• Published 1st Jan 2014
  • 11,413 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 Questionable

"Are you certain this is necessary?"

As Twilight Sparkle pressed the gemstone against Mole Cricket's forehead, she looked over at Princess Celestia, her expression questioning. It did seem excessive, Cricket reflected, using a mind projector spell to ensure that the absolute truth came out in the interview. It seemed harsh, as if they expected him to lie during the interview. She, Celestia, and Luna were already here, in the interview room, and Cadance was expected to arrive within the hour. Fluttershy was required to sit this meeting out: tradition demanded it. Tradition was making a lot of demands today, Cricket thought to himself, sourly.

Celestia nodded solemnly, and said, "For a formal interview, yes, it is. There will be questions regarding the contents of this interview, and if there is not some form of verification for everything he says today, it can always be argued, by those who feel threatened by his presence, that he was less than truthful about his statements. While you and I certainly feel he is an honest sort, others will not share our opinion of him, at least at first..."

Cricket nodded, then asked, concerned, "You will keep everything said here private, right? I mean, there's a lot of what you'd call classified information rattling around in my braincase. If some of the stuff in here becomes common knowledge, this time next year, I could have an army of starving changelings banging on my door, demanding an explanation." Not to mention that there were some things that, if they ever got out, could ruin an operation years in the making. Nothing that the princesses would object to, he felt, but still, lives could be at stake...

Luna, who had remained silent the entire time, stated somewhat formally, "So long as anything that is revealed this day is not a direct threat to Equestria or it's citizens, it shall be kept in strictest confidence... so long as you are proven to be as honest as my sister feels you to be. If this proves to be a deception, however..." She left it hanging, but Cricket wasn't overly concerned: while he'd done more than his fair share of deceiving, there was nothing dishonest in his intentions today. Still, the implied threat was there: if this was a trick, they'd be picking through his brains until they'd dug up every last tidbit of intel, before he was stuffed in the dungeons for the rest of his life.

Twilight Sparkle's horn flared briefly, and the gemstone began to glow with magic. Cricket felt a tingle through his skull, letting him know that the spell was at work. Twilight Sparkle nodded in approval. "The spell is ready," she said, speaking over her shoulder at the other two princesses. "We just need to ask a question to test it." Looking back at Cricket, she smiled and said, "The spell won't trigger unless we begin with the words 'This Is My Question', so it won't activate on accident. Tradition is, each princess asks one question, before we adjourn to discuss whether or not you're given a chance at earning citizenship. Do you understand?" Cricket nodded in acknowledgement. "Good. Let's start with something simple... Ah! I have an idea." She paused and cleared her throat, then asked, in a more formal voice...

"This is my question: When did you first see Fluttershy?"

Mole felt his cheeks begin to color, realizing what was about to play. "Oh no..." he muttered, as he felt the spell gather the memory from his brain, and prepared to project. It looked like it was going to be "Embarrass Cricket Day" all day today.

Above his head, a large window appeared. After a second, the window turned opaque, and a moment after wards, images began to appear, and sounds could be heard...

...

Commander Mole "Seven Tricks" Cricket sat around a campfire with his one-time squad, now his cadre of officers, the Queen's Arrow. It was a quiet night, as they waited for the signal from the queen to begin the assault. It was three days before the royal wedding, and they were well away from Canterlot. They'd have to begin moving tomorrow night, keeping to the shadows to avoid detection, but tonight was... well it was peaceful. There had not been enough nights like this since they'd begun their three year sojourn from the forests far to the south, across the great desert, and then finally through the badlands, to reach Equestria. Soon, all the planning, all the hard work, all the sacrifice, it would all come to fruition...

The wind picked up, and suddenly something struck Cricket in the side of the head, taking him completely by surprise and knocking out of his reverie. Goliath, who had been sitting next to him, asked, "What's dat, boss?"

Mole looked up at Goliath as he pulled the papery object off the side of his face. And looked up further, and further, until his gaze reached the top of Mount Goliath. The joke around the swarm was, when they were handing out the brains, the wit, the creativity, and just about everything else, Goliath kept getting back in line for more muscles. Not very bright, and not especially inventive or motivated, he'd been bounced around from squad to squad, until Commander Blattaria decided to saddle Cricket with Goliath in the hopes of stopping the then lieutenant's meteoric rise... and Cricket promptly discovered he now had the most powerful weapon in the swarm.

