• 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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118. The Town, Part 1

The mare stepped toward Radish, smiling widely.

“What’s your name, stranger?” she asked.

Radish was prepared for this question. He had concocted a false identity for himself, coming up with a plausible backstory that wouldn’t raise too many difficult questions. The hardest part had been picking a new name. He needed something unremarkable, but not so bland that it seemed suspicious. He settled on a traditional earth pony name with stately dignity to it.

“Onion Bulb.”

“Hello, Onion Bulb! Nice to meet you. I’m Starlight Glimmer,” she said, hooking her foreleg around his and leading him into the town. “Come on. You must be exhausted from your journey! Friends, bring our guest some refreshments.”

She led Radish to an outdoor picnic table. Townsponies put a tankard of water and a plate of crackers in front of him.

“Miss Glimmer-”

“Call me Starlight,” she said, sitting opposite him. Ponies provided food and drink for her as well. Several villagers continued to stand around the table, watching the two while grinning widely.

“Starlight, are you the one in charge around here?”

“Well, I like to think we’re all equals here,” she said.

“Starlight is our founder!” said a villager.

“It was her vision that brought this town to life!” said another.

“We plot our course along the map she charted!” added a third.

“Oh. I see…” said Radish, processing this.

“Now, Mr. Bulb…” started Starlight.

“Call me Onion.”

“Now, Onion, what was it that brought you all the way out here to our quaint little hamlet?”

“I was following some rumors about a… unique town… out this way.”

The others laughed.

“Well, I'd say you found it,” said Starlight. “This place is certainly unique. It’s the happiest, sanest, and healthiest village in all Equestria.”

“I think we’re actually a bit outside Equestria,” Radish noted.

“Pffft. All those silly little borders on maps- they’re just more imaginary concepts used to divide,” Starlight said. “But here, we have no divisions.”

“I… can see that,” said Radish, looking around.

“Go ahead and ask,” said Starlight, leaning her head on her hoof. “I can tell you’re curious.”

“I didn’t want to be rude,” Radish said.

“We have no secrets here, either, Onion,” said Starlight.

“How is it possible you all have the same cutie mark?”

“It’s possible because each of us believed in a better world,” said a villager.

“A world free of the petty schisms caused by cutie marks,” said another.

“A world built on ponies, not pictures,” added a third.

“I was really asking more about the… mechanics… of the whole thing,” said Radish. “Is there some kind of magic here that does it?”

“We call it The Unmarking,” said Starlight. “And we offer it freely to all who come here seeking a better way of life.”

“You should experience it yourself!” said a villager.

“Yes! Join us!” said another. “Lay down your old mark and take up a glorious sign of equality!"

“Free yourself! Save yourself! Exalt yourself!” added a third.

Most of the ponies were now staring at Radish’s flank, where his hiking pants were covering his mark. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“This is, uh, a lot to take in.”

“Of course,” said Starlight. “How about this- finish your meal, and I’ll give you the insider’s tour of the town, show you what we have to offer. No pressure.”

Radish finished his plate, and Starlight led him through the town, showing off its general store, bakery, apparel shop, playhouse, and more. It all seemed pleasant, if a bit plain. The villagers were also pleasant, if a bit plain.

“Does this town have a name?” he asked.

She sighed. “Officially, I named it ‘Artin’, from the Old Ponish root ‘arti-’, meaning ‘even’. But ponies from all over Equestria gathered here, and with all their different dialects converging, they were calling it things like ‘Arton’, ‘Art’n’, ‘R-10’, ‘Harting’, and ‘Whartun’. I left on a two-day supply run, and when I came back, they were all calling it ‘Our Town’.”

“I guess that’s the problem with a planned community. There are some things you can’t plan on.”

“They had even put it in a song. After that, there was no hope of getting them to use the real name.”

“Ponies do seem to find songs unusually persuasive.”

Radish kept his eyes and ears open for signs of Storm Cell, but didn’t see anything. He made a mental list of buildings to search and ponies to question. He was certain his tour guide knew more than she was letting on.

“So, Starlight, how did all this start?”

“We finished the town a little over a month ago, but it’s been a dream of mine for a lot longer than that. I realized at a very young age that cutie marks are ponykind’s biggest problem. They force an unfair, unwanted, immutable structure upon our society, arbitrarily dividing us without our input, or even our permission.”

“I see…”

“I spent most of my life looking for an answer. And not too long ago, I found it. Come on, Onion, I’ll show you.”

