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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9. Chapter 9: The Blame Game

Mercifully, the next couple of days were quiet and without incident. Frothy enjoyed them while the peace lasted, but he knew that it could not last. When Efficacious Remedies, the local pharmacist, entered the café that afternoon, he had a feeling that something was up.

“Hi Effy,” Frothy greeted the unicorn mare. “Have you finally decided to try one of my brews?” He gave her one of his best friendly and hopeful looks.

Efficacious Remedies merely wrinkled up her nose. “You know I can’t stand the smell of coffee, Frothy, and I only come in here for your dear wife’s marvelous pastries.”

Frothy sighed. “And you don’t usually shop for those in the middle of your work day either, so why are you here now?”

“I’m here to represent the local traders’ group, and we would like to hold a meeting here tonight to discuss strategies for revitalizing trade in the area.”

“Why haven’t I heard about this group, and why do you want to use my café?” Frothy asked bluntly.

“It’s quite obvious that your business is hardly suffering, but your business practices may be affecting ours. Nevertheless there are many in the group that feel that you should be included in our first formal full meeting. For that, we need a venue, and as it seems that you’re willing to host one for changelings, you might see fit to balance out your favors by helping us out a bit also. It would certainly save us the cost of hiring a hall.”

Frothy gave her his trademark smirk. “Remind me to thank everyone for their consideration,” he said with a heavy sarcastic tone.

Efficacious Remedies frowned. “You won’t make many allies with that kind of an attitude, Frothy. There are plenty of ponies who are happy to lay the blame on you for their current downturn in business.”

“Seems to me that they haven’t adjusted their businesses to suit the changing needs of the customers,” Frothy replied.

The mare started to retort, but stopped and shook her head. “We’re not debating this now. All I want to know is whether you will host the meeting?”

Frothy paused to consider the question for a moment before nodding. “Sure! Believe it or not, I do care about how my neighbors’ businesses are doing. Some of them are my friends too, y’know? Besides, none of our businesses stand alone. You don’t think the café would do half as well if there weren’t any other stores around to attract customers to the area?”

The mare’s expression softened. “No, of course not. So, when are you available?”

“Any night this week. We have no plans until Saturday.”

“Tomorrow night, then? That will give me enough time to notify everyone, and for them to make any arrangements to be here.”

“That’ll be fine. Tell them that they’re welcome to come before closing time if they’d like to enjoy refreshments, but otherwise we’ll be able to start the meeting soon after we close our doors to the public.”

“Thank you, Frothy.” Efficacious Remedies turned to leave, hesitated, and then turned back to Frothy and said, “Might as well sell me a couple of cakes while I’m here. You know that only the smell of coffee normally keeps me from totally ruining my diet.”

Frothy eyed the fairly rotund mare and decided that it was a good time to keep his mouth shut.

* * *

Frothy seldom needed to leave the premises during weekdays, so he usually did not pay much attention to the weather. Therefore it came as a surprise to him that rain had been scheduled for that evening. A few ponies who had also neglected to check the forecast and had been unprepared, elected to shelter at the café and fortify themselves with a hot brew before braving the cool showers. It took longer than normal to clear the shop of customers, so he, Peach, and Mixitkl had to rush to clean up before the meeting.

Because of the weather, only a couple of the shopkeepers had taken advantage of coming in for coffee and cake before closing time, but they were regulars anyway who normally closed a little earlier than the other shops did. Ocean Breeze was a pegasus fishmonger, supplying seafood to the resident griffin population, and not a few pegasi also. Although other ponies would try fish occasionally, their winged brethren were well known for their peculiar taste for such. The other was a unicorn named Stylish Stitches, tailor to the nobility… or anypony else who could afford his ultra-expensive formal wear. Despite his clientele though, Frothy knew the stallion to be a very down-to-earth pony who had made good through his skills rather than his status or connections. He and Frothy had spent many pleasant late afternoons chatting before they both called it a day.

As the various shopkeepers finished closing their businesses, they made their way to the café, most carrying umbrellas, and a small puddle was forming near the door where they were left to drip dry. One particularly skillful unicorn though used her magic to deflect the raindrops with an invisible shield instead. A body-pattern artist like Elegant Designs needed to be clever with her horn magic though.

