• 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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62. The Parolee

Shining Armor took the briefing room lectern for the last time as Captain of the Guard. Today’s briefing was not the note he wanted to end on.

“First off- and let me be very clear on this,” he said, “yes, Princess Celestia has decided to parole Discord from his petrified form, with the intent of reforming him into an ally. And yes, she is putting AG1 in charge of this reform program.”

A hundred mutters washed over the briefing room.

Celestia, what are you thinking? Radish thought.

“Yes, she has the authority to do so. And yes, the Royal Guard supports her decisions.”

Most eyes turned to Barrel Roller, who was sitting in the desk beside the lectern. Her hooves were crossed and her expression was mirthless.

“The princess says she has taken every precaution,” said Barrel Roller. “And if Discord doesn’t play ball, it’s back to the basement for him.”

“If any tourists ask,” said Shining Armor, “do not get into a debate with them. Refer them to the Complaints Department.”

The “Complaints Department” was what Shining Armor jokingly called Barrel Roller’s inbox. Barrel Roller narrowed her eyes at her captain.

“Now, onto the next matter…”

The guards filtered out of the briefing room. Radish started toward his first patrol route of the day. Spats trotted up to him.

“So, on a scale of one to ten, how much impending doom are you feeling right now?”

“Twilight Sparkle can handle Discord.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about.”

“Huh?”

“Radish, once this Discord business gets out to the public, they’re going to be calling for Celestia’s head.”

“Come on, no they won’t.”

“Rad, surely you’ve heard the rumors.”

“Rumors are decibit a dozen, Spats.”

“Think about it. Draconequus. Part dragon, part pony. Which pony is his pony part from?”

“He’s not her son, Spats! She wouldn’t hold back information like that.”

“You know that other rumor, right? Notice how she’s releasing him the week before Hearts and Hooves Day…”

They were not lovers!” hissed Radish.

“But whatever they are to each other, the city won’t stand for this. We could have a genuine, honest-to-goodness revolt on our hooves. Torches and pitchforks.”

Radish felt the hilt of his sword.

“And that means we’d have to fight our own people… to protect our own princess.”

“That’s right.”

“It won’t come to that,” said a voice behind them. They turned to see Saguaro Shade. “Ponies are rational creatures. All Celestia has to do is explain herself to them, and they’ll see things her way.”

“Sir, do you see things her way?” Spats asked.

“The Royal Guard supports the princess’s decisions.”

“Sir,” said Radish, “during the wedding…”

“I know, Root. But you can’t let one bad day destroy your respect for the chain of command. But on that token… Surprise Changeling Check, you two.”

Radish and Spats stood at the ready.

“Lieutenant Spatterdash, what was the very first thing you ever said to me?”

“Something like, ‘that’s a nice hat’.”

“Correct. Lieu-”

“Then I asked you where you got it, and-”

“Stop. Lieutenant Root, when we first met, who was giving you the business?”

“Oh!” said Spats, “It was-”

“The question is for Root, Spatterdash.”

“Right. Sorry.”

“Worthy Wagoner,” sighed Radish. “He’s a bozo.”

“Right on both accounts. Carry on, you two.”

The three went their separate ways. As Radish was about to step outside, Barrel Roller cut off his exit.

“Root, we need to talk. Come with me.”

She led him into an empty nearby multipurpose room. She locked the door behind them, but didn’t flick on the lights.

“Ma’am?”

“Root, I want to hear your honest opinion about this Discord thing.”

“The Royal Guard supports Princess Celestia’s decisions.”

“To Tartarus with that. Your honest opinion, or you’re fired.”

“I think it’s a colossally bad idea.”

“Of course it is. And it’s scheduled to happen after I’ve taken the reins from Shining Armor. That means the first thing that will happen under my captaincy will be the unnecessary release of an existential threat.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am.”

“Princess Celestia solicited my opinion on the matter of Discord. I told her, in the strongest of terms, that I disagreed with his parole. She’s doing it anyway. And she is leaving the Guard completely out of this. Whatever happens is out of our hooves. It’s in the hooves of those six.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“But I don’t have to like it. And I have a responsibility to make every effort I can in defense of Equestria.”

