• 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 2: Sacrifices

“We’re not staying here one moment longer while that thing is here,” the unicorn matriarch said loudly as she headed for the door. “And if you have any sense, you’ll not have it back again!”

“He’s not causing anypony any problems, Mrs Straightlace,” Frothy insisted, but the mare ignored him and left in a huff.

The café had been quiet as usual at that time of the day, but it did have one group of old mares gossiping around a table when Sterling Shield had arrived. The gossip had come to an abrupt halt then, but had resumed with low whispering while Frothy had served the changeling. It was only when Sterling had sat down at a table to eat the peach cobbler that he had bought that the mares had gotten up with noises of disgust and started to leave. Frothy was both annoyed and dismayed to have so many regulars leave en masse, even if he could not entirely blame them for their attitude. Who knew what they had experienced during the Canterlot invasion?

Sterling started getting up, saying, “I’m only causing you problems, Frothy. I’ll take my coffee and go….”

Frothy scowled at him. “Are you going to insult my wife’s cooking also? Sit back down and finish your peach cobbler!

“Yes, sir,” the Guard said meekly, and immediately took a mouthful of the admittedly delicious dessert. With the barista mollified though, he dared to speak again. “I don’t get you, Frothy. You lose customers when I’m here, and you still fear me, but you insist that I stay.”

“They’d already spent all that they were going to today, so it’s not that big a loss, and who said I’m afraid of you?”

“Please, Frothy, you know I consume emotions, and that also means that I can taste your fear. I know that your previous experience with changelings has given you cause, but surely you realize by now that I won’t harm you?”

“It’s not that – or at least mostly not. It’s those blasted fangs of yours. Every time I see them, I’m reminded of how I saw them sunk into the neck of Miss Kettle, and her horrible keening as that changeling ripped out her love.”

“I see. Would this help?” With a flare of red magic around his muzzle, the changeling’s fangs disappeared, leaving just a friendly smile.

Frothy blinked in surprise. “If you can do that, why don’t you all do it all the time? It would make a heck of a difference to the ponies that you meet every day.”

“That would be missing the point, Frothy. Let me ask you something – why do you think that there is a special changeling squad in the Royal Guard?”

Frothy was caught off guard by the question, never having really thought about it before. After a moment’s thought, he replied, “To deal with changeling-specific problems?”

Sterling shook his head. “No, the regular squads can handle the average problem, and there are already specialists that were established soon after the Canterlot attack.”

Frothy tried again. “Maybe to take advantage of your shape-changing abilities?”

“That’s a pretty fair guess, but not the answer. Yes, the Royal Guard does take advantage of that ability, but it’s actually more useful to spread us throughout the squads rather than concentrate us all in one.”

“I give up then. Why?” Frothy asked with some irritation.

“It’s puts us in a high-profile position of authority, answerable only to the Captain of the Guard, and their Highnesses. It is demonstration of their faith and trust in our species, and it allows us to show ourselves under their protection while completely unmasked, not hiding anything about our nature. Our fangs are an integral part of us, Frothy. To hide them would be a lie, and rather self-defeating in the long run. We need the average pony to get used to seeing us as we truly are, and the Guard Changeling squad gives us that opportunity to show that we are a benefit to the pony community.”

“You’ve got your work cut out for you then if you are going that route,” Frothy opined.

“You’re right, and we expect that we’re going to have to work twice as hard, be twice as good, and prove ourselves again and again before we get accepted by the common pony. Even then, we expect it will take many years.”

Frothy frowned, then sighed. “I suppose you had better put those damn fangs back then. Can’t be screwing around with the Princesses’ plans.”

“Thanks for understanding, Frothy.” Red fire flared and the fangs reappeared. “That’s much better. I feel weird without them when I’m in my natural form.”

“And I feel weird knowing that my emotions are like an open book to you. You must realize that I don’t like you then.”

“I know, but believe me, while I’d be very happy if you did like me, I am actually very pleased with your attitude anyway.”

Frothy gave the changeling a surprised look. “You’re pleased that I don’t like you?”

“No, I’m please that you don’t hate me. You have more than enough reason to dislike changelings, and yet you go out of your way to tolerate me here in your café. You give me respect, and that is much of what we’re trying to achieve.”

“Hmph! I treat all my customers with respect. That’s part of running a successful business.”

“No one can force you to respect someone you fear and hate. You’re a good pony, Frothy, and I wish there were more like you.”

“Just finish your food and leave so I can get my other customers back, okay?” Frothy replied grumpily, a little embarrassed by the changeling’s words.

“Will do,” Sterling replied with a small smile. He quickly finished off the dessert, then got up and put his helmet back on. “I’ll see you again tomorrow, Frothy.”

