• Published 20th Apr 2016
  • 13,411 Views, 1,370 Comments

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.

  • ...

PreviousChapters Next
39. Everyone Has Their Role to Play

The Enchanters’ visit meant all hooves on deck in terms of getting things ready. Volunteers cleaned out their houses and made certain that they had guest space available for their visitors; Creamy, Frosty, Chocolate Almond, Sweet Treat, the Mint twins, and Maple seemed to cook nonstop so they had plenty of food for their visitors; and Faith, Warm Welcome, and the moving crew had requested a few volunteers to greet and help get their guests situated. The village guard had even called a meeting with every adult about something.

And still more villagers helped in their own special way. Sure Stroke had seen Mantis and Pear Tree carrying spices and fruit to the volunteer hosts’ houses, giving them free stock since they were doing their part.

It was interesting to see the changelings and ponies of Respite come together in such a way. Sure Stroke knew the community to be close-knit and welcoming—the party they threw for her family was a testament to that—but this was the first time she got the chance to be a part of the preparation.

She stood between Aspire and Esalen as they listened to Abacus go over a few details about proper manners and how they were expected to socialize with the nymphs the Enchanters brought along. Her feathers twitched with excitement and brushed against smooth carapace.

“Someone’s fidgety,” Aspire teased, rubbing their shoulders together. He leaned in close and whispered, “A good bed wrap will take care of that problem, Doodle.”

Sure Stroke shot him a sidelong look. “Excuse me? I am not fidgety.”

“I dunno. You look kinda squirmy. What do you think, Essy?”

“Bed wraps are renowned for their ability to cure a filly’s fidgeting,” Esalen mused, a coy smile playing upon her lips. “Especially when a bird’s nest-maned boyfriend wraps up his doodly little girlfriend and they both make eyes at one another while they pretend they’re not blushing.”

“Hey! You’re supposed to be helping me out here!”

Rolling her eyes, Sure Stroke unfurled her wings with a rustle of feathers, and clipped the twins over their heads. “Oh, hush up, you two!” she hissed. “I’m just excited! And I’m trying to listen!”

Esalen rubbed her ear and fixed Sure Stroke with a wry look. “So very violent. And insolent, not so shy and nervous anymore.” She gave Sure Stroke a hip bump that sent her stumbling into Aspire’s side. “Can’t you do something about your girlfriend, Aspire?”

“Oh, she’ll get hers,” Aspire replied, wrapping a hoof around Sure Stroke’s shoulders and pulling her into a hug before she could squirm away. He nosed against her cheek, flashing a fanged grin as he added, “I’ve warned you about those shots to my head, Doodle, and now—hey!

Sure Stroke let out a squeak as a piece of chalk bounced off her head. She faced forward and raised her hooves to block a second volley, grinning sheepishly at the stern teacher standing at the front of the class.

“I hope I’m not interrupting,” Abacus began, idly twirling the pieces of chalk held aloft in his magic, “but I seem to recall that this is my classroom, regardless of what Aspire might want his trade to be. Until I’m done, you three pipe down or you can plan on spending the afternoon with me instead of the rest of your friends.”

Ducking her head, Sure Stroke laid her ears flat against her scalp. She shared a look with Aspire and Esalen, whose faces colored a deep black as they chuckled nervously. The twins spoke in the changelings’ uncanny unison, “Sorry, Mister Abacus. It won’t happen again.”

The stallion sniffed. “See that it doesn’t,” he said, floating his weaponized chalk bits back to rest on his desk. The stern scowl vanished from his face, he turned to address the rest of the class again. “Well, now that Sure Stroke and the terrible twins have rejoined us, we can wrap this up and let you all free for your two week—”

“Wait, what?” Sure Stroke perked up her ears. “We have a break?”

Abacus fixed her with a flat stare. “Yes. You would have known that if you paid attention and didn’t speak out of turn.”

Oops. Her ears drooped. “Sorry.”

“Last warning, Sure Stroke. Please don’t speak out of turn again.” With a tired sigh, he continued, “As I was saying, with our friends from the northern hive coming to visit, the usual rules apply: be courteous, don’t start a fight, offer help if asked, and treat them as you would anyone who came seeking shelter in Respite. While the Enchanters might have differing values, they have a long history of friendly relations with us, and they respect our laws while in Caretaker territory. That said, take care what you agree to. Unless you truly wish to make a deal with them, do not make one. Especially if the offer is visiting their resorts. Understand?”

