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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33. The Visitor

Her peach coated hooves worked in a steady motion along Toola’s thigh. Esalen hummed a little tune to herself as she worked, glancing at her massage book out of the corner of her eye.

After they’d finished with Aspire’s math tutoring—which they all grumbled at more out of a sense of habit than any real irritation, lest the bookbug think they were beginning to enjoy the horrors of algebra—the foals and disguised nymphs got up to stretch their legs and work out the stiffness they’d built up over the first hour of their trip.

So when Toola’s left hind leg nearly buckled and sent her toppling straight into Nimble, the playful banter that made up their usual conversation ground to a halt.

The gymnast clenched her eyes shut and hissed as Esalen touched her thigh. “It feels like it’s pulling against how I want to move,” she said, a whimper crept into her tone. “Like I’m trying to trot but my leg is stuck in the mess on Nimble’s side of the room.”

Nimble gave a halfhearted smile. “Excuse me? My side is nice and neat and orderly. You’re the messy one, giggle box!”

Esalen stole a quick look at her disguised friend. Where Nimble would have normally prodded one of Toola’s many tickle spots for the slight, she made no such move. Instead, she bit her lip and kept her eyes trained on Toola. Every so often, her gaze would flit between her pained sister’s face and Esalen’s hooves. Her tail flicked irritably.

One of those closest to her was in pain, and her instincts demanded she protect her sister, her hive. Tickling, however fun, wouldn’t fix Toola’s muscle, and massage therapy wasn’t one of her talents.

With that in mind, Esalen didn’t mind a little extra scrutiny. Annoying though Aspire was, she would hover over anyone treating him for injury, ready to sink in her fangs the second she saw or tasted any hint of ill-will. The same went for Sure Stroke.

Humming under her breath, Esalen turned her attention to her book again and gave herself a mental pat between the wings for bringing it along—er, the wings she didn’t have at present time. Here’s to idle reading for Trade Day decision purposes! She skimmed through the page, her eyes drawn to the section on thigh strains and their symptoms.

 

Symptoms of a thigh strain are known to include:

 

Pain during activities that engage the affected thigh muscle (walking, running, climbing stairs, sit-to-stand, bucking, etc).Swelling, brushing, or tenderness.Audible “pop” or snapping sensation at the time of injury, which may indicate a major tear or rupture“Pulling pain” or a tugging sensation with stretching of the affected muscle (extending hoof out for bucking).

 

“Aha!” Esalen’s ears perked up. “You’ve strained a muscle, Toola.”

Toola let out a short breath in disbelief, then rolled on her uninjured side to fix Esalen with an incredulous look. “How in love would I strain a muscle? I can do full splits like they’re nothing!”

“Flexibility doesn’t mean you’re immune, giggle box. It just means you can stretch farther and aren’t as susceptible to straining a muscle as other ponies. Not that you’re unbreakable.”

“You know how to make the pain go away, right?” Nimble asked testily, a hint of uncertainty crept into her tone.

“I can ease it,” Esalen corrected, “but making it go away is on her not doing any gymnastics for a little while.” Pausing a moment in thought, she turned to Toola and added, “You probably shouldn’t run around at the island, either.”

“Aw, sugarcubes!” Toola flopped down on the seat with a huff and a rather adorable pout.

Esalen shared a strained smile with Nimble, who shook her head and chuckled. She pressed down on Toola’s thigh and pushed toward the filly’s flank, drawing a sharp hiss. “It’s going to hurt at first,” she said before Nimble could start. “I have to work it out a little bit, and compression is the way. If we were in the village, I’d say use …” trailing off, she stole a quick look about the car. No ponies had come in, but that didn’t mean it was safe. “The usual stuff.”

From her seat by Aspire, Sure Stroke piped in, “You mean the sl—”

Quick as a cat, Aspire covered her mouth. The village foals and disguised nymphs held their breaths, their eyes darted about the compartment as if they expected a pony to leap out from behind the seats. There were none.

“Yes, Doodle,” Aspire ground out through clenched teeth in a very forced smile. “That. The secret village medicinal recipe that is a big part of our culture and considered very secret. That usual stuff.”

The filly blinked, her big purple eyes shone with confusion and innocence. Then it hit her like a lightning bolt. “Oh. Oh!” Her cheeks flushed a deep red. She ducked her head and brought her wings up to cover her face. “Sorry!” she squeaked.

