Centuries ago, long after the mad tyrant Discord had been defeated, and long enough for a generation to grow up having never known a second Princess, the ponies of Equestria argued over where to build their new capitol city. The original royal castle had been abandoned, still in partial ruin, as an unspoken memorial to the sorrocidal battle which had taken place within it's walls. The provisional government had been run from a converted military fort ever since. But ponies had decided that the time had come to rebuild and move on.
Each major city argued why it should be the new capitol. Baltimare boasted it's expansive ports. Las Pegasus argued for its multitribal diversity. Manehattan touted it's own well established infrastructure. Even the smaller fledgling villages and townships like Whinneapolis, Trottingham, and Seaddle threw their proverbial hats into the ring, banking that being a seat of government would help them grow into wealth and prominence.
After years of arguing and little progress, an impartial multi-tribal committee was convened to reach an agreement. At the end of their deliberations, they finally agreed to build a new city on the side of Mount Canter. The unicorns praised it for being the intersection of several powerful leylines. The earth ponies saw potential and profit in the rich gem mines within the mountain. Even the pegasus agreed with the mountain's central location, and familiar use as landmark while flying.
As with any group decision, some participants were bound to be left unsatisfied. An agreement was struck to please these final few discontents. Though the city would remain on the mountainside, rather that use the local mines for materials, the roads and pathways would be paved with stone sourced from across the nation. So even if the capitol was not near any particular city, a piece of each city would always remain a part of the capitol.
Centuries later, nobles would complain that the streets were in poor visual taste and clashed with the stylistic uniformity of the rest of the city. Luckily, decades of historical scholars and architectural enthusiasts had compounded enough continued support to preserve the city streets in their original state.
Although she did not know any of these ponies, nor even of their existence, Maud Pie was grateful for their efforts.
She walked the streets of the city in the pre-dawn hours alone, save for the chilly fog and the few dedicated bakers who were also already awake. There had been a heavy storm the night before, and either some weatherpony had a made a mistake, or some noble has commissioned special mood weather for the day, because an unscheduled cold front had converted all the moisture to unusually thick fog. Thick enough that visibility was struck down to only a few pony lengths in any direction.
Not that this concerned Maud, who was walking with her eyes completely shut, navigating solely through the street map in her head and what her innate earth pony magic told her about the stones beneath her hooves.
'Igneous. Granite with high presence of feldspar. Western mountainous region. Syenogranite indicates Old Hoofer City. Clover Lane. Turn left... now. '
Maud Pie enjoyed her daily walk about the city for three reasons. First, it allowed her to hone her earth sense, giving her a wide range of rock samples to sense and interpret. Secondly, the exercise was a decent way to keep in shape and offset the hours of sedentary graduate work analyzing samples and researching reference tables which were an unavoidable part of her education at Celestia's Academy for Advanced Earth Ponies. Lastly, it was simply a fine way to pass the time in the morning. A childhood spent growing up on a rock farm had left her tuned to wake up at hours most Canterlites would never see, when not even the Academy's library or research labs were open.
'Sandstone. Low quartz content, traces of red clay. Recently laid. Appaloosa plains region. Farrier street. Angle right and continue.'
She continued on her constitutional, feeling out the stones with each step, taking in the information her magic presented while also adjusting her position along her mental map. The earth pony tribe's magic ability to sense qualities of an object or material was often compared to a sort of sixth sense. And, much like the other senses, it is difficult to describe in comprehensible terms to someone without it. Like describing sight and colors to the blind, the only way to describe the sensations of earth pony magic (without going into specifically developed technical and academic terms) is to frame it in the other senses. A blind pony can be told that yellow is 'warm, inviting, and cheerful' in the same way a pegasus can be told that jasper feels 'spicy and syruppy, with green flashes'.
'Iron. Corrugated. 77% purity. Accessibility ramp to Canterlot Castle, public section. Continue two minutes before turning.'
Maud was subtlety proud of her self-developed training technique. Even among ponies with rock based cutie marks, identifying stones and minerals with such speed and accuracy like she was capable of was still a remarkable display of talent that few could match. It was this daily practice which had put her at the head of the Academy's (admittedly small, but still respectable) rocktorate program.
