• 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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125. The Outpost, Part 2

Starlight helped Radish sit up. He walked slowly over to the wall and stared at his cutie mark. It drifted slowly through the crystal wall, like a fish in an aquarium.

“Hey guys,” he said to the little Radish and the little Celestia. “I hope you like your new home. Plenty of space to do that, now. Plenty of privacy, too.”

Starlight walked up behind him.

“How do you feel?” she asked.

“Tired.”

“That’s because you’ve been carrying the weight of the world on your back since you were a child. But now you’ve laid down your burden, and you can walk free, tall, and proud!”

Radish looked at his side. He brushed a hoof over the equal sign.

“An equal sign…”

“Is that okay?”

“It’s more than okay. Thank you, Starlight.”

“You’re very welcome, Radish.”

They hugged. Radish looked at the hoof indentations on the floor. “I can reset the outpost so it can take yours, now.”

“Oh, we can wait a bit on that. This is your moment, Radish. Let’s celebrate it! You know, I think I saw a couple of casks the last time I was here. Wanna try out some thousand year-old Crystal Empire wine?”

“Is that safe?”

“Radish, today you stood down an alicorn, defeated her attack squad, reactivated an ancient ruin, and defied destiny itself. You’re invincible.”

“Well, when you put it that way…”


“And then I pinned him so hard, it left a crater!” boasted Radish. “Right in front of his wife, his guards, and his whole empire!”

“Ha!” laughed Starlight. “I wish I’d been there to see that!”

The two had found the outpost’s galley. Any food had long since turned to dust, but Radish had opened a tall cask, and the two filled crystal goblets with the shimmering crystal grape chardonnay inside. He wasn’t sure how the centuries had affected the taste of the wine, but it sure hadn’t affected its potency. He took a long sip.

“What about you?” he asked. “What was Starlight Glimmer like before she became the tireless crusader for cutie mark equality she is today?”

Starlight took her own long sip of wine, and leaned back against the wall.

“Nothing too dramatic,” she chuckled. “Just wandering from place to place.”

“Where are you from originally?”

“Somewhere I don’t like to think about.”

“Where’d you learn such powerful magic?”

“Everywhere and nowhere. I taught myself.”

“Favorite book, movie, and food?”

Magic of Chance and Change, Road Stable, and chocolate sundaes.” She finished her goblet. “Any other questions?”

“Yeah. What did you think of Light Fantastic?”

Starlight made a snort. “She was kind of… abrasive.”

Radish laughed and lay down on his back, setting his goblet on the floor next to him. “Yeah. I love that about her. Without abrasives, nothing could shine.”

“Ugh,” said Starlight. “I’m too drunk to even begin correcting everything wrong with that. First of all-”

She looked at Radish. He was asleep on the floor. She chuckled.

“Aww. Sleep well, Radish. For once, you’ve got a bright future ahead of you.”


Celestia brushed aside dangling willow branches and entered her favorite secluded riverside grove. Her favorite blue unicorn stallion was stretched out on the grass.

“Hello, Celestia.”

She nuzzled his cheek. “Hello, my love.”

“You seem solemn. Is this a special occasion?”

“It is. I’ve come to a decision. It’s not one I made lightly.”

“I think I can guess what it is. You’re going to heed my advice at last?”

“Yes.” She took a deep breath. “I’m ready to move on… from you.”

The unicorn took her hooves in his. He smiled.

“That would have made the real me happy. He never wanted to be a chain around your heart. He was happy being the kindling that started a fire within you- a fire that could spread your light and warmth to others.”

“I know. I’m sorry it took me so long. But this isn’t goodbye, you understand. From now on I want to remember you- and dream of you- as my old friend, not as my long-lost love.”

“I look forward to it! There is so much more to dream about than this grove.” He hugged Celestia. “Until then, fare thee well, my beautiful morning light.”

“Fare thee well, Radius.”

They kissed. Celestia woke up. She placed her hoof over her heart and smiled.


Radish half-stumbled down the darkened corridors of the outpost with his flashlight lighting his way. He entered the throne room and found his cutie mark, still on the wall in more or less the same place he last saw it. Starlight was there too, examining the throne.

