• 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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109. The Briefing

Barrel Roller leaned forward across her desk at Twilight Sparkle and Cadance.

“Princess Sparkle, Princess Cadance. Request denied.”

“Captain, please,” Twilight said. “This could be important.”

“You know what’s also pretty important? A princess. You know what’s more important than one princess? Two princesses. And I’m not letting two princesses down into a dangerous abandoned mine where they almost died the last time.”

“We wouldn’t be going in without proper precautions.”

“You said you don’t know what you’ll encounter there. That means you don’t know what the proper precautions are.”

“Okay, true. But we can take a broad number of reasonable precautions based on our best estimate of what we expect.”

“And what do you expect, again? Chrysalis’s ghost?”

“Not a ghost, but an afterimage,” said Cadance. “When Chrysalis held me in the mines, she projected her image into the crystal walls to taunt me. She did the same to Twilight, too. But not even she knew the full power of those crystals. We think a copy of her magical essence could have been trapped in those crystals. It’s still down there, and it’s plotting something.”

“What are you basing this on?”

“I fell asleep on palace grounds,” said Twilight. “The image of her attacked me in my dreams. It was just like back during the wedding- it had Cadance’s face and voice, but twisted and cruel.”

“When was this?”

“Three days ago.”

“In the late afternoon? In the back commons? When you were held tight in Root's warm embrace?”

“Hey!”

Cadance smiled.

“Captain,” Cadance said, “after she told me about it, I tested it, as well. I slept here in the palace, and it attacked me in my dreams, just like it did her.”

“What exactly does it do in your dreams?”

“Awful things,” said Twilight, shuddering. “It insults us. It shows us terrifying imagery. Tries to break our spirits.”

“So Luna can confirm this?”

“Well… no,” said Cadance.

“No?”

“I had Luna watch over my dreams when I slept here. She says she couldn’t even find my dream bubble. It’s like the entity can hide from her power.”

“And that alone tells me to keep you away from it.”

“That alone should tell you we need to remove it!” said Twilight.

“How do you even plan to eliminate this entity?” asked Barrel Roller. “You can’t just destroy every crystal down there.”

“The same thing that beat the real Chrysalis- a blast of love,” said Cadance.

“So Shining Armor is coming in for this?”

“No. We don’t like to leave the Crystal Empire without at least one of us at all times.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes. But the love between sisters-in-law is powerful, too,” Twilight said, smiling at Cadance.

“It’s been years since the wedding. Why is it just revealing itself now?”

“That’s something we can only find out if we confront it,” Twilight said.

“What’s the worst it can do?”

“That, we don’t know,” Cadance admitted. “We don’t know everything Chrysalis is capable of under normal circumstances, and we don’t know everything those ancient crystals can do. We have no idea what kind of interactions the two could have together. But if it can reach into the minds of ponies sleeping in the palace, there’s no telling what else it could do.”

“All the more reason not to go in there yourselves. I’ll send in a taskforce to ascertain the risk.”

“Please, we can’t risk the lives of other ponies on our behalf!” said Twilight.

“That’s literally what guards are for, your highness.”

“I know, and I hate that more every day.”

“Look, the way I see it, you’ve got a few options. You can either pull rank on me and do what you want in spite of my disapproval…”

“We don’t want to do that,” said Twilight. “We respect your authority and the trust Princess Celestia has put in you.”

“You can go in with the Element of Harmony jewels…”

“We can’t. They have to stay where they are.”

“You can get Discord to make himself useful for once…”

“He, uh, already said no.”

“Or you can let a fully-outfitted and escorted palace survey team go in, and let somepony else do something around here for a change.”

“Captain!” Twilight said. “I’m just not comfortable with that! We need to be in there!”

“You mean, you don’t think a bunch of puny non-alicorns can accomplish anything?”

“Hey!”

“Captain, it’s not like that,” said Cadance. “Chrysalis created that projection to mock us. It may only show itself if we show ourselves. That’s probably why Celestia or Luna haven’t detected it- it’s got a personal grudge against us two.”

“Look, you’ve got me, let’s say, sufficiently worried about this thing. If you want to go down there, you do it on my terms. You’re taking every pony I recommend on this. That includes multiple magic specialists, medic backup, experts on mining and crystallography, and above all, guards. Lots and lots of guards. You get in, you blast it, you get out.”

“We accept,” Twilight said.

“You want Root for this?”

“Oh, Radish? I mean, I understand if he’s busy with his own duties or training…”

“He’s supposed to be. But he always seems to get wrapped up in your… circumstances, doesn’t he?”

“I suppose,” Twilight said. “Wait, that hasn’t put him at odds with his superiors, has it?”

“Let’s just say his name comes across my desk far more often than any other guard I’ve ever commanded.”

“Well, maybe he has some special destiny.”

“Yeah, I bet he’s the next princess.”

Twilight smiled. “We’ll take him. And he comes out of there an alicorn, I’ll buy you a nougat bar.”

Barrel Roller narrowed her eyes.

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