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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5. Chapter 5: A Father's Love

Except for the slightly humiliating apology that Frothy had extended to Sterling when he and his squad came in for their afternoon break, the day had been going pretty well. Frothy was still stinging from the tongue-lashing that Cherry had given him. Not that it was the first time he had suffered her ire – his grumpy nature had leaked past his professional front a few times in the past when confronted by irksome customers. However, as his wife had so cuttingly pointed out, Sterling had done nothing that had deserved Frothy’s attitude, and it was about time that he got over his prejudice of the changelings.

Easier said than done,’ he thought for the umpteenth time as he watched the last of his changeling customers file out the door.

The next hive member that was supposed to be visiting him was still a no-show, and not even Zeena had turned up that day. The afternoon tea rush was already tapering off, and it was not long before closing time before she made an appearance.

Zeena ignored the ponies giving her glares, and joined the short queue. The pony immediately in front of her started shuffling a bit nervously, but held his place. No pony left the café… this time at least.

“Running a bit late today?” Frothy asked when she stepped up to the counter. “And do you want your usual?”

“Yes, please, and actually I wasn’t going to come at all today after learning that your next visitor was still tied up. Looks like he won’t be here tomorrow either.”

“So why did you come?”

“Because I got word from another very important person that she had heard of what we’re trying to do, and she wanted to add her own contribution.”

As Frothy started steaming the milk, he asked, “So what’s so special about this person?”

“I can’t say it publicly, so lean over so I can whisper it, please.”

Curiosity aroused, Frothy leaned over Zeena put her mouth close to his ear. “Expect a royal visitor and her friend,” she whispered.

Frothy nearly spilled the milk with that revelation. “You’re kidding?”

“Nope. Perfectly true. She intends to come tomorrow around our usual time.”

“Then why the secrecy? What about the… normal arrangements for such things?” Frothy struggled to ask without giving away what he had just been told.

Zeena shrugged. “It’s how she wants to do things. Probably doesn’t want to make sideshow out of the visit.”

Frothy finished making the coffee and passed it on to Zeena. “Thanks. Now I’ll be sweating over this all night and half the day tomorrow.”

Zeena grinned. “You’re welcome. Seeya!” She then left, obviously pleased at getting a rise out of him.

Frothy stared after the changeling until the next customer in line coughed and said, “A little service, please!”

Frothy hastily brought his mind back to the job. “Sorry, ma’am. What can I get you?”

* * *

Frothy was about to lock up for the day when a red-maned unicorn entered the shop.

“I’m sorry, sir, but we’re closing for the day,” Frothy told him.

“It’s okay, Frothy, I’m actually here to see Peach. I’m taking her out to the theater,” the unicorn replied.

Frothy frowned, still not recognizing him, but getting a strong sense of familiarity. His efforts to recall were interrupted by his daughter’s voice.

“Hi, Archer! I’m just about finished here. Give me a few minutes to freshen up, and we can be on our way,” Peach said from behind the counter.

Frothy’s eyes widened in recognition. “Red Archer? The changeling guard? What are you doing taking out my daughter?” he said as he stepped up to Archer, challenge in his body language.

Archer took a nervous half-step back before replying, “We’ve been enjoying conversation for a while, so I thought it would be nice to ask her out….”

“You’re going on a date?! I don’t think so! No daughter of mine is going out with a changeling!”

“DAD! STOP IT!” Peach yelled, and came trotting over. She poked her father in the chest with a hoof and said, “First off, I’m twenty-one years old, a full-grown mare, and I can make my own decisions. Secondly, even if I was younger, you don’t get a say in who I date. Thirdly, and I want to make this perfectly clear – Archer is a very nice person, and does not deserve your attitude.” She kept thumping her hoof against him to make her point.

“But he’s not even your species!” he objected strenuously.

“Tell that to the hippogriffs, Dad. I’m sure that they’ll be impressed by your logic.”

“That’s different!” Frothy protested.

“No, it’s not, and I don’t want to hear another word about it. I’m going out with Archer, and that’s the end of the story.” Peach then trotted away, determination in her gait.

Frothy watched her go, silently fuming.

