• Published 1st Jan 2014
  • 11,414 Views, 329 Comments

The Royal Audience: A Mole Cricket Story - Bucking Nonsense

Mole Cricket, a changeling, faces the greatest challenge of his life so far: Convincing all four princesses that he deserves a chance at earning citizenship in Equestria.

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Something Starts

"And you must be the changeling I've heard so much about."

Commander Mole "Seven Tricks" Cricket stared up into the face of his own imminent destruction, and was surprised to see her smiling. He was uncertain if that was a good thing: Queen Chrysalis smiled often, usually when she had something nasty planned for you, so he did not know whether he should feel relieved that the ruler of Equestria did not seem angry, or whether he should run for the hills, screaming all the way.

He should not have been surprised that word of him had reached her ears before the train had reached the station. His escape from the Crystal Empire HAD been rather spectacular, truth be told. He had been in mortal fear of being annihilated when he had revealed himself to Fluttershy, thinking her another changeling due to a pair of fangs she had been sporting. He had burned love the entire way to his apartment, then back to the train station, with no pretense of keeping up a disguise... only to find the pegasus and Princess Twilight Sparkle, not only waiting, but having had the train delay it's departure just for him. He had expected to have had his brain liquified on the spot, but the alicorn had decided to talk to him, instead.

The conversation between the three ended on a high note, and when they reached Canterlot, he had been surprisingly optimistic... up until he exited the train, to find a welcoming committee composed of a dozen unicorn guards, as well as Princess Celestia herself. Twilight had started talking fast, explaining the situation to Celestia as quickly as she could. While initially skeptical, Twilight had voluteered to let Celestia and the guards check her for any sort of magical coercion (not that they'd needed to be concerned: Mole was a commoner, not an aristocrat. Aristos are the only ones who can use mind magic). A brief scan proved the two ponies to be clean of any sort of mental domination, and the senior princess relaxed visibly. After that, the ruler of the nation turned her full attention to the changeling... which is a terrible thing to happen to any member of what was essentially an enemy state.

Cricket met the gaze of the most powerful being in Equestria, if not the entire world... and smiled. If he was going to go, he wasn't going to go out running. He'd go out on a laugh. "Well," he said, "I must be, unless there's somebuggy else out there as handsome as I am."

The princess laughed merrily, and said, her voice quite cheerful, "Well, good looks, and a rapier wit. We'll definitely have to keep an eye on you." Inwardly, Cricket relaxed slightly. Keeping an eye on him meant she wasn't going to vaporize him on the spot... right? The princess continued, her smile still warm, "We have a great deal to discuss, you and I. Would you mind coming with me to the palace?"

The way she said it, it almost sounded like he had a choice. He briefly considered asking if he really had the option of declining, but looked over at Fluttershy, and decided that he'd take his chances with the palace. "I'd be happy to, your highness."

The eldest princess made a gesture, and, with surprising efficiency, the guards fell into formation. The transition from standing at attention to royal escort was seamless. It was the kind of effortless maneuver that could only be the result of rigorous training. Cricket couldn't help but be impressed: he'd often dreamed of the day that the soldiers he commanded could operate so efficiently. He'd known it would be a long way off: his predecessor had been an aristo, and one who wouldn't know tactics or strategy if they ambushed him in a dark alley. Former commander Blattaria had been a slob, a coward, and worst of all, from Cricket's perspective, a total incompetent, in a job where your subordinates bear the consequences of your ineptitude. Upon taking command three years ago, Cricket had made great strides in hammering the changeling army into a force to be proud of, but this kind of discipline was still beyond them: too many bad habits from the previous generation, not enough time.

And the fact that the queen kept taking personal command of his troops at the worst possible moment didn't help much. Her idea of battle tactics was just smashing things into submission with a hammer. If it didn't work? You needed a bigger hammer. She really had no idea how to properly exercise the true strength of the changeling swarm...

"Something on your mind?"

Cricket's ears perked up, and he was surprised to find that Fluttershy was walking next to him, a questioning look on her face. He'd been so lost in thought, he hadn't even noticed her there. "Ah, sorry," he said, surprised to find he was blushing with embarrassment. He hadn't even realized that they were already in motion, and in fact halfway to the palace. "I was reminiscing, I suppose. The sound of hooves marching in unison makes me feel nostalgic."

Fluttershy said, with a small smile, "I thought it might be something like that." Cricket's expression must have mirrored his confusion, as she started giggling, and said, "You're marching in time with the guards."

Cricket looked down at his hooves, watching them move in a familiar motion, in perfect time with the guards around him. You could have used the sound of their hooves as a metronome. He'd fallen into the routine without even being aware of it. "Huh," he said, blushing slightly, "So I am. Force of habit, I suppose..."

