The Village Called Respite

There is a hidden village deep within the untamed forest surrounding Neighagara Falls. Should one ever journey to this village, those who live there will welcome them for a simple price: love.
When the village accepts a new family from Cloudsdale, a not-quite-altruistic pair of changeling siblings offer a young filly friendship and a chance to find her place in the strange village she hopes to call home.
http://www.fimfiction.net/story/291019/the-village-called-respite

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1. Welcome to Respite

The little changeling staring back at her in the mirror beamed, humming a jaunty little tune. Her brush, alight with the deep green glow, floated down to a rest on the countertop before her.

Perfect. Her sugar-pink mane was brushed nice, neat, straight, and ready for braiding. Her magic flickered, and gathered the ends of her mane into three separate strands, slowly weaving them together into a tight braid that began midway down.

“Esalen!” Her father, a changeling named Warm Welcome, called, poking his head around the corner to regard her through his deep-blue eyes. A fanged grin played upon his lips as he sighed and shook his head. “You’d better hurry up or you’ll be late again! Aspire’s already down at the table, and he’s eying up your pancakes!”

Esalen giggled, a sound akin to a chitter, but nodded all the same. “I’ll be right there, daddy! Just gotta finish up my braid!” she chirped, giving a meaningful tug at her half-finished braid. “And tell Aspire that if he so much as thinks of taking from my stack, I’ll beat him over the head with those books he reads!”

Warm Welcome chuckled and withdrew his head, the thumping of his hoofsteps echoing down the hallway as he trotted off to relay her little threat.

Good. It would serve that little smart-aleck right! Brushing and braiding her mane was her “Essy time”—about twenty minutes before school when she could just relax, take a few deep breaths, and let the soothing strokes of the brush through her mane chase away any stress that might linger from the night before.

Her eyes flitted toward the books on her desk. One bearing the image of a crystalline heart, an old bedtime story that every changeling and pony living in Respite knew: the tale of how their home had been lost, and their race fragmented, until Respite’s founding. The rest were a mishmash of subjects, as disorganized as her struggle to find something to call her. Nothing quite seemed to grab her.

Trade Day, the day the young changelings of Respite picked how they’d contribute to the village, was drawing nearer with each passing year, and she still hadn’t found her calling.

Not for the first time, she felt a pang of jealousy toward her pony friends—sure, they had to find their special talent, but at least their cutie marks gave them proof of when they’d found it! Esalen had to find it and then decide if it was something she could enjoy doing.

She tied off the end of her braid, and sighed. So much for a bit of relaxation before school. Glancing back at the mirror before her, she opened her wings, checking them for any signs of damaged chitin. The firm membrane was without blemish, and the soft green-blue of her wings themselves—transluscent and chitinous with a few holes here and there—were without scuffing or sign of fading.

 

Perfect. She opened her mouth wide and stuck out her tongue, checking over her teeth. Shining clean, and her tiny fangs sharp and gleaming in the soft morning light—and just starting to poke out from behind her top lip. Once they grew in all the way, she’d look like a proper adult! No more being a “little nymph”.

Her bright smile back in place, Esalen stood, floating her saddlebags over and placing them upon her back. Trade Day could wait until later. There was still plenty of time to think on what she wanted to do.

If only she’d been born just a month later, she’d have another year.

“Essy, come on!” Aspire’s voice echoed down the hall, a pitiful, impatient whine. Typical when he wanted to get moving.

“I’m coming, I’m coming! A little patience would go a long way!” Esalen shot back. She checked over her room, her eyes flitting to her bedpod in the corner—constructed entirely of their green cocoon slime.

Squinting, she caught sight of a crack in the side. A flick of her tail, Esalen sighed through her nose as she pressed her tongue against the top of her mouth, twin glands at the back of her throat filled it with slime. I must’ve kicked it when I slipped out of my wrap. Again. 

Drawing back, she spat fresh slime at the bedpod. It hit with a loud squelch, covering the crack neatly. Perfect. Bed made and repaired, everything ready to go.

With a bright smile on her muzzle, Esalen trotted briskly out of her room—stepping deftly around the storage slime that trailed down her wall and stuck to the floor like webbing—and made her way down the hall. She hung a left, then stepped into the kitchen.