“I’m sorry to have caused you any trouble,” Archer said apologetically.

“I’m sorry you ever turned up in my shop,” Frothy snapped back. “And what’s with you turning up as a unicorn? I thought you were supposed to be promoting changelings by staying in your natural form?”

Archer’s resolve firmed up and he replied, “After dealing with attitudes like yours all day, it’s nice to take a break, so when I’m off-duty, I take my unicorn form to relax and socialize. Until the day I can go out in my natural form and have a pleasant evening without confrontations like these, I’ll keep on doing so.”

“Did it have to be with Peach though?”

“As opposed to somepony else’s daughter? It’s okay if it isn’t your daughter who is going out with a changeling?”

“If it’s okay with her parents, yes.”

“How much more bigoted can you get, Frothy? Changelings have been having relationships with ponies for millennia. What makes your daughter the exception?”

“Because she’s our only child!” Frothy snarled. “It would be too much of a burden on Cherry to have another. Between her growing blindness and her baking, she barely coped with Peach, and now that she’s totally blind, it would be unfair to Cherry to expect her to have another foal. So Peach is, and will remain, our solitary child, and I will do my utmost to protect her. Being associated with a changeling could be hazardous to Peach, and I can’t just ignore that.”

Archer could at last see some reason behind Frothy’s feelings, and his attitude softened. “Do you think that as a Royal Guard, I couldn’t protect her?”

“Can you guarantee that you can? Let me make this crystal clear – if she is hurt because of you, Royal Guard or not, I will break you!” With that, Frothy stalked off.

Archer watched him go, mixed feelings of admiration for Frothy’s devotion and frustration at his bigotry. In any case, he did not doubt Frothy’s threat in the slightest.

* * *

That evening had been somewhat of an anti-climax for Frothy. He had cooled down, especially with the help of his loving wife. Peach had come home at a reasonable hour, told them that they’d had a very nice evening, and then headed for bed. If that had not implied that there would be further dates though, Frothy would have been much happier.

* * *

Frothy kept making silly little mistakes all morning. Expecting an unknown and secretive royal visitor was constantly distracting him. It did not help that Sterling was amused by Frothy’s state of mind when he came by that afternoon.

“What’s got you in a tizzy today, Frothy?” Sterling asked.

“You mean you don’t know what’s going to happen soon?” Frothy replied.

“Not a clue, but now you’ve really got me really wondering if it’s stirring you up so much.”

Frothy smirked. “Good! I’m probably one up on you for once. Seems there’s a lot of secrecy about a visitor I’m expecting.”

Sterling went to his table, and Frothy finished making the various brews for the rest of his squad. When Archer came up, Frothy asked stiffly, “You enjoyed your date?”

Archer nodded. “We seem to have similar tastes in entertainment, so it worked out well.” There was a lull while his coffee was made before he added, “I intend to take Peach out again in a couple of days.”

Frothy managed to stifle his first reaction, and instead said, “I can’t stop you, so I’ll just say that what I said yesterday still applies.”

“Duly noted,” Archer replied, and took his drink to join his squad.

A couple of other non-changeling customers came for coffee and were served, and Frothy was beginning to wonder if his royal visitor was ever going to turn up. Sterling’s squad might have to leave before they turned up.

Just then, a flash of light coming from just outside, accompanied by soft bang, caught his attention. Immediately after that, the door of the café opened to admit what he first thought was a purple unicorn, but then he spotted the folded wings and suddenly realized that this was an alicorn – Princess Twilight Sparkle. Frothy gaped in shock. While he had been told to expect royalty, he had taken that with a grain of salt, and expected someone of slightly lesser stature than one of the four alicorn princesses of Equestria. He was so preoccupied with Twilight though, that he almost did not notice the grey-coated pegasus that followed her inside.

“Ugh! It’s been too long since I teleported with you, Twilight. I’m not used to that anymore,” the pegasus complained.

Frothy hastened to come around the counter to meet the princess, and the Royal Guard were scrambling to attention also. Because they were nearer, they caught her notice first.

Sterling Shield saluted and said, “Princess Sparkle, I was not aware of any official engagement.”

“At ease, Sergeant, this isn’t a formal….”