Twilight Sparkle chuckled a little, a little bit behind the pair, and able to hear their every word. Then, after a moment's thought, she asked Cricket a question. "I was wondering, Commander, just how old are you?"

Cricket cocked his head to one side, briefly lost in thought. "Well, it's hard to be precise, your highness. Changelings, as rule, have to relocate often, and not every place uses the same calendar system ponies do. Since I was born, I've traveled through places where the sun seldom shines, others where it almost never sets, and even ones where seasons never change. But, if I were to hazard a guess, I'd be about your age."

Both Fluttershy and Twilight Sparkle were surprised to hear that. The younger princess, after a moment, asked, "But I thought you said that, as a commander, you held the highest military rank in the changeling swarm?"

With a bit of a smugness, Mole responded with, "I also said I was the youngest to have ever earned that rank. To be fair, I've not held it long. Only about three years, before the Canterlot fiasco sent the swarm flying in every direction." Abruptly, Cricket's demeanor changed, as he realized he'd made a serious mistake, and he nearly missed a step. Great job, let's remind everypony that you were the one technically in charge of the army that invaded the city...

"So," Princess Celestia said, breaking the brief silence that had resulted, "I suppose that means you're something of a prodigy." She looked down at the changeling with a smile.

"Well," Cricket said, a little bit of his confidence returning, "I suppose you could say that. Personally, I just always considered myself a go-getter. They don't give distinctions out to changelings who just sit around all day doing nothing."

"Distinctions?" the older princess asked, curious.

Cricket considered, briefly, whether he should go into detail, then decided it couldn't hurt. "Money has no value in a society where the only sustenance comes from emotions. However, that doesn't mean we don't place value on anything: we put a great deal of value in things that, like love, can't be bought or sold. Names, ranks, titles, even a nickname is considered a distinction, and you can only get them if you do something to earn them."

Fluttershy asked, a little puzzled, "So your parents didn't give you a name when you were born?"

Cricket blushed furiously, and said, embarassed, "Ah, I'd rather not go into detail regarding where little hatchlings come from... At least not in public." Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy blushed even harder than Cricket had, while Celestia just gave a little chuckle. Cricket said, a bit evasively, "Let's just say that there are a lot of eggs, and are far too similar to one another in appearance. Since we move around a lot, eggs tend to get transported in bulk, making keeping track of which belong to whom an impossible task. Unless it's a royal egg, or an aristo's, nobuggy bothers to keep track. When we hatch, we're given a number. From there, the commoners get taught how to be a changeling by a commander, like myself, while aristo's and royals get taught by the queen and the aristos."

Fluttershy, puzzled again, asked, "An 'aristo'?"

Now this was at risk of falling into dangerous territory, but Cricket decided that there was little real danger in explaining at least this much. "Aristocrats. Big-wigs. The ones one rung down from the queen on the social ladder. The cream, or maybe just the scum, that floats on top."

Celestia laughed out loud at that last part. She asked, still chuckling, "I'm guessing you don't care for them?"

"Oh dear," Mole said, his voice filled with sarcasm, "However could you have gotten that impression?" A little more seriously, he said, "I'm probably being unfair. There are one or two I actually respect, but personal experience has probably soured my opinion of the majority of them. The previous commander was an aristo. Fellow by the name of Blattaria. If you look up incompetent in the dictionary, you'll see a picture of him holding a picture of himself upside down. When he realized that the queen was considering me to be his replacement, he started coming up with increasingly impressive ways of having me... ah, 'removed from active duty', you could say. They didn't work, obviously. Instead, because we kept overcoming impossible odds, the squad I commanded ended up getting called the 'Queen's Arrow', because, unlike my predecessor, we were fast, efficient, and we never missed the target. When his stupidity finally became to much to bear, the queen had him 'removed from active duty', and put me in charge."

Cricket snorted, and said, "Of course, that didn't stop her from... Ah, nevermind." He abruptly stopped himself, realizing, not only was he getting dangerously close to bad mouthing the queen in public, but that he was also suddenly the center of attention. Even the guards had been staring, surprised to hear that, rather than just an officer, he'd been some sort of child soldier war hero, or at least the changeling version of one. He started blushing furiously again. He really needed to get his mouth under control. All this time away from the hive, hiding his true self from everypony around him, he'd kept his mouth shut, shut, shut about the past. Now that he was unmasked, he'd turned into a chatterbox!

"Well," Celestia said, a smile on her face, "I was right: You definitely are somebuggy worth watching. Ah, and we have arrived," she added, gesturing to the grand entrance of Canterlot Palace. "If you'll follow me, we'll continue this discussion someplace a little more... private."