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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4. Chapter 4: Loss and Gain

Sterling took his usual cappuccino and said, “There’s something that I’ve been meaning to ask, Frothy. You and Peach have told us how your wife does the baking of your wonderful cakes and pastries, but we never see her. Why is that? The guys and I would love to give her our compliments directly.”

Frothy gave Sterling his trademark smirk. “You’ve never seen her because you always come in at the same time every day when she’s not here. Cherry needs to get up early every day to start baking so that you can have the freshest of goods. She’s been hard at work for hours before the café opens, so by the time the afternoon lull comes around, she takes the opportunity to have a nap for a couple of hours. That way we can share a full evening’s family time without her having to go to bed earlier than Peach and I.”

“Ah! That makes sense. Still, we’d love to meet her sometime.”

Frothy looked thoughtful for a moment. “I’ll let her know that. She’s admitted to being curious about you lot also, so this could be a good excuse for her to make an exception to her normal habit.”

“That’d be great, Frothy. I’ll let the others know.”

Before Sterling got the chance to do so though, a commotion outside drew their attention.

Frothy frowned and called out to Peach who had been chatting with the Guards as usual. “Peachy, could you go have a look at what’s causing that ruckus?”

“Sure, Dad,” she replied, and headed for the door. Just as she reached it, a violet changeling entered the café. “Zeena? Was that you causing the commotion outside?”

“Well, indirectly, I suppose. It has more to do with whom I brought with me. Go take a peek,” Zeena suggested.

Peach opened the door partially to peer through, and her eyes widened in surprise. “Is that who I think it is?”

“Yep. Could I ask a favor and get you to close the shop while she’s here? It’ll only be for a short period.”

“If it’s what I suspect it’s about, I think we can do that. I’ll have to check with Dad first though.”

Peach went back to the counter to tell Frothy what was happening. “Dad, there’s a celebrity out there, and there are ponies hounding her for autographs. I want to let her in and lock the door for a few minutes.”

“Why would we want to lock out potential customers just for a celebrity?” Frothy asked after brief consideration.

“Because Zeena brought her along,” Peach pointed out.

“Oh.” Frothy realized that could only mean one thing, and he was both curious about and dreading that. “Okay, do it.”

Peach went back to the door and went outside with Zeena accompanying her. Zeena caught the eye of someone who was obviously a minder for the celebrity, and he nodded. With calm, professional tact, he started disengaging the celebrity from her fans and guiding her to the door, followed by Zeena. Peach then blocked the doorway and reared up on her hind legs to get the attention of the crowd.

“Mares and gentlestallions, the café will be briefly closed to give our guest a moment to chat and get some refreshments. We will be reopening in just a few minutes though, so if you wish to wait, we would love to welcome you to our café also. Thank you.”

Peach then stepped inside as the crowd murmured in disappointment. Some stayed, but others moved on, unwilling to wait. Peach locked the door behind her and flipped the sign saying “Open” to “Closed”. The celebrity’s minder was standing there, and Peach asked, “You know what’s going to happen, don’t you?”

“I know. I’ll watch the door for you, and I’d like to close the blinds too, if you don’t mind? Some fans can be quite persistent.”

“Fine by me,” Peach replied, and turned her attention to the counter where the source of the commotion was approaching her father.

Frothy knew their famous visitor instantly upon looking at her. The small mare with purple fur and a mane of bright yellow curls was recognizable anywhere, and her cutie mark consisting of a mask of a laughing pony clinched it if you were unsure. She was Equestria’s foremost comedian, and she was in his shop! “Punchline! I’m such a big fan!” he blurted out, then was promptly embarrassed by his outburst.

Punchline smiled, amusement at his reaction plain on her face. “Thank you, Mr Brew. You’ve seen one of my shows, I take it?”

“My wife and I always go to your shows whenever you’re playing in Canterlot. You’re on our ‘must-see’ list of events.”

