• 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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124. The Outpost

Radish and Starlight moved cautiously and quietly through the forest. They stopped at a secluded, elevated area, where Radish kept on guard while Starlight prepared her teleportation spell. With a thunderous boom, they reappeared on the far side of the forest.

“Okay,” said Starlight, breathing a sigh of relief. “We’re safe now. No bugbears, and no psychotic mares trying to ruin our lives.”

“Hmm. One can hope.”

“I was really impressed how you defeated those girls so easily back there. How did you know how to do all that?”

“I’ve spent time with them. They’re all pretty set in their idiosyncrasies. Some obvious vulnerabilities came to mind.”

“Then you could beat them again if you had to?”

“No. They’re not going to fall for the same tricks again.”

“But you have other tricks, I bet.”

Radish made a noncommittal grunt and fell silent. Starlight smiled.

They continued traveling north. The air grew cooler and the land grew more arid.

“What brought you all the way out here the first time?” Radish asked, looking around the landscape. “It’s such a remote land.”

“When I started looking for answers to the cutie mark problem, I spent a lot of time digging through old, obscure archives. I pursued lots of myths, legends, and rumors. Most didn’t pan out. But one of them led me here.” She stopped in her tracks. “Right here, to be precise.”

Radish looked around. They were in the middle of a rocky plain.

“Here? There’s nothing here.”

Starlight put her aura on the ground and brushed away dirt and gravel, revealing something resembling a large crystal disc embedded in the ground. She lifted this disc and put it aside, leaving a deep black hole.

“Follow me,” she said, stepping over the edge and dropping into the hole.

“I want him arrested!” demanded Rainbow Dash, slamming her forehooves onto Barrel Roller’s desk.

“I want him court-martialed!” demanded Applejack, slamming her hooves right next to Dash’s.

“I want him sent to his room with no dessert!” demanded Pinkie Pie, shoving herself between the other two and slamming down her hooves extra-hard.

Captain Barrel Roller leaned back in her chair, looking over the report that five members of AG1 had barged into her office to file.

“Now, tell me if I have this right. You’re saying one of my guards- a decorated major, a veteran of the changeling attack, and Princess Luna’s own personal Champion- abandoned his court-ordered community service, traveled deep into remote wilderness, and joined forces with a villainous cult leader?”

“It’s the truth,” said Fluttershy. “The awful, awful truth!”

“And the heinous acts he committed against you were… let’s see… throwing candy around, putting a rope on a rock, and… lying about maggots?”

Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie all traded glances.

“Well! If you want to be reductive about it!” scoffed Rarity.

“And you want me to punish him, even though this all took place in a region outside Equestrian jurisdiction?”

“Uh, hello!? He knocked me out of that sky!” said Rainbow Dash. “Aeronautical assault is a serious crime, no matter where it happens!”

“So, Dash, you’re saying you want an official record to state that you lost a battle with a compass mirror?”


“Even though the Wonderbolts will be reading it when making a decision about your admission into their ranks?”


“Even though maintaining safe flight while temporarily blinded by a reflection is something even novice fliers are supposed to handle?”

Dash fell silent.

“Oh, I see what’s goin’ on here!” said Applejack. “Yer jus’ protectin’ yer own!”

“It’s cronyism!” accused Pinkie Pie.

“It’s corruption!” denounced Rarity.

“It’s not fair!” upbraided Fluttershy.

“Rest assured, the Royal Guard will be taking this matter very seriously,” the captain said. “We will thoroughly investigate this ‘Starlight Glimmer’, plus any and all of her associates.”

“Yeah, right,” scoffed Rainbow Dash. “Come on, girls, we’re not going to get any help here.”

The girls filed grumpily out of the office. Rainbow Dash looked back before leaving.

“I can’t believe I used to look up to you.”

She left. Saguaro Shade entered immediately after.

“Something up?” he asked.

“Mmm. And guess who’s at the center of it.”

“Somepony other than Root?”

“Good one. Come on, we’re taking a little trip.”

Radish peeked down into the hole. As he reached for his flashlight, Starlight’s aura grabbed his body and yanked him down inside. He landed on a floor that felt smooth, in a room that sounded cavernous. He clicked on his flashlight, lighting up the area in front of him. Starlight chuckled and lit up her horn, fully illuminating the room.

They were in a dome-shaped room. The walls were ornately decorated with abstract, angular, geometric etchings. In the center of the floor was a tile mosaic depicting an earth pony mare in profile. She looked tall and regal, with proportions like Celestia’s.

There was a set of tall double doors to one side of the room- they were closed. Scattered around were remains of ancient furniture- a bed, a desk, and other pieces no longer recognizable.

“What is all this? Ruins? The remains of some cave-dwelling civilization?”

“Look again. We’re not in a cave, we’re in a building. A building made entirely of crystal. It’s just been around so long, it’s been entirely buried by the earth.”

