• 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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25. The Threat

Radish thrust his spear into a training dummy and withdrew it in one quick motion. Cotton stuffing dropped out of its chest onto the grass.

“Root, you’re over-committing your strikes,” said his spear training instructor. “If your opponent had dodged that, you would have fallen flat on your face.”

Radish took a step back and looked at the dummy.

“I could take this guy lying flat on my face.”

“Cute retorts don’t protect princesses. Do ten more sets, and this time, keep your mass centered and your mouth shut.”

An hour later, Radish trotted off the training field, reading over his evaluation. One of his fellow lieutenants, a gray, sinewy earth stallion named Cairn, trotted alongside him, reading his own.

"So, Root. How'd you do?"

"The sarge wrote here that I have excellent thrust, good aim, average form, and slow reflexes."

"A couple of things to write home about, at least. Need some pointers at getting faster?"

"I'm just fatigued. You woke up at reveille. I've been awake since yesterday afternoon."

"Right. How's The Night Shift been?"

"Uneventful. Princess Luna hasn't needed anything all week."

"You mean you haven't spoken to her since-"

"No."

"Hmm. Mares can be a mystery, huh?"

"Yeah."

"Pardon me, Lieutenant Root?"

Radish and Cairn turned to see a royal lady-in-waiting approaching them. She curtseyed. “Lieutenant Root, Princess Luna wishes to see you in the captain's office, posthaste.”

“Posthaste? Okay.”

She looked him over.

“Well, perhaps post-shower, then posthaste.”


A freshly-showered Radish knocked on the door of Shining Armor'’s office.

“Enter,” Luna called from within.

Radish opened the door to find Luna, Celestia, Shining Armor, Barrel Roller, and Saguaro Shade inside, gathered around a desk covered in tomes and scrolls. He inhaled sharply.

“Ma’ams? Sirs?”

“Root? What are you doing here?” asked Shining Armor.

“Reporting as requested, sir.”

Celestia looked at Luna with annoyance. “Luna, dear, I don’t think Lieutenant Root needs to be a part of this.”

Luna bristled. “Why shouldn’t my Champion be included? You have sent for your own six.”

“With all due respect, ma’am,” said Barrel Roller, “this is far above Root’s paygrade.”

“Then increase his paygrade,” said Luna pointedly.

Radish took a deep breath and held it.

“Sister, may I speak with you?” asked Celestia through a gritted-teeth smile.

“Yes, sister. Let us speak.”

The sisters moved to a corner of the room. Celestia cast a spell which put a shimmering translucent yellow box around them. Its seemed to be a soundproofing spell, as they proceeded to a conversation that looked loud, yet was completely inaudible.

Radish looked to his superiors. “Sirs, ma’am, I didn’t mean to be a source of conflict, here.”

“This was bound to happen, Root,” said Saguaro Shade. “We’ve got two princesses now. That means when they disagree, there’s a deadlock.”

“I see. What do I do if they give me conflicting orders?”

“Princess Celestia signs your checks, Root,” said Shining Armor. “Her orders supersede Princess Luna’s, every time.”

“Does Princess Luna know that, sir?”

“You tell me,” said Shining Armor. “You’re the one who’s spent so much time with her.”

“Uh… I don’t, um…”

“Sure doesn’t look like it,” Saguaro Shade said, nodding toward the princesses.

The sisters’ loud conversation started to look more like a heated discussion. The heated discussion grew into a full-blown argument. Radish frowned.

The princesses got in each other’s faces. Luna petulantly stomped a hoof. Celestia emphatically waved her wings. They both looked at Radish. He cringed, without knowing why. Then, Celestia narrowed her eyes and made a comment out of the side of her mouth to Luna, which made Luna’s eyes go wide.

Luna then looked at the floor, saddened. She turned to Celestia and said something calmly. The two sisters nodded, hugged, and then the soundproofing spell vanished.

Luna approached Radish. “Radish Root, our summons of thee was premature. Please return to as thou were. If we are in need of thee, we will let thee know.”

