• 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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37. The Suitor, Part 5: Ever So Sensitive

Radish stood guard over the palace’s gallery of ancient ceramics. This room made him more nervous than any other- he was in constant fear of accidentally bumping into one of Equestria’s oldest teapots.

A unicorn walked into the room, humming and floating a map of the palace in front of her face. She was seconds away from walking into a display case of nine-hundred-year-old bud vases.

“Ma’am!” called Radish.

The unicorn stopped and lowered her map to look at Radish. It was Rarity.

“Why, Radish, dear! Whatever is the matter?”

Radish pointed to the case in front of her.

“Oh! My, I would have trotted right into that, wouldn’t I? I’m sorry, I was glued to my map. These galleries are ever so labyrinthine.”

“You should see the labyrinth.”

“Ha. Wait… did you just call me ‘ma’am’? Oh, Radish, how could you?”

“Forgive me.”

“I suppose I must, lest I fall into the stereotype of a cantankerous senior citizen.”

She looked around, then trotted close to Radish with her head held low.

“How are you doing, dear? It hasn’t escaped me that Halcyon must be adding a certain degree of unease to your life.”

“I’m trying to handle it with aplomb.”

“Ah, good on you. That’s the best way to handle anything. But, cards on the table- I overheard your conversation with the bartendress after the dinner party.”

“Uh, all of it?”

“I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, I was stooping behind a hedge to wipe pollen off my stilettos when you two started talking.”

“Those are shoes, right?”

“No, they’re fabulous shoes. Not that anyone at that party seemed to notice.”

“Sorry.”

“My point is, I heard you discussing Fluttershy.”

“What do you think? Would we be a good match?”

“Does the thought of her stir passion within you?”

“Uh… maybe?”

“There’s no ‘maybe’ in passion, dear. A ‘maybe’ is a ‘no’.”

“Rarity, the only thing that’s ever stirred passion in me my whole life has been Celestia. Maybe I’m, you know, stunted where I feel feelings.”

“I see what you’re saying, and I sympathize. But Radish, Fluttershy is a dear friend of mine, and she’s ever so sensitive. I’d hate to think you would use her as some kind of… practice girlfriend to wean yourself off Celestia.”

“Whoa,” said Radish, feeling his balance shift sideways a bit. “That… that might be exactly what I’m doing…”

“Then I’m glad we’re having this chat.”

“So, should I just drop it before I hurt her?”

“Oh, don’t be so hasty in everything! How about this- if you think you’d like to date Fluttershy for Fluttershy, could you tell me something you like about her that’s unique to her?”

“Her voice.”

“Yes, it is quite sweet, isn’t it?”

“Her smile.”

“Well, that’s a bit obvious.”

“Her mane…”

Of course, her effortlessly gorgeous mane. It is the envy of Ponyville mares. How she gets that volume, we’ll never figure out.”

“The warmth she gives off…”

“Hmm, that’s rather abstract. What do-”

“…the way she’s so sweet and generous…”

“Uh, generosity is my thing, dear. Hers is-”

“Kindness! The way she supports you. Encourages you. Makes the effort to understand what you’re going through..."

Radish thought back to how she comforted him at the dinner party. He wondered how another dinner with her- just her- might go.

I’d take her to a nice restaurant, of course. The kind with a candle on the table. And a guy playing a violin. We’d both come dressed to the nines.

"...and she’d be the most beautiful mare in the room…"

“Uh, what room? Where are you?”

I’ve spent years imagining a life spent with Celestia. Strolls on the beach. Picnics in the gardens. Cuddling in front of a fireplace on cold winter nights. Why should all that go to waste? I can still have that life, with someone who appreciates me. Someone kind…supportive… loving…

Radish felt his heartbeat quicken and his face grow hot.

"Why, Radish... you're blushing!"

Radish turned away. "No, I'm not. Guards don't blush."

"I do believe you’re feeling that stir of passion, dear."

“I… I think you’re right. What do I do?”

“I’m afraid this is where my intervention ends, Radish. Remember- I swore off matchmaking my friends. If you wish to pursue her, I will neither help nor hinder you. You must do this without me.”