Radish examined the floor, then walked over to the walls to take a look at them. He looked up. The disc Starlight had uncapped had been the centerpiece to a transparent crystal ceiling which, in a previous age, had given a clear view of the sky. Now layers of dirt were stacked against its panes.

“I’m surprised this place has held up over so much time,” he said.

“It’s very strong. Whoever built this place was quite advanced. But they’re long gone, it seems.”

Radish ran his hoof along the wall. “They were long gone. But they’re back now. This is Crystal Empire architecture.”

“I’ve never been. But isn’t this too far south for the Crystal Empire?”

“I guess if it was really an empire, there had to have been more than just the capital city. This must have been some kind of outpost. Maybe for trade, or research.” Radish took in the room and sighed. “This would be a huge archeological discovery for us, if we weren’t outlaws.”

Starlight scoffed. “Pfft. Once we save the world from cutie marks, we’ll be hailed as heroes. Equestria’s real history will begin.”

“You aim high.”

“If you don’t aim high, you’ll spend a lifetime scrabbling in the dirt.”

“And I've done my share of that. So, where’s this power to remove cutie marks you promised me?”

Starlight opened the double doors with her magic, revealing a dark corridor. She projected flares down its length, illuminating it. The hall terminated at a staircase curving down and out of sight.

“In the heart of the building. Come with me.”

Twilight Sparkle slowly walked the halls of Canterlot Castle with her eyes cast down at the floor and her wings drooping.

“Twilight!” called a familiar voice. Twilight turned to see Princess Cadance walking up to her.

“Cadance? What are you doing here?”

“Celestia needed my opinion on something. But I felt your despair clear across the castle. I’m guessing this isn’t a ‘sunshine, sunshine’ kind of meeting, is it?”

“No, Cadance, it’s not. But I’m glad you’re here. There’s something I need to speak with all three of you princesses about.”

“I’m afraid Celestia isn’t available for the time being. She’s occupied with something important. And Luna’s asleep right now.”


“What is it, Twilight? Your heart feels so… oh. It’s something to do with Radish, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Twilight said, glumly looking aside.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Radish and I… well, to put it succinctly, we had a fight. It was ugly. We both said things. And I…” She winced and threw her hooves around Cadance. “Oh, Cadance! I’ve failed as his friend. I’ve failed as the Princess of Friendship.”

Cadance stroked Twilight’s mane. “There, there, Twilight. Friends fight. And friends forgive. The two of you have such a strong bond, I know you can get past whatever’s happened.” She lifted Twilight’s chin and smiled at her. “And the first step to mending any relationship is just a little communication.”

Twilight looked down. “A little communication? A little communication…” Her ears perked up. “A little communication! Of course!”

She broke the hug and smiled determinedly. “Cadance, I need you to come with me.”

Radish and Starlight descended several flights of crystal stairs, then followed another crystal corridor. They passed many more closed crystal doors. The door at the end of the hallway was thick and heavy, and Starlight needed Radish’s help to push it open. They entered a crystal rotunda supported by a ring of large crystal columns. In its center was a crystal throne.

“Ta da!” said Starlight. “It’s the throne room.”

“A throne room for an outpost? I just had a desk chair at mine.”

“Whoever ran this place must have thought highly of themselves,” Starlight said. “Now, watch this.”

She sat on the throne and cast a spell. The throne lit with a soft purple glow, which spread across the floor, then flowed partway up the columns and walls. After a moment, the glow subsided.

“This is how we’re going to remove your cutie marks, Radish.”


“This crystal is similar to the kind the Cutie Mark Vault was made of, but denser. It should be able to pull off your cutie marks from osmotic force alone!”

“Like how a sugar cube sucks up a drop of coffee?”

“Uh, sure. Just like that.”

“And, what, my cutie mark will just be part of the building from then on?”

“Yours and everypony else’s! This is the answer to your question about capacity. These walls, ceilings, and floors can store every cutie mark in Equestria!”

Radish walked up to one of the crystal columns and pressed his flank to it. Nothing happened.

“Nothing happened,” he said.

“Yes, there’s still one hurdle to get over.”

She cast another spell. The throne and the room lit up again. The glow was brighter and spread further this time, but still subsided like the last time.

“The crystals need to be awakened to their new purpose,” she explained. “But I haven’t found the right spell to do it yet.”

“Well, this place was built by crystal ponies. And crystal ponies are a type of earth pony.”


“So, earth ponies don’t sit on thrones, casting spells.” He approached the area in front of the throne, then brushed aside dust on the floor tiles, uncovering four indentations in the shape of hoofprints. “Earth ponies do their work through their hooves.”

He placed his hooves in the indentations and closed his eyes. He reached out with his senses. The floor suddenly didn’t feel like cold hard crystal, but warm, soft earth. The building felt alive and responsive to his earth pony nature, like a garden.

“Whoa!” called Starlight.

