• 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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39. The Suitor, Part 7: Never that Simple

“Well, that’s another win for Radish,” sighed Spats, adding up their bowling scores.

“Don’t feel bad, guys,” said Radish, leaning back in his chair and smiling. “Sometimes the pins just fall your way.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Bunker Buster. “Another game?”

“Not just yet,” said Radish, scanning the palace bowling alley. “You know I’ve never been in here before? I’ve never wanted to be around this many tourists at once. And I’ve always been afraid of kids seeing my flanks.”

Bunker Buster frowned. Spats put a hoof on Radish’s shoulder. “Sorry, Rad. It never occurred to us that something as basic as a bowling alley could be so hard for someone.”

“Not anymore! Hey, what’s in there?” asked Radish, pointing to a large room off to the side.

“The games room,” answered Spats.

“I think I’m gonna go check it out. You two- just keep practicing.”

The games room had numerous token-operated games machines, including air hockey, foosball, and billiards tables. Radish found Spike standing on a stool and playing a pinball game themed around a treasure-hunting pegasus. Spike’s ball slipped between the paddles, which were decorated like hissing snakes. He let out the worst swear he knew.

Melon farmer!

He turned to see if anyone had heard him.

“Oh, hi, Radish. Can you believe this thing? I think it’s rigged.”

“Wanna play some pool? My treat.”

“You bet.”

Radish dropped a token into the table, and it released the balls. Radish broke the rack and sank the seven, earning him solids. The two played back and forth.

“So, Radish. What’s it like being a guard?”

“Busy. Not a lot of privacy. But you make good friends.”

“What’s Shining like as a boss?”

“He’s a riot. This place wouldn’t be the same without him. What’s he like as a brother?”

“Competitive. Confident.”

“Yeah? Wait ‘til I face him at my sword final. I bet I’ll cut the frills off his doily.”

“Huh?”

Radish took his pool cue in one hoof and assumed a two-legged sword stance with it as his sword.

“My sword final! I’m finally gonna have a decent weapon around here!”

He thrust at the air in front of him.

“Wield it by hoof on two legs! By the mouth on four legs! Take it in your tail and swing! Parry, lock, thrust, hit!”

“Whoa.”

“The finals are open to the public, you know. You can come watch. Heck, invite the girls.”

“I dunno, they all just went back home to Ponyville.”

Radish sank the five ball. “They’ll love it! They can join the crowd in cheering for me and laughing at Shining Armor’s ineptitude!”

“You dream big, Rad.”

Radish sank the one. “Nah, dreaming big is for suckers. Live big, Spike. Don’t ever let anyone make you live small.”

“Are you okay, Rad?”

Radish sank the eight ball, winning the game. “Spike, I’m fantastic.”

“Um… excuse me?” said a soft, feminine voice.

A tall yellow earth mare had approached them. She wore an airy crop-top and had a dish of banana pudding for her cutie mark. She smiled excitedly. “I saw you bowling. You’re really good.”

Radish shrugged casually. “Well, sometimes the pins just fall your way.”

“I see you’re really good at pool, too.”

“Now, that I will take credit for. It takes a keen eye and steady hooves to make these shots.”

“Well,” she said, stepping closer and giving Radish a look up and down, “I think I’ve got a pretty keen eye. How about you show me those steady hooves?”

“What do you think, Spike? Mind letting the lady take a turn?”

Spike was already gone. He had scampered out of the games room and up to Spats and Bunker Buster.

“Guys! You’ve got to see this!”

The three of them peeked around the games room’s door frame and watched Radish playing pool with the girl. She was leaning far over the table. He was leaning over it next to her, giving her pointers about her next shot.

Shoofly walked up behind them. “Hey guys, what’s happening?”

“Shh!” said Spats. “Check it out.”

She peeked around the corner with the rest of them.

“Is that Radish? With a girl?”

Radish showed the girl how to bank the cue ball for a difficult shot.

“Wow!” the yellow mare said. “I’m guessing sports is your special talent?”

“Well, I’m a royal guard. A pool cue is basically a spear. Actually, it’s a lot more solid than our spears.”

“Ooh, a royal guard! Then, what’s your cutie mark?”

Radish leaned in and lowered his voice. “Sorry, viewings are reserved for serious offers only.”

The girl giggled. Shoofly leaned back and fanned her face.

“What?” Spats asked her. “Is that a good line?”

“Oh, yeah,” Shoofly said. “It’s got me intrigued about his cutie mark, and I’ve seen it.”

