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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25. What Would a Doodle Do If Doodling Weren't All She Did?

Sure Stroke smiled as she shifted her sketchpad aside so Maple could slide a plate of warm cinnamon rolls in front of her. “Thanks, Maple,” she chirped.

The rusty maned changeling ducked his head, his wings buzzed merrily. “You’re welcome, Sure Stroke,” he replied softly, his voice as sweet as the dollop of maple syrup lingering on his chin. “Is there anything else you need?”

An answer to what Aspire wanted out of her drawing, maybe? Otherwise, no. Sure Stroke shook her head. Just before he could leave, though, she reached out and caught his shoulder. She bit back a giggle that threatened to bubble forth. “Um, Maple?” she began. “You’ve got a little something on your chin.”

His chitinous cheeks tinged a dark red. Maple gave a sheepish smile, then let his long tongue lash out to lap at the syrup running down his chin. He blinked, his cheeks tinged darker. “Sorry!” he said, bowing his head. “It’s a habit! I just like maple syrup so much, I can’t help it!”

A fit of giggles escaped before she could cover her mouth with a hoof. “It’s fine, Maple. I just didn’t want you to walk around with syrup running down your chin all day.”

Maple sucked in his lips and looked away, his smile seemed a bit strained. Almost as though he’d done exactly that before and hadn’t noticed.

I wonder how he figured it out, Sure Stroke thought, fighting the urge to break into full blown laughter. Did someone tell him or did he happen to lick his lips and taste dried syrup on his chitin? She watched the nervous changeling give a hasty bow before he scampered back to the kitchen, her thoughts turned to the names of Enchanters living in the village, along with Aspire’s “unnatural beauty” comment with regard to Vigil.

Maple was cute, in a sense. A bit chubby, but who was she to talk? There wasn’t anything wrong with a pony—or changeling—who liked food. If anything, it sort of added to the nervous nymph’s charm, along with his rust-red mane and orange eyes. Still, not really an unnatural beauty. If anything, the closest she’d seen to that description would have to be Queen Euphoria.

Truth be told, the Queen was definitely beautiful. Perhaps comparable even to Princess Celestia’s radiant splendor.

A mix of a changeling’s chitter and a mare’s giggling made her ear flick. Sure Stroke turned just in time to catch sight of Sweet Treat wrapping her peach coated hooves around Vigil’s shoulders, mindful of the edges in her forest green armor, and dotting a kiss on her lips. Vigil held her helmet in her left forehoof, her mane a soft yellow-brown like leaves in fall, a stark contrast to Maple’s. Sure Stroke couldn’t help but glance her over, mindful of Aspire’s words.

Long flowing mane, a silky smooth tail, and well-polished carapace that seemed to let light shine over her feminine form. By changeling standards—what Sure Stroke knew of them, anyway—she was probably somewhere in the “drop dead gorgeous” category, as some of her father’s younger teammates back in Cloudsdale might say about other mares when they thought Sure Stroke wasn’t paying attention.

She would probably have to confirm with Aspire, Vector, or Zephyr on the matter. Although, based on how Aspire and Esalen prodded her about which had the best polished carapace …

Shrugging, she took up her knife and fork. Food for thought. Right now, though, she had actual food to eat and a bit of her own stuff to take care of. Namely, her sketch. Sure Stroke glanced to her left at the sketchpad. She wasn’t quite as far along as she’d like to be, but she at least had the familiar outline of the fluffy cloud base. Still, at least she’d managed to figure out what she wanted to draw for Aspire’s picture. Now she just had to get moving on actually drawing it for him.

Hopefully, he would like it. Although, based on how he talked when he first asked for it, he’d like it if I drew the ice cream parlor dad always took me after school, or that pizza place on Cirrus Way. A small part of her, the mischievous side that was slowly, but surely being fed and strengthened with each passing day she spent time with her nymph friends, wanted to draw a second picture of just one of those places to see how he might react.

Probably not well. He helped her study and trades seemed to be a major part of how the village worked, so turning it into a joke might seem like a bit of a slap in the face.

And given how he reacted to being “challenged,” Sure Stroke was quite certain she didn’t want to see how changelings took to being offended.

Her eyes flitted up to the clock mounted on the wall. Sure Stroke let out a yelp when she noticed the time. How was it already seven-thirty? She could’ve sworn it was just seven a few short minutes ago! With a startled squeak, she snatched up her first cinnamon roll and began wolfing it down as fast as she could, cursing her absentmindedness with each bite she took.

Mister Abacus is going to have my wings mounted over his desk if I’m late!

In mere moments, the cinnamon rolls had disappeared into the young filly’s tummy. She swept her art supplies into her bag, calling a quick goodbye and thanks to Sweet Treat and Maple over her shoulder before dashing out the door in a flurry of feathers.

 

 

Sure Stroke decided it was a good thing she made it to class on time, with only seconds to spare. Scarfing down her breakfast hadn’t made the trip fun, but she managed to shoot through the door and find her way to her desk in the nick of time, safe from Mister Abacus’ ire.