“Very well, your highness. Sirs. Ma’ams.”

Radish left the office, giving the door a lingering look before moving on. He took a quick meal in the commissary and returned to his bunk, where Spats was brushing his tail.

“Hey, Radish. Where’ve you been?”

“I got a special summons by the princesses… and then they canceled it.”

“Ah. Well, it happens. Are you going to bed?”

“Yeah. Gotta be up at the crack of afternoon.”

“See you later, Rad. We’ll keep the castle safe in the meantime.”


Radish lay across a thick, plush rug in front of a softly crackling fireplace. Celestia lay by his side, leaning her head on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry you had to see Luna and I argue this morning, Radish. She can be such a child when she can't get what she wants."

"What did she want?"

"You."

"And what did you tell her?"

She rolled on top of Radish, lovingly gazing into his eyes.

"That she can't have you."

They kissed.

“Radish…” purred Celestia.

“Celestia…” whispered Radish.

“Lieutenant!” shouted Luna.

Radish looked to the side. Luna was standing there, frowning. A starry portal closed itself behind her.

“Princess Luna?”

Luna sighed heavily. “We are sorry to disturb thy… fantasy… again. But we must speak with thee where no ears may hear us.”

“Oh, beat it!” sneered the dream Celestia. “Can’t Radish have one dream in peace? Just because you don't have the guts to-”

Luna held up a hoof. Celestia and the room vanished, leaving Luna and Radish floating in a black void.

Radish gulped. “Princess, I am so sorry.”

“As we have said, thy dreams are a part of thee. We do not judge. Though, for the record, the real Celestia's bedroom looks nothing like that."

"Well, I haven't seen it yet."

"Yet?"

"I mean, uh..."

“Radish Root, there is no time for this. As we have also said, we would let thee know if we are in need of thee. We are in need of thee.”

“What can I help you with, ma’am?”

“Discord.”

“Between you and Princess Celestia?”

“Nay. ‘Discord’ be the name of a monster. A foul spirit of chaos who wields unfathomable power, and uses it to wreak havoc for his own amusement.”

“Wait… that statue near the hedge maze? The one that’s a big jumble of animal parts? The tour guides say it represents Discord. That's a real thing?”

“Yes. Celestia and I defeated him with the Elements of Harmony a thousand years ago, but now that the Elements have passed to new hooves, the spell is broken. He has returned.”

“Is this why you called for me?”

“Indeed. However, Celestia wants only the new wielders of the Elements to confront him.”

“Twilight’s team? Celestia summoned them to fight an ancient monster with unfathomable power?”

“Yes. But I have my doubts those six are up to the task.”

“Your highness, they’ve done great things. I couldn’t have found the bat ponies without them. They got rid of the dragon. And they… uh…”

Radish trailed off and looked away.

“Defeated Nightmare Moon?” Luna finished for him, eyebrow raised.

“Saved you from her!”

“Radish Root, Nightmare Moon may save us all. She prepared a weapon in secret to use against Celestia. I believe that weapon can now be used against Discord.”

“Whoa, really? That must be one incredible weapon! What is it?"

"Celestia's own spear, stolen from her personal vault. Nightmare Moon hid it in a place of great power. It has been absorbing this power ever since. I believe that after a thousand years of empowerment, not even Discord can withstand it."

"Celestia owned a spear?"

"Yes, it was a Hearth's Warming gift from the palace weaponsmith. I believe he fancied her- he only gave me a knife that year."

"Hmm. Is this place of great power back at the lair?"

“Nay. It is at the center of a distant island called Never Atoll."

"Never Atoll?"

"Has thou heard of it?”

“Never at all.”

“We thought not. It is tiny, shrouded by mists, and isolated by currents.”

“Do you want me to go to the island and get the spear for you?”

“Yes. Thy brethren shall convey thee.”

“Oh! Me and the bat ponies, on a mission together?"

"Please do thy best to keep them on-task."

