• 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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13. The Drill

“Mail call,” called the palace mail clerk, walking past Radish’s bunkroom. “Root?”

“I’m Root!”

The clerk tossed him a letter, then continued distributing mail to the rest of Radish’s bunkmates. Radish turned it over in his hooves. It took him a moment to realize why the postmark seemed so foreign. It was foreign, or it was at least from a sovereign tribal nation within Greater Equestria’s borders. The letter was from Sky. Radish opened it and read.

Dear Radish,

It’s been a while since I’ve written in Ponish. How’s my grammar? Send back critiques. The tribe is fine. The new ranger in these parts is nice, if a little antsy. Hoopla likes her.

The dragon is sleeping soundly. We’re helping plants and animals get resettled by the lakes. The swimming is nice. We miss you.

The excavation is taking longer than we thought. Radish, we think the Storm Centurions turned on each other. Their injuries weren’t done by any bandits. Sunbonnet was run through with a centurion short spear. Thorn Bramble’s skull was punctured in the back of the neck by a bucking dagger. Willow Wagoner may have lured the rest of her squad into the cave as some kind of ambush. Maybe that’s why ol’ Worthy was so keen to get her dug first. We’re still figuring it out, but there might be a lot of prominent ponies upset with you once the real history gets published. Heads up.

I’m sorry things didn’t turn out how you wanted with Miss Skinny. If you want to blame me for encouraging you, I understand. I was picturing you with some grand destiny, and couldn’t stand the thought of you never trying for it on my account. But you sound like you’re doing well, and maybe a grand destiny is still in the works for you.

Sincerely,

Skies Above



Radish lay back in his bunk and sighed.

“Bad news?” a bunkmate asked. “From a girl?”

“Yes and yes.”

“Sorry. It happens a lot. Guarding is murder on relationships. But hey, there’s a support group here for guards who get dumped by post.”

“She didn’t dump me. She’s uh, warning me about a scandal.”

“Oh, geez, Root! Yours?”

“I’ll get blamed, yeah. And a really rich and powerful family could come down on me for it.”

“Yikes. I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but you need to take responsibility.”

“I know. I’ll do what I have to. For her.”

“She must be pretty special. How’d a guy like you meet a girl like that?”

“Oh, my last posting was next to her tribe’s land.”

“Tribe?”

“Yeah. Black Bluffs buffalo.”

“A buffalo girl? I heard that wasn’t biologically possible. You’re either the luckiest guy on earth, or the unluckiest. Do you know what it’ll look like?”

“Hmm?”

Radish noticed the clock on the wall. He checked his calendar of sunset times.

“Oh, back to The Night Shift,” Radish said.

“Stay safe up there. I swear I won’t tell anypony about your problem.”

“Thanks.”


Luna paced her bedroom floor in front of Radish. She was wearing an antique steel helmet.

"Lieutenant, now is the time for a serious matter- the practice of battle magic! To be a princess worthy of this kingdom, we must be prepared to defend it, should the need arise. Thus, thou will assist us practice attack spells.”

“What do you need me to do?”

“Hold the target.”

“The… target?”

Luna placed a round silver platter at his feet. She had painted a bullseye on it.

“Yes. We will fire a standard beam spell. Thou wilt move the target and attempt to baffle our aim.”

“What happens if…”

Luna raised an eyebrow.

“Uh, never mind.”

He picked up the tray and held it above his head. Luna took a few paces back, and fired a dark red beam from her horn. It hit her ceiling. Radish flinched.

“Ah. It would seem we need… calibration.”

Two guards from the interior of the tower burst into the room, brandishing spears.

“Princess! Are you all right?” one asked.

“Ah, be at peace, guardmares. We are merely training,” Luna replied. “Though, we applaud thy response time.”

The guards looked at Luna, then at Radish, who was still holding the target tray above his head.

“Very well, ma’am. I’ll, uh, inform the rest of the tower guards that you’re… holding drills.”

“Good. Dismissed.”

The guards left. Luna concentrated. She fired off several more beams, each one hitting a wildly different spot than the one before, blasting holes into the floor, walls, ceiling, and furniture. She hit a vase, shattering it.

Radish cringed at the last one. He had seen movies in which old vases were said to be worth a fortune. Luna noted his reaction.

“Worry not. That vase was a birthday gift from Celestia. She gave it to us a few years ago, and it was clearly homemade.”

