• 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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87. The Tree

The diamond dogs led Radish and the other ponies up through their caves, heading to the surface.

“How did you end up down here?” Radish asked Scatter Shot.

“I was searching the woods for Miss Pie here. Couldn’t find her anywhere. Then a vine snatched me and yanked me underground. I found myself trapped in a big bramble, along with Miss Pie and a bunch of dogs. The commander found us and cut us free. I think the vines were collecting us as hostages.”

Marble shook her head.

“Miss Pie thinks they were collecting us as compost,” Scatter Shot explained.

“Well, they were made by Discord. They may have been collecting you as an audience for whatever terrible comedy he had planned,” Radish mused.

“The dogs got news from the surface,” said Saguaro Shade. “A big rainbow passed over the sky and burned away every vine it touched. Sound familiar?”

“Sounds like the girls re-petrified Discord,” said Radish. “Good riddance.”

"I'm not sheddin' too many tears, myself."

The group entered a large chamber full of dogs milling about and chattering excitedly. Bertha, Timber Spruce, and Eddie were among them. Bertha waved Radish over, smiling and wagging her tail.

“Radish’s plan worked! Ponies saved diamond dogs! Bertha is grateful.”

“Think nothing of- gah!”

Bertha seized Radish in her paws, stuck out her tongue, and licked the side of his face from bottom to top, leaving a trail of hot slobber on his cheek. She let go, and he staggered back.

“And Timber’s big brains made it possible! Thank you, Timber!” she cheered. She grabbed Timber and licked face as well. He fell on the ground with his eyes wide.

“You’re welcome,” Timber squeaked.

“And the little snake was so brave!” she said, hugging and nuzzling Eddie. She gave him a short lick, and he retreated into his coils. She then noticed Prince Blueblood.

“Oh! The fancy pony helped, too! Much appreciated!” she said, looming over the prince.

“Don’t you dare- bwaaah!”

She grabbed the prince by the horn, pulled him in, and licked him across his face. He recoiled quickly, then pulled out a handkerchief and wiped himself off, muttering.

The small brown dog stepped forward.

“Ponies are friends of diamond dogs now. Ponies are welcome here.” A lanky dog whispered in his ear. He nodded. “As long as you don’t bring Miss Rarity with you!”

“Ah, you can’t stand her either?” chuckled Blueblood.

The ponies and snake were brought to the surface. Blueblood took his carriage back to Canterlot without acknowledging the others. Saguaro Shade debriefed Radish and trotted off for his own transport. Radish walked his crew back to PEERS. He kept pace alongside Timber Spruce.

“Hey, I’m sorry you and Twilight didn’t hit it off,” Radish said. “I wouldn’t wish unrequited love on anypony. But it doesn’t mean you’ll never find a girl to be happy with.”

“What are you talking about? Did you think I had some kind of… schoolboy crush on Princess Twilight Sparkle?”

“Well, yeah. Why else would you want to impress her so much?”

“I told you! She’s the most accomplished pony of our generation! She’s brilliant!”

“You just wanted the approval of somepony you admire? Intellectually?”

“Of course! You’d have to be crazy to pursue a princess romantically!”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.”

Timber frowned. “Oh, uh, I didn’t mean… sorry.”

“That’s okay.”

“May I ask what your cutie mark means?”

“I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”

“Oh? Sorry.”

“It’s okay. Diamond dogs don’t have cutie marks, and they seem to do alright.”

Timber looked back over his shoulder. “They sure are an interesting society.”


“And that Bertha sure was cute, huh?”


Radish swept a broom across the floor of his cabin. It was still standing sturdy, though the vines had punched their way through his windows and tossed its contents. Radish was almost certain they had juggled his belongings before dumping them on the floor. Curtsey Blush entered with a dustpan.

“Major, I told you to let me do the cleanup.”

“The whole camp was wrecked by Discord’s vines. You shouldn’t have to clean up all of his mess on your own.”

“Station Master Root, either you let me do my job, or I’ll file a complaint with your superiors.”

“Fine.” Radish passed her the broom. There was a knock at the cabin’s front door.

