Rowanoak23-Thanks! I hope the twist and turns won't be too bad.
Tumbleweed-Aww, thanks!And yeah... I haven't thought of Jameson in pony form either. :p There will be some comedy, but it won't be the dominant theme methinks.
Here we go!
The next morning
Thump, thump, thump
Byline stirred in bed, tossing and turning and getting his blanket tangled in his four legs. "Five more... more minutes, Mom," he mumbled, the pillow sticking to the side of his face.
Thump, thump, THUMP
A single blue eye opened and Byline's head moved away from the bed, pillow still stuck to his cheek and jaw. He brushed it off with his foreleg and rolled, but the blanket wrapped around his hindlegs and sent him crashing to the wooden floor.
The thumping continued as he grabbed the blanket with his mouth, pulling it away and enabling him to get to all fours and trot out of his bedroom. He went down a short hall connecting the back part of his one-story house to the kitchen and eventually opening out into the living room. The thumping by now had grown into a steady beat, drilling into his skull with every repetition. "I'm coming, I'm coming!" he half-shouted as he reached the door and pushed it open. The bright light of Celestia blinded him for a moment before his eyes adjusted, revealing the source of the pounding.
A Pegasus Pony floated in front of Byline, wings out and beating a steady rhythm. She had a dull orange coat and a long, pale yellow mane tied up in a rather appropriate ponytail with a cutie mark of a camera adorning her flanks. A harness was mounted around her neck, holding a rather old-fashioned camera within easy access of her mouth. Her saddlebags were stuffed to almost overflowing, bulging in the side and the top flap almost coming undone. A four-wheeled wooden cart lay right behind her, somewhat battered but in functional condition.
The Pegasus, Flash Bulb, landed on the doorstep and flashed a wide, toothy grin. "Byline, you're up!" she cried out. "This is gonna be great, you and me working together! I can't believe Front Page teamed us up, but the boss knows talent when he sees it!" She sat down on her haunch and poked at her camera with her left hoof. "I'll get a ton of awesome pictures of Granny Smith and you'll write a great article and-"
Byline shoved a hoof into Flash Bulb's mouth and glowered at the younger Pegasus. "Coffee. Now," he growled, removing his hoof and turning back, walking through the living room and to the kitchen. He paused and turned his head around to her. His still glazed-over eyes saw her and he neighed softly. "Oh, come on in!"
Flash Bulb leapt up and swooped in, passing by Byline and speeding into the kitchen. She fluttered down onto a chair and tucked her wings close to her flank and cutie mark. She craned her head around as Byline made his way in. "You all right?" she asked, eyeing him as he slowly trotted around the table and to a stove.
The older pony continued to be silent as he turned on a burner to the gas stove. He stood up on his hindlegs and took a cup and saucer from a cupboard and set it down on the counter, eyes not leaving the kettle as it heated up. Time stretched on as he retrieved a jar of coffee grinds and used his lips to spoon some into the cup. Finally, after an eternity of five whole minutes, the tea kettle whistled.
Byline grabbed the handle by the mouth and poured the steaming-hot water into the cup. He gripped it by his hooves and took a long sip, savoring the bitter taste and wincing slightly as his tongue was slightly scorched. "Much better," he sighed. He grabbed the saucer by his teeth and brought the entire set over to the table, setting it down and sitting himself down on a chair opposite Flash Bulb. "Sorry," he mumbled. He glanced at a clock on the wall. "What the hay are you doing here so early?"
Flash Bulb followed his gaze to the clock and she rubbed her chin. "Seven AM is early? Come on, Byline! I'm flying around the sky by this time!" She leaned forward. "This is gonna be So. Cool! I can't wait to get to Ponyville!"
Byline eyed her and took another sip of coffee. He hopped out of his chair and went over to the counter and a breadbox. He pulled out a loaf and knife and sliced himself and Flash Bulb a couple of slices, setting a plate down in front of her before sitting back down and taking a knife in his mouth and spreading some jam onto it before taking a bite. "I'm a bit anxious to get to Ponyville, too," he admitted. He looked up. "I stayed at the office a few hours before heading home. Wanna know who the second-oldest Pony in Equestria is, barring Luna and Celestia?"
Flash Bulb furrowed her eyebrows. "Who?"
