• 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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123. The Dustup

“Are you sure you know the way out of here?” Starlight Glimmer asked Radish as she trailed behind him through a cave tunnel.

“Yes. I’ve been all over these caves, mapping them. Smell that fresh air ahead of us?”

“No.”

“Well, there’s an opening to the surface right… there,” he said, pointing to the ceiling of the cave. Sunlight was streaming through a hole the size of a dinner plate.

Starlight peered at it. “You expect us to squeeze through that tiny little hole?”

“It’s easier than it looks.”

“How about I make it easier?”

Starlight aimed her horn at the opening and fired a blue beam. The ceiling collapsed, leaving a much bigger opening. Radish grunted and averted his eyes from the sunlight now flooding the cave.

He winced. “Was that necessary?”

“No, but it was fun.”

Starlight lit up her horn and enveloped herself in her own light blue aura. Her body levitated and ascended up through the hole. Radish raised an eyebrow.

“You can fly without wings? That’s another rare power.”

“What can I say? I’m full of them.”

She put her aura around Radish and yanked him up out of the cave, setting him down on the surface. He looked around. They were on a grassland plain. He looked at Starlight. Now in the daylight, he could see she was changed. Her equal sign cutie mark was gone, replaced by a star under a pair of flowing stripes.

“So, that’s your original cutie mark, huh?”

She looked at it and frowned. “Yes. Don’t make fun. I know it’s generic to the point of meaningless.”

“I wasn’t going to make fun. I’d have loved to get a generic cutie mark.”

She smiled and nudged him. “How about an equal sign? Will that do?”

“Yeah, I think it will.”

He pulled out the map and his compass and charted a course north. “Okay, if we’re where I think we are, we’ve got quite a ways to go.”

They headed off together.

“You know, the last time I took this route, I was all alone,” said Starlight. “It’s nice to have an ally with me this time.”

“Ally? What about a friend?”

“Yes, of course. Come on, friend.”


Artin, now officially renamed “Our Town”, was celebrating. The town’s main and only thoroughfare was hosting its first neighborhood block party. The villagers were exercising their special talents for the first time in weeks- decorating, entertaining, and catering.

Rainbow Dash piled her plate high with cupcakes and cookies and joined the rest of her friends at a picnic table.

“So, Twilight,” she said, sitting down, “what are you going to tell Radish about this whole thing?”

Twilight, about to bite into a peach tart, stopped and put it down. “What do you mean?”

Dash cocked her head. “Uh, you don’t think he’d have something to say about a unicorn that can remove a pony’s cutie marks? Or about how we chased her out of town and lost her?”

“Rainbow Dash! Radish would never buy into what Starlight Glimmer was selling! He’ll agree that we did the right thing.”

“Then, how are you going to tell him?”

“Well… why do I have to be the one to tell him? Why don’t you do it?”

“Now, now,” said Applejack, talking with her mouth full, “Radish is a level-headed feller. He ain’t a-gonna be mad or nothin’.”

“Then, are you volunteering to tell him, dear?” asked Rarity, wiping crumbs off her face with a napkin.

“Uh… maybe it would sound best comin’ from Fluttershy.” Applejack said. She looked around. “Wait, where’s Fluttershy gone off to?”


Radish trekked over dry terrain. Starlight trudged after him.

“Ugh, this is taking forever,” she complained.

“It’s a nice walk, though,” said Radish. He looked up at the overcast sky. “Lots of cloud cover. Did your village maintain the weather in these parts?”

“Not really. Weather just sort of leaks over from the griffons’ side of the border.”

“That’s rather sloppy of them.”

“Well, the griffons aren’t particularly organized. They haven’t even really had a functioning government in centuries.”

Radish cocked an eyebrow. “What? I’ve never heard that. Palace intel says their civilization rivals Equestria in size and strength. Some of the scenarios we train for are griffon invasions.”

Starlight chuckled. “Well, I’m sure your superiors know more about it than I do. It’s not like I’ve actually been there and seen it with my own two eyes.”

“You seem rather well-traveled.”

“Oh, I’ve been all over the world, seeking answers inside and outside of Equestria. And you know what I discovered?”

“What?”

“Ponies are the only species on the planet that equate their place in the world to a picture on their butt. By global norms, we’re the weird ones.”

“So that must make me double weird, huh?”

“Not for much longer, Radish. You help me, I’ll help you, and we’ll both help ponykind together.”

“You’ve got yourself a deal.”


Pinkie Pie found Fluttershy in front of one of the town’s houses, surrounded by a flock of black-winged swallows. One of them was perched on her hoof and twittering at her.