“What effort do you mean, ma’am?”

“Root… you’re close to Big White. I’d appreciate it if you could have a friendly, but pointed, conversation with her about this.”

“You mean you want me to leverage my friendship with the princess to question her judgment?”

“That’s what I said.”

“Yes, ma’am.”


Radish found Celestia sitting on a bench overlooking the lake, drinking from a travel mug. Swans rested on the ground beside her. The swans eyed him warily.

“Your highness,” Radish said, saluting, “I’ve come to-”

“Your soon-to-be captain still has misgivings about my paroling Discord.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Come. Sit,” said Celestia, scooting down the bench. Radish obeyed. The swans relaxed.

“Radish, I have had this conversation with every senior officer in my Guard, as well as with Luna, a senate subcommittee, the mage council, and the head of the Equestrian Educational Association- who, frankly, was way out of his jurisdiction. I hardly need to explain my decisions to a lieutenant.”

“No, ma’am. I’m sorry, ma’am.”

“But you are also an old friend of mine, and I value your opinion. Do you, personally, disagree with the idea?”

“Yes, ma’am. Vehemently.”

Vehemently! That is quite serious.”

“Ma’am, I’m terrified of what could happen if you do this.”

“And I am terrified of what could happen if I don’t. Lieutenant, the wedding invasion was a wakeup call. We need to use every advantage at our disposal. Could you imagine the possibilities of having Discord on our side?”

“No, ma’am. I can only imagine the perils.”

“We will be taking every precaution.”

“Princess… is there something else going on?”

Celestia sighed. “Do you know the reason why this decision is mine alone?”

“I don’t.”

“When we first turned Discord to stone a thousand years ago, the city council decreed that the statue belonged to Luna and I. As our trophy. Our spoils of war.”

“Really?”

“Yes. We thought he was gone forever, leaving only a cold stone memorial. Luna wanted to get rid of the statue, but I felt it could be educational. She gave up all claims to it- her exact words were, ‘do what you want with it’- so I put it in the statue garden.”

She leaned back on the bench.

“But now that we know that he was alive inside, that means I didn’t simply own a statue- I legally owned Discord for a thousand years. You realize what that makes me?”

“A… slave owner?” Radish asked, uneasily.

“Yes. It’s awful. And I’m sure he got a kick out of putting that on me.”

“Ma’am, you don’t have to free Discord to stop being his, uh, owner. You can put the statue in public domain. And make sure it stays there forever.”

“Radish, did you know that he’s conscious in his petrified form?”

“We only have his word on that. He could have been lying.”

“I don’t think he was. Imagine spending a thousand years seeing and hearing the world around you, but being unable to move. It’s horrible torture, Radish. Cruel and unusual punishment. I put my sister in a similar state, and hated every day of it.”

“Ma’am, he doesn’t have a mind like us. He probably has no concept of pain, stress, or torture. A thousand years like that might be nothing to him. He might enjoy it.”

Celestia sipped from her mug. She watched a merganser swim across the surface of the lake.

“Radish, Equestria is changing. When I first sent Twilight to study the Magic of Friendship, I thought I was mainly doing it for her benefit. But everything since then has given me a new perspective. The things she’s discovering about friendship are making a difference in ways I never expected.”

“Really?”

“Since I began my reign, I’ve done my best to keep disasters at bay so that ponykind could improve upon the status quo at its own pace. Twilight is advancing the status quo by leaps and bounds.”

“How so?”

“She and her friends got a dragon to leave Equestria, peacefully. Under the old ways, we’d have sent a battalion to drive it out, risking many lives, and a war with the Dragon Lord.”

“I… I was as impressed as anyone.”

“Also, in times past, a power-mad mage like Trixie would have been killed or imprisoned in Tartarus. Twilight instead disarmed her, rescued her from corruption, and even got an apology from her. She’s now on a better path, and the dangerous artifact she uncovered will never harm anyone again. This friendship magic is real, lieutenant. It’s powerful. And it’s the future.”

