• Published 20th Apr 2016
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The Village Called Respite - Carapace

There is a hidden village deep within the untamed forest surrounding Neighagara Falls. Should one ever journey to this village, the changelings who live there will welcome them for a simple price: love.

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2. We Will Be Your Guidelings

Changeling and pony alike stopped and waved to the new family, bidding welcome and asking that they please feel free to visit their practices any time before going back to their normal routines.

Visitors were to be welcomed with open hooves and happy smiles, but not smothered. All should be comfortable walking the dirt pathways of Respite.

Esalen was almost bouncing rather than walking as they made their way down the main path, between rows of wooden cottages, topped with twigs and leaves.

By contrast, Sure Stroke’s steps were a bit timid, and the little filly still kept her gaze firmly locked on the ground, only raising her eyes to glance at something on Aspire or Esalen’s face and acknowledge the sights and residents of Respite.

The nerves were still there, rolling off of her in waves, almost forcing Esalen to taste them. How in love’s name does daddy deal with this? Her gaze flitted to Warm Welcome, her jaw nearly dropped at the sight of his cheery smile still in place as he chatted along with Drizzly and Skydancer, pausing to point out one of the residents every now and again.

“And over there, you’ll see a few of the village guards—no, Skydancer, not there! There!” He chuckled. “The armor makes it a bit difficult to see in the trees and brush, but if you look carefully, you’ll see Vigil and Stalwart hovering near those tree tops with Thunder Herald.”

Drizzly raised a brow. “Seems like your guards like darker colors. That a requirement for blending in?”

“Well, we changelings are all geared toward disguising and such, so that helps us a bit. For our pony members, though, no, coat color doesn’t really matter much. Thunder just happens to be as black as the storm clouds he helps push!”

“He works in weather too?”

Warm Welcome nodded. “Oh, yes! He’s a full-time guard, but he chips in whenever there’s a need. You’ll want to make friends with that one!”

Humming, Drizzly nodded. Flicking her tongue, Esalen could taste the vaguely citrus bite of his piqued interest. At least he and Skydancer were taking to the village well.

Aspire, however, seemed to take Sure Stroke’s unease in stride and just pressed on, babbling at a mile a minute. “That’s Sweet Treat over there! She’s the best baker in town—ooh! She’s got a sign up for her triple chocolate cake!” His tongue darted out, licking at his fangs. “Essy! We gotta stop by after school!”

“If everyone else doesn’t beat us to it!” She grumbled playfully, flicking her tail. “You know half the class is gonna race on over as soon as Mister Abacus lets us out!”

“Shoot!” He stomped a hoof. “Good point! We’ll have to be quick! Anyway, Sure Stroke, you’ve really gotta try her stuff sometime!”

Sure Stroke gave a stiff nod, and a mumble of assent, her eyes again flitting toward something at the end of his muzzle.

Do we have syrup on our snouts? Esalen made a show of looking away so she could quickly lick around the edges of her snout, and cross her eyes check the end. Nothing. Not a drop of sugary, sweet syrup. Something in my teeth? I was sure I brushed well…

It couldn’t be helped. With a shrug, she turned back to the pair with a closed-lipped smile. “Oh, Sure Stroke, there’s something you’ll like!” Nudging the filly, she pointed toward an earth ponies walking around and inspecting a pile of logs. “The Wood Brothers’ craft store! They’ll make just about anything, or even let us make stuff like bird feeders and little chairs.”

Sure Stroke flinched a bit at the contact, but, at long last, she lifted her head, those pretty blue eyes lit up.

Subtly, Esalen opened her mouth and flicked her tongue. The smooth taste of happiness, with a dash of spicy interest. Finally, something other than that rotten anxiety!

But just as quickly as it came, Sure Stroke ducked her head and flattened her ears. Shy and nervous still. Drat!

“With them watching,” Warm added slyly. “They’re quite adamant that no foal or nymph plays with their tools alone.”