Although it soon became obvious that not all of the local traders had elected to attend the meeting, Frothy realized that they had a fair representation of those nearest to his establishment, and thus were probably the most affected by the increase in changeling presence. He was curious to find out how many of them had seen a downturn in trade, or whether any in fact had gained more custom. Also attending were a newspaper and magazine vendor, a greengrocer, a milliner, an accountant, a manchester seller, a music store owner, a dressmaker, a bookstore owner, a mane stylist, a representative from the local branch of Quills & Sofas, and a few other ponies that he did not recognize.

As he had done at the recent changeling meeting, Frothy served up refreshments before they got down to business. Because Cherry expressed interest in attending the meeting also, she helped him by serving up some of the pastries that had been unsold that day, earning her the gratitude and pleasure of several ponies who obviously normally headed off to dinner at that time.

Unlike the previous gathering, there were no obvious surprise inclusions. Efficacious Remedies seemed to be one in charge, although Frothy wondered if she was self-appointed or elected to that role. She called the group to order and began the meeting.

“As you all know, the past few weeks have seen a dramatic change in the number and type of customers frequenting this district. Already, one store owner, Small Treasures, has had to sell up due to the fall in sales, and we all know why.”

Frothy frowned and said, “Is this meeting going to be about doing something about attracting more customers to our businesses, Effy, or bitching about changelings?”

Efficacious Remedies gave him a stern look and replied, “Just because your café is doing so well with all your changeling customers, Frothy, doesn’t mean that they are not a major cause of our problems, and must be seriously discussed. Despite the decree of the Princesses, they are not a welcome sight to many ponies, and if that means going a little further out of their way to shop elsewhere just to avoid them, then that’s a problem for us.”

“Of course it’s a problem. I just don’t want to listen to ponies whining about what they can’t change,” Frothy retorted, uncomfortably aware that he may have jumped the gun a little.

“Let them air their grievances, Love,” Cherry said to Frothy, patting him reassuringly on the back. “It’s best we hear all sides of the problem first.”

“Thank you, Cherry,” Efficacious Remedies said, and then turned her attention back to the others. “Can I hear how your businesses have been doing, and what factors you believe may be affecting them. Dusty Tome, would you like to begin?”

The old stallion nodded, cleared his throat, and said, “Book sales have been very slow of late. Customers simply aren’t stopping by and browsing as much as they used to before the changelings started getting common around here.”

“You sure it ain’t because you haven’t stocked anything new in that gloomy store of yours since before the return of Princess Luna, Dusty?” asked the magazine vendor with a sneer in her voice.

Dusty Tome’s face hardened as he turned towards his detractor. “At least I stock books of value, Newsworthy, not trashy magazines or tabloid rags like you!”

The mare just grinned infuriatingly back at him. “My sales are fine though. Maybe you should get with the times and sell something ponies actually want to read?”

Dusty Tome looked as if he was about to blow his stack, but Efficacious Remedies interrupted the incipient argument. “Gentleponies! Please keep to the subject and just report, please. Newsworthy, I gather that you haven’t been affected by the recent general downturn?”

“Well, I didn’t say that. I’ve lost a few customers, but I’m still doing well enough. If things pick up again for you others, I’m sure that I’ll pick up more of the passing trade, just like I always have.”

“I see. But if things get worse for us, you could conceivably be hit harder?”

Newsworthy nodded slowly. “I suppose so. I don’t worry too much about what might be though. Give customers what they want now – that’s my motto.”

“Right. Let’s go on to the next then. Tender Greens, would you give us your view, please?”

The greengrocer cleared her throat and said, “Actually, while I had a dip in sales for a while, that seems to have bounced back up recently. I reckon I’ve been getting more changeling customers lately, and they’ve been making up the difference.”

“I thought changelings were meat eaters?” Red Ink, the accountant queried.

Mixitkl spoke up. “While we need to have animal protein in our diet, we can and do eat vegetables and fruit almost as much as ponies do.”

