Rock, My World

by False Door

First published

Maud Pie and Dr. Whooves unravel the mystery of Boulder's origins and fall in mutual weirdness with one another.

Time Turner comes to Rockville on official geological business; unfortunately that business involves greenlighting a project to destroy the Painted Hills, a local natural wonder and a fondly remembered foalhood locale of local rock farmer, Maud Pie. Unhappy with his assignment, Time seeks Maud's help in saving the landmark by uncovering an ancient secret. The more time they spend together in the hills, the more their weirdness seems to fit together... Oh, yes and Maud's pet rock turned jealous ex, Boulder is trying to kill them which appears connected to it all in some strange way.

Maud Pie x Dr. Whooves

The 'sex' tag is purely for some innuendo but the story does contain hot fossil collecting action.

My submission for the May Pairings Contest 2022.

Cover by me, as always.

Chapter 1

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"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.”

ROCK, MY WORLD

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."

Chapter 2

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"It looks like oxidized bismuth," declared Maud in her even monotone as she nestled her haunches into the crest of the barren ridge. She blinked stoically out over the sunken industrial wasteland on the outskirts of Rockville. The golden hour was settling over the valley and there was always a moment in each day where the setting sun hit the brackish swamp and the oil laden waters glowed iridescent like a liquid rainbow. The whimsical colors in and of themselves weren't what excited Maud, but it was their reminding her of the elemental metal. Maud liked rocks best. Bismuth wasn't a rock or mineral, but metals, especially the hard gray ones, were also high on the list of things she liked.

"Don't you think so, Boulder?" she added, turning to her companion. Boulder, her pet rock of years, sat peacefully beside her, watching the unnatural phenomenon as the two of them did together some evenings going back home from town.

They came into Rockville every other weekday, pulling a cart packed with prime specimens and oddities of the geological variety that the Pie family had gleaned from their rock farm. Fossils, geodes, crystals with a particularly impressive formation and purity. Months ago in the fields, Maud had found a piece of petrified wood with a knothole going all the way through it. To her surprise, no one had bought it yet. While it wasn't what most ponies considered beautiful, it was amazing and unique in its own way.

She caught herself sighing in an uncharacteristic show of feelings as the sun began to dip behind the great rusty blast furnace. "Oh, it's nothing," she replied, wishing she could take back her emotional outburst, but Boulder was far too observant and never one to let a wrinkle go unnoticed.

"It's just… you're over two thousand years old. You must have felt this way before. I wish I could watch this with someone special."

She turned to him as he spoke, his rough gray complexion bathed in gold. "You are very special to me,” she clarified. “But you know what I mean. Someone I can build a life with."

"What are you saying?" she blinked. "I had… no idea you felt that way… But could we even…" A delirious warmth was welling up inside her, an overwhelming sensation she'd never felt before. In that moment it didn't matter that he was her pet, and a rock, or what her family would think. Boulder knew where she came from; he understood her better than anypony.

Maud shook her head, dismissing the rain clouds of doubt from her mind. "I don't care. It feels right." She reached down and lifted him up on her hoof to nuzzle him. "I'm so happy," she droned.


The following week was a delight. The work went slowly; the rocks were heavier. Even the sun seemed closer to medium gray. Maud began carrying her new boyfriend in her hoof instead of her pocket as she used to do, despite how it impeded her daily chores. Her sisters and parents found that she invariably vanished into thin air any moment she wasn’t occupied with rock farm tasks, stealing away to her bunk or the confines of the mine or the seclusion of the fields. She hadn’t told them yet. She didn’t know how to explain their new crystalizing love.

In their free time, they had picnics in the wastes at the edge of the fields where they would watch dust devils bloom as they were kicked up by the searing valley winds.

Their first kiss was behind the barn. He tasted like cement but with a burnt earthy overtone; it was dark and mysterious and oh so masculine. “I like the scratchy stubble,” insisted Maud, emotionlessly stroking his texture. “You make me feel like a vivacious filly again.”

On Boulder's behest, Maud lobbied to get her own room in the farmhouse apart from her two sisters, in exchange for doing more work. She and Boulder moved into the little upstairs sewing room. He now could sleep beside her on the mattress instead of his little pet bed on the floor. Things were moving so fast and it was exhilarating. They were always with each other before, but now they were always with each other while dating. For Maud, it seemed like a fantastic dream to be dating a rock, but like all dreams, it was short lived.

Things began to sour one night when Maud was reading the Rambling Rock Ridge geological survey in bed by lamplight. Boulder was laying within a snug indentation on his pillow beside her when he decided it was time.

Maud blinked in surprise and lowered her book. “The next level?” Her heart fluttered in trepidation. “I love you, Boulder but I’m just not ready for that yet. If my parents found out that we're even sharing a bed, I mean not as pet and master but as…” she trailed off upon reading his glowering expression.

Boulder offered a resentful, distant silence in response.

“Are you… upset with me?" asked Maud. Her eyes became downcast in his ireful disappointment. "Oh… I'm sorry.” She wasn't actually sorry; she just didn't want Boulder to be angry with her and it slipped out.

The night ended coldly without another word between the two.


Boulder resolved to carry his resentment into the next day and onward. His sustained displeasure cast a shadow over the daily chores and everything they did together from then on, but especially bed time. Their relationship seemed to have come to an impasse. Maud was now in a constant state of anxious guilt as she tried to find other ways to make Boulder happy, or at least distract him.

On one hoof, maybe their disagreement was an easy fix but on the other, if he really loved her, shouldn't he just respect her personal decisions? What if conceding to him on the matter was just treating the symptoms instead of the disease?

One day in Rockville, Maud stood behind her table of geological trinkets, her eyes cast down at the weathered woodgrain between crystal paperweights. She made sure not to sigh in lament for days gone by, not even through her nose, for fear of provoking another fight with Boulder about their static, unhappy relationship.

"Oh my goodness!" came an energetic voice. "Is that a real piece of petrified wood?"

Maud looked up from the table and lost her breath. The stallion before her was a strikingly plain earth pony, tan coat, dark brown mane, monochromatic just like her and her family. Her eyes wandered down to his flank which was emblazoned with an hourglass filled with sand… Silica… So many tiny rocks. Her face began to heat up. That's the best cutie mark I've ever seen, she thought.

"Absolutely remarkable!" He held the fossilized wood up with both hooves and peered at her through the knothole, grinning. "Is it for sale? How much do you want for it?"

It's free, blurted her inner voice. "Uh, f- fifteen bits," she stammered, trying to shake off her sudden mental clumsiness.

"I'd be a fool not to take that deal," he laughed, whipping out his coin purse. "Wherever did you find such an amazing specimen?"

"On my rock farm, in the northeast quadrant, three hundred eightyseven paces from the house."

"Oh, you have a rock farm." his blue eyes flicked up at her as he counted his bits on the table. "I'd love to visit a rock farm."

