• Published 10th Sep 2016
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Exile’s Journey - Meep the Changeling

A Prench Necromancer risks everything to save the life of his only friend from the wrath of his own nation. All the while persued by the long arm of the law, as they travel though hostile lands en route to the one place he knows they will be safe.

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1 - Outcast

Gentle Repose - 23rd of Leaffall, 16 EoH

La vallée-des-Roses - Prance

The ballpoint pen is a wonderful invention. I can’t understand my co-workers opinion on writing implements. We all do mountains of paperwork, and yet the constant scritching and scratching of their quills on parchment is a comfort rather than a source of madness.

More so than the ballpoint’s lack of scraping and scratching, it’s much more utilitarian than a quill. Not only for the fact that one need not redip constantly or purchase an enchanted self-filling quill, but for what the pen can write which the quill can not.

A quill must be held a certain way, and requires each letter be written in a particular order so as not to poke a hole through the paper, or make a cut in it. My pen meanwhile, can be held any way I like and write any character any way I like. I can also write much more quickly, and need not worry about accidentally making a line too thick or too thin.

Which is excellent for when one must write in multiple languages. While the quill is more than suited to writing in Equish, Low Prench, and Canid, it is tricky to write in Neighponese, Romane, and Zebra’lah. Due to the fact that not all languages use the same shapes or even styles of character for their writing.

It’s also tricky to write with a quill in High Prench, the language of Governance. Which is what all of my daily paperwork had to be written in. My coworkers would be maddeningly scratching away for four times as long as I, wasting away the day as they spent unpaid hours finishing their paperwork all because of an insistence on a traditional writing implement.

My pen set me free from work and reprimands for not filing the appropriate papers to register the day’s tasks. I was truly delighted to have lived to see its invention. Before the pen, I was like my coworkers. Trapped in the office by the incessant flood of forms required to notify the all mighty military of every little goings on by our small contractor service.

We didn’t even do combat. It’s not like we had to each file fire reports and mission debriefs. You’d think that the accounting department would have this covered for us, but no.

At last, my silver pen left its final mark on the day’s last DDL-44 forum. The trail of red my magic left as I retracted the pen’s nib brought a small twinge of joy to my lips. I was free! Free to go home and do…

Well, I’d figure something out. Surely something would seem worth doing.

I slid the hood of my cloak over my head with a hoof as I grabbed my stack of paperwork in my magic’s arcane grip. While the short black cloak was perhaps a little dated for a unicorn of my profession, I had a fairly good excuse for wearing it.

The sun and I don’t agree. I want to not be in pain, and it apparently wants me to blister. It wasn’t always this way, we used to be on quite good terms. But at least the simple solution of a nice thick cloak was cheap and easy. As well as quite stylish in my opinion.

Perhaps I should have gone with another color aside from black, but at this point, after the years of enhancements and modifications made, I was quite attached to my cloak. Besides, while my preference for utility trumped my love of tradition, I still had a nostalgia for black.

My father wore a black cloak, and his grandfather, all the way through to the first of the family to enter this business. Sure, blue had come into fashion over the recent years. But I still liked black better. It went well with my ivory colored pelt.

I managed to make it exactly eight steps down the hallway from my cubicle before I was spotted.

“Rushing through work again?” Sunlit Star asked, smirking at me from his cubicle in that condescending and arrogant way of his.

I decided to ignore the pretentiously named bastard. I had two days off back to back starting tomorrow. I didn’t need to taint them by fighting with that purple maned idiot.

I kept walking down the hall.

“It’s not like you have to worry about time. You could just, you know, do the job right. Rot-breath,” he called after me as I walked away.

Alright. That stung, but no need to make a scene. Keep walking.

“See that everypony? He’s just a coward,” Sun called loudly.

I turned around. I shouldn’t have, but I did.

“Sun, the only reason you still live is duels have been made illegal. Were it still legally permissible to defend one’s honor you would no longer blight the lives of everyone around you,” I said in the least aggressive manner as I could. “Clock in, do your job, clock out. Neither of us ever need speak to one ano-”

“Oop! You heard it everypony, he threatened me!” Sun called eagerly.