Esalen let out a deep breath, then waved her off. “It’s fine. Just be careful outside of the village. We’re really … not seen well by some ponies.” Her ears drooped. She forced herself to fix her gaze on Toola’s aching thigh as she rolled her hoof like she was kneading dough. “Like you when you first came.”

As soon as the words left her mouth, Esalen had to bite back a curse. The telltale taste of hurt and guilt made her cringe, a look at Sure Stroke’s face confirmed what her empathy already knew.

Aspire fixed her with a stern glare from across the compartment. He folded his hooves, a scowl crossed his muzzle as his eyes glowed green. The familiar sting of anger mixed with cold, rotting disappointment made Esalen gag. A silent demand for an apology was held in that glare.

Ducking her head, Esalen mumbled, “Sorry, Sure Stroke. I wasn’t trying to be mean.”

To Sure Stroke’s credit, she didn’t mope. She gave a small smile in reply. “It’s okay,” she said softly. “I know what you meant.”

An awkward silence hung over the five friends, broken only by the occasional wince from Toola when Esalen put more pressure into her ministrations.

Aspire coughed. “So,” he began, reaching into his bag and pulling out Esalen’s copy of Legacy of Love, “how’s about we move on with this?

Four sets of ears perked up, though none could match the zesty, almost citrus like excitement from Sure Stroke. She whirled around and stood nose-to-nose with Aspire, her grin a contrast to how his eyes went wide as dinner plate when he realized how close they were. “Yes!” she cheered, fluffing her feathers.

The disguised nymphs perked their ears. Esalen couldn’t help but slowly lick her lips as she convinced herself to keep working on Toola rather than sweep Sure Stroke up and sip at all the joy and love that rolled off her in waves. A quick look at Nimble, namely the way she licked her lips thrice in rapid succession, confirmed she wasn’t alone.

Although she couldn’t see his mouth, the way Aspire’s red eyes widened and fixed on the filly left no doubt he’d gotten a taste as well. And he wanted a nice, big drink.

He shook his head a couple times, then gave a coy smile and pretended to pull the book away from Sure Stroke. “You weren’t this excited when I was working with you all on algebra,” he said. “I’m hurt, Doodle.”

“That’s different and you know it!” Sure Stroke replied with a stomp of her hoof.

“But I’m hurt you don’t like my lessons, Doodle. In fact, I’m so hurt, I think I want my end of the bargain while I read.”

Scoffing, she sat down beside him and fished her sketchpad out of her messenger bag. “You could’ve just asked.”

“Yes, but this was more fun. So get doodling, Doodle.” With a smug smirk and waggle of his ears, he ducked a swipe of Sure Stroke’s wing, then settled in, ready to read. “Where did we leave off last time? Did the Queen make it to the city or am I not there yet?”

“She’d just spoken with Prince Snowshine,” Toola replied, her voice low. She let out a contented hum as Esalen rolled her hooves up her thigh. “Oooooooh! Right there, Essy! Please don’t stop!”

Chuckling, Esalen shot Nimble a look, and received a sheepish grin in reply. One point for me! Massage therapy works! She eased up on the pressure as she trailed her hooves down toward the back of Toola’s knee, then pressed down and began rolling little divots. The change in technique drove Toola to nose into the cushion and to pin her ears back as she let out a sigh. “I won’t,” Esalen said. “Just stay still.” Then, turning to Aspire, she nodded. “The late night visit is next.”

“Ah, right.” Aspire flipped to the first page of the next chapter. Esalen knew from memory that a picture of the Ancient Queen laying in bed, her eyes downcast in thought, and the shadowy form of another pony standing in the doorway was staring back at him. “Okay, so, when we last left off, Prince Snowshine had left the Queen alone in her infirmary bed while he went to speak with his sister …”

Esalen closed her eyes and let Aspire’s voice lead her mind to wander away from the chugging train to the far reaches of the Frozen North, all the way back to a time where the Sainted Ones’ shining cities stood tall, glimmering in the sun and enduring the relentless winter storms until spring chased them away.

 

The Ancient Queen had seen many sorts of magic during her reign, but none such as the protection that blanketed the Crystal Empire’s capital city. There was little doubt in her mind that any of the pony cities or towns to the south, the old homeland where her kind once ran free and reigned over their prey from the shadows, would have not even a prayer of surviving such a storm as the one that raged over the Northern Lands.