The corners of Maud's mouth upturned in the tiniest, most imperceptible smile a pony could make.

"I'm actually out here on rock business myself."

"Please continue," implored Maud flatly.

"Well, I've been commissioned by the Trans Equestria Railroad Company to help oversee construction of the new line. You must have heard about it."

Maud nodded. "The new express to Fillydelphia." Her eyes locked on his flank once more, then scanned over to the grumbling Boulder beside her.

"Yes, I'm a consultant on the survey team," continued the stallion. His hooves paused as his brain went off on another adventure. "Though to be honest, geology isn't actually my primary field of study but I wear many hats and I'll do in a pinch, as they said. Gave them my name a long time ago on a lark just because I like trains. Imagine my surprise when they finally contacted me."

Maud cocked her head to one side. "What did you say your name was?"

"Oh," he laughed. "I'm sorry. The name's Time Turner."

"Tim…" she blinked.

"No, Time. And you are?"

"Maud Pie."

"Pleasure to meet you. Lived here all your life?"

"Yes."

"It has that regional uniqueness to it. The company offered to put me up in a hotel in town but I wanted to be onsite with the crew. It's like camping," he chuckled with a gleeful twinkle in his eye. "Something about roughing it really makes you feel alive. Oh, look at me, jabbering on again. Here you are." He passed her the stack of bits over the table. "See you later, Maud." Time turned away, still examining the petrified wood balanced on one hoof as he walked.

Finally with her undivided attention again, Boulder began to air his grievances.

“I was just being nice," countered Maud. "And I was surprised that somepony finally bought it... I wasn’t smiling at him; you’re being ridiculous.”

The walk home was long even without stopping to watch the sunset.

Boulder was silent at dinner but In bed that night, he raised his issue with Maud's interactions with the stallion once again.

Maud shut her book in annoyance, knowing that there would be no further reading until they settled this. "I just forgot to introduce you, okay?" she argued. "He was talking a lot… I already told you, I didn’t smile at him. I hardly ever smile." Especially now, she thought.

Boulder seethed with jealousy, unable to let her perceived trespasses go.

“I can talk to other ponies, Boulder. You've changed. I wish things could go back to the way they were when you were kind and respected me.” She couldn’t believe that she’d spent so much time with him before dating and never noticed any red flags.

Boulder mounted a venomous retort, going straight for her honor.

Maud paused in shock, unable to believe what she'd just heard. Without another thought, she swatted him with her hoof, knocking him off of the bed. He tumbled and rattled across the old floorboards before coming to a rest upside down. “How dare you," she deadpanned. "We're done. Get out of my bed. Get out of my house. I never want to see you around this farm again. Do you understand?” A single tear ran down her cheek, sparkling in the lamplight.


Maud went about her chores the next day, sullen and empty inside. For once her face matched her feelings. On breaks from working in the mine, she just sat around alone and listless. She no longer had a built-in companion to share every moment with or become distracted, talking to. Pinkie was gone and Marble certainly wasn't going to fill that void. She probably enjoyed having a pickaxe handle nestled in her mouth as an excuse to remain silent as she usually was.

Nopony's even noticing how sad I am because I always look this way, thought Maud.

Getting involved with Boulder as a couple proved to be a devastating folly. She’d lost her best friend, her best friend not related by blood. He was her first boyfriend. She never stopped to think anything through or what would happen if it didn't work out. She was naive, her mind clouded by love sickness. This was the only way? No going back. No going forward. It was for the best. He was gone from her life, but she was free, and she'd never have to have that awkward conversation with her family that she'd been dreading.

Maud trudged slowly up the path out of the quarry pit. Watching the ground the whole way, she nearly bumped into Limestone at the top.

"Here," said her older sister gruffly. "I found him over by the windmill." Limestone presented Boulder on her upturned hoof.

Molten hot rage surged through Maud's veins as she calmly held her hoof out to take back her ex. "Thank you," she nodded, continuing past Limestone and toward the silo. She ignored Boulder's remorseless taunting, refusing to utter a single word in acknowledgement or even look at him and once she was sure she was out of sight behind the structure, she wound up and flung her old pet with prodigious earth pony strength. The black speck that was Boulder disappeared quickly into the hazy sky as he went sailing into the next county.

His petulant demeanor made it all the more easy to send him packing once again and only steeled her resolve in breaking up. Still, somewhere in the back of her mind, she wondered if he'd really stay away. To a large degree, it was his decision. She didn’t really want to tell her family the whole story, and it wasn’t as though she could call the police on a rock if he came around to harass her again.

Chapter 3

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It was shop day again. Maud hitched up her wagon and headed into Rockville. It was a walk, but it was a nice break from working the mine and the fields. Coming into town like this was liberation from her home, but standing there at her little fold up counter at the end of the boardwalk without Boulder, without anyone to talk to, was lonely and uncomfortable.

She spent forty-five minutes rotating a crystal cluster in her heavily curated spread, trying to decide which angle made it appear most enticing to a prospective buyer. She would plant it and then moments later second guess herself and continue fiddling with it.

"Hello, Maud," chimed a familiar voice.

Maud looked up from her display to see the stallion from the time before, the unwitting catalyst in the demise of her and Boulder's relationship. "Tim?"

"Time," he corrected, but you can call me 'Tim' if you like. How's business?"

"Ordinary," answered Maud. She smiled inwardly, looking at his flank again.

"It's nice that you're here again because I was thinking, since you like geology too, you might like to come out and see the Painted Hills."

"I've already seen them dozens of times," replied Maude thoughtlessly.

His face fell. "Oh, well of course."

Wait, was he just asking me to do something with him? She panicked, trying to rewind the conversation in her brain.

Time scratched his head and cleared his throat. "I suppose what I actually mean is that you should go see the Painted Hills one last time before they get demolished." His demeanor was suddenly sullen.

Maud's heart froze. "They're going to destroy the Painted Hills… for the railroad?

"I'm afraid so," nodded Time.

Maud paused, lost in a deluge of foalhood reveries and guilt over the possibility of shirking her duties to go be alone with a boy.

"You might see a few things that you never noticed before," added Time. "You don't have to come… go right now… or at all," he backpedaled. He became flustered over the subtle implications of the words come and go, one sounding solitary and non-compulsory and the other sounding like an invitation to accompany him and he worried that it sounded too forward and maybe he should have thought this through better.

"I want to come now," blurted Maud decisively as she began to scoot her wares together upon the table.

"You should bring your saddle bag," suggested Time.

After only half a day open, Maud closed up shop and left her cart by the saloon with a wheel lock on. The two of them walked out of town together. There was no road or trail, but it was a hike Maud had taken countless times over her life.

"Where are you from?" asked Maud after a careful deliberation over what she thought normal ponies just meeting might talk about.

"Oh, I'm actually from Ponyville. You may not have heard of-"

"I've heard of it. My sister lives there."