Efficacious Remedies scowled and said, “What do you think you’re doing at this meeting, changeling?”

The Violet Changeling glared back at her. “First, my name is Mixitkl, and I would appreciate that you use it. Second, I work here, and have every right to be here, especially as I will probably have to clean up after you lot leave. Thirdly, if you’re serious about dealing with your business problems and you feel that my kind have something to do with it, you could use some of my input.”

Efficacious Remedies’ face darkened, but she held her anger in check. “Nevertheless, this is a meeting of the local businessponies only, not interested parties.”

“I suppose that means I should leave then?” said a pink pegasus with purple mane. She was one of the ponies that Frothy did not recognize.

 

 

Efficacious Remedies was caught by surprise, evidently not knowing who the mare was either. “Umm… and you are…?”

“The name’s Airbrush, and I’m a cloud sculptor from Trottingham.”

“Then what are you doing here, may I ask?”

Airbrush pointed to the brown-furred earth pony with a gold mane seated to her left. “Low Note here invited me. I was visiting his music shop and we were commiserating about how things had been changing for the worse around here lately. He thought I might have something to contribute, and I was curious enough to tag along with my friend.”

Frothy’s curiosity was aroused. “How do changelings affect a cloud sculptor?” he asked.

Airbrush snorted and replied, “More than you’d think. I was scheduled to be part of the celebrations for the wedding of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza and Shining Armor. I was finalizing my preparations, moving clouds into place when the changelings attacked. I was captured and herded together with other ponies to be feasted upon later. I escaped that fate, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to talk with any changelings since they started appearing undisguised.” She paused to look at Mixitkl. “Doesn’t mean that I don’t understand that only one hive was responsible, but I also know why customers are avoiding them.”

Efficacious Remedies nodded. “As you were invited by Low Note and have something to contribute, then you are welcome here.”

“Then the same can be said of Mixitkl,” Frothy added with his usual smirk.

Efficacious Remedies glared at Frothy, which did nothing to dim his expression. There were a few chuckles from some of the other ponies too. The mare conceded defeat and looked away. “Alright then, let’s move onto the next. Elegant Designs – you told me that business was slow lately?”

The mare nodded. “Only my steady customers have been coming lately. Some have moved to other body artists, new customers have been rare, and shape-changers sure don’t need my services.”

“Are you sure of that?” Mixitkl asked. “What exactly do you have to offer?”

“Huh? I paint body art – permanent and semi-permanent designs painted onto ponies who like to stand out in the crowd. Art that you changelings can imitate with no effort at all,” she added a touch bitterly.

Mixitkl replied, “Yeah, we can imitate, but innovate – that’s an entirely different thing. Not all of us are artistically inclined, but we do love the creativity of you ponies. While it’s not my thing, I know a couple of ‘lings who might be interested, if they knew about you. I think that what you need is not less changelings but more promotion.”

The mare looked surprised. “Advertise? But I’ve always relied on word-of-mouth, and done well enough until now.”

“That’s ponies talking to other ponies though, isn’t it? How many of them talk to changelings? How many potential customers never know about you and your talent? Try it – what have you got to lose?”

Elegant Designs looked uncertain. “Are you really sure that there’s a market there?”

Mixitkl shrugged. “It’s a changing world. Once upon a time, we would never have shown our true forms. Now we’re trying to fit in with pony society, and trying new things too. We tend to look alike to you ponies, so you might even set a trend selling designs to ‘lings who want to stand out among all the others.”

The body artist’s gaze was lost in the distance as the mare considered the possibilities. Efficacious Remedies took this as a cue to move onto another businesspony.

“Fascinating Flair, how’s the hat business?”

The pegasus mare scowled and snorted contemptuously. “What business? I’m dying, Effy! I’ve scarcely sold a hat or a fascinator all week. Last week wasn’t much better.” She glared in the direction of Mixitkl. “Where’s your changeling business there, hmm?”

Mixitkl looked apologetic. “I’m sorry, but I admit that my kind aren’t really all that interested in hats. Or at least, us Violet Changelings aren’t. I’m not one hundred percent sure about the other hives.”

“So, no words of wisdom for me?” Fascinating Flair asked sarcastically.

