• 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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43. The Suitor, Part 11: A Grander Arena

Radish entered Potion Nova’s office. She was alone, eating instant noodles at her desk. She swallowed a mouthful.

“Lieutenant! Katydid said you went down to the archives, then came rushing out! What happened?”

“Well, the good news is that Halcyon isn’t Discord.”

“Really? What’s the bad news?”

“The bad news is that he’s… still bad news. He could be just as dangerous.”

“Do you want to gather The String for another meeting?”

“The String? That’s what you’re calling your conspiracy group?”

“Yeah. Cool name, huh?”

“Sure, cool. But don’t bother. This conspiracy is over. I’ll take things from here.”

“You have a plan?”

“Yeah, but it’s risky.”

“Then, do you have a Plan B?”

“The only Plan B is Celestia’s Plan A. And that’s riskier.”

“So, how can we help?”

“Actually, there’s a favor I need to ask of you. For a friend.”

Radish slipped behind Lieutenant Drift and seized her midsection. He lifted her up and pinned her to the floor.

“Three!” called the referee.

Drift groaned in pain and clutched her shoulder. Radish moved off her.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she said, standing up, “I’m still a little sore from fighting Halcyon.”

“That’s what Rhum Runner said. Everyone who fights Halcyon ends up sore, or sprained, or whiplashed…”

They sat down on a side bench together, looking over the tournament brackets.

“Look on the bright side,” she said, “you’re sailing to the top of the losers bracket on Halcyon’s battered leftovers.”

“That means I’ll have my chance at him soon.”

“Not before I do,” said Flash Sentry, trotting up in a wrestling singlet. “I’ve got him next.”

“Good luck.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I’ve been observing him during his fights. I can take him.”

“Yeah? You’ve got a strategy?”

“I’ve noticed he likes to keep his head low, and he tends to guard his right foreleg.”

“Because of his scars?”

“Probably. All I have to do is get his head to the floor, take his left side by surprise, then flip him on his back.”

“That’s all, huh?”

“I’m not saying it will be easy. But nothing worth doing ever is, right?”


“Go get ‘em, Sentry,” said Drift.

He nodded, then trotted to the ring. Drift leaned back, giggling.

“What?” asked Radish.

“Look,” she said, pointing at the other sides of the gym. A large number of guards and palace staff, mostly mares, were gathering in the bleachers to watch Flash’s fight with Halcyon. “The fan clubs are here.”

“Fan clubs?”

“Yeah. Flash is popular around the palace- it’s those big blue eyes and that easy-going smile. And a lot of staff have been drooling over Halcyon. Now everyone gets to watch them roll around on the floor together.”


Flash and Halcyon took their positions in the ring. The referee blew his whistle. Flash bolted forward.

Flash seized Halcyon’s sizable neck in a headlock. Halcyon tried to crush him into the mat, but Flash quickly repositioned and shoved his head down. He flipped around and shoved his weight into Halcyon’s left foreleg, knocking Halcyon onto his side.

Flash pounced and tried to push Halcyon onto his back. Halcyon seized Flash, but Flash slipped from his grip and shoved him anew.

Flash’s fans cheered. Halcyon’s fans booed. Halcyon scowled. Radish leaned forward, watching carefully.

Halcyon threw his weight up, knocking Flash off. Flash darted to his side and made a grab for his leg again. He missed it, grabbing air and falling on his stomach.

Halcyon slammed his entire body down onto Flash, knocking the breath out of his lungs. As Flash gasped for air, Halcyon rolled Flash onto his back and pinned him.

The referee counted to three and blew his whistle. Flash’s fans booed. Halcyon’s fans cheered. Radish frowned.

“Aww, that’s too bad,” said Drift.

“He got closer than anyone,” noted Radish.

“I meant, for his fans.”

“Well, that puts Flash in my bracket, so they’re going to be disappointed all over again when I beat him," said Radish.

Drift shrugged. “I bet they’re just going to change over to Team Shining Armor now. Cheer for him against Halcyon.”

Radish looked at her.

“What?” she asked.

“Their match… it’ll be quite an all-star exhibition, won’t it?”

“Sure. Why?”

“It gives me an idea.”

Radish caught sight of Flash, Shining Armor, and several ponies now gathering to watch the organizer change the brackets. He got up to join them.