"Your sister?" Time wracked his brain, trying to think if he'd ever met anyone like Maude in Ponyville. He hadn't, but he had met a Pie. He looked back at her, cockeyed. "You're not talking about Pinkie Pie, are you?"

"Yes."

"That's incredible," he laughed. "I would have never pieced that together." The two didn't look or act anything alike. Was one of them adopted, he wondered. "How many siblings do you have then?"

"I have two more sisters who live on the rock farm.

"Sounds like you have a large family. I was an only child."

They crested the edge of the plateau and looked out where a strange ridge of multicolored hills seemed to erupt from the bleak gray dust of the desert floor. The new railroad track snaked out of Rockville and swooped down on a wedge of scaffolding where it sat stalled amongst a sparsely spread constellation of tents some distance from the hills themselves.

"The track layers may catch up before the demo team clears the way if they put their minds to it," muttered Time as they scraped and scuffed down the small incline.

Maud silently eyed a small group of Buffalo standing vigil above the little camp, protest signs in hoof. She was half surprised that she hadn't found out about this little detail about the project much earlier.

"They could just lay the track around the hills instead," mused Maud.

"That they could," agreed Time. "And the conductor could tell everypony to look out the right side of the train as they went by, but of course that's not going to happen. That costs the company more money and puts them behind schedule."

Maud's face softened slightly in lament as they got closer and the memories came flooding back. "I haven't been to these hills in a while. I used to play around here with my sisters all the time when we were little. Almost every weekend when we came into town. It has a lot of caves… We used to find spearheads around the base. I found my pet-" her lips tightened with ambivalence. "Never mind."

"It's not as if the hills are going to be razed," he comforted. "They'll still mostly be here… just with an ugly swath cut right through them."

Finally they were at the base of the hills which were composed of neatly regimented layers of yellow, red, white and green stone.

Time's eyes sparkled as he was overcome with beauty and he frolicked over to run his hoof across the technicolor stone. "Don't you just love it when everything's organized in strata?" he began exuberantly. "When natural processes make things look designed? And it's so colorful, like oxidized bismuth!"

Maud's eyes bulged slightly, flicking over to him in the first non neutral expression he had witnessed from her.

Time Turner cringed at his own words. I don't think normal ponies speak like that, Time, he thought to himself. "I mean it looks like… a rainb-"

"No, you were right the first time," Maud interrupted. "It sounds like you enjoy rocks."

"You'd be correct on that hypothesis," he chuckled. "They didn't send me out here at random."

His enthusiasm was charming. It reminded her of Pinkie, but more relatable, because it was about geology instead of parties. He acted externally about rocks the way Maud felt inside about rocks.

The footprint of the hills was organic and irregular. Tendrils of striped stone rippled and radiated from the little range in a branching fractal pattern, concealing all manner of nooks and crannies, some of them leading into maze-like open air crevices or even holes going deep underground.

"Look," said Time, pointing to what looked like a mess of broken shale before them. "This was one of the things I wanted to show you. Did you know there were fossils down here?"

"No, I didn't," Maud picked up a sheet of stone from the ground and held it up to see. The surface was populated with several little flat bug-like sea creatures. "Trilobites," she mumbled. Oh… and an ammonite." She turned the piece around to show him.

"So it is," he smiled and accidentally locked eyes with her.

Her expression is so wooden yet so alluring, he thought. Somehow I can tell she's as excited as I am even without a smile or a gasp. She has the piercing stare of a fashion runway model… You must break eye contact now; it's becoming weird.

Time looked down at the ground. "Take them, Maud. Take as many as you can. I've already filled my tent near capacity with the bloody things. They're just going to get destroyed. It's utterly nauseating. Imagine dying in some mud and then slowly having your body permineralized into stone artwork over millennia only to be blasted to bits the moment you see sunlight again."

Maud's heart fluttered. He says what we're all thinking, she swooned internally. She gazed intensely into his eyes. "I like the way you romanticize petrification."

Time blushed, fumbling for words but for once he couldn't find any.

Maud had never felt like this about another pony before. Slow down, she told herself, remembering how she'd felt at first about Boulder and the feverish whirlwind that had consumed her and felt so exhilarating before fizzling out, leaving her cold and alone. It's too soon.

"Help me pick out some nice ones," she flirted, in spite of herself.

The two of them began sifting through the broken shards and stuffing choice pieces into Maud's pack.

"Look at this one," he chuckled, holding up the piece. "They're congregating. It looks like they're having a little tea party. Would you like another phytoplankton, Mrs. Paradoxides?" he asked, adopting an older female voice meant to be one of the trilobites speaking.

Maud paused at his playful jest. "That's cute," she remarked flatly. I want to talk with him about fossils all night long, she thought.

Soon enough, Maud's saddle bag was bulging with the best fossils within reach and they were meandering back into town. Neither one of them was eager to part and get back to work.

"That was fun," began Maud impassively. "But in a good way," she clarified. "But also sad… in a bad way."

Time smiled weakly. It certainly doesn't sound like she's too normal for me.

Maud's eyes landed on the row of protesters who hadn't moved an inch from their post. "If the company didn't have anyone in-house available, why'd they pick you instead of any of the dozens of assayers and surveyors in town?"

Time sighed. "I think the whole point was to get someone from out of town. I had no idea this was going to be a contentious project, but I bet the company did. They were hoping to scoop up somepony indifferent or unaware of local issues who would just look at the data and give them the green light ASAP if everything checked out."

"Is that what you're going to do?" asked Maud.

"If I don't, somepony else will."

"But you can resign and refuse to be part of the process," she prodded.

"I know… but I have an idea. It's a gamble and I'm skeptical it will work, but I think it's the only way. I'll tell you about it if it's successful but otherwise… blasting starts in three days," he added gravely.

The two said their goodbyes at the cart and Maud reestablished her shop for what little time she had left in the work day. She spent the rest of her time at the counter, walking home, at the dinner table and laying in bed thinking about how she could weasel out of farmwork to spend more time around Time Turner. Mother and Father wouldn't approve of the means or the ends, but he wasn't going to be here forever. What if he just disappeared one day? He didn't seem real, more like a weird yet pleasant dream.

Chapter 4

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Maud's pleasant dreams were shattered by the sound of a screaming Limestone. She shot up in bed, alone in the old sewing room.

"Fire!" shouted Limestone hoarsely. "The barn's on fire!"

Maud flung off her comforter and scrambled to the window to see that it was true. A towering orange pyre had crawled up the side of the old barn and was spreading across the roof.

The whole house sprang to life from a dead sleep with creaking floorboards everywhere, cries from Marble and old Igneous barking urgently about where he'd left the good hose.

Maude exploded into the hall, almost colliding with father as he galloped by. Everypony thundered down the stairs.