Which, in turn, meant she got to watch a free show featuring Aspire and Esalen when they stumbled in a few minutes after, with sheepish smiles upon their muzzles as they panted and greeted him with a breathy “Good morning, Mister Abacus.”

Much to the amusement of the entire class.

“What was it this time?” Abacus had asked with a long-suffering sigh.

The twins gave matching grins, trying to feign their innocence before they even began their excuse. Sure Stroke had to stuff her hooves in her mouth to hold back a laugh when she caught how Aspire nudged Esalen as if to tell her it was her turn to provide an excuse.

It would be the chance she had to behold Esalen’s legendarily bad excuses. And it didn’t disappoint.

“Well, you see, Mister Abacus,” Esalen began, batting her eyelashes at the frowning stallion, “Aspire and I were on our way over here, just minding our own business—”

To her right, Vector gave a cough that sounded suspiciously like the word “Horseapples!” Sure Stroke flicked an ear toward him, her cheeks ached with barely restrained laughter.

“—And we ran into Ready Steady and the Wood brothers fixing their cart’s wheel.”

Sure Stroke let her wings droop. Was Esalen actually trying to—no! Oh. Oh, no. Essy, no. Bad. Don’t make a big story!

Unable to hear her frantic thoughts, Esalen continued on, “They were kinda having a problem because there was a tiiiiiiiiiny piece of rock jammed into the axle. They hadn’t noticed it at first and just thought the wheel was stuck, so they pulled harder and it ended up cracking the bolt.”

Sighing, Sure Stroke covered her eyes. There was no way Abacus would buy that. Not in a million years. Princess Celestia would come strolling in, without her crown, and dance a jig before he did.

Sure enough, the stallion just raised an eyebrow. “Go on,” he drawled, a rather telling note in his tone.

A note Aspire picked up on, judging by the way his ears twitched and smile faltered. He glanced between Esalen and Abacus, his ears slowly folded. “Uh, Essy?” he asked, speaking up for the first time since greeting their teacher.

Esalen waved him off, she was on a roll. “So, we stopped and offered a hoof. They weren’t sure at first, but Aspire pointed out that our hooves were small enough that we could probably reach in and get the piece out. Or, just use magic to pry it loose.”

Do not facehoof. Do not facehoof. Do. Not. Facehoof. Sure Stroke took a deep breath and closed her eyes, resigned to wait for the proverbial thunderhead to be kicked and a lightning bolt strike her friend in the head. Maybe then Esalen would realize it was time to pack it in and come clean.

Sadly, it just was not to be. Esalen had committed to her story and was seeing it through to the end. “So, Aspire and I decided it would be a good idea to help them out, even though it made us a little late for class today.” She gave a bright smile, her eyes seemed to shine with innocence.

Abacus stared at her for a moment, then turned his attention to Aspire, who gave a rather strained grin when he noticed it was his turn in the hot seat. The stallion sighed and shook his head. “So, if I were to go out right now, find the Wood brothers, and ask them about their cart, they would tell me the exact same story? Word for word?”

Aspire’s smile tightened. “Y-Yeah!” he stammered. “Sure. ‘Course they will. Because that is what happened.”

“Uh huh.” Abacus’ horn glowed. In a flash, his ruler leapt off his desk and flew over, whapping both nymphs twice between their ears. The pair yelped and clapped their hooves over their heads, their smiles faded away to pained cringes beneath his stern gaze. “You two can stay after school today,” he said. “If you’ve not done your algebra homework right, you might just be staying with me for your free period as well.”

The twins let out dismayed chitters, then bolted for their seats on Sure Stroke’s left side, ducking their heads and flattening their ears to block out their classmates’ giggling.

Shaking his head, Abacus turned to the rest of the class. “Everyone take out your homework from over the weekend and let’s check it together. I’ll take the number you got right once we’ve gone over the answers and corrections.”

For a split second, Aspire’s eyes met Sure Stroke’s. The tiniest of pouts graced his muzzle when he caught the grin creeping across her own.

Sure Stroke simply shrugged and gave in, allowing the grin to show plainly. “What do you want me to do?” she whispered.

“Not laugh!” he hissed back, despite the smile tugging at his lips. He slid into his desk chair and pulled a face at her. “Doodle.”

Her grin fell. Sniffing, Sure Stroke turned away from him and pulled out her math homework. “Smugling,” she shot back playfully.

She heard him chuckle, then felt his breath tickle her ear when he leaned in to whisper, “The smugling, Doodle. I am the smugling.”

No truer words had ever been spoken, as far as Sure Stroke was concerned.

Then, Abacus stole the good mood away from the class with a single announcement, “After we’ve finished, we have a quiz to see how you’re all coming along with distributing and order of operations.”

Perhaps there was one truer phrase after all: I really don’t like algebra …

 

 

The tiniest of frowns marred Sure Stroke’s muzzle as she sat beneath the shade of her favorite tree while the other foals and nymphs gathered together at the center of the field and worked out what to play. She glanced at her quiz, wrinkling her snout at the six out of ten written in ink and signed off by Abacus. Not quite as bad as she had been doing on her own, but not good either.

