• 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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119. The Town, Part 2

Princess Twilight Sparkle lay trembling on the floor of the Crystal Castle’s throne room. Evil King Sombra loomed menacingly over her.

“At last, princess, I have you in my clutches!” he roared triumphantly. “Now you and all of Equestria are mine!”

The throne room’s tall double doors burst open. A stallion knight wearing full gleaming gold plate armor galloped into the room, sword in mouth.

“No! Not you!” cried Sombra in abject fear.

The knight charged the villain. Sombra reared up on his hind legs, shielding his face in horror. The knight leapt and swung his sword.

Sombra slumped to the floor with a heavy thud. His horn, cleanly cut, clattered to the floor beside him. It hissed and evaporated into a black mist. Sombra, howling, also dissipated, blowing away like dry leaves in the wind.

The stallion knight took off his helmet, shook out his flowing chestnut locks, and wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. He reached a hoof out to the princess.

“Are you all right, your highness?”

“Sir Root! You’ve saved me!” cried Princess Twilight Sparkle, rushing forth to embrace him. “My hero!”

“I’ve only done my duty, princess,” Radish Root said, holding her close.

She looked down at his chest. She noticed a small trickle of blood leaking from a puncture between the plates in his armor.

“You’re hurt!”

“A mere scratch, your highness. Sombra had that beast Tirek guarding the castle gates. He landed a lucky strike on me before I was able to vanquish him. Pay it no mind.”

“Oh, Sir Root, you’re always so stubborn. Please, allow me to deliver prompt succor.”

She gently spread her aura over his armor, detaching it from his broad muscular chest and lowering it to the floor.

Radish turned to hide his blush. “Princess…”

“Shh,” she said. “I order you to keep still.”

“...yes, princess.”

She tore a strip of cloth off the skirt of her frilly purple dress and used it to clean his wound.

“Oh my,” she said, “how can you still be standing after such a powerful blow?”

“I’d withstand a thousand such blows, just to keep you safe, dear lady,” avowed Radish Root, his eyes burning with sincere devotion.

Twilight let out a small gasp. Her heartbeat quickened. She leaned her face closer to his, her eyes shining like jewels.

“Radish… kiss me…” she tenderly implored.

“As you wish, my princess,” he softly acquiesced.

“Gah! Cut it out!” yelled Rainbow Dash.

Twilight awoke with a jolt. She looked around. She was on one of the benches aboard the Friendship Express. During her nap, she had draped herself over Rainbow Dash. She had been pushing her face into Dash’s, who was trying to hold her off.

“Oh,” Twilight said, straightening up. “Sorry.”

“Yeah. Don’t worry about it,” said Rainbow Dash, rubbing the back of her head.

The rest of her friends sat on the nearby benches, staring uncomfortably at her.

“Oh. Hi, girls,” said Twilight. “What’s wrong?”

They fidgeted.

“Um… nothing?” offered Fluttershy.

“We certainly didn’t hear you lustily moaning Radish’s name in your sleep,” assured Pinkie Pie.

Twilight groaned and leaned against the window. “Please, just forget what you heard, okay?”

“Come on now, sugar cube. We’re all friends here. Don’tcha wanna talk about it?” asked Applejack.

Twilight sighed. “There’s nothing to talk about. It’s just a silly little girlish crush. Radish has been kind and supportive about me and Flash- both Flashes- so of course I’d have a transference of emotions to him after those relationships didn’t work out. It’s completely natural. Totally expected. Practically cliché.”

“Now, Twilight, you mustn’t talk down your own feelings,” said Rarity.

“Never mind. We need to focus on the task at hoof. The map sent us on this journey for a reason, and it has nothing to do with Radish.”


Radish stalked close to Starlight, trying to get within striking distance without making it look obvious.

“Sorry? What was that you said?”

She laughed. “Oh, come on, Mister Super Spy. I know who you are. And I know you were sent here because of Storm Cell.”

“Where is he?”

“I'm right here, Root.”

Radish turned around. Storm Cell was standing behind him. His mane and coat looked different from what Radish remembered, but he was wearing his ranger uniform.

“Storm Cell? What- oh!”

Storm Cell rushed forward and hugged Radish.

“Root, I’m so glad you’re here. I needed to see you. To talk to you. To explain things to you.”

Starlight stood up with a chuckle. “I’ll let you two get reacquainted. I’ll leave the door unlocked for you, Radish Root- no more crawling through the windows, okay?”

She walked back into her house. Radish pushed Storm Cell off of him.

“Storm Cell, where have you been?”

He smiled. “Come with me. I want to show you something.”

“I don’t- hey!”