“And I’ll be getting that, too,” said Curtsey, rushing toward it. She opened it, then turned to Radish. “Princess Twilight Sparkle, here to see you, major.”

“Thanks, Miss Blush.”

Twilight trotted into the cabin while Curtsey Blush bowed out into the kitchen.

“Ooh, having your servants announce your visitors?” teased Twilight. “You’re really enjoying the privileges of your station, huh?”

Radish hugged her. “It’s good to see you, Twilight. Thank you for saving the world again. I think you’re almost to double digits now.”

“Oh, Radish. I’m just happy everypony’s safe. Are you coming to the Summer Sun Celebration in Canterlot?”

“Yeah, I’ve got administrative stuff to do at the palace, anyway. Every time my spear gets destroyed, I have to fill out a form. Plus, I’m recommending several of the personnel here for medals.”

“Like who?”

“Timber Spruce, for one. His encyclopedic knowledge of botany really saved the day.”

“Really? You know, I’m trying to arrange some more educational programming for the library. Do you think he’d be willing to teach a class there?”

“I’m sure he’d be really honored if the request came from you.” Radish gave Twilight a serious look and put a hoof on her shoulder. “And, look, Twilight- just in case you were feeling down about having to petrify Discord again- you’re not responsible for him. He had every chance to change his ways, and you can’t-”

“Oh, we didn’t petrify Discord.”

“Then, what happened to him? Is he in Tartarus? Is he… dead?”

“Radish! Discord is still our friend.”

“What? You mean he’s out there free? Loose? At large!?”

“Well, yeah. Fluttershy has even scheduled a weekly teatime with him.”

“But the crisis, the vines- it was all his doing!”

“That’s true, but he planted those seeds a thousand years ago, before he reformed.”

“But he still let them attack Equestria! He could have stopped them at any time if he wanted to! That’s not reformed, that’s hostile!”

“No, remember what I told you about how I need room to breathe, room to learn, and room to fail? He was giving me just that. He was letting me learn a valuable lesson about what it means to be a princess.”

“Twilight! A real friend doesn’t put the world in danger to teach you a lesson! You can’t let him get away with this.”

“Radish, do you trust me?”

“I trust you. I don’t trust him.”

“Well, then, do you trust the Elements of Harmony? After all, when we returned them to the tree, they got rid of the vines- but left Discord alone.”

“Sorry, what? You returned what to the what?”

“The Tree of Harmony! It’s been near the Castle of Two Sisters this whole time! The Elements originally came from it, and we had to return them in order to save it from the vines.”

Radish felt the floor tilt under him. “Return them? You don’t have the Elements anymore?”

“It was the only way to save the tree and Equestria.”

“Twi! Can’t you see how Discord has manipulated the entire situation? He put a plan in motion to get rid of the only things that can stop him, and it worked! He could take over Equestria right now if he wanted!”

“He doesn’t want to. He wants friends now.”

Radish felt a throbbing in his temples. He clutched his forehead. “Twilight…”

“But this might assuage your apprehensions- when we returned the Elements, the tree produced something new. It’s a locked chest with six keyholes.”

Radish looked up. “Six? As in, one for each of you?”

“Most likely. But we don’t know where the keys are.”

“We can get a locksmith to pick it open! I know a skilled one in Midtown-”

“Radish! You honestly think we should just force open a gift from the Tree of Harmony?”

“There could be replacements for the Elements inside! Maybe upgraded versions! And every second you don’t have them is another second Equestria is at risk!”

“Radish, calm down. We’ll open the chest, the right way. I promise you, everything is going to be alright.”

Radish looked out his window at the forest’s edge. He chewed the inside of his cheek. “Okay, Twilight. Just let me know if I can help.”

“Thank you, Radish. Say hello to Light for me.”

Twilight said her goodbyes and left. Curtsey Blush re-entered the room to find Radish staring out his window pensively.

“Can I do something to lift your spirits, major? I could put on music, pour you a drink, or send for your beloved?”

“The record player is busted. Light’s at work. But I’ll take that drink. Make it a gin and… more gin.”

