• 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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84. The Forest, Part 2

Prince Blueblood sat perfectly regally on Celestia’s throne, swirling a snifter of brandy and reading through a folder from a tall stack of documents. He put the file aside and leafed through the next one. He clicked his tongue.

Barrel Roller approached the thrones. “Your highness, the situation in Ponyville is getting worse. The mayor has called for an evacuation.”

“And?”

And the vines have blocked the train tracks and the roads, while the black clouds are too thick in the sky to get air transports through. It’s going to take a lot of muscle to clear an evacuation route.”

“Why haven't Twilight Sparkle and her affiliates just blasted the silly things with their magic jewelry?”

“It’s not usually that simple, sir.”

He waved a dismissive hoof. “Well, fine. Recall all the guards currently searching Canterlot and have them clear a path through to Ponyville.”

“Aye, sir.”

“And please tell me, why haven’t you followed up on our only lead to the missing princesses?”

“What lead would that be, sir?”

Blueblood held up a report. “Maintenance found several shattered floor tiles in the guest tower this morning.”

“It’s an old building,” said Barrel Roller. “Those tiles crack if you drop a teaspoon on them.”

“Come now, you think it’s just a coincidence that the floor was broken between Twilight Sparkle’s guest room and the front door of the building? Where Celestia was guaranteed to have been walking at some point last night?”

“What? You think Celestia was kidnapped just outside Twilight’s room? And the floor got cracked in the scuffle?”

“Oh, Rolly. Clearly the floor was the kidnappers’ means of intrusion and egress! Check under it, and I’m sure you’ll find evidence of a collapsed tunnel. The culprit we’re looking for is some manner of burrowing monster- a werewolverine, dire meerkat, or worm wizard, perhaps.”

“Your highness,” said Barrel Roller impatiently, “we’re in a castle in a city on a mountain. Your hypothetical kidnapper would have had to tunnel kilometers through solid rock, pass through the crystal mines, penetrate the city’s foundation, get through the utility sub-layer, navigate the under-tunnels, and break through the floor at the exact spot where Celestia arbitrarily happened to be. Then they’d still have to overpower an alicorn and drag her back down the way they came. And then do the same thing for Luna.”

“Quite trivial for a worm wizard,” said the prince, sipping his brandy.

“Worm wizards are a myth.”

“So was Nightmare Moon. So was Discord. So were humans.”

“What?"

“I see I must take these matters into my own hooves. There is a pack of diamond dogs living nearby, is there not?”

“Diamond dogs couldn’t have kidnapped two princesses, Prince Blueblood.”

“Of course not. But the underground is their domain. They have insider knowledge of all who pass through it.”

“You want us to trot into the diamond dogs’ den and ask them if they’ve seen worm wizards snatching the princesses?”

“Don’t be silly. Such a parley requires a strategic mind, a diplomatic tongue, and zero distractions. I will meet the hounds, alone.”

“Alone? No guard escort?”

“That is my order.”

“Good luck, sir.”


Radish landed on a rug inside the cabin and slid across its floor, colliding with a wardrobe against the far wall. It teetered to and fro, then toppled toward him. A feathery blur of teal rushed him from the side and pulled him out of the way before it slammed into the floor.

“Major!” cried Curtsey Blush, holding onto him tightly. “They’re everywhere!”

Radish looked up to see the vines spreading over the walls, ceiling and floor. They were entangling and crushing the furniture. The tendrils which had blocked the door were now filling the room. The ceiling was bowing. Radish and Curtsey had no exits and were rapidly running out of space.

“Okay. Find cover,” Radish said. She hid behind the fallen wardrobe as Radish ran to the wall under one of the broken windows, turned, and planted his forehooves. He focused all his earth pony strength into his hind legs and bucked the wall.

The logs under the window flew apart, forming an escape hole. Radish and Curtsey Blush charged toward it and dove out. The cabin collapsed as they hit the grass.

Curtsey Blush hugged Radish, burying her face into his chest. “Oh, thank you, major!”

“You’re welcome. But you’re still not safe here. You should get to Ponyville. They’ll take care of you there.”

“What about you?”

Radish looked at the forest’s edge. “I’m going to do a little gardening.”

“You can’t go into that forest! These plants are deadly!”

“I’m an earth pony, Miss Blush. Plants are our specialty. I’ve dealt with worse weeds than these on my parents’ farm.”

“But-”

Please. Get to safety, so I can do my duty without worrying about you.”

She nodded, sadly. She curtseyed Radish and flew off, giving a wide berth around the spiky dark clouds. Radish ran back into his cabin. He donned his armor, grabbed his prepacked saddle packs, and armed himself with his sword and spear. He stepped out onto his back porch and glassed the Everfree with his binoculars.

“Okay, Everfree. I don’t know what put you in a bad mood, but this is not how we express ourselves. Let’s confab, pony-to-forest.”

