• Published 6th Mar 2014
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Cooking Roach - Bucking Nonsense

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

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Recipe Three: Familiar Flavor

"Hello, my name is Rochelle, and I'm a changeling."

Rochelle smiled as the changelings around her said, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, "Hi, Rochelle!" Since she'd had no plans for the rest of the day, she'd decided that the best way to spend her time was to go and visit the place that the old gray mare and the princesses had recommended she visit. She'd also decided, after a bit of thought, to take both Nuisance and Candy Floss with her.

Rochelle had been a little worried that there would be a problem, but apparently, it was not unusual for visitors to bring friends along, and they already knew about her young ward. Since Nuisance was too young to talk, and Candy already knew that her friend was a changeling, there really wasn't a problem with letting her meet others.

As she looked around her at the other changelings at this informal meeting, she had to admit, she was surprised. She'd expected the gathering to be composed entirely of commoners, but there was at least as many aristocrats as there were lowborn gathered here today. More surprisingly, nobuggy seemed uncomfortable about that: class distinctions seemed to be going out of style here.

She'd apparently chosen the right day to come: she and a group of about twenty other changelings were gathered together for a weekly discussion about their lives in Canterlot. Given that she was new, she'd been allowed to go first.

The changelings sat in a circle of chairs, around a table. Upon the table sat a plate of cookies, along with a metal pitcher of water. While changelings didn't eat, and rarely drank water, accommodations were always made in case of non-changeling visitors, it seemed.

Looking around her, Rochelle smiled, and said, "This is my first time here. Until about a few hours ago, I honestly thought that there might only be one other changeling in Canterlot, and she wasn't what you'd call the talkative type." That got a few chuckles from the assembled changelings. It seemed like that many of them had thought the same at one point. Forging on, she said, "I've spent the last year here in Canterlot, taking care of Nuisance, who thought that I was her mother."

There were a few "d'awww's" about that. The griffin chick had turned out to be a big hit with the assembled changelings: a baby completely at ease with changelings in their natural state was practically unheard of. The fact that she was a natural born troublemaker seemed to make the kit an honorary changeling in their eyes. They were passing her from changeling to changeling, where she'd get a hug, a little bit of playtime, then be passed on.

Chuckling, Rochelle continued. "I found the poor dear in a garbage can." As usual, this got a number of startled gasps. "I believe she may have hatched there. How and why she ended up in that can is anyone's guess. Even now, a year later, there's been no clue regarding who her parents are, or where they went. I had originally planned on taking a trip later this year, overseas, to see if I might find a clue there, or at least a pair of griffin parents who might be able to raise her. However, today, I received a surprise visit from the princesses, and among the other things we discussed, the subject of adoption came up. There's a pair of pegasai who would be willing to raise her. Now, I stink at flying." There were chuckles at that: Rochelle, formerly Roach, had become something of a legend due to just HOW bad her flying was: it wasn't that her wings didn't work, it was the fact that she had almost no control or coordination in midair. She once took off and crashed into the queen herself, who had been standing fifty paces behind her, behind a rock. To this day, Rochelle still didn't know what went wrong. If she'd not demonstrated such incredible speed on the ground, she might have ended up with the name "Bumblebee" instead of Roach. "So I know it would be best to give the little lady over to them. But..."

She tapered off, having difficulty vocalizing what she wanted to say. After a moment, one of the other changelings, an aristo with a long, curved horn, raised a hoof, and said, "My name is Lycosidae, and I'm a changeling."

"Hi, Lyco," the assembled changelings said in unison.

With a giggle, the changeling continued, "I think I understand what you mean. I've spent the last year getting by, volunteering during the day at a local orphanage. I figured that would be the best way to get plenty of love, without having to use any spells. The funny thing is, though, those little kids have a way of worming their way into your heart, and... well, it's always made me sad to see one of them go. I mean, it's great to see that they'll have new parents to care for them, but many of them end up moving far away. It always makes me sad, knowing I may never see them again..."

Another changeling, a commoner raised her hoof and said, "I'm Tick, and I'm a changeling."

"Hi, Tick."

"I spent the better part of the year working at a petshop. I think I had the same idea that Lyco did, just a different target audience. Easy love, no risk. The funny thing is, pets really don't care what you look like, as long as you treat them well, and they're really easy to get attached to. I know it's hardly the same thing, but I think I can understand how hard it can be to say goodbye to someone, even if they're a dog or a cat, that you love, even when you know that there's someone else out there that is able to take better care of them than you could."

