• Published 23rd Sep 2021
  • 10,358 Views, 4,216 Comments

The Only Mark That Matters - CocktailOlive



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

  • ...
43
 4,216
 10,358

PreviousChapters Next
77. The Accusation

Radish made his way through one of the many quiet side hallways of the palace’s middle floors. These corridors never saw much use, either from visitors, palace staff, or the princesses themselves. The air hangs heavy and silent in sections of the palace like these, and even a guard could feel like an intruder in such a space. The silence was broken by another guard poking his head through a side door and flagging Radish down.

“Hey, Root, Shining Armor wants to see you in his office.”

“His office is a thousand miles north.”

“You know what I mean. Just go.”

Radish entered Barrel Roller’s office. Shining Armor was sitting at her desk, poring over piles of disparate documents. Barrel Roller and Saguaro Shade stood on either side of him, looking over the papers as well.

“Root, come in. Have a seat.”

“Ah, Prince Armor. You’re still here. In Canterlot.”

“I’m gonna be here for a while, Root. What do you know about the CAA?”

“Which one? There’s the Canterlot Accordion Association, the Carriage Assistance Act, the Cartographers and Astrologers Alliance…”

“I like you, Root, because you keep me on my toes. The Campaign for Alicorn Authenticity.”

“They’re a new political group formed to challenge Twilight Sparkle’s ascendancy to alicornship and her title of princess. They claim her completion of Starswirl’s last spell was a hoax, and that her wings are fake.”

“Do you know why they believe all that?”

“The reasons they give in their self-published literature are varied, constantly changing, and often… difficult to comprehend. They seem to have started with their conclusion, and are scrabbling backwards for ways to justify it.”

“You’ve read their literature?”

“They leave it in public bathrooms, sir.”

“Have you discussed them with Twilight?”

“We talked about the intruders at the coronation. This was before I knew that there were more out there, or that they had a name.”

“How many of them do you think there are?”

“They claim numbers in the thousands across Equestria and beyond. It’s likely those numbers are wildly overstated. There are probably fewer than a hundred in Canterlot, with smaller chapters elsewhere.”

“I agree. But they could be growing. They’re growing louder, at least.”

“Sir?”

“They’ve applied for a permit to hold a public demonstration in Canter Square. Princess Celestia has approved it.”

“I see.”

“But that doesn’t mean we can’t put on a show of our own.”

“A show? Another play, Prince Armor?”

“A show of numbers. Guards from both this palace and the Crystal Empire will be standing by during the protest. So will be the Wonderbolts. That should give the CAA something to think about.”

Radish felt his stomach clench. He looked at Barrel Roller and Saguaro Shade, who seemed to be gauging his reaction as he gauged theirs.

“Sir, isn’t that the purview of the City Watch?” asked Radish. “The Royal Guard can only operate outside the palace when there’s a direct, real, and present threat. As for the Wonderbolts, I don’t think they do this kind of thing, either.”

“I’m glad you know regs so well these days. The City Watch will be the front line, of course. The rest will just be there in case they try something. The CAA is a direct, real and present threat, Root. They tried to rip Twilight’s wings off.”

“I know, sir.”

Radish’s mind reeled, grasping for ideas.

Well, it’s worth a shot.

“Beg pardon, Prince Armor. But doesn’t this require the attention of AG1? They handle problems relating to social disunity.”

“You think I’m going to put Twilight anywhere near this? I don’t even want her to know about the protest. In fact, I’m going to have to order you not to tell her. We’re working on something to keep Ponyville occupied the day of. A bake-off.”

You absolute piece of-

“Yes, Prince Armor. A bake-off will keep them distracted, for sure. I bet someone will comically fall onto a cake.”

“And there’s one more thing. There’s a reason I’m talking to you about all this. We think most of the CAA come from the more bohemian quarters of Canterlot. The artists, musicians, baristas. You get the idea. Midtown folk, basically.”

Radish kept silent.

“Your girlfriend is an artist from Midtown, isn’t she?”

Barrel Roller looked at the floor. Saguaro Shade looked at Shining Armor.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned that to you, sir,” Radish said slowly.

“Has she ever expressed any doubts about Twilight?”

No, sir.”

“I want to show you something.”

He placed a CAA flier on the desk. Next to it, he placed a postcard from Light Fantastic’s shop. Aside from various anti-Twilight slogans, the flier had an angular drawing of Twilight, with a red slashed circle over her wings. The postcard had a generic unicorn, but the style and pose were exactly the same as on the flier. Radish felt his skin crawl and his heart drop.

“These look pretty similar, don’t they? Is Light Fantastic contributing art to the CAA?”

Radish’s mind raced. He cleared his throat.

