• Published 31st Oct 2013
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Citizen Weevil - Magic Man



A changeling immigrant, Weevil, and his family, try their best to live their lives in the savage urban jungle of Manehattan.

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Chapter Two: Down in Six Points, Part II

Citizen Weevil

Chapter Two

Down in Six Points, Part II

The Six Points, the neighbourhood where Weevil and his family lived, was named as such because of its street design. There were six streets in total – Loyalty, Laughter, Generosity, Honesty, Kindness, and Magic Street – and all of them coalesced into one large intersection known as Harmony Square.

It confused Weevil as to why the names of many places in Manehattan and Equestria in general were so weird, but to the best of his knowledge the streets had been renamed within the last decade after the ‘Elements of Harmony.’ He had no idea if they were an actual thing or some fruity Equestrian concept, but it wasn't like he really cared.

Weevil and Echo came to Manehattan several years ago on a hot, stuffy airship across the sea, packed with about two hundred other changelings like sardines. It was easily one of the most unbearable experiences of his entire life, and the hyperbole felt entirely justified. It reminded Weevil of drunk college students deciding to see how many could fit into a phone booth at once. Of course, they never had to stay in the booth for eighteen hours straight with a wife who was heavily pregnant with the egg of their firstborn son and ravenously hungry because of it. Nor did they have to deal with nonstop buzzing sounds, an idiot's knee lodged firmly in their back, and the sneaking suspicion that every other changeling on the damn ship gargled bubonic plague-flavored mouthwash before they left that morning.

In abridged terms, it was not pleasant.

The couple knew Manehattan was where they were heading; it was where everychangeling on the ship was heading on their long journey to Equestria, some without even a bundle of their basic belongings to carry over their backs. For them, undergoing this hardship was worth it in order to escape the problems of the Motherland and arrive in the acclaimed land of “peace, love and opportunity.” And according to everychangeling back in their village, Manehattan was where all the jobs were.

Weevil also heard of changelings who were moving to more rural areas, like the town of Ponyville, to get into agricultural work like fruit and vegetable picking. He considered it for a while back when they were making plans to leave the Changeling Kingdom, but he knew Echo would sooner spit on her own grandmother’s grave than lower herself to become a field labourer. Besides, he had just enough money from selling his family home and from his grandparents’ inheritance to help them find somewhere to live when they got to the city.

When they finally arrived in Manehattan, after another three to four hours waiting in line for registration, they ended up at Six Points. Needless to say, the streets were not so much paved with gold as they were with the exaggerations and downright falsities of their fellow countrychangelings.

Six Points was statistically one of the most deprived urban areas in Equestria. The best way Weevil could describe it was an ugly jungle of grimy, old buildings towering over the dusty, littered streets and scraping the smoggy, grey sky. Echo summed it up in her candid manner after they were registered.

“This is a toilet, Weevil.”

“A what?”

“This whole place is one giant toilet, Weevil!” she ranted, motioning around the street they walked through, mountains of bags stacked on their backs, with utter contempt. “You made me leave my home and my family for this dunghole?!”

“It was either this or a hick town.”

“Oh, well, that just makes me feel so much better!” Echo guffawed, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Will you stop complaining?” he groaned, wincing under the pain of the tremendous load he was carrying. “Just be glad we finally got here.”

His wife held her dizzy head, whining loudly, “By the Kami, the air here is making my head spin!”

He pressed his ears back and grunted through his teeth, “Shut up, shut up, shut up.”

The first few months were pretty rough; they first stayed with Scarab in his closet of an apartment while they searched for jobs and their own place. Weevil got a job washing up in a local changeling restaurant - a temporary situation until something better came up. Meanwhile, Echo made it her everyday ritual, in between moaning about the polluted air and the filthy conditions of Scarab’s home and how they were “hurting her egg,” to harass her husband about the apartment search.

As fate would have it, the stallion eventually found an apartment for rent that was suitable for their budding family. It was located at the end of Loyalty Street, right above a rat catcher’s business, and it was one of the few—among the dozens he'd already inspected—that did not smell like cat piss.

The individual and his associates who owned the property offered a fairly reasonable price, one he could keep up with as long as he kept working.

The day after they moved in, Echo finally laid her single egg. Not too long after that, their precious little colt Shroud was hatched. For the first time he could recall since coming to Equestria, Weevil saw his wife genuinely happy as she cradled their hatchling in her forelegs. It made him happy too.

There was no denying the old changeling saying, translated into modern Equestrian lingo: if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nochangeling happy.

Now their life in Equestria had truly begun, but it still wasn't an easy one. For months, Weevil spent long nights washing endless mountains of dishes until his hooves shrivelled up like prunes. Echo also took up some foalsitting for local ponies in between raising their son, but the less said about that fiasco the better. Together, they brought in enough money to get by and saved every single bit they could.

It wasn’t all hard work that made up their lives. The changeling community in Six Points was both large and well-connected with their own institutions and activities, so at least they weren't alone. They made some good friends here, not just other changelings but zebras, diamond dogs and, yes, even ponies.

Weevil and Echo’s big break came when the rat catcher closed his business, having decided to take it uptown. It was Echo’s idea to buy the property off him; she came from a long line of both military officers and small businessmares and thus had inherited the ability to see a good opportunity when one arose. One of their pre-set goals for when they arrived in this new land was to set up their own business. The only problem, as far as Echo was concerned, was that Weevil didn't possess a “killer instinct”.

“I am not going to foalsit ponies’ brats for the rest of my life!”

“Not like any of them will ever hire you again, anyway,” Weevil grumbled under his breath

“Well, what how about you?” she asked him, poking his muzzle. “You think you can keep supporting your son by washing dishes? For Queen’s sake, we were in the royal army. We're better than this!”