“I would hope so! Just imagine the trouble we could’ve gotten into as foals, eh, Drizzly?” Skydancer bumped her hip against her husband’s.

Snorting, he bumped her in return. “I don’t have to, honey, I remember getting chased away from the cloud-sculpting guild!”

Esalen flicked her ear toward the adults. “Cloud sculpting?” she parroted in unison with Aspire. They stopped in their tracks, turning to face Drizzly and Skydancer. “What’s that?”

“Exactly what it sounds like!” Skydancer replied. “It’s how pegasi buildings in Cloudsdale are made: we use our weather magic to mould and compress clouds, shaping them into houses, stadiums, anything you can dream of!”

Drizzly snickered. “Even cloudball cannons, honey?”

Especially, cloudball cannons!”

Aspire furrowed his brows, wrinkling his muzzle as he tried to wrap his head around the idea. “What in love’s name is a cloudball?”

The couple shared matching grins, their eyes gleaming with mischief. Skydancer chuckled darkly and raised a hoof as she made to answer his question.

“It’s like a snowball,” a new voice spoke up, just barely above a whisper.

Esalen slowly looked over her shoulder, blinking owlishly at the little filly scuffing a hoof against the ground. She had to force herself to slowly pivot on her hooves, rather than bound over to stand at her side. Little steps. “How’s that?” she asked, fighting against the tugging at the corners of her mouth.

Rustling her feathers, Sure Stroke glanced up, chewing on her lip a bit before expanding upon her answer. “We make them like snowballs; just roll them together, make sure they’re packed nice and tight, and throw.”

“Huh.” Esalen shared a look with Aspire, and resumed walking, falling back into step beside Sure Stroke. “I don’t think any of the pegasi in Respite have made cloudballs…”

“They haven’t, not even the ones from Cloudsdale. Then again—“ he shrugged “—we get snowfall here, so it’s fairer for everyone to just use that.”

“Still, you’d think Mister Breezy would’ve used that on Queen Euphoria at some point, right?”

“Please don’t give him ideas!” Their father mock groaned. “That aside, interesting, Sure Stroke. If it’s that similar, I’m sure you’ll be a big hit when the snowball fights begin!”

Three quick flashes of excitement, Esalen felt a jolt down her spine, her wings readied to unfurl and take flight.

“Snowball fight, eh?” Skydancer said, her voice almost a purr. “Well, well, you just have it all here, don’t you?”

“We try!” Aspire replied happily. “Lots of ponies come from far away places, so there’s always some new tradition that springs up and gets adopted. Queen Euphoria loves for everypony to feel comfortable like this was their home all along!”

“Well, she certainly sounds like a nice changeling! Er, speaking of which, Warm Welcome? If you don’t mind me mentioning, Hawkeye and Merryweather said something about meeting the Queen at some point. Part of getting settled in, they said.” She gave a little rustle of her feathers, an awkward smile graced her muzzle. “Is there an appointment we need to set up, or times that we can go see her in… er, does she hold courts like Princesses Celestia and Luna?”

The trio of changelings stopped abruptly. Esalen sucked in her lips, desperately fighting back laughter, and looked from Aspire to Warm Welcome. Her brother, naturally, was in a similar state, disguising his snickers as a sudden coughing fit.

Warm Welcome simply chuckled and shook his head. “No, Skydancer, you won’t need to make an appointment—it’s all part of the tour. We’re headed there next.” His smile fell ever so slightly at the sight of their sudden unease. He raised a hoof, waving them off. “Oh, don’t worry! Queen Euphoria is quite nice, and always eager to welcome newcomers to the village! Her door is always open, to permanent residents and visitors alike! In fact, take a look!” He turned to point to a lone cottage, standing in the center of the town.

Standing at two stories high, and taking at least thrice the space than the others, Queen Euphoria’s cottage was clearly the focal point of Respite. The front door itself was wide open to welcome any who wished to visit; with a pony and changeling standing guard on either side, greeting bypassers with smiles, hugs, even the occasional joke.