“Sir, this style of drawing is what’s known as ‘stirrupism’. It was a trend among young artists a few years ago. Most artists in Canterlot can draw like this. This image could have come from one of hundreds of ponies.”

Shining Armor looked back to Barrel Roller and Saguaro Shade. They both shrugged.

Go ahead and look it up. I listen to my girlfriend when she talks about her work.

“Have either of you ever encountered a member of the CAA?”

“Not that I’m aware.”

“Have you ever heard anyone in Light’s circles voice doubts about Twilight?”

“No, sir.”

“Do you, yourself, have any doubts about Twilight being an alicorn?”

“No, sir.”

Don’t say it. Don’t say it. DON’T SAY IT.

“I’ve felt her wings, sir.”

Of course I had to say it.

“You’ve felt my sister’s wings?”

“She loves to show them off. She practically shoved them in my face.”

Don’t say it. Don’t say it. DO NOT SAY IT.

“They’re very soft, sir.”

Radish stared hard into Shining Armor’s eyes, still as a statue. Barrel Roller and Saguaro Shade looked at each other.

“Well, fine. Good. Perfect. By the way, you’ve spent time with Rarity, haven't you?”

“Yes. Mostly on missions.”

“What do you think of her?”

“She has the full confidence of Princess Celestia, both as the Element of Generosity and as a dressmaker.”

“But what’s your read on her? What do your instincts as a guard tell you about her?”

Don’t do it, Radish. Don’t you dare. Oh, go ahead.

“Sir, if I may. I understand that she can be very charming. Even to a married stallion. But some mares are simply being friendly when they might give the impression of being… flirtatious. And you have a wonderful wife, sir.”

Of course I had to.

Shining Armor’s eyes went wide. Barrel Roller covered her face with a wing. Saguaro Shade looked at the ceiling.

“Root, what are you- never mind. I ask because she sent a message requesting your assistance, out-of-palace. She’d like a guard escort while she does some shopping in the wholesale district.”

“Sir?”

“The Royal Guard is always happy to help one of Equestria’s heroes, Root. Keep her safe, and don’t talk about the CAA or the protest. You’ll meet her at Rye Stubble’s at eight.”

“Yes, Prince Armor.”

Radish stood up to leave. As he opened the door, he looked back at Shining Armor.

“By the way, your highness- when its members speak the organization’s initials, they say ‘C-double-A’, not ‘C-A-A’.”

“And how do you know that?”

“I overheard it in a bathroom stall. In the Crystal Empire.”

Radish left the office. He walked into the locker room and leaned over a sink, staring at himself in the mirror. Saguaro Shade walked in.

“Why do you have to needle him like that?” he asked.

“Sir, permission to speak freely?”

“That’s not a real thing. But speak your piece on this.”

“He doesn’t work here anymore! He doesn't even live here anymore! He’s the prince of an entirely different kingdom, where his wife is, and he spends more time here than there! And, for Celestia’s sake, sir, he questions my loyalty to Twilight? He interrogates me about my girlfriend? He wants to bring armies against a protest of dozens? And he’s making me shop with Rarity!?”

Saguaro Shade laughed. “Wait ‘til you get Pinkie Pie duty. You’ll be begging for Rarity.”

“Sir, the CAA barely exists, and he’s going to start a street war over them.”

“Have you considered it from his perspective?”

“How’s that?”

“Think about it. He was useless during the Nightmare Moon crisis. His little sister solved it, instead. As I recall, you were further on the way to fixing it than he was.”

“I was just looking for books.”

“Then, Discord. All of us useless against that kind of power. Kid sister and her buddy squad saved the day, again.”

“They’re bonded to legendary magic weapons. Only they could handle it.”

“Then, the wedding. Think about what a blow to him that was. His fiancée, kidnapped and replaced by the enemy, an enemy which he was almost brainwashed into marrying. His role as our protector- targeted and subverted. Celestia in a cocoon. Canterlot seconds away from annihilation. And once again, his kid sister saves the day.”

“Twilight was key that day, but he and Cadance really saved it.”

“What else? Oh, yeah. Sombra. Horn rendered useless. Kid sister, kid brother, and wife saved the day.”

“Well, I heard he threw her, at least.”

“Twilight’s coronation. Brought his army to make sure nothing would go wrong. But penny-ante infiltrators nearly got to her. Stopped only by an apple crate and some ferrets. And don’t think we all don’t know that was you.”

“Oh. I was just trying to help.”

“We know. But now consider the state he’s in. He hasn’t had a win in a long, long time.”

“Sir, what’s a win now? Muscling over a group of artists and baristas? He knows Twilight wouldn’t want that.”