“But… Discord? Is he even capable of friendship?”

“I believe so. And as you pointed out, Discord will break free every time the Elements of Harmony pass to new users. The only permanent solution is to give him a place in this new Friendship Paradigm.”

Radish grit his teeth. “Princess, I have reason to believe that Discord may harbor a personal grudge against me.”

Celestia looked down at him. “The banana cream pie?”

“Among… other things.”

She gave Radish a reproachful glance. “You mouthed off to the statue, didn’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She shrugged. “So did I. So did Luna. So did hundreds of other ponies in the palace. And I’m pretty sure Rainbow Dash bounced a kickball off of him. I doubt he would fixate on you in particular.”

“I see…”

“Oh, and I know there’s been quite a few rumors about Discord and myself…”

“I, uh, don’t really pay attention to gossip.”

“For the record, we are not related. Nor has there ever been anything romantic between us. He’s never been anything to me but an adversary.”

“I never believed any of that.”

“Thank you, Radish. Perhaps soon we may all be calling him an ally, possibly even a friend.”

“What should I tell the commander?”

“Tell her to never again leverage our friendship to question my judgment.”

“Well, I don’t think I can tell her that.”

“You’ll think of something.”


Radish entered Cat’s Howl. Light was behind the counter, going over receipts.

“Hi, Light.”

“Hey, you,” she said. “Care to explain this?”

She held up the day’s newspaper. The front page headline was about Celestia freeing Discord.

“Yeah. I know,” said Radish. “I was as surprised as anyone.”

“Discord turned this neighborhood inside-out. I lost business because of him. And now she’s letting him loose?”

“I tried to talk her out of it. There’s nothing to be done.”

“She’s doing this out of spite, you know. Since you’re dating someone, she’s getting herself a boyfriend she knows you’ll hate.”

“It’s not like that. She just wants to turn a threat into an asset.”

“You think that will happen?”

“No. I think Twilight will just end up having to petrify him again.”

“It’s still a risky plan.”

“I know.” Radish stepped closer to her. “But I promise you, I’m not going to let Discord hurt you.”

Light leaned back. “What does that mean?”


Radish visited his personal garden plot. The anti-chaos spores had now grown into tiny green mushrooms. He put his face close to the ground to look at them.

“Hey guys. I’m going to have to call you into action sooner than I thought. We’ve got trouble. Discord’s getting free, and he’ll be coming after me. I need the protection only you can provide.”

He pulled out a large camping knife. “I’m going to make my stand far away from everyone I care about. I can’t take my Guard weapons, so this will have to do. Hop on.”

He crushed several of the mushrooms, and spread them across the knife. Its blade sparkled with a dim green glow. He smeared a thick line of mushroom goo under each of his eyes, then dabbed some on the back of his neck. “All right. Let’s go.”


Radish stood alone on a cliff in the Unicorn mountains, at the exact spot where Fluttershy once convinced a dragon to leave Equestria. The dragon’s cave was empty now, with not so much as a coin of its hoard remaining. Radish set up a campsite in silence.

He turned to face Ponyville, now too distant to see. He unsheathed his spore-poisoned knife and held it close. He narrowed his eyes at the horizon.

“Okay, you ugly sonofabitch. You want me? Come get me!”

Radish waited. The mountains were quiet, except for a few animal noises- birds calling, lizards rustling in bushes, insects chirping.

“Dragging it out, huh? Take all the time you need. I’m not going anywhere until we’ve settled this.”

Radish waited. He checked his watch. Discord should have been free for several hours by now. The world didn’t look different- the ground was the ground, and the sky was the sky.

Maybe he acted up the instant he was freed, and the girls had to re-petrify him immediately.

Radish looked around.

Or maybe he’s nearby, watching me. Maybe he’s right behind me?

Radish whipped around, holding the knife high. Discord wasn’t right behind him.

“Fine.” Radish popped a jalapeño chew in his mouth. “Play coy. You’re not going to get the drop on me.”