“How about shut up shop and move elsewhere?” interjected Ocean Breeze. “You’ve been moaning about poor sales for years. Every time you come by my shop, I get an earful. Seems to me that you’re just using the changelings as an excuse.”

Fascinating Flair looked outraged. “What would a smelly fish seller know about the hat market? The design and selling of hats and fascinators has been my lifelong career. If I say that those bugs are hurting my business, then they are!”

“And I say again – move! Maybe you’ll do better elsewhere, and I won’t have to listen to you whine about it anymore,” the fishmonger told her bluntly.

“Well I never! You’ve lost a customer, Breeze! I never liked going to your shop anyway.”

Ocean Breeze snorted in amusement. “Small loss. All those new changelings visiting the area have increased my sales a lot lately. Yours won’t be missed.”

Gentleponies!” Efficacious Remedies glared at the two arguers. “We are trying to have a civil discourse here. Please restrain yourselves.”

Ocean Breeze and Fascinating Flair backed down reluctantly, and the pharmacist continued.

“No need to ask how your business is doing, Breeze, so we’ll move onto the next. Silky Sheets – how is your manchester shop doing?”

The orange earth pony looked glum. “Sales are way down, Effy. Ever since the changelings started coming around here, ponies have been shopping elsewhere. I’ve tried running sales and promotions, but nothing works lately.”

Efficacious Remedies looked at Mixitkl and said, “What have you to say about that? That’s about as clear an indication of how your kind has affected business as you can get.”

Mixitkl looked puzzled. “Frankly I don’t understand. We need sheets, towels and such just as much as any pony does. How come you haven’t gotten more business from us?”

Silky Sheets looked at her distastefully. “Oh, I don’t let your kind into my store. I refuse to deal with you bugs, no matter what the Princesses say.”

There was a moment of stunned silence about the table before Red Ink spoke up. “You do know that it’s illegal to refuse service on the basis of race?”

The mare looked a little uncertain but defiant. “I reserve the right to not serve anypony, and besides, bugs aren’t ponies anyway.”

“Silky, race covers griffins, minotaurs, and changelings, not just types of ponies. You can’t just refuse to serve any of them for no reason other than you don’t like them.”

Silky Sheets just crossed her forelegs and looked away defiantly. Red Ink sighed and gave up trying to talk sense to her.

Efficacious Remedies looked as she wanted to agree with Silky, but instead said, “I suppose we must ignore that statistic. Anypony else refusing service to changelings?”

There were no replies, so she addressed another pony. “Pen Point – you represent a company rather than a private business. What has it been like for you?”

“Firstly,” the unicorn stallion began officiously, “it is the policy of Quills & Sofas, Incorporated, that all customers be treated with the same courtesy and consideration irrespective of species.” He glanced meaningfully at Silky who studiously ignored him. Pen Point continued, “Sales and promotions are adjusted to suit the locale of each store, and despite the changing demographic here, our business has remained comfortably consistent.”

“In other words, changelings buy quills and sofas too,” Frothy added dryly.

“I believe that’s what I just said,” Pen Point reproved him.

“I have a question, if I may?” Cherry spoke up.

“Certainly, Cherry,” Efficacious Remedies replied with a nod.

“Thank you, Effy. Pen Point – you say that sales have been fairly consistent despite the general downturn of business due to fewer ponies visiting the market. However, if the quantity of ponies were to return something like their previous number, wouldn’t you actually expect an increase over your previous average business?”

Pen Point considered that for a moment before replying, “I would say that would be a reasonable assumption.”

“Then the general problem is not a lack of custom from changelings, but the attitudes of ponies towards mingling with changelings.”

“Your point, Cherry?” Efficacious Remedies asked.

“So far, I’ve heard little that can’t be put down to ponies’ attitudes, and that goes for both customers and sellers. It’s not a problem that is going to go away anytime soon because we have long memories of the events of the invasion. It took a major change of perception on behalf of my husband to accept them, but that has been of great benefit to us in terms of both business and family. Eventually all ponies must learn to accept also, or else we may be harming ourselves, our families, and our businesses.”