"His name was Walker, and he was a Unicorn who lived to the ripe old age of seventy." He leaned over the table. "An Earth Pony, outliving a Unicorn by thirty-five years." He arched an eyebrow. "Now if that's not unusual I'm a Diamond Dog."
Flash Bulb looked him over. She balanced a slice of bread on her hoof, but stopped just short of taking a bite. She let out a breath. "Wait, Celestia requested this interview, right?" At Byline's encouraging nod, she suddenly slammed her free hoof onto the table. "I'll bet my next paycheck they wanna learn how she's managed to live so long!"
Byline leaned back and held a forearm to his forehead. "Flash Bulb has a good insight. Will wonders never cease?" At her glare, he held up his hooves. "I'm kidding, I'm kidding!"
"About which part?" Flash Bulb growled, her wings unfurling.
A nervous chuckle escaped his lips before he hopped out of his chair and galloped to the back part of his house. A few minutes later, Byline emerged wearing a saddle and saddlebags with notepads, pencils, a tape recorder and some tapes. "Time to go!" he half-yelled, forcing a smile.
He and Flash Bulb exited his house, the latter spying the cart the Pegasus Pony had arrived with. "What's that for?"
Flash Bulb walked over to the harness and knelt down slightly, sliding in and standing up, hooking herself up to the cart. She pointed to the cart with her wing. "Climb in!"
Byline's eyes widened and he backed up. "What?" He stepped around it, eyeing the cart and tapping it with his hoof. "Is this thing rated with the Equestrian Aviation Administration for flight?"
"It's either the cart or walking for three hours and you meeting me there tired and worn out," Flash Bulb deadpanned.
A sigh escaped Byline's lips as he walked up to the cart. He paused as he spotted no hinges or handle. "Wait, how do I get in?' he asked.
Flash Bulb blushed, her orange coat turning almost purple as she facehoofed. "I never... well, I normally just float over to unload it." She chuckled nervously. "Well... can't be too hard to climb in, right? Earth Pony strength and all."
Byline stared at her for a moment before draping his legs over the lip and heaving himself in. He landed muzzle-first in the rather crowded cart and heard Flash Bulb shout, "Here we go!" before the cart rumbled around him, rattling him to the bones.
Byline shouted, "Wait!" but the cart lurched forward, and he skidded back slightly into the hard wooden back of the cart. He groaned as his inner ears popped with the altitude. The cart swayed from side to side and Byline could feel bruises forming. My ribs? Sweet Celestia my ribs! Oh, there goes a kidney. And another one. And... wait, we only have two kidneys. I think.
The Pony managed to get his front hooves under him and climbed up the side of the cart, letting his back half slide down. His head peeked up just as Flash Bulb dived, sending the wind whipping through his mane and almost dislodging his eyeballs from their sockets! He leaned back, catching a glimpse of the deep blue sky and the wisps of clouds, almost like cotton candy. He forgot for a brief moment he was flying along in a poorly-built cart being towed by a Pegasus pony he barely trusted to snap a picture right, much less flying along with him in tow. Celestia's sun was still low on the horizon, warm but not quite hot.
Byline's reverie was shattered as Flash Bulb dove almost straight down to a small town on the edge of the Everfree Forest, gaining speed and whipping his mane back. He instinctively opened his mouth to shout, but the wind drowned out any sounds as Flash Bulb jutted her forelegs out, putting on magical brakes powered by Pegasus magic. She and the cart almost skidded to a halt while Byline flew out, landing a few meters away with a thud.
Flash Bulb gasped as she unhitched herself and trotted over. She poked at Byline with her muzzle while Ponyville citizens began gathering around. "Byline, say something!" she shouted, eyes wide.
Byline groaned and his eyes fluttered open. He slowly rose to all four hooves and blinked. "Someone get me the number of that dragon..." he slurred out, looking around as his eyes crossed.
A pink-colored female Earth Pony with two blue balloons and one yellow balloon bounced over to the pair. Her blue eyes widened and she jumped up, seeming to hover for a moment. "You're new!" she shouted, landing on the ground. She jumped around, fireworks appearing around her. "I've never seen anypony like you around here and I know all the ponies in Ponyville!" She landed near Flash Bulb and wrapped her right foreleg around the Pegasus' neck. "So, what are you doing here? When can I pencil in your welcome home party?" She reached around her bare back and pulled a pencil and notepad out of... somewhere. She lay the pad of paper down and flipped through it with her nose. "Ooh, tomorrow at 4:30 AM? That's right after Gummy's second birthday party but right before the morning party celebrating the new cupcake flavors at Sugarcube Corner."
