• 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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61. The Conqueror

Dear Twilight,

I just read the reports on your mission to the Crystal Empire. I’m relieved you came out okay. Thanks for saving the world again. There’s a donut waiting for you at Joe’s. Spike gets one, too.

We all just heard that you’ll be providing the entertainment for the upcoming delegate assembly. Congratulations! That’s quite an honor. You’ll do great.

Your Pen Pal,

Lt. Radish Root


Shining Armor leaned back in his office desk chair. Radish sat in the chair before him, anticipating interesting news.

“Well, Root, I’ve turned in my two-week’s notice to Princess Celestia. After that, Cadance and I will be moving to the Crystal Empire.”

“Congratulations, your highness.”

“Heh, I guess I’ll have to get used to that. Me, a prince. But until I’m out of here, it’s still ‘captain’ to you, got it?”

“Yes, captain.”

“With me leaving, there’s new opportunity for advancement. There’s going to be a new captain sitting in here, for example.”

“Yes, sir?”

“And it’s going to be Barrel Roller.”

“Excellent choice.”

“But of course, now that she’s number one, she’ll need a number two.”

Radish just kept silent.

“And that’ll be Saguaro Shade. He’s being promoted to commander.”

“That’s wonderful.”

“Yep.”

The two stallions stared at each other.

“Uh, what did you want to talk to me about?” Radish asked.

“Oh, right. A few things, actually. First of all, the squad that was assigned to you during the wedding- Cadence and I were very impressed by how they handled themselves in battle.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“That’s why I’m taking them with me.”

“To the Empire? Permanently?”

“Yeah. I want them guarding Cadance just as they guarded Luna. They’re being designated ‘Honor Guard’.”

“That’s wonderful. For them.”

“And speaking of Luna, all those alterations you made to her tower? I need you to take them down.”

“Sir?”

“Selenic Spire is a masterpiece of ancient Equestrian architecture. You filled it with barbed wire and flood lamps. It looks like a prison on the inside.”

“Sir, I was short on time. Now that the wedding is over, I was hoping the additions could be rebuilt into permanent features.”

“You think Luna wants hurricane fencing blocking her stairwell forever?”

“Actually, I was thinking an elevator should be put in the center of the stairwell. It would block unauthorized fliers, and make-”

“An elevator, Root? Are you a royal architect now?”

“No, sir. I’ll, uh, get to taking everything down.”

“Not today. There’s an important package that needs to make it from Ponyville to Uptown Canterlot. You’ve been assigned as the courier."

“Oh?”

“It’ll be waiting for you at the platform in Ponyville. Use the code word ‘sugar’. The correct response from the contact is ‘sprinkles’.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And one last thing- Surprise Changeling Check!”

“Oh!”

“Tell me a detail from Twilight's birthday party.”

“Birthday… oh. Twilight was wearing a new outfit that Rarity made for her. A butter-yellow slip dress with white trim and a pink neckerchief.”

Shining Armor raised an eyebrow. “You’ve got an awfully strong memory of my sister’s dress, Root.”

“Good thing, too. Otherwise you’d be suspicious of me, right?”

“Dismissed, Root.”

“It was a perfect fit, too.”

Dismissed, Root.


The Friendship Express pulled into the Ponyville train station with a hiss of steam and squeal of steel. Radish stepped out onto the platform and looked around.

“Radish! Hi!” called a joyous voice. Radish turned to see Pinkie Pie.

“Oh, hello, Pinkie Pie.”

She stood, grinning widely at him.

“I’m sorry, I can’t socialize now,” said Radish. “I’m a courier for an important package. In fact, you probably shouldn’t be present when I pick it up. It might contain top secret…”

She leaned forward, barely containing her giggling.

Radish sighed. “Sugar?”

“Sprinkles!” she cheered. She reached behind herself and pulled out a pink cake box tied up with string. Radish took it.

“Seriously? I’m escorting a cake?”

“You didn’t know?”

“I should have guessed. I got knocked out protecting a princess, it makes sense this is all they’d trust me with.”

“Oh, you think this is like a demotion?”

“Pinkie Pie, guards protect the most important ponies in the land. A baby can sit next to a cake.”