 

Yet the shining city stood tall, untouched by even a single flake of snow. From the high tower, she could see her savior’s kin trotting along as they went about their day. The tiny, sparkling forms of crystalline foals darted between their glimmering parent’s legs. If she craned her ears, she could hear their laughter floating up to greet her.

It was as if they didn’t have a care in the world. For all intents and purposes, the crystal ponies might as well just look at one another and say “what storm?” should she get the chance to ask. They were protected by magic more powerful than she’d ever imagined.

The familiar burn of jealousy and greed crept into her chest. While these ponies milled about, happy as could be in their warm, safe city, her race shivered in the cold and starved while waiting for their beloved Queen to return from her ill-fated mission.

The wheels began to turn in her head. Such power and protective magic was far greater than any the ponies to the south possessed, it could suit the changelings’ needs perfectly. If they could take control of the Crystal Empire, subjugate and feed upon its population, and somehow learn the secrets of their protective spell, they could figure out a way to counter the unicorns’ unmasking spells. Or, better yet, they could use the crystal ponies to that end.

She frowned, turning away from the window. “That sort of thinking led to our ruin in the south,” the Ancient Queen muttered under her breath. “My hive is without a home, our nymphs and hatchlings grow weaker by the day without food, all because we only understood how to take from them.” In the back of her mind, a nagging little voice reminded her of those who tried to be honest with the ponies. A scowl crossed her muzzle. “Not that they gave us any choice.”

“And why is that?” a mare’s voice called from the doorway.

The Ancient Queen leapt from her bed, baring her fangs at the intruder. “Who are you?”

A crystalline mare with soft pink body and long, flowing blond mane that shimmered in the light stood before her with a serene smile, amusement danced in her deep purple eyes. She didn’t flinch, not even as the Ancient Queen hissed and made her eyes glow. Instead, she simply stepped inside and closed the door behind her with a flash of pink magic. “I would hope a friend,” the mare began, “but that is entirely up to you. Please, don’t get up on my account. You need rest.”

“Lay down?” the Ancient Queen repeated mockingly. “And leave myself open to your magic? I think not, little eavesdropper.”

The mare stopped on the other side of her bed. Her smile didn’t falter a fraction as she inclined her head to meet the Ancient Queen’s glowing eyes. She cocked her head to one side. “If I wished you any harm, why would I announce my presence at all? Why not wait until you fell asleep again? Or, rather simply, why not just ask one of the healers to garnish your next meal with a touch of aconite?”

The Ancient Queen’s snarl faltered, she let the glow in her eyes flicker out as her blood ran cold. This little mare before her wasn’t like one of the quivering wrecks she’d threatened or charmed before. She was like a mix of Princess Platinum and Commander Hurricane in one package: sweet and courtly, but with an underlying danger like that of the raging storm.

“I assume,” the mare began again, her eyes twinkling, “based on your reaction, that aconite is just as poisonous to your kind as it is mine, yes?”

Hissing, the Ancient Queen narrowed her eyes. “What do you want?”

“To talk. I didn’t mean to listen in on your musings, O Queen of the changelings. I simply wished to check on your health.”

“On your Princess Amortia’s orders, I presume?”

The mare’s smile widened a touch, sending a shiver down the Ancient Queen’s spine. “She has expressed an interest in you,” she said. “But I’m here because I’m curious.”

“Curiosity? I see. Come to stare at the frightening Queen of the Tricksters?” The Ancient Queen placed her hooves on the bed and grinned, baring her fangs and pointed teeth. “Am I what you expected from the stories?”

Again, the mare simply tilted her head. “I meant Prince Snowshine’s story,” she replied. “He spoke of the danger your kind found themselves in, and your fear that they would meet their end in the blizzard.”

The Ancient Queen let her grin fall. Gritting her teeth, she took a deep breath, then forced the smile back into place. “Their wellbeing is the reason your merciful prince found me in the snow.”

“You must love them very much to risk yourself. I’ve seen griffons and yaks and hosts of other creatures whose rulers would sooner send out messengers than risk their own wellbeing.”

“They know nothing of love!” the Ancient Queen scoffed, giving a dismissive flick of her tail. “A ruler should be ready to make sacrifices to ensure her subjects’ future. It was my line’s folly which doomed us in the south, therefore, the burden fell upon my shoulders.”