“Uh huh? And then what? Oh, really? Are you sure?” Fluttershy asked it. It tweeted in the affirmative.

“Hey, Fluttershy!” said Pinkie Pie bouncing up to them. “What’cha doin’?”

“Oh, I was just talking to Belinda here. Her flock passed over this region today, so I was asking her if any of them saw a pony matching Starlight Glimmer’s description. And they did!”

“Whoa! Really?”

“Yes. They say she was heading north.”

“Ooh, I wonder where she's going?”

“Wherever she’s going, she can’t be allowed to steal any more cutie marks,” said Twilight, walking up to them. “Let’s go, girls.”


Radish and Starlight stood at the boundary between an expansive grassland and an even more expansive forest. Radish peered into the woods with his binoculars. He couldn’t make out any movement.

“Okay, this is the bugbear forest you said you could teleport us past,” he said.

“Yep! You’ll have to be patient, though. A long-range teleport spell like this will require a bit of time to prepare.”

“That’s fine. Take as much…” Radish’s attention turned to a flock of birds passing overhead. He got his binoculars on them. “Hmm. Weird.”

“What?”

“That flock of black-winged swallows passed over us hours ago. Why would they double back into an airspace where they’ve already fed?”

“How could you possibly know it’s the same flock?”

“Earth ponies are good with critters. My mom’s especially good with birds, and she taught me.”

Starlight squinted at some movement across the landscape. “Wait… who’s that?”

Starlight put her aura on Radish’s binoculars and pulled them up to her eyes. Radish gagged as the strap yanked on his neck.

Starlight gasped. “We need to move,” she muttered.

“Huh?” Radish snatched his binoculars back. He focused them.

In the distance, Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, and Rarity were galloping towards their position. Pinkie Pie was bouncing alongside them. Rainbow Dash was soaring above the others, flying in a grid search pattern. Fluttershy was hovering in the rear, conferring with several of the birds as they flew circles around her.

Radish chewed the inside of his cheek. “Let me guess. Those are your raiders?”

“Don’t be fooled by appearances! They’re not as harmless as they look.”

“I know. You could have mentioned that the ponies who ran you out of town were a princess and her friends.”

Starlight narrowed her eyes at Radish. “And if I did, whose side would you have taken?”

Radish looked at her. He kept silent. Starlight frowned, then leaned close to him.

“If anything happens to me, you’ll be stuck with your cutie marks for the rest of your life.”

Radish paused for a beat. He looked at Starlight, then at the girls, then at Starlight again. He let out a heavy sigh. “Then get down.

Radish grabbed Starlight and pushed her down into the grassland, obscuring her amongst the towering prairie grasses and flowers. “And stay down. I’ll get rid of them. You work on that teleport spell.”

The air filled with chirps and the whirring of wings. The swallow flock swirled over Radish’s head. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy set down on the ground in front of him. Twilight and the rest appeared by them in a burst of teleportation magic.

“Aha! We’ve got you now… Radish?” exclaimed Rainbow Dash, reeling back.

“Radish?” the others gasped in wonderment.

“Whoa! Twilight? Girls? Is that really you?” asked Radish, waving his hooves in feigned shock.

“Radish! So good to see you!” cheered Twilight. She rushed up to him and hugged him. He hugged her back.

“Hi, Twilight.”

“Uh, Radish? I thought you were sposed’ta be fixing up some ol’ fort,” said Applejack, rubbing the back of her head in confusion. “What are ya doin’ all the way out here?”

“I was sent to check up on a nearby Ranger who went dark. What are you gals doing way out here?”

“Radish, you won’t believe it!” Twilight said excitedly as she let go of him. “When we all sat down on our thrones together, a map of Equestria appeared between them! It directed us to a town near here!”

“Why?”

“The town was being menaced by this looney unicorn named Starlight Glimmer,” said Rainbow Dash. “We whupped her tail, but she ran away like a scared little filly. Fluttershy’s bird friends said they saw her skulking around out here.”

Radish glanced down at the grasses obscuring Starlight Glimmer. He thought he could feel anger radiating from them.

“Hmm. You know, I thought I saw somepony heading that way,” Radish said, pointing to a lake on the eastern horizon. “Looked sort of pinkish-purple, I'd say. Seemed to be in a hurry.”

“That’s her! Come on! You can help us bring her to justice!” cheered Twilight.

“Why? What did she do?”

The girls shifted on their hooves uncomfortably, avoiding his eyes and looking among themselves. Fluttershy frowned. Rarity winced. Applejack bit her lower lip.

“Uh, well…” started Pinkie Pie. “She was kinda… see, she was sorta…”

“She’s guilty of assault, battery, and kidnapping!” Twilight said firmly.

