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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5. Where There's a Will, There's a Changeling

Esalen galloped alongside her fellow nymphs, racing back to their classroom. Being excused for tardiness once this week was a small blessing, betting on a second time was definitely pressing her luck. Especially when Mister Façade knew they were all out on the recess field a short while ago.

Changeling lessons were quite a bit different from those of the other pony races in Respite. Certainly, they learned how to wield their magic and fly, but they also practiced to perfect their transformations.

Every nymph was born with the innate ability to shape shift into whatever they could see or call forth from memory—but the ability to shift had to be refined in order to get the perfect imitations down so they could travel outside their cozy forest without being seen.

Today’s lesson, though, felt a bit more important than the others.

Sixth year lessons meant all the little details that went into a good disguise would be examined—everything from how they could get the right colors to how well they could copy the style and feel of a pony’s mane.

Mister Façade, Sweet Treat, and a unicorn guard named Stardust awaited the students, standing with bright smiles on their muzzles as the nymphs bounded in from recess, with only a few seconds to spare.

“Good afternoon class,” he greeted.

“Good afternoon, Mister Façade!” They chimed back in unison.

“Ah, nice to see that you’re all ready to start! Though—“ he smirked and raised a brow at the patches of dirt and grass stains on their legs “—a bit rough around the edges. So, what was it this time?”

Giggling with one another, the nine nymphs of their class shared grins. Out of the corner of her eye, Esalen caught Zephyr nudging her brother forward with a bump of his flank.

Aspire fixed the rest of the class with a rather pathetic glare before turning to address Mister Façade. “We were playing soccer, sir. It got a little rough toward the end—had to score the last goal and all…”

“Ah, soccer. Brings back memories…” a wistful smile crossed his muzzle, sunlight gleamed off his  fangs. Façade shook himself from his reverie, the sunlight glinted off his short, silver mane as he chuckled to himself. “But that’s for another day. Time to work on our shape shifting, my little nymphs! Today, Missus Sweet Treat and Mister Stardust have joined us to act as your templates—thank you both!”

“Anytime, sir,” Stardust replied, stepping forward and bringing up his midnight blue hoof in a salute. “Can’t let our little ones out into the world without knowing how to look out for themselves!”

Sweet Treat gave a hearty wave. “Hear, hear! Especially not the little ones I’ve watched grow up as they scampered in and out of my shop!”

Mister Façade chuckled. “Yes, yes, thank you both. Today, we’re going to practice with our templates for each pony race. Once Mister Tailwind comes over—ah, there you are!” He grinned as the young village guard bounded around corner, his hooves slipping and scraping against the wooden floor as he dashed into the room like sky blue blur. “Did you forget again?”

Tailwind shook his head, gasping heavily for breath. “Lost… whoo! Track of time helping Fleetwing… sorry ‘bout that, everyone!”

A few giggles, a couple of the nymphs cat-called and turned their gazes to the desk, asking in mock confusion “What’s the time, Mister Façade”. They quickly leapt out of Tailwind’s reach before he could sweep them up in one of his infamous headlock-noogie combos—an assault none could escape without their mane being ruffled and puffed like a great big cotton swab.

“Settle down, you lot! And you too, Tailwind—I have enough little ones to look after as is!” Mister Façade’s grin faded. “Now, let’s line up in three lines, please. One in front of each of our volunteers—Nimble, for love’s sake! You can practice your hoofstands with Toola after class! Line up in front of Miss Sweet, please!”

With a matching roll of their eyes, Aspire and Esalen slipped into line with a thoroughly amused Nimble Hooves, waiting their turn to practice transforming into the plump earth pony mare before them. Might as well get the more difficult one out of the way first.

Hiding horns and wings was rather tricky—both in terms of physically melding them into smooth coat and remembering not to try flying or casting a spell in that form.

Rarely did a changeling venture from Respite in earth pony form, if only so they could avoid odd questions when they had no choice but to use one of the two.

