• 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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73. The Situation

Princess Celestia entered Secure Holding, a rarely-used facility of the palace. It had last been host to Worthy Wagoner, until he was transferred to a prison off of Manehattan Island to await international court. Today it was busier than it had been in a long time. Barrel Roller met her princess in the front foyer.

“Captain.”

“Princess. I’m sorry to say we had security breaches during the coronation. Three ponies tried to sneak up to the balcony during the ceremony.”

“That’s troubling. But seeing as how this is the first I’m aware of it, I commend you for stopping them quickly and quietly.”

“You might want to hold off on the commendations. Guards had little to do with it. Come on, I’ll show you.”

She led Celestia down a hallway lined with one-way mirrors. They stopped in front of one. Inside an interrogation room, a unicorn mare was seated in cuffs across from Shining Armor. She was dressed in a kitchen staff uniform. Barrel Roller read from a clipboard.

“Her name is Lemon Drops. We found her passed out in the kitchen.”

“Passed out?”

“Apparently she ran full tilt through the outside door, which was propped open, then at the inner door. But the inner door was blocked on the other side by a misplaced apple crate. She bonked her head and got knocked out.”

“And the uniform?”

“Looks homemade. Convincing work, too. But it’s the wrong uniform. The kitchen staff was wearing brand new outfits today- guess she didn’t get that memo.”

Inside the room, Shining Armor looked at Lemon Drops with disgust.

“Lemon Drops, what were you doing in the kitchen?”

“I thought it was the bathroom.”

“You entered a restricted area.”

“Nopony tried to stop me.”

“That’s because you were impersonating palace personnel.”

“This is just a fun costume. I love dressing up for big events.”

“As kitchen staff?”

“What’s wrong with kitchen staff? They’re as important as anypony.”

“Are you going to tell me what you were up to, or should I just let the four princesses decide what to do with you?”

“Three.”

“What’s that?”

“There are three princesses. Twilight is a phony. She doesn’t deserve a crown.”

“She became an alicorn in front of everyone's eyes.”

“Not my eyes.”

“She has wings now.”

“They’re fake.”

“The whole crowd saw her flying today!”

“A cheap parlor trick!”

Barrel Roller looked up at Celestia. “If the style coordinator hadn’t insisted on new staff uniforms, the waiter who found her wouldn’t have reported her. And if the caterer hadn’t left that crate against the inner door, she could have gotten further inside.”

“What a stroke of luck,” said Celestia.

“Unfortunately, the other two did get inside. When their partner was knocked out, they left her on the floor and pushed past the door. We found this one in the hall. His name is Flowrider.”

They walked to another mirror. Saguaro Shade was questioning a pale blue pegasus.

“… and why did you have this map of the tower?”

“The palace gives them out for free.”

“This wall is circled. Why?”

“I ‘unno.”

“This is serious, kiddo.”

“You don’t know the half of it. Twilight’s got you hypnotized. You and everyone else need to snap out of it.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You can’t just become an alicorn by making a new spell. There are thousands of spells- there’d be thousands of alicorns by now!”

Barrel Roller shook her head. “I didn’t even see the point of decorating that hallway- no one was using it today. But the decorator wanted to fill the upper arches with garlands, and Flowrider got tangled in them and fell right in front of a valet.”

“Hmm,” said Celestia, clicking her tongue.

They moved to a third mirror.

“Brace yourself,” said Barrel Roller. “You might recognize this one.”

Celestia peered at the third cuffed pony, a reddish earth stallion. He sat alone in the room, staring silently at his bindings. Celestia recognized him as a palace archive technician.

“Coppertop? Surely not. He’s worked here for years. I hired him. I trusted him. I’ve had tea with him.”

“I’m afraid so, your highness. He left Flowrider behind and used an old auxiliary key from the archives to get into your office.”

“My office? Why?”

“Get this- he was trying to scoot up the air ducts in your wall. He could have gotten to you on the balcony that way if they were clear. Only, there was a family of ferrets nesting in there. They chased him back down until he got stuck.”

“Ferrets?” asked Celestia. “From the menagerie?”

“Apparently. That’s not the only oddity. The rooftop vent he was trying to reach wouldn’t have worked for him anyway, because there was a brand new padlock on it. Maintenance doesn’t remember when it was added, and it’s not even the kind they stock.”

“What were these three ponies hoping to accomplish?”

“They’re claiming Twilight Sparkle’s transformation into an alicorn is a hoax. They intended to expose her wings as fake by pulling them off in front of the crowd.”

“How bizarre. Is she aware?”

“I assume so. Rumors spread quickly around the palace, and Spike always seems to know the latest scuttlebutt. I guess he just has one of those faces everyone trusts.

“Poor Twilight. Today should have been the happiest day of her life.”

“Ma’am, I’m embarrassed they got as far as they did. I put the blame totally on myself, and I accept any discommendation you feel is appropriate.”

Celestia looked down at her. “Their incursion path was highly creative. I don’t think anypony could have seen this coming.”

“One pony did, ma’am. For months now, Major Root has been submitting complaints about those areas- complaints which I dismissed.” Barrel Roller flipped through the pages on her clipboard. “He suggested the ventilation in the kitchen should be upgraded so the cooks wouldn’t leave the door open, and I designated that a low priority. He wanted checkpoints in the colonnades, which I rejected as redundant. He called for replacing your office lock, which I deemed sufficiently secure. And when he told me that the air ducts are big enough for a pony to crawl through… I told him he’d been watching too many movies.”

