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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22. Sleepover in a Changeling Dwelling

Three knocks against the front door sent Esalen shooting off the pod couch, haphazardly tossing a book on different types of therapy over her shoulder as she trotted over to greet her friend.

She smiled as she pulled it open to reveal Sure Stroke as the first to arrive, just as she expected. But her smile faltered a touch when she noticed the filly carried a pillow under her wing and a bag around her shoulders. It seemed full, like she’d packed to go camping in the forest for a week instead of just popping over to a friend’s house for a night.

“Uh … wow, you came prepared.” Esalen raised an eyebrow. “Did you bring all of your art supplies in that bag or something?”

Sure Stroke tilted her head. “Uh, no.” Her wings rustled awkwardly. “I brought my toothbrush, toothpaste, a brush, my pillow—” she nodded toward her left wing “—and my sleeping bag.”

Esalen stared for a few seconds. She sucked in her lips and furrowed her brows in thought. Sleeping bags, if she recalled, were sort of like their cocoon wraps, just not with slime. They were nice and warm, but they didn’t quite have that nice, gel-like cushioning. It had been a while since the last time she’d seen one.

A part of her wanted to tell Sure Stroke to take the bag home so she could experience a Respite sleepover to the fullest. Much like feeding, wrapping a pony up on a bed wrap before doing the same for themselves was supposed to be a show of trust and bond between the two.

Then again, she had to remember who she was dealing with. Aspire’s words played over in her mind.

She smiled. “Well, if you want to go with a sleeping bag, I suppose that’s fine. You’ll probably want to lay in the chairs or on one of our beds, though. The floor isn’t exactly comfortable, no matter what you do.”

Sure Stroke ducked her head, a crooked smile spread across her muzzle. “Uh, maybe.” She chewed on her lip and glanced at the pillow under her wing. “Should I take this home, then, or—”

“You could try it out and see how it feels.” Esalen shrugged and stepped aside so she could come in. “Come on in. Personally, I don’t think you’ll need them if you get one of the beds, but you might for the chair depending on how you lay yourself.”

As Sure Stroke followed her inside, she kicked the door shut behind them and led her toward her room. Up ahead, Aspire poked his head out of his room and beamed. He made to greet her, but stopped short when he noticed her bag.

He tilted his head. “What’s with—”

“Sleeping bag,” Esalen cut him off.

“Oh.” His eyes widened in comprehension. “Ooooooooooh. Okay, that makes sense.” He waggled his ears. “Well, that’s one here. So, ready for Essy’s makeovers?”

A wide, fanged grin made its way across Esalen’s muzzle. She turned to Sure Stroke and made a show of buzzing her wings. “Oh, she’d better be,” she said with a happy chitter. Licking her lips, she giggled at the fluffy taste of embarrassment mixed with sweet happiness. “Because once I get her in a pod seat, she’s not going anywhere ‘till I’m done. In fact …” she trailed off as she stepped behind Sure Stroke and pushed her head against the filly’s flank, nudging her into Aspire’s room. “Step into our office.”

 

 

Esalen hummed a happy little tune as she sat in a slime pod seat with Sure Stroke in Aspire’s room and ran her brush through her friend’s long, purple mane. It had taken a little bit of coaxing and no shortage of playful teasing about how pretty she’d look if she’d let them give her a makeover, but it worked.

And, really, what better bonding time between fillies than a little makeover at a sleepover? Aside from feeding, of course.

She shook her head, her braid whipped from side to side. Thoughts like that were a bit counterproductive, given what Aspire had told her. Some nice, friendly talk, maybe a few of the village’s normal sleepover games—though perhaps they’d have to forgo a round of hide and seek, given her last experience with it.

To their right, Toola and Nimble were in another slime pod seat, liberated from Esalen’s room along with a few brushes and mane ties she’d plucked from her storage slime, chattering away with Sure Stroke, the former brushing Nimble’s pale purple mane. The colts, meanwhile, sat on Aspire’s bed and were locked in what appeared to be some version of a terrible joke contest, much to Esalen’s horror.

“So, a giraffe walks into the doctor’s office,” Aspire began, a wide grin nearly splitting his chitinous muzzle. “The doctor says hi and asks what’s bothering him. The giraffe says, ‘doc, I’ve got a terrible pain in my neck and it’s killing me!’”

Vector and Zephyr stayed silent a moment, their brows furrowed in deep thought. Then, slowly, their muzzles contorted into disgusted scowls. They groaned in unison and Zephyr shoved a cackling Aspire off the bed.

