• 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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88. The Scheme

“Major, come in,” said Rosy Day. “We’ve got something of a mystery on our hooves.”

Radish entered her office and approached her desk. She and Timber Spruce were scrutinizing several large circular pieces of paper with scatterings of black dots and red zigzags printed upon them.

“What’s up?” Radish asked.

“During the vine crisis, did you see anypony in or near the lab building?”

“No. Why?”

“It looks like several of the lab’s analysis machines were used during that time frame.”

“Someone was doing research during the vine attack?”

“Yes, but it wasn’t any of my staff.”

“Well, it wasn’t any of my guards."

"So, then, it really was somepony from outside the station," sighed Timber.

"Why would anypony risk their life to do that?” Radish asked.

“They were on a mission, it seems. Take a look at these,” Rosy Day said, gesturing to the papers.

“What are they?”

“Whenever one of our machines are used, an extra copy of the results are produced by a backup plotter inside this fireproof cabinet,” she said, waving a hoof toward a tall yellow cabinet in the corner of the room.

“I didn’t know that.”

“It’s a new system we just installed. Only Timber and I know about it.”

“And these are the backup printouts? The same results the intruder got?”

“Yes. The timestamps match.”

“What were they analyzing?”

“It looks like it was an organic material- one full of complex, unidentified compounds. Then there was a full-spectrum burst, almost like they tried to scan a rainbow. After that, the sample material’s mass was reduced to zero.”

“Rainbow? Huh. The girls wiped out the chaos vines with a rainbow…”

“Exactly. Somepony was using our lab to analyze Discord’s plants, right up to the moment they were eliminated.”

“Well, they wouldn't have learned anything useful. After Discord’s last attack, I brought back a chaos flower bulb to have analyzed. The ponies who studied it said it was indistinguishable from ordinary plant matter.”

“I know. I was one of the ponies who studied it. I think it appeared ordinary because Discord had been turned to stone by that point. All his creations lost their chaotic nature.”

Radish put a hoof to his chin. “But if you could study his creations while he’s still loose, free, and at large… you’d get good data about his chaotic nature?”

“I think it’s more specific than that,” said Timber. “During the crisis, unicorns in Ponyville reported that the vines released some kind of powder which disrupted their magic. Whatever was being analyzed was a powder, too.”

“Chaos pollen. I’ve encountered it before.” grumbled Radish. “If somepony learned how to replicate it, they could nullify any unicorn in Equestria.”

“Or alicorn,” pointed out Rosy Day.

“So, what do these results reveal about it?” asked Radish, looking closer at the papers.

“Oh… I have no idea,” said Rosy. “These are the most complex readings I’ve ever seen. To crunch numbers this complicated, we’d have to send them to a reckoning firm with a tabulator engine. And that’s out of our budget.”

Radish paced the floor. “Then that means the pony who did this is smart enough to use our lab, and has pockets deep enough to get the results computed. And since the vine crisis lasted less than a day, they’d have to be close to the station to plan and execute the whole endeavor...”

“It sounds like you already have a suspect,” remarked Timber Spruce.

“I have a short list. If I gave you another material to analyze, would you be able to tell me if it would have a similar effect to the rainbow?”

Rosy Day and Timber Spruce looked at each other for a beat. They nodded to each other.

“Sure, that’s much easier,” said Rosy. “But where would you find something like that?”

“That’s classified. But get ready, I’ll have it for you soon.”

Radish stood over his personal garden plot behind Canterlot Castle. A large crop of the anti-chaos mushrooms dominated most of the space, between several varieties of flowers that he was growing for Light, plus some onions for his own use.

He pulled out a tiny metal vial and packed it full of mushroom spores. He attached it to the small chain which held his Guard ID tags.

Now I’ll never be caught without them again.

As he picked more mushrooms and packed them into a jar, he heard hoofsteps crunch the grass behind him.

“Good afternoon, major,” said Celestia, walking up to him.

“Good afternoon, princess,” Radish said, saluting. “I’m relieved to see you safe. Are you and Princess Luna all right?”

“Yes, thank you. It was one of the duller kidnappings I’ve endured. And how are you doing? Twilight says you were upset to learn that the girls had to give up their Elements.”

“I’m dealing with it in my own way,” he said, looking down at his garden.

“Ah, is it harvest time already?”

“A little past due, actually.”

“Radish, I heard how heroically you acted during the crisis. You defended not only the members of your own staff, but also a whole society that often goes overlooked by most Equestrians. I am very proud of you.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“I also heard that you met my nephew Blueblood.”

“Ah, heh heh. Yes, ma’am. Am I in trouble?”

“Not at all. He can hardly complain about you beating him in a duel that he initiated.” She leaned close and smiled. “You realize, Radish, that makes two members of the royal family that you’ve defeated in battle?”

“Is there a prize for beating all of you?”

She laughed. “Sure. You can rule Equestria for a change.”

“Sheesh, no thank you. It seems like a terrifying job.”

“Not when you’ve got excellent guards to back you up.”

“Aww, thanks, ma’am.” He held up the jar of mushrooms. “Would you like to try one?”

She lifted up one in her aura and peered at it. She took a nibble, then frowned.

“Radish, you have a rather… adventurous palate.”

“You only live once.”

