• 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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70. The Currency of the Plains, Part 4: Interplay

Celestia stood tall. She looked at Worthy Wagoner with cold eyes.

“I agree to your terms.”

He nodded, smiling pleasantly, and led her down the hall. He opened the door at its end to the master bedroom. It was dim inside. Celestia stepped in while Worthy locked the door behind them. She walked over to his large four-poster bed.

He approached her with total placidity on his face and reached for his tie.


Radish found himself pinned down by something large, soft, and warm. At the first sign of danger, both Radish and Sky had tried to throw themselves over the other, and Sky, being larger, had won the tussle to shield Radish. Sky got off Radish and helped him up. The room was bathed in purple light- Twilight was projecting a dome-shaped forcefield over all of them.

“Who the blazes was that?” asked Rarity.

“Them,” said Radish. “Our interlopers have revealed themselves at last.”

“Please tell me you can get us out of here,” said Sky.

“Twilight?” asked Radish.

With a flash of teleportation magic, the four appeared outside the entrance of the cave.

“What the?” said Radish, startled.

They were in a dense fog. Radish put his hoof in front of his face, and couldn’t see it. He reached out around himself, and felt fur. It was Sky’s hide. She pulled him close.

“What is this?” she asked.

“Their pegasus’s doing, I guess,” answered Radish. “They fogged up the ground for cover. Twilight? Rarity?”

“We’re here!” said Twilight, horn glowing faintly through the fog. Radish and Sky stumbled over to them, and the four held each other.

“Hold on, I’ll get us up the mountain,” said Twilight.

With another burst of magic, they were on the mountain peak. The fog bank covered the land all around its base.

“Look at it all!” said Rarity. “They must have brought down every cloud in the sky to do this!”

“Twilight!” called Spike.

The rest of the group, minus Rainbow Dash, were at the peak.

“There you are!” said Fluttershy. “When we heard that rockslide, we feared the worst!”

“What happened out here?” asked Radish.

“Winona led us up the mountain and started barking at a cloud. A big one,” said Applejack.

“So they did have a cloud campsite,” said Twilight.

“Yep. Once they got made, they dropped the cloud right on us. Lost them, sorry to say. Rainbow Dash thought she caught sight of one flyin’ away, and she flew off after them.”

“Fluttershy, would you move this cloud back up?” Radish asked.

“Me? All this?”

“Hoopla and her babies are stuck in this soup, too.”

Fluttershy gasped, then nodded determinedly. She swooped down and flew circles around the cloud, slowly lifting it back into the sky. The others cheered her on.

Then, something startled her. A large gray earth stallion leapt out of the cloud and ran.

“You! Stop!” cried Focus Beam.

She ran after him. Winona, barking, gave chase.

“Let’s get him, girl!” called Applejack, running after her.

“All right! A chase scene!” yelled Pinkie Pie, joining her. Brazen and Scrapes nodded to each other, then joined in the chase.

Winona leapt and landed on the earth pony. She tackled him into the dirt. He raised a hoof to knock her off, but that hoof was quickly lassoed by Applejack. She flicked the lasso, dragging him sideways and hog-tying him. As the buffalo surrounded him, Focus Beam threw her aura over him and lifted him in the air. She trotted him back to Radish.

Radish pulled shackles from his bag.

“Radish, wait. Let me talk to him,” said Twilight.

“Twi, not now.”

“Please!”

“Twi! For once, could you-”

The earth pony kicked off a horseshoe, which slammed into Focus Beam’s horn. She staggered back, dropping her aura. He slipped the lasso and leapt at her. Radish tackled him. They grappled across the ground while the others surrounded them.

“Radish! Stop!” cried Twilight.

She threw her aura on both of them and dangled them mid-air by the scruffs of their necks.

“Sparkle!” spat Radish.

The earth pony chunked another horseshoe at Twilight’s head. She ducked with a yelp, and her aura failed. Radish leapt onto him and slammed his head to the ground. The earth pony dizzily looked up to see Radish reeling back to punch his lights out. He flinched to the side.

“Till Tipper? Is that you?” Twilight asked.

The earth pony looked at her. He turned away, as if ashamed. Radish stayed his hoof.

“You two know each other?” he asked.

“He’s a friend of my folks,” said Twilight. “He came to my brother’s wedding.”

“Your parents hobnob with mercenaries?”

“No, he was their accountant.”

Radish looked down at him. He looked up at Radish, warily.

“Was?”

“Until he moved on to a bigger client. Dad said he landed a whale.”

“Let me guess, Worthy Wagoner?” asked Radish.

Till Tipper nodded.

“And now you’ve joined forces with him, attacking your friends’ daughter. You slimy son of a-”

“He threatened them!” cried Till Tipper. “Threatened her! He only ever hired me because he thought I’d have dirt on Twilight and Shining Armor. And when I didn’t have any, he said I had to come out here to appraise the treasure!”

“The Spruce Woods Collection?” asked Rarity.

He nodded. “Willow was supposed to steal the collection and drop it off with a Wagoner in Summerspring. Nopony ever heard from her or saw the treasure again.”

“And all this has been about hiding their history of thievery?” asked Radish.

“And getting the treasure at last,” replied Till Tipper.

“Till Tipper, would you be willing to testify all this to the authorities?” asked Twilight.

“Twilight, Worthy is the authority. Half the City Watch and a bunch of judges are in his pocket.”

“What!?” cried Radish. He hooked his hooves into Till Tipper’s shirt collar. “The Watch is supposed to be watching over my girlfriend through all this!”

“I’m sorry. I thought you knew. If she’s alone with the Watch…”

“Spike! Get a message to Light Fantastic! She needs to get to the palace, and avoid the Watch as she does!”

“On it!” said Spike.

Radish got off Till Tipper and helped him up.

“Please, Till Tipper,” said Twilight, “help us put a stop to all this. You could be the one to take down Worthy Wagoner, so that he’ll never threaten someone again.”

“How?”

“If he’s sending his employees to commit offenses in buffalo territory, it’s an international crime,” said Radish. “If royal guards make the arrest, we can keep him out of the reach of his Watch cronies, and he’d face an international court in Manehattan, not the judges in his pocket.”