Even Esalen couldn’t withhold a cringe. “That was terrible and you should feel terrible, Aspire,” she called.

Any reply he had was lost in the midst of his chittering laughter. He held his hooves over his stomach, cackling like mad as Vector and Zephyr shared matching looks. Wicked smiles spread across their muzzles.

Esalen flicked her tongue, a smile of her own tugged at her lips.

Mischief.

With war cries befitting the changelings and pegasi of old, they descended upon the laughing nymph and quickly pinned him so they could muss up his mane and give him the pummeling he so rightly deserved.

Sure Stroke brought her hooves up to stifle her laughter. “He never quits, does he?”

Esalen’s ears twitched. “No,” she replied with a heavy sigh, she closed her eyes and ran her hoof through Sure Stroke’s mane. Silky smooth, just like she wanted. Almost inviting her to bury her snout in it and nuzzle the filly. “Sometimes, I want to strangle him, but I don’t know if I’d have him any other way, either.”

Another bout of giggles, Sure Stroke’s shoulders shook with poorly suppressed mirth. She glanced over her shoulder, a playful gleam shone in her eye. “We could hide his books from him.”

Esalen froze in place with her hoof still touching Sure Stroke’s mane. “I tried that once.” A shudder ran down her spine at the memory. “Not a good idea.”

“Why? He likes to dish out the jokes, can’t he take one?”

“Jokes? Sure he can. His books? You might as well just walk up and punch him in the jaw for no reason. He might be less angry if you did, actually.”

She flinched. “I, um …” Sure Stroke fidgeted in place. “I might have already done that at the party. When he was being shifty about things.”

“I heard.” Esalen smiled. “I also hear you have a mean right, or at least mean enough that his jaw ached the next day. That’s a pretty hard hit for him to feel it through his carapace.”

“I just wanted him to talk to me,” Sure Stroke mumbled under her breath, her soft violet ears splaying back against her scalp. The thick taste of regret, like coffee left out for hours, radiated off her in waves.

Gagging, Esalen sucked in her lips and averted her head as if to escape the taste. She began rummaging through her little box of mane ties in search of one that had dried off since coming out of storage. Sure Stroke probably wouldn’t appreciate one that was still damp with my slime …

She found one and her ears perked up straight. “Have you ever tried putting your mane up in a bun?”

Sure Stroke flicked an ear up. “I don’t think so.” She glanced over her shoulder. “I’ve mostly just worn it in a ponytail or down at home.”

“You should wear it down more often!” Toola chipped in. “You look real pretty like that, even better when you’re flying and the wind runs through it, I’d bet!”

Her cheeks flushed a deep purple. “Thanks.”

“We could try that later,” Esalen said as she set the mane tie to the side. Humming a note, she glanced between Sure Stroke and Toola. Her lips tugged into a smile as a bit of mischief shone in her bright pink eyes. “I think I’ve got something.” She searched through her box again until she found a small styling comb. With a few deft flicks, she began to give Sure Stroke’s mane a little bit of a fluff to it, all the while watching as Vector and Zephyr managed to claim a rare victory over her brother.

“Okay, okay! I give!” he cried in between bouts of laughter. He turned his head this way and that, trying to escape their hooves. His deep blue mane was as puffy as a used cotton swab.

Sure Stroke giggled. “Now you really look like you’ve got a bird’s nest on your head!”

Aspire shot her a mock glare. Slowly, a smirk made its way across his muzzle. “I can spit slime at your mane from here,” he warned. “And I will ruin all the work Essy’s doing.”

Sucking in a sharp breath, Esalen turned and bared her fangs, a threat on the tip of her tongue.

But she was beaten to the punch. “No you won’t,” Sure Stroke replied.

“I won’t?” he asked, raising a brow.

“He kinda will,” Vector added. “I mean, I can cover his mouth, but then I’ll have it all over my hooves …”

“Don’t be a hatchling!” Zephyr scolded, leaning over to nip at his eartip. “Essy has hoof polish remover somewhere, I’m sure. If not, you know Missus Faith has vegetable oil in the kitchen.” Still, he glanced over at Sure Stroke, his ears perked up. “So, why won’t he, if we don’t stop him? ‘Cause, really, I’m not gonna since you started it.” As if to drive the point home, he hopped off of Aspire, eagerly followed by Vector.

Aspire rolled over, his eyes glowing green. “Well, Doodle?”

