• 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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50. The Wedding, Part 3: Rehearsal

Rainbow Dash rocketed through crisp mountain air. She took a shortcut through a cloud, and narrowly avoided a flock of geese in her path.

“Hey! I’m trying to practice a sonic rainboom here!” she shouted at them.

“Then you should know local flight regulations. They were in the stand-on position, you were in the give-way position,” said Barrel Roller, drifting down from above. “And you never cut through a cloud without knowing what’s on the other side.”

Rainbow Dash gasped. “Commander Barrel Roller! Sorry! My bad!”

“You wanna hit ultrasonic speed over Canterlot, you have to work with the mountain, not against it. Come to my office, I’ll show you the temperature maps.”

“Temperature maps? Uh, I mean, right! The temperature maps! Can’t do a sonic rainboom without… mapping the temperatures.”

“Yeah. Of course, an expert flier like you would know that the heat island effect of the city, the humidity from the waterfalls, and the wind coming off the slopes create thermal gradients that require a cubical klick-by-klick understanding of the air around here. Flying in the open skies of Cloudsdale is like biking with training wheels, Miss Dash. Canterlot airspace is the big leagues."

“Hey! I could pull off a sonic rainboom in the vacuum of space if I had to!”

“I don’t doubt that. There’s no geese to hit up there.”

Rainbow Dash scowled. Then, she grinned. “Oh, I get it. You’re trying to tear me down so you can build me up!”

“Is that a fact?”

“I bet you do it to all your favorite fliers, huh?”

“You want to see the maps, or not?”

“You got it.”

They flew off together.

“So,” said Rainbow Dash, “I bet they’ve got you at a really important position during the wedding, huh? Guarding the princesses? The bride and groom? The rings?”

“The water.”

“Uh, what?”

“The captain believes that the enemy out there may try to sabotage the city’s water supply while the populace is distracted by the wedding. He’s having me guard the mountain reservoirs.”

“What? Aren’t those guarded all the time, anyway?”

“By corporate security guards. The captain wanted someone with combat experience overseeing them.”

“You’re like second-in-command! Anypony could do that. Just have Radish do it and come join the wedding.”

“Oh, we’ve got Root doing something important- guarding an empty building.”

“Wow, sucks for him.”

They landed on a checkpoint platform on the outskirts of the city. Unicorn guards permitted them passage through the city shield, and they took off for the castle.

“Sucks for all of us, really,” sighed Barrel Roller.

“What do you mean?”

“Root transferred from the Rangers. Ponies like him are good at watching over large open areas, but slow on their hooves. That comes from spending years doing lookout work in mountains, where you have to move slowly and deliberately over rough terrain. I’d rather put him on a parapet, and put a pony with an urban background in Luna’s tower. Ponies who came up in the City Watch have more experience patrolling multilevel buildings- they’re better at tracking sounds through multiple floors and walls.”

“Huh. So why not swap him out?”

“Root’s task was ordered by Princess Cadenza herself. I can’t countermand it.”

“Well, what does she know about guard duty?”

“It doesn’t matter. Guards obey princesses.”

“What, even if they’re making a mistake?”

“Princesses don’t make mistakes, Dash.”

“That’s nuts. Of course they do.”

“Not as far as a guard is concerned. Or a Wonderbolt, for that matter. You wanna be one of them, you better see it the same way.”

“Really? Doesn’t that seem… I don’t know…”

“Doesn’t that seem like something the ‘Element of Loyalty’ should have no problem with? Why, yes, Dash. It does.”

Rainbow Dash fell silent.


Radish completed a circuit around Selenic Spire, scanning its exterior with his binoculars and taking notes on its windows and vents. Maple Bar trotted up to him.

"Hi, Rad. You wanted something?"

"Yeah. You're good with wood, right?"

“I come from a long line of foresters. Why?"

"Can you evaluate the strength of the front door?"

Maple Bar approached the tower's door. She peered at it, sniffed it, and put her ear to it and tapped it.

"This is black quebracho. It’s one of the hardest woods on the planet. You'd need a battering ram to dent it, and he’d get a concussion trying.”

“That’s a relief. Thanks, Mape."

"No problem."

“What do they have you doing during the wedding?” he asked.

“Guarding the south entrance,” she answered.

“Guess neither of us will get any cake.”

“Or a chance to catch the bouquet,” she sighed.

Radish picked a dandelion at his hooves and tossed it to Maple Bar. “Here, catch.”

She caught it in her mouth and chewed it.

“Aww, thanks,” she said, with her mouth full. “Now all I need is a boyfriend to go with it.”

“You’ll find someone.”

“Not around here. Canterlot guys are kind of milquetoast.”

“You’re too picky.”

“Says the guy who grew up wanting to marry Celestia.”

“And how well did that turn out for me?”

“Oh. Good point. Hey, isn’t that Lady Sparkle?” she said, pointing to Twilight trotting determinedly across the commons. “She looks upset.”