“Hey, good news,” he said. “I found the bathroom. It works.”

“Good morning, major. I’m glad you’re up. I need you to operate the floor controls again.”

“To remove your cutie mark?”

“Oh, that’s already taken care of- it came off when I sat down, just like yours,” she said, turning to show her sides. Her cutie mark was an equal sign again. “But then the power shut down. I guess this place requires constant attention from an earth pony to keep the lights on.”

Radish looked around. “Where did your mark end up?”

“It must be on one of the walls somewhere. Hopefully not in the bathroom.”

“So, what do you want me to do?”

“I’d like you to ask the outpost why it exists.”

“Hey, you want to give it an existential crisis this early in the morning?”

“There has to be more to this place. A reason the Crystal Empire would build such an elaborate structure so far away from the center of their civilization. I thought I’d find unique resources, magical experiments, even simple treasure here. But I’ve found nothing in this outpost but just… regular stuff. Everyday supplies.

“Well, that was probably it, then.”

“What was probably it?”

“I think this place was meant to be the hub of a new colony. The Empire was probably looking to expand southward. Then when Sombra took over, this little outpost was left to fend for itself with no homeland to back it up. And when Sombra was banished, the capital city disappeared, leaving this place as the last vestige of the Empire.” Radish looked around the room. “I bet Cadance is descended from whoever sat on that throne.”

“A Crystal Rump State?” Starlight put a hoof on her chin. “You know, if this outpost responded to you, maybe it means you’re some kind of long-lost member of the royal family, too!”

“I doubt it. More likely, this place recognizes me as a pony who swore an oath to serve royalty.”

“Up until yesterday, that is.”

“Right. That life is over.”

“Oh, don’t sound so regretful about it. You were nothing but a tool to the crowns. Now, would you mind operating the controls again?”

Radish stood on the hoof indentations. He focused. The lights powered on again. “Hmm. I’m getting an impression. It feels… like an expectation. It’s like the outpost has been waiting for something.”

A thump-ump noise echoed throughout the room, accompanied by pulses of light through the walls.

Starlight raised an eyebrow. “That’s weird. That sounded like a heartbeat.”

“Huh,” said Radish, squeezing his eyes shut. “I’m feeling… warmth. A sense of calm. I think this place must be picking up the signal from the Crystal Heart.”

“The what?”

“It’s an artifact in The Crystal Empire. It takes the happiness of the crystal ponies and spreads it all over Equestria as an aurora in the sky. The outpost seems to be preparing to… repeat what it hears from the heart. It wants to shout it out loud, in fact.”

“Then, this place must have been built as a signal booster!” Starlight said excitedly. “Ooh, that gives me an idea…”

“What idea?”

“We can add Unmarking magic to the signal! It’ll draw every cutie mark within broadcast range into this outpost! We can spread equality to everypony in northeastern Equestria all at once!”

“What, against their will?”

“Why not? They got cutie marks against their will. This is just repairing that harm.”

“But altering thousands of ponies’ bodies without their consent? That’s tyrannical.”

“They’ll thank us.”

Starlight Glimmer, you can’t force a utopia onto ponies. They have to choose it for themselves.”

Radish Root, any action that brings utopia closer is, by definition, the most moral action one can take.”

“What if those ponies don’t agree with your idea of utopia?”

“If we have to sit around waiting for every pony on Earth to agree on what makes a better world, the world will never get better.” She shot him a serious look. “We’re not really going to fight over this, are we?”

Radish gave her a serious look back. “I’d rather not.”

“Good, because-” Starlight’s spine suddenly shivered. Her ears twitched.

“What’s wrong?” asked Radish.

“I put an alarm charm up on the surface, to warn us if somepony came poking around up there. It just went off. Somepony must be poking around up there.”

“It’s probably just an animal.”

Starlight’s horn lit up. Her eyes glowed blue and she peered at the ceiling. She scowled.

It’s her!”

“Her who?”

“That self-righteous purple little-”

“Twilight?”

“Yes, Twilight. But she hasn’t discovered us yet. We still have the advantage.”

