Conversations in a Canterlot Café

Frothy Brew is the barista in the Canterlot café owned by himself, his wife, and his daughter. Years of hard work had made the café a successful and modestly popular place to stop and get a drink or a snack. Nothing prepared him though for it to become a hub of interaction with the undisguised changelings that were being seen more often in the streets of Canterlot. Can he put aside his feelings for the species though after witnessing the most horrifying aspect of the invasion years ago?
This story runs concurrently with the latter part of my Change of Life story. While reading that and Prelude To Change is not necessary, they do give valuable background that is glossed over in "Conversations". Cover art and story illustrations are all done by Foxenawolf.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/192085/conversations-in-a-canterlot-caf

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3. Chapter 3: Customer Relations

For three days now, Sterling’s entire squad had been making the True Brew Café its regular afternoon break place of choice. Frothy still had very mixed feelings about this. On the one hoof, he had witnessed potential customers turn about and leave upon seeing the crowd of changelings inside, and in fact an earth pony couple had just backed out of the café, their eyes wide in fear. On the other hoof, a pegasus family seated at a table to the right seemed to be fairly unconcerned. On the third hoof, twenty changelings more than made up for the lost business during the normal slack period. On the fourth hoof though, that meant twenty pairs of gleaming fangs everywhere Frothy looked. He was regretting telling Sterling not to hide his while in the shop.

Trying to keep his mind off the prominent teeth, he watched the pegasi, trying to gauge whether they were just being tolerant, or whether in fact they did not mind the changeling Guards. The children, a colt about ten years old and a filly maybe a year or so younger, seemed to be bugging their parents about something, and he noticed the mother nod. The foals grinned and trotted over to the Guards.

“’Scuse me, mistah, but our Dad and Mom say that you can make yourselves look like ponies. Is that true?” the colt asked politely of one of the changelings.

Frothy noticed that while the parents were keeping an eye on the foals, they did not seem unduly worried. He turned his attention back to the foals.

The changeling smiled at the colt and replied, “That’s completely true. Do you want to see how I do it?”

“Yes, please!” the colt said excitedly.

“Okay, let me just take off this armor first so that you can see better.” He levitated the armor aside and then warned them with a grin, “Watch for the magic fire.”

With a flare of red magic, the changeling transformed into a unicorn stallion. His fur was the same color as his chitin, and his cropped mane and tail matched the red hue of his wings and waist band. His eyes were still red also, but looked like normal pony irises and pupils instead of the weird evenly glowing ones. He even had a cutie mark consisting of a bow and arrow. “There! How’s that?” he asked.

 

 

 

“That’s awesome!” the colt replied. “What’s your name?”

“My name is Red Archer; you can call me just Archer if you like. What are your names, if I may ask?”

The children looked towards the parents, silently seeking approval. They nodded and the colt replied, “I’m Thunderclap.”

The filly said, “I’m Zephyr. Can you do anything else?”

“Sure! Do you like griffins?” Archer asked.

“You can do griffins too?” When Archer nodded, she said with a huge smile, “Yes, please!”

Red magic flared again, and the unicorn was replaced by a griffin with a magnificent red hawk forequarters and black panther hindquarters.

Both foals gaped in awe. The filly tentatively reached out to touch the changeling and, after hearing no objection, stroked the feathers on his chest. She giggled and Archer smiled back.

When they deemed that the foals had troubled the changeling long enough, the parents got up from their table and the father herded them towards the door. The mother came over to the counter though to speak to Frothy.

“I just wanted to say how considerate it is of you to let these changelings eat here. We’ve been trying to teach our foals more about them, but it’s been hard finding places that tolerate them well yet. It’s good to see that they have some friends. We’ll be coming back again.”

Frothy felt a bit hypocritical for accepting the praise, but he wasn’t about to disillusion a customer who would bring repeat business, and perhaps spread a good word. “Thank you, ma’am. We look forward to seeing you again soon.”

Frothy waved a hoof in farewell to the departing foals also, finding himself still feeling rather touched by their innocent interaction with Archer. He sincerely wished he could regain that same innocence.

