• 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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44. The Suitor, Part 12: An Uphill Battle

Radish sat by the palace’s lake, staring at a flock of ducks floating by. He went over the past week in his mind. Celestia approached him with a worried expression.

“Lieutenant?”

“Ma’am?”

“Halcyon has requested use of the throne room again for the final match. I wanted to ask if you still intend to participate.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m looking forward to it. And I’m honored to be considered worthy of such an arena.”

She looked down to the ground. “Radish, you saw what happened to Shining Armor.”

“I did. It was very kind of you to convey him to the infirmary. If the situation requires it, I hope you’ll be so kind as to convey Halcyon there, as well.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps I should just cancel this whole thing. Then we can all stay out of the infirmary.”

“Halcyon might be disappointed at that, ma’am. I think he’s hoping to impress you by winning the tournament.”

“I know. But what are you hoping to accomplish?”

“It’s just a friendly match, princess.”

“Oh, is it, now?”

“Of course, ma’am. It’s not like the fate of Equestria is at stake.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “No. Of course not.”

“But I promise you, I’ll fight as if it was.”

“Thank you, lieutenant. That’s good to know.”


Radish changed into his wrestling gear in his bunk room as his bunkmates watched.

“Hey, good luck out there,” Spats said. “We’re all coming to cheer you on.”

“Thanks.”

“But you know,” said Bunker Buster, “no one’s going to blame you if you need to tap out. There’s no shame in second place. No need to risk your neck over a pizza coupon.”

Radish sighed. “This is for a lot more than that.”

“What, you bet on yourself?”

“Yeah. I’ve got a lot riding on this.”

“Do you have a strategy, then?”

Radish looked at his bunkmates. He sighed. “I do, but it’s going to be an uphill battle.”

“Hey, this is Canterlot,” said Spats. “Everything we do is uphill.”


Radish pushed open the throne room’s huge double doors. There was no music or spotlights to highlight his entrance. The mat and seats were still set up, but the only VIPs in attendance were the senior officers, department heads, and Celestia on her throne. The rest of the stands were full of guards and staff. His bunkmates cheered for him. Spike sat in the front row, eating popcorn. He waved at Radish.

Radish stepped onto the mat. He looked at the senior officers in the back row. Shining Armor, now wearing bandages across his chest, gave Radish a nod.

Halcyon pushed through the doors. The cheers for him were more subdued. He headed straight for his spot facing Radish. The two stallions stared each other in the eyes.

“Radish Root, I have been looking forward to this.”

“So have I. May the best stallion win.”

They each took a deep breath.

Okay, thought Radish, Flash’s strategy was to rush his unguarded side. Shining Armor’s strategy was to wear down his legs. They both lacked the muscle power to make their plans succeed. But I don’t. I can work on his limbs, then get him down and over.

But Halcyon will be wise to strategies he’s seen before. I have to distract him so he doesn't realize what I’m doing.

Radish looked at Celestia on her throne. She watched carefully.

Luckily, he showed me he has a temper. Exploiting that is the first step on the uphill battle.

Radish locked eyes with Celestia. He gave her a pleasant smile and a bow. She gave him a worried nod back. Halcyon watched this and scowled.

Radish crouched. Halcyon did not. The bell rang.

Halcyon sped toward Radish. Radish dodged. Halcyon grasped for Radish. Radish dodged.

Radish grabbed Halcyon’s right foreleg and folded it, shoving it upward. Halcyon tried to crush Radish, just as he did Shining Armor.

Radish rolled under Halcyon, forcing him to fall to his side. Radish threw himself onto Halcyon’s shoulders. Halcyon caught Radish and threw him straight across the room. The audience gasped.

Radish splat against a wall. The referee blew his whistle. A ring-out wasn’t a defeat, but Radish would have twenty seconds to return to the ring. Radish walked calmly back.

Radish and Halcyon faced off again. Halcyon lunged, and Radish dodged and shoved. Halcyon stood his ground, tearing rips into the mat. The two stallions grappled. Radish focused his earth pony strength, commanding himself to push harder. Halcyon started to lose ground. The audience cheered.

Halcyon roared. He picked up Radish and slammed him into the mat at full force. The audience jumped in their seats.

Halcyon stood over Radish, grinning maliciously. He put a hoof on one of Radish’s shoulders and pressed it down into the mat. Radish grunted.