“Just let it go, Starlight. You can’t fight her.”

“Oh, I’m not going to fight her. I’m going to liberate her.”

“From her cutie marks?”

“Of course.”

“Forcibly?”

Starlight grinned. Radish frowned. He stepped off the floor controls. “Starlight, you’re angry. You’re not thinking clearly. Twilight let us walk away last time. She won’t do that again.”

“This time, I know the leverage I have over her.”

“What leverage?”

Starlight leaned her chin on her hoof and grinned at Radish. “The stallion she’s in love with is on my side.”

Radish sighed. “It’s not like that. We’re just close friends.”

Starlight rolled her eyes. “Ugh, stallions- always so oblivious. I saw how she was looking at you.”

“Well, whatever the case may be, we still can’t fight her and win.”

“Now, don’t be so negative, major. I’ve got a plan.”

“Which is?”

Starlight’s horn glowed dark blue. A heavy iron chain, held in her aura, snaked up from behind the throne and lunged at Radish. It wrapped itself around him before he could react. He fell to the floor tightly bound.

Radish struggled. “Hey! What’s the big idea!?”

“Oh, don’t act so surprised, Radish. We were both racing to turn on each other. I just got everything I needed from you first.”

Radish wriggled a forehoof free and slapped it onto one of the floor indentations. The lights went out. “How about now?”

Starlight frowned. She cast a spell which suspended flares in the air, bathing the room in dull red light. “That’s not going to stop me.”

“You can’t unmark Twilight, or anypony else, without me turning this place back on.”

“Of course I can.”

“You don’t have the Staff of Sameness anymore, remember?”

She laughed. “The Staff of Sameness was just a funny-looking branch I found.” She brushed her hoof over her flank, wiping away the equal sign to reveal her own personal cutie mark. “And this was just ash from the kitchen. Unmarking has always been me, and me alone.”

“What, you were lying to the whole town?”

“There was no other way. I can’t lay down my cutie mark until the world no longer needs me.”

“Then what happened in the pool that night? When the staff showed my memories?”

She grinned and hopped off the throne, standing over him.

“Oh, that? A few potions in the pool, a few enchantments on the walls, a few spells digging into your brain. But you did most of the heavy lifting, Radish Root. Your trauma was just crying to be let out.”

“You were manipulating me from the moment I stepped into your village.”

She laughed. “A bit longer before that, Radish.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’d always heard rumors about a boy with sexual cutie marks. I thought it was just a myth. But then Storm Cell came to the village, full of guilt over how he used to bully you in the Academy. And while he was blubbering to me about it, he told me all about you, your cutie marks, and the things you’ve accomplished in spite of them. So I resolved to bring you into the fold.”

She walked back to the throne and sat back onto it.

“I sent that mare who got you arrested. She was supposed to engineer a situation where you were publicly exposed. That turned out to be unnecessary- you ended up making that mistake all by yourself. She cleverly took advantage of it, and boom- you were on trial.”

Why? Why do that to me?”

“The world needed to see how extreme cutie marks can be. How thoroughly they can ruin lives. How much they threaten ponykind. But I must admit, I never thought you’d be convicted.”

“No?”

“No. A decorated guard, a gold medal champion, and a friend to Celestia? I figured you’d be let off with a warning. And while you were still reeling in fear from that near-miss, I’d approach you and offer to relieve you of your cutie marks. Then all of Equestria would see you living a better life without them, and come flocking to me for the same.”

“But I really was convicted.”

She laughed. “Crazy, isn’t it? I hired Flim and Flam because they were the worst con ponies I’d ever seen. I thought they’d botch the trial on the first day. They won it instead, but it didn’t matter- you still ended up on my doorstep, because the powers that be hate anything that challenges their status quo.”

“What about Light? Was she part of your plans?”

“Oh, don’t even get me started on that officious, judgmental, bitch. She took one look at my town and denounced everything it stood for. She was going to warn you away from me.”

Radish narrowed his eyes. “What did you do to her?”

“I locked her away with the rest of the junk I’d rather forget.”

