Down in Six Points, Part I
One dreary morning in the city of Manehattan, Weevil awoke with relief from anxious dreams, only to groan dejectedly once he remembered where he was.
The changeling stallion was lying uncomfortably on his insect wings in the same lumpy, undersized bed he'd been sleeping in for the last several years. Rubbing his heavy eyelids, he lifted his head up a little, but his view was obstructed by his belly that was so engorged it felt like a boulder tied around his midsection.
Weevil soon realized his wife was still sleeping on top of him, her body pressing close and her strong legs wrapped around his wide love handles. Their blanket had slid off during the night and was now sprawled across the floor. Even worse, the heater must have shut itself off, because their room was so chilly they were both riddled with goose bumps.
He turned his head away from her slacked muzzle, trying to escape from her bad morning breath and dreadful snoring, and scanned the bedroom with still bleary eyes.
The room they shared, too small for a married couple, lay silently between the four well-known walls, which were all decorated with old, brown wallpaper and framed photographs. In one corner of the room was a coat rack from which a matching pair of grey aprons hung. Next to that was a table where a thick ring of keys rested in front of an old framed picture of the couple; both of them smiling lovingly as they stood together, dressed in their old military uniforms and holding one foreleg around the other.
Weevil’s glance then turned towards the window. It was still pitch-black outside and he could make out heavy rain drops beating against the pane. For a split second, a bright flash of lightning lit up the whole room, followed up by a low, drawn-out rumble, and he curled up against his wife's form.
‘Oh, by the Kami,’ he thought miserably as he stared up at the cracked ceiling, ‘I really don't want to go and open shop today! Why couldn’t I have just gone into something like fruit picking or construction like the other changelings? To Tartarus with this!’ He felt an irritating itch on the top of his belly and tried scratching at it, but the damn thing was so big he couldn't reach the spot. Then he shuffled closer into his wife’s warm embrace and rested his head comfortably against her bosom, inhaling her familiar scent. ‘I’d even rather spend the morning here with my Echo...’
He lay there quietly for a while, trying to enjoy his one fleeting moment of peace for the day. But he couldn't even really do that as he gritted his teeth; the reason for his awakening was the simple fact that Echo’s lovely and loving mass was squashing him slowly like a bug underneath a hoof. As much as Weevil loved her dearly and was devoted to her like a good changeling husband should be, dying in the name of love was for fairy tales, and not a lowly shop owner with bills and debts to pay off.
The semi-peace was completely shattered when Echo began stirring and pulled herself up.
She yawned loudly, stretching her toned legs and back, and proceeded to rub the sleep from her eyes. At first, the mare appeared calm and content, but that didn't last long when she saw her husband lying next to her.
“What are you still doing in bed?” she asked irritably, keeping her voice hushed in fear of waking up their son, who was sleeping soundly in the other room.
“Give me a break, I just woke up,” he groaned, but sank further into the mattress under her withering glare. Echo was big for a changeling, even after accounting for the size difference between mares and the biologically smaller stallions. She possessed a large, powerful frame that, if she wanted to, could knock Weevil’s head clean off with a buck from her hind legs.
Echo pushed her bedmane back and reached over him to the alarm clock ticking away by the chest of drawers. She gasped and glared at him again.
“Weevil, it’s ten to six!” she hissed, giving him a rough shove. “The deliverypony will be here in ten minutes! Get your big rump out of bed, now!”
Weevil’s head snapped towards the clock for the first time that morning and he felt his blood run ice cold.
“Oh, damn it!” he almost shouted. She was right: it was ten to six, and the hands on the clock’s face were marching quietly on. The cheap thing must have failed to ring. "O-Okay, I'm up! I'm up!" Experiencing a sudden jolt of energy, he desperately began trying to sit himself upright, but his embarrassingly big gut kept getting in the way.
Echo rolled her eyes and eventually used her magic to lift him effortlessly out of bed. He struggled on his feet due to fatigue, so she gave his big rump a resounding smack for good measure, making him yelp in pain.
