• Published 23rd Sep 2021
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The Only Mark That Matters - CocktailOlive



The story of Radish Root, a pony with obscene cutie marks.

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100. The Monsters, Part 2

Radish leaned back in one of the passenger seats of the airship to read the rest of the letter.

Castle Midnight is older than Equestria. Its original builders and occupants are unknown. It was ancient and long-abandoned when the pegasus tribe first came across it while fleeing the Wendigos' eternal winter. Commander Hurricane would have made it the new stronghold for pegasuskind, but the pegasi were forced to abandon it when the blizzard caught up with them.

Tirek and Scorpan used it as their base of operations when they first came to conquer Equestria. Here, Tirek plotted evil schemes while Scorpan made spying expeditions into the countryside.

It was during these expeditions that Scorpan befriended ponykind. He led Celestia, Starswirl, and I to Castle Midnight, where we confronted Tirek, eventually defeating him. We sealed the castle for all time, never intending to see it again.

I have no doubt Tirek will return to his old stomping grounds. Your orders are as follows:

  1. Scout the castle. If Tirek is already there, send your messenger pigeon back to Canterlot. Reinforcements will be dispatched.
  2. Check the central tower keep. It should still be sealed. If it is not sealed, send your messenger pigeon back to Canterlot. Reinforcements will be dispatched.
  3. If the situation calls for it, you are authorized to confront Tirek and take him alive or dead.

Radish felt the hilt of his sword. He took a deep breath, then let it out slowly.

Your princess,
Luna

Radish dug through the rest of the case. There was another smaller note detailing its contents.

I return to you the Ferrum Flats knife you left inside the Volcanic Ash on Never Atoll. It should be sufficiently empowered now to slay Tirek.

Radish held up the knife, checked the blade, then strapped the scabbard to his boot.

I have also included a gift from our Head Potionista. A healing potion, in the off chance you are wounded.

Radish examined it. It was a dark red potion in a heavy, ornate bottle. The front label had a picture of Potion Nova, smiling and winking, and the back label had directions for its use. He put it in his armor’s pocket.

And lastly, this will improve your barding.

Radish picked up a small, blue medallion in the shape of a crescent moon. Suddenly it leapt from his hoof onto the star in the center of his armor’s chestplate, sticking to it like a magnet. His entire suit of armor turned from bright gold to matte black.

"Ooh, nighttime camouflage,” Radish said to himself. “This is cool. I wonder if it does anything else." He referred back to the note.

It does nothing else.

“Oh."

Stay safe, my Champion. I will see you back in Canterlot.

Radish swiveled his chair around to look at the messenger pigeon.

“I’m guessing Luna let you in on this mission while she was changing my destination?”

Pigeon 55 gave a single nod.

“You could have warned me.”

It made a dismissive click of its beak.

“Okay, fine. Come with me. If we run across Tirek, don't wait for my signal. Fly straight to Canterlot and report.”

It gave a coo in acknowledgment. Radish opened the pigeonhole and let Pigeon 55 rest on his back.

Radish walked out to the foot of the mountain. There was evidence of a long stone staircase leading up to the castle, but all the steps had either been torn out, demolished, or upended, leaving a perilous path of jagged and unstable stones.

Commander Hurricane’s pegasi must have done this, so that non-flyers couldn’t use the stairs.

He focused his binoculars on the fortress’s front door. It was closed. It had a portcullis, which was down.

I guess I can’t just go up there and knock. And ancient castles don’t have air vents to sneak through. Am I going to have to scale the wall? Luna, how did you think I would get inside?

He looked back at his skiff. He had learned a lot about its operation from its manual, but he had no delusions that he could take off and precisely land an airship with no training.

Okay, Celestia said I’m good at finding weaknesses in buildings. What weakness could this thing have?

Radish recalled a famous story about a supposedly impenetrable fortress being infiltrated through its latrines. Radish banished the notion from his mind.

He trekked around the base of the mountain. He put his scopes on a corner of the building that looked different. It seemed that time and erosion had provided an answer for Radish- part of the mountain had crumbled away, taking a section of the outer wall with it. He began his ascent up the mountain.

What is this, the third mountain I’ve climbed since joining the Guard? Fourth?

He reached the wall and crawled over the rubble. He found himself in a small, dark room with numerous bulky seats. He affixed his flashlight to his armor and clicked it on.

He was in the latrine.

He exited out the door into a hall. It was dark. He reached a door. The hall beyond it was dark, as well. He drew a map as he went, eventually finding himself in a posh sitting room.

Okay, I’m getting deeper inside. So pretty soon I should hit…

He pushed open a door and came out of a side entrance to the castle’s great courtyard. The grass on the ground was dry and brown. The skies above were dim and cloudy. A tall imposing tower, free-standing in the center of the courtyard, loomed over Radish. Its windows were shut, and it had numerous metal rods sticking out of its roof. He approached it cautiously.