* * *

The next day, the café saw its first non-Guard changeling customer. This one was violet in coloration, slightly smaller in stature to the red changelings, and with only medium-sized fangs. Frothy thought he detected a different kind of bearing to this one, but he did not have much chance to judge before Peach met the changeling to greet it.

 

 

“Welcome to the True Brew Café! Pardon me for having to ask, but have we met before?” Peach asked warmly.

“Hi Peachy,” the changeling replied. “It’s me, Zeena. I’m taking up your invitation to check out your café. And don’t fuss about not being sure who I was – I realize that we look very much alike to inexperienced eyes.”

“Zeena! I wasn’t sure that you’d come, but I’m really happy that you did. What convinced you to give us a try?”

“Word of mouth,” she answered with a grin that was no less friendly for being rather toothy. She indicated the Guards enjoying their usual afternoon break. “Some of these Guards you’ve been hosting have been talking about the great food and drink that you have here, so here I am to check them out for myself.”

“Excellent! So what can we tempt you with?” Peach asked.

“I’d love some apple pie, and could I have that warmed up?”

“Certainly, if you’re prepared to wait a few minutes. I’ll get that done right away and bring it out to you when it’s ready. Feel free to sit anywhere that suits you.”

“Thanks, Peachy.” Instead of sitting at a table though, when Peach went out the back of the shop, the changeling approached the counter where Frothy had been watching and listening. “Hi. Would you be Peach’s father, Frothy Brew?”

“Yeah, that’s me,” Frothy replied stiffly.

“You have a very lovely daughter. Frankly I was surprised at how readily she helped me in the market the first time we met.”

“I’m very proud of her. She’s always been a friendly and helpful person.”

“You just didn’t expect that to extend towards us changelings though, did you?” Zeena said with a wry smile. “It’s okay, I know about what happened to you during the invasion; I learned that from the Guards also. I realize that you aren’t comfortable with us, and yet you are drawing more and more interest from the changeling community because of your tolerance, and that’s one of the main reasons why I took up Peach’s offer. I just want to extend my thanks for that.”

Frothy felt a bit hypocritical accepting the changeling’s gratitude, so he felt compelled to reply, “Please don’t think I’m a saint just because I put up with this lot. I treat all my customers decently, even if I don’t like them.”

Zeena’s smile never wavered. “Well it’s obvious that you know that I know that you dislike me on principle, but can you tell me what it is about me – someone you’ve never met nor ever been hurt by – that you don’t like? I’m really curious.”

“You want an honest answer?” Frothy asked suspiciously.

“Yes, I do. If I wanted just a piece of apple pie and pleasant conversation, I would have disguised myself, but I came here for many more reasons than that. I want to know if we have a chance at making some real inroads here, or just have a place we can get coffee and cake without being harassed.”

“You say you already know how I witnessed a changeling ripping the love out of one of my customers?” Zeena nodded. “Then do you realize that it creeps me out that you are parasites on ponies?”

Zeena looked thoughtful. “Well, I didn’t know that, but what makes you think we’re parasites?”

“What else do you call something that feeds on us?”

“A parasite always takes without benefit to its host, and frequently to its detriment. That simply isn’t true of us though.”

“Convince me that you’re not,” Frothy demanded.

“Well, for starters, if we are so dependent on ponies to supply us with emotional energy, why would we harm them? Not counting Chrysalis’ attack, of course. I’m sure you can allow that we consider her actions to be insane for a changeling.”

Frothy nodded begrudgingly.

“Anyway, not only do we not harm ponies, it is to our benefit to help them, and make their lives better. It raises the general level of positive ambient emotions, and even more so with those we specifically interact with. Or to put it more simply, a happy pony feeds us more than an unhappy one. Changelings have been a force for social good since before recorded history. In fact we are likely to have evolved together in symbiosis, to our mutual advantage.”

“That sounds… even creepier. You reckon that you’ve always been living among us in secret?” Frothy asked with a discomforted look on his face.

“Yes. Is that so bad? Up until a few years ago, you never heard of someone being stripped of their love like your friend. That’s centuries of peaceful relationship with us.”

