• 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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26. The Threat, Part 2

Vesper silently touched down at a brick path crossroads. She checked each direction, sniffing the air and twitching her ears. A glint of metal in the bushes caught her eye. She slowly stalked toward it. It was unmistakably the gold hue of Radish's armor. She pounced.

She landed on the back of Radish's saddle plate and tore off Radish's helmet. She sank her teeth into and gobbled down a fat wet chunk of its occupant.

Its occupant was a coconut.

She looked down at the mangled remains of metal and fruit before her, licking the coconut's juice and pulpy shreds from her lips. She frowned, something in her memory breaching the surface of her chaos haze. She turned and saw Radish, unarmored, approaching her cautiously.

She fell over.

Radish caught her, lowering her gently to the ground and checking her pulse. It was strong. He swiftly left, knowing the others were rushing to check out the commotion.

The three bat stallions landed at her side. They poked her sleeping body, and got only snores in response. They fanned out, on the hunt.


Echo swooped through a meadow, scanning for any sign of Radish. He heard a splash in the distance, then banked to check it out. He found a pond with its surface rippling. He stalked its margins, then crouched, staring and waiting.

He heard the creak of wood in the tree behind him. He looked up to see Radish perched on the limb of an oak. Radish leapt at him.

Echo flapped to meet him mid-air, and the two stallions collided and went crashing into the pond. Echo used his wings to maneuver in the water, pushing them both down to bottom. He shoved Radish into the muddy bed, pressing his hooves into Radish's throat. One of Radish's few remaining breaths escaped him as a pained grunt bubbling up to the surface.

Radish struggled, trying to shove Echo off, but Echo's grip was like iron. He dug a hoof into the mud and tried to smear it in into Echo's face, but Echo swatted it away with a wing. Echo pressed his hooves harder.

His vision dimming, Radish looked sideways at the pond bottom. He breathed his last remaining breath as a gurgled command to the army which had amassed around them.

Echo felt his wings go numb, and then go limp. He twisted his neck to see numerous fat pink frogs clinging to them. More frogs leapt on him from all directions, numbing each spot they touched.

Radish emerged from the water, gasping and carrying Echo's unconscious body. He dragged Echo to land and lay him down, checking his breathing. The frogs gathered to watch.

"Thanks, all," Radish said, softly and hoarsely. "He'll be all right. Anyone hurt?"

The frogs ribbited in the negative.

"I need to go before the others come. Could you watch over him?"

The frogs ribbited in the affirmative.


Radish snuck between tall rows of corn stalks. He didn't know what evil plans Nightmare Moon had for a corn field on her island, but as long as it gave him cover, he didn't care. He reached the end of the row and peeked out, scanning the landscape.

A large grassland stretched out before him. In the distance beyond it was a vineyard, and beyond that was a large, wide mansion with smooth, tan walls, topped with a roof of thick green curved tiles.

Nightmare Moon had an adobe hacienda. And it's really nice.

He crept through ditches, behind hedges, and darted between topiaries. He made his way to the back of the manor, paused to listen, then reached for the back door.

It swung open quietly. He walked into the manor. Numerous large windows illuminated the interior. It was largely empty, except for a few pieces of furniture which looked hoof-carved. There was thick dust on every surface.

Okay. Maybe there's a library or records room. If I can get a sense of what every plant on this island does, maybe I can put together an antidote.

He explored the house. It didn't look well-used by pony or critter. He found a massive indoor pool, devoid of water. Judging by the lack of water marks on the walls, it had never been filled.

Nightmare Moon had so much all to herself that she never even used. Why did she even want the rest of the world?

He heard a door slam somewhere else in the house. He froze, then tip-toed to the next room. He heard hoofsteps, which quickened into a full gallop. They were coming his way. Radish ran. The intruder ran faster.

Radish reached a solarium full of empty planters. Murk burst into the room after him. He stared at Radish.

"Hey, Murky," Radish said softly. "How are you feeling?"

