• Published 23rd Sep 2021
  • 10,358 Views, 4,217 Comments

The Only Mark That Matters - CocktailOlive



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

  • ...
43
 4,217
 10,358

PreviousChapters Next
78. The Investigation

Night fell.

Radish shuffled into Rye Stubble’s, a popular alehouse in a well-trotted corner of downtown. He immediately saw Rarity sitting at a corner booth, dressed in a scarlet trenchcoat and wide-brimmed hat, peering over the top of a menu. He sighed, and made his way to her. As he approached, he heard her whisper loudly.

“Psst. It is I!”

“Hello, Rarity.”

“Oh my. You look like you’re having a bad day.”

“I’m fine.”

“I think I can guess what’s got you so down. Come have a seat, and let’s talk about it.”

She scooted over. Radish took a seat next to her. Rarity made a wave to the waiter.

“Garçon! Two of your best Moocow Mules, please. Have you had theirs, dear?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Ah, they’re divine. They won’t tell me what variety of citron they use, but I suspect it’s an obscure cultivar from the east.”

“Rarity, you didn’t call me here for shopping, did you?”

“No. I want to speak with you about these silly CAA ponies. They simply need to get to know Twilight like we do. Then they’ll see they’ve been ridiculous about the whole thing.”

“Does Twilight know about them?”

“Yes, but she’s taking a very hooves-off approach. Spike thinks she’s giving them the freedom to make themselves look ridiculous. The rest of us think she’s being far too blasé about it.”

The waiter placed two copper mugs in front of them. Radish sipped his.

“This is lone star lime. Rufus at the farmers market carries it.”

“Radish, you’re a doll!” she said, writing it down. “Now I can make my own. But not too often, though. I wouldn’t want to become inured to this taste. Oh, it’s so good to know a well-traveled pony.”

“You six are well-traveled.”

“Yes, we have been to a few places, haven’t we? But I often feel like a tourist, not a traveler.”

“Rarity, about the CAA- they’re going to be holding a public demonstration in Canter Square. And Shining Armor is going to bring an army of guards there.”

“Oh, dear. That sounds rather dire. It’s all the more urgent that we get the two sides talking to each other.”

“Do you know how to find them?”

“Why, with good old-fashioned detective work, of course! You and I are going to scour the streets, locate their leadership, and ask nicely for them to sit down with Twilight.”

“Does Twilight know you’re doing this?”

“No, I think she has enough on her plate.”

“I know. New wings. New powers. New destiny.”

“And the whole mirror world affair. Still trying to wrap my head around that one.”

“How is she doing regarding the… well, regarding him?”

“Ah, she’s still a bit numb over the whole thing. The first cut is the deepest, darling.”

Radish downed the rest of his mug.

“I know a lot about that.”

“Oh? To whom do you- oh! Her. Yes, I suppose you do have a rather unique perspective on first loves. If you’d like to talk about it sometime, I would be happy to lend an ear.”

“You know, I’d like that. Thanks, Rarity.”

“Not at all, dear.”

Radish enjoyed the way Rarity’s dears and darlings were rolling down his spine. They seemed a bit more personal tonight.

“Rarity, could I ask why you’re doing this?”

“Twilight is my friend, of course.”

“But why you?”

“You mean, as opposed to one of the more action-oriented gals? Radish, if we relied on Rainbow Dash for this, she’d rough up every pony in town until they gave her the fastest lie. Applejack doesn’t do well in the big city. And Pinkie Pie… well, I love Pinkie Pie. But I believe a job like this takes a bit of the more subtle interpony skills, you see.”

“Charm, charisma, allure?”

“I wasn’t fishing for compliments, but I appreciate them nonetheless.”

“Why me?”

“For backup. The rest of my Canterlot-based friends are more of the genteel sort- unsuited to handle themselves on the rough-and-tumble streets of the arts district. Being a loyal friend of Twilight and a stalwart member of her majesty’s service, I could think of none better than you.”

Radish appreciated how her compliments were feeling extra personal tonight, as well.

“Where did you want to start?”

“Right here, of course.”

“Rye Stubble’s? This didn’t seem like the type of place they’d hang out. Too popular.”

“Rye Stubble knows every pony in Canterlot. He just takes a bit of flattery to get talking.”

“Okay, I’ll try. I’ll compliment his eyes.”

“Ha ha! Leave the flattery to me, dear.”

Rarity trotted to the bar and spoke with Rye Stubble, a thickly-muscled earth stallion. After a few minutes, she returned from the bar with two more mugs. Radish took his and sipped.

“He’s had some of the CAA literature placed in his bathrooms a few times. He’s seen the ponies who go in and out coinciding with their appearance in the stalls.”

