• 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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79. The Demonstration

Radish made his way to his captain’s office just as she was leaving out the door.

“Ma’am, I haven’t received my assignment for the protest today.”

“We’ve got who we need going. Your unit is staying here.”

“Ma’am, I thought the point was to show overwhelming numbers today.”

She looked him up and down.

“I think you’re close enough to this thing already.”

She walked away.

Radish waited until she was out of the palace, then followed her. He peeked out the front doors and saw her meeting with Shining Armor on the front steps.

“Prince Armor, what is the meaning of this? You said you were bringing extra forces from the Crystal Empire.”

“And here he is. Flash Sentry is one of my best ponies. Plus, he knows Canterlot.”

Flash Sentry landed on the step beside Shining Armor. He saluted.

“This show of numbers was your idea,” she said. “And you only bring one guard?”

Shining Armor shrugged. “It’s only one protest.”

“You are aware, your highness, that the Wonderbolts have also only contributed a token member today? And he says he can lend medical support only.”

Radish looked up. A blue-suited Wonderbolt with a medic's bag and patches hovered above them. He saluted.

“Is that Laminar? Hi, Laminar!” said Shining Armor. “He’s a fine ’bolt.”

“I don’t know why everyone else is backing down on our numbers, but I decide where I put my guards.”

She turned to the door. Radish froze.

“Root! You got your wish! Get your unit and get out here.”


Seventy Royal Guards, one Crystal Empire Guard, and one Wonderbolt medic marched through the streets to Canter Square, followed by a procession of City Watchponies. Radish had never walked these streets in armor. He looked left and right at his fellow guards, then past them to the faces of Canterlites on the sidewalks. They furrowed their brows at the passing troops, pushing their children behind themselves.

I feel like I’m part of an army invading my own town. But when did Canterlot start feeling like my own town? When I met Light Fantastic, that’s when.

They reached Canter Square, a large plaza in the municipal district. It was set into the ground, with stairs leading down on all four sides. One side featured a stage, which was now populated by CAA members. The plaza was full of Canterlites standing muzzle-to-tail. Their numbers spilled out onto the stairs and up into the surrounding walkways. Many were carrying anti-Twilight signs. Many were chanting anti-Twilight slogans.

Radish couldn’t count them all. He used a trick the Rangers taught him to estimate the numbers of birds in a flock, first counting a small segment and multiplying that over the rest. He estimated their numbers as just about a thousand.

Saguaro Shade stepped up beside Radish.

“What was that you said? ‘Fewer than a hundred’? They ‘barely exist’?”

“Sir, are you worried?”

“Canterlot didn’t see a protest this big when Discord was paroled. Just keep your head on a swivel, and if push comes to shove, don’t shove too hard. We all still have to share this town at the end of the day.”

On stage, Pilcrow was shouting his screeds into a megaphone. Hazy Shade was to the side, looking worried. Ponies were shouting in assent. Radish tried not to listen, but it was impossible to block them all out.

“And the cowardly false princess is too scared to even show her face today!” Pilcrow yelled.

The crowds jeered Twilight. Radish’s heartrate accelerated. His jaw ached from clenching his teeth. Sweat pooled under his armor.

“Look!” called out a voice.

A winged shadow swooped over the crowds. Radish peered into the sunny sky. It was Twilight Sparkle. She flapped down and alighted onto the stage. Spike climbed off her back. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy swooped in, dropping Rarity and Applejack beside her. Pinkie Pie popped up behind them, somehow.

“Good afternoon,” she said with a spread-wing bow. “I am Princess Twilight Sparkle. I understand I was invited here today.”

Ponies gasped. Ponies booed. Radish smiled.

“I know that me becoming a princess was a shock to many of you,” Twilight said, pacing the stage while looking out at the masses. “It was a shock to me, too. But I’m here to reassure you.”

“It’s no shock! It’s just a lie!” shouted Pilcrow. “You’re not a princess.”

Twilight turned to him.

“I was recently crowned princess at the Royal Palace of Canterlot. A triumvirate of established princesses conducted my coronation.” She pulled out a stack of papers. “I have their affidavits on file, and these are photostatic copies…”

“They don’t have the right to crown whoever they want!”

