• Published 6th Mar 2014
  • 6,856 Views, 204 Comments

Cooking Roach - Bucking Nonsense

The story of Rochelle, a changeling in Canterlot, and how she ends up with a most unusual job...

  • ...

Recipe One: Something Spicy

"Are you sure you want to do that, big boy?"

As Rochelle (Well, it was Roach, really, but what girl wants THAT as her name?) watched the minotaur prepare to take their little game to the next level, she reflected on how lucky it was that changelings had no sense of taste. When she had heard about how minotaurs enjoyed proving how macho they were by, amongst other things, having an annual pepper eating contest, she had realized that she could make a nice chunk of change today. Disguised as a dark brown (coat) on light brown (mane and tail) earth pony, she'd entered, and made it to the finals without breaking a sweat.

The tongue was, in Rochelle's opinion, the most traitorous organ in the body. It made a pony reject foods that would have been healthy, while at the same time made the same pony crave foods that would, in the long run, cause all sorts of health problems. It was a very selfish part of the anatomy, not to mention a dirty, dirty liar.

As the minotaur picked up another pepper, this one much spicier than the last, Rochelle could see him sweating. This was what she meant about the tongue being a liar: there was nothing in a pepper that was actually 'hot', but the tongue interprets the taste as heat, causing the body to react as though the pepper actually was burning hot. This caused the sweating, the blisters in the mouth, everything that went with spicy foods. In truth, capsaicin was just another irritant, one that caused a strong burning sensation. For a changeling, it just itched, since the insides of a changeling's mouth were a great deal less sensitive than that of any other creature. Her tongue was just there so she could talk...

The minotaur popped the pepper into his mouth, and almost immediately, the poor sap's eyes began to water. Given that they had just upped the ante, and were now up to the Screaming Griffindorian Pepper (one of the spiciest peppers in the world), it was a miracle that the minotaur (Rochelle couldn't remember his name just then) wasn't screaming in pain. It took an act of iron will (Oh, wait, that was it, Iron Will!) to keep the minotaur from grabbing at his last glass of water.

Each of the competitors was granted three glasses of water to drink during a round. The contest ended when either one of them drank all three, or one of them passed out or gave up. Rochelle had only taken a small sip from her first glass since this round started. The minotaur, on the other hoof, was down to half of his last. Not that water would do much to help him here: milk or a slice of bread would do a much better job of quelling the spiciness of this particular meal.

The minotaur swallowed the pepper, and it seemed as if he might go the distance... before smoke suddenly erupted from his ears. His mouth opened, causing an eruption of flames, and he passed out. While a more... extreme end than expected, Rochelle had seen a pony named Pinkie Pie who had a similar reaction to spiciness. It was weird world she lived in...

The assembled crowd of minotaurs cheered, celebrating her victory. That was one thing she liked about minotaurs: they didn't discriminate based on gender. Machismo, in their culture, was about being strong, tough, and brave. Even a girl could be 'macho', at least, in their culture.

The minotaur was starting to regain his wits, and was starting to get up. As Iron Will watched, Rochelle took one of the nightmare peppers and ate it. After she swallowed it (changelings have an empty 'pouch' where the stomach should be, and it was mostly just storage space), she smiled, and extended a hoof to help the minotaur up. Iron Will smiled, accepted the hoof, then lifted her up on his shoulders. The crowd went wild. Good sportsponyship, and sportsbullship, all around.

And that was how the second craziest day of Rochelle's life began.

As she sat in the cashier's office, waiting for the prize money to be counted and given to her, she couldn't help but be a little nervous: she'd tried to put on a good show, attempting to just seem awesome, rather than impossibly cool, but a mare able to outdo a grown minotaur in a test of guts and courage like this was a little bit above and beyond expectations. If she hadn't needed the money...

An old, gray mare wearing a flower print dress sat down next to Rochelle, and asked, "Do you know, there isn't a single rule against a changeling entering this contest?"

...Great, just great.

Remaining calm, the changeling asked, "Really? I would think that one would hardly be needed, given that changelings aren't welcome anywhere."

The mare chuckled, and said, "Well, dear, there is no actual rule forbidding it. It might surprise you to know that there aren't any rules or laws anywhere that would keep a changeling from entering any sort of contest. In fact, there's no law, anywhere, against being a changeling. Such a law would be considered madness: a law is used to punish a crime, and why should anyone be punished just for being born? There are, however, laws against using the ability to change one's appearance to take advantage of others."

