• 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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97. The Games, Part 3

Radish stepped outside the stadium, looking for Light among the rows of vendors. When he found her booth, she flew over her counter and hugged him.

“Radish! You did it! You won! You were incredible! How do you feel?”

“Relieved. Now I can just enjoy the rest of the Games. How are sales?”

“Pretty dang good. How about dinner at that restaurant Hazy recommended? My treat.”

“All right.”

“And invite Cheerilee. She was incredible, too.”

“Okay, I think I know where to find her.”

“Oh yeah, the Purple Squirt was looking for you. She’s near the big Spike.”

“Do you want to invite her to dinner, too?”

Light snickered. “She said she made plans to dine with Flash Sentry’s girlfriend.”

“Really?”

“She’s hoping to ‘clear up any remaining awkwardness’ between them.”

“Sheesh. I’d hate to be at that dinner.”

“That’s what I said.”


Radish found Twilight on a bench by the large statue of Spike. She noticed him approaching, and she took a deep breath as if she was steeling herself to talk to him.

“Hi, Twilight.”

“Radish… first of all, I wanted to say congratulations. You competed terrifically. Especially considering your opponent.”

“Thanks.”

“And… I’m sorry I’ve been distant. I arrived at the Crystal Empire before you did- I shouldn’t have waited this long to speak with you.”

“Twilight, you’re a princess. You’ve been crazy busy with all kinds of official business this week.”

She looked down. “That’s not the reason. Radish, I’m still… having trouble with your… new cutie marks.”

“Oh.”

She looked back at her own cutie mark. “The day I got my cutie mark was one of the happiest days of my life. I’ve always put a great deal of value in my marks. Seeing your… new one… up on the scoreboard was hard for me. I’m sorry, but I’m still getting used to the idea that a pony could live their life happily, even successfully, under an… altered mark.”

“Twilight…”

She walked up to him and hugged him. “But I value our friendship more. So, please, just be patient with me until I’m comfortable with the change, okay?”

Radish patted the back of her head. “Okay, Twilight.”

“Thank you, Radish.”

“So, you’re meeting Shinethrough, huh?”

“Yes. There’s no reason I can’t be friends with the girl who’s dating the alternate-reality counterpart of the only guy I ever had romantic feelings for.”

“That’s so mature of you. Good luck.”


On the topmost floor of the crystal stadium was the Winner’s Room, a special luxury lounge set aside exclusively for gold medal winners. Radish showed his gold medal to the bouncer, who let him through the door.

Inside, floor-to-ceiling windows gave the guests a grand view of the field. A full bar was set up on one end of the long room, massage tables were set up on the other, while sitting, eating, and observation areas were set up between.

He approached the bar. On one of the chairs was a bright gold pegasus mare with an orange mane. She spun around and toasted her champagne glass in his direction.

“Well, well, well. It’s the prince-slayer himself. I was wondering if I’d see you up here. You’ve got some nice moves.”

“Captain Spitfire?”

“That’s me.” She turned to the barpony. “A glass of the good stuff for the champ here.”

“Thanks. I’m here looking for my partner. Have you seen her?”

“She’s back over there,” Spitfire said, waving to the other end of the lounge. “I’d have never imagined that Ponyville would field so many medal winners this year.”

“Well, we couldn’t have done it without Rainbow Dash pulling the teams together. She’s as good a leader as she is an athlete. She’d be-”

“You don’t have to do that. She’s already on the short list of Wonderbolts candidates.”

“Good.”

Radish found Cheerilee on one of the massage tables, getting a rubdown from a tall, chiseled crystal stallion.

“Why, hello, Radish,” she said, her voice vibrating as her masseur rapidly percussed her back.

“Hi, teach. Enjoying the perks of being a champion, I see.”

“I can’t thank you enough. You really pulled through in the clutch. And now I get to enjoy all this.”

“We’re a team. You won as much as I did, I just went last.”

“Oh, don’t be modest. You were- ooohhhhh yes, right there,” she moaned to her masseur as he dug into her upper back.

Radish hopped up on a massage table, facing out at the windows.

“So, what are we watching?”

“Discus throw. Stick around, there’s going to be ice archery at the end of the hour.”

“My girlfriend and I want to invite you to dinner tonight. A friend recommended a place with some kind of crystal food specialty.”

“Thanks, but I’ve got dinner plans of my own. With Guttersnipe Grimes,” Cheerilee said with a smirk and a wink.

“Seriously?”

“We talked after our match. He’s actually very sweet.”

“Huh.”


