"It's too steep here," cried little Pinkamena, looking up the rough stone hillside where her sister Limestone waited impatiently.
"You're so lame," chided Limestone with a huff. "Even Marble made it up here and she's littler than you."
Pinkamena felt somepony nudging her forward from behind. Her other older sister, Maud, began headbutting her up from the hill base where the grade became steeper. "C'mon, Pinkie," she encouraged flatly.
Pinkamena wobbled forward reluctantly, keeping her eyes down, watching the colorful striated stone slide past her. She didn't look up until she saw the dirt cap of the Painted Hills appear beneath her hooves.
"Okay," began Limestone. "Now that we're all here, I'm the sheriff and you're all bandits who ran into the desert and I have to find you."
"I want to pretend to be rocks," argued Maud.
Limestone groaned and rolled her eyes. "Nopony else wants to do that."
"Then I don't wanna play," grumbled Maud, turning away.
"We can do that later," sighed Limestone dismissively. "Now go hide when I turn around." Limestone looked away and began counting. The other three sisters scampered away into the tall grass. Marble squeezed snugly under a scrub brush, confident she would not be found.
"We should split up," warned Maud as Pinkie followed closely in her hoofsteps. She shot a glance back at her just as her next step punched straight through the dirt. The ground crumbled away and Maud plunged into darkness. She hit the stone floor with a grunt and a sharp pain in her flank.
Maud groaned as she stood up slowly and shook off the dirt.
"Maud," cried Pinkie looking down into the black, her voice echoing through the cavern. "Are you okay?"
"Yes," answered Maud impassively. Looking up, she could only see a dark silhouette of Pinkie's head, outlined in a halo of light. Another cascade of dirt fell upon her. She clenched her eyes shut as they stung with agitation.
"I'll get Limestone and Limestone will get Father," promised Pinkie. "Limestone!" she called urgently.
Maud kept her eyes shut as they watered in protest. The air smelt stale like the air in the farmhouse attic but earthy instead of aromatic with cedar. Suddenly she heard a voice she didn't recognize. "Hello?" she replied weakly. "Who are you?"
She listened carefully to his reply, amazed that anyone was just here waiting inside a secret cave. Even though she didn't know him, his presence was still comforting. She began to mill around, carefully feeling out the environment with her hooves as she tried to hone in on his location. She tapped against something small and round on the floor. It scooted when she nudged it with her hoof, sounding like stone on stone as it moved.
“You're a rock," she said, trying in vain to pry her eyes open. "I like rocks. My name is Maud Pie… Let’s be friends.”
Time Turner pushed his face against the glass as he watched the stark, colorless landscape scroll by, an empty plane with slowly parallaxing mountains in various shades of gray.
"There really is nothing out here," he began in awe. "How exciting!" He started fidgeting in his bench seat again. "I've never been anywhere so incredibly dreary in all my life," he grinned. "You know, when everything's in grayscale it really gives you an appreciation for texture and the dark or the lightness of shades. You start to notice the subtle nuances between things like granite and riverbed silt, even if they're the same color or value. Some say it even heightens your sensory percep- oh look!" He sat up rigid. "I just saw a tumbleweed!" He pointed and bounced up and down excitedly. "We don't have those in Ponyville! Actually, in my lab at home-"
He turned around to see that both benches were empty, as were the two across the aisle. Time furrowed his brow and then craned his neck up above the backrest, scanning the whole car. It was completely vacant except for him. He'd had his face glued to the window for the last two stops and never realized.
"You're talking to yourself again, Time," He scolded. He sighed and returned to the view. "Must not be a very popular destination."
The train screeched to a halt at the largely abandoned Rockville Station and hissed a blast of steam. Time stretched his legs with a satisfied sigh and gathered up his saddle bag. A hoofful of ponies did exit the train and disperse into town.
On the platform he waited awkwardly for his contact, his eyes darting around to find an intriguing diversion. On the wall was a yellow and black poster that simply said 'Stop the Fillydelphia Line.' He squinted at it curiously, wondering what it could be about.
"Doctor… Turner?" called an unsure voice behind him.
Time spun around to face the stallion. "Oh, it's Time Turner, actually… Or Dr. Whooves. Time Turner is my given name."
The stallion creased his face in frustration. "So… are you not a real doctor?"
"I am," replied Time with an impish smirk. "Not a medical doctor, mind you. It's actually a very interesting and excruciatingly long story. You see, when I was-"
"I'm from the company," interrupted the weary earth pony. "I'm just here to give you your assignment outline and get you settled into your room.
"Yes, of course," nodded Time apologetically as he adjusted his tie. "I can talk while we walk."