“This isn’t like back home,” he tried however he could to reason with his most uncompromising wife. “Your parents didn't have any competition; there’re too many businesses here already. Look, my job's going fine, I think you can wait—”

Taking a piece of paper out from under the table, Echo shoved it into his face, saying, “I’m done waiting. Here.”

Weevil looked it over with difficulty. He was still working on his Equine.

“What’s this?”

“I’ve already bought the property.”

If there was any instance where Echo wished she had a camera, it was for the look on Weevil’s face when she told him that.

"Wait, you what?!”

“He was pretty desperate to get rid of it,” Echo explained, rolling her eyes as she recognized that whiny tone of his. This was not going well, but she tried to put a positive spin on it for him regardless. “Look, it didn’t even put much of a dent in your inheritance. We got a good deal, Weevil.”

It took him a minute or two, and in that time his jaw dropped so far she could see his breakfast, but he finally found his voice as well as his deeply buried anger.

“My inheritance? You mean my money?!” He raised his voice angrily, something he almost never had the guts for. “You did all this without saying a word to me? Are you serious?! You stupid mare! How dare you just—” In the middle of his little tirade, his lips suddenly found themselves sealed shut and refused to part, like they were stuck together with superglue laced with lemon juice. Echo lorded over him, glaring at him so malevolently his stallionhood completely vanished into thin air.

“Don’t you dare take that tone with me again, Weevil,” she warned him in a tone way too unnaturally tranquil not to be threatening. “ I'm doing what’s best for best for our family, not what's best for you or me. I'm trying to give our children a good start, and I'm not gonna doddle around simply because you're too gutless to take a risk!”Their faces got uncomfortably closer with each word, until their muzzles pressed. “Understand?”

“Y-Yes,” he gulped, retreating his head into his fat body.

The giant mare slowly pulled away and took a deep breath, looking a tad regretful. "Look... maybe it wasn't right for me to just go ahead without consulting you, and for that I'm sorry. But if your money's what you're so worried about, you’ll get it back, alright?" she told him after an awkward pause, still frowning but sounding far less mad than before. "I'm your wife, you have my word."

He nodded meekly, holding his head low, "Okay... a-and I'm sorry for losing my—"

"You're forgiven." She patted his shoulder lightly, though she kept her stony expression. "Now, first thing I want you to do is go give the restaurant your notice. You and I have a lot of hard work ahead...”

It would turn out Weevil was wrong. Again. Once they thoroughly cleaned the smell of rat poison out of the place, to the point where the smell of lemon burned their nostrils, they spent a whole week setting up shop and ordering stock. They decided to sell mostly convenience items, but also cater to the changeling and other minority communities.

Today, their store was doing quite well and the family was making a lot more than they ever did when Weevil was scrubbing dried noodles off greasy plates. As family matriarch, Echo was naturally in charge, having full managerial and financial control, while Weevil was relegated to spending most of the day working the cash register and doing the grunt work. He wasn't allowed to put a hoof on any of the paperwork, which he figured was her way of punishing him for being “selfish” and “unsupportive.”

Echo was kind enough to gradually pay back the little money she owed him for his inheritance. Still, he kept it all in a private account from then on, just to be safe.

From where they stood now, with their own steady business, Weevil could look at his family’s position and call it... okay. Money was tight more often than he’d like, but they were definitely better off than some of the other immigrants, Weevil and Echo having read stories of some unfortunate schmoes ending up homeless and prowling the streets, looking for food in dumpsters. Still, Weevil didn't feel he’d truly achieved the so-called 'Equestrian Dream' that was being preached by the bigwigs in city hall and the even bigger wigs in Canterlot. Not yet, anyway.

On the streets of Six Points, whether an immigrant or native pony, that feeling was mutual.


The rain persisted into midday, though its ferocity had been reduced to a drizzle and minor gusts of wind. The whole of Six Points looked like it was covered in a blue gel, like it was somehow night and day at the same time. The dusty, cobble streets were now covered with large muddy puddles, the swampy kind that, once stepped in, would require a Manehattanite to spend the better part of the day trying to scrape it off.

Harmony Square was used to being crowded, normally from the weekly market. Today, it was overflowing with ponies and non-ponies alike for a very different reason.

The crowd faced each other, split into two unequally sized groups. A thick line of officers from the Manehattan police department stood between the two camps, both of which looked ready to charge and gouge the other’s eyes out.

At first glance, one might mistake it for a bunch of supporters from two rival hoofball teams coming to blows before or after a match. Actually, it was something even more loud, caustic and obnoxious; a political march and its counter protest.

The Equestrian National Front stood in their smaller numbers by the opening of Magic Street. Their supporters consisted mostly of middle-aged, working-class ponies wearing emblazoned—and admittedly classy—denim jackets and faces like smacked rumps. Accompanying the ENF, albeit from a distance, were a few smaller groups representing trade unions, including a few livid mares the Equestrian Sex Worker Union. They preoccupied their time by parroting jingoistic chants and waving about their flags and oft-misspelled slogans that were scrawled on cardboard like a foal would its rattle.

‘Eqwestria for HERDS! No Swarms, Nestts, or Dog-Houses!’

‘REMEMBER CANTERLT! Stop Manehatan becoming a changling feeding ground! Stop the swarms silant invassion!’

‘CHANGLING KINGDOM FOR CHANGLINGS. GRIFON EMPIRE FOR GRIFONS. EQUESTRIA FOR EVRYONE!!?’

‘BLANK FLANK STOLE MY JOB!’