Sun’s horn flashed silver. A semi-familiar wave of crippling pain shot through my body, forcing me to stagger backwards away from my constant tormenter until I hit the gray fabric wall of the cubicle behind me.

“Piss off, freak,” Sun chided, giving me a proud of himself smile as he turned back to his work.

This happened every day he saw me, but I could never prove he did it. Nopony would ever speak up on my behalf, expecting that was unrealistic. Our boss would never take my word over his. Besides, I could easily fake an attack by walking into sunlight for a moment and everyone knew I hated Sun.

Racist pricks.

I spent the remainder of my limp to my boss’s office concentrating on holding up the stack of papers. The moment I could set those down I could begin working on a spell to regenerate the damaged tissue. All I could do in the meanwhile was limp down the smooth stone hallway and fantasize about the myriad ways I could kill Sunlit if I were allowed.

That would be lovely! It would never be more than fantasy, but sometimes you need those to get through the day. Even if they are violent.

Truth be told, I would never actually do it. Despite his ability to inflict pain, he had no hope of ever endangering my life. Sometimes being a decent person sucks.

With an apprehensive sigh, I pushed the door to my boss’s office open, then simply floated the stack of paperwork over to her desk, setting it atop and hoping she wouldn’t say anything.

“Gentle,” she said coldly. “Wait a moment.”

I took a deep breath, slowly letting it out as I stepped into her overly decorated office. The hoof-carved wooden furniture, illusory portraits of her family and friends projected onto her shelves, and lavish plush rug always seemed too… Homey for a workplace.

But that suited her. The pure satin white fur with its metallic tinge announced her royal lineage to the world. But I knew she wasn’t part of the actual nobility. She was just some lordling’s bastard who felt the need to put on a grand show for the sake of being pretentious.

Ebony Pearl most likely got her position at the company based on her little game. Not that it had ever fooled me. She had the fur and the body language, but not the accent, mannerisms, or education. Though in the end, her sham didn’t matter. She already had her position of authority.

“Yes, ma’am?” I asked, knowing what she was going to-

“I noticed Sunlit cast a Rebuke Spell. I am aware you feel it is your legal right to defend your honor, but it is no longer the year Seventy-five-twenty. That is not a part of civilized society anymore. You have had twenty years to get over the old law.

“Furthermore, even if it were, you are of a lower caste. You have no right to do anything to him until he attacks you. If you don’t ignore his remarks from now on, I will be forced to fire you. Are we clear?” She asked, steepling her hooves as she glared at me with her beady little black eyes.

“Crystal,” I replied.

“Good. Show up early when you return. Cyan is taking a day off and I’ve given you her share of the workload,” Ebony informed.

“Yes ma’am,” I said turning and leaving before she could decide to increase the punishment to a point that would actually be annoying.

I hurried out of work, taking the back stairs so nopony else would run into me before I could leave. All it would take would be one coworker asking me for help with something and I could be stuck in this hellish building for hours more. I never used to hate working here, and I loved the actual doing things part of my job, but times had changed in the last twenty years. Not for the good either.

Fortunately, I made it out of the vaulted stone hallways and into the lobby undetected. The overly grand entryway shot by in a flash as I galloped outside to freedom. Even as a third class citizen, I still had the right to public peace. Not even the company owner could order me to do anything so long as I stood outside of the office while not on the clock. That was one law which stood no chance of changing anytime soon.

With the soul crushing dry heave pretending to be gothic architecture behind me, I felt a small smile part my lips. The sun was still up, mid evening if I was reading the shadows correctly, and La vallée-des-Roses looked as beautiful as ever.

Work did have one good thing going for it. The view from the front doors overlooking the entire valley was truly breathtaking. The Chamfron mountains curved around the village, cradling it with arms made of snow-capped peaks, with a band of green oak, beech, and maple trees that formed a band of red and gold leaves, running just below the white snow, and right above the sea of wild roses that filled the entire valley floor.

Hence the village’s name.

