• 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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9. The Paradigm

"Keep still, guardstallion."

"Yes, ma'am."

Radish held his breath and closed his eyes. Luna had called him in near the end of his shift for a viewing of his cutie marks. She was staring so closely at his flank, he could feel her breath spread his fur.

"Tell us, how did Celestia remark upon seeing these?"

"Well, she said it looks consensual."

"Indeed it does. But why would Celestia consent to an act such as this with one such as thee?"

"I, uh, always hoped she'd want to because I was... handsome?"

Luna walked in front of Radish and peered down at his face. He leaned back. She cocked her eyebrows.

"And dost thou still desire her, guardstallion?”

“I try not to think about it. I know it will never happen.”

“That is wise. It will not. Has thou, then, another mare in thy sights? Mayhap a guardmare, or palace serving wench?”

“Oh, palace personnel aren’t supposed to date each other.”

“‘Date’?”

“Uh, court each other.”

“Why not?”

“You know, the rulebook didn’t say why. It just said not to.”

“‘Tis commendable that thou obey without question. Thy superiors know best."

"Yes, your highness."

"Dawn is nearly upon us. We must retire now. That will be all, lieutenant.”

"Aye, ma'am."

The sun was up by the time Radish had exited the tower. He strolled across the castle's outer wall. He shielded his eyes from the sun and looked out south. That was the direction of Ponyville, where Twilight Sparkle was studying. It always looked so peaceful.

Something caught his eye. Out of the mountain range far west of Ponyville, a plume of black smoke was pouring out one of the peaks and pooling in the skies.

Radish tried to get his spyglass on it. It barely looked closer. He ran to the spotting scope mounted nearby. He got the mountain in the center, and adjusted the coarse and fine focus knobs. He couldn’t see where the smoke was coming from, but he knew what it was coming from.

Oh no. Not here.

Commander Barrel Roller flew up behind him.

“Root! You’re-! I see you’ve seen the problem.”

“Dragon, ma’am. Probably a stray napper.”

He looked up.

“What are our orders?”

“Report to the captain. There’s a plan in the works.”

Radish entered Shining Armor’s office. Shining Armor was at his desk, with Celestia standing to one side and Saguaro Shade at the other. A large map of Equestria was laid out over the desk, along with several books, scrolls, and reports.

“Did you see?” asked Shining Armor.

“Yes, sir. Dragon. Likely taking a nap. It could last anywhere from one year to over a hundred.”

“The princess has a plan, but we wanted to hear your opinion on the matter before we begin.”

“Mine?”

“Saguaro Shade's idea. Says it’s a test for you.”

Saguaro Shade nodded and said, “Go on, Root. Show them what you bring to the table.”

“I see. Well, a solo Excursionary could get close to assess the…”

Celestia stepped forward.

“No. This will be a test for Twilight Sparkle and her friends, as well. I’ve decided to send them in to handle it.”

Radish stammered.

“You want to use Elements of Harmony against a dragon? I don’t know much about how they work, but I thought they heal emotional bonds. This dragon is only sleeping- it’s not being malicious.”

“You misunderstand. They will not be attacking, they will ask the dragon nicely to leave.”

Radish’s skin crawled and his heart dropped into his stomach.

“I… I see. That’s never been done before, but if you have that kind of confidence in them…”

“Oh, don’t worry,” said Shining Armor, “are you forgetting? We have a secret weapon. A dragon of our own to talk to it!”

Radish’s mind reeled.

“You don’t mean… you can’t put Spike in front of that dragon!” he cried.

Celestia and Shining leaned back in surprise. Saguaro Shade smiled.

“Wanna explain why?” asked Shining Armor.

“Sir, ma’am, we’re probably in an egg-hatching season. Which means a single stray dragon is likely trying to get away from the all the newly-hatched baby dragons. The noise, the smell, the responsibility- it wants nothing to do with the younglings. Showing up with a baby dragon may enrage it and put the team in danger.”

“What are you talking about, Root? Dragons love their babies, they don’t shirk them.”

