• 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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31. Hearth's Warming Eve

Radish sat up straight in the chair before Shining Armor’s desk. The captain was flipping through what looked like a manuscript. He had been doing so since Radish was called into the office. Radish cleared his throat.

“Did you need something from me, sir?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. It’s almost Hearth’s Warming. I want to make sure all Twilight’s friends are taking that seriously.”

“How seriously, sir?”

“What are you getting her?”

“I’m still deciding.”

“Well, decide quickly. And make it good. You know what I’m getting her this year?”

“No, sir.”

“A whole pageant!”

“Sir?”

“I’ve convinced Princess Celestia to choose Twilight and her friends to put on the Hearth’s Warming play this year. They’ll be the lead roles.”

“Oh? That sounds more… uh, never mind. That’s wonderful, sir.”

“No, Root. What were you going to say?”

“It’s just… that sounds more like an imposition than a gift, sir.”

Shining Armor raised an eyebrow.

“It’s just that the holidays are extremely busy and stressful for a lot of ponies, sir. Adding rehearsals onto that-”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. It’s the same play every town does every year. Everypony already knows the script by heart. Barely any rehearsals are needed. All they have to do is show up, dress up, and say the lines. It’s the rest of us who will be doing the heavy lifting.”

“The rest of us, sir?”

“It’s a royal production- I want all my guards to have a hoof in it. Don’t worry, you don’t have to act. All I need now are ushers.”

“When would this be?”

“Hearth’s Warming Eve.”

“I was going to see my parents.”

“Well, invite them! They’ll love it.”

“So there are tickets for them?”

“Sure, if you buy them.”

“Can I just paint some sets ahead of time instead?”

“I've got Cairn doing the sets.”

“Costumes?”

“Spats volunteered.”

“Marketing?”

“Spike is doing flyers. Dragon mail, you know? Root, are you trying to weasel out of helping my sister put on a play about ponykind coming together?”

“No, sir. What does an usher do, exactly?”

“Basically what a guard does. You’ll be a natural.”


Radish Root stood sentry over the aisle of the Performance Hall’s section B. The hall was packed. The play was in full swing. As Shining Armor had said, it was a familiar script. Twilight and her friends seemed to be improvising some lines, though- Radish had never heard a reference to Starswirl the Bearded in the Hearth’s Warming tale before, and didn’t even know he had been alive in that era.

The special effects were impressive. The costumes were high-quality. The ending song was nice. Radish helped the crowds shuffle peacefully out. He stepped into a side hall, where ponies were mingling and waiting in lines for the bathrooms. At the bar, he saw his parents getting punch.

“Ma! Pa!”

“Son!”

They hugged.

“You look amazing in that armor!” Celery Root, his mother, said.

“Thanks, ma.”

“And you grew your tail out!”

“I had to. It’s the dress code.”

“It looks great!”

“Thanks.”

“So, how’s it been?” Beet Root, his father, asked.

“Great. The palace is amazing. I’m getting along with my fellow guards, and I met a nice owl.”

“What about you and Celestia?” asked his mother.

“Uh, what about me and Celestia?”

“Is she still not interested in you?”

“Ma, she’s my boss. She’s the princess.”

“She’s also your cutie mark.”

“That doesn’t mean she has to have anything to do with me. I’m lucky she even let me work here.”

“We just figured all she needed was time. Once she got to know the real you, she’d take another look at your marks and decide to go for it.”

“She won’t. It’s okay.”

“Then, is there somepony else?” his father asked.

“No.”

“How about that girl who played Smart Cookie? She’s quite a looker,” said his mother. “Do you know her?”

“Ma, that’s Applejack.”

The Applejack?”

“Yeah.”

“Ooh, maybe you’re the one she’s been holding out for all this time!”

“I’m just trying to focus on my job here.”

“Son, you can do both,” said his father. "You know, you could reconnect with Praline- did you know she lives in Canterlot now?"

"Praline? What, from elementary school? Dad, I haven't spoken to any of my old classmates since..."

He trailed off. His father and mother looked down, saddened.

"Since we took you away from them," his father said.

"It's okay,” he said, giving his parents a hug. "It all worked out. Better than I could have hoped for. Come on, I want to show you something."

He led them outside, to a quieter corner of the palace grounds. He whistled. The four bat ponies, clad in their black armor, dropped down from the sky. They bowed to Radish’s parents.

“Hello, Mother and Father Root!” they said in chorus.

“I am Echo!”

“Murk!”

“Vesper!”

“Nocturn!”

“So good to meet you!” said Celery Root. “Thanks for taking care of our boy.”