“I see. I take it you archived his suggestions?”

“Aye, ma’am. Coppertop had access to the files. He must have collected and correlated enough to make an infiltration plan.”

“Damn you, Coppertop. Captain, I want this handled by the book.”

“It’s a heavy book, ma’am. If Coppertop exploited his position to lead an assault on princesses, well, that’s espionage and treason.”

Celestia sighed. “Twilight’s first day as a princess, and she’s already dealing with this kind of thing. Captain, I want you to make a complete review of palace security, including all personnel. Then do the same for Twilight’s home security in Ponyville.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll see to it.”

“And Major Root will be assisting you.”

“... yes, ma’am.”

Celestia exited the annex. She flew over to the commons, where Radish was scanning the crowds.

“Good afternoon, major.”

“Your highness,” Radish said with a bow. “Congratulations. Twilight’s achievements are a reflection of your guidance.”

She glared down at him.

“I, uh, like your dress,” he said.

Apples and ferrets, Radish?”

“I, uh… heh heh. Yes, ma’am. Wait, did something happen?”

“Indeed. I will be issuing a memo to the Royal Guard soon.”

“Is it serious?”

“Quite so. A staff member used your archived security concerns to plan an attack, which your off-the-books precautions have thwarted.”

“Wait, you’re saying that by reporting on potential problems, I drew attention to them… turning them into actual problems… which I ended up fixing?”

“It seems so.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am.”

“Don’t be. You did well today.”

“Thank you, princess.”

“Just keep alert, and stick by Twilight until she’s ready to leave.”

“I’m looking for her now.”

“Carry on,” Celestia said, and flew off.

Radish entered the reception hall and looked around. Ponies of note and notable ponies were milling and mixing. He didn’t know any of them, and he didn’t think Twilight knew any of them. She wasn’t there, at any rate. Radish backed out.

‘Come to me?’ A location would’ve been helpful, Twilight. But then again, Ranger hoof signs can’t really get building-specific.

“Radish!” called Twilight.

He looked around. Then he looked up. Twilight was airborne. She swooped toward him. Radish quickly did the math and realized she was going to smack into the wall behind him. She must have realized that, too, and she braked in the air, kicked off the wall, and landed on the ground in front of Radish on her hind legs. She flailed her forelegs and wings, and Radish grabbed her to keep her from falling over.

She hugged him. Her grip was immensely powerful, and he struggled to breathe.

“Look! Crown! Wings! I’m an alicorn! I’m a princess! I was flying!”

She pushed her wings into Radish's face. The feathers tickled his nose, causing him to sneeze.

“Well done, your highness. I’m proud of you.”

“No! None of that ‘highness’ stuff, okay?”

“Okay. But I’m still proud of you.”

“Thanks. It was a total shock to me.”

Radish put his hoof up to her forehead and compared her height to his. “Hey… you grew. You’re taller.”

“Uh huh!”

“Your horn, too. It’s longer and pointier.”

“Yeah.”

“Did it… uh… hurt to grow wings?”

Twilight smiled and looked back at her wings. She stretched them out upwards. “No. But I’m still learning how to use them. Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash are teaching me all about pegasus powers.”

“And you have earth pony powers now too, right?”

“Yep! Applejack and Pinkie Pie are showing me the ropes for that, too! Did you have anything you wanted to tell me?”

“Yeah. Woody plants are really hard to grow for a first-timer, so start with something small and herbaceous.”

“I already know the first plant I want to grow- arabidopsis.”

Radish snorted. “That’s so nerdy.”

“Oh, yeah? What was your first?”

“Kenbucky bluegrass.”

“A monocot? Well, I suppose that’s fine… for a kid,” she teased.

Radish smiled. Then, he checked around, leaned in close, and lowered his voice. “Hey, did they tell you about that… obscure earth pony ability?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Nothing! Just a joke.”

“But-”

“Celestia said there was a security breach. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Spike is saying our precautions stopped three intruders. I’ve asked Shining to let me talk to them, but he’s saying it’s out of my jurisdiction.”

“Is that even true? You’re a princess now.”

“But he’s a prince.”

“Of somewhere else.”

“And he’s my big brother.”

“That matters?”

“Well, yes.”

“I could ask around, see how big this thing is.”

“You think it’s bigger than just three ponies?” she asked.

“If you’ve got three scorpions in your bedroll, check your boots right quick.”

“Is that a saying on the plains?”

“No, but it once happened to me,” said Radish.

“I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about. Some ponies just get a little excitable on big days. Once Equestria gets used to it, I’m sure nopony will have a problem with having a new princess.”

“All right. Just let me know if I can do anything to help.”

“There is something you can do. You can hold still while I do this.”

She cleared her throat, closed her eyes, and raised a hoof.

“Major Root. For cleverly defending your princess on her coronation day, I hereby bestow upon you this favor.”

She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. Radish’s tail twitched.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Don’t get used to it.”

“Who could get used to that?

“Flirt!” she said, giving him a shove. He flew and splatted into the wall.

“Ow.”

“Ooh, sorry! Now that I have earth pony strength, everything is suddenly so much lighter.”

“Makes sense. A princess needs to be able to push others around.”

“Ha.”

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