Murk charged at Radish. Radish reached into his bag. As Murk pounced, Radish shoved a kiwi into his maw. Murk landed on Radish, knocking him down while sinking his teeth into the fruit. He stopped moving, his eyes drooped, and he sat on the floor and drooled, as if stupefied. The punctured kiwi dropped out of his mouth. Radish put a hoof on his shoulder.

"Murk, can you understand me?"

"Yes."

"Are you okay?"

"No."

"Are you in pain?"

"Yes."

"How can I help you?"

"I don't know."

Radish's ears drooped. "Then what should I do?"

"Kill us before we kill you."

Radish shook his head. "No. Never."

Murk said nothing. Radish looked at the chewed kiwi on the ground.

"That's made you suggestible? You have to obey any command?"

"Yes."

"I command you to stop being affected by Discord's flowers."

Murk furrowed his eyes, as if trying to process this. He started to laugh in Discord's voice.

"Moonybuns! If you're hearing this message-"

"Damn it."

"-you tried to outwit my pollen using some kind of logic! You seriously thought that would work?" He grinned maliciously, leaning forward. "I eat logic for breakfast. With a side of hash browns and bottomless mimosas."

Murk shook his head, then snarled at Radish. He seized Radish by the neck and threw him across the room. Radish struggled to his feet, gasping, "Stop being affected by Discord's flowers!"

Murk froze. He furrowed his eyes again. He laughed in Discord's voice, again.

"Moonybuns! If you're hearing this message-"

Radish pulled his pencil and notebook from his bag and tore out a page. He hastily scribbled "STOP BEING AFFECTED BY DISCORD'S FLOWERS" and shoved the note into Murk's hoof. He ran.

"-and bottomless mimosas." finished Murk for the second time. He looked around, not seeing Radish. He realized he was holding a note, and read it.

He furrowed his eyes. He laughed in Discord's voice.

"Moonybuns! If you're hearing this message-"


Radish crouched between boulders on the island's rocky shore. He looked up and down the coast.

Okay, the coast is clear. Huh... I've never used that phrase literally before.

What now? If I can find a safe place to sleep, maybe I can contact Luna in the dream world.

He frowned.

Then I'd have to tell her I failed the mission. That I failed my brethren. That I failed... her. Will she really disavow this mission? Would she leave me here? And what if Discord already has her in his clutches? What if I really am Equestria's last hope?

He shook his head.

No. You need to focus on a way to win, not all the ways you can lose.

He looked up the coastline.

Okay. That's the way we came in. It's the fastest way to the volcano, and it has decent cover. Maybe this 'place of great power' has the power to free my brethren.

He made his way down the coast. The carriage was still parked on the landing platform.

I didn't really give it a good look-over. I wonder if there's anything useful inside. Probably some quality booze, at least. I'll save it for the victory celebration.

He waked on, back to the trail he originally followed with his brethren. He heard metal groans behind him- the sound that large shock absorbers make. He turned to look.

Nocturn was standing on top of the carriage. He narrowed his eyes at Radish.

"Nocturn? Can we talk?"

Nocturn gripped the carriage and flapped furiously, slowly pulling it up off the ground.

"Hey, come on, bud," said Radish backing up. "That's not ours."

Nocturn hovered the coach toward Radish. Radish ran. He leapt sideways just as Nocturn released the coach. It crashed into the trail, its windows shattering and its cabin exploding into splinters. A flying chunk of wood clocked Radish in the back of the head, and he went rolling into the trailside mulch.

Radish turned to face Nocturn, but didn't see him. He caught a swooping shadow on the ground, and saw Nocturn in the sky, shoving several large clouds together. Nocturn bucked the aggregate cloud, turning it dark black. He seized it by the side, and aimed its bottom toward Radish.

Dammit, he's fighting like a pegasus.

Nocturn slammed his hooves into the storm cloud, and a massive bolt of lightning shot out the bottom. Radish leapt as it hit the ground inches from him. His fur stood on end and his teeth chattered from the rush of static in the air. His ears were ringing from the thunder. He forced himself up off the ground and limpingly shambled to cover.