Still, a useful skill. Any disguise was a good one if it meant keeping them hidden from the other big hives, or ponies who weren’t keen to welcome a changeling into their midst.

Ahead of them, Nimble was engulfed in green fire. In the blink of an eye, a small, peach-coated filly with sugar pink mane, and bright blue eyes stood in her place. “Tada!” she said, throwing her hooves out wide like she’d just done a dance routine.

“Not bad,” Sweet Treat said with a smile as she glanced over her double. “But, you forgot a little something dear—“ she sat back on her haunches and patted her plump belly “—I’m a baker at heart, and I tend to snack every now and then while I work. Good rule to follow if you’re gonna play the part: never trust a skinny cook. Usually, it means we’re not that good at our job!”

The faux Sweet Treat smiled sheepishly and took a deep breath, her belly began to fill out, leaving a chubby, filly-sized version of the mare in place. “Better?”

“Getting there, dear! Just a little practice and you’ll have me down pat! Get too good, and Vigil just might come give you all the hugs she’s supposed to give me!”

Another flash of green fire, and Nimble Hooves was back in her natural form, stifling a few giggles with a hoof. She trotted to the back of the line, eager to try a second time.

Aspire was next. He marched up, a confident swagger in his step, and a little flick of his short, shaggy tail. He’d nail it, as usual. Little details were always his thing.

Taking a deep breath in through his nose, he started. Green fire ran up his legs, swirling around his body until he was completely obscured.

In a flash, an almost perfect doppelgänger stood before Sweet Treat. The miniature gave a bright smile, a perfect imitation of how she greeted patrons to her shop and chirped, “Welcome, welcome, welcome! Please, have a look around and try some samples!”

Sweet Treat held a hoof up to hide a grin. “Very nicely done, Aspire. But—“ she gave a playful scowl as she reached forward and booped his nose “—I’m not that plump, sweetheart.”

Another flash of green fire, Aspire was back in place, sheepishly rubbing at his mane. His cheeks colored as Nimble and Allegretto giggled into their hooves. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll work on that.”

“Good! Now, who’s next—aha!” Sweet Treat looked to Esalen, her baby blue eyes lit up. “If it isn’t my favorite little taste-tester! I hope you haven’t been using my treats as an excuse to being late again!”

“Hey, wait a minute!” Aspire cut in, narrowing his eyes at Sweet Treat. “I thought you said I was your favorite taste-tester!”

“You’re all my favorite little taste-testers, silly! You know that! And don’t think I don’t know that you were eager to pin it on me too, Aspire!” She looked down her nose at him, smirking at the way he squirmed under her gaze before she turned to Esalen. “Well, missy? Will I have your momma marching up to my shop lookin’ like someone slipped pepper juice in her tea again?”

A streak of pink colored her cheeks. Does everyone know about that? “Nope! I haven’t even thought about it!”

“Good filly! Now, let’s see how your practice has been going!”

Nodding, Esalen furrowed her brows and looked over Sweet Treat’s form. Soft peach coat, sugar pink mane, and bright blue eyes. A white-frosted cake with a cherry and pink icing on top  for a cutie mark, a bit of a fluffing in her tail close to her rump, and a pudgy belly—but not too much pubdge. She closed her eyes, focusing on the image of Sweet Treat in her head.

Peach, pink, and plump. No horn, no wings, and a nice fluff to her tail. And no fangs.

That was the important bit today—hiding her fangs properly.

Green fire washed over her body. Pulling her wings and horns back into her, and filling out the holes in her legs was as easy as walking. The more personal touches were where she had to really focus, and being quick at it meant she really had to be on her hooves.

Esalen let her cheeks puff out a bit, her belly sagged as her body compensated to imitate that “baker’s pudge,” as Sweet Treat so loved to call it. Perfect. Now, cutie mark. A glance to her flank and focus on the image. One spark of fire later, and the familiar white-frosted cake appeared, complete with strawberry and pink icing.