“Then why hide from us? If you’re as good for us as you say, why the need for deception?”

“Y’know, that’s not a bad question,” Zeena conceded. “I know some things can best be done anonymously, and we excel at that. But I think some of it has to do with the fact that we are different. While we have a lot in common, some ways we just think differently. Is that wrong of us? Do we need to conform exactly to the Pony Way for you to accept us?”

“For some ponies to accept you, yes,” Frothy replied firmly. “Besides, you say that you benefit us, but I really only have your word for that.”

“So I need to convince you before we can make any more progress?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

Zeena looked over her shoulder at the changeling Guards who were eavesdropping with some interest. “Well, take these guys for example – they are ready to put their lives on the line in defense of ponies. I know for a fact that a couple of them were killed fighting the invaders, although of course they were still disguised back then.”

“So are you an off-duty Guard too?” Frothy asked.

Zeena laughed. “Nah, the Red Changelings pretty much have that gig sewn up. We Violet Changelings specialize in aid services. Our hive has provided doctors, nurses, fireponies, and so forth. We have a taste for the emotions of hope and gratitude, unlike the Reds who are into loyalty and duty. I’m a search & rescue specialist. I was kept pretty busy cleaning up the aftermath of Chrysalis’ invasion.”

“Nobody said that you aren’t good at your jobs, but I want to see more of this social benefit that you were talking about.”

“Hmm… okay. How about the fact that I run a program for disadvantaged ponies in my spare time? I give free classes in courses that are needed for my line of work. They get a leg-up on a possible career and some hope for the future, while I get my favorite emotional energy in return. Everypony wins.”

Frothy was surprised at having his challenge met, but he still was not completely satisfied. “That’s… quite generous of you, but you’re only one changeling. We’re talking about affecting the social order of an entire nation, or even before the pony tribes were united.”

Zeena grimaced. “You’re a hard pony to please, Mr Brew, but I’ll keep on trying.”

“Why are you doing it anyway? I’m telling you how much your kind bother me, and you just stand there calmly smiling for the most part.”

“Funny you should ask - I got volunteered.”

“Huh? What do you mean?” Frothy asked with an eyebrow raised in puzzlement.

“As I said earlier, you’ve been attracting attention in the changeling community, and we want to know if you and your café might represent a step forward in pony-changeling relations. Someone was needed to feel you out, and I was basically chosen because I have a lot of patience and determination. Part of my job is giving hope and encouragement to disaster victims, so maintaining a calm and pleasant demeanor comes naturally to me. Besides, the others knew that I’d already made friends with Peach.”

“So I’m your surrogate disaster victim?” Frothy asked wryly.

Zeena laughed. “You could put it that way.”

“Are you butting heads with our customers again, Dad?” came Peach’s reproving voice from behind Frothy.

“No more than usual, hon,” Frothy answered with a look of guilt flickering over his face.

“Considering the customer, that doesn’t mean much,” Peach replied, and then turned her attention to the changeling. “Your pie is ready – would you like whipped cream or ice cream with it?”

“Ice cream would be nice, thanks,” Zeena replied, and then turned back to Frothy. “I’m going to come back tomorrow to continue our discussion, if you don’t mind. I’ll try to bring along some more examples of how we benefit ponies in general.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Frothy answered with resignation.

Zeena smiled apologetically before taking her pie over to an empty table, and greeting a couple of mares that had been enjoying their afternoon tea. Aside from the Guards, they were the only other customers in the café at that quiet time of day. Frothy knew them both as long-time regular customers, and had been concerned that they would be frightened away by all the changelings. Instead, they were both surprisingly nonchalant, and returned the Violet Changeling’s greeting with smiles. Then after the two discussed something quietly between themselves, one of them got up from the table and made her way to the counter.

The unicorn mare was very pale blue, almost white, and her mane was light green streaked with the grey of age. Her features showed the burden of years, but there were plenty of smile lines to make hers a pleasant face, and the brightness of her eyes behind her spectacles showed that she still had a passion for life. Frothy knew her very well, and she always had that same attitude whenever she visited the café, or even when he saw her at work in the library.

