• 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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46. The Migration

Thousands of dragons filled the skies over Canterlot. The Great Dragon Migration was deep into its first day.

Radish and Spats watched from one of the castle’s highest balconies. Spats watched reclining in a lounge chair, sipping a highball. Radish observed the flock intently through his binoculars, scribbling down notes.

“Lots of needle morphs up there,” noted Radish.

“Is that significant?” asked Spats.

“I don’t know. But it’s interesting.”

“And this thing happens how often?”

“The saying is ‘once in a generation’,” replied Radish, checking his pocket watch.

“A pony generation or a dragon generation?”

“Neither, actually. That saying comes from the Codex Magnus. All the recorded dragon migrations have actually happened at seemingly random intervals, ranging from years to centuries apart. We’re not sure what triggers it.”

Spats sipped his drink. “I wonder how Spike’s handling this. Think he’s feeling some kind of instinct to join them?”

“Good question. He could be feeling a tug-of-war between nature and nurture right now. The Plains Rangers used to write his parents for information about his development- instincts, behaviors, cravings. They never responded.”

“That is pretty invasive, Rad.”

“Not as invasive as what the REFs wanted. They wanted to perform penetration tests on his scales… while he was in them. Night Light told them to go penetrate themselves.”

“Special delivery for Radish Root!”

Radish and Spats looked up. A gray pegasus mare in a Ponyville mail uniform was hovering over the balcony, holding out an envelope.

“I’m Radish Root,” he said, taking the letter.

“And I’m Spats!” said Spats. “Thank you for your hard work, miss.”

The girl smiled, then flew off. Spats watched her go as Radish read the letter.

“So what’s up?” asked Spats.

“It’s a letter from Applejack. We got our answer. She says Spike joined the migration.”

“Ooh. That should be interesting.”

“Historical, more like.” Radish stared up at the skies. “We could learn everything we always wanted to know about dragons from him after he returns.”

If he returns. Maybe he’ll meet a cute dragon girl, settle down, start a clutch…”

“Living the dream, huh?” Radish referred back to the letter. “She says Twilight, Dash, and Rarity are tailing Spike.”

“Do they want your help?”

“Actually, Fluttershy is freaking out over the dragons. Applejack is asking me to come help calm her down.”

“In Ponyville? Now?”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

“You know, I’ve never been to Ponyville. I hear it’s nice.”

“Sure, but… you just want to see that mailmare again, don’t you?”

“You saw the way she was looking at me.”

“I couldn’t tell which way she was looking, actually.”


Radish and Spats stepped off the Friendship Express onto the Ponyville station platform.

“All right,” said Radish, “the post office is that way. I’m going that way. Good luck.”

Spats checked his look in the reflection of a station window. “Thanks, Rad. Know any good mail jokes I can use as an icebreaker?”

“Well, the secret to any good mail joke is in the delivery.”

“Ah ha. See you later.”

They split up. Radish walked to Sweet Apple Acres. Applejack saw him coming down the path and waved him to follow her.

“Thanks for comin’, Radish.”

“I should thank you. I’ve always wanted to see Sweet Apple Acres. It’s one of the most famous farms in Equestria.”

“Well, I’ll give you the insider tour if you help me with Fluttershy.”

“Where is she?”

“Over here.” Applejack pointed to her farmhouse’s cellar doors. “She’s been down there all day.”

Radish tried the doors. They didn’t budge. He knocked on them.

“Fluttershy? Are you down there?”

“No!” shouted Fluttershy, from down there.

“Fluttershy, it’s okay. We’re not in danger.”

Not in danger!? Have you not seen the sky full of massive, ferocious, fire-breathing dragons!?” she wailed.

Radish sat down on the ground next to the doors.

“Look, Fluttershy, during a dragon migration, the safest place to be is right underneath their flyway.”

“You’re lying.”