Not inventive, motivated, or very smart, Goliath "Bird-Eating" Spider (he earned that nickname by capturing a roc single-hooved, and draining it of love to unconsciousness in less than ten seconds, a feat that could not be matched by twenty changelings working in concert. He was still hungry afterwards, and he repeated the deed five more times in rapid fire succession) would never be officer material, but he'd earned distinctions serving as Cricket's bodyguard. As long as Cricket and the other officers did the thinking for him, his muscle was put to good use. He had one trait that made him either the worst soldier in the world, or the best, depending on the officer commanding him: He did EXACTLY as he was told. Without question, and without hesitation. He didn't need explanations, and as long as you kept it simple, he would approach whatever task given him with all the energy, enthusiasm, and destructive force of a wrecking ball at full swing.

Cricket looked down at the object in his hooves. "Some sort of text," he said, studying the object intently. "I think they call it a magazine."

"Oh," came the response from the heights of the massive insectoid mountain. "Wut's it about?" While he didn't exercise much interest in reading himself (Cricket was certain that he could read, but most words were written far too small to be worthy of such mighty eyeballs), the monstrous bruiser did like being read to.

The other officers gathered around the fire perked up in interest. Intel had been hard to come by, given the rushed nature of this campaign, and any information would be considered valuable.

Studying the magazine, Cricket stated aloud, "It appears to be about current fashions. Trends and fads, stuff like that. What's popular, what's going out of style, and what may be popular in the future. Seems to be intended for mares, but there's a few articles on stallion's clothes as well. Portia'll probably want to look it over later."

Lieutenant Portia "Spider Hunter" Fimbriata (so named for her skill with dispensing with giant spiders) was the sole Aristo in the cadre, and was several years younger than Cricket. He had high hopes for her. Unlike most aristocrats, she'd actually earned her meteoric rise through the ranks, and would be a candidate for commander if Cricket ever abandoned the role. If she'd been born a few years earlier, the two would have been rivals, instead of student and mentor. She looked at the magazine for a moment, then asked, "What can you tell about the ponies from it?"

Ah, sharp, that girl. She was going places.

Cricket looked over the magazine, flicking through the pages with a smile. "Well, let's see. Lot of jewelry, so they probably know how to work steel, or at least bronze, and the abundance of gemstones and precious metals means that this place is pretty prosperous. At least, I can assume that since this appears to be aimed towards common ponies, rather than just the wealthy. Hmmm, the variety of fabrics used in the creation of clothing tells me that they either have a very diverse agricultural base, or they have a great deal of trade going on with neighboring countries. Maybe both. Heh, there's a piece on the armor worn by the soldiers here, and how stylish it looks. I can spot seventeen flaws in the design, just at a glance. Ha! Make that eighteen. By the time I'm done dissecting the design tonight, we'll be able to eat them for breakfast. But can you guess what the most important thing is?"

Portia, a grin forming on her face, "They're not expecting us?"

Cricket's grin would have fit better on something at the bottom of the deepest ocean, the kind of fish whose body mass is more than 50% teeth, and lived in pitch darkness because the light was too scared to go anywhere near them. "They aren't expecting anything, period. If this is anything to go by, they spend a great deal more time worrying about fashions, and styles, and making themselves look attractive, than about protecting themselves from invasion. They talk about exercise to keep from getting fat, meaning they don't get enough exercise just struggling to stay alive like we do. Numerical advantage or not, they're woefully unprepared for anything. I could probably conquer this country leading an army of field mice armed with toothpicks." Cricket turned the page, then stopped abruptly. "Whoa. I think we just struck gold..."

Portia and Goliath both asked, simultaneously, "What?" although, Goliath's was more like a "Wut?"