“Root, I’m actually worried about the CAA. We can fight changelings, bugbears, and rogue dragons. But we can’t fight ideas. And wrong ideas spread the fastest and do the worst damage. This thing is going to rip Canterlot apart before it’s done. And Twilight will suffer the most.”

“We go hard on them, we only make them look sympathetic. Those three in prison? Most of the fliers are about them being martyrs to the cause.”

“It’s a new type of enemy, Root. That means we don’t have a guidebook.”

“We have experts on wrong ideas. AG1. If they can reform Discord, they can reason with the CAA.”

“So, shopping with Rarity looking better now?”

“…huh. I could talk to her about all this. Then she can talk to Twilight.”

“Now, didn’t Prince Armor just specifically order you not to do that?”

“I am neither a subject nor an employee of Prince Armor. Celestia’s the one who signs my checks. I obey other royals as a courtesy, but today I’m feeling mighty discourteous.”

“I could give you the same order, though.”

Are you giving that order, sir?”

“No, I’m feeling mighty discourteous today, too.”


Radish opened the door to Cat’s Howl. Light was at the counter, reading a comic. She looked up and smiled.

“Hey, tiger.”

“Fan, can I ask you something?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you with the CAA?”

“Rad?”

He held up a CAA flier next to a display rack of her merchandise. “Shining Armor found this. After a great deal of strain, he was able to put two and two together.”

She looked at them. “Huh.”

“‘Huh’?”

“Babe, you know I do commissions. Someone wanted a drawing of Twilight. I guess they used it for their flier.”

“Who was it?”

“I don’t share my customers’ private information, Rad.”

“You don’t set rules about what they can use your art for?”

“Oh yeah, art is all about imposing rules.”

“Fanny, this is serious. Shining is on a rampage. I kept him off your back this time, but I can’t cover for you forever.”

“What are you saying? This is all legal. This is Equestria! Ponies are allowed to cast doubt on their leaders.”

“Honey… do you doubt Twilight?”

“What if I did? Would you arrest me? Banish me? Spank me?”

“Fanny, please answer me.”

“I love the Purple Squirt.”

“Do you believe she’s a princess?”

“Is she?”

“Of course!”

“What is she the princess of?”

“Well, I don’t know. Nothing, right now.”

“Doesn’t a princess need to be in charge of something? Some place? A thing in the sky?”

“I don’t know. All alicorns are princesses. Twilight’s an alicorn now. So, she has to be a princess.”

“So, just because she changed her body, she gets to have all the political power in the world with no responsibility?"

"No one's more responsible than Twilight!"

“She nearly wiped out a city block over a guy she barely knew.”

“That’s unfair.”

“What is Shining Armor going to do to the C-double-A?”

Radish stepped back in surprise. “What did you say?”

“What is Shining going to do?”

“Nothing, if I can set them right.”

“You mean, shut them up? Or shut them down?”

“They’re wrong, Fan. Literally, demonstrably, totally, wrong.”

“Don’t ponies have a right to be wrong?”

“What good does being wrong do? Shouldn’t every pony be as right as possible?”

“Shouldn’t every pony get to think and say what they want?”

“Shouldn’t an artist fight for truth instead of promote lies?”

Light Fantastic bristled and scowled. She leaned over her counter.

“Now, you listen, Radish Root. All my friends said it would never work out between me and a guard. They think you’re all just a bunch of muscle-headed, Celestia-heinie-kissing, tin-plated wind-up toys. I defended you to them, because I saw more in you. And then you come into my store, questioning what, my loyalty to Equestria? Loyalty to Equestria isn’t about believing what its leaders want. It’s about holding them accountable to the ideals they claim it was founded on! And plopping a new princess down on us every year wasn’t what anypony had in mind.”

Radish leaned in.

“This conflict only exists because a group of idiots got a wrong idea in their heads and are too stubborn to let it go. Out on the plains, if you have a wrong idea about dragons, you either correct yourself real quick, or get eaten up. But you want to coddle wrong ideas. You want to nurse lies until they’re big and strong- lies that can eat up Canterlot worse than any dragon could. I will fight this lie harder than anything I’ve ever fought before. And if that’s a problem for you, you’re not the mare I thought you were.”

Light stuck her face right into his.

“The only thing you’ve ever fought for was Celestia’s hindquarters. The only truth you care about is what’s in your Guard rulebook. The only thing you’ll ever protect Twilight from is reality. You’re not the stallion I thought you were.”

“I should have stayed with Sky.”

“You should have stayed on the farm! Get out!”

Radish turned around and walked out the door. Light put her hoof to her chest, feeling her heart beat out of control. She looked down at the flier.

“I should have charged more for this.”

PreviousChapters Next