“Ah, there’s my girl!” her mother, Faith, cooed, quickly dotting her with a kiss between her ears. She tossed her blond mane, her ponytail flipping from side to side, and levitated the saddlebags over to a peg on the wall next to Aspire’s.

From his seat at the table, Aspire grinned, his deep-blue eyes shining with mirth. “Well, well! It’s about time, sis! With how much you primp in the morning, I’d almost say you were love-drunk on some cute pony in class!”

With a roll of her eyes, Esalen danced out of the way of Faith’s grasp before she could be swept into a hug and pestered. “Mom, quit it! He’s just being a jerk because he’s an impatient little gnat!” She hopped onto her cushion, but not before giving Aspire a sharp elbow to his side. “And he thinks he wants to work with foals!”

“Hey!” He gave her a jab in kind, his lips curved into a deep scowl. “Working with foals is a lot different than waiting on a slow sister getting ready in the morning!”

She simply stuck out her long, snakelike tongue and waggled it at him, to which he simply blew a raspberry in reply. With a good-natured roll of her eyes, she gave him another nudge before turning to Warm Welcome. “Dad, could you pass the pancakes?”

“Of course, sweetie,” he said, his horn alight with deep-green magic as he floated the plate of stacked pancakes over. “You two had best eat quickly! I’ve got to take you to the schoolhouse early today. Got an appointment I have to keep.”

As she poured maple syrup onto her pancakes, Esalen flicked her ear toward him. Aspire perked up similarly, even turning away from the book he’d been scanning while nibbling on his food. “Oh?” the pair asked in unison, their tails swishing happily.

Newcomers to Respite were a big deal to everyone. Whether a pony came seeking help when at a low point, or one moving in permanently because they couldn’t find good work elsewhere, Queen Euphoria welcomed them to the little town in the forest with open hooves.

Grinning broadly at their enthusiasm, Warm Welcome nodded. “Yup! Drizzly Days, Skydancer, and their daughter, Sure Stroke—I think she’s about your age, actually. Betcha she’ll be in your class once they get all settled in.”

A new classmate? Esalen was practically bouncing on her cushion. Any thought of the looming Trade Day was chased from the forefront of her mind. “When do they get here?”

“Can we go with you?” Aspire chipped in, his powder-blue wings unfurling excitedly.

Warm Welcome raised a brow. “Hmm, I don’t know. Mister Abacus sent that note home about you two being late to class last week. Something about catching the pair of you chatting away and taste-testing Sweet Treat’s new candies.” His brow arched higher at the way the pair widened their eyes and held their hooves together, as if they were begging puppies rather than changeling nymphs. Quickly averting his eyes, he turned to Faith, and asked, “What do you think, honey? Should these two little miscreants get to come with me, or go straight to school?”

Before Faith could even begin to reply, the pair turned their attention to her, the full force of their combined puppy eyes assault aimed at her just as she made to take her seat.

Rolling her eyes, she swept into her cushion across from Warm Welcome, and fixed him with a light glare. “I suppose—" she began, slowly turning back to her nymphs “—but they’d better not dawdle and be late because of your tour, or because they went and got distracted again!”

Esalen squealed. “We won’t! We’ll be good and go to class on time!”

“We promise!” Aspire crossed his right forehoof  over his chest before holding it aloft. An act Esalen took up wholeheartedly. “Essy and I will be good and make it to class on time.”

Faith narrowed her eyes and fixed them with a calculating gaze. “On your chitin?”

“Yes, momma,” they recited in stereo, “on our chitin.”

“Welllllllllll—" she hummed, a tiny smirk playing upon her lips “—if the two of you promise to get to school on time, and I don’t have to explain to Mister Abacus why my nymphs are so easily distracted by sweets, you can go with your father. But!” Faith held up a hoof to forestall their cheers. “If you want to go with him, you’d better finish your breakfast and not waste time messing about.”

That was all it took for Aspire and Esalen to share a quick look. Each sported matching grins, exposing their gleaming fangs to one another before they set upon their pancakes like a pair of ravenous wolves.