She then smirked toothily as she crossed her forelegs and watched him limp around the bed. “Oooh, I love that thing.”
He walked towards the coat rack, tail dangling between his legs in embarrassment and cringing from the sting on his flank. He would put his apron on, put the kettle and toaster on and hurry downstairs to open shop and meet the deliverypony.
“No, no, get yourself showered first,” she chided him with a wrinkled muzzle, begrudgingly climbing out of bed and following him now into their bathroom. “You seriously need one. But be quick, we haven’t got time to waste.”
Their bathroom was a cramped, green cubicle with a bathtub and shower combo and a slightly cracked sink with an overhead mirror cabinet. An unwashed mat was set down on the floor to prevent slip-ups like the nasty incident a week ago, and a white towel for their son was hung up on the radiator.
They took their turns showering. While she brushed her teeth, Weevil jumped into the shower and wasted no time cleaning himself. He took a few globs of shampoo and fleetly lathered it over his dark grey coat to wash away the dried sweat and stench that had accumulated overnight (he still had some of Echo’s slime on his neck, as well). He checked uneasily over his shoulder and cringed when he saw a bright green hoofprint on his flank; his wife had a mean hook.
He got out the shower minutes later and used a drying spell. Echo muscled past him and hopped right in, humming a little tune as she lathered herself up and washed her coat. Weevil walked over to the sink and hurriedly brushed his sharp teeth, particularly his fangs, which he felt were dulling lately.
As he stood in front of the mirror cabinet, Weevil couldn't help but really look at the changeling staring back at him. A weird feeling of bereavement flushed through him. In his glory days he was an absolute hunk of a stallion, literally stuffed to the brim with muscle, the kind any mare would want to sink their fangs into. Now, he couldn't find anything more than gelatinous fat. It didn't make him feel any better that Echo was as strongly built as ever, but then again, that was just how he liked his Nuzzle Bug.
He spat out the mouthwash and finished brushing his electric blue mane with his personal comb, noticing the clumps getting caught between its teeth. The stress of work was really taking its toll; his mane, once thick and wavy, had dramatically faded and was thinning so much that large bald patches had cropped up.
Now, his friends kept asking him, 'But Weevil, you're a changeling. Why don't ya just magic up some more mane?' To which he would always reply, restraining himself from decking the poor fools as he did, 'Changeling shapeshifting does not work that way!' Kami knew he wished it did. It would make his life a lot easier.
“Do you want me to wake up Shroud?” he asked Echo, morosely washing the comb clean under the running tap.
“No, I’ll do it,” came her agitated response. “Just hurry up before you miss the delivery!”
Now refreshed and active, Weevil trotted back into the bedroom while Echo finished up. He tied his grey apron around his back and tucked the keys into the small pouch before slinking out the main door and into the living room.
Weevil trudged through their small, cramped living room in the dark. He bumped hard into the coffee table and the soft chair until he finally found and turned on the lamp.
"Ah! Kuso!" the changeling cursed to himself quietly in his native language. He stopped and saw, between the closet door and the polished drawer chest, something that stood out from the rest of the room's furniture. Something that would be considered out-of-place for most of Manehattan's citizens.
It was a simple white box sitting atop a small, square table. Weevil approached it and looked down through its top glass window, a tender smile tugging at the corners of his lips. Inside, a large, roundish green egg lay nestled on a soft cushion next to a bright bulb that kept the inside of the makeshift incubator nicely heated.
His and Echo's second egg; the newest addition to their family. Through the translucent shell, the soon-to-be father of two made out the silhouette of a grub wiggling about in its fragile casing.
‘Not long now,’ he thought, planting a loving kiss on the warm glass. He then made his way down the staircase.
Unlocking the door at the bottom of the stairs, Weevil opened up and entered the front of his family’s convenience store; the product of their pains and labour.