Esalen flicked out her tongue, giggling at the taste of the outsiders’ shock. “Come on!” she nudged Sure Stroke toward the Queen’s house.

“Don’t wanna keep her waiting, Mister Drizzly!” Aspire added, zipping over to tug at Drizzly Day’s leg.

Deep green magic encircled their ears. The nymphs yelped, and released their charges at the sharp tweak of the tips, each clapping their hooves over their head. “Dad!” They cried in stereo.

“Don’t ‘dad’ me, you two! Pushing is rude!” He said sternly, before turning to the pegasi with an apologetic smile. “Sorry, they do get a bit excited.”

As the group approached, the guards looked up, each grinning and giving a wave of their hooves. “There you are, Warm!” The young pegasus called, his ears perked up happily. Sunlight glinted off the badge on his chest—a white circle with a red heart in the center, the mark of the Lovegiver Corps.

“Good morning, Tailwind,” Warm greeted with a wry smile. “We’re not that late, are we? I thought we were on time…”

Tailwind smiled and shook his head. “Any longer and Queen Euphoria was going to send out a search party! Fleetwing, here, was gonna go see if you’d overslept—yeowch!” He clapped his hooves over his ear, rubbing at the spot his partner nipped. “Fleet!”

“Ignore this one,” Fleetwing said sternly. “He’ll pay for it once I get him off duty. Please, go right on in! Queen Euphoria is expecting you.”

Warm Welcome shook his head and chuckled. “Of course.” He stepped to the side and gestured toward the opened door. “After you, my friends.”

To call it “Court” in a similar vein as what Princesses Celestia and Luna held in their grand palace on Mount Canterhorn—receiving ponies in the Throne Room, and looking down from their places on the dais—couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Queen Euphoria’s “Court” was simply a rather large sitting room; outfitted with a rather large, plush sofa, she laid on her stomach, horn alight with magic as she hovered a few papers before her muzzle and chatted with the ponies seated with her. As always, she looked wonderful; her carapace shined with the flickering candles, her sky blue and blond highlighted mane bound into a long ponytail by a golden wire, wreathed in tiny hearts.

Esalen quirked a brow, her gaze lingered on the top of her Queen’s head. No crown today? She must be feelings informal.

Every now and again, she would tear herself away from reading to nuzzle a blue pegasus stallion with windswept mane and tail of pure white, and exchange playful whispers with him, even daring to sneak a kiss. She glanced around the room in search of the house’s other occupants, humming when she didn’t see head or tail of the rest of the Queen’s entourage. They must’ve gotten an early start at their jobs today. Too bad. Morning Dew would’ve loved meeting Sure Stroke…

There was a flash of confusion, mixed with surprise. Esalen blinked and glanced toward the newcomers, each of them seemed to regard the pair with varying degrees of surprise.

She raised a brow, looking from Breezy to the Queen and back again. They’d walked passed several couples of mixed species on the way up, it shouldn’t be that much of a big deal. Or maybe it’s that thing about open displays? They seemed a bit thrown that she had a house instead of a castle.

More and more curious, she mused, filing it away for later. Perhaps her dad could shed some light on the subject after things settled down.

Warm Welcome, Skydancer, and Drizzly trotted forward to stand in the center of the room, stopping just a short distance from the Queen.

However, Sure Stroke remained still, her eyes wide and locked on Queen Euphoria; the waves of anxiety and fear rolled off her again, threatening to drown Esalen in the foul taste.

Blinking, she reached over to nudge the filly, who squeaked and recoiled from her touch. In love’s name, how does daddy put up with this taste! Esalen held her smile as best she could, and nodded toward the adults. “Don’t be afraid,” she whispered. “Queen Euphoria is really nice!”

Sure Stroke whimpered, her eyes darting back and forth, as though looking for an escape.

But Aspire nudged her from her other side. “Hey,” he hissed, “we wouldn’t lie to you—pranking isn’t fun if it really hurts. Besides—“ he grinned and thumped a hoof against his chest “—if she does act mean, Essy and I know where she hides all her chocolate!”