“But they’d need evidence to do all that,” said Sky. “Your testimony could make it happen.”

“I’ll… cooperate with the authorities. But only the ones I can be sure are free of his influence,” Till Tipper said.

He looked over to Focus Beam. “Worthy said the Plains Rangers were too few and far between, and too obsessed with oaths and allies, to bother paying off. That’s why he created distractions for all the Rangers in this area instead. I’ll cooperate with you, Ranger.”

“What’s this, now?” she said, angrily. “What ‘distractions’?”

“False reports of lost ponies, loose criminals, and whatever else could draw the Rangers away from here. It’s actually the same tactic his family used to get Willow’s unit to Summerspring six hundred years ago. There were never any bandits- just falsified reports of them.”

“You-!” Focus Beam howled. “That’s why there’s no backup! That puts real ponies in danger!”

Till Tipper looked down.

“I’m… sorry. I couldn’t stop any part of the plan, I could only go along with it to protect Twilight and her family.”

“Where’s the rest of your team?” asked Radish.

“We all heard you say the dragon was in the cave. The others are trying to sneak up on it and check out its hoard.”

“How could the dragon have taken the treasure?” asked Sky. “He was only in the cave with us for like a minute.”

“That’s more than enough time for a dragon to sniff out treasure!” said Spike, finishing his letter and burning it to Canterlot. “What kind of treasure are we talking about?”

“Whatever it is,” said Focus Beam, “it’s not worth breaking Rule One over. Never approach a sleeping dragon!”

“Focus Beam, if the other bandits are heading there now, they could die,” said Radish. “We have to at least try to save them.”

“Do we, though?” she asked.

“Yes, we do,” said Twilight.

Radish glassed the smoking mountain with his binoculars.

“Okay, let’s not swarm the thing. I’ll take lead. Fluttershy will talk to it. Rarity, since you know about this treasure, you should come along too. Twilight, you teleport us away if things get hairy. The rest of you stay and guard the dig site. This could go real bad real fast. Focus Beam, if the worst happens, you had nothing to do with it. You tried to stop me.”

“I understand. Thank you.”

“Hey, what about me?” asked Sky.

“Nope. You’re staying here,” Radish said.

“Why? Because I’m not a royal anything? Because I’ve got no pony powers? Because of what my chief would say?”

“Because he loves you too much to see you hurt,” answered Focus Beam.

Sky’s face softened. Radish looked at Focus Beam with annoyance.

“What? It’s obvious, and you’re wasting time,” said Focus Beam.

“Radish… could I talk to you?” asked Sky.

“Okay.”

She pulled him aside. The rest shuffled away, giving them space.

“Radish, this is the same place we were at years ago. I saved your butt back then.”

“There’s more going on than a dragon this time. I won’t involve you with ponies who would collapse a cave on us.”

“I was involved with them before you were! I just wanted you to check out the Wagoners, not come fight my battles!”

“It’s all our battle. And now that we’ve escalated, they’re going to be more dangerous. That’s my fault, but facing that danger is my job. And seeing as Black Bluff territory doesn’t extend past the lakes, you’d just be interfering with a royal mission if you came.”

“Yeah? What if I did, anyway?”

“I’d lodge a complaint with Chief Shortshadow.”

“Radish… is Focus Beam right? Is this really because how much you… care for me?”

Radish took a deep breath. He looked down at the ground, then into her eyes.

“Sky, when you started hanging around me all the time, I thought you were just interested in dragons, or the Rangers. But after we swore that oath under the Water-bearer…”

“Radish, I have to tell you- that oath was phony. I just made it up… as an excuse to kiss you.”

“I knew. I went along with it because, well, I wanted a kiss from you.”

“Really?”

“Sky, I was falling for you by the time we parted. If I had stayed another day, I don’t know if I could have left at all.”

Radish heard a few voices saying “aww” behind him. He ignored them.

“Oh,” said Sky. “I didn’t think… you felt that way. Radish, I’ve missed you every day since you left. A lot more than I thought I would. Some days I feel like an idiot encouraging you to go.”

“Sky, I’m sorry. I’m with someone.”

“I know. And that’s great. I wanted that for you. I don’t have any right to feel sad about it.”

“Come on, Sky. There’s a million better guys than me out there.”

“Doubt that. Who else would walk up to a dragon and demand answers?”

She hugged him. He hugged her back.

“Mission Leader, please let me come. For old times’ sake?”

“Okay. You can come. But this time, don’t yank down my pants.”

They heard some giggles behind them. Radish rolled his eyes.


“Worthy, may I count on your… discretion?” Celestia asked.

He removed his tie and let it drop to the floor. “No.”

“Worthy…”

He stepped closer, undoing his cuffs and shirt buttons.

“You were hoping to meet me in the club today, weren’t you? Hoping to get something out of me?”

“Yes. I wanted to know what you think you’re doing at the Black Bluffs dig.”

“There are many precious things a dig can bring forth. Most precious of all was you.”

“What are you saying?”

“You don’t come out of your castle that often. You don’t come to the club much at all. And you’ve never accepted an invitation to my home. You avoid me at galas, never respond to my messages, and altogether refuse to give me the time of day. But your concern for that boy has brought you to me, eh?

“You came here tonight thinking that a couple of flirtatious smiles and innuendos would get what you want out of me. But you never could have imagined that I’d have something you’d really, truly, desperately desire. Whatever is recovered from that dig is secondary to the opportunity to put you in front of that vault and show you the one thing in this world that you would do anything for.

“No, Celestia, I am not going to be discreet about this. Every one of your subjects will know. The news will reach the dragons, griffons, and zebras. And the first one I tell will be that boy to his face.

“And after I’ve let you have the piece and restore the sun to its completeness, every one of your sunrises will be your tribute to me. Your morning duty will be a daily reminder of how I conquered you.”

“I don’t give a damn. I am doing this for all the world. I have done far worse for far less.” She took off her crown and shook out her mane. “And I will be thinking of that boy the entire time.”