"Do I get any special gear?”

“Nay. To remove any equipment from the palace would arouse suspicion. This quest is against Celestia's wishes and unsanctioned by thy superiors. It must remain totally secret, lest Discord learn of it. If thou are found out, thou must keep thy silence, disavow our involvement, and accept all punishment thyself.”

“But they’ll notice I've left the palace. It'll look like I've deserted during a crisis again. I’ll be kicked out of the Guard.”

“We will request thee as our personal attendant for the duration of this crisis. Thy superiors will simply think thou be in our bedroom. That will not be seen as suspicious, as thou has often been in our bedroom.”

“Uh…”

“What?”

“Nothing. I’m on my way.” He looked around. “How do I wake up?”

“The usual way, of course.”

Radish looked down at his hoof. He bit it.

He awoke in his bunk with his hoof in his mouth. He checked his bedside clock. He had slept for less than ten minutes.


Radish redonned his armor and made his way to Selenic Spire. It was beyond the palace’s large hedge maze, which itself was beyond the sculpture garden. Radish paused, then headed into the sculpture garden and searched for the statue of Discord.

He found an empty pedestal with a nameplate. The statue wasn’t of Discord, it was Discord all along.

No wonder that thing gave me the willies. Was it watching us?

He heard the sounds of a group coming his way: four sets of hoofsteps, one set of wingbeats, and one repeating bouncing noise. He knew what that meant.

“Radish!” called Twilight. She and her friends rushed up to him.

“Ladies,” he said, bowing.

“What are you doing here? Princess Celestia didn't say you'd be coming with us,” Twilight said.

“Actually, I’m on my way to Princess Luna’s tower. What are you guys doing out here?”

"Discord's hidden the Elements of Harmony in the hedge maze."

“He what!?"

"Don't worry, we're about to head in and get them back."

"Without guard backup? You should have a battalion with you."

"You know, maybe he's right," said Fluttershy. "It couldn't hurt to have a battalion. Or two."

"It's better this way," said Twilight. "Anyone who comes with us would be putting themselves in danger."

Radish frowned. "Danger? Twilight, what do you think guards are for?"

“Now, don't be like that,” said Applejack. "We ain't sayin' we wouldn't appreciate the company, but you know the Elements of Harmony only work fer us.”

“And with great Elements come great responsibility,” added Pinkie Pie.

“Yeah, we can’t help it if we’re the chosen ones,” shrugged Rainbow Dash.

“Well, I don’t want to hold up the chosen ones," said Radish. "Stay safe in there.”

"Don't worry," said Twilight, pulling her friends into a group hug. "With the magic of friendship on our side, there's no way we can lose!"

"Yeah... okay."

The girls galloped onward to the maze entrance. Radish watched them go with an uneasy frown. He continued on his way to Luna's tower. As he approached the door, he heard a stallion's voice.

“Mornin’, Root.”

Saguaro Shade appeared around the curve of the tower.

“Corporal!”

He quickly saluted. Saguaro Shade returned the salute, then peered up at Selenic Spire. He turned back to Radish.

“I'd heard Princess Luna ordered you to her tower. But didn't you just finish a night shift in there? I figured you’d need some shuteye about now.”

"I'm no stranger to double shifts, sir. Besides, it'll be hard to sleep after that summons this morning. I mean, both princesses and the senior officers all in one room? I’ve never seen such a thing.”

“I'm guessin' Big Blue's filled you in on what's really goin' on," he said, looking at the front door.

"Sir, if this is the crisis I've heard it is, why hasn't the Guard been mobilized?"

"Princess's orders. It's not an enemy you can throw a spear at, Root. Only the Elements of Harmony can handle Discord. And only those six girls can handle the Elements. Which raises the question- what's Princess Luna really want from you now?"

"She..."

The front door of Luna's tower flung open. Luna was there, waving a book in her hoof.

"Radish Root! There you are! What is the holdup? Our book club was to begin ten minutes ago!"

"Forgive me, ma'am."