Radish made it to a row of pine trees and hit the dirt just as Nocturn shot off another blast of lightning. The bolt struck the top of one of the trees. Nocturn plunged his hooves into the cloud and twisted it, then pulled out a jagged piece of hail as big as a bowling ball. He spun around and flung it at Radish.

Radish narrowly dodged it. Nocturn pelted the ground with chunks of hail of varying size, which shredded through the pines' branches. Radish found a tree with limbs thick enough to cover him from the worst of it. Nocturn hurled the rest of the cloud to the ground, and it burst into a bank of fog, flooding the space around Radish with cold wet white mist.

Radish couldn't see a thing now. He crouched low, listening. He heard a shriek ring out behind him. He heard another to his left.

I'm blind, and he's hunting me with echolocation. Okay, what do you know about sound waves?

Radish couldn't recall anything from Ranger Academy or Guard training about how sound works.

Twilight could probably lecture for days about it. I hope she's okay.

He felt a piercing pain in his ears. His scalp vibrated. Before he could move, hooves grabbed him by the neck and dragged him skyward. Nocturn flew Radish out of the fog bank. Radish kicked out his hooves and slipped to the ground, hitting the dirt hard and rolling. Nocturn hovered warily above him, out of reach. Radish climbed to his feet, knees shaking.

"Nocturn! Fight it!"

Nocturn blasted into the air and flew a large loop, then buzzed toward Radish at breakneck speed. Radish barely dodged as Nocturn sliced the air above his head, snapping his teeth at Radish. Nocturn then banked, and sped toward toward Radish in a tighter loop. Radish dug his hooves into the soil and flung a clod upwards as Nocturn swooped past him again. Nocturn's mouth filled with the dirt, and he landed on a tree branch to cough it out.

Nocturn heard the fluttering of dozens of tiny wings all around him. A flock of stinglets had gathered to watch the fight. Nocturn pointed at Radish and barked a command to the birds. The birds looked at Radish. He made a hoof gesture to them. They nodded to him.

They brandished their stingers and surrounded Nocturn, forming a cage in all directions. Radish ran. Nocturn spread his wings, but the stinglets moved in closer, stabbing at the air in front of him, forcing him to stay put on the branch. He looked at the ground, and Radish was gone.


Radish stood before the base of the volcano.

Is there a way in? A hidden door?

He cautiously walked around it for a few minutes. He saw nothing.

Okay, quit stalling. Nightmare Moon would have flown up there. You have to climb this thing.

He started to climb. In the distance, he heard a piercing screech. He climbed faster. He heard another, and he scrabbled harder up the slope. As he reached the halfway point, he heard a third screech, and when he reached the top, he heard a fourth.

He crested the top of the cone, breathing hard, and looked down into the crater. He gasped.

The volcano was dormant, all right. Growing inside of it was a massive tree, from below sea level up to the lip of the cone. The canopy was thick and green, and from what he could see of the trunk, it was wider than Luna's tower.

Wow.

The drop inside was long and steep. He started around the edge of the crater, looking for a way down. Four shadows appeared on the ground surrounding his own, and four sets of hooves crunched into the ground around him. The bat ponies surrounded him, spreading their wings to cordon him.

They hunched low, gritting their teeth. They seemed a lot more wary of Radish now. Echo took a step forward, as if daring Radish to pull out another earth pony trick. Radish was out of tricks. He took a step back, his rear hooves reaching the cliff edge. The bat ponies, satisfied, stalked toward Radish.

Radish drew the Ferrum knife from its sheath and held it defensively in front of himself. The bat ponies stopped. Their heads twitched, and their bodies shuddered. They took to two legs, and walked back and forth in front of Radish.

"Why, Moonbeam!" they laughed with Discord's voice. "You'll only hear this message is if you try to pull a knife on your minions. Wow, you must be getting really desperate! Are you a supervillain, or a back-alley thug? Oh, if only I could be there to see it. You're so much more fun to torment than your mild-mannered alter ego. Luna just cries like a baby when I toy with her."

Radish seethed. His hoof holding the knife shook.

