• 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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52. The Wedding, Part 5: Ceremony

The Wedding Day came.

Radish stared up at the shield barrier and grit his teeth. He wished he could face whatever was out there, instead of waiting for it to show its face. He hoped it had a face. He hoped it had only one face.

He stood alone in front of the main entrance to Selenic Spire. With a limited number of guards, he couldn’t afford to double up postings. In a few minutes, Goldbrick would relieve him, and he’d move to Luna’s side.

Just keep to your duty. Whatever happens, we’re not losing a princess again. Not for one minute.

“Radish!” he heard a mare’s voice call.

“Lieutenant!” he heard a stallion’s voice call.

He turned to see Twilight Velvet and Night Light rushing up to him.

“Hello, ma’am. Sir.”

“Radish, have you seen Twilight?” Twilight’s mother asked desperately.

“No, ma’am. Not since yesterday.”

“Neither has anyone else! Do you have any idea where she could be?”

“She’s been banned from the wedding. I assumed she'd either be back at your place, or her old dorm.”

“She’s not! We've checked every place in town!” said Night Light. “And every library and bookstore!”

"Radish," said Twilight Velvet, lowering her voice, "do you and Twilight have any kind of... secret place? Where the two of you go to... be with each other?”

"Ma'am, it's really not like that."

"Oh. Well, do you know a place she might go if she doesn’t want to be found?"

"Hmm... there's the tunnels where we became friends..."

“The guards say they searched them!” said Twilight Velvet. “Nothing.”

“And they spoke as if they were hunting a dangerous fugitive, not searching for a missing girl!” said Night Light.

“And they’re spreading the most disgusting rumor about her!” added Twilight Velvet. “Radish, you don’t believe that she’s… jealous, do you?”

“That struck me as unlikely, ma’am.”

“We’ve tried to talk to Cadance, but she won’t even see us,” said Night Light. “Something is wrong with her, lieutenant.”

“That… that was Twilight’s read, too."

A volley of bells rang out from the wedding hall's tower. The couple frowned.

"The wedding is starting soon," said Twilight Velvet. "We can't just go in there like everything's normal!"

“Sir, ma’am. Twilight is fearless. If she believes she has no other choice, she may try to crash the wedding."

"Then we definitely should be there," said Night Light. "Once we're all together, we can talk things out."

"As a family!" agreed Twilight Velvet.

"Good luck, sir, ma'am."

"Thank you, son," said Night Light.

They hurried away. Radish watched them go apprehensively.

He scanned the commons around him. Guests were now milling towards the wedding hall. He kept alert, trying to look as imposing as possible. He chewed the inside of his cheek, wondering how long the alert state would last.

How long can the captain maintain the citywide shield? Will he put off his honeymoon to keep it up? How is this any way to start a marriage?

Two well-dressed mares approached the tower. Radish thought they might have been bridesmaids, but he had also heard the bridal party had been changed recently. He didn’t know what to make of that. Every part of the wedding seemed to be going off the rails.

“You! Guardstallion! Move aside!” one of the mares barked.

Radish raised an eyebrow. “Sorry, miss. This tower is on lockdown.”

“We come under the orders of Mi Amore Cadenza herself! She demands we be let in!”

“What for?”

“Do not question!”

“Mi Amore Cadenza is the bride! Her word is law on her wedding day!” affirmed the other one.

“Yeah? She told me to protect Princess Luna,” said Radish, annoyed, “and that’s what I’m doing. Nopony gets in without a damn good reason.”

“We are the Bride’s trusted subordinates! You will obey, or face her wrath!”

“Look here, I’m not-”

A third well-dressed mare rushed up to the other two.

“You two!” she said to the others, “there is a problem with the…”

She looked at Radish.

“…Something Borrowed and the Something New. They are not secure. The wedding could be ruined.”

The other two bridesmaids seemed so upset, they were practically hissing.

“We must go to the… big guest room… to secure them,” the first bridesmaid said.

The second one looked up at the tower. “But what of the Something Blue?”

“It will have to wait!” said the third one, smiling smugly. “Do not worry. I am told it will be the easiest.”

She then leaned into Radish’s face. “You, guardstallion! Make sure the moon princess does not leave her bed!”

“You got it.”

The bridesmaids ran off, leaving Radish with more questions than ever.