The yellow earth mare drew her face toward Radish’s. She whispered something in his ear. He whispered something back in hers. She turned away and blushed.

“Radish Root with confidence,” sighed Bunker Buster. “So much for the singles scene.”

The girl took her leave, rejoining a group of friends she came in with. Radish walked over to the group, feigning an innocent expression.

“Well, Rad?” asked Shoofly.

“Well, what?”

“Come on!” Spike said. “Don’t keep us in suspense!”

He smiled. “Her name is Bananas Foster. She lives uptown. And she’s coming to watch me in the wrestling tournament this afternoon.”

Spats punched his shoulder. “Nice, Rad! She can watch you win at a third thing today.”

“I told you the girls of this burg would throw themselves at you,” said Shoofly.

Radish leaned on his cue stick and sighed contentedly. “And it’s only been two hours.”


“Okay, the brackets are set,” said the guard tournament organizer, hanging a whiteboard on the gym wall. “It’s double-elimination. No time limits, twenty-second counts for ring-outs.”

Radish and several other ponies gathered around to see the brackets. Radish saw Halcyon’s name among the competitors- his first opponent would be Maple Bar.

Pfft. Maple Bar can take that guy.

He found his own name. He was up first, and his first opponent would be…

“Shining Armor?”

“Hey, looks like we’re the opening act, Root.”

Radish turned to see his captain in wrestling gear. The guards around him gasped, guffawed, or grit their teeth.

“Are you sure, sir? Variant Two rules might be a little… strenuous… for senior officers.”

Shining Armor snorted. “Well, I’ll try to at least provide as much of a challenge as Fluttershy.”

Radish smirked. “I’ll see you in the ring, sir.”

He entered the locker room and dressed for their bout. He went over strategies in his head.

Shining Armor was somewhat smaller than Radish. While Radish had the advantage of earth pony strength, Shining Armor would be without his main advantage- unicorns were prohibited from using their horns in a match, either to summon magic, or as a piercing weapon.

While some athletic competitions used magic-inhibiting horn rings to prohibit unicorn magic, such rings were so costly they were reserved for major sporting events, not amateur intramural competitions. Instead, Shining Armor would wear a pad enclosing his horn. It contained a potion-treated cloth layer which would emit a shriek and a flash if he tried to use his magic, immediately disqualifying him.

He wasn’t underestimating Shining Armor, though. Nopony became the captain by being a weakling. The guards had all heard rumors that Shining Armor beat a hydra into submission with his bare hooves his first year in the guard. This was one of the more tame rumors about his past.

Radish emerged from the locker room and took his place in the ring. There were a lot more ponies in the gym’s bleachers now- apparently word had spread, and a lot of the palace staff and tourists were interested in seeing the bouts. Bananas Foster was among them, sitting in the back row with her friends. She waved at Radish. He waved back.

The referee blew his whistle.

Radish and Shining Armor collided, jockeying for control. Radish twisted Shining’s shoulders down to the mat, but Shining surprised Radish by bursting out of his grip and seizing him from behind. He lifted Radish up and slammed him down on his back. Radish’s lungs emptied of air.

“Oof.”

Shining held him down. Radish tossed him off. The two stallions circled each other, analyzing each other’s motions. Shining swooped toward Radish, and Radish crouched low. Shining vaulted over Radish, seized his hind legs, and pulled them above his back, twisting them and pushing them down into a painful pretzel. Radish grit his teeth. He didn’t even know what this hold was called, but it was the worst position he’d ever been in.

Radish clawed forward, but that only increased the pressure on his legs. He tried to buck them out, but earth pony strength was useless when his limbs were tangled around each other. Shining Armor pressed harder.

Radish slammed his forehooves down and flung his full weight into Shining’s face. His body came crashing down on his captain’s. The two stallions tumbled over each other. Radish clambered to all fours. His hind legs were free, but were sore and slow to obey him.

Shining Armor tried to flank Radish and tackle him from the side. Radish dug into the mat and warded him off with a forehoof. Shining Armor seized the forehoof, bent it unnaturally, and twisted it behind Radish’s back.

Radish only knew of one way to regain control from this lock, and it would mean putting more joints through more pain.

Radish put his full strength into his aching legs and spun his body, flinging his foreleg out and hurling Shining Armor into the mat with a room-shaking slam. The crowd gasped. Shining Armor dizzily blinked his eyes.