Before she could finish, Twilight was interrupted by one of the Guards suddenly shouting, “Watch out! That’s a Blue Changeling!”

The Guard started to dash forward, drawing his sword and charging up his horn at the same time. To their credit, the rest of the squad reacted without hesitation, and started converging on the grey pegasus, who dodged behind Twilight in fright.

“Stop!” commanded Twilight, emphasizing her order with a hastily thrown up force field.

The nearer Guards bounced off the shield harmlessly, and the squad halted in confusion.

“But your Highness,” Sterling objected, “that pegasus is a Blue Changeling, one of Chrysalis’ minions, and an enemy of the State!”

“I know exactly what and who this pony is, and you probably do also. Let me introduce to you Whirring Cogs, former emotion harvester and now just a mechanic living peacefully in a small township. And most of all, my good friend.”

Recognition dawned on Sterling’s face. “He’s the one who renounced Chrysalis and supplied us information on her hive.”

“Exactly,” Twilight confirmed. “Umm, Cogs, you can stop hiding behind me now.”

Sterling said, “Our apologies, Mister Cogs. We did not realize it was you. We have a capture on sight policy for all Blues, and it didn’t occur to me that you were an ally.”

“No hard feelings,” Cogs replied a little shakily, “but I’d really appreciate it if you don’t scare the crap out of me like that again.”

“Perhaps we can get back to the purpose of our visit now,” Twilight said, turning towards Frothy. “Would you be Frothy Brew?”

“I am, your Highness, and with all due respect, get that thing out of my café!” Frothy said emphatically, pointing an accusing hoof at Cogs.

Twilight blinked in surprise for a few seconds, trying to digest his response, before replying, “Whirring Cogs is the reason for my visit, Mister Brew. I had heard that you have been welcoming changelings and learning more about them. As Princess of Friendship, I wish to help promote this positive social message on behalf of changelings.”

“I wouldn’t say that I exactly welcome changelings; it’s more like advanced tolerance. However, I have no time for any of his kind.”

“But you haven’t even learned anything about Cogs as yet,” Twilight protested.

“I know all that I need to know already. His kind attacked us, and hurt us in unspeakable ways. Several of his cohorts held us captive right here in my café, while one of them ripped the love out of a helpless mare. It’s bad enough that I’m reminded of that every time I see a changeling, but to have one from that actual hive – that’s intolerable, and I want it out of here!”

“Hey!” Cogs objected, “If you want to start insulting me, have the decency to tell me to my face, and stop yelling at Twilight.”

“That’s Princess Sparkle to you, bug,” Frothy snarled, “and you don’t deserve any respect. I have to live with the memory of that horror, but I don’t have to put up with something that would do that to a pony.”

“I never forcibly drained a pony in my life!” Cogs yelled back. “I even clobbered one soldier who started doing that to a mare. I wanted nothing to do with the invasion of Canterlot, but I was forced into complying.”

“A likely story,” Frothy scoffed. “I saw and heard with my own eyes and ears what you lot were doing. I haven’t forgotten it; I can’t forget it. I still have nightmares about it now after all these years.”

“You saw one pony being harmed? I saw dozens of my colleagues being felled by the Royal Guards. All of the emotion harvesters who wanted no part of that madness were stripped of their jobs and thrown into the front lines of the attack with barely any training – arrow fodder – amateurs against trained soldiers.” Tears welled in Cogs eyes as he recalled the events of that day. “I lost more than colleagues; I lost many good friends, some of whom I grew up with. I stood among their lifeless husks, smeared with their blood, and I was shattered. I almost died that day, and at the time I almost wished that I had died. I still remember the horrors that I saw done to both sides, and I still have nightmares about it too. How dare you condemn me for something that you know so little about!”

 

 

 

“Know? Who cares about invaders who attack peaceful ponies? If you hadn’t attacked us, you would not have lost your so-called friends. If you hated it so much, why didn’t you just quit?” Frothy accused.

“Quit? You can’t just quit the hive,” Cogs said scornfully. “Changelings are linked to their hive, and their queen especially. We may be able to make objections, but if our queen orders us to do something, we can’t help but to obey. While I was in the hive, or with the swarm, that link bound me and all the others. It wasn’t until I was cut off from the hive that I was finally able to break the link.”