Radish left the stadium, fully massaged and relaxed. On the way back to the hotel, a little blue earth colt came galloping up to him.

“Hey! You’re Radish Root!” he said, hopping excitedly.

“That’s right.”

“I watched you fight! You were awesome!”

“Aw, thanks.”

“I got my cutie mark because of you!”

“What’s that?”

“Watching you wrestle inspired me! I knew I wanted to be just like you! And that made my cutie mark appear!”

‘Really? Is it a cutie mark for wrestling? Something to do with the Royal Guard?”

“Nuh uh! Check it out!” He turned sideways to show off his cutie mark.

It was a red radish.

Radish stared. “But… but it’s…”

“I saw yours up on the scoreboard! It looked so cool! And then I got one just like it!”

The boy scooted his side closer. Radish backed away.

“It’s it great? Now I’m just like you!

“That’s… that’s…”


Shining Armor and Cadance entered their castle bedroom.

“Well, that’s the last time we seal everyone’s magic for a sports event,” grumbled Shining Armor as he hung up his helmet. “What were we thinking?”

“Now, Shiny,” said Cadance, “it was the right idea, it just wasn’t… implemented with all the contingencies in mind. We’ll make it easier to rapidly cut off the sealing spell next time. And we’ll be sure to clear the skies the next time there are ice arrows in use.”

Shining finished hanging up his armor. He turned to his wife. “We have a few hours before the closing ceremonies. Care to join me in the tub?”

Cadance gasped, made a pained expression, and clutched at her chest. She turned to the door. “I need to go.”

“Go?” asked Shining. “Go where?”

“I have to see Radish.”

“What?”

She was already out the door, rushing down the hallway. At the landing of her castle’s grand staircase, Flag Captain Crosspatch waved her down.

“Princess, about my idea regarding the vault-”

“I’m sorry, Crosspatch, I can’t talk now. There’s a family emergency.”


Princess Cadance stood outside Radish’s hotel room. She pounded on his door.

“Radish? I could feel a huge spike of despair coming from your heart! What’s wrong?”

“Go away!” came his response from within the room.

“Let me in. Whatever it is, I can help.”

“I said go away!”

“Radish, I’m exercising royal privilege and unlocking the door.”

“Don’t you dare!”

She magically unbolted the door and walked in. She found Radish in the bathroom, sitting on the rim of the bathtub, desperately scrubbing away at his fake cutie marks with a thick wet sponge. Dozens of different soaps, shampoos, and cleaning products, all opened or used up, were strewn about him, and so were various wet rags, loofahs, and brushes. He was trembling. His eyes were tearing up.

“Radish? What are you doing?”

“Nothing's working. It’s not coming off. I can't get it off!” He made a disgusted noise in his throat and hurled the sponge across the room. He watched it spat into the wall, then threw his head back and laughed. “Thank goodness for the Canterlot Boutique guarantee! Now I get to live with what I’ve become!”

“Radish! Talk to me! What happened?”

Radish hung his head. “A little boy got his cutie mark… watching me compete. And guess what? He got himself a radish, just like mine! But mine is a lie, isn’t it? I just painted it on. His is real- he earned his mark. But now his mark will forever be a lie, because it’s based on my lie. I’ve ruined that child’s life. I defaced his destiny. I’m a monster.”

“You’re not a monster, Radish. You haven’t done anything wrong.”

“What if another pony gets their cutie mark inspired by his? I may have just started an entire lineage of fraudulent cutie marks. My lie will echo down the generations. All because I wanted a little glory on the sports field.”

Radish rushed past Cadance out into the bedroom. He picked up his gold medal off the dresser, opened the window, and reeled the medal back to throw it.

“Radish! Stop!”

Cadance floated his medal out of his hoof and placed it around his neck.

This is where this belongs. You earned it.”

“Well, I didn’t earn this!” he bellowed, pointing to his wet, fake cutie mark. “Earth ponies get vegetable cutie marks when they discover they’re good at farming! Good at nurturing life and good at providing food! Useful, helpful, honorable things! But I just gave myself a radish because I wanted one. I’ve dishonored every pony who’s ever grown a plant. What the fuck was I thinking?”

Cadance walked up to Radish and hugged him tightly.

“Princess, don’t do that,” Radish said with a sigh. “I’m wet.”

“Shhh. It’s fine.” She rested her head on his, and drew her wings around him. She held Radish’s head against her chest. He felt his breathing calm down and his heartbeat return to normal.

“What is this, some kind of calming magic?”