As his shift at the door was coming to an end, he heard the sound of metal scraping against stone. It was coming from an old wishing well in a small park across from the tower. He got his binoculars on it. The grate covering its opening was being pushed up from below.

He brandished his spear and approached it. Radish had read the well’s historical marker before. It had actually been a vent for the mines far below Canterlot. When the mines were abandoned, the vent became a forgotten curiosity, in a little-used park, outside Luna’s long-empty tower. He had asked for maps of the mines in case they were relevant to security, but Shining had assured Radish that every passage down there had been sealed ages ago.

Then what’s coming up? And how did it get down there?

A magic aura tore the grate on the well off and flung it aside. Radish hopped back. Out of the uncovered vent climbed Twilight Sparkle and an extremely disheveled Princess Cadenza, squinting into the daylight.

“We’re topside!” cheered Twilight. “There’s still time. We can still make it if we hurry!”

“Princess Cadenza? Twilight?” Radish asked, lowering his spear.

“Radish!” said Twilight, relieved. “Boy, am I glad to see you. Shining Armor is in danger!”

“Be careful, Twilight,” warned the princess as she stepped between them and aimed her horn at Radish, “he might be a changeling too!”

“A changeling, ma’am?” asked Radish, slowly backing away.

“I know how to check!” said Twilight. “Radish, what part of you was I angry about the first time we met?”

“Uh, you mean that?” asked Radish, motioning to his armor-clad flank.

“Show us!” said Twilight. “It’s really important.”

Radish stared into the eyes of the first Security Risk he’d ever been friends with. They were scared, pleading eyes.

He lifted his armor, revealing his cutie mark. It hadn’t taken long to grow back, and the shorter fur made the details look sharper than ever.

“What on earth is that!?” gasped Princess Cadenza.

“It means he’s a friend,” affirmed Twilight, smiling.

“It does? But that’s… that’s… wait, I remember that rumor. That was real? That was you?”

“Radish,” said Twilight. “The Cadance marrying Shining Armor is an impostor! She had the real Cadance here imprisoned in the mines!”

“She’s a changeling! A shape-shifter!” cried Cadenza. “She’s been feeding off Shining’s love! Controlling his mind!”

“I see. Things are starting to make sense now. I’ll take you both to Princess Luna. You tell her what’s going on, and she can order the Royal Guard to arrest the impostor.”

“There’s no time for that! Shining could be saying ‘I do’ right now!” said Cadenza.

“Come with us, Radish!” said Twilight. “We can stop her together.”

“I… can’t. I have to guard Princess Luna. Whatever this plot is, she’ll be a target, too!”

“That’s… you’re right. You protect Luna. We’ll handle the impostor.”

Twilight and Cadenza nodded to each other. They turned to leave, with determination filling their eyes.

“Twilight?” called Radish. “The fastest way to the wedding is through the servants’ entrance on the south side. Take these.”

He tossed them a key ring, which Twilight caught in her aura.

“These will get you past every door and let you take the service elevator. They’ll also let you control the security shutters.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Princess Cadenza. “I won’t forget this.”

She smiled, and they galloped off. Radish replaced the grate on the vent as a pegasus lieutenant, Skittery, dropped to his side.

“What’s going on? I thought I heard running.”

“We’ve got a problem. I need you to… what is that?”

They noticed several shadows on the ground around them. Both looked up at the city shield. There was something different. Something wrong.

Something outside it?

Radish scanned the skies with his binoculars. Hundreds of flying black creatures were slamming themselves against the barrier. Cracks were forming across the entire shield. Radish’s blood turned to ice water.

Radish and Skittery simultaneously shouted alarm calls. Skittery flew to his position. Radish ran back to the spire door. He made an alarm knock on the door, signaling the guards inside to prepare for battle. They noisily rushed about inside, taking up defensive positions.

It’s an army. An entire army is invading Canterlot. I’m... part of a war.

Radish tried to focus his racing mind. Across the palace grounds, civilians were galloping for safety. Pegasus guards took up formation in the air, while other guards organized themselves on the ground. Radish readied his spear.

The sky barrier shattered. A buzzing black murmuration descended on Canterlot. Radish called out an order that none could hear. A black pony-sized insectoid creature slammed into the ground in front of him, cratering the pavement and knocking Radish back. It pounced at Radish.