“It’s true, Frothy,” Sterling interjected. “Remember what I told you about the hive bond and how our queen had to withdraw it from us? We’re actually amazed that Cogs managed to break it on his own.”

Frothy scowled at Sterling. “Nobody asked your opinion, Sterling, and that still doesn’t do anything about the nightmares that I have suffered because of his kind.”

Cogs laughed bitterly. “You want to talk about nightmares? I had terrible ones for days after I broke the link. Pain and death at the hooves of Chrysalis were my companions each night. The ghosts of slain ponies haunted my dreams. I still have nightmares occasionally, but the love of my wife soothes me and brings back peace to me.”

Frothy was getting aggravated by how the changeling was constantly countering his arguments, as if it was the wronged one, but the mention of a wife set him off on a touchy subject. “You’re stealing some poor mare’s love? How can you say that you’re innocent?!”

“Don’t you dare drag my wife into this!” Cogs snarled. “I told you I don’t steal love. She found me injured, gave me a place to recover and the strength to break my link to Chrysalis. She fell in love with me, and I with her, and I get all the sustenance I need passively. And even though that’s more than enough, I get still more from my children. I do not rip love from anypony!”

“You… have children? But that’s impossible!” Frothy objected, distracted from his tirade by that revelation.

“No it’s not, as long as you have the right magical assistance,” Cogs said, indicating Twilight.

The alicorn had been waiting for an opportune moment to break into the argument. “I can verify that Cogs has two darling little fillies, and that they definitely have some of his traits, because I crafted the spell that enabled it. He is a devoted father and husband, and a person well worth knowing.”

Frothy cast a suspicious eye on Twilight for the first time. “How very touching. How do I know that you’re not a changeling too, and feeding me more lies?”

Sterling frowned and said, “Watch it, Frothy Brew – this is the genuine Princess Sparkle that you’re insulting.”

“Sure!” scoffed Frothy. “A changeling vouches for a changeling. How convenient.”

Twilight gave him an irritated glare. “You want proof? So be it!”

With that, her horn lit up with the glow of magic, but rather than something being done with it, the glow continued to grow. And grow. And grow! It was not very long before the terrible pressure of the magical potential was pressing on all the occupants of the café, and still it kept increasing. Frothy realized that it already dwarfed by far anything any unicorn could do, let alone a changeling, and he began to fear what might happen if he let the demonstration continue any longer.

“Enough! I believe you!” Frothy shouted.

Twilight drew back her magic, but the room was still buzzing with the residue. Sparks jumped between metal objects, or arced to the floor to ground themselves out. Frothy was sweating from the realization of what he had done in his fit of anger.

Frothy bowed low and said, “Forgive me for doubting you, your Highness.”

“One more demonstration, Mister Brew,” Twilight said sternly, and with a flash, she and he disappeared from the café.

Moments later, they reappeared on a balcony high on Canterlot castle. Frothy reeled a little from the disorientating (and slightly nauseating) teleport, but then gasped when he realized where they were.

“Your Highness, I already said that I believed you; why did you bring me here?”

Twilight gestured to indicate the room behind them. “These are my quarters when I visit Canterlot. I don’t use them much because my home is in Ponyville, but I do enjoy the view from here. Look down and around you, Mister Brew. What do you see?”

Frothy did as he was told, and saw the streets of the city clearly, with ponies of all kinds going about their affairs. Although the perspective was new, the scenes were not. “I see a normal day in Canterlot.”

“Exactly! It’s a typical peaceful day, with the normal, everyday happenings that have been going on for centuries, or even millennia. Among all those ponies that you have just seen, I can guarantee you that at least one or two are actually changelings. Just as they do every day, there are many changelings who have also been going about their business in the same normal, peaceful manner for the same amount of time. The invasion of Canterlot by the mad queen, Chrysalis, did more to harm those changelings in the long run than it did the other citizens of Canterlot. There were victims on both sides of that conflict, but most ponies have recovered and moved on with their lives. Others cling onto their hatred, and end up blaming the blameless. I thought that you were doing something positive about that with your tolerance of changelings in your café where many other businesses refuse to deal with them. Was I wrong about that? Have I erred in showing you that not even all the Blue Changelings are bad?”