Rochelle gulped, then said, "So, I imagine that if I was a changeling, I'd be in a lot of trouble." Plausible deniability: they were just talking about changelings, after all. No one said that she was a changeling, though.

The elderly pony chuckled, and said, "No, not really. As I said, there was no rule prohibiting your entry. Now, given that a changeling has stonger resistance to this sort of thing than the average creature, there will be a few revisions before next year's competition. The contest would be much tougher, to make things more fair for the competitors. However, under the current rules, a victory like yours would be considered valid, changeling or no changeling. I can't help but wonder, though, why a changeling would want or need the prize for this kind of contest."

Ten thousand bits to the winner. That was a substantial sum, enough to last a pony several years. Changelings hardly needed money, but this wasn't about her...

"I imagine," Rochelle said, still cautious, "That if a changeling were to enter the contest, it would be because she had a really important reason for it."

The mare chuckled and said, "Yes, I imagine so." Standing, then stretching a little, she said, "Well, I need to get going. Enjoy your victory, dearie. Ah, and if you ever find you need a helping hoof," and here, she pulled out a business card, and gave it to Rochelle, "Look me up."

As the mare left, Rochelle studied the card in her hooves. There was an address, as well as a set of times when the address was open. No name, though. Odd. She'd have to swing by that address sometime...

As she walked home, carrying her winnings, she couldn't help but reflect on how lucky she was to still be in Canterlot. A pony walking down the street with a huge sack of bits on her back would get mugged before they went two blocks almost anywhere else in Equestria, but here in Canterlot, there were guards on almost every street corner. One even offered to walk her to the bank, carrying the sack! That was very sweet of him, but she was more than capable of carrying this load.

After depositing the funds into her bank account, she walked home with a much lighter pouch. She made a brief stop to get a little surprise for later, then, whistling merrily, walked the rest of the way home. Things were looking up. She now had enough money for the trip she had planned. She could even take a friend with her...

When she reached her apartment complex she called home, she knocked on her neighbor's door. Candy Floss, a pink on pink pegasus opened the door, smiling, and said, "Welcome back. How did it go?"

Grinning, Rochelle said, "I won first prize. Thank you for looking after Nuisance. Did she give you any trouble?"

Giggling, the pegasus said, "No more than usual. Ah, I should tell you, there were a couple of VIP's who wanted to meet you today. They weren't the kind of ponies that I could say no to, so I let them into your apartment to wait for you." Seeing the expression that crossed Rochelle's face, Candy said, "Don't worry, they said they just wanted to talk to you. I don't think they know about 'you know what'."

Right. 'You know what'. Candy was currently the only pony that knew Rochelle was a changeling, except for that old mare from earlier. However, in spite of that, or perhaps because of that, the pegasus still wanted to be friends. Trust didn't come easy to a changeling, for obvious reasons, but if there was one pony in the world that Rochelle would trust with her life, it was the pink pony with the pretty pink curls in front of her.

"Alright," the changeling said, then asked, "Where's Nuisance?"

Candy smiled and said, "Your guests offered to look after her until you got back." At the changeling's shocked expression, the pegasus giggled and said, "I can't imagine anypony she'd be safer with than those two. You'll see."

Opening the door to her apartment, Rochelle had to admit, Candy was right: if there was anyplace safer for Nuisance to be staying than in Celestia's lap, the changeling couldn't imagine it. Rocking the little griffin chick back and forth, the princess said, "Please, come on in."

Looking over to the left, where Princess Luna sat, seeming a little uncomfortable, Rochelle thought that this situation could go very bad, very quickly...

Closing the door behind her, she put on her best smile, gave a deep bow, then asked, "And to what do I owe the pleasure, your highnesses?"

Chuckling, Celestia said, "Well, there were a number of things that we needed to talk to you about, Rochelle. Ah, but I think you have something for your little friend here."

Grinning, Rochelle pulled out the surprise she had bought for Nuisance today. She gave the present, a fluffy teddy bear, to Nuisance, who eagerly accepted it. The little dear loved fluffy things. The griffin chick cooed excitedly while she hugged the bear happily.

Luna cleared her throat, then said, "Firstly, we were wishing to discuss how this young lady wound up in your care. While the story has reached our ears from other sources, we wished to hear the it directly from you."