It was a reasonably big store, consisting of four separate aisles as well as countless products filling up the walls. It sold everything a Manehattanite would expect to find: food and drink, cheap alcohol and toys, stationery, greeting cards, even behind-the-counter fireworks. What stood out from the rest was the wide assortment of changeling products imported from the Motherland, including ingredients for the best ramen this side of Six Points.
Weevil trotted behind the counter and flipped the light switch, casting the room in a yellowy glow. At the far end was what looked like a miniature cooking area, including a toaster and kettle, both of which he turned on. He really wished he could eat breakfast upstairs with his family for once, instead of while at work.
A loud knock came from the front door and he saw a burly earth pony waving at him through the rain. Weevil’s wings buzzed and he flew over the counter to the door, undoing the several locks and opening it up, ringing the little bronze bell hanging above.
“Good morning, Mr. Brawny,” he greeted politely, standing aside to let him in.
“Mornin', Mr. Weevil,” the pony muttered though rope in his teeth, which he was using to haul an enormous, tied stack of newspapers into the store. He was a big, beefy stallion and wore a dirty windbreaker jacket and cap. He gave the rope a tug and it came undone for him. “Got your order for ya.”
Weevil magically levitated the papers to place them onto the empty racks, ready for sale. As they flew through the air into place, he noticed the diverse range of papers they were selling: the Enquirer, the local Gazette, the Courier, and a large number of overseas papers in foreign languages, including Griffin, Changeling and Canid.
Nowadays, he could have sworn they were selling less of these things in Equine by the week.
“So, uhh...” Brawny held out his hoof expectantly. “You got somethin' for me?”
“Oh, of course.”
Once he finished, Weevil flew back over the counter, opened the cash register and took out a few bit bills, which he then hoofed over to Brawny. As he was doing this, freshly crisped toast shot out of the toaster and the kettle whistled. The delicious aroma made him salivate and a spluttering groan emanated from his belly.
“Much obliged, Mr. Weevil,” Brawny scanned carefully through the cash, before tucking it in his damp pocket, while Weevil buttered a slice of toast and brewed himself and Echo a cup of tea. "Lousy weather we're havin’, huh?”
“It could be worse,” said the changeling as he bit into his breakfast. “I hear it’s going to snow pretty soon. That’s the last thing we changelings need.”
He stared at him confusedly. “Really? And here I thought you bug ponies loved the cold.”
“No, it's the heat we love, that and the humidity. I don’t know how you ponies can stand this cold.”
“A neat little invention we call windbreakers.” Brawny zipped up his jacket, took out a few bit coins and set them on the counter. “Hey, gimme a lottery ticket, will ya? And, uh, I’ll have a soda, too.”
There was a massive wheel of lottery tickets drilled onto the table; they were selling like hotcakes lately. Weevil snapped one off the end and gave it to his friend, sweeping the coins into the open register.
“We got some grape in the other day. Feel free to help yourself.”
“Thanks. Morning, Mrs. Echo.”
The co-owner of the store was just walking through the backdoor at that moment, wearing her neat apron and having tied her violet mane into a ponytail. She was carrying a wooden crate labelled ‘fireworks’.
“Good morning, Brawny. How’s your wife doing?”
“Sandy’s okay, thanks.” Brawny tipped his hat to her and went to fetch himself a bottle of grape soda from the cooler. He muttered grumpily, “Yeah, she only stuck my head in the oven once this week.”
Echo tucked the crate on top of a second one beneath the counter and took her tea from Weevil with a slight nod of thanks. She then levitated a newspaper, the local Gazette, over and began reading, pausing occasionally to take a sip.
On his way out, lapping up his soda, Brawny stopped by the counter and addressed them again, this time sounding serious. “Hey, I just wanna warn you guys. There’s gonna be an ENF march goin’ on through the square today, so you might wanna stay inside.”
“Pfft, don’t you worry about us, Brawny,” Echo scoffed, her violet eyes, the same shade as her mane, never shifting from the main article she was reading. “The last thing we’ve got time to worry about is a bunch of loud-mouthed ponies.” She looked up at him, adding, “No offence.”