Storm Cell swooped over Radish, seized him in his hooves, and took flight. He landed on a hill a short distance from the town. He beckoned Radish to follow him behind a tall wall of boulders.

“Check it out!”

He pointed to a deep depression in the hillside, like a crater with high curving sandstone walls. It was half-filled with bubbling water.

“It’s a hot spring! A natural hot tub! Great to relax in!”

Radish looked down at it. “That’s all well and good, but I’m not here to relax.” Radish heard shuffling behind him. Storm Cell had taken off his uniform.

“Ranger, what are you doing?”

Storm Cell turned sideways. His cutie mark was now an equal sign.

“Look. I took the Unmarking.”

“Why?”

“For you.”

“What?”

“Join me for a swim. I’ll explain everything.”

Storm Cell flapped up and cannonballed into the hot tub. Radish stepped back to avoid the splash.

“Come on in! The water’s fine!”

Radish sighed and took off his clothes. He hesitated before losing his pants. Storm Cell swam close.

“It’s okay,” he said. “You’ll find no cutie mark prejudice here.”

Radish took off his pants. Storm Cell gave his cutie mark an appreciative nod. Radish slipped into the water. It was warm.

“Storm Cell, what’s going on?”

“I want to apologize to you.”

“For what?”

“I was awful to you in our Academy days.”

“That was a long time ago.”

“No. Don’t let me off the hook. I was cruel. I bullied you over your cutie marks from your first day. I told you you didn’t belong in the Rangers.”

“It… it doesn’t matter.”

“It does matter. I heard about what you’ve been up to, you know. The Storm Centurions, The Battle of the Brides, the Equestria Games. You were out there making a name for yourself and defending Equestria, despite all the adversity you faced over your cutie marks. And I was part of that adversity.”

“Is that why you unmarked yourself? Some kind of repentance?”

“I think everypony should unmark themselves. The world would be a better place.”

“Storm Cell, have you abandoned the Plains Rangers for this… lifestyle?”

“Of course not! I still patrol my territory. I observe, record, and assist where needed. I just visit this village in my free time now.”

“Your status report was double overdue.”

Storm Cell sighed and looked up at the night sky. “I couldn’t send it, Root. My messenger pigeon denied service to me.”

“What?”

“After I changed my cutie mark, my pigeon wouldn’t accept me as the same pony. It refused to take my report back to HQ unless my mark matched the one on my Ranger ID.”

“Hmm. Royal pigeons can be sticklers about protocol.”

“Sticklers? More like bigots. I’m still the same pony, Root. I don’t deserve to be cut off from HQ just because I changed my marks. There’s no other couriers in this region, so I had no choice but to wait for them to send somepony to check on me. And I’m glad you were the one they sent.”

He swam toward Radish. He put his forehooves on Radish’s shoulders.

“Please, forgive me for all the things I said to you about your cutie marks back then. I was a jerk.”

Radish brushed his hooves off. “No, Storm Cell, you were right to call me out. I really did join the Rangers hoping to catch Celestia’s eye.”

“You were a victim of Equestrian cutie mark culture. And so was I. Like everypony else, I had bought into that culture as the status quo. As the way things had to be.” He leaned in close to Radish. “But that’s no excuse. I am very sorry.”

“It’s okay. Water under the bridge.”

Storm Cell hugged Radish. “Thank you, Root.”

“Call me ‘Radish’.”

“Thank you, Radish.” He let go. “You’re going to love being unmarked. We’ll be like brothers.”

“I didn’t come out here to change my mark. I only came to find you. HQ thought you were in trouble.”

“Well, you found me. And you can tell HQ- and their pigeons- that there’s nothing wrong with me.”

“Fine.”

“Don’t you want to get rid of your cutie marks?”

Radish sighed. “I’ve tried. I’ve shaved them. I’ve dyed them. It didn’t help.”

“Those are stopgap solutions. The Unmarking is a true answer.”

“Did it hurt?”

“Not one bit.”

“Do you feel any different?”

“Yes! I feel lighter, like I’ve dropped a burden off my sides. I feel calmer, like my head is clear for the first time. I feel free, like my destiny can be anything I want it to be.”

“What about your special talent? Can you still make thunderstorms?”

“That was just a silly, flashy way of showing off. Of making myself seem better than I was. But now I understand that the whole ‘special talent’ thing is a myth. Think about it- you’ve done so many great things, not because of your cutie mark, but despite it. You’re living proof that nopony needs a mark to be talented.”

Radish leaned against the edge of the pool, looking at the stars. “You have no regrets at all? There’s no downsides? No fine print you’re hiding from me?”

“Do rangers lie to rangers?”

“Never. Hmm.”

Storm Cell smiled. “Then that’s all you need to know. I’m going to get some sleep- I have to get back to my patrols tomorrow. Thank you for coming to check on me. And thank you for forgiving me.”

