• 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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34. The Suitor, Part 2: Dinner Among the Stars

Radish showered and dressed for dinner, dabbing the cologne on the back of his neck. He got a few stares, sniffs, and comments from his coworkers as he made his way to Starry Spire. Spats made him hold for pictures.

Starry Spire was Celestia’s personal tower. Radish had never been inside- guarding it was reserved for much more experienced veterans. Inside was Celestia’s bedchambers, bath, and living areas, as well as her personal study and magical laboratory.

The guards at the door let Radish pass wordlessly, and he entered the brightly-lit foyer. It was far more colorful than Radish was expecting- he assumed it would all be white marble trimmed in gold, like much of the palace. Instead, the floors and walls were covered in rich and varied hues of purple, red, green, and orange. Tapestries of arcane runes and sigils lined the halls, and the furniture lining the halls was plush, sturdy, and ancient.

A valet pointed him to the end of a hall, which terminated in an elevator. Shining Armor was waiting for it, dressed formally as well.

“Captain?”

“Root. Nice tux. How you feeling?”

“Fine, sir.”

“Sounds like you’ve been asked that too many times today.”

“I have, sir.”

“Try to buck up. This dinner is important.”

“Important? Why’s that, sir?”

“Forget I said that. This is just a nice, informal get-together between friends.”

“Are you invited as well?”

“You didn’t know?”

“The, uh, guest list seems to grow longer by the minute.”

“It’s you, me, Princess Celestia, Halcyon, AG1, Barrel Roller, Saguaro Shade, and the head of the Royal Archeological Society.”

Radish leaned back. “Sir, that’s a lot of big names. And then… me.”

“I don’t make the list, Root.”

“Wait, I thought the head of the Archeological Society was on an expedition… to the Far Eastern Edgelands…”

“And how would you know that?”

“I was part of an archeological discovery myself. The museum told me he was abroad.”

“Right. Well then, you’ll have something to talk about with him.”

The elevator car reached the ground floor. The doors opened with a ding. Radish and Shining Armor entered, and Shining Armor pushed the button for one of the highest floors. The elevator whirred and ascended.

“Root, I want to speak with you, stallion-to-stallion. About your feelings on Halcyon.”

“My feelings don’t matter. I do my duty, to the princesses and their guests.”

“Yeah? Nice line. I don’t buy it.”

“What do you want from me!?” Radish snapped.

Shining Armor gave him an annoyed look.

“I mean, what would you ask of me, sir?”

“Root, things are happening now that may drastically change life for the princess, the palace, and Equestria. We're all going to need to deal with that.”

Radish bent low toward Shining. “Is it… really that serious? He’s been here a day.”

“That’s no one’s business but theirs. Got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

The elevator opened with another ding. A butler was standing in the hall, waiting for them.

“Captain,” he said, “a situation has arisen that requires your attention.”

He held up a silver tray with a small note. Shining took it in his aura and read it. Shining grit his teeth, balled up the note, and stuffed it in his pocket.

“Son of a nag. I have to deal with this. Root, go on ahead. Tell them not to wait for me.”

The butler led Radish to a large drawing room. Inside, the guests were mingling to a string quartet. A cherry-red pegasus was behind a bar, doing cocktail shaker tricks with her wings. She poured a drink for a distinguished-looking unicorn- the head of the Royal Archeological Society.

Celestia was at the far side of the room, speaking to Halcyon and Twilight. The conversation looked playful. Celestia wore a rich violet evening gown and had her hair braided down one side. Twilight had a blue dress on. Halcyon now had a thick forest green cape draped over him.

Twilight’s friends were gathered chatting around a side table furnished with appetizers. They, like Twilight, were dressed in evening wear, and Radish was impressed at how well each mare’s dress complemented their personal idioms. He assumed Rarity crafted them all.

“Whoa, Radish! Looking good!” said Pinkie Pie, bounding forth.

“Spiffy duds, Radish,” agreed Applejack.

“Indeed! You look quite dapper!” said Rarity. “Whoever said tuxedos were on the way out should take a look at our lieutenant here.”

Radish tried to keep from blushing, reminding himself that these girls were always generous with compliments.