So far so good. Now for the important part. Esalen focused on her fangs, willing them to shrink and flatten into pony teeth. Go away. Hide away, no more fangs. Just flat, not threatening pony teeth. 

She cracked open her eyes and raised a hoof, giving a happy little hum at the sight of a nice even coat of peach fur adorning her legs. A quick glance to her rear confirmed that her tail was the same sugar pink as Sweet Treat’s and the familiar cutie mark on her flank. All she had to do was make sure she didn’t bloat her belly like last time, and everything was perfect! “How’s it look?” she asked, giving a little turn.

Sweet Treat hummed, regarding her with a critical stare. “Not bad, not bad at all! You’ve got my colors just right, even my cutie mark! Not too pudgy, also good! You just need to work a little bit on my tail.“ She turned and gave hers a meaningful swish to show off the way it fluffed out nearer to her bottom. “ Other than that, you’re like my mini-me!”

“Yes!” A triumphant pump of her hoof. Esalen beamed and gave her not-quite-fluffy-enough tail a merry swish. “And look! No wing casing on my back and no horn poking out of my head!”

“True, true… but—“ Sweet Treat squinted and leaned forward, a tiny frown crossed her muzzle “—you’re missing two teeth, where your lovely fangs normally are.”

Her celebration stopped. “… But I’m supposed to hide my fangs.”

“Yes, dear, but you’re missing teeth. You shifted them right away.”

Wrinkling her nose, Esalen maneuvered her tongue around to check her mouth. Sure enough, where there should have been two nice, flat pony teeth in place of her fangs, there was nothing but empty space up to her gums.

Just like Sweet Treat said—she hadn’t made pony teeth, she’d completely shifted them away!

“Aw, nuts!” She stomped a hoof. A flash of green fire later and she was back in her natural form. Her ears splayed back and a deep frown marred her muzzle. “I wanna hide my fangs for a bit, not get rid of them!”

“Oh, don’t worry, dear! You’ll have it by your next go around I’m sure!” Sweet Treat leaned forward to nuzzle the top of her head.

A whine escaped her throat, though she leaned into the older mare’s nuzzle. “Need to have it soon…” she grumbled to herself.

“Have what soon, dear?” Esalen nearly jumped back at the sudden question. “You know I pick up things when you little ones all come into my shop!” Waggling her ears, Sweet Treat leaned in close, smirking dangerously. “You know better than to try to hide something from me, young nymph! What’s that you’re grumbling about?”

Before she could make to slip away, Esalen felt a pink coated hoof wrap around her withers, pulling her into a soft hug. Trapped.

“Nothing, Missus Sweet Treat!” She squirmed against the grip.

“Don’t you ‘nothing’ me, Essy! I can just trot over and visit your mama and have a talk with her! You’d best out and tell me right now!”

Some of the nymphs were starting to sneak peeks, tilting their heads and whispering to one another as they flicked out their tongues. Oops. Her ears laid flat against her scalp, her chitinous wings gave an awkward little buzz.

Too much attention, she’d disrupted the lesson.

Mister Façade cleared his throat. “Is something the matter, ladies?”

“Oh, just a little pep talk between us fillies!” Sweet Treat tittered, patting Esalen on the back, still keeping her grip tight so the little nymph couldn’t slip away. “Poor dear seemed a bit down because of a little mistake, so I just wanted to make sure she was a-okay!”

“That so? I’ll be right over, then. Just let me finish up with Zephyr and I’ll be right over.” He turned to the aforementioned colt and leaned down to whisper in his ear, before shooing him back into line. With a small smile on his muzzle, he trotted over to Esalen’s line. “So, what’s giving you trouble, Esalen? Personal touches again?”

Drat. No way out now, not with Mister Façade standing alongside Missus Sweet Treat. She could almost feel Aspire’s amused grin on her back. Jerk. 

With one last wriggle, she managed to slip out from her captor’s grip and quickly scooted back before she could be swept up again. Esalen brushed herself off, giving a nervous chuckle. “Well, um, I was just trying to work on hiding my fangs—still pointy sometimes, so I focused on them a bit too much.”