Twilight pulled out a small blue booklet. Radish recognized it as a copy of Equestria’s constitution, sold in the palace gift shop for five bits.

“You’re right. They can’t crown whoever they want. However, they can crown any creature that meets certain requirements. It’s spelled out in Article XXXIII of The Constitution of Equestria.”

The crowd muttered amongst themselves. Radish had never read that far into the constitution. He wondered if anyone here except Twilight had.

“They deemed me worthy,” continued Twilight, “upon my completion of Starswirl the Bearded’s unfinished spell, which unleashed new magic upon the world.”

“You never did that!”

“I did. And these six here were witnesses," said Twilight, gesturing to her friends. "They can provide sworn testimony-”

“They’re all your flunkies!”

“-that when I completed the spell, the Elements of Harmony activated and transformed me into an alicorn.”

“You can’t just become an alicorn!”

Twilight pulled out a large, ancient tome. She opened it to the middle, and showed the crowd pictures of cave drawings.

“That’s actually an interesting topic. See, current researches into the paleo-pony period suggest an ancient-”

“Shut up! No one cares! You’re a fraud! You’re a liar! You can’t prove any of this!”

Twilight snapped the tome shut.

“Well, I can prove one thing.”

She addressed the crowd.

“On the day of my coronation, three ponies were arrested attempting to disrupt the proceedings. My first official act as princess is to release them and commute their sentences to community service.”

“Beg pardon, your highness!” said Barrel Roller, flying forward. “Not even you have the authority to release my prisoners.”

“Spike?” called Twilight.

Spike stepped forward with a scroll. He cleared his throat and read from it.

“According to royal tradition, a newly-crowned princess may grant boons, favors, pardons, and gifts to anyone for her coronation day.”

“That coronation day was weeks ago,” said Barrel Roller.

“But the offenses happened on that day,” noted Spike. “We believe the wording is open to interpretation. If you’d like to challenge that, know that both Princesses Celestia and Luna have sided with us.”

“It was a treason charge!”

“But not by who you think!” shouted a new voice. It was Light Fantastic. She flapped out of the crowd, and landed on the stage.

Radish held his breath. The paving stones beneath his hooves felt like they were slipping away. City Watchponies moved to apprehend Light, but Twilight gestured them back.

“Twilight. Captain,” said Light. “I was the one who leaked the holes in the palace’s security. I uh, overheard someone speculating about them. I only told some friends as a joke because of how silly it sounded. I never thought what I said would reach the CAA. I never thought anyone would be stupid enough to try it!”

Radish nearly fumbled his spear. He recovered and clung to it tightly, needing its support to remain standing. He stared at Light, but she didn’t turn to the crowd.

Light walked up to Barrel Roller. She held up her forehooves.

“I’m the one who should be arrested. Do what you’ve got to do.”

“No!” shouted Hazy Shade. She rushed in front of Light. “I was the one she told. I passed it on. Arrest me, not her.”

Barrel Roller looked past them to Twilight. “I suppose you’ll just pardon them, as well?”

“I’d like to be consistent on this, captain.”

Barrel Roller grumbled. She leaned into Light’s face.

“Overheard someone, huh?” she muttered under her breath.

“If you had done your job-” Light muttered back.

“We don’t condone their infiltration,” said Pilcrow. “But that’s what happens when ponies are made desperate. Desperate to dispel the lies of this false princess!”

Twilight turned back to the crowd.

“Let us examine their intentions, then. Those three believe my wings are fake. I know that many more of you hold that opinion.”

“I also know that the strangest claims need the strongest evidence. I never thought I could become an alicorn. I wouldn’t have believed it if it hadn’t happened to me. I didn’t need to take it on faith, because I had the evidence growing out of my back.

“But you’ve all been asked to take that on faith. I cannot ask you to accept something so strange without evidence. So, watch and see for yourselves.”

She spread her wings, hopped, and flapped. She hovered in the air, flying a low course over the crowd, letting them feel her downwash and hear her wingbeats. She returned to land where she started from. Rainbow Dash gave her a wink of approval.