Sure Stroke dutifully chanted her affirmation along with the rest of the class. She swished her tail, fighting against the urge to bounce in place beside Aspire.

“Very good.” Abacus nodded once. His horn flashed, opening the door with a flick of his magic. With a wave of his hoof, he said, “Then class is dismissed, everyone enjoy your break. I’ll see you all in two weeks!”

Though school had been cut short, the class still opted to take a little time to play outside before they went their separate ways. Vector had organized another game of soccer and opted to divide everyone into a foals versus nymphs game, which turned into a rather physical affair between he and his longtime partner in crime, Zephyr.

Sure Stroke, on the other hoof, sat in the shade of her favorite tree with her sketchpad and pencil in hoof. She drew almost absentmindedly, sketching out a little scene with herself and Aspire together, adding a little bit of shading to the underside of his fangs to give them a little more pop. It would look like they could prick her hoof if she ran it across the page.

A contented smile played upon her lips as she watched Esalen and Nimble chase after a squealing, giggling Toola while she dribbled the ball toward the net. She leaned against the nymph beside her, sighing at the caress of warm, smooth carapace against her coat. “Didn’t feel like playing today?” she murmured.

“Felt like spending time with you,” Aspire corrected, nuzzling her cheek. He idly skimmed over a passage in one of his many textbooks, then asked, “Is it true that pegasi in Cloudsdale hold special value in their wings?”

“It’s true of pegasi everywhere, as far as I know. Our wings are as important to us as your fangs, carapace, and shapeshifting are to you.”

“Fair point. But I meant with relationships.” He tapped his hoof against the page. “It mentions that wrapping your wing around a pony while you walk down the street.”

Sure Stroke bit her lip, nodding slowly. “Yes. It’s rooted in practices dating back to Commander Hurricane. It was both a way of holding a lover close and saying ‘this pony is mine’ to those who might be looking.”

His ears perked up. “So, it’s sort of like couples’ bed wraps?”

“In a way, yes.”

“Fascinating.” Aspire smiled as he turned the page. His wings buzzed. “And do you really determine who wraps their wing over their partner by combat?”

“That’s a very old school way of doing things.” Sure Stroke turned to fix him with a quizzical stare, her brows furrowed. “Why the sudden interest?”

He blinked twice. “Well, I’m dating you. And, uh, you kinda are a Cloudsdale pegasus.”

She snorted. “I’ve noticed. Go on.”

“Well, that’s like being a Canterlot unicorn, right? That’s your heartland, the place where your culture is really strong. And by the way you taste whenever it comes up, and the effort you put into my drawing—” his cheeks flushed a deep black “—you feel as strongly for it as we Caretakers do for Respite. Or how changelings as a whole think of the Sainted Ones.”

Sure Stroke perked her ears up. The mention of the lost Crystal Empire brought the memory of the old changeling tale flashing before her eyes. She gave him a little nudge. “You have a point. And we still have to finish that story.”

Grinning, he nudged her back. “Yeah, we do.” He stole a quick glance at her sketchpad and tilted his head. He raised a brow, a low, rolling purr sounded from the back of his throat. “So, uh, not that I’m against it,” Aspire began hesitantly, “but is there a particular reason I’m being protective?”

She started, her hoof froze in the mid sketch. Slowly, Sure Stroke looked down at the page. A rosy red filled her cheeks, turning her entire face a dark shade of purple when she realized what he meant.

The chubby little pegasus on the page was seated on the warm grass, her head down and wings rustling nervously while a changeling with a messy mane wrapped his hooves around her. His smile was plastic, a mask worn for her while he bared his fangs to the world around them, his eyes were alert and looking off at something unseen.

Something unseen and unknown. But in her heart, she knew exactly what he was protecting her from—it was written all over the tiny smile upon her own sketched face—a smile just as fake as his.

“I’m nervous about meeting the Enchanters,” she admitted. “I know you’ve all said they can be nice and respect Respite’s laws, but all the warnings just make me want to find a good cloud to hide on.”

His smile faltered. Aspire shifted around so he could face her fully, a concerned frown played upon his lips as he flicked out his tongue. “We’ve frightened you,” he surmised. “I frightened you when I put you under my charm right after saying that they were the masters of such magic.”

