• 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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51. The Wedding, Part 4: Gifts and Guests

Luna was asleep the next time Celestia checked in on her. Radish was standing guard at her bedside. She motioned him to join her on the balcony and closed the door behind them.

“Radish, I’ve spoken with Shining Armor. He’s assigning Mudlark Squad to the spire for the wedding.”

“What? That’s a squad of five privates. There are more higher-ranking ponies in here on a normal day.”

“I know. He says he has planned out the wedding security to the pony, and that moving any senior officers now would open up tactical gaps. We simply don’t have the flexibility to put more experienced guards in Luna’s spire now.”

“But… that means I’ll be the one in charge here.”

Celestia nodded. “Radish, sometimes a guard is thrust into the deep end and must prove his mettle. Can I count on you to protect my little sister?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll die before I let anything happen to her.”

Celestia sighed. “It’s easy to make a claim like that. I’ve heard it from a lot of guards over the years, and it’s not as comforting to me as you think it sounds. Dead guards can’t protect princesses.”

“Sorry, ma’am. I just don’t want you to worry. I am confident in my ability to protect her.”

“We don’t even know the nature of the threat,” said Celestia. “There’s no telling what you could be up against.”

“Whatever it is, I’ll adapt. We guards are trained to think on our hooves.”

“Ah, but what if you’re taken by surprise? For example, like… this!”

She turned and bucked at Radish’s face with her hind legs. Radish ducked her hooves, rolled sideways, and flicked out his spear. He thrust it forward with both his forehooves, the realization of what he was doing overcoming his muscle memory just fast enough to stop him. He froze, the spearhead mere centimeters from Celestia’s ribs.

She looked down at the weapon. Radish dropped the spear and threw himself prostrate before his princess.

“I’m so sorry! That was just reflexes! I swear, I’d never hurt you!”

“Yes, and your reflexes have improved greatly since you started out here. You used to be much slower. But why draw your spear against me, and not your sword?”

Radish looked up at her, then at his spear on the floor.

“You have such long legs.”

“Oh?”

“I mean, they give you a lot of reach. Your legs are longer than my sword, but my spear is even longer. I needed the reach advantage, and I’d also be able to throw my spear in case you took flight, while still keeping my sword in reserve.”

“You processed all those judgments in the split-second I attacked you?”

“Yes, ma’am. Sorry, ma’am.”

“Good. That makes me feel a lot better. Take this.”

She pulled a collapsed spear from behind her back. Radish realized what it was, and quickly pretended not to recognize it. It was Celestia’s own spear, the one she had been charging with her alicorn powers during the Halcyon affair.

"I normally don't trust magic weapons,” she said, “but this has been enhanced with earth power. It should work like any other spear for you, just with greater durability and stopping power."

"It's beautiful. Is this Ferrum Flats's mark?"

She rolled her eyes. "Radish, I know Luna sent you to retrieve this from one of Nightmare Moon's lairs. And I know she swore you to secrecy about it. She spilled everything a few eggnogs into Hearth’s Warming."

“I, uh…”

"And I know you and Spike saw this in my secret room in Secure Storage. He confessed soon after."

"Oh, that little..."

"It’s fine, Radish. Just use this to protect Luna."

Radish took the spear. He flicked it out and felt its weight. He focused his senses into it.

“I can feel the earth power in it. But it also contains pegasus and unicorn power, right?”

“Yes, but you won’t be able to control those without wings or a horn. And that’s for the best. If there’s an emergency, I want you to rely on your own strengths.”

“I will. But I’ll also need to make some changes to the spire.”

“Changes?”

“Yes. I need to seal most entrances, barricade certain rooms, set up checkpoints in the halls, and reinforce some walls.”

“I thought you said it was built like a fortress.”

“It is. But now it’s a short-staffed fortress.”

“Very well. Get what you need from the supply depot. And Radish…”

“Ma’am?”

“Thank you.”


Chuck wasn’t on duty at the supply depot at night- instead, a unicorn named Heat Sink was behind the counter. Radish entered carrying a stack of papers.

“Lieutenant. How can I help you?”

“I need supplies for Luna’s tower.”

“Oh?”

Radish gave him the list. Heat Sink looked over it.

“Barbed wire? Chain link fencing? Security mirrors? What the heck are you doing to that place?”

“Just taking precautions. A lot of this is long overdue.”

“This is all authorized?”

Radish showed Heat Sink a signed order from Princess Celestia.

“Yes, but these requisitions are top secret. You can’t let anypony know about this.”

“Oh, it’s top secret chain link fencing? Then come on back. I’ll show you our most covert rolls of it.”


Radish began the next day by meeting the duty officer for Luna’s tower.

“Hey, Root? Your supplies arrived,” he said, gesturing to piles of crates stacked up next to his desk. “And so has this. The list of guards assigned to you. Your own squad at a lieutenant’s rank. Not bad.”

“Squad Leader Root. I like the sound of that.”