"I'm Louse, and I'm a changeling..."

"My name is Popillia Japonica, and I'm a changeling..."

"Name's Stag, and I'm a changeling..."

"Hercules. Changeling..."

"Ironclad, and yes, I'm a changeling..."

The introductions went around the room, and each of them had a story. Some of them were about life in Canterlot, but a few of them were about life before Canterlot, and times when they'd had to leave someone behind, in spite of not wanting to do so. While each story was different, there was one common thread...

You are not alone. Even changelings get the blues.

Finally, a hoof raised tentatively, and said, "My name is Candy Floss, and my best friend is a changeling."

After a moment of silence, the assembled changelings, in unison, said, "Hi, Candy."

Smiling, the pegasus said, "A year ago, right after an invasion, Rochelle walked up to me, out of the blue, and tried to hand Nuisance off to me. After explaining to her why that wouldn't work, she asked me to help her in taking care of the poor little thing. The funny thing is, she needed almost as much care as the kit did."

This got a chorus of laughs from the assembled changelings, as Rochelle blushed bright blue. Unabashed, the pegasus continued, grinning as she said, "Even though she was in disguise, it didn't take me long to figure out that she was a changeling. After all, she didn't know anything about anything. But she tried so hard to take good care of little Nuisance, and she worried constantly. 'Candy, how do you change her diapers again?' 'Candy, she won't stop crying, and I don't know what to do.' 'Candy, how do you preen her wings?' 'Candy, what do you do when she has to hock up a hairball?'" That last one got a big laugh. "Yeah, that was unexplored territory for me, too. The point is, anypony who didn't know anything about changelings would just assume that she'd have just left when things got rough, or that she only viewed the little kit as a food source, but..."

Candy's voice trembled a little bit, before she continued, "But anypony who said that really didn't know the first thing about her. She was genuinely concerned about making certain that Nuisance had the best childhood possible, even if she was a changeling. Even when I accidentally walked in on her changing, the first words out of her mouth were about making sure Nuisance was looked after." There was another round of d'awwww's at that. "I was so scared, not for myself, but that I'd never see her again. It took the better part of an hour to talk her down, to keep her from running off. And when I went to bed that night, I couldn't sleep, worried that I'd hear her door open in the middle of the night, and she'd be gone without a word. You can't imagine how happy I was to see that she was in front of my door, first thing in the morning, asking me to help her with getting Nuisance to stop pecking the furniture."

Rochelle was stunned. It was easy to forget, sometimes, that while you're worrying about this and that, that others are sometimes worrying about you, as well. Rochelle'd never thought that anypony would ever lose a night's sleep worrying about her, but...

With a sigh, Candy said, "But I knew it couldn't last forever. A baby takes a lot of work, and a lot of money, to look after. Even with Rochelle's current savings, she couldn't be expected to be able to care for Nuisance for the rest of her life: without a steady job, she'd be lucky to last a year. It's hard being a single parent, even as an adult, but Ro's still in her teens. Even if she was willing to take care of Nuisance indefinitely, it wouldn't be fair to her. She deserves to have a life beyond being a nanny, even if she is good at it. Which was why..." Candy said, a cunning look crossing her features, "I asked Princess Celestia to mention Nuisance to my uncle Silver Tongue the next time she saw him."

Rochelle's eye widened in shock. "Wait a minute, you mean to tell me that..."

Giggling, Candy said, "That I told the princess to plant the idea of taking Nuisance off your hooves in the head of a member of my family? Of course! You've run yourself ragged for a year, trying to take care of a kit, in spite of not knowing the first thing about child-rearing: you deserve a break from that, and you really don't need to go as far as Griffindale to find good parents for her. But I knew you'd never take the idea seriously if it came from me first." Candy's face turned completely serious as she said, "You keep forgetting, even if I look like a ditz, that I'm still a) Five years older than you, b) a student at Canterlot University, one of the most exclusive and demanding colleges in Equestria, and c) pulling a double major, in two very complex fields, and am still expected to graduate top of my class in both. You're a sweet girl, Ro, but you really need to pay more attention to what's going on around you."

Rochelle's expression was absolute shock: she wanted to call Candy out on that, on trying to manipulate the changeling into giving up Nuisance, but, well... she was right, about practically all of it. She wouldn't have taken the idea serious if Candy had suggested it first...