In the backlight of the roaring blaze, Maud could see Limestone pushing the water pump up to the edge of the well. Maud skidded to a stop and began attaching the intake hose to the pump valve while Igneous galloped up with the end of the good hose in his mouth. He wrenched the hose tight to one end of the y-shaped splitter.

“Spare the divider,” ordered Father, twisting the second valve shut. “We must douse the roof first.”

Limestone and Maud took both ends of the railroad cart style lever and began feverishly pumping in tandem, inflating the collapsed tube before Igneous was even at the other end.

Marble rushed up to them, eyes wide with terror, the end of the old hose in her mouth. She fumbled as she began to screw it onto the open port.

“Don’t open that valve yet,” shouted Limestone. “We need maximum pressure to put the roof out first.”

“Mm-hmm,” nodded Marble fearfully.

Igneous grabbed the squirming nozzle off of the ground in his jaws and aimed it at the roof. Despite their technological limitations, Maud and Limestone’s coordinated strength produced a healthy, continuous stream that arched higher than the roof of the barn. Father swept water from side to side, trying to keep the flames from crossing the apex of the structure and catching on the other side. Marble and Mother stood by breathless and watched as the highest flames began to die.

Igneous worked his way down from the highest point and soon the roof had been snuffed out. Marble opened the other valve and helped her father battle the side of the barn with the old hose. They didn’t stop spraying until every licking orange flame was out and the only light was from the pale blue moon.

The Pie family breathed a collective sigh of relief before a sizzling, steaming scorch mark on the wall.

“Who left a lantern burning in the barn?” demanded Limestone angrily.

Maud and Marble exchanged quizzical glances.

“There’s no lantern inside or out,” replied Maud. “I don’t think anyone was even outside tonight.”

Limestone stamped her foot. “Well, then how did this happen? Fires don’t just start themselves?”

Maud looked around the immediate area. Her eyes fell on a little overturned metal drum the same color as the dust. She plodded over and nudged it with one hoof. It thudded hollowly as it rolled over to reveal the word ‘kerosine.’

Marble gasped.

“Somepony did this on purpose?” growled Limestone, kicking the drum against the side of the barn. “Is this supposed to be a prank? Who would do something like this?”

Maud looked back down at the ground where the sloppy shapes made by hooves and wind, patterned the earth. There in the gray dust was something that stuck out from the distorted mess, a groove no wider than a billiard ball that stretched away into the dark as far as she could see. “Who knows?” she muttered absently.


Maud swung the pickaxe in her teeth, wedging it in a long crack. She let go and then pulled on the handle with her hooves, leveraging a chunk of the mine’s wall to crumble away. No matter how focused on work she stayed, it was impossible to shake off the disturbing attack on their farm.

In the morning, she'd surreptitiously tried to investigate the trail left by the barn but found that it broke up while cutting across the fields going toward Rockville. Then it occurred to her that she didn't know if the trail was coming or going. She couldn't be sure which way he went or where he was now.

Boulder had never done anything so hostile and destructive. On some level, Maud felt like she needed to explain what was happening and why to her family, but she just couldn't. She couldn't bear the consternation from her sisters or the condemnation from her parents which would come regardless if her secret relationship was with a dragon, pony, or rock. What about the shame from the community? What was she thinking, dating Boulder?

He hadn't tried to talk to her since he was caught back on the farm, so it was hard to see his motive. Was he just blowing off steam after she'd thrown him, or was this a warning… Or was it the opening act for a horrific vendetta campaign for dumping him?

That night, Maud slept uncomfortably with one eye open.

Chapter 5

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Nothing seemed amiss in the morning, so Maud allowed herself to feel excited for shop day in the hopes of seeing Time Turner again.

As usual, geodes were the biggest seller of the day. Maud kept looking up and down the street as the sun began to sink. It was later than the other times she'd seen him and she was beginning to worry. With a little less than two hours left in her day, he finally appeared.

Maud smiled inside as she saw Time Turner wandering her way down the street. His head was low and his steps were slow and careful, almost as if he were half sneaking. As he got closer, she saw a dark blotch around his left eye. He stopped an odd distance away from her table and swallowed.

“What happened to you?” she asked.

“Oh, uh, you mean my face?” he whispered. Time spun around, casting jittery glances to his left and right. “Well,” he began, “I was- I was sleeping in my tent last night when somepony hit me in the face with a rock.”

Maud blinked. “Was the rock magnesium rich basal,t about the size of a kiwi, with a river rock texture?

“Yes,” nodded Time. “Those are the exact specifications of the rock that hit me in the face. How did you know?”

“Because that’s my ex boyfriend, Boulder.”

Time's eyebrows shot up. “Your ex boyfriend threw a rock at me?”

“No. That rock is my ex boyfriend. He’s very jealous and possessive.”

Time looked like he was about to follow up her bizarre claim with another question but instead became distracted by other thoughts as he often did. “That explains the message written in the dirt outside my tent. It said ‘Stay away from Maud,’ but the s was backwards and ‘from’ was spelt with a u.”

“He was never a great speller," explained Maud. "I’m sorry. He used to be so nice. I’m still in shock that he tried to burn down our barn the night before last.”

“Good heavens,” he exclaimed. “Are you in danger?” He shot a paranoid glance over his shoulder, scanning the road for wayward rocks.

“Don’t worry," said Maud. "He can only move at night. He could be watching or listening to us, though.”

Her words did little to comfort him. “Your ex sounds… interesting, especially for a rock. Where did you two meet exactly?”

“At the Painted Hills when I was little. I found him in a cave after falling through a sinkhole.”

Time gasped and put a hoof to his chin as his brain began to roil.

“What is it?” asked Maud.

“I’m not sure… Could you tell me exactly where that hole is?”

Maud shook her head. “That was so long ago, and I’m sure it’s crusted over again. I can tell you it was on the north side, maybe less than halfway up the hills, this end.

“Near the would-be blast site,” he mumbled absently.

“Yes… Does this have anything to do with your plan?”

His eyes flicked back up to her and then side to side as he scanned for eavesdroppers. “It does.”

Maud began gathering up her rocks from the table.

“Wait. What are you doing?” asked Time

“I want to help. I’ll try to help you find it, but you have to tell me what you’re doing.”

“But you’d be neglecting your store again and what if… he sees us together?”

“Are you saying you don’t want me to come?”

“Not in the slightest, but I am concerned for your wellbeing.”

“You’re the one with the black eye.”

“So I am,” he smiled. “Let me help you, at least.” He opened up the back of Maud’s wagon, mimicking what he had seen her do the time before, and brought out two compartmentalized crates to pack the stones and crystals. Maud left her cart in the same spot as last time and they walked out to the hills again.