“No. Migrating dragons fill their bellies before they start their journey. They fly on pure instinct, so they don’t pay attention to what’s below them. And flying for days at a time is fatiguing. All those dragons above us are too well-fed to want to eat us, too single-minded to notice us, and too tired to come looking for a fight.”

There was a pause.

“Oh… I should have realized that,” said Fluttershy, softly. “It’s the same with a lot of animals’ migrations.”

“So, feel like comin’ out now?” asked Applejack.

There was a clunk from inside. The cellar doors creaked open. Fluttershy stood at the top of the stairs, looking sheepish.

“I’m sorry. I let my fears get the best of me. Again.”

Applejack hugged her. “It’s alright, sugar cube. This is hardly a regular Tuesday.”

“And Radish, you came out here just to comfort me?” Fluttershy asked.

“I said I’d be your friend, always.”

She pulled him into the hug with her wings. “Thank you.”

“No problem.”


Radish, Applejack, and Fluttershy sat on the farmhouse’s porch and watched the Great Dragon Migration. Radish continued to take notes.

“It looks like a lot of them have holes in their wings,” noted Fluttershy. “What causes that?”

“We don’t know,” said Radish. “Some ponies think that even dragons have predators. Beasts so big, the dragons have to swarm them to drive them away.”

Fluttershy cradled herself. “Radish, that’s terrifying.”

“Yeah. But maybe it’s the dragon population that keeps those beasts from wandering into Equestria. And maybe the migration developed to redistribute their numbers, so there would always be enough to keep them at bay.”

“Oh. Like they’re protecting us without realizing it? That’s an interesting idea.”

“Y’know, a dragon lives just past the Everfree,” said Applejack. “Spike stumbled into his cave when he was feudin’ with Twilight’s owl.”

“He wrote me about that,” said Radish. “It’s probably been here since before Ponyville was founded. Did anypony see it take off and join the flock?”

“Dash said she did,” said Applejack.

“Hmm…” said Fluttershy, looking down.

“What’s up, Fluttershy?” asked Applejack.

“If he’s gone to join the migration, then that means his cave is unguarded. I hope nopony tries to steal any of his treasure while he’s gone.”

“Yeah,” chuckled Radish, “if he came back and found any of his hoard missing, he would go ballistic. He would probably tear Ponyville apart trying to get back what’s his.”

The three friends went silent.

“Uh, nopony in Ponyville would be dumb enough to steal from a dragon’s hoard, would they?” asked Radish.

Applejack and Fluttershy looked at each other.

“Well…” said Applejack, rubbing the back of her head, “Rarity tried to steal from that red dragon… right in front of it.”

“Sheesh.”

“She learned her lesson, though.”

“Okay, and no one else?”

“I can’t think of any,” said Fluttershy.

“That’s good.”

They continued to watch the migration. Radish reached the end of his notebook. Applejack watched him close it up and put it away.

“Hey, Radish, Dash told me about how Apple Bloom went and pestered you about your cutie marks. I gave her a good talkin’-to. I promise she’ll leave you alone.”

“Thanks. Where is she, anyway? This could be educational for her. Maybe she can get a dragon-related cutie mark.”

“She’s been out with her friends all day.”

“All day? Huh,” said Radish, putting a hoof to his chin.

“What?” asked Applejack.

“You don’t think they’d try to go after the dragon’s hoard, do you?”

“Radish! Are you accusin’ my baby sister of bein’ a low-down, no-good, dirty rotten sneak-thief?”

“Sorry.”

Applejack looked out across the landscape. She grunted. “Stay here.”

She scurried inside the house. Radish and Fluttershy heard the sounds of rummaging. A moment later, she came scurrying back out. “Dagnabbit! That’s exactly what they’re doin’!”


The three galloped down the path from Sweet Apple Acres.

“My good shovel, Apple Bloom’s little red wagon, and Big Macintosh’s brand-new burlap sacks are all missin’,” said Applejack as they ran.

“Treasure-hauling supplies,” surmised Radish.

“Right,” said Applejack. “Those three are in a lot of trouble.”