Radish seized the hoof, rolled himself free, and attempted to twist it behind Halcyon’s back. Halcyon growled and flung his arm out, slinging Radish into the mat. He bounced and skidded like a rock on a lake, then slid to a stop.

Radish heard a whistle blow and felt a breeze. He climbed to his feet, and saw that the force of his landing had scraped his singlet halfway off his body. The bare spots where his cutie marks used to be were now exposed.

There was a muttering through the crowd. Princess Celestia looked aside, frowning.

Radish put his singlet back on, then approached the center of the ring.

“You sheared her from your body?” growled Halcyon in a low voice.

“That’s right,” said Radish with a shrug. “And boy, she nearly clogged the sink.”

Halcyon seethed. The referee blew his whistle again, and the two stallions collided.

Halcyon grabbed Radish by the haunches and slammed him into the mat, then picked him up and slammed him down again. Radish heard a loud shattering noise, and he wasn’t sure if it came from inside him or from the marble floor under the mat. The audience collectively moaned in sympathy.

“Radish!” called a worried voice behind him. He turned to see Spike nervously clutching his own tail. “Please, stay down! Throw in the towel!”

Radish smiled at him, and climbed to his feet.

Halcyon leapt into the air. Radish hopped back. Somehow Radish misjudged Halcyon’s leap, and Halcyon landed directly onto him with a crunch.

Radish fought to keep Halcyon from pinning him, while focusing his senses on his opponent. Halcyon was breathing hard- harder than he should be. The breathing seemed off. Wrong. As if it was coming from another creature, with a different chest and throat.

He focused more. Halcyon was heavy, all right- but heavy in the wrong places. His weight was distributed differently than it appeared like it should be- he was more front-heavy than he looked.

Radish tipped Halcyon tail-over-head, sending him on his back. Radish pounced to pin him.

Radish missed Halcyon’s body, landing on empty mat.

Halcyon knocked Radish onto his back and kneeled his front elbows on Radish’s abdomen. Radish squirmed. Halcyon folded Radish’s four legs in unnatural shapes and pressed down on them. Radish hissed. He was feeling pain in nerves he didn't know he had. Spittle bubbled up from his throat.

The two stallions stared into each others’ eyes. Halcyon was in a position to pin Radish and win, yet he wasn’t trying to. He was going for a submission, just like with Shining Armor.

Radish had no intention of submitting, yet he was in too much pain to think of a plan. His joints were on fire, and the limbs they held together were going numb. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t even squirm now. His body shuddered involuntarily, begging him to surrender.

“Enough!” called out a clear authoritative voice. All eyes in the room looked. Celestia was standing off her throne with a horrified expression. “This is a massacre! You’ve toyed with him long enough! Just pin him and be done with it!”

All eyes turned back to Halcyon, who looked appalled.

“Yes, ma’am!” yelled Radish.

The audience burst into laughter. Spike guffawed. Shining Armor smiled, and Saguaro Shade chuckled and nudged Barrel Roller, who hid her mouth behind her hooves. Celestia sputtered a bit, then started laughing as well.

Radish dropped his head back and laughed. Halcyon fumed. His eyes grew wide with rage.

Then, his eyes grew larger than possible. His cheeks distorted, and the rest of his body seemed to be melting away like wax.

The rest of the room seemed to be melting away with him. Radish thought he must have hit his head too many times, but he could hear the rest of the ponies in the room gasping and crying out in fear. Halcyon dropped back on his rump and started wheezing.

Radish sat up. Everything in the room was spinning. He looked down at his hooves, and saw that they were the wrong hooves. His body was gold and white, like Halcyon’s. He gazed across the crowd. Everyone, even Celestia, now looked like Halcyon, but distorted as if seen in funhouse mirrors.

Halcyon fell over to his side and convulsed. Radish’s heart sank into his gut. He ran to Halcyon’s side. “Halcyon! What’s wrong!?”

Halcyon coughed up foamy blood between wheezes.

“Medic!” howled Radish.

He heard a thud on the mat next to him. Celestia had landed beside them. She spread her wings and enveloped Radish and Halcyon. Then Radish heard a blast of thunder and felt every point in his body get burning hot and freezing cold. A different surface placed itself under his feet. Celestia had teleported them.