“Can you at least tell me what kind of flowers she likes?”

“Ooh, I’m just dying to! But I must stick to my principles. Stick to them like bees stick to gardenias.”

“Well, thanks anyway. I’ll figure something out.”

“No, I’m saying I’m standing firm on this. Standing firm as a well-watered gardenia.”

“I can just ask the palace florist for advice. Have a good afternoon. Enjoy the galleries.”

“Radish, you absolute… oh, I see. Hilarious.”


No one else visited the ceramics gallery all day, except a hoofpony who approached Radish at the end of his shift.

“Lieutenant Root, Princess Luna requires you in her bedroom.”

Radish waited for him to hear himself.

“Ah, that is to say- in her bedridden state, her highness requests the company of her ‘Champion’ to comfort her.”

“Thank you. That’s what I thought you meant.”

Radish entered Luna’s bedroom. A doctor, nurse, and wizard were seeing to her. She dismissed them as he approached.

“Radish Root. So good of you to come.”

He took a stool at her bedside. Her mane wafted weakly and her eyes were glassy.

“Princess. What’s wrong?”

“Fret not. This is but simple exhaustion. I have been overexerting myself during my dream duties.”

“You shouldn’t work so hard.”

“A worthy princess works tirelessly for her subjects.”

“And a worthy guard works tirelessly for his princess. How can I help?”

“Just sit and talk with me a bit. How are you?”

“I’m doing okay. Princess… I want you to know I took your words to heart. I’m really trying to move past my crush on Celestia. To support her as she… finds happiness with someone else.”

“Oh, Radish, forgive me. I was too hard on you.”

“No. You were right. I think I'm ready for someone else, now.”

“Really? I am glad. But Radish, I… ahh!”

She gripped her head and shuddered.

Radish stood up. “Princess!”

“Just a headache,” she said. “Please, distract me from the pain. Let us speak on pleasant things. You’ve kept up with our book club?”

Radish sat down. “I’m halfway through Herd and Prejudice. I uh, don’t understand the main character. I don’t get what she wants out of life.”

Luna smiled. “Ah, Radish Root, her ways seem mysterious to you because she is an elegant lady of a more refined age.”

“Like y-”

Radish cut himself off. Luna smiled.

“I was in the moon during that particular age. I can only experience it through literature, as you do. The world I left behind was much more rough around the edges.”

“Oh.”

“And please, do not hesitate to pay me compliments.”

“Okay.”

“Now, let us discuss the story. Where do you think it’s going?”

“Well...”

Radish and Luna chatted about the novel for another hour, until a servant announced that Spike had arrived with her supper.

“Have him wait a minute.” She turned to Radish.”Radish, I wish to… gah!”

She gripped her head again. Her whole body tensed in pain. Tears formed in the corner of her eyes.

Radish held her shoulder to steady her. “This isn’t exhaustion! What’s really going on?”

“I… I don’t know.”

“This started when Halcyon showed up, didn’t it?”

“He is not the cause.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because these pains are coming from the world of dreams.”

“What? You mean, you’re under attack by some kind of nightmare monster!?”

She relaxed and sat back. “No. There is a disruption in the dream world. Like a burning, shrieking wind. The more time I spend there, the more it pains me.”

“Then stop going there!”

“Would you abandon your own duties over some aches and pains?”

“My duty is to keep you safe! Princess, could this be Nightmare Moon’s doing?”

“She is gone, Radish. Purged from existence.”

“But her stuff is still around. Her lairs and weapons are still out there. She had all kinds of secret plans, even against you. Could she have left some plan in motion?"

“Her magic leaves a recognizable signature. This is not one of her machinations.”

“What about Discord? He left traps behind for you, too.”

Luna motioned to her side table. There was an empty flask laying on its side.

“I had that suspicion myself,” she said. “I used the spores from Never Atoll to make an anti-chaos potion. It had no effect. This is not chaos magic at work, either.”

“Princess Luna, first there was that sun blackout, and now there’s this burning wind in the dream world. It’s like both night and day are under attack. As your Champion, I need to know what’s going on so I can protect you. What aren’t you telling me?”