On a day with even a moderate breeze, the scent of the flowers would drift through the streets and provide a cheery atmosphere for everypony fortunate enough to live within this wonderful place. Although, on any day with a stiff wind, the scent of roses are overwhelming to the point of causing a pony to be sick.

That’s simply life, and that’s okay. Every rose has its thorn.

La vallée-des-Roses herself looked nearly as lovely as her land. She was an old village, eight generations of families had made their lives here. She lacked most of the benefits of modern architecture, but the cobbled streets which wound through the stone brick and timber Normane styled shops and homes did create a picturesque version of a Prench village. As they had been so long ago.

A picture complete with a fortified keep atop a hill with peaked tile roofs for its towers, wings, and halls. Encircled by lovingly well-kept gardens, with an orchard out back and a small tournament field on the eastern side of the grounds.

I used to live there.

Until the Emperor’s new Steward came to power twenty years ago, my family had ruled this village and her valley. I once would have been given the responsibility of Lord Mayor upon my father's death. I’d forfeit that inheritance long ago, but my younger sister had promised to allow me to still live in the family home when she was in charge.

Of course, politics are a fickle mistress. I was the only member of our family who still even lived in La vallée-des-Roses. The disfavor of older families with strong ties to His Majesty in recent years forced my family to scatter to the winds. All because my great great great great great great great grandfather had served His Majesty as a general for a few decades.

I lived in a flat now. Funny how life can completely destroy you despite you doing nothing wrong.

But no matter. Dwelling on the past is quite useless. As is moping overly much. Some moping is good, otherwise, how would you keep track of things in your life to work on improving? Right now I needed to focus on the good things in my life. I had two days of freedom, that was a great thing. What should I do with it?

I spent a few minutes standing still, looking out over the valley and village as I contemplated how I should spend the upcoming night.

I hadn’t eaten a nice dinner in a while. It would be fun to cook something nice and have a meal. Especially if I shared it with my flatmate. While I had despised sharing living space with another at first, Felling Axe came to be my only actual friend within two weeks.

Not that I ever actually called him by his proper name, at least not in Prench. I’ve always despised the Equish linguistic rule of also translating names when speaking a foreign tongue. Which meant that Felling was Leagain Tua. Because that’s what he would be called in Equish.

Not that I was trying to be polite by speaking his former nation’s tongue. The truth of the matter is that Tua insisted I use that stupid linguistic mechanism. Ah spite, my one weakness. How I love thee.

It did bother the poor pony, perhaps I should start using the name he preferred. After all, the myth was completely true. Equestrians have absolutely no emotional armor, if they feel it, they express it. Also, they are most definitely overly friendly, but I liked that.

If the ponies who lived in La vallée-des-Roses were as friendly as he was, I wouldn’t be the village outcast.

Yes, on reflection, after nearly two years, the joke was wearing thin. I’d have to find a new way to poke playful fun at Fell. Because that’s what friends do. I think.

The wooden door behind me creaked as somepony left, trotting past me after a moment. A unicorn, naturally. We didn’t employ non-mages. Greenish fur, tanish mane, not anypony I recognized. She had to be new.

The mare turned to look at me with a slight frown before shaking her head. “You know,” she said in a concerned manner, “they told me you just waited outside the door to go back in later but I didn’t believe them.”

Oh! My goodness, I had just been standing there in thought. That did happen quite regularly. It’s easy for me to become lost in thought and let hours slip by. Where was the sun at? AH, good, only minutes had passed at most.

“I was enjoying the view of the valley,” I explained to my new coworker, hoping to make a friend.

“You can enjoy things?” She asked, eyes widening in shock. “But they said you’re-”

I sighed. Nopony would ever understand properly. Unless the laws changed and I could publish my work.

“Yes, I can enjoy things. I can do everything you can and more. It’s an upgrade, not a downgrade,” I said as I watched her face twist into a condescending frown.

Nope, not making a new friend today.

“Well, arcanely speaking, it isn’t. Though intellectual capacity would drop… I’m sorry you think that way. Enjoy your view,” she said, walking off down the street.