Celestia unmantled her wings from them and held Halcyon aloft in her aura. He was unconscious, and the color of his coat was growing darker. Radish stepped back and looked around. They were in the infirmary.

“Doctors! Medical emergency!” Celestia howled. Ponies approached with a gurney, and Celestia lowered him into it.

“Wait out here, Radish,” she said. She followed the doctors as they wheeled him through swinging double doors. Radish watched them go, stupefied.


Radish paced the infirmary waiting room. Celestia entered with an exhausted expression on her face.

“Radish, please follow me.”

Radish followed her into the infirmary proper. She led him down the hallways to the intensive care unit.

“How is he? What happened?”

“He is stable, but… very different. As for what happened, I think it best we both find out together.”

They reached a door with Halcyon’s name scrawled on a whiteboard to the side. Celestia opened it. There was a large orange bull in the bed. His horns had been cut down to stumps. He looked pale and tired.

“Ma’am? Who is this?”

“Yes,” she said, approaching the bed. “Who are you?”

He looked at Radish and Celestia, and sighed. “I said my name was Halcyon when I got here. That was a lie. My name is Harold. I’m not from the Far Eastern Edgelands. I’m not a survivor from some ancient precursor race. I'm just a bull from Fillydelphia.”

“How? How is that possible?” asked Radish.

“It is a very long story. One I’ve been eager to tell. Please, reserve judgment until you’ve heard it all.”

Celestia furrowed her brows. Radish leaned forward in interest.

“Princess Celestia,” Harold said, “it all started the first time I laid eyes on you. I was just a boy when you held the Summer Sun Celebration in Fillydelphia. I couldn’t hope to get close to you through all the crowds, so I watched you from my fire escape through my little amateur telescope. It was good enough to see you.

“I had always heard that you raise the sun, but seeing you do it was something else entirely. It was astonishing. I couldn’t help but fall in love with you, then and there.”

Celestia frowned.

“And as you left town, a deep sense of panic hit me- I may never see you again. I may never get to be that near to you, ever again. I was heartbroken, and there was nothing I could do.

“I grew up, turning from an amateur astronomer to a professional one. I thought working with the sun, moon, and stars could keep me connected to you, in some small way. Then, it hit me- if I could just make a new discovery in the heavens- something really special, maybe it would be enough to impress you. Maybe you’d want to meet me. Maybe you’d even fall for me.”

Radish and Celestia traded unhappy glances.

“I scanned the skies every night, fixated on making that discovery. I could feel excitement growing inside me! I knew I was close! I knew my time was coming soon!

“But it was all taken from me. The observatory where I worked was attacked by a group of fanatics. They believed in a very old legend about magic lenses that could drain away the power of the sun. They thought that’s what we were trying to do. With a few destructive spells, they collapsed the observatory, with us inside."

“I remember that,” said Celestia. “It shocked and appalled Canterlot. They were brought to justice, at least.”

“I was hurt in the attack, hospitalized for days. All I could think of was that absurd belief that ruined my life. But then I realized it might not be so absurd. The sun’s power might be attainable, after all.

“Astronomers have long known about certain energies the sun puts out- stellar radiation. It normally has no effect on us. But just as there are potions that can harden a creature against radiation, so too can those potions be reversed, to make one absorb it. And the right apparatus can concentrate sunlight to flood a chamber with a creature inside it.”

“What on earth for?” Celestia asked.

“I wanted to fill my body with the power of the sun. To become a creature of the sun, just like you. To turn myself into a companion worthy of you.”

“The chances of such an experiment succeeding were minuscule. The chances of it killing you were almost certain."

“Yes, I know. I didn’t even care if I lived or died anymore. I would be with you, or be nothing at all.

“I built my apparatus in the remains of the observatory. And on the eve of a certain Summer Sun Celebration, I took the absorption potion, stood in the sunbathing chamber, and waited for you to raise the sun on me.”

“You don’t mean-” Celestia said.

“Yes, the morning of Nightmare Moon’s return. I waited for the sun. It didn’t rise. I waited longer. I had been up all night and the night before in eager preparation, and soon I succumbed to exhaustion and passed out in the dark.”

He lay back in the bed, staring at the ceiling.

“In that dark, I dreamt of you. Of us, together. I had a rude awakening.