"Go ahead. Cut your precious bat babies. We both know it's nothing compared to what you've already done to them. Maybe they'll... oops, looks like I'll have to cut this message short. Celestia's found some moldy old banishing spell scroll, and I'm going to let her believe it works on me. I think I'll wait until Hearth's Warming to reappear- really crush that holiday spirit, you know? Toodles!"

The bat ponies dropped back down to four legs. They resumed their approach.

"Please, guys. Stop. It's me."

They crouched to pounce. Radish held his knife close, and planted his hooves.

The world went dark.

Radish took a beat, not understanding what was happening. The bat ponies looked around, equally confused. The sun was gone, replaced by the moon. It was night, abrupt and unscheduled.

Discord. He's messing with the sky. That means he's done something to the princesses!

Radish's heart beat out of control. His stomach twisted. His skin crawled. His vision blurred. He searched his mind for options, ideas, or hope. He came up empty.

It's over. I couldn't save them. I couldn't save anyone.

He grit his teeth and closed his eyes.

It's the end of the world, and I'm alone.

The bat ponies started coughing.

Radish looked up. The four of them were hacking and wheezing, as if trying to hock up hairballs. They finally each spat a gray goop into the ground in front of Radish. Their eyes met Radish's as they rubbed their muzzles.

"Brother!" they shouted in their own voices.

They flew to Radish and hugged him from all sides. It took Radish a few beats to blink himself back to reality.

"Guys?" he asked hoarsely. "You're okay?"

"The night has restored our full strength!" cheered Vesper.

"And tipped the battle in our immune systems' favor!" said Echo.

"We have defeated and expelled the chaos pollen!" said Nocturn, pointing to the blobs of gray goo on the ground.

"And are free of Discord's foul influence and innumerable messages!" finished Murk.

Radish squeezed his brothers and sister. "I was so worried about you guys. I am so sorry."

"No, I am sorry," said Nocturn. "I could not stop myself."

"Thank you for sparing us," said Vesper.

"Of course," said Radish, wiping an eye. "But now we've got to-"

The moon plunged below the horizon. The sun shot up into the sky. It was day again. Radish looked his brethren in the eyes.

"Uh... guys?"

"Still good, Radish," said Murk. "Once immune, we cannot be retaken."

"Okay. Good." Radish sheathed his knife. "But we really need to get that spear."

"Hold on, brother," said Echo.

The bat ponies gripped Radish and glided down into the volcano. They landed on the soft black soil inside. Radish gazed up at the tree. It was bigger than he thought a tree could get.

"What kind of tree is this?”

“A Volcanic Ash," said Echo. "It draws power from the earth and sky, and concentrates it into the weapon."

“Where's the weapon?”

“Here, brother," said Vesper.

She pointed to a patch on the tree where the bark seemed to be growing in concentric circles around a dark spot.

“This is the door. It requires an earth pony to open.”

Radish held his hoof against the dark spot. He closed his eyes and focused his senses. He felt past the bark. The tree was old, strong, and aware of him. Radish could feel the power Echo spoke of, coursing through it. There was an anomaly- a hollow deep inside.

Suddenly, he could no longer feel the bark. He opened his eyes, and the bark had receded, leaving the hollow open to the world. He peered inside.

The walls of the interior of the tree were lined with dark green mushrooms. Radish took a step back.

"Okay, these must be a security feature. I bet these mushrooms are poison, or explosive, or something."

Murk approached a mushroom and sniffed it. He bit one off the wall and chewed it. He swallowed.

"I taste no poison or explosives, brother. And they have a rich, nutty flavor. I think they would be best deep-fried in butter."

"More than that," said Nocturn. "They are the chamber's source of illumination."

He tapped a mushroom twice. It lit up with a bright green glow. The mushrooms next to it also lit up, and then the rest. The entire hollow was bathed in green light.

Radish carefully stepped inside. In the center was a knotty wooden column rising from the ground into the ceiling. The column opened itself as he approached it, revealing a compartment long enough to contain a spear.

Radish looked inside. It was empty.

On the interior wall of the compartment, a message had been gouged by spearhead in a messy script:

Dear Moon-moon,
Thanks for the backscratcher!
Hugs and kisses,
Discord

"Damn it!" howled Radish. He slammed two hooves into the wall, smashing some of the mushrooms into a splatter of goo. He grit his teeth and tried to calm himself.