Radish waited. Hours passed. Discord didn’t come.

Radish walked out to the edge of the cliff.

“Come on! What are you waiting for!? You and me! We have business to settle!”

He stood on his hind legs and held his forelegs wide.

“The pie was me, you know! I foiled your scheme to humiliate Celestia- a scheme a thousand years in the making! Then I stopped your little fan club from freeing you! I’m the one who made sure you were gathering dust in the basement! I’m your enemy, and I’M RIGHT HERE!”

Nothing responded. Radish sank down to the dirt. He shuffled over to his campsite.

“All right, pal. I’m not fighting you on an empty stomach.” He lit a fire, and proceeded to roast prickly pear fruit on a spit.

“Whoa! Radish Root? Is that you?”

Radish snatched his knife and took a fighting stance in the direction of the voice. A small female donkey in a Plains Ranger uniform was standing on the ridge overlooking his campsite. His eyes widened in surprise.

“Bernarda? Bernarda Burro?”

“Hey! It is you!”

She jumped down to his level. They hugged.

“Well, I’ll be,” said Radish. "I haven’t seen you since Ranger Academy! This is your post now?”

“Yeah. HQ wanted a Ranger up here in case another dragon decides to move in. But enough about me- I heard you joined the Royal Guard!”

“I did. I am highly-decorated.”

“You were there for the Battle of the Brides?”

“On the front line.”

“Have you had sex with Celestia?”

“Hey!”

“What?” Bernarda asked. “It’s your cutie mark.”

“I have a real girlfriend now, thank you very much.”

“Ooh, is she here?”

“Uh, no.”

Bernarda frowned. “Are you camping to get away from her?”

“Yes. But to protect her.”

“From… you?”

“No. Have you heard about Discord?”

“Yeah. Is Celestia out of her mind?”

“She’s just passionate about her beliefs. But I’m worried Discord will come after me.”

“Why?”

“Uh… that’s classified. But I’m facing him here. You should clear away, too. I wouldn’t want you to get caught in the crossfire.”

“No. This is my territory. If Discord is coming here to attack you, it would be un-Ranger-like to abandon you.”

Radish took a cautious step back, holding the knife close to his chest. “Yeah? How do I know you’re not Discord in disguise?”

“Well, how about this?” She made a series of gestures to Radish- Ranger hoof signal code.

“Discord could know those signs,” said Radish.

“Could Discord know about that time we thought Celestia was coming to tour the Academy, so you styled your mane like a movie star and picked a bouquet of roses for her? Only to learn it was just some palace clerk coming to do inspections?”

Radish scowled and lowered the knife. “Well, at least he appreciated it!”

Bernarda smirked. “Come on. We’ll wait for Discord together.”

“You can’t do anything against him.”

“And you can?”

“I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve.”

Bernarda pulled her crossbow from her back. “So do the Rangers, these days.”

“Really? Like what?”

“Sorry, that’s classified.”

“Fine. If you insist on staying, you can watch the western sky. I’ll take the east.”

They shared the roasted cactus fruit, chewing and watching the horizons back-to-back. The sun reached its high noon peak- normally, like it should.

“So, how’s Ranger life?” Radish asked.

“Busy. More ponies are going camping now. Ever since the moon lost its mare-in-the-moon, ponies aren’t so afraid to sleep under it anymore.”

“Princess Luna protects the night now.”

“I heard she’s spooky.”

“In a fun way. She’s actually one of the nicest ponies you’ll ever meet.”

“So, tell me about your girlfriend.”

“Her name is Light. She's beautiful, creative, smart-”

“...and spending her Saturday all alone…”

“I can’t be around her as long as Discord poses a threat.”

“There’s always going to be one threat or another. Maybe one day, there’ll be a threat that gets us all. Don’t you want to have as many Saturdays as you can with her before then?”

Radish cast his gaze across the horizon. He looked down at his knife. He sighed. “He’s not coming, is he?”

“Probably not.”

“Thanks for watching my back,” Radish said. He stood and started to pack up his gear.

“I’ll walk you down the mountain. You can still make Canterlot before dark.”