“Are you kidding!? The Cakes’ twins nearly destroyed this! No way I’d trust them over you with it!”

“Well, thanks. But it’s still a lowly duty for a guard.”

“I assumed they were rewarding you with this job.”

“Rewarding me?”

“Yeah, giving you an easy mission to a nice part of town. It’s a total plum job. Not that it’s a plum cake, mind you.”

“Thanks, Pinkie. Well, I’ll take the cake from here. The Royal Guard thanks you.”

“No problemo. But you gotta sign for it.”

She held out a form, which Radish signed. She tore off a carbon copy receipt for him. Radish took the cake box by the string, then walked over to a bench and sat with it. He kept his hoof on his sword’s hilt. Pinkie Pie sat next to him.

“Want some company while you wait for the next train?”

“Okay. But first, Surprise Changeling Check!”

“Whoa! Okie dokie!”

“How did Luna tell you to resolve the Appleloosan conflict?”

“I know this one! She suggested ‘an arranged political marriage to unite the belligerents!’” Pinkie said, trying to imitate Luna’s tone.

“Correct.”

“I don’t think any of them are married yet, but the tribe and town are good friends now.”

“I’m glad. How’s the bakery?”

“Great! We started selling gigataternuts!”

“What’s that?”

“They’re gigantic potato flour donuts! Oh, yeah! I saved you one!”

She pulled out a paper bag with one such donut in it. It was glazed, and it was the size of Radish’s head.

“Wow. Look at that. What do I owe you?”

“It’s a gift, Radish!”

“Thank you.”

“Happy to! We usually sell out of these in the first hour each morning.”

“This town loves its sugar, doesn’t it?”

“Sugar is the fuel of life, Radish.”

“I guess that’s true.”

“So,” she said, nudging Radish, “Twilight says you’ve got a girlfriend now. Wooh-ooh!”

“Yeah,” said Radish, smiling. “Fanny.”

“Fanny!?”

“It’s what her friends call her. Short for ‘Light Fantastic’.”

“You know that word means-”

“I know. She loves that.”

“You should bring her to Sugarcube Corner! You can share a shake with two straws while gazing into each other’s eyes!”

“Well, she’s not really into corny stuff.”

“No, the shake could be any flavor.”

“Good one.”

“Thanks. You know, it’s funny- I was thinking of introducing you to my sisters. I bet you would have hit it off with one of them.”

“What are they like?”

“They’re all super smart, super funny, and super pretty!”

“Sounds like they can do a lot better than a guy like me.”

Pinkie Pie shook her head. “Radish, I don’t like it when my friends use self-deprecating humor. You should use self-appreciating humor.”

“Okay, as soon as I figure out what that is.”

“Well, I should get back. Enjoy the gigataternut. And enjoy the cake!”

“I’ll enjoy the donut, but the cake’s not for me. It’s going Uptown. It’s probably for some officer’s mistress’s birthday.”

“Oh? Well, I hope whoever ends up eating it enjoys it.”

She said goodbye and trotted away. Radish sat by the cake, eating his donut and watching ponies coming and going. He tried to scan the crowds for suspicious ponies as defined by palace guidelines, but none met the criteria. After another thirty minutes, his train rolled in.

He took a seat with the cake box, keeping a hoof on it. He showed his Royal Rail Pass to the conductor and bought tickets for himself and for the cake. He wrapped his tail around the box to steady it. The train departed.

As it picked up speed, Radish heard a series of gasps from the other ponies in the car, and looked up to see them gathering at the windows of the right side of the car. Radish looked out the window.

A gigantic, inverted glass fishbowl was descending on Ponyville.

Its rim would land across the tracks. The train wasn’t going to clear it in time. The conductor must have realized this and engaged the train’s brakes. Radish gripped the cake and braced himself. The train skidded on its tracks, not stopping fast enough. The rim of the bowl came down on Radish’s car.

The glass barrier hit the roof of the car, pinning it in place and crushing it into the tracks. It continued to press unabated, cracking through the car like a knife through an eggshell.

An elderly unicorn stallion stumbled and fell into the aisle. He was right under the path of destruction- the rim would crush him flat. He screamed.