“That’s an interesting thing to say.” The mare reared up and placed her hooves on the bed, just as the Ancient Queen had. Her smile fell, a contemplative look formed in its place. “Curious that one whose race feeds upon love should claim that others don’t understand it. Some claimed your kind didn’t have any in your hearts, thus why you feed on it.”

“Rumors, slander, and hearsay conjured by silly fools looking to make us little more than monsters.” Holding her head high, the Ancient Queen allowed herself a smirk. “We alone can taste your emotions. The sweetness of love, the cake batter fluff of happiness, the rotten slime of sadness, all of it. And let none doubt the love our mates share, or the passion in their embrace as they cocoon together and rear their hatchlings.”

The mare’s ears twitched. “I merely mentioned that I’d heard claims, not that they were my own. Now, tasting emotions?” she repeated. Her eyes shone with an almost predatory focus, reminiscent of a changeling learning their mark’s traits. “That is interesting.” Slowly, a coy smile crossed her muzzle. “What do I taste like, then?”

The Ancient Queen could only stare in disbelief. A pony who wanted to have their emotions tasted? Who was this mare?

Her own curiosity piqued, she slowly opened her mouth and let her long, forked  tongue loll out, drawing the mare’s attention. She waggled it through the air, savoring the emotions rolling off the pony. Happiness as fluffy and light as cake batter, the zesty spice of interest for flavor, and—

She staggered and fell back on her haunches, her chest heaved. Bringing a shaking hoof to her chest, she looked up at the mare in awe. She could feel her fangs beginning to lengthen, her cheeks hollowing out, and her eyes taking on a hungry glow. “Y-You,” she stammered.

The mare let out a gasp, rounding the bed as fast as her hooves could take her until she was at the downed queen’s side. “Are you ill?” she asked, all trace of playfulness gone. “Your eyes—”

“So … much … love!” The Ancient Queen cut her off. Gasping for breath, she stood on shaking legs. Every fiver of her being demanded that she feed, that she pounce this foolish mare who came to her in the night and drink all her precious love. But Prince Snowshine’s face came to mind. His hospitality saved her, and gave her race a chance. She would behave in hope that his sister extended the same kindness.

Licking her lips, she stepped back. Her eyes never once left the mare. “What are you? I’ve never tasted so much love without feeding upon several charmed lovers at once!”

“I am a crystal pony,” the mare replied simply. “We are the ponies who love and gain strength through that we share for one another.” She stepped closer, gesturing toward the bed. “Please, rest. You need your strength. You look terrible.”

“I hunger for love, little mare. I need to feed soon, or I wager I shall fade.”

“You will rest.” The mare’s horn flashed. Without warning, the Ancient Queen found herself tucked in bed, blinking up at the ceiling. Then, the mare approached the bed. She reared up and laid across the larger changeling’s chest, wrapping her in a warm embrace. “And you will feed.”

“Upon you?”

“Yes.”

“With permission?”

“Yes.”

The Ancient Queen pushed the mare away so she could fix her with a quizzical stare, a stark contrast to her watering mouth and growling stomach. “You are a strange pony. What is stopping me from drinking every drop of your love? As rich and powerful as it is, I would be mightier than ever before.”

“We are protected,” the mare replied. “But I don’t think I’ll need it. You are Prince Snowshine’s guest, and you are hungry. Feed.”

Such a simple statement, as if it were nothing. The Ancient Queen could hardly ignore her own hunger, but she would have to take care lest she offend her hosts. Still, the mare would find herself robbed of strength for quite some time. The first feeding was always the worst. Very well. I will feed, and she will learn. Wrapping her chitinous hooves around the mare, she drew in close until their lips almost touched. Then, she inhaled deeply.

The rich taste of love made her feel more alive than ever before. Her eyes shot open, she could feel her strength return in full. Her hunger sated though she had only fed for but a few seconds! She cut the connection, licking her lips to savor the taste. Panting for breath, she tried to speak, but her words came out in a drunken jumble.

The mare beamed. “I’ll leave you to rest, dear,” she said as though she was talking about the weather. Dotting the Ancient Queen’s nose with a kiss, she pulled away and trotted for the door. She paused a moment, then looked back. The coy smirk returned to her lips as her horn lit up again, pulling the door open. Then, there was a flash of pink.

The air above her head rippled. Then, a gleaming crystal tiara faded into view. With a bow, Princess Amortia said, “Sleep well, O Queen of the changelings. I look forward to seeing you in my court tomorrow morning.”