Saguaro Shade raised an eyebrow. "All right, Root. I won't keep you. Enjoy the, uh, book club."

He saluted Luna. "Ma'am."

He took his leave. Radish watched him go, slowly backing toward the door. He entered to find Luna, and no one else, on the first floor.

“Did thou see how we covered for thee?” asked Luna giddily. “Thy corporal had no idea why thou really be here.”

“Ma’am, he knows we're up to something.”

“You think? He did not… Ah. We see. More courtly intrigue. ‘Tis exhausting keeping track of who knows what. Here, then,” she said, giving Radish the book, "in case he questions our cover story."

Radish took the book. "Daddy Long-Shanks?"

"Do not get thy hopes up. It is not a horror story."

“What's the situation now, ma'am?"

"Discord has already revealed himself, jeering Celestia and challenging the Ponyville girls to a battle of wits. He has not appeared to me at all. I think he has... forgotten my existence."

"That's... good. Right?"

“At the very least, it gives me the freedom to prepare thee for this mission. You asked about special gear- we have found something for thee that will go unmissed.”

She pulled a large knife in a sheath from behind her back and gave it to Radish. Radish unsheathed it. It had Luna's cutie mark engraved into one side of the blade, and it's maker's cutie mark on the other.

"This is that knife from the weaponsmith. It's been in our closet all these years," she explained.

"Whoa."

"What?"

"Was that weaponsmith named Ferrum Flats?"

"Yes, I think so. Why?"

"He was a legendary craftspony! He designed the boot knives the Plains Rangers still use to this day. It's an incredibly useful and elegant design, and this is a version he custom-made for a royal! This is a masterpiece!"

Luna frowned. "Truly? He put thought into this present? We were not an afterthought?"

"Maybe a spear makes for a better weapon, but you can do so many more things with a good knife. I think Ferrum Flats wanted you to have something you could use every day."

"Keep it."

"You mean, permanently?"

"Clearly, we did not know how to appreciate it for the gift it was. It deserves to be in the hooves of one who does. Use it well."

"Thank you, ma'am." He attached the sheath to his front left boot.

"You will also need this where you are going," said Luna. Her horn glowed, and a red potion bottle appeared in her hoof. She unstoppered it and held it up to Radish's face. "Here, drink."

Radish leaned back. "What is it?"

"Never Atoll has unique defenses. This shall protect thee from the worst of them.”

“What's the worst of them?”

“Flowers which release mind-addling pollen in the air. The effects are wide-ranging, from lethargy to fiendishly terrifying hallucinations. This antihistamine will give thee immunity from all types of pollen for twenty-four hours.”

Radish took the bottle and drank it. It tasted like chalk mixed with strawberries. "Thanks, princess. I'm glad I won't have to deal with terrifying hallucinations."

“Why not, brother? It sounds fun!” called out Nocturn. He and the other three bat ponies landed at Radish’s side. "We are woefully immune to Terror Daisies. We once tried snuffing them, to no effect."

“Hey, guys! Good to see you." He pulled them into a group hug. "But don't go around snuffing plants, okay?"

"Sorry, Brother Radish."

“We can’t wait to show you Never Atoll!” said Echo excitedly.

“Oh? What’s it like?”

“A volcanic island, home to poisonous frogs and venomous birds!”

“Venomous birds!? What, do they have fangs?”

“No, Brother Radish,” said Vesper, “they have scorpion tails!”

Radish looked at Luna, cockeyed. “Ma’am?”

“Nightmare Moon may have… enhanced… the local wildlife,” admitted Luna. “But ‘tis nothing thou cannot handle. Thou at least stand a better chance against the stinglets than a seamstress and an apple farmer have against Discord.”

Radish turned to the bat ponies. "And you four know the way there?”

“Yes,” said Echo. “The trip will take mere hours.”

“I thought you guys don't really do well in the daytime."

"We do not!" said Murk. "We shall make the journey taking turns, allowing two to rest in the carriage while the other two pull it!"