Some of the crowd was talking between themselves. There was scattered applause. Pilcrow scoffed.

“You think anyone believes that? You were just being levitated. Probably by Celestia herself!”

Twilight looked disturbed. She looked down at Spike, and he put his arm on her side in reassurance. She looked at her friends, and they nodded at her. She caught sight of Radish in the crowd, but he could only look on in worry. She looked Pilcrow in the eye.

“Well then, how about this?”

She turned around and kneeled. Radish tensed up. The Watchponies tensed up. Most guards turned to look at Shining Armor, who watched, stone-faced.

Twilight spread her wings and held them behind herself.

“To any of you who believe my wings are fake. To any of you who believe you can just pull them off. Come. Try it.”

Gasps and murmurs poured out of the crowd.

Pilcrow stepped forward, eyes narrowed. Several guards approached the two. Apples splattered on the pavement in front of them, causing them to startle back. Applejack put herself between the guards and the two, angrily shaking her head.

Pilcrow stood behind Twilight. He grabbed one of her wings between his hooves, and pulled.

Three City Watchponies rushed toward them. Pinkie Pie leapt in front of them, growling. They worriedly backed away.

Pilcrow pulled harder. Twilight held fast onto the ground, gritting her teeth.

Flash Sentry flew at them. Fluttershy intercepted him and stared him down. He hovered back, craning his neck around her to watch Twilight. He took a look at Shining Armor, who kept his eyes on Twilight.

Pilcrow gave up on pulling with his hooves, then put a telekinetic aura around both wings. He tugged them both in opposite directions. Twilight winced and bit her lower lip.

Laminar lifted his goggles and made worried eye contact with Rainbow Dash. She gave him a worried face back.

Pilcrow released his aura, frustrated. He walked closer to Twilight, then bit down on one of the feathers and yanked back. Twilight’s eyes twitched as she was dragged backwards.

Radish had seen enough. He galloped forward, but Rarity put herself between them, holding up a hoof and keeping a steady expression. He stopped. They both watched.

The feather ripped out with a ribbon of crimson.

Twilight’s eyes went wide in pain and she held in her breath. Her body shuddered and she buckled to the ground. She cradled her wing, wincing.

The crowd gasped. The guards gasped. Twilight’s friends gasped. Barrel Roller and Saguaro Shade gasped. Flash Sentry dropped to the ground, horrified. Light Fantastic sank to her knees. Radish felt sick. Shining Armor stared, not moving, not breathing.

Laminar rushed onstage and opened his medical kit. Twilight held out her wing while he cleaned and bandaged the wound.

Pilcrow stared at the feather in his hoof. Hazy Shade walked up to him to see it.

“That’s a real pegasus feather!” she said.

“No, it’s not,” said Pilcrow.

“Look!” she said, taking it. “It’s a primary! It feels real.”

“She has a pet owl!” said Pilcrow. “She could have plucked it, painted it, and glued it on!”

“This isn’t an owl feather. There’s no glue. And it hasn’t been painted. Look, you can tell by the iridescence.” She sniffed it. “This has fresh preen oil on it. Twilight… do you have a preen gland now?”

Twilight looked down, embarrassed, and curled her tail behind her.

“It doesn’t matter! It could have come from anywhere!” spat Pilcrow.

“But look- there’s blood!” She looked at Laminar bandaging Twilight’s twitching wing. “She’s bleeding!”

“That could be blood from anything! She could have bled a mouse!”

“Why?” asked Light Fantastic. She stepped forward. “You’re saying she faked the wings, faked the feathers, faked the color, faked the oil, and faked the blood? And all that’s more likely than just sprouting wings?”

“You can’t just become an alicorn!”

“Says fuckin’ who?” Light demanded.

“Why are you falling for this?” growled Pilcrow. “You just want to eat up anything the palace serves you? She could be a changeling! She could be Discord! This could be an illusion spell! She could have slipped us all a potion!”

“You can’t pull feathers off a changeling!” shouted a pegasus from the crowd.

“Discord never does anything!” shouted an earth pony.

“There’s no illusion spell for that!” yelled a unicorn.

