• Published 20th Apr 2016
  • 13,401 Views, 1,368 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
42. Helping Hooves

No matter how much affection she had for her pony friends, Esalen was certain she would never find comfort in a wooden chair. When and if she married, should her partner happen to be a pony, she would just have to convince them to let her furnish their home with good old-fashioned slime pods. No shortage of kisses, nuzzling, and flattery would be employed to remind them of her appreciation and consideration.

From her place at Skydancer’s table, with Toola Roola sitting to her left and the lovebug and his girlfriend across from them, Esalen paused in her efforts to open a letter from Haberdasher. She stole a glance across the table just in time to catch Sure Stroke leaning over to rub her cheek against Aspire’s. Naturally, he tilted his head to lean against hers, and pressed the side of his snout against her lips. The filly squirmed when his fangs teased her lips, giggling and fluffing her feathers as he turned to trail them along her cheek.

Esalen felt her insides twist. They were wonderful together, even though they’d only been dating a short while. Beneath all his quips and insufferable grins, Aspire was a caring nymph. By love, Esalen would wager he’d do backflips if he thought it would make Sure Stroke smile. And she had learned when to dig her hooves in and stand up for what she wanted.

They were indeed wonderful together, and she could taste their budding affection each time they met—like genuine Vanhoover maple syrup, the kind Maple always pestered Sweet Treat to special order, slathered over a stack of her mother’s pancakes.

She wanted it for herself. Not their love, heavens no. Sure Stroke’s was Aspire’s to feed upon, his was her gift in return. But love itself. More importantly, a nice partner to share it with. Colt or filly, either would be perfect. Maybe a couple. Piles of lovers meant more to share, after all.

Her eyes flitted to look at Toola Roola. The filly wore a bright smile, her joy as sweet as honey as she hummed a little tune and tried to draw something while the others read through their mail. Esalen couldn’t help but smile as she watched. Her tongue flicked out to taste, and she let out a contented sigh. Toola Roola always looked so pretty—beautiful, even, with the way her mane seemed to flow off her like water when she twirled, and how her dancing and gymnastics gave her a slim, athletic build.

Esalen’s heart leapt. Her cheeks flushed a deep black as the realization hit. Was she … no way.

Toola Roola turned to face her at that very moment. Grinning, she gestured toward her drawing. “What do you think, Essy?”

Her mouth answered before her brain caught up, “Your mane is really pretty today.”

For a moment, there was silence at the table. Everyone took a few seconds to replay what she’d just said in their heads. Even Aspire and Sure Stroke took a break from their snuggling to fix her with quizzical stares. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the corners of her brother’s mouth twitch. He knew. And by the way Sure Stroke’s eyes lit up and she bit her lip to hold back her laughter, he wasn’t alone.

There wasn’t even a need to taste for it.

Toola, on the other hoof, was quite taken aback. She blinked a few times, then gave a hesitant half smile. “I, uh, thank you, Essy. But I actually meant the drawing.”

Esalen could’ve sworn her cheeks were aflame. Sucking in her lips, she hastily averted her gaze to focus on the drawing. Anything to avoid their stares. The picture itself was a bit rough and took a moment for her to discern—while Toola could draw, she was nowhere near Sure Stroke’s level of talent. It took some time to figure out who was who and what they were doing.

A group of six were huddled around a tree with rather squiggly leaves. Nimble was sitting beside Peppermint and trying in vain to hide her blush while they talked, her wings freed of their casing and ready to buzz with glee as he held her hoof. Aspire had his hooves around Sure Stroke and his chin resting atop her head, watching her doodle away with a tiny smile on his face.

Then she found her own depiction. She was reading a book and watching Toola practice her cartwheels. There was a hint of concern in her eyes, as if she expected the gymnast to topple over, clutching one of her legs in pain at any moment. Yet there was the tiniest of smiles tugging at her lips, like she couldn’t help but enjoy the show, no matter how much she fretted.

“It’s very nice,” she said after a moment. “Though, I seem worried. Have you been hurting yourself a lot in this drawing?”

Toola Roola giggled. “No! You just have the tendency to get fidgety about my flipping when you read your books!”

“That she does,” Aspire drawled. His eyes shone with unhidden glee. “I can only wonder why.”

Esalen’s eyes flashed green and shot him a dangerous grin “Don’t try me, brother dear,” she said sweetly. “I have plenty of stories to fill Doodle’s ears with.”

Sure Stroke chose that moment to look down and feign interest in the letter she’d received. “You know I wonder how Alto’s doing,” she said a bit too loudly as she tore open the envelope. Her own little way of escaping without slighting either of the twins.

Smart filly, Esalen praised. But not smart enough to side with a fellow filly over the lovedrunk bookbug. I’ll have to get her later. There would be plenty of time to point out how squirmy Sure Stroke got when Aspire’s fangs tickled her cheeks.

But before she could think of a few to start off, Toola nudged her shoulder. “Speaking of your massages and worry warting,” she began, “I heard you went and talked with Caress about trades yesterday. How did that go?”

“Pretty well, actually.” Esalen beamed, turning her attention to Toola. “I told her I’d been interested in massage therapy for a while and I’d practiced a little bit on you and Doodle. Caress mentioned that my grandpa helped mentor her and said she’d be happy to offer me the same, sort of a delayed return of the favor I think.”

“Oh! Well, that’s very nice! Maybe she has a few of his old techniques or treatment methods she can teach you, eh?”