“As both the sun and the princess were missing, anything that seemed out of place was immediately suspected as the culprit. The fanatics’ claim that the observatory could steal the power of the sun was still fresh in everyone’s minds, and the possibility of eternal night had many more starting to believe it.

“Locals reported seeing me working in the abandoned observatory. The police broke in, tore me from the chamber, and accused me of having something to do with your disappearance. Me, of all creatures!

“Instead of being exalted by your sunrise, I was brutally interrogated in your name. As I sat in a cell beaten and bruised, the sun finally rose, long after the potion had worn off. I was released with no apology.

“I wandered without purpose. But as the days stretched on, changes took place. In those hours you were held captive by Nightmare Moon, I had been bathed in concentrated moonlight. It did something to me. I had been empowered as I wanted, not by the day, but by the night.

“I gained a loose connection to the dream realm. It manifested in a power over daydreams- altering the perceptions of those around me, as if they were daydreaming what I wanted them to see. It started off small- making ponies see the wrong time on a clock, or mistake the color of a flower. After enough practice, I found I could change how I appear. That’s when I developed a new plan to get into your graces. To become your suitor at last.

“I cloaked myself in a form invoking raw, primitive mystique- perfect for catching the eyes of elite, prim-and-proper ladies who had seen far too many frilled collars in their lifetime. I gave myself a new name. I sent an unassuming fan letter to the Edgelands archeological expedition so I could follow their messenger badger all the way to their outpost. And I convinced them that I was a wanderer from a lost civilization.”

“You interrupted an important expedition with these… falsehoods!?” Celestia growled.

“Yes. If it’s any consolation, a beast really did wound me. I would have died out on the moors without the expedition’s care.”

“You call that consolation!? I don’t want any of my subjects to be harmed, even if they’re...” She made a disgusted noise in her throat. “Continue.”

“The expedition, however, was more interested in seeing my fictive lost civilization than taking me to you. I used my powers to expand the lie- to make it look like I could control all of nature. Finally, they believed I was worthy of the attention of a princess. Celadon brought me here, and I treated you to that lie, as well.”

“But the entire world saw the sun go out!” said Celestia. “You have that much power?”

“No, your highness. I only made the few present in the throne room daydream that the sun vanished. You did the rest.”

“I see,” said Celestia. “At first, I thought you had lowered the sun, so I tried to raise it. When that didn’t work, I assumed you pushed it deeper into space, so I tried to lower it…”

“But if it was an illusion on just the few in the throne room…” realized Radish.

“Yes,” said Celestia. “I had actually pushed it twice as far away, dimming the sky, then I pulled it closer, restoring the daylight. What a fool I was.”

Harold sighed. “It was a desperate gamble, the kind of trick that wouldn’t work again. But it didn’t need to.”

“Then what was your plan?” demanded Celestia. “Court me, seduce me under a false identity, and then leave, having gotten everything you ever wanted?”

“No, I was hoping to stay with you for the rest of my life.”

Celestia seethed with rage, but when she saw Radish looking sadly down to the floor, she realized what Harold meant.

“You’re… not going to live much longer, are you?”

“The experiment had its downsides, too. I need a constant supply of anti-radiation potions to keep stable. But it’s borrowed time- they’ve been wearing off faster and faster. I doubt I’ll live another month, even with the best care… which I don’t expect to have.”

“If you were sick, why did you want to fight me!?” demanded Radish.

He looked at Radish. “Because despite all my efforts to remake myself into a worthy companion for Celestia, I still could not compete with the stallion who bears her image on his body. Palace staff would whisper about how you, not I, were Celestia’s true destiny. I had to prove myself your better to put those whispers to rest.”

“You burned out your body, cut your life short, schemed and lied for months, and for what?” asked Celestia, exasperatedly. “All because you wanted to bed me?”

“That was my goal… up until the moment I finally met you face-to-face. When I stood before you, looked into your eyes, and heard your voice… I realized I could not lie my way into your bed. I settled for lying my way into your company. I would get to spend my last days at your side.

“And that was enough. It’s been bliss. Getting to talk to you. Getting to share meals with you. Strolling the hedge maze, sharing a rowboat, and touring the palace. Even if these would be the last things I ever do, they’d be more than most creatures could hope for in a lifetime.

“I know you’ve been faking enjoying my company. You pretended to be interested in me, because you were afraid of the power I pretended to have. You were only worried about what I could do to the sun, weren’t you?”