Radish strained against his chains. “If anything’s happened to her-”

“Oh, I’m sure she can just live off of the magic of friendship. Isn’t that Twilight Sparkle’s solution to everything?”

“You’re right, it is!” announced Twilight Sparkle, standing at the doorway. “And it can save you too, Starlight, if you’ll let it.”

Starlight fired a massive burning beam at the princess. Twilight dodged, and the beam blasted apart the wall in the hallway behind her. Mountains of earth broke through and spilled onto the floor.

Starlight leapt forward, firing more blasts. Radish felt another presence behind him.

“Shh,” whispered Cadance. She ran her aura up the links of the chain. It unraveled from him.

Starlight heard the noise and turned. Her eyes filled with fury. She fired a beam at Cadance. Radish leapt to intercept it. The beam slammed into his chest, hurling him into one of the crystal columns supporting the room. It cracked and toppled over. Cadance put her aura on Radish and yanked him out of the way of the falling debris.

“Starlight! Stop!” called Twilight.

Starlight launched a crackling purple fireball toward her. Twilight put up a shield spell, and the fireball rebounded off it. It struck another column, melting a hole right through it.

Starlight rapidly fired off more beams, balls, and blasts toward Twilight, forcing Twilight to keep her shield up. The spells reflected unpredictably around the room, taking chunks out the walls, ceiling, floor, and columns.

Pieces of crystal went flying in all directions. A chunk with a unique glow went clattering across the floor. Radish tracked it with his eyes. It was the piece of wall containing his cutie mark. It skidded to a stop at the center of the room.

The ceiling buckled, sending large slabs of crystal raining down. The throne room was rapidly filling with the room above it, leaving the rooms further above that with nowhere to go but down. The entire outpost was collapsing. Cadance and Twilight spread auras over as much material as they could manage, trying to hold the entire building up.

Starlight saw Twilight at a disadvantage. She reeled back her head, preparing a powerful attack in the form of a spinning disk of fire over her head.

Radish bolted forward. He dove at Twilight, pulling her out of the way of the fire disk and throwing his body over hers. As they hit the floor, Radish’s ears caught a noise- the sound of Starlight teleporting away. The fire attack blew apart two more support columns. As the building came down, Radish held Twilight tightly under himself and braced his body.

All noise stopped except for the hum of a forcefield. Radish looked around himself. As he was shielding Twilight, she and Cadance were holding back the collapsed building with their magic. They both smiled.

A burst of white light filled Radish’s vision, and he found himself on solid earth, breathing in fresh air and coughing out dust. They had teleported back up to the surface, at the edge of a great debris-filled sinkhole that had been the outpost.

“Are you all right?” the three of them asked each other simultaneously.

“We’re fine, Radish,” said Twilight.

“What are you two doing here?” he asked.

“I asked Cadance to help me find you,” said Twilight. “We were searching this whole region when she detected a powerful signal here.”

“Coming from the outpost?”

Cadance shook her head. “No. I felt the despair in your heart, just like at the games.”

“I thought you might have been feeling as unhappy about our fight as I did,” said Twilight.

Radish hung his head. “I…”

The ground at their hooves erupted, throwing the three apart. Starlight Glimmer launched herself out of the debris and pounced on Twilight’s body, her horn glowing like fire. Twilight gasped. Starlight grinned demonically.

A rush of brown fur knocked Starlight sideways.

Saguaro Shade was on Starlight, pinning her to the ground. He slammed a ring onto her horn. It locked with a click. Her eyes turned to it in panic. He cuffed her hooves together behind her back.

“What in the-?” Cadance said, shaking her head and standing up.

“Starlight Glimmer,” said Saguaro Shade. “You’re under arrest for assault, kidnapping, attempted regicide, conspiracy to commit-”

“Oh, shut it, you old goat! Get off me!”

“Calm down there, missy. I need to read you your rights so your trial will go nice and easy.”

“Trial? TRIAL? Try this!”

A lone spark fizzled out the tip of her horn.

“That’s military-grade anticornium,” he said. “Don’t bother.”

“Commander? What are you doing here?” asked Radish.