"Is there anything else on this island that we could bring back? Anything useful at all?”

“Against Discord... no,” said Echo.

Radish slumped against the wall, sinking to the floor. "That's it, then. Equestria is doomed because of me. I'm the worst Champion of all time."

Murk sat down next to him. "Radish, this is not your fault."

"It doesn't matter. I still lost."

Vesper sat at his other side. "Nightmare Moon once told us that a blade cannot be sharpened without some loss. But the blade is better for it."

Radish looked at his brethren. "Huh."

He pulled out the Ferrum knife from its sheath. He placed it gently in the empty compartment. It levitated, slowly turning end-over-end, and sparkled with a soft golden light.

"We'll leave this to get powered up. Maybe one day, someone can put it to good use. But what I'm not going to leave here is Discord's graffiti scars."

He placed two hooves on the column, closed his eyes, and focused. The bat ponies gathered, watching him.

"The tree knows how to heal itself. It wants to heal itself. It just needs an earth pony to take the first step with it." He lowered his voice. "It's okay, old one. I'm here."

He stepped back. The column closed around the knife. He nodded, smiling, and led his brethren out of the tree. The bark covered over the hollow.

"I'm sorry, guys," said Radish. "We failed Luna."

“Perhaps the Element of Harmony bearers are up to the task?" offered Echo.

“It shouldn’t have been their task to begin with!" Radish said. "They're not trained for this. Every guard in the castle knew what they were signing up for. We’ve pledged our lives to defend Equestria. Those six just had this life thrust upon them. It’s not fair that civilians should risk their lives for guards.”

The bat ponies shared a look, then nodded to each other.

"The sisters have truly changed," said Nocturn. "Nightmare Moon would have thought nothing of sending civilians to fight her battles. Now Celestia does so, and Luna seeks another way."

"That's... it's not Celestia's fault. The Elements only work for those girls."

"Could they not pass the Elements to more capable fighters? Like Brother Radish and his fellow guards?" asked Echo.

Radish sighed. "I don't know. Maybe they really are chosen ones."

"Chosen by who?" asked Murk.

"I have no clue. But if I ever meet them, I've got some words for them. Come on. We've got to report back to Luna. But not before tying up some loose ends.”


Radish emerged from a hole in the middle of the destroyed flower field. He held up a black-and-white striped flower bulb in his hoof.

"Here it is. The chaos flowers were growing from this bulb. Maybe someone out there can analyze this, and figure out how Discord's powers work."

Murk peered closely at it. "It looks so much like a radish."

Radish looked at it. "Let's not read into that."

Vesper dropped down to Radish's side, holding his armor.

"I found it. It seems I mangled it pretty badly," she said, sheepishly. "And I could not find your spear."

"Don't worry about it," said Radish, redonning the damaged armor.

They moved on to the remains of the carriage. Its broken timbers and windows were strewn across the path.

"Oh," said Nocturn. "Did I do that?"

"Yeah," said Radish.

"Sorry."

"It's okay. It's probably insured."

Radish picked through its wreckage, finding only a golf towel, some maps, and a half-empty bottle of bourbon. He put them in his bag. He looked to the sky. It was day, for now. Which day, however, Radish couldn't be sure of.

"Now, how are we going to get off the island? Are there carriages parked here?"

"There's a schooner docked on the west side," said Murk.

"That's like a boat? Can you sail it?"

"Yes. We acquired it in the first place."

"Stole it, you mean?"

"Well... yes."

"Great. We can have a nice cruise to the end of the world."

Radish started walking west. The bat ponies followed him.

"You know, Radish," said Echo, "even Nightmare Moon faced setbacks. Sometimes she faced self-doubt and despair. But she always strove onward."

"Really?

"In those days, there was a mystery interloper. An earth stallion, clad all in black, hiding his face and bearing no symbol. He frequently disrupted Nightmare Moon's plans in their infancy."

"There was some kind of... ninja earth stallion, going around foiling Nightmare Moon?"

