The letter arrived early in the morning, marked with the N.E. insignia and stamped with 'URGENT'. The recipient, a parchment furred pegasus with a short mane the deep blue of ink and a long tail of the same color, opened the envelope. Inside were six photos and a letter from the Editor In Chief herself. It read:
Last night was the Grand Galloping Gala, and rumors say it was ruined by six ponies from Ponyville. I have provided you with Film Reel's photos, each with the appropriate rumor on the back. Four were identified, including Celestia's own prized protege, Twilight Sparkle. The scandal alone will sell a million copies, Ink Well, so get your flank to Ponyville and dig up that dirt. Do well, and your future is brighter than the sun. Failing us will have severe consequences. You have three days before the magazine goes out. Get to it.
Photoshop, Editor in Chief
Ink Well dropped the letter on his desk and grinned. "Looks like I've got an in with the higher ups if they're entrusting this to me." He looked at the golden ink pot sitting on his desk, the one that, along with a blue fountain pen, graced his flank as his cutie mark. Closing his eyes and smiling to himself, he recited the engraving on the bottom. "'One source, endless possibilities.' Ink Well, you've finally got your second chance." He grabbed his bag, notebook, and pen, put away the pictures, and donned his brown fedora and lanyard containing his journalist identification with the National Equirer. Supplies ready, he left his house and took wing to Ponyville.
Ink Well landed at the edge of Ponyville under the bright midday sun and looked once more at the photos. "Let's see... Rarity, rumor: assaulting Prince Blueblood. Rainbow Dash, rumor: destroying the dance hall. Fluttershy, rumor: starting a stampede throughout the castle. Twilight Sparkle, rumor: harboring the others. Rumor for the pink one is causing a ruckus in the dance hall, and the orange one was rumored selling tainted food." He put away the pictures and smirked. "This'll be a piece of cake. I'll have my story ready by tonight."
Ink Well made his way into town. Many townsponies went about their business, enjoying the beautiful day given to them. Ink Well picked a random pony and, stopping her, held up his journalist lanyard. "Excuse me miss. Ink Well, National Equirer. Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?"
The rose-maned pony's eyes lit up. "The Equirer! I love that magazine! I read every issue!"
"Oh? Well thank you. Always glad to know we have a dedicated reader. Would you like to help, 'cause I just need a little bit of information on the ponies in these pictures." Ink Well showed her the pictures. "Could you tell me where I could find them, and the names of the two earth ponies?"
"Of course! Those are Twilight's friends!" The pony pulled Ink Well close and whispered conspiratorially in his ear. "Why? Did they do something embarrassing?"
Ink Well forced himself out of her grasp. "Maybe. I'm just here to get their side of the story. Strange rumors flying around the Gala, just need to see if they're true."
"Ooh! The Gala? Interesting... Well Applejack is the orange one, and Pinkie Pie is the pink one. AJ is probably at the marketplace selling apples today, and Pinkie is working for Mr. and Mrs. Cake at Sugarcube Corner, if I had to guess."
"How about the others?"
"Rainbow is on weather patrol I think, and there's a note on the Library door saying that Twilight went into the Everfree Forest and will be back tonight, though anypony who goes in there willingly is crazy if you ask me. I guess Fluttershy's at her cottage, but I don't really know, she's always so seclusive. And Rarity is probably at her boutique over there."
Ink Well took down notes on the pictures as she pointed out directions to where each pony would be. "Thank you! Your help is greatly appreciated, miss?"
"Rose. And glad I could help such a neat magazine. Feel free to mention me in the article! Oh, I can't wait to tell Daisy and Lily!"
"Thank you Rose. Have a nice day." Ink Well tipped his hat to the pony and walked down the street. Behind him, he heard a squeal as Rose ran off excitedly. "That was easier than I thought. This'll be a walk in the park." Cutting through the park, he made his way to the nearest place, the Carousel Boutique.
Ink Well walked up to the door. Seeing the 'Open' sign, he entered the shop to the tinkle of a bell. From inside the shop, a voice called "Just a minute!" He looked around the shop at the many dresser's dummies decked in amazing clothing. Whoever worked here really knew a thing or two about fashion.
