• 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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63. His Slight

Radish trotted into the palace’s gymnasium, over to the wrestling ring. He found Flash Sentry pinning and defeating Dune Crest, a tan earth stallion. The guards watching cheered.

“Hey, Root,” said Flash, toweling off. “Did you come to wrestle again?”

“Nah, I came to wish you luck at your new post.”

“Thanks! I’m looking forward to it. The Crystal Empire is an amazing place.”

“What made you want to transfer?”

“Actually, Princess Luna recommended me!”

“Really?”

“Yeah, ever since I caught her falling off her balcony, we’ve been good friends.”

“I didn’t realize.”

“She did this thing where she kissed my cheek and called it ‘bestowing a favor’. It was really cute.”

“Oh… I see.”

“Since then, I’ve been guarding her door on The Night Shift. We hang out a lot now.”

“I’m… I’m glad she has a new friend.”

“So, when Princess Cadance expressed concern that the Empire didn’t have enough air support, Princess Luna suggested I transfer. She said her niece could use a ‘brave and skilled’ flier such as myself on her Honor Guard.”

“That’s… wonderful.”

“Plus, the Empire's music scene is a thousand years out of date. They could use a modern rock infusion.”

“I’m sorry I never came to hear your band play.”

“Don’t be. We were terrible.”

Zero entered the gym and hovered over them.

“Root, Shining Armor wants to see you.”

“Oh? Okay.”

Zero nodded and flew off.

“Hey, maybe Luna’s recommended you for transfer, too!” suggested Flash.

“I can’t move. I’m with someone now.”

“Is it serious?”

“I think so.”

“Would she move for you?”

“I couldn’t ask her to do that.”

“Then, is it really that serious?”

“I… shouldn’t keep the prince waiting.”


Radish Root sat in front of Shining Armor for what was possibly the last time. His office was emptied of personal items, leaving only basic furniture and a fern.

“Well, Root. That’s it for me. As of thirty minutes ago, I am no longer the captain around here.”

“Yes, your highness. I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to work with you, and wish you luck in the future.”

“Aw, that’s sweet, Root. But we haven’t seen the last of each other.”

“No?”

“Yeah, Hearts and Hooves is tomorrow.”

“I, uh, don’t follow.”

“We’re having a surprise dinner for Twilight in Canterlot! Me, Cadance, my parents, Spike, and the Ponyville gang will be coming. Her pen pal should be there, too.”

“The dinner is a surprise? For her too, I mean?”

“Yeah, we’ve set up a scavenger hunt for her! She thinks she’s finding clues to uncover some ancient magic, but it’s really going to lead her to the restaurant. We’ll all surprise her there with gifts!”

“So there’s no ancient magic at the end of it?”

“Sure there is- friendship! Get it?”

“That’s nice. I wish I knew about this before I made reservations at Chez Foin.”

“For who?”

“My girlfriend and I.”

“You have a girlfriend?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Trust me, you don’t want to take a girl to Chez Foin, anyway. Cadance and I went there all the time. They were always forgetting to put her dressing on the side.”

“That’s monstrous, sir.”

“So, seven tomorrow, at Starting Gate’s. Dress nice.”

“I’ll talk to Light Fantastic.”

“Who?”

“My girlfriend.”

“Sure. Oh yeah, Princess Celestia wants to see you. Courtyard A.”

Radish exited the office. He had to take a minute for himself before continuing. He felt a pain in his jaw, and realized it had been clenched tightly. He relaxed it, feeling relief.

Radish made his way to the courtyard and opened the door. He saw Celestia, sitting on the same bench as last time, in front of a small table with a kettle and mugs. She wore a rich velvet cloak around her. He approached her and saluted. She returned the salute.

“Radish, come join me in a mug of hot chocolate. It’s perfect for this time of year.”

“Thank you, princess.”

He sat next to her and she passed him a mug. It was a multi-pony mug, the kind engineered with micro-grooves so that it could easily be held with a unicorn’s aura, a pegasus’s wings, or an earth pony’s hooves. He sipped. The taste was more complex than he was expecting- semisweet, with hints of several seasonal spices.

“This is really good.”

“Isn’t it?”

Radish looked up at the tree in front of them.

“How’s the orange tree, princess?”

“Are you asking literally, or is that your way of asking for a performance review?”

“I meant literally, but if you have any comments…”

“You've exceeded my expectations in all respects. I have no doubt that accepting you into my Guard was the right decision.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“And the tree did well this year. A fantastic crop. But there is something odd about how it faces the winter. At this time of year, the oranges turn incredibly sour and acidic. They’re only good for sauces and hard candies. And the rind becomes extra potent for flavoring things.”