“There’s no potion for that, either!” called a mule.

“Hey, maybe she’s just an alicorn,” shrugged Light. Grumbles of agreement rose from the crowds.

Light looked into Pilcrow’s eyes.

“I supported this demonstration, not because I believed in your message, but because I believe any pony should be able to speak whatever message they want. Because that’s how new truths emerge. But you don’t care about truth, do you? You only care about looking right. And now you just double down on being wrong?”

“She’s no princess!”

“Pilcrow,” said Twilight, shakily. “What would convince you?”

“Nothing from you!”

“Then what? If a feather in your hoof can’t tell you that my wings are real, what can? What can anypony do?”

Pilcrow looked around. All eyes were on him.

“And,” continued Twilight, “if no answer I can provide is good enough, what kind of answers do you have?”

Pilcrow exasperatedly looked around him. The crowd was now looking more angry at him than at Twilight. He reared up on his hind legs.

“You’ll all be sorry that you ever fell for a fake princess!” he bellowed.

“I’m sorry I ever fell for your nonsense!” yelled Hazy Shade.

Shouts of assent arose from the crowd. Pilcrow let out a series of curses and shoved his way out of the plaza. A few ponies followed him.

Twilight watched them go. Laminar finished working on her wing, and she spoke into the megaphone.

“Now, I can stay and try to address any more questions or concerns the rest of you have.”


After a long Q&A, ponies slowly filtered out of the square. Twilight leaned against Spike, exhausted. Radish started to approach her, but saw Shining Armor get to her first. He backed away, letting the siblings talk between themselves.

As he waited, Rarity walked up behind him.

“You know,” she started, “I always wanted to be a princess. The day Twilight became one, I was madly envious. So much so that I started to resent her.”

Radish looked at her with surprise.

“Oh, it’s true,” she continued. “I went home that night and positively fumed. I threw things. I cried. I vowed to stay home on her coronation.

“But the next morning I woke up barely remembering what I was mad about. I looked out my window and saw Twilight out in the street, helping settle an argument some children were having over a game.

“I felt deeply ashamed of myself. You asked me why I was helping Twilight with this? That’s why. To make up for that. Twilight’s always been a princess, Radish. She never needed wings to prove that. There was never a pony who cared more deeply, felt more deeply, gave more of herself, for her fellow creatures.”

“She’s lucky to have you.”

“Not just me. Come by the shop sometime. I think a loyal and stalwart member of her majesty’s guard deserves a nice tie for his efforts.”

“Thanks.”

“And bring Light Fantastic.”

“I’m… working on it.”

“Good. Take care, dear.”

“Take care, Rarity.”

Rarity trotted away. Radish started making his way to the stage. As he approached, he heard Twilight ask her brother, “Oh, one other thing. May I have a word with Flash Sentry before you two leave?”

Radish stopped. Shining Armor looked over to Flash.

“Of course,” he said.

“And Captain Roller, I also need to speak with Major Root.”

She looked at Radish. He shrugged at her. She rolled her eyes.

“Anything you want, your highness.”

Twilight and Flash Sentry took a bench overlooking Canter Square. Radish sat alone at a picnic table a good distance from them. He never realized how big the plaza was, or that it seemed to be designed to accommodate a protest of this size. Radish wondered if the city planners had many protests in mind when they built it.

Shining Armor walked up behind him and sat down.

“Hi, Root.”

“Prince Armor.”

“How about just ‘Shining’?”

“‘Radish’, then.”

“Quite a day, Radish.”

“I guess the bake-off ended early.”

“Heh. Yeah. Only one entry. The schoolteacher’s going to Las Pegasus. So, Twilight and Flash Sentry, huh?”

“You must have known. Why else bring him here?”

“Well, I suspected. She requisitioned the files for his entire squad, saying she was researching deployment logistics. But when I got the folders back, only his file had been looked through. I think she pawed his photo.”

“Yikes, what a dork.”

“Yeah, but she’s our dork. You know, my talent is protection. When there’s trouble, my first instinct is always to throw a shield, or myself, in harm’s way. And I’ve always done what I could to protect Twilight. But there are things that I can’t protect her from.” He waved a hoof out toward the plaza. “Things like doubt, accusations, politics. Can’t stop those with a shield.