Still, Aspire’s help had gotten her a bit of a boost. It would come in time, just like flying against a headwind. Eventually, she’d be able to make her way through and get to her destination.

Shrugging, she pulled out her sketchpad and opted to work on her drawing instead. There was no point dwelling on the quiz now that she’d taken it. Aspire would help tutor her, and her grades would improve. She just had to keep at it. Of course, that meant she owed a certain smug nymph his drawing, and, by Celestia’s immaculate wings, he would have it.

After all, it was only fair that her part of the trade be a product of her best effort.

Her hoof moved the pencil with expert ease, tracing the outline of the clouds to make them a little bit thicker, adding a bit of soft fluff to them. Cloudsdale’s clouds were the top of the line, especially those that made up the city itself. Emphasizing its fluff, every little puff, was key to making sure he could look at her sketch and truly believe he was seeing it through her very eyes as she walked down the street.

It was the perfect scene; she knew that road like the back or her hoof, or the feathers on her wings.

Aspire would love it. Maybe. Hopefully.

Sure Stroke shook her head to dash those thoughts so she could focus her efforts on finishing up her clouds. Once she had the outline done, she could move on to a little bit of shading to give it that realistic shadow so it looked like they were ready to float off the page.

Maybe next time he’d like to see how the Cloudsdale Weather Team rolled out the big storms over the western plains, or how they pushed spring showers south toward the smaller farming towns, or pulling big shipments along to Equestria’s biggest cities.

A cough made her flick an ear. Sure Stroke looked up, confused, to find herself met with the familiar frown and haughty look of her fellow classmate, Prim ’n Proper. She felt her smile falter, but fought to maintain it. Toola’s scolding at the party still held in her memory.

Maybe I could start fresh with her, Sure Stroke thought, perking up her ears. If she could weather the storm with Aspire’s trickery, changelings feeding on love, and experiencing his charm, she could handle one huffy little filly. “Hello, Prim,” she said, giving her brightest smile. “What’s going on?”

Prim didn’t return her smile. She simply sniffed and arched her brow. “I see you’re back to being antisocial,” she said with a note of scorn in her voice. Her auburn tail flicked as though she were swatting a persistent fly.

Sure Stroke blinked, her ears drooped. Or not. “I’m not being antisocial,” she shot back. “I’m drawing. It’s something I quite enjoy doing. I was social at the party, I’ve played with everyone at recess, and I’ve even gone over to Aspire and Esalen’s house for dinner and a sleepover.” Before the filly could counter, she added, “And Aspire’s helped me with algebra twice now, so I’ve been making friends, thank you very much.”

“I see.” A frown spread across Prim’s muzzle. “Did you repay him, then?”

“Well, not yet, but—”

“Why am I not surprised?” Prim cut her off. She rolled her eyes and turned away, her snout in the air. “First you don’t even try to hide how repulsed you were by half of the village, then you hide yourself away from everyone and avoid us at recess, and now you’re going against one of the most important tenets of the village itself: fair, equivalent trade.”

Aghast, Sure Stroke unfurled her wings. “I’m not hiding out here now!”

“And yet you can’t refute my last point.” Prim scoffed and shook her head. “I could understand a bit of outsider’s anxiety when you first came to school, but this is beyond rude.” She made as though to flounce off, but paused just long enough to cast one last baleful look over her shoulder. “If I were you, I’d hurry up and figure out what to pay him. Aspire is a troublesome, smug little nuisance, but he’s sweet. And so is Esalen. Dragging your hooves because you’re finicky is only going to hurt their feelings—think about that.”

As Prim began to trot away, her piece said, Sure Stroke closed her eyes and took a deep breath through her nose. She counted backward from ten, trying to keep a lid on her temper.

Of course she had tried to pay Aspire for his services. She offered love in exchange but he said no. Instead, he wanted a drawing, a bit of her own talent in exchange for his love for teaching. It wasn’t her fault that meant she couldn’t pull a picture out of thin air—he actually had to make it herself!

Deep breaths, she told herself, slowly working to fold her wings against her sides. Don’t yell, don’t snap. Just breathe deep and let it go. After a few iterations, Sure Stroke was able to open her eyes and focus on her drawing again. The fluffy clouds she once called home served to soothe her temper.

Little by little, Sure Stroke’s smile returned. If Prim ’n Proper wanted to be a stuck up, judgmental little thing, she could get hit in the rump by a lightning bolt.

A certain smugling is waiting on artwork. And I’m just the Doodle to deliver it.

Sure Stroke blinked. She blanched and shook her head so hard her ponytail whipped back and forth. “I am never calling myself that stupid name again!” Huffing, she ignored Aspire’s familiar chittering laugh echoing in her ears and took her pencil in hoof. Her tongue poked out between her teeth as she worked to shade in the clouds.

If Aspire could put his best effort into helping her, then he would get the most eye-opening picture of Cloudsdale anyone had ever seen.

 

 

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