Frothy struggled to answer, and for a long while he was silent. Eventually he replied, “Princess, while what you have said may be true, our trust has been violated by a race that has practiced deception for longer than anypony can say. How can that trust be restored?”

“You’re right – trust has to be restored, but it has to be done by both sides. The changelings are already reaching out to ponies by walking among them undisguised. It’s the turn of ponies like you to meet them halfway.”

In a flash, they were back in the café.

“And it starts right here,” Twilight finished.

Frothy looked around at the changelings who were observing him keenly, and then he looked at Cogs who seemed to have an air of expectancy about him.

“So,” Frothy began, shuffling uncomfortably, “you have a wife and two foals?” he asked Cogs.

Cogs nodded. “A unicorn mare who means everything to me, and a pegasus and a unicorn foals who make me so proud to be a father.”

“Do your neighbors know that you’re a changeling?”

“No, but I’m not trying to do what Twilight is doing. I’m just trying to be a normal pegasus stallion living a normal, quiet life with my family.”

“I believe you because the Princess has convinced me that you’re telling the truth, but the hurt is still within me. Why did your queen invade us?” Frothy pleaded for an answer.

“Chrysalis is not my queen anymore, Mister Brew, but to answer you – I honestly can’t say for sure. It made no sense whatsoever to us emotion harvesters. How long she had her mad plans for power, I cannot even imagine. I guess that I was too much a part of the pony world to notice what was happening back at the hive.”

“Then as far as I can tell, it could happen again. How can I be expected to trust a Blue Changeling in the future?”

Cogs looked deeply sad. “Mister Brew, as far as we know, I am the only survivor of the emotion harvesters. Any other Blue Changelings that you might ever meet will probably be bound to Chrysalis’ will, and won’t be worth trusting.”

 

 

Frothy nodded. “Thank you for your honesty, Mister Cogs.” He hesitated for a moment before adding, “These other changelings have been telling me how their hives have benefited Equestrian society. How did yours before things went sour?”

Cogs replied proudly, “Our specialty was discovering the hidden, whether it was information or a problem. We were researchers, advisers to businesses and governments, and trouble-shooters. I was a fix-it pony. Show me a mechanical problem and I could solve it. If it was fixable, I could fix it. That was the source of our pride before everything went wrong. You would probably be astounded at the number of discoveries and advances that are directly attributable to members of my former hive.”

“And now Equestria has lost all that potential?” Frothy asked.

“Both sides have lost this one, Mister Brew. It was always a two-way street,” Cogs replied.

“Call me Frothy, Cogs. For what it’s worth, you are at least as welcome to return as this lot,” Frothy said with a sweep of his hoof indicating the Guards.

“Thanks, Frothy, but with no disrespect intended, I don’t intend to come back to Canterlot anytime in the near future.”

Frothy’s trademark smirk returned briefly. “I can understand that.”

Cogs turned to Twilight and said, “I think we’re done here. Can we go home now? I feel the need for a hug from Lavender.”

“I’d say we’ve accomplished what we came here for. Goodbye, everypony!” Twilight said to all gathered there.

The Royal Guards saluted, and Frothy said, “Goodbye, Princess.”

In a flash, Twilight and Cogs were gone, leaving a bemused unicorn with the squad of changelings.

Frothy glared at the Guards. “Aren’t you overdue to get back to work? Show’s over! Get out of here before I report you to the Captain of the Guard for dereliction of duty!”

Sterling grinned and replied, “Yes, sir! Squad – double-time!”

The changeling Guards marched quickly out of the café, leaving Frothy to his thoughts. Belatedly he noticed Peach watching him from behind the counter. “How much did you see?” he asked.

“Most of it,” Peach replied and started coming around the counter to meet him. “I’m proud of you for putting aside your hate for Cogs, Dad.”

Frothy acknowledged that with a nod. “How could I not empathize with another father?” He drew Peach into his embrace. “We both have our families to love and care for.”

 
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