“Does he have a description? Cutie marks?”

“Better than that, dear. Two of the very ponies are seated near the juking box. Don’t look.”

“I wasn’t. How do you want to play this?”

“I know. We’ll wait for them to place their flyers. You come out of the bathroom with one, we pretend to go over it with a great deal of interest. We leave, they follow us. They make their pitch to us. We join them at their headquarters. We speak with their leadership.”

“You think all that will happen?”

“Hope for the best.”

“Expect the worst.”

“Let’s not be negative. The night is a yearling.”

“Wouldn’t they recognize you? You’re a national hero. And a fashion icon. They might even know who I am- a lot of ponies in Midlo know me.”

“Oh, you’re sweet. But I haven’t been recognized yet. Aside from this unassuming number I’m wearing, I’ve never styled my mane like this before. And I’m wearing my most covert shade of eyeshadow.”

“It’s nice.”

“Thank you. As for you, well, we’ll have to take our chances.”

The two took turns watching the bathroom doors and the CAA ponies for the next few minutes. Rarity leaned close enough to him that he could smell her perfume. It was the fragrance she took from Nightmare Moon’s bedroom. It made him wish he had dabbed cologne on before coming.

“Ah, they’re making their move,” said Rarity.

The ponies entered and exited the bathrooms, one after another.

“Now, you see if he left any surprises in the gentlecolt’s latrine.”

Radish ignored her phrasing and entered the bathroom. He used it. He found a short stack of brightly-colored leaflets in his stall, and picked out one of a type that he had never seen before. Aside from various anti-Twilight screeds, this one had the time and place of the protest. He dumped the rest in the trash.

He got a third mule from the bar and sat back down next to Rarity, a few inches closer than before. He drank.

“Well, it’s them, all right.”

“Let’s see what we have here,” said Rarity, putting on her glasses. “Oh dear, this one is rather… irrational. And the spelling errors! Clearly not the literati they paint themselves as. Still, we must look interested. Now is the time for acting.”

They feigned interest in the leaflet, pantomiming a rousing discussion of its various claims. The ponies by the jukebox didn’t seem to be paying attention to the room.

“Drat,” said Rarity. “We’re getting nowhere fast.”

“Maybe they’re not here recruiting. They just drop the leaflets, have some drinks, and leave.”

“I believe we need to heighten the scenario. Go loud, or go home. Ah, we need to establish characters first. I will be ‘Glad Rags’. You’re ‘Flogger’.”

“Why do we-”

“Look, Flogger!” said Rarity, too loudly. “I told you that Twilight Sparkle was a fakeloo. Why, these CAA cats were wise to her shenanigans from the get-go!”

“Well, Glad Rags,” said Radish, meeting her energy, “these Canter rubes are the suckers that are born every minute. Why, I’m surprised they haven’t crowned the dumpster outside their princess!”

Rarity grinned. She referred back to the flier. “And looky here- says this coronation business is the biggest swindle this side of Chicoltgo! I bet that crown of hers is tinfoil!”

“I bet those wings of hers are cardboard!”

“I bet Starswirl’s last spell was a puddin’ recipe!”

“HEY!”

Radish and Rarity looked up. A very large stallion was in front of their table, flanked by two very large mares. They didn’t look friendly.

“What was that about Twilight Sparkle?” he demanded.

Radish tensed up. He scanned the room behind them, and most ponies had their eyes on them. Most looked displeased.

“What’s it to you, bucko?” Rarity retorted.

“Twilight’s saved the world. Several times.”

“As a unicorn, right?” Rarity snapped. “Or maybe as a hydra, since she can apparently change her species at will.”

One of the mares stepped forth.

“She’s an alicorn princess now and she earned it. What have you ever done?”

“Bah! Who do you think you are, disturbing us like this?” said Rarity. “Go take your silly notions of insta-princesses and trot off!”

“What did you say?” growled the mare.

“Glad Rags,” said Radish, “don’t you think-”

“I said, ‘trot off’, you saps! Why, Twilight’s as much an alicorn as my left haunch! And as much a princess as my right one! Why don’t you coronate my keister?”

“Okay, you,” said the second mare, reaching toward Rarity.

“Hey, hooves off her!” yelled Radish, snatching the mare’s hooves.

“You-!” said the stallion, seizing Radish around the neck.

There was a flurry of limbs swinging, wings flapping, and horns flashing. A dozen angry shouts accompanied the shoving of furniture, the breaking of glasses, and the slamming of bodies. Several things hit Radish from several sides. He saw stars. The room tilted in a variety of directions, and Radish closed his eyes hoping to make it stop.