Prince Blueblood found Princess Celestia on the main tower’s balcony, gazing out at Canterlot.

“Auntie Celestia! I am overjoyed to see you safe and healthy.”

“Hello, Blueblood. I understand you were quite busy during our absence.”

“All in hopes of rescuing you and Auntie Luna. I feel such grief each time you are spirited away by nefarious forces. Please, take greater care in the future.”

“I’ll try. Blue… thank you for taking charge. The citizens of Ponyville told me that the arrival of guards to evacuate their town brought them great hope. And the citizens of Canterlot told me that the departure of those guards from their streets brought them great relief.”

“I was not trying to spread hope or relief,” Blueblood said with a dismissive wave of his hoof. “I was trying to send a message to our enemies- that the palace’s response to any outrage would be immediate, thorough, and widespread.”

“Ah, I see. Why, then, did you insist on meeting with the diamond dogs alone?”

“To claim sole credit for your rescue, of course. Sadly, others interfered, and I can claim no such thing.”

“Nonetheless, I’ve heard that down there you were integral to saving lives. That is why I’m awarding you this.” She pulled an elaborate medal from behind her back. “The Valorous Horse award, for outstanding bravery.”

She pinned it onto his jacket. He gasped in horror. “You don’t pin medals to silk!”

Celestia smirked. “Congratulations, nephew.”

“Auntie- a question. I encountered a guardstallion in your service whose cutie mark depicts you and him in… a compromising position. I assumed it to be a crude joke, but I’ve since been told that it is truly the boy’s genuine mark.”

“Yes. It is.”

“Whatever does it mean?”

“Nopony knows. It’s a mystery.”

“Auntie, is it your intention to court this boy? Wed him? Make him your prince and continue the family line with him?”

Celestia looked out at the sky. “That’s not going to happen.”

“Well, why on earth not?”

She turned to him, surprised. “You’re saying you’d want his heirs ahead of you in line for the throne?”

He walked closer to her. “I’ve had all I’ve ever wanted since graduation. But what is it you want, dear aunt?”

Celestia pulled her nephew into a hug with her wings. “I want all my little ponies to be happy.”

He rested his chin on her shoulder. “You must realize that our wellbeing and your self-interest only appear to be opposed- because they are actually two sides of the same coin.”

“Perhaps you’re right. Do you think you could stay a while, and teach me a thing or two about self-interest?”

“Glad to. Your first lesson- you must stock better brandy.”

Radish found a spacious open cave right where the girls said it was, in a ravine just beside the ruins of the Castle of the Two Sisters. He entered warily. At the back of the cave stood a tall crystal tree. Its spindly branches held the Elements of Harmony jewels. Long strings of white orbs dangled from them, giving the appearance of foliage.

It’s like a mix between a willow tree and a chandelier. But is it a crystal shaped like a tree, or a tree made out of crystal?

Radish approached it. The cutie marks of Twilight, Celestia, and Luna were depicted along its trunk.

Hmm. There isn’t one for Cadance. Then again, she has her own crystal heart up north. Is there a connection? I wonder if…

He trotted around the tree. He searched the back of the trunk, peered at the branches from various angles, and took a close look at the roots. There were no other cutie marks to be seen. He chuckled.

Of course it wouldn’t have mine. What would I be to this thing?

He examined the chest. It was budding out of a green stem from one of the roots. Its base was encircled by large, pink petals.

That would make the chest the ovary of the flower. Then, does it need to be pollinated? By what, another flower from another tree? Is it awaiting a visit from some kind of crystal pollinator animal? And what if it’s long-extinct?

Radish stepped close to the trunk. He placed a hoof firmly on it and closed his eyes. He focused his earth pony senses into it, but he couldn’t establish a connection. He could, however, feel something, like a buzzing in the back of his head. It seemed to get louder until it focused into intelligible words.

“Radish Root.”

He opened his eyes and turned around. “Twilight?”

Nopony was in the cave with him. He looked up at the tree. Its branches seemed to be swaying in a wind he couldn’t feel. He stared hard at it, then shook his head.

“I should get some rest.”

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