“My, my—“ Queen Euphoria purred from her couch, surveying the little ones with a half-lidded stare and a playful smirk “—what a wonderful little threat, dear Aspire! Surely you recall what happened the last time you stole from my sweet cabinet, don’t you?”

This time, it was Aspire who squeaked and jumped, his wings flared out and buzzed as he tried to right himself. “Er, j-just a joke, Queen Euphoria!” he stammered, bowing low. “Please don’t dye my carapace again!”

Chuckling, she unfolded her hooves and placed them on the ground, elegantly sliding herself off the couch to approach the group. Queen Euphoria stood nearly a head taller than Drizzly and Warm; her smirk broadened into a genuine smile as she closed the distance between herself and the newcomers, and offered a hoof. “Drizzly Day and Skydancer? Charmed to meet you! As my dear Warm Welcome’s wayward son says—“ she paused to glance at Aspire and wink “—Queen Euphoria, leader of Respite village and the Caretakers.”

Drizzly took her hoof, his smile tightening, and ears pinning back. “A pleasure, Your Highness!” he replied quickly. “I can’t begin to tell you how much my family and I appreciate the opportunity! Work in weather management is a bit competitive back home…”

“So I’ve heard, so I’ve heard. Though, in this case, Cloudsdale’s oversight is to Respite’s benefit—if you don’t mind my saying. I look forward to seeing your work, Drizzly. It’s hard to find a fully-fledged weather pony willing to relocate to our village, these days. You pulled us out of quite the pickle!”

“I-I don’t mind at all! Thank you, Your Highness! I—“

She held up a hoof. “Please, just call me Euphoria, unless we’re in town meetings. I’d much prefer to get to know Drizzly Day the pony, my hopefully soon-to-be friend than get all tied up in titles.” Suddenly, her smirk was back, her eyebrow arched. Euphoria made a show of looking the pair of pegasi up and down. “Unless—no, never mind, too soon for that joke.” She shook her head, smiling at whatever quip she’d withheld as she moved to shake hooves with Skydancer. “Ah, my husband has been waiting to meet you, Skydancer!”

“He has?” Skydancer’s ears perked up, her eyes flitted to the pegasus laying on the couch.

“Oh, you have no idea, my dear! Breezy’s been over the moon about having a new flight instructor!”

With a snort, he hopped off of the couch and landed nimbly on his hooves. “No kidding! Herding all those little foals and organizing rehab sessions can be a hassle.” He held out a hoof, grinning broadly. “Cool Breeze, I’m Phory’s husband and the flight instructor-slash-head of flight rehab. I can’t thank you enough for taking the job here, Skydancer!”

If not for Sure Stroke’s prior angst acting as a sort of counterbalance, the sudden swell of utter jubilation might have floored Esalen. The mare ruffled up her feathers and puffed out her chest, she was practically preening.

Better to preen than be fearful, though. Her eyes darted to Sure Stroke. Esalen parted her lips and poked out her tongue, just a tiny bit. Not as much fear, but still a touch of anxiety. Bitter, but not as muggy.

Not to mention her positioning: she stood closer to Aspire, a result of his little jump a moment ago, but didn’t recoil or glance toward his muzzle. She was focused on Queen Euphoria alone.

Small victories? Esalen could only take a subtle step closer to rub her shoulder against Sure Stroke’s.

A flinch, but she didn’t pull away entirely. Perhaps a little progress?

But that wave of fear returned in full when Queen Euphoria turned her attention to Sure Stroke. Her ears perked up, she gave a bright smile and bent her neck low so that she could meet the nervous filly at eye level. “Hello, sweetie!” she cooed. “My, my! You’re as cute as a button! What’s your name?”

“I-I’m, uh…” Sure Stroke stammered, her eyes flitting from the wooden floor to Queen Euphoria’s slitted eyes to the end of her muzzle. She tilted her head to the side, her ears stood up straight.