“That’s the kind of thing a performer likes to hear, and I hope you both continue to enjoy my future performances. However, that’s not what I’m here to talk to you about today.”

Frothy was suddenly brought down to earth when he remembered who had brought Punchline to the café. “You’re a changeling too?” he asked with some trepidation.

“Yes, I am, and you and your daughter are some of the very few who will ever know this.” Punchline turned to look at her minder, who nodded in confirmation that everything was secure. In a flare of yellow fire, she assumed her natural form.

Frothy looked at yet another variety of changeling, this time one with bright orange wings and burnt orange crest and tail. She also had tiny fangs and a rounded form. Frothy would never have said this before, but there was no other way to describe her – she was cute!

 

 

“My true name is Wakena, and I’m an Orange Changeling. My hive specializes in the creative fields such as music, writing, circus, theater, and of course, comedy. I’ve been told how you have been skeptical of our contribution towards pony society in return for our taking emotional energy from you. I have filled halls night after night, entertaining ponies, brightening their lives with laughter. Others of my kind have lifted your spirits with music, or stirred your feelings with drama. We have been a major part of the Equestrian entertainment scene for centuries. Can you honestly tell me that we have not earned what we take in exchange?”

Frothy mutely shook his head. He had been willing to pay a premium price for tickets to Punchline’s shows, and he could hardly begrudge her a little emotional energy on top of that. Still he had to ask, “What proportion of our entertainers are changelings then?”

“Not as many as you might fear, but certainly a large number. Not even we are sure about that though. However, because there are so many of us in the field, and concerts are such an efficient way of gathering large amounts of emotional energy, we can sustain the largest hive in Equestria. If we don’t have at least one resident in a town, an Orange Changeling will surely pass through with a one-day-only show for even the smallest townships.” Punchline resumed her pony form. “And now, I only have one more thing that I’d really like to ask of you.”

“And that would be?” Frothy asked curiously.

“A large flat white coffee, please. I’m rather thirsty,” she said with a glint of humor in her eye.

Frothy blinked in surprised, and then guffawed. “Coming right up, and it’s on the house! Peachy, get Punchline whatever she likes in the way of cake or pastry.”

Punchline accepted the offer of carrot cake and sat down at a table to eat it after changing back into her pony form. Frothy took her coffee to the table when it was ready, and asked her to sign one of the menus, which she did with a grin.

As he returned to the counter, Zeena stepped up to him once more and said, “I can taste your pleasure at meeting Punchline, but has it affected your views of changelings much?”

“Persistent, aren’t you?” Frothy grumbled. “Okay, you’re making a good case, and Punchline was a heck of surprise, but she’s so cute, funny, and familiar that it’s hard to associate her with something that disturbs me so greatly. Let’s be realistic here – you’re dealing with a traumatic experience that isn’t so easily swayed by logic. You can point out how you give for what you get, but I can’t forget that you can also get it painfully involuntarily. While I still remember that atrocity in my café as clear as it was yesterday that it happened, I am not going to be able to look at the average changeling and not think of that. Sorry if that disappoints you.”

“It’s okay, Frothy. While I thought someone of Punchline’s fame might have a big impact upon you, I didn’t count on it being the winning move. I have some other changeling in mind that might finally sway you though.”

“I’m getting a little tired of these games, Zeena. Are you prepared to deal with the possibility that I will never truly like your kind? I might be able to tolerate you, I might be able to have a decent conversation with you, I can even be a fan of some individuals...” Frothy waved a hoof in the direction of Punchline who seemed to be watching them with some interest. “However, are you sure that I can ever really appreciate having changelings hang around?”

As always, Zeena’s smile never faltered, impressing Frothy with the changeling’s ability to remain calm and confident under pressure. “No, Frothy, I’m not sure, but I do think that it can be done, and it’s certainly worth the effort. After all, my kind never went into this attempt at integration with pony society with the notion that it would be either quick or easy. It’s not all one-sided either. Not all changelings want to be so openly associating with ponies, and it’s our nature to feel that way. We’ve had to make some mental adjustments also.”