Radish leapt out of his seat and grabbed the senior, pulling him free. The glass wall slammed onto his tail, pressing it into the floor of the car. Radish didn’t have enough slack in his tail to turn around and see it. He pulled out his sword and cut his tail off.

He turned. The wall of glass finished smashing through the train car, smooshing the train tracks flat into the ground while pressing his severed tail between them. Ponies on both sides of the newly-halved car gathered to see the glass.

Radish tapped it with his hoof. A flash of red emanated from where he touched it.

“It’s not glass, it’s a forcefield!” gasped the elderly unicorn.

“Everyone, stand back!” called Radish. The ponies stepped away.

Radish bucked the forcefield with his rear hooves with all his strength. He had no effect on it aside from another flash of red. He slashed at it with his sword. The wall of force made his sword vibrate and spark, but there was otherwise no effect on the barrier.

This shouldn’t be possible. Only Shining Armor can conjure a citywide forcefield, and this doesn’t look like his. Unless…

Radish grit his teeth.

Did Twilight do this? Is she experimenting? Trying to learn her brother’s spell? No, Celestia has been keeping a close eye on her studies since the heart-stop incident.

This could be a new dangerous enemy. But is it outside the barrier with me... or inside where I can't help?

“Who did this?” asked a pony. “Is this Discord’s doing?”

“Discord is stone, ma’am,” said Radish. “And the statue is in secure magic storage.”

“Then who?” asked another.

Radish turned to the crowd behind him. They were all staring at him, expectantly.

“First, we all need to get off this train. It’s not safe.”

As the ponies climbed out of the train car on both sides of the divide, Radish looked at where he was sitting. A mare on the other side noticed him. She went to his seat and held up the cake box.

“Is this important?” she asked.

“No. It’s a cake. Go on and enjoy it.”

She nodded, and carried it off.

The ponies from both sides of the forcefield gathered on the grass outside to stare at each other through it. Radish adjusted his armor, then stood on his hind legs to address both crowds.

“Folks, I need everyone to stay calm. Ponyville is within sight of Canterlot, so the palace will be responding to this soon. Keep away from the barrier and the train.”

“What about us?” cried a pony inside the forcefield. “We’re trapped in here! Along with whatever created it!”

“I say we go into town and find out who did this!” barked a large stallion beside her. “Then we take them down!”

“Folks, I don’t recommend challenging the maker of this thing. For all you trapped inside, I recommend returning to your homes or the train station.”

Radish walked up to the forcefield. He stared into town through his binoculars, but couldn’t see anything helpful.

Celestia is out of the country. That means Luna will have to deal with this. Is she up for it? It would be her first real test of leadership.

Of course she is. She’s Luna.

“Root!” called a voice above him.

A pegasus chariot dropped out of the sky carrying Shining Armor and two high-ranking unicorns. Radish saluted him. Numerous other pegasus-borne carts and carriages followed and landed nearby.

“Sir!”

“Root, we could see this thing from Canterlot. Report.”

“A forcefield of unknown origin has cut off the town, sir.”

“Was anyone hurt?”

“Not on the train. We were lucky. What are my orders?”

“We’re providing aid and transportation to these stranded civilians. I’m putting them up in Canterlot accommodations for the time being.”

“And then?”

Shining Armor walked past him, to the forcefield.

“One thing at a time, Root.”

The guards helped the train passengers onto transports. They took off for Canterlot. Other guards instructed the passengers on the other side of the barrier where to go. Radish pulled Shining Armor off to the side.

“Sir, there’s a cadre of Diamond Dogs nearby. They’re experts at digging, and they like jewels. We can hire them to burrow tunnels into Ponyville-”

“Root, for all we know, Twilight made this to contain a threat. We’re not breaching it until we know more.”

“I see. Well, Zecora should be outside the barrier. I can see what she-”

“I want you to get on one of the transports and debrief with Corporal Shade.”

“Yes, sir.”

“By the way, where’s the package?”

Radish looked at his tail stub.

“I’m sorry, sir. It didn’t make it out in time. I failed the mission, and I’ll accept whatever punishment you deem appropriate.”