Maud stopped in her tracks as her path was crossed by something wholly unfamiliar. She opened her eyes. The fog was still thick in all directions, but the fuzzy outline of a hedge confirmed that she was in one of the many public gardens. She took a step back and glanced at the stones beneath where she'd stepped.
There was a pebble in her path. From a visual stance, aside from some discoloration and being loose from the rest of the path, it was entirely unremarkable. From her initial glance, it looked to be igneous, with a high olivine content that gave a it a muddled blue-grey color. A common enough variety to find around Canterlot, Ponyville, and the surrounding areas. However, that wouldn't explain the strange sensations she'd felt.
Puzzled, Maud picked up the stone so she could get a better read of it, isolated from any interference from the ground. It fit snugly in the frog of her hoof.
There it was again. As she probed it with her magic, the sensations she got back were irregular and inconsistent with what she'd learned to expect. The energy felt runny, yet viscous. Like swirling sparkles of emerald irridesence one second, dissolving pink and orange fractals the next. Nothing added up like it should. It also brought to mind, oddly enough, memories of her little sister, though she couldn't fathom why.
"Curious..." Maud murmured as she turned the pebble over in her hoof. She was, if anything, not a pony to waste words. If her little sister Pinkie was to describe the situation, filtered through her own worldview, she'd likely say that the stone's strange sensations was like "biting into a shiny silver pound cake only to find that it tastes like soup, chews like bubblegum, and a little bitty bit dissolves into cold steam every third chew or so." She was odd like that, but the comparison would have been accurate regardless.
Maud mulled over the odd stone as the fog made it's best effort to penetrate her thick-knit frock. It failed, but was valiant in it's attempt. Though the rock still refused to give up it's secrets, Maud was summoned from her concentration by the tolling of the morning bells. She glanced up as her concentration broke.
Just as the bells had predicted, Celestia's sun was cresting the horizon, or what little of it she could see through the haze. But even the fog was already beginning to thin as the sun chased off the chill of the night that had allowed it to accumulate so. The sun also brought with it the realization that she had been staring at the strange stone for far longer than she had realized, and was well behind schedule.
Putting the mystery aside, she tucked her strange find into a pocket formed by the fold of her frock's collar, such that it's presence would be a reminder to study it again later.
With a languid turn, she reversed course and set back the way she had come, forgoing her blinded practice for the speed offered by keeping her eyes open. Especially since the sounding of the morning bells would begin the process of rousing the city's less early-rising populace, whose presence in the streets would make her practice all the more hazardous. With a steady trot, she headed back to the Academy's grounds as, even subconsciously, the energies of the rock clutched to her breast flexed and meshed against her own.
Personal Journal of Maud Pie
Autumn 34, Year of Celestia 995
Unexpected heavy fog this morning led to deterioration in samples K5 through M8. Mass loss and matrix decomposition values have been recorded in Testing Log No. 4, same date. No other abnormalities.
Attended guest lecture held by Professor Booming from Minos' Bullshoe University on the topic of Advanced Petrokinesis. I noted down several novel approaches to try in my semester project.
During my morning walk, I encountered a strange rock. I could not identify it by hoof, and its energy defies all patterns that I have seen before. Since my magic cannot read it clearly, I will use the advanced measurement toolkit to establish it's characteristics so I can identify it in the library later.
Classification: Likely metamorphic
Color: Grey, subtones of green and blue
Cleavage: n/a Test omitted due to small sample size
Moth's Hardness Rating: 10 4.5 2.5 3 0? 9 10 Test Inconclusive
Acid Test: No reaction
Red Stone's Ambient Thaum Test: 25 15 7 2 0 1 5 12 22 Test Inconclusive
Runic's Corpulence Test: Positive Negative. Negative. Negative.
"Whoa... dude. What smells like... like brimstone?"
Purple light waned from mystic runes as Maud powered down her measurement device and turned to face her roommate.
