, and yours held barely a moment of silence! To you he's just another pony standing before you, but to us-”
Celestia looked stung by Luna's words. “He is not 'just another pony.' Yes I miss him. Yes, he was my friend. But he was not the first, nor was he the last. We are immortal, sister, and while you have your tendency to remain aloof and distant like your own precious moon, I have been among them. I have been all of their friends, I trusted all of them, and one by one I have had to watch them all slip away. Even my students, even my most faithful student, there one day, then gone the next.” She sighed. “To grieve for one would make those for whom we didn't unworthy. It would make one pony superior to the others, one life weigh more than those around it, and that is wrong. All life is of equal value, even his.” She sat there for a moment, the weight of her eternity sitting heavy on her shoulders. “I may not feel the passage of time, but that does not mean it doesn't hurt me just as badly.”
The room was silent for a while, Celestia looking to the floor and Luna looking on her sadly, all of her anger gone from her face. “'Tia... we are sorry for our outburst. That was not what we meant at all. We just... while we had this chance...” Luna shook her head, letting the thoughts dies unsaid. “Time can be too cruel.”
Ink Well looked between the sisters, both now staring at their cold cell floors, sadness radiating off them. He hadn't fully caught everything being said there, but there was one thing that he was sure of. It's because of me. They were both imprisoned by those things looking for me, and now they're grieving over me for something I did in the past... or the future, or something. I just can't do anything right, can I? All I do is bring pain and misery wherever I go. He sat on the floor, completely out of ideas, and reached into his pockets. Maybe, if he took notes, he could do something useful.
As he did, he felt a shard of something poke his hoof, which he pulled out. It was plant green crystal, a perfectly square leaf with a large crack running diagonally down the center, all that remained of his gift for Rose. Delicately he turned it over, only for the top half to break away and shatter on the floor. That was the final straw. I want to be home. I want none of this to have happened. Not their pain, not an instant away from Rose, no spaceships or brass monsters or anything. I am one tiny little pony completely out of his depth, and I have no reason to garner his attention, that's been proven the entire trip. I didn't need it before, but I sure as sugar need it now. He looked at the flower, dejection filling every word. “Doctor, where are you?”
The Doctor ran up to the front of Rosewater just as thunder decided to roll over the town, a very light rain beginning to sprinkle around him. Immediately he took a deep breath, eyes focusing on the open window on the second story. “Derpy, fly up there and see if you can find him.”
Derpy looked at him, ready though slightly confused. “Sure thing, Doctor! But why can't we go in the front? I think the door is open, and it would be a lot easier.”
The Doctor shook his head firmly. “No. It is imperative that we do not interfere with anything that's happening. I'm not entirely sure what's happened, but it would be better not to test with things until we know where Ink Well is. Now hurry up before somepony comes.”
Derpy nodded, taking flight into the window. As soon as she landed inside, she turned to see The Doctor running into a nearby alleyway, hiding from Twilight Sparkle and the highly bandaged Ink Well that were running down the road. She made a point to duck from the window frame, confusion powering her mind. Why is The Doctor so worried? He's never worked so hard to be discrete in the past. Whatever it is, it must be important. His worry was infectious, creeping into her head, but she decided to work with it, using it to hurry the task at hoof.
Unfortunately, she didn't know what to look for. There were bandages and flowers scattered about every surface in the room, but none of it looked out of place or moved, making no obvious place to start looking. She walked slowly across the floor, peering around the dim room for anything that might be a clue when a loud thump came from below, startling Derpy and causing her to misstep, tumbling over the central dining table in the room and falling to the floor. As the crash devolved into sounds of struggle, Derpy came to her senses, her eyes falling on the exact clue she needed.
Right in the center of the floor, not far from the staircase down, was the remains of a crystal rose. The petals were cracked and broken, the stem snapped in two places and the pentagon base shattered beyond recognition, but it was unmistakable, a shining oddity in the room. Immediately she gathered them up in her hooves, hopping into the air and flying out to show them to The Doctor.
She was stopped at the window by a cautious hoof from The Doctor in his alleyway hiding place. She ducked down just in time to see a pony in a Royal Guard outfit flying from the building. As soon as he was gone, The Doctor waved for her and she flew over, landing next to him. “What happened? What was a guard doing here?”
“I don't think he was a guard.” The Doctor pointed to the door, which was now secured shut with a rope, before shrugging. “But that is part of today, and not something we are going to concern ourselves with. Did you find anything?”
Derpy nodded, holding out the flower's remains proudly. “Yup! I found this, I think it's from the tree on the ship. Ink Well must have been here.”
“Fantastic! That's a wonderful find Derpy! Give it here.” He took one of the petals from her, tapping it to his tongue. He recoiled back at the touch. “Whoa! That is seeped with temporal residue!” He brought it to his nose, sniffing cautiously, and grimaced. “Yes, matches the brass pony perfectly. They've definitely got him. Come Derpy, to the TaRDiS!”