“Ah, I see. Hmm, that is something you’ve needed work on.” Mister Façade brought a hoof to his chin. “You’re doing well, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. The most I’ve noticed is that, like you said with your fangs, you need a bit more concentration to complete the changes when you imitate an earth pony—a bit of strain hiding both at same time, perhaps.”

Esalen watched as he hummed and trotted over to his desk. Green magic wreathed his horn as he levitated a notebook and took a peek inside. “Well, the good news is that our test isn’t until next week, so there’s plenty of time for you to practice—“

“It’s not that,” she cut him off, shaking her head. “I wanted to use it for something else.”

A beat of silence. Her ear flicked at the sharp breath he drew in. “Not planning mischief around town, are we?” he asked, raising a brow. A smile played upon his lips. “You know, giving such a big hint isn’t exactly a good way to practice your pranks—I just might have to dock points off for that, actually. Hardly effective if you can’t sneak around, Esalen.”

A more insistent shake of her head, her braided mane whipped back and forth. “No! It wasn’t anything to do with a prank! It’s for a side project—oh, stop laughing and help me explain, Aspire!”

Hiding a bout of snickers behind a hoof, he replied, “I dunno, you’re doing a pretty good job from where I’m standing!” At the heated glare she shot him, Aspire rolled his eyes and trotted forward. “She’s telling the truth, sir. No pranks or nicking cookies or anything like that.”

Façade and Sweet Treat shared looks, each raising a brow at his claim. Their disbelief and bemusement, a rather odd taste of bitter herb and sweet cream. A mixing of tastes that should never, ever come together.

It almost made Esalen want to gag. Such a bittersweet taste, like biting into one of Missus Sweet Treat’s experimental candies—they looked nice and sweet, the crystal sugars covering the sweet jam tempted her so, she didn’t even stop to ask Sweet Treat what she’d concocted before swiping several into her mouth. The mere memory of the sour taste that followed the initial sweetness was enough to make her wrinkle her snout and stick out her tongue. Candy should not taste like that. Ever. 

“Forgive me if I don’t quite believe that, Aspire,” Façade said, smiling in spite of his raised brow, “but I seem to recall a full class of naughty nymphs who took my ‘sneak and evade’ assignment from last month as invitation to put switch out all the sugar and salt in each and every house in Respite.”

Nine nymphs gave bashful grins, along with a few poorly-hidden hoof bumps at the reminder of that particular prank. It had been a true team effort, one that even Queen Euphoria praised once she managed to wash down a batch of rather sweet eggs. And once she’d lifted the tickling spell.

Aspire gave a winning smile, and shook his head. “No, not this time! Big stuff like that is just for assignments—or when Mister Breezy offers us lots of sweets—“

Façade groaned and brought a hoof to his forehead. “Why am I not surprised he does that?”

“—but we’ve got our own little thing we’re working on.”

“Like what?” Nimble Hooves asked. “You’re doing extra work out of class?”

Allegreto grinned and gave her a little nudge with his elbow. “Both of ‘em are bookbugs! Fitting, eh?”

The pair shared a laugh, the running joke against Aspire alive and well, and just as effective as ever—the arch in his spine, how he bared his fangs and splayed his ears against his scalp. “Would you two just—“

“Just what?” Façade cut him off with a stern frown.

His mouth still hanging open, ready to vent his spleen, Aspire quickly adjusted his posture—standing up straight and lowering his jowls to cover his fangs. “N-Nothing, Mister Façade!” He rubbed at the back of his head.

Esalen quickly stepped in before he could make more of a mess of things. “It’s something else, sir. We’re trying to do something for Sure Stroke.”

At the mention of her name, Façade and Sweet Treat’s ears flicked. “Oh?” they echoed in unison.

Sweet Treat tapped a hoof against the floor, her tail flicked as she thought. Suddenly, her ears perked up. “Oh, I think I saw her flying outside with her mother—they’re both rather graceful, I must say!”