Radish now had only one leg that wasn’t in searing pain. He dropped to pin Shining Armor with it. Shining Armor’s eyes narrowed. He sprang like a cobra, colliding with Radish mid-air.

The two landed in a grapple. Radish pressed on and forced Shining down. Shining gripped the floor and tried to dive at Radish’s rear knees.

Again with the legs. He’s trying to divide and conquer my limbs. But why do his moves seem… familiar…

Radish realized he had seen some of Shining’s moves in specialized hoof-to-hoof training.

He’s using anti-manticore moves against me! Radish felt a swell of pride. He must be really desperate. I’ve read that manual, too, captain. And I know moves that aren’t written down anywhere.

Radish backed out of Shining’s range. He took a position at the other end of the ring, pawed the ground, and charged. Shining Armor easily dodged him, just as Radish knew he would.

Shining leapt onto Radish’s back and clutched his face, just as Radish knew he would. Radish leapt, twisted mid-air, and slammed Shining Armor head-first into the floor, using their momentum to scrape his face across the mat. Shining grunted in muffled pain.

Radish flipped him onto his back to pin him with his one remaining good leg. His captain caught the leg and rolled, flopping Radish to the mat. He pressed his entire weight onto Radish’s shoulders, pinning him down.

The referee counted to three and blew his whistle. The crowd rose and cheered.

Shining Armor sloughed off of Radish. Both lay on their backs, breathing hard. Shining touched his face and winced.

“Sheesh, Root. Who taught you to grind someone’s face into the ground like that?”

“A Black Bluff named Stoney.”

“You used buffalo moves on me?” He snorted. “You know I had to go through the whole anti-manticore manual to beat you?”

“I noticed. What was that last flip?”

“An anti-chimera move.”

“Huh. I haven’t trained on that one yet.”

Shining stood and helped Radish to his feet. He held up a hoof. “Good match. I had fun.”

Radish shook it. “Me too, sir.”

The crowd chatter in the room changed, filling the gym with murmurs, whispers, and gasps. They turned, and Halcyon was standing in front of them.

“Radish Root, you competed well. But does this defeat mean we will not face each other?”

“It means Root has one elimination,” said Shining Armor. “That puts him in another bracket. Both of you will have to win a few matches before you can face each other.”

“Interesting arrangement. It gives a second chance after failure.”

“Yeah, but just one. And if you want a chance at Root, you’ll have to get past me first.”

“I look forward to it. Princess Celestia speaks highly of her captain’s skills.” He loomed over Shining Armor. “Please, do not feel you have to go easy on me just because I am her guest. We engage in practice combat in my homeland as well, and we do not wear soft pads to do it.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Radish rubbed his legs, watching Halcyon walk away. “I don’t suppose there’s a manual for fighting him, sir?”

“Life is never that simple, Root.”

Bananas Foster approached Radish.

“Hey, thanks for coming,” said Radish. “Sorry you had to come out here just to watch me lose.”

“Are you kidding? You were amazing out there!”

“Oh? Thanks.”

She stepped closer. “Hey, uh… are you allowed to leave the castle? Like, to have dinner in the city and stuff?”

“I am.”

“There’s this new restaurant downtown that everyone’s raving about. Would you-”

“Yes. Yes, I would.”

“Great! Meet me in Stirrup Park at seven?”

“I’ll be there.”

“Okay! Cool! See you there!”

She trotted off, smiling. Shining Armor cocked his eyebrows.

“Root? Did you just… make a date?”

“Aye, sir.”

“Huh.” He lowered his voice. “You know, you might want to stop by the Potions Bureau. They have free contraceptive elixirs for palace personnel.”

“Sir, it’s our first date. What kind of girl do you think she is?”


Radish stopped by the Potions Bureau.

The atrium was dark and the front desk was unattended. He peeked through a small window in the door to the main potions lab. The potions staff had taken off for the day, but the lights were still on in the Head Potionista’s office. He entered the lab and found the cabinet where the contraceptive potions were stocked. Radish put one in his bag, paused, then took two more. They clinked in his bag.

“Did you hear that?” whispered a male voice from inside the office.

“Shh!” shushed a female voice from inside.

Ooh, thought Radish, Potion Nova’s got a fella in her office after hours. Better get out before-

The office door swung open. There were five ponies inside.

“Sorry,” said Radish, backing up. “Didn’t mean to disturb your… get-together. I’m going now.”

“Wait!” called Potion Nova, skittering out of the office.

“Don’t!” admonished one of the others. It was Hallmark, the butler.