Oh, for the love of His Majesty! You’d think I went insane and had gone on a killing spree. If I had, I’d have a whole brigade of knights beating my plot into the earth right now. I’m harmless, sane, and honestly a nice guy if I may be presumptuous. I don’t deserve this simply for having been terrified of dying!

I decided to give the mare a few minutes to get down the street so she wouldn’t think I was following her. The last thing I needed was more bad marks on my reputation. As soon as I felt the coast was clear I began my own walk down the street.

One upside of being a social pariah was the bubble of free space that formed around me as I walked. I never had to worry about pickpockets trying to nick things from my saddlebags or my cloak’s pockets. Not that they could take something from a cloak pocket if they wanted to. Arcane locks are lovely little things.

I generally stayed in my own little world as I walked around town, but I couldn’t help but look at the scenery this time. The sun was at that perfect angle to make the dramatic shadows filmmakers loved so much. Each decorative timber brace on every upper story on each building looked like a place for a camera to pan over before stopping on a balcony where romance or drama would happen.

In a way, that was true. Each window was much like a scrying mirror, providing a glimpse into the story of whoever owned the room beyond. I never used to even think of this fact of existence, but every individual has their own story, and they all feel themselves to be in the leading role.

I had to conclude that most people didn’t care about this, or we would all be far more kind to one another. Perhaps that was the Equestrian secret. They taught this sort of thing in schools. It would explain quite a lot.

At last, came to my usual grocers. It was across town from my apartment, but the owner didn’t care who was giving him his money. Like most of her businesses, Glass Pan’s Grocery was built in a much more modern style to allow the building to be a big box on the inside. The outer walls were little more than plaster and stone veneers to allow the store to blend into the surrounding buildings.

Inside the shop was nothing but tile floors, white-painted wood-paneled walls, rough timber cross beams to support the roof, and then metal shelving units forming a small maze of aisles. A proper modern shop. None of the charm of an old store, but who cares? I’d rather pay two barrels for a kilo of flour than eight.

As I perused the well-stocked aisles, it occurred to me I had not thought of anything to actually make. Was Fell vegan? I couldn’t remember seeing him eat animal products, and Equestrians were largely vegan despite most ponies being somewhat omnivorous. At least, that’s the impression I had from overhearing others talk about it.

I’d never been out of Prance. Legal issues.

While I tried to puzzle out if I’d ever even seen him eat an egg, I felt somepony gently tap my shoulder. Turning around I came face to face with the green apron of one of the shop’s clerks.

“My word, you are tall!” I exclaimed in surprise as I took a step backward to be able to see the olive colored earth pony’s face.

“Enlargement potion didn’t wear off,” the pony grunted, narrowing his pale blue eyes slightly. “Your cloak has magic pockets. You need to leave it up front while you shop.”

I frowned slightly. That wasn’t a policy I was aware of. Perhaps it was new.

It wasn’t too bright in here. The windows had been tinted dark. Yes, I could take it off safely.

“I understand,” I said, unclasping the silver broach with my magic, and quickly folding the cloak into a bundle and setting it on my back. “I’ll leave it at the counter when I pass by it next.”

“Huh…” The stallion remarked, looking at me oddly for a moment. “You look like anypony else under that.”

Oh. I see. Somepony told the new guy who I was so he decides to check things out.

“Of course I do. I take care of myself. Who doesn't?” I asked quickly adding. “By the way, do you know if Equestrians are universally vegan? Is that a culture thing?”

The stallion winced slightly, knowing he’d been caught screwing with me for personal kicks.

“Uh, well, no. I know it’s more common to eat only plants there but my sister went once… They do eggs. So you know, they’re vegetarian not vegan. You can find meat in ethnic food sections, maybe some eat like I do too. I have to go,” he said before trotting off down the aisle.

Great, that answer wasn’t exactly definitive. This entire mess wouldn’t be a problem if his work allowed employees to answer calls on the job. Wait, did he work today? Best assume he did.

Screw it, we play it safe and cook something vegan. It hardly matters in the end as long as it tastes good.

Though that does pose a major problem. What is a recipe that doesn't use milk, eggs, or products that contain some form of dairy? Ponyfeathers.