"What carriage?"

"They have obtained a civilian transport," explained Luna. "It will be inconspicuous to observers."

"But the bat ponies won't be," pointed out Radish.

Luna frowned. "Ah... yes. Well, that cannot be helped. Come, I will convey you five to the conveyance."

Her horn glowed, and a flash of light changed the world around Radish. He stumbled sideways and fell to the grass which had appeared under his feet.

"What is wrong, Radish Root?" asked Luna.

"I... I've never been teleported before," he said, holding in a dry heave.

"Truly? Well, it only becomes easier."

"Okay."

Radish climbed to his feet and looked around. They were now on the mountain outside the city. A large luxurious black stagecoach was parked in front of them.

"That's the civilian transport? Where did you get it?" Radish asked, approaching it.

"From a street in the Uptown district!" said Nocturn. "It was just sitting there!"

"You stole it!? That's an Imperial 70 Coupe! It's one of the most expensive coaches on the market! Every patrol in the region will be looking out for it!"

"Truly?" asked Luna. "It looks rather... chintzy. But we think... oh, dear."

Radish looked at what had drawn her attention. The skies over Ponyville were now full of pink clouds, and the landscape under the town was a checkerboard of several pastel colors. Many of the town's houses and landmarks were drifting casually through its airspace.

"What the-? Is that Discord's doing?"

"Yes. It has begun. Tarry no longer, Radish Root."

"Ma'am, you're not safe here. Come with us."

"Nay. He may eventually remember me, and come seeking me in revenge for his long imprisonment. I must stay to protect thy mission. If the girls fail, thou are Equestria's last hope."

"Ma'am! I can't-"

"Fare thee well, my Champion."

Her horn lit up, and she vanished. Radish's shoulders drooped.

"Brother Radish, she is right," said Nocturn. "We must leave now."

"Right. Let's go."

Murk and Nocturn hitched themselves to the coach, while Vesper and Echo climbed inside. Radish followed them in and sat back on one of the overstuffed plush seats. He took off his helmet and put it aside.

"Damn, I've never been in a luxury carriage. This is nicer than some rooms in the palace."

The interior of the cabin was lacquered blackwood. The fixtures were gold, and recently-polished. The upholstery was a dark purple velvet, and the seat backs were embroidered with a corporate logo aside a family coat of arms. Although Radish didn't recognize the coat of arms, he knew the logo.

"Wagoner Corp. Huh. I think you guys stole this coach from the Wagoner family."

"Are they friends of yours?" asked Echo.

"Nope. I have nothing to do with them," Radish said, rubbing the mountain dirt on his boots off onto the carpet. He pulled out a pencil and notebook. "Okay, guys. Let's go over what you know about the island. I want to hit the ground running. We get in, get the weapon, and get back to Luna."

"Well, Brother Radish," said Vesper. "The story of Never Atoll begins in the Course Era. It was discovered by the Mighty Helm in... Brother Radish?"

Radish had slumped back in his seat with his eyes closed. His notebook and pencil fell to the floor. He started snoring.

"Should we wake him?" Vesper asked Echo.

Echo was now asleep too, curled up on his seat.

"Very well," Vesper said. She leaned back and closed her eyes.


"Brother Radish! Awaken!"

"Wha...?"

Radish woke up in his carriage seat. The four bat ponies were gathered around him, staring.

"We have arrived to the island!" said Nocturn.

"Right," he said, trying to uncrick his neck. "Let's go."

They stepped out of the carriage. Radish looked around. They were on a stone landing pad, on a rocky shore of a tropical island. The view of the horizon was blocked in all directions by a wall of dense fog. The fog, however, only extended up to a certain height, and the sky over the island was clear.

"Thanks for getting me here, guys."

"You're welcome!" they said as one.

"The sun's pretty bright here. How are you feeling?"

"This sunlight is most draining," said Echo. "Our strength is greatly diminished."

"Yes. It really sucks," said Vesper.

"Where did you hear that word?" asked Radish.