Her lips curved into a wide grin. “Because your mom’s right down the hall and I can scream really loud.”

The glow in his eyes died out like a flame on a candle wick. His brows furrowed. “That’s not fair. At all.”

“Nymphs like to tease and play pranks,” she replied, a note of smugness creeping into her tone. “So why shouldn’t I use this to my advantage?”

“Point.” Aspire sighed and sat back on his haunches. “Dang it, Doodle.”

Esalen chuckled and returned to her work, adding a little bit of fluff to Sure Stroke’s mane and stealing a quick glance over at Toola. How long would it take them to notice? Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Nimble’s gaze. Her fellow nymph raised her eyebrows and made a subtle gesture between the pair of fillies, then cast a wink.

Well, there’s one. Let’s see how long the rest take. They could have plenty of fun with this. “So,” Esalen began, “how was your talk with Queen Euphoria, Doodle?”

A low grumble that sounded suspiciously like “they aren’t doodles, darn it” drew a snicker from the group of friends. The bite of irritation was almost worth the cross look upon her face. Sure Stroke sighed, ruffling her feathers as she leaned back against Esalen to allow her to continue. “It was pretty good. She’s really nice, a lot less …” she trailed off and rolled her hoof forward in a circle. “Formal than I thought she’d be.”

Zephyr snorted. “She’s never really formal. Well, not unless you get in really big trouble like that time what’s-his-face accidentally drained Whimsy Mimsy’s love until she could barely lift a hoof.” Frowning, he looked over at Sure Stroke and added, “That said, if you ever do end up feeding one of us, let us know if we take too much.”

“Um … how would I know?”

“Believe me, you’ll know,” Vector chipped in as he hopped back onto Aspire’s bed. He jabbed a hoof toward the nymph in question, sniggering as he watched him try to fix his mane. “Bookbug is pretty good about watching, but if I don’t speak up and he hasn’t eaten in awhile, I’ll end up so tired I can’t fly.”

“I do take care, though!” Aspire added hastily, his eyes flitting toward Sure Stroke.

“I’m just teasing you, bookbug! Chill!” Flicking a wing, Vector cast a wink at Sure Stroke. “Jokes aside, the Caretakers do what their name says. They take care of those who need help, and they take care of us who offer love. It’s up to you if you want, same with how much.”

Toola stopped brushing Nimble’s mane so she could raise a hoof. “I’m usually good for nibbles and small sips,” she said, nosing against Nimble’s cheek. “Because I usually end up giving Nim here a little love at dinner.”

“You spoil me,” Nimble crooned. Her tongue ran over her lips. “Never stop.”

“Wasn’t planning on it, sis.”

Sure Stroke flicked an ear, her head snapped toward them. “You’re related?” A beat, then she added, “How … does that work?”

Matching smirks spread across Nimble and Toola’s muzzles, their eyes danced with mischievous glee. “About the same it would work for any pony couples, I wager,” Nimble replied. “You’ll have to ask bookbug for specifics, because I’m not explaining the biology behind that unless you want to offer me a biiiiiiig drink, Doodle.”

Esalen stopped brushing for a moment. Which would win out, she wondered. Sure Stroke’s curiosity or her nerves. She poked the forked tip of her tongue between her lips to test her taste.

Mugginess, like undercooked fish. There wouldn’t be any feeding tonight. What a pity.

Fortunately, Toola opted to pipe up and spare Sure Stroke any awkwardness. “I was adopted!” she chirped. “Nimmy’s parents picked me up while they were visiting Manehattan when I was just a little filly.”

“She was even cuter, believe it or not,” Nimble put in, humming happily as Toola resumed brushing her mane. She cast a glance over her shoulder, a crooked smile played upon her lips. “I’d just managed to make myself a unique disguise, not perfect but good enough, so my parents took me to Coneigh Island for a few days. While we were there, we found Toola waiting with a teacher on the steps outside her school. My mom could taste the teacher’s impatience and Toola’s bubbly nature, so she stopped to ask if something was wrong. The teacher sighed and said she was waiting on little Toola’s caretaker, and the rest is history.”

Toola burst into a fit of giggles. “I was waiting for my caretaker, so I ended up with Caretakers!”

Another wave of laughter swept through the group, even Sure Stroke tittered and fluttered her wings. She was opening up and having fun.

Good.

Esalen decided to prod her a little further. “So what all did you talk about?” she asked. A few flicks of her hoof sent the ends of Sure Stroke’s deep purple mane curling up in passable imitation of Toola’s aquamarine and pink tinged locks. “Besides feeding, I mean.”