Ah well, I am certain he wouldn’t notice or mind if I made something a bit out of line with his normal diet. It’s okay to have a little bit of adventure everyone once in awhile, isn’t it? He had to try authentic Prench cooking at some point now that he lived here. Which meant trying a little fish from time to time.

Which meant the shopping list for this evening was one I had memorized long ag-

“Excuse me, please,” somepony said as they pushed their shopping cart past me.

“Oh, sorry,” I apologized, stepping out of the middle of the aisle where I had been standing like a corpse.

Heh. I amuse me.

Deciding to not make any more of a fool of myself than I had, I quickly put my cloak back on and went about picking up everything I would need. One filet of salmon, potatoes, a carton of vegetable stock, onions, olives, hard-boiled eggs, cumin, rosemary, thyme, and a loaf of unsliced bread.

Much to my delight, the absurdly tall cashier chose to simply ring up my purchase without saying anything and let me go on my way. I had figured he might have some sort of comeback for our little spat earlier.

With my goods paid for, I slipped them into an inner pocket of my cloak, the bulk and weight vanishing as they slipped into the magical pocket. I loved my pocket making spell. Reverse engineering that bottomless saddlebag had been worth every last barrel I spent on it.

The walk home was uneventful, and a little dreary. The sun had moved on while I shopped and no longer provided that special feeling of warmth and vibrancy. Instead, the mountain tops were beginning to scatter the sunlight, forcing dusk to come early. And as usual, despite the thin winding streets and the tall buildings, the crystalline magelamps which lit the streets at night remained unlit. Their magical glow reserved for arbitrary times instead of the simple and sane ‘when it’s dark out’.

La vallée-des-Roses couldn’t possibly be so low on finances as to need to cut back mana for the streetlamps. Not with how little energy simple light spells drew. On the upside, if this was the result of financial or infrastructural ineptitude, the new regime would be gone in another twenty years or so.

And I’d be around to see that.

I arrived at my flat just as it got dark enough for a light spell to be truly needed. The old building sat right at the end of a cul-de-sac, the smallest and saddest one ever constructed. The branches of the lone tree decorating the middle of the circle were used as structural supports for the balconies on the surrounding buildings. That’s how tiny the damned thing was.

The building I lived in was pretty ugly. A simple rectangle made of stacked rocks with rough timber floors inside. For being only eighty years old, it was an astonishingly good replica of a terribly made medieval building. Thank goodness Fell was into carpentry. He’d made our floor level, working one day at a time while the landlord was gone so as to not get into trouble.

Fishing my key out of a cloak pocket with my hoof, I unlocked the door, slipped inside, and quickly moved into the stairwell adjacent to the doorway. I didn’t like to bother my neighbors. At least the inner walls were stone under their dark oak paneling. Thick walls make for good neighbors.

My flat was on the fourth floor, not the top floor of the building, but still absurdly high. For whatever reason, the floors had eight meters of vertical space not counting the floor and ceiling thickness. Which made for one long climb.

It’s not like the climb could put me out of breath or make my knees hurt. It was just annoying. Especially because unless somepony needed to stand atop the head of an alicorn or ride atop a diamond dog’s shoulders or something, there was no need for the floors to be as tall as they were. Unless you cut floors out of your building to make it cheaper because you built it to hide some wealth tax haven style.

At last I arrived at my flat’s door, unlocked it with a tap on the enchanted brass plate I had installed, and walked inside.

The main room of the flat was divided into three sections. At the rear was our kitchen, well, our pathetic and tiny excuse for a kitchen that one pony could fit in if they reared up and balanced on their rear hooves every time they wished to turn around. The living room which the door opened into had been split between Fell and I. The right half was my tiny laboratory, completely filled with bubbling alchemy equipment and loose notes. The left half was his workshop, largely filled with wood shavings and cabinetry.

I hoped he could get a business for himself off the ground soon. He deserved that sort of happiness.

Thanks to the high ceiling, I’d suspended a couch and a coffee table in the air a comfortable height above us and locked them in place with a few spells. Fell made the folding ladder to get up to it. That’s where our proper living room was. We had to use that vertical space somehow.