Sure Stroke sucked in a breath through her teeth. She made to speak, a hasty denial right on the tip of her tongue. But one look in his eyes, how they shone with concern and a hint of sternness—almost like a silent plea for her not to hide, not from him at least—stopped her cold. Her shoulders slumped, she sighed and gave a single nod. “A little bit, yes. And I talked to Queen Euphoria and Madam Soleil about them a little, and what they said was a bit concerning.” She shook her head. “It’s fine. I’m just a little nervous, and this is how I cope with things.”

“I remember.” Aspire ducked his head. “You drew a picture focusing on my fangs when you were scared of me. That was you trying to cope with something that bothered you.”

“Yes. I’ve also drawn pictures of you looking like a clown or lounging like you think you’re king of the village.” The corner of her mouth twitched. She flipped through her sketchpad to show him a page riddled with five minute doodles. “And I’ve drawn a few of Esalen giving massages, recently.”

He leaned over to take a look, a slow smile spread across his face as he gazed at a miniature Esalen beaming while she worked on Toola Roola’s back. “She looks rather happy,” he said, tracing a hoof along the outline of his sister’s face. “And I see Nim and Toola dancing over here, and—hang on, why is she leading some pony in a stretch in this one?” He tapped a doodle at the bottom-left of the page.

“She’s supposed to be teaching yoga. That was something she mentioned doing as a way to apply her talents since she knows a lot of stretches. Oh, and she mentioned partnering up with Esalen to make a physical therapy clinic.”

Aspire leaned against the tree, humming to himself. “That’s not a bad idea, actually. I can see how they could make it work. Speaking of trades, though, what about you?” He raised his eyebrows and gave a crooked smile. “What sort of thing would Doodle like to do?”

Sure Stroke rustled her wings. Her eyes fell upon her sketchpad again, she began to flip through the pages, idly looking over the doodles and sketches she’d done over the past several weeks. She stopped on a familiar image—Aspire dressed like a circus clown, with his face painted, and a rubber ball stuck to the end of his nose. “I’ve had couple ideas that I talked about with Esalen and Toola,” she said finally, “but I’m still thinking it over.”

“Oh?” He nudged her shoulder. “And why haven’t you shared those with me?”

“Because I haven’t thought the details through yet, and I don’t really have any idea on how to make it work.” Sighing, she leaned against his side. “I would like to find a way to put my talent with art to use, but I’m not sure how that could be of value here.”

“That’s easy,” Aspire said with a scoff. “You just said it yourself, you drew that picture of me with great, big fangs to help you cope with how you felt when you first moved here. Your talent can be used toward art therapy if you really wanted.” He paused a beat, then added, “My mom could probably help you set that up if you wanted. It could be something you work together on, especially since it might help ponies who are less inclined to talk about their feelings or give permission for her to make them comfortable with her charm.”

She hummed in thought. “Not a bad idea. My other idea was more for ponies like, well, me.” Sure Stroke tapped her chest twice. “I didn’t know anything coming in and I still don’t know a whole lot about changelings or how some things work here, and there’s not really anything written down for me to read aside from that story. So, the girls and I thought that maybe a book from an outsider’s perspective could help.”

Aspire’s eyes seemed to light up. “Write a book on us?” he asked, beaming at the prospect. “That could actually help quite a bit. By love, you might even get some of the villagers to read up on it to see how we come off and how they can find new ways to help ponies adapt.”

Now there was an idea as well. A book could be a mutually beneficial project, if done right. The question, though, was how to cover such a strange, alien culture in a way that did the subject justice, but making it concise enough that a pony could read it without feeling overwhelmed.

The last thing she wanted was for any book she wrote to read like one of those dusty old cyclogenesis textbooks her father kept on his bookshelf.

“I would have to find someone to teach me how to write a book like that,” Sure Stroke said after a moment’s thought. “It might not be for widespread publishing, but it should still read like an actual book one could use for education, not just my ramblings.”

Aspire grinned and made to rise. “I think I know someone who can help you. And I know where she likes to hang out on Mondays.”

“Oh?” Sure Stroke blinked. “Who’s that?”

He waggled his ears. “It’s time you met Regale.”

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.

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
PreviousChapters Next
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!