“Anything else?” Radish asked slowly.

“Well… isn’t that enough?” asked Twilight, guardedly.

“You’re right. That is quite a rap sheet,” said Radish. “I don’t want you girls going after a villain like that, especially through a wilderness like this. I think it would be best if you six got back west and reported her to the proper authorities.”

“But aren’t you a proper authority?” asked Fluttershy.

“Good point!” said Radish. “Consider her reported. Now, you can all go home, rest assured that the Royal Guard is on the case.”

“Radish, it’s imperative we pursue her before she has a chance to regroup,” said Twilight. “Your skills could be invaluable in tracking her down.”

Look, I’m technically still in the middle of my community service,” Radish said, gesticulating for emphasis. “If I deviate from my very strict orders, I’d be in legal trouble all over again.”

“C’mon, Radish, this is right up your alley,” said Rainbow Dash. “Starlight Glimmer is a dangerous villain! You love stopping those!”

“That’s right, we simply must find her!” said Fluttershy. “She’s a cruel, cold-hearted bully!”

“Totally nutso! A real basket case! ¡Loca en la cabeza!” added Pinkie Pie.

“Indeed! She’s a ruffian with no manners, decency, or sense of interior design,” said Rarity.

“Jus’ plumb rotten to the core!” affirmed Applejack.

Radish glanced at the grasses again. He could swear they seemed enraged now.

“Now, now, girls. She simply hasn’t had all the advantages that we’ve had,” lectured Twilight. “If it weren’t for the Magic of Friendship, I could have ended up just as misguided and alone as Starlight Glimmer.”

“SHUT UP!” howled Starlight Glimmer.

She sprang out of the grassland and blasted a crackling beam wide enough to hit all six of the girls. It bounced off a shield projected by Twilight. Twilight gave her a stern look while the other girls recovered from their shock and formed up behind her.

“Starlight! Listen to me!” insisted Twilight. “We can help you!”

“I’VE HAD ENOUGH OF YOUR HELP, PRINCESS!”

She fired off another beam, this one aimed at the ground in front of the girls. The earth erupted in an explosion of rocks and dirt, scattering the six.

“That's it!” hollered Rainbow Dash. She blasted into the sky, flew a tight loop, and swooped at Starlight at lightning speed. Starlight dodged, but the rushing gale of Dash’s wake blew her sideways, bouncing her off the ground and into the trunk of a tree. Its bark cracked and rained down onto Starlight as she slumped to the ground, groaning.

Radish rushed over to Starlight Glimmer. She sat up, clutching her left hind leg. It was bruised and swollen. His eyes met hers.

“Cuff her, Radish!” called Twilight with a smile.

Radish turned his back to Starlight and faced the girls.

“Uh, that’s her, right there behind you, buddy,” pointed out Pinkie Pie.

“Radish… what are you…” Twilight started. Her heart skipped a beat as a realization struck her. “You… you… you knew she was here, didn’t you?”

“I want you girls to leave Starlight Glimmer alone,” he said plainly.

The girls collectively gasped.

“I mean it,” he continued. “Everything she did, she did in territory outside of Equestria’s jurisdiction. You don’t have any legal reason to apprehend her.”

Starlight looked up at Radish with surprise, then grinned smugly at Twilight.

Twilight shook her head. “Radish, a princess’s body is considered part of Equestria, no matter where she goes. Starlight attacked me and imprisoned me. That’s enough to take her into custody.”

Radish sighed. He had been hoping all the excitement would make Twilight forget that particular constitutional subsection.

Starlight chuckled. “Notice what she’s conveniently omitting, Radish? Not one of them has mentioned that I can remove your cutie marks! Now, why is that?”

The six girls grimaced. Radish looked Twilight in the eye.

“Yes, Twilight… why is that?” he asked softly.

Twilight’s ears drooped. “I… I was going to! At the right time!”

“When, Twilight? After you’ve had me throw her in prison where she can no longer help me?”

Twilight reeled back. “You can’t seriously want her to remove your cutie marks! I… I thought you were past that now!”

“Past his own body!? What a joke!” scoffed Starlight. “Look at yourselves! Apples? Balloons? Butterflies!? Not one of you could understand the pain Radish has suffered! While you’ve been sitting on your thrones, he’s been shunned, abused, and persecuted for his cutie marks!”

Twilight took a cautious step towards Radish. “Listen to me, Radish. You don’t want her help. Losing your cutie marks her way would mean losing everything that makes you special.”

“That’s what I’m hoping.”

