• 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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101. The Monsters, Part 3

Scorpan raised a hand with fingers spread. A glassy shimmering disc appeared in the air before him. Tirek’s beam deflected off its front, hitting the ceiling, and Radish’s spear bounced off its back, clattering to the floor. Tirek growled. Radish looked at Scorpan in annoyance.

“Brother!” called Scorpan. “Please, listen to me.”

Tirek raised both his hands. A red aura enveloped Radish and Scorpan, and they tumbled end-over-end into the air, dangling from nothing.

Radish felt the aura compress his limbs into his body, rendering him unable to reach for his sword or his knife. He thrashed. His body tilted toward Tirek. Tirek stood tall and opened his jaw. A jagged orange glow erupted from Radish’s body and flowed into Tirek’s mouth.

Every muscle in Radish’s body felt like it was being ripped from his bones. Every bone in his body felt like it was being turned inside-out. Tirek let Radish drop hard to the floor.

Radish had gone through the Never Atoll mission on zero sleep, and he had pushed his stamina to its limit in his match against Celestia. He now felt like he had just experienced both again at the same time. His mind and body were so exhausted that his vision dimmed around the edges, and even breathing was a chore. His armor was now too heavy to stand up in.

Tirek stood over him, looking larger and less withered than before. Then, he grimaced and clutched his body where Radish surmised his stomach was. He coughed violently and wiped his mouth with the back of his fist.

“Tummy ache?” Radish asked mockingly.

He gripped Radish’s throat and lifted him up to his face. “You made an unpalatable meal, royal guard. An earth ponies’ magic is so tightly bound up in its physique, that it takes effort to absorb.”

“Good,” croaked Radish. “I hope you choke on it.”

“But a unicorn’s horn is practically a drinking straw to their magic. I will start my conquest of Equestria with the unicorns, then take the pegasi, and then I will come for the rest of you earth ponies. And after that… the alicorns. All three alicorns.”

Radish couldn't hide the confusion on his face.

“That’s right, royal guard. I am well aware that there is now a third princess, Cadenza. I will have her magic, as well.”

Radish kept silent. Tirek dropped him, then stomped over to Scorpan, who was still suspended mid-air.

“You cannot take my magic, brother,” Scorpan said defiantly.

“I have no use for the magic of a fool.” Tirek waved a hand, and Radish’s spear leapt off the floor into his grip. “Or for a brother who would turn traitor.”

Radish heard a wet squelch. Scorpan dropped in front of him with the spear sticking out of his gut. Radish couldn't take a deep enough breath to scream.

Tirek reached down and ripped the triangular pendant from Scorpan’s neck. “But I will take this- the honor you never deserved. Farewell, brother.”

Tirek leapt through the hole in the ceiling to the above level. His hands glowed again, and he gripped the two metal rods running the height of the tower. Radish heard clicks and groans from ancient and unseen mechanical devices. The shutters in the roof of the tower opened.

Radish summoned enough strength into his hooves to unbuckle his armor. He slipped out of it, then pulled the healing potion from its pocket. He crawled over to Scorpan, pulled the stopper out with his teeth, and poured it into the prince’s mouth.

A soft purple glow emanated from his wound and pushed the spear out. The injury slowly knit itself closed. Radish tensed- the bottle was half-empty now, but there seemed to be a lot more wound remaining than potion to heal it. Scorpan clutched Radish’s hoof and pushed it away.

“Wait. The bird,” he whispered.

Radish looked at Pigeon 55. It seemed to be barely breathing. He shook his head.

“I… can’t. You’re the priority.”

“Save it, damn you, or I will not help you against Tirek.”

Radish crawled over to 55, and helped it drink the remaining potion. The purple light glowed from multiple wounds across its body. He glanced up at Tirek.

The space between the two metal rods was growing dark. The darkness organized itself into wild flowing ribbons, which further coalesced into an arc shape suspended between the poles.

The Rainbow of Darkness, thought Radish. There’s no other name for it.

Tirek then thrust his head into the darkness. The ends of the rainbow lept from the poles to his own horns. He roared in triumph- the Rainbow of Darkness was his. He glanced down through the hole in the floor, and saw that Scorpan, Radish, and the pigeon were gone. He jumped down to the first floor. The door to the outside was wide open. He stepped to the threshold.

“Fleeing? If it’s a chase you want, so be it. I am in the mood for a hunt.”

He took off, searching the courtyard for signs of his quarry. Back inside the tower, Radish, Scorpan, and 55 crouched behind a wall of crates.

“Okay, he’s gone,” said Radish. He looked at 55. “Can you fly?”

It looked at its wings, then nodded.

“All right. Use the inside of this tower to get altitude, make sure he’s indoors, then glide away silently.”

Pigeon 55 saluted, then flew upstairs.