"Yes. Vesper had a crush on him."

"I respected him as a worthy adversary!" hissed Vesper.

"The point is," said Echo, "those defeats were what prompted Nightmare Moon to explore her earth pony side. She realized that by neglecting a third of her being, she was incomplete. That is why she established Never Atoll. To learn more about herself, and thus, her enemy."

"What happened to him?"

"We do not know," said Murk. "We never saw him again after he stole the lenses."

"Lenses?"

"Nightmare Moon once crafted an array of magically-treated lenses," said Nocturn. "It was intended to draw away the power of the sun, turning it into a second moon."

"Sheesh. How close did she get?"

"Not very. She had no means of getting them close enough to the sun."

"Oh, so Nightmare Moon didn't have a spaceship?"

"Not that we knew of."

Radish stopped in his tracks. "Then... what's in there?"

He pointed to the western face of the volcano. Built into rock was a giant door, similar to the hangar door of the mountain lair.

Nocturn squinted at it. "Oh, that's just the cannon."

Radish looked at the bat ponies. "Cannon?"


Radish and the bat ponies stood on the slope of the volcano, in front of a steel bunker hatch jutting out from the rock. The door was painted with a stylized depiction of a cannon.

"It was intended to be the distribution system for her pollens," Nocturn explained. "Gasses from the volcano would be stored in a compressed state, then used to blast payloads of pollen high into the atmosphere. The jet stream currents would spread them all over the world. Unfortunately, the jet streams shifted, and she gave up the plan."

"Huh," said Radish. "It was all or nothing with her, wasn't it?"

"This is the door to the control room. It opens with this," said Echo, pointing to a lever in the rock.

"Yeah, I'm not touching that. Discord already messed with two things on this island, and jokes always come in threes."

"I thought it was deaths that come in threes," said Vesper.

"I doubt Discord knows the difference. I'm not falling for his nonsense a third time. But I still want to inspect this cannon. We need to make sure Discord hasn't tampered with it. Is there another way inside that he could have overlooked?"

"Uh... there's a ventilation shaft," said Nocturn, pointing up the slope. "Discord probably doesn't consider a building's ventilation needs."

"Crawling through air vents, huh? Most guards dream of that."

"Why?" asked Murk.

"It's, you know, real action hero stuff."

"Oh."

They found the air shaft camouflaged by brush above the door, and pulled off its cover. Radish peered down into the dark shaft. He led the bat ponies inside.

They braced themselves against the sides and slid down until the shaft turned and forked. They opened a grate, and dropped down inside a control room, similar to the one above the fight pit in the mountain lair. It had thick glass windows overlooking a vast open room. A large steel tube, aimed at the hangar doors, occupied most of the room.

"That's a big cannon," said Radish. "Does everything look like it should?"

"It seems to be untouched," said Vesper. "But... oh. That is not right."

They looked out another window at the rear of the cannon. The bat ponies gasped at what they saw. Radish groaned.

"Discord tampered with the launch system!" said Nocturn. "He has replaced the gas storage tank with a giant pink bag!"

"It's called a 'whoopee cushion', guys," Radish sighed.

"Why?" asked Echo.

"Because it makes a fart sound," growled Radish disdainfully.

They followed stairs out of the control room to the ground floor, and approached the cannon. There was a large hatch in the side for loading it, and a small porthole so one could confirm the payload. Radish cupped his hooves around his face and peered through it. He grumbled. The bat ponies took turns looking into it.

Loaded inside the cannon was a banana cream pie, two meters wide and topped with a mountain of whipped cream that was bigger than Radish.

"Nobody eat that," said Radish.

"We wouldn't dream of it," said Murk, licking his chops.

"So," said Radish, pacing the floor, "the propellant is a gag, the ammunition is a gag... the target must be a gag, too. Is there a way to see what it's aimed at?"

"Yes. There's a targeting system," said Nocturn. "I'll show you."

He led them back into the control room. He pointed to a part of the console, where there were two flat plates, each about the size of a large pony's hoof.

"This device uses micro-gyroscopes to attune to the Earth's geomagnetic field. It allows an earth pony to extend their senses far across the landscape. One can aim the cannon with a thought."