Rochelle hesitated, and before she could say a word, Celestia said, "We already deduced you were a changeling, Rochelle. We figured that out some time ago. If you were in any sort of trouble, do you really think we'd have come in here to have a friendly chat?" If... if that was the case, and they knew she was a changeling, and intended some sort of harm to her, then odds were, she would have come home to a dozen guards in her apartment instead. Admittedly, the two of them were more than a match for her, but they would not likely have taken the risk. Well, given the circumstances, there was no use in denying it.

Rochelle gulped, and said, "Alright. Then do you mind if I slip into something a little more comfortable?" Both princesses nodded. Rochelle dropped her disguise, eliciting giggles from Nuisance, and said, "Alright. I'll tell you the whole story. Do you mind if I cook while we talk? It's almost lunch time."

Celestia chuckled, Luna smiled, and both nodded. "Feel free," said the princess of the sun.

"Alright," Rochelle said, moving over to the cupboard, pulling out ingredients as she talked, "It was about a year ago, right after the Canterlot invasion..."

One year ago...

Roach was the fastest changeling in the swarm, bar none. Not in terms of flying: while her wings worked, she was a terrible flier. However, when it came to running, she was the absolute best there was. Her hoof speed had once been clocked at fifty miles per hour: while she couldn't run for long (she was a sprinter, not a marathoner), she could manage it in short bursts. She could reach incredible speeds without even needing to burn love to accelerate herself. When she was burning love, like she was now, she was probably the fastest runner ever.

...And she needed to be, if she wanted to outrun the love sphere of doom.

The changeling had spotted the barrier coming, and had started running immediately. It had always amazed her that no other changeling had her reaction time, her speed... or her rate of acceleration. She could go from a standing start to her top speed almost instantaneously.

That was the only reason she was not given an all expenses paid trip south for the winter, courtesy of Air-Alicorn. As it was, she just barely managed to evade the forcefield, and as she stared back behind her at the city, she considered the options available...

Option One: Try to rejoin the swarm. No. Even if she wanted to put herself back under the command of Her Royal Incompetence, it wouldn't be a valid option. Given the speed at which they were going when she lost sight of the swarm, it would be a journey of many miles, on hoof, to rejoin the swarm. Traveling was dangerous alone, and it would require her to gather love as she went, something that was extremely dangerous in its own right. And with no idea of where the swarm would be, she might end up on a journey that never ended.

Option Two: Throw herself on the mercy of the princesses, and hope everything turned out alright. No. While she didn't know if the princesses were anything like the queen, she doubted very much that they would welcome a stray changeling with a hug and a cup of warm cocoa. She didn't know what they would do, but she doubted she would enjoy it.

Option Three: Head back into the city, and try to blend in. Yes. The ponies had just witnessed every changeling in the city get ejected at high speed: they'd never expect one to just waltz right back in. She could hide in plain sight, and find a way to grab some love. While she had a good supply, she'd only last about half a year...

Putting on a disguise, she began walking right back into town.

That first night was when she first met Nuisance.

While walking through the streets of the city, she heard, impossibly, the sound of an infant crying... from a garbage can, of all places. Curiosity overcame her caution, and she opened up the can... only to see a baby griffin staring up at her, bits of eggshell still stuck to her fur and feathers. The little kitten stared up at the disguised changeling, then reached up, claws outstretched, as if begging for a hug.

Roach, (no, Rochelle, let's go by Rochelle now), sighed, then picked up the kit, hugging her close. Turning around, she saw a pretty pink pegasus walking down the street. Confronting the pony, she asked, "Do you know where this came from?"

The pony shrugged, and said, "No idea. I didn't think there were any griffins in this part of town. Where did you find her?" The changeling pointed at the garbage can. The pegasus gasped, and said, "No way. You can't be serious!"

Rochelle shook her head, and said, "I wish I was joking. Look, would you mind looking after her?"

Grinning, the pony said, "I would, but I don't think that will work."

Raising an eyebrow (One of the biggest advantages of being in disguise: eyebrows. They give you all kinds of options for facial expressions), the changeling asked, "Why not?"

The pegasus held out a hoof, and Rochelle hoofed over the kit. The moment that the changeling's hoof left the griffin, the little one let out a wail that could be heard across the city. The pegasus hoofed the kit back, and the griffin stopped crying, and began giggling happily.