“Why? He’s perfect to bring in on this!” said Potion Nova.

Radish approached them. Aside from Potion Nova and Hallmark, Swift Sparrow, the postal pony, Onion Tartlet, the maid, and Morning Glory, the gardener, were inside. They all stared uneasily at Radish.

“Guys? This isn’t a party, is it?”

“No,” said Potion Nova. “This is more like a conspiracy. Welcome to it.”

“What’s going on?”

“We think there’s something funny about Halcyon,” said Onion Tartlet. “And I don’t mean his observational humor.”

“He’s just a foreigner,” said Radish with a shrug. “I’m sure he thinks we’re all weird, too.”

“See, I don’t think he is,” said Swift Sparrow. “We’ve had expeditions going to the Far Eastern Edgelands for decades. They’ve never encountered any locals.”

“He said his civilization fell. He’s one of the last of his kind.”

“It’s the oldest scam in the book,” said Morning Glory. “You pretend to be from someplace far away that no one knows about, so you can make up whatever you want about it. Conponies used to do it all the time for places like Zebrica, Mongoatlia, even Prance. Now that those places are better known, they have to go farther.”

“Celadon vouched for him. His expedition found him in the wastes.”

“Maybe Celadon is in on it,” said Onion Tartlet.

“Celadon’s got ten degrees and fifty years as a well-respected archeologist.”

“Consider Master Halcyon’s dialect,” said Hallmark. “Some of his pronunciations of vowels would suggest a west Fillydelphia upbringing. None of the archeologists from the expedition have such a dialect. He could not have picked it up from them.”

“Come on, you think he’s Fillydelphian? And Celestia doesn’t know the difference?”

“Radish,” started Potion Nova, “we think-”

“No. I’m done with this. If Celestia wants to shack up with some dude, that’s fine by me. You know what’s not fine? Clandestine meetings for plotting against the crowns. I won’t report this, but whatever problems you have with Halcyon, you’re better off forgetting them and moving on. I am.”

“Please, he could-”

Radish stormed out of the office. He grabbed two more contraceptive potions on the way out.


“Well, how do I look?” asked Radish, posing in front of the bunk’s bathroom mirror. He was wearing the clothes he bought for Twilight’s birthday.

“You look great,” said Spats. “What’s the game plan?”

“After dinner, I think we’ll go for a stroll along the riverwalk.”

“Classic. Well, we won’t wait up for you.”

“Hey, come on. It’s the first date. What kind of girl do you think she is?”


“This part of the city is lovely at night, isn’t it?” said Bananas Foster, walking down Canterlot’s riverwalk closely by Radish’s side.

“It must be great to live here,” said Radish, taking in the view of Uptown’s spires. The lights of the district were soft and warm.

“I was thinking it must be amazing to live in the palace.”

“Usually, it is,” sighed Radish. “But lately, it’s been feeling a little… much.”

“Come on, I want to show you something.”

She led Radish to a small stone bridge over a bend in the river.

“This is my favorite part of the river. It’s so dark and quiet. Most ponies would find it unnerving, but I think it’s peaceful.”

Radish looked around. The bridge was well-secluded, owing to thick and ancient magnolias surrounding this part of the riverwalk. They were in bloom, and their flowers were sweetly fragrant. The river here was slow and silent.

“You’re right. It’s really nice. Thanks for sharing it with me.”

She sidled up close to Radish.

“I’m really glad you came out here with me tonight.”

“Likewise.”

"I've been so lonely lately…”

“Me, too…”

“...ever since you got my boyfriend arrested."

“Boyfriend!?”

“Yes. The unicorn you punched out on the road to Canterlot.”

“The stickup pony!?”

“Mmm hmm. He wanted me to give you this.”

She pulled a dagger from her mane and thrust it at Radish’s heart.

Radish caught her hoof in his teeth and bit down, twisting the dagger from her grip. It clattered to the bridge’s stones and he kicked it away. She raised her other hoof to punch him in the face. He bit down harder. She cried out from the pain and buckled to the ground.

Radish spit out her hoof. She cradled it and started laughing.

“You don’t know the trouble you’re in, lieutenant!”

“You’re under arrest.”

She sprang from the ground and bucked him in the face with both rear legs. He skidded back. She made a leaping dive for the knife. Radish bit down onto her tail and yanked her back, flipping her over his head and slamming her into the bridge. She moaned and passed out.

He sighed. “So that’s what kind of girl you are.”

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