As a general rule in the Celestia sponsored educational facilities, ponies with similar majors or degree paths would be roomed together. Both to allow them to learn and teach one another, but also to promote the growth of friendships in a stressful and tightly scheduled environment. Unfortunately, there are always a few odd-numbered ponies who end up rooming with others whose fields of study are vastly different from their own. Such was the case of Maud and her roommate.
"Good morning Treehugger. Congratulations on being up before noon. A new personal record."
Treehugger yawned as she stretched and wiped the sleep from her eyes with a long hanging dread of her red and orange mane. She rolled out of bed, miraculously both landing on her hooves and avoiding the debris field that constituted her floor. Though they had neither intentionally nor officially made any sort of agreement, there was practically a visible line between Maud's and Treehugger's halves of the room.
Maud's was simple; spartan and utilitarian in design and function. A few framed pictures of family for motivation, and many clearly labeled specimen boxes, organized by the classification of the geological material contained within.
Treehugger took a more 'free-form' approach to her living space. Every available surface was cluttered with half finished projects and hobbies. Things she'd become heavily invested in for a few days before losing interest and moving on, leaving the old project unfinished and abandoned, to be pushed to the side to make way for a new passion. Pushing to the side had eventually become pushing to the floor, then pushing under the bed, then pushing wherever was left. To top it all off, through the constant unintentional influence of her earth pony magic, fully self-contained ecosystems had flourished, lived, died, and been born anew within the wreckage of her wandering interests. A keen eyed (or keen nosed) observer could find species of mushroom and grasses which existed nowhere else in Equestria.
In short, it was a tad messy.
Treehugger kicked a partially colored poster aside (rendering a novel species of insect extinct in the process) as she hazily made her way across to Maud's worktable. "Like, sorry Maud podge, but my nocturnal plants class is totally late, and I need at least ten hours of delta wave bliss to reset my cosmic energy."
Maud nodded softly in agreement. Though Treehugger had some untidy habits, there was no animosity between them. If anything, she provided a unique and thoroughly unorthodox perspective to Maud's various projects and assignments thanks to her own arcano-botanical studies. Plus, her mane was also the subject of Maud's pet project on the permineralization process of organic materials.
Treehugger took notice of the intricate analysis devices that Maud had spread across her worktable. "You got your heavy kit out." she noted. "New project?"
"Not exactly." Maud replied as she carefully removed her stone from the clamps which had held it in place. "An unknown sample. I haven't been able to identify it."
The plant mare's extensive eyebrows rose. "Whoa... a rock that you don't know? Far out." She leaned in close enough that Maud could smell the nocturnal herbs that her class had been working with. "Can I see it?"
Maud frowned, mostly at the invasion of her space, but acquiesced and slid her sample across the table, leaving it in front of the curious Treehugger.
Treehugger gave the rock before her a long stare, a foolish grin on her face. After what seemed like a full minute or longer, her tongue darted out and clipped the edge. Immediately, her normally dilated eyes shrunk to pinpricks and she flew back as though she'd been shocked.
"Whoa!" she gasped out, bruised but otherwise fine. "That's some wicked mojo!"
Maud cocked her head. Even by Treehuggers' standards that was an unusual reaction. "Explain."
She shook her head. "I don't know mare. I can't like, put that into words. It's like... like..." she furrowed her brow as she struggled to find words to convey what she had felt. "It's like it's too deep. Like... there's too much rock in this rock. Like there's a whole boulder crammed in a pebble."
She got to her hooves, but did not reapproach the table. "I don't like it. Feels wrong and makes my chakras ache. You gotta, like, throw that thing away or destroy it! Yeah, or at least show it to one of the profs or something."
Maud turned her gaze back to the sample on the table. Like a whole boulder inside a pebble? Such a strange notion, even from the mare known for her unusual ideas. But destroy it? There was no way she could dare destroy such unique and special sample! In fact, this little boulder might just be the most intriguing rock in her entire collection.
Showing it to a professor however... now that was a much more reasonable idea. They might even be able to identify it, given their years of dedicated study and countless hours spent in research.
Maud pocketed her boulder in miniature and walked to the dorm's door. "I will take it to a professor," she declared.