“You’re welcome.”

“And whatever you happen to decide, I’m with you.”

Storm Cell climbed out of the water and shook himself off. He turned to Radish, made a gesture with his hoof- the ranger hoof signal for “all clear”, then took flight. Radish let go of the edge of the basin, letting himself float on the surface of the water to the center of the pool, staring at a halo of clouds enveloping the moon.

He turned his attention to one of the rocks on the ridge above him. “You might as well come on out. I heard you sneak up there.”

Starlight Glimmer popped her head out from behind the rock. She grinned. “Wow, sharp ears.”

“Miss Glimmer, you were spying on us.”

“You came here to spy on the whole town first.”

“Yeah, well, the spy fantasy is over. I’m leaving in the morning.”

“With or without your cutie marks?” She cast a spell, and the Staff of Sameness appeared above her head. She caught it and held it in her hooves. “You can’t tell me Storm Cell’s words didn’t get through to you.”

“Something still doesn’t feel right about this whole thing.”

She shook her head. “Only because you were born and raised in a harmful cutie mark-based culture, and now you’re seeing the outside of it for the first time. Growing out of an old mindset can be scary, but we have a whole community here to help you through it.”

She walked down from the ridge to the edge of the pool. “Radish, tell me the truth: do you even like your cutie marks?”

Radish floated silently for a beat. “It’s complicated.”

“It doesn’t have to be. I think- whoa!”

The Staff of Sameness leapt out of Starlight’s hooves, glowing bright blue. It flew at Radish and stopped mid-air inches from his face.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“It’s not me! It’s the staff!” she yelled.

The staff hovered over Radish’s head and spun around wildly like a confused compass needle. Then, it stopped and pointed its twin tines at one of the curved rock walls surrounding the pool. The wall turned bright white, and a moving image came into focus upon it as if it were a movie screen.

It depicted two adult earth ponies, a mare and a stallion, sitting at a table in a suburban home.

Ma? Pa? Something, uh, happened to me,” said an unseen colt’s voice. The sound seemed to be coming from the staff.

Radish’s blood went cold as he watched. “It can’t be…”

“What? What is it?” asked Starlight.

“Those are my parents. That’s… that's the morning I got my cutie mark.”

Radish’s mother and father cast their eyes down. Their faces turned furious.

Radish!” howled his mother. “That is disgusting! Take that off right now!

What is the matter with you, showing something like that to your mother!?” demanded his father.

Starlight Glimmer winced. “Oooh, not the words a kid wants to hear upon getting his cutie marks.”

Radish swatted at the Staff of Sameness above his head. It hovered just out of reach. “Cut it out! I don’t want to see this!”

“I’m not the one doing this, Radish. You are. I’ve seen this before- the staff reacts to powerful cutie mark trauma. I think Meadowbrook designed it to not only remove cutie marks, but help the patient work through the harm they cause.”

“There’s nothing to work through. I’m fine with my cutie marks.”

“You can lie to me, you can lie to yourself, but you can’t lie to the staff. It wouldn’t be dredging up these memories if you didn’t need to confront them.”

The image shifted to a new scene inside the same house. Radish’s mother was preparing moving boxes.

We can’t move away!” cried the young Radish’s voice. “What about school? What about my friends? I promised Praline I’d help her with her science project!

You should have thought of that before you did… that… to your flanks,” she answered coldly.

“Wow,” said Starlight, shaking her head, “what horrible parents.”

“They’re not like that anymore,” said Radish. “Celestia fixed things between me and them.”

The staff projected a new scene. Radish winced. It was a scene which he had already relived nearly every day of his adolescence. Celestia was looking down with concern in her eyes.

You have a world of potential ahead of you,” said the princess, “but sex with me will not be part of it. I am confident you will find new interests, even love interests, and forget all about me.

“Oooh,” said Starlight. “Shot down by Celestia at such a young, impressionable age. That’s got to leave… well, a mark.”

Radish sank lower into the pool. “It… did.”

The scene changed again. Celestia was now in Courtyard A, looking stern.

I told you we were friends all those years ago, and friends don’t lie to each other. I want you to speak freely, but honestly. You aimed your whole career path towards fucking me, didn’t you?

Radish shivered.

“Whoa, she really said that?” asked Starlight.

Radish looked aside. “She had me dead to rights. I absolutely transferred to the Guard hoping she’d sleep with me.”

“But why didn’t she?”

“She has her reasons.”

“Wait, who’s that?”

Radish peered at a new scene on the wall. “Oh. That’s Princess Luna. She looked like that when I first met her. She hadn’t recovered her strength yet.”