“Investigating this here perp, as AG1 requested. I picked up her trail from her village, and the captain asked me to follow it to where it led. Nopony evades a former Ranger in the wilds.” He glared down at Starlight. "And nopony attacks a princess and gets away with it."

Starlight Glimmer glowered at Saguaro Shade. Her horn sparked again.

“Cut that out, or I add resisting arrest to the list.”

Her horn sputtered a stream of sparks. The ring vibrated and glowed red hot.

“Hey now, stop. You’ll hurt yourself.”

She strained and struggled. The ring glowed redder and emitted a sizzle sound.

“Lady, you’re going to burn out your horn!” Saguaro Shade yelled, backing off of her. “You wanna hold quills in your mouth the rest of your life like me?”

“Starlight! He’s serious!” said Twilight. Starlight’s eyes turned to Twilight in fury.

“YOU! When I get out of this, I’m coming for you. There won’t be a safe corner of Equestria left for you!”

“Starlight, please! Listen to me!”

“Radish!” Starlight called. “Help me! Or else!”

“Don’t you threaten my guards,” warned Saguaro Shade.

Cadance stepped forward. “Starlight, calm down. My name is Cadance. I can help you. I can feel the pain in your heart.”

“Pain in my- PAIN IN MY HEART!? You don’t know the meaning of pain! But you’ll learn!”

Smoke rose off the ring. It warped and drooped. She shook her head, and it slipped off and splat to the ground. Starlight grinned.

A massive ball of heat and light burst from her horn.

As the light passed, Radish found himself in a shimmering pink forcefield jointly projected from Twilight and Cadance. Starlight Glimmer was gone. Saguaro Shade, also protected by the shield, looked at the warped inhibitor ring.

“Son of a sire. She melted it right off. Never seen anything like it.”

The forcefield shut off. Twilight and Cadance hugged each other.

“Good reflexes with the shield,” said Cadance.

“It’s crazy how often I need it these days,” Twilight said.

Radish stared at the burned patch of earth where Starlight had been. He gasped in panic. “Commander! Starlight had my girlfriend imprisoned somewhere! I need to find her!”

“Easy, Root,” called a voice from above. Barrel Roller dropped down to the ground beside the group. “We found Light Fantastic. She’s safe and sound back at the village.”

Radish galloped up to Barrel Roller and hugged her tightly. She winced and leaned away from him.

“Root, this is inappropriate,” she groaned.

“I don’t care.”

She sighed. She patted his head.

“Okay. Five more seconds. After that it’s inappropriate.”

He squeezed her for another five seconds while Saguaro Shade trotted up to Twilight and Cadance.

“You’re highnesses, I take responsibility for Glimmer escaping custody. Forgive me for underestimating her power.”

“It’s okay, commander,” said Twilight. “It seems she’s just full of surprises.”

“Sir, I-” started Radish.

“Good work keeping her occupied here, Root,” said Barrel Roller. “But the next time Sunset Rider tries to recruit you for a mission, just say no. You’re my guard, not his. Got it?”

“Ma’am, I-”

“Let’s regroup in Canterlot to discuss what to do next,” said Cadance. “Twilight and Radish… you two can catch up to us at your leisure.”

“Princess, I-”

Cadance and Barrel Roller flew off. Radish looked around. Saguaro Shade was nowhere to be seen.

Radish sat down on the ground and went over the last few days in his head. Twilight approached and sat beside him. They stared at each other.

“So, uh…” he said.

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry about the… well… the fight. Is everyone okay?”

“Rainbow Dash has been sulking. Says she’ll never be caught off-guard like that again. Applejack never lets the rest of us know if she’s hurt, so I don’t know. Pinkie Pie got addicted to jalapeño chews and has now moved up to habanero ones.”

“Ugh. I’ve tried those. No flavor, just heat.”

“Rarity says her estimation of you has dropped considerably, from boon companion to roguish knave. Fluttershy was threatening to sic Discord on you until we talked her out of it.”

“Cripes.”

“But they’re also sorry about what happened. We never should have withheld the truth about Starlight from you.”

“I appreciate that.”