They were dwarfed in numbers by the counter protest: an amalgamation of mostly anti-racist organizations, students and hippies of all species. Their counter tactics were similar to their opponents, including waving about their own more legible slogans.

‘LOVE, NOT HATE!’

‘PONIES AND CHANGELINGS MUST UNITE! SMASH THE FASCIST RIGHT!”

‘Give Peace A Chance, Dude!’

‘ONE EQUESTRIA, MANY CULTURES’

It also including repeating their own tired pretentious chants over and over and trying to beat the ENF in a moronic shouting match.

“Get outta Manehattan, ya hornkey bums! Go back to Canterlot!”

“Pony Rights! Pony Rights! Pony Rights!”

"Hate And Woe Bring Out The Windigoes!”

“This is a pony nation! Pony jobs should be for ponies first!’

“YA FASCIST SCUM!”

Pow!

An ageing hippie named Plaster violently twisted his head after being struck and bounced off one of his fellow protestors before landing on the wet ground.

Babs Seed’s chest heaved in rage as she glowered down over the dazed hippie while Sweetie Belle wrapped her forelegs around her friend’s shoulders and pulled her back, stopping her before she did something she regretted.

“That was right in my ear, ya doped-up MOOK!” Babs yelled at him, furiously trying to squirm out of Sweetie Belle’s hold.

“Babs, cool it!” Sweetie hissed as she used her magic to physically yank Babs to one side so she could talk to her privately. “It was an accident. Do you want to get arrested?”

The gamboge earth pony brushed her off rudely and growled in her gruff, Manehattan accent. “Lay off, Sweets. How ‘bout I scream in your ear and see how you like it?” She pulled up the collar of her black jacket against the rain and shuddered from the biting cold. “I can’t believe you tricked me inta comin’ to this bore fest.”

“This is a peaceful protest,” Sweetie Belle said, speaking with her eyes closed like an intellectual and holding up a “LOVE, NOT HATE” sign. “As progressive students, it’s our duty to confront speciesism and fascism in all its forms. It’s not a punch-up.”

“Bull. Crap.” Babs deadpanned. “I bet you're just hoping Trey Triceps shows up and sees ya. Why dontcha save the fake hippie bull for him?”

A shade of pink livened up her pearly white cheeks and she twirled a lock of her mane. “What? That’s ridiculous. I’m here utilizing my civic right to protest like everypony else.” She then began looking around, insisting rather adamantly, “Besides, you know Trey and I are over. It was a mutual decision based on respect.”

Babs laughed hollowly and took out a cigarette. She put it in her mouth and held it up to Sweetie Belle expectantly. Taking the hint, the tip of the unicorn’s horn lit up and carefully touched the end of her friend’s cigarette.

“I don’t believe this,” she muttered to herself resentfully. “I coulda been hittin’ the noodle house right now, but no, I’m stuck surrounded by a bunch of phonies smoking poison joke.” She rolled her stick around and blew a ring of smoke, rolling her eyes up tiredly. “Luna, I wish I had some of that right now...”

The ultranationalist and anti-immigrant organization of the Equestrian National Front had planned to march through Six Points today in protest of the rapidly changing face of the neighbourhood. Never mind that half the ponies marching didn’t even live there. As soon as word got out, the anti-ENF camp mobilised themselves and descended upon Harmony Square to disrupt their march in a counter demonstration.

Had the young college mares known about the lousy weather or the swarms of loud, obnoxious phonies, Sweetie Belle might not have thought it was worth it, even for a bulking jarhead like Trey Triceps. His presence at the protest rally was as likely as Cloudsdale ever hosting the Equestria Games. It wasn't like they could just leave, either; they were so hemmed in, they were pretty much forced to wait until an opening came up for them slither their way out to the nearest bar.


The local sentiment wasn’t that different, particularly from those who were only a stone’s throw away from the protests.

“Okay... so it’s Monday, we’re in downtown Manehattan, it’s freaking wet and you’re seriously telling me this many ponies haven’t got anything better to do right now?”

“Evidently no,” was Weevil’s indifferent response. He stood on a wooden ladder propped up against the gutters of his store, pulling out crumpled cans and clumps of sludge and tossing them into his sack. The amount of trash that had built up was astounding; the cans were concentrated behind the store’s sign, covered and stuck together with mud. He shook his head disgustedly, “Gods' sake...”

“Come down, Weevil, and have a drink.”

Four creatures were sitting on his store porch drinking: Scarab, a griffin, an earth pony and a zebra. The rainbow collection of friends anointed this their favourite drinking spot, given its convenience and choice view of Harmony Square. A shame today it was anything but.

“I’m nearly done...” He bounced his bag up and down to make some room and steadied himself on the old ladder, which creaked loudly under his weight. He found a half-broken beer bottle and gingerly levitated into the bag. “How does this garbage get up here?”

A can flew over his head and hit the roof, rolling down the slope and into the gutters, sending dirty water splashing in his face. The changeling glared angrily over his shoulder at the griffin beneath him.

“Gilda!”

“Yeah?” The bronze bodied, white headed griffin asked nonchalantly, who was halfway through another can of beer from the cooler.

“Stop that!”

Gilda wiped the beer head from her beak and burped, replying hoarsely, “No.” She carelessly flung the same can over her head. It hit the roof and rolled down into the gutters again, resulting in Weevil getting another eyeful.

“Gah! Ugh, so that’s where they keep coming from!” Weevil glared at them all icily. Right now, he wished he had the power to melt heads with a look. “Alright, that’s it! Either you stop throwing your cans on my roof, or you can all go drink somewhere else!”

“Don’t listen to him, boys, he’s just blowing wind,” said the positively ancient zebra named Zigzag to his buddies. “He’d go nuts if he didn’t have us.” Cueball, a balding, overweight earth pony, let out a wheezy laugh.