She led him to the outskirts of the village, up a path leading to a cliff overlooking the village. She directed him to the entrance of a cave. Realizing this was Storm Cell’s last reported location, he prepared himself for the worst.

He stopped in his tracks when he saw what was inside.


In front of Radish was a vast wall of hundreds of cubical crystal cubbyholes. Inside of each one was a glowing, hovering cutie mark. He approached it cautiously.

“These are all from the townsponies?”

“Yes,” said Starlight. “A wall of pain, safely contained.”

Radish walked back and forth in front of the containers. He scanned it, searching for Storm Cell’s cutie mark.

“And this is how we do it,” said Starlight, picking up a wooden staff from a dais on the floor.

She showed it off to Radish. It had a twisted haft and a forked end.

“The Staff of Sameness,” she explained. “One of Mage Meadowbrook’s nine enchanted artifacts.”

Radish knew Mage Meadowbrook as a legendary earth pony physician. His parents had told him stories about her cleverness and bravery in seeking cures for her patients.

“And that takes a pony’s cutie mark, and puts it in one of these boxes?” he asked.


“Then, where do the equal signs come from?”

“Nowhere. They’ve been part of ponykind all along. They’re what cutie marks have stolen the place of.”

“What, really?”

“I think cutie marks are an affliction. A magical parasite that has infected ponies since ancient times.”

“And Meadowbrook made that staff… to heal ponykind of the parasite?”

“I assume so.”

“Then, what happened? Why didn’t she?”

“I don’t know. She vanished off the historical record. Maybe the parasite fought back.”

“Fought… back?” Radish asked, gazing warily up at the wall of marks.

“But I don’t intend to vanish,” Starlight said. “I’m going to make this cure available to everypony in Equestria.”

“That would put you in quite a position of power,” Radish noted.

“No. It will make me and every other pony equal. As we should be.”

Radish looked back at the wall of cutie marks. There only seemed to be a few empty slots left.

“But this wall is almost full. How are you going to store the cutie marks of the whole kingdom?”

“Oh, the wall is just a proof of concept. The next phase will be on a much grander scale, and we’ll have all the capacity we’ll ever need. But that's a discussion for another day.”

Something caught Radish’s eye. Just below one of the blank slots was a cutie mark of a tall thundercloud. It was Storm Cell’s cutie mark. Radish bit the inside of his cheek.

“So, now what?”

“Hmm?” asked Radish.

He turned around to see Starlight pointing the Staff of Sameness at his face.

“Would you like to be freed of your marks, Onion? We usually do it as a town ceremony, but I can take care of it for you right here, right now. It doesn’t hurt at all.”

Radish looked into her eyes. She smiled pleasantly. He smiled politely.

“That’s kind of you to offer. But that’s a big life change. I’ll have to sleep on it.”

“Of course,” she said, replacing the staff to its dais in the cave floor. “Like I said, no pressure.”

She left the cave. Radish gave another look to the wall of cutie marks, then followed her out. The sun was hanging low in the sky.

“It’s getting late,” he said. “I suppose I’ll just roll out my sleeping bag under the stars.”

“Oh, nonsense. You’ll stay with me for the night.”

“I don’t want to put you out.”

“All newcomers stay at my place. I insist.”

“Alright. Lead the way.”

Starlight’s house stood on one end of the town, unique in that it did not form part of the equal sign that the rest of the town made. It was sparsely decorated, like everything else.

“So, the guest room’s up there,” she said, pointing up her stairs, “and I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Thank you for your hospitality, Starlight.”

“Not at all. I’m really glad you found us, Onion. If I may be a bit presumptive, I think you’re going to love it here.”

“I think you might be right.”

Radish entered the guest bedroom and locked the door. He waited, listening in the darkness. Starlight Glimmer shuffled around downstairs for a few minutes. After a while, he heard her take a bath and then go to bed. The house fell silent.

Radish quietly opened his window and slipped out, landing softly on the ground below. He crept along the side of the house, going over his plan in his head.

Okay, got to find Storm Cell. I should secure that staff- that will give me leverage over any pony in town should the need arise. Then, I can confront-

He stopped in his tracks. Starlight Glimmer was sitting relaxed against a tree in front of her house.

“What’s the matter, were you having trouble sleeping, Onion Bulb?” she asked him with a grin. “Or were you looking for something, Radish Root?”

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