“If those mental adjustments don’t include dealing with the trauma of ponies doing something hideous to you, I don’t think you can compare the difficulty,” Frothy said pointedly.

“As opposed to the witch-hunts immediately after the invasion, and long-term prejudice against us?” Zeena retorted.

Frothy did not reply to that. It had not escaped his attention that the undisguised changelings were rarely treated well, and he was hardly blameless in that matter. He had reached a compromise with himself with regards to his changeling customers, but that hardly excused him. “I told Sterling that I would work on that,” he mumbled, and busied himself with some work behind the counter.

Zeena recognized that this was the best that could be done for one day, and left Frothy to his thoughts.

Peach reopened the café and let the more patient fans inside. While some were taken aback by the sight of a whole squad of Red Changelings, to their great amusement, very few of ponies were discouraged from their attempt to get Punchline’s autograph or simply have a chat with her.

Much to Frothy’s pleasure, many did buy coffee and snacks. All in all, it was a good afternoon.

* * *

When Zeena turned up the next day, she was unaccompanied.

“Where’s your next champion of the changeling cause?” Frothy asked her sarcastically.

“Too busy to make it today, Frothy. Frankly I’m not surprised, considering what he does every day,” Zeena replied.

“So do I get a hint, or are you going to just be enigmatic?”

“No hints. You get to deal with what he has to tell and show you when he turns up.”

“Then why did you bother turning up today?” Frothy asked archly.

“This is still a café, isn’t it? I’d like a long black, please.”

Frothy made her drink, and the changeling went to sit with some of the Guards who had arrived just before her. Peach was still bringing out the last of the food that they had ordered, and stopped to chat with them. Frothy was shaking his head, wondering what she saw in them, when his wife’s voice came from the door to the back room.

“Frothy, love, could you take me to meet our changeling guests, please?”

Frothy immediately went over to her and asked, “Are you sure that you want to do this, Cherry?”

“Of course I am. You know I’ve been wanting to do so.”

“As you wish, dear.”

Sterling was used to keeping a watchful eye on his squad, and he was the first to notice Frothy approaching with his wife at his side. She was a unicorn, of course, but a particularly tall and graceful one, with fur that was a dark pink or perhaps a light red, and a two-tone tail and mane cut to shoulder lengths with bangs. He glimpsed her cutie mark which appeared to be of a cheesecake with cherries on top. Sterling got up to meet her, but only noticed one other thing about her when they stopped in front of him. Her green eyes were filmy and unfocused, and he realized that she was blind.

 

 

By this time, the other Guards had noticed, and their attention was fully upon them when Frothy said, “May I introduce my beloved wife, partner in this business, and pastry chef extraordinaire, Cherry Delight. Dear, these are Sergeant Sterling Shield and his squad of Royal Guards, Changeling Division.”

“A pleasure to meet you at last, gentlestallions, if I may call you that,” Cherry said.

“It’s an honor to meet you, Mrs Delight,” Sterling replied. “If I had known what an inconvenience it would be for you, I would never have bothered Frothy to ask you to come meet us.”

“Nonsense, Sergeant Shield. I’m not a helpless mare, and I think that my baking backs that up.”

“I can’t argue with that, but I’m curious to know how you can cope so well.”

“Well, for starters, I haven’t always been blind. I contracted an illness when I was in my late teens that affected my eyesight. It continued to deteriorate to where I had lost about a third by the time that I first was introduced to Frothy. By the time we had graduated and started our business, I’d lost over half. However, we planned around this, and my kitchen was laid out in a way that is ergonomic and uncluttered. By the time that I could no longer use my sight, I had memorized the location of everything so that I could find them without a problem. Additionally, I have a particularly sensitive sense of magical touch. I can tell a lot from feeling it that way. On the odd occasion where I might need some help, my daughter, Peach, is always there. She’s quite a good pastry chef too, after all.”