Scarab looked like he had sunk into his chair, his breathing heavily and noisy as if he were sleeping. An extra-large green bottle of booze was tucked beneath his leg. He had been drinking all morning without putting a can or bottle down once. All his talk about picking a fight with the ENF fizzled out with intensifying light-headedness.

“Maybe we should check he’s still alive,” remarked an unconcerned Gilda, who did not even look at his inebriated form as she took out a wooden stick and jabbed him roughly with it. A low groan emanated from Scarab’s half open mouth. “He’s alright.”

“C’mon, Weevil, where else have we got to put them?” Cueball asked the changeling still on the ladders. “Your wife’ll bust our heads if she found us leaving our trash on her porch again.”

“Here!” The bag dropped to the porch with a heavy clunk. “Use this.”

Within less than a minute of it hitting the floor, the bag was stuffed with a barrage of cans, some still half full but flat.

Growling with frustration, Weevil opened a second bag on the roof and continued working. He only used magic for messes that were beyond his physical capabilities. Echo was somewhat conservative when it came to using magic around the apartment; she did not want her family becoming overly reliant on it, especially for straightforward tasks like cleaning.

He coughed violently when he inhaled the putrid stench coming out the pipe. It smelled like something crawled in there and died. In fact, he swore he could see the shadow of its crooked tail. Grimacing, he turned away from it and hurriedly grabbed whatever gunk was left and shovelled it in the bag before finally climbing down. If he stayed up here any longer, he was going to puke.

“I’ll take that beer now.”

Gilda threw him one, which unceremoniously hit him in the head. He grumbled and placed the cold sweating metal on the inflicted area with magic as he dropped his huge, slapped sore rump on his creaky chair.

“Is that it?” Weevil glared at the cooler, which now only held sloshy ice cubes in a pool of cold water. “Have you guys drunk them all up already?”

“It wasn’t us, it was Gilda,” the zebra accusingly pointed at the griffin. “She’s got that griffin beer belly.”

“Zigzag, shut the buck up,” she replied with total indifference.

“Look at the evidence: who here’s had the most beer? I told you to bring a second case, because old feathers here would drink them all, and I was right.”

A glint of aggravation appeared on her face, and she spoke straightforwardly while still managing to convey a threat, “Zigzag, I’m serious. I love ya, but if you don’t shut the buck up, the next words you say’ll be muffled by your own butt.”

“When do you think these guys will get lost?” Weevil asked seemingly at random, but it was really to change the direction of the conversation. He gestured towards the massive protest and wished the earth would split open and swallow them up.

“Who? The bigoted idiots or the pretentious dweebs?”

“Pick one.”

Cueball grumbled dismally, venting his own frustration, “I just want them all gone so I can get some customers today. I haven’t cut anypony’s mane in three days, and things are already hard as they are—”

“Nochangeling cares, Cueball,” Scarab muttered through his snoring.

The store bell rung and the hefty hoofsteps of a changeling mare followed onto the porch. All heads turned and saw Echo towering over them, carrying a bag of garbage over her shoulder.

Echo sighed and cantered down the porch steps, bumping her husband with her flank along the way. The day was not halfway done yet and the mare already looked drained.

She took a quick look around the circus and commented, somewhat humorously, “I’ve lived in Manehattan for years now and this has got to be the most police I’ve ever seen around here.” She turned and walked around the building to the dumpster. “Weevil, are you done with the gutters yet?”

“Yes, dear,” he groaned, knowing his minute’s rest was at an end.

“Come back inside. I need you behind the register.”

Weevil pushed himself off his chair and slunk back inside the store. Cueball whispered something to Zigzag and the zebra flicked his hoof, making a whipping noise and the two broke out snickering. Unfortunately for them, a returning Echo overheard their little conversation.

“What was that?” she hissed, casting a shadow over the pair as she leaned over them menacingly. Both their smirks vanished and they sheepishly shook their heads. “And I trust one of you has already paid for that beer?”

“Well, I think Gilda was gonna—”

“It’s Zigzag’s turn,” Gilda sent the zebra a hidden smirk.

Echo narrowed her glare at the two old stallions, tapping her hoof loudly now against the wooden floorboards. A loud gulp could be heard from their throats and, taking out a worn wallet, Zigzag gave her a few creasy bit bills.

She double-checked the money and bowed, telling them with begrudging politeness, “Thank you.” She departed with a whip of her violet tail and both stallions sighed with relief.

The griffin laughed and took another swig. “Pfft, dweebs.”


The classroom in PS 118 certainly wasn't as bad as some of the other state funded schools in the metropolitan areas of Equestria, but that was as polite as one could be in describing it. It was chilly, musty and all colour in the room looked like it had been forcefully sucked away.

All the children sat uncomfortably close together behind decades-old desks with tattered ancient textbooks and overused quills at the ready. Fewer than half the students in the classroom were ponies; the majority were a mixed stock of changelings, zebras, diamond pups and griffins.

The teacher was a unicorn stallion by the name of Graingrind, an undersized, shrivelled-up bag of bones whose grey coat, silver mane and dusty blazer made him blend right into the classroom. He was levitating a thick textbook to his face and a piece of chalk that scraped loudly against the old and scratched-up board as he read aloud.

Standing nearby him was a youngish bespectacled zebra stallion who looked fresh out of college. The school board had mandated that classes were to be taught in multiple languages due to the mass influx of students who spoke Equine as a second language or didn't speak it at all. His official job was to act as as an interpreter for the large proportion of zebra students in the class whose Equine skills weren’t up to scratch.