The two of them took off at a sprint, heading straight to where the TaRDiS was waiting. As they ran, The Doctor's worry continued to radiate off of him, and Derpy couldn't help but voice her concern. “Doctor, why are we being so stealthy? You were fine with us making a presence when we first got here.”
“Yes Derpy, I was, but something's changed.” He shuddered as he ran, shaking from head to hoof. “Time just feels... solid right now.”
Derpy just looked confused. “Isn't that a good thing? It means it isn't in paradox, right?”
“Yes, but it's over-corrected. When we arrived it was very wobbly, in a state of almost constant flux. But now it's just...” He shook his head, as if unable to comprehend his own thoughts. “It's fixed.”
Derpy smiled at him. “That's good, right? It was broken before, wasn't it?”
“No Derpy, it wasn't broken, it was in flux, as most time is, but now it has become a solid point in time. The events here are now a fact when before they were just a possibility.” He turned into the alleyway, doubling his efforts to reach his blue box as he did.
Derpy followed him, having to fly to keep up. “So... is that bad? You've told me about fixed points before like they were just a fact of the time vortex.” She pushed open the door moments after him, but he was already at the main panel working away.
“Fixed points are normal. There are usually a few scattered throughout the time stream, but they don't just pop into existence. They have always been.” He tapped at the console, confused by what he saw. “No, they aren't fixed, they're just... focused. Half of the possibilities have been removed.”
“All the possibilities used to be here, but now...” He shook his head. “Everything Ink Well has done, all of the most important decisions, all of them have now become locked in the positive.”
Derpy frowned, puzzling over the implications. “So... he can't choose not to do something?”
“Not can't. Won't. He will always make the same decisions; will always reach the same conclusions; will always make sure to get to the same place and make the same choice no matter what happens to him. He no longer can take the other option.” He sighed, hating the thought. “Think of the lost possibilities! And I don't know if I can fix that.” He tapped a few buttons, watching the result on the display. “There is only one thing that could have been the cause. The brass ponies. We need to find their source.”
Derpy walked up to him, watching the display change with his actions. “Can't you just follow their trail? Find him that way?”
“No, we did that and ended up here. It's too muddled. It's from their design.” He pulled up a picture of one on the display, rotating it. “The sonic's readings were everywhere, picking up all sorts of technology levels. Magnetic tape, hextech, punch card, clockwork, nanomachines, biowiring... Its amazing the thing could run at all! And then there are sections that look like they are held together with bits of food and shoestrings. I have never seen-” His pupils narrowed, fear awakening in them and causing a matching panic in Derpy. “I have...”
“Doctor, what is it? What's wrong?”
He turned to her, speaking calmly, but with a voice that was ice cold and begging to be fearful. “I know who created the brass ponies.” He then turned to the display, face hardening in determination. “And I know exactly where to find him.”
The silence in the holding cells was broken by the entrance of a brass pony, the pegasus, which walked from the large doors at the end of the red carpet along the hallway. It looked into each of three cells, happiness at what it saw conveyed in the cold whirring of its gears before it continued on, around the throne and out one of the smaller doors in back. Ink Well watched it in its motions, a fire of anger sparking as he did, but he did not try anything with the beast. When it was gone, he turned around, glaring daggers at the wall behind him. “How could those things have captured me? I evaded them so well before.”
At the sound of his voice both princesses exited their saddened stupor, both giving him a quizzical look, though Luna was the one to speak. “You encountered them before and escaped?”
Ink Well gave a curt nod. “Yeah, twice. Wasn't much, just a whole lot of running. I've always been good at that.”
“A pony after The Doctor's own heart.” Luna looked impressed. “Well, you have us at an advantage. We were captured in our sleep. No time to struggle.”
Celestia sighed, leaning against the bars of her cell. “I was in my throne room, surrounded by guards, and it got me anyway. Magic did nothing to it, not even with three of us trying. Though now I know better than to rely purely on unicorns for personal guards.”
Ink Well raised an eyebrow at their accounts. “Really? They just stormed the castle for you two? After all the cloak and dagger they did around me, I'm surprised. Though some of that was probably tainted by the Enforcers.”
Celestia tilted her head at that. “The Enforcers were in league with the brass ponies?”
Ink Well shook his head. “Oh, no, the TaRDiS brought us back to The Battle of Ponyville. That's actually where I was captured, since I stopped bothering with them and was focused on Viper.”
“Ah, The Battle of Ponyville...” She nodded slowly. “Those were troubled times, though nopony knew it yet. You actually blew the lid off of all of it.”
He waved the thought away. “It was nothing any journalist worth his salt wouldn't do.”