But the earth pony just laughed heartily. “Don’t worry, darlin’, it's no offence to me. We can't stand those ENF bums either."
Weevil, meanwhile, was busy buttering up his second slice of toast as he listened to their conversation regarding the infamous, far-right organisation with concern.
“I thought it’d been too quiet around here, lately,” he commented dismally, taking a chomp out of his slice. “It’s been four months since their last rally. So what are they complaining about now?”
“Same old crap, what else? Not like they've ever needed a reason to badmouth immigrants.” Brawny checked his watch and started out the front door at a faster pace. “Alright, I gotta get going. I’ve got other deliveries to make. See ya later.”
Once they were alone together, the couple silently got on with their work and breakfast, hardly exchanging a word. Weevil opened and spent a solid five minutes inspecting the money in the register, looking over each individual bill to make sure none were stuck together.
“It’s all there, Weevil, I checked yesterday,” Echo shook her head annoyed and left the counter to find her broom. “I’m going to do some sweeping. Did you remember to put up the ‘Help Wanted’ sign?”
"Great. Now all we need is somechangeling who'll work for below minimum wage."
“We've had our share of miracles before.”
After several minutes of silence that felt like hours instead, Weevil’s attention gradually drew to the newspaper his wife had been reading. What he read made him click his tongue in some kind of understanding.
CHANGELING POPULATION SURGES IN SIX POINTS
According to the latest government census, changelings now constitute 34.5% of the population in Six Points, making them the second most numerous species in our increasingly diverse district behind the collective pony population of 45.2%. The remaining 20.3% consist of a multiple species, primarily zebras and diamond dogs. This recent demographic shift, primarily attributed to Princess Celestia's open immigration policy of the past years, consequently marks several milestones for Six Points, the city of Manehattan and the country as a whole; the district is now home to the largest changeling community and is the most diverse nationwide, as well as the first in which ponies no longer form an overwhelming majority.
Over the last ten years, our historic district, previously populated by earth ponies and unicorns, has been subject to immigration on a scale the likes of which has not yet been witnessed in other urban areas in Equestria.
We have asked local residents from all species for their point of view on the matter of their changing neighbourhoods.
"I'm no fan of Bug Ponies, but hey; they have been great for my fishing business! Those people can't get enough of it. Years ago, I would've normally just gone and catch a few holds—probably used for caviar for some Canterlot dummkopf, no doubt—but now I can really put to sea, and they'll be used for something that's actually edible!" (laughs) "So yes, I'm still looking over my shoulder a lot now, but I'm getting quite rich too. I've just bought a new boat with the money! Balances out, I think."
—Klaus Sleek-tail, local griffin fisherman
"I don't know. These immigrants have been alright for the most part, haven't caused too much problems for me, and heck, I've even known a few griffins for years, but, you know...what about the dogs, and the changelings? I'm not speciesist, far from it, but it's just we don't exactly have the best histories with them, and with the community growing so fast, so soon... no, this could be trouble, way too easily."
—Square Deal, unicorn pet shop owner in Six Points
“These changes in demographics over the last several years are natural and are only to be expected. If anything, it reinforces the fact that we immigrants are here, we're integrating, and we're willing to follow the rules. We're asking only to be treated with the same fairness, dignity and respect as any native pony citizen, and if that is the case then there's no reason whatsoever why we shouldn't reciprocate. If Manehatten is willing to accept us, we'll make this city, and Equestria as a whole, even greater than it already is.”
—Digger, diamond dog representative of Manehatten's ISA (Immigrant Species Alliance) branch
“I get along with most people okay, pony, bug, whatever. As long as they’re all right to me, I’m all right to them. My neighbours are changelings and they're kind enough to send me Hearth’s Warming cards every year.”
—Tea Cosy, local earth pony retiree
“I’m happy that I can raise my hatchlings in a progressive, multicultural society like Equestria. Here, we are free to share and embrace each others’ cultures. I have made friends from all species in Six Points since moving here seven years ago and am proud to call this my home.”