"From the scullery maids. They speak in many colorful metaphors."

"Well, leave that in the scullery, okay?"

"Sorry, Brother Radish."

He saw a stone pathway leading to the interior of the island, flanked by rows of succulents. He started down it, and the bat ponies followed him.

The island was rife with tropical vegetation, though it was all growing in neatly-organized planters and beds. They passed rows of evenly-spaced pine trees. They walked under arches of hanging ivy.

"This is the lushest evil lair I've ever seen," Radish mused.

"The Mistress spent many hours growing the vegetation to her liking," said Murk.

A small, tiger-striped bird landed on a twig near Radish. It bobbed forward, displaying a long, black scorpion tail curling over its body.

"I am a special Envoy of Nightmare Moon," Radish told the stinglet. It tilted its head, questioningly.

"He speaks the truth!" said Echo. The bird nodded and flew away. Radish watched it land in a tree and chirp to a flock of its kind. They scattered to spread the word.

"Nightmare Moon was cultivating plants and bonding with animals on this island. The mountain lair was where she explored her unicorn magic, but this... this is where she indulged her earth pony abilities! I had no idea she even cared about her earth pony side!"

He galloped over to a row of towering oak trees. He put his ear against the trunk of one and tapped it. He whistled, impressed at how healthy it was. He planted his hooves in the soil and knelt prone, placing his chin on the ground and closing his eyes.

"What are you doing?" asked Nocturn.

"Shh. I'm listening to the earth."

The bat ponies looked at each other in confusion. Radish opened his eyes.

"She really took care of the soil. It's full of life, even a thousand years later."

He excitedly trotted down the path, taking in all the plant life.

"She must have collected species from all over the world! I bet some of these cultivars are lost to modern botany! Or maybe she created them herself? Did she say anything about what she was growing here?"

"She spoke of the purpose of some of them," said Nocturn. "For instance, she was most proud of those."

He pointed to a row of coconut trees. Radish loped over to one, gazing up at it. He bucked its trunk, and a coconut fell at his feet with a thud.

"This is huge! But it has an odd smell. Almost medicinal."

"The Mistress bred them to produce a powerful soporific," recalled Murk. "A single macaroon made from this would put even Celestia in a deep slumber."

"And these," said Echo, pulling a kiwi off a trellis and tossing it to Radish, "contain a compound which induces a suggestible state. If dropped in a town's water supply, the entire populace could be subdued."

"See these?" asked Vesper, pointing to a small bush full of long green peppers. "Their juice can corrode even the strongest of alloys. We used them to break into Celestia's vault."

"Amazing," said Radish, putting the coconut, kiwi, and a pepper in his bag. "Nightmare Moon might have conquered the world with just her earth pony skills. Kind of makes me proud. Hey, I wonder if..."

He galloped down the trail, to a crossroads in the path. He looked in all directions, seeing terraced gardens, orchards, and crop fields.

"Did she have any assistants here? Gardeners? Maybe ones that looked... unusual?"

"She permitted no one but us here," said Nocturn. "And she rarely brought us here."

"Dang."

"Brother Radish, the spear?" asked Echo.

"Oh, right. Do you know where it is?"

“Yes. It is inside the cone.”

"Cone?"

Echo pointed to a flat-topped mountain in the center of the island.

"Oh," said Radish, "it's inside a volcano? Figures. Is it dormant, at least?"

"It was a thousand years ago," said Nocturn. "It probably still is."

They made their way down the path, past a cattail-lined pond, where fat pink frogs sat on large lily pads.

"Are those the poisonous frogs you mentioned?" Radish asked.

"Yes," said Nocturn. "Their skin oozes a paralyzing toxin. We do not recommend licking them."

The path eventually turned into a wooden walkway suspended over a vast field of flowers. Radish walked with caution.

"And these are the flowers that can mess with your mind?" he asked.

"Yes. Each species has a different effect," said Echo. "The blue ones induce hopelessness. The yellow ones induce forgetfulness. And so on."