Radish opened his eyes. The entire room was glowing, floor-to-ceiling. Starlight was off the throne and wandering around the room, gazing about in amazement.

“I’ve never seen it do this!” she said excitedly.

“The building recognizes me as an earth pony,” said Radish. “It’s giving me control. It’s letting me tune the crystal to make your idea work.”

The glow shifted to a warmer shade, making the room seem like it was bathed in sunlight. Radish smiled.

“This is what I was missing!” said Starlight. “I was missing you, Radish. Come on, it’s time to lose your cutie marks at last.”

Radish stepped off the indentations. The room still glowed. He approached the throne and stopped just short of it. He felt Starlight’s hoof on his shoulder.

“Don’t be scared now,” she said encouragingly. “You’ve come this far.”

Radish nodded. He sat down on the throne. It flickered. Radish felt a pull on his flanks, just as when Starlight used the Staff of Sameness on him.

“Ah. It’s… got a hold on them already. A really strong hold on them.”

He squirmed. The pull was getting stronger. It was getting painful.


“Don’t fight it! Let them go!” called Starlight.


Radish felt his hips pulling apart. He struggled. He heard a loud ripping. A bright flash filled the room, forcing Starlight to shut her eyes and turn away. She heard the thud of Radish’s body hitting the floor.

The captain and the commander of the Royal Guard sat at an outdoor picnic table in the middle of Our Town, questioning some of the locals regarding the events of the past few days.

“...and then they left. But there’s still plenty of cupcakes, if you’d like some!” said Party Favor.

“No thanks,” said Barrel Roller.

“I’d like one,” said Saguaro Shade.

“And you have no idea where Starlight Glimmer could have gone off to?” asked Barrel Roller. “Maybe a hometown, or a place she’d feel safe retreating to?”

“Well, no. I guess there was a lot about Starlight we didn’t know,” said Sugar Belle, setting a plate of cupcakes down on the table. Saguaro Shade took one.

“And that was her house?” he asked, nodding to the two-story house at the end of the street. “Did you find anything of interest among her personal effects?”

“Oh, nopony’s been in there since she left,” said Double Diamond. “The old Glimmer place just kind of gives us all the willies, you know?”

Barrel Roller made a dissatisfied grunt and left the table. Saguaro Shade excused himself and followed her.

“I’ll take the second floor and attic, you take the first floor and basement,” she said.

“Aye, captain.”

“And be mindful of booby traps.”

“Always am.”

The front door was unlocked. They entered, carefully looking around. Barrel Roller took the stairs up while Saguaro Shade entered a door at the back of the foyer.

He found himself in what had apparently been Starlight Glimmer’s office. It was largely bare, containing a desk with empty drawers and a wastepaper basket full of ashes.

“Oh Starlight!” called a sing-songy voice in a sing-songy tone from the foyer. “We’ve come to collect our hard-earned fee!”

The office door swung open. Flim and Flam barged in, followed by an earth mare- the mother who had brought public indecency charges against Radish.

“Now where, oh, where, could that mare have gone?” asked Flim rhetorically.

“She should know better than to con her cons,” rhymed Flam melodically.

“Would you two shut up? I’ve had it with your showtunes,” the mare said angrily. “I just want to get what Starlight owes me and get out of this ugly little town.”

The door slammed shut behind them. They turned to see Saguaro Shade with his hoof on the hilt of his sword.

“Glimmer’s not here. But why don’t you tell me all about your dealings with her?”

Barrel Roller shoved open the hatch leading up into the house’s attic. There were no windows, leaving it pitch black except for the meek light that followed her up from the second floor.

A rustling of fabric and a clanking of metal emanated from a corner. Barrel Roller felt around for a light switch, but didn’t find one.

“Hello? Anypony up here?”

She heard another noise- closer, yet quieter, as if its source was trying to sneak up to her.

“I am Captain Roller of the Equestrian Royal Guard. I-”

“Captain… Roller?” questioned a voice from the darkness. It was dry, raspy, and full of cold fury. It was somewhat female and also somewhat familiar, though Barrel Roller couldn’t place it.

“Yes, of the Equestrian Royal Guard. Starlight Glimmer has been removed from power as the leader of this town. We are-”

Removed from power!?

A blur of dirty white cloth and dirty yellow hair rushed out from the shadows toward Barrel Roller, then snapped to a stop in the middle of the room. It was Light Fantastic, wrapped in a straightjacket and chained to the wall.


Starlight looked up. The throne room had gone dark again. She lit her horn and found Radish sprawled out on the floor. She cautiously approached, walking around him with her eyes on his flank.

It was blank.

Radish groaned, shakingly lifting his head to look at himself. A gray equal sign appeared on his fur.

He and Starlight turned their attention to a new light in the room. A small panel of the wall was shining bright, like a movie screen in a darkened theater. A colorful blur appeared upon it, then sharpened into focus.

It was Radish’s cutie mark.

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