—June Bug, local changeling mother of ten and community activist
“This is exactly what the ENF talks about while all the politicians in Canterlot don’t. I’ve lived here all my life and the whole place is now unrecognizable! They’ve (changelings) come here and taken over everything overnight, from schools to houses and local businesses. Ponies here are now already the minority and it’s only going to get worse, especially when they come here and have two dozen children! They strut about, spitting on the ground and intimidating us, acting like they own the place! Six Points—it should be called Bug Town!”
—Local pegasus, ENF supporter
“That explains it,” Weevil concluded, folding the paper in half and setting it back on the rack, not bothering to finish the article. No surprise to him that, for an article about changelings, only one local changeling was quoted. Still, he could picture the indignant scowls on the ponies of the Equestrian National Front’s faces as they picked up their copies of the morning papers, the veins in their necks pulsating so hard they would explode. As far as Weevil was concerned, they could and kick, scream and cry all they wanted; he had a store to run.
After he got bored with standing about and eating toast, he decided to take out the spritz and cloth and clean the counter. It was about time he got some work done. He might have had a cigarette or two if it wasn't so early and he was trying to cut down to just two packs a day. Halfway through his work, he looked up at the overhead clock and saw the hands slowly reaching ten to seven. They would need to go and check if Shroud was awake yet.
Just then, the backdoor opened a young changeling colt walked in. He couldn’t have been older than nine, sporting a mauve mane to match the colour of his eyes. Over his back, he carried a small but heavy green satchel filled with school materials and books.
“Oh, there’s Mama’s little helper.” Echo came up from behind the aisles, a warm, loving smile on her face the first time that morning. She craned her head and gave him an affectionate smooch on the cheek. “Have you got all your things packed, sweetie?”
The colt simply nodded.
"And have you finished all your homework?" She positively beamed when he nodded again and nuzzled him. "That's a good boy. Now, you go have your breakfast, my little Shroudy.” She then stood upright and instructed her husband curtly, “Weevil, quit standing around and get your son something to eat. He has to go soon.”
“Okay...” Weevil used his magic to turn the toaster and kettle back on while he continued monotonously with his cleaning.
Shroud set his satchel neatly behind the counter and waited there as quiet and still as a little garden gnome. His father soon turned around and gave him a plate of toast and cup of tea, mumbling, “Here you go.”
The colt sat cross-legged on the floor with the plate on his lap, eating his breakfast so quietly his father almost forgot he was there. That wasn't a surprise coming from a colt like Shroud; he never did leave much of an impression.
“Shroud, what are you doing on the floor?” Echo suddenly marched right over, a broom hovering at her side, and hoisted her son up onto the counter top. She stroked his little mane as he munched quietly on his toast and glared daggers at her husband. “What the hay are you doing?”
But Weevil was not having any of that. “Hey, I was cleaning that!” he complained, pointing at his once immaculately polish wooden surface, now defaced with an onslaught of bread crumbs.
“It's a counter, Weevil,” she retorted, “you clean it all the time. I won’t have my son eating off the floor like an animal.”
“Oh, for Pete's sake, I didn’t make him do anything—”
She stomped off in a huff before he could finish, going back to the sweeping and effectively ending the conversation. Weevil slumped his shoulders in defeat, then pulled up and plopped down on a wooden stool.
It wasn't long until Shroud finished and, throwing his backpack over his shoulder, trotted over to wait patiently for his Mama to take him to school. Echo soon appeared again, this time with an umbrella hovering at her side.
“I’ll be right back,” she told Weevil matter-of-factly as she guided Shroud outside and opened her umbrella over their heads. “Try not to let the store catch fire while I’m gone.” She slammed the door shut against the harsh wind, violently shaking the bell.
He grumbled some obscenity under his breath. At least now he had five minutes to himself. Instead of resuming his cleaning, he reached under the counter and took out a black leather box.