Radish walked to the forest’s edge. He crouched prone, adjusted the positioning of his hooves, lay his chin on the ground, and closed his eyes. He opened his senses, mind, and heart to the earth, reaching out to the life within the Everfree Forest.

The Everfree was an unnatural wilderness- its plants grew in the absence of earth ponies, its animals took care of themselves, and even its weather changed without pegasus intervention. Its origins were unknown- while many ponies believed it was a remnant of Discord’s original reign, Celestia had said it was far older, representing a type of natural order that predated known history. After Twilight Sparkle reported that the human world operated on similar principles, many ponies now suspected there was a direct and ancient connection between the two.

Whatever the Everfree was, it was not responding to Radish. Its life rebuffed his attempts to reach out to it. Everfree lifeforms shared no bond with ponykind, but the feeling he was getting from the black vines, however, was oddly familiar. It wasn’t indifferent to him, it was offended by him.

He opened his eyes to see more of the vines surrounding him. He dodged their whiplashes, then bit down hard on a skinny tendril, tearing it off and chewing it. Its taste was a mix of copper and burnt toast.

He knew that taste. He has tasted it before, when he bit through a chaos flower bulb atop a party cruise zeppelin. He narrowed his eyes and spit out the chewed plant matter.

Discord,” he growled.

I knew it. His reform was a lie. He’s just been biding his time. He finally made his move when Twilight was out of town and the Elements of Harmony were separated. Well, I make plans, too.

Radish looked at Canterlot, where anti-chaos mushrooms grew in his personal garden plot. He had considered sowing some spores at PEERS too, but his mission to Never Atoll was still classified, and a team of world-class botanists would have certainly noticed the mushrooms and asked questions.

I need to get to the palace. But I can’t abandon my post. But I’m the only one left here. But Private Scatter Shot and Miss Pie are still in the forest. But I need the mushrooms to stand a chance of saving them. I’m being pulled in too many directions! Where’s my reinforcements? Where’s AG1? What is going on in Canterlot?


Barrel Roller and Saguaro Shade watched as Prince Blueblood directed the servants preparing the carriage that would take him to the den of the diamond dogs.

“You’re just gonna let him go?” asked Saguaro Shade.

“Orders are orders,” said the captain.

“And what are my orders?”

“Tail him. When he gets in too deep, save him.”

“Aye, captain. What’s the status of… well, all our other emergencies?”

“Operation Weed Whacker commences in ten. Once we punch through to Ponyville, we can coordinate with AG1. They’ll no doubt have news about what’s going on.”

“Ever thought we’d be this dependent on a civilian team to keep saving our hides?”

“When Shining Armor passed his job down to me, he told me I’d have a captaincy unlike any other in history. I thought it was praise, but I’m starting to see how he meant it as a warning."

A lieutenant rushed up to them and saluted. “Ma’am, sir, we checked out the guest tower. It really does seem like something tunneled up from below its foundations- and it was something fairly large. We’re expanding our search to the under-tunnels and the crystal mines, but it’s a lot of ground to cover. Or rather, a lot of underground to cover.”

“Son of a nag,” grumbled Barrel Roller. “How was Blueblood a step ahead of us this whole time?”

“Two steps ahead, by my count,” noted Saguaro Shade.

“Yeah, well, find out what happened to Root. He has a habit of being three steps ahead of everyone, and way in over his head.”


Radish had his back against a cabin’s wall. He parried and swung his sword at wave after wave of vines striking at him. Their texture and density were wildly inconsistent from one vine to the next- some fell apart with a crunch like dried leaves, some were hard as steel, and one of them felt like bog muck when he thrusted his blade into it.

He had no escape, no plan, and no options other than to keep defending himself as long as he could, which didn’t seem like much longer. Radish grit his teeth and tried to focus.

The vines suddenly twitched, then froze motionless. Radish backed away to safety, breathing hard. He heard a series of loud cracks and snaps coming from the forest.

A massive number of vines had organized themselves into a wide tunnel structure that crushed and displaced the trees in its path, forming a long, dark corridor into the heart of the woods. Around Radish, all the plants that had been attacking him suddenly twisted and pointed their tips toward the opening of the tunnel. At its entrance, one small tendril made a beckoning motion to Radish.

“Yeah, I’m not stupid enough to go in there,” Radish said aloud, to whoever or whatever was listening.

One of the vines next to him bent down and scratched into the dirt, drawing a four-pointed compass rose flanked by two bending pine trees. It was Timber Spruce’s cutie mark. It then drew a long arrow pointing from the cutie mark to the tunnel. Radish furrowed his brows at it, then sheathed his sword.

“Blast it. Fine. But he better be okay.”

He walked toward the entrance, giving one last look to his outpost as he went. It sat silent, battered, and abandoned. He took a deep breath, adjusted his armor, and proceeded into the darkness.

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