She weakly placed a hoof on his arm.

“Radish, I appreciate how much you care. But some problems are not yours to solve.”

“Please?”

“Let us plan our next book club meeting. I would like to have a thorough discussion of the novel's ending."

“Princess…”

“Next Tuesday at seven will do.”

Radish sighed. “Okay. Just promise me you’ll still be around by then.”

“I promise.”

Spike entered, exactly one minute to the tick after Luna’s order. He was carrying a domed serving tray.

“Oh, hey, Radish.”

“Hi, Spike.”

Spike set the tray down on a table by the bed and hopped up on the stool next to it. He took off the cover, revealing a miniature trough made of fine crystal. It was filled to the brim with porridge.

“Spike, this is far too much,” said Luna.

“I just thought you might need some extra nutrition. You know… for your condition.”

“Spike, I am not pregnant!”


Radish entered the training gym to see Maple Bar slamming Rhum Runner into the gym mat.

“Ow,” said Rhum Runner.

“Three!” called the referee.

They walked to a bench along the wall to towel off.

“Hey, Root, wanna go next?" asked the organizer.

“Sure. Versus who?”

“Um… excuse me, Radish,” said a gentle voice behind him.

He turned and saw Fluttershy.

“Oh, Fluttershy! It’s nice to see you!

“Likewise.”

“How may I help you? Or… did you come to watch me fight?” Radish asked hopefully.

“I’m next. I’m your next opponent.”

Radish stared.

“Uh… are you sure?”

“Yes. You see, I recently went through some assertiveness training and they say if you don’t keep up your skills, you lose them, so I just thought that maybe wrestling royal guards in front of a crowd is a good way to, um, keep my teeth sharp.”

Radish stared.

“That is,” she said, hiding half her face under her hair, “unless you’re too chicken to fight me.”

She cracked a warm smile. Radish’s heart felt light.

“Okay. Let’s go.”

They squared off. Radish approached Fluttershy warily. He knew not to underestimate her. He knew her frailty was all surface-level, and she was hiding an enormous inner strength. He knew she had gone toe-to-toe with some of the world’s most dangerous creatures and come out on top.

Don't get distracted. But don't hurt her. But don't come off too gentle. But avoid her stare. And-

"If somepony wants to throw down, show 'em you're no clown!" barked Fluttershy.

"What?"

She sprang on him. She got her hooves around Radish’s shoulders and pushed him. He got his around hers and pushed back.

She tripped on her own hooves and fell backwards. Radish pinned her, and the referee gave a three-count.

“Oh, that was fast,” she said, lying on her back. Radish helped her up.

“Nice moves,” Radish said.

“No, they weren’t. But I had fun trying.”

“Well, you have good reach. If you keep low and use that reach, you might could win the next match. I could show some moves if you'd like.”

“I’m sorry, but we’re leaving Canterlot today.”

“Oh, I thought you’re all helping with the Halcyon thing.”

“Princess Celestia says she has a slew of experts working on it now, and she’ll contact us as we’re needed. We all have our lives to get back to in Ponyville, after all.”

“I see. Well, safe travels home."

“Thanks. And good luck wrestling everyone else.”

“Thanks.”

She started to trot away.

“Uh… Fluttershy?”

She stopped and looked back.

“Yes?”

“Would you…”

Fluttershy stared, waiting.

“I mean… do you…”

“What is it?”

“Would you… uh… tell Spike goodbye for me?”

“Oh, he’s staying to help Princess Luna. He’s convinced he knows more about her condition than the doctors.”

“Oh, okay. Thanks anyway.”

She smiled and nodded, then trotted off. Radish watched her leave out the door, then let out a breath. He turned to see Maple Bar, Rhum Runner, and Flash Sentry staring at him.

“Root, that looked painful,” said Rhum Runner. “Need a hug?”


Radish took a meal in the commissary. Shining Armor approached him.

“Captain?”

"Root, Halcyon wants to talk to you."

“Why?”

"Excuse me, Root?"

