• 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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83. The Forest, Part 1

Radish sat back in a recliner in his cabin, reading a graphic novel Light had recommended to him. He didn’t like where it was going. He heard a knock at his door- Maple Bar had arrived with her report on a recent mission into the forest. Eddie sat coiled up on her back. They both saluted Radish.

“Got the latest, hot off the presses for you, sir!”

“You don’t have to ‘sir’ me, Mape.”

“Hey, you’ve earned it. The whole castle cheered when we heard you got promoted. There’s nopony the rest of us would rather ‘sir’ than you.”

“Thanks. You’re due for a promotion soon too, right?”

“Here’s hoping,” she said with a shrug.

“Want this place?” asked Radish.

“Huh?”

“I’m only going to be Station Chief here until I have a suitable replacement. And if you’re up to it, that can be you.”

“But ponies joined this project to work specifically with you,” said Maple Bar. “I can’t fill horseshoes that big.”

“Somepony will eventually have to, and I’d rather it was somepony I trust.”

“Well, if you believe in me, I’ll have to prove you right.”

“Great.”

“Oh- one other thing…” said Maple Bar.

“Yes?”

“Summer Sun Celebration is this week, and most places have it off…”

“Yes, so do we. It’s on the calendar.”

“But a lot of places close the day before, too. You know, to give everypony a day to travel to their families...”

“Fine. I’ll ask Rosy Day to clear the date.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Radish took the report and closed his door. Maple Bar looked back at Eddie.

“See that, Eddie? That’s your first lesson- a little kissing up to the boss never hurt anyone.”


Radish took an evening walk through the grounds of PEERS. It was reminding him of what nights had been like at the Black Bluffs village. The stars shone brighter outside the city. The crickets’ chirps slowed down as the dusk cooled the air. Fireflies were flashing their displays over the fields. There were no sounds of traffic.

He trotted up to the lookout tower. Grenatta saluted him from her perch as he approached. “How goes the watch, wing trooper?”

“All is well, sir. Almost all personnel have already left for the holiday. Will you be returning to Canterlot for Summer Sun, sir?”

“Yeah, but I’ll probably be observing alone. My girlfriend doesn’t celebrate- she doesn’t believe in getting up before dawn. What about you?”

“I’m staying here, sir. Griffons don’t celebrate, either. And someone has to keep watch over this place.”

“All right, but feel free to stop by Ponyville’s celebration if you’re inclined. They usually have an overabundance of free food.”

“Pony food?”

“Yeah. Sorry.”


Radish awoke to a banging on his door.

“Station Chief!” howled Grenatta. “There’s a problem with the sky!”

He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes as he put together what he had just heard. He threw on a robe and ran to the door. Grenatta was standing there, saluting him.

“What? What did you say?” he asked.

“Well… look!”

She pointed to the sky. Radish stepped off his porch for a better look. The sun and the moon were both hanging halfway up from the horizon, leaving the sky divided between day and night. He looked at his wall clock- it was 6 o’clock in the morning, supposedly.

“Wing trooper, how did this happen?”

“I don’t know, sir. My shift was about to end. Then the sun just… floated up. The moon drifted down a bit, and now they’re both stuck where they are.”

“Have we received word from the palace?”

“No, sir. What does it mean, sir?”

“I can tell you that this is no drill, wing trooper. But let’s not pull the panic alarm just yet. Send a messenger pigeon to the palace to ask what’s up. I’ll visit AG1 in Ponyville- they’re usually at the center of these kinds of things.”

“Sir, I can get to Canterlot a lot faster than a pigeon.”

“You said you just finished your shift. I know what it’s like to deal with a crisis on a sleep deficit. If this turns out to be a real emergency, I need you well-rested.”

“But… yes, sir.”

A siren from the edge of the camp wailed out. Radish sighed. “I said I didn’t want the panic alarm just yet.”

They sped to the alarm station. They found a unicorn private, Scatter Shot, cranking the siren with his aura while plugging his ears with his hooves.

“Private! I need you to… oh.”

They saw what had made Scatter Shot sound the alarm. Massive black thorny vines- similar to what Marble Pie had found but far larger- were creeping out from the Everfree Forest’s treeline. They were growing faster than any plant Radish had ever seen. More sprouted up all around the trio. One vine wrapped around the siren and constricted, toppling it and crushing it to scrap. Its wailing died out pathetically.

A vine made a grab for Grenatta, which she barely managed to duck. Several more popped up in front of Radish’s face. He reached for his sword, and realized he left his cabin without it. The vines lashed at him.

Grenatta slashed back at them, the thorns deflecting off her talons. The vines grew thicker and loomed taller. One vine unfurled itself into a vertical maw-like structure and snapped at them. Scatter Shot fired a burst of sparks at the thing, to no effect. They retreated to the center of camp.

They reached the edge of the lake and found it roiling and choking with black seaweed. The sky grew dimmer, and they looked up to see spiky black clouds shading out the half-daylight.

“Sir… what is happening?” Grenatta asked exasperatedly.

He turned to her. “You say you’re faster than a pigeon?”

“Much faster, sir!”