Fear, anxiety, even the little hint of longing for home vanished in favor of confusion and curiosity. Esalen snuck a peek at her Queen, raising a brow at the distinct normality of her smile—the same happy one she always seemed to wear.

Though, there was something just a tad off. But she couldn’t quite put her hoof on it…

“Go on,” Queen Euphoria coaxed gently.

Biting her lip, Sure Stroke unfurled her wings, her feathers fluffed up almost defensively. “S-Sure Stroke, Your Highness!” She managed, giving a little flinch and laying her ears flat.

With a happy nod, Queen Euphoria leaned forward and nuzzled the top of her head, quite a bit further than Aspire and Esalen had even dared to take their greetings. “Very nice to meet you, Sure Stroke!” she said. “I hope you come to like my village as much as I do!”

Better than earlier, Esalen thought. Still anxious, though. Why does stress have to taste so bitter? She shoved those thoughts to the side once more, there would be time for that later.

Another little rub of her shoulder against Sure Stroke’s, coupled with an encouraging nod. Step one: make her feel welcome and comfortable! With a little assist from the Queen!

Aspire took it upon himself to stand up tall, and speak up, “We can show her around more once she gets all settled in! Oh, and school too!”

“Speaking of which—“ Warm Welcome cut in smoothly “—you two haven’t been watching your time; you need to get going or Mister Abacus’ll come looking.”

“Oh, dear!” Queen Euphoria reared back and gave a gasp of mock horror. “Well, we can’t have Mister Abacus finding out that I made you two late! He might try to put me in detention!”

Cool Breeze snickered and broke from his little chat with Skydancer. “Try? Love, I think he might just drag you by the ear and lecture you in front of all his students!”

“Good point, Breezy! You two had best run along! You’re both just a terrible influence on me!” Giving a wink, she leaned down to nuzzle both nymphs’ manes. “Thank you for visiting,” she whispered, “and for offering to help.”

Beaming, the pair returned the gesture, each threw their hooves around her neck and squeezed tight, mumbling their goodbyes before darting over to hug their father.

Oof!” Warm Welcome staggered with the sudden weight of his nymphs on his back and shoulders. “You two are getting too heavy to be giving your poor, old dad those big hugs!”

“Too bad!” Aspire replied with a laugh. “You’ll just have to suffer it all until you’re old, gray in the mane and tail, and all creaky in the joints!”

Growling playfully, Warm nipped at his son’s ear. “Thanks, son of mine. I’ll remember that.” His facade fell, he reared up and twisted to wrap both up in a tight embrace. “Good job today,” he said, keeping his voice low while the others talked amongst themselves. “You both did really well. I’ll make sure to stop by and get those sweets you were looking at once I’m done helping our new friends—”

“Yes!” Aspire and Esalen pumped their hooves.

“But only if you’re not late for class!”

“… Oh, sweet chitin—Run, Essy!” The pair fled from the Queen’s sitting room as fast as they could, Cool Breeze and Warm Welcome’s hearty laughter and the Queen’s bell-like giggling chasing behind them.

But just as they passed Sure Stroke, Esalen caught it: a small smile and stifled a laugh, those pretty blue eyes shining with mirth.

Happiness and humor had never tasted so sweet.

Chitinous hooves thundered against the wooden schoolhouse floor, Esalen turned the corner, skidding a short distance before she managed to find purchase and get her stride back. “Come on!” she called over her shoulder to her lagging brother. “Only a minute before the bell!”

“I’m coming, I’m coming!” he shot back as best he could, his tongue lolling out as he struggled for breath. “Ugh! I knew this was gonna happen!”

“Quit being such a baby!” Esalen turned, her eyes lighting up as their classroom came into view. Only a few seconds and our hooves have to be through the door before it starts or we’re toast!

She put on an extra burst of speed, buzzing her wings to help make her steps lighter. Closer and closer, the door was just within reach! Esalen lit up her horn, her magic engulfed the door handle and roughly pulled it wide open.