“But loneliness, I thought I could help her with. I was so happy that day that she made friends. So I did what I thought would help those friendships grow. But Cadance tells me that I've been… overstepping my boundaries… when it comes to your friendship with Twilight."

"Those were her exact words?"

"No, her exact words weren’t so diplomatic.”

“It’s been a crowded dynamic.”

“Is that your way of saying I’ve been a pain in the butt?”

“Yes, but diplomatically.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Thanks. I can understand the need to protect Twilight’s happiness- I feel it, too.”

“Yeah. But as you said, I don’t even live here anymore. I have a whole empire to worry about now. And a wife.”

“You heard all that?”

“The palace walls are thinner than most think. And you ranger types talk louder than you realize.”

“Oh.”

“But I needed to hear it. Do you know why I didn’t fire you after Nightmare Moon?”

“Twilight?”

“Yeah. But not what she said about you, it’s what you said about her. I had already decided before she plead your case.

“See, all her life, Twilight’s gotten a lot of praise. From teachers, from Celestia, from her family. The night of that Summer Sun, you praised her. But you weren’t treating her like some schoolfilly who got straight As. You treated her like a resource. Like a useful expert. Everyone tells her she’s great, but you told me she was necessary to save the day. And you were proven right ten seconds later.

“I didn’t want to lose a pony with that kind of insight. And it was the right decision. You’ve done well with what’s been asked of you.”

“Thanks.”

Twilight and Flash were sharing a laugh over something. Shining Armor sighed.

“Can’t stop heartbreak with a shield, either. Too bad it didn’t work out. He’s a good guy. In any world.”

“You knew about that too?”

“Yeah. You know, I wouldn’t have cared if she ended up with four-legged Flash, or two-legged Flash, or like, an eight-legged Flash. She could end up with a dragon, or a griffon, or Pinkie Pie. As long as she’s happy. But, uh, do me a favor- promise me you won’t pursue her that way?”

Radish turned to him, surprised.

“Nothing personal,” said Shining, “but I’ve always liked that she has a pen pal. A friend with a more distant perspective, not all caught up in Ponyville shenanigans. You’re her rock in Canterlot. She needs your type of friendship more than she knows.”

“I already have a girlfri… oh. I guess I don’t have a girlfriend anymore. We broke up. Because of all this.”

“Well, if you want to make up with a girl, start with flowers.”

“Rarity said chocolates.”

“That’s good too.”

“Shining… Twilight and Flash. Me and Light. Rarity and the CAA. Everything that’s happened today. Did you know how all this would turn out?”

“Come on, you make me sound like I’m some kind of chess master. I’m more of a quarterback- I believe that if you put the best ponies together, you get the best results. I’m always surprised by what the best come up with. And that includes you.”

“Thanks.”

“Oh, and Saguaro Shade was wrong about one thing- I don’t need a win. I’m a shield guy, not a sword guy. Shields are supposed to take damage to protect the important ones. I don’t care how many dents and scratches I take- it’s a win for me if everyone makes it through another day.”

“Then you won today.”

“Well, I’d give this one to Twilight. It’s clear she doesn’t need me looking over her shoulder anymore, so I’m going back where I belong. Just keep being her rock, okay?”

“I will. Goodbye, Shining. See you around.”

Radish watched as Twilight and Flash shook hooves, smiling. They said goodbyes, and Flash flew to join Shining Armor. Twilight caught sight of Radish and trotted up to him.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey. How did it go?”

“Well, I explained everything. About him, about the other him. He was really nice about it. But it would never have worked out. He met Shinethrough the day he transferred to the Crystal Empire. They fell in love at first sight.”

"Hmm. Sorry.”

"Don't be. The more we talked, the more I realized he's just not the Flash I knew. But we're parting as friends."

“How’s the wing?”

“Still hurts. Fluttershy said that feather will take a year to grow back. I have molting season to look forward to now.”

She put her head on the table.

“I can’t believe all of Canterlot heard about my preen gland.”