Twilight looked crestfallen. “Please. I’m asking you, as your friend, to help us stop Starlight.”

“I can’t do that, Twilight.”

“You’d side with a criminal over your friends? With a villain over a princess? With her… over me?”

Radish crossed his hooves. “Just walk away. All of you, just go back to Ponyville.”

Twilight felt her eyes well up and her hooves tremble. The other girls closed in.

“Have you done flipped yer flapjacks, Radish?” Applejack demanded.

“Think about what you’re doing!” implored Rarity. “You’ll be stuck with dismal gray equal signs on your flanks!”

“If this is a joke, it’s not funny!” said Pinkie Pie.

“No… not again,” whimpered Fluttershy to herself.

“She’s got you hypnotized or something, Radish!” yelled Rainbow Dash, flying up to them. “Fight it!”

“Get away from him!” bellowed Starlight. She projected a blue bubble of force from her horn, knocking the girls off their hooves and pushing them back.

“Oh, it’s on!” howled Dash. She flew high again, sharply banked around a cloud and dove at Starlight, far faster than before. Starlight tried to spark up her horn again, but it sputtered out, drained from overexertion.

Radish watched Rainbow Dash fly. He waited. He mechanically reached into his pocket and pulled out his compass.

“Rainbow Dash: blind her during high-speed dives,” he muttered to himself.

He opened his compass and used its mirror to reflect the sun into Rainbow Dash’s eyes.

“Hey! What the-!” she yelled, and twisted her head. She angled off-course, spun out of control, and slammed into the earth. She lay sprawled in her own crater, moaning.

“Whoa!” exclaimed Pinkie Pie. “Not cool!”

She popped up behind Radish and grabbed his tail in her teeth, trying to tug him away from Starlight.

“Pinkie Pie: exploit her impulses,” sighed Radish.

He tossed a trio of jalapeño chews into the air. Pinkie Pie instinctively snapped at them and gobbled them down. She paused. Her lips pursed and sweat poured down her face. Flames burst out of her mouth while steam whistled out of her ears. She bolted for the lake on the horizon.

“Now, what in tarnation do ya think yer doin’?” demanded Applejack, angrily stomping forward.

“Leaving here with Starlight,” answered Radish. “Getting rid of my cutie marks once and for all.”

“Oh, no, ya ain’t!” called Applejack. "Yer gonna sit tight so we can talk some sense into ya!"

She pulled her lasso out from under her hat, twirled it in her teeth and threw it at him.

“Applejack: use her strength against her,” said Radish.

Radish held up a foreleg and bent it. He slipped off the lasso’s loop before it could tighten, then put the lasso around a large rock at his feet just as Applejack yanked back on it. The rock sailed toward Applejack’s head. Her eyes went wide a split-second before it struck her, knocking her over. She lay under it, seeing stars.

Radish felt his boots being held in place. He looked to see a light blue aura gripping them. He looked at Rarity, whose horn was aglow.

“Now, see here, major! You’re the last pony I’d have expected such barbarous behavior from! I cannot allow you-”

“Rarity: put maggots in her hair.”

“What did you say!? You wouldn’t dare.”

Radish looked at her mane. He peered at its curl.

“You didn’t!” she said. “I know you didn’t. When would-”

She looked up at her mane. She shuddered.

“You did! I can feel them! Oh, Radish, how could you?”

She pulled out a mirror and frantically searched her mane. Her aura redirected to holding the mirror as she ran her hooves through her mane, shaking it in a whimpering panic.

Radish helped Starlight off the ground. He started for the bugbear forest, letting her hold onto him to take the weight off her injured hoof.

Fluttershy landed in their path. She bent low to the ground. "I thought you were our friend!”

Radish shielded his eyes from hers. “Fluttershy: endanger an animal.”

“I know you, Radish. You would never do that.”

Radish tossed the rest of his jalapeño chews into the grassland. A young prairie dog poked its head out of a burrow and sniffed at them.

“No! Don’t eat those, little guy! They’re much too spicy!” cried Fluttershy. She flew to it, trying to shoo it away while gathering the scattered candies.

“Radish Root, you are awful!” she called at Radish as he carried Starlight away.

Twilight Sparkle stood between them and the treeline.

“And I suppose you have some tactic for dealing with me?” she asked, anger filling her eyes.

“Twilight Sparkle: break her heart.”

“You certainly have. Just go,” she said, stepping aside, barely able to choke back tears. “And we are no longer friends, Radish Root.”

Radish walked past Twilight, leading Starlight into the forest. Soon they were alone.

“You… you really saved me from them…” she said.

“We had a deal, remember? I help you, you help me.”

“Thank you, friend.”

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