“Must be stressful, being a royal wedding planner on short notice,” said Radish.

Twilight stopped. She cursed and stomped the ground.

“Really stressful,” added Radish.

Twilight turned and saw Radish. Her face brightened. She loped over to him.

“Radish! Boy, am I glad to see you!”

She threw her hooves around him and hugged him. Maple Bar giggled. He leaned away from her.

“Twilight, you can’t hug a guard on duty. It’s against the rules.”

“Radish, I need to talk to you alone. It’s important.”

“Go on, Radish,” said Maple Bar. “Don't keep Lady Sparkle waiting."

"Okay," sighed Radish.

He led Twilight into the spire. She looked around the foyer.

"Wow, so this is Luna's tower? It's dark."

"Yeah."

“Radish... there's something wrong with Cadance.”

“What is it?”

“She’s nothing like the Cadance I grew up with! She’s been displaying rude, deceitful behavior all day!”

Radish shifted his weight on his hooves. “Okay, well, why do you think that is?”

“I don’t know! Maybe she’s always been like this, and I was just too young to realize it. Or maybe she’s had all the privileges of a princess and none of the responsibilities for so long, she’s become spoiled rotten.”

“Well, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“I can try to stop the wedding.”

“Stop the wedding!? Over a little rudeness!?”

“She’s marrying Shining under false pretenses! We can’t let her get away with that! And Shining deserves better!”

“Twilight… do you remember how we used to fight? You thought I was a sick freak stalking Celestia, and I thought you were a stuck-up bi- uh, a stuck-up know-it-all.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“I bet you wouldn’t have wanted me to marry Shining Armor back then, huh?”

“You… and Shining?”

“We were rude to each other, because we misjudged each other. But then we got to know each other. And now we’re friends.”

“Radish, it’s true that I misjudged you. But that was before I knew anything about friendship. I misjudged everyone back then. But this is something different. Cadance has gone bad. And if you really consider me a friend, shouldn’t you trust me on this?”

Radish looked into her eyes. They were trembling.

He sighed. “What are you asking of me?”

“Can you tail Cadance?”

“No. I have to stick to my tasks.”

“Okay. Can you ask Luna to make a case for calling off the wedding?”

Radish looked over to the staircase leading up to Luna's bedroom.

“Twilight… this wedding is important for Luna.”

“For Luna? How?”

“She hasn’t been to a wedding in a thousand years. She missed the last gala, too. She never gets to just put on a nice dress and go to a nice party. I want this for her so she can feel like a part of the world again. I want her to have fun. And I want everyone to see how wonderful she is.”

“Radish…”

“But more importantly, this marriage will give her new family- including you! She’ll have new relatives to love and to love her back. I want that for her, Twilight.”

Twilight looked down at her hooves.

“And I want what’s best for Shining. He can’t marry Cadance. I need your help to stop him.”

“Twilight, I have a duty to my princesses and my captain.”

“Even if they’re making a mistake?”

“That’s not my call. I don’t know better than them. And neither…”

Radish stopped himself.

“Neither do I?” finished Twilight.

“I’m sorry, Twilight.”

She turned to walk away. “I’m going to go speak with Shining.”

“It’s getting late.”

“I agree. We’re running out of time.”

“Twilight…”

She charged out of the tower, leaving Radish alone. He shook his head and rejoined Maple Bar outside.

“She ran out all upset,” said Maple Bar. “What’s up?”

“I wish I knew.”


Radish made his way back to the barracks. As he reached his door, he heard a shout ring out through the air.

“Who goes there!? Stay indoors, Twilight Sparkle!”

It was Luna, on Royal Overwatch duty at Celestia’s tower. Apparently she had spotted Twilight on the grounds nearby.

That would put her near the event hall. Twilight, what are you up to?

He waited on the stoop and listened for anything else from Luna. Flash Sentry trotted up with a guitar case on his back.

“Oh, Root. What are you doing out here?”

“Just… listening to the night.”

“You’re a poet, Root.”

“What are you doing out here?”

He nodded to his guitar case. “Just got done with band practice.”

“I didn’t know you play.”

“Not as much as I want to. But you’ve got to make the time, you know?”

“What’s your wedding assignment?”

“Sky Patrol, Sector 11.”

“Sector 11? That’s right on top of the wedding. I think Shining likes you.”

“He must like you, too, right? He gave you an entire tower.”

“Yeah, someone has to defend Luna’s imported soaps from dust bunnies.”

“Hey, don’t knock it, Root. The smallest job inside the palace-”

“-is bigger than the biggest job outside it. You really believe that?”

“If it weren’t true, we wouldn’t have this mysterious enemy trying to attack us. What do you think it is?”

“Something powerful,” said Radish. “Maybe a dark wizard, or an ancient monster.”

“Well, they picked the wrong wedding to mess with. Got time for a game of pool?”

“Sure. I-”

Their attention was drawn skyward. Luna was flying back to her tower. She stopped on her balcony and raised her horn, lighting it up with a large aura.