On the left side wall our flat had three doors. Two tiny bedrooms, one tiny bathroom in the middle. I may have grown up in a manor house, but I did have a sense of scale. When the space available is enough for a trunk of clothes, a bed, and you, it is tiny.

Not that I minded too much. There was enough space for the important things. That was good enough.

As the door closed behind me I lowered my cloak’s hood and trotted into the kitchen, emptying my cloak pocket of the ingredients for tonight’s meal. As the salmon filet hit the counter I noticed that it looked a bit old. A closer glance revealed something I had not noticed in the store, a bit of rot starting to set in on one side.

Eh, not a big deal. I removed the salmon from the packaging, cast a simple restoration spell on the salmon to remove the rot, made sure it was properly fresh with a few pokes of my hoof, then cut it into small squares. A few minutes of quick and simple cutting later and I had the ingredients for my stew ready.

I had just finished hollowing out the loaf of bread to make two ‘mugs’ for eating out of when the bell I’d installed beside the door chimed twice, signaling Fell was approaching. I frowned. If he’d been another twenty minutes I could have had the meal ready by the time he arrived home. Oh well.

The door creaked open, and Fell trotted in, tossing his saddlebags onto the table beside the door with a weary sigh.

Fell was a fairly common looking Earth Pony. Brownish red fur, dark blue eyes, a short but fluffy light brown mane and matching tail all held on a somewhat stocky frame. Even his cutiemark was largely brown, being a woodcutter's axe stuck in a log as if it were being used to split the log.

The only surprising thing to me about Fell’s appearance was how he managed to be both the usual earth pony muscular and stocky, but also look rather androgynous. The odd look made him rather cute, which made me feel bad because I knew that him living with me had to be the reason he hadn't found a colt or marefriend yet.

Not that I knew which of those he might want. But he was the sort of good looking and nice that would give a pony their choice of mate without any effort at all.

“Welcome home, Fell,” I greeted, giving him what I hoped was a happy smile as I took care to say his name in Prench.

Fell looked up, ears perking in genuine delight. “Dia dhuit!" He greeted in Equish before blushing at his mistake and switching to Prench. "Oops! Sorry. Hello! I didn’t think you were going to be home this early. I was going to…”

Felling trailed off blinking twice before asking. “Did you just use my name properly?”

“Yes, the joke wore thin,” I explained, rearing up and turning around to stir the stew.

“Huh, I thought that was, you know, a locked in friendship thing. How was work? Starlit being a dick to you again?” Felling asked, genuinely seeming to care.

I’d never told Fell the full extent of the abuse I suffered. He seemed too nice to bog his mood down with things which didn’t matter in the end anyways.

“Nice for the outside portions, absolute Tartarus for the inside portions,” I said, just like I always did. “How was the barbershop?”

Fell walked over to the kitchen island, which wasn’t really an island because it touched one wall, and leaned on it, resting his forelegs atop the cedar surface.

“Boring as always… So, like, did the previous regime you keep talking about base employment on special talents?” He asked hopefully.

I shook my head. “No. As far as I know, only Equestria does that. Which is dumb, it’s one of the good ideas you guys have.”

Felling sighed and nodded. “Yeah. You know, I never wanted to be a barber-”

“You wanted to be a lumberjack, I know I know,” I said hoping to prevent the story from being told again. “Important question, do you eat meat? I can’t remember if Equestrians eat meat.”

“We do. Just not a lot. It’s a culture thing,” he informed. “You’re not cooking for us, are you?”

“I am, actually!” I said happily. “I’m doing a traditional Prench dish, potato and onion stew with olives in a bread-mug. It has some salmon in it… I- I don't know any purely vegetarian recipes.”

“Oh, that’s fine! No pony I know minds fish… Now beef, yeah some ponies will have a problem with that. I know a lot of your dishes have beef. They replace it with tofu back home,” Felling rambled.

“... That sounds disgusting,” I admitted.

Fell’s ears perked as he grinned. “You find tofu disgusting?”

