The Village Called Respite

by Carapace

45. Enticier

A part of her was nervous.

Sure Stroke sat comfortably in one of the cushioned seats in the ice cream parlor with her sketchpad and pencils resting on the table in the confines of her saddlebag. She drummed a hoof on the wood, frowning as she waited for her changeling friends to show up. She’d chosen a seat that faced the door so she would catch them coming in—that way a certain sneaky, voice mimicking boyfriend of hers wouldn’t get the chance to pull a fast one on her. Assuming he came in natural form, of course.

One could never be too sure with Aspire. Sure Stroke had learned that the hard way when he pretended to be Rock Solid.

She shook her head. Why was she nervous? Or, still nervous, rather. Why was she still nervous? Prince Enticier had turned out to be quite nice. A bit touchy-feely and a little … forward, but nice.

Still, there was something about the way he spoke, the way he insisted on kissing her hoof each time they met that made her feathers fluff and brought a blush to her cheeks each time she thought about it. Like one of those suave stallions out of her mother’s Harlequin novels.

Sure Stroke shook her head. She was dating Aspire, thinking about another nymph wasn’t right. No matter how much Enticier tried to butter her up and treat her like some upper-class Canterlot filly. Or how handsome he was.

Aspire’s face floated to the forefront of her mind—smooth chitinous cheeks, angular snout, a smile that showed his pointed teeth and gleaming fangs, and sky blue eyes that always shone with vitality and mischief beneath his perpetually messy blue mane. A rather stark contrast to the slicked back way Enticier wore his.

Idly, she wondered what Aspire might look like if he combed it a little, or maybe he could just change it like Esalen and Nimble had at their sleepover. Maybe with his mane parted down the middle so his bangs framed his forehead. And if he grew it out just a bit longer …

Sure Stroke let her mind wander and crafted an image of an older Aspire with longer fangs, a more pronounced chin and snout, and new manestyle. Her feathers fluffed. He would look gorgeous, she decided. She could just imagine him pulling her into a tight hug, pressing her chest against his as they gazed into each other’s eyes and drew in for a kiss.

A smooth, chitinous hoof pressed against her snout. Sure Stroke let out a squeak and shook her head, batting the offending limb away.

“Boop-a-Doodle!” Aspire said, his eyes dancing with mirth. He flicked his tongue, the corners of his mouth tugged into a grin as he ran his tongue along his lips. He raised his brows. “Mmm, someone tastes good,” he drawled. “Having a good daydream, Doodle?”

Sure Stroke puffed out her cheeks and fixed him with a glare, one part irritated, one part trying to fight his infectious smile. Her efforts were in vain. “Well, I was before some smug punk of a changeling booped my nose!”

“Really? Sounds like a jerk.” Stealing a quick kiss to her cheek, he scooted the cushion to her immediate right a bit closer to her side, then sat in it. He reclined and turned his gaze toward the door, glancing toward a few Enchanters seated with a group of villagers on the opposite side of the shop. “So, what do you think of our cousins?”

“They’re … nice enough, but different,” she replied. “Sort of like how I felt about you that first time we had lunch together.”

Aspire gave a snort of laughter. “That’s fair. And different how?”

“Well, Enticier certainly isn’t you, for one. I’m not sure if I shouldn’t think the world should be glad of that.”

He grinned. “You wouldn’t be wrong.” He puffed out his chest and buffed a hoof against his carapace. “There’s only room in this world for one changeling as snarky, intelligent, and funny as I.”

Sure Stroke rolled her eyes and nudged him with her shoulder. “And so humble.”


She nudged him again. “That aside, I think he’s nice. A bit forward and … lacking in personal boundaries, but nice.” Grinning, she turned to nuzzle his cheek. “And sweet,” she whispered, “judging by that kiss he planted on your cheek last night.”