“What’s she doing?” asked Flash.

“She discovered the threat in the dream world,” answered Radish. “I think she’s going back in to find it again.”

“I haven't spent much time around Princess Luna. What’s she like?”

“She’s a lot of fun. Kind and warm, but when she’s serious, she’s like a force of nature.”

“That sounds… oh!”

Flash peered worriedly at Luna. Her aura was flashing wildly and throwing out sparks. Radish got his binoculars on her.

Suddenly, Luna’s aura enveloped her entire body and hoisted her up into the air. She flapped her wings helplessly and gripped her throat, as if she was being throttled. Then, she was slammed into the floor of her balcony.

Radish sprinted off the stoop and ran for her tower full-tilt. Flash Sentry flew over him, speeding toward Luna’s balcony.

Luna’s aura lifted her back up again, then threw her into the railing of her balcony. It shattered. She tumbled off and plummeted. Radish put everything into his gallop, but Flash swooped and caught Luna, lowering her safely to the ground and laying her on her back. Radish reached them.

“Thank you, Lieutenant Sentry,” she said, weakly. “That would have been a painful fall.”

“Princess Luna!” cried Radish. “What’s wrong!?”

Luna’s face was bruised. Her lower lip was swollen and she had a black eye. “Radish…”

“I’ll get help!” said Flash. He flew off. Radish cradled Luna in his lap.

“What happened?” asked Radish.

“I went back into the dreamlands to hunt for the enemy. But it was prepared for me this time. It overwhelmed me with the power of a thousand minds, turning my own magic against me.”

“Bring me into the dream world with you. We can fight it together. I’ll get them, whatever they are. They’ll regret hurting you.”

She smiled. “Radish, my Champion…”

“Yes, my princess?”

“You are holding me too tightly.”

Radish eased up. “I’m sorry.”

“Aunt Luna!”

Radish turned. Princess Cadenza landed at Luna’s side and threw her hooves around her.

“Oh, Auntie Luna! Are you okay?”

“Niece Cadance, I am sorry. I tried to hunt down our enemy. It ambushed me instead.”

“Don’t worry about that now.” She closed her eyes and waved her horn over Luna’s body. She frowned. “Oh, dear.”

“What is it?” asked Luna.

“Your heart was hit by a powerful hex. But I can dispel it.” She touched her horn to Luna’s chest, held it for a moment, then smiled in relief. “There. But you need to rest in bed for a few days, or else you could develop serious complications.”

“But, your wedding...”

“Your health is more important. Consider it doctor’s orders.” Cadenza looked up at Radish. “Mister Root, help her into her bed. Get her anything she needs. I need to talk to Shiny and Aunt Celestia about this.”

“Aye, ma’am,” said Radish.

She spread her wings and took off. Radish carefully draped Luna’s hoof over his shoulders and steadied her as they walked into her tower. He helped her climb the long spiral staircase.

“I did not realize what a chore these stairs are to ascend,” Luna said. “They are an undue burden for my guards and staff.”

“We could put a lift in the center,” noted Radish. “It would make traversal faster for legs, give the stairs cover from the sides, and block unauthorized flyers.”

She didn’t seem to hear him as she focused carefully on each step. They reached her bedroom. He lowered her into her bed and pulled up her covers.

“Can I get you anything? Water?”

“Nay. Fret not.”

Princess Celestia landed on the balcony. She looked at the broken railing in horror, then ran into the room. “Luna! Are you all right?”

“I will be fine, sister. Our niece was quick to administer a healing touch.”

“I’ve just spoken with her. She says you’ll have to sit out the wedding. I think we should talk about postponing it.”

“Nay! This wedding is for the happy couple, not for me. It shall go on with my blessing. Don’t worry about me- I will have my Champion here to keep me company.” She looked at Radish. “Won’t I?”

“Of course,” said Radish.

“Then he can keep you company in the infirmary,” said Celestia. “You’ll be safer there.”

Radish made a slightly dissatisfied noise in his throat. Celestia looked at him.

“What is it, lieutenant?” she asked.

“It’s just that… this tower was built like a fortress. The infirmary was built… well, like an infirmary. It’s got a lot of entrances, and wide halls designed to allow ponies to move through them rapidly. Not to mention, it’s full of sharp objects. If the enemy wanted to follow up with an attack on Luna, she’d be safer here.”

Celestia stared at Radish for a beat, then looked around the room. “Hmm. What do you think, Luna?”

“I agree, but for a different reason. If our enemy comes after me in the infirmary, other patients, including Harold, will be put in harm’s way. A worthy princess does not put the sickly at risk.”

Celestia sighed. “Very well. I’ll have Shining Armor redistribute some more guards here for the wedding. Stay with her, Radish.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Celestia left. Radish and Luna looked at each other.

“I am sorry,” said Luna. “It looks like I won’t be able to bring you that slice of cake. Or share a dance with you.”

“Your health is what matters. We can dance when you’re better.”

“I will hold you to that.”

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