Flash Bulb slipped out of her grasp and jumped up, landing behind Byline. She dropped down and wrapped her wings around her body. "Help!" she squeaked out.
A rather large stallion clopped over, towering over almost everyone as the crowd parted to let him by. He had a crimson coat, orange mane and a green apple sliced in half for a cutie mark. A harness hung around his neck and he had a sprig of wheat in his mouth. He looked to the pink pony, then to Byline and Flash Bulb. "Aye reckon yer' Flash Bulb and Byline?" he drawled out. At Byline's shaky nod, he looked to the pony. "Pinkie Pie, Aye gaht business with these two, iffa ye don't mind."
Pinkie Pie nodded her head rather rapidly, her face blurring before she bounced off.
Byline looked up at his savior, recognizing him from archive photos as Granny Smith's grandson Big Macintosh. He extended a hoof. "Big Macintosh, right?" At the stallion's slow nod, he extended a hoof. "I'm Byline and this is Flash Bulb. We're here to-well, you already know why we're here," he added hastily.
Big Macintosh dipped his head in a nod. "Ayup. I'll lead yah back' t' Sweet Apple Acres. Granny Smith's waiting fer ye back there." He turned around and began walking back the way he came, a westerly direction that would lead out of the city.
Flash Bulb hitched herself back up to her cart and looked to Byline. "If I fly us-"
Flash bulb's ears flattened. "I'll be more careful this-"
The Pegasus opened her mouth once more, but Byline narrowed his eyes into slits and stomped the ground and snorted. "No," he said once more, turning. He pulled a clipboard with a rope attached to two corners from a saddlebag and flung the cord round his neck. It hung and the clipboard pressed slightly against his chest. Several sheets of paper had already been bound to it and a pencil hung on another cord. Byline made sure it was all steady before following Big Macintosh.
A sigh escaped Byline as she began walking along. "No one wants to ride with me!" she groused.
Byline trotted up to Big Macintosh's side as they crossed over a small white bridge. By now all three had quickly left the picturesque Ponyville behind and were passing through woods. "So, Granny Smith!" he started. "Any big plans for her birthday?"
Big Macintosh chewed on his sprig of wheat before answering. "Ayup!"
Byline scribbled some notes. "It's a pretty big age for an Earth pony," he stated, hoping for something more from the taciturn stallion. "Have you any idea how she managed to achieve such an advanced age?"
A sigh escaped Byline and his head drooped. "I... see."
The trio approached the front gates of Sweet Apple Acres, where a large sign with an apple silhouette carved into it hung. A chicken coop sat next to the entrance while a large barn dominated the surrounding area. Several sheds were erected near the barn while a two-story orange house sat near the back. And stretching out almost as far as the eye could see were acres of apple trees, stretching over hill and dale. Near the back was a field of crops and a two-story house.
An orange mare wearing a hat stood at the entrance, freckles dotting her cheeks. Both her yellow mane and tail were tied up in a ponytail by a small red ribbon. And next to her stood a young filly with a pale-olive coat and deep red mane and tail, the former with a rather large ribbon. The mare held out her hoof as Byline walked up. "Welcome t' Sweet Apple Acres!" she proclaimed, stepping back and waving her foreleg at the expansive farm. She turned back. "My name's Applejack, and this here's our little sister Apple Bloom," she finished, motioning to the younger one. She held out her front hooves and grinned. "Nice t' meet yah!"
Byline took the offered hoof, but quickly regretted it as Applejack's shaking nearly wrenched his foreleg out of its socket! "T-thank y-y-you," he stuttered out. Applejack let go and pain shot up his knee, elbow and upper arm as his foreleg took on the rough shape of overcooked pasta. He hobbled along as Applejack and Apple Bloom led him and Flash Bulb into Sweet Apple Acres proper, Big Macintosh trailing behind.
Apple Bloom walked alongside Byline and glanced at his cutie mark. She cocked an eyebrow at him. "So, how'd yah get your cutie mark?" she asked, dropping behind to Flash Bulb as she pulled her cart along. The young filly bounced up and down as they passed the large barn. "Ooh, ooh! How'd you get yours?"