Aspire stiffened. He turned slowly, leveling her with a glare. He showed his teeth and ran his tongue along his fangs, his eyes flashing green. “I think,” he hissed, “a certain filly is testing my patience. Almost like she wants me to wrap her up in a nice, warm slime cocoon. Right here, right now!”

With a squeak, Sure Stroke drew back. “You wouldn’t!” she whispered, glancing about for any sign of the brothers or Chocolate Almond.

He grinned. “They don’t have the same rule as Missus Sweet Treat. If I tell them you challenged me, they’ll smile and go about their business while I sit here and see what makes you squirm most.” Aspire leaped up, planting his hooves upon her shoulders. He leaned in and narrowed his eyes at her. “Then again, there’s that town wide tickle threat I had from Coneigh Island. I’m sure Nimble would be first in line.”


“Yeah, that’s about right.” His eyes flashed brighter as he nuzzled a slow circle around her nose, teasing her coat with the tips of his fangs. “Unless, of course, my captive girlfriend would like to offer alternative terms …”

Alternative? Sure Stroke fidgeted beneath him, testing for any sign that his grip might falter. There was none. He’d pinned her fast and wasn’t planning on giving her any chance of escape.

Stupid wrestling holds! She breathed through her nose, puffing up her cheeks as she glanced off to the side. What could she offer in exchange for her release? Namely, in exchange for escaping another tickle session with Nimble.

Not to mention the rest of the town.

But there was little she could trade. Kisses were an obvious go to, so to speak, but they shared those often. And eagerly, she would add. Another drawing was … a possibility. He was certainly taken with the last.

It was her best bet for now. “Another drawing,” Sure Stroke said. “Whatever you want, sketched and colored, or hoof-painted on canvas.”

Aspire raised a brow. “Hmm, tempting. Very tempting.” A coy smile spread across his face, he let the glow in his eyes fade away. Then he shook his head. “Nah, I think not.”

She frowned. “You’ve got to be kidding me! Why not?”

“I’d rather keep that as a trade thing. Or something for my birthday, if you like. What else have you got? And be quick, Doodle.” He darted forward and kissed her nose. “I might just get bored and decide my idea is best after all.”

Growling in warning, Sure Stroke tried to push him off, but Aspire simply shifted so his knees dug into hers. It brought their faces together so their noses touched, she could feel the grin stretching across his cheeks.

“Tick-tock,” he muttered softly. “Tick-tock.”

She wrinkled her snout. Smug jerk! He’d get a smack for this later!

“Now, isn’t this the cutest scene?” Enticier’s voice made their ears twitch. They turned to find the Enchanter Prince with his forehooves on the table, wearing a grin full of sharp teeth and fangs that nearly creased his face. Waggling his ears, he stuck his tongue out and flicked it through the air, then heaved a mock sigh. “Oh, if I could taste emotions like you Caretakers,” he said, sticking his bottom lip out, “I’d wager this would taste positively delicious.”

Aspire was off Sure Stroke and in his seat faster before she could blink. His cheeks flushed a dark black. “W-Was just reminding her not to wind up a changeling,” he said, forcing a smile.

Enticier’s grin widened. “Oh, I’m sure.” He leaned back and put his hooves on the ground, tossing his bangs out of his eyes. “So, ice cream and then story time. I’ll pay.”

“Now, hang on a minute,” Aspire said, his ears stood ramrod straight and jaw set. “That’s not—”

“I’m not trying to call your manners as host hive member into question.” Enticier raised a hoof. “Please. I asked you to share stories, and you’ve let me join in on something you both shared with your friends. Let me repay you a little.”

Grimacing, Aspire glanced at Sure Stroke. His mouth formed a thin line.

He wasn’t happy. While it wasn’t an outright slight against him, letting Enticier pay certainly didn’t sit well. But the Enchanter Prince raised a good point—he had been a bit of a third wheel. Especially last night.

Sure Stroke shrugged. “If you’re sure, Enticier,” she replied as diplomatically as she could.