“That would be nice. Mom said he used to be great at his trade, even without his charm.” She paused a beat, then added, “Actually, it’s kind of impressive he got on without it if what Caress said about his charming prowess is true. He probably had to really work not to use it too much, given how used to it he was.”

Toola gave a crooked smile and nod. “I wouldn’t doubt it. He was nice, though. I’m sorry I didn’t get to spend as much time with him as Nimble and the others.”

Esalen raised an eyebrow. “Your parents adopted you when you were six, gigglebox. You had a couple years with him around.”

“That’s still not as much time as the others, so nyeh!” She stuck her tongue out and crossed her eyes. “But yes, hopefully that pans out for you.”

“And what about you? Have you given any thought to that idea you had about stretches?”

Toola’s ears perked up. “As a matter of fact, yes! I did a little reading of my own on yoga and found that it’s sort of parallel to your massage therapy idea—relieving stress and cleansing the body through a series of stretches.” Waggling her eyebrows, she added, “I’m sure there’s some things I’d have to get if I ever wanted to go somewhere else and do it, but Queen Euphoria usually has contacts who can help with that.”

“Caress mentioned such, actually.”

“Caress should have amazing contacts,” Aspire piped up, breaking off his usual pestering Sure Stroke to join in the conversation. “She’s got certifications from Manehattan University School of Medicine that make practitioners drool, or so dad says.”

Esalen blinked. “Did he?”

“Yeah, it was ages ago, though. Before you were reading up on it.”

“Oh. So I wasn’t letting it sail overhead.”

“No, you totally were.” His lips twitched. “If you’d have paid attention, you’d have known to go to her straight away and saved yourself all that time considering it.”

She leveled him with a flat stare. “I can still tell Doodle all those stories about you, so watch yourself.”

Aspire scoffed and rolled his eyes. He waved a hoof and made to comment, no doubt one of his witticisms was right on the tip of his tongue.

He never got the chance to let it fly.

Sure Stroke let out an odd sound, something between a strangled groan and an angry growl, that drew all attention back to her. She sat glaring at Alto’s letter with such intensity Esalen was surprised it hadn’t burst into flames in her hooves. The edges crumpled and rustled as she folded it together with a snap.

Naturally, Aspire was the first to ask, “What’s wrong, Sure Stroke?”

As if his words were a trigger, Sure Stroke turned and promptly whacked him across the nose. “You!” she shrieked, whacking him again and again. “You smug, treacherous, big-mouthed jerk!

“Ack! Hey!” Though his carapace protected him from her blows, Aspire threw his hooves up to fend off his angry girlfriend. “Cut that out! What in love is wrong with you?”

“You know what you did! You know darn well what you told Alto, you big jerk!”

Aspire caught her hooves and tugged her close so he could look her in the eye. His brows furrowed together. Then, his ears twitched. “Wait a minute,” he said quietly, the corners of his mouth tugged upward. “You mean … Oh, by love, you’ve gotta let me see what he wrote!”

Sure Stroke’s nostrils flared. She jerked her right leg out of his grasp and held the letter up high over her head like a club. “Here, let me give you a closer look!”

“Nope! Changed my mind!”

In a flash of green fire, Aspire shifted into his pegasus form. His orange face nearly split by a winning grin, he cackled and dashed off in a flurry of sunset orange feathers, with Sure Stroke chasing hot on his tail. Their shouts, chittering laughter, and threats echoed through the small home.

“Get back here and take your lumps like a pony, you cheeky nymph!”

“Can’t do that! Changelings don’t take lumps! We just play tricks and laugh at silly Doodles!”

Esalen heard the front door open, then a mare yelp in fright as the pair dashed outside. Their cries faded into the background.

At her side, Toola turned to fix her with a quizzical stare. “What in the name of sweet apples was that about?”

“You know, I’ve long since given up trying to understand specifically what my brother does to drive Doodle batty, so I just file it all under ‘Aspire’s being Aspire’ and my days are so much easier.” Esalen thought on it for a moment, then added, “Also, ‘Doodle being easy to tease.’ That works just fine.”

“Fair enough.”

Almost on cue, Skydancer walked into her kitchen with a couple bags of fruit and vegetables in her saddlebags and a frazzled look to her mane. She glanced back toward the front door, then at the pair remaining at her table. “I don’t suppose either of you two might know why Sure Stroke is chasing after Aspire like she wants to wring his neck?”

Esalen and Toola shared a look, then shrugged. “Not specifically,” Toola said.

“But I’m going to guess he probably deserves it,” Esalen chipped in.

“I see.” Skydancer shook her head and smiled. “One of these days, she’s going to clock him.”

“He probably takes it as a challenge,” Toola replied. “The day she does it, I’ll bet he puts her in one of his wrestling holds that keeps her pinned and kisses her cheek a bunch to show off.”

“That does sound like him, I suppose. Oh well. They’ll just have to deal with their lunches being later since they went off roughhousing, eh?”

The fillies beamed and chimed their approval of her plan. There was little sense in waiting for Sure Stroke to finish punishing Aspire for whatever shenanigans he got up to—that could take quite some time, especially if he managed to slip away and change form again.

It left them plenty of time to relax and enjoy the rest of their conversation without the lovebirds sniping at one another.

“So,” Toola began with a hint of hesitance to her tone. Her cheeks colored a deep pink. “You like my mane today, huh?”

Esalen sucked in her lips, the burn in her cheeks returned in full force. Suddenly, I miss the lovebirds. They’re a wonderful distraction. With a shaky nod, she replied, “Y-Yeah. You’ve, uh, done something really nice with it. Really, um, grabbing.”

Why did her mouth pick to day to run freely?

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!