She furrowed her brow. “Yes. I’ve spent the week in fear of you.”

“I am sorry. I rode into the palace on a wave of lies that I could no longer control. I never meant to worry you.”

“Worry me!? What about what you’ve done to Luna!?”

“I have done nothing to her!”

“She’s been suffering because of a disruption to the dream realm! It’s clear to me now that your dream-based powers are what’s been causing it!”

“I… I didn’t know.” He rolled over onto his side, away from her. “I will leave the palace. That will spare her more suffering.”

“You are not going anywhere. Lieutenant Root, Hal… Harold is under arrest. Fetch cuffs and secure him to his bed.”

“May I take a moment with him, ma’am?”

“Why?” Harold asked.

“Yes, Radish, why?”

“Because he’s me, ma’am. He’s me if you never talked to my parents. He’s me with a couple more bad days in my life. Princess, I could have easily ended up where he is now.”

Celestia’s face softened. “Take your moment. I will inform the senior officers of this revelation.”

She walked to the door.

“Princess Celestia,” said Harold. “I am sorry. About everything.”

She looked into his eyes for a moment, then turned and opened the door.

“Wait!” pleaded Harold. “Please, I must know- at any point, were any of your smiles genuine? Were any of your laughs at any of my jokes real? Was there ever a moment when you truly enjoyed my company?”

Celestia scowled at him.

“Yes. Happy?”

“Yes. Finally.”

“Oh, and entering the tournament under a false identity disqualifies you, Harold. That would make you the winner, Radish. Congrats.”

Celestia walked out.

“Lucky me,” sighed Radish.

“You also won the bet, but I’ve already told her everything.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m sorry,” said Harold.

“Me, too,” said Radish.

“Did you mean what you said, about how we’re the same?”

“It’s true. Growing up, I would have done anything to impress Celestia. I’ll have to admit, your approach was much more creative. I never would have thought to mutate myself with radiation. I just lifted weights and hoped for the best.”

Harold sighed. “I never had trouble putting on muscle. Us bulls have to be extra careful all the time, so we don’t break the things- and creatures- around us.”

He rolled over on his side. “But I did, anyway, didn’t I? But I’ve really upset her, haven’t I?”

“Yes, because she cares about all of us. She hates that one of her subjects would hurt themselves on her account. And I think she would have really loved a real Halcyon.”

“But not a real Harold. I’m an actual, honest-to-goodness villain, aren’t I? The kind she’s been fighting all her life. I came here faking my identity, feeding everyone lies, wasting her time and resources. I beat up her guards, hospitalized her captain, and made a fool out of her.”

“Maybe you can make up for it.”

“You know, I actually did draft up plans for updates to the orrery. It was meant to be a gift to her.”

“I can talk to the tower staff, see if they can work on it with you for… for…”

“The rest of my life? The few weeks of it?”

“Yeah.”

“It would be nice to leave something meaningful behind. In the royal palace, no less.”

“But could you do it as Harold, and not tell anyone about Halcyon? I don’t want the world learning that Celestia was fooled.”

“Neither do I.”

“Thanks.”

“I am sorry that I have been hounding you all week. I assumed you were my rival for her affection. Everyone who knows about Radish Root assumes he and Princess Celestia will end up together someday.”

“She’s been clear about it. We won’t.”

“How do you do it, Radish? How do you stay sane? You’re close to her every day. You have her on you.”

“I don’t know. Maybe I will end up like you someday, anyhow.”

“I don’t think so. You’ve got a whole palace of ponies who care for you. I never had anyone who cared about me.”

“You have one now.”

“Thank you.”

“So, uh… you used your illusion powers during the fights?”

“Yes.”

“What about your photo?”

“Ah, by making myself look wrong through the camera, I made the photographer mis-adjust his settings.”

“And you spooked that reporter with fake birds?”

“Yes. Black-winged swallows would nest in the ruins of my observatory. They were my only companions for a long time.”

“Did you fake your bowling score, too?”

“Hmm? Oh, no. I bowl like that all the time.”

“Huh.”


Shining Armor leaned back in his desk chair and regarded Radish with half-lidded eyes.

“Root, I’m classifying everything regarding Halcyon, a.k.a. Harold. Only you, the princesses, the senior officers, and some doctors know he was a phony. You are not to breathe a word about it to anyone else- not even Twilight, Spike, their friends, or any guards or palace staff. And definitely not tourists.”