“Right, Missus Skydancer is Breezy’s new assistant, of course.” Mister Façade raised a brow, confusion seemed to just roll off him. “Wait. You’re not going to pull one of your silly jump-scares are you?”

“No! Oh, love no!” Visions of Sure Stroke taking wing, eyes wide and chest heaving as she tried to escape a pair of shapeshifting pranksters flitted through her mind. Cringing, she flicked her tail. “Not until she’s a lot more comfortable, anyway… it’s just, well, we’ve noticed some things.”

His eyebrow arched higher, nearly touching his goldenrod bangs. Mister Façade rolled a hoof in a circular motion and sat back on his haunches. “Go on.”

Esalen bit her lip, her eyes flitted to Aspire. How best to word it? “She’s like those ponies who come to town and don’t know about us—”

“—Scared of how we look,” Aspire took up. “Especially our fangs. She, uh—“ he looked down, shuffling his hooves into the floor “—she drew a picture of me. It looked like something out of a scary story.”

Inhaling sharply, Mister Façade stood. “I see.” He flicked his tail, a deep frown marred his muzzle. “And you want to practice hiding your fangs—would I be correct in assuming that you mean to hide them so she’s not so scared of you anymore?” At their nods, wrinkled his snout. “I’m of two minds on that regard. Of course, it’s a very nice thing to do, and I can see where you’re coming from, but it does run the risk of making the practice a necessity.”

“What do you mean?” Her brother tilted his head, his ears stood ramrod straight. “Shouldn’t that help her?”

“It could, but, on the other hoof, it could make her become more accustomed to seeing you without fangs.” Mister Façade glanced toward him and stopped in place. Slowly, a smile made its way across his muzzle, he reached forward to tussle Aspire’s mane. “I’m just playing Sombra’s advocate, my boy. The idea itself is a very nice gesture, and could—in theory—allow you to help her get to know you well enough not to be afraid. I can’t make any guarantees, but—“

Missus Sweet Treat cut him off. “Oh, let them try, Façade!” she scolded, giving him a sharp hip check that nearly sent him sprawling. With a bright smile in place and a wave of sugary sweet glee rolling off her, she faced the siblings and swept them into a hug. “I happen to think it’s a lovely idea! Better to help the poor dear make a few friends first, if you ask me.”

Mister Façade managed to right himself, glaring sternly at the bubbly mare. “I’m just pointing out the little details! Those are all important, too!” Huffing, he turned back to Aspire and Esalen. “In any case, you want to go this route? Changing little bits of your appearance while staying in changeling form is a bit different than normal—you’ve got to make sure you stay mindful to hide those fangs and not disrupt yourself.”

The siblings nodded, but were beaten to replying.

“Wait a minute,” Nimble cut in, “you’re sure it’s just our fangs?”

Nodding, Esalen pointed to Aspire. “Sure Stroke drew a sketch of him. Everything looked fine except for the fangs—they looked like he had daggers in his mouth!”

The others winced, Allegretto and Nimble ducked their heads and scuffed their hooves. “Are we really that scary?” Allegretto asked, fixing them with a rather piteous pout. “I thought we were being friendly…”

“Now, now, I’m sure it’s not personal, ‘gretto.” Missus Sweet Treat softly patted his head, whilst simultaneously pulling Nimble into a comforting hug. “She’s come all the way from Cloudsdale to a new school, and left all she knows behind. Not to mention, she’s probably just come face to face with changelings for the first time.”

Mister Façade smiled ruefully. “We do have a rather striking appearance, I’m afraid. Goes back to our more predatory roots in the time before the Sainted Ones gave us aid.”

Each of them hung their heads, a moment of silence for those lost in the Dark King’s terrible curse. The loss of their allies and ancient saviors…

Esalen shook herself, and brushed her tongue against her fangs, as if testing their edge. Tiny by comparison to Mister Façade’s or Queen Euphoria’s, but strong and sharp, easily able to pierce through flesh and muscle and latch onto prey while she greedily sucked out all the love within or, simply, took it home to cook.