“Thank you. You all look lovely tonight.”

“Ha!” scoffed Rainbow Dash. “Listen to him trying to be all smooth. And is that cologne I smell?”

“Yeah, you like?”

“Only in your dreams, lieutenant.”

“I dream a bit bigger, Miss Dash.”

Applejack snorted and laughed.

“Oh, we know,” said Rainbow Dash smirking. “Say, I hear Barrel Roller is coming tonight. Could you introduce me?”

“You’re a fan of the commander? I thought you were all about Wonderbolts.”

“She dominated Fight-and-Flight records for years! Still holds onto a few. I heard she once chased a gang of pirates through a tropical depression and came out the other side with them in cuffs. Didn’t even get wet!”

“That sounds like her, all right. I wonder where… oh. There she is.”

Barrel Roller entered the room escorted by Saguaro Shade. Saguaro Shade was wearing a blazer with a turquoise bolo tie. Barrel Roller came in a long black dress. Both Radish and Rainbow Dash had to snap themselves out of staring as they approached.

“Root, glad you could make it,” said Saguaro Shade.

“Good to see you, sir, ma’am. Oh- the captain’s seeing to something that came up. He said not to wait for him.”

Saguaro Shade and Barrel Roller eyed each other.

“We know. He caught us on the way out,” said Barrel Roller.

“That’s the downside of being captain, Root,” said Saguaro Shade, “you miss out on the fun once in a while.”

“Something to think about if I ever become captain,” said Radish.

Barrel Roller did her best to stifle a snort. Rainbow Dash nudged Radish with her wing.

“Oh. Have you met Rainbow Dash? She’s the Element of-”

“HI! I’m Rainbow Dash!” she squealed.

While Rainbow Dash awkwardly and excitedly introduced herself to Barrel Roller, Saguaro Shade pulled Radish aside.

“You okay, Root?”

“Just a bit bewildered, sir. Most guards go their entire lives without being invited to a Starry Spire dinner party.”

“These are unconventional times, Root.”

“How so, sir?”

“Forget I said that. Let’s just enjoy the party. Try the canapés.”

While Saguaro Shade sampled the hors d’oeuvres, Radish took a deep breath and walked up to Celestia and Halcyon.

“Welcome to the party, Radish,” said Celestia.

“Thank you for the invitation, your highness.”

“Ah, Radish Root!” said Halcyon. “Good evening!”

“Hello Mr. Halcyon. I hope you’re enjoying your stay at the palace.”

“I am overwhelmed! I’ve never seen such beauty before,” he said, waving his hoof around the room while keeping his eyes on Celestia. Celestia smiled.

“I felt the same way when I first got here,” Radish quickly said.

“I was just getting to know the ponies here through their cutie marks. As you can see, we don’t have them where I’m from.”

He lifted his cape to show his flank. From across the room, Rarity took an extra hard look, as if trying to memorize the view. The cellist almost missed a beat.

“Each pony here has told a fascinating tale about how they earned theirs.”

Some of the other guests turned to look at them. Others turned away, pretending not to hear. Celestia eyed Halcyon, warily. Radish, however, was well-practiced at changing this subject.

“Oh, no doubt, Mr. Halcyon. Twilight’s story in particular is quite fascinating! The news of a dragon hatching in Canterlot really sent the Plains Rangers in a tailspin. Speaking of which, we’ve been getting reports that a dragon migration may soon be upon us-”

“What is your cutie mark?”

Radish now kept several responses to this question on deck. He chose his favorite.

“It’s two ponies smiling,” he said.

Celestia looked relieved, and she smirked a bit. Rainbow Dash smirked broadly, and Pinkie Pie suppressed a giggle fit.

“Really? May I see it?”

Saguaro Shade and Barrel Roller eyed each other. Twilight cringed.

“Oh, it took me so long to figure out this cummerbund, I doubt I could get it back on before dinner’s served. But trust me, it’s a beaut!”

Saguaro Shade and Barrel Roller eyed each other, this time with a slight levity. Twilight smiled.

“And what does it indicate your special talent to be?”

“I always saw it as meaning that it’s my destiny to bring happiness to others.”