Radish’s team approached the mouth of the dragon’s cave. The smoke pouring out was thinner and lighter now, indicating the dragon was dreaming of something unpleasant.

All the more reason to tread carefully, thought Radish.

“So, Twilight… when you confronted Razer…”

“Who?”

“The red dragon in the Unicorn Mountains? The Rangers were able to confirm his identity later on.”

“Oh, that’s his name? Cool!”

“How did you wake him up without getting killed?”

“Uh… you know, that was a string of debacles that I don’t like to talk about.”

“Twilight, it’s important.”

“But I’ve learned a lot since then.”

“Yeah? Like what?” asked the dragon, staring at them from the mouth of the cave.

The five fell to their knees.

“Mister dragon,” started Fluttershy. “My name is Fluttershy. I’d like to speak with you, if that’s okay.”

He ignored her and looked at Radish. “Hey, I know you. You’re the one with the funny pictures on him.”

Sky giggled. Radish grit his teeth.

“Yes, that’s me. How are you?”

“The mites are nice, but I’m still not sleeping well,” he said, drawing his maw nearer to Radish.

“When we met in that other cave back then, did you take something from it?”

“The deal was that I leave the bones and you alone. You never said anything about the chest buried in there.”

“A chest? What was in it?”

“Don’t know. Haven’t checked it yet. Been trying to sleep.”

“Would you be willing to show us? We could at least try to appraise what’s inside,” said Radish.

The dragon disappeared into the cave and returned, holding out a small chest. With one tug of his claw, it snapped open. Jewelry, gems, and gold fell out. Rarity looked them over.

“It’s the Spruce Woods collection, no doubt about it! Why, Fancy Pants would be overjoyed to…” she looked up at the dragon’s disapproving face. “…to hear that it’s in the possession of one who will appreciate its beauty.”

“It’s mine. And I don’t want you telling anyone about it.”

“If that’s your wish,” said Radish. “We won’t tell anyone.”

“Cross my little pony heart,” added Rarity.

“So, what’s it worth?” the dragon asked.

“Oh, a king’s ransom!” said Rarity, enthusiastically. “Or more literally, a Pants family member’s. In those days, it was quite common to kidnap a noblepony for ransom, so families commissioned high-value, highly-portable property to trade for their loved ones should the need arise. This collection was such property, crafted by the artist Spruce Woods. It was his magnum opus, darling.”

“I lucked out, huh?” said the dragon. “What about that?”

He pointed to something in the pile- a finely-decorated scroll cylinder. Rarity carefully opened it, and pulled out a canvas scroll. She unfurled it. The others gathered around to see.


“Now, Celestia, why don’t you-”

A crash rang out down the hall. Worthy sneered.

“Do not move. I will be right back.”

He stormed out of the room. Princess Celestia took off her shoes and sat down on the bed. She touched her flank where her dress covered her sun cutie mark.

I’m sorry, old friend. I should have noticed you were incomplete. I was so foolish in those days. I will make it up to you. I will restore you. That is my duty.

“Stupid girl!” she heard Worthy bellow from down the hall. “That is worth more than your life! If you’ve damaged it-”

“I’m sorry!” cried a young mare’s voice. “It just fell off as I was dusting! I don’t think it was hung properly!”

“Shall I demonstrate how something should be hung properly!?

Celestia collected her things, redressed, and left the bedroom. Back in the gallery, she found Worthy standing over the maid, who was sweeping up shards from a frame that had fallen.

It was the half-portrait Celestia had seen earlier. The maid’s eyes darted from Celestia’s to the back of the frame.

“Celestia, I am sorry this girl disturbed you, and she will be punished for it,” said Worthy. “There was no need to come in here. I told you to stay put.”

Celestia took the broken frame in her aura, opened it, and extracted the portrait. She flipped it over. She frowned. The maid gave a brief surreptitious smile, then rushed out of the room with a dustpan full of glass shards.

“Do be careful with that. It is very old,” sighed Worthy.

“Seriously, Worthy? This is what started this whole thing?”

“I don’t know what you mean, Celestia.”


The group studied the scroll in Rarity’s aura. One side was the upper half of an antique painting- a portrait of some fancy-looking pony.

“Hmm. Rough Classical period. I don’t recognize the artist, or the subject,” Rarity said.

“That’s Dendross,” said Twilight. “He was a chronicler, historian, and genealogist. Something of a party animal, too. He was always getting invited to the big families’ big parties.”

Rarity flipped it over. The other side had what looked like a diagram.

“What’s that?” asked the dragon.

“The Wagoners’ family tree!” said Radish. “The top part of it, anyway.”

“The Wagoners like to brag that their lineage can be traced back to the founders of Equestria from all three tribes,” said Twilight.

“Oh, everypony claims they’re related to Equestria’s founders somehow. I don’t even think Celestia is,” said Radish.

“You don’t?” asked Twilight, surprised.

“So what’s it say?” asked the dragon.

The ponies, buffalo, and dragon gathered around to read the family tree.

“I have no idea who any of these ponies are. I see nothing about any of the founders here,” said Twilight.

“Son of a nag. Do you think that’s it?” asked Radish. “Willow was trying to hide that the Wagoners came from regular folk?”

“What’s that matter?” asked the dragon. “They’re rich anyway, right?”

“Yeah, but so are others in Canterlot. The only way to elevate yourself above the rest is to have more famous ancestors. I bet Fancy Pants’s ancestors stole this first, to use against the Wagoners.”

“Maybe they had it in a tug-of-war and it ripped!” suggested Sky. “The Pantses got away with the top half, which was the important part.”

“Oh, I hope we haven’t scandalized Fancy Pants,” said Rarity. “He’s ever so nice. And pays in advance.”

“You ponies fight over the dumbest things,” said the dragon.

“I’m in total agreement, great dragon,” said Radish.

“Staunch.”

“I’m sorry?”

“My name is Staunch.”

“Staunch, would you be willing to barter for this?”

“What do you got?”

Radish dumped out his saddlebags. Twilight, Rarity, and Fluttershy did the same. Sky laid down all she had. Staunch picked through the pile of mission gear and personal effects.