Something brushed against his leg. Hearing a purring, he looked down at a white Persian cat with a purple bow stroking against him. He leaned closer to it and nuzzled it with his nose. "Hello there kitty. Aren't you a friendly one?" In one swift motion the cat's claws were out and the paw streaked through the air. Ink Well jumped back staring at the cat as it smiled smugly at him. His eyes focused on his nose, where three claw marks slowly drew blood into his fur. "Why you little-"
"Hello! Welcome to Carousel Boutique! May I interest you in... Opalescence! Don't attack the customers!" A beautiful white furred unicorn with purple mane came from the back, matching the stunning photo of Rarity perfectly. She seemed to glide into the room before settling in a way that set her mane and cutie mark, three diamonds, perfectly catching the light. "I'm so sorry about Opalescence, she really is a bad kitty. Would you like a bandage?"
Ink Well rubbed his nose. "No, don't worry. It's alright."
"Well if there's anything I can-" Rarity gasped, running to Ink Well's side. "Oh my! That hat! It does not go with your fur at all! And its so out of style! Where did you get this from? A bargain bin? I have something I simply MUST show you, wait here." Rarity disappeared into a back room of her shop. "No... no, oh, that simply won't do. No... where is it?... AHAH!" She reappeared holding a large black top hat with green flowery trimming. "Try this on, you'll look fabulous in it!" She floated it with her magic to put it on him, floating his off of his head.
Ink Well dodged the top hat, grabbing his fedora from the air and jamming it back on. "What? Ma'am, no. While that is a very nice hat, you of all ponies should know that fedoras are always in style." Rarity looked at him as though he was completely insane, a shocked disgust spreading across her face. Ink Well continued on unfazed. "I'm not actually here to buy anything." He flipped open the lanyard around his neck. "Ink Well, National Equirer. I'd just like to ask you a few questions about-"
"The National Equirer? No wonder you have such atrocious fashion sense! Out! Out of my beautiful store!" Rarity pushed him towards the door.
"Hey! I just want to ask you a few questions about-"
"Not after that scandalous story you wrote about my costumes for Sapphire Shores. I did NOT steal those gems and I won't have you slinging any more mud on the name of my store!" She shoved him through the door. "Now get out!"
"Hey, listen! I didn't write anything on Sapphire Shores. That's Pincushion's depa-!" The store's door slammed into Ink Well's nose. He stumbled grabbing his nose and landed on his back outside. "Ow! See if I send you any customers. Your service stinks! And that cat should be de-clawed!" Woozy and rubbing his sore nose, he walked away from the store.
Ink Well decided to take a moment to care for his scratches and bumps in the center of town. He sat down, enjoying the beautiful skies overhead and letting the sun ease the soreness out. As he did, he spotted a blue streak flying among the few clouds, clearing them, a rainbow trailing behind it. He marveled at the speed of the flying figure above. The figure looped and swirled, rolling and banking expertly before landing on a cloud above him, resolving into the form of a pegasus from his picture, Rainbow Dash in all her glory.
Ink Well called up to the filly alighted on the cloud above. "That was some flying you did there!"
The rainbow-maned head popped over the side of the cloud. "Oh! You were watching, were ya? Yeah, I've got some moves. No biggie."
"No biggie? That was awesome! You MUST be Rainbow Dash, right? Winner of the Best Young Flyers competition?"
"Yeah. That's me. What about it?"
Ink Well pulled out his notebook and fountain pen. "Well, my name is Ink Well, and I'm doing a story for the National Equirer. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions."
"Wait wait wait. The Equirer? Those lame brains? They said the Rainboom I did was a fake! They said I cheated right in front of the Princess and the Wonderbolts!" Ink Well's heart dropped as Rainbow Dash reared up and lifted her hooves for a fight. How could he have forgotten about that one? Of course she'd be sore... "The townsponies bugged me about it for a month! Did you write that?"
"No! It wasn't me!"
"You did, didn't you!"
"No! It was... oh gosh, who was on that story... um..."
"Why I oughta-" Rainbow Dash shot from the cloud.
"I... oh geez." Ink Well flew as fast as his wings could carry him, pounding them furiously to keep ahead of Dash, who gained with each passing second.
"When I catch you I'm gonna kick you so hard you won't fly straight for a week!"
"It wasn't me I swear!" Ink Well ducked and weaved, flying through an open window and past a family of confused ponies. "Sorry!" he yelled to them as he flew through the door, Rainbow Dash right behind. He shot skyward, looping back and heading towards town hall, but was cut short as Rainbow Dash popped up before him. Banking beneath her, he turned towards the outskirts of town, weaving between branches and through bushes. Rainbow maintained her tail, gaining ground with every wing beat. Despite his best efforts, Ink Well was outmaneuvered at every move. Frantic, he tumbled left and crashed through a bush. Rainbow Dash followed, appearing over a river.