Treehugger nodded. "Yeah, you do that. Maybe they'll know how to cleanse out it's aura and, hey, make sure that-"
The door closed behind Maud, cutting her short.
"-you be careful with it, mare." She finished halfheartedly before shrugging it off and turning back to her side of the room. Somewhere under there was probably a herbology book, and it was going to take all of the two hours until class to find. Then again, as her rumbling stomach reminded her of how long she'd been asleep, maybe a snack first. Some of the colorful mushrooms looked edible enough.
Maud trotted through the Academy's halls at an easy pace. There was no hurry or rush. Classes were out for lunch, and most if not all of the students had fled to the streets of Canterlot in search of flavors and textures exceeding that of the free "food" that the school offered. Thus, the halls were free.
As she walked, Maud contemplated which professor she should bring the not-a-boulder to.
Professor Amethyst Citrine? Although she was known to take lunch in her office, it was also common knowledge that she liked to use the time to work on her novels.
Doctor Quake in the Tectonics department? While he would be more likely to be available, mineral identification was not his specific field of expertise.
As Maud prepared to head down the right fork of a branching path, a strange smell caught her attention as it wafted through the hallways. She spun on her heel to take the left route instead as she immediately came to a decision as to which professor to seek the aid of.
Within a few minutes she came upon the door of room 301, the multipurpose chemistry lab. The door was ajar, and through it the strangely sweet smell emanated. She nosed it more fully open and made her way inside.
"Ah ha! Miss Pie! One of my favorite students! How good to see you!"
"Hello Professor Drain," she replied.
A thickly build earth pony greeted her warmly from a worktable which was covered in bubbling flasks and overclocked bunsen burners. Though his shaven head and heavily muscled body made him look quite intimidating, most students knew him instead for his jovial nature, boisterous personality, and passion for teaching. Also for his tendency to use the expensive equipment in the science labs to prepare his meals since, in his own words, "Nothing in the professor's lounges is strong enough."
"I'm so glad you've come, Miss Pie. I was just in the middle of cooking lunch and could use a sampler."
Maud nodded. "I could smell what you were cooking from the hallway."
He grinned, in a gleeful way which still looked childishly giddy despite his bruiser-like appearance. "Then I'm sure you're as excited as I am!" He swirled a large spoon in one his beakers before offering it to her. "Take it, take it."
Maud obliged, and stuck the offered spoonful of runny yet brilliantly red liquid into her mouth. She swished it for a moment as she contemplated.
Drain the rock professor tapped his hoof impatiently. "Well, well? How is it?"
"Hayfries." she declared, "Chemically reduced and suspended in a liquid ruby matrix."
"Close," he corrected, "A red sapphire matrix, actually. The chromium in the rubies kept reacting poorly to the leftover distillates from the reduction process." He leaned in closer. "But how does it taste?"
"Like hayfries." Maud delivered without missing a beat.
Drain sighed. "Well, yes, that was the idea. Though I did have hopes that the sapphire might add something unique of it's own. Maybe if I used a purer corundum instead... Bah, another time. I'm sure you didn't come here just to be my test subject. Is there something I can help you with?"
"Yes." Maud reached into her pocket and took out the sample. It had felt like both andesite and quartzated schist at that moment, before it's energy twisted strangely. Suddenly it acquired a feeling of intense denseness akin to gabbro or basalt with high lead content. It almost felt like the stone was actively trying to resist being removed. "An unknown sample."
He raised an eyebrow. "Really? If my top student can't identify it, then it must be a very special sample indeed. Give it here then."
She dutifully dropped it into his waiting hoof, the feeling of it diminishing as it left the range of her magic. After carrying it around all day, she found it felt rather strange to not feel it's constant presence.
The professor took on a puzzled expression as he hefted the stone in his grasp. He tossed it from hoof to hoof a few times before a light of realization dawned on his face. "Ah yes, I see why you would bring this to me. I'm not surprised you haven't encountered it before, though I'm sure you'll recognize it by name." He held up the stone, such that they could both see it in the light. "This is maudite; your namesake if I'm not mistaken."