At the changeling's surprised expression, the pegasus giggled, then said, "I read in school that a griffin hatchling will always bond with the first thing he or she sees, thinking that its their mother. It wears off after about a year, but until then, she won't want to be held by anypony other than you. Congratulations, you're a mommy!"

Celestia chuckled at that, and Luna had a bit of a smile herself. "I take it," Celestia said, "That was when you met Candy Floss as well?"

Laughing a bit herself, Rochelle said, "Yeah. She was a big help in getting me settled in. I don't know how I would have made it through all of this without her help. I mean, I was just seventeen at the time, and had never been out on my own before. There was a lot of stuff that I had to learn, and I will admit that some of the lessons I had to learn were harder than others. Still, we've managed. I was able to make a few bits, here and there, doing a few quick jobs. Nothing fancy, just stuff like fixing a roof, or helping look after the kids while the parents were out. A few bits here, a few bits there. Enough to get by, with a little to sock away for later."

Luna asked, with a raised eyebrow, "Later?"

Rochelle sighed, and said, "Yeah. I've been planning on taking a trip east, over the sea to the lands of the griffins. See if I could track down some of Nuisance's relatives, or at least find a family of griffins to raise her. I've done a fair job of looking after her, but I know I don't have it in me to be able to raise her properly. A griffin should be raised by other griffins, or at least by someone who's at least a half-decent flier." The kitchen timer went off, and Rochelle checked the pot. "Alright. Lunch is ready. It's nothing super-fancy, but I hope you'll enjoy it."

Luna stared at the strange concoction, and, gently prodding one of the off-white cubes as they floated in bowl filled with red sauce, asked, "What is this?"

Celestia sniffed at the meal, then asked, raising an eyebrow, "Mala Mapo Tofu?"

Blushing, Rochelle said, "The vegetarian version, yeah. Nuisance has some pretty weird tastes, since she moved up to solids, so I've been trying different recipes to see if I can narrow down what she likes. She seems to like spicy stuff like this, so I make it about once a week. I added mushrooms and black beans to the recipe, plus soy beans, and it seems to be a big hit with her."

Luna took a spoon, and tried a mouthful... then immediately took another, and another. "Incredible," she said, between bites, "It's quite spicy, but the flavor is remarkable."

Celestia, trying a few bites herself, and clearly savoring them, said, "I've had this a few times, and I have to admit, I rather like your recipe. The taste is quite invigorating."

Rochelle blushed brightly at the praise, her cheeks turning bright blue. "Thanks. I can't say I'm very good at cooking yet, having only been doing it for a year, but Nuisance hasn't been complaining."

Chuckling, Celestia said, "I imagine she hasn't." After she finished her bowl, the princess said, "Well, that was a fine dish. Ah, I should mention to you that, after you reported finding this young kit," and here she motioned towards Nuisance, who was using a spoon to delicately ladle her meal into her mouth, "The guard has spent a great deal of time trying to locate her parents. I myself invested a bit of time as well towards the endeavor, but I fear we've had no leads. How she ended up in that trash can, and why, remains a mystery. It's possible we may never know. However, I mentioned the young lady's plight to a few friends the other day, and a pair of pegasai I know made it known to me that they would be interested in taking in the little one, if you'd be willing to part with her."

Rochelle kept her expression carefully neutral as a flood of emotions filled her. Giving up Nuisance to somepony else? She wasn't certain how she felt about that. Well, she'd planned on it, but that had always been a bit of a long term goal. The idea that it could happen as soon as tomorrow was...

Luna, her expression unreadable, gently reminded the changeling, "You did admit yourself that you felt that she would be better served being raised by another family."

"Yeah," Rochelle said, "Yeah, I suppose I did. Well, before I say yes or no, I'd want to meet them. I mean, Nuisance here lives up to her name, and I've spent a year getting used to her. I'd better be on hoof to at least warn them about some of her habits. I'd hate to spring a surprise like her on somepony without at least telling them how to handle her."

"Well, I think you'll rather like Silver Tongue and his wife," Celestia said, smiling. "And I rather doubt this young lady will be that much trouble."

As if on cue, the griffin chick picked up her bowl, and put it on her head upside down, as though it was a hat. The fact that the bowl was still half full had predictable results, including a mess on the floor, and a wet, red stained hatchling. The kit was unphased, and in fact giggled cheerfully at the havoc that she had just caused.

"I beg to differ," Rochelle said with a sigh, as both Luna and Celestia chuckled.