• 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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24. The Gala

Radish knocked on the ancient, heavy door of Luna’s bedroom.

“Princess? The gala is about to start. It's time for your debut.”

“Enter, Radish Root.”

Radish opened the door. He found Luna at one of her windows, watching the crowds filter into the palace. She was elegantly attired in a new gown. She looked utterly miserable.

“Radish Root, we cannot do it. We are in no state to debut ourselves tonight. Our recovery is incomplete.”


“Look at us, Radish Root. We are but a pale shadow. To stand next to Celestia as we are would bring us mockery and scorn. We dare not be seen like this.”

“If there’s anything I can do…”

“Thou hast performed thy tasks dutifully. ‘Tis we who have failed.”

She looked at herself in her floor mirror.

“We knew we could never outshine her. But we at least thought we could achieve our own radiance. Perhaps it will never happen.”

Radish walked up to her. He looked at her reflection in the mirror, trying to see what she wasn’t seeing. Her dress seemed fine- a graceful fuchsia robe trimmed in sapphire. Her hair looked good- braided and worn up behind her tiara. Was it the shoes?

“I’m sorry, princess.”

“Dost thou have an assignment down there tonight?”

Radish did. Barrel Roller had told him to bring down Luna as quickly as possible before joining crowd monitoring. With two princesses and large crowds of VIPs in the gala, all guards were needed on duty tonight.

“My assignment is whatever you need it to be, princess.”

“Then, wilt thou keep us company through this long and miserable night?”

“Yes, Princess Luna.”

She opened a cupboard and pulled out an antique bronze chess set.

"You play?”

“I know how. I haven’t played in a while.”

“Celestia plays with us, but we think she lets us win. Another way she outshines us. Thou wilt play thine best.”

She set the board on her breakfast table. They took seats facing each other, and Radish took off his helmet and set it aside. Luna made the opening move. Radish carefully moved a piece out to meet hers.

They maneuvered their forces. Luna played distractedly. Radish played nervously. They each took a few of each other’s pieces. Radish brought a knight in position to capture one of her rooks.

“Stop,” said Luna. “Thou wilt checkmate us in sixteen moves.”

“I will?”

She laid her king down on its side. “We know the Hippogriff Gambit when we see it. We underestimated thee.”

“I didn’t know what I was doing had a name. I was just trying to flank your defense and hope for the best.”

“Ah, the tactics of a guardstallion. We thank thee for not holding back. Now, we reset and change sides.”

The band on the commons outside struck up a new burst of music. Luna left her seat and walked to her balcony. She looked down at the party. Ponies in elegant formalwear were slowly dancing to a minuet across the expertly-manicured greens of the gardens. Luna watched them for a moment. She hung her head sadly, and walked back toward the chessboard.

Radish stood up and met her halfway. He straightened his armor, bowed, and extended a hoof to Luna.

“Princess, would you like to dance?”

She looked at his hoof, then took a few steps back.

“It… it is not done. A guard offering a dance to a princess? And out of pity, no less? It is a scandal. Thou hast insulted us, Radish Root.”

His hoof dropped.

“I apologize.”

Luna looked back to the crowds.

“We don’t even know this piece. It is of a genre that was unknown in our day.”


She turned to Radish.

“There would be no scandal in a guard instructing a princess on how to dance to the latest music. Thou will show us?”

Radish lifted his hoof again.

“I will.”

She placed her hoof in his.

“Please, go slowly.”

Radish stood on his hind legs. She took to hers. She draped her other hoof across his shoulders. He put his other hoof around her waist. They held each other close.

Radish didn’t know how to dance a minuet. He didn't know any formal dances at all. But Radish couldn’t let Luna go this night without a dance.

They started slowly, swaying to the gentle notes. Radish tried to lead. Luna let him. They circled. He felt the heat of her body, the softness of her dress, and the fur of her cheek intermingling with his. He could smell her perfume now- jasmine with a hint of vanilla.

The music picked up. Radish met it with faster steps. Luna kept up with Radish. Radish was no longer listening to the music, but feeling it. It guided his movements as he guided Luna's. They glided across the floor as one.

The music ended. They slowed to a stop, and Radish drew back from Luna. He gasped and stumbled a few steps away.

“What is wrong?” Luna asked.

“Your hair. It’s…”

Radish didn’t know what to call it. Different? New? Alive? Awake? Amazing? No, there’s a word for it…

“It's ethereal now!”

Luna ran to the floor mirror. She leaned forward, gazing upon herself in wonder. Her mane and tail had changed. Like Celestia’s, they now moved with a life of their own, wafting through the air as if perpetually caught in a soft breeze. Points of light within them twinkled like stars deep in an ultramarine expanse. Radish instinctually took a step back, as if his hooves just realized that he had been dancing with a force of nature.

Luna undid her braids and shook out her mane. It flowed freely around her face.

“Radish Root, we are restored!”

“That’s what you meant? I didn’t know it could do that!”

“Of course. Did you think Celestia was special in this regard as well?”

“I never thought about it.”

“We feared it we had lost it forever. Was fear holding it back? Perhaps all we needed was diversion- a moment of escape from the fear. Radish Root, we are in thy debt.”

“Think nothing of it. I’m happy to help you.”

“Then, give us thy honest opinion of it.”

“It’s incredible.”


She looked into the mirror, drawing her hooves through her mane.

“It is not too… dark?”

“Why shouldn’t it be dark? You’re the night princess. It looks like the night sky!”