“We talked a little about how I liked the village. And she cleared up something I was sort of struggling with.” Esalen didn’t miss the way Sure Stroke cast a quick glance at Aspire, nor how her brother’s eyes lit up when he met her gaze. “Really struggling with.”

He tried to play it cool, though. “Oh, yeah? Which part?”

Soft violet wings rustled nervously. Her ears splayed back as she noticed everyone staring straight at her, their attention fixed. “Um, the bit about wondering if ponies are friends or food.”

“Oh, that thing!” Zephyr flopped back onto Aspire’s bed with a snort. He closed his eyes and shook his head, a wry smile upon his muzzle. “Nothing new there, eh, bookbug?”

Aspire winced, but forced a smile in kind. “Y-Yeah. Nothing new, really. Always a little bit of an adjustment period.” He ducked his head, his gaze fixed upon Sure Stroke. “So, did she explain it any better than I tried?”

“She was … really blunt.” Sure Stroke gave a half-hearted shrug. “She just told me really straightforward that ponies are both to all of you in the village. Though, she did warn me about other hives.”

“Rightfully so,” Vector grumbled. A shudder ran through his body. “Can’t imagine ever wanting to be caught by the Locust. Wandering about with the Marauders might not be too bad, though. Enchanters … well, at least I’d live well. They’re nice enough when they visit, and really charming. Still not a fan.”

Esalen frowned. “Careful,” she warned.

He flinched. “Oh, right.” His ears drooped. “Sorry. I forgot all about your granddad. He was really nice, always let us play around his house. I always forgot he was an Enchanter since he didn’t get all flirty and stuff with ponies.”

“You didn’t see him on Sharers’ Day or Grandma Cloudfluff’s birthday.” Her wings buzzed. A fond smile spread across her muzzle as she let her mind wander to those happy days when she’d watch Grandpa Beguile lavish affection on her grandmother until her snow white cheeks burned red. “He always said he had everything he needed in her.”

The colt nodded once. He knew better than to question when it came to a nymph’s family.

Sure Stroke turned, pulling away from Esalen’s comb so she could fix her with a quizzical stare. “Queen Euphoria mentioned the Enchanters being charming,” she said. “She told me a few things about the hives, but she didn’t really explain all the animosity.”

Aspire glanced toward Esalen. “You’ve got the book in your room, right? Do you wanna read that instead of usual storytelling?”

“She should hear it at least once,” Zephyr said. “Everyone should—oh, for love’s sake, Essy!” He groaned, slapping a hoof over his eyes. “Did you really just do that to her mane?”

Sure Stroke started, her hooves leaping straight to her mane. “What? What did she do?”

It was too perfect. Esalen toppled over, clutching her sides as she gave way to laughter. She struggled a moment, before crying between chortles, “It took you long enough!”

“Essy, what did you do to my mane?”

All around them, their friends stared at Sure Stroke for a moment. Then, slowly, they began to snigger. Toola bounced over and tackled her in a tight hug. “Eeeee! I have a mane twin! Yes! Yes! Yes!”

Sure Stroke goggled at the filly. “Wait, what? A mane—did she?”

Esalen sat up. With a cheeky grin, she snatched the tie out of her mane and shapeshifted. Green fire washed over her form. Smooth black carapace became soft violet coat, deep ocean blue bled into her bright pink eyes, and her sugar pink mane unwound from its braid as purple ran down like wet paint.

She stared back at Sure Stroke and fluffed her new pegasus feathers, then brought a hoof up to play with her mane. “It looks nice!” she preened in Sure Stroke’s voice. “I think I’ll call this mane style Doodleroola!”

Sure Stroke drew in a sharp breath through her snout, the thick taste of her ire brought spice to Esalen’s tongue. But rather than leap to deny it, she simply smiled and turned to hug Toola. “You know what? Yes. I am your mane twin and you have to teach me how to do all your gymnastics so we can have two flippy ponies and one flippy nymph.”

“Oh, love, no!” Vector whined and covered his face with his hooves. “Ugh! Let’s move on to games or something before they actually start practicing! We can read to Doodleroola later!”

Grinning, Esalen shapeshifted back to her natural form in a flash of green fire, but left her mane styled the same as Sure Stroke and Toola’s, in her own little act of solidarity with her fellow fillies. There was another flash to her right. She turned to find Nimble getting in on the act herself, much to Toola’s delight.