I nodded. “Yes. It’s basically just cheese made from the fluid of crushed soybeans. It’s fake cheese made from fake milk. And it tastes terrible. And feels gross in the mouth.”

Fell giggled. “This is hilarious! Oh man, I wish I could write some friends. ‘Hey guys, guess what? My roomie thinks tofu is gross. Yes, the one who works as a grave keeper.’”

“Necromancer,” I corrected automatically.

Felling tilted his head. “But- I mean, I know that’s legal here, but you tend to the graveyard up on the hill, right?”

“Yes,” I said with a nod. “But I’m not a grave keeper. That graveyard is part of the Iron Line. I attend to the undead knights buried there. Keep them animated, update their equipment as needed, repair damage from insect nibbles. I serve my nation by maintaining our first line of defense. Which makes me a necromancer, not a grave keeper. We do have grave keepers on staff though. They mostly do landscaping and build new sarcophagi.”

“Ohhhh! Gotcha. That just makes it even funnier though,” Felling said with a silly grin.

I still remembered how terrified the poor pony was when he learned I was a necromancer. I’m glad he warmed up to me. Besides, it wasn’t like I was one of the rogue necromancers who popped up in Equestria from time to time. I was a Prench Necromancer, we have morals and standards.

Of course… Felling didn’t know the reason I was an outcast. He probably thought I was hated for being a necromancer, despite that being a state approved job.

Maybe one day I could trust him.

“Um, so, funny thing,” Felling said with a genuine laugh. “I actually just picked up stuff to make dinner for us on the way home.”

That actually was funny. I couldn’t help but laugh for a few moments. “Will it keep?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’ll just do it tomorrow. Besides, whatever you said this was it smells awesome!” Felling said happily.

“Does it?” I asked. “Good to know. Most ponies don't like the smell of rosemary. It’s one of my favorite spices.”

“Really? I think I’d smell it more than… Or do you get most of your meals out of the house?” Felling asked.

Oh. Right. I should say something plausible…

“I don’t eat that much. It’s not a problem,” I replied.

“Well if that’s as good tasting as it smells you should cook more,” Felling said decisively. “We could make an evening of it! Like you know, we just cook a meal together once a week. Wouldn't that be fun?”

I thought for a moment then nodded. “Yes, it would be. Let’s do it.”

“Yay!” Felling exclaimed happily. “We don't do enough together.”

“You know, I agree,” I admitted sadly. “You’re quite literally my only friend.”

Felling’s ears drooped sadly. “I know. I’m sorry. I really don't understand why everypony is a jerk to you. You’d never see this back home… Well, um, at least I immigrated here. So you know, it’s not like I’ll ever have to leave if you want me to stick around. Which if you do I totally don’t mind.”

“I’m pretty sure that you’ll have to go one day or another,” I said forlornly. “But let’s not talk about distressing things. Would you please fetch my bottle of hard cider? The one in the green bottle. It should pair well with the stew.”

“Sure thing!” Felling said happily. “Or would you rather have some of the Firebrand I picked up?”

“Ah ha! So you have been learning about Prench culture,” I exclaimed playfully, “and been saving your barrels, I see. You sure you want to share that? Even the cheap kind is-”

“The cheap kind tastes like a Changeling’s dross mixed with water and some mud,” Felling muttered as he trotted over to his saddlebags and pulled out a deep red stoneware bottle full of the rather portant, yet delicious liquor.

Firebrand, essentially what happens when mulberry mead is crystallized and dissolved in one of the several varieties of golden rum, had been the fancy drink of choice in Prance since time immemorial. The cheaply made variety was indeed swill but properly made Firebrand was an entire medley of excellent flavors. So long as you could handle the burning aftertaste which, often likened to licking hot iron.

I squinted at the label. “That’s not top shelf, is it?” I asked.

Felling smiled happily. “It is. I felt like doing something nice for you.”

“Whelp, let’s clear out a space to eat on. This meal just got serious,” I intoned dramatically.

Felling laughed and began to move some of the cabinets he had been working on to make an improvised table out of.

I was lucky to have a friend like him. I don’t know how else I would stay sane.

Author's Note:

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