Ink Well was nowhere to be seen. "Darn it! Where'd he go?" Rainbow Dash hovered, scanning around her, until she spotted a broken branch swinging in the wind, leading her towards the nearby hills. "Aha! You won't get away from me!" Rainbow streaked off, following the lead she'd spotted.
A few seconds later, Ink Well's sopping hat surfaced on the river. Beside it, Ink Well burst from the water gasping for breath. His head darted around, frightened eyes scanning the skies for Rainbow Dash. When it was clear she was gone, he breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Swimming to the shore and dragging himself out, he shuddered. "That... is not something I want to do again. It's a good thing my bag's waterproof." Looking at his surroundings, he found he was well out of town, but near where Rose had said Fluttershy's cottage was. "Guess I'll go there next." Having made his decision, he wrung the water from his hat and set off.
Slowly drip-drying, Ink Well wandered through the trees until he found the path, then followed it away from town. Making his way to Fluttershy's Cottage, a thought hit him. "Why do I recognize that name? Was she... She was that model! The one discovered by Photo Finish! She was everywhere, how did I not recognize her picture? She was such a good model too, it was such a shame she quit..."
A few minutes later, Ink Well found Fluttershy's cottage. Amid the chirping of birds and the scurrying of small animals he noticed the many birdhouses, warrens, and animal houses around the main house, which was built into a huge tree. He examined one of the birdhouses in detail, pleased at the careful work that went into it. "So she likes animals. That's good to know."
A voice like the whisper of an angel came from behind him. "Oh. Um. Excuse me. Could you... Could you not stand there? I'm trying to, um, feed the birds..."
"Oh. Sorry. Let me move." Ink Well stepped aside, letting the owner of the voice pass by. A beautiful yellow furred pegasus with a flowing pink mane and tail flew past him, three pink butterflies adorning her flank. She was definitely the pony in the picture, the graceful model he remembered, Fluttershy. She tipped a bag of bird seed and filled a small feeding tray before she moved on to the other houses. Ink Well followed her as she fed the birds, apparently oblivious to her surroundings. After a few minutes of watching her work, Ink Well asked her a question. "Do you care for all of these animals?"
The pegasus jumped and with a scared squeak flew into a nearby tree. Ink Well followed. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to frighten you. I was just wondering if you took care of all of these animals around here or just fed the birds." The yellow pegasus floated down to the ground and starting digging her hoof in the dirt. They stood there for a few seconds in silence, Ink Well smiling awkwardly. "Well, um, I only ask because I rather like animals, though they don't ever seem to much like me..." He rubbed his nose, which still bore the scratches of earlier. Again they stood there in silence, the other pegasus continuing to dig at the dirt. "Well this has been an interesting conversation, but I actually came all the way out here for a reason. Are you Fluttershy?" The smallest of nods was her response. Ink Well took out his notebook and grabbed his pen between his teeth, preparing to write. While slightly muffled, the words were still understandable. "Right, well, my name is Ink Well and I write for the National Equirer and I-" A squeak and she was gone, the door to her house shutting behind her.
Ink Well walked up and knocked on the door. "I'm sorry, was it something I said?"
No response. The inside of the house was silent.
"Did I scare you or something? I was just hoping I could ask you a few questions about the Gala and what happened there, if it's no big... deal..." He smacked his forehead with his hoof. "We wrote a story about you, didn't we? I promise, I had nothing to do with it, and if you want, I'll gladly help you file a complaint." There was a rustling above, followed by the appearance of a white bunny, which scowled and bounced a rock off of his head. He looked up and shook a hoof at it. In return it threw another rock. Ink Well shook his head and returned his attention to the door. "I guess I'll just leave then. Again, I'm sorry to have worried you or anything. Shouldn't have even come over and bothered you." He put away the pen and, noticing a motion at the window, tipped his hat towards it. "Have a nice day miss Fluttershy. Glad to have met you outside of the magazines."
Walking dejectedly back to town, Ink Well sighed to himself. "Okay Inky, it's clear that your current tactic isn't working. The Equirer name just has too much reputation, and these ponies seem the type to attract its attention. You're just gonna have to work around that." He smiled to himself, trying to pep himself up. "You can do that! No problem! You were a fiction writer before this whole journalist gig. You can figure this out. You've just got to believe in yourself! Nothing can go wrong, no sir."
"There he is!"
