• Published 24th May 2014
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Conversations in a Canterlot Café - Goldfur

Frothy Brew is the barista in a family-owned café in Canterlot. He never expected it to become a hub of changeling interaction.

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Chapter 1: Preconceptions

The True Brew Café might not be as big nor as well known as Donut Joe’s popular establishment, but as it was located on the opposite side of Canterlot City from its more famous competitor, the coffee and cake shop was still well patronized, and its barista, Frothy Brew, was more than a little proud of the family-owned business. His wife, Cherry Delight, baked all their cakes and pastries, and their daughter, Peach Delight, took care of all the other details while he created coffee concoctions that were second to none. It had taken a lot of years to build the business to its current success, made all the more difficult for having to raise a filly at the same time, but as she grew older, Peach learned how to run a business and more than made up for the time and effort. They were a well-oiled team now, and while the work was sometimes hard, it was nevertheless rewarding.

Right now though, business was quiet. The Monday lunchtime rush was well over, and the afternoon tea crowd was not due to start for a while. Frothy used this lull to catch up on the work that could not be done during the busy lunch period. Cups and mugs were washed and stacked for use, coffee beans were ground, and sugar, syrup, and whipped cream topped up. Peach had been sent out to replenish some supplies, so he had the shop to himself for the moment. He was stacking up another tray of cups when he heard the café’s door opening behind him.

“Can I get a coffee to go?”, an unfamiliar voice asked.

“Certainly!” Frothy replied, turning to face the customer. “What can I-IEE!” He stumbled back, knocking over the tray, several cups falling to the floor and smashing on the tiles. He didn’t notice because his attention was riveted on the face of the changeling that stood on the other side of the counter; his eyes drawn to the long, vicious fangs and weird eyes staring back at him.

“Please, sir, stop panicking,” the changeling replied calmly. “I am not here to hurt you. I’m a member of the Royal Guard, Changeling Squad.”

Frothy’s heart was hammering in his chest, the words barely registering in his terrified mind. When nothing else happened though, he tore his eyes away from that frightening visage to take in the rest of his frightful visitor. Standard Royal Guard armor adorning the changeling, plus a helmet held in the crook of one leg, reinforced the words that it had just said. Red insectile wings and crest distinguished it from the blue colored ones that had invaded Canterlot years back. Then he recalled the announcement in the newspaper about Princess Celestia’s controversial appointment of a squad of undisguised changelings as official members of the Royal Guard. He had dismissed the idea as ludicrous – Canterlot’s populace still recalled that invasion all too clearly to be comfortable with them. True, they had been receiving a lot of support from many sectors after it had been revealed that only one hive had been responsible, but it was still too much for some ponies to accept.

“What… what do you want?” Frothy managed to ask, trying to force himself to calm down.

“As I said, sir, I would like some coffee – a large cappuccino to go, please.”

Frothy blinked in puzzlement. Coffee and changelings just did not seem to click together. Nevertheless he started making the brew, more by rote than anything else. “Sugar?”

“Three lumps, please.”

Frothy added the sugar to the espresso, dissolving it before steaming the milk and adding it to the coffee. His gaze kept nervously flicking in the direction of the waiting Guard, but the changeling did nothing more than patiently wait for his drink. He finished it off with a dusting of powdered chocolate and put it on the counter in front of his customer.

The changeling Guard hoofed over the money for the coffee and then picked up the brew telekinetically. “Thank you. Have a good day, citizen.”

Frothy silently nodded, and watched as the changeling exited the shop. He then sank to the floor, shaking from nerves. Peach found him still there when she came back with her shopping a short time later.

“Dad! What’s happened?” she asked with concern, putting a foreleg around him. She helped Frothy back onto his hooves, took him into the back room, and levitated a glass of cold water over from the sink.

“A changeling… a changeling came into the café,” he replied hoarsely.

“You mean that changeling Royal Guard that I saw walking away from the shop a minute ago? So he did have coffee. I wasn’t imagining it.”

“You saw it?” Frothy asked.

“More like glimpsed him. I was wondering when I’d see one. I’m sorry that he chose our café though – I know how you feel about them.”

“Don’t tell me you’re okay with them?” her father asked incredulously.

Peach sighed. “Dad, you have to let it go. I know it was a traumatic experience, but you can’t blame them all for the sins of one mad queen.”

“You would not be saying that if you had seen what I saw back then,” he accused.