Time cleared his throat. “I did some research about these hills after I found out that they’ve been considered sacred by the local Buffalo for hundreds of years. I thought maybe somehow if I could get the Equestria Bureau of Historical Preservation involved, I could scuttle the demolition plans. It’s more difficult than it sounds. Sacredness aside, you’d think the hills’ outright beauty would be enough to get them protected, but if that were the case, they already would be. Maybe it’s possible but that would require a significant campaign and petition that we simply no longer have time for. But if we could just find something concrete, petroglyphs, a structure or something of the like, I believe that would be enough to pause the project and have the area reviewed.”

"You think Boulder's origin is some sort of key to getting the hills protected?" droned Maud.

Time took a deep breath. “Call it an inkling, but a speaking mobile rock that attacks ponies doesn’t sound normal and I suspect that if it came from the hills, it has a mystical connection to this ancient culture and there must be something more out there. That cave you fell in is the best lead I have. So, there you have it, I’ve been trying to find something in a week that might take a real archaeologist, years or even a lifetime to.”

“I’d never thought about a connection like this before,” Maud interjected. "He is really old, but he’s never told me much about his past.”

The two hiked up the hills to the elevation where a layer of topsoil, a cushion of yellow grass and smattering of scrub brush capped the earthen uprising.

"This is the area, I'm pretty sure," confirmed Maud.

"Okay," he nodded. "Sinkholes need dirt to form, so we can narrow our search to the area with soil," explained Time, tapping a hoof on the ground.

The two began pacing closely side by side, up and down, methodically canvasing a large patch of the hillside.

"Isn't this how they search for dead bodies?" asked Maud.

"I suppose," replied Time grimly. "Sometimes… yes. Or it's how you search for a sinkhole."

"What are those little orange flags?" asked Maud, tracking one of the markers as they passed by.

"Those are the places where they're putting the charges for demolition tomorrow," he sighed. "Isn't life funny," he muttered absently. "When I was little, I wanted to be an adventurer, something like Daring Do, even though we didn't have that back then. That dream died when I realized that I have a bloody awful sense of direction. So I became a scientist, and somehow that landed me a consultant gig with the railroad, and now here I am wandering around on a hillside in some sort of quasi eco terrorist scheme."

Maud spoke up. "When I was little, I wanted to be a rock. Now… sometimes… I still want to be a rock."

"What kind of rock?" he murmured with complete sincerity.

"Smooth granite with quartz veins."

"Oh, that's beautiful; how befitting." Time immediately bit his lip after saying the last part out loud. He sideeyed her to find that she was looking expectantly at him. "Uh…" Before he could get another word out, his forelegs plunged through the ground and his chin slammed into the dirt with a puff of dust.

"Are you okay?" asked Maud, stopping over him to pull him up.

Time coughed as his legs slipped back out of the hole. "Think I found it," he wheezed. "Thank you." He said before shaking the dust off.

Maud peered curiously into the little black void and began carefully knocking away the loose soil around it. Slowly the hole began to widen as Time helped her. Once fully revealed, the hole in the stone beneath the dirt looked to be just barely wide enough for a full grown pony to squeeze through if they exhaled their breath first.

"I can't see anything," grumbled Time, squinting into the darkness.

"We're blocking the light," said Maud, moving away.

"Oh, you're right." He ducked down trying to view at the angle of the sun's rays without obstructing them. There on the floor of the cavity in a little elliptical spotlight was a visible swatch of square shaped stones regimented neatly in a grid, an unmistakable sign of design.

"That looks like mosaic stone work on the floor," gasped Time. "You fell down there as a filly? What did you see?"

"I didn't see anything," shrugged Maud. "I heard Boulder in the dark. Then my family rescued me with a rope. We all just assumed it was another ordinary cave and we stopped playing in this area for safety.” She pushed in close to see the little cropping of the floor.

"I bet it's a converted natural cavern," continued Time. "It wouldn't be a living space. According to my research, the Buffalo who would have built this lived in yurts. Its permanence suggests that it's some sort of shrine or temple for the hills. This hole in the top is perhaps an oculus for a natural light source. There must be a real entrance somewhere."

This time the two split up and searched for a nearby opening a little lower on the hillside. Much less orchestrated and focused than the search for the sinkhole, the two wandered about the hills up and down and all around but turned up nothing except a couple of suspicious nooks that lead nowhere. They'd constricted their search to the immediate area but in reality, the entrance could have been anywhere, even the opposite end of the hills for all they knew. Frustrated, the two met back at the hole. The patch of light inside the chamber had vanished with the lowering of the sun.

"Where's a unicorn when you need one?" Time sighed.

"I don't know of any unicorns in town," mumbled Maud.

"There are a few on the work team, but I'm not going to be able to convince them to help jeopardize their paychecks if the project gets paused or canceled."

"Then what? You have to tell somepony about this," begged Maud, leaning in a little closer to him than she meant to.

"I don't think this is enough proof to convince the overseer who's not going to want to see it, nor is it enough to get swift intervention over the wire with the preservation bureau. It needs to be made glaringly obvious and impossible to ignore."

Maud said nothing, only paused, adopting a glazed over look as she thought hard about the seemingly unsolvable problem. A silence passed between the two as they both went to their private brain corners and the only sound was the soft breeze as it ruffled the grass around them and fluttered the little flags.

Time put a hoof over his mouth as a radical idea crossed his mind. "What if… You know, those flags are pretty close, wouldn't you agree? I mean if I were to say move them a little this way after dark and perhaps place one or two in strategic spots that would crack open this cave for all to see, It's possible nopony would be the wiser until it was too late."

Maud stared into him. "But that would still hurt the mountain."

"It would, but if it halts the project after the first salvo, it would be a nasty cut versus a lost limb."

"You'll get in a lot of trouble if you get caught."

"Then I won't get caught," he smirked.

At that moment Maud had a sudden urge to violently mash her lips against his, but she did not.

"It's late; I really have to go," said Maud as emotionlessly as ever. She turned away to leave. "Good luck and be careful."

"You must be careful too, Maud," he reminded her.

She merely nodded and began descending the hill, regret from her inaction starting to sting her heart.

Chapter 6

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Time Turner munched on a complimentary rock cake pastry as he walked back to camp in the early morning light. He'd spent the night in Rockville in a hotel room, not feeling safe at camp, especially after disregarding Boulder's warning.

His fears were confirmed when he came upon the ashen tatters of what was once his tent.

"Oh, you're still alive?" marveled one nearby worker. "Wasn't sure what happened here. Overseer was about to file a police report."

"Oh, don't bother," muttered Time, nudging the debris with his hoof. "I just got into a spot of trouble with one of the locals and thought it would be best if I slept in a different bed last night."

The laborer raised an eyebrow. "And then they set your tent on fire? Sounds like something you'd want to file a police report about."

Being in that tent might not have been deadly, but it certainly would have been terrifying and painful. It was quite a decidedly escalatory act toward him. His eyes scanned the ground to see a little groove in the loose soil leading away from the scene but it was quickly trounced apart by the normal hoof traffic of the campsite. She was right, he thought. And he's quite capable for a little rock.