Radish patted her head.

“That was insanely brave of you,” he said. “He could have really hurt you. ”

“Well, it was all I could think of. Facts weren’t working. I had to find something more visceral. Speaking of which, here. You can keep this.”

She pulled her plucked feather out of her bag and gave it to Radish.

“Oh, a princess-feather quill! Cool.”

“Write to me with it some time. I want to see how it handles ink.”

“I bet it will make my writing ten times smarter.”

Twilight smiled at him while he put the quill in his bag.

“Think this kind of thing is over?” he asked her.

“We’ll see. I’ll keep trying to reach out to everyone. A princess is supposed to bring ponies together, not rip them apart. Speaking of which, Rarity said you and Light broke up… because of me.”

“It’s not your fault. We both just lost our tempers.”

“Think you’ll patch things up?”

“I’m going to try.”

“Good, because she’s right over there. See ya, Rad.”

“See ya, Twi.”

Light Fantastic approached them. Twilight hugged her, and Light hugged back. Radish could hear them whisper something between each other. Twilight then smiled at Radish, and walked away.

“Hey,” said Light. “My turn to talk with you at last? Or does Applejack have next?”

“It’s us now.”

“I’m sorry,” they both said simultaneously.

“No, I’m-,” they both tried to start again. Radish gestured to Light that she should go first.

“This whole thing is pretty much my fault, isn’t it? I didn’t know Hazy was with them. I was just joking with her about you. I didn’t think I’d be a patsy to espionage.”

“No, it’s my fault. I’m not supposed to talk about palace security with anyone.”

“And I should have put conditions on what my commissions are used for. I was never on their side, Rad. I just thought they should be allowed to ask questions.”

“And I never wanted to stop them asking questions, Light. But not all ponies ask questions in good faith. They’re not looking for answers, they’re looking for attention. Or trouble.”

“I’ve known Pilcrow for years. I just figured he would accept the truth when he saw it.”

“That’s awfully optimistic. I thought you were a cynic.”

“Cynicism soothes. And it sells. But it doesn’t save. A day like today, only a wide-eyed little optimist like Twilight Sparkle could have saved. Damn, did you see her when he ripped out that feather? She didn’t even make a noise. I’ve got to do something with that.”

“What, Twilight merchandise? I thought that doesn’t sell.”

“It might now. Maybe a line of buttons to show off Princess Twi pride. Like one that says, ‘Come. Try it.’ Good line.”

“Good princess.”

“Yeah. So… about us.”

“I’m sorry I called you an idiot.”

“Oh yeah, you did, didn’t you? I’m sorry about calling you a… what was it? ‘Celestia-heinie-kissing… tin-plated… wind-up toy’?”

“I’m sorry I-”

“We’ll be here all day if we did this for each one. Bottom line is: I lo... I, uh… I lo…”

Radish smiled and held her hoof. She screwed up all her strength and spat it out.

“I love you, okay!? I want to be with you!”

Radish hugged her tightly. “I love you, too, Fan.”

He reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a box of chocolate-covered daffodils. “I got you this. A token of appreciation.”

“Chocolates and flowers,” she said. “Nice. Share them at my place later?”

“I’ll be there.”

“I’ve got something for you, too.”

She pulled out a paper candy bag. Radish could smell what was inside.

“You know I hate these things. And I hate your breath after you’ve been eating them. And this batch is homemade, so now I hate the way my kitchen smells.”

“Really? You made these?”

He pulled out a jalapeño chew and ate it. He closed his eyes to savor it.

“These are the best I’ve ever had.”

“Yeah, right. I know Sky made- mmpph!”

Radish kissed her. She kissed back. Her eyes watered. She broke the kiss and spit on the ground.

“Ugh, they’re still awful. But I think I’m starting to see the appeal.”

They hugged. She took her gift, and started to hover away.

“Oh yeah, Swash says you made a pass at Rarity,” she said, smirking.

“Go on, let me have it.”

“Was that your line?”

They both laughed.

“She’s actually pretty knowledgeable,” Radish said.

“Yeah, those Pastelles make a good team.”

We make a good team.”