“Maybe, but I like to think that I can consider them objectively because of that. And never forget that the Princess Celestia herself was injured by the changeling queen, and yet still regards changelings from other hives as being peaceful and law-abiding. Of all ponies, she could rightfully hold a grudge, but instead she’s embracing them as citizens of Equestria. You would do well to follow her example.”

“I’m not ready for that – not until I can forget that day completely.”

Peach sighed again. “That’s never going to work, Dad. Instead, why not try talking to them and finding out what they’re really like. You might be pleasantly surprised.”

Frothy Brew glared at his daughter. “You’ve been talking to them already, haven’t you?” he accused.

“Only one,” she admitted, “a violet changeling that I met in the marketplace. She was having trouble getting vendors to serve her, so I helped her out, and we chatted a bit.”

“You shouldn’t be helping them. If ponies don’t want them around, we should not be encouraging them.”

“It’s not a matter of wanting them, it’s a matter of fearing them unnecessarily. They could always use their shape-changing ability to blend in with the crowd, but instead they choose to interact with us in their natural form in the hopes of being accepted.”

“I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen,” Frothy said skeptically.

“Just talk to them, Dad. If that Guard comes back, try to stay calm and be the sociable pony that I know that you can be. Now, if you’re feeling better, I hear someone coming into the shop. Time for us to get back to business, no?”

Frothy was feeling better after drinking some of the water and steadying his nerves, so he did as his daughter urged, although not without one parting shot. “Just promise me that you’ll be careful. If changelings can disguise themselves as us, they probably can disguise themselves as changelings from another hive also.”

“Now you’re just being paranoid, but if it makes you happy, I promise,” Peach replied.

* * *

The next day was typical of most week days, right up until the afternoon lull. This time, Frothy saw the changeling Guard enter the shop. He had been hoping that it had been a one-off, and dreading that it was just the start of things to come. His pulse quickened, as did his breathing, but he sternly told himself to be calm.

The Guard took off his helmet just as he had the previous day, as many of the Royal Guard did when dealing with citizens in a non-duty manner. It was meant to be a more personal approach to the common citizen, but for Frothy, it just made it clearer that it was a changeling head inside that helmet, and not a familiar pony.

“Good afternoon, citizen,” the changeling said. “I would like a large cappuccino to go, please.”

This time, Frothy noticed what the changeling’s voice was like. It was fairly deep and mellow, and quite pleasant actually. It was a vast difference from the high-pitched chittering that he’d heard the blue changelings using between themselves, but of course that must have been their own normal speech. They obviously talked normal Equestrian when they disguised themselves as ponies, but had no problem doing so in their natural form also.

“Yes, sir. Three sugars like before?” he grated back.

“That’s right, thanks.”

Frothy made the brew as he had previously, but managed to refrain from the nervous glances this time. However, he just could not bring himself to chat with the Guard. The job was completed in silence, and the changeling paid up and started to leave.

Just as the Guard was opening the door, Frothy blurted out, “Why?”

The changeling paused and asked with a puzzled expression, “Why what, sir?”

“Why do you want the coffee?”

The changeling looked at the coffee still hovering in front of him, held within the red glow of magic. “I don’t understand the question. I just like the taste of coffee, that’s all.”

“I thought that you changelings ate love though?”

“Ah! I see now. Yes, we need to consume emotions for their vital energy, love in particular, but we also need to eat and drink normal food. In fact, except for our need for more animal protein, our diet is very similar to that of the average pony.”

“How can you go about just eating our emotions though?” Frothy demanded.

“It’s passive consumption, sir. We normally eat the excess emotional radiation that ponies give off naturally. It does no harm to anypony.”

“It still seems weird to me.”

“Sir, have you asked the cows that supply you milk for the coffee that you drink if it seems weird to them?”

Frothy had never thought of it that way before, and had no answer.

The Guard said, “I must be going. Have a good day, citizen.” He then departed, leaving behind a thoughtful barista.

* * *

Peach was bussing tables the next day when the changeling Guard arrived. She was able to get a much closer look this time, and had to admit that he was quite a lot more intimidating than she had initially thought.

No wonder Dad was freaked out the first time,’ she thought before giving the Guard a welcoming smile. “Hi, can I get you something?” she asked.

The changeling smiled. “Just my usual coffee, please.”