Nice and easy for the siblings to dive through and shout, “Made it!” at the top of their lungs.

Aspire tripped as he tried to land, and tumbled head over hooves and landed just before a chestnut coated unicorn. “Can’t—haa—give us detention—oh sweet chitin my chin!—this time, Mister Abacus!” he grinned weakly and tried to blow a raspberry. He couldn’t even muster the strength. “Darn it… Why does Queen Euphoria’s house have to be at the other end of town?”

Mister Abacus raised a single eyebrow, smirking at the attempted slight. “What do you think, class?” he asked playfully. “Should we tell them?”

The foals and nymphs in their class snickered, each grinning wickedly. In unison, they threw their hooves out wide and waved them in time as they sang, “You’re late! You’re late! You’re oh so very late!

“No way!” Aspire cried, leaping to his hooves. “Clanger didn’t ring the bell! We’d have heard it halfway across the marketplace with how loud he rings that thing!”

“I’m afraid Clanger is sick today, but if you need proof—“ the clock resting on his desk floated over, engulfed in a pale blue aura “—you’re actually five minutes late.”

Esalen leaned over, her breath hitched in her throat, her bright pink eyes going wide as she read the clock face twice to make sure she wasn’t seeing things.

Sure enough, the minute hand was pointing straight at the stylized number one: five minutes past the hour. They were late. Again.

Maybe a third look would help? She cringed, her mother’s stern gaze flitting through her mind. The lecture from last week was still so fresh, being late a second time in two weeks? They might as well try hiding out with Sweet Treat and Vigil; at least they would just give a tiny talk and just let things go while the pair hid themselves.

Mister Abacus chuckled as he floated the clock back over to his desk. “So, then, let’s hear it,” he prompted, waving his hoof. “Why were you late this time? Did Sweet Treat lure you in with one of her creations? Or did Frosty and Creamy—what did you say last time? Ah, yes!—‘spot you trotting innocently down the pathway and try to rope you into an ice cream tasting extravaganza'?”

The class tittered, and then began tossing in their own predictions; from timeless classics such as “their dog ate their homework” to a rather entertaining tale of Aspire wielding his “mighty ruler and protractor” in order to defeat the black hordes of the Dark King Sombra.

Aspire struggled to hold a straight face, eventually just snorting and dropping his head to hide a sheepish blush and grin. “My stories do not sound that crazy!” he mumbled.

“Er, hate to tell you, but they kinda are.” His head shot up, a deep scowl crossed his muzzle. Esalen shrugged and sat back on her haunches, holding up her hooves. “Sorry! I call ‘em like I see ‘em.”


With a roll of her eyes, she bumped her hip against his, then turned her attention to Mister Abacus. “Actually—“ she began “—we were busy helping our dad with his job!”

The jokes stopped abruptly. Esalen hid a triumphant grin and fought the urge to taste her classmates’ emotions as they sat up in their desks, even Mister Abacus dropped his teasing smirk.

“Is that so?” he asked, rubbing his chin in thought. “I don’t recall any scheduled welcoming committee events—though, I’m not a part of it, so I don’t pay much mind on school days. I probably missed it.”

Snickering, Aspire nodded. “You did! That pegasus family from Cloudsdale is moving in today; the one with the new weather team manager and Cool Breeze’s new helper!”

“Drizzly Day and Skydancer, you goof!” Esalen added.

“Oh, hush! It’s not like they’d know their names already!”

“Oh, now I remember!“ Mister Abacus cut in before they could get too far into their bickering. “Cool Breeze was over the moon when Hawkeye and Merryweather came back saying that they’d accepted the job offers; they have a filly who’ll be joining us soon, I believe.”

A wave of excitement nearly sent Esalen staggering, she blinked a few times to clear her head of the rush of energy from her classmates. At her side, Aspire was in a similar state.

Emotion with focus was always more potent, and more fulfilling. Happiness, excitement, and love were always the best tasting, especially when somepony directed it at the changeling feeding.