He dodged. Radish charged it with his spear, and it took to the air. He looked up. Thousands of such creatures were swarming the streets. A mass of them split off and flew right at him.

They grasped at Radish from all directions. He bucked away most of them and swung his spear. The creatures flew out of his range. He felt a presence behind him and turned. He, himself, was standing in front of him, grinning.

“What the-”

The other Radish punched Radish in the face with all of Radish’s strength. Radish reeled back, skidding to a stop. Several of the creatures flashed with a green fire, then resembled Radish.

What did Cadenza call them? “Changelings”?

He shook off the punch and charged at the other Radishes with his spear. They scattered and regrouped behind him. One of them tried to seize Radish from behind, and he swung the spear wide, knocking the other Radish into the sky. It retook its insectoid form and hovered.

A swarm of changelings, Radish-shaped or otherwise, surrounded him and dogpiled him. He bashed, kicked, and headbutted the attackers.

He tore himself out from under the dogpile, losing his helmet on the way. Needing to fight up close, he sheathed his spear, drew his Grandiose Gladius, and assumed his two-legged stance. He stood in between the mob and the door of Luna’s tower. They surrounded him.

“None of you are getting anywhere near Luna. Surrender now.”

“Surrender now,” they repeated in his voice.

Radish snarled. He heard clanking metal above him, and looked up. The creatures were all over the tower, tearing at the chain links covering every means of entry.

The chain links broke. Radish stood in horror as the enemy flooded every level of Luna’s tower.

Twilight Sparkle and Cadance rushed out of the service elevator and bolted down the hallway toward the wedding hall. As they passed an intersection, Twilight took Radish’s keys in her aura, stuck one into a panel on the wall, and turned it. A security gate slammed down, blocking the way they came.

“That ought to keep them off our tails,” said Twilight.

A side door just beyond the gate crashed off its hinges. Saguaro Shade was thrown into the hallway. He crashed into a vase stand. His armor was badly battered and half-falling off. A wave of changelings burst out of the door, grasping at him. He seized the broken vase stand and swung it around like a bat, swatting changelings to the floor.

“Dang blasted cockroaches! I’ll learn ya to mess with the Royal Guard!”

“Corporal Shade!” cried Twilight. “I’ll open the gate!”

“Don’t you dare! I can handle these doodlebugs! Just get!”


He jammed the stand into the top of the gate, wedging it closed.


A squad of changelings landed in Luna’s bedroom and surrounded her bed. They tore away the blanket and pounced on its occupant.

Its occupant was two pillows stuffed under the sheets.

“She is not here!” called Vesper, hanging from the ceiling. The changelings looked up just as she let go and landed on one with a crunch. She spread her wings and bared her teeth. “But I am.”

A squad of changelings, beaten senseless, rained down from the top of the tower and landed around Radish and his enemies. He smiled.

“Secret weapon,” he said. “And there’s more where that came from.”

A swarm of changelings tore their way into the tower's courtyard. They found all the windows and doors to the interior of the tower blocked by more wire. They pulled at it. From the oak tree in the center of the courtyard, a cacophony of high-pitched squeaks called out. A colony of bats, led by Nocturn and Echo, poured out from the tree’s branches and flooded the courtyard, mobbing the invaders.

Private Flashbang dove down through the well of the tower’s spiral staircase with a contingent of changelings hot on his tail. He tucked his wings and flew through a small hole in the fence that had been put across the stairwell. The swarm failed to see the fence and slammed into it. More and more slammed into the ones already pressed against the chain links, and soon a pile of tangled changelings were suspended midair on the fencing.

Flashbang grabbed a small black thundercloud from a stockpile he had stashed in a side room. He shook it, then bucked it at the fence.

It burst with lightning, electrifying the fence and the enemies clumped against it.

Barrel Roller patrolled the edge of City Reservoir #2, one of several massive underground cisterns which hold Canterlot’s water supply. She heard a splash at the other end of the cavernous room, and saw ripples in the water’s surface.

She took flight, brandishing her spear, scanning the deep pool.

A large changeling with purple eyes and red fins leapt out of the reservoir and seized Barrel Roller from behind. Her spear dropped into the water.

She flew it into the ceiling, then bucked it into the side of the room. She dove onto it.

The two grappled across the slick floor. The creature pinned Barrel Roller into a corner. It hissed in her face, then took a deep inhale.