It’s the fangs – they set off our instinctive fears,’ she realized as she suppressed a shudder. ‘The red ones have much bigger fangs than the violet one that I talked to before.’ “Yes, sir. I’ll have my father make that for you right away.”

Peach went into the back room to fetch her father who had been taking a break. “Dad, a regular customer wants his usual coffee.”

“A regular? You need to be more specific, hon,” Frothy said as he got up from his chair.

“It’s the changeling, Dad. Please try to make him feel welcome.”

“I can try,” he said with a grimace, “but if he can really taste my emotions, he’ll know he’s not.”

“That’s no excuse for being rude though.”

Frothy gave her a glum smile. “And to think I once had to teach you that lesson. Alright, I’ll be good.”

Frothy went out to the counter and nodded to the Guard. “The same as previously, I presume?”

“Yes, thank you, sir,” the changeling replied politely.

Peach said, “Could I tempt you to try one of our cakes or pastries? My mother bakes these all herself fresh every day.”

The Guard looked at the indicated shelves with mild interest. “Perhaps I will. That Black Forest cake does look tempting.”

“I assure you, you won’t regret it. It’s one of my favorites also.” Peach cut a generous slice and put it on a paper plate. “First piece is free to new customers,” she said with a smile.

“That’s very generous of you,” the changeling said with a touch of surprise.

“The coffee you still have to pay for,” Frothy said as he put it down in front of the Guard.

“Of course.” This time there was a touch of sadness in the changeling’s voice as he paid Frothy the bits. He took the drink and cake in his magic grip and turned to leave.

“Wait!” Peach said. “I said the cake is free, but there’s still a price.”

The Guard turned back with a puzzled expression on his face. “Oh?”

“I want to know your name. If you’re going to be one of our regulars, we can’t just keep calling you ‘sir’, can we?”

The changeling actually grinned. “I am Sergeant Sterling Shield. Please feel free to call me just Sterling.”

“I’m Peach Delight, and my grumpy father is Frothy Brew.”

“What kind of name is that for a changeling?” Frothy asked with a frown.

“If it’s my birth name that you really want, it’s Kirrabek, but I am officially Sterling Shield of Their Highnesses’ Royal Guard. That is my real name for all intents and purposes.”

Peach interjected, “And a very good name it is. I hope you have a good day, Sterling.”

“Thank you, Miss Delight. I believe I will.” The Guard left then, a satisfied look on his strange features.

“Was it really necessary to give it free cake?” Frothy asked with a frown.

“We always give our new customers a free slice,” Peach pointed out. “It encourages them to return and recommend our café to others.”

“Who said I wanted it to return?” he said bluntly.

“Dad! You promised to be good,” she scolded.

“I was!” Frothy protested.

“I don’t need to be able to taste emotions like a changeling to know what you were feeling while he was here. You were about as rude as you could get away with, and he knows that too.”

“Some customers you just don’t need,” Frothy declared, and turned away from Peach, effectively declaring the conversation closed.

If Peach hadn’t known what troubled her father, she would not have let herself be dismissed so easily. As it was, she could only look in the direction of the departed changeling and murmur, “I think that this is one customer that you might need above all others.”

* * *

Thursday’s crowd cleared a little later than usual. The last customer hastened to leave though when the changeling arrived.

“I’ll be with you in a moment, Sterling,” Peach greeted the Guard with a welcoming smile.

“Thank you, Miss Delight.”

Frothy heard him, and automatically started making his coffee. Peach took her tray of dirty cups and plates and placed them on the sink before asking, “Would you like some cake again today?”

“That Black Forest cake was every bit as nice as you said it would be, so yes, I’d like something to go with my coffee. What would you recommend?”

“Do you like cherries?”

“I do. Are you suggesting the cherry pie then?”

“Yes, it’s my mother’s signature dessert. I can offer you whipped cream to go with it if you like?”

“That would be nice, thanks.”

Peach served up a large slice of pie with whipped cream, and a dessert spoon with which to eat it. After paying, the Guard picked them all up, but instead of taking them away as usual, he set them on one of the tables and sat down to eat the pie.

Frothy stared at the changeling and then angrily blurted out, “You’re not going to eat it here!”

“Dad!” Peach started objecting.

“No, Peach! The last changeling who ate here was forcefully dining on poor Miss Kettle’s emotions while the others were terrifying my other customers. It took her days to recover, and weeks before she would set hoof outside of her home again. I won’t have it!”