Radish looked out at the fields. There were over a dozen different species. Radish didn't feel any different- Luna's antihistamine was working.

"You guys are sure you're immune to all of them?"

"Yes. It is a gift we have in common with the Mistress."

"Okay. Good." He peered at the flowers under his section of walkway. "What do the gray flowers do?"

"There were no gray flowers," said Echo.

"Well, there are now."

The bat ponies peered down at the field. There was a thick vine crawling along the ground and climbing the supports of the walkway. It produced large, lopsided gray flowers along its length.

"That... is new," Vesper said in a low voice.

"They're an odd shape," said Radish. "Maybe some of the species here crossbred? But without an earth pony's guidance, most plants shouldn't be able to complete a life cycle. Say, did Nightmare Moon ever-"

He turned around. The bat ponies were staring at him, blankly.

"Guys?"

They started laughing. Their laughs were so perfectly in sync, they sounded like they had one single voice- but it was a male voice that didn't match any of theirs.

Radish took a step back. "Uh, I think we need to move away from these flowers. Let's get going, okay?"

"Hi, Moony!" they said in unison, tilting their heads in the same direction, to the same degree. The voice was smooth and smug. "How's it hangin'? Nice digs here! But a volcano island base? Isn't that a tad cliché? What, are you going to carve a giant skull into the mountain?"

"What the-"

The bat ponies started walking toward Radish, grinning widely while keeping their eyes locked on him. "Yep, it's me! Oh, don't act so surprised! I know about all the secret lairs you've been building! The mountain retreat, the cloud superfortress- even that little one-bedroom dive under Canterlot's Riverwalk. You've got such an eye for real estate! Of course, they're all a bit too... orderly for my taste."

Radish narrowed his eyes and flicked out his spear. "Discord, I presume?"

The bat ponies didn't seem to hear him. They gestured in their speech emphatically and identically. "Oh, I just can't wait to see the look on Celestia's face when she realizes her precious baby sister has been plotting world domination behind her back!"

It's a thousand-year-old message, thought Radish. Meant for Nightmare Moon's ears.

"So, let's not wait! See, Moonpie, if you're hearing this message, then you've stumbled across the housewarming gift I left for you."

Radish looked down at the gray flower vine.

"Just a little something to liven up your next visit to this slice of paradise. Sadly, it won't affect you, but when your bat minions get a whiff of its pollen, they'll be compelled throw a little chaos into your life."

Radish banged his spear on the walkway. "Guys, if you can hear me, snap out of this! I know you're stronger than some old flowers!"

"They'll give you a count of five, then bolt and tell Celestia all about Nightmare Moon. Everything- the hideouts, the experiments, the schemes. With the two of you locked a family feud, Equestria will plunge into chaos!"

"Guys! You cannot go back to Celestia! She can't know about this mission! I'll be fired! You'll alert Discord to what we're doing! And you're my ride home!"

They lined up and leaned forward, grinning mockingly.

"I suppose you could always just blast your minions before they can tattle, but you have to be careful about your power consumption, don't you? Otherwise, the Luna personality will regain the upper hoof in your mental tug-of-war."

"The Envoy commands you to shake this off! Brother Radish needs you!"

"Oh well, the choice is yours. Either way, I win."

"Please, guys! For Luna?"

"Five!" they shouted.

Radish frowned.

"Four!"

"I'm sorry about this," said Radish, gritting his teeth.

"Three!"

Radish gripped his spear sideways and leapt at his brethren, bringing its haft down across all four of their heads simultaneously. It dented in four places. The bat ponies shuddered, then looked at Radish in surprise.

"Why, Moonykins!" they laughed in Discord's voice, "if you're hearing this message, you tried to take out your minions with non-lethal force! How unexpected! So here's something else that's unexpected- you've activated a hidden command in the pollen. They're no longer going to snitch on you. No, they're going to come after you. Just like you came after me in Monacolt. You know, I still have lumbago because of that. So don't expect any mercy."