"Are you serious!? That's science fiction-level technology, even today! Why didn't Nightmare Moon just share her inventions with the world? She would have gotten the love she wanted, no evil schemes necessary."

"We asked her that once. She told us that respect earned through deeds is not respect at all, just fleeting social currency. She said she was fighting for the love she was already entitled to."

"Huh. So, how do we know the target?"

"We can examine the gyroscopes in here," said Nocturn, sliding open a hatch cover on the wall. "Oh... that... that is not a gyroscope."

Radish looked into the hatch. Mounted inside of the machinery was a long golden spear.

He inhaled sharply. "Is that..."

"Yes," said Murk.

"What's it doing there?" Radish asked warily.

Vesper looked at it, then the control panels, then the cannon. "It's replacing the targeting system. Discord planned to use Celestia's own spear to lock onto her body's magnetic field. She is the target."

"All this high technology, all that chaos magic, and it's all just used to throw a pie at Celestia," muttered Radish. "But why didn't it ever launch?"

"Look at this, brother," said Echo. He pointed to a small wire attached by a wad of chewed gum to a closed hatch. The wire ran into the control console. "I believe the exterior door was booby-trapped. Had we entered the normal way, we would have set off the launch sequence."

"Okay, good. We're finally one step ahead of Discord. Now, how do we-"

The door slid open by itself, detaching the wire. It shut itself. It opened and shut several times in a row. The squeaking of metal sounded a bit like mocking laughter.

"What in the-"

"We did not touch it!" said Murk.

"No," said Radish. "It's-"

A piercing alarm blared out of the ceiling. Red warning lights illuminated the walls of the control room and cannon deck. All the doors to the control room slammed shut and bars closed over the air vent, trapping Radish and the bat ponies inside. The whole room vibrated, and the massive doors to the outside of the mountain rumbled, then started to open. The cannon started moving forward. A speaker on the wall of the control room buzzed on.

"Hey, Mooncheeks! If you're hearing this message-"

"I'm getting real sick of that phrase," growled Radish.

"-you've just tripped the countdown on your big honkin' boomstick. Don't worry- this blue steel beauty is going to be put to much better use than your silly complete global saturation plan. Get this- it's going to launch a banana cream pie right into Celestia's face! That sourpuss of hers could really use a bit of sweetener, you know? T-minus sixty and counting!"

"Is there an abort button?" asked Radish. "A shutdown code? A cancel command?"

The bat ponies shook their heads.

"It was all or nothing with Nightmare Moon," said Nocturn.

Radish put his hooves on the guidance system's control plates. Crackles of electricity snapped at his hooves, and he yelped and hopped back. "Damn it!"

Radish gripped the spear and pulled with all his might. It was affixed into the wall by two thick clamps which resembled different animal claws cobbled together out of scrap metal parts. It didn't budge.

"Come on, guys! Help me get this out!" The five of them pulled, to no avail.

Radish pointed at the window. "Bust through that and smash the cannon!"

"Brother Radish, it is only a pie," said Murk.

"She's had enough humiliation on my account! Do it!"

The bat ponies beat at the glass. It didn't scratch. Radish dumped out his bag, looking for something useful.

"Oh... I forgot about this," he said, holding up the metal-corroding pepper.

He crushed it against the clamps, smearing its juice onto them. The liquid dissolved the metal on contact, producing smoke and a hiss that sounded a bit like a squealing creature. The clamps jerked open and released the spear.

Radish held the spear at last.

"Heh. It's warm. Now we can- gaakkk!"

The clamps extended out of the wall and seized Radish by the throat. He struggled in their grasp and dropped the pepper, which splattered the floor of the control room. Its leaking juices ate through the floor, and it sank out of sight in a smoking haze.

The bat ponies attacked the clamps with hooves and teeth, trying to pry Radish from their grasp. They wrenched him away, and pulled him to the far side of the room. The clamps continued to extend toward them and snap at the air.

Radish looked at where he dumped out the contents of his bag. He held up the chaos flower bulb.