“Would you be willing to visit Ponyville so we can all work things out?”

“Of course. But what about you? Are you… are we…”

“I’m very sorry, Radish. I have no right to tell you how to feel about your cutie mark, or what you should do with it.”

“Thank you.”

“And I have no reason to be mad at you for siding with Starlight. After all, you were only following orders.”

“You knew?”

“It took me some time to realize that you had been making Ranger hoof signals to me during our confrontation.”

She repeated the motion he made when he first saw her: “Heading north.”
She repeated the motion he made when he was pointing to the horizon: “Extreme danger.”
She repeated the motion he made when he turned down helping them. “End of message.”

“You picked up on them. Good.”

“With that little communication, you were warning me away, telling me where you were going, and letting me know that you couldn’t afford to say any more.”

“Lucky thing you’re such a nerd.”

Twilight smiled. “So you were manipulating Glimmer from the beginning! Just like the hero of the novel I gave you at the train station.”

“I… had my suspicions. And seeing you six on her trail confirmed them. But she spoke of some powerful magic here. I had to get her to bring me here to make sure it didn’t pose a danger to Equestria. And it did pose a danger to Equestria.” He sighed, meeting her eyes. “But… I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t want her to remove my cutie marks.”

He turned and showed her his equal sign mark. “I guess I got my wish, huh?”

“Oh, gosh. I didn’t even notice. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“What happened to it? Is it buried under all that rubble?”

“I heard Starlight teleport twice as the building came down- first to the center of the room, then out of it. I think she grabbed my cutie mark on the way out.”

“She stole it? What for?”

“No idea. Trophy? Memento? Conversation piece?”

“I’m sorry.”

Radish looked up at the sky. “Don’t be. Losing them was everything I ever wanted, right? And all it took was becoming the enemy of the ponies I care about.”

“Yeah? Well, I redeem enemies for breakfast. Come here.”

Twilight hugged him. Radish hugged her back. She drew back a little, hooves still loosely around him.

“But there’s something else we need to clear up between us.”

“Do we have to?”

“Yes. Radish, the fight was extra painful for me, because, well…” she took a deep breath. “...lately I’ve been developing… feelings for you.”

Radish took her hooves in his. He gave her a sincere look.

“Twilight… I love you in every way except that way.”

She smiled. “I know. When we cast the love spell in the caves under Canterlot, we connected to the hearts of everyone in there. I could feel your love for Light.”

“Really?”

“It was powerful. I’m really happy you found someone who makes you feel that way. And I also felt your feelings for me. It was powerful, too, but it was along a different track. Like a brother-sister bond.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize. I think it’s wonderful.”

“Light… I need to see her, Twilight.”

Twilight kneeled and spread her wings. “Then climb aboard.”

“Are you sure?”

She nodded. Radish carefully crawled onto her back, and she stood up.

"Oh," said Radish, "you're stronger than I thought."

She smiled and kicked off the ground, taking flight. The morning sun was soft and the morning air was crisp. Radish held on tight as they soared. They passed over the bugbear forest, flew across the snow-capped mountains, and soon landed just outside of Our Town. Radish climbed off of Twilight.

“Twi, are you going to be all right?”

“Yes. I won’t be taken off-guard by Starlight Glimmer again.”

“I meant… in your heart. I can still be your wingpony. I can find you a guy who's just perfect for you.”

“That’s kind of you to offer, but if today has shown me anything, it’s that I can’t worry about romance anymore.”

“What do you mean?”

“My responsibilities grow each day. I’m the Princess of Friendship, and there’s a whole world of Friendship Problems out there, just waiting to be fixed. We’ve only scratched the surface.”

“Twilight, you can’t close yourself off to love because of your work. Do you want to end up like… well..”

“Celestia?”

“Uh huh.”

“Radish, whatever Celestia’s choices have been, have been her own. And my choices are my own. If I have enemies who can melt off military-grade anticornium, I’m not giving them a target like a boyfriend.”

“You can’t let your villains dictate your love life!”

“I can’t pretend they wouldn’t target it. Radish, think about how you felt when you thought Starlight could have hurt Light Fantastic. Would you wish that terror on me?”