“If they disturb that dragon’s hoard, the whole town is in a lot of trouble,” said Fluttershy. “How do we get to the dragon’s cave?”

“We’ll ask Owlowiscious! He knows the way!” said Applejack.

The three of them reached Twilight’s home. The door was locked and no lights were on.

“Owlowiscious?” called Fluttershy. There was no response.

"He must be out feeding,” said Radish.

"He can’t be. There's no restaurants in Ponyville open this late,” said Pinkie Pie.

Radish, Applejack, and Fluttershy looked. Pinkie Pie was now alongside them.

“Pinkie Pie? What are you doing here?” asked Fluttershy.

“You didn’t think you’d leave me out of this adventure, did you? I’m the only one left!"

“Do you know where the nearby dragon cave is?” asked Radish.

“The nearby what now?”

“Radish, you’re the one who knows about dragons,” said Applejack. “Do you think you could find it?”

Radish looked around. “Hmm. Fluttershy, can you fly me up high for a better look at the landscape?”

“Uh… okay.” She gripped Radish by his torso and flapped. She struggled to get him off the ground. “Eeeeh. Radish, you are really heavy.”

“It’s all muscle,” he said pointedly.

“Here, lemme give ya a boost,” said Applejack. She positioned herself under them, then bucked them both straight up.

They flew skyward. Fluttershy wailed and flailed. She held Radish and spread her wings, attempting to glide them down safely. They landed roughly on the upper balcony of Twilight’s library. Radish helped Fluttershy up.

“Applejack!” she yelled. “How about a warning next time!?”

Radish scanned the horizon with his binoculars. He could see a swath of damaged trees in a straight line, as if something massive had crashed through them during a takeoff. He smiled.

“I see something. Dragon signs. It’s less than an hour east of here.

“Oh, that dragon cave?” called Pinkie Pie. “Yeah, I know that one.”


The four of them took a path leading from the town’s outskirts and into nearby woods. Pinkie Pie led while Radish kept an eye out for danger.

“Ta-da!” said Pinkie Pie in a loud whisper, pointing to a clearing. Beyond the clearing was the mouth of a cave in the side of a large hill.

Pinkie Pie noticed a piece of paper stuck to the side of the cave’s entrance. “Aww. He never brought it inside.”

Radish looked at it over her shoulder. It was an advertisement for the bakery she worked at.

“You came to this cave to deliver a flier?”

“The coupon is still good, if you want it.”

Radish examined the ground. “I don’t think the Crusaders came through here. There’s no wagon wheel tracks or filly hoofprints. But look-”

He pointed to a set of adult hoofprints leading into the cave. “Someone is here. We need to stop them.”

Pinkie Pie stuck her hooves into a set of the prints. “Hey, they’re my size! I hope it’s not me from the future in there, come back in time to rob the past.”

“If it is, could you remember to not do that?” asked Radish.

“You got it!”

He warily entered the cave. The others followed.

The cave was quite large, certainly large enough for a dragon. It continued deep inside the earth. As they rounded a corner into another chamber, they were greeted with dim yellow light, like that from a lantern. They heard clattering noises. Radish stopped and held up a hoof, motioning the others to keep quiet. They peeked around the next corner.

In the largest, deepest chamber were mountains of jewels and gold. Digging through the peak of one of the piles was a crimson earth mare with a long scarlet mane.

It was Fetching Steps.

"Dammit,” growled Radish. “The cherry tart is here."

"My cousin Cherry Tart is here!?" asked Pinkie Pie excitedly. Radish pulled the girls back.

“No. That mare in there is a dangerous covert agent with advanced skills working for an unknown player,” said Radish in a low voice. “She’s interfered with Royal Guard business and stolen important items.”

“Ooh, like your heart?” asked Pinkie Pie, nudging him.

No. I’m going to confront her. I want you three to take ambush positions in the tunnel. If she tries to escape, take her down.”

