• Published 23rd Sep 2021
  • 10,196 Views, 4,154 Comments

The Only Mark That Matters - CocktailOlive



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

  • ...
42
 4,154
 10,196

PreviousChapters Next
68. The Currency of the Plains, Part 2: Intervention

Princess Celestia spent many of her working hours in her office, applying the stamps, seals, and signatures which kept the kingdom running. Day-to-day operations were supported by numerous assistants. One such assistant knocked on her door.

“Enter,” said Celestia, in the middle of reviewing a new report from the health bureau.

A white bespectacled unicorn mare poked her head in. “Pardon me, ma’am.”

“How can I help you, Raven?”

“Lieutenant Root is here, ma’am. He doesn’t have an appointment, but he said, and I quote, ‘Tell her I screwed up real bad.’”

Celestia leaned forward. “On a scale from one to ten-”

“He was conducting an off-the-books investigation into the Wagoners for possible crimes against an allied buffalo nation, relating to a coverup of the family’s dark history. This has led to a threat being issued against his girlfriend.”

Celestia put the report aside. “Send him in. And send for more coffee.”


“...and then it vanished. I’m sure it was intended as a threat,” Radish said. He sat nervously hunched in the chair before Celestia’s desk.

Celestia leaned back, crossing her hooves and scowling. “That’s advanced magic. A spell like that would require knowing your precise location and remotely manipulating a wide spectrum.”

“Then, that show of power was another part of the threat.”

“Yes. Not to mention, it’s illegal to air-burn a message into the palace like that. They’ve grown bold, indeed.” She gave an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, Radish. This is my fault. I shouldn’t have said anything during our… bout.”

Radish shook his head. “The tribe was always going to publish what they uncovered at the dig. I just didn’t think anyone would be put in serious danger over it. Please, ma'am, help me protect Light and my buffalo friends.”

“Of course, Radish. I’ll do everything I can.”

“Could you tell me about the Storm Centurions? The real story?”

Celestia stood up and walked over to a bookshelf. She brought down an old register of Guard reports and floated it to Radish’s hooves. “About six hundred years ago, the griffons unified and grew strong under a new king. Ponies grew fearful of that strength. Influential voices called for increasing Equestria’s military might, and one of the first initiatives they asked for was the creation of elite squads -Centurions- to patrol the less populated provinces.”

She leaned against her desk and sighed. “I would later learn that this was a scheme. Those influential ponies had made backroom deals with officers to maneuver family members into the squads, believing it’d be an easy way to bring glory to their families’ names. Soon the Centurion ranks swelled with undeserving, underqualified ponies.”

“All this happened, uh, under your watch?”

She hung her head. “Radish, by that point I had been ruling alone for four hundred years. I was weary. Inattentive. Practically on autopilot. My officers told me everything was fine, and I didn’t question it.”

“And that’s how the Storm Centurions ended up being the worst squad in Equestria?”

Celestia nodded. “The palace received vague reports of bandit activity in the Southern Plains. Willow was inexperienced, but she insisted her squad could handle it. Thus, I sent them to investigate.”

“And they were never seen alive again?”

“Yes. That snapped me out of my weariness. I overhauled Royal Guard standards, and have kept a close eye on the ranks to this day.”

“Why do you think the Storm Centurions turned on each other?”

“Perhaps Worthy Wagoner knows the answer to that. I’ll just have to ask him.”

“You want to confront him directly?”

She walked over to her window and looked out at Canterlot. She gave a slight smirk. “Well, I suppose you wouldn't know this, but it’s an open secret in Canterlot high society that Worthy has been lusting after me for years. I will simply find him, bat my eyelashes, and see what spills out of him.”

Radish stammered. “Ma’am! I won’t let you do that!”

“Oh, you won’t?”

“I mean, this investigation is beneath the dignity of your attention, your highness. Please allow your humble guard to see it through,” Radish said with a courteous bow.

“I think not. I want you to investigate the dig site. An on-the-books operation.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

“And bring the girls with you. Spike, too.”

“Princess, this mission could be dangerous.”

“I know you’ll keep them safe. And I believe their talents will come in handy.”

“All right.”

“I’m assigning you the role of Mission Leader on this- every call to make will be yours alone.”

“Then, I want the girls to bring their Elements of Harmony with them.”

“No.”

“Can we at least travel first class?”

“...okay.”


Radish watched Light Fantastic arrange the shelves of her store.

“Honey? Are you okay with this?” he asked.

“With what? Angering the most powerful ponies in Canterlot? Putting me in their crosshairs and then skipping town?”

“I won’t be leaving you unprotected- I’ve arranged to let you stay in the palace until this is over.”

“I’m not doing that. Midtowners don’t run and hide from the likes of the Wagoners.”

“Celestia thought you’d say something like that. She said the alternative is to have the Watch keep an eye on you, and have her high-society friends run interference for you from Uptown.”

“Great. Who doesn’t want cops and rich elites watching their every move?”

“Fanny… I’m really sorry about this.”

She walked up to Radish and hugged him. “I’m not mad at you. You always go overboard for the ladies in your life, and your ex is in danger. Of course you’d rush to be her hero.”

“Sky’s not my ex, Fan. We never were more than friends. But if you’d like to meet her, you could come along.”

“On a royal mission?”

“I’m Mission Leader, after all. Besides, Twilight plays loose with mission protocol all the time. She’s basically allowed all the leeway she wants if she justifies it as a friendship thing.”