It coughed violently, stumbling away from her. She arched her back and spread her wings.

“The love inside you tastes dry and bitter!” it growled accusingly. “Why!?”

She walked up to it.

“I’m an acquired taste.”

She punched it out.

A dozen more attackers leapt out of the reservoir and surrounded her. She rolled her eyes.

“Fine, everyone can have a sample.”

Private Tongs and Murk stood hind-to-hind on the landing of the second floor, surrounded by changelings creeping toward them on the floor, ceiling, and walls.

“Ready, miss?” asked Murk.

“Ready,” said Tongs.

She covered her ears. Murk screeched at the changelings, causing them to buckle in pain. The two pressed their advantage and attacked.

Private Goldbrick seized a changeling in headlock and threw it at a group of changelings rushing at him. He turned and jabbed one sneaking up behind him. Two more tackled him and pinned him down.

“Where is the moon princess!?” one of them hissed at him.

“No princesses here. How about a pair of dukes?”

He slugged one with a left hook, then slammed the other with a right cross. He grabbed them both and ran, body slamming them into the rest of the group.

One of the monsters spat a green goo at his right hoof, gluing it to the wall. He yanked, pulling a clump of bricks out of the wall. He slammed them into the spitter’s face. He smiled at the possibilities with this new weapon.

Private Mondegreen stood behind a fortified checkpoint in the third floor hallway, blasting at changelings from his horn. A rat appeared behind the vent cover of an overhead air duct and squeaked at him.

“Understood,” said Mondegreen. “Go reinforce Checkpoint Alpha, Activate Contingency Six, and tell Private Buildup that we’re at Code Red. Oh, and find out what happened to Lieutenant Root.”

Radish thrusted his sword at the changeling horde. One of them flashed into the form of a moose and tried to lock his sword with its antlers. Radish easily sidestepped its wild swings and sliced at it. He took off some of its fur, which reverted to the form of black scales as it hit the ground. The creature squealed and changed back to its true form, clutching its side.

Another took the form of a buzzard and swooped at Radish, gnashing its beak. As Radish was forced away from the tower, a swarm of Radishes attacked the front door. Radish disengaged from the buzzard and charged at them with his sword in his mouth.

One of the undisguised changelings spat green goop at Radish’s hooves, sticking his legs to each other. He fell on his chest and dropped his sword. A group of changelings piled onto it, each attempting to claim it as a trophy. Radish pulled out his spear with his teeth and aimed it at the goop.

This is going to hurt.

He shoved it into the goop. The power of the earth blasted away the substance like a year’s worth of erosion compressed into a second. Radish’s boots fell to pieces and his hooves ached. He ignored the pain and scrambled toward the changelings attacking Luna’s door.

One of them flew into him sideways. It pinned him down and gnashed its teeth. Radish held it at bay with the spear, and it bit down into the shaft. A crackle of lightning burst out and flung it away.

Radish looked at the damage. It had deep teeth marks, out of which sparks burst out. Arcs of pink electricity crackled across the length of the spear, shaking it in Radish’s hooves. A fireball shot out of the speartip, followed by a green cone of light, then a dark purple beam.

That thing destabilized it! All its unicorn magic is leaking out!

Radish planted his hooves and aimed it like a firehose, peppering surrounding changelings with random spells.The recoil was immense.

One changeling caught a particle beam in the face. Another was knocked over by a flood of blue pulsing bubbles. A third was encased in a block of ice. The mob scattered into the air to avoid the attacks, dodging and weaving an assortment of spells. Ghostly jellyfish spiraled out of the spear, chasing and stinging a few out of the air.

The spear sputtered out a few sparks, then went silent. Radish shook it.

The spear rumbled, then felt lighter than air. The remaining changeling mob dove toward Radish. Radish prepared to thrust the spear at them.

Radish felt his fur stand on end. The speartip shot out a sky-filling blast of lightning. The flash blinded Radish, and he fell to his knees. He heard changelings falling limp onto the grass all around him. The spear in his hooves then suddenly shook violently, and then the wind picked up into a howling roar.

As Radish’s vision cleared, he saw a whirling cyclone above his head, emanating from the spear. Dozens of changelings were caught in the twister. Radish took the spear and swung it around, catching more changelings in the whirlwind to slam them against the sides of buildings. He snatched up the mob that was beating at Luna’s door and spun them into the ground.