Silverware and napkins were disregarded, mere distractions from savoring the fluffy, syrupy goodness of their mother’s pancakes. Esalen gave pause only to quickly lick herself clean of the syrup that clung to her muzzle, her tongue lapping from chin to the tip of her snout.

Hoof-lickingly delicious, as always. Grandma Cloudfluff’s secret recipe was just as tasty as when she used to make it. Trust a pegasus to know how to make pancakes as light as the clouds she walked on. Love rest her soul.

Her pancakes were gone far too soon, and Esalen couldn’t help but lick her plate clean of every last bit of syrup that remained. Her lips curved up into a big grin as she slurped up the last drops of syrup, closing her eyes as she savored the sweet taste of sugar and maple.

Almost as tasty and filling as the taste of freely given love. But still lacking just a bit of the flavor. Maybe one of her schoolmates would be kind enough to offer a little snack in exchange for one of hers. Better yet, maybe the new filly, Sure Stroke, would take to the village and offer some as thanks for their little tour.

With that, Esalen jolted herself back into reality. Wasting time! “Done!” she cried, and held her plate up for her parents to inspect. “All done, and all ready to go!”

“Wait! Hang on!” Aspire said through a mouthful of pancake. A corner of his still remained, almost drowned in the syrup he’d lathered upon it. He swallowed a big bite, screwing up his muzzle as he tried to down a half-chewed bit of pancake. With a strained gulp, he managed to force the offending lump down. “Gah! I’m almost done! Just gimme a sec!”

Esalen stifled a laugh, sharing a wink with her parents. “Now who’s taking too long? You even had a head start!”

Rather than reply, he simply glared and turned to snort at her, his hot breath washing over her face and rustling her carefully combed mane. Aspire smirked and quickly ducked a swipe of her hoof, and took the chance to snare the last bit of pancake with his tongue and scoop it into his mouth.

Once he swallowed, Aspire waggled a hoof at her. “Not very nice, Essy! Maybe you need to read a book on manners sometime! I’m sure I have one somewhere—"

Warm Welcome cut off any further sniping with an oversold groan as he stood and stretched his legs. “Oh dear, Faithy,” he said, almost in sing-song. “It seems like our naughty little nymphs won’t be joining me this morning after all—they’re just having too much fun teasing one another to spend time with their dear old dad and welcome a new family to Respite!”

Faith shook her head and took hold of her fork in her magic. “Oh, no,” she said, fixing a disappointed pout on her muzzle, “it looks like you two will just have to go straight to school and wait outside, wondering just how meeting that nice family might be!”

Esalen started, blinking once before quickly leaping to her hooves. “Nope! Not dawdling!” She took hold of both plates in her magic and rushed over to the sink, while Aspire raced to get their bags. “We’re going, we’re going!”

She dumped the dishes into the sink and turned to the side so Aspire could toss her saddlebags over and onto her back. Perfect aim, a tried-and-true routine. Grimacing at the sudden weight of textbooks and little snap of the strap, she shifted a bit, making sure that it was evenly balanced, before scampering to stand at Aspire’s side.

Aspire stood by the door, his head held high and posture as straight as a soldier’s. “Ready! See? No wasting time here! Not us nymphs!”

“Ah! You forgot something!” Faith said, tutting and giving a shake of her head.

The pair cocked their heads to the side in unison, brows raised and ears perked up.

Chuckling, Faith held her hooves out wide and made a little beckoning motion; a silent request for hugs.

Bright smiles back in place, they bounded over and caught her in a double tight hug, squeezing her barrel and nuzzling against her for all they were worth. "Love you, mom!” Aspire chirped as he and Esalen drew back.

“And I love you, my silly little nymphs. Now, go on! Off with you!” She shooed them away with a wave of her hoof and brought a fork full of pancake to her mouth. “Have a good day, and make that new filly feel welcome!”

“I’m sure they’ll do their part just fine, dear!” Warm stepped over, giving her a chaste kiss and nuzzle. “I’ll be home once they’re all settled in. Do you have one of your sessions today?”

Faith nodded once. “Yes, Orchid Leaf from Trottingham. The poor dear.” She sighed, a frown chasing the smile from her muzzle. “Her parents’ divorce hit her rather hard, and she’s of the mind that moving away was the cause.”