“That’s kind of terrifying to hear.”

“I could protect you, show you around my old stomping grounds, and introduce you to everyone.”

“Rad, I have work to do. And you know I’m not a wild plains kind of pony. I’d probably get bit by every kind of snake out there.

“Okay.”

“But invite Sky to come up here sometime. I’d like to meet the girl you thought was too good for you.”

“Stay safe, Fan. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

They kissed each other goodbye.


Radish watched as royal porters carted his mission supplies onto the train. He felt a little proud that they were moving the gear he had specifically selected for this mission, and a little guilty that he wasn’t helping them.

He rechecked his own saddle bags. In one, he had shackles, wing braces, and a magic-inhibiting horn ring- the standard kit in case one needed to arrest an earth pony, pegasus, or unicorn. He had been relieved that the quartermaster approved the ring- the metal it was made from, anticornium, was strictly-controlled, and required a full set of forms to sign for its release.

His other bag was full of desert trekking gear. The Black Bluffs didn’t allow weapons onto their land, so Radish would have to improvise if he needed one.

“Radish!” he heard Twilight call. She galloped up to him and hugged him. “Princess Celestia told us everything. You should have asked for our help from the beginning!”

“I didn’t want to put you in danger, Twi.”

“Radish, we do have a bit of a track record dealing with villains, you know.”

“Discord only had chaos magic. Chrysalis only had an army. The Wagoners have money.”

“But we’ve got friendship,” Twilight proclaimed proudly.

Radish took a step back to look at what Twilight was wearing. She had come dressed in a rather mismatched and outdated desert expeditionary ensemble, complete with pith helmet.

“Nice outfit, Twilight.”

“Is that sarcasm? The Royal Quartermaster said drill khakis are the way to go in the Southern Plains, but Rarity insisted that linen breathes easier. What was your old Ranger uniform made of?”

“A hemp/bamboo blend.”

“I’ve never even heard of hemp.”

“It’s great. How are you feeling about this mission?”

“Nervous. The last time we met a bison tribe, we really got off on the wrong hoof. I’m hoping this goes well.”

“It’s ‘buffalo’, Twilight. Only a few northern tribes call themselves ‘bison’.”

“Really? Savannah Safari’s Guide to Extraponical Societies-”

“Is three hundred years old.”

“I read the updated edition.”

“That’s two hundred years old. And buffalo don’t think of themselves as extraponical, they think of ponies as extrabuffical.”

“Oh… I see. Maybe you can start the conversation, then?”

“Okay.”

The rest of the girls and Spike joined them.

“Radish! My man!” Spike said, throwing his arms wide.

“Howdy, Spike!”

Radish met Spike’s fist midair with a hoof. Spike held a claw to the side of his mouth and whispered, “Nice to be on a mission with another guy, for once. And out on the Southern Plains! A real guy kind of place, right?”

“You bet, Spike. I can’t wait to show you around.”

Fluttershy trotted close and patted Spike on the head.

“Are you sure Spike should come? I thought you said stray dragons don’t like babies.”

“I’m hardly a baby anymore, Fluttershy,” Spike said, throwing off her hoof.

“Besides, we’re not going to talk to the dragon there,” said Radish. “It’s fine sleeping where it is.”

“Radish,” said Fluttershy, “I’m really sorry about all this. I should have just kept my mouth shut during your match with Celestia.”

“No, I should have kept mine shut. But are you okay? Nopony’s tried to harass you lately?”

“I’m not sure. The bear family I’m taking care of chased someone off the other day, but I didn’t see who it was.”

“I wish I could leave a bear family with Light.”

Applejack walked up. “Radish, I’d like to introduce you to the ninth member of this team.”

“Ninth?”

A brown and white collie leapt over Applejack’s head and tackled Radish to the ground, licking his face excitedly.

“This here’s Winona. She seems pleased as punch to make your acquaintance!”

“Hi, Winona,” said Radish between licks.

“She can sniff out a squirrel clear across the back forty. She’ll hunt down them varmints in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”

“Thanks, Applejack,” said Radish, standing up while petting Winona. “They won’t know what hit ‘em.”

Rarity finished directing her own set of royal porters, who were loading her numerous suitcases, hatboxes, and steamer trunks onto the train.

“Ah, Radish,” she said. “I’ve spoken with Fancy Pants. His people are going to keep an eye on Worthy’s people. Uptown ponies know how to keep tabs on one another- the grapevine is more like a full vineyard among that echelon.”

“Thanks, Rarity. I hope I’m not straining your relationships with your customers.”

“Not at all, dear. Once Fancy Pants heard there was a chance Worthy Wagoner could be caught in shady business, he was more than happy to help. Not to gossip, but I do believe there is some bad blood between them.”

“Interesting. Come on, everypony. Let’s board the train and we’ll go over the plan. The platform probably has eyes and ears.”

“Well,” Pinkie Pie announced loudly, “I sure hope nopony searches Ponyville Dump while we’re gone! I sure would hate to think what incriminating secrets they’d find out about us in Ponyville Dump!”

They entered their train car and the doors slid behind them.

“See what I did there?” giggled Pinkie Pie. “Now anypony spying on us will go dig through the dump!”

“Pinkie Pie,” said Rainbow Dash, “you’re a master at counterintelligence.”

“Aw, thanks.”

PreviousChapters Next