Flash Bulb blinked as the house rapidly came into view. "How'd I get what?" She looked back at the camera cutie mark and shrugged. "My cutie mark? It was in school when I became interested in the school pictures and how that funny flash thing made my image." Her face scrunched up and she giggled. "I think I nearly pestered that poor photographer to death with endless questions about the box, the bulb, how the picture was made. I followed him all over that day." She looked down at Apple Bloom and her bare flank. "Don't worry, Apple Bloom. You'll get it. Everypony does when they find their talent."
Apple Bloom sighed and her head drooped. "Everypony says that!' she wailed, tossing her head back. "But what if I don't know what my special talent is?"
Applejack suddenly looked back at Apple Bloom. "Oh, Apple Bloom? The hardware store left a message that yer supplies for the clubhouse are in." She narrowed her eyes. "What in tarnation do yah need all that lumber, nails, pipes and a power saw for?"
Apple Bloom gave her older sister a walleyed stare. "D'you have any idea how much work still has to go into rebuilding that shack you gave us?" She shook her head. "I still gotta get the leaks fixed in the roof, get some indoor plumbing all set up-what'dya expect us to do when-"
"And here we are!" Byline shouted as they came upon the Apple Family's house. A positively ancient-looking pony Byline had ever seen. She sat on a rocking chair on the front porch, rocking back and forth slightly. Her green coat had faded to lime and her mane and tail were both snow-white. Her head stirred slightly and her eyes opened as Byline walked up. "Huh, oh!" she exclaimed, grinning at the younger pony. "So you're from the paper Princess Celestia told us about!"
Big Macintosh bobbed his head and backed up. "If'n you'll all excuse me, I gotta check in on the hired hooves, but I'll be back." And with that, he turned and trotted off to the apple trees.
Granny Smith looked at Byline. "If'n you don't mind, sonny, could we do this here? I'm not exactly the quickest pony ever even when I wasn't ancient!"
Applejack glanced at Byline. "I'll make y'all some lemonade." She turned to Apple Bloom. "Stay here for a bit, sugar." And with that, she walked up the porch, kissed Granny Smith on the forehead and went inside.
Byline sat on his haunches and grabbed the pencil from the clipboard and readied it with his teeth while Flash Bulb pulled out several pieces of equipment from the cart. He looked up at Granny Smith. "So, a hundred-five years? I bet you've seen quite a bit in your lifetime."
Granny Smith chuckled and rocked a bit. "You might say that." She squinted, focusing on Byline. "But the thing yah ought to know is that's not my real age."
Byline smirked. "I see," he said. "So I'm guessing-"
"I'm really five hundred years old," Granny Smith interjected. She held up a foreleg and waved it around. "Aye look good fer my age, don't I!" she cackled.
The pencil fell from Byline's open mouth, dangling from the cord and bobbing back and forth. Flash Bulb stared at her and cocked her head to the side while Apple Bloom's eyes widened. All was silent save for the creaking of Granny Smith's rocker and the distant sound of fieldhooves hard at work. Finally, the reporter cleared his throat and blinked. "F-five hundred years old? B-but that's-" He stopped as a memory tickled the back of his mind. Impossible! That was a legend. Okay, no. The digs and later Princess Celestia's confirmation-
Flash Bulb looked to him. "What is it?" she asked. A giggle escaped her lips and she pointed at his face. "What? You never were good at hiding your feelings!" She twisted her lips and arched an eyebrow. "So, what is it?"
Apple Bloom bounded over to Granny Smith's side, jumping up and down. "Yeah, what is it? And are ye really five hundred years old, Granny Smith?" She raised her forelegs and placed them onto the legrests of her chair. "Huh, huh?"
Granny Smith nodded at her granddaughter. "I'm an Apple, Apple Bloom!" She sat up in her chair and thumped her chest with a hoof. "We tell tha' truth, youngin'!"
Byline retrieved his pencil and did some quick writing. He glanced up at Granny Smith. "So it's true, then? But that would mean-"
"-Mean what?" Flash Bulb shouted. She rolled her eyes and extended her wings out to nearly their full length, primary feathers bristling. "Would somepony please fill me in on what's going on?"
A low chuckle came from Granny Smith. "Thay don't teach yah much history in school these days, do they?" She leaned forward and locked eyes with the Pegasus Pony. "Tell me, child. Have ye' ever heard of Dream Valley?"
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