“Your boy takes care of us!” said Murk, roughly patting Radish on the head.

“So, how come you four are bats, anyway?” Celery Root asked.

“Ma! Don’t just ask a pony why they’re a bat.”

“Oh, we were not bats always,” said Echo. “We were pegasus siblings. Nightmare Moon kidnapped us when we were foals.”

“She tortured us, brainwashed us, and mutated us through forbidden dark magic and illegal mad science,” said Nocturn.

“What?” said Radish.

“What!?” said Beet Root.

“WHAT?!” said Celery Root.

“Did you not know that?" asked Vesper.

“I had no idea. I thought you four came out of a cauldron or something,” said Radish.

“I am afraid it is all true, Roots,” said Princess Luna ruefully, walking up to them.

“Princess?” said Radish.

“Oh! Your highness!” said Radish’s father. He and his wife bowed.

“Mistress! Happy holiday!” said Echo.

“Would you four excuse us?” asked Luna.

The bat ponies nodded, then trotted away. Luna turned to Radish and his parents.

“Roots, you now know the horrid truth.”

“Princess, you’re not responsible for what Nightmare Moon did,” said Radish.

“That’s right, sweetie. Don’t beat yourself up,” said Celery Root.

“In the spirit of this holiday, I wished to find some way of making recompense to those four. I tried to track down existing relatives so that they could rejoin their families, but could find none. Their family line died out centuries ago. No doubt because of me.”

“I'm sorry, princess," said Radish.

“I don’t know how else to make it right,” Luna said.

“Mistress, it is not necessary!” said Vesper.

The four looked up to see the bat ponies hovering overhead. They dropped down to the ground.

“I told you four to leave,” reproached Luna.

“We did leave. But we still heard,” Vesper said, pointing to her bat ears.

“The past is the past. We have long forgiven Nightmare Moon,” said Murk.

“But I ripped you from your families! Think of the suffering you went through! The suffering they went through!”

“You have suffered, as well,” said Nocturn. “A thousand years in the moon, alone. What more suffering could we wish on you?”

“You have been nothing but kind since your return,” said Echo.

“You have given us a wonderful new home,” said Murk.

“And wonderful new family,” said Vesper. “We cherish our time with Brother Radish.”

“You guys…” said Radish, getting misty-eyed.

Beet Root and Celery Root whispered back and forth to each other.

“Your highness, we have an idea,” said Celery Root. “If you’d like these four to experience family life again, how about letting them stay with us for a while?”

“Truly?” asked Luna, surprised.

“Really?” asked Radish.

“We've got plenty of room,” said Beet Root.

The four bat ponies looked at each other, then went into a huddle, whispering among themselves. They broke apart.

“We accept!” said Vesper.

“You do? You would like to stay at their beet farm?” Luna asked.

“Yes, but there is a condition,” Murk said.

“Yes?” Luna asked. “Name it.”

“You must have a Happy Hearth’s Warming,” the four bat ponies said as one.

Luna gasped and turned away.

“I will,” she promised.

“Thank you, Mistress," said Murk. "We will return when we’ve had our fill of family life.”

“Could you four take Ma and Pa on a tour of the castle? I’ll catch up.” Radish said. “Just stay out of the restricted areas.”

As the bat ponies led his parents away, Radish walked up to Luna’s side. Noticing she was stifling tears, he mumbled an excuse to leave.

“Stay, Radish Root. You and your parents have brought me great joy this holiday. The small gift I have for you now seems trifling in comparison.”

“You got me something?”

“Indeed. We are friends, after all, and you have done so much for me on my long road to recovery.”

“Oh, I barely-”

“And give me not thy false modesty.”

“I was happy to help. Anything you need.”

“I need your spear.”

“My spear?”

“Yes. You’ll see.”

Radish took his spear from his back and gave it to her, still in its collapsed form. She took it in her aura and concentrated. Dark blue glowing lines carved themselves into the handle and faded, leaving behind an intricate etching. She passed it back to Radish, and he looked at it. She had adorned his spear handle with an elaborate engraving of herself in silhouette, as well as moons, stars, and roses.

“Since ancient times,” she explained, “knights would carry into battle weapons inscribed with mementos of whom they fight for. Let this be a reminder to yourself, and a warning to your enemies, that you are my Champion. No one else has this honor.”

Radish held it close to his chest and smiled.

“It’s beautiful. Thank you. But now my gift for you seems trifling.”

He pulled a small gift box from his bag and gave it to her. She took it and opened it, pulling out a wrappage of blue stick candies.

“A candymaker in Ponyville made these in honor of you. A special Lunar Blend.”