“A few years ago?” Radish asked, before realizing he shouldn’t have.

“Yes, ‘twas… oh. We see. ‘Twas really a thousand and a few years ago, was it not? Sometimes the long passage of time… escapes us.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am.”

“For what? Reminding us of our millennium of incarceration? Of how we are woefully out-of-step with the modern era? Of how the world continued on without us, forgetting our very existence!? Guardstallion Root, is that what thou be sorry for!?”

“Yes! All those!”

“Dost thou think we wish to be coddled!? To have our feelings guarded as though we were a teary-eyed foal!?”

“I don’t know! Yes?”

“NO!”

Luna reeled back and thrust her horn at Radish, blasting a wide beam at the target platter. He yelped and threw it above him, ducking for cover. The beam burned the air above Radish’s head. The platter landed in front of his face, now reduced to a hoop with a large smoking hole through its center.

Luna walked up to him and gazed at it.

“Radish Root! Look at this! We have disintegrated this tray, though it be made of starsilver! Celestia herself could only dent such an alloy!”

“Congratulations, ma’am.”

“Of course! Our magic’s strength relies on emotion. Thy dithering vexed us so much, we were empowered to achieve this feat! After feeling so little for so long, we had forgotten the taste of a feeling felt deep and true.”

“That’s… good?”

“Gather those plates, guardstallion,” Luna said, pointing to a stack of dishes on a shelf, “and come to the balcony.”

Radish obeyed.

“Now, thou hast the dual task of tossing a plate over the side, and enraging us to fuel our power.”

“You want me to… make you angry?”

“Yes.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“Okay…” Radish sighed, resigning himself to fate.

Luna gazed at the sky above the palace.

“Now, do it!”

Radish threw a plate, shouting, “I heard a tourist call you creepy!”

Luna blasted the plate to shards, then turned to Radish with a fearsome look on her face.

“Another!” she said through clenched teeth.

Radish took a plate.

“Your bedroom smells like my parents’ barn!” he shouted. He threw the plate, and it was blown into dust immediately after leaving his hoof. Luna’s hooves were shaking and digging into the stonework of her balcony.

Another,” she seethed.

Radish took a breath, shouted, “Celestia has nicer legs than you!”, then threw three plates in the air. He ducked.

“WHAT!?”

Luna fired off a beam so wide, it disintegrated every plate. She turned to Radish, baring her teeth.

“GUARDSTALLION, YOU GO TOO FAR! WE WANT THEE OUT OF OUT OF OUR SIGHT, OUT OF OUR TOWER, AND OUT OF EQUESTRIA!”

“But I…”

“BUT NOTHING! GO! THOU ART EXILED FROM THIS LAND!”

Radish picked himself off the floor. He stumbled away from her, trying to process what was happening to him. As he reached the door, Luna gasped. He turned. She was staring out at the palace in disbelief.

The beam she had fired at the plates had struck clear across the palace grounds, and blasted a hole through a tower along the east side. The damaged sections of wall collapsed, sending billows of dust out across the commons, while debris rained down on the parapets and walkways below. The rooms inside were on fire, and thick black smoke was pouring out of the windows.

Radish’s heart twisted. He looked at the door in front of him.

“Guardstallion… wait,” said Luna desperately.

Radish looked at her. There were tears in her eyes.

“We… we… didn’t mean to. ‘Twas an accident. Thou must be our witness. Please. Do not go. Do not leave us alone.”

Radish went to her side. He sat on the balcony tiles, staring at the destruction.

“It’s okay,” he said softly. “I’ll take the blame.”

He didn’t know why he said that. He didn’t know how he could even sell that idea. He just knew that Luna shouldn’t be blamed for this.

“No. We cannot ask that of thee,” she said.

“I’m already banished, right? They can’t do much worse to me.”

“Guardstallion… ‘tis not right.”

“Guards protect princesses,” Radish said. “It’s in our oath.”

Suddenly, a loud snap went off in the air, and a glowing pink bubble appeared surrounding the palace. Radish stared at it in awe.

“Is that… Shining Armor’s shield spell?”

Radish had only heard it described before, and he assumed its size and power was exaggerated. He now saw it was no exaggeration.

“Luna! Are you all right!?” called out a voice from above.

Princess Celestia dropped down onto the balcony.

“The palace is under attack!” she cried. “I want both of you to… to…”

She saw the expressions on their faces. She turned toward the smoking tower, and a realization about trajectories dawned on her.