"Oh geez, not again!" Ink Well leaped into a bush on the side of the road and scanned the skies worriedly for rainbows. "I swear! I didn't do it! It wasn't me!"
"Whoa there! Who are you talking to?" Ink Well stopped his frantic scanning and looked down into the faces of Rose and two other smiling ponies. Rose took a step forward. "It's me, you remember, Rose? I brought a few friends to meet you. And... why are you cowering in a bush?"
"Cowering? Who's cowering? I was just... um..." Ink Well scrambled his way out of the bush. "I was just going incognito. Normal methods weren't working." He took a step forward, feeling a tug as his bag snagged on a branch. He smiled as he pulled at the strap. "Who are these nice fillies?"
"Oh, this is Lily, and this is Daisy! See girls! This is the colt from the Equirer!"
Ink Well nodded to the girls, still tugging at his bag. "Very nice to meet you, now if you'll excuse me, I-"
Daisy took a step closer to him. "So do you really work for the Equirer? What's that like?"
Lily then stepped herself between Ink Well and Daisy. "It must be exciting. Could you put me in a story in the next issue? I've always wanted to be in the magazines."
Ink Well felt crowded as he worked to free his bag. "Uh, well, I don't know... I'm just kind of given the assignments, like the one I'm on now... Could I talk to you later?"
"On assignment? What about?"
"I already told you Lily, he's doing a story on the Twilight Sparkle and her friends!" Rose shoved Lily out of the way. "Do you need any more information? I'd be more than glad to help."
"No! Let me help! I'm way better than her at hearing gossip."
Lily confronted her friends. "Shut up Daisy, you are not!"
"Am too!" The three ladies started bickering and shoving, Ink Well caught in the middle. He tugged hard on the bag, freeing it and stumbling out of the scuffle. Using the convenient distraction, he fled the scene, leaving the fighting fillies behind.
Running into the center of town, Ink Well ducked into a house to blend in with the crowd. The inside was bustling with activity. Ink Well slunk his way through the crowds, the gingerbread looking walls, and the baked goods displays, working his way to a shop counter. As he got there, he rang the service bell. After a short wait an amber furred colt in a red and white hat and bow tie walked up to the counter. "Sorry, we're a little busy today. Welcome to Sugarcube Corner, can I help you?"
Ink Well looked surprised. "Did you say Sugarcube Corner? Are you Mr. Cake?"
"Indeed I am sonny, what can I do for ya?"
"Oh, hold on..." Ink Well took out the picture of the pink pony and looked at the notes he scribbled on it. "Yes, I was looking for a... Pinkie Pie. Does she work here?"
Mr. Cake looked at him strangely. "'A Pinkie Pie'? Are you new in town or something?"
Ink Well hesitated, trying to think of the best way to bring up why he was here. "Yes... I'm doing a story with a magazine about the Grand Galloping Gala and she's a person of interest. Just a few questions on a small town pony's thoughts on the party. Is she here?" Ink Well flashed his badge. Flashing an I.D. always seemed to give a claim credence, even if the pony seeing it can't read it in time.
Mr. Cake eyed him suspiciously. "Yes... well, she's in the back making cupcakes. You can talk to her, but please don't distract her too much. We can't afford to fall behind, all these Gala after parties..." He smiled briefly at him as he went to tend to another customer. "Please think of Sugarcube Corner for all your future catering needs."
Ink Well maneuvered his way behind the counter and into the kitchen. Inside was a sweltering heat and a pink pony bouncing around between the ovens. "Hello? Pinkie Pie?"
The pony turned, frizzy pink mane bouncing around the face immediately recognized as the Pinky Pie from the picture, three balloons on her flank. She smiled brightly at him. "Hi! Are you that pony from the Equirer?"
Ink Well took a step back. "Err, yeah. How did you hear about that?"
"Oh silly, everypony has been talking about you! Besides, I know everypony in town. Even the ones just visiting!" Pinkie Pie pulled a tray of cupcakes out of an oven and put in another one. "I love the Equirer! Did you know that Celestia was dating the hydra from Froggy Bottom Bog? I never would have guessed!" She began to hum as she spread frosting on the latest batch of sweets.
"Oh? Is she? I don't actually have much time to read what the other writers are working on. I'm normally on an assignment, like I am now."
Pinkie Pie bounced over. "You wanted to know about the Gala right?"
Ink Well raised an eyebrow, surprised at how easy this was going. "Uh... yeah. Let's see, the rumor was..." Ink Well took out the picture to check the facts. "Ah, you made quite a ruckus in the dance hall. Could you tell me about that?"