Celestia shook her head, strengthening her point. “No, it wasn't nothing. Remember when I once told you that one pony in the right place could make all the difference in the world? Time and again you proved yourself to be that pony. I could not have fathomed how apt those words were when I stated them.”
Ink Well blushed, rubbing a hoof at his mane. “You flatter me, Princess. I'm not nearly as big as all of that.”
“Nay, Ink Well! You are far greater than you give yourself credit for.” Luna hesitated, thinking for a moment. “The only personal knowledge you have of us is the letters for your musical, yes?” Ink Well nodded. “When you asked for our half of that story, not just the tale of the elements, you did a great thing. We were in a dark place about the whole ordeal, still worried of the stain it carried on our name, and your show helped us see it in a new light. Even on that night we could not thank you enough for your work.”
Ink Well shied away from the praise, trying to almost hide from it. “It was just a story, nothing worth any praise.”
Luna smirked at him, though it faded as she continued to talk. “Don't be so quick to trivialize yourself, Ink Well. On that night, before seeing the play, we had contemplated attempting a takeover once more of the throne. We are ashamed of it now, so silly was the idea, but it was you who kept us in line, allowing for much more than anypony could have imagined to happen.”
Ink Well continued to wave her words away, though they were starting to hit home. “Nonsense. I'm just one little writer, what could I have done?”
Luna frowned at him, placing a hoof on her hip. “There you go again, deflecting complements and belittling yourself. You must work on your self esteem problems! You are truly amazing, even if it's just being the right pony in the right place at the right time, you have done so more than any other pony we are aware of.”
“Oh? Give me a few examples then.” Both sisters shied away from his gaze, causing his face to gain a grim smile. “I thought as much. You can't. You keep promising like I'm amazing, but I'm so unimportant you just avoid talking about my failures.”
A sharp baritone voice sounded from behind the throne at the end of the hall, dripping with smug satisfaction and charm. “That's where you're wrong, Ink Well.” From behind the throne stepped a blue earth pony with blonde hair, a greasy smile on his face. He was dressed sharply in a tuxedo shirt and jacket, with a red bow tie around his neck. Upon his flank shone an hourglass, identical to the one The Doctor had. His smile held, he continued his talk as he walked down the carpeted stairs. “They do hide quite a bit from you, but it is so you do not get a swelled head or fail to achieve it. They are worried that if you are told what you did, then you won't do it.” He stopped in front of the three cages, looking between them like one might look down at an ant. “I, however, have no such qualms. After all, it would be only fitting for you to know exactly what you'll miss.”
He cleared his throat, glancing just once at the pony before him before continuing. “Ink Well, The Wanderer, The Running Light, The Storyteller, The Truth Finder, The Source of Change, Harbinger of War, The Changeling's Heart, The Gryphon's Wings, Blessed of the Sun and Moon, Uniter of the Four Nations, Apostle of Peace, The First Arbiter, The Great Arbiter, The Father of Space Travel,” stated the blue pony, rattling off the names as though it were rehearsed a million times. He stopped here, raising an eyebrow at the skinny off-white pegasus before him. “The list goes on. Now, I can't see how some scrawny little thing like you could ever hope to achieve all of that, but the proof is there, written in the history books for all to see. Arguably you, Ink Well, are the single most important pony since the princesses beside you.”
Ink Well was stunned. That couldn't possibly be right. He couldn't have ever done anything that could cause all of those to be his titles. “You can't be serious. That's not all true, is it?” He looked to the princesses, who each diverted their eyes when he looked their way. “... is it?”
The pony smiled cruelly. “Oh yes, it's all true. Bloody hard to believe, but true none the less. They also say that there isn't a planet in the alliance that doesn't have an Apple and a Source on it, sometimes the same pony.” He shrugged. “But I doubt that. The Apples were a much more prolific bunch than any that came from you.”
Ink Well was still a few sentences behind, trying to get everything to sink in properly. But there was one huge thing blocking it. “Hold on. I got all of those titles somehow. How? I'm really just a writer, not worth the attention of your brass ponies, let alone the princesses they also captured. Why am I so important?”
The mystery pony gave him a blank look. “You really are thick, aren't you? Weren't you listening at all?” He rolled his eyes, voice taking on the tone of someone explaining to a little foal. “It's not you now that's the important one, it's you in the future that is. You now is absolutely useless, just an ink pot with a brain. But what you become, with all those places you end up in at just the right time, that's useful to me. It's the whole reason you're here at all.”
“So that I can't become me?”
The pony laughed. “No, so that I can become you. All those fancy titles... I feel giddy just thinking about it!”
“But who are you?”
“Me?” The pony looked shocked, as though he couldn't possibly imagine somepony not knowing who he was. He then smiled darkly, his voice returning to its smooth, sinister self. “You may call me The Master.”