“It’s just a cake, Root.”

“If you feel a court martial is in order, I won’t contest it. I don’t want to bring any more shame to the Guard than I already have.”

“I said, it’s just a cake, Root.”

“I realize there’s never been a death penalty in Equestria, but I understand that you need to make an example out of me. I will go to the gallows with dignity, sir. It’s what a cake-misplacer like me deserves.”

“Root, shut up and get on a transport.”


Radish stood next to Luna on her balcony as she peered at Ponyville through her telescope. She clicked her tongue.

“Very interesting spell,” she said. “It would appear that someone has applied extremely powerful metamagic to an extremely basic unicorn cantrip, and added a whimsical visual flair. I surmise that the caster of this spell has great power, but little experience wielding it. We are likely dealing with a low-level unicorn using an artifact or potion to boost their abilities.”

“So it could be anyone," mused Radish.

“Yes. But as you well know, such shortcuts come at a cost. The spellcaster may be living on borrowed time. They could be desperate, with little to lose.”

“Just say the word, ma’am, and the Royal Guard will bust through that bowl and take down whoever’s doing this.”

Luna looked at Radish. “You are worried for the girls, yes?”

“Yes.”

“As am I. But they have proven themselves against such threats, time and again.”

“But they usually have their Elements when they do.”

“Indeed, and I believe the Elements were the intended target. Our mystery villain must have planned to seize them, to further boost their power.”

“But we keep the Elements here.”

“Yes. Now that they’ve realized their mistake, they will come for them in Canterlot. They must be gathering strength under that bowl for the final assault. That is why I must have all guards here to defend.”

“Then, what should we do about Ponyville?”

“I will confer with the mage council. We will analyze this magic and prepare a counterspell. But it will take time to dispel something that large. Those girls will be on their own until then.”

Radish walked up to the balcony’s rail and put his forehooves on it. He stared worriedly at Ponyville. “Let’s hope their winning streak holds out.”


Radish and a battalion of guards stood ready in Canterlot Tower, directly in front of the door to the chamber holding the Elements of Harmony. They had been there for hours.

Stay safe out there, girls, thought Radish.

A puff of dragon smoke flew to Radish and popped into a scroll. The other guards watched him read it.

“Well, Root?” a guard asked.

“It’s from Spike,” said Radish. “The enemy is somepony they know. And Twilight has a plan to defeat her.”

“Does she need the Elements?”

“No, she’s going to use a doorstop and hair dye.”

“Kind of cocky these days, isn’t she?”


The news spread across the castle during the next hour, through official channels and the staff grapevine.

Trixie Lulamoon, a traveling illusionist who bore a grudge against Twilight, had returned to Ponyville, corrupted by an ancient artifact that granted her immense power. She had banished Twilight, cut off the town, and enslaved the populace. Twilight had cunningly conned her out of the artifact and restored peace.

Radish smiled as he read her account of using disguise and distraction to fool a more powerful opponent. Good job, Twilight. Thinking with your brain instead of your horn.

“What’s going to happen to Lulamoon?” asked Spats, reading the letter over Radish’s shoulder.

“She doesn’t say,” replied Radish, flipping the letter over. “Probably prison for life.”

“I dunno, she could try an insanity plea.”

“That might work. You’d have to be insane to take on Twilight.”

Radish returned his armor to the locker room. As he hung it up, he noticed a rustling in one of the pockets. He reached in and pulled out the copy of the cake receipt from Pinkie Pie. He read it over. The package was a bourbon sponge cake, custom-ordered with instructions to write a message on top:

FOR

MY

HERO

Radish made a snort.

Great. Delivering sweets with love notes. I’m a side character in a cheesy romance play. If only Ma could see me now.

He joined Spats, Bunker Buster, and another bunkmate, a pegasus mare named Boleadora, at their common room table for poker.

Radish put down a chip. “I raise five. And call.”

The ponies showed their hooves. Spats won. Radish sighed.

“Can’t win ‘em all, Rad,” said Spats, pulling in the pot.

A valet entered the room with a familiar pink box. “Lieutenant Root? A citizen has left a package for you.”

