• 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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103. The Monsters, Part 5

Captain Barrel Roller stood on the balcony of the palace’s main tower. She looked determinedly at the masses of guards in formation below.

“Guards, we have a crisis on our hooves. Discord has betrayed Equestria and joined Tirek.”

The assembled guards muttered. Spats leaned over to Bunker Buster next to him and whispered, “Don’t worry. The princesses have a plan. And it will involve AG1 saving the day.”

“Some of you are probably thinking that the princesses have a plan, and it will involve AG1 saving the day,” said Barrel Roller. “Put that out of your mind, then toss it in a trash bin. You are the last line of defense for your princesses. If the day is going to be saved, it will be through you.

"Each of you is in the Guard because you belong in the Guard. Because I or another officer knew you could live up to the oath you took. That oath was that you would defend Equestria, its leaders, and its peoples from its enemies. Its enemies are almost at the gate.”

Bunker Buster whispered to Spats, “This is all a ploy. She’s using us as a smokescreen to cover whatever Twilight and her friends are doing. We’re the distraction. The fodder.”

Spats shook his head. “I can’t be a fodder, I’m not even married.”

"Prince Armor,” said Barrel Roller, “they're ready."

Shining Armor stepped up from behind her wearing his old purple captain’s armor. He thrust his horn at the sky, and a beam shot out and exploded, forming a bright pink bubble around the palace.

He's only shielding the palace, thought Spats. The rest of the city is on its own.

Barrel Roller took a hovering position and called out division assignments. Spats was assigned to patrol a parapet in the southwest corner of the palace.

He scanned the horizon, first with his eyes, then with his spyglass. Though it was difficult to see through Shining Armor's shield bubble, Ponyville looked normal.

Alrighty. No sign of our monsters so far. Maybe they've already turned on each other. Maybe they've already killed each other.

A huge shadow was cast over the palace. All looked skyward. Discord was outside the shield, looming larger than the mountain and grinning gleefully. He pulled an enormous decorative hatpin from behind his body, and pricked Shining Armor’s shield. It popped like a balloon. The sound was deafening.

Spats held his ears in pain. I hate that jerk.

He looked up and saw that Discord was gone from the sky. A horn blew. Spats knew that signal- all guards were to rush to defend the throne room. Spats ran at full gallop across the palace's walls.

Spats reached the main tower and cut through its vast laundry facilities in its rear. The launderers were huddling in a corner. He gave them a reassuring wink as he passed them.

He made it to the floor below the throne room, and heard clanging outside the window. He looked out and gasped at what he saw.

A massive creature- Tirek, he presumed- was standing on the skybridge to the throne room. Barrel Roller and Saguaro Shade were engaging him in combat.

The captain and the commander in full battle mode!

Barrel Roller whirled tight circles around the beast, pelting him with lightning, rainbows, and cyclones. Tirek roared and swatted uselessly at her. Saguaro Shade hacked away at his lower body with his sword, dodging and weaving the creature's four kicking legs. Each time Tirek tried to focus on devouring one of his opponents' power, a blow from the other would cause him to cry out and stymie his attempt. Spats watched in awe.

Then, Discord appeared in the air above Tirek with a flash. He grinningly stretched out his arms, and grabbed Barrel Roller and Saguaro Shade by the scruffs of their necks. He dangled the two officers in front of Tirek, who wickedly smiled and opened his maw, gobbling up the strength of the guard leadership. He tossed them over his shoulder like spent soda cans.

They were caught by two pegasi guards. They and the rest of the full force of the Royal Guard were swarming the skybridge now. Spats needed to join them.

"Spats!" called a mare's voice. It was Shoofly, hovering outside the window.

Spats nodded. He leapt out the window, and Shoofly grabbed him, joining a dozen other pegasi carrying earth and unicorn guards into the air.

“How do you wanna play this?” asked Shoofly.

“Aim me down the middle. This is for the brute,” said Spats, whipping out his spear. “And this is for the dirty traitor,” he said, lighting up his horn.

She released Spats. He flew straight as an arrow at the monsters. His horn crackled with lightning and he aimed his spear.

Tirek raised his hands and froze all the guards in mid-air. Spats struggled. Tirek opened his mouth and sucked down the strength of Spats and the other guards. Tirek dropped his hands.

Spats and the rest of the guards fell.

He felt a tingling all over. He saw his body enveloped by a blue aura, and looked to see a group of unicorn guards catching and safely lowering other guards who had been sapped.

Discord appeared behind the unicorn guards, rolled them into a ball in an oversized baseball glove, and threw them to Tirek. Tirek devoured their magic.

Spats fell again.

Water rushed into his mouth, nostrils, and ears. He had fallen into the stream running through palace grounds.

He tried to sit up, but could not. His armor was too heavy for his muscles now. He tried to work off his saddle plate, but found the buckles slick with mud.

Drowned in a foot of water by my own armor. It’s undignified, is what it is.

Another guard fell next to him. It was Shoofly. She had also been robbed of her strength, and she had hit the water with less breath in her lungs than he did.

Spats crawled over to Shoofly and undid the strap on her armor. It slipped off her, and she breached the surface, taking in two lungfuls of air. Then, she took two more, held them, and plunged back down into the water.

She put her lips around Spats's mouth and breathed air into him. His burning lungs devoured it. The two worked his armor off and crawled out of the stream, clinging to each other, and gasping in exhaustion. Around them, other guards were helping their colleagues out of the stream as well.