“No. I’m just really good at hugging.”

“This doesn’t solve my problem, you know.”

“It solves one problem: that you need a hug right now.”

Radish went limp in his Cadance’s embrace. He looked up at her. “Cadance… what am I going to do? I can’t be me in public. I can’t be something else. I can’t be anything.”

“I think I know where we can find you some answers.”


Cadance led Radish through the Crystal Castle, up several flights of stairs and through multiple back hallways. They stopped at a dead end of a corridor, featureless except for a crystal embedded partway up the wall.

“Okay, here we are,” said the princess.

“Here’s what?” asked Radish.

“Answers, major,” said Flag Captain Crosspatch, walking up to them in her rose gold armor. “I suggested this idea to Cadance earlier today.”

“Suggested what idea?”

Cadance put her hoof on the wall. “When Twilight first searched this castle for the Crystal Heart, she discovered that Sombra had hidden entire sections of the castle away behind dark magic veils. We’ve been slowly discovering these sections, disabling their traps, exploring them, and cataloging what they hold. And behind this wall…”

She fired a pink beam at the crystal in the wall. A swirl of rainbow reflected back, eroding away the wall and revealing a vast room full of rows of bookshelves. Each shelf held books, scrolls, tablets, and miscellaneous artifacts, all caked in dust and covered in cobwebs. Crystal sconces embedded in the walls glowed to life, illuminating the space.

“...we found Sombra’s forbidden knowledge vault. Any information from the Empire or beyond that he didn’t want anypony else to know, he seized and kept in here.”

She looked at Radish. “I know Aunt Celestia has tried to research your cutie mark before, to no avail. I think she never found answers because Sombra had already collected all the most important ancient writings on cutie marks and hoarded them in this room.”

“What did he care about cutie marks?” Radish asked.

“One of the rumors among the crystal ponies is that Sombra was an adult blank flank,” said Crosspatch. “They think he was obsessed with controlling everypony’s destiny because he never discovered his own.”

“Really?” asked Radish.

“I think that rumor puts a nasty stigma on markfree adults,” said Cadance, “but I do agree that there may be answers about your cutie mark in here. We had only just recently found this room, and we haven’t cataloged everything that’s in it. And some of these objects are from the pre-tribal period, possibly from an era before ponies even had cutie marks.”

Radish walked inside. He looked up at the nearest bookshelf. One shelf was crammed full with large, ancient tomes. Another had scrolls piled into rows. Another had crystals of various shapes and sizes. Similar collections repeated across the other shelves.

“We should get Twilight’s help in here,” said Radish. “Nopony can go through a library like her.”

Cadance rubbed the back of her head. “The rest of us princesses had a talk with Twilight after the Flutterbat incident. We’ve all agreed she should limit her exposure to dark magic for the time being. A trove like this might contain spells that would be a bit too tempting for her. But a well-disciplined earth pony like yourself shouldn’t be in any danger of learning dark magic in here.”

Radish ran a hoof over the spines of a row of books. “There’s a palace reporter here- Gazeta. She practically lives in stacks like these. I could use her help to go through all this.”

“All right,” said Cadance. “We’ll go find her.”

“Ma’am, I would like to stay here and guard Radish Root while he searches the archive,” said Crosspatch. “Just in case something on these shelves springs to life.”

“Very well. I’ll be back soon.”

Cadance left. Crosspatch watched her go until she was out of sight, then smiled.

“I thought she’d never leave.”

“Hmm?”

Crosspatch fired a green beam at the top of the doorway. The magic door closed in on itself.

“What are you doing?” asked Radish.

She took off her helmet and shook out her mane. She sauntered up to Radish and leaned her face close to his.

“I’ve been waiting to get you alone all day.”

“If you’re sore about the match-”

“I’m not upset with you, silly,” she giggled. She nuzzled his cheek with a throaty moan. “I want you. I need you.”

“You’re married.”

She put her hoof on Radish’s lips. “Shh. Forget about that.”


Cadance reached the main floor of the castle to hear the din of dozens of guards, shouting orders and rushing about in pairs. Shining Armor came running out of a side door, saw her, sneered, and ran at her.

“You! Stop!”

“Shiny? What’s going on?”

He lit up his horn and pointed it at her throat. “What did my Uncle Tracks give us as a wedding gift? Answer!”

“A… a… big ugly still life painting. Why?”

Shining Armor hugged her tightly. “It is you. Thank goodness. Cadance, a guard just found Crosspatch in her quarters- trapped inside a big green cocoon!”

“But… oh dear.”

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