“A citizen?”

“They left an explanatory note.”

Radish took the package. He read the note:

Dear Guard from the Train,

Thank you for keeping everypony on the train calm during the crisis. This looked way too important for me to keep, so I wanted to return it to you. You deserve a nice cake.

Sincerely,

Sugarberry


Radish opened the box. The cake was still inside, untouched. Even the lettering was intact.

“Okay,” he said. “It may be a stupid mission, but at least I can complete it.”

“You’re going now?” asked Boleadora.

“I can’t delay a mission without good reason, now can I? And this is time-sensitive.”

“How so?” she asked.

“Well, how long do cakes last before they get stale?” asked Radish.

“I don’t know, mine was a pie family,” said Bunker Buster.

“You’re in the Pie family?” Spats asked.

“No. Sweet Celestia, no.”


Fully armored, armed, and carrying a cake, Radish stepped boldly into the streets of Uptown Canterlot.

He walked past massive estates and upscale boutiques, getting disapproving looks from a number of well-dressed ponies. With some searching, he found the building at the address on the receipt. It was a tall, thin, pink tower, surrounded by a high golden fence.

He approached the front gate. A muscular unicorn mare in ornate rose gold armor stood behind it, eyeing Radish suspiciously and gripping a trident in her hoof.

“Hello. I have a delivery.”

“Sure you do.”

She stared at Radish dully, saying nothing else. Radish frowned.

“Sorry, I don’t think you heard me,” he said. “I said, I have a delivery. It’s a cake.”

“Sorry, I don’t think you understood me. We’re not accepting packages from randos off the street. Trot along.”

“I am a lieutenant in the Royal Guard-”

“Because Princess Celestia’s Royal Guard is well-known for delivering baked goods, aren’t they? But even a changeling would know the old ‘delivering a cake’ routine. And we’ve had enough surprises from bugs to last a lifetime.”

“Look here. This cake survived a train wreck and a mad mage’s dictatorship. It’s come a long way to get here. You are going to take it, sign for it with a smile, and then thank me for coming out this way.”

She blew a thin whistle. Radish held his ears in pain as four more female guards brandishing weighted nets, tridents, and tall shields rushed to her side.

“Cardiac Squad, this pony refuses to leave the premises. Please turn him away in a manner that will keep him away.”

The gate slid open. The guards surrounded Radish. He put the cake down on the ground and bent low, growling and digging in his hooves.

“You really want to do this over a cake?” he hissed.

“Do you?” she asked.

“I’m going to get this damn thing inside, and you five are going to step aside.”

“Sounds like a threat to me. Cardiac Squad! Attend!”

A guard threw a net at Radish. He snatched it out of the air in his teeth and swung it in circles over his head, whizzing its weights through the air. The squad backed off, and Radish threw the net back over its owner. Another lunged Radish with her trident, and Radish twisted his torso to catch the barbs on his armor’s plates, then twisted again to flip the trident from her hooves. He caught it mid-air, then slammed its business end into the pavement, pinning another assailant’s tail into the ground as she charged past him with her shield.

Another guard seized Radish’s neck from behind. He rolled forward, throwing her into the guard whose trident he took. A magical aura spread over Radish, dangling him in the air. The squad leader, horn aglow, approached Radish with her trident floating above her, aiming it at Radish’s neck.

“Remember, you wanted this,” she said, and pressed it forward.

Radish slipped his hoof out of his boot, which still levitated in the aura. He snatched his spear off his back, jammed the spearhead between plates of his other boot, and engaged the spring mechanism to extend the spear to its full length. The spear sprang out from Radish’s boot, and its blunt butt end smacked the leader in the face. Her aura fizzled out and dropped Radish, who seized her in a headlock. She grit her teeth and squeezed her aura around Radish’s neck. The two raced to throttle each other.

The building’s tall double doors swung open. Princess Mi Amore Cadenza strolled out. She saw two of her best guards lying in a heap, another struggling to pull off a net, one trying to unpin her tail from the ground, and their leader in a life-and-death struggle with one of her aunts’ guards. She then noticed the cake box on the ground in between them all, undisturbed. She lifted it in her aura, opened it to check its contents, and smiled.