“It will take hours for the bird to reach Canterlot. And hours more for help to arrive,” Scorpan said. “We have to stall Tirek here.”

“No, we have to stop Tirek here.”

“We cannot fight him. You are robbed of your strength, and I am half-healed from a fatal injury,” said Scorpan.

“Yeah, and whose fault is that? Your shield blocked my spear.”

“I will not let you kill him.”

“He clearly doesn't feel the same way about you.”

“Would you kill your brother, even if he attacked you?”

Radish looked down at his knife. He sighed. “No. I didn’t. So where does that leave us?”

Scorpan looked around the room. He glanced down at Radish’s flank. “Major, why do you still have your cutie mark?”

Radish looked at his dyed mark. Without touch-ups, the radish had been fading, but was still recognizable. “What do you mean?”

“In the past, when Tirek took a pony’s magic, their cutie mark vanished. Why has yours remained? Do you have some hidden reservoir of power?”

Radish looked at his knife again. “You know what? I think I do.”

Radish held the Ferrum Flats knife in front of his face. He bit down on the blade. A jolt ran down his spine. He felt a little more clear-headed, and a little more stronger. He stood up and stretched out his back. He took the blade out of his mouth, and felt dizzy and weak again.

“Hmm. I guess I have to maintain contact.”

“What is that?” asked Scorpan.

“This knife was empowered by the earth. I’m an earth pony. I can access that power… so long as I keep it in my mouth.”

“An artifact-to-organic energy transference such as that will have a deleterious effect on your digestive system.”

“That’s what my girlfriend says about jalapeño chews. I’ll be fine.”

“But what could you do, even with more strength?”

“I’ve noticed that some parts of this castle have collapsed over time-”

“Indeed. Without occupants, there has been no one to compensate for the differential cracking caused by the chilling winds of this altitude combined with the heating sunlight of this longitude.”

“...right. How would you feel if we collapsed some more of the castle, to trap Tirek inside?”

“Hmm. Yes. That would keep him contained until your armies arrive. But we will still need to strip him of the Rainbow of Darkness, lest he use it against the reinforcements.”

“I could stab it with this,” Radish offered, holding up his knife.

“Earth magic wouldn’t work against a rainbow. We would need to disrupt its structure with chromatic filtering magic.”

“Oh, I’ve got something like that.”

Radish scooted over to his armor and pulled the moon crest from the breastplate. His armor changed back from black to gold.

“Fascinating,” said Scorpan, taking it, “pony magic is truly wondrous these days.”

He clasped the crest between his hands, and muttered a spell. The crest glowed purple, then turned off-white.

“This should be able to compromise the Rainbow of Darkness now. Come. You will draw Tirek to the wine cellar. I will lie in wait. I will use this on the rainbow, and fly out of the room just as you collapse the exit.”

“There’s a wine cellar?”

“Indeed. But nothing suitable for consumption remains.”

“Darn.”


Tirek stalked through the dark halls of Midnight Castle, sniffing the air. He paused- there were definite sounds of hoofsteps, coming from the level below him. He crept down a flight of spiral stairs, into a large vaulted basement. A light at the far side of the room extinguished itself just as he entered.

Tirek raised a hand, and every light source in the room- candelabras, wall-mounted lanterns, and chandeliers- lit up bright. He saw Radish, standing sideways on top of a rack of wine barrels. He frowned.

“How can you still have your mark?” he demanded.

Radish looked at his flank. “You must have lost your touch.”

Tirek roared and fired the Rainbow of Darkness from his horns. Radish fell back behind the barrels, slipping his knife between his teeth and scampering away as fast as his weakened state could take him.

Tirek blasted the barrels apart with a fiery beam, raining splinters and dried wine dregs around the room. He did the same for the next row of barrels, then the next.

“If I am so unthreatening, then why do you hide, earth pony!?”

“The name is Root. But that’s ‘Major’ to you.”

Tirek turned and saw Radish back at the entrance to the room, clutching his dagger.

“No, earth pony. Your only title from now will be ‘stratadon’.”

“What the heck is a stratadon?”

The Rainbow of Darkness flared up between Tirek’s horns. Scorpan leapt from a chandelier and onto Tirek’s back, holding the moon crest in his hand. Tirek reared up and threw him off. Scorpan slammed into the floor.

“Brother!” he called. “Think of mother! Of father!”

Tirek tilted his head toward Scorpan. The Rainbow of Darkness lashed out from his horns and entangled Scorpan, burying him in blackness.

The rainbow receded, but not from Scorpan. A green dragon-like beast stood where he had been. It bowed before Tirek, who petted its head smugly.

“Finally, Scorpan, you’ve made yourself useful.”

Oh, thought Radish, that’s a stratadon.

Radish backed slowly up the spiral staircase. Tirek pointed to Radish.

“Seize him.”

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