For the first time in her young life, she shuddered at the very thought of her baser instincts. Those few things all hives shared—embodied by the Locust to an almost extreme degree. No wonder Sure Stroke’s so afraid.

Curing that, though, started with practice. “We also learned to shapeshift in that time—” she pointed out, full of youthful confidence “—to hide how scary we were so ponies wouldn’t run away and we could get love! We still hide, but we don’t prey on them like we used to, not like the Locusts!”

At the mention of their long-hated cousins Mister Façade bared his fangs, hissing venomously. “Do not speak their name, young nymph!”

The nymphs quickly backpedaled, their ears laid flat against their scalps. Anger, utter distaste for the Locust. Bile burned at the back of Esalen’s throat, her eyes crossed at the double dose of the horrid taste—even kind Sweet Treat’s smile had fallen, a dark look crossed her muzzle.

A deep breath through his snout, Mister Façade closed his eyes and lowered his jowls. When he spoke again, his voice was stiff, tinged with irritation. “Your mention of them aside, I cannot deny that your point is valid—and Sweet Treat’s support is certainly well-founded.” He opened his eyes, pasting a small smile on his face. A silent sign that no hard feelings remained. “If the two of you are serious about this, I’ll do my best to help.”

“Façade?” The teacher jumped, giving a quick flap of his wings to right himself and turned in midair to face a rather concerned Tailwind and Stardust, both standing just behind him with their respective lines.

“You two—could you not sneak up on me like that?”

“Sorry, boss!” they echoed in unison.

Stardust stepped forward, a sheepish grin on his muzzle. “Er, we couldn’t help but overhear you lot talking, and our groups got chattering—“

“—And we thought it might be a good idea to give this a go, as well,” Tailwind finished for him. “If you don’t mind, that is. I mean, it could help with their focus on smaller details, right?”

Sighing, Mister Façade brought a hoof to his forehead. “So much for lesson plans,” he grumbled. After a moment’s thought, he uncovered his face, regarding the class with a stern gaze. “I suppose we could use this as a focus exercise, since you’d have to avoid letting your concentration slip.” Before they could break into a cheer, he held up a hoof. “But there will be no fooling around! I expect you to pay attention and give it your all, understood?”

Aspire and Esalen grinned and replied in unison with their classmates, “Yes, Mister Façade!”

“Very good. Well, sit down and listen up. We’re going to have to go back to basics for a moment.” Once everyone sat down—including his assistants—he began, “Now, we all remember the three basic tenants of shapeshifting, right?”

 

“Visualize, will, and change!” Aspire ducked his head at the giggles and teases at how quickly he’d replied.

“Full marks, Aspire, well done. The good news is that the three tenants still apply. We aren’t adding any new steps, so to speak, but we are adding a complication to the matter—when we think of our natural form, what do we have?”

“Holes in our legs and wings!” Aspire answered.

Allegretto nodded and added, “Our cocoon slime glands in our mouths, too!”

“Curved horns!” Nimble pointed to hers.

Rolling her eyes, Esalen rattled off the rest. “Wings, wing casings, a carapace made of chitin, long, narrow tongues, and fangs.” At their bemused stares, she shrugged. Better to get it over with.

“Very good, very good. Yes, we have all of that, but we’re going to focus on our fangs given the nature of the issue.” Mister Façade pointed to his fangs—fully grown, reaching all the way down to his chin. “So, what we’re going to do, is visualize ourselves with flat teeth instead of fangs while in our natural form—like our dear pony friends here.” He waved to Stardust, Sweet Treat, and Tailwind, who each gave big smiles to show of their teeth. “The tricky part is keeping that image in your head, and keeping the rest of you still changeling. If that makes sense.”