She picked up an orange and a microplane grater, and shaved some rind onto Radish’s hot chocolate. He tried it.

“It tastes amazing.”

“Doesn’t it? This winter change doesn’t happen in Balencia- it seems to be a side effect of our soils.”

“So, even though the tree and I didn’t belong here, hidden things about ourselves were revealed when we were planted here.”

“Don’t torture the metaphor, Radish. It’s told us all it knows.”

“Sorry, ma’am.”

“Shining Armor is leaving us now. On to much larger responsibilities.”

“I’m happy. For him.”

“I wanted to hear your opinion on his tenure as captain.”

“I think he’s done a-”

“And remember, as my friend, you are to be honest with me.”

“...I don’t want to say anything bad about him.”

“Oh?”

“And I do respect him- he was willing to give me a chance here. I’ve learned a lot from him.”

“Yes?”

“I know you two are family. And he’s Twilight’s brother.”

“Let’s hear the ‘but’, Radish.”

“But, ma’am…” Radish put his mug down and took a deep breath. "Shining Armor is a dumb jock and he protects you like one!”

Celestia’s expression kept steady. She took a sip from her mug. “Do go on.”

“Have you seen some of the plans he’s proposed for the palace? He wanted to permanently seal up all the tunnels in the underground.”

“You object to that?”

“Yes! They’re perfect for trapping infiltrators. If somepony wants to sneak into the palace, the tunnels are the first place they’ll try. If they see the tunnels are sealed, they’ll try somewhere else topside- and possibly escalate with a more dangerous plan for dealing with the guards they meet. But if they’re allowed into the tunnels, they could be funneled into non-lethal traps and apprehended safely.”

“I believe this is the key difference between you and Shining Armor. He prefers to keep invaders out, while you’d like to draw them into a trap.”

“I guess I’m just still thinking like a Ranger. On the plains, there weren’t walls to keep attackers out. If a jackalope was after me, I’d have to set a snare and hide in ambush.”

“I value all the unique perspectives that guards from different backgrounds bring to the palace. But I chose Shining Armor as my captain for a reason, Radish, and it’s not because of his shield spells. I value his uncomplicated, strong, and visible approach to defense.”

“Did you know he had this idea to put big fans all over Canterlot’s rooftops to repel flying enemies?”

“You disapprove?”

“Yes. Fans take a long time to spin up to maximum speed, and a long time to spin down. They don’t discriminate between friend and foe. While in use, pegasi, including the Wonderbolts, would be grounded. Even you and Princess Luna, ma’am. Allied birds would be flung out of town. And I don’t even want to think about how loud they’d be- it would be impossible to hear anything.”

“Haven’t you complained about the towers’ vulnerabilities from the air?”

“There’s a better way. Instead of fans, use air jets. The pumps would be safely kept underground, and pressurized air could be stored for use on demand. Then, blasts of air could be funneled up through pipes and out of nozzles on the roofs. And those nozzles could be aimed and fired as needed. If a Wonderbolt is being chased, for example, then only the chaser could be targeted. You can’t do that with a fan.”

“That sounds exceedingly complicated. It would take a lot of engineering.”

"Well... reverse-engineering, actually. Nightmare Moon already designed and built a precision air cannon."

"Nightmare Moon, Radish? The citizens of Canterlot may not like living with her weapons hanging over their heads."

"They'd never see it. The cannon nozzles could be discreetly hidden in Canterlot’s architecture, unlike the fans, which would ruin Canterlot’s skyline.”

“I had no idea you cared so much about the city’s aesthetics.”

“It’s a beautiful city, princess. The lines and curves were built deliberately by its architects.”

“I knew those architects, Radish. They would happily ruin every building’s look if it meant protecting ponies.”

“Oh. I’m sorry, ma’am. I just get carried away when I’m thinking of how to protect… well, you.”

“I appreciate that. I actually enjoy reading your suggestions.”

“They reach you? I thought Shining and Barrel just toss them.”

“We don’t throw away ideas. Even if they’re not used, they’re respected. And archived.”

“Wow, I’m in the archives? I feel important now.”

He chuckled. Something drifted down in front of him- a snowflake. He looked up. Snow was falling all around them. Radish shivered.

“Was there snow on the Southern Plains?” Celestia asked, watching the snow drift down into the courtyard.

“Sometimes, on the mountains. It’s wild sky there, ma’am. No pegasi to schedule the snow. You just had to take the weather as it was.”

He rubbed his hooves together and breathed on them.

“Here,” said Celestia.

Her wing pushed open her cloak and pulled Radish into her side, closing the cloak around the two of them. He instantly felt warmer. Her fur and feathers were unbelievably soft. Her perfume was subtle and breezy.