She left without a backward look, leaving the stunned queen to lay in bed and think of their conversation.

 

“… And that,” Aspire said as he closed the book, “is the end of the chapter.”

“Wait, but … what?

Esalen opened her eyes, grinning as she turned to take stock of Sure Stroke. The filly sat still, frozen in the middle of a bit of shading with her mouth hanging open. A flick of Esalen’s tongue gave her a taste of surprise and utter shock, a little bit of spice in the flavor.

I love being there when new ponies hear that part.

Sure Stroke blinked a few times, then continued, “Princess Amortia fed her just like that?”

Aspire shrugged and slipped the book back into his saddlebag. “That’s how the story’s always been told. She was the first to offer love willingly, though technically second if you count Prince Snowshine saving the Ancient Queen.” He smirked. “How’d you like her little trick?”

“I don’t even know—okay, I have to ask.” Sure Stroke set her pencil down and looked at each of her friends in turn. “Why would she do that? She made it perfectly clear that she held the upper hoof the entire time, with her ‘what ifs.’”

Toola sat up and stretched, and let out a contented hum. “It’s a bit of a spoiler for next chapter, but also some speculation,” she said as she shifted around to face Sure Stroke. “But think of it this way: the changelings were known for being even more tricky and subversive back then, and you’ve heard some of that in your stories, right?” At Sure Stroke’s nod, she continued, “We’ve heard probably twice as many as you, and they show a hint of the arrogance the Ancient Queen refers to. The changelings thought themselves invincible. Ponies were little more than food sources or toys for their amusement. Tricking ponies was fun because of how foolish they felt their prey, but when the ponies started to figure it out and banded together to push them away, it came as a big surprise. But then, just think for a second, if a pony were to put a changeling in their place and trick them, how unsettling would that be for a race so used to stacking the deck in their favor?”

“Especially for the ruler of a place like the Crystal Empire,” Esalen added. “The Sainted Ones had their own paradise made and ready, each of them full of enough love to satisfy a changeling for weeks, and the race for generations. Princess Amortia was kind and merciful, just like her brother, but neither of them were stupid. At the risk of spoiling the rest for you, they knew they had to make a statement to show that they weren’t going to be pushed around just because they offered her help. And that threw her off.”

Nodding along, Aspire raised a hoof. “In short, Princess Amortia pulled a changeling trick on the ruler of all changelings—the Ancient Queen knew she’d just been had, and that she couldn’t do anything about it.”

Sure Stroke brought a hoof to her mouth, her brows furrowed in thought. The spice of interest grew more potent, Esalen could practically taste her want to let fire with a score of questions all at once. Her soft purple ears stood up straight, twitching in delight even as her feathers fluffed and tail gave a merry swish.

How funny that a pony who so hated math like Sure Stroke loved to learn about changeling culture and history. Maybe there was something to that “living with changelings” book idea.

The train slowed, a long whistle filled the air. Nimble peeked out the window, her ears perked up and tail wagged like an excited puppy. “We’re pulling into the station!” she said, her voice thick with unrestrained excitement.

The foals and disguised nymphs all but leapt out of their seats, though Toola took it a bit slower as ordered. Aspire’s horn lit green, he pushed the window open so they could each stick their head out the window and behold the city.

Awe, excitement, utter giddiness danced on Esalen’s tongue. Her friends and brother jostled and rubbed shoulders as they each tried to get the best view. She too felt herself bouncing on her hind hooves as the tall skyscrapers seemed to grow with every chug of the train’s engine, as though she were watching the flowers bloom in Ladybug and Mantis’ garden in real time.

As the train pulled into the station, she heard her mother call out, “Pull your silly little heads back inside and get your bags. Hab will be waiting for us on the platform and we don’t want to get caught in the Manehattan Station crowd.”

With a chorus of surprised squeaks, they withdrew their head. Esalen hastened to pack away her massage book and pick up her saddlebags as Aspire shut the window behind them. Each of them stood in an orderly line before the adults, their bags settled across their back or shoulders, ready to depart.

A look out the window showed a crowd of ponies milling about on the platform. Some with suitcases held in their magic or across their back as they waited to board their train, others sharing hugs and giving loved one kisses goodbye. Even with the doors closed, Esalen could feel the love in the air.