Frothy just grunted in acknowledgement, busying himself with cleaning up after the departed mares.

* * *

Frothy parked himself across the table from Sterling. The changeling looked up from the deep-dish apple pie that he had been enjoying, surprised at the unicorn inviting himself to join him. “What’s up, Frothy?”

“Why? Why did those changelings rip out the love from ponies like Copper Kettle? You said that you eat the excess emotional energy we give off, so why steal more from us in such a violent manner if that’s enough for you?”

“Yes, that’s enough to sustain a single changeling, although our emotion harvesters put themselves in positions where they can get far more so that they provide the hive with the excess. However, emotional energy can do more than just sustain us. The more that we have, the stronger that we get. It’s one reason why many emotion harvesters get into relationships with ponies, because they get a reliable source of strong emotional energy, especially love which is by far the most powerful. All of that can be done passively though. We can get even more if we forcefully take it from you, and that’s exactly why the invading changelings were doing it. They were building their strength and consolidating their invasion of Canterlot. The more they took, the harder it would be to defeat them. Their victims certainly would not be in a position to fight back.”

“So you’re saying that poor Miss Kettle was just a means of powering themselves up?”

“Mostly. We haven’t been able to find out for sure what Chrysalis’ full motives were, but that’s probably the primary reason. Perhaps they were being greedy too – I don’t know. What I do know is that by stealing Captain Shining Armor’s love for Princess Cadence, and surreptitiously siphoning off Princess Celestia’s love for her subjects, Chrysalis was able to power herself up to the point where she was able to overcome Celestia.”

“Didn’t it concern any of them that it could break the minds of some of their victims? Miss Kettle’s marriage broke down after the attack on her. She and her husband had been very happy together until then, but she felt unable to love him any more after that.”

“That’s why we regard them as war criminals, Frothy. It’s one of the worst offences that a changeling can commit. We still don’t understand why almost an entire hive would suddenly think nothing of doing just that.”

“Almost? You’re telling me that some of Chrysalis’ changelings didn’t want to attack us?” Frothy asked skeptically.

“As far as we can tell, many of their emotion harvesters, if not all, objected to their queen’s plans. That’s not surprising considering that they are selected for that task due to their compatibility with normal pony society.”

“How could you possibly know this?” Frothy asked with an incredulous expression on his face.

“With a bit of luck, actually. Princess Twilight discovered a blue changeling living in Whitetail Meadows village, and learned a lot more about what Chrysalis did in the lead-up to the attack than we would have otherwise. He’s the only known survivor of their emotion harvesters. Now he’s living there as a normal pegasus, and happily married to a unicorn mare.”

Frothy did not know what to think of that. He had been perfectly happy to loathe every blue changeling for what they had done that one day, but now he had to adjust his thinking again. It did not sit well with him, so he changed the subject. “So eating extra love makes you stronger, you say?”

Sterling nodded. “Let me make a little comparison between us. We both have horns, but as a unicorn, your magic is stronger and more subtle than that of the average changeling. However, by absorbing extra love energy, a changeling can equal and even exceed your power level. Likewise, we have wings, but pegasi are faster and stronger fliers. A well-stoked changeling can match all but the best pegasi though. And of course it also bolsters our ability to fight.”

“So it can all come down to pure lust for power?” Frothy asked.

“Yes, it could. If in fact Queen Chrysalis became corrupt in some manner, her attitude probably infected the rest of the hive due to the bond that they have with her. The harvesters, being away from the hive most of the time, would have been spared that though, which accounts for why so many were able to defy her.”

“You make it sound as if you are bound to your queen’s will, Frothy pointed out. “How much can you truly say is what you want, and what your queen wants?”

Sterling looked at him admiringly. “That’s very observant of you, and a very good question. Our queens act for the good of the hive, but only exert their will where strictly needed. Otherwise, we serve through loyalty no less than you serve the Princesses. Our skills and our desires are what shapes us, much the same way as yours do. For example, when the changeling squad was being formed, Queen Carpacia asked for volunteers to fill its roster.”

“That doesn’t mean that she couldn’t have influenced you anyway,” Frothy said skeptically.

“To what point? The treaty that Carpacia has with the Equestrian diarchy requires that she cedes final authority to them outside of the hive. We cannot serve two masters, so our ultimate loyalty as members of the Royal Guard, is to the Princesses, even if it brings us into conflict with our own hive. That is a choice that we had to make on our own, and it was not an easy one, but we had our Queen’s blessing and gratitude because of our sacrifice.”

“Sacrifice?” queried Frothy, not comprehending.

“That bond that we were talking about – it unites us and gives us comfort. In order to eliminate the conflict of interest, Carpacia withdrew that bond from us, and we cannot share it any more. We all had nightmares for a few nights after that before we adjusted,” Sterling replied with a touch of melancholy.