A pair of demo workers carried a spool of detonating cord between them on a dowel in their teeth. The cord unwound behind them as they marched down from the hills. The rest of the demolition team were drilling and setting charges at the locations of the tampered markers.

Time rubbed his hooves together. Nopony had figured it out. Supply issues with the track laying meant that they were blasting before the track made it to the hills. Having no tracks there as an obvious visual guide made it an easier oversight.

Time's job for now was done unless something odd cropped up during the demolition. He just went and huddled by a dying campfire. A photographer and reporter from the Rockville Epitaph were meandering about to document blast day. If there really was something down there and as long as the dynamite didn't completely destroy it, and he was fairly certain it wouldn't, it looked like everything was primed to fall into place on its own.

Once all the charges were placed, Time lined up with the rest of the crew on the edge of camp and donned a hardhat. Some distance away on the ridge, curious onlookers mixed with protesters to watch the fireworks.

"All clear!" came a final shout as they armed the plunger. The unicorns projected magical barriers over the whole team."Ready! Three… two… one!"

Time covered his ears just before the explosion rocked the valley and little tremors buzzed in his hooves. Plumes of dirt shot high into the air, swept away by the wind. Everypony waited a minute for the dust to clear before the unicorns moved in to spearhead the cleanup.

Time's morale soured as the extent of the collateral damage became apparent in a large gash in the hillside. It would take several rounds of detonations to carve a passage through the stone if all went according to the company's plan. Now the only thing there was to do was wait and hope.

The photographer moved in behind the unicorn team as they began to clear the rainbow colored rubble out of the way with their magic. Time checked his watch and stayed within earshot of the overseer, knowing that if something happened, he'd be informed of it immediately. Sure enough, less than ten minutes later, a unicorn returned from the site, making a beeline for his supervisor.

"Hey, boss. We found somethin' weird. Ya need ta come look."

Right on cue, Time appeared by the overseer's side. "Oh, sounds intriguing," he chimed, matching their stride.

Rubble clearing had stopped and all of the workers were now gathered around a gaping cavity in the hillside. The three of them pushed into the circle of ponies and gazed down into the pit. It was a great, roughly circular, room, perhaps the size of a small house. All of the floor and every bit of wall space looked to be covered with colored tiles made from the stones of the hill. They were laid out meticulously in mosaic patterns of abstract animals and symbols, utilizing the natural pallet of the local rock. The art style was quintessentially ancient Buffalo of the valley.

All of these colors and shapes seemed to swirl around a large flat, gray stone in the center of the room which sat flush embedded in the ground like some sort of altar focal point. Four smaller nodes of the same shape and color orbited around it like directions on a compass. Though some of the tile work had been damaged by falling rock, the interior was undeniably beautiful.

Time's jaw dropped. Jackpot. "This is absolutely incredible," he breathed. "We have to inform the Equestria Bureau of Historical Preservation." He didn't even have to dramatize the situation to sell it like he thought he might. There was no argument to be had. What is Boulder's connection with this amazing place? he wondered.

The photographer breathlessly snapped photo after photo while the overseer rubbed his face and groaned with frustration.


After relaying an order from the bureau to pause all construction outside of Rockville, Time hit the books at the tiniest library he'd ever been to. The place didn't exactly have a wide selection of topics, but it did have a decent local history section. However, most of the pertinent books he'd already opened and skimmed on previous visits.

While history was not his forte, Time was quite good at research in general. He was almost certain that the room had a spiritual significance and though he was able to find artwork and symbology that reaffirmed that the subterranean structure was made by Buffalo, he could not find anything detailing the existence of said structure or any stone based practices that might answer his questions about Boulder.

Time sighed and snapped the last book shut. The victory from saving the hills was nice but hard to fully appreciate when he and Maud were still in danger. He desperately wanted to tell her the news and show her the room, but he didn't even know where she lived, and today wasn't her shop day.

Time carefully stacked his books aside in defeat and returned to the telegraph office to see if any more news had come in.


Maud landed at the bottom of the stairs and wandered into the kitchen where she immediately began helping her mother fix breakfast at the griddle. Marble came in from the mailbox and spit the mail on the table where she silently parsed through it.

Maud went to get the table salt and looked over her sister's shoulder to see the day's newspaper. There on the front page was the headline 'Demolition Uncovers Ancient Site: Fillydelphia Line On Hold.' Below the words was a large photo of the mosaic room looking in through the blown open roof. Unreal… It worked, she thought. I hope he’s safe. Her spirits suddenly became lighter. She’d get to see him today. Maybe he’d show her what they found.

She worked quickly to get breakfast made and everypony fed and out the door. She left the house and flew to the barn, eager to get into town. There in the stall was a sight that crushed her soul. Her cart, the biggest source of freedom in her life, laid there in pieces on the ground, the wheel spokes shattered, panels ripped away, the contents strewn about and smashed. In the dust at her hooves was a two word message: 'Your Mine.'
He used the wrong your, she thought. How embarrassing… but still upsetting and terrifying. Maud closed her eyes for a moment, awash in sorrow. “I’m still going,” she breathed. “You can’t stop me.”

Chapter 7

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Time leaned against the wall where Maud always set up her shop and waited. He saw her as a lone figure coming from a ways down the road, conspicuously without her cart in tow.

Time frowned anxiously. "Where is your cart?" He asked, the moment she was within Maud speaking range.

"He destroyed it,"

Time's face fell again. "I'm sorry… He tried to burn me alive in my tent the night before last, but thankfully I was in a hotel."

"We have to stop him," concluded Maud coldly.

Time scratched his head. "Can we just stay up all night waiting for him and then catch him when he comes to get us?" he asked in a low voice.

"But then what? He's tricky, stubborn and patient… also indestructible, as far as I know."

Time screwed up his face with skepticism. "Are you saying if we threw him into an active volcano, that wouldn't stop him?"

"I don't know," breathed Maud, staring intently off into infinity.

"You know, the railroad is indefinitely paused as of right now which means that I'm out of a gig. They'll probably release everyone by the end of the week if not tomorrow. If I just left, maybe-"

"That won't fix it, Tim."

For a moment, he'd forgotten that he'd said she could call him that and he smiled a pinched smile. "Well… it looks like both our days are freed up. Might as well go see the new development in the hills."

A small crowd of locals was gathered around the perimeter of the pit, gazing down at the artistic splendor. The images were wildly more vibrant than anything else in the area and to some perhaps a little overstimulating.

"This is amazing," mumbled Maud. "I never would have imagined anything like this existing out here."

"You didn't know it, but you were probably the first one down there in centuries,” mused Time. “I tried to research what it was or why a speaking angry rock might have been inside, but I'm afraid I couldn't find much."

He sighed, his eyes looping around the edge of the hole at the few gawkers who'd come out. Among them was what looked like a family of Buffalo. The presumed father was pointing down in the pit and gesticulating to his children almost as if he were… explaining something.

