• 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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122. The Town, Part 4

Radish cleaned out and inspected his saddlebags. He and Starlight were now in the town’s storehouse, preparing for their journey to the Phase Two Site. Starlight pulled a rolled map from a shelf and spread it across a table.

“So, the site is around this region,” she said, pointing to a large area on the map north of Artin.

“You don’t have its exact location?”

“Of course I do- up here,” she said, tapping her head. “I prefer to keep the exact location my own little secret. There are things at the site that are very fragile, very valuable… and very powerful.”

“And, what, you don’t trust your fellow villagers with those things?”

Starlight snorted. “That’s rich, coming from a guy who was literally sent here by the government to spy on me.”

“They thought something had happened to Storm Cell.”

She smiled and put a hoof on Radish’s shoulder. “Ah, but something did happen to Storm Cell, didn’t it? He found happiness. And soon you’ll know that same happiness too, Radish Root.”

Radish looked back at his cutie mark, which was now further back on his body and askew. “Happiness. Seems like such an abstract concept. Will I even know it when I feel it?”

“Oh, don’t go all philosophical on me. Happiness is real, and it’s within your reach. Trust me.”

Radish looked at the map. He drew his hoof along the route from Artin to the indicated area. He frowned. “Uh…”

“What?” Starlight asked.

“This Phase Two site of yours- it’s past this forest?” he said, pointing to an expansive green swath on the map.

“Yeah. Why?”

“That’s bugbear habitat. We’ll have to skirt around the entire forest, which could take a long time.”

“Nah, I’ll teleport us from one side to the other. We’ll skip the whole thing.”

“You can teleport that great of a distance with a passenger?”

“It’s difficult, but it’s the only sensible way to do it.”

“That’s some remarkable ability, Starlight.”

“There’s nothing remarkable about it. Every unicorn could do the same if their cutie marks didn’t trick them into living small lives. Think about it: a filly gets a cupcake cutie mark, and from then on she never bothers learning any spells that aren’t about baking! Once the world is free of cutie marks, all unicorns will be able to practice any magic they can think of! And I think pegasi and earth ponies will go through similar awakenings.”

“Hmm. Maybe I could have earth pony skills as good as Nightmare Moon’s.”


There was a knock at the door. A white earth stallion, smiling widely, stuck his head into the room.

“Starlight? We’ve got newcomers! We spotted them coming down the ridge!”

“Ah, wonderful,” said Starlight. “More new friends to share our way of life. This town is starting to become quite the buzzing metropolis.”

“Can we welcome them with the song?” the stallion asked excitedly.

Starlight grit her teeth, then smiled through them. “Of course. Who doesn’t love that song? Just take it from the fourth stanza this time, okay? And wait for me to start.”


The stallion trotted away merrily. Starlight grimaced at the floor. “Ugh. You finish packing. I’ve got to see to this.”

“Enjoy the singalong.”

“Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up, Root.”

She left. Radish continued to check over his supplies. After a few minutes, the sound of the townsponies singing filled the air outside. He rolled his eyes, walked over to the open window, and shut it.

Celestia drifted into consciousness. Her head was pounding. She tasted blood in her mouth. She cracked open her eyes to find herself in a bed inside a small, bare, lilac-colored room. Luna was at her bedside, and so was the palace’s chief physician.

“What… what happened?” she asked.

“We were hoping you could tell us,” said Luna. “Your guards found you unconscious on your bedroom floor.”

“I remember. I was struck by an invisible attack- some kind of very powerful long-range magic. It cut right through all the protective spells I usually keep on myself and on the castle.”

“Do you have any idea who or what could be responsible?” the doctor asked.

Celestia rubbed her head. “It was a flavor of magic that I’ve never tasted. It was unlike that produced by a unicorn, potion, ritual, changeling, centaur, chaos spirit, wild monster, or extrasensory outsider. Something completely unfamiliar.”

“That is troubling,” said Luna.

Celestia looked around. The room they were in didn’t look like one from her tower or from the medical wing. “Where are we?”

“We brought you inside the Elements of Harmony Vault in Canterlot Tower to shield you from further attacks,” the doctor said. “This is the most magically-isolated place we could think of.”

“Aside from the human world, of course,” noted Luna. “But this was closer.”

“Good call. This is already complicated enough without involving other universes,” Celestia said. She sighed. “I suppose this is the type of problem that I originally freed Discord to handle. He should be able to trace the source of this magical attack back to its perpetrator.”