“That’s still quite an accomplishment,” Sterling said admiringly. “I’ve enjoyed everything of yours that I’ve tried, and I can safely say that my squad members have also.”

There was a chorus of agreement from the others, and Cherry smiled gratefully.

“Thank you. It’s always nice to hear that my work is so appreciated. Now may I ask a favor of you?”

“Of course! What would you like me to do?” Sterling replied.

“I have never seen a changeling because I was completely blind by the time the invasion occurred, but I can use my horn-touch to get almost as good a picture of you. I’d like to use it on you, if I may?”

“I have no problem with that. Would you like me to take my armor off so that you feel me better?”

“That would be appreciated,” Cherry said with a smile.

Sterling quickly removed his armor and said, “I’m ready.”

Cherry’s horn lit up with a yellow glow, and emitted a ball of energy that drifted over to touch Sterling’s head. It then moved over his face. “Oh, my! You do have long fangs indeed,” she commented. The ball then drifted over the spiky ears, down his neck, lingered on the insect-like wings before travelling along his body and down a leg. Then when it seemed that she had gotten all the details, the glow spread to envelop him completely to give her an overall impression, then faded out.

“Thank you, Sergeant. I now have good mental picture of what you look like. So you’re a Red Changeling? I take it that other changelings have different characteristics?”

Up until then, Zeena had been quietly observing, but now she spoke up. “That’s right, Mrs Delight. I’m Zeena, and I’m a Violet Changeling. You can check me out too if you like, although I’m not as different from a Red as other types of changelings can be.”

“Just your face, if I may?” Cherry replied.

Zeena stepped up and said, “Go ahead.”

Cherry’s magical touch explored Zeena’s face briefly. “Much smaller fangs, and no notch in your horn, I notice.”

“Yes, although a notched horn is indicative of a much more mature changeling. The older we get, the more contorted it becomes. The average changeling that you will meet will have a smooth horn like mine.”

“So, that would make you quite the veteran,” Cherry said to Sterling.

Sterling nodded before realizing that she could not see the gesture. “That’s right. Although I don’t talk about it, I’ve been a Royal Guard for quite a few decades now.”

“It’s good to hear of such dedicated service to Equestria. Anyway, I have held you all up for long enough now. It has been a pleasure meeting you, and I hope you all have a good day.”

“The pleasure has been ours, Mrs Delight,” Sterling replied.

Frothy then guided his wife back. Sterling suspected that she did not need too much help though. It was more of a precaution in an ever-changing environment than a necessity. When Frothy returned, Sterling asked, “Why didn’t you tell us that your wife is blind?”

“Because it was none of your business until she chose to meet you. It must be nice not having to worry about things like that though,” Frothy said with a touch of bitterness.

“What do you mean? I don’t understand what you’re getting at.”

“I mean that if you are blinded, you could just shape-change and bingo – you’ve got your sight back.”

Sterling sighed. “You’ve got it wrong, Frothy. We can’t do that. Our ability to change is powered by magic, and magic always has its quirks. You could say that it sustains a memory of what our body is like, so if we incur an injury in one form, we retain it in another. If I broke my leg and changed into a unicorn, I would still have a broken leg. If I was in pegasus form and had a wing ripped off, I would still be missing a wing when I reverted to my natural form. So if you blind me, it too would be forever.”

“Oh. I didn’t realize that. I’ve been harbouring a bit of envy of changelings because I could not give my wife that ability to bring back her sight,” Frothy admitted.

“I’m sorry about that, but it’s actually a good thing for you that we can’t do what you thought we could.”

Frothy gave Sterling a quizzical look. “Why would you say that?”

“Think about it for a moment,” Sterling replied. “If we could heal any injury simply by doing a quick shape-change, an attacking army of changelings would virtually be invincible. You could only stop us by a killing stroke that left us no time to heal ourselves.”