“... with the civil war over, the three predominant changeling races were now unified under one nation, which is now the modern day Changeling Kingdom, unitarily led by the horned and winged changelings known as hornet changelings.” Graingrind unfurled a map of the far eastern island nation of the Changeling Kingdom and hung it on the chalkboard as the interpreter relayed the message to the zebra students.

Shroud sat square in the middle of the class, eyes snapping left and right from his textbook to his scroll with the precision and dedication of a finely oiled automaton. All the other changelings were following a similar fashion: every possible note was taken down, including facts, dates and hoofnotes. Most of the non-changeling students—or “soft skins”—did not work with the same diligence; he spotted out of the corner of his eye a diamond pup chewing on his textbook.

He was a smart colt, smartest in the class. He had his Mama to thank for that. She oversaw him doing his homework every night and checked it over twice. The soft-skins thought if they kept acting nice to him, he would let them copy his homework. It was so pathetic he could laugh.

Occasionally, his glistening mauve eyes twitched slightly further to the left than normal. A zebra filly was right next to him, listlessly jotting down notes with her own fuzzy pink quill instead of one of the school-issued ones. Her silky dark mane was combed over to one side and she wore a couple of golden rings on her left ear.

Shroud kept his head firmly down, but he kept glancing at her, mentally caning himself to refocus when he thought she was going to look back.

“... and that’s pretty much it. Afterwards, we had the Scaragowa Shogunate and the civil war, but that’s all you need to know now about modern changeling history. Any questions? No? Good.” Mr. Graingrind shut his book and dropped it on his desk with a loud clunk and rerolled the map, placing it within his desk drawer. “Now, while you finish off summarizing your notes before recess, or copying them, whichever you prefer, I do have an announcement to make.”

As the interpreters did their job, Mr. Graingrind rummaged through his desk for something else: a stack of letters. He sent them out one-by-one to the students’ desks, who looked at them with curiosity.

Shroud’s eyebrow raised when he read the bright pink piece of paper. The header image was of the planet with a smiley face and members of each species surrounding them in a daisy chain. But what really broke him, if just for a second, from his note-taking was the phrase in bold capitals on the first paragraph:

INTERNATIONAL DAY

“You’re to give these to your parents tonight,” Graingrind informed them, holding a spare copy up to demonstrate. “Next week, we’re going to have an ‘International Day’ at the school. What this is, basically, the whole school is going to get together and put on a show for your parents and the city about Manehattan’s increasing diversity.”

“What’s diversity mean?” asked the diamond pup who was chewing on his book as the interpreters were translating.

One overweight pegasus colt piped up, “Duh, it’s an old, old wooden ship that sunk when it hit an iceberg.”

“Bigmouth, I’d be surprised if the school board wanted us to dedicate a whole day to an old, old wooden ship, but nice try,” Graingrind responded with the driest, unimpressed tone he could muster. “Diversity refers to all the different species and cultures that live in Manehattan now. So for ‘International Day’ you’ll get together in your species and represent your cultures. Yes, Zamira?”

The zebra filly who Shroud had been glancing at lowered her hoof, blew her fringe and asked, “Uh, why are doing this?”

“Because it’s important to the school board for us to look like we’re all getting along. Any other questions?”

“Do we have to do any work?” Bigmouth asked.

He rubbed his temples exasperatedly, groaning, “Yes, Bigmouth. We’re going to go into this later, but yes, you’re required to work in groups to research your cultures. Yes, Scruffy?”

“Isn’t this all really just a political stunt set up by city hall to put a smiley face over the city’s neglected and growing problem of inter-species relations?”

It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Everycreature turned around in their chairs and stared at the diamond pup, who sat there innocently with his mouth covered in slobber and shredded paper.

“Just chew your book, Scruffy.”

Shroud, meanwhile, was busy dwelling on his own thoughts. His mother had many articles of their native clothing from the Motherland, mostly mare’s kimonos. He also once overheard his parents talking about how his mother kept their family’s ancestral katana somewhere in a trunk.

He raised his hoof.

Briiing!

“Alright, recess. Get out.”

The students stampeded out the door like a herd of wild animals so fast the whole classroom was emptied in a matter of seconds, leaving several chairs overturned and crumbled papers littering the floor.


An average day at the store was busy—thank the Kami above—but the combination of cold city weather and smoggy air made it all the more arduous for Weevil and Echo. Their regular weekday customers included local changelings and pensioners, and while it was easy enough to cater to that familiar crowd, there always seemed to be one idiot per day whose sole purpose for being there was to make life difficult.

“Your change, June,” Weevil bowed to his wife’s friend, speaking in their native tongue and pushing the exact change, two heavy paper bags full of ingredients and the fireworks across the counter. “It's always a pleasure to have you. Oh and...” He reached underneath and took out a bunch of brightly coloured bags full of sweets and pushed them towards her. “Here. These are for the kids.”

June Bug, a beautiful changeling mare who looked too young to be the mother of her enormous family, appeared taken aback by the kind gesture.

“Oh, Weevil, you shouldn’t—”

“No, no, it’s fine, really, I insist. I never got the chance to thank you properly for taking Shroud trick-or-treating and that was ages ago.”

“Thank you, Weevil. You’re so sweet.” June Bug beamed, rubbing her hoof against his. The contact made his ears and fur stand up, if just for a moment, but thankfully, she didn't seem to notice. June grunted and levitated the bags to her shoulders in a precarious balancing act as she made her way out the store, unconsciously showing her body off to the stallion in the process. Her shoulders were slim and narrow, giving her a sleek and feminine build that accentuated her much wider hips, the perfect kind for bearing clutches of eggs...

A certain somechangeling cleared her throat from across the room, “It must be hot in here, Weevil. You’re turning green.”