The changeling put down the spoon and turned towards Frothy with a grim look on his face. “Sir, may I remind you that those changelings, and their queen in particular, are regarded as criminals by not only ponies, but by the rest of the hives also? They not only wreaked havoc on Canterlot’s population, but ruined the reputation of our entire species! We were no less appalled by Queen Chrysalis’ actions than you were.”

“I bet you didn’t have to watch helplessly while a friend was tortured,” Frothy declared.

“You would be wrong,” Sterling replied sadly.

“Huh? What?” Frothy replied, caught off guard by that statement.

“I have been a member of the Royal Guard since long before the events of that invasion. Of course I was disguised as a normal unicorn back then, but I was no less a loyal Guard because of that. However, my squad and many others had been required to attend the royal wedding as an Affair of State, along with the prerequisite honor guard. All of us were trapped in the Great Hall when Chrysalis sprung her surprise invasion. If only I, or even another changeling Guard, had been close enough to the fake Princess Cadence, we would have detected that she was a changeling, and events might have been different, but instead we were caught unawares and were hopelessly outnumbered before we could mount a defense. Believe me, I was just as horrified when Chrysalis told her drones to start feeding on the ponies. I witnessed more than one being violated like your Miss Kettle, and it sickened me too.”

Frothy was disconcerted momentarily, but eventually he replied, “If it sickens you, just think how us ponies must feel about being your meals. How can you expect me to just accept a changeling sitting down here in my café, blithely ignoring my memories? How can I ever trust a changeling any more?”

Sterling looked thoughtful for a while before replying, “Do you recall the recent case of the pegasus, Feather Touch?”

Frothy was thrown by the apparent non sequitur, and it took him a long moment to reply, “The mare who murdered two other ponies out of jealousy?”

“Yes, that’s the one. Nasty violent species, those pegasi. Can’t trust them not to stab you in the back if you even look at their mate crosswise. I reckon that we should evict every last one of them from Canterlot before we become victims too.”

“What?! That’s ridiculous! Just because one pegasus is crazy, doesn’t mean that they’re all… like… that.” Frothy trailed off as he realized the point that the Sterling was making.

Sterling said, “No, we can’t judge a species on the actions of just one, can we?” He got up from behind the table and put his helmet on. “I seem to have lost my appetite. Have a good day, Mister Brew, and you too, Miss Delight.”

The changeling left the café, and Frothy could only stare after him, his mind a riot of mixed emotions.

Peach put a foreleg around her father’s shoulders and silently comforted him.

* * *

Frothy did not know whether to expect to see the changeling Guard again the next day. The usual time came and went without Sterling Shield making an appearance, but eventually he turned up three quarters of an hour later than normal.

“You’re late,” Frothy said with a frown.

“An altercation that demanded my time delayed me. I do have a real job, you know?” Sterling replied.

Frothy completed making the cappuccino without saying anything further, and took the changeling’s bits. As Sterling turned to leave though, he said, “Wait, you’re forgetting something.”

Sterling gave him a puzzled look. “What are you talking about?”

Frothy took a dish out of the chill cabinet. It held a piece of cherry pie complete with whipped cream. “This is yours, I believe. I’m afraid that you’re going to have to eat it here though because I want the dish back.”

“Are you sure about this, Mister Brew?” Sterling asked doubtfully, but with a touch of hope.

“Sergeant Shield, I can’t say that I am overjoyed at the thought of a changeling dining at my café just as yet, but I consider myself to be a fair and just pony, and I cannot justify my recent treatment of you. Consider this my apology. I will try to work on the rest.”

“That’s more than enough for me now, Mister Brew. Canterlot wasn’t built in a day, as they say.”

“No, it wasn’t, but everything has to start somewhere.”

“I sincerely thank you, Mister Brew,” Sterling said as he took the dish in his magical grasp.

“My regulars call me Frothy. Don’t forget it, Sterling!”

The changeling’s happy smile was both wonderful and intimidating.

As Sterling Shield went to a table to eat his pie, Frothy grumbled, “Damn fangs!”

Author's Note:

After my Change of Life story, I wanted to do more on the nature of changelings, but hated the thought of doing a dry treatise on them. Eventually it occurred to me that there was a lot happening in Canterlot at the time my story about Whirring Cogs was going on, so I figured that I could tell some of that and add to my changeling fanon at the same time. Lots more to come!

Illustration by Kat Miller a.k.a. Foxenawolf