Professor Drain wheeled over one of the many chalkboards stored at the back of the room and began to sketch out a rough diagram as he entered his lecture mode.
"It's a very unique magical ore which only forms in volcanic regions free from pony influence. Regular volcanic disturbances will leave a fine cover of charged gem dust on the ground. Over time, the dust will absorb energy from the ambient magical field to grow and expand into full sized gemstones. If one type of gemstone takes dominance in an area, it can produce very high quality gems for enchanters and artificers. However, if too many varieties attempt to expand into each other, their intergrowth forms a highly volatile gem cluster, commonly known as pinkamena ore in it's semi-stable form. It's well known not only for being an incredible natural vessel for storing vast amounts of energy, but also for being highly unstable."
He added a few arcano-chemical formulas to the board. "Some of the most unstable varieties are prone to explode spectacularly at the slightest magical disturbance, even something as minor as a unicorn's levitation field. Luckily, harmony builds fail safes into nature. As a deposit of pinkamena ore expands, it will rapidly drain the magical energy from it's immediate surroundings. In most cases, this creates a dense layer of magically impermeable stone around it, which both limits it's growth and inhibits external magic fields from accidentally triggering an explosive cascade reaction. It is this dense material which we know as maudite."
He turned back to Maud with an understanding smile. "That's why, I'm sure, you weren't able feel it with your magic. Tactilely it's there, obviously. It has a shape and mass that we can perceive. But to our magic it's practically invisible. Even I, with three decades of teaching and advanced research under by belt, can barely feel the slightest trickle of magic from it. It must feel very unusual to find something with almost no magic signature."
Maud's expression remained unchanged, but internally she frowned. No magic signature? Not able to sense it with magic? That didn't sound right. The stone felt like multiple types of rock at once, not an absence of sensation. Even Treehugger, who lacked an affinity with rocks, had been able to notice it's strangeness effortlessly. If anything, the stone in her possession seemed a better match to her sister's namesake, with it's inconsistent energy and changing sensations.
"What if this were pinkamena?"
He snorted softly in amusement. "This much? Uninsulated? Miss Pie, with a piece that size, even the ambient protection charms around the Academy would be enough to set it off and blow the both of us to the Moon!"
Clearly then it wasn't pinkamena. However the professor's description of maudite was also still a poor fit. But then why was he so sure that it was accurate? Could he somehow not feel it's strange magic?
"Still," he continued, "It is a curiosity. I would never expect to find any in the city, outside of the royal armories, that is. Due to it's magically insulative properties, it's ideal for magic suppressing horseshoes, wing clips, and horn caps." He hoofed it back to Maud. "It probably fell off the keychain of some tourist or something to that effect. Though small, it's still a very nice find."
As the rock landed in her hoof, the now familiar sensations of it returned. There was no "absence of magic". Her hoof practically roiled with sensations, the shifting qualities of the stone causing random spikes and dips in the magic field. If she were to try and describe it in laymare's terms, it almost felt... happy. Or at least pleasant in an emotional sense, in so far as one could describe a sample of sediment as being emotional.
Maud pocketed the rock, thanked the professor for his time, and left as quickly as she'd come.
Maud took to the streets to clear her head and focus her thoughts. The scheduled sun was lost under a thick layer of cloud, heavy and grey with imminent precipitation.
Somepony on the weather circuit was most definitely getting fired.
Fat raindrops began to fall, chasing off the few ponies who'd valiantly been hoping that the weather team would disperse the clouds before the rain could begin. Within moments the streets were dark, drenched, and deserted.
Except for Maud. And her boulder, of course. And a few weather ponies who darted here and there through the cloud, trying to get some semblance of control over it.
Maud paid them and the storm little mind. It was a lite drizzle compared to storms she'd happily worked through back on the wild-weather plains of the rock farm. Besides, her mind was occupied by other things.