Time's eyes widened. He nudged Maud to get her attention. “Hey, come over here,” he murmured. She unquestioningly followed him around the edge of the hole.

"Excuse me,” began Time, stolling up to the family. “Do you happen to know what this is?"

"Yes," answered the hulking father Buffalo simply.

The two stared into each other as Time patiently waited for an assumed elaboration that never came. "What is it?" He finally asked on pins and needles.

"It's a purification sanctuary."

Time's eyes grew large. "What does it do?"

"Long ago it was used to keep away malicious spirits by channeling the purity of the hills.”

“Oh…” Time put a hoof to his chin as he struggled to fit the pieces together. “I’m sorry,” what is your name?”

“Skysong.”

“Skysong, I’m Time Turner and this is my friend Maud Pie. We’ve been having a rather odd problem with a strange rock that she found many years ago, we think, inside this sanctuary.

“How did you get inside?” squinted the bull.

“I fell through the ceiling and then I heard a rock talking to me and then I took him home,” answered Maud.

Sky Sng’s eyes bulged. "You can hear this stone speaking?"

"Yes."

"Can anyone else?"

"No."

The Buffalo sat down, which prompted the rest of his family to do the same, and then Time and Maude. "You freed a spirit stone from an ancient Buffalo sanctuary."

"Is that bad?"

"You tell me."

Maud and Time exchanged glances.

“It’s bad,” she conceded. “But I don’t understand; I’ve lived with him for years and we’ve been friends. He’s never done anything as awful as he has in the last several days.”

“Spirit stones absorb evil spirits and hold them like vessels," he explained. "The spirits’ ill will is kept at bay by the health and purity of the hills from which the stone is birthed. When that body is defiled, the malevolence of the spirits returns.

Maud cocked her head slightly. "But he turned into a psychotic jerk before they started blasting the hills," she argued.

Time raised a hoof. "Yes, but before that they'd been drilling, digging and taking core samples for weeks," he suddenly frowned. "Um… I’d hate to make this situation sound more dire than it is, but how many of these spirit stones would you say would be in use at one of these sites?”

“Dozens. Maybe a hundred.”

Time buried his face in his hooves.

"They cannot leave the sanctuary unless removed by someone,” the bull assured him. “There was a ritual at the end of every year where the spirits would be cast out and sent back to the far realm where they belong and the vessels emptied for the new year. It was said that long ago before our ancestors were forced off of this land, our tribal healers performed the ritual one last time before leaving as a safety measure. Maybe they just missed one," he shrugged.

"Let's hope that's the case," nodded Time. "So is there a way we can heal the hills and return their influence to the spirit stone?"

Sky shook his head. "Healing the earth takes time and it is best done in our absence."

Boulder wasn't coming back. Maud had already made peace with that when they broke up but somehow, hearing it again reopened that wound.

"So then what do you suggest?" shrugged Time. "Would this annual healing ritual be in order?"

"Yes."

"Can you help us with that?"

"Maybe."

"Maybe?" he blinked.

"The ritual has not been performed in earnest for many moons. Generations have come and gone without witnessing its power and historically our culture has been passed down through our spoken words. We can perform the ritual as we have learned it but there is no guarantee that our efforts will be successful."

"It's our best option,” he replied, turning to Maud as if conferring. “So how does this work?"

The buffalo gestured to the pit. "It must be performed at the ancient site and the spirit stone must be present."

"Alright… The first one is clearly doable now,” he nodded at the gaping crater. “The second… we do not actually know the spirit stone's wearabouts at this time."

"We can lure him here," proposed Maud. "He's threatened both of us. He doesn't want us to be together. If we're both in one place at night, he'll probably come."

Time turned back to her. "So then… what do you suggest? Some sort of moonlight tryst out in the hills?"

"Yes," she blurted without even thinking about the logistics of sneaking out of her house.

"Fine,” agreed Skysong. “We will do it tonight then. You get him into the sanctuary; we will do the rest."

Chapter 8

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Maud slowly pulled the door to her room open, trying to stifle the telltale squeaks of the old hinges. She shut it just as quietly and began to slink down the dark hall. The moonlight coming through the window at the end, illuminated the tip of the banister and gave her just enough light to find her way.

Suddenly somepony bumped into her side silently from out of nowhere.

"What? Maud?" whispered Limestone. "What are you doing?"

"I was hungry," she lied. "What are you doing?"

"I was… also hungry."

It was dark but not dark enough to obscure Limestone’s oddly spruced up silhouette.

"So you did your mane to go get food from downstairs?"

Limestone glared back at her.

"You're not meeting him in Rockville are you?" Maud presupposed with no name or face to put with the pronoun.

"No."

"Good."

"Why is that?"

"Because that would be an awkward walk into town for both of us."


Time yawned as he looked up at the moon. In the campsite below, there was still a fire going, but he wasn't sure if anyone was tending it. Might as well stay up, he thought. There would be no more work until the area was fully assessed. In all likelihood the workers would be reassigned or sent home until then.

He looked back toward town and smiled as he saw a pale figure gliding across the desert floor on a collision course with him. It wasn't until he saw her ghostly form that he finally felt the full gravity of how weird this all was. Fake date, real date, it didn't matter. The two of them were really truly meeting out here in the middle of the desert in the middle of the night.

Maud climbed the hillside and stood before him, looking like a bored, expressionless goddess. Time patted the blanket he sat upon in a beckoning manner.

"You made a picnic for us," she said, sitting down beside him.

Time tapped a hoof proudly on the basket. "I did. Bought all of this in town just for tonight. Bonbon? Rock candy? Candy rocks?” he offered. “I'm afraid I don't know what you like, so I just bought a plethora of different things. Who knows how long we’ll be out here? I would have bought us a bottle of whatever your nicest label is in these parts, but we should probably keep clear heads."

He opened the little wicker basket which he’d been so delighted to get just for this singular use and began pulling out sandwich fixings. “We can make our own sandwiches just how we like them.”

The sweetness and the absurdity was too much and she flashed a genuine smile. "You thought of everything. This is very nice… even though we're here waiting for my murderous ex boyfriend to show up so we can exorcize him. I'm still trying to reconcile the fact that my best friend for most of my life was an evil spirit.”

"These things happen… apparently. Best not to dwell on it." Time got out the bread and they made their sandwiches by moonlight.

Time took a bite and looked up at the crystal clear sky. “Wow, when the wind stops and the dust settles, the stars are amazing. Even with the bright moon.”

The two of them ate slowly, remembering to remain vigilant and keep an eye on their surroundings and listen for any suspicious scraping or thuds. All was disarmingly peaceful and still. They would have forgotten about the big pit behind them filled with a dozen or so Buffalo if it weren't for their occasional murmur as they too passed the time.

"Do you like stars?" asked Time, already knowing the answer. Who didn't like stars?