“Hey. You did pretty good,” said Radish to Flash.

“I’m going to have to forfeit my fight with you. Halcyon really did a number on my withers.”

“Come on, Sentry, what about our rematch?”

“I can’t risk getting any more hurt right now. I’m trying to make Sky Patrol.”

“I’ll be gentle.”

“I know. Sorry.”

“Yeah. All right.”

Flash spoke to the organizer, who took his nameplate down. Shining Armor approached Radish.

“So that’s it, Root. You, me, and Halcyon are the final three competitors. And I’m fighting Halcyon next.”

Radish gazed around the gym. “You mean, in here?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“It’s just… I feel like a friendly match between the Captain of the Guard and an illustrious personal guest of Princess Celestia should have a grander arena than this dingy old training gym.”

“You think so?”

“I bet a ton of ponies are going to want to see it, including VIPs. It’s too bad you can’t have your fight at, say, the public ring in the sports quarter.”

Shining Armor put a hoof to his chin. “You know, Root, that’s not a bad idea. I haven’t competed in a packed stadium since my hoofball days.”


“Those were some good times. The roar of the crowd, the halftime shows… the cheerleaders…”

And no censorship spell in the sports quarter, thought Radish.

“That sounds exciting, sir. Perhaps we could invite some members of the press? They could get the whole thing on film.”

“I like the way you think, Root. I’m going to go talk to Princess Celestia.”

Radish watched him go.

Okay, maybe this will be easier than I thought.

Radish sat in the break room with a root beer. Barrel Roller walked past the door, and, seeing him, entered.

“Root, I wanted to let you know that we’ve checked out those locations you gave us for the Warmbloods. They’re legit. And the gang is having a big meeting at one of them soon.”

“If you’re making a move against them, I’d like to be a part of it, ma’am.”

“The captain gave you the rest of the week off.”

“Because they tried to kill me. I should be part of their downfall.”

“I don’t think so. It’s too personal for you. We’ll handle it.”


Shining Armor walked past the door and noticed them.

“Hey, Root, great news!”

“You’ve got the ring for your fight with Halcyon?”

“Even better- the throne room!”


“The throne room, captain?” asked Barrel Roller, skeptically.

“It was Halcyon’s idea. He said that in the glory days of his homeland, athletes would perform feats of strength in the great hall to entertain the royalty.”

“Is that so?” asked Radish.

“And since the throne room is due for a remodel soon, we’ve decided to give it a proper send-off. We’ll set up a ring and some seating so a select few VIPs can watch. You know, senators, dignitaries- even my parents are coming!”

“But the throne room is secured by the camera filter spell,” said Radish. “No one will be able to get photos of your fight.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s a shame. But Broadstrokes can make images of the highlights. Did you know he can magic up photorealistic paintings?”

“I, uh, think I’ve heard that.”

“What do you say, Barry?” he asked Barrel Roller, “You gonna watch?”

“Sir, I have actual work to do.”

“Oh, come on, it’ll take five minutes. It’ll be the most fun you ever had.”

“Sure, captain.”

Shining trotted out. Barrel Roller sighed. She walked to the door.

“Root, judging by your response to that, I have to assume it was the failed result of some ill-conceived attempt at a devious machination.”

“Ma’am, surely I don’t come across as one who goes in for devious machinations?”

“Just cut it out. No one’s as devious as they think they are.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

“But if you’d like to observe the operation to take down the Warmbloods, fine. Just hang back and keep an eye out.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

Radish had rarely been in the throne room. His Royal Guard Oath ceremony had taken place there, and his training took him through it a few times. It was looking vastly different now.

A large purple wrestling mat had been set up in the center of the floor. Both sides of the hall were now lined with elevated, tall-backed red velvet chairs which looked more at home in a dining hall than a sports arena.

These seats were now filling with guests. As Shining had said, most were VIPs- various statesponies and members of Canterlot’s upper crust. Radish knew a few of them by reputation.

Radish had been given a front-row seat by merit of being the only other remaining competitor in the tournament. He overheard a guest behind him ask her husband if there would also be a match in the throne room with “the other guy”. Her husband scoffed and said the other guy was nobody special.

Princess Celestia took her seat on her throne. Luna’s throne was empty.

“Oh, hello, Radish! Nice to see you again!” said a mare’s voice.