She had an inkling of an idea as to the truth about her mystery stone. It was only the barest hint of an idea, a fragment of a possibility, but the more she thought on it the more it seemed to make sense. The strange ways its energies changed and shifted. Both Treehugger's and the Professor's reactions to it. Even now the sensations she felt as the stone pressed against her breast. All the pieces fell together into a strange puzzle, but there was still something missing. Some idea or evidence which would fill the gaping hole in her idea and tie the mystery up with the ribbon of certainty.
So wrapped up in her thoughts was she, that she barely heard the rain. Nor did she hear the weather pegasus suddenly shouting to each other in panicked voices.
She heard the lightning though.
With a thunderous crack, lightning struck one of the ornamental trees that lined the boulevard, against all odds bypassing the many houses, lightposts, and higher points of the mountainside city. With it's own second crack, the tree's truck split as it began to fall. A weatherpony shouted at her to get out of the way, but it all was happening too fast! Maud could only stand there, frozen in shocked stupor, right in the path of the oncoming tree!
From her breast, Maud felt a sudden surge of energy. A pulse of magic escaped from beneath her frock, emanating out and all around. Suddenly, several rocks in the cobblestone path, the ones right underneath Maud's hooves, came loose from the surrounding road. With the rush of water flowing from up the street, they slid down the path, carrying Maud with them until they caught on another part of the road. In a mere moment, Maud found herself several pony lengths back and to the left from where she just had been.
And then the tree hit the ground.
After a moment, Maud opened her eyes, barely aware that she'd closed them. All around her were branches and leaves. The tree had landed just perfectly so that she was caged between a branch on either side of her, and one above that had stopped a bit-width from her head. Her previous location was squarely beneath the thickest part of the trunk.
She stood stock still as the rain continued to run down her face, silently as her mind processed this new information. Both what had happened, and what by the slimmest of margins hadn't. She reached to her chest to where the energy had come from, only to feel her rock rolling down her sleeve. The heavy rain had stretched out the frock's material, eliminating the fold in the fabric where she'd storied it prior. Out of options and unwilling to lose it, Maud carefully brought her rock up and gripped it in the side of her mouth. Just then, she started to hear the sounds of ponies on the outside of her entrapment.
"Hurry up! There's still somepony under there!"
"Call a unicorn who knows a cutting spell! Or at least go get a chainsaw!"
"Buck these branches! I can't get any purchase in them!"
Maud shook the remaining shreds of shock out of her mind and gathered herself. Though plants were far from her specialty, she could still wield some general techniques of earth pony magic. She strode forward, whippy young branches creaking and snapping apart as if they were old and dry, leaving behind a Maud shaped hole as she asserted her dominance over the wood.
"Back up! Back up!" a voice on the outside cried, "I hear movement, it might be settling! Keep your eyes open for any collapsing sections."
Maud exited the mass of wooden debris, squinting slightly in the sudden harsh brightness of a rescue unicorn's light spell. Immediately she was set upon by concerned ponies who started to conduct her towards the nearest shelter.
"Are you injured? Is there any pain anywhere?" A unicorn with a medical cap on asked as soon as she was under a hastily erected canopy.
"I'm fine," she stated plainly.
The stallion spoke to an aide as he quickly checked her over for any injuries. "She's in shock. Get me a crash blanket and a basic kit just in case."
"I'm not in shock." Maud replied, just as plainly as before, "I am completely unharmed."
He paused. The doctor gave her a questioning look before lighting up his horn. A moment later, he ended the spell and turned to her with an expression of shock and awe. "So it would seem," he confirmed. "It's astounding! Never in my career have I seen a pony walk away uninjured from an accident like that. By all rights you should be dead, or worse! I can't even imagine the sheer odds stacked against you!"
Maud shifted her focus to the strange rock that had somehow saved her life, which she still gripped tightly in her lips. "Yes. What are the odds."
After being cleared by the rescue doctor, Maud had been allowed to leave, much to the relief and astonishment of the other rescue workers. Both at her incredible survival, and at her declinal to press any sort of charges against the weather ponies for either negligence or endangerment.
She now found herself occupying a corner booth in a small unassuming donut shop, along with several other ponies who had chosen it as shelter from the unexpected storm.