She shook herself. Just had breakfast, don’t be a glutton. Tempting though it was to clear out the bitter taste of Sure Stroke’s anxiety, taking too much too quickly might make her sick. Or it’d get her drunk on the taste and start feeding non-stop, definitely not good. After all, she was a Caretaker, not one of the Locust.

Even the mere thought of that hive made her shiver and abruptly clamp her lips shut. Best not to chance it. She could always ask for a sip or two later if anyone felt up to a trade.

“That’s right,” she said, “her name is Sure Stroke. We showed them around town and took them to meet the Queen a little bit ago.”

All at once, the class burst into chatter.

“What’s she like?”

“Is she nice? Funny?”

“Is she a good flier? She can be part of the cloud relays!”

“Oh, forget the cloud relays, Vector! You’ve got plenty of members! What about baking, does she like that?”

“Or how about painting?”

Esalen glanced back and forth between them, opening her mouth to answer, but shutting abruptly each time one spoke up before she could get a word in edgewise. “I—hang on—wait a minute—well—if you could just—“

Class!” Mister Abacus barked, his muzzle marred by a small frown.

At once, they sat back down, their mouths shut and hooves placed on the desk one atop the other. The very picture of innocent preteens. “Sorry, Mister Abacus,” they chanted sullenly.

“I’m not the one you should all be apologizing to.” He pointed to Aspire and Esalen. “These two would be more than willing to share if you’d give them a chance to speak instead of chattering like squirrels!”

Their ears laid flat, each of the foals and nymphs muttered a quick apology, some shifting in their seats, and a few pegasi ruffling their wings. A touch of shame for their poor manners palpable, like bad tasting medicine.

Out of the corner of her eye, Esalen spotted Aspire pulling a face and sticking out his tongue, his tolerance long since spent. “Er, it’s all right. As for Sure Stroke, well…”

“She’s a bit shy,” Aspire finished for her. “A lot shy, really. I nearly had to ask if I could go wash out the taste of anxiety on the way to the Queen’s house.”

“You too, huh? Though, the little bit of humor when we had to run out was worth it, even if we were late.”

A goofy smile crossed his muzzle, Aspire closed his eyes and gave an airy giggle. “Oh, I know! After all that stuff before, it was just perfect!”

“And just how did the tour go?” A unicorn filly named Prim ’n Proper asked, an almost haughty air to her tone. “You two didn’t scare her with your silly pranks, did you?”

Esalen frowned, and fixed Prim with a glare; always a constant battle with the daughter of Queen Euphoria’s trusted assistant. Everything had to be just perfect with her. “As a matter of fact, no. We didn’t do anything of the sort. We just showed her around, pointed out a few of our favorite places to hang out, and helped our dad introduce her to Queen Euphoria. And that’s it.”

“Really? Not one little joke?”

“Prim,” Mister Abacus called warningly. “That’s enough. If Aspire and Esalen say they were helpful, I’ll believe them. Besides, Mister Welcome would hardly let his own nymphs cause trouble during a tour.” He paused to glance at the siblings, his smile returned as they nodded back to him. “Good. That said, we’ve got a couple of days until Sure Stroke and her family are settled in and she’s ready to join us. So, let’s all give her a warm welcome—Ack! Don’t you—“

“Aww, but we don’t wanna give our daddy away!” Aspire and Esalen sang, sticking out their lips in matching pouts and giving him a show of their patented “twin nymph eyes”.

Groaning, their teacher sat back on his haunches and rubbed his temples, his ears pinned back and laid flat against his scalp as his students giggled. “Every time, every darn time you two,” he grumbled. With a glare, he waved them off to their seats. “Go sit down before you give me a headache, you naughty nymphs. Now, moving along, we do have quite a bit to cover today. Take out your textbooks and let’s get started.”

Author's Note:

Thank you for reading the misadventures of my ponies and changelings in this strange village called Respite! If you like the story, please consider reading my other works and donating to my Patreon.

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