Realization dawned on Frothy. “Then the invasion of Canterlot might have succeeded because almost all our defensive efforts would have been useless.”

“You got it, although Shining Armor’s shield might still have won the day with the power of Princess Cadence’s love behind it. You can’t count on having that around all the time though.”

“Speaking of that shield, I know it expelled all the invaders from Canterlot. When it passed through the café, it threw most of the changelings in here out the windows, and I had to replace the glass. A couple missed the windows though, and were literally splattered against the wall.” Frothy pointed out the freshly painted wall that he had mentioned. “What I don’t get is why it didn’t affect you, or all the other disguised changelings in Canterlot.”

“Who said it didn’t?” Sterling replied. “Admittedly it only threw us around the room a bit, but it didn’t push us relentlessly like it did the Blue Changelings. We’ve guessed that it was unconsciously attuned to the Blues, so it only partially affected the rest of us, but we have no way of confirming that.”

“Didn’t ponies notice you being affected though. I mean, you told me that you were in the middle of a crowded hall for the wedding ceremony, so how could that not be noticed?”

“That’s much easier to explain than you think. There were so many Blue Changelings in there with us that some of them crashed into ponies as they were thrust away. In the confusion, I and the other changeling Guards were assumed to have been knocked over too. In fact, very few disguised changelings throughout Canterlot had any difficulty explaining away what had happened to them. That’s why we remained concealed until Twilight Sparkle uncovered an Orange Changeling, and the truth about the other five hives became known.”

Frothy snorted, “Ha! I bet that came as a shock to you.”

“The hives were in disarray anyway because of Chrysalis’ actions. Letting the princesses know that they had allies among the changelings was probably the best course of action anyway once our existence was exposed.”

“So do you feel worse now that you have to serve undisguised, Sergeant Shield?”

Sterling looked offended. “I don’t have to serve in any manner. I choose to serve in the Royal Guard in any way that Equestria needs, or as the princesses see fit. I am a citizen of Equestria first, and a changeling second, and I will defend its citizens to the best of my ability, even smart-ass baristas with a chip on their shoulder.”

Frothy scowled back at Sterling and said, “I think we’re done talking for today.”

“Yes, I believe we are,” Sterling agreed and turned towards his squad members. “Break’s over! Everybody back to their respective duties!” Sterling proceeded to hustle his squad out of the café, to the mumbled complaints of some of them.

Frothy overheard a few of those complaints, and was a little startled at how familiar they sounded – just like a real pony would complain.

Peach came over to the counter and said to Frothy, “What did you do? I was having a nice conversation with Archer when Sterling suddenly ordered them out. He never does that!”

“Hmmph! He’s just getting touchy, is all,” Frothy replied.

“Tired of your constant niggling, more like it,” Peach said accusingly.

“He doesn’t have to come here if it bothers him.”

“So that’s a yes. When are you going to accept that they aren’t bad people?”

“When I’m convinced that the examples I’m given are the rule and not the exception. They’re not ponies, Peachy, and treating them as such is a mistake.”

“You’re wrong, Dad, although sometimes I don’t know why they keep trying with somepony as mule-headed as you.”

“Enough! You have tables to clear.”

“Yes, sir,” Peach replied sourly.

Now they’re making my own daughter disrespect me,’ Frothy grumbled to himself.

It may have dismayed him though that his wife shared her daughter’s opinion. From the back room where she had stayed to listen out of curiosity, she had overheard everything with her keen hearing. There would be some words spoken in private that night!

Author's Note:

Well, it seems that I managed to fake some people out with my red herring. However, I admit that I did consider making Cherry a changeling when I was planning out the story, but in the end I decided that it was a little too obvious, and that Frothy would be forced to accept changelings, instead of working on convincing him. That's a lot harder, and for every two steps forward, there's one back. One does not let go of one's prejudices easily.

 
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