“Can I help you with anything, Weighty Words?” Frothy asked with a smile.

Weighty returned his smile and said, “My wife and I were listening to you and Zeena discussing changelings.”

“I hope that they haven’t been bothering you at all,” Frothy asked a little anxiously.

“No, not at all, dear. In fact, I have something to add to your discussion. How long have we known each other, Frothy?”

Frothy did not know how that was relevant, but answered, “Since I was a student borrowing books from the library. You helped me find material for my business studies.”

“Yes, that’s right. I helped a lot of students, but I saw the determination that you had to succeed. And your hard work paid off when you opened up this café.”

“It wasn’t just that, and you know it,” Frothy said with a grin. “If you hadn’t introduced me to Cherry Delight, we may never have met and married, and built this business together.”

“I saw that you two could be good for each other, and just gave you the opportunity to realize that for yourselves. But that’s the kind of thing that I do, and have done throughout my career. It’s just in my nature.”

“So you’re saying that it’s the same with changelings?” Frothy asked, finally seeing the connection. “Forgive me, but that’s an opinion, not a fact.”

Weighty nodded. “Then perhaps, as my name suggests, I should add some weight to my words with a little proof. Here’s a little secret that very few ponies know, but I feel you deserve….” With that, her form was engulfed in light green fire, and in her place was another changeling, but this time with a green band around her waist and bright green wings. Her fangs were also the smallest of any changeling that Frothy had seen so far. Only her spectacles remained to indicate that it was the same person standing before the dumbfounded barista.

 

 

 

“Yes, Frothy, I’m a Green Changeling, and my life has been dedicated to fostering young minds like yours, and occasionally lending a guiding hoof. My hive has provided teachers, authors, and administrators. We’ve had representatives in several councils providing a moderating influence. We like the taste of respect and enthusiasm, so we do our best for you so that you can give us what we like in return.”

Frothy finally found his voice as he glanced over to where Weighty’s wife was watching with some concern. “Is Harmony also a changeling?”

Weighty looked over at Harmony and smiled reassuringly. “No, my wife is a normal unicorn.”

“Is marrying a pony part of what changelings do to get the emotions you want to eat?”

“Oh no, Frothy! That’s not it at all. I married Harmony because we fell in love, thanks be to Celestia for my good fortune.”

“Did she know that you were a changeling when you got married?” Frothy asked with a frown.

“No, she didn’t, but not because I didn’t trust her. It’s just the way we always did things before Chrysalis changed everything. I revealed my true nature to her shortly after the invasion to dispel misinformation about us, and reassure her that she was not threatened by us. Admittedly there was some acrimony, but she truly loved me still, and we were able to get over that hump.”

“I see.” Frothy said, then paused, wondering what to say to someone whom he admired and had looked up to for so long, and who had revealed herself to be one of… them.

Weighty Words transformed back into her unicorn form, and then reached out to pat Frothy on the shoulder. “Don’t fret too much about me, dear. I know you need to think this through some more, and you still have a couple more changelings to meet before you have to make up your mind as to how you should feel about all this. It’s not how fast you get to the conclusion, but getting to the right one that counts. I’ll be seeing you again soon in any case. Goodbye for now, Frothy.”

Weighty turned and walked over to Harmony who rose to meet her. She kissed her wife before giving a farewell wave of her hoof and, with a nod to Zeena, they departed.

“Well… that was unexpected.”

Peach’s statement interrupted Frothy’s reverie, and he replied, “Honey, you’ve never said a truer word in your life!”

* * *

When Frothy related his experience to his wife that evening, Cherry Delight was almost as surprised.

“I would never have guessed that Weighty Words was a changeling, although in retrospect, it does explain how she was so empathetic, and why she felt we would make a good match. It makes me wonder how many other changelings have affected our lives.”

“I’m not sure I want to find out,” Frothy replied, then added jokingly, “Just don’t tell me that you’ve been a changeling all along also.”

Cherry giggled and hugged her stallion. “Too late to do anything about it if I am. You’re stuck with me, Frothy Brew!”

“Best thing that I’ve heard all day,” Frothy replied happily.

 
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