Oooh, I wish I had a notebook! With a sigh, she resigned herself to working out the meaning herself. Visualize myself without fangs, but still in my natural form. She screwed up her face in thought—the image of a younger version of herself, still waiting for her nymph fangs to grow in properly and peek out from behind her lip flitted to the forefront of her mind. Without that little hint of sharp fangs, no one would know she even had them.

Could it be that simple? Just thinking of herself without her fangs for a bit?

“…Of course, you’ll need a little bit more love to supply the magic.” Mister Façade’s voice pulled her back to the present. “Perhaps a couple of your classmates might be willing to donate a bit if you explain—you could also see if one of the guard’s Lovegivers might be willing or check if your parents would allow you to proxy feed.”

At the mention of the Lovegiver Corps, Tailwind raised a hoof. “I’m quite certain we could get a few from my group to volunteer. As long as our little nymphs can resist gorging themselves on our love, that is!” He gave a playful wink.

With a roll of his eyes, Stardust nodded. “Agreed. You’ll have our support on this.”

“Well, then, let’s get right to it. Everyone form up into your groups again, and we’ll practice hiding our fangs. Try not to use too much energy too soon, even if we have a couple volunteer donors.” Mister Façade trotted to the front of the room, giving them all a clear view as he readied. “Remember, visualize yourself in natural form, but with flat teeth in place of your fangs. Keep that image in your head, and—“ he paused, opening his mouth to let the students watch as twin bursts of green fire engulfed his fangs.

Esalen watched in muted fascination as the sharp point seemed to file itself down and retreat into line with the rest. Each of his teeth began to fill out a bit more to cover the space between, rounding out and forming little crowns to help grind and chew rather than chomp and tear.

But most striking was how it looked with his face still that of a changeling—off. Just like Queen Euphoria’s the day before.

Like if a pony shaved off their mane and tail, she thought, shuddering at the image of the trio of volunteers the notion brought forth.

Missus Sweet Treat clapped her hooves. “All right, little ones! Let’s put this into practice. No need to go in line this time since we’re just doing fangs, I suppose.”

Esalen closed her eyes and focused on that image. Changeling body and face, no fangs. Changeling body and face, no fangs. She opened her mouth, letting her natural magic, that green fire, change her again. Her mouth tingled, a sensation like something pressing against the end of her fangs and pushing them back into her gums—normal for when she changed entirely, but when in this form…

Off.

The rushing flames ceased. She worked her jaw, trying to get comfortable with the new feeling. Smooth carapace, chitinous wings, curved horn, holed legs, but no fangs—it was like she’d done an incomplete shape shift.

Curiously, she ran her tongue over her teeth, flat and wide at the base. Off. Just plain off. Shaking herself, she banished those thoughts. Off, but for Sure Stroke.

Her eyes opened, flitting to Missus Sweet Treat. “How’d I do?” she asked, giving a big smile to show off her teeth.

Humming, the mare leaned forward to inspect her work. “A good start, but I think you lost a bit of concentration, dear—there’s still a hint of a point at the end. Still, very good for your first try! Ah, ‘gretto, let’s see how you did…” she trailed off as she walked to the next nymph in line.

A flick of her tail, a heavy sigh. Blast her wandering mind! It was going to be a long lesson.

But the payoff… Esalen grinned, the memory of that tiny smile Sure Stroke had given them and the thought of it being seen again filled her with warmth. The payoff will make it all worth it!

She poked her tongue out between her lips, concentrating hard on her practice.

The taste of pure lemon juice on the end of her tongue hit hard. Esalen clenched her eyes shut, fighting back the urge to gag a moment while she tried to figure out where it was coming from. She blinked a few times before beginning her search. All of her classmates seemed fine as they went through their practice, though a bit frustrated that they couldn’t quite discard their own image to do it.

All except for one.

Standing straight ahead, Zephyr stared back at her through silver eyes, a small frown marred his muzzle. With a shake of his head, he turned away just in time to avoid getting caught by Stardust, pasting a smile on as he began practicing.

Zephyr always tasted like lemons when he was upset about something.

 

 

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