It was an odd little contraption that had a wooden front with several plastics knobs sticking out. A long extendable rod called an 'antenna' stuck out from the top on a pivot. He bought it off a batpony from the weekly market in Harmony Square two weeks ago. It was a relatively new invention called a ‘radio’, apparently invented by this batpony engineer whose name he couldn't remember. They were used to pick up signals in the air that blared out news broadcasts and music.
Weevil grunted as he kept fiddling with the knobs and twisting the ‘antenna.’ All he got was the broken sound of static. He slapped the side of the box with frustration; this damn thing cost him twenty bits!
He was so preoccupied with trying to get the thing to work, he didn't hear the bell ring or the sound of hoofsteps.
"Hey hey, morning, cuz!"
Weevil ignored the familiar Manehattan accent at first and kept twisting around one of the round knobs, thinking he was actually starting to make out something intelligible.
“That piece of crap ain't gonna work, ya know that?”
The moment the newcomer told him this, the knob broke right off, followed by a louder stream of distorted static.
“See, I told ya.”
"Woah! No need for the language."
Weevil glared up at the older, teal-maned changeling standing in front of him. He wore a black denim jacket and a pair of orange-lensed glasses, as well as a dung-eating grin that stretched ear-to-ear through his blue-green five o'clock shadow.
“Ohayou, Scarab,” he grumbled, both reflexively dipping his head in a bow and slipping back into his native tongue in his cousin's presence.
“Oha... Ohaya... heh heh, I haven’t used that one in a long time,” the older stallion chuckled, leaning against the counter with crossed forelegs. He tipped his glasses and eyed the radio like the worthless hunk of junk it was. “Wow... so this a huge piece if I've ever seen one. Did you buy this from a bat?”
“You're kidding!” he nearly burst out laughing. “Oh yeah, you've been conned. That thing is worthless.”
“Are you sure?”
“Believe me, I know.”
Weevil slumped his shoulders, growled furiously and swept the radio away with a stifled “Buck!” It landed in a bowl of lollipops. He flopped back down on his stool, rubbing his hooves against his face, stewing for a moment in his anger.
That was twenty bits he'd thrown down the drain! If Echo found out he'd frittered their money on something so unnecessary and useless, she was going to have his head!
“Do you want me to find this dirty bat and get your money back, cousin?” Scarab asked, trotting over to the cooler to get himself a can of hard cider. “I do that sort of stuff now for money. I only need a vague description. Heck, I’ll even give you a family discount.”
“How about a cider?”
“Why not? I’m only the one paying for it,” he huffed. Scarab came swaggering back, tossing him a can of brand name Apple Family Cider. They cracked them open and both took a swig in a mock cheer, “To our health.”
Downing half his can in ten seconds flat, Scarab let out a loud, wet belch, using his lapel to wipe his lips. Apple Family brand was, without a doubt, the sweetest, most quenching cider on the market. Neither had met another changeling in Equestria who didn't enjoy it, especially since it was impossible to find back in the Motherland.
“Haven't you found a new job yet?”
“Yeah, Weevil, that’s why I just offered to beat up a bat for you for bits,” Scarab replied sarcastically. “... Jobs are running dry, so I'm thinking of getting into that 'soldier of fortune' bizz Gilda keeps talking about."
Weevil facehoofed at the very idea. "Oh Kami, Scarab, no..."
“And I’m serious about the discount.” He set his can down and got into a combat pose, setting himself up on his hind legs and holding up his fore hooves like a boxer of sorts. “I'd go up to the guy, tell him, 'Hey! You think you can cheat my cousin and get away with it?!' and kick his teeth in, like this... roundhouse!”
Scarab swung his hindleg around in a semicircular motion, only to kick a stand full of discount Nightmare Night products that had the misfortune of being in the way and fell to the floor with an unceremonious crash.
“Scarab!” Weevil shouted, looking over the counter. “What the hay are you doing?!”
Dizzily getting back onto his hooves, Scarab staggered for a bit and steadied himself on the counter, saying as he held his head, "Wow, okay, sorry about that. I got a little excited. What?" He saw Weevil glaring intently and pointing over at the tipped over stand. "Oh, heh heh, let me get that. Sorry." His horn glowed a bit and the stand was put back together in an instant. "So, um, what were we talking about?"