Luna scowled. “I already asked our dear friend Discord. He merely shrugged and said- and I quote- ‘Oh, she probably just has a bad case of gas’. Then he vanished, laughing at his own joke.”

“Classy as always.” Celestia sat up and pulled off her blanket.

“Princess? What are you doing?” asked the doctor.

“I’m not going to hide out inside this room. I’m going to hunt down the responsible party, and I’ll start by questioning every last villain in Tartarus.”

“Ah, I have a much better idea, sister,” Luna said.


Luna lit up her horn. Celestia instantly fell back into the bed, asleep. Luna pulled the covers back over her.

“Get some rest.”

Radish finished packing his and Starlight’s saddlebags. He rewarded himself with a granola bar from the town’s supply. Starlight re-entered the storehouse, looking contemplative.

“Hey, Radish?”


“Those newcomers? They’re un… special cases. They’ve got such serious cutie mark issues, I’m going to have to give them a lot of close, careful attention.”

“More serious cutie mark issues than mine?”

“It’s not a competition, Radish. Everypony handles pain in their own way. Bottom line is, I can’t leave town just yet.”

“I see. Well, I’m done here. We can leave whenever you're ready. But maybe I can help you with these ponies?”

“Radish, how would you have liked it if a bunch of strangers barged in on your experience in the pool?”

“Uh… I wouldn’t have.”

“Exactly. Healing from cutie trauma is personal and private.” She smiled and walked up to Radish. “But you don’t have to wait around here. Why not take this opportunity to see more of The Great Grey Area? You could explore the cave system, visit Storm Cell at his camp, or even check out the griffon lands to the east.”

“Cave system?”

“Yeah, there’s a huge network of them near town,” Starlight said, pointing to the map. “None of us have explored it yet.”

“Then, how do you know there aren't dangerous creatures living in them?”

She put a hoof to her chin. “Hmm… come to think of it, I have heard some strange sounds coming from the caves. Sort of a flappy growly noise.”

“Could be cave gaunts. I need to check it out.”

“Are you sure?”

“It’s a guard’s duty to keep ponies safe.”

She put her hoof on her chest. “Aww, that’s so sweet. Thank you, major!”

“Good luck with your new friends.”

Radish took the map, hefted his saddlebags onto his back, and left out the door, heading for the mountains. Starlight watched him leave from the window. She shrugged to herself.

“Oh well. With a princess on my side, I hardly need Radish Root anymore.”

Starlight Glimmer fled panicking down a long dark cave tunnel, crying for Radish Root’s help.

“Radish!? RADISH!?”

She saw him come into view at a junction of intersecting tunnels. He was inspecting scratches on the cave walls.

“Oh, hi Starlight. Good news. There’s no cave gaunts in here. Just bears.”

She rushed up to him and threw her forehooves around him. “Oh, Radish! Thank goodness you’re here!”

“What’s wrong?”

She looked trembling into his eyes. “Those newcomers? They didn’t want my help at all! They were raiders! Vandals! Thugs!”


“They destroyed the Staff of Sameness! Smashed the Cutie Vault! It’s gone, Radish! Everything we’ve built is gone!”

She sobbed into his chest. He held her tight and patted her.

“Why would they do that?”

“They’re just another example of how indoctrination by the cutie mark status quo corrupts ponies’ minds, even making them violently defend the very system that victimizes them.”

“Is anyone hurt? Are you?”

“No… but the dream is dead. Artin is over. Everypony is retreating back to their miserable cutie-marked lives.”

“I’ll report this.”

“To who? This is No Creature’s Land, remember? There’s no law, no authority here.”

“Right. I’m sorry. I should have been there.”

She sniffled and shook her head. “No, I’m glad you weren't. If you tried to fight them, they would have killed you.”

“Guards are supposed to risk death to protect civilians.”

She leaned her chin on his shoulder. “I appreciate that. But now we just need to get out of here. Let’s go to the Phase Two site.”

“You still want to go there?”

“I made a promise to you, didn’t I? There’s still a way to remove cutie marks there. If you see me there safely, I’ll relieve you of yours.”

“Then what will you do?”

She stood up straight, lifting her chin. “I’ll begin again. Build back better than before. And I’ll heal this sick world, Radish, even if it doesn’t deserve my help.”

“You’re a better pony than I, Starlight Glimmer. If some raiders destroyed all my hopes and dreams, I’d be wanting revenge.”

Starlight smiled.

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