• Published 23rd Sep 2021
  • 10,189 Views, 4,154 Comments

The Only Mark That Matters - CocktailOlive

The story of Radish Root, a pony with obscene cutie marks.

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6. The Night

Throngs of revelers filled the palace grounds. Though Celestia was never in Canterlot for the Summer Sun Celebration, hundreds of her admirers partied at her palace each year just the same. There never had been any trouble during Summer Sun, but something about this morning felt wrong to Radish.

He scanned the crowd for anything unusual. Palace guards were each assigned a small collapsible spyglass for long-range observing. Radish hated them- they were practically the same model that were sold in the kids section of the palace’s gift shop, just with a different logo stamped on them. Radish longed for the solid feel of his Plains Rangers binoculars. He was now trying to adjust his spyglass to focus on the guests, barely able to make out faces from flanks.

A bell chimed, and the crowd began calling out the countdown to sunrise. Radish felt his haunches tense.

“Three… two… ONE!” The band struck up a celebratory song as ponies cheered and clinked champagne flutes.

The sun did not rise.

Shocked gasps rose from the gathered. Radish looked at the palace's clock tower, then his own pocket watch. The time was right, but the sky was wrong.

Is something wrong with the sun? Or... is something wrong with Celestia!?

Murmurs arose from the crowds, followed by panicked shouts. Some of the guards among them were calling for calm, and the band resumed their song to try to bring some sense of normalcy back. Some of the masses were already rushing for the exits.

Radish scanned the horizon with his spyglass. Celestia had chosen Ponyville this year, a small hamlet which was visible from Canterlot. He saw a few blurred lights from the town, but try as he might, he couldn’t make out any details as to what was happening there. Then, he saw something rushing toward the palace from the town. A pegasus guard, one who had accompanied Celestia there, was barreling toward Canterlot at an astounding pace, leaving a crackle of lightning in his wake. He barely slowed as he reached the palace, and flew right onto the balcony where Shining Armor was stationed.

This is bad.

The next hour was a blur for Radish. The first new set of orders was to get the celebrants out and secure the palace. Nothing was explained to the lower ranks. Rumors were spread, debunked, and replaced with new, worse rumors. All anyone was sure of was that something awful must have happened to Celestia. The Wonderbolts, the nation’s fastest team of fliers, were dispatched to Ponyville. A contingent of pegasus guards towing earth and unicorn guards in chariots followed. Radish wasn’t chosen to go.

A curfew was called over Canterlot. With nothing to do but stare worriedly at the sky, ponies took notice of a change in the moon. The Mare in the Moon, a dark pattern on the moon's surface in the shape of a unicorn's profile, had vanished. The rumors grew worse from there. Most ponies had some vague memory of an old pony tale about the Mare in the Moon, but none had ever sat down and read the story in its entirety, if it was ever written down at all.

The only pony who would have ever read something like that would probably be… Twilight Sparkle!

Radish found Zero, the pegasus charioteer, doing a security sweep of skies above the north wing. He called him down.

“Yes, I took Twilight Sparkle to Ponyville,” he said. “But we just dropped her and Spike off, and came back here.”

“You could have been one of the last ponies to see her. Did she say anything?”

Zero nodded.

“She spent the whole trip complaining to Spike about her assignment. She was saying something about a prophecy. She saw this coming, Rad. Nopony listened to her, not even the princess.”

“Prophecy? Can you remember any details?”

“She kept talking about a nightmare, and the moon,” Zero said, looking at the dark sky. “Wasn’t there some old myth about that? Nightmare Moon?”

“If Twilight was researching this, she may have left some records behind. Come on, we can search her study for this prophecy!”

“Our orders are to protect the palace.”

“But our job is to protect the princess. Twilight’s notes may help to do that.”

“Well, I’m not leaving my post. And you shouldn’t, either.”

He flew back up and resumed patrol. Radish looked out at Twilight’s dorm, a tall, lone tower near Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns.

This won’t take long. She was always so organized.

Twilight’s dorm was more like a book depository with a bed. Radish held up a firefly lamp, and gazed at the massive collection of books arranged both neatly on shelves and piled high into seemingly-arbitrary stacks.

Twilight learned about Nightmare Moon from one of these. I just need to pick up where she left off. That will lead to Twilight, which will lead to Nightmare Moon, which will lead to Celestia.

He flipped through book after book. Twilight’s interest in reading material was vast and varied. It was not as well-organized as he imagined.

No wonder she needs a dragon assistant. What other creature has the patience to deal with all this?

He heard hoofbeats running up to the tower from outside.

“Twily!?” he heard Shining Armor call. “Is that you!?”

Oh no. He must have seen the light from the palace.

Before Radish could react, Shining Armor burst into the room with a hopeful expression on his face. He saw Radish, and his expression turned the foulest Radish had ever seen.

“Root! What the hay are you doing in my sister’s bedroom?” he demanded, advancing on Radish, his horn sparking angrily.

“She knew, captain! She knew some kind of disaster was coming! She knew something about Nightmare Moon!”

Shining Armor’s face twisted.

“And what do you know about Nightmare Moon?”

“Nothing! I thought that if-”

“We were keeping it quiet so as not to start a panic! A monstrous dark mare appeared in Ponyville. She took credit for kidnapping the princess. And my sister stood up to her and identified her as Nightmare Moon. Then Nightmare Moon attacked the guards and escaped! Both she and Twilight are missing, and now I find you abandoning your post and rummaging through her things!?”

“Twilight’s the smartest pony in town! If we follow her research-”

“Enough! You’ve disobeyed orders, broke into Twilight’s home, distracted me from my duties… and… and… whoa.”

Midday light filled the room. The sun was up. The eternal night was over, as unexpectedly as it began.

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