Weevil folded his legs and told him firmly, “Thank you, again, but the answer's no, Scarab. We've got bats who shop here and the last thing Echo’ll let me do is piss off the entire colony in Six Points, especially over twenty stupid bits!”
His cousin scoffed, going back to drinking his cider, “Colony? Is that what we’re still allowed to call them?”
“Not the point—”
“Because I can name a few things I can call those rat-eared, little—”
“Scarab!” Weevil banged his can hard against the counter. “Can we please just get off of this?!”
“Okay, okay, sorry. Don't go losing whatever's left of that mane of yours.”
Moments went by without another word being exchanged between them, before Weevil's gaze drifted over to the weather outside. It was still raining cats and dogs outside—though he wasn't sure if that was still the politically correct term, since the diamond dogs might kick up a fuss—and it showed no signs of letting up.
Weevil stroked the bristles on his chin, saying worriedly, “I wonder what’s taking Echo so long. She should've been back by now.”
A mirthless laugh escaped Scarab’s chapped lips, “Yeah, you know, I figured it was way too quiet in here. I haven’t been screamed at or had something thrown at me yet.”
Weevil couldn't help but chuckle along with him. “You know, in case you didn’t see the sign outside, we’re looking for an extra pair of hooves around here." He jabbed his hoof back at the store window. "Maybe you’d be interested?”
"You mean me working under your wife?" he asked incredulously, looking at him like he was growing a second horn. "You couldn't get me to do that if you paid me enough I could live like a hornkie in Canterlot.”
The two were laughing together now, like they used to when they were still colts back in their home village. He wouldn't admit it to his face, but despite his often shameful behaviour, Weevil enjoyed his cousin’s company.
The door suddenly kicked open, slamming so hard against the wall the hinges could have broken. Both changelings saw Echo stagger onto the mat, gasping for air and her mane and coat completely drenched. Water dripped off her like a running tap. Sticking out of her apron pouch was a stack of white and brown letters. She dropped the closed umbrella to the floor with a loud clatter.
“Oh-hey-you, Drippy,” Scarab sneered and waved at her as he unwittingly butchered his own language.
Echo said not a word, instead giving him a disapproving look as she rung her ponytail dry.
“Do you intend to pay for that cider, Scarab?” she finally asked, gliding past the two to put the umbrella back on display with the rest.
“Uh, no,” he answered flatly.
“I thought not. I take it you’re going to be staying for the day again?”
He shrugged, looking over his shoulder at the shorter, heavyset stallion. “Only if you two will have me.”
“We could set up a couple of seats on the porch when the rain stops,” Weevil offered, spotting the cleaning equipment he'd forgotten about and getting back to work. “The guys might come over around lunchtime.”
He grinned, clapping his hooves. “Awesome. If you guys don't mind, I’m gonna go have a nap on the couch.” Weevil nodded slightly with approval and the chiselled stallion’s wings came to life. He buzzed over to the back door, intending to head upstairs. “You know, I really hope it stops raining soon."
“Why’s that?” Echo asked disinterestedly as she started reorganizing a row of pickle jars and olives on one of the shelves.
“Because they might cancel the march if this keeps up.” Scarab turned around, hovering backwards, and pounded one hoof into the other. “I’m gonna jump one of those pastel-coloured pansies and stomp 'em!”
When he disappeared laughing up the stairs, the husband and wife shared a sigh. Echo took down a pickle jar that was a day out of date and brought it over behind the counter. She popped it open and Weevil retched at the briny smell.
“Why do you still allow him in our store?” She took a pickle, swirled it around in the brine and ate it. “He's a lout.”
“Maybe, but he’s also my cousin, Echo,” he reasoned. “We can’t just throw family out in the rain; it’s not like he bothers the customers or anything.”
“How was Shroud at the drop off?”