Radish took and read over his squad’s files. Private Goldbrick was an earth pony. Private Tongs was a hinny. Privates Mondegreen and Buildup were unicorns, and there was a pegasus private named Flashbang. Their records seemed skimpy to Radish- there was little more than their names.

“Good luck with those kids,” said the duty officer.

“What are you doing during the wedding, sir?”

“Guarding Sky Bridge D6.”

“Is, uh, is that a bigger priority than Princess Luna?”

“I don’t make the assignments, lieutenant.”

“Right.”

But I can make some assignments of my own, thought Radish.


Radish entered Luna’s courtyard garden. Her gourds were coming in nicely.

“Mortimer? You in here?”

The screech owl flew out onto a branch of his tree and stared at Radish.

“Listen, I need to secure this tower. I’m short on staff, so I’ll have to use every advantage. That includes you.”

Mortimer flapped to a lower branch.

“Does anyone else live in this garden?”

Mortimer made a whinny, and pointed to a crack in the wall. Radish approached it and peeked inside. A rat was staring back at him.

“Oh, hi there! I’m Luna’s guard. Can you help us out?”

It shook its head.

“I promise, this isn’t a ploy to let Mortimer eat you. You can even stay in the walls, if you like.”

It nodded.

“Are there more rats where you came from?”

It nodded.


Radish entered the attic of Selenic Spire. He cleared his throat and addressed the rafters.

“Hi, I’m Radish. We met last Nightmare Night. I could use some help protecting Luna. You guys have some experience in that regard, don’t you?”

Dozens of pairs of yellow eyes opened in the darkness above his head.

“Would you be willing to help? It could be dangerous, though.”

A swarm of squeaking bats flew down from the ceiling and surrounded Radish. They landed on him and gripped each other, forming a flowing black cape.

“Wow, this is comfy. Come on, I’ll show you where I want you.”


Radish’s squad stood at attention and saluted him. Radish had never been saluted before. He liked it. He passed out documents to each guard.

“We’re short on prep time, so I’m giving you these. These are called ‘one-time pads’. Don’t lose them. They’ll tell you what your assignments are, and when. The shift lengths will be irregular and the rotations will be randomized so that our enemy can’t stake out and memorize them. The next document is what we need to accomplish before the wedding begins.”

The squad read through them.

“We’re moving the furniture?” Goldbrick asked.

“To provide improvised cover, yes. There are several places inside that could become chokepoints for guards during a battle. We’re going to turn them into ambush spots for invaders instead.”

“And we’re messing with the plants outside?” asked Tongs.

“We need to improve visibility around the base of the tower. Anything could hide in those bushes.”

“We’re adding lights?” asked Flashbang.

Radish sighed. “Yes, this tower is far too dark, as are the grounds around it. Anything could hide in the shadows, too.”

“But Luna’s the night princess,” Buildup noted.

“Meaning she can see in the dark. Her enemies might be able to, as well. We can’t. We’re lighting this place up.”

“And this wire?” asked Mondegreen.

“We need to block anything trying to fly up the stairwell. We’re putting chain link fencing across it.”

“But Luna’s bedroom is open to the sky,” said Flashbang. “If something could fly at her, it would fly at her from outside.”

"Page three. We're also fencing off every window, balcony, chimney, and vent. And the top of her courtyard."

The squad flipped through their instructions.

"What are these Xs you have throughout the tower?" asked Tongs.

Radish gazed up at the top floor. He smiled. "Those are our secret weapons."


Radish focused his binoculars across the palace grounds. He saw just who he was looking for.

“Spike!” he called, rushing up to the dragon.

“Hey, Radish! I’ve been looking for you!” said Spike. “You’re invited to the bachelor party!”

“That’s great, Spike. Can you send a message for me?”

“Communications with the outside are restricted, remember? Every letter I send would have to be approved by Shining Armor first.”

“I know you squealed on me about Celestia’s secret room.”

“What kind of message would you like me to send?”


Luna was awake the next time Radish checked on her. Her bruises had healed somewhat.

“Princess, how are you feeling?”

“Still weak, lieutenant. Your squad has been making quite the racket.”

“We’re shoring up the Spire’s defenses, from the attic to the wine cellar,” said Radish.

“I hope you’re not making too many changes to the tower that are... drastic and permanent?”

“You know what else would be drastic and permanent? Losing you.”

“Radish, I appreciate the sentiment, but not the tone.”

“Sorry, ma’am.”

“You are forgiven.”

“I have some emergency procedures I wanted to go over with you…”


Radish affixed a convex mirror onto the building neighboring Luna’s tower. He backed away from it to see how well it could reflect around the curvature of the spire.

“Root!” called out a voice from behind. He looked and saw Saguaro Shade approaching him, carrying an extra sword in a scabbard on his back.

“Word is you’re in charge of Princess Luna’s protection for the wedding.”

“Yes, sir. I’m ready for this.”