Though the unicorn behind the counter was clearly unused to this much business in the mid-afternoon, he was managing to hold his own, delivering coffees, sandwiches and other small confections suitable for time-wasting munching as quickly as whoever was back in the kitchen could bake them.
" 'ere you go," he said as he placed a pair of plates on Maud's table. "One plain bagel and one... eeehhh... empty plate with a bit o' salt on it. Jus' like you asked."
Maud nodded in thanks to the stallion as he left to help patrons on the other side of his diner who were clamoring for more complicated coffee orders.
Once he was far enough away, Maud unrolled her sleeve, which she had rolled up nearly as far as the fabric would allow. She removed her small boulder from this makeshift pocket and placed it on the mostly empty plate, which sat across from her on the table as though waiting for some dining partner with a peculiar diet. She steepled her hooves and made direct eye contact with it, or as best she could given the circumstances.
"We need to talk."
She reached around and placed her hoof behind the rock, so that she could just barely feel it with her magic. It seemed unchanged from her declaration.
"Clearly, you are alive."
There it was. A flicker in it's changing state, different from its usual chaos. A sudden spike as though it had settled on a single material for a moment.
"You are also sapient, or at the very least sentient and aware of your surroundings."
'Fluid energy at pulsing low frequency. Very iconic to common Carterlot marble.'
"Do not bother trying to hide it now. You've made it obvious already." Maud continued in a mildly chastising tone.
'Still marble-like, but with some green notes similar to gabbro.'
"First is your energy." Maud began. "All of the qualities that I can feel in you with my magic are in flux. Something I have never encounter before. Next was Treehugger's reaction. She could also sense your strange qualities. But Treehugger has no aptitude for rocks. Her special talent is feeling the energy fields of plants and animals. This was the first point towards your sentience."
'Sensation varying quickly. Changes too rapid to pin to one specific type.'
"When Treehugger reacted negatively, you responded by consciously manipulating your energy. She said you should be destroyed because of your unusualness, so when presented to my professor, you adopted the least noteworthy magical signature of all known rocks. However this was noteworthy in itself. This indicated both self-awareness and self-preservation. Two more points towards your sentience."
'Cold. Similar to sensation of wintergreen. No basis for comparison.'
"Then there was the tree." Maud paused a moment to push back down her own swirling emotions on the subject. "Through some method, you exerted a force which pushed me to safety. The tree would not have damaged a rock. You acted for my survival. You didn't want me to die."
'Sensations completely unknown and unfamiliar.'
"Or at the very least, my continued companionship provides some desirable advantage to you which you cannot otherwise obtain. Regardless, you acted outside of basic survival, indicating not just awareness, but the capacity for intelligent thought. A point not just for sentience, but sapience."
Maud leaned in, close enough that she could almost feel the energy of the rock without even needing to touch it. "All of this points to you being a rock, that is also not a rock. Somehow, you are both alive and aware. Even now your energy has been reacting in response to each turn of this conversation."
The tension in the space between the pair was palpable. Two unstoppable forces of will waiting for the other to cave first and accept the victor's assertion of reality. They sat there, frozen, for minutes on end in a silent battle of wills.
And then, like a switch had been thrown, the tension was gone. The rock had caved.
Maud felt something new coming from the rock. Something thoroughly unexpected. Emotion. As clear and discernible to her magic as though it were a physical property no different than color or density. A single, pure sensation that clearly and undoubtedly came from the rock in front of her.
Her eyes widened slightly. "Ah. There you are. We should introduce now. I am Maud."
Unintelligible series of emotions and mineral qualities.
That wouldn't do. It needed a name. Now that she knew that this rock was alive, it wouldn't do to go around continuing to call it "the rock" or "that strange sample". Her mind wandered back to Treehugger's comment that morning. About how it felt like an entire boulder crammed into a pebble.
"Boulder." She decided. A good a placeholder as any. If Boulder agreed with the name, that is.
Maud nodded. So it was agreed. "I would think that you would want me to return you to where I found you."
Immediate spike of negative sensations. Fear. Worry. Concern.
"Why not?" Maud asked, "Your grain striations indicate you broke off from a much larger piece. Do you not wish to return?"