“Pretty lame, ponies.”

“We can get more!” said Radish. “The princess will pay top bit for it!”

“The low-class lady on your behind?”

“And my tribe can contribute!” said Sky. “We have gems. And I’ll throw in all of these you’d ever want!”

She pointed to the bag of jalapeño chews she had laid out. Staunch sniffed it. He snapped it up in his mouth.

“These are better than last time.”

“I’ve been making them spicier. I used to make them for Radish, who could only take so much.”

She smiled at Radish. Radish smiled back.

“Candy? Camping junk? This is what Celestia sends to bargain?” called out a mocking voice from behind.

They turned to see a large orange unicorn. He sneered at them.

Radish put himself between the unicorn and his friends.

“And you are?”

“Here for that,” he said, pointing at the scroll.

Radish looked at the landscape around them.

“If you’re looking for your friends, they have their hooves full helping the village deal with a little bad weather,” said the unicorn.

Off in the distance, a massive storm cloud loomed over the horizon, where the Black Bluff village sat.

“If you’ve hurt any of them…” growled Sky.

He ignored Sky. “Dragon, don’t waste your time with Celestia’s peons. They have nothing. My employers, on the other hoof, know how to reward.”

He held up a ruby. Radish didn’t know a thing about gems, but it looked huge, flawless, and priceless.

“And there’s more where this came from. All I ask for is that scroll.”

“So the Wagoners can hide away their unimpressive family tree?” asked Radish angrily.

“And that Willow murdered her own team to do the same?” asked Twilight.

“I’m not talking to you,” the unicorn. He walked past them, up to the dragon. Radish noted his cutie mark, a scarlet crosshair.

“So you’re the one been scrying and air-burning, huh? How’s it feel threatening children?”

The unicorn ignored him.

“What do you say?” he asked the dragon.

He held up the ruby to the dragon’s face. The dragon sniffed it. His expression turned sour.

“It’s fake.”

“What?”

“That’s rube’s ruby. What are you trying to pull here?”

He clawed a few steps closer toward the unicorn.

“That’s impossible! I had it appraised by three different ponies!”

“Did they even smell it? Lick it? It’s a good fake, if you’re trying to fool anyone but a dragon. These four just brought stuff, but at least it’s real stuff.”

“I didn’t know! Why would… oh, that bastard! Of course a Wagoner wouldn’t pay real money up front!”

“Notoriously stingy, right?” Staunch laughed. Sky laughed with him.

The unicorn snatched the document with his aura. “It doesn’t matter. I’m taking it. If Worthy really wants this, he can pay triple now. In real jewels!”

Staunch seethed, huffing out smoke. Radish, Sky, Twilight, Rarity, and Fluttershy froze in terror.

“Mister…” gasped Radish, “you just stole from a dragon’s hoard.”

The unicorn’s face fell. He took the scroll and ran.

Staunch turned to Sky and said, “Watch my cave,” then gave chase.

“Uh, okay,” said Sky.

“Come on, we have to save him!” said Radish and Twilight simultaneously. They nodded to each other.

The ponies bounded out of the cave after Staunch and his prey. Sky watched them go, then entered the cave.


Celestia put the half-parchment down on a table. She caught her reflection in an antique wall mirror. She straightened her crown.

“Thank you for dinner, Worthy. And the tour of your collection. You have a lovely home. Until we meet again.”

She began for the door.

“If you leave tonight,” warned Worthy, “I raise my price.”

She stopped and looked back. “Meaning?”

“Marriage, of course."

Celestia closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She shrugged at Worthy. “I’ve already got what I came for.”

Celestia left out the door. She descended the stairs. She found the maid emptying the trash can full of glass shards. She walked over to her and lowered her mouth to the maid’s ear.

“The palace has open staff positions. Come by tomorrow.”

The maid looked into the princess’s eyes. She shuddered in fright.

“He gets furious at staff who leave him. Furious at their families.”

Celestia frowned and drooped her ears.

“I’m sorry.”

“Thanks anyway.”


Staunch landed on the ground before the orange unicorn with an earth-quaking stomp. The unicorn tucked the scroll away, and sparked up his horn. He blasted the dragon square in the chest.

Staunch looked at his marred scales. He raised a fist. The unicorn stumbled back and fell, shutting his eyes.

“Wait!” called Fluttershy.

She swooped in and put herself between Staunch and the thief.

“Why?” Staunch asked.

“Please, forgive him. He only acted out because he was frustrated over Worthy cheating him.”

“Don’t care. Gonna squish him.”

“Think about what he’s been through already. He was probably really excited about that ruby. He probably paraded it all over town, rubbing it in others’ faces, imagining all the things he’d buy… and now he learns that it’s a fake. He’s humiliated. He feels like an idiot. He’ll probably cry over it.”

Staunch looked at the unicorn. The unicorn nodded.

“And if we take him back to Canterlot, everyone else will know about how he got fooled. He’ll be miserable about it forever. If you squish him, you’d just be doing him a favor.”

“I’m fine doing him a favor.”

“But if you let us take the scroll back, the ones who sent him here will be humiliated, too.”

“Don’t care about them. Now, scoot aside, or you’ll get smushed too.”


“Now, what are they doin’ over there?” asked Applejack, peering through binoculars.

“It looks like Fluttershy’s trying to keep that dragon from crushing that guy?” said Pinkie Pie, looking into the wrong end of hers.

Spike belched out green fire, which formed a scroll with an “urgent” tag. He read it.

“Whoa! Look!” he said, showing them the scroll. “This could help them! We’ve got to get this to them!”

“Ain’t no ‘we’ about it, Spike,” said Applejack. “You remember what Radish said about dragons- seein’ a little’un would just make him madder.”

“He might go loco!” said Pinkie Pie.

“But-”

“No buts, sugar. I’ll get this to them.”

“Ugh, I’m just supposed to sit here?”

A peal of thunder split the air. Everyone turned in the direction of the Black Bluff village to see a massive storm brewing over it.

“We could use your help securing the village,” said Brazen. “I’ve never seen a storm that bad.”

“Right,” said Spike.

“I’ll help!” said Pinkie Pie.