“But the stands were full. A lot of ponies experienced his illusion powers going out-of-control.”

“We are letting the world know that ‘Halcyon’ had unique, undisclosed powers, which he accidentally used during his match.”

“Disqualifying him, huh?”

“That’s right. Making this yours.”

Shining Armor floated a gift certificate to a nearby pizza parlor into Radish’s hooves.

“Congrats. Try their garlic sticks.”

“Thank you, sir. I hope I did the Guard, and you, proud.”

“Well, you let a sick guest beat the stuffing out of you until he collapsed from a medical emergency.”

“Yeah.”

“But when he collapsed, you immediately rushed to help him. That’s what the public wants to see from the Guard. That's what I want to see in a guard.”

“Thank you, sir.”

"And that's what sweet girls like Fluttershy like to see from a stallion."

Radish’s eyes went wide. "That's... good to know. Uh, what do I say if someone asks where Halcyon went?”

“His medical condition required him to return to his homeland. But he’s taking with him all he’s learned about friendship. Maybe someday, we’ll see him again.”

“I see. At least there isn’t really a lost civilization that needs saving.”

“Right. The only civilization you need to worry about is your own. And on that token, should we postpone your sword finals? You got thrashed pretty bad.”

“No, sir. Someday I may need to wield my sword even after a bad thrashing.”

Shining Armor raised an eyebrow.

“Oh!” said Radish, “But if you need to postpone it, because of your bruised ribs, I’d understand.”

Shining Armor leaned forward and grinned. “Root, that’s just the kind of bravado I’m looking for in a swordstallion. And the kind of cockiness I love to slap out of them during finals.”

“Yes, sir.”

“See you in the gym tomorrow. Six hundred hours.”

“Oh, that early?”

“Princess Luna wanted to watch.”

“She’s better?”

“Ever since Hal… Harold collapsed, his powers shut off. He’s no longer affecting the dream realm.”

“I’m relieved she’ll be all right.”

“Princess Celestia, however, doesn’t get to just suddenly feel better. She’ll need her friends for that.”

“Oh, AG1, you mean?”

“Root, I’m talking about you.”

“Sir, I was an obsessed suitor just like Harold. She needs to see less of me for a while.”

“She doesn’t see it that way. She’s coming to your sword final tomorrow, too. And you had better do her proud.”

“Aye, sir.”

“And speaking of her, cutie mark shaving is a violation of the dress code. Do it again, and I’ll come down on you and all your bunkmates for all their little grooming violations, too.”

“Yes, sir.”

“That’s all the official business. But before you go, Root- and this is just a personal, stallion-to-stallion thing... growing up, did you ever picture yourself proposing to Celestia?"

"Oh, uh... all the time."

"How did you imagine doing it?"

“Well, I would… wait. Does this mean you’re thinking about proposing to Princess Mi Amore Cadenza?”

Shining Armor opened his drawer and pulled out a ring box. He showed Radish the ring inside. Radish knew just enough about jewelry to be stunned.

“Yeah, but that’s top-secret, too. Don’t even tell Twilight.”

“No, sir.”

“So, how does a stallion propose to a princess?"

“I’d take her to the cliff on the far side of Horseshoe lake, overlooking the flamingo feeding grounds. They take off as a flock to return to their roost each day at sunset. As the sun goes down, she’d watch a thousand brightly colored birds soar over our heads, then look back at me to see that I’m holding up a ring. I’d tell her she means everything to me, and that I’d like to spend the rest of my life with her.”

“Sheesh, Root, how long have you been holding onto that?”

“Many years, sir. But not anymore. You can use it, if you like.”

“Why don't you hold onto that? I was thinking something indoors."

"All right sir."

"Now, Root... are you going to be okay with me marrying Cadance?"

"Uh, why wouldn't I be?"

"I figured you might have a problem with a guard marrying a princess."

"Oh, I see. But Mi Amore Cadenza has her own, separate guard service, right? She can marry any of her aunts' guards that she wants."

"That's right. I'm glad you understand."

"Why, she could marry me, if she was so inclined."

"...that's... that's technically true, Root..."

"Does she like gardenias? I’ve got a nice crop growing in my garden."

Shining Armor stared at Radish. Radish stared back.

"Dismissed, Root."