“You make it sound so simple, but some of us need answers now, not some vague hypothetical time in the future when changelings and ponies live together in harmony.” Efficacious Remedies looked at one of the other ponies who had yet to make a comment. “Perfect Pleats – you’ve told me how your dressmaking business has been doing badly lately. Tell us about it.”

The unicorn mare looked a little flustered. “Well, it’s true that my sales have dropped a lot lately, but listening to Elegant Designs and the others, I’m wondering if I’m not doing enough to attract changeling custom also.” She turned to look at Mixitkl. “Do you even like to wear dresses? I don’t recall seeing you in anything but your apron, and other changelings in various work clothing.”

Mixitkl grinned. “Hon, you haven’t been looking. Those of us who have a feminine personality often love to dress up for occasions. First we need to be invited to those functions though before we go shopping for dresses, or for the more masculine types, for other formal wear such as Stylish Stitches makes.” She smiled at the stallion who acknowledged her with an inclination of his head. She continued, “Anyway, just like many ponies, we don’t wear much or any clothing under normal circumstances, but we harvesters are not much different from the average pony with our likes and dislikes. I think though that dresses that suit us might be a bit different from those that suit unicorns or pegasi. Do you think you would be up to the challenge of designing such if more changelings came your way?”

Perfect Pleats straightened up and her face took on a far more confident look. “My work is second to none! Come to my shop, and send me your friends; I will astound you all!”

“I second that,” Stylish Stitches added. “Although I’ve never turned away a potential customer, I could do with a few more, and I like the idea of designing something to suit changelings. We could start a new trend.”

Efficacious Remedies looked a little sourly at the enthusiastic pair. “That’s all very well for you, but there are others who don’t have such simple solutions. I don’t see changelings coming into my pharmacy. Do you even get sick?” she demanded of Mixitkl.

“Of course we do, but our ailments tend to differ from yours, so aside from things to treat injuries that are common to both of our kinds, we don’t need much of what you’re selling. We have our own healers and they have their own remedies for what ails us.”

“And where do they get those?”

Mixitkl shrugged. “Sorry, not my line of work. Maybe I can mention something to them though.”

“And what can they do about all the pony customers that I have lost?”

“I’m afraid that comes back to changing pony attitudes towards us,” Mixitkl admitted.

“Exactly! That’s what we’re trying to deal with. Ponies don’t want to mingle with your kind, so they go elsewhere. How do you propose to deal with that?”

Mixitkl gave her an annoyed look. “Why is it up to us to do everything? It’s always us who have to go the extra mile to make you ponies happy. Aside from the Blue Changelings who aren’t among the Canterlot population, we have never done you any harm, but we’re always treated as the ones in the wrong.”

Airbrush spoke up. “Like I said earlier, knowing that you’re not the bad guys doesn’t change our impressions of changelings. Attendances at my shows in Canterlot have dropped considerably since your kind started coming openly to them. For every one of you though, two or three ponies refuse to be seated anywhere near you, and often demand their money back. Even opening up a section of the arena just for changelings hasn’t done much to change that.”

Mixitkl genuinely looked angry now. “About that – do you really think segregating us from ponies is a solution? Has it come down to us versus them? We’re trying to integrate ourselves into your society, but you’re trying to push us out at every opportunity!”

“Who in Tartarus asked you to join our society?” Efficacious Remedies shouted back. “We were better off without your kind strolling through the streets as if you belonged.”

“You idiot! We’ve always been a part of Canterlot’s society, and the rest of Equestria too! You just didn’t know it until that mad queen ruined centuries of quiet coexistence. Better off? You have no idea of what you’re talking about! Changelings have…”

“Mixy – enough!” Frothy commanded loudly over the voices of the bickering pair.

Mixitkl stopped, and if her carapace could show it, she surely would have been blushing. “Sorry, I lost my temper there.”

Cherry said, “Arguing is the exact opposite of what we’re trying to achieve here today, and attitudes are undeniably the major problem. However, I don’t think it’s just us ponies who have to rethink our attitudes. Changelings have been doing things the same way for centuries, but times have changed. Maybe there’s something that both sides can do meet in the middle. There must be, because otherwise this society is going to tear itself apart, and we might even see race wars that haven’t existed in Equestria since before the unification of the three pony tribes.”