Celestia smiled. Rainbow Dash hid her face with her wings, and Pinkie Pie shoved her head under a table and let out a loud “HA!”

“Then how did that bring you to join the guard?”

“Oh, I try to bring happiness to others all the time around here! From the tourists needing help, to my fellow guards having somepony watching their back, to the staff who always deserve a smile and a thanks…”

“And to his princesses, who appreciate all that and more,” said Celestia, cheerfully.

“Thank you, your highness,” replied Radish. “That’s a lovely gown.”

“Oh, this old thing?” she said playfully. “It was a birthday gift. Which birthday, though, I’m afraid is lost to time.”

“I’m afraid the concept of formal wear is foreign to me, as well,” said Halcyon. “We haven’t it where I am from, either. The royal clothesmaker was kind enough to provide me with attire.”

“And where you’re from- that’s the Far Eastern Edgelands, right?” Radish asked.

“To you, yes. But to me, it is neither far, nor to the east, nor on the edge. We simply live where we always have. We had no need to name it.”

“I see. So, who’s ‘we’? I’d love to hear about your people as well as your land, Mr. Halcyon.”

“Just ‘Halcyon’, if you please. These honorifics are also foreign to me.”

“I apologize, Halcyon. So, about them…”

“Actually, Radish Root, my compatriots and my homeland are quite a tragic tale. I do not wish to recount it now.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“I am not offended.”

“How are you finding your quarters?”

“They are lovely. Though a bit too spacious for a single occupant.”

Celestia turned away. Radish tried to read her expression in the reflection of the balcony doors, but couldn’t make it out.

“My ma would say that’s a good problem to have,” laughed Radish. “I sleep in a bunkroom with nine other ponies, most of whom never learned to wipe their hooves.”

He looked at Celestia. “But I’m grateful for the accommodations all the same, your highness.”

Celestia turned back. She gave a half-grin and a nod.

“May I get either of you a drink?” asked Radish.

“Yes. Would you fetch me something large, cold and strong?” asked Halcyon.

“No, thank you, Radish,” said Celestia. “I need to check on dinner. Enjoy the hors d’oeuvres in the meantime.”

She left out a side door. Radish looked at Halcyon.

“You know, Halcyon- if you’d like to know more about formal wear, you should stick close to Rarity tonight. She’s a fashion genius.”

Rarity overheard him, and smiled widely. He waved her over to them. She trotted close quickly.

“Rarity, would you mind telling Halcyon about evening wear while I see to his drink?”

“Love to! Now, Halcyon, the first thing you have to understand is that the history of clothes is really the history of needles…”

Radish trotted to the bar. Halcyon watched him go with a frown. Radish took a stool and the bartender came to him.

“Could I get a Horse’s Neck, please? And a double rye on the rocks for our guest.”

Fluttershy took the stool next to him.

“May I have some bubbly, please?” she asked. “It’s nice to see you again, Radish.”

“Good evening, Fluttershy. I like your hair.”

Fluttershy was wearing her mane up in a small bun, held together with two crossed pins.

“Thank you. Rarity did it up. You know, I always get really nervous about dinner parties like this. But it’s always my friends who help me get through them. Do you need help getting through this one?”

“Is it that obvious?”

“I’ve practiced putting on a brave face in front of the mirror so many times. I know that look.”

“Fluttershy, do you know what’s going on with this Halcyon guy?”

“Only that he’s a new friend of Princess Celestia.”

“How did they meet?”

“They haven’t said.”

“Nopony’s asked?”

“Twilight asked. They gave a vague answer.”

“Isn’t that weird?”

“Well, you like to rely on vague answers yourself, Radish. Shouldn’t we let them have that privilege, too?”

“I guess.”

“Horse’s Neck, double rye rocks, and a bubbly,” said the bartender, putting the drinks before them. “That’ll be sixty bits.”

Radish patted his pockets. “Uh…”

“I’m kidding! Enjoy!” she said. She winked at Radish. He tasted his Horse’s Neck, and noted that she made his double strong.

“Thanks. I really needed this.”

He reached for the rye, but Fluttershy tapped his hoof with hers.

“Tag in. I’ll take this to Halcyon,” she said.