“What the hay did you two do!?”

“It was my fault!” yelled Radish.

“Oh, really? How?” she demanded.

“I, uh, well…”

“Nay! Please, blame him not!” cried Luna, stepping in front of Radish. “He was only obeying his princess! I have wrought this calamity, and I will suffer the punishment!”

“You’re damn right you will! You are going to clean up that mess, every brick of it! And the rebuilding cost is coming out of your coffers, not the palace’s!”

“Cost? But sister, the loss of lives? I am a villain once more,” Luna said, ruefully.

Celestia turned to Radish.

“You didn’t tell her?”

“Tell her?” asked Radish.

“Luna,” sighed Celestia, “that was the legal department you just blew up.”

“I… killed all the lawyers?”

“Lawyers don’t work at night, Luna," said Celestia. "Most days it’s hard to get them to work past four.”

“But no guards were in there? Cleaning staff?” asked Radish. “There’s even a rumor the Royal Spymaster works out of that building.”

“There is no Royal Spymaster, Radish!” Celestia chuffed. “And no, Legal doesn’t like anypony in there after hours. You’d know that if you ever guarded more than this room.”

“I…”

“Speak not ill of his posting!” cried Luna. “He does his duty, and does it well! Look at what he has made possible!” Luna said, pointing to the flaming tower.

Celestia looked at Radish, coldly. Luna realized what she just said.

“That is to say… not that. Er, this! Behold!” Luna said, holding up the ruined platter.

“That was an antique! What did you do to it?” yelled Celestia.

“No, not that! It was… er…” said Luna, looking at the smashed vase. Celestia saw it.

“I made that for you! What… what…”

Celestia looked again at Luna’s and Radish’s faces again. Her own expression softened. She snickered, then started to crack up. She dipped her head low, the threw it back and laughed heartily.

“Princesses?” called out a new voice.

A pegasus chariot landed on the balcony with Shining Armor and two high-ranking guards. He looked at Celestia, Luna, and Radish.

“We’ve got the fire control teams on the scene. The palace is under lockdown, and we’re combing the grounds for clues… Ma’am? What’s going on?”

“Oh, Shining. Good work,” Celestia said, wiping her eyes. “Excellent response time on this drill.”

“Drill, ma’am? I didn’t know there’d be a drill tonight.”

“Well, I couldn’t very well let you prepare for a preparedness exercise, now could I?”

He raised an eyebrow. He looked at Radish, who could only shrug.

“So Legal was demolished… as a test?”

“Oh, right. Let me get that,” Celestia said.

She pointed her horn at the burning tower. A ball of gold light shot out and engulfed the building. The fire control teams backed away.

The tower’s glow subsided, and then the tower was restored. Radish’s jaw dropped. Luna stood in awe. Shining Armor just stared.

“There. All better now. Drill over. Well done, everypony,” said Celestia, cheerfully.

She flew away. Shining Armor turned to Luna and Radish.

“And you two are all right?”

“Yes, guard captain,” Luna said. “We commend thee for thy expeditiousness.”

“Yes, sir,” said Radish.

He left with his guards, eyeing Radish suspiciously.

Radish’s and Luna’s eyes met.

“I…”

“Guardstallion, we thank thee for falling on thy sword for us. ‘Twas unexpected, noble… and appreciated.”

“You’re welcome.”

“We let our temper get the better of us. It was unbecoming of a princess.”

“It’s okay.”

“Thou will keep thy silence?”

“Can I stay in Equestria?”

“What? Oh, but of course. We did not really want thee cast out, we were merely surprised by thy… comparison.”

Luna looked down at her legs. She turned one to see it from the side.

“Please, refrain from such comparisons, again.”

“Yes, your highness.”

“It would seem we are clearly ready to defend Equestria.”

“I feel safer already, ma’am.”

“Good.”

“Princess, did you know Celestia could do a spell like that?”

“Nay. Oft times, she is a mystery, even to us. As are the workings of the legal department.”

“Do you still want to practice battle magic?”

“Perhaps such things should be taken a bit more… delicately.”

“I understand.”

Another crack split the air. They looked up at Shining Armor’s shield. It was dissipating from the top to the bottom.

“We would, however, like to practice shield spells,” she said.

She looked at Radish.

“Guardstallion, take thy spear and have at us.”

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