“Alright,” said Applejack, tucking the message under her hat. “Winona, you go with ‘em. We’ll all meet you there, if we ain’t been squished.”


Celestia leaned forward in her office chair, cleaning her quill and replacing it to its stand. She turned her chair around and looked out her window. The sun was setting behind the mountain, casting a great pointed shadow over Canterlot, the palace, and the flat lands below. She sat back and looked at her cutie mark.

Forgive me, my old friend. I didn’t have the strength. Or the stomach.

She turned back to her desk. She pulled the papers from the top of her inbox. Spike had sent back a receipt from Radish earlier in the day, for a buckboard rental. Radish had included a note explaining his decision to rent a more expensive model with upgraded shocks, assuring her the terrain justified the extra cost. He also provided an update on more threats they received, and added a personal note asking her to use every precaution to stay safe.

She smiled. She approved the expense report, filed the threat update, and put the personal note in a box of keepsakes.


Staunch pushed Fluttershy out of his way. He picked the scroll off the unicorn’s body, and pressed his massive thumb down onto him, slowly crushing him into the dirt. The unicorn screamed.

“Wait! Stop!” called Twilight, reaching him. “Please don’t do this!”

“Think of the mess!” plead Rarity.

“Hold yer horses there!” hollered Applejack, loping up to the group. “We got sumthin’ you might find interestin’!”

She held up the letter. The dragon peered at it.

“Says here Princess Celestia found out this is all about some old scroll. I’m guessin’ it’s that one there? She’s willin’ to pay handsomely for it. She’ll even trade it for something called the ‘Rush Reeds Trove’.”

“The Rush Reeds Trove!?” gasped Rarity. “But she can’t!”

“Why not?” asked Staunch.

“Why, that’s the treasure her family commissioned for her in case she was ever kidnapped! It’s literally a princess’s bounty!”

“And speakin’ of bounties,” said Applejack, “she’s also put up hefty sums for the capture of any wrong-doers caught in this vicinity. They gotta be alive, though.”

Rarity read the note. “Sweet heavens, that’s a lot of zeroes. Mr. Staunch, together these would make your hoard the envy of dragonkind.”

“Bounty from a princess, and a bounty of a princess, huh?” Staunch looked at Radish. “Oh, yeah. You were chasing her tail. How did that work out?”

Twilight raised an eyebrow.

“She… wasn’t as impressed with me as I was hoping,” admitted Radish.

“That sucks. Did you come all the way back here trying to impress her?”

Twilight frowned. Radish looked at Staunch, then at all the ponies around him.

“No, this time I was helping friends.”

“What does that get you?”

Radish sat down and thought about it.

“A good night’s sleep, at least.”

Staunch peered at him. He laughed.

“Take the scroll and the guy, but send the rewards back anonymously. I don’t want anyone thinking I work for ponies.”

“You got it. Thank you, Staunch.”

They shook on it. Staunch took flight and headed back to his cave.

“He was going to squish me. Why wouldn’t you just let him?” the unicorn asked.

Radish pulled out hoof cuffs and a horn nullifying ring. The unicorn looked at them. He sat, holding up his hooves and tilting his horn toward Radish.

“See these? These are for Worthy Wagoner, if you testify against him,” Radish said.

The unicorn looked surprised.

“But he’s so powerful.”

“We’ve faced powerful villains before, Mister…” said Twilight.

“Angle Archer.”

“Mister Angle Archer. But would you rather return to Canterlot having failed him, without taking him out of power?”

“I… I think this could work. I know a lot more about him than he knows I know. I’m his Security Chief. He had me scry all of you at one point or another. But I scried him a few times, too, and I’ve got more than a little dirt on him.”

“All right,” said Radish. “That only leaves that pegasus.”

“Oh… uh oh. He’s still at the village, being my distraction.”

The group turned to look at the village. The mountain of dark clouds over it were putting the entire village in shadow.

“Come on, then.”


An angry wind whipped through the village. The buffalo and Spike were rushing to take down and tie down what they could. Pinkie Pie was trying to lift the spirits of the youths with a hastily-improvised puppet show.

Blasts of static electricity impacted the ground, throwing up sprays of dirt. Radish looked skyward. The pegasus was twirling in the air, summoning ball lightning and hurling it down.

“Call him off!” yelled Radish.

“Foo Fighter! Stand down!” cried Angle Archer. Foo Fighter couldn’t hear him. Lightning struck the ground around Radish’s group, and they hit the dirt.

Radish got his binoculars on Foo Fighter. He was weaving erratically as a trail of rainbow hounded him. Rainbow Dash was engaging him in a dogfight.

He hurled lightning at her, and she dodged it, bucking chunks of sopping wet clouds at him.

He ducked inside a thundercloud, and Rainbow Dash spun around it, wringing it apart. He wasn’t inside it. He appeared behind her. He zapped her with ball lightning, and she fell. Fluttershy caught her, but she wriggled from her grip and blasted up back at him.

“Rainbow Dash! Wait! The static!” cried Fluttershy.

As Rainbow Dash sped toward Foo Fighter, she hit a curtain of sizzling electricity. She twitched and fell. Fluttershy snagged her again, and yelped in pain as static jumped into her fur. Twilight caught them with her aura and landed them safely.

“Ugh! Sorry, Mission Leader,” said Rainbow Dash, shaking herself dry. “He’s put up an electric field. I can’t get close.”

Twilight stared into the sky, trying to get a bead on him. She tried to blind-fire a couple of beams in the air, but hit nothing.

“What do we do?” she asked Radish.

Radish looked skyward and quickly ran through all his available assets.

“Okay, we have to lure him down. Give me the scroll. Fluttershy, get all the allied birds you can find to set up a perimeter. Twilight and Rarity, get your auras on him the second you see him and then… what’s that?”

A blaze of luminescence streaked across the sky. It plunged into the cloud nearest Foo Fighter. The cloud flashed a dizzying display of light. Foo Fighter lost control and tripped over his own ball lightning, which fried his back and singed his feathers. He plunged out of the sky.

“Someone catch him!” called Radish.