“Actually, I have another stop, first.”


Radish reached Ponyville by late afternoon. He took a deep breath, and slowly walked into town square, his heart racing. The town looked normal. Ponies were going about their business, normally.

He made his way to Fluttershy’s cottage. He hesitated, then knocked on the door. She opened, and smiled widely upon seeing him.

“Oh! Radish! Hi!”

“Sorry to drop in unannounced.”

“Come in! I just made lemonade.”

Radish entered the cottage. A few rabbits, squirrels, and skunks were inside, feeding, resting, and playing.

“What brings you here?” Fluttershy asked.

“Fluttershy… I’d like to speak with Discord.”

“Oh, he’s not here. We all had dinner together, then he went back to his home dimension.”

“He has a home dimension?”

“He said it’s the most happenin’ place in multicosmos.”

“Did he… say anything about me?”

Fluttershy put her hoof to her chin. “Hmm… not that I can remember. Twilight said she wanted to introduce him to the rest of our friends, but he just made a big sarcastic yawn and changed the subject. Why? Were you expecting him to?”

“I guess I really don’t rate with him the way I thought I did. How are you feeling about him being loose?”

She smiled. “I think it’s nice that he’s been given this chance. Nopony- or nobody- should have to spend thousands of years without friendship. I think we can all expect big things from Discord now that he’s a good guy.”

“Good guy? Really?”

“Well, maybe an okay guy. But I’m sure he’ll work his way up to good guy in no time.”

“I’ll have to trust your judgment on this, Fluttershy. If you say there’s no threat, then I might as well go back to Canterlot and enjoy my weekend.”

“Oh, that’s right, you have a girlfriend now, don’t you? Congratulations! I’m glad you found someone- I was feeling really bad about, well, turning you down.”

Behind her back, one of the rabbits shot Radish a disapproving scowl.

“Don't worry about that,” said Radish. “It all worked out for the best.”

“I think so, too.” They hugged. Fluttershy leaned back. “Uh, Radish, you smell like old mushrooms.”

“Sorry. But I bet I still smell better than Discord, huh? He must smell like a whole petting zoo all at once.”

“Actually, he smelled like licorice. It was nice.”

“That’s weird, Fluttershy.”

The rabbit nodded in agreement.


Dear Radish,

You’ve no doubt heard about how we were tasked with reforming Discord. I can only imagine how nervous this plan made the Royal Guard feel- believe me, we all had our doubts about it as well. But all seems to be well. I should have known to never doubt Fluttershy’s kindness.

I’m starting to wonder if the magic of friendship is truly the most powerful force on the planet. Maybe I’ve only scratched the surface of what it can do. Maybe I’m standing on the precipice of understanding a power beyond measure. For the first time since I’ve started to study friendship, I’m feeling humbled at what I don’t know I don’t know, you know?

If you have any insight, I could use it,

Twilight Sparkle


“Does she write like that every time?” Light Fantastic asked, reading the letter over Radish’s shoulder. The two were relaxing in her living room.

“It’s not usually this dramatic. She usually writes about the misadventures of her five friends. And sometimes about these three kids in her town,” Radish said. “I guess taming Delta could make anyone feel weirdly powerful.”

“Delta? You mean Discord?”

“Guards don’t like to say his name. He might see it as an invitation to pop in.”

“Huh. Do you want to invite Twilight up for dinner or something? She sounds like she needs to get out of her head.”

"That's nice, Fanny. Oh, there's a PS..."


P.S., How are things with Light Fantastic?


“Yeah, how are things with me?”

“I think they’re going pretty well,” answered Radish. "In fact, next week is Hearts and Hooves Day..."

"Yeah?"

"And I've never celebrated it with anyone before. So I was wondering if you'd like to have dinner at Chez Foin?"

"That's a fancy place. Are you sure I'm worth it?"

"I'm sure."

"I’ll meet you there," she said. The two kissed.

Light looked back down at the letter. “Do you think Fluttershy and Delta are banging now?”

“What? No. That's gross."

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