"Thanks for the housewarming gift, Discord. I've got something for you, too."

He jammed it into the clamps. They snatched it, then receded back into the wall, holding it tight like a prize. A crackle of electricity passed over the bulb. There was a groan of metal, and the cannon readjusted its aim.

"Ten seconds to launch!" Discord's voice announced over the speakers with glee. "Nine! Eight!"

"Everyone cover your ears!" cried Radish. They hit the floor together.

"Sev- oh, who's got time to wait? One! Special delivery!"

The giant whoopie cushion let rip into the cannon.

The sound made by the launch of the pie was the worst thing Radish had ever heard. The massive pie rocketed out of the launch tube and into the sky.

Radish and his siblings peeked out through the window. The lights in the complex died out, leaving the space lit only by the outside. The clamps went limp and dropped the chaos bulb, which rolled over to Radish. The control room doors slid open.

"Hope you saved room for dessert, Discord," said Radish.

"Brother, you just saved Celestia from a big pie!" said Vesper.

"Guards protect princesses," Radish said, putting the chaos bulb back in his bag. "Even from the absurd."

"We will tell her what you did for her!" said Echo. "She may lie with you in thanks!"

Radish laughed. "If only it were that easy."

He looked at the spear in his hooves. He gripped it tight, and focused his senses into it.

"I was afraid of this. Discord took it from the tree the same year Nightmare Moon placed it there. It only absorbed one growing season's worth of power."

"Is that a lot?" asked Nocturn.

"For a farmer, it's everything. For a weapon... I don't know. Maybe with enough strength and the right aim, it could bust his hide."

"You don't seem as upset as one would expect," said Echo.

"I've used up my supply of self-pity for today. If I can't stick this through his heart, I'll ram it down his throat."

"Brother," said Murk, touching Radish's shoulder, "I think Nightmare Moon would have liked you."

"Oh? Thank you."


The five trotted out onto the island's west dock. A large black schooner was tied off, bow-out.

"Well, it looks seaworthy," said Radish. "There aren't even any barnacles."

"Even barnacles feared Nightmare Moon!" said Echo.

Radish peered closer at the boat's hull. There was a family crest painted on the stern. He laughed. "You guys stole this boat from the Wagoners, too."

"Perhaps its return will soothe the loss of their carriage?" said Nocturn.

"Nah. Statute of limitations, plus marine salvage law. This tub is ours now."

"You could use it to take Celestia for a pleasure sail," suggested Vesper.

"Or Applejack!" said Nocturn.

"Or Luna," said Murk.

"I do not believe it will sail very far with any mare," said Echo, peering over the pier. "The water is no longer water."

The others looked. The ocean was dark brown and densely viscous. The waves were no longer moving, but jiggling slightly. Radish grit his teeth.

"Guys, is that...?"

"Yes," said Murk, sniffing. "The seas are now chocolate pudding."

"Don't eat that."

"...okay."

"Radish," said Echo, "We have been in the sun too long, battling both you and the chaos pollen. We are at our limits. We do not have the strength to fly back. If we cannot sail, we will need to rest until night."

"There might not even be night anymore," sighed Radish. He looked off into the distance. The island was still encircled by a wall of mist. He spread out the maps from the carriage across the dock in front of him. "When you guys stole this boat, did you get it from the mainland?"

"No," said Nocturn. "It was moored at an island a short flight from here."

"Was it this one?" Radish asked, pointing to a small circular island a few grid squares away from their position.

"Yes."

"That makes sense. That's the Wagoner family's private island. They've always had more boats than anyone, and nowadays, they have zeppelins. If you can get us to the island, we can take one to Canterlot."

"You wish to steal one of their vehicles?" Vesper asked.

"No. When a royal guard does it, it's called 'commandeering'. One of the perks of the job when Celestia signs your checks."

"I believe we can make it," Vesper said. The other bat ponies nodded.

"All right then," said Radish, gathering up his things. "We're in a world that's falling to chaos, and all we've got is a moldy old flower bulb, an undercooked weapon, and a bare-bones plan."

"Are you worried?" asked Echo.

"No. Because we've also got each other."

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