“I mean, yes sir.”

“Go meet him in the orrery, ASAP. And play nice.”

“Of course, sir.”

The royal orrery was a massive clockwork model of the solar system commissioned by Celestia centuries before Radish was born. It was housed in a large room in the palace’s Astronomy and Astrology Tower, which also contained various laboratories dedicated to each, as well as a planetarium open to tourists. The building was topped by the royal observatory. Radish entered the orrery room to find Halcyon gazing up at the device.

“Look at it all, Radish Root,” Halcyon said. “The heavens cast in iron.”

The orrery was actually made of brass and steel, but Radish didn’t feel a need to correct him.

“Yes, sir. It’s quite a mechanism.”

“But it is obsolete. Many new planets and moons have been discovered since its construction.”

“Well, that’s just how science works. Our knowledge of the world improves every day.”

“Perhaps I could work with Princess Celestia to update it.”

“Are you an astronomy enthusiast, sir?”

“I find stargazing fascinating. And you?”

Radish trotted around the room. Arrays of blue lights were embedded along the upper walls in the form of star constellations. He pointed to one.

“That’s Aquarius. The Water-bearer. To the Black Bluffs, it symbolizes the unbroken chain of life that stretches back into prehistory, and which will continue until its time comes to an end.”

“What does it symbolize to you?”

“An unbroken promise.”

“To Celestia?”

“No. To her, I swore an oath on my own honor.”

“Radish Root, do not think me a fool.”

“I don’t.”

“I know what your cutie marks are.”

“Then why’d you ask?”

“Why did you hide them?”

“To spare Celestia the humiliation.”

“If you wish to spare Celestia humiliation, you should leave this palace and never return. Flee to another land. Live and die in obscurity.”

“I can’t. That oath I swore on my honor? I said I’d do my best to protect her and Equestria. I can’t do that if I leave.”

“She would hardly begrudge you breaking that oath if it meant never being burdened by your presence again.”

“We’re friends.”

“You can’t really believe that. Perhaps she’s spared your feelings too long. Perhaps she’d prefer that I made the request. Begone from this palace, Radish Root. You are a disgrace to everyone here. You have no place within these walls.”

“Celestia pays me to be within these walls.”

“She hired you out of pity.”

“She hired me because she knew I’d be good at the job.”

“She merely felt sorry for your unfortunate life circumstances.”

Radish narrowed his eyes. “Yeah? You know, since you were so curious about those circumstances…

Radish raised his armor and showed Halcyon his cutie mark. Halcyon scowled. Radish grinned.

“Looks pretty happy, doesn’t she?” said Radish, cheerfully pointing to the tiny Celestia. “Sometimes I wonder what’s going through her head. Probably nothing as good as what’s going through her-”

Halcyon swung his hoof at Radish’s face.

Radish flinched.

Halcyon’s hoof slammed into a pink transparent shield which had appeared between the two of them. The blow made a room-filling bright red flash on impact. Both stallions took a step back, rubbing their eyes.

"Please be careful, sir," said Shining Armor, entering the room with his horn glowing, "you almost hit one of my guards."

"I would expect one of your guards to have better manners," growled Halcyon.

Shining powered down his horn and the shield. "And I would expect Celestia’s personal guest to behave, even when she’s not around.”

“I shall… endeavor to show more restraint in the future,” muttered Halcyon. He turned and stomped out of the orrery, slamming the door behind him.

Shining Armor sighed. “You call that playing nice, Root?”

“Forgive me, sir. I’ve never been told to live and die in obscurity before.”

“Just… get going. It’s almost lights out.”

“Yes, sir.”

Shining Armor started to walk away, then looked over his shoulder.

“And for the record, Root, you’re not a disgrace to anyone here. I don’t let disgraces work for me. And even if he becomes prince of this castle, he doesn’t decide how my guards live and die. That’s my call.”

“Oh… thank you, sir.”

Shining Armor walked out. Radish gazed up at the slowly-moving brass planets. He approached them.

“I don’t suppose any of you can tell me what it all means, can you?” he asked them.

The planets didn’t answer him.

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