• 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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7. The Friend

Radish dragged his scrub brush back and forth across ancient masonry. He was no stranger to cleaning duty, but cleaning the old tunnels underneath the palace, he had to admit, was a genius punishment. The layers of dirt in the tunnels were older than most of the bricks of the city above. A single stone in a wall took an enormous amount of time and exertion to clean, but at least he was learning a lot about what they looked like a thousand years ago. It turned out they used to be a slightly less darker shade of gray.

He heard light hoofbeats approaching, but kept focused on the task. Then he heard a soft voice behind him.

“Lieutenant Root?”

It was Twilight Sparkle. By now, the story had reached all corners. She had braved some preternatural forest and returned, having defeated Nightmare Moon and rescued Princess Celestia.

“I heard about what you were doing during the crisis,” she said. “I’m sorry you got into trouble on my behalf. I know you were only trying to help.”

“No, I should’ve kept to my station,” Radish said, continuing to scrub. “If I had just waited another fifteen minutes, everything would have been fine.”

“But you couldn’t have known that. During a crisis, you have to act on the best available information at the time.”

“Maybe, but that wasn’t my call. In the Plains Rangers, we had a lot of independence. If someone needed my help, I could spend all day with them. If I saw something suspicious miles away, I could check it out. Here, I need permission to scratch my, uh, nose.”

“I understand. It takes a lot of getting used to Canterlot. I’ve tried talking to Shining about it, but-”

“It’s fine. I’m lucky he didn’t kick me out.”

“He was so relieved to have the princess back, I think he was in a forgiving mood. I found you because I wanted to thank you for believing in me.”

“Believing in you?”

“I’m flattered you thought my studies alone could have helped save the day.”

“But your studies alone did save the day, didn’t they?”

“Not alone. My research led me to the Elements of Harmony, but I couldn’t have reached them, or understood their meaning, without the friends I made in Ponyville. They saw me through it all. And they taught me just how powerful friendship really is.”

She stepped a little bit closer.

“Shining said you called me the smartest pony in town. I didn’t know you had that kind of respect for me.”

“‘Respect is the currency of the plains.’ Chief Shortshadow always said that. We couldn’t have operated there unless ponies and the buffalo respected each other. We couldn’t study dragons unless we respected their power. And I’ve always respected your talents, Lady Sparkle, even if we’ve quarreled.”

It was the first time Radish called her “Lady Sparkle” not in mockery, but out of respect. He thought she deserved it.

“We got off on the wrong hoof. I got off on the wrong hoof with each of my new friends in Ponyville, too. But I learned how wonderful friendship with them could be. I would like it if we could become friends, too.”

He stopped scrubbing and looked at her, cockeyed.

“Really?”

“Really. I’m still new to this whole friendship thing, so please be patient with me if I mess up at it. I’m sorry about all those things I said about you. Could we start over?”

Radish had never seen her like this. Contrite, sincere… sweet?

He resumed scrubbing. “I’d like that, Lady Sparkle. I wanted to say how grateful I am to you for saving Equestria.”

“Oh, stop!” she said, blushing. “I got enough of that from everypony else. And please, could we drop the ‘Lady’? Just ‘Twilight’ is fine.”

“Oh. Okay… Twilight.”

She smiled. Then, she noticed a feature in the brick he was scrubbing clean. It looked like a lever surreptitiously built into the wall.

“Hey, what’s that? Is that a switch?”

“Uh huh. I’m guessing this wall opens up.”

“A secret passageway!? Why haven’t you opened it?”

She pushed him aside and put her magic aura over the switch, grasping for the right way to turn it.

“Hey! Don’t!”

It clicked, and the wall slid open, revealing a long, dark passageway. The rush of air unsettled hundreds of years of dust.

“What a cool find!” she said. “There could be anything down there!”

She shined a light from her horn, and cast a glow down the passage. There was no end in sight.

“It probably leads to the cisterns,” said Radish, sitting back.

“What cisterns?” asked Twilight.

“Before the waterfall reservoirs were built into the mountain, the palace’s water supply was collected in huge underground vaults. They’re just used for miscellaneous storage now.”

“How did you know that? I’ve been here most of my life, and I’ve never heard of that.”

“It’s in the Royal Guard manual. Every part of the palace, old and new, is.”

“Wow, that’s one book I never bothered with. See, we’re learning from each other already!”

Radish stared down the long corridor.

“Now I have to clean all those walls, too,” he sighed.

“Oops. Sorry. Is there a way I can make it up to you?”

Radish thought about it.

“Well, if I ever finish down here, I’ll have free time again. And I’ve barely explored Canterlot at all.”

“I haven't seen much of Canterlot, myself. Was there some place you wanted to go in particular?”

“There’s this café in midtown that has poetry nights. I’ve always wanted to see what they’re like. But I don’t want to go alone, and I don't know anyone who's into that kind of intellectual stuff. Would you like to check it out with me sometime?”

“I’d love to!”

“Great!”

“But I can’t.”

“Oh.”

“I’m not staying in Canterlot.”

“What?”

“Twilight is moving to Ponyville, to further study the magic of friendship.”

Radish whipped around, and there was Princess Celestia. He threw himself on the floor.

“Your highness! I’m so sorry!”

“For?”

“I abandoned my post when Canterlot needed me the most.”

“I’ve been told that, during the crisis, you attempted to research what was happening. I appreciate the approach, though it’s one you should have suggested to your superiors, not taken upon yourself to do.”

“And I took all the books on Nightmare Moon with me to Ponyville, so you were kind of researching a dead end,” added Twilight.

“Oh. So much for my big heroic moment,” Radish sighed.

“Twilight, could you give us some privacy?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Twilight. She turned to Radish. “I’m sorry. I’m returning to Ponyville once I’ve packed my things. But there’s a type of friendship called ‘pen pals’. Do you think we could be each other’s?”

“That’d be great. I never get mail from friends.”

“And I’ve never had any to get mail from! This will be so fun!”

She said her goodbyes and trotted away, the glow of her horn lighting her way down the hall. Radish was then alone with Celestia, with only flickering lantern light illuminating them. He kept his head bowed.

“I’m glad to see you’re all right,” he said. “I was so worried.”

“And what were you worried about? The threat of eternal night? The cruel reign of Nightmare Moon?”

“What? None of those! I was worried about you!”

“Why? Were you afraid that with me gone, you’d never fulfill your destiny?”

“Destiny? What destiny?”

She motioned to his flank. He looked at it, not comprehending at first. Then a realization dawned on him.

“I… I wasn’t even thinking about that. I was scared for you.”

“Oh?”

“No one knew what happened to you. I kept thinking that you could have been dead, or injured, or captured. I had this image of you being frightened and alone.”

“You felt sympathy for me?”

“I guess so. Oh.”

He prostrated himself before her again.

“I’m so sorry. All this time, I've only seen you as my goal. But you were nothing but a goal to Nightmare Moon, weren't you? You were right- I don't belong here. Guards should protect the princess from ponies who just... see her as their goal."

“Stand up.”

He lifted himself and looked at her. She was smiling.

“I’m glad to hear you’ve learned something. It took an emergency for Twilight to learn something important, as well. The magic of friendship saved me, her, and my sister.

“Twilight has promised to send me reports of what she learns about friendship. I would like you to put to parchment what you learned today, as well. Five hundred words minimum. Due in two days.”

“Yes, ma'am. Wait, you have a sister?”

“You’ll see.”

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