Frothy had never for a moment considered that the changeling Guard had to make a sacrifice to take up his current position. With ponies’ current attitude towards them, it was a pretty much thankless task. His respect for Sterling grew even more because of it, but that battled with his feelings about changelings in general, and it made him feel very uncomfortable. He stood up and growled, “Dammit! You’re making it hard for me to dislike you!” He then stomped off.

Sterling felt that he had said enough for one day, and finished off his pie. As he left, he said his usual farewell. He was surprised and not a little thrilled when Frothy responded.

“See you tomorrow,” Frothy replied.

* * *

“Hi Sterling,” Peach greeted the Guard as he entered the café.

“Good afternoon, Miss Delight. Where’s Frothy?”

“You can call me Peachy if you like. Dad’s out the back, having a break. Can I help you with something?”

Sterling shook his head. “I’ve brought along some new customers, and I thought that I had better give him some warning first.”

Peach looked out the window to see a small gathering waiting outside the door. “Oh! I see why. Let me fetch him for you.”

Peach found her father and said, “Sterling is here, and he’s brought some friends.”

“What kind of friends?” Frothy asked suspiciously.

“Looks like more of his squad members to me. He wanted me to warn you before he brought them in.”

“Nice of him to spare me a heart attack.” Frothy sighed. “Okay, invite them in.”

As Frothy took up his normal place behind the counter, Peach went to the door and gave the changelings waiting outside one of her best welcoming smiles.

“Welcome to the True Brew Café! If you would like to come inside, we would be happy to serve you the best food and drink in Canterlot.”

One of the Guards smiled at her and said, “If what Sterling has said about your place is even half true, then I expect that we’ll be happy to agree with you. We’re quite looking forward to seeing for ourselves.”

Six Guard changelings followed Peach inside, the magic of their armor doing the usual trick of making them all look the same, just as it did for the pony Guards. Only when they started taking off their helmets did the illusion break, and she could see subtle differences between them, mostly in the placement of the voids in their limbs and wings. She noticed though that only Sterling had the conspicuous notch in his horn, so he was still easy to tell apart.

Frothy was determinedly keeping a polite smile on his face as he asked Sterling, “So what’s with all your friends?”

“I thought that since I’m responsible for chasing away some of your customers, it would only be fair to bring you some more to replace them. So I convinced a few of my squad members to try out your coffee and cakes for themselves.”

“That was thoughtful of you, but not really necessary.”

Sterling smiled a little sadly. “I disagree. Besides, do you know how hard it is for us to get served at other shops sometimes? I’d really appreciate it if they could get the same consideration as you have been giving me.”

Frothy looked affronted. “I’ve told you that I always give my customers respect. You don’t need to ask it of me just because they’re changelings.”

“I know, but I also want you to realize that I understand that it won’t be easy on you anyway.”

“Okay, but let’s get this over with.” Frothy raised his voice. “Gentleponies… ‘lings… Guards, please give me your drink orders. My daughter will be happy to serve you anything that takes your fancy from our range of cakes and pastries.”

Orders for various coffees and one tea kept Frothy’s mind off the number of changelings in his café for a while at least. When he was done, he quietly observed them while he cleaned up. At least they all seemed to be genuinely enjoying their drinks and food, and he’d had rowdier groups in the café, but all those pointy teeth…. He shuddered involuntarily. “Not going to get used to those any time soon,” he muttered to himself.

Unlike her father, Peach enjoyed chatting with the changelings, and they in turn were quite pleased to be able to have a friendly conversation with her. Their break time was over fairly soon though, and they headed out again, but not before extending their compliments on the quality of the food and drink.

“I’d be very unhappy if I had to put up with a bunch of changelings and get complaints about what we served,” Frothy grumbled to Peach.

“Oh, come on, Dad – Sterling has never been anything but a perfect gentlepony, and his friends all seem to be very nice too. You aren’t giving them a real chance!” Peach protested.

“I’m treating them as fairly as any other customer, Peachy. Nothing says I have to like them though.” Frothy went back to work, leaving his daughter sighing in frustration.

* * *

The next day, Frothy was not surprised to see that Sterling’s friends returned. His jaw dropped though as more and more changeling Guards kept following. To Frothy’s horror, he realized that the entire squad seemed to be joining him today.

“Sweet Celestia, what have I started?” Frothy lamented.

Author's Note:

I didn't know what readers would think of a story that would consist mostly of talking in just one location, but it seems that it has been received pretty well so far. It's been on the "Popular Stories" list since I uploaded the first chapter, and that pleases me a lot. I hope that you enjoy the second chapter as much, because I have lots more for them to talk about.

Thank you to all of you who faved the story and/or gave it a thumbs-up.