"Sure I could! But, I'm kind of busy right now... I know! You should come back here later tonight! There's going to be a fun party here and I would love to talk about it then!"
"Won't you be busy working the party?"
"Working? Silly pony, I'm going to be throwing it! Come on by! It'll be fun!"
Ink Well shrugged. "I don't know... I don't do well at social gatherings."
Pinkie Pie tapped him on the nose. "Don't you worry! There won't be a lot of ponies there, but it'll still be the most fun you've ever had! Think of it as a welcome party!"
"Well... alright. But we'll talk about the Gala at it right?"
"Sure! Whatever you want!"
"Okay... Well then, thank you for the invitation Ms. Pie. I'll see you then."
"Okie Dokie Lokie! See you tonight!"
Ink Well wandered from Sugarcube Corner and into the mid-afternoon marketplace. There he was surrounded by the sounds of the many merchants selling their wares. He moved between the flower stalls, herb stands, and various knickknacks of everyday life until his ears were perked by a boisterous voice piercing the air. "Come 'n get some fresh apples! Just picked today! Most delicious apple you've ever tasted or your money back!"
Ink Well followed the voice to its owner, an orange pony the spitting image of the one in the picture. She stood with her hooves crossed at her apple stall wearing a white apron and a cowpony's hat, three apples marking her flank. He looked at the apples in the cart around her, fuller and shinier and redder than any apples he'd seen before. "Those look much too good to be true. They have to be altered somehow. I need to investigate this further."
Ink Well walked up to the stall owner. She gave him a huge smile and nodded to him. "Howdy sir! Can I interest you in anything?"
"Why yes, I'd like an apple please."
"Alright, just one? It's one bit for five."
"That's quite a lot cheaper than they sell for in Cloudsdale."
"'Course it is! We grow 'em fresh here. I'll betcha it's a might better tasting than one too. Here, try one." Applejack tossed him an apple. "Go ahead and take a bite. I'll give it to you free if it ain't the best apple you ever tasted."
"Thank you kindly, miss...?"
"Thank you miss Applejack." Ink Well looked funnily at the apple before carefully taking a bite. Pure ecstasy overtook his face as flavor exploded across his tongue. He ate the rest voraciously, reveling in the taste. "That's the best apple I've ever had! You grew that?"
"Yes I did, thank ya kindly. You paying for that?"
"Of course! Give me four more." Ink Well pulled out a coin and tossed it to Applejack, who gave him back four apples. Ink Well put them in his pack. "Hey, when do you get off of work?"
Applejack gave him a funny look. "What, are you trying to ask me out or somethin'? Don't you think that's a might sudden?"
"What? No. See I'm..." Ink Well frowned as he struggled for a good lie. He flashed his journalist lanyard for a fraction of a second. "I'm a food critic for the Daily Apple in Cloudsdale and I'm thinking of writing you a referral. I just need to know more about your farm and yourself to make it an interesting read. Once word gets out on your apples, you'll have orders coming in from all over Cloudsdale, if not all of Equestria."
"Well why didn't you say so?! I was about to close up shop anyway. If'n you'll help, I'd be mighty grateful, and then we could start on that story." Applejack pulled a cord on the canopy of the stall, collapsing it into a covered cart of apples.
"Uh... alright. I suppose I could help. What do you need?"
Applejack moved behind her stall and pulled out a cart full of empty barrels. "Well, I brought in two apple carts, and if'n you pulled the empty one back to Sweet Apple Acres, I could get back to the farm in one trip, and I could start off your story on the way there! Whadya say to that?"
Ink Well looked at the cart, worry crossing his features. "Well, I don't know... I'm not exactly the strongest pony in the herd."
"Do you want yer story or not?"
"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" Ink Well looked at the empty cart, then at Applejack, then pulled out his empty notebook. After a few moments of looking at the blank pages, he sighed. "Fine. I'll help you out."
Applejack slapped the harness onto Ink Well. "Yeehaw! And don' worry, You won't even feel the cart."
On the path to Sweet Apple Acres, Ink Well pulled and strained in his harness. He found himself many lengths behind Applejack, who breezed ahead with her full apple cart. "You won't even feel the cart. Yeah... right... She must be the strongest pony," Ink Well collapsed, panting onto the ground, "in all of Equestria to think this is light..."
Applejack called back at him. "Hey back there! What's taking so long? Don't you want your story?"