Their own version of Aspire’s terrible puns.

With a heavy sigh, Vector grumbled, “I cannot deal. One of you is more than enough, Toola, the world cannot handle another.”

“You know you love me, Zippy!”

“You can’t prove that,” he shot back, dragging a hoof down his muzzle. “You know what? Fine. Bookbug, go get the book before they start practicing cartwheels or flips or whatever they do.”

Aspire sniggered, but nodded and rose to his hooves. “Sure, sure. On your desk, right, Essy?” He stopped to grin at her. “Wait, who am I kidding? You never clean off your desk.”

Esalen stuck out her tongue and flicked it at him. “Shut up and go get the book.” She scrunched up her snout, and in a flash of green fire, her mane was back to normal, save for the mane tie. She scooted around in her pod seat and nudged Sure Stroke so she was closer to the box. “I’ll just sit here while Doodle returns the favor and does my mane.”

With an amused chitter, he strode out of the room and down the hall.

 

 

Sure Stroke was surprised how soft Esalen’s mane felt. For a time, she almost thought it would feel more like a spider’s web—long, thin, wispy, and so very fragile against her hoof. Perhaps even a tad sticky, given how they loved to wrap themselves up in slime and slept in pods.

She instead found herself captivated by how soft and silky smooth it felt. A small part of her wanted to just sit and run her hoof through Esalen’s mane, or bury her snout in it to drink in the scent of roses that seemed to follow her friend around.

But she managed to restrain herself as she took up the same brush Esalen had used on her mane. “That scent you wear is lovely,” she muttered. “It suits you.”

“Thanks,” Esalen said. “There’s a family in Manehattan that makes it. They were friends of my mom before they moved away a few years ago.”

“Oh?” Sure Stroke leaned in close and drew in a deep breath through her nose. It was just right. Perfect, actually. She closed her eyes, imagining the soft touch of rose petals brushing against her snout. “What’s the name?”

“Baudelaire’s.”

Sure Stroke froze in mid brush. “The Baudelaire’s?” she asked, goggling at the back of Esalen’s sugar pink head. “The one owned by Prançois Baudelaire?”

Esalen turned, a wry look upon her face. “I didn’t know Prancy was big enough to warrant a the in front of his shop name. But yeah, that’s him. Wonderful stallion. His husband’s rather nice, too.”

It was like she’d been dropped straight from the highest point of Stratos Street with her wings tied. Sure Stroke could only work her mouth wordlessly. How in the name of Equestria could Esalen be so familiar with one of the leading producers of the finest perfumes in all the land, and not know?

Or was it simply that it didn’t matter because he was just “Prancy” to her?

“I could get you some if you like,” Esalen offered. “I’d just have to send him a letter next post day.”

Sure Stroke blinked a few times and shook her head. “Altocumulus isn’t going to believe this,” she mumbled under her breath, making a mental note to write a letter to her cousin sometime soon.

Thumping hooves echoed from down the hallway. The pair flicked their ears and turned to face the door just in time to find the rest of their happy troupe filing in with wide grins, several glasses of apple juice held aloft in Nimble’s magic, and a large bowl of sweets balanced between Vector’s wings.

“We’re baaaaack!” Toola sang, prancing in place. “And we bring the sweetest of sweets!”

“Courtesy of Missus Faith,” Nimble added as she reclaimed her seat and passed out the drinks. She scooted over so Toola could join her, glancing at Sure Stroke. “What’s up with Doodle? She looks like you slapped her with a dead fish.”

Esalen shrugged and accepted her drink. “I just mentioned Prancy and she got all spacey.”

Sure Stroke jolted awake in time to pluck her cup out of the air. “I am not spacey! I’m just surprised!” She huffed. “Oh, let’s just get to the story!”

Aspire grabbed the book off his desk and walked over to sit in front of Esalen and Sure Stroke with his back facing them, he slumped his shoulders as though to offer her a chance to peek over.

“It’s better with the pictures,” he explained. “Grab a hooffull of chocolate bites and settle in. This is the oldest bedtime story in all Respite.” Aspire turned the page to the inside cover and held it up so she could see the beautiful image of a shining, crystalline city and two groups standing outside the gates: one a crowd of ponies who sparkled and shone in the sun, the other with color as black as coal, twisted, cylindrical horns, holes in their legs, and pointed fangs poking down from behind their top lip.

His sky blue eyes met hers. “This is our story. It’s called the Legacy of Love.”

 

 

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