• 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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15. The Consultant

“So, Root. How are the tunnels looking?” Barrel Roller asked. Her desk looked a little bit tidier now.

“I believe I’ve cleaned twelve percent of them by now. But I’m getting faster at it.”

“Yeah, I think that’s enough.”

“Really, ma’am?”

“I firmly believe that cleaning punishments should be done someplace ponies will actually see. The next time you screw up, I’ll have you washing the tower windows. From the outside. But scraping dirt in the dank, filthy tunnels for months is probably a health hazard. I think it’s safe to say you’ve learned your lesson without developing black lung.”

“Thank you, ma’am. I did learn my lesson. And I promise there won’t be a next time.”

Barrel Roller snorted.

“Enjoy your day off, Root.”


“So, Root. Where you headed on this fine day?” Maple Bar asked Radish as he trotted through the back halls with packed day bags.

“Actually, I’m going to check out Ponyville. Twilight’s letters make it sound nice. And I haven’t seen her since she moved there. And I’ve never met those friends of hers.”

“Think you’ll get along with those five? They seem… you know.”

“We’ll see.”

“Maybe you’ll get a free dress out of it.”


Radish trotted through the streets of Ponyville, taking in the town. It was quaint- the streets were unpaved, most ponies had a friendly smile, and the air smelled of flowers. The architecture was of an older pastoral style, with most homes having thatched roofs and a split door. There seemed to be a large number of circus-style tents looming in the outskirts in all directions.

He followed signs to the library. Twilight's letters hadn't mentioned it was a tree. He tried the door, but it was locked. He knocked, and there was no response.

“Twilight? It’s Radish.”

“She’s not home,” said a girlish voice behind him.

He turned and saw a light green unicorn.

“She and her friends went to Cloudsdale.”

“Cloudsdale? How?”

The unicorn shrugged.

“Magic, I guess. Did you need a library book?”

“No, just visiting Twilight.”

“Did she not know you were coming?”

“I didn’t know I’d have today off.”

“Sorry.”

“Thanks, anyway.”

She nodded and walked away. A new idea struck Radish.

“Miss?” he called after her. “Which way is Zecora’s?”


Radish stood before the trailhead into the Everfree Forest. Twilight’s letters had spoken of the forest in foreboding tones since her first sojourn into it. Radish had heard of lands that existed outside of pony care, and he even experienced a taste of it himself in his Ranger days. While the buffalo assisted Southern Plains flora and fauna like earth ponies, none could fly, and allied birds could only modify clouds so much. The buffalo skies were influenced mainly by the unpredictable accumulative effects of Central Equestrian pegasi. It was said that when one flapped its wings near Canterlot, the result was unintentional storms over the plains.

The Everfree Forest, however, wasn’t like normal unattended wilderness. It was a deliberate force on its own. There were ancient and malevolent influences within, which both attracted and produced monsters that weren’t found anywhere else in the world. This wasn’t so much a place that ponies didn’t care for, but one they could never hope to control.

Luckily, the path to Zecora’s hut was easy to follow. Radish walked up to her front door and knocked. She opened, clearly not expecting to see a pony in an official Royal Guard T-shirt.

“Good morning. Miss Zecora, I presume?”

“That is I, royal guard. I hope the road was not too hard.”

“No, miss. I’m a friend of Twilight Sparkle. Lieutenant Radish Root.”

“She has mentioned a Radish Root! She did not say he was so… cute.”

They traded smiles, and she showed him inside. Her home was full of the tools of the potionmaking trade, as well as hundreds of ingredient containers, and assorted curios from lands beyond Equestria. Radish could spend days trying to understand everything he saw on the shelves, tables, and walls. She placed steaming mugs of tea on a table and motioned him to sit with her.

“Thank you. I wanted to consult with you regarding a magical flower Twilight mentioned in one of her letters. Poison joke.”

“That was quite a funny tale. And it helped rebalance the scale. Pony folk no longer hide whenever I go far and wide.”

“It seems like poison joke’s power is almost limitless. It took the Elements’­ strongest pony and made her tiny. It took their best flyer and made her crash-prone. It made Twilight’s horn useless. I’ve got to know, can it be weaponized?”

Zecora frowned. “To a dark place this road leads, coating swords with poison weeds.”

“But it’s non-lethal and reversible. It’d be the perfect weapon for defending a palace.”

“Then, by the order of the crown, is the reason you came down?”

“No, it’s my day off. My superiors don’t know I’m here. Twilight doesn’t know I’m here- she’s apparently in Cloudsdale today, somehow. But I’m always looking for potential ways to make the palace safer. The royal potionista hasn’t even heard of poison joke.”

“The palace had stood for so very long, yet you think it is defended wrong?”

“The whole architecture of the place makes me nervous. Big rooms, long hallways- it’s just like being on the plains, where there’s no cover for miles around. The palace was built with unicorn defense in mind- standing a distance away from enemies and blasting at them with spells. We earth ponies have to rely on long-range weapons and group tactics to defend effectively. But if an attacker ran into poison joke booby traps, they could be rendered helpless- tangled up in their own hair, or tripping over their own feet, for example.”

“Think of the name as it is spoke. Not ‘poison trap’, but ‘poison joke’.”

Radish thought on this, sipping his tea.

“I see. You’re saying the plant selectively chooses its targets and effects based on how comedic the result would be. Any dramatic situation in which lives are on the line, like a battle or an infiltration, wouldn’t be funny enough to trigger it. It would be too soon.”

“I am glad you understand. I could not rhyme that on demand.”

“Thank you for your time, and for sharing your knowledge. If you’d like, I could put you in touch with the royal potionista. She’s always looking to correspond with other potion researchers. You might even get paid for your expertise.”

“Into my life you stroll, and put me on royal payroll? If this is what a pen pal’s for, I hope Twilight gets many more!”

They shared a laugh. Radish finished his tea and stood up. He bowed to her.

“Have a nice day.”

“Going now? You would disembark, and not ask about your cutie mark?”

“You know?”

“I do so love arcane lore. Your issue was like none before. The gossip mill was most enthused, when your cutie marks made the news.”

“Is there data you have collected, to help a pony so affected?”

“None, I fear, that may shed some light. But you seem to have done all right.”

“I long for her when we’re apart, but when she’s close it pains my heart. I just wish I could forget her, before I become old and bitter.”

“That has an easy solution: you should really get a girlfriend.”

“That’s a bit of slant rhyme, miss.”

“Twilight said you had some wit. I’m glad I could see half of it.”

“Ow. Well, thank you. I'll think on your advice.”

He went to the door, then stopped himself. He looked back at Zecora, cleared his throat, and stood up straight.

“Are... are you seeing anyone?”

Zecora's eyes went wide and her ears pricked up. She smiled sympathetically.

“Would you think I was a jerk, if I said I was married to my work?”

“No. That’s basically what Celestia told me, a long time ago.”

“Don’t let that discourage you. There are other fish in the ocean blue.”

“Thanks.”

He said his goodbyes, then left her hut and started down the path back to Ponyville. A loud boom cracked the air, scattering birds from the trees around him. He looked up, seeing only a cloudless day. Then, an expanding wave of rainbow streaked across the sky. Radish quickly ascertained that it came from the direction of Cloudsdale.

Zecora stuck her head out of her window.

“Rainbow Dash?” Radish asked her. She nodded.

“A sonic rainboom- what an achievement! But we will never hear the end of it.”

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