"Yeah... yeah... I'm coming..." Ink Well struggled up, tugging on his cart again. "I swear you had better have the dirtiest dirt ever or this story is not worth the effort."
It took him until the sun was nearing the treeline before Ink Well managed to struggle the cart into Applejack's barn. Exhausted, he dragged himself from the barn, clawing at the dirt. As he sat there gasping and working his pained lungs, Applejack walked up with a bottle of apple juice. "You alright there Mr. Daily Apple? Sorry to work you so hard, but most colts around here are the strong silent type. You ready to do that interview?"
Ink Well nodded, chest heaving for air. "Yeah... yeah... I'll just... whew... could you put the juice... on the ground? I can't stand right now." Applejack put down the juice as Ink Well pulled out his notebook and pen. He took a long gulp, emptying the bottle in one go. Once that was done, he stood on wobbly legs, readying his notebook. "Ah. Much better. Thank you kindly. Now then, miss Applejack, I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about your apples and Sweet Apple Acres."
"Sure thing Mr... hey, what is your name anyway?"
"Oh, it's Ink Well. Now, if you'll just..." Ink Well froze at the puzzled look on Applejack's face. Inside he kicked himself for saying his real name. 'How could you let it just slip out like that? It'll ruin everything you idiot!' Outside, he smiled to the blonde, freckle faced pony. "I'm sorry, is something the matter?"
Applejack frowned, tapping her hoof against the ground. "Ink Well... Ink Well... Why's that name ringin' a bell?"
"Well, it's actually a surprisingly common name. But I shouldn't be confused with the budding artist in Fillydelphia. Nope, just a simple journalist." 'Shut up Ink Well, you're digging yourself a hole here.'
"No... it ain't an artist... Where'd you say you were from? Can I see that I.D. again?"
Ink Well backed away from Applejack, forcing a smile. "No need, I'm from The Daily Apple in Cloudsdale. It's a relatively small newspaper that specializes on food, nothing too spectacular."
Applejack looked at him, suspicious of his new found smiley personality. "If it's nothin', then give me the I.D."
Ink Well kept smiling and backing away. "You don't need that. Now let's get started on the story, shall we? How do you grow your apples? Anything special?"
Applejack advanced on him. "I ain't answering nothin' 'till you let me see that I.D. Now put it here."
"Oh, do I really have to-"
"In my hoof, now." Ink Well sighed, putting away his pen and moving the lanyard from around his neck. As he offered it to Applejack, he kept the strap in his teeth. He tried to pull it away as she flipped it open, but she held fast. Getting a good look at the lanyard, her eyes narrowed. "So tell me Mr. Daily Apple, why's it say here that you work for the National Equirer?"
Ink Well tugged on the strap as he tried to talk around it. "Well, you see, I find it helps me get into places that don't let small papers in..." With his hooves and wings he manipulated the notebook back into his bag.
Applejack stared him down as he tugged, unnerving him with her glare. "Well then, Mr. Ink Well. Did you know that there was a colt at the Equirer going by that name that wrote a story on my cousin Braeburn? It had some bad whisperings about his orchard in Appaloosa. But you wouldn't know anything about that, would ya?"
Ink Well yanked as hard as he could, finally managing to free the lanyard from her iron grip and flip it back around his neck. He talked quickly as he backed along the barn wall, Applejack advancing like a predator stalking her prey. "Well, it was very nice talking to you Miss Applejack, and I really am interested in your Apple Farm here, but I'm afraid I just remembered that I really have somewhere I have to be and... well..." Ink Well turned and fled, sprinting as fast as he could. He could hear Applejack's hooves pounding the ground just behind him. He leaped into the air, spreading his wings, and stalled as he felt a tug on his tail.
"Whoa there scrawny, you ain't getting away from me." Applejack yanked on Ink Well's tail, slamming him into the ground. As he crashed into the dirt, he rolled sideways and dodged under Applejack's kick. He felt the air rush past his nose and could feel the power radiating from behind those hooves. He gulped, beating his wings against the ground to pull him away as her front legs reared up and slammed where he had just been. He scrambled up, leaping into the air again and mustering everything he could into his wings. Applejack leaped after him, just missing his tail yet again with her teeth. She landed next to an apple bushel, knocking a few apples off of the top. As Ink Well flew away, apples pelted into his rump, speeding his flight with their strong impacts. He turned back to look at the source and got an apple right in his eye.
