• Published 23rd Sep 2021
  • 9,891 Views, 4,038 Comments

The Only Mark That Matters - CocktailOlive

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

  • ...

PreviousChapters Next
8. The Sister

Dear Radish,

Greeting from Ponyville! I’m still getting used to this town- everything is so different from Canterlot! But everypony’s been really nice. My new friends are taking me out on the lake today. I’ll tell you all about them in subsequent letters. I can't wait for you to meet them!

Independent study also takes some getting used to. It feels strange to be learning without classes, schedules, and teachers, but it’s also pretty exciting getting to chart my own syllabus. I’m practicing spells that my old professors said were too advanced for me. I think I’ve almost cracked a new one today.

Please continue to take care of my brother, Princess Celestia, and Princess Luna, too! It’s so exciting to have a new princess in the world. Princess Celestia was overjoyed to get her sister back.

I can’t wait to hear insights into palace life from the boots on the ground. If you have any insights into friendship as well, I’d love to hear those, too.

Your Pen Pal,

Twilight Sparkle

Shining Armor’s second-in-command was a powerfully-built, pumpkin-orange pegasus named Barrel Roller. Her voice always had a hint of annoyance in it, though Radish could never be sure who she was annoyed with. Radish thought it was best to always assume it was him.

He now sat before her desk, which was always piled high with papers that overflowed its edges. She looked at him with a bored expression on her face.

“So, Root, how’s the tunnel scrubbing going?”

“I’m about to reach the first T-junction. I plan to take the left corridor.”

“Uh huh. Keep at it. But seeing as you’re accustomed to working in the dark, I’ve got a special assignment for you. You’re on the Night Shift this week. The Night Shift. You know what that is, don’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Make sure Princess Luna isn’t disturbed. By anything. That means you guard her tower as silently as possible. Even the clanking of your armor might upset her.”

“I don’t clank my armor, ma’am.”

“Uh huh. Do you know what could happen if she’s upset?”

“I have an inkling, ma’am.”

“Let’s not risk it. If all goes well, you won’t even see her. But if she asks for something, treat it like the order came from Celestia herself. And don’t do anything to make her feel out-of-date. Don’t comment on the way she talks- it’s old-timey and she’s using the royal we, and that’s just fine with you. And for Celestia’s sake, don’t bring up Nightmare Moon.”

Radish had read all these warnings in a memo issued by Shining Armor. But this wasn’t the first time a superior had repeated something Radish was already supposed to know, and Radish knew it wouldn’t be the last.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“By the way, Celestia graded your, uh, homework.”

She passed Radish back his own typewritten essay to Celestia. It now had numerous red markings on it. He scored an 87, with most points off for spelling, punctuation, and questionable grammatical choices. He flipped to the end, and Celestia’s summation was that he properly understood his lesson. Radish breathed a sigh of relief.

“I normally wouldn’t send a B+ guard to protect a princess, but she’s found fault in about half the ponies I’ve assigned to her. So, she can try you on for size.”

“Thank you, ma’am. I’ll do an A+ job guarding her.”

Barrel Roller made a noise inside her throat that made it clear whom she was annoyed with now.

Radish gazed up at Princess Luna’s tower. Though the night was too warm and humid for his liking, the tower, which actually had the little-used name, “Selenic Spire”, seemed to chill the air around it. It stood off by itself in a quiet corner of the palace grounds.

It was one of the tallest buildings in the palace. The exterior was made of intricate brickwork trimmed in blue and silver. The tower had a scant few windows, and a single balcony on the topmost floor, which now jutted out over Radish's head. It was the balcony of the master bedroom. Somewhere up there, a mystery lived.

Radish entered the tower and checked in with the duty officer. He ascended the long spiral staircase running clockwise up the center of the tower.

Radish hated spiral staircases. Like the mountainside trails of the Southern Plains, they left him completely exposed from the side. Even worse, the path was linear, with only forwards or backwards to go if under attack. He looked down the vast well hole the stairs curved around.

This place was built for alicorns, all right. Something with wings could go up and down in seconds. Legs take ages. They could put a lift right in the middle. It would make traversal faster for legs, give the stairs cover from the sides, and block unauthorized flyers. They should have done it a long time ago.

He reached the top of the spiral, and passed through a heavy wooden door flanked by two silent guards. The corridor beyond was kept dark, with only slivers of moonlight making it through a thin window along the top of the wall. He waited for his eyes to adjust, then continued.

He relieved the guard standing partway down the hall. While guards typically worked in pairs, this hall was too narrow for it, built on principles of magic architecture that few understood anymore. He would guard it alone.

At the end of the hall was the oak door to Princess Luna’s bed chambers. It was decorated with an elaborate carving, though Radish couldn't make out what it was in the dark. He dared not approach it for a better look- he had been ordered not to get any closer to Luna's bedroom than halfway down the hall. He moved into his position, then turned and stood in the dim light.