Looking out the corner of his eye and seeing Echo stoically checking off a list by the stock, Weevil audibly gulped. He could feel his cheeks heating up and saw a tint of green; June Bug’s soft, dove-like voice had that effect. She was a prime grade cut of changeling, no questions there.

“Focus on your work.”

Vehemently resisting the urge to blush any further, Weevil brushed down his apron and slicked back his mane. The awkwardness in the air was broken, much to his relief, when another customer, a pony mare, came up to the counter.

She was unquestionably a tourist, judging by the large camera hanging around her neck, her tight pink shirt and the ridiculously large style in which she wore her mane. Her items included a newspaper, a bottle of water, a Manehattan snow globe and three postcards.

“That will be ten bits, please,” he said after counting the price in his head in a matter of seconds. After years in this line of work, this skill became second nature.

It started as a usual transaction, but things got awkward again when he hoofed over her bags.

“Here is your change.”

“Thank you,” she spoke in a very thick Mustangian accent. “Can ah just say? Your Equine sounds really good.”

Weevil paused before replying somewhat uncomfortably, “Yes, well... thank you.”

“You know, ah’ve never been in a bug pony’s store before,” the tourist went on idly, talking like she was in a conversation with a close friend. “Ah mean, sure, ah’ve seen y’all workin’ on the railroads back home—you know, the ones without horns or wings—what are they called?”

“Beetle changelings.”

“That’s right, Beetles. Ah don’t think ah’ve never seen y’all runnin’ yer own businesses. It’s so organized, so clean...”

“Y-Yeah, thank you,” he said with rolling eyes, wishing only the conversion would end.

She held her camera up to her face, asking, “Hey, ya mind if ah take a picture?”

“Yes.”

That answer did not come from him, but from his wife, who Weevil could have sworn learned how to silently teleport without his knowledge.

The static enthusiasm suddenly drained from the tourist’s features, the changeling mare’s large presence obviously intimidating her.

“Ahhh’ll be going now, bye.”

She was out of the store before she even finished her sentence. Echo scoffed and resumed her work, mumbling something under her breath that sounded like “bucking tourists.”

The fixation ponies had with how well other species spoke Equine was something that always got under Weevil's skin. With other species, it kinda made sense, but with one whose trademark was all about changing their appearance and voice, then learning another language should never really be an issue, except for the foals. In fact, most changelings and non-ponies spoke the language better than the native speakers, considering they could do so without sounding like they were talking with mouths full of syrup.


At recess, everypony and everychangeling’s favourite game was Canterlot Siege. Basically, the goal was for the changeling students to try and push past the line of ponies and take over the jungle gym. The jungle gym was Canterlot Castle, the pony colts were the Royal Guard and the changeling colts were the Changeling Army. The biggest changeling filly got to be the Queen and that role always went to Mimic, a hefty filly with the disposition of a wild boar. She once got suspended when, during recess, she threw her entire weight on one unlucky colt and knocked the poor sap out cold.

Canterlot Siege was actually banned on school grounds, so some students had the job of keeping an eye out for any teachers that were nearby. They did not know why the teachers blew their lids at them for playing a stupid game; they figured adults just liked to spoil everyone’s fun.

“Mimic always gets to be Queen!” one of the fillies yelled, stomping her tiny hoof against the tarmac. “I wanna turn!”

“You can’t be Queen!” Mimic barked, shoving her in the shoulder. “You’re too scrawny to be my commander!”

“None of you are being Queen!” Ms. Hickory yelled over the mass of bickering colts and fillies. “You’ve all been told a hundred times you’re banned from playing this game! Now all of you, report to the principal’s office—h-ey! Hey!” The crowd quickly broke up and the students scattered in all directions. “All of you get back here! I’m taking your names!”

Over by the hockey area, Shroud, Zamira and Scruffy were playing against Bigmouth, who was playing as the goalie in front of a tipped-over trash can.

“With ten seconds to go, the offense makes its move! The bug pony heads for the goal, passes the ball to the dog, the dog passes it to the zebra, the zebra shoots—oh, and the shot is blocked again!” The ball bounced right off Bigmouth’s stick and skidded against the tarmac. “Proving once again only ponies can play hockey!”

“It’s not fair!” Zamira shouted. “Fatmouth’s fatter than the goal!”

“I’m not fat, I’ve just got a sweet hockey body!” The flushing colt shot back, sticking his muzzle up haughtily. “Besides, my mom says I’m big boned!”

Zamira leaned on her hockey stick and snarled sarcastically, “Sure, you’re two hundred pounds of bones, alright!”

“Hey, you wanna try, go ahead,” Bigmouth left the goal and rejoined the group. “And if you miss, you gotta admit I’m the best hockey player in the school.”

“Pfft, fine, let’s do this.”

All of them rearranged into the new position and got ready for the attack. Bigmouth took the first shot, and Zamira beat the ball back so hard the colt barely had time to duck as it soared over his head.

“What’s that you said? Only ponies could play hockey?”

“I wasn’t trying.”

Bigmouth concentrated and aimed his second shot carefully, but the zebra filly sent it packing again, this time right in his knee. He shrieked, dramatically grabbing his knee as if he had been stabbed.

“Ow! That really hurt!”

“It’s a tennis ball, Fatmouth. Stop being a crybaby and shoot the ball.”

“No way, you play too rough!” Bigmouth tossed his stick to the tarmac and stormed off in a huff, declaring, “Screw you guys, I’m going on the monkey bars!”

Watching him go, the three kids shook their heads in disgust. Bigmouth always did this; he got mad, threw a fit and sulked off like the big crybaby he was. A lot of the time, Shroud didn’t get why anyone wanted to hang out with him.