“Get to the palace. Tell them… tell them the Everfree Forest is invading.”

“Aye, sir!” She leapt off the ground and sped toward Canterlot.

“Private,” said Radish, “we need to-”

Radish was cut off by the sound of a mare’s scream coming from just past the treeline.

“Sir, that was Miss Pie!” gasped Scatter Shot. “The forest has her!”

“Dammit! All right, we’re going in there after her. Stick close to me, and-”

“Sir! You’re the commanding officer here. It’s your job to coordinate from the base, not rush into the danger.”

“No one else responded to the alarm. There’s no one left to coordinate. We’re all Miss Pie has-”

Radish was cut off, again, by a different mare’s scream, coming from a nearby cabin. Vines were overgrowing its sides and smashing their way in through the windows. Its door was blocked by dozens of the smaller tendrils.

“Blast it!” spat Radish. “Fine. You go help Miss Pie, I’ll help whoever’s in there. Just be careful!”

“Aye, sir!”

Scatter Shot ran toward the forest, dodging vines as he went. Radish felt his heart beating out of control.

If I hadn’t used Grenatta as a messenger, she could be backing up Scatter Shot right now. And if I hadn’t given today off, there’d be more than enough guards to help everyone. Damn it, Radish, stop and think before you make everything worse again!

The roof of the cabin cracked, and the whole building started listing to one side. Another scream wailed out from inside. Radish barreled toward the door and smashed through it without thinking.


Guards and aides poured in and out of Barrel Roller’s propped-open door, delivering every scrap of news they could scrounge up. One sergeant ran in with the only good news she’d heard all day.

“Ma’am! Princess Sparkle is safe. Her orders are to continue searching for the royal sisters.”

“All right. Is she in the throne room now?”

“No ma’am. She and Spike have left for Ponyville.”

“What? Why?”

“We’ve also received word from Station Chief Root at PEERS. The Everfree Forest is… invading.”

Invading?

“His words.”

“Son of a nag. When it rains, it hails. All right. These events can’t be a coincidence. Get the Mage Council on this and have them figure out what the connection could be.”

“Aye, ma’am!”

He rushed out just as Lieutenant Cairn rushed in.

“Ma’am! We were able to locate another member of Equestrian royalty! But it’s… ah… it’s…”

Barrel Roller leaned back. “Don’t tell me…”

Prince Blueblood brushed past Cairn and strode into the room. He flashed a grin and tossed back his mane.

“Have no fear! Your prince is here!”

He looked around the room. He frowned.

“What? Where’s my fanfare?”

Barrel Roller stood up. “Prince Blueblood.”

“Hello, Rolly! So good to see you again! Congratulations on the promotion. I must say, the captain’s uniform flatters you.”

“I didn’t know you were in town.”

“Ah, lucky for you I had business in Canterlot. Well, more pleasure than business. Now, what’s this I hear about my dear aunts gone missing? I must say, this reflects rather poorly on your captaincy. Losing one princess is a tragedy, but losing two princesses? It’s simply irresponsible!”

“Rest assured, we are doing everything in our power-”

Your power? Oh, no, no, no. The Royal Guard is in my power now. I am assuming total rulership of Equestria, effective immediately.”

Barrel Roller’s right eye twitched. “Begging your pardon, your highness, but officially, your rule is limited to your province in the Marediterranean. You don’t have that kind of power here.”

“Mmm, perhaps you should consult the succession protocols again? They had to be updated following young Twilight Sparkle’s coronation, you know.”

Barrel Roller rolled her chair over to her file cabinet and rifled through the top drawer. She pulled out a long document. She read through it.

In the event that both Royal Sisters are unable to carry out their duties, the order of succession is as follows…” She let out a grumble. “I thought you were a lot lower on this.”

“Ah, a common mistake, no doubt due to the air of humility with which I carry myself. But think on this- sweet little Twilight Sparkle is but a mere novice to royal affairs, with a head unused to the heavy weight of a crown. Why, I bet she’s already abandoned you and ran off to her five commoner friends.”

“AG1 is a valuable-”

“And dear Cousin Cadance is a lover, not a fighter. Can she be called upon to make the hard decisions which are so often needed in times of crises?”

“She’s proven herself more than-”

“And as for that husband of hers… well… you know. That leaves me as the only suitable, logical, and legal choice to lead the nation through this crisis.”

She sighed. “And your orders are, sir?”

“Interrogate all the servants. Pull up Canterlot’s drawbridges and lock down her airspace. Sweep the streets and put a checkpoint at every intersection. I want a thorough search of every summerhouse, clearinghouse, customs house, bathhouse, and coffeehouse. Send your reports, and a bottle of brandy, to the throne room.”

“Perhaps it would be best if-"

“And don’t worry so much! We’ll have my aunts back by supper. And if not, send supper to the throne room, as well.”

He strutted out the room, brushing past Lieutenant Cairn again. Cairn approached his captain and kept his voice low.

“Ma’am, is he really in charge?”

Barrel Roller reread the succession protocols. “Afraid so.”

“Do we really have to do all that stuff?”

“Afraid so.”

“Want me to spit in his brandy?”

Barrel Roller sat back, considering it.

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