"Guys, I know you wouldn't hurt me," said Radish. "Remember the friendship lessons? Remember the s'mores?"

"But hey, look on the bright side, you've got another five seconds."

Radish started backing away.

"Five-four-three-two-one!" they shouted. Then, they shuddered. They looked at Radish, bared their teeth and snarled, stalking toward him.

"Shit."

He dropped his dented spear and leapt off the wooden walkway just as they pounced. They smashed through its planks, slamming into the ground underneath it. Radish landed softly in the field and rolled.

Now on the ground, Radish realized just how tall the field's flowers, grasses, and forbs were. They towered over him. He couldn't see where the bat ponies had landed, but they couldn't see him. He crouched still.

He heard rusting in the vegetation around him, and then a thunk. The bat ponies had leapt out of the field. Vesper and Echo were back on the walkway, stalking its length while peering into the field and taking deep sniffs. Murk and Nocturn were airborne, belting out echolocation screeches into the field.

They can't see me in all this. That chaos pollen in their muzzles must be keeping them from smelling me. And these plants just scatter their echoes. I'm safe, as long as I don't move a muscle.

His mind raced. Vesper leapt at something in the field, barking and tearing apart a cluster of weeds. She returned to the walkway, now with Radish's spear. The two bat ponies in the air swooped down, crashing through the vegetation in long, curved swaths. The two on the walkway watched them carefully. Radish listened, mapping their movements in his mind.

They're using a search pattern to tear up the field. But why are they doing it like that? Wait...

Radish recalled something from a Plains Ranger Academy exam.

Their search pattern is a thousand years out-of-date! Bandits figured out how to slip through this kind of detection spiral centuries ago! I can get out before they tear up too much of the field, as long as I use the noise they make as cover.

Radish crept through the grasses, catching glimpses of Vesper and Echo on the walkway through the vegetation. They weren't hearing him over the racket Murk and Nocturn were making. Radish crawled under the walkway and out of their sight.

That's half the problem. Now to get out of here.

He crept under the walkway toward the center of the island. He heard a bat pony crashing toward him, and he paused. Murk galloped right across Radish's path, shredding everything in his way, missing Radish by a half-meter. Radish waited a beat, then continued.

He made it to the tree line just as the bat ponies completed their sweep. Radish looked back. The entire field was now torn to shreds, leaving barely a blade of grass standing. The brethren howled in frustration, then flew off in separate directions.

Radish found himself in a thicket of juniper trees. The branches were dense enough to obscure him from most directions, but they were also obtrusive enough to slow his progress through. He crawled, not entire sure where he was going.

Okay, Radish, think. You've got four bat ponies hopped up on Discord dust, trying to kill you. They're stronger, faster, and have better senses. They know the island. The daylight is weakening them, but the day is half-over. And my own immunity to the pollen will only last until tomorrow.

So what do you have in your favor?

He looked down at the soil in front of him. Without an annual running of the leaves, the ground was bare of litter. A large black ant crossed his path carrying a blade of grass. He heard a twig rustle above him. A stinglet hopped down from a juniper branch, gobbled up the ant, then looked Radish in the eye. Radish waved to it. It waved to Radish with a wing.

Nightmare Moon used this island to explore her earth pony abilities. For an earth pony, this place is a playground... and an armory. The bat ponies know the island, but I understand it! I can work with it!

He made his way out of the juniper thicket and found himself in a deciduous forest. The trees were thick, ancient, and laden with thick, ancient mosses. He climbed one for a better view. He peeked out of the top of the canopy, seeing the vast island around him. In the center of the island was the volcano- the place of great power where the world's deadliest weapon waited.

You messed with the wrong pony, Discord. I'm going to save my brethren. I'm going to get that spear, and I'm going to take you down. Mass centered, mouth shut. You won't know what hit you.

Radish slid back down to the forest floor. He organized his gear, then took a swig of water from his canteen. He paused a moment to listen to the world around him, then moved on.

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