The tornado sputtered out, then the spear released a cold, dense fog which filled the palace grounds around him. The spear returned to its normal weight and went silent.

And that’s its pegasus power spent.

Something large slammed into Radish from behind. A changeling leapt out of the fog and sank its fangs into his shoulder, piercing his armor. Radish hissed in pain. The creature planted its hooves on him and pulled with its teeth, trying to rip him apart.

Radish heard a whinny from above. Mortimer swooped through the air and slashed at the changeling with his tiny talons. It spit out Radish’s shoulder to growl in anger at the owl’s impudence. Radish used the opportunity to elbow his attacker’s face and knock it away.

Radish stood. Mortimer landed on his nape. Radish whispered a command to the owl, who nodded and flew off toward the tower. Radish centered his stance and faced off against the changeling through the thinning fog.

It was much larger than the others, with eyes like dark red wine and flecks of iridescence down its carapace. Its form was noticeably mare-like. Its fangs were serrated and the horn on its head was more pronounced, with several sharp projections sweeping back.

Radish aimed his spear at her face. “What are you, the head stink bug?”

“I am Maxilla!” she bellowed. “Scion of the Hive and Supreme of the Warrior Caste! You will suffer for this defiance!”

“I’m Root. Lieutenant of the Royal Guard and Champion of Princess Luna. And you won’t beat me.”

She hissed, and a ring of green fire flashed down her body. She was now a manticore.

Nice trick. Too bad for you I studied the anti-manticore manual.

Radish vaulted forward on the spear and bucked the manticore’s jaw. He swatted away its stinger-tipped tail and gouged the spear into the creature’s neck. It reeled back, gripping the wound with its paw. Another ring of fire turned it into a giant cobra.

Oh please. Earth ponies know how to handle snakes.

It struck at Radish. He dodged its bite and wrapped his legs around its neck, cutting off the supply of blood to its head. It thrashed, and Radish dodged each swing of its tail. It burst with flame again. The flames didn’t burn Radish, but the changeling was now a massive creature with the body of a lobster and the wings of a bat. It took flight, and Radish slid off its carapace onto the ground.

Okay, I don’t know what that is. Is that a real animal, or can it just make stuff up?

It snapped its claws at Radish. Radish backed away, narrowly avoiding tripping over a fallen changeling drone. He looked at the spear in his hooves.

It expended its unicorn magic and pegasus weather, but it’s still got earth power. That’s what Celestia wanted me to rely on.

He leapt forward and jammed the spear into the ground. He felt the power of the earth flow out of the spear. He directed it, focusing on the ground beneath him and its connection to the life it sustained.

Radish smiled.

The grass below Radish burst with light. It grew high and ensnared the creature. Its many limbs struggled to free itself. It changed into a minotaur, but the grass held fast. It became a small red dragon, and the grass held, snapping its snout shut to keep it from spitting flame. It turned into a huge hedgehog-looking creature, but the grass held it.

It flashed back into Maxilla’s true form. Radish pointed the spear at her face.

“That’s Kenbucky bluegrass. You can’t break it. Now, order your troops to give themselves up peacefully.”

“It was not supposed to be this way!” Maxilla cried. “The Queen said the Something Blue would be guarded by a coward!”

A coward!?

“She said that you fled your post during a crisis! And that you would surely do it again!”

Radish grabbed her by the horn and pulled her in close. “Listen here, flea. I fled that post trying to save my princess! And I stayed put this time to save my other princess!”

She leaned forward, sniffing at Radish. Radish leaned back in disgust.

“You… you are full of love for your rulers!” she said with surprise.

“And so what if I am!?”

She grinned wickedly and opened her maw. Radish watched a stream of pink light flow out of his chest and into her mouth. He felt colder. He felt smaller. He felt weaker. He stumbled back and slumped to the ground.

She ripped free of the grass and loomed over him.

“Your love is the most nourishing I’ve ever tasted! With you as my food source, I could usurp the Queen herself!”

Radish struggled to his hooves. “Yeah? Snack on this.”

He thrust the spear at her. She caught it and pinned Radish to the ground. She sucked another gulp of love out of Radish. His vision blurred.

“Rest now,” she said, clutching him closely. “Feed me.


Radish’s world went dark.

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