"Yes,” she replied, scanning the hillside. "They're predictable and always there… like rocks."

"Do you like constellations?"

"Yes."

"I bet I can guess your favorite constellation." He pointed to a group of seemingly arbitrary stars near the horizon. "The Rock Pile," he smiled.

She turned to him in surprise. "That's it. How did you know?"

"It was a lucky guess."

Hours went by as they spoke about their families and jobs and aspirations for the future. The lights in the camp and in town vanished and their vigilance all but melted away.

Maud scooted the basket from in between them, not unnoticed by Time.

"What else do you like besides stars and rocks?" he asked.

"Standup comedy," she replied with a slow blink.

His ears perked up in disbelief. "Really? You're joking."

"Not yet I'm not… would you like to hear a joke?" She asked, laying down on her side and propping head up on one hoof.

"I would love to," he replied, mirroring her pose.

"Here's a joke especially for you: Two stallions walk into a bar. The first stallion says 'I'll have an H2O.' The second Stallion says 'I'll have an H2O too'… Then he died," she deadpanned.

Time gasped in surprise. Then he smiled. "Oh, because of the two." He suddenly burst into wild laughter, pounding a hoof on the blanket and almost collapsing. He chortled until he was shaking with no air left in his lungs. "That's brilliant," he snorted. "That's the best joke I've ever…" She's the one, Time, he thought.

Finally after recomposing himself, he looked up at her with tears in his eyes. "That was good," he panted. "You're just full of surprises, aren't you?"

At that moment Maud forgot all about the threats and the danger, the small possibility that he'd omitted that he was seeing someone else or even spoken for, and she leaned in soft and slow, giving him ample time to dodge, but he did not. Their lips met and she couldn't help but sigh.

She pulled away just as slow and batted her eyes in another involuntary response to the pleasant rush to her head. “You taste like sandwich,” she stated matter-of-factly.

Time smiled. "I've wanted to tell you this since our first outing to the hills," he breathed. "You're the most fascinating creature I've ever met."

Before Time could anxiously replay and second guess his own words, the moment was shattered by the sound of a sustained hiss. The two of them looked all around in surprise.

“A snake?” wondered Time as he shot to his hooves. He suddenly spotted a sparkling on the ground near a black bar shape. His eyes bulged. “Oh dear.” He tackled the sputtering stick of dynamite and chomped onto the fuse with his teeth. Unable to sever it, he yanked it out instead, spitting it to the ground as the sparks singed his muzzle.

Time let out a sigh of relief as he stood up. “That was-” His words were cut off as something struck him hard in the barrel. He staggered backward with a groan.

“Boulder, stop,” commanded Maud.

The little rock shot at Time again, striking him in the left hind leg, causing him to collapse. As Boulder fell to the ground and prepared for his next attack, Time clamped his hooves around him and yanked. Boulder was surprisingly unwieldy and powerful for someone with so little mass. The two of them went rolling across the hill, Time straining against his lunges. He stumbled to his hooves, forelegs whipping about with Boulder’s violent flailing. Maud circled around them looking for an opportunity to intervene, but Boulder was so tiny that it looked like Time was fighting himself.

“Get him to the hole.”

“I’m trying,” he grunted.

Suddenly Boulder shot out of his grasp and skittered across the ground. Time fell backward with his own unobstructed force, landing on his back. Maud shot between them, determined to protect Time.

Boulder hurled himself again. Maud creased her forehead in a scowl and swung her hoof as hard as she could. There came a dull crack as he connected with the hard keratin and he popped up powerlessly into the air. Maud lifted her gaze skyward and watched as Boulder went sailing over her. She turned her head to see the moon flicker in his eclipse. Rocking forward, Maud coiled up her hind legs and unleashed a perfectly timed buck.

Smash. Boulder went rocketing into the hole, slamming into the far wall of the sanctuary. He trickled down to the ornately detailed floor, bathed in torchlight. An awaiting Buffalo slapped a metal bucket down over him and quickly scooted him into position upon the central stone altar. She held it down firmly beneath her weight while he rattled angrily inside and the healers in their robes and headdresses took their positions upon the four points.

Maud and Time looked down from the edge, panting as the drums began to beat and the healers raised their hooves, chanting to the sky. The five slabs in the floor began to glow a bright sapphire as smoky wisps of energy radiated up from the center toward the heavens. The chanting became faster along with the drums. Boulder battered the bucket from the inside as the they reached a fever pitch. Then abruptly it all stopped. The glowing vanished and there was silence.

Maud scooted down over the edge of the hole, landing roughly on the floor. The Buffalo lifted the bucket, revealing a motionless rock.

“Boulder?” called Maud softly. She leaned over him and gingerly nudged him with her hoof. “Boulder… He’s gone.” She felt a hoof on her shoulder as tears began to well in her eyes. She turned and wrapped her forelegs around Time as she silently cried. “He’s where he belongs,” she whispered to herself.


"The spirit known as Boulder was gone but would never be forgotten. And that is the story of why you exist and why you have to take a twenty mile detour to go to Fillydelphia from Rockville by train."

Rose Quartz squinted suspiciously through the snapping flames at the old Buffalo. "Is that story really true?"

"It is as true as the sun and moon," assured Skysong.

Time Turner leaned in and nudged her in the side, grinning smugly. "See? Your parents are pretty cool, huh?"

Rose rolled her eyes one last time at the story she'd heard a hundred times from them and then crossed her forelegs. "I guess… but the fossil collecting part was TMI."

Time laughed and tousled her dark gray mane.

"You can pick out something from the gift shop and then we'll go to grandmother's house," said Maud, turning to exit the yurt.

"Getting told the story of how you met by a mystic Buffalo guy is weird," complained the filly. "And isn't sabotaging a construction site a crime? How come he's just telling everypony about it?"

"Because the statute of limitations has expired and I can no longer be charged for it," explained Time. “Isn’t that nice?”

The three of them trekked back to the Painted Hills Visitors Center and entered the little gift shop. Rose looked at every toy and novelty at least once, but also the obscenely expensive artwork that Time continually shooed her away from.

"I want this," she declared, holding up a completely unremarkable rock labeled "Spirit Stone." "I wanna be like Mommy and have an evil talking rock for a friend."

Time patted her on the head and chuckled. "Well, unfortunately, I think all of these vessels are empty, so you'll just have to use your imagination."

"Aw…" she groaned, staring at the little rock. "Okay."

"I'm getting you this too," informed Maud, holding up a baseball cap to her daughter. "You don't have a choice."

Rose squinted at the turquoise hat which had two ponies kissing in silhouette under the words “Painted Hills National Park.” Her lips curled in disgust. "Eww, is that supposed to be you kissing?"

"It's been enshrined in local legend," grinned Time. "Isn't that incredible?"

"This place is creepy," whined Rose. "Can we just go to Grandma's now?"