“Chief Petty Officer Crosspatch,” she said, curiously, “what are you doing?”

“Subduing this gatecrasher, your highness,” she wheezed, giving up some breath to answer her princess.

“Lieutenant Root, what are you doing?”

Delivering a cake, your highness,” he said, with the proudest determination he ever mustered in his life.

The princess sighed. “Please release each other.”

Crosspatch obeyed, dropping her aura. Radish let go of her neck. The two breathed hard.

“Now, let me guess,” said the princess. “You, Crosspatch, got testy with a delivery pony instead of telling him about the new security protocols?”

“He was hostile, ma’am,” she said. “With an implausible story. Likely changeling.”

“And you, Lieutenant Root, you got your hackles up rather than explain yourself rationally?”

“Chief Petty here wasn’t listening to reason.”

The two guards glowered at each other.

“I see,” said the princess. “Both of you come inside. Cardiac Squad… as you were.”

They followed her inside the building. She passed the cake to a maid.

“Linden Lime, would you prepare the table and set this out? But don’t cut into it yet.”

“Yes, princess.”

She took the two into a sitting room and pointed to a frilly pink loveseat.

“Now, I want both of you to sit there and hold hooves.”

“Ma’am?” asked Crosspatch.

“Princess?” asked Radish.

“Whenever you’re ready,” said the princess with a smile.

“He hasn’t passed a changeling check, your highness!” her guard protested.

“Oh, very well. Lieutenant, where did you first meet Twilight?”

“Outside Shining Armor’s office. She told you about that?”

“Yes. Now, sit. Hold hooves.”

Radish and Crosspatch begrudgingly sat on the love seat. They placed their hooves into one another’s. They grimaced at each other.

“Now, stay like that until I return.”

“Ma’am-” started Crosspatch.

The princess left. Chief Petty Officer Crosspatch looked at Radish.

“Nice going, lieutenant.”

“This is your fault.”

“You’re lucky we didn’t kill you.”

“I subdued all five of you in seconds.”

“You scored a few sucker punches because we were holding back, that’s all. The princess saved your life.”

“You should have just taken the cake.”

“What kind of lieutenant delivers a cake?”

“One your princess knows by name.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard the name ‘Root’ around here. You’re the guy who got knocked out by changelings, aren’t you? The only casualty of the entire battle.”

“Yeah? Where were you when their queen nabbed your princess?”

“That happened in your palace. Believe me, an investigation is coming.”

“Will the investigation uncover why you didn’t notice your princess had been replaced by an impostor?”

“We barely spent any time with the impostor. She had us out patrolling the streets of Canterlot.”

“And that didn’t rouse your suspicion?”

“No, because the real Princess Cadance does things like that all the time. She’s a princess of the people. She always puts the safety of everypony else before her.”

“And look where that got her.”

“I have protested her security priorities time and again. She does not listen to me. If I could shut her in a safe room all day, I would.”

“Let me guess, her bedroom has big balcony doors and wide, weak windows?”

“Every blasted building in this town does. It’s just inviting trouble.”

“Don’t I know it,” sighed Radish. “If Luna hadn’t been weakened, I never would have been able to convince her to sleep in her cellar.”

“It’s like they don’t care that they’re the most important ponies alive,” Crosspatch grumbled. “They just leave themselves wide open to attack.”

“Yet we’re the ones who get blamed when the attack comes.”

“Did you see her just stroll out during our fight? Madness.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” said Radish. “That cake was in unknown hooves all day. I bet she hasn’t even thought of checking it for… poison…”

The two guards stared at each other. They leapt off the loveseat and galloped down the hall.

“PRINCESS!” they howled together. They burst into the dining room, to see the cake on a sterling stand and Princess Cadenza holding up a knife and server in her aura.

“NO!” they cried. Crosspatch leapt to tackle her princess while Radish bounded to belly flop onto the cake.

Princess Cadenza froze them both mid-air in her aura. She raised an eyebrow.

“I thought I told you to hold hooves until I returned.”

They both sputtered panicked overlapping warnings about the cake.

“Ma’am! Could be poisoned!”