“Sir, dragon eggs are hatched in a communal nursery and cared for by a select few who are suited for it. The rest of the adults have little interaction with them- parents may never have any strong relationships with their offspring as ponies define them. Those with roosts too close to the nursery may leave to go find peace elsewhere. That’s probably what our napper is doing.”

“Where are you getting all this? We don’t have this information anywhere.”

“It’s buffalo lore, sir.”

“You mean it’s unsubstantiated.”

“Almost all dragon knowledge is. There have been very few dragon encounters over the years. They don’t converse. You can’t experiment on them. And it’s a field of study where the subject can eat the researcher. All we have to go on is rumor that gets slowly confirmed or debunked over time. The buffalo have the oldest rumors and have had the longest time to test them. They’ve sometimes lost whole tribes to learn one fact.”

“You realize what you’re saying goes against what’s in the Codex Magnus, right? It says that dragons form tight family bonds from egg to death.”

“You… you still use the Codex Magnus!?”

“Any reason why we shouldn’t?”

“It’s a fake, sir.”

Shining Armor and Celestia looked at each other, surprised. They both looked at Saguaro Shade. He nodded.

“Explain yourself,” said Shining to Radish.

“The Rangers threw out the Codex years ago. It’s useless,” Radish replied.

“Flash Magnus was one of Equestria’s greatest heroes.”

“But he didn’t write the Codex. It was written decades after his disappearance.”

“How could you possibly know that?”

“The Rangers have analyzed the text. It uses words that weren’t known in Flash Mangus’s time. It refers to events that he couldn’t have known about. And it describes dragons in terms that we know to be false. It claims they wear the hides of their kills. It says their scales light up when they breathe fire. It claims they vote for their leaders, for Celestia’s sake!”

Celestia looked at him, puzzled.

“Uh, just an expression, ma’am.”

“If all this is true, why haven’t we heard about any of it?” asked Shining.

Radish breathed in, exasperatedly.

“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know. I thought everypony knew this by now.”

Shining Armor turned back to Saguaro Shade.

“Well? Is what he’s saying true?”

“They went back and forth on it in my day, trying to salvage some parts as authentic, or written by ponies who knew Flash, and so on. But no Ranger was ever helped by a single line of the Codex Magnus.”

Shining Armor frowned.

“We read the Codex to Spike growing up,” he muttered. “He loved those stories.”

“Radish, what would you recommend?” asked Celestia.

“No one should ever approach a sleeping dragon. That’s Rule One.”

“Not around here, Root,” said Shining, shaking his head. “If we don’t get rid of that dragon, we lose almost all of Central Equestria to a hundred years of smoke. We’re sending in the girls. I want to know what you think they should do when they get there.”

“Okay. Here goes.”

Shining’s horn glowed as he lifted a quill.

“To talk to a dragon, you have to flatter it.”

Shining Armor wrote down “charm”.

“An offering of food can take the edge off.”

Shining wrote down “apples”.

“Dragons like dark humor and dirty jokes.”

Shining wrote, “make it laugh”.

“And whatever you do, don’t attack it. Don’t touch its hoard, either.”

Shining stopped writing.

“Well, I thought that would be obvious.”

“It can be reasoned with, as long as it’s shown respect. The best thing to do is recommend a better cave. They’ll have to scout for one if they don’t know of one. Look for cave mites especially, while avoiding lilacs.”

Celestia floated a quill to the page and wrote, “Just let Fluttershy handle it”. Shining nodded to her and turned it face-down on his desk.

“Thank you, Root. I think we have enough.”

“Sir, I could go with them-”

“You’re a guard here, Root.”

“Yes, sir.”

Radish stepped out of Shining’s office. Saguaro Shade followed him.

“Well, sir? How’d I do?”

“You said more or less what I would’ve said. Nice to see the Academy is still giving a proper education. And it’s always fun to hear you break out of that kiss-ass voice you do.”

“Sir, the Codex Magnus?”

“I don’t get to pick and choose what the captain read growing up. And it’s going to be a while before they start printing it with the proper caveats.”

“Sir, this plan of theirs is really dangerous.”

“You’ll get no argument from me. But the captain and the princess will also get no argument from me once their minds are made up, ever.”

“Twilight Sparkle is a friend of mine. She should be going in with guards, not party planners and dressmakers.”