So instead, she gave her best friend a big hug, and said, "Thanks for always looking out for me."

Smiling, Candy said, "That's what friends are for."

There was the sound of applause around the two, and after a moment, the two detached, blushing a little bit. Reaching for one of the cookies, Candy giggled, and said, "Who wants to go next?"

Rochelle smelled something off, something she'd not noticed before. It almost smelled like insect repellant...

A split second before the cookie would have reached her mouth, Rochelle's hoof struck out, and snatched the cookie out of the pony's hoof. She felt a tingle as it touched her carapace, and stuck her hoof, cookie included, into the pitcher of water...

Where it immediately burst into flames...

While a doctor examined Rochelle's foreleg, a member of the guard spoke with her. "We'd had a few reports of incidents like this. Nothing of this scale, you understand, but acts of a similar nature. Somepony found out that changelings not only were still in Equestria, but they were also being allowed to stay officially... and didn't like the idea."

Rochelle nodded in understanding. Not all ponies were created equal, and some were complete and total monsters. While the three varieties of ponies, well, four now, with the Crystal Empire coming back, got along in harmony, not everyone was as accepting of species outside of the Equine variety. Speciesism was a very real issue, even here...

The guard cleared his throat before he went on. "The, ah, compound that you smelled on the cookies was a nasty formula that was originally developed a few decades ago as a weapon to temporarily paralyze giant, aggressive insects so that they could be relocated harmlessly. It was never used for a variety of reasons, partly because it was extremely hazardous to ponies, or really just about anyone, if accidentally ingested, but mainly because it ignited when exposed to water."

"You're very lucky," the doctor added. "You've got a very tough carapace, and the fire was doused almost immediately by the remaining water in the jug. The poison wasn't anywhere near potent enough to hurt you just from surface contact. You'll be a bit tender for a day or two, and your shell will be discolored until you next moult, but other than that, you'll be fine."

Rochelle nodded, smiling gratefully. "Thanks, doc."

"No, thank you, miss," the doctor said, his face filled with emotion. "Candy was an intern at my clinic last year, and her father is a dear, dear friend of mine. If you hadn't helped her, she'd be in the hospital right now. You may well have saved her life. If you ever need anything, you let me know, young lady."

Rochelle smiled, waved him off, and said, "Don't worry about it. She's my friend too." Turning to the guard, Rochelle asked, "Any idea who might be responsible?"

The guard, his expression carefully neutral, said, "The cookies had been sitting there since this meeting hall opened this morning, so nobuggy saw who might have left them. Even if we did have any leads, I wouldn't be at liberty to discuss possible suspects." A sly look came over his face as he said, "But I will say that the fact that he used something like this narrows down the range of suspects enormously: that substance isn't exactly something you can get hold of easily, and it takes a certain amount of skill to be able to cook something like that into anything without having it blow up in your face. It won't take us long to find him."

"Good," Rochelle said, trying very hard to keep her emotions subdued. If Nuisance had tried to eat one of those cookies...

"Well, I won't keep you any further. We've got your statement, and after we've found the suspect, we'll let you know: your testimony would be greatly appreciated."

Rochelle nodded in understanding. "I'd be glad to: Like I said, Candy's my best friend. Just make sure you find this guy fast."

The guard nodded and said, "Count on it."

After the doctor and the guard finished, Rochelle walked out of the meeting room, and went looking for Candy. She didn't have to go far: the pegasus was chatting with Stag, one of the changelings from the meeting. The two were playing with Nuisance while they talked, and given their body language, she didn't need to hear them to know what they were talking about...

After reuniting with her best friend and her young ward, Rochelle went around the room, getting hugs, words of encouragement, and more, from the assembled changelings. As sunset approached, she said her goodbyes, and walked home with Candy, Nuisance riding on her back.

"So," Rochelle asked, smiling, "You and Stag, huh?"

Blushing, Candy said, "Maybe. He seems like a nice guy, and he's got a cute smile, fangs or no fangs. We'll see how that turns out." After a moment, she continued, a little awkwardly, "Ah, thank you, Ro. I mean it. That was..."

Grinning, Rochelle said, "No problem. That's what friends are for, right?"

Once home, Rochelle put Nuisance to bed, and prepared to get some sleep herself. As she finished her preparations, she couldn't help but come to one very important decision: The sooner she found a new home for Nuisance, the better. Rochelle couldn't bear the thought of the little one being hurt just because she was being raised by a changeling...