"Thanks," Shoofly croaked hoarsely.

"Back at you," Spats said. He squinted at her flank. “Whoa.”

"What?" she asked.

"Shoofly... you're a blank flank."

She looked at her side. Her cutie mark was gone.

"Spats... so are you."

He looked at his side. “Wow. Too bad Radish isn’t here. He would have loved this.” He looked up at the throne room entrance of the main tower. He couldn’t see Tirek, Discord, or any guards. “Come on, we’re still needed in the throne room.”

“We can’t even stand.”

“Then we’ll fight prone.”

She laughed. “That’s like something Radish would say.”

“I hope he’s okay.”

“I’m… sure… he’s… hnn…”

Shoofly had passed out. Spats held on for a few more seconds, then did the same.

“Well, sister, this is another fine mess you have gotten us into,” said Princess Luna, tugging on her chains. Even if she hadn’t given up her power, she doubted that she could break them.

Luna, Celestia, and Cadance now occupied a spot of honor in Tartarus, on a bare raised platform intended for highly dangerous prisoners.

“We all knew this would happen. It was the only way to keep our magic away from Tirek,” noted Cadance.

“Besides, this works out fine,” said Celestia. “Radish is here in Tartarus on an official inspection. He will find us, free us, and then we can all leave in the sky skiff.”

Luna winced. “Oooh. About that…”

Celestia scowled. “What? What have you done?”

“Radish is… not here.”

“And why not?”

“I may have… redirected him.”

To where?” Celestia demanded through her teeth.

“To Midnight Castle, to stop Tirek.”


“I was thinking of Tirek’s defeat, sister.”

“First you sent him to face Discord, now this! Why do you insist on pitting Radish against supermonsters!?”

“Why do you continuously underestimate his abilities!? Has he not proven himself? He defeated you, after all!”

“Tirek isn’t going to be fighting by Canterby Rules, Luna! You’ve sent Radish to his death!”

“You think I choose my Champion lightly!?”

“Oh, enough of this ‘Champion’ nonsense! We both know you just made that up as an excuse to spend more time with him!”


“That’s enough bickering, you two!” scolded Cadance. “Tirek is on the loose, Equestria is in danger, we’re imprisoned in Tartarus, and yet all you can do is fight over Radish!”

“Oh, quit trying to turn this into some kind of three-bit melodrama, Cadance,” scoffed Celestia. “This is about Luna ordering my guards around behind my back.”

“That is precisely the problem! They’re all your guards!” said Luna. “Who does that leave me to command, the chambermaid?”

“Maybe you’d have more responsibility over the guards if you didn’t send them on solo missions to Midnight Castle!”

“At least when I send Radish on a mission, he doesn’t join with the enemy!”

The sisters glared at each other.

“Okay, that’s it!” announced Cadance. “If Radish is such a major source of contention between you, then I'll just have to remove him from the equation.”

“Meaning what, exactly?” Luna demanded.

“Shining Armor once suggested we offer Radish a position in the Crystal Empire. It’s clear to me now that it would be best for everyone if I went ahead and extended that offer.”

“He would never accept it, Cadance,” scoffed Celestia. “His girlfriend lives in Canterlot.”

“I know. I’ll just make her an offer she can’t refuse,” Cadance said, shrugging. “Artist Laureate of the entire Crystal Empire, perhaps.”

“You wouldn’t dare!” growled Luna.

“Try me, dear aunties,” Cadance said defiantly.

The princesses stared each other down. After a moment, Celestia looked aside.

“Perhaps Luna is right. Perhaps she deserves more authority when it comes to Guard orders.”

Luna rubbed the back of her head. “And perhaps I’ve held an overly-heroicized view of Major Root.”

“And there’s one other thing we can agree on,” said Celestia.

“What’s that?” asked Luna.

“Discord sucks.”

The two sisters hugged.

“Aunts… I think we have company,” warned Cadance.

A heavy, clanking series of footfalls approached from one of the side caves. A metallic creature in the shape of a tiger slinked into the room. Its skin was made of golden plates which shifted over each other as it moved. A red glow shone from its eyes and mouth. Celestia stood up to greet it.

“Superintendent,” called Celestia. “I am Princess Celestia of Equestria. My fellow princesses and I have been wrongfully imprisoned by the escaped prisoner Tirek.”

“The superintendent is a machine?” whispered Cadance to Luna.

“Not quite,” whispered Luna. “He is a magical-mechanical construct, assembled and animated by the Dell Dwellers, the beings who established Tartarus in an ancient age.”

The superintendent stared at the three princesses. “There is no ‘Tirek’ listed on the prisoner manifest.” it said in a windy, hollow voice.

“What are you talking about?” Celestia asked. “He was a prisoner here for a thousand years!”

“That is not possible. Tartarus was founded merely five years ago,” he said matter-of-factly. He turned and walked off.

“Well,” scoffed Luna. “I am starting to see the problem around here.”

“What’s wrong with him?” asked Cadance.

Celestia squinted at the superintendent. “Tirek must have sabotaged him.”

“Then, what do we do?”

“We can only hope that Twilight and her friends come through once again,” said Luna. “After all, they are well-experienced in saving the day.”

“And if they don’t, perhaps Major Root will,” Celestia offered. “He has a habit of overcoming long odds.”

Cadance smiled.

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