As he crossed out of the boundaries of the Acres and back onto the road to town, he heard Applejack's voice yelling behind him. "And if'n I see you around here again, I'll do much more'n that!" With that thought spurring him, Ink Well flew down the long road back to town.
Ink Well trotted slowly into Ponyville as the sunset hit full force. He sighed, trudging along with his tired hooves, his wings dragging on the ground behind him. "Oh, what's the point Ink Well, much more of this and you'll be run ragged. There's got to be a line of work with better benefits than this... or at least hazard pay..." Looking up to see where he was, he saw for the first time the circle of excited, smiling ponies that had formed around him. He looked from smiling face to smiling face, worried by all of the attention. "Um... can I help you?"
A pale pony with a navy blue and pink mane stepped forward. "Are you the pony from the Equirer?" Ink Well could feel the stares of the ponies settling on him.
"I guess so... yeah, that's me."
A cacophony burst around him as the ponies all rushed in excitingly and started talking to him and asking him questions. "Is it fun at the magazine?" "Bon Bon! You're on my tail! Move aside!" "Can I be in an article?" "Do you need anything at all?" "Is it true about Spitfire?" "Are you alright Ink Well?" "Why would Celestia date a Hydra?" "How do you get all your information?" "Stand back everypony! Let me talk to him!" "Do you need any snacks while you work?" "Would you like a flower?" "So how did Luna stop the ninjas?" "Ink Well! Over here!"
Ink Well stood amazed in the center of these pushing ponies, overwhelmed by the many questions flying at him. He looked around for a familiar face, anyone that could be a haven in this storm. In the back he saw Rose bouncing up and down and waving at him. He pushed his way through the reaching hooves and pressing bodies until he eventually reached her. He had to yell to be heard over the crowd. "Rose! What's going on?"
"Oh! These ponies wanted to talk to you! They're all fans of the magazine!"
Ink Well looked over the crowd, eyes wide in shock. "All of these? This has to be half of Ponyville!"
"It's more than that! The Equirer is the favorite read of most of Ponyville! It's a big source of news here." Rose gasped. "Ink Well! What happened to your eye?"
Ink Well reached up, poking with his hoof to discover a black eye. "What? This? Oh, I was doing some- OW! Err... undercover work and was found out. Nothing big."
"No! This is a big deal! I know just where to go to make you feel better!" Rose moved behind him and pushed him through the crowd and into a shop just as the owner was about to flip over the 'OPEN' sign.
A blue filly with well styled pink mane walked up to them. "I'm sorry, we were about to close the spa."
"Lotus, this is an emergency. This colt is from the Equirer and he needs pampering STAT!"
Ink Well shook his head. "No. No need, really. I'll be fine. It's just a black eye... and sore hooves... and wings, nothing new."
"The Equirer?! Oh, you must come in!" Lotus pulled Ink Well to a table next to which stood a pink pony with a blue mane. "Let my sister Aloe ease your aches while I prepare the bath." Lotus moved swiftly from the room as Aloe pulled Ink Well onto the massage table.
"No, really, I'm alright. I don't need a massa-AH!" Ink Well tried to push himself up and grimaced in pain.
Aloe shook her head. "No, no, no this will not do. Now you just lay there and let me take away the hurt." Despite Ink Well's feeble struggles, Aloe began her massage, kneading and working his muscles. He lay there, slowly melting as the knots and aches just flowed from under her talented hooves. He let out a contented sigh. "You feel better now, no?"
"Oh, you really need to stop... a colt could get used to this." Ink Well looked over from the table and to the spa door where pony faces crowded the glass in the diminishing light. Rose sat inside, a copy of the last Equirer in her hooves, smiling as she read. She waved at him, and he nodded back. He frowned as a thought struck him. "I've got somewhere I need to go... a meeting later tonight."
Aloe stood in front of his view. "It can wait a few minutes, don't you think? We wouldn't like you writing a bad review for not being treated well, would we?" Aloe flipped him over, starting to massage his stomach. He eyed her suspiciously.
"You're not just treating me so nice for a story, are you?"
Aloe smiled, closing those big blue eyes. "No! No, of course not. We just love the Equirer and want to make its writers feel special. If they want to write a kind review of Ponyville and its spa, then that's their own decision."
Lotus peeked her head in. "Come now, your bath awaits. It is a special remedy that will cure your bruises and ease your weary wings."
Ink Well let himself be led into the tub room. "I dunno, there's not much more to fix after that massage. And I really should be getting back out in the field."