Radish left Shining’s office and made his way through the administration halls. Grenadine Splash came out of a side office, staring at a piece of paper she held in her wings.

“Lieutenant, I’m glad I found you.”

“Hello, Miss Splash. What can I help you with?”

“Something funny happened. I was called into the planning office and given this memo. The Potion Bureau has recommended refurbishing the old alchemy building into, and I quote, ‘a large-scale production facility for distillation of botanicals into ethanol-based disinfectants, astringents, palliatives, elixirs, cordials, and aperitifs, overseen by a practiced mixologist, with the surplus of materials to be concocted at said mixologist’s discretion’. And that mixologist is me.”

“Congratulations.”

“It’s basically saying I can have my distillery. And I can make whatever I want as long as I send some base ingredients to the Potion Bureau and their adjuncts every once in a while.”

“That’s great. That could be a big help for Potion Nova and Zecora.”

“You did this for me, didn’t you?”

“I just talked to a friend.”

“Thank you so much!”

She hugged him. He hugged back, and let go as she pulled away.

“Now, remember,” said Radish, “you promised to share the first bottle off the line with me."

"Are you kidding? You can have a lifetime supply!"

"Really?"

"Really. Come by when it's all set up."

"Thank you."

“Have a nice day, lieutenant.”

“Have a nice day, Royal Distiller.”


Radish and Shining armor stood facing each other, swords at the ready. Luna sat down next to Celestia in the bleachers.

“Luna, dear. How are you feeling?”

“Better, now. My head is clear and my strength has returned.”

“Good.”

“Sister, may we speak of Hal… of Harold after this?”

“Yes, but not soon. I’m still sorting my feelings on the matter.”

“I understand.”

They watched Radish advance on Shining Armor, probing his defenses.

“So, what say you, sister- shall we make this interesting?” Luna asked. “I’d wager my Champion beats yours.”

“You don’t have to make it weird, Luna. Radish is fighting to demonstrate his skills to his captain, not to defeat him.”

“Very well, I bet you one bit that Radish scores his first point within the next ten seconds.”

“I think you overestimate-”

“Point!” called the referee.

The audience went wild. Luna looked at her sister, smugly. Celestia looked at her captain, annoyed.


Radish trotted out into the rear of the palace’s commons and gazed out at the lake. It was peaceful, with a few swans lazily floating at its edges. He heard the sounds of rummaging through the cattails. He approached and saw a pink tail and yellow haunches sticking out of the vegetation.

“Fluttershy?”

Fluttershy poked her head out of the grasses. “Oh, Radish. Good timing! Do you have a knife I can borrow? This bird is caught on a string, and I need to cut her loose.”

Radish looked into the cattails, and there was indeed a female Red-winged Blackbird with a string wrapped around her leg. The rest of the string was tangled in the reeds.

Radish took his sword from its scabbard. He cut the string with a quick flick, and the bird flew free and landed on Fluttershy’s head.

“Oh, thank you, Radish! Is that new?”

“Just earned it,” he said, showing her the blade.

“Congrats! Oh, so your first act with it was saving this bird?”

“Guards are here to help.”

“That’s really nice.” She looked up at the bird. “There, there. Let’s get you home.”

She took the bird to a nest in a bush by the lake shore. Radish sheathed his sword and pulled out the rest of the string. It was attached to an official palace yo-yo, purchasable from the gift shop for three bits. Radish put it in a nearby trash can.

“Sorry about the litter. You know tourist kids and their toys.”

She hummed as she helped the bird get settled in.

“Say, uh, Fluttershy…”

She turned to him.

“Hmm?”

“Would you like to go on a date with me this Friday?”

She looked surprised, then saddened, then apologetic.

“Oh, Radish... I’m sorry. I don’t-”

“Never mind. Forget I asked.”

She walked close to Radish. “No, I can’t forget you asked. Because it took you a lot of courage to ask, didn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“And I can never forget when my friends show courage, because that always gives me courage.”

“Thanks.”

“I’m flattered, I really am. But I just don’t see you in that way.”

“I understand.”

“You’ll still be my friend?”

“Always.”

She hugged him. He hugged back.

"Does this mean you’re giving up on Celestia?" she asked.

"No. It means I'm letting go of her."


Radish took a deep breath and walked through the door of the palace’s mental health clinic. He walked up to the registration desk.