“I am, thank you,” Enticier said firmly. He offered both a bright smile. “What would you like?”

“Uh … chocolate,” Sure Stroke answered.

Aspire nodded and muttered, “Same for me.”

Waggling his ears, Enticier beamed. “Righto. Be right back!” He turned and trotted toward the counter with a spring in his step and swish in his tail like a foal who just found out he’d get Hearth’s Warming presents twice in one year.

Once he was out of earshot, she muttered out of the side of her mouth, “Did I mess up?”

“No.” Aspire shook his head. “It’s not good manners in our culture to let friendly visitors pay for anything. Being a poor host is bad luck.”

Her ears perked up. “Oh? Why’s that?”

He turned to face her, smiling at the chance to educate despite her faux pas. “Because if the Sainted Ones hadn’t been good hosts, we wouldn’t be here.”

Oh. Sure Stroke ducked her head. “Sorry.”

“Not your fault. You didn’t know.” Aspire leaned over and kissed her cheek. “Just something to keep in mind.” Then he winked, adding, “And don’t think Enticier showing up saved you, Doodle. I’m expecting an answer, or I make Nimble’s dreams come true.”

Pinning her ears, Sure Stroke laid her head on the table and gave a pitiful whine. “Why me?”

Aspire chittered. She felt his breath tickle her ear as he whispered, “Because you make it so fun.”

Milkshakes certainly did a lot to remove any awkwardness between the little group. Granted, the last time Sure Stroke had a milkshake with a villager, she hadn’t been entirely aware of just who she was chatting with—she thought it was Toola Roola. At least, at first she had. Instead, it was Nimble Hooves, eager to cash in on the chance to spring a trap and finally locate her tickle spots.

Enticier didn’t seem all that interested in such things, which came as no small relief. Instead, he was more interested in the stories Aspire and Sure Stroke shared, especially that game of hide and seek from months ago.

As soon as Sure Stroke reached the part where she mouthed “I’ll save you a slice” at the twins, Enticier chittered. “Oh, you were asking for it,” he drawled. “If you said that to me, I’d have caught you, wrapped you up, and made you watch me eat my slice.”

Sure Stroke fidgeted. Again with the wrappings? “Well, Aspire did something a little different. Though it led to him having to, ah, wrap my legs.”

Enticier raised an eyebrow. “Oh?” His gaze flitted to Aspire. “What did you do?”

Aspire gave a sheepish grin, running a hoof through his messy blue mane. His cheeks flushed a dark black. “I sorta tracked her scent, snuck up behind her, mimicked Vector’s voice, and … er …”

“Scared the feathers off of me,” Sure Stroke finished for him.

He winced. “Yes. That. She went flying off and clipped a tree, so I had to wrap the cuts on her legs.” Pausing a beat, he added, “And one on her cheek, come to think of it.”

“Ah, I see.” Shaking his head, Enticier took a sip of his milkshake. He ran his tongue along his lips to catch a stray dollop of chocolate. “Well, not the best way to make an impression, but I’d wager she doesn’t challenge you as freely, eh?”

“Actually, that’s why I was pinning her. She was prodding me.”

“Even better!” Enticier smirked, fixing Sure Stroke with a sidelong look. “It’s always more fun when your friends play along, I think. Makes the game more interesting for a changeling if there’s some sort of a give and take.” His smirk widened into a full grin, showing his teeth. “I’d wager she squirms quite deliciously.”

Sure Stroke leveled him with a flat stare. Her feathers might fluff and she might doodle, but she most certainly did not squirm! “Funny,” she said, “because pegasi have their own way of answering challenges when needed.”

“Oh?” His ears twitched. “How’s that played out?”

At her side, Aspire rubbed at his jaw as though trying to chase away a phantom pain. He lowered his head, muttering, “She hits harder than you think.”