Radish looked and saw Twilight’s parents sitting down in the two seats to his left. They had T-shirts, caps, and pennants bearing Shining Armor’s face.

“Hello sir, ma’am.”

“Spike said you two had a fun day together yesterday,” said Night Light.

“Thanks for always being so great to our kids, Radish,” said Twilight Velvet.

“Oh, it’s nothing.”

“So, what odds do you give this Halcyon guy? How many rounds do you think he can go with our Shiny?” Night Light asked, boxing at the air in front of him.

“I, uh, think this may be a quick fight.”

“Radish,” said Twilight Velvet, lowering her voice, “how have you been? You know… there’s been all these rumors about Princess Celestia and Halcyon…”

“I just want what’s best for her.”

She put a hoof on his shoulder. “Oh, you’re such a dear. You know, the next time Twilight’s in town-”

The lights went out.

Exciting music blared. Spotlights crossed the floor and back. Shining Armor entered, cloaked in a shiny robe. He reached the center of the mat, tossed the hood back, and smiled at the crowd. The crowd cheered. He tossed his robe into the stands and took a fighting stance.

The music changed. Halcyon strode in plain-faced, with his eyes focused on Shining. He took his position, facing Shining Armor. The lights turned on again and the music stopped.

Twilight Velvet gasped. “Wait, that’s Halcyon? He’s the size of an icebox!”

“Lieutenant, this is just for funsies, right?” Night Light nervously asked Radish. “No one’s going to get hurt, right?”

“I, uh…”

The bell rang.

Shining rushed to Halcyon’s side and gripped his front right leg. Halcyon opted to grab Shining and crush him where he stood. Shining slipped from Halcyon’s grip and backed away. Halcyon calmly approached Shining.

Radish looked at Princess Celestia. She watched the fight with a worried expression. Radish looked back at the fight. Shining Armor was on Halcyon’s back. Halcyon bucked him off.

Shining recovered and dodged Halcyon’s charge. He seized Halcyon’s rear legs and pulled, then twisted them up. Radish felt a twinge of pain in his knees where Shining had done the same to him.

Halcyon broke out of Shining’s grip and flung himself at Shining. Shining got Halcyon’s scarred foreleg and tried to pull it. Halcyon swung the leg in a large circle and tossed Shining Armor into the air.

Shining landed on all fours. Halcyon leapt at him, aiming to grab him. Shining dodged, but found himself in Halcyon’s grip anyway. He crushed Shining into the mat, face-down.

Shining squirmed and struggled under Halcyon’s immense weight. Halcyon increased the pressure.

“What is he doing?” Night Light asked Radish.

“He’s, uh, aiming for a submission, not a pin,” said Radish. “He’s trying to get Shining Armor to tap out.”

“You mean, beg for mercy!?” asked Twilight Velvet.

Shining Armor kicked a leg free, but Halcyon grabbed it and twisted it over Shining’s back.

Shining Armor grit his teeth.

“It’s okay, son! You can do it!” called Night Light.

Shining Armor wriggled and squirmed jerkily. Halcyon dug his elbows into Shining’s sides.

Shining Armor screamed out in agony.

Radish couldn't believe it- he didn't know his captain could scream. The audience gasped. Night Light and Twilight Velvet held each other and looked away. Celestia winced. Halcyon pressed, twisted, and dug into Shining Armor harder.

Then, another noise joined the scream. The pad covering Shining Armor’s horn flashed and emitted a high-pitched howl. The referee blew his whistle. Whatever Halcyon just did to Shining Armor was enough to make him instinctively call upon his magic. Shining Armor had disqualified himself.

Halcyon stood up off of Shining Armor. Shining Armor remained on the floor. Twilight Velvet bolted from her chair to his side.

“Son! What’s wrong!?”

Shining Armor lay moaning, shaking, and clutching his sides. He tried to stand, then collapsed into a whimpering heap.

Night Light stood on his chair. “DOCTOR! WE NEED A DOCTOR!”

Princess Celestia leapt off her throne and landed next to Shining Armor. She threw her hooves over him and teleported away with him. The room went silent. Radish looked around. Halcyon was nowhere to be found.

Twilight Velvet ran to Radish. “Radish! Where did she take him?”

“Infirmary, most likely. I’ll show you the way.”