“Ugh, save the sappy stuff for tonight, okay?”

She flew off.

Radish left the table and looked around. Ponies were going about their own business, for better or for worse. He caught sight of Twilight talking to the rest of her friends. Saguaro Shade was speaking with some civilians. Barrel Roller was talking to a pony running a popcorn stand. She looked at him and made a motion, indicating they were recalling back to the palace.


Radish began his shift the following morning with a patrol of the palace’s back patio. He always loved the way the morning sun hit it. He was surprised to see Princess Celestia sipping espresso at one of the tables- she must have raised the sun from her table just a minute ago. Radish saluted.

“Good morning, major.”

“Good morning, your highness.”

She motioned him to sit down with her. He did.

“I don’t believe that’s an approved addition to your uniform,” she said.

He looked down at the magnetic button stuck on his chestplate, an angular drawing of Twilight with her wings spread wide and her horn held high.

“Sorry, ma’am. Light made it.”

“I’ll let it slide for today. Thank you for helping Twilight during these… complicated times.”

“Always. How are you handling these, uh, complicated times?”

“I have to admit, I was worried. Twilight can be as sensitive as she can be fearless. It’s her friends that make the difference.”

“You know, princess, some ponies around Canterlot don’t put a lot of stock in Twilight and her friends.”

“You mean, ‘the Pastelles’?”

“Heh, yeah. Most of Midlo see them as just some PR stunt. Figureheads. Just cutesy extensions of your will. But seeing them in action today, staring down guards, defending Twilight’s choice to put herself in danger… I think some minds are going to change.”

“One can hope. But they’re not the only friends I was talking about.”

“Me? I didn’t do much for… wait. I guess I did have a lot to do with how things turned out. Shining overheard me and deescalated. Twilight came because of Rarity and I. Hazy and Light stood up for Twilight out of guilt over using me.”

“And the Wonderbolts reduced their commitment to medical support after Captain Spitfire witnessed a certain bar brawl over the issue. It convinced her that a show of force would make force inevitable.”

“Oh, she was there? That was lucky.”

“Well, she’s at Rye Stubble’s almost every night.”

“Huh. A lot of things had to come together just the right way. Is that how it feels to run a kingdom?”

Celestia laughed. “Every great heroic moment is built upon many smaller ones.”

“That should be the Royal Guard motto,” chuckled Radish.

“It was a candidate, but Luna wanted something dramatic. Thus, ‘Back, I Say!’ was born.”

“How have you been? I haven’t seen you much lately.”

“I’m well, thank you for asking. I’ve been busy researching.”

“Oh, really?”

“Researching cutie marks.”

Radish cocked his head at her. “As in, my cutie mark?”

“Luna and I thought that Starswirl’s spell, when completed, may shed some light on it.”

“That’s why you sent the spell to Twilight?”

She nodded. “From one to another, another to one. A mark of one's destiny singled out alone, fulfilled. It sure sounded like you. But while her completion of the spell was an incredible achievement, I’m afraid it yielded no answers for you, Radish.”

“Thanks for trying. But it’s okay. A lot of ponies don’t think about their marks. Zero’s is a dartboard, and I’ve never seen him play darts.”

“I wish to ask you something, but you don’t have to answer if you feel it’s inappropriate.”

“What’s that?”

“Would you still have a happy life if the two of us never, ever do what your mark depicts?”

“Princess!”

“You don’t have to answer.”

“I haven’t thought about you that way in…”

He sighed.

“No, that’s not true. I still have dreams about us, together. Even though I love Light Fantastic, I still imagine you and I, from time to time. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize for your dreams, or your imagination. It’s a unique mystery that has bound us, Radish.”

“Princess, I don’t think you should research my mark anymore. You have enough to worry about. And to answer your question: yes. I’ll be happy. I am happy. But more importantly, I want you to be happy. Princess Celestia… are you happy?”

She leaned back with her demitasse and smiled. “It’s been a long time since anyone has asked me that. Yes, Radish. I am. It’s hard not to be happy on a morning like this.”

“Glad to hear it.” He stood up to resume his duties. “Have a good day, princess.”

“Have a good day, Radish.”

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