“This is but a simple gesture of comfort between friends, you understand,” she said.

“I know, ma’am. Thank you.” He curled up between her wing and her body, trying to calm his breathing.

He looked up at the top of the courtyard. “That’s a security risk, too, princess. This courtyard is open to the sky.”

“That is the point of a courtyard, Radish.”

“But it can be gated. Look, we could put bars over the opening.”

“Would that not ruin the aesthetics, as well?”

“No, because it could be done well. Make it an intricate pattern, like in the Cart Nouveau style.”

“Cart Nouveau uses delicate linework. That doesn’t sound very defensive.”

“With the right alloy, the bars would hold. After all,” he said, looking up at her, “just because something is beautiful, doesn’t mean it can’t be strong.”

Celestia looked into his eyes, smiling. “You think?”

“I know. Just like Light Fantastic.”

Celestia stopped smiling. “Beg pardon?”

“My girlfriend. She’s really beautiful, but totally confident.”

"Ah. That's nice."

“There’s one more thing. I’ve been very hesitant, well scared, to bring it up for the longest time.”

“Tell me.”

He took a deep breath. “I think you should take hoof-to-hoof combat lessons.”

“Oh?”

“Please, I only say this because I care…”

“I know.”

“…but Chrysalis took you down too quickly. I know she was getting an incredible boost of power from Shining’s love, and I can’t measure what that was…”

“Right.”

“I heard you locked horns with her. And that’s amazing. But then you resorted to a magic duel too quickly.”

“Resorted, you say. What should I have done differently?”

“I know you have earth pony strength. You should default to earth pony fighting techniques. Let that be your bread and butter, instead of spells. Get close, hit hard and fast. She wouldn’t have seen it coming. When you locked horns with her, you could have taken advantage of her momentum and slammed her to the floor. A follow-up heel to the face could have knocked her out, no magic dueling needed.”

“I see,” said Celestia. “You have been fantasizing about me rolling around on the floor with Chrysalis. Perhaps in a puddle of mud, or a tub of jelly?”

“Princess, I’m only saying this because I care about you.”

“Radish, do you think there has been a single day since the wedding that I haven’t gone over the fight in my head, agonizing over everything I did wrong?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. It wasn’t my place.”

“Do you think I’ve been sitting idly by since then, stagnating? Frittering away the hours while our enemies loom in the darkness?”

“I beg your forgiveness.”

“Do you want to show me what you think you’re talking about?”

“Ma’am?”

Celestia spread her wings, throwing off the cloak from them. She stepped forward into the center of the courtyard. She turned to him with disdain in her eyes.

“If you’re so confident in your fighting style, demonstrate it. Take me down as easily as you claim I could have taken down Chrysalis.”

“Ma’am! I’m so sorry!”

She pointed a hoof at him. “I challenge you to an official sparring match. Here. Now.”

“Ma’am, we can’t fight in here! There are thorny bushes, trees, snow, stone furniture…”

“Do you think Chrysalis will wait to fight me in a padded gym?”

“I don’t want you to get hurt!”

You don’t want me to get hurt. How chivalrous of you. How gallant! How kind. I request Canterbury Rules, Variant Seven. Does that satisfy you?”

“Seven! We can’t!”

“I’ll make this interesting. Tomorrow is Hearts and Hooves Day, is it not? If you win, you and Light Fantastic may spend it in the royal spa. Just you two. All inclusive.”

“I… really?”

Radish’s mind reeled. Nopony but princesses used the royal spa. Some doubted its existence.

“But if you lose,” she said, “you’ll spend the holiday mucking the pigeon tower.”

“I… I accept.”

“Good.”

Celestia’s horn glowed, and a large hourglass appeared hovering in the center of the courtyard.

“You will have ten minutes to pin both of my shoulders to the ground. If you are unable to do so, I win.”

“I understand.”

She cast another spell, and glowing signs appeared on the windows of the courtyard, facing into the halls. They read, “Official Match Starting Soon. No Entry.” The windows and doors of the courtyard locked themselves.

A trunk appeared on the ground and popped open. Inside was wrestling gear for two, a wraparound wing brace, and a horn pad. Celestia took off her crown, shoes, and peytral, and placed them in the box. She wrapped her wings tightly, and secured the pad on her horn.

Radish looked at her in awe. She had given up her wings and horn without hesitation. Without fear of him.

He slowly undid his armor and placed it in the box. He unbelted his saddle blanket and placed it with his armor, exposing his cutie marks.

Celestia looked upon Radish’s marks for the first time in years. She glowered at them. Radish quickly pulled on the wrestling singlet to cover them.

They finished dressing and began to stretch, looking at each other over their shoulders.

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