Scruffy shrugged and walked off, picking shreds of paper caught between his teeth. Shroud and Zamira were now alone together on the playground.

“So... you wanna play?”

He nodded.

Shroud calculated in his head six different ways he could get the ball in the goal. He tried each angle, but Zamira was way too agile for him and not a single ball went in. By the time he took his tenth shot, he was gasping for air and sweating bullets and his magic could no longer hold his stick. He was now so tired that he misplayed the rebound.

Bam! The ball struck him square in the forehead. His legs buckled and he toppled over, landing hard on his back.

“Oh boy.”

“I think ya killed ‘im.”

“Hey. Hey! You dead, roachie?”

Shroud’s temple was throbbing. His eyes flickered open and his blurry vision made out three separate forms standing over him, all of them zebras. When it steadied, he saw Zamira’s face inches from his own and felt her warm breath against his face.

She helped him up and the two other zebras departed, looking kinda let down he wasn't dead.

“You took one hard shot to the head,” she said, going as far as putting her hoof on his forehead. A flush of heat ran through his body from the touch. “You know, Shroud, for a smart guy you shoulda seen that coming. You alright?”

He nodded earnestly, reaching up to touch the inflicted area, unintentionally touching her hoof as well. Both recoiled as if each other’s hoof was burning hot.

Rubbing the back of her head, Zamira apologized uneasily, “Look, sorry about that. That was an accident. Maybe you, uh... wanna go to the arcade with the guys after school?”

Hearing that made the pain from Shroud’s weeping forehead fade and even brought a smile to his lips.

“Y—”

Briiing!

“Aww, dang it,” Zamira whined and trotted towards the school building, head and tail held low. “I swear, somepony’s setting that clock forward...”

The students trekked begrudgingly through the schoolyard and back inside with the slowness and lethargy of a zombie horde. Shroud himself stood where he was for a moment, temporarily stunned, but eventually pulled his hooves away and returned inside to his studies.

What were they studying? Yes, ancient runes and scriptures, that was always a favourite of his.


The slushy machine had been nothing but a problem for Weevil since day one. Its tanks were never fully filled for a start, and it had a nasty tendency to break down at random. He would have sent it back, if not for its popularity with the kids. He’d lost count of all the letters he wrote to the company telling them about the problems he was having, and they always sent some greasy, hairy slob who only tinkered with the machine for a bit. But at least they got it working again, until its next breakdown two weeks later.

This week the machine decided to make loud, spluttering noises whenever the lever was pulled, and the slush barely trickled out. Weevil prayed it was just the low tanks, but knowing his luck, the mechanisms were probably bucked up. He’d have to bring it up to the refill mare, who was scheduled to come in today.

“How’s life, handsome?”

Weevil felt his spine shiver and he poked around the floor with his hoof, staring down at his open cash register to appear like he was counting bills. He was actually trying to avoid looking at her altogether.

“Good. Y-Yeah, life is good.”

Every time she came over to do her job, and it was always the same mare, Weevil felt his dorsal fin hidden beneath his mane rise up and stiffen, and he became hot under the collar.

She was a young and vivacious mare with a sleek, slender figure and decked out in a brown uniform that was a size or two too small for her, especially her large pair of pegasus wings. Her plush coat was a vibrant mint green and her wild, hot pink mane had this nostril-tingling strawberry scent to it. With her... equipment, she looked better suited for the catwalks than topping up slushy machines.

“So what’s the problem here?” She asked, standing behind the machine and opening the back compartment to take out the empty jugs of syrup and replace them with two full ones: raspberry and blueberry.

“It keeps making this noise when I try to tap—uh, make—slushies, and it hardly comes out.”

“Typical.” She shut the compartment and walked out the side of the machine to face another screwed covering. “I’ll give it a look over.”

“Oh, no, you don’t need to do that,” Weevil trailed off, biting on his lip. He now had a perfect full view of her well-sculpted rump and could witness every elegant wag of her shiny tail.

Whipping out a little screwdriver, the slushy mare opened it up, assuring him, “Don’t worry, I’ve been around these things for some time. It sounds like you’ve got a jam in the works. I can deal with it.”

As she worked, Weevil forced himself to walk away from the register, keeping his hind legs firmly shut. He had to find something to do to distract himself.

“E-Echo? Honey?” he called out for his wife as he turned the counter. “Do you need some help back there?”

“And just what do you think you’re doing?!”

Weevil stopped instinctively and stepped back. “Sorry, I was just asking—”

“How dare you try and steal from my store, you horrid little colt!”

“Lemme go! I’m not doing anything!”

It dawned on Weevil that Echo wasn't talking to him, which was confirmed when the mare came out from the centre aisle, levitating a bat colt up by the ear and dragging him to the counter. He kicked, screamed and dragged his hooves.

“Echo, what are you doing?" Weevil asked flabbergasted. "Put that kid down!”

She reluctantly dropped the urchin roughly to the floor, who would have bolted if she didn’t hold him magically by the tail.

“What's going on here?"

“This little thief tried to steal from us,” Echo pointed at the small satchel the colt was wearing beneath his wing. “I saw him taking beer from the fridge.”

“I was gonna pay for it!” he snapped defiantly.

Both changelings could have laughed at that, and Echo levitated whatever bottles were in his bag and placed them on the shelf, sneering as she did, “Oh, and I guess you’re eighteen as well?”

“And kid, you should be in school,” Weevil chastised him, taking a few bottles himself, “not running around shoplifting from people like some little jackass!” The colt crossed his legs and scoffed, which only incensed Weevil further. “Oh, you think that’s funny? Well, I don’t think your parents will when they find out what you've been doing!”