Cricket's grin had faded, and he his eyes widened. Then he smirked, and said, "Feast your eyes, lads and ladies, on the element of kindness." He turned the magazine around, so everybuggy could see the picture. It was of a yellow coated pony, with long, flowing pink mane and tail, three butterflies as a cutie mark, and gentle blue eyes. This was the first image they'd found of one of the highest profile targets in the invasion. Fluttershy. "There's a whole article about her. Plenty of sweet, delicious intel for our consumption... in a magazine anypony, or anybuggy, could buy on the street for five bits. There's also a picture of her five friends, who happen to be the other five elements, with captions to tell us who is who. Memorize their faces, and describe them, in detail, to the troops. There's a distinction in it for every member of the squad, or squads, who capture them. Maybe even two, if they collect the whole set." There were nods around the campfire. It was vitally important that they were captured, especially as the operation approached the endgame...

Portia, an impish smile on her face, said, "Hey Goliath, take a look at the pretty little pony." Goliath herculean eyeballs peered down from the lofty heights of his head, and after a moment, admitted, "Pretty." Not inventive, but accurate.

Portia, still smiling, said, "Isn't she just?" After a moment, she said, looking at her hooves, "I hope that my legs are that nice when I finish growing up." The aristo had yet to be old enough to start getting growth spurts, but like most aristos, she'd be fairly attractive as an adult: her mane was slowly starting to grow out, as was her tail, looking a lot more pony-ish than changeling now. Like the queen, and most other aristos...

Lieutenant Hornet, a commoner fresh to his rank, and Portia's age, chuckled and said, "I hope they are, too." Portia smacked Hornet on the back of the head, not hard enough to hurt, but enough to let him know she'd heard that, so shut up. It was almost affectionate, really. Cricket silently moved a private talk he'd need to have with the two of them forward a few months. They grow up so fast.

Others began commenting on other favorable features the mare had. Wings, eyes, facial structure, hooves, legs, tail, mane, there were even comments of "Dat Abdomen", and "Nice Thorax". After the comments died down, Portia, her smile devious, asked, "So, Commander, what do you like about her?"

Cricket decided he'd play her game, and turned the image around, and gave the picture a more intent examination for several seconds. He immediately lifted the magazine up so that it covered his face, feeling himself start to blush without intending to. He began reading the articles describing the pony, her likes and dislikes, her brief career as a fashion model, first with detachment, then with genuine interest. It took him less than a minute: his mentor had drilled him in speed reading until he could finish long novels within a half hour of cracking open the book. Finally, he admitted, "I can't choose. I like everything she's got to offer."

That got a number of laughs, and it took a bit of time to get his blush fully under control. When he felt he could finally face his troops, he rolled up the magazine, placing it in his rucksack, and said, "Let me know if any of you need to look over this. I'll be keeping it, to study in greater detail when we have some spare time."

"I bet you will," said Portia with a wink that was far too knowing for a face that young. Cricket moved that little talk forward to immediately after the Canterlot operation. Some grow up much faster than they should. The crowd around the campfire erupted into laughter.

Fighting another blush attack, Cricket's head whipped around, a scowl on his face, then said, in his official Commander tone, "Portia. Twenty pushups, disrespect toward a superior officer. Try and back talk, it'll be fifty, with Goliath sitting on your back." His voice cut through the chatter like a chainsaw. The laughter stopped, but the mirthful grins were still there, which was somehow even worse. At least some of them were directed towards Portia, though; amusement that the aristo had so easily gotten herself in trouble. "As soon as she's done," the Commander said to the rest, "get ready to work. We've still got a few hours until sunrise. I want to make the most of them: you all obviously need some exercise, if you have energy to waste on that kind of thinking. We'll be running drills until I decide you've got your heads back in the game."

Portia began doing pushups, her devilish grin not even slightly diminished.
...

Cricket, blushing incandescent blue, could not have been more embarrassed. It had been bad enough when they'd watched him, with a critical eye, as he'd analyzed their entire society through the use of a single fashion magazine. They'd at least been impressed by that. But when the subject had turned to the general opinion of Fluttershy, both Celestia and Twilight Sparkle had started chuckling. When it had turned to Cricket's personal opinion of Fluttershy, even Luna had laughed out loud.

When the laughter finally died down, Celestia said, with a smile, "Well, I think it's safe to say that the spell works."