“ -broken chain of custody!”

“Let me taste for you!”

“Trixie could have-!”

“Oh?” the princess said. “You two think there’s something wrong with this cake?”

She dug a fork into one side, and lifted a morsel to her lips. Radish and Crosspatch flailed and pleaded. Cadenza smiled.

“It sounds like you two have found common ground,” she said, lightheartedly, putting the fork down.

“Yes, ma’am,” they said simultaneously.

“You both just want what’s best for your princesses.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Are you ever going to start a jurisdictional slap-fight on my doorstep again?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Good.”

She placed them on the carpet. “I scanned the cake already. It’s fine. A little dry, but that’s on Trixie.”

The two guards sighed with relief.

“Chief Petty Officer Crosspatch, please resume your guard duty.”

“Aye, ma’am.” She saluted and left.

“Lieutenant Root, come join me at the table.”

Radish climbed into a tall plush chair. Cadenza sat down opposite him, with the cake between them.

“Radish, Twilight and my aunts speak highly of you. So you can imagine my surprise to find you in a brouhaha with my guards on the street.”

“Please forgive me, ma’am.”

“You had a bad day, didn’t you?”

“Trixie took over Ponyville. I was nearly crushed, I lost my tail, and Twilight could have been killed.”

“But that’s not what’s bothering you. I can feel pain in a pony’s heart. Your pains are like a pile of branches, where pulling up one drags up others entwining it.”

“You scanned my private feelings?”

“It’s passive. I only feel what you put out. Please, talk to me, Radish. No judgment, and nothing will leave this room.”

“Really?”

“I swear on my crown.”

“It started before the train. With your husband.”

“Oh? With Shiny?”

“He took away my squad and promoted them over me. He’s having me undo all my security additions to Luna’s tower. And last but not least, he had me deliver a cake.”

“You didn’t want to?”

“I’m a lieutenant of the Royal Guard. I was trained to, and I’ve pledged my life to, protecting the most important ponies in the world. Not pastry.”

“Radish, this mission was my idea. I just thought you’d like to get out of the castle for a bit, socialize with Pinkie Pie, and then have a nice relaxing ride on the Friendship Express.”

“As an errand boy? As the go-between for you and Shining?”

“Radish, did you think I ordered the cake for Shiny?”

“…yes?”

“But you see the message on it.”

For my hero? Who else would…”

He stared into her eyes. She smiled warmly.

“Me?”

“Of course!”

“I’m your hero?”

“You saved Auntie Luna during the invasion. You helped us reach the ceremony in time to save Shiny. And you foiled a kidnapping plot against me!” She bowed her head. “Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”

Radish looked aside. “Oh. It was nothing. I was just doing my duty, Princess Mi Amore Cadenza.”

“Just ‘Cadance’, please.”

“All right.”

“I’ve been meaning to speak with you since the wedding. I’m sorry if I seemed caught off-guard by your cutie mark. When Shining asked me to meet with a guard with a cutie mark problem, I thought he meant you were markless.”

“An adult blank flank? Those exist?”

“It’s rare, but it happens. Part of my job is to help ponies with unique social problems like that.”

“Princess Cadance, do you have any idea what my cutie marks could mean?”

"Are you sure they're not abstract? Could they represent, say, a desire to make others happy?"

"Pinkie Pie's talent is making others happy. She got balloons."

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't presume to have insight about something you've probably spent your whole life wondering about."

“Do you think I’m… supposed to have sex with Celestia?”

Cadance shook her head. “Cutie marks are supposed to reflect what makes you special. They’re not supposed to make demands of their ponies.”

“But why sex? I got these as a kid! And why Celestia?”

"I've got an idea. Would you let me feel into your heart?"

"What would that do?"

"Every heart tells its own story. Maybe your heart has something to say about Celestia."

"I don't really get it, but go ahead."

She closed her eyes and lit up her horn. Radish's body glowed with a pink hue. He felt his body tingle. The princess frowned.

"Oh, hold still- I need to get this."

Suddenly, a black squirming wisp wormed its way out of Radish's chest. Cadenza held it above the table in her aura.

"What on earth is that?" asked Radish.