Radish sat in the infirmary’s waiting room, staring at the clock on the wall. Shining’s parents had gone in to see him some time ago. Radish hadn’t heard anything since they went in.

Night Light and Twilight Velvet came out of the infirmary door, holding each other. They saw Radish, and immediately hugged him.

“How is he?” asked Radish.

“He’ll be okay,” said Night Light.

“Radish, you’re not going to fight that Halcyon, are you?” asked Twilight Velvet.

“He just earned the privilege, ma’am.”

“You can’t! He’ll brutalize you!”

“Please, don’t worry about me.”

A nurse poked her head through the door. “Lieutenant Root? The captain would like to see you.”

“Go on, Radish,” said Night Light. “We need to find Spike.”

Radish found his captain resting alone in a private room. The curtains were drawn, dimming the light from outside.


“Sir. How are you?”

“Lock the door.”

Radish complied.


“I’m humiliated, Root. The second I felt insecure, I sparked up my horn.”

“Sir, I’m sure it was just an involuntary reflex. No one thinks you were trying to cheat.”

“You ever have a magic horn, Root?”

“No, sir…”

“We unicorns train our whole lives so that we don’t have involuntary reflexes. I used magic deliberately, in a moment of weakness, because I got scared. I’ve shamed myself and disgraced my office.”

“But Twilight accidentally casts spells all the time.”

“The Captain of the Guard should have better horn discipline than his librarian kid sister, Root!”

“I’m sorry, sir. How are you, physically?”

“Bruised ribs. I’m out of the tourney.”

“Is Halcyon?”

“No, he didn’t break any rules.”

“Sir, he sent half a dozen guards to the infirmary without breaking any rules.”

“I know. He’ll win the whole thing now.”

“Only if he beats me, sir.”

“I advise against fighting him, Root.”

“I have to. The reputation of the Guard is at stake, isn’t it? If word got out that a guest beat every guard at their own tourney…”

“That’s not important.”

“It is, sir. The more the public thinks that guards are pushovers, the more adversaries will come out of the woodwork. We’re not a joke, sir. We’re not easy pickings. Ponies need to be reminded of that.”

“Is that your only stake in this, Root? Or do you just want Celestia to see you beat Halcyon?”

“I do, sir. Because I want her to see your training and guidance reflected in my skills. I want her to know her guards are tough, and you made them that way.”

“Root… you’re not just blowing smoke up my chimney, are you?”

“Sir, even if I never felt a twinge of attraction to Princess Celestia, I’d still want to impress her. She’s my princess and my boss. And I’d still want to do you proud.”

Shining Armor looked Radish in the eyes. “That’s nice, Root. Go get ‘em.”

“Is there anything you want to tell me about him?”

“Don't let him bellyflop on you."

“Anything regarding his… nature?”

“His nature is that he’s a Personal Guest of Princess Celestia. That’s all you need to know.”

“What if I knew more than that?”

“Then that would be a serious breach of security protocol, wouldn’t it?”

“It would. Get well, sir.”

Radish stood alone in the orrery, staring up at the constellation of Aquarius. Halcyon walked into the room.

“Radish Root, a servant said you wished to speak with me.”

“Yes. I wanted to give you a chance to forfeit our match.”

“Why would I do such a thing?”

“A lot of competitors have been getting injured, and I’d hate to see Princess Celestia’s illustrious guest be harmed.”

“You fear for my safety?”

“I do.”

Halcyon leaned in and grinned. “We have empty boasts in my homeland, as well. I am not concerned.”

“Then, care to make it interesting?”

“Is it not, already?”

“Sorry, that’s slang for betting on the outcome.”

“What do you wish to bet?”

“If I win, you have to tell Princess Celestia the whole truth about yourself.”

“What truth do you believe I am hiding?”

“I don’t know. If I did, I’d tell her myself.”

“What if I have no such secret?”

“I’m risking my neck because I think you do.”

“And what if I win?”

“I’ll leave the palace, just like you wanted. I’ll live and die in obscurity.”

Halcyon narrowed his eyes. “What guarantee can I have that you will not renege?”

“The same thing that binds my oath to the Guard. I swear, upon my honor. Will you swear the same?”

“What if I have no honor to swear upon?”

“If you have no honor, then I’m doomed either way.”

Halcyon laughed. He leaned down to Radish.

“I accept your terms.”

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