“Funny, Blueblood lives by the same philosophy. Perhaps you two are more alike than you realize.”

“That’s harsh, ma’am.”

“Root, got your new spear,” said Barrel Roller, pushing a collapsed spear across her desk to Radish. “Chuck says this latest model is self-lubricating.”

“Thank you, ma’am. Sorry that I keep going through these.”

She shrugged. “Cheaper to replace a spear than a guard. Was there anything you wanted to add to the record about the crisis?”

“Well, ma’am, I had planned to come in here and apologize.”


“Making it worse. I gave the base the day off, so I was caught short-staffed. I used Grenatta as a messenger to shave some minutes off the response time, when I needed her as a soldier more. I let Scatter Shot run into the forest with no backup. I sent a civilian intern critter to do what was my duty. I made every wrong decision during this crisis. But, well…”

“But, well, what?”

“Those were really wrong decisions, were they? I made what I thought was the right call, every step of the way, even as the situation seemed to be getting worse.”

“Uh huh.”

“So I guess being a leader means you don’t have all the answers ahead of time. You just do the best you can.”

“Don’t let the lower ranks hear you say that, Root. The whole system will fall apart.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He stepped closer and lowered his voice. “I also wanted to talk to you about Discord. With the Elements of Harmony out of commission, we have no defense against him now.”

“Princess Sparkle has assured me that he'll behave. And officially, the crowns still consider him an ally of the state. There's nothing we can do about the situation but trust our princesses’ judgment.”

“What if we had another option?” he asked in a hushed tone. “What if there was a way to deal with him, once and for all?”

She raised an eyebrow.

“I’d say the Royal Guard doesn’t secretly plot to ‘deal with’ official allies of the state. And then I’d say I don’t need to hear whatever you’re going to say next.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

Radish found Bertha in the diamond dogs’ reservoir chamber, scooping a coarse black powder out of a gunny sack and sprinkling it into the water. She looked up and smiled.

“Hello, Major Radish!”

“Hello, Bertha. What are you up to?”

“Diamond dogs have been complaining that the water is too salty. So I am adding pepper.”

“Ah, I see. Well, I came with a proposition for you.”

She frowned. “Radish is very nice, but-”

He held up the jar of anti-chaos mushrooms. “These mushrooms can cancel out Discord’s power. I just had their effectiveness confirmed. If you sow their spores throughout your caves, your people, my people, and the Everfree will be protected from any of his remaining seeds. They also provide illumination, and they’re pretty good fried in butter.”

She took the jar. “And you give this to us, for free?”

“Yes. As long as I can come back and harvest some whenever I need them- and you never tell anycreature about their true power.”

“Radish has a deal.”

“Thanks. That’s a relief.”

“Uh… Radish?”


“Will Timber Spruce visit any time soon?”

“Definitely. It seems there was something he really liked about this place.”

Her tail wagged. “Good! Oh, and tell Blueblood that the diamond dogs will accept his offer.”

“What? What offer? What did Blueblood want?”

“Oops. Uh, Blueblood said not to tell anypony about it. Sorry. Pretend I did not say that.”

“Bertha, I need to know-”

“If Radish wants Bertha to respect his secret mushrooms, then Radish must respect Blueblood’s secrets, too.”

Radish paused to think about this.

"Okay. You have a deal.”

Radish and Light snuggled into each other as they relaxed on her couch. He had just finished recounting the vine attack on the station.

“Well, after all that, I hope you’re getting another medal,” she said.

“I am.”


“How’s the shop?”

“Business was good this week. Nightmare Root continues to be a hot seller.”

“That’s funny, I had to fight a nightmare root in a hot cellar.”

She leaned her chin on his head. “Say, Rad… an old grade school friend of yours came by. Praline.”

“Praline? Oh, right- dad once mentioned to me that she moved to Canterlot.”

“But you never tried to reconnect with her?”

“What would I have said? ‘Sorry I disappeared, my parents took me away because I got a porno cutie mark’?”

“For a start, yeah.”

“Fan, you and your friends have been kind to me about my mark. A lot of ponies in my life have been. But not everyone is going to be so understanding.”

“You think she’ll care?”

“Praline was a sweet girl. Always had a bright smile on her face. I guess I just never wanted to see that smile turn to a look of horror upon seeing my mark.”

“Well, she invited us to a class reunion in August.”

“I… I just can’t do that. There will be too many questions about what happened to me.”

Light nuzzled his neck. “What if you showed up with a fabulous babe hanging off of you? And she spent the whole time talking about how cool you’ve become?”

He nuzzled her back. “They’ll want to know what my mark is. Some of them might bring kids. I’d have to spend the entire time hiding my flanks and making excuses for hiding my flanks.”

“Rad, you shouldn’t have to miss out on stuff like this. You have the right to live your life, the same as anypony.”

“Thanks for caring, but no matter how many friends I make, no matter how many medals I earn, there will always be some things I’ll just have to miss out on. And I'm at peace with that.”

“Then, let’s plan an alternative trip,” Light said. “A fun getaway.”

“The Equestria Games are coming up. I could get us tickets.”

“I’m not really into sports stuff.”

“We could go to the Flint Steppes. You could meet my parents."

“The Equestria Games, you say? That sounds fun.”

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