A purple aura flowed over him, slowing his fall with calculated precision. He landed gently on the ground in front of Radish. Rainbow Dash pounced on him and pinned him down.

“What is that?” asked Twilight, shielding her eyes from the glowing cloud.

“That’s Light Fantastic, Twilight.”

Light Fantastic swooped down and landed in front of the group. Radish galloped up to her and hugged her.

“Honey! You’re safe! You came!”

“Sorry I’m late. I missed the train. Then I tried to fly here. Then the train tracks forked, so I got lost. Then I started getting loopy in the desert. Then I saw smoke, so I figured it was coming from that dragon. But then I saw this fight, and thought I should do something. He was the bad guy, right?”

“Sure was. Friends… this is Light Fantastic. My girlfriend.”

They kissed. The others let out a collective aww.

“Uh, guys? Look,” said Twilight.

Radish broke the kiss and looked skyward. The ball lightning Foo Fighter had tripped on was now lodged in the radiant cloud Light Fantastic had made. They both crackled and pulsed with red and black arcs of lightning.

“Uh, Light Fantastic? That wouldn’t happen to be a prism pulsar you made up there, would it?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“Uh, yeah? It’s my talent. I’ve been making them since I was a kid.”

“And you,” Rainbow Dash said, looking at Foo Fighter, “was that ball lightning set on autonomous current?”

“Yes? So what?”

“Have none of you worked weather jobs before!? Those are oppositely-charged atmospheric elements in a zero-humidity environment south of the nineteenth parallel!” Rainbow Dash howled.

All eyes looked at her. She looked at the rest as if they were idiots.

“She means it’s going to explode really big,” explained Fluttershy.

“Oh, crap,” said Foo Fighter.

“Oh, crap,” said Light Fantastic.

“How do we stop it?” asked Radish.

“I can take it apart,” said Light.

She aimed herself at the weather disaster. Radish jumped on her.

“No! That thing will fry you! Twilight?”

“I… uh… okay! How about an ice spell to draw off its energy?”

“NO!” howled Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash.

“The shock would detonate it!” cried Rainbow Dash. “It needs to be heated slowly to dissipate its superstructure!”

All eyes turned to Spike, who was already marching forward determinedly.

“All right, stand back!”

He took a deep breath, and blew a wide green flame up at the monster cloud system. The fire filled the sky over the village. Radish couldn’t see what was going on above them. The air heated. All backed away.

“Chief!” called Radish. “You gotta evacuate the whole village! I’ll take full responsibility for what happens here!”

Chief Shortshadow looked skyward and squinted.

“You don’t think the dragon can do it?” he asked.

Radish looked at Spike. After blowing flame too long without taking a breath, he stopped to gasp for air.

“Did it work?” he asked between breaths.

Everyone looked up. The weather abomination was still there, pulsing angrily.

“Sorry, Chief. Y’all need to leave now. We’ll help any way we can.”

“No, I meant that dragon,” Chief Shortshadow said, pointing.

“What?” asked Radish, looking up.

A new flame roasted the skies. A searing orange wave of fire spread from the south, enveloping the monster cloud. All heads turned to find its source.

Staunch was hovering over the village with Sky on his head. He blew a maelstrom of flames from his mouth.

“Whoo hoo!” Sky called. “Get that thing!”

With a hiss of water vapor and a snap of static, the monster cloud was no more. Staunch landed in the village and let Sky down to the ground. Everyone present rushed to hug both of them, cheering and whooping.

“That was some mighty fine flaming, Staunch!” said Radish. “You saved us all!”

“Maybe now I’ll sleep better,” he said, shrugging.

He caught sight of Spike, who was gazing up at him in awe.

“Hey, whose kid is this? Are you one of Coke’s?”

“I don’t know,” said Spike. “Am I?”

Staunch shrugged.

“Probably not. None of his kids could blow a burn that big at your age.”

Spike gasped in joy.

Radish walked over to Foo Fighter, who was cradling his wing and surrounded by buffalo.

“Look, mister. Your pals were caught on neutral land. They’ve agreed to help us take down Worthy Wagoner. But you attacked the Black Bluff’s homes and were caught on their land.”

Chief Shortshadow stomped closer to him.

“That means you face our justice,” he said.

Foo Fighter gulped. “What does that entail?”

“You don’t want to know.”

Foo Fighter inched back.

“But, if you help out Radish here, maybe I can turn you over to his custody.”

“I’ll do it! I know plenty of Worthy’s dirty laundry. I was his launderer!”

“His money launderer?” Radish asked.

“No, the clothes kind. I’ve always been good with static electricity. Everything I wash comes out static-free! Worthy had me train to weaponize it. He weaponizes the special talents of a lot of his employees.”

“Why would you work for someone like that?” Chief Shortshadow asked.

“He said he saw a greater potential in my talent. He said I was destined for something more than folding his towels.”

Sky stepped forth.

“You know, I thought Radish here was destined for something greater. I was right, but that destiny turned out to be something different from what I was expecting. His destiny was helping others. Your destiny can be in helping others, too, if you let it.”

Foo Fighter nodded.

“I’ll help clean up the mess I made here. Then I’ll tell you what I know about Worthy.”

“Works for me,” said Shortshadow.

“What does buffalo justice entail?” Twilight whispered to Radish.

“Community service,” Radish whispered back. “I crossed them once, and did chores here for weeks. Sky teased me the whole time.”

Light Fantastic nervously walked up to Sky.

“So, you’re Sky? I mean, Skies Above. Uh, how do you do?” she said, awkwardly half-bowing. “I’m sorry I nearly wiped out your civilization with a cloud. Whoa, never thought I’d say that.”

“You must be Light Fantastic! So glad to meet you! That was so cool! Do you hug?”

“Hug? Uh, yes?”

Sky hugged her. Light gasped for breath.

“Don’t worry about the cloud,” Sky said. “We’re good.”

“Great.”

Sky leaned into Light’s ear. “Radish mentioned you in his letters. I’m real glad he found you. He spent years moping over Celestia.”

“I know. And she’s not even that hot.”

“Too skinny, right?”

“And a total tease.”