Take her down?” asked Fluttershy, skeptically.

“Radish, we ain’t yer guard squad,” said Applejack. “Let’s just go in there and talk with her.”

“Ah ha!” yelled Fetching Steps, pulling a small golden box out of the pile. It was embossed with a coat of arms that Radish couldn’t make out. She opened it and smiled at its contents.

Radish stomped into the chamber. “All right, drop it.”

She turned and gasped. “Whoa! Lieutenant Radish Root! I haven’t seen you since the cruise!”

“They were on a cruise?” muttered Applejack, raising an eyebrow.

“What are you doing here?” demanded Radish. “What’s in that case?”

Fetching Steps dropped the case into her saddle bag. “How’ve you been? How are the bats?”

“You need to put that back. If the dragon sees something missing, it’ll be enraged. No one will be safe.”

“Nah, a certain amount of theft is built into the system. It’s the cost of doing business.”

“Now, look here, missy,” said Applejack, entering the chamber with Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie in tow, “this ain’t no laughin’ matter.”

She looked at them and frowned. “You brought… them?” she asked Radish disappointedly.

“Any reason I shouldn’t have?”

“Yeah, five’s a crowd.”

She kicked at the pile of treasure she was standing on. It collapsed, sending a wave of gems at Radish. He jumped back. She surfed the wave past him and bolted for the cave entrance.

“Get her!” yelled Radish.

Pinkie Pie, Applejack, and Fluttershy awkwardly tried to form a line to block her escape. As she ran towards them, a low rumble filled the cavern. Cracks in the cave floor split open in her path. Fetching Steps skidded to a stop while the other girls stumbled back.

The ground erupted with a burst of dust. A large creature resembling a flat copper alligator crawled out of the hole.

“Oh my!” exclaimed Fluttershy. “It’s a gharbuncle!”

“Is that bad?” asked Pinkie Pie.

“No. They only eat precious metals. They only attack creatures who-”

The gharbuncle reared up between the girls, roaring from a massive maw full of far too many teeth.

“-intrude into their feeding grounds. Oh my.”

The gharbuncle plunged toward Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy. They scattered. Radish grabbed it by its tail. Its scales were like jagged scrap metal. They cut into Radish’s arms, and he lost his grip.

Applejack produced her lasso from under her hat and snagged the creature’s mouth shut. It whipped its head, flinging her across the room. She landed in a pile of gems.

The gharbuncle turned its attention to Pinkie Pie. It pulled off the lasso and snarled.

“Uh, could I interest you in a coupon for half off select baked goods?” she asked, backing away. The beast pounced at her.

“Pinkie Pie!” cried Fetching Steps. She leapt and shoved Pinkie Pie to safety. The gharbuncle clamped down on Fetching Steps’s tail and yanked her into the air, slamming her into a wall and then the floor. She moaned in pain. It put its jaws around her head.

“Hey!” shouted Radish. The gharbuncle turned to look at him. He was holding up a small antique silver coin.

Radish put the coin in his mouth and swallowed it. The gharbuncle hissed with fury.

“Yeah, that’s right,” said Radish. “I’m going to eat all this treasure before you can! Better come and stop me!”

It ran at Radish. Radish readied his fighting stance.

Fluttershy flew up in between them, held her hooves out wide, and howled, “STOP!”

The beast stopped. Fluttershy put her hooves on her hips and glared at it reproachfully. It gave a sheepish look and made a series of whines at her.

“Oh, really? You poor dear,” said Fluttershy. She landed by its side and patted it. “Gary here says this used to be his cave, before the dragon took it over and kicked him out.”

“Aww, that’s so sad,” said Pinkie Pie.

Fluttershy turned back to Gary. “But you really should have started with that, instead of trying to kill us. And Radish! Eating its food? He needs to fatten up to attract a mate!”

“I… really?” asked Radish.

“And you!” Fluttershy said, looming over Fetching Steps. “If you hadn’t come in here plundering, none of this would have happened!”