Remembering the moist letters still in her apron pouch, and not wanting to engage in this lifeless banter any longer, Echo took the mail out and began sorting through it. As expected, the vast bulk of them were bills: water, gas, electricity, insurance, mortgage, pension. It all came together to form a painful headache for the couple to share. Other than that, she found only junk mail like an advertisement for the minotaur deli down the road or the griffin beer hall.
When she reached the end of the stack, Echo blinked upon reading the particular hoofwriting on the front of the envelope and to whom it was addressed.
“It’s for you,” she said, sliding it over the counter to him. “It’s from Samsa.”
Weevil’s already slack face dropped even further and took the envelope unenthusiastically. The penmanship was unquestionably Samsa's, with the Canterlot stamp serving as confirmation. For a moment, it looked as if he were about to whip out the letter opener, but he hesitated and tossed it to one side without another glance.
Echo asked knowingly, “You’re not still mad at him, are you?”
“I prefer not to talk about it.” He took a pickle out the jar and bit into it bitterly, hoping the foul taste would distract him from his thoughts.
A pregnant pause followed. Weevil stood there, his chops making loud chewing noises, while his wife skimmed the mail with an increasingly disappointed face. He knew what it was: no letter from the High Priestess had come.
There were schools all over Equestria that catered to pupils according to species or, to be more politically correct, “species language.” The all-changeling schools, acclaimed for their discipline and reports of high academic success, naturally put heavy emphasis on changeling religion, language and culture and were run by changeling priestesses. There were no schools Weevil knew of that only catered to ponies, but he figured that wasn't too difficult for their parents; they only had to enroll them at the local school once they fled to their new scenic town or village.
Echo had been trying to get their little Shroud into an all-changeling school for some months now. She had to compete viciously against the other changeling mothers who had their eyes on any open spot for their hatchlings, and even made the family attend temple more frequently to improve their chances. But by the looks of it, all her efforts weren't accomplishing much.
Wanting to give her some reassurance like a good husband should, he rubbed his soft, flabby hoof up and down against her huge, muscular foreleg.
“He’ll get in eventually, darling,” he smiled sweetly up at his giant wife. “They probably still just don't have enough places. Don’t worry, they'd be idiots not to take him at some point.”
She didn't appear to share his optimism. “Yeah, that's what they always say...” she murmured, folding a random letter in half and setting it down as if she were giving up on the whole idea.
“He’s our very smart, little colt, sweetie. He gets all that from you.” He assured her, and then shrugged, adding somewhat jokingly, “It's not like he gets it from me.”
Echo looked down at him wryly, cocking an eyebrow. “Weevil, are you seriously sweet talking me right now?” she asked, hoof on hip and not sounding all that impressed.
“Well, that depends. Is it working?”
Rolling her eyes and heaving a sigh, she nevertheless gave his remaining patches of mane an affectionate ruffle.
“You're lucky you've still got your way with words, Weevie.” she said, wearing a slight smile as she reached down and pecked him on the lips. “Look, I’m gonna go upstairs and take care of these bills.” She cantered towards the backdoor with the mail back in her pouch, stopping only momentarily to look back and grin, “Oh, and yeah, you're right, he does get his smarts from me. But I guess he had to get his handsome looks from somechangeling.”
Alone once more that morning, cheeks blushing green and grinning with satisfaction, Weevil whistled a little tune as he mopped up the puddle of brine. He took out another pickle and ate it with greater ease than the first, placing the jar beneath the counter with the fireworks.
That was the job of a good changeling husband: to be there for his wife and ensure sure she was as happy as he could make her. Echo even just called him “Weevie”. Now that was a rarity.
Still, no matter what he did for her, all Echo seemed invested in was their son. If it wasn't about Shroud’s stellar performance at school or his talented shapeshifting skills, it was about how he was going to get pneumonia if a single raindrop touched his precious little head. Of course, he adored his little son, but he had to wonder who she thought she was married to half the time.
And the Kami above knew it wasn't going to be any better when the baby hatched.