"Do not fuss. The story will be there when you are done. What you need now is a good soak and to let out everything worrying you."
Ink Well smiled. "You are too kind, really. Especially since you're expecting nothing in return."
"I don't know about nothing... but that is mere curiosity and hopes."
"I get it, I get it, but I can't give out information on my article. The higher ups get mad." He removed his things and climbed into the tub. "But I am not one to be against a bit of gift giving. And I will repay the favor." He sighed as the heat soaked through his entire body. "This is heavenly..." He sunk, submerging his entirety into the tub and feeling every last ache leave him. He held his breath, letting the warmth engulf him for as long as possible before reemerging.
There was a horrible ruckus around him. Every pony in Ponyville seemed to be fighting, and over his items no less, pulling them between them and trying furiously to unclasp his bag. Magazines flew and potted plants were being overturned left and right. He looked over this scene, rage quickly undoing the work the bath had done. "Hey! Hey! What are you doing with my stuff?"
Lotus and Aloe ran around the crowd trying to push them out. "No! Please, we are closed! Stop this! This is very rude! BE CAREFUL, PLEASE!"
Ink Well pulled himself out of the water and grabbed his hat from the head of an orange maned orange furred pony, smashing it onto his head. He caught his lanyard as it was flung through the air, and his pen holster was acquired from the ground as he dodged legs and hooves to grab it. Luckily, both pen and ink were not spilled. Finally he pushed his way into the throng that crowded around his bag. "You! All of you! Let my things go!" He grabbed the bag's flap and pulled against the five ponies already fighting over its contents. In the struggle the flap flew open, causing Ink Well's grip to slip. Growling to himself, he reached into the opened bag and pulled out a sheaf of papers. "You want a story? There it goes!" He wound up the throw and tossed the bundle high into the air. Simultaneously all eyes focused on the flying papers.
Ponies dived and flew beneath the story, desperately reaching for a bit of the magazine they loved. The sheaf flew over the tub, plummeting towards the water. At the last second a grey pegasus with blonde hair and crossed eyes caught the precious bundle triumphantly. "I got your letters, Mr. Ink Well!"
"Keep 'em!" He yelled as he flew from the spa, disappearing into the Ponyville evening and leaving the whole mess behind him.
Darkness fell in Ponyville as a reinvigorated Ink Well walked to Sugarcube Corner. He could hear the music outside and saw shadows moving within. "Do I really want to do this?" He thought about the letter sitting on his writing desk at home and the severe consequences it promised. He sighed, walking up to the door. He hesitated before knocking, deciding instead to look into the window. He gasped as he saw the party's attendees. Within were the six target ponies, each laughing and dancing and enjoying the festivities. Even Twilight Sparkle was there, the unicorn's purple fur and navy blue mane with pink and purple highlights immediately recognizable from her picture. There they all were, smiling and talking all together, like it was meant to be!
Ink Well pressed himself against the wall next to the window. "This is my chance! I can see how they all act at a party, extrapolate that to the scale of the Gala, throw in the rumors and have that story done tonight!" He flew as quietly as he could up to a higher window and looked down on the partying ponies, ready to note down any dirt they could possibly shovel onto themselves.
He watched the scene for a few minutes, taking notes on what these ponies possibly could have done that was that bad. He looked down the list he'd gathered. "Dancing, party games, chatting, eating sweets... Pinkie stuck an alligator in the chocolate fountain, that could have caused an uproar at the Gala... but I think it was her pet anyway, and it was Fluttershy that caused the stampede. I need the facts if I want to get the story straight. If only they'd talk to me..."
"Of course they'll talk to you! It IS a party, silly!" Ink Well yelped and flew away from the window. Pinkie had appeared there, her front hooves hanging over the edge. Ink Well just stared at her, mouth moving but no words forming. Pinkie smiled at him. "What are you doing out here? The party is INSIDE the building!"
"Oh, well I-" A thought overrode the first he'd had. "How did you get up into this window? It's twenty feet in the air!"
"Never mind that! Come on in while the party is still strong!" Pinkie reached out and grabbed Ink Well, pulling him through the window and into the middle of the ponies within. The music stopped, all eyes focusing on the newcomer.
Ink Well looked from face to face, a forced smile meeting the concentrated rage and confusion of the five non-pink ponies. "Uh, Hi there... This isn't going to end well, is it?"
Applejack glared at him. "No. It ain't." Four of the other five ponies were not looking much happier.
He cowered away from them, smashing himself into a corner. "Oh geez..."