“Uh… sorry?”

“Now, you put that case back, and we can all go home,” ordered Fluttershy.

Fetching Steps looked around. Radish, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Gary had her surrounded.

“Okay, okay.” She pulled the case out and set it down. Gary snapped it up and gulped it down.

Fetching Steps scowled. “Well, that sucks. Be seeing you.”

She headed toward the cave exit. Radish stood in her path.

“You’re not going anywhere. You’re under arrest.”

She grinned. “Sure, lieutenant. Did you bring your cuffs, or did you just want to hold my hoof all the way to Canterlot?"

"Applejack, hog-tie her," said Radish.

Fetching Steps winked at Applejack. "Well, as much fun as that would be… "

She dropped herself into the hole in the cavern floor, kicking its sides as she fell. The hole collapsed and filled in behind her.

“Hey!” called Radish. He tried to dig after her, and found moving the debris impossible. Gary made a grunt to Fluttershy.

“He says that he dug tunnels all over the place. She could come out anywhere,” said Fluttershy.

“Blast,” said Radish. “I wonder what she came here for.”

“Oh, probably this,” said Pinkie Pie. She pulled a small black bottle from behind herself.

“What’cha got there, Pinkie Pie?” asked Applejack.

“I saw her sneak it out of that box and tuck it into her hair when Gary popped up. I yoinked it and replaced it with my emergency jar of jelly beans when she grabbed me.”

“How are you so good at sleight-of-hoof?” asked Radish.

“From playing jacks with my sisters.”

They looked at the bottle.

“It’s an inkwell,” said Fluttershy.

“No markings,” noted Radish.

“But that bottle is mighty old. They don’t make glass like that anymore,” said Applejack.

Gary grunted dismissively.

“He says we can keep it,” said Fluttershy. “He can’t eat it.”

“Here,” said Pinkie Pie, giving it to Radish. “I can tell you want it the most.”

“Thanks,” said Radish, putting it in his bag. “I need to figure out what this was all about.”

“But what are we going to do about that dragon?” asked Applejack. “When he gets back, he’s gonna be mighty steamed at Gary here.”

“Leave that to me,” said Fluttershy. “I’ll sit them down together and make them make peace.”

“You’re not afraid?” asked Radish.

“I’m more afraid of what will happen if I don’t.”

Radish shook Gary’s foreclaw. “Take care. Good luck attracting a mate.”

Gary grunted.

“He said, ‘you too’,” translated Fluttershy.

“Heh. Thanks.”


The four ponies left the cave and made their way back to Ponyville. They reached town square and found the Cutie Mark Crusaders sitting inside a gazebo. They were attentively gathered around Spats, who seemed to be recounting a tale to them.

“Hiya, Rad,” said Spats. “Hello, ladies.”

“Oh, hi, Mister Root,” said Apple Bloom, warily.

“Girls?” said Applejack. “Y’all were in town this whole time?”

“Well, we were going to go out and get cutie marks for mushroom-hunting,” said Scootaloo, pointing to their wagon, sacks, and shovel by the gazebo.

“But it’s not the season for mushrooms,” said Fluttershy.

“That’s what I told them,” said Spats. “Then they started asking me about my cutie mark, so I got into that whole story…”

“So now we’ve got a new goal to shoot for!” said Sweetie Belle.

“You three want to be guards?” asked Radish.

“No, lawyers!” the fillies said in unison.

Applejack frowned. “Uh… we can talk about this later.”


Radish and Spats sat on a bench on the train platform, waiting for the next train to Canterlot.

“So, did you find your mailmare?” asked Radish.

“She was still out on deliveries. But I met a very cute teacher at the post office. Long story short, we’ve got a spa date next week.”

“I’m happy for you.”

“How was your day?” asked Spats.

“I swallowed a coin," said Radish.

“What, on purpose?”

“It was a spur-of-the-moment impulse. Do you think I should see a doctor?”

“Nah, just be on the lookout for any change.”

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