She licked her lips. Just trotting by and taking a sip from a couple families would keep her going for the rest of the day. A quick look to her fellow changelings and nymphs confirmed their silent agreement. They wouldn’t feed freely, but a few sips of love to snack on would be alright. Certainly, they wouldn’t know, but as long as they didn’t drain their unwitting donors, Queen Euphoria wouldn’t be angry. The rules, after all, were different outside the village.

Sometimes, a little love had to be siphoned in order to maintain their disguises. Not ideal, but necessary.

Not to mention, it would be better than five changelings feeding on four ponies when all nine of them were supposed to have fun.

Putting that aside for a moment, she searched for a glimpse of Haberdasher and Bright Sky. Sure enough, the pair stood at the front of the crowd—Haberdasher with his black top hat, and Bright Sky wearing a blue bonnet that matched her namesake.

The moment the conductor pulled the door open, Aspire and Esalen led a mad dash off the train and onto the platform, and promptly latched onto either of Haberdasher’s forelegs.

Haberdasher stumbled a couple steps, laughing as his hat slipped and settled at a crooked angle on his head. “Well, somepony is happy to see me—two someponies.” With a wide grin, he looked up at Faith and Warm Welcome, then nodded to the foals attached to his legs. “Sir, madam, I believe I’ve found something that belongs to you.”

Warm Welcome threw back his head and laughed. “You touched them last, you’re stuck with them!”

“Hey! It doesn’t work that way!”

“It does now! And no take backs!”

Dutifully, Aspire and Esalen fixed scowls of mock indignation on their muzzles as their friends and Bright Sky shared a laugh at their expense.

Faith, on the other hoof, rolled her eyes and gave Warm Welcome a hip bump that sent him staggering a step. “You’re a comedian, dearest,” she drawled. Turning to Haberdasher and Bright Sky, she smiled and hugged them both. “Thank you for inviting us.”

“The pleasure is ours,” Bright Sky replied as she gave Faith a squeeze. “Hab wanted to have a little fun before we visited his parents, and we wanted to repay you for hosting us in Respite.”

Raising a brow, Faith fixed Haberdasher with a look. Esalen flicked out her tongue, her eyes crossed at the taste of nerves and sheepishness.

Haberdasher glanced away. “Dad wants to meet up,” he mumbled. “First time in years he’s written and asked to see me without it being part of some fight. Wants me to come by for mom’s birthday, and wanted to meet Bright, so he’s gonna have lunch with us. I figured we’d come early and have fun before I made her sit through that mess.”

Esalen winced and sent Aspire a questioning frown. He nodded once, then released Haberdasher’s leg, prompting her to do the same. They both fell back into line with their friends, feigning polite disinterest.

It was no secret that Haberdasher’s relationship with his family was on shaky ground. He confided that much in Faith shortly after leaving Fillydelphia in a towering rage to open his own business in Manehattan all those years ago. With a brief pitstop in Respite, of course.

Faith smiled. “Well, it’s good that he at least tried to extend an olive branch. But this is probably something better suited for private conversation.”

“Agreed.” Haberdasher gave a nervous chuckle, his gaze flitted to Drizzly and Skydancer. “I, er, hope you don’t mind me venting a little.”

With a halfhearted shrug, Drizzly replied in his low rumble, “If I can complain about our family in front of those little troublemakers—” he nodded to Aspire and Esalen “—I’m sure Sky and I will understand.”

“Much appreciated. Now, like Faithy said, let’s get off this platform and get you all settled in the rooms.” Haberdasher smiled and fixed his hat with an idle flick of his magic. “Then we can see about rustling up a little food.”

The group perked up like he’d cast a spell on them. “Now that,” Nimble said, speaking up for the first time since they’d stepped off the train, “I can definitely get behind.”

“Seconded!” Toola chirped. “I’ve missed Manehattan pizza, and I can feel the cravings coming back!”

“Ah! I forgot you were a fellow Manehatter!” Haberdasher swept her up in a one-legged hug. “Pizza it is! I know just the place!”

If Esalen still had wings, she would’ve buzzed them and hovered around the group. Pizza might not be love, but, having visited before, Esalen knew it was perhaps the one thing that came close aside from her Grandma Cloudfluff’s pancake recipe. Siphoning love would just have to wait until later. That way, there would be plenty of room in her belly for a piece of Manehattan fare she only got to sample once a year.

This is going to be a great trip—I can already feel it!

 

 

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