A pang of sadness, Esalen let her tongue flick out to taste the melancholy rolling off her mother. Bitter and heavy, the price to pay for the burden of helping ponies find happiness through their angst.

Her mother’s calling was both wonderful and taxing. The very nature of changelings made those feelings all the more real to her.

Aspire wrapped his hooves around Faith’s barrel. “It’ll be okay, mom,” he said. “She tasted a bit happier the last time I saw her; not nearly as sad as when she first came.”

Faith chuckled, planting a kiss between his ears. “Yes, I’ve noticed too. Hopefully, I can make a bit more progress with her today.” She gently nudged him off and pushed him toward Esalen, smiling fondly at the pair. “Have a good day, dears. Be nice, and do well in school. And don’t forget your lunch bags again!”

“Yes, mom!” They chorused in reply, each levitating a brown lunch bag off the counter top and into their saddlebags before trotting out of the kitchen, through the sitting room and toward the front door, with Warm Welcome trailing behind.

Esalen’s shimmering green aura engulfed the doorknob and tugged it open. The trio of changelings stepped out of their humble home and into the warm sunlight.

 

 

The little village of Respite was located in a lush meadow in the middle of the rolling green treetops near Neighagra Fall. It was situated just northeast of Canterlot and southeast of the Frozen North—the lands cursed by the Dark King Sombra over a millennium ago.

On the opposite end of the village, one could see the mighty Falls cascading into the great lake, where the distant forms of changeling and ponies alike milled about, outfitting their wooden boats for a long day of fishing.

Aspire and Esalen trotted down the dirt pathway alongside their father, smiling and greeting every pony and changeling they passed.

There was Sweet Treat—a stout, plump earth pony, with her wife, Vigil, out in front of their front door, the latter clad in the lightweight, green armor of the village guard. Sweet Treat wrapped her hooves around her lover’s neck, planting a deep kiss on her lips.

“Have a good day,” they heard her say to the smaller changeling once she’d pulled away. “Do you need a bit more love?”

Vigil smiled and nosed up beneath her chin in reply, “I couldn’t have another sip if I wanted, Sweetie! Feed me any more, and I’ll be so full I can’t fly!”

“Well, you could stand to put on a little more weight! You don’t eat nearly enough for all that running and flying and what have you!”

Warm Welcome chuckled, giving a nod to the bickering mares as he and the nymphs passed so not to interrupt their routine. “That’s one battle Sweetie won’t win, no matter how love-drunk Vigil is.”

Snorting, Aspire gave a little wave to the pair. “So, what’s this new family gonna be like, dad? Have you heard anything about them?”

“Hmm, I know that Drizzly Days took a job with our weather patrol to help manage the more dangerous storms. As for Skydancer—" he wrinkled his muzzle and looked off into the distance “—I can’t recall exactly, but I think Cool Breeze mentioned that she was going to help him work with injured pegasi on flying again, and teaching foals as well. I’ll have to double-check.”

“Or we could just ask them,” Esalen pointed out, and waved her hoof toward the main village entrance. She squinted, her keen eyes just barely making out a few pony-shaped dots milling about. Grinning, she gave a little wag of her tail. “Betcha that’s the moving crew helping them load up their bags into Ready Steady’s cart!”

Aspire bumped his hip against hers. “What kind of foals’ bet are you trying to pull, sis? Everyone knows the routine!”

With a mock huff, she stuck out her tongue.

“Now, now, play nice, you two,” Warm Welcome said, his own playful grin falling for a moment, utmost severity etched upon his muzzle. “All jokes aside, please do try to put a bit of a lid on prodding one another—we don’t know how they’ll take to teasing, and I don’t think any of us want to make Sure Stroke feel uneasy to join your class.” He stopped suddenly, looking down on them with a critical gaze. “I can count on you, right?”

They nodded in unison, and made the same motion of crossing a hoof over their chests and holding it aloft as earlier.

“There’s my nymphs!” he said with pride. Warm Welcome resumed his brisk trot toward the gate, his bright, friendly smile back in place. “Come along! And remember, they’re from outside, so give them a little bit more personal space, offer a hoofshake at most; Equestrians find hugging or nuzzling random strangers to be rather invasive. Well, in some cases. Smaller town ponies might be a bit more open to it.”