Radish opened his eyes. He was splayed down, with a trickle of water moving past his face.

“Oh dear, are you all right?” he could hear Rarity ask.

“Am I, literally, face-down in a gutter?”

“It’s my fault. I overplayed my part. But those others overreacted to my overacting. And the one who yelled, ‘And stay out!’- what a cliché!”

Radish lifted himself up and flopped down on the sidewalk. Rarity kneeled by him and helped him sit up. She pulled a handkerchief out of her bag and cleaned Radish’s face.

“That was most heroic, the way you leapt to my defense. I see I made the right choice in escorts.”

Radish watched her eyes as she worked. He had never noticed how unique their tint of blue was. He leaned toward her, putting his hoof on hers.

“Rarity…”

“Yes?”

“You’re really nice.”

“Ah, thank you. I try.”

He leaned closer.

“And you’re really pretty.”

“Oh. Uh, that’s appreciated.”

Radish clasped his hooves around hers. He put his muzzle centimeters from hers.

“Light and I broke up.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Uh, very sorry to hear that.”

Radish leaned in. Rarity inched back, tugging her hoof away from him. Radish, seeing her cringe from him, let go and turned away.

“I’m sorry! I’m really sorry. Please forgive me.”

“I will. Just go easy on the drinks, all right? They went to your head faster than the pool cue that was broken over it.”

Radish flopped down on the ground again.

“I’ve lost her, Rarity. We were so happy, and it was just over with like, two sentences.”

“You know, if you want to make things up to a lady, starting with a token of appreciation is always, well, appreciated. Chocolates do nicely.”

“The thing is, she was in the wrong. Why should I have to apologize if I was right?”

“You committed no error to contribute?”

“Well, I think I called her an idiot.”

“Oh, Radish.”

“She was being an idiot.”

“Really, Radish!”

“I think she’s in the CAA.”

“Well, good. That means we’ll meet her tonight, and work this whole thing out.”

“How? We lost them, too. Have we accomplished anything tonight?”

“I do believe we’re about to find out. Game face on, Flogger.”

The two ponies from the CAA walked up to them.

“Denounce Twilight Sparkle too loudly in this town, this happens,” one of them said. “We should have put that on the flier.”

“Oh, you two made this?” Rarity asked.

“Yeah, you like?”

“We’re quite intrigued,” she said. “You’re with this… Campaign for Alicorn Authenticity? We’d like to hear more.”

“Come with us, we’ll get you some ice.”

Radish and Rarity followed the two down the street. They passed from Downtown to Midtown. On a dimly-lit and low-trafficked street, they turned into a narrow alleyway, at the end of which was an unmarked door. Radish wouldn’t have gone in there alone, and he certainly didn’t want to take Rarity in there.

They pushed open the door, revealing an intimate café. Ponies were seated at tables and on couches eating, drinking, and conversing. Light Fantastic wasn’t there.

One of the ponies gave Radish a bag of ice, which he held to the side of his head. The four sat down at a table.

“I’m Swash, this is Serif. We handle getting the word out.”

“Then you’re the leaders of the Campaign?” Radish asked.

“No, the Campaign has no leaders and no followers, just truth-seekers from all walks.”

“I see,” Radish said skeptically.

“Tell me,” said Rarity, “how did you come to learn about this, uh, hoax?”

“It’s just the latest lie from Twilight Sparkle,” said Swash.

“Twi-lie Sparkle,” corrected Serif. Swash laughed.

“Very droll,” said Rarity. “Continue.”

“They want us to believe that six ordinary ponies keep saving the day. It’s absurd. One of them is a party planner. One of them is an apple farmer. One of them sells dresses.”

They laughed. Rarity gave no hint of offense, and even laughed with him. Radish was impressed.

“Why the deception?” asked Radish.

“For false hope. They want us to think normal ponies have a chance against villains, so we all get complacent.”

“Is ‘they’ the princesses?”

“Yes,” said Serif.

“No,” said Swash. “The princesses are just puppets.”

“Of whom?” asked Rarity.

“The Royal Spymaster. He’s in charge of everything.”

“Oh? The Royal Spymaster exists? And is a he?” Radish asked.

“Yeah! He works out of the tunnels under the palace.”

“I never knew that,” Radish said.

“No,” said Serif, “the princesses are the ones behind everything.”

“Says you,” scoffed Swash.

Anyway, they want ponies complacent, so they can seize power.”

“Are they not in power already?” asked Rarity.

“More power, I mean. Celestia has been trying to get her hooks deeper into everyone’s lives for a long time. The people have been resisting her, but now they’ll just follow Twilight, and Twilight is just a pawn of Celestia.”

Radish fought to keep every protective instinct he had from showing.