Dullness. Restlessness. Boredom.
"Yes. I suppose the life of a rock would be very sedimentary." She paused a beat. "That was a joke. I have been told by my sister that humor is a good way to establish trust and camaraderie in the beginning of a friendship. I can't tell if it is working."
Dry mirth. Probably the closest a rock could come to a single toneless 'ha'.
Maud quieted as she considered the issue. What was to be done with her new associate? It had no desire to return to its place of origin, where she has concluded that other such sentient rocks might be found. It seems that this rock- no, Boulder- for some reason, loathed the monotony of sitting in one place until fate or forces caused it to move. She could turn it over to a professor. Assuming Boulder could be convinced to reveal its nature to others, then it would be the sort of breakthrough find that could set a pony up for life. But that would also mean committing Boulder to a lifetime, per se, of being studied in a lab. Possibly even broken down into pieces to see if its consciousness was an emergent property of its composition. No, that would not do. She had grown attached to the small, strange rock and beside that it had saved her life. She could not subject it to a fate like that.
Then, a new idea came to her. "You could become my companion." she offered. "I travel often for my studies. Collecting samples and studying regional variances in geological formations. Travelling the world would be effective in warding against ennui. Would that be agreeable?"
Boulders feeling were clearly mixed on the subject. The flurry of emotions was difficult even for Maud to parse before it finally seemed to be reaching a stable state. Maud tensed as she waited for a response.
She let out a breath that she didn't realize she'd been holding. "That's good. Then it is decided." She thought it might be proper, after reaching such an agreement, to shake someone's hoof, but she couldn't figure out how to replicate such a gesture with a limbless rock. She eventually settled on patting it softly.
A comfortable silence fell between the two as they gathered their thoughts. Or so Maud assumed Boulder was doing as much, as its emotional signals had dipped back below the baseline level of shifting physical properties. In time, her thoughts returned to the feat Boulder had performed during the storm. What it had done was not entirely clear. Had Boulder manipulated the stones beneath her hooves? Maneuvered Maud herself? Or possibly even brute-forced the very laws of probability? It was outside the scope of her rocktorate studies, and felt more like something she might need to ask a unicorn about. But the basis of all science, both geology and unicorn magic, is repeatability. Something could not be for certain if it could not be repeated.
"Boulder," Maud began, addressing the rock by it's new name, "The effect you caused during the storm, can you replicate it?"
Mild indignation. A sudden transition to... cockiness?
Boulder gave off a quick flash of white light which vanished as instantly as it had been created. Maud discreetly glanced to her left and right, but luckily no one else seemed to have noticed. She leaned in closer to see if it had undergone any sort of visible change, only to briefly brush against the salt that surrounded it and feel... something that was definitely not salt.
She picked up a few specks on the end of her hoof to examine. "You transmuted the salt into quartz crystals." She brought her hoof dangerously close to her eye to confirm an odd detail that she thought she might have felt. "Quartz crystals shaped like tiny statues of me in various poses."
She pulled back away. "That is-"
Maud's head snapped to attention at the angry yelling from across the restaurant. Some stallion in a fine jacket, ruined by the rain, was aggressively shaking as much salt as he could between the slices of his sandwich as the mare across from him, as well as the rest of the diners, looked on in worry and alarm, respectively.
"Good heavens, dear, whatever is the matter?" The mare asked.
"It's this blasted Monte Cristo!" the stallion cried, "No matter how much salt I add, it doesn't get any saltier! Just crunchier!"
Maud turned her attention away from the escalating scene and back to her companion. "And you impacted the entire diner. Your skills are much broader than I thought. A remarkable ability."
Outside, the rain had finally stopped, and a few patches of sunlight were beginning to bleed though holes as weather ponies diligently dispersed the remaining cloud bank.
"Come. We should go. Afternoon classes will be starting soon. And then I can introduce you to my collection."
Maud tossed a few bits on the table for her server, and with her new companion tucked close to her breast and giving off waves of eager anticipation, she headed back to her campus. Without her knowledge, a small smile crept onto her lips.
Things were only going to get more interesting from here on out.