We want thee outside our door all night long, so that when we are in need of cheering, we may look upon thy cutie mark again,” ordered Luna.

Starlight frowned. “She used your cutie marks as her entertainment!? That’s awful!”

“It’s… she was fresh from the past. She was lonely, weak, and miserable back then.”

“That’s no excuse! Radish, how much abuse have you suffered because of your marks?”

“I’m telling you, I’m fine with-”

The staff spun around, putting several overlapping scenes on the walls in rapid fire.

Everypony knows who you are. You’re that sicko with the gross cutie mark!” shouted a younger Twilight Sparkle.

You’re the pervy mark guy, aren’t you?” needled a palace tourist.

What on earth is that!?” gasped Princess Cadenza.

How dare you paint such filth of my aunt on your body!?” bellowed Prince Blueblood.

What the fuck is that!?” Sodypop demanded. “This is who your boyfriend brings for me!?

“Gahh!” growled Radish, lunging for the staff again. It was still out of his reach.

Starlight sighed. “That last one was a date gone wrong, wasn’t it? I guess dating would be pretty difficult for you, wouldn’t it?”

“That was just one bad blind date! My love life is-”

Would you think I was a jerk, if I said I was married to my work?” Zecora asked abashedly.

Taken, sorry,” said Hazy Shade apologetically.

That’s mighty sweet of you, Radish, and you’re a real nice feller, but I’m so busy with my farm…” started Applejack.

I’m flattered, I really am. But I just don’t see you in that way,” explained Fluttershy.

Starlight raised an eyebrow. “Ouch. That’s a lot of strikeouts.”

Radish scowled. “Those girls were being honest! None of those rejections had anything to do with my cutie mark!”

“Maybe,” said Starlight, “or maybe you subconsciously picked up on their disgust for your cutie mark, and the Staff of Sameness needs you to realize that.”

“No. They’re all my friends. They wouldn’t lie to me.”

“So, a friend has never lied to you about how they feel about your cutie marks?”

The rock wall flashed to a new memory. Celestia was pinning Radish against the wall of Courtyard A with her backside.

You said you found them flattering!” cried an exasperated Radish’s voice.

I was taking pity on a mewling little whelp who thought his wet dream cutie marks entitled him to my body!” barked Celestia.

The scene then jumped to later that evening, in Light Fantastic’s home.

The truth is, Radish…” sighed Celestia, “I hate your cutie marks.”

Starlight gasped. Radish turned away.

“She… she has every right to hate them,” he said softly. “She never asked to be on them.”

“Neither did you.”

“None of that matters now. I have a girlfriend, and she actually likes my marks.”

The image on the wall shifted to Light Fantastic’s face, smiling warmly up at Radish. Starlight’s jaw dropped.

“Wait… she’s your girlfriend?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Radish, I don’t know how to tell you this, but she was here.”

“Here?”

“She came here a little over a week ago. She was asking a lot of questions about the Unmarking. She seemed desperate to know how it worked.”

“Light came here? Where is she?”

“She questioned just about everypony in the village, learned what she wanted to know, and then left. My guess is, she went back to try to convince you to come here. I guess deep down, she hates your cutie mark, too.”

“No… not Light. She likes my mark.” Radish paused. “I thought she liked my mark. She said she liked my mark. She… really wants me to lose my mark?”

“I’ll ask you again: do you even like your cutie marks?”

The staff quaked violently above Radish’s head. It emitted a flash so bright that Radish had to cover his eyes. When he looked up, an angry mare was glaring down at him from the foyer of a Canterlot City Watch Station.

"There he is! That's the pervert who shoved pornography in my daughter’s face!"

The image went pitch black. A jangly ragtime tune filled the air.

“Beware the pervert!”
“As sure as sherbet!”
“He's coming for your kids!”
“He'll corrupt the youth!”
“It's the honest truth!”
“Like no one ever did!”

The walls all around the pool lit up again, showing a panoramic view of the courtroom from his trial. Radish was once again surrounded by an entire gallery of disgusted ponies. Their chant echoed over him.

Pervert… pervert… pervert…”

“Stop it. Please. Starlight, make it stop. Send the staff away. Anything.”

Pervert… pervert… pervert…”

“I said stop it!”

“We the jury, with righteous fury, FIND ROOT GUILTY ON ALL COUNTS!

“STOP IT!”

Radish slammed two hooves into the nearest wall as the judge’s gavel banged. The rock cracked from the bottom up, then collapsed. Huge chunks of sandstone tumbled into the pool, making waves which tossed Radish out of the basin and onto the ground at Starlight’s hooves. He looked up at her, limp and quivering.

“Starlight… help me…”

She stood over him, a smile widening across her face.

“I will.”

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