“Who do you think he’s stealing it for?” Echo remarked in disgust. “I told you to stop letting these bats in. All they ever do is steal.”

This colt’s eyes flashed with anger and he span around, shouting, “Buck you! You’re just a stupid, stinky old cockroach!” He then gathered up all his saliva and spat on her holed hooves.

“Oh! Oh, that is it!”

Realising he was now in real trouble, the colt tried to bolt, but he had forgotten about Echo's magical hold and his hooves only skidded on the floor. He was trapped.

Echo kept the foul-mouthed colt restrained the air and furiously marched behind the counter with him in tow. She sat down on the stool and placed him belly-first on her lap, firmly pinning him in place. This little punk had a snowball’s chance in Tartarus if he thought she was going to take that sitting down.

“Put me down! Put me down!”

“I’m gonna do what your parents should've done years ago: teach you some respect!” She raised her hoof and brought it down on his flank, and he yelped in pain. She then raised her hoof again and slapped down even harder.

“Ow! Owww! Stop that! Ow!”

The large mare kept spanking him relentlessly for a solid minute. Weevil, as it went on, covered his face in embarrassment. He looked behind at the slushy mare, who had momentarily stopped working on the machine and was now watching bewildered at the spectacle. Weevil grinned nervously and opened his mouth as if he were going to attempt to explain, but he ended up only chewing his bottom lip.

When Echo was finished, she brought the colt, tears streaming down his sniffling, tomato-red face, to the front door and set him down.

“Now you go home and think about what you’ve done,” she admonished him and pointed at the door. “And don’t you think about coming in here again, understood?” The colt nodded miserably and she nudged him on. “Good. Now get going.”

Halfway out the door, the bat colt wiped the snot and tears from his face and looked back over his shoulder and yelled, “Just you wait! I’m gonna go get my mom and she’s gonna buck you up! You’ll see!”

“Good! Go get her!” she screeched after him, stepping out onto the porch, where her family’s confused friends were watching, completely baffled by what was transpiring. “I can’t wait to meet the mare responsible for raising an ill-mannered brat like you!”

Scarab suddenly came alive in his chair. He rubbed his eyes and asked, yawning groggily, “Errr, did I miss something?”

“Shut up, Scarab!” Echo kicked the door closed with a buck of her leg and paced up and down, seething infuriately through her bared fangs, spittle spraying over the floor like a broken fire hydrant. She saw her husband leaning against the shelf, head in hoof and looking very tired. “Oh what?”

“What?”

“I know that look.”

The exhausted, overweight stallion didn't reply right away and slunk back to his place behind the counter. When he got there, he rested his knees and caressed his cheeks in his open hooves.

He heaved a defeated sigh. “Why did you have to smack him? Just... just why, Echo?”

“We shouldn’t have to put up with that, Weevil,” she spoke defensively, still pacing out her frustrations. “We didn’t when we first came here, and I’ll be damned first if we do now.”

“Y-You think this is a civil rights issue?” he asked incredulously. “Echo, this wasn’t some punk writing ‘Go home, cockroaches!’ on our window or leaving flaming bags on our porch; he was a little kid stealing a couple bottles of beer, for Queen’s sake! And not even the good beer either. It's that cheap crap the griffins piss in before they sell it.”

“Well, I didn’t see you going out of your way to stop me.”

He retorted in their dialect, “Because chances are you would’ve put me over your knee, instead.”

A sly smirk formed on her face. “Aww, and I thought you liked it when I did that to you.”

“This isn’t a joke!” Weevil massaged his pulsing temples before he had a migraine. “...All you needed to do was throw him out, Echo. You didn’t need to hit him and you know it. Now you’re gonna bring his whole colony down on our heads!”

The faltering of her scowl and the way her eyes cast downward clearly read she was feeling some regret about what happened. Now that she had the chance to calm down and look back on it, how she handled the situation looked pretty heavy-hoofed. But they didn't have anything to fear, right? Bat ponies were nothing but snivelling cowards who were all hisses and no bite. Right?

“He’s kinda right,” said the slushy mare, who both changelings had completely forgotten was there, and whose head was still poked deep in the machine’s inner workings. “Ya see, my uncle used to do business with bat ponies. When he welched on this big deal once, the bat he was working with got all his buddies and cleaned out my uncle’s entire house when the poor guy was sleeping. They even somehow made off with all the copper wire in the walls! True story, I swear to Celesti...” she trailed off, her shift in tone indicating she found something and it didn’t sound good. “Uh, ma’am... I think I found the problem.”

What she yanked out that was caught between a pair of teethed gears made Echo flap her hoof over her mouth and Weevil’s skin crawl so intensely he thought he was going to moult then and there: it was a huge, stinking, dead rat!

“Ewww!” Echo's hooves flew over her mouth and she gagged.

“Yeah,” the slushy mare cringed and held the dead vermin as far away from her face as possible. “Ew.”

Weevil slumped his head against the counter with a clunk. The health inspector was going to tear him a new one for this.

Author's Note:

A/N: Sorry immensely for the length of time it has taken for me to update. I want to assure you that this story is far from dead and once Maternal Instinct is finished - and it is nearing the end - I will be dedicating my fanfic writing time to this story. Anyway, enjoy this chapter, it is perhaps one of my favourite chapters so far of all my MLP stories.

Edit - 08/08/15 - I decided I wanted to include the presence of trade unions protesting alongside the ENF, given some historical opposition to mass immigration from trade unions as brought up by commenters. I fear I might be at risk this early of tarring anyone in this story who is critical of immigration as just radicals like the ENF, which is certainly not my long-term plan. I also wanted to alter the chants a bit, to focus more on the threat some ponies feel from changelings specifically.