There was a long moment of silence as those gathered there contemplated Cherry’s words. Eventually Efficacious Remedies said stiffly, “I think that we’ve achieved all we can for tonight. I propose that we reconvene in a couple of weeks to discuss any changes we have put into effect. Mixitkl, I would appreciate it if you talk to your healers about my business.” The last sentence seemed to be almost choked out against her will.

Mixitkl nodded. “I will.”

“Thank you. I declare this meeting closed. Thank you Peach and Frothy for hosting it.”

There was a quiet murmur of agreement as the ponies got up from the table and started heading for the door.

Frothy said to Cherry, “Mixy and I will clean up and I’ll join you soon, Love.”

“I’ll have hot chocolate and cake waiting for you. And maybe something hotter also,” she added with a wink.

Frothy gave her a grin, and despite the fact that that his wife couldn’t see it, he knew she could sense it quite well indeed.

When the last pony had been ushered out, Frothy locked the café’s door and started helping Mixitkl cleaning up.

“You didn’t really have to stay after hours to clean up after the meeting, so why did you stay?” he asked quietly.

The changeling paused what she was doing before snorting and replying, “I couldn’t let those ponies sit around reinforcing their gripes and misconceptions with each other, so I had to be able to head them off. So I invited myself. Thankfully I didn’t get kicked out.”

“You can thank Airbrush for that. She’s obviously not your biggest fan, but they couldn’t kick you out without doing the same for her too.”

“You wouldn’t have stuck up for me?”

“Maybe. Mixy, you changelings may have a stake in all of this, but you don’t automatically have the right to stick your nose into everything we do. I’ve learned a lot about changelings lately, and you know that I am sympathetic to your cause, but there’s a limit to everything. As Cherry said, both sides need to compromise. Yes, you’re getting the short end of stick at the moment, but you can’t have the entire stick, no matter how much you might think so. Ponies might be better off with your kind, but we don’t necessarily need you.”

“But we do need ponies,” Mixitkl concluded. “You’re right, Frothy. We harvesters may have to adapt to changes we’ve never considered before. That going to be a lot harder than you realize, but in the end it’s for the greater good of our hives, and for Equestria overall.”

“At least you have some sympathetic ponies on your side. You might even start a changeling-led revival of sorts.”

Mixitkl grinned. “Wouldn’t that be something? By the way, I’ll let you into a little secret. One of those ponies was actually a changeling also.”

“Oh? Which one?”

“That’s up to them to tell if they wish. You can have fun speculating though.”

“I’m guessing it isn’t Effy or Silky,” Frothy said drolly.

Mixitkl laughed. “No, it isn’t; I’ll pay you that one.”

They finished cleaning up and left everything ready for the start of business the next morning. Mixitkl took off her apron and hung it up before replacing it with a pouch of personal possessions that she hung around her neck.

“Well, goodnight, Frothy. I’ll see you at the beginning of my usual shift tomorrow.”

They went to the door so that he could let her out and lock up again. As she went, she stopped and said, “I probably don’t say this enough, but on behalf of the Violet Changelings, and in fact all changelings, I thank you for helping us so much.”

“You’re welcome, Mixy. Um, speaking of Violet Changelings, there’s one thing that I’ve been meaning to ask for a long time, but keep forgetting…”

“Yes…?”

“Why do you call yourselves such unimaginative hive names? Violet, Red, Green, and so on. Surely you could have come up with something more interesting than that?”

Mixitkl giggled. “Those are actually just common names, or nicknames if you prefer. My kind’s true name is–” She chittered something unpronounceable by pony throats.

Frothy looked blank for a moment before his trademark smirk returned. “Right. Violet Changelings it is.”

Mixitkl laughed. “Goodnight Frothy.”

Mixitkl stepped out into the rain and trotted off smartly. Frothy watched her for a while as the lamplight glistened off her wet carapace. “Goodnight, my changeling friend,” he murmured before closing the door and turning off the shop’s light.

 
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