“I watched you clear your sword certification. I think I can feel confident giving you this.”

He took off the extra sword and held it in front of himself.

“I thought you could use a sword with a little more sting in its swing. This is a Grandiose Gladius, one of the best swords our smiths can forge. You’d normally get one of these at the rank of colonel or higher, but these are stressful times.”

He pulled the sword out halfway to show Radish the blade.

“It’s swashbuckler steel. Preferred alloy for earth ponies- stronger than the standard issue, and holds an edge better. You’ll give out long before it does. The sides have a coating of starsilver, making them magic-resistant.”

He passed it to Radish. Radish unsheathed the sword and whistled at it in admiration.

“Thank you, sir. I hope I won’t need it.”

“That’s the same thing I said to this here gal,” Saguaro Shade said, unsheathing his own Grandiose Gladius from his hip. He showed Radish the flat of the blade. It had a face engraved on the side- a buffalo lady, wreathed in bluebonnets, with the name “Lovey Dovey” inscribed in a ribbon underneath her.

“Who is she? A previous officer?”

“That’s my wife, Root.”

“She’s pretty.”

“Thanks. She was always proud I never got blood on her face. I always dread the day I may have to.”

“You must have an important duty during the wedding, like guarding Celestia, right?”

“I’m guarding the train platform.”

“What?”

“Captain’s orders. He believes it’s a key target for our mysterious enemy.”

“Sir, between me guarding a princess, and you being as far from them as possible, I’m starting to question-”

“Corporal, there you are,” said Barrel Roller, dropping down to them. Radish and Saguaro Shade saluted her.

“Corporal Shade, Lieutenant Root, there’s been a development. Twilight Sparkle has been designated a Security Risk. Captain Armor has uninvited her from the wedding, and Princess Cadenza has banned her from palace grounds.”

“What!?” gasped Radish.

“The memo is going out as we speak. Lieutenant, if you see her, you are to report her immediately. Corporal, you’re now authorized to apprehend her on sight… with unrestricted force.”

Radish sputtered. Saguaro Shade raised an eyebrow.

“You’re telling me,” he said, “Twilight Sparkle, Celestia’s star pupil, the captain’s kid sister, the heroine of Equestria, the Element of Magic, the wedding planner and best mare… should now be treated like an enemy?”

“I’m not. Princess Cadenza is. She now believes that Sparkle is the threat that Princess Luna detected. The same one that attacked her.”

“Ma’am!” exclaimed Radish. “Twilight could never do that!”

“She disrupted the rehearsal in a hysterical state. She lashed out at the bride in an attempt to halt the wedding. Princess Cadenza was in tears. Captain Armor and Princess Celestia are furious.”

“Ma’am, Twilight had concerns about Princess Cadenza,” said Radish.

“And Princess Cadenza has concerns, too. She believes that Twilight Sparkle harbors deep-seated taboo feelings for her brother which are manifesting as an irrational possessiveness. It’s corrupting her on a magical level, akin to Nightmare Moon.”

“That’s insane! Cadenza’s lying!”

Barrel Roller and Saguaro Shade shared a glance between themselves.

“We’ve got orders from a princess, Root,” said Barrel Roller. “And once orders are orders…”

“Then orders are orders,” finished Saguaro Shade. “Aye, commander. We’ll do our duty.”

“And Root,” said Barrel Roller, “another accusation like that, and I’ll have you mucking the menagerie.”

Barrel Roller flew off. Radish turned to Saguaro Shade.

“Sir, everything about this stinks.”

“Take care of Luna, Root. It’s all you can do now.”

“But… aye, sir.”

Saguaro Shade walked away. He rounded a building corner, where Barrel Roller was waiting for him.

“The kid’s right, you know,” he said.

“The kid’s gotta learn that there are wrong ways to be right,” she said. “And shouting that a princess is lying is the wrong way.”

“I’m guessin’ you’ve been pursuing the right way.”

Barrel Roller held up a photograph of Cadance.

“I snapped this just an hour ago. Whatever’s the matter with her, she’s not the same kind of thing Halcyon was.”

“Well, it’s nice to rule that out. We ought to talk with her personal staff. They’ll be able to tell us if she’s really been actin’ out of the ordinary.”

“Hmph,” harrumphed Barrel Roller. “Sparkle sure believed she was.”

“And now Sparkle’s ponsona non grata,” noted Saguaro Shade.

“Yeah. I don’t like it.”

“You don’t like what?” demanded Shining Armor, approaching the two. They saluted him.

“Sir,” said Barrel Roller, “I request permission to-”

“Commander,” said Shining Armor, “I want you to coordinate with Captain Spitfire of the Wonderbolts. Expand the sky sweeps outward and upward. Corporal, go liaise with the City Watch. Make sure they’re not a weak link in the city’s defense.”

Sir,” said Saguaro Shade, “perhaps it would be prudent to-”

“That is all, you two,” said Shining Armor. “Dismissed.”

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