“But she has good taste in Mission Leaders.”

They separated.

“Sky, would you like to hang out in Canterlot with us sometime?”

“That'd be great. But not anytime soon. We have a lot to do here.” Sky looked up at Staunch, who had been staring down at her. “Oh, mighty Staunch. Thank-”

“So what are you up to, now?” the dragon asked her.

“Oh, me? I was going to make a batch of candy to reward all my new friends. And maybe some for these enemies-turned-friends. And you, of course!”

“Can I watch?”

“You want to learn how to make candy?”

“I’d pay for the lesson. How about that tiara you were eyeing in my hoard?”

“Oh, wow! You got it! Come on, I’ll show you how to pick out ingredients!”

Radish watched her lead him off. He smiled.

Chief Shortshadow walked up to him. “Radish, about my meeting with Celestia…”

“It’s not my business.”

“It is. She was worried for your wellbeing. She was afraid you’d joined the Plains Rangers to isolate yourself, or maybe even seek a quick end by dragon.”

“I did join to isolate myself. I was never looking to die out here, though. What did you tell her?”

“That you made friends here. And she said that made her happy.”

“She’s a nice old girl,” said Light Fantastic, walking up to Radish and draping her hoof over his shoulder.

“Yeah, she is,” said Radish. “And I have just the gift for her.”


Princess Celestia hummed as she carefully straightened a framed half of a family tree in the palace’s most popular art gallery. Worthy Wagoner burst in through the closest double doors.

“Celestia! I must ask that this Wagoner family heirloom be returned to its rightful home at once!”

“Oh, Worthy, dear. I’ve already sent the original canvas to your home, where I assumed you’d like it reunited with its other half. This is a museum-quality replica I had commissioned. It’s accurate down to the last detail.”

“And you’re going to… display it? Here?”

“Yes, as part of a display detailing the Black Bluffs’ discoveries about the Storm Centurions. Lieutenant Root will be credited too, of course. Quite a macabre tale they’ve uncovered.”

“Oh?”

“I didn’t know Willow very well back then, so I’m not sure why she would massacre her comrades over such a silly little thing. It hardly seems worth it.”

“A massacre, you say? Willow? Surely not.”

“The findings are being published as we speak.”

“By a desert tribe? I think some historians at the Royal Museum of History might dispute their interpretation of the evidence.”

“Oh, you haven’t heard? A number of those museum officials are under investigation now. It seems they’ve been rather lax in their fact-checking. Some of the history they present regarding Willow has been found to be shockingly inaccurate, possibly even biased.”

“Is that so? You know, a lot of young ponies look up to Willow. Some even enter your Guard hoping to be like her. It would be a shame if you suffered a guard shortage due to some mere fact-checking.”

“It’s worth considering that she might end up more popular as a villain than as a hero. Ponies do so love a good villain- I hear Fancy Pants is already commissioning a play about his ancestor’s theft of your family tree.”

“Is he, now?”

“I’ve known a few good villains myself.” She glared down at Worthy. “And a few lousy ones.”

“Now, Celestia, pettiness is unbecoming.”

“I need you to understand that Light Fantastic is a friend of mine. And I am fiercely protective of my friends, whether they live in Canterlot, Ponyville, or the Everfree Forest.”

“What are you insinuating?”

“You should also understand that there is a new power rising in Equestria- one that eclipses all others, even mine. Those who fail to understand it will find themselves the most impoverished of all.”

“Let me guess,” he said, laughing. “Friendship? Really now, that’s childish.”

“But its absence is often as powerful as its presence. For example, if an employer pays his employees with fake gems, those employees may be more friendly to the ones who saved them, than to the boss who cheated them. They might be friendly to the Justice Department, as well- who are, in turn, quite friendly to those who expose corruption in the system.”

“You seem to be babbling, Celestia. Perhaps it’s best if I took my leave.”

“My thoughts exactly. Captain?”

All the doors of the gallery flung open. Barrel Roller entered the room flanked by Radish and Spats. More guards swarmed in from the other doorways and surrounded Worthy, weapons drawn.

“Thank you for coming out to the palace today, Worthy,” said Celestia. “It makes this a lot simpler.”

“Worthy Wagoner,” said Barrel Roller, “you’re under arrest for racketeering, conspiracy against an allied nation, espionage against Plains Ranger operations, harassment of a scientific venture, counterfeit gem trade, corruption of museum officials, bribery of Watch officers, bribery of municipal judges, and tax evasion.”

“Tax evasion? Really?” asked Celestia.

“Yeah. Lots of it,” said Barrel Roller.

“I’ll speak to no one but my lawyer,” Worthy said.

“Okay, that’s the second part of this spiel. You have the right to remain silent…”

As Barrel Roller continued, Radish locked eyes with Worthy. Radish kept a bored expression, and a hoof on the hilt of his sword. Worthy’s face betrayed no emotion, either.

“…do you understand the rights I have just read to you?”

“Perfectly.”

“Uh huh.”

Barrel Roller slapped a magic-nullifying ring on his horn and locked cuffs on his hooves. He looked at them with disdain. Barrel Roller saluted Celestia, then she and the rest of the guards led Worthy out. Celestia motioned for Radish to stay behind.

“A centibit for your thoughts, Radish.”

“I can’t help but notice she’s perp-walking him through the tourist areas.”

“A captain’s prerogative. Congratulations on a successful mission, lieutenant.”

“I didn’t do it alone.”

“That’s because you’re never alone.”

“You know, having the full backing of your crown made me feel powerful. But having the backing of so many friends? That was reassuring.”

“Why, lieutenant, it sounds like you’ve learned a lesson.”

“Oh? Then, I’ll put it how you like to hear it: Dear Princess Celestia, This experience taught me that I shouldn’t be afraid to call upon my friends, even when I think I’m protecting them by keeping them at a distance. There are always dangers to face, but I’m not doing anyone a favor by facing them alone.

Celestia giggled. “That’s a fair approximation of Twilight’s intonation.”

“Heh. Yeah. Think the charges on Worthy will stick?”