She held the candies in her aura, staring at them. She tasted one. She closed her eyes and smiled.

“The taste is wonderful. It is strong, complex... and sweet."

"It's their most popular candy now."

"Thank you, Radish."

"Happy Hearth's Warming, Princess Luna."


Radish trotted across the palace commons on his way back to his bunk. He saw Princess Celestia heading from that direction, clothed in an elegant red winter cape with white trim.

“Hello, ma’am! Happy Hearth’s Warming!”

“Happy Hearth’s Warming, Radish!”

“I, uh, got you something,” Radish said, reaching into his bag. He pulled out a large envelope and gave it to her.

“Why, thank you.”

She opened the envelope and pulled out a typed essay. It was the same one she assigned him after Nightmare Moon. He had now corrected all the mistakes he had lost points on, and retyped it. She looked at Radish.

“I just thought you deserve more than a B+ guard, you know?” he said. “Twilight helped me with the punctuation.”

Celestia smiled. “So, what you’re saying, is that your gift to me… is you?”

“Oh, uh… that’s not what I-”

“I’m teasing, Radish. Thank you. You know, the last guard who redid a punishment essay without prompting was Shining Armor.”

“Really? What was the essay about?”

“That’s between us, Radish. But I got you something, as well. It's in your bunk.”

“Oh, ma’am, you didn’t-”

“All my employees get something, Radish. I enjoy the personal touch of picking out each one.”

“What? There’s like a thousand on your staff. You get all of us something unique? And you do that every year?”

“That’s the magic of Hearth’s Warming, Radish,” she said, winking.

Radish entered his bunkhouse. The other guards were examining and admiring their gifts from Princess Celestia.

“Radish! Check it out! PC gave me belt polish!” said Spats, proudly showing off his gift.

“You can polish a belt?”

“I can now! This is the good stuff, too! Imported from Saddle Arabia! What’d you get?”

Radish looked into his bunk and saw a small wrapped box. He opened his gift. It was a jar of hard candy sours, made from Balencian oranges.

“Hey, the royal confectioner made these, from that tree in Courtyard A,” Radish said, reading the label.

“Really? Usually only royalty gets to eat anything from that courtyard. You must have been extra good this year.”

“You have been, too, Spats. Here, have one.”

Radish tossed Spats a candy, who caught it in his aura. Radish took one, and they both popped them in their mouths simultaneously.

The candies were powerfully sour. Spats made a noise and spat his into a handkerchief. Radish savored his.

“I don’t think she likes you, Radish. That would pucker a hippo.”

“Maybe it’s her way of saying she thinks I’m tougher than a hippo.”

“Then, congrats.”

A puff of smoke appeared over Radish, and turned into a scroll. Radish read it.


Dear Radish,

Happy Hearth's Warming!

Shining told me how you volunteered to be an usher for our play. Thank you so much! It was a lot of fun, and I’m so relieved that it all went off without a hitch. My friends even learned a little bit about the meaning of Hearth's Warming. I hope the rest of your holidays go well.

Your Pen Pal,

Twilight Sparkle

P.S. I just found the book of Ranger tales you left for me. Thank you! I got you something as well. You’ll know when you get it.


Radish showed Spats the letter.

“I wonder what that means?” Spats asked.

"Hey, Root," called Zero from the bunk room door, "the commander wants to see you in her office."

"She's in her office this late on Hearth's Warming Eve?" Radish asked.

Zero shrugged.


Radish went to Barrel Roller's office. It was the only room in the command tower with lights on.

“Hey, Root, got something for ya.”

She pushed a paper across her desk to Radish.

“Apparently, some ponies have been complaining about the quality of the optics provided to the Royal Guard. So some ponies who have pull with the princess have recommended guards get special dispensation to use some other scopes from some other services.”

Radish looked at the memo. “I can use my Ranger binoculars now?”

“You know, if some ponies were unhappy with the royal spyglasses, they could have asked their commanders nicely for an upgrade, instead of siccing Twilight Sparkle on them over the holidays.”

“I was just speaking off-hoof. I didn’t know she’d do this.”

“Uh huh. By the way, I hear we’ll be without the bat ponies for a while.”

“They’ll be taking a sabbatical. Sort of a home-study program.”

“So no more bat spoor under the west bridge? No more beetle carapaces strewn across the parapets? No more echolocation screeches at night outside my bedroom window?”

“Yes, ma’am. They should return having learned a bit more, uh, refinement.”

“That’s the best gift you could have given me, Root. Thanks. Happy Hearth’s Warming.”

“Happy Hearth’s Warming, commander.”

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