A guard’s primary weapon was a collapsible, telescoping short spear. While on patrols, it was kept in a compact form on the guard’s back, snapping under the saddle plate. While standing guard, it was extended and held at one’s side. There were other weapons available to guards who had cleared the training for them, and Radish longed for the day he would be allowed a sword. He now held his spear in hoof, and it felt as flimsy as his spyglass.

Okay. Just a few hours standing alone here, with the princess of the night one room over, and only a pointy stick to fight whatever jumps out of the darkness.

Little had been told to him, or the public, about Princess Luna. After the blast from the Elements of Harmony wore off, a thousand years of atrophy caught up to her. Her tower, which had stood sealed and untenanted for a millennium, was reopened, aired out, and refurbished for her recuperation. Since then, she rarely, if ever, left her bedroom.

Some of the palace staff were saying she was seriously, maybe permanently ill. Some said she had died, and the guarding was only done to keep up appearances. Some said she was reverting to Nightmare Moon beyond that door.

Radish stood, waited, and focused his senses. He thought he could hear her, or something, shuffling around the bedroom. The fur on the back of his neck stood straight.

The door creaked open. Radish spun around and stood at attention, gripping his spear extra tight.

“Guardstallion. We require thee,” said a slow whisper.

Radish collapsed his spear and snapped it onto his back. He approached the door, now ajar by a few inches. He could see the carving on the door now- it was an arrangement of the constellations in the sky over a city- a city that wasn't Canterlot, but ancient and unknown to Radish. He pushed open the door and stepped inside.

The inside of Luna’s room was vast and lit by the moonlight pouring in from large windows and balcony doors, all wide open.

Why have us guard the stairs when the room is open to the sky? Anything could fly in.

In the center of the room stood the shadowed figure of Princess Luna. She was much smaller than Celestia- only a little bit taller than Radish. She had a short blue mane that hung limply around her face. She wore regalia- a black tiara and peytral which seemed to weigh heavy and fit loose on her lean frame. She was staring at him.

“We are Princess Luna,” she simply said.

“Yes, ma’am. How may I serve you?”

“Thou art the one called Radish Root, art thou not?”

“Yes, princess.”

“We have heard the most disturbing rumor about thee.”

“I’m… sorry?”

“Remove thy barding. Show us thy supracutaneous marking.”

“Ma’am, I-”

“Do it!”

Radish sighed, and lifted up his armor to show her his cutie mark. She approached, leaning in to stare at it until her face was mere centimeters away. She drew back and angrily narrowed her eyes at his. He dropped his armor back down.

“What is the meaning of this?”

“I don’t know.”

“Art thou our sister’s betrothed?”


“Has Celestia fallen from grace, and is now the subject of mockery?”


“Have cutie marks sunk so low in the past one thousand years, that wanton acts are now commonly depicted?”

“It’s just my mark, ma’am.”

“What is thy talent, then?”

“I don’t know. It appeared in my sleep. I never figured out why.”

“Didst thou become a guardstallion to bed Celestia?”

Radish winced and turned away. Luna circled him like a predator.



“Is she aware?”


“What response had she?”

“It was a ‘no’ from her, ma’am.”

“A ‘no’ from her. We see.”

She walked away from him, over to her balcony. She gazed up at the moon.

“Guardstallion, there was a time when we were so envious of our sister, we lost ourselves in our own darkness.”

She turned back to him.

“But if this is where her popularity leads, then perhaps our obscurity is not such a misery. We are at least happy to be spared of that humiliation,” she said, thrusting a hoof toward his flank.

“Yes, ma’am.”

She stalked up to him.

“Guardstallion, this recuperation is interminable. Our body is feeble. We can barely stand, much less fly. Our magic is weaker than a yearling’s. Celestia visits us but twice a day, for the dullest of conversations and the blandest of teas. We have no other callers than doctors and servants. We have the same books on our shelves as a thousand years ago. There is nothing else in here but reminders of our own failures.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am.”

“How long dost thou guard our door?”

“I rotate to a different section in four hours. I’m guarding your tower all this next week.”

“That will be changed.”


“Let the others scurry about below how they please. We want thee outside our door all night long, so that when we are in need of cheering, we may look upon thy cutie mark again. This will continue as long as we deem it.”

“Oh. Yes, ma’am.”

“Show it now.”

He lifted his armor. She stared at his mark for an uncomfortably long time.

“We are cheered. Return to thy post.”

Dear Twilight Sparkle,

Today I made a new friend. She's old-fashioned, and a bit on the serious side, but she's really fascinating to hang out with.
She's been pretty down lately, so I'm looking for ways to lift her mood. She mentioned that she’d like to get some new books for her place. I was wondering if you could recommend some good ones for her. Something long and engaging- she has a lot of free time.

Your Pen Pal,

Lt. Radish Root

PreviousChapters Next