Radish stopped to consider it.

“I wouldn’t. But Twilight, I just want you-”

“-to be happy. Bit of a cliché, Rad. Guess what? I want everyone to be happy. And it’s actually my job to make that happen.”

“That’s insane. No one can do that.”

“No, it’s actually possible. I’m going to bring the Magic of Friendship to every corner of this world, from dragons, to changelings, to whoever else might be out there. Even to Starlight Glimmer.”

“Light said you were an optimist.”

“No, that’s me being realistic.”

“Twilight...”

“I’ve held you up long enough. Go to her, Radish.”

"Thank you, Twilight. I'll talk to you later, okay?"

"Okay, OBBBFF."

"Huh?"

"Other Big Brother Best Friend Forever."


The town was newly-decorated with fresh coats of paint on the buildings, flower planters in the windowsills, and colorful bunting stretched across the street. Radish headed for the town’s center- or, rather, its halfway point.

“Rad? Rad!”

Before Radish could turn around, Light Fantastic swooped out of the sky and threw her hooves around him.

“Radish, you’re okay! You’re here!”

“Light! I'm so relieved you're all right!” He hugged her tightly. "I missed you so much!"

“I missed you too, Rad,” she said, squeezing harder. “I was stuck in that bitch’s attic for a week.”

She then noticed the equal signs on his sides. “Rad?”

“Yeah, she took my mark and ran.”

“That bitch. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Do you feel any different?”

“Yeah… but it’s hard to put into words. I think it’s going to take me a while to figure out what, if anything, has changed about me.”

“That bitch took my cutie mark, too. Left it in a jar just out of my reach.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I got it back,” she said, turning to show her flank. “That bitch forgot all about it- and me- when she skipped town.”

“I can’t imagine what you’ve been through, but the palace’s therapists have helped me when I was at my lowest. You could speak with them.”

“Barry made me the same offer. I guess I could give it a shot.”

“The captain let you call her ‘Barry’? She doesn’t let me call her that.”

“Oh, we’re the tightest of pals now.”

“Light, I’m sorry you keep getting targeted by my villains. I love you… but if you’d feel safer not being with me, then I’d understand-”

“Stop, Rad. This time it wasn’t your fault. I came here hoping to learn if this was a real option for you. But I was being selfish. I was really just insecure over your cutie marks. I, uh, heard you say Celestia’s name in your sleep again.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be. Only an idiot would get mad at her boyfriend’s dreams.”

“Light, Celestia is part of my life. And so are villains. Both are going to keep being part of your life as long as I’m part of yours.”

“Then they’re going to be a part of my life forever.”

He leaned forward. “You mean it?”

“Yes. I, uh, saw your plans for a ring.”

“Aww, I wanted it to be a surprise.”

“It was.”

“Oh, good. Should I still… have it made?”

“That’s important to you, isn’t it? The whole ‘get down on one knee’ thing?”

“Yes.”

“You want to make an honest mare out of me?”

“You’re the most honest mare I know.”

Light laughed and slugged his shoulder. “You’re such a dork. But you can’t just spring a proposal onto a girl, you know. There’s a lot to talk about first.”

“Like what?”

“Are you okay that we’ll never have kids?”

“Yes.”

“It’s not important to you? Aren’t earth pony farm folk big on family?”

“Every group is big on family, Fan. But I’ve never felt the need to start one.”

“Would you live in my house, or do you expect me to move into your palace quarters?”

“I think we should keep both. Share both.”

“Do you expect me to change my name? Would you change yours?”

“I like both our names the way they are.”

“Do I get half of your piece of the moon?”

“Do I get half of Cat’s Howl?”

“Uh, let’s keep our own stuff.”

“But share everything that comes after?”

Light leaned her head against his.

“Yeah, that sounds nice. Go ahead and have the ring made. Get down on one knee. I want to be with you, Radish Root. No matter who else is in our lives, or what’s on your flanks, or whatever villains are out there. None of them matter to me more than you.”

Radish threw his hooves around her and hugged her tightly. She hugged back. They held each other, contentedly, then kissed.

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