“The night sky, you say? But it is not too… plain? Celestia’s has more colors.”

“Plain? There’s nothing plain about it. You look gorgeous!” Radish said. He then sheepishly looked away. “Uh, I mean…”

Luna lifted her chin to look down on him.

“Lieutenant, thou forget thyself. We merely asked for thy opinion on our tresses, We did not commission odes to our beauty.”

“Forgive me, ma’am.”

“Thou art forgiven.”

She turned around and looked at her tail in the mirror, swishing it left and right.

“And this? Does it please the eye?”



“It’s lovely, ma’am.”

Lovely, he says,” she muttered. She turned and stalked up to him. “Lieutenant, thou must control thyself! Imagine if someone overheard these honeyed outpourings.”

“Forgive me, ma’am.”

“Thou art forgiven.”

“Princess, the Gala. We can still debut you if we hurry.”

She walked back to the balcony, and looked down at the party. Waiters were collecting empty champagne glasses and hors d'oeuvre plates.

“The moment is gone, Radish Root. A lady's grand entrance must be done at the evening's beginning. The toasts have concluded, and the guests are lining up for the lavatories. This is no time for a debut.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I know this night was important to you.”

“It was not in the stars. There will be another day. Besides,” she said, pushing aside the balcony furniture with her aura, “our instruction in the new dances is not yet complete.”

She held out a hoof.

“Continue your lessons,” she said. “Our debut can wait.”

Radish walked onto the balcony under the bright moonlight. He took her hoof. They bowed to each other.

The band on the greens finished its last encore. Radish and Luna continued to sway together, until the Gala's final echoes had passed over the tower. Luna peeled herself off of Radish.

“Lieutenant, we thank thee for these dance lessons. We now feel… confident in our ability.”

Radish looked into her eyes. His hoof was still holding hers.

“No, thank you, princess. I had a wonderful evening.”

She withdrew her hoof from his.

“It is time to retire,” she said.


“We bid thee goodnight.”

“I… yes. Have a good night, princess.”

He bowed to her. She smiled and nodded. He left her room, his heart racing. He walked back to his bunk in a stupor, passing staff pushing brooms and packing up chairs. As he undressed for bed, he looked at his cutie mark. He brushed his hoof over it as Spats walked in from the adjacent shower room.

“Hi, Rad. How was your Gala shift?"

"It went pretty well."

"Where were you assigned?"

"I was... uh..."

"I'm playing with you. All of us guards on the walls and in the sky could see you foxtrotting with Luna."

"Am I in trouble?"

"The commander just kind of grumbled and said, 'Whatever pleases her highness'."

"Was that your first time seeing Luna?"

"Yeah, she looked amazing. You got a lot of envious stares, Rad."

"Huh. So, not a debut for her... but a sneak preview."

"When's the big premiere?"

"Soon, I hope."

Radish heard a bursting noise behind him. He turned and saw a sealed scroll in his bunk. It was from Twilight.

Dear Radish,

I’m sorry we missed each other tonight at the Grand Galloping Gala. I appreciate all that you and the other guards do to keep such events safe. I know some of my friends may have been a little rambunctious, and I’m sorry about the mess we made. If you can think of a way we can make it up to the maintenance crew, let me know.

Your Pen Pal,

Twilight Sparkle

P.S., have you been to Joe’s donut shop? It was always my favorite. Tell Joe who you are. You’ll see.

“That from Twilight Sparkle?”

“Yeah. What did those six do tonight?”

“Wrecked the ballroom, chased the menagerie indoors, splattered cake on the prince, left broken glass on the stairs. But they did it in style, at least. They had on the best dresses in the gala.”

“Did you see Celestia tonight?”

“Spent the whole time greeting bigwigs, schmoozing bigwigs, and saying goodbyes to bigwigs. Poor gal never gets to dance at these things.”

Luna sat at her dresser, humming and brushing her hair. Celestia approached her from behind.

"It's beautiful, sister."

"Thank you. It is a great relief to me. I am sorry to have missed the Gala. I promise I will be by your side next time."

"That would be wonderful."

Celestia drew a hoof through Luna's flowing locks. "It's just as I remember it. What caused it to bloom?"

Luna stopped brushing. "I... heard a piece of music outside. A very pleasing composition."

"Oh, I think I know which one you mean. Cypress Serenade, right?"

"...yes. That was the one."

"That explains it. It was always your favorite growing up."

"It still is."

Radish stepped into Pony Joe’s Donuts, a large, brightly-lit shop in Uptown Canterlot. He had never been. Joe, a burly unicorn, was behind the counter.

“Hi. I’m Radish Root. Twi-”

“Oh, hey. Twilight’s guard friend, right? Got something for you.”

Joe placed a coffee and a chocolate cinnamon donut in front of Radish. Radish reached into his bag.

“Uh-uh. This is on Twilight.”

“Oh. Give her my thanks.”

“Will do. It’s great to see she’s got so many friends these days. She was a real lone wolf before Ponyville.”

“Yeah, I knew her then. We didn’t get along.”

“Really? How come?”

Radish chewed his donut and washed it down with a swig of coffee. He shrugged.

“Doesn’t matter. We’re good now.”

“I hear that.”

“Could I pay for her next one?”

“Sure, but there’s no telling when she’ll be back in the ‘Lot. Now that she’s a big-time, world-saving hero, we’d only be seeing her back here if there was a big-time, world-ending crisis. Or another gala.”

Radish sipped his coffee.

“Another gala would be nice.”

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