“Hi, can I make an appointment with a therapist? I’m a new patient.”

“Sure,” said the clerk. “Fill these out.”

She passed him a clipboard with forms. He took it and sat down. He filled out his personal information, and reached a question about why he was making an appointment. He chewed the pen in his mouth over a few times, then wrote, “Want to sleep with boss”. After that was a question about what he expected to get out of therapy. He wrote, “Stop wanting to sleep with boss”, hoping they’d seen dumber answers than his before.

As he flipped over a page, a poof deposited a dragon mail scroll into the seat next to him. It was addressed to him, from Twilight. He read it.

Dear Radish,

I’m sorry to hear that Halcyon had to leave suddenly. Princess Celestia really seemed to like him. He seemed really interested in getting to know you, too. It’s a shame we won’t learn about his homeland from him, but it makes me all the more determined to spread friendship to every corner of this world. Maybe we’ll see him again someday.

I hear the palace hired a new astronomer. Is it true he’s updating the orrery? That’s a huge project. I’d love it if you put me in touch with him- he sounds really knowledgeable. And what’s this I hear about a royal distillery? Please take me on a tour when it’s ready!

You should get this letter after your sword final. Sorry I couldn’t be there to watch. Let me know how it went. Don’t be too upset if you couldn’t score against Shining Armor- he’s the captain for a reason.

Your Pen Pal,

Twilight Sparkle


P.S., Congrats on winning the intramural wrestling tournament. I know you’re probably feeling down about winning on a technicality, but trust me- you got to the end on your own merits. Rainbow Dash says she'd like to test her mettle against you some time, and she doesn’t impress easily.

P.P.S, I think Fluttershy is in the castle today, tending to resident birds. Could you help her with anything she needs?

Radish pocketed the scroll, and finished his forms. He exited the waiting room into the hall, to see Celestia walking toward him.

“Hello, lieutenant.”

“Princess? Do you require something?”

She nodded to the door behind him.

“Yes. Therapy, weekly. Since its invention, actually.”

“Oh. Sorry. It’s none of my business.”

“No.”

Radish started to leave, and Celestia put her hoof on the door. She paused and looked at him.

“I’m sorry for how I treated you,” she said. "Can you forgive me?"

“It's okay. You were only trying to protect me.”

“Yes… and no. Radish, I’ve never known what to do about… us. But it’s not a lie that you’d genuinely be better off giving up on me. I’m sorry- I can’t be for you what you wish I could be. I just can’t fulfill your cutie marks.”

“You’ll never have to. I’ll never ask. I’m happy to be your guard, and your friend.”

“Hmm. I said I was your friend all those years ago. But I’m really not, am I?”

“Well… you and I have never really spent that much time together, I suppose…”

“Let’s change that. Would you like to have dinner with me? We can get to know each other, as friends.”

“I’d like that. And maybe we could make a rule that discussing affairs of the heart is off-limits?”

“Avoiding topics doesn’t make them go away. But we can explore other topics, and see what common interests we might have.”

“Yeah, that would be nice.”

“Radish, you shouldn’t consider yourself similar to Harold. He came to this palace through self-destructive shortcuts and deception. You got here by hard work and honorable, distinguished service.”

“I appreciate that,” Radish said in a low voice, “but I went through some dark days. Had some dark thoughts. Sometimes I wondered how far I would go. What I would end up doing to myself. Or you.”

She frowned. "I’m sorry, Radish. If you'd like to keep shaving your cutie marks, you'd have my permission."

“I don’t want you to start making exceptions for me.”

"I make exceptions for guards all the time. Colonel Jono is allowed to burn incense in his quarters for zebra holidays. Sergeant Gunhilde is permitted a specialized diet. And you merit unique consideration, as well.”

“It’s not a real solution, though. It’s more like retreating from the problem.”

“Well, the option will remain open.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

"And princess, I want you to know that if a real suitor ever comes to court you- someone you actually want to spend your life with- I promise I’ll handle it with dignity, as befitting one of your Guard. And I’d dutifully guard you, your spouse, and your children, to my last breath. I swear it, on my honor.”

Celestia gave Radish a warm smile.“Thank you, Radish. I know you would. Please, take care of yourself.”

“And you as well, princess.”

“I’ll see you later.”

Celestia entered the therapist’s office. Radish went back to work.

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