The grin washed away from Enticier’s face. For the first time, he looked genuinely struck, not like the playful pout he liked to wear when Aspire pushed him away. He looked at Sure Stroke as though he were appraising her, taking stock of her for the first time.

The flickering, dancing flames in his eyes seemed to whip into a frenzy. A smile slowly spread across his face.

“Well,” he said softly, “aren't you a bold one? And intriguing. I’d heard you were a bit more …” He rolled a hoof in a forward circle in search of the right word. “Passive. Wait, no, that’s not it.”

“Timid?” Aspire offered.

“Not quite, but that’s better than passive.”

“She was at first. Like a turtle hiding in its shell.” Aspire glanced at her and smiled warmly. “But she’s come out of hers and I’m quite happy about that. Punches, swats, and all.”

Sure Stroke felt heat flood her face. She fluffed and fluttered her feathers, and cast her gaze down at her milkshake. How was it that he could be so aggravating one moment, then make her feel like she was walking on clouds again the next?

Stupid silver-tongued changeling boyfriend. If he kept it up, she really would start squirming in front of Enticier, and then she’d never hear the end of it—from either of them! Or from the rest of the village if it got spread around.

On second thought, there was no “if.” It’d make the rounds one way or the other.

The chiming of the shop’s bell made her flick an ear toward the door. Sure Stroke looked up and saw Esalen trotting briskly toward them, a small frown marring her face.

“Aspire!” she called, pausing to brush a lock of her sugar pink mane out of her eyes. “Mom needs our help at the house.”

Aspire groaned and let his shoulders slump. “What for? She knows I’m here with Sure Stroke and Enticier!”

Esalen shook her head. “New mare came up the path and bumped into a few Enchanters while dad was giving the tour, they tried their little flirting bit and she freaked.” Shrugging, she said, “Don’t know why exactly, mom’s trying to coax her to talk a bit, but she thinks seeing us come in and act like a normal family. Normal for us, anyway.” She shot a look at Enticier.

The Enchanter Prince had the grace to duck his head. “I don’t suppose you know who of my hive it was so I can tell mom to have a word with them?”

“Wasn’t there, and dad didn’t give names.” Esalen turned her attention to Aspire again, this time bumping her hip against his shoulder. “C’mon, you walking bird’s nest, let’s go. You know how mom will get if we take to long.”

Aspire grumbled something incomprehensible under his breath, something to do with dull-chitin, brittle shells, and hollow heads along with a string of rather strange hissing words that made both Esalen and Enticier blush.

Well, at least Sure Stroke could hazard a guess that what he said wasn’t something for polite conversation.

With his piece said, Aspire set his cup on the table and slid off the cushion, scowling and shaking his head. “Swear, this happens at the worst times,” he muttered before turning to Sure Stroke. He sighed and gave her a hug. “Hopefully I’ll be back in a bit,” he said softly. “Have fun hanging out with him. He’s …” Aspire paused and dropped his voice, “He’s nice, even if he is a bit annoying.”

Sure Stroke giggled. “I will.” She leaned up and kissed his cheek, then gave him a gentle shove toward Esalen. “Now go pretend you’re a well-mannered nymph who never snarks or teases like a total smugling.”

Grinning, he waggled his ears. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. I’m always well-mannered.” Before she could retort, Aspire trotted off with Esalen and headed out the door.

Sure Stroke watched them through the window as they trotted down the path. Disappointment trickled into her chest, along with a hint of nerves the likes of which she hadn’t felt since her first days in Respite.

She was alone with Enticier, the Enchanter Prince. All the warnings about his hive’s word games ran through her head.

“And then there were two, as it were,” Enticier quipped, his voice as smooth as velvet. Sure Stroke looked up and found herself met with a warm smile and those gleaming orange eyes. “I don’t suppose you’d mind showing me your artwork now, would you?”

Alone with an Enchanter who was sweet on her boyfriend and had taken a keen interest in her. Sure Stroke swallowed a lump in her throat. Oh, Cirrus …