“But what about her wings?” he asked.

“Fake.”

“How? They move.”

“Who ever heard of a unicorn becoming an alicorn?”

“I… uh… haven’t, I guess.”

The door opened. It was Hazy Shade, walking in with her girlfriend. She immediately noticed Radish. She trotted up to him, looking curious. He tried to hide his eyes.

“Radish? What are you doing here?”

“Oh, hi Hazy.”

Several heads turned to him. Several ponies whispered amongst themselves.

“Wait, Radish? Radish Root?”

“Root?”

“The guy with the naughty marks?”

“Light’s boyfriend Radish?”

“Isn’t he a palace guard?”

“A Celestibot?”

“What’s he doing here?”

Most of the crowd was staring at him. Some looked angry. Some looked frightened. Some were backing away from him. Some were approaching him. Swash and Serif gave each other a worried look.

Then, Rarity stood up on her seat. “Yes! You may all wonder no longer why I look so familiar! ‘Tis I! Rarity!”

She flung off her hat and shook out her mane to its full volume. All eyes looked at her, confused.

“Who?” asked several.

“Rarity!” she said again louder for the ones in the back.

Heads turned to look at each other for explanation. Ponies confusedly muttered amongst themselves.

“Wait, she’s one of the Pastelles!” one shouted.

“The, er, the what?” asked Rarity.

A tall green unicorn approached their table. “What do you two want here?”

“Are you the leader of this clandestine enclave of iconoclasts?” asked Rarity.

“My name is Pilcrow. The C-double-A has no leaders and no followers, just truth-seekers from all walks.”

“You hear that, Rarity?” said Radish. “No leaders here. If we want to deliver that message from Princess Twilight Sparkle, we need to find some important ponies.”

He stood up to leave. Rarity, catching his drift, added, “Indeed. Good day to you lower rungs.”

“Stop,” said Pilcrow, annoyed.

Radish smiled to himself.

“If you have something important to say, say it so all can hear.”

“Only this,” said Rarity. “We would like you to meet with Twilight.”

“Why?” shouted one of the ponies. “So she can turn us to stone?”

“Banish us to the moon?” called out another.

“Trap us in a mirror world?” shouted a third.

“Now, really!” objected Rarity. “Such paranoia! Twilight is the sweetest pony, and you’ve made her out to be some manner of tyrant. Why, the only thing she dominates is a game of trivia.”

“If Twilight wants to meet, she can come to the protest,” said Pilcrow. “And she’d better be prepared for a debate.”

“She'll be there," said Radish.

"It should be a rousing meeting of the minds,” said Rarity.

“And you,” he said to Radish, “we know the palace is planning on swarming the square with guards. Tell your ‘superiors’ we will not be intimidated, we will not stand down, and we will not stop fighting for the truth, no matter how many soldiers they sic on us. And if they start something, well… just see what happens.”

“Yeah!” called out a patron. “We’re not afraid!”

There were shouts of affirmations across the crowd. Radish looked at Hazy Shade. Her ears drooped in worry.

“Fine,” said Rarity. “We take our leave. Good night.”

The door snapped shut behind them. They exited the alley and walked down the street.

“That went well,” said Radish.

“Hmm. I was afraid it would come to this. Twilight surrounded by demonstrators.”

“And demonstrators surrounded by guards,” noted Radish.

“Yes, but who watches the watchponies?” asked Rarity.

They passed a newspaper kiosk. Radish asked Rarity to wait for a minute, then bought a candy bar and offered it to her.

“Chocolate. A token of appreciation,” he said.

“Oh, that’s sweet,” she said, taking it. “but make sure your token for Light Fantastic is a little less impromptu.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do about her. If we broke up over this, we’ll probably break up over the next issue. Maybe we were never really compatible. We’re so different.”

“Compatible, my tail,” scoffed Rarity. “There are no two creatures in the world who are so different that they can’t love each other. The only question, Radish, is, ‘Do you love her?’”

“Of course! Oh. I do. I really do. Now what?”

“I may never get another chance to tell this to someone: Fight for her!”

Radish smiled at Rarity. “I’m glad you asked me to come along tonight. I think you’re the wisest of the six.”

“Oh, just a hopeless romantic.”

“So, think Twilight is up to this?”

“I know she is. I’ve seen her debate trophies.”

“Wait, why would she debate a trophy?”

“Ha ha.”

“By the way, if you hear about a bake-off in Ponyville, it’s a distraction from the protest.”

“Ooh, that explains it! Why else would the prize for a small-town baking competish be so exorbitant? They’re offering a trip to Las Pegasus to the winner!”

“Ugh, real subtle, Shining.”

PreviousChapters Next