“His co-conspirators have been very forthcoming, and we will be adjusting their punishments accordingly. Till Tipper only obeyed him out of fear for Twilight and her family. Angle Archer was promised a position in the Wagoner’s hierarchy that didn’t actually exist. Foo Fighter was simply a young and impressionable employee. And they were all paid in counterfeit jewels.”

“Why? He has plenty of real ones. Even the dragon was willing to barter some of its hoard fair and square.”

“You’d be surprised how often those who have the most, are willing to part with the least. In spheres where loyalty is bought and sold, respect has no value.”

“I guess you were right- I only ever win when my enemy makes a mistake.”

“I did accuse you of that, Radish, and I apologize. The lesson I’ve learned is that it’s only when a pony has enough training, brains, and guts, that an enemy’s mistakes become exploitable.”

“Aww, thanks. You exploited his as well, didn’t you?”

Celestia smiled and walked up to the replica family tree.

“Had we sent the Watch to arrest Worthy, his friends on the force could have sabotaged the bust. But by coming onto palace grounds, he was walking right into Guard jurisdiction. His cronies won’t be able to interfere. All I had to do was bait him with something he truly, desperately desired.”

“I heard what you said to him about Light. Thank you for standing up for her, princess.”

"I don't tolerate threats to my friends.”

“Oh, uh, princess? The treasury department raided the Wagoner estate to find the source of his fake jewels. That’s still a mystery, but they found a big empty vault. And there are rumors about what was kept in it.”

“Yes, I saw it.”

“He legitimately owns it, doesn’t he? It’s not a crime we can bust him for. We can’t get it back.”

“That’s correct.”

“I’m sorry, princess. That’s awful.”

“I want all the world to have access to all of the sun, and that can’t happen while even a sliver of it is held captive. I hate that the world is less bright than it should be. It pains me, Radish. So much so that I was even prepared to let him… have me for it.”

“Oh… I see.”

“How do you feel about that?”

Radish looked into her eyes. “If you had… well, that’s your business. As your guard, I know every decision you make is for the greater good of Equestria.”

“What about as my friend?”

“As your friend? I’d… feel unhappy on your behalf. But I’d stand by your choices. I wouldn’t lose an ounce of respect for you.”

“And what about as a former admirer yourself? As the little boy who desired the same thing Worthy does?”

Radish looked down at the floor. “That little boy is still trying to grow up, ma’am. I hope he doesn’t turn out like Worthy.”

Celestia shook her head. “He won’t.”

“I promise you, we’ll find a way to free that piece of the sun, legally. We could make it public, put pressure on the Wagoner family, organize boycotts of their businesses…”

“Let me worry about it. The important thing is that I did manage to liberate something far more valuable from his mansion.”

“Oh?”

Celestia pointed to a maid trotting along with a feather duster. Radish had never seen her before.

“Good morning, princess. Good morning, lieutenant,” she said, bowing her head.

“Hi, I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure,” said Radish, bowing back. “I’m Lieutenant Radish Root.”

“I know. I’m Curtsey Blush,” she said, curtsying and blushing. “I’m new here. My previous employer suddenly let a lot of staff go, so the princess was kind enough to take us all on.”

“Welcome to the palace.”

“Thank you! This place is wonderful. It’s so well-lit! And everyone’s been so nice.”

“We’re all one big family here,” said Radish. “If you ever need anything, just say so.”

“There’s nothing more important than family. Thank you, lieutenant. For everything.”

She trotted away to her duties, smiling and humming.

“So you did brighten the world,” said Radish.

We did. And we’re only getting started.”


Big Macintosh heard three knocks on the fruit cellar doors- one slow and two fast. He unlocked the doors, pitchfork at the ready. Applejack was at the top of the stairs with Winona. She barked and ran up to him. He petted her.

“Howdy, big bro! Danger’s passed. We nabbed the outlaws and put the ringleader in the hoosegow. How have things been down here?”

“Boring!” shouted Scootaloo. “Next time my life is in danger, I’m taking my chances with the mercenaries!”

“And would it have killed you to put in a bathroom down here?” bemoaned Sweetie Belle. “We had to… improvise.” She shuddered.

“Well, some of us appreciate working remotely,” said Mayor Mare. “I’ve just finished finalizing a draft of a proposal for a motion for an ordinance!”

“And Zecora here’s taught me a new potion!” said Apple Bloom. “It reveals if a jewel is real or not!”

“It is quite a useful tool, to keep one from being a fool,” said Zecora proudly.

“Granny? You okay?” asked Applejack. She saw her granny rousing from sleep in her chair. “Great. Everyone come on up. I brought home some genuine buffalo candy.”

The group trotted up the stairs into the sunlight.

“What were the buffalo like?” asked Scootaloo.

“Did you see the dragon?” asked Sweetie Belle.

“How is Mr. Root?” asked Apple Bloom.

“The buffalo were swell folk. Dragon stuff is classified. And Radish is fine and dandy. He’s takin’ his gal on some well-deserved R’n’R.”


Radish Root and Light Fantastic snuggled on Light’s couch and clinked wine glasses.

“Here’s to a successful mission,” he said.

“And here’s to bringing down a rich bastard and his dirty cop friends!” said Light. “That’ll earn you a few free drinks in this neighborhood.”

They drank from their glasses. Light leaned into Radish.

“Sky was nice,” said Light.

“Yeah.”

“And really pretty.”

“Yeah."

“Did you two say everything you wanted to say to each other?”

“Yes. Before, we left on kind of an ambiguous note, so it felt good to get everything out into the open.”

“Did you see kind of a spark between her and Staunch?”

“So it wasn’t just my imagination.”

“You should be flattered- you set such a high bar for her, she had to go dragon. I’m glad I got to thank her in person.”

“Thank her for what?”

“For kicking you out of the plains and into my life.”

“Well, she thought she was sending me into Celestia’s waiting hooves.”

“Nah. She knew Celestia’s hooves wouldn’t be waiting for you. She knew somepony else’s were.”

Radish held Light tightly. “Then I really owe her. Because you’re the treasure I’ve always been searching for.”

“You are such a dork.” She kissed him. “Never change.”

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