“Root, this is a new paradigm. I don’t fully get it, but it’s not our place to question it. Out loud, at least.”

“Yes, sir.”

“By the way, I’m a bit curious about some of those factoids you were spittin’. I don’t believe I’ve seen anything about dirty jokes in the Ranger annals.”

“It’s, uh, something the Black Bluffs believe. They haven’t cleared it for publication yet.”

“Yeah? You were with them when that dragon did a resettle, weren’t you? Were lilacs involved in that?”

“We… had our suspicions.”

“Root, if there was a first-order dragon encounter, HQ should have been informed.”

“I’ve said all I can say about it, sir.”

Saguaro Shade sighed.

“I know what that means. I won’t pry. But can you tell me if we’re sending those six girls in with the best information we have?”

“We are. That’s what terrifies me.”


Twilight Sparkle led her friends Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Fluttershy up a dusty mountain path. She read over the letter Celestia had sent her for the tenth time as they walked.

“Can anypony tell me why we’re going to talk to a dragon without bringing Spike? You know, our own dragon?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“Indeed,” said Rarity. “I was so hoping for a chance to spend some quality time with him.”

“Princess Celestia consulted Radish Root on it. He thinks the dragon would be adverse to meeting a baby of its own kind,” answered Twilight.

“Radish Root?” asked Rainbow Dash. “Isn’t he the one with, you know…”

She pointed to her cutie mark, then made a series of obscene gestures. Pinkie Pie giggled.

“Lay off, Rainbow Dash,” said Twilight. “He’s a friend. And he’s studied dragons.”

“Well, excuse me. You’ve got to admit, it’s pretty weird.”

“Now, that ain’t fair, Rainbow,” admonished Applejack. “A feller can’t help it if’n his cutie marks are, uh, odd.”

“Odd? I’ve heard they’re positively pornographic!” said Rarity. “Have you ever seen them, Twilight?”

“I may have peeked at his file once. Before we were friends.”

“And?”

And I don’t think they’re relevant to this mission. Look, he’s recommended several strategies for dealing with the dragon- humor, charm, throwing apples at it. And lastly, he thinks Fluttershy will be instrumental in accomplishing our goal. Don’t fall behind, Fluttershy, we’re depending on you.”

“Okay,” squeaked Fluttershy.


From a corner of the palace walls, Radish watched the mountains through a scope. The smoke had stopped. He couldn’t see the cave mouth, or the six mares, who had apparently reached it. Then, a streak of red cut through the sky. Radish looked up to reacquire it, then got the scope back on it.

A magnificent red dragon flew away from the mountains. Radish tried to memorize as many of its field marks as he could before it disappeared into the clouds. He pulled out a small notepad and scribbled down his observations.

“Once a Ranger, always a Ranger, eh, Root?” said Saguaro Shade from behind him.

“Did you see it, sir? Adult needle morph. Red, underparts gold. That might be a known one! If only I had a good look at its head. It was too far to sex it.”

“Root, six untrained ponies have just done what generations never dared try. They woke up a dragon and convinced it to leave.”

“I’m amazed, sir. This opens up whole new lines of research. If we throw out Rule One, we can learn more about dragons in a day than we have in a decade.”

“Let’s hope we don’t have to do this again. Still, you should be proud of yourself.”

“Me?”

“They did go in following your advice. And I’m sure they can tell you what sex it was.”

Radish thought on this.

“Sir, a lot of folks think those six are just one-hit wonders. That they got lucky with Nightmare Moon. But they’re for real, aren’t they? A new party of adventuring heroes. Like in olden times. They can do some real good out there.”

“That’s more optimism than I can muster, Root. But I’m impressed with them today.”

“Makes you wonder what they’ll do next.”



Dear Twilight Sparkle,

Congratulations on your successful mission to speak with the dragon. I’m relieved everypony came out safely.

I’m being told that the details of your encounter with the dragon are being classified secret, so I won’t ask about how it went down. Just know that everyone here in the palace is enormously proud of you and your team.

I hope Spike wasn’t upset about being left behind. I’m sure he’ll get to go on the next adventure.

Your Pen Pal,

Radish Root

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