Scrunching up her nose, Esalen raised an eyebrow. “That seems… really, really distant of them, doesn’t it?”

“It’s just their way, sweetie. They’re quite friendly with one another. Usually, at least. But that sort of thing is just for close friends and family and the like. Nothing to fret over, but keep that in mind, okay?”

Her eyes flitted over to Aspire, sharing a rather uneasy look. Sure, they’d dealt with a few new colts and fillies from the outside joining their class over the years, but that was always after they’d acclimated themselves to their new home.

Maybe we should’ve just waited like normal and let dad show them around. Much like his name suggested, Warm Welcome always made sure that any visitor, long or short-term, felt at home and knew where everything was situated. Simple enough, but it took a big weight off their shoulders.

A gentle hoof touched her shoulder. Esalen looked up to find her father smiling down at her. “Relax, dear,” he said, giving her a little nudge toward the gate. “Just follow my lead, and you’ll do fine! You too, Aspire.”

She fell back into step with him, though she and Aspire subtly moved a bit closer to one another, their shoulders brushing together.

As they neared the gate, the big wooden sign hanging over the archway came into view, the words “Welcome to Respite” proudly on display, right above the Caretakers’ creed.

Those pony-shaped dots became a bit more clear. There was Ready Steady, the burly green earth pony, all hitched up to his fully-loaded cart, smiling and chatting away with his little brothers, Heavy Load and Helping Hoof. Beside them were a pair of new adult pegasi—a stallion of grey-blue coat, his tail and mane, both of which seemed to hang and cling to him like they were wet with rainfall, the same deep-grey as rolling storm clouds, and a mare with a bright-yellow coat, her mane and tail tinged orange with red at the ends.

Drizzly Day and Skydancer. But where was their filly?

A bit of movement just behind the mare drew Esalen’s  attention. A flash of violet coat and deep-purple mane. A filly with her head ducked low, her eyes flitting from Ready Steady, to the brothers loading up the rest of the luggage, to the sign, and down to the dirt road beneath her hooves.

Esalen’s ears perked up. She nudged her brother and nodded toward the filly. “She’s nervous.”

“I can taste it,” he muttered in reply. “Definitely no playing yet, Essy. Just like dad said.”

“Right.”

Warm Welcome came to a stop just within hoof’s reach of the adults. “Good morning!” he said, his tone full of energy. “Drizzly Day and Skydancer, I presume?”

“That’s us!” Skydancer replied with a smile almost as bright as his. “You must be Warm Welcome! Merryweather told us that you’d meet us here when we arrived.”

“Just Warm Welcome will do. Or Warm, I’m not too picky! I do hope your trip wasn’t too tiring!”

Drizzly Day shrugged. “Wasn’t too bad. The balloon ride from Cloudsdale to Canterlot was nicer than the train from Canterlot, I can say that much. That, er, friend of Merryweather’s wasn’t kidding when he said to bring a pillow. Darn thing rattled and shook like nopony’s business.”

“Ah, yes, Hawkeye always goes with her. He’s a bit overprotective of her when she goes on those long trips, but who isn’t? I presume that he revealed himself to you at some point in the conversation?”

“He did,” Drizzly replied, giving a rueful smile. “I nearly jumped through the roof when he changed. Scared the feathers offa me!”

Skydancer ducked her head, her wings unfurling, ready to wrap around and hide her muzzle. “Hehe, you weren’t alone, love! I dove behind the couch, but he and Merry took it in stride.” She shifted from one side to the other. “The only thing we’d ever heard of changelings were some really old legends, and to see one just up and transform… well, it was a good thing he calmed Drizzly and I down long enough for him to explain.”

Warm Welcome winced. “Yes, it can be a bit jarring at first. I’ll have to remind Hawkeye that he’s supposed to explain before he transforms. Though, if I might say, your reactions were quite tame—he’s come back with stories about having to dodge a vase or two.”

“Oh my!” She brought a hoof to her lips. “I thought it was just us!”