Luna wanted me to make sure this is sealed.

Radish gripped the large iron ring on the door and pulled. The door opened.

Not sealed.

Radish heard shuffling steps inside the tower. He fully opened the door, casting the outside’s dim light inside. The room was full of crates, workbenches, and shelves full of bins and boxes.

A large cloaked figure stalked out from among it all. Glowing yellow eyes peered out of the cloak’s hood. They seemed disappointed.

“An earth pony?” it said in a strained and raspy voice. “I expected the princesses.”

Radish drew his sword and pointed it at the figure. “You’re not getting anywhere near the princesses, Tirek.”

Pigeon 55 popped its head up from behind Radish’s to see. It cooed, and with a whirr of its wings, it flew away into the gray sky.

“See that? That’s the kingdom being alerted that you’re here," Radish said. "The game’s up. Surrender quietly, and you won’t be harmed.”

The figure walked forward and pulled off its cloak, revealing a furry brown bipedal creature with wings and a long, toothy snout.

“You signaled prematurely, earth pony. I am not Tirek. I am Prince Scorpan. Long ago I worked with your princesses to bring my brother Tirek to justice.”

Radish narrowed his eyes. “Oh, yeah? Prove it.”

He stepped closer to Radish. He held up something that was hanging around his neck- a gold triangular pendant.

“Behold. My family’s royal crest, signifying that I am the heir to the throne of Sacanas.”

Radish scoffed. “You could have got that out of a cereal box, for all I know.”

“You are right to be cautious.” He scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Well then, I will demonstrate intimate knowledge of Princess Celestia.”

“Huh?”

“Her favorite perfume smells like petitgrain. When she laughs, she draws her right front hoof close to her chest. And she has a mole on the inside of her-”

“Okay! Okay. Sounds like you know her. Why are you here?”

“I had a vision of Tirek’s escape from Tartarus. I’ve come to confront him when he returns here.”

“Luna thought he’d come here, too. Why is everyone so convinced that Tirek will come back to the same place he was beaten the last time?”

“He must come here. this is the only place where he can obtain the Rainbow of Darkness.”

“...the what?”

“Come. I will show you.”

Scorpan led Radish up a flight of stairs. The second story of the tower was staggeringly tall, reaching to the roof of the keep itself. The walls were lined all the way to the top with burnished metal plates, and two thick rods of the same metal reached from the floor to the ceiling, which was made of large hinged shutters.

“Okay, what is all this?”

Scorpan waved vaguely upwards.

“The starlight from the constellation Scorpio hits the north wind at an unusual angle in this region, producing a dark aurora in the sky. When the pegasus tribe occupied this castle, they built a means to concentrate that aurora and forge it into a weapon. They called it the ‘Rainbow of Darkness’.”

“What does it do?”

“Warps the flesh and dominates the will, turning any creature into a dangerous, but loyal, beast.”

“I’ve never heard of a weapon like that.”

“Apparently the pegasi lost their nerve and never used it. But Tirek found this place, and he had no such reservations.”

“I thought the two of you came to steal everypony’s magic.”

“Steal a pony’s magic, and that pony is left feeble, unsuitable for even the most menial tasks. But with the Rainbow of Darkness, Tirek could convert his victims into an unstoppable army.”

“Luna didn’t mention that part.”

“A princess needn't tell her subordinates everything, earth pony.”

“Root. I’m Major Root. And I'm not her subordinate, I'm her Champion.”

“Then come, Major Root. Let us go back downstairs and prepare an ambush for Tirek’s arrival.”

“If we know he’s coming, won’t he know we know he’s coming?”

A red beam of burning light erupted from the floor and cut a circle around Radish and Scorpan. The floor they were standing on fell to pieces, and they tumbled down with it.

“The earth pony was right, brother. I did indeed know you knew I was coming,” said a voice much more strained and raspy than Scorpan’s.

Radish looked up and saw a black-and-red quadrupedal creature sneering down at him. Radish had only heard descriptions of centaurs before, and he had assumed they would be elegant in appearance- not the gnarled, hunched-over monster standing before him.

“Tirek,” said Scorpan, standing up, “stop this madness.”

“What is more mad than siding with ponies against your own brother?” Tirek growled indignantly.

“You might as well give up,” said Radish. “Reinforcements are already on their way.”

Tirek tossed a small, soft lump to the floor in front of Radish. Radish looked at it and gasped in horror. It was Pigeon 55. Its feathers were singed and its legs were twitching.

Radish reached for his spear. Tirek blasted a searing beam of fire from his horns.

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