"A shard of that heart-stopping curse Twilight hit you with. It was stuck in your left ventricle. Another twenty years or so with this thing in your heart, and it would have corrupted your entire being."

"Sheesh. Thank you."

She let go of it, and it dissipated into nothingness. "Okay, back into your heart."

She concentrated again. After a few moments, she smiled and cut off the spell.

"I'm sorry, Radish. I couldn't find any leads about your cutie marks. But I did pick up your feelings for your girlfriend. They're very warm."

“Her name is Light,” Radish said, smiling. “I see her on my days off.”

“That’s wonderful! Let me offer my services in that regard. If you need any relationship advice, insights on mares, ideas for dates and so forth, I’d be happy to help you out.”

“Oh? Thanks.”

She bent low and spoke softly. “If you need any questions answered about the more intimate aspects of dating, don’t be afraid to ask. I will be discreet and understanding, no matter what.”

“You promise?”

“I swear.”

“You won’t even tell Shining Armor? Or Twilight? Or Celestia?”

“Of course not.”

Radish looked around the room, then hunched low to her. “Well, we are having this one problem. It’s really embarrassing. I wasn’t sure who I could turn to.”

She bent in closer. “I’ll help if I can.”

“See, sometimes she complains that my, uh… stallionhood…”

She nodded understandingly. “Yes?”

“…is too much for her to, well, accommodate. But it’s not like I can make it smaller.”

The princess leaned back. “I, uh, see. That… is a problem…”

“How do you and Shining Armor deal with it?”

“Oh, his isn’t that…”

Radish raised an eyebrow and held in a smile. The princess gasped.

“You’re messing with me!” she laughed.

“Sorry, ma’am. Like I said, it’s been a long day.”

“Okay, you’ve had your fun. But my offer is serious. Any help you need, just write.”

"Thanks. I might take you up on that someday."

“Now let’s have some cake.”

The princess sliced and served the cake. Radish took a bite. His eyes bugged out.

“It’s really good.”

“That’s why I ordered from Sugarcube Corner. Nothing compares.”

“Thank you for doing this for me. I appreciate it.”

“No problem. You’re the only one of Twilight’s friends I haven’t met.”

Radish sighed. “You met the others at the wedding, huh? After the battle?”

“Yes?”

“I wasn’t around to meet because I got knocked unconscious. I was the only guard who did.”

“That bothers you.”

“Every write-up of the battle will mention that I'm the reason it wasn't a perfect victory. I'm an asterisk in military history now. School children will be quizzed on why the name 'Radish Root' became synonymous with the weakest link.”

“Radish, the changelings went after you so hard because they could feel powerful love in you. I could feel it, too. I still can.”

“Really?”

“You have a lot of love for Celestia and Luna.”

“You’re not going to tell them, are you?”

“They know.”

“But if their enemies are attracted -nourished- by my love for them, I’m putting them in danger by being their guard.”

“Don’t say that. Love is a strength, not a weakness. It won the battle in the end.”

“Hmm.”

They finished their slices of cake. Radish put his napkin aside.

“Thank you for the cake, your highness. I feel a lot better now.”

“You should take the rest for your fellow guards.”

“Actually, could you share it with Chief Petty Officer Crosspatch and the rest of your Cardiac Squad?”

“That’s nice. They’ll appreciate it.”

Radish hopped off his chair and saluted. Cadenza returned it.

“I’m glad I got to meet you before we moved away,” she said.

“Oh, that’s right. You two are going to rule the Crystal Empire.”

“Not rule, serve. The crystal ponies think I have some connection to their lost royal family.”

“Really?”

“But even if I don’t, I’ll do everything I can to help them.”

“Good luck, princess. Be well.”

“Thank you. I can leave in good spirits, knowing that my aunts and sister-in-law are in good hooves,” she said, winking at Radish. “I saw how easily you beat my Cardiac Squad. You know, Shiny said you were a good fighter.”

“Really?”

“Among other things.”


Radish pinned the receipt from the cake on his bunk wall, next to his deed to the Sea of Omens. He smiled.

Friend to Celestia, Champion to Luna, and now Hero to Cadance. If only Ma could see me now.

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