“No, no, it’s happened more often than you think. You’re far from the first, and you won’t be the last. In any case! I’m rambling! Let me introduce my nymphs—or foals, if you prefer.” He waved a hoof toward Aspire and Esalen, both of whom smiled brightly, just as he’d asked.

On cue, Aspire stepped forward and offered a hoof to Drizzly. “Hello, sir! My name’s Aspire!”

“And I’m Esalen!” she added, holding out her hoof for Skydancer.

The newcomers smiled, each taking the hooves offered to them and giving a firm shake. “What well-mannered nymphs,” Drizzly said with his half-smile in place. “And what year of school are you in—I think that’s what Hawkeye said.”

“Sixth, Mister Drizzly!” Esalen replied, moving from shaking hooves with Skydancer to taking his. “We’ll finish up in a few months when Trade Day comes around.”

Skydancer straightened up, her eyes shining brightly. “You’ll be in the same year as our little filly! Honey, did you—oh, for heaven’s sake!” She stepped to the side, revealing the young filly that Esalen had caught sight up while walking up.

 Sure Stroke was frozen in place, her eyes wide and ears pinned back. She mumbled something, her eyes flitting to the side in search of a place to hide. But before she could move, Skydancer quickly moved behind her and nudged her forward with her snout.

“Go on!” she said softly, giving a little nuzzle to Sure Stroke’s mane. “Say hello!”

Esalen met her eyes, a rather pretty shade of blue like the sky her kind soared through.

Rather cute. Just a little shy. Making friends with her just might help that along. In fact, Esalen was willing to wager that was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Anxiety, a familiar emotion from newcomers to Respite, rolled off Sure Stroke in waves. Esalen had to force herself to focus on Drizzly Day and Skydancer’s more relaxed, pleasant demeanor to escape the bitter taste. Glancing out of the corner of her eye, her brother was in a similar state.

Esalen stepped toward the nervous filly, making sure to smile brightly as she held out her hoof. “Hi! Welcome to Respite, Sure Stroke! I hope we can be friends!”

Suddenly, she was hit with a new emotion: the thick, oppressive taste of fear.

Sure Stroke’s eyes went wide, almost crossing as she alternated between staring at the end of Esalen’s muzzle and at the outstretched hoof.

What in the name of love? Esalen blinked rapidly to clear her head. Where in the world had that come from? Her smile strained, she made to lower her hoof. Maybe Sure Stroke was body shy, even for a pony?

But before her hoof could touch the ground, Skydancer gave Sure Stroke another nudge. “Don’t be rude,” she whispered, her voice barely audible. “Introduce yourself.”

Biting her lip, Sure Stroke looked down to the ground, hesitating just a moment before reaching out with a trembling hoof to touch against Esalen’s. “Hi,” she squeaked out. “I’m Sure Stroke. Nice to meet you.”

Esalen fought down the taste of bad emotions and finished shaking hooves before stepping to the side so Aspire could do the same. Nerves. It was just her nerves. Sure Stroke was in a new place without any friends; that had to be scary. She needed time to adjust, and a couple friendly faces to help her do so.

Her smile back in place, Esalen maneuvered herself to stand on Sure Stroke’s right, leaving the new filly’s left either for Aspire or Skydancer. “Come on! The three of us can show you around!”

“Yeah! We know all the best spots!” Aspire added excitedly. “There’s Sweet Treat’s candy shop, the Wood brothers make great treehouses, and Frosty and Creamy make the most amazing milkshakes you’ll ever have!”

Warm Welcome laughed. “Now, now, settle down, you two! Don’t overwhelm the poor filly on her first day!” He waved to the earth pony brothers. “You guys have their luggage, right? Or do you need my help?”

“Pfft! Who’re you talking to?” Ready Steady snorted and flicked his tail. “Go on with your little tour, Warm! The boys and me got this!”

“Darn right!” Heavy and Helping said in unison, each stomping a hoof.

“Very good! I’ll leave you to it then!” Warm Welcome said, giving a wave as the moving ponies began their trek toward their destination at the far end of the village. Turning back to the pegasus family, he grinned. “Now, about that tour. If you’d all follow us, we’ll be happy to show you around.”

 

 

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