“Thanks.”

She carried off the drink while Twilight joined Radish at the bar. She spun around in the bar stool a couple of times, then ordered a cranberry wine.

“Thanks for coming tonight, Radish.”

“Thanks for inviting me. You are the reason I was invited, no?”

“Actually, Halcyon asked about you being here. I just assumed you were on the guest list. It’s weird, but you’re not automatically invited to our activities when we’re here at the palace.”

“I’m too bottom-rung around here to be getting special treatment, Twilight. Even if we are pen pals.”

“I thought scrubbing the tunnels was the bottom rung.”

Radish frowned.

“Oh, sorry, are you still not laughing at that?” she sheepishly asked.

“Give it a couple years.”

“I heard Shining got called away. Think he’ll be back before dinner?

“It seemed important. I wouldn’t count on it.”

“That’s a shame. We've been seeing each other less and less these days."

“Say, do you know why Luna’s not here?”

“She’s apparently not feeling well.”

“That’s too bad. Oh, thanks for helping her get through Nightmare Night.”

“Thanks for helping her get to Nightmare Night. You know, she spoke really highly of you that night? She was really keen on finding that candy you like. Bon Bon had to dig through her old inventory to find some.”

“I didn’t mean to send her on a scavenger hunt.”

“She said she owed it to her Champion.”

“Oh, Luna…”

Radish looked down at his cocktail. He drank a deep swig.

“Ah, yes! The Night Princess!” said Halcyon, suddenly behind them. “I was so hoping to meet her tonight. Her beautiful moon inspires and soothes those in my land, as well.”

Radish looked over Halcyon’s shoulder to see he had apparently left Rarity and Fluttershy mid-conversation. He had downed his double rye and left the empty glass in Fluttershy’s hooves.

“I’m sure you’ll meet her, Halcyon,” said Twilight. “She just has an unconventional schedule. She works all night, protecting us from nightmares.”

“So I have been told. Now that I am in your land, perhaps I will meet her in my dreams.”

“Are you suffering from nightmares, sir?” Radish asked, after straining to unclench his jaw.

“I’ve not had a pleasant night in ages,” he said, staring at Radish. “I am hoping that changes soon.”

Celestia reentered the room, speaking to a butler. Halcyon wordlessly left Radish and Twilight to rejoin her side.

“Isn’t he fascinating?” Twilight asked.

“Endlessly,” replied Radish. “You’re saying he wanted me here tonight?”

“Yes, he seemed to have heard of you.”

“Well, I have kind of a reputation.”

“Right. I’m impressed how you were able to sidestep his questions about your cutie marks.”

“Years of practice.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever told you this, but I’m really proud of you, Radish.”

“For what?”

“We both know you came to Canterlot hoping to… act on your cutie marks.”

“Yeah.”

“But you’ve grown past all that. You’re serving Celestia and bringing honor to her as her guard. You’ve found a true reason for being here. And it must have taken enormous strength to get over a pony as wonderful as Celestia.”

Radish looked at Twilight, then over to Celestia. He slumped back onto the bar.

“That does take strength, doesn't it?”

“How’s sword training going?”

“I know the moves, but I don’t have the instincts.”

“Well, don’t feel bad. You’ll get it.”

“Were you around when Captain Armor was doing his sword training?”

“Oh, he was swinging around a toy sword since as long as I can remember. It was second nature to him by the time he trained on a real one.”

“Ugh, I am so far behind him.”

“You’ll do great. I remember you taking on that big mechanical wolf with a machete!”

“It took my pants, Twilight. I bet Shining Armor’s never lost his pants in a fight.”

“Radish, quit being a camera.”

“Huh?”

“You’re focusing on the negatives!”

She giggled and snorted at her own joke. Radish gave an attempt at laughing with her.

The distinguished-looking pony approached them. “Hello, lieutenant. I’m Celadon. I’m the Chairpony of the Royal Archeological Society.”

Radish shook his hoof.

“Hello, sir. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“The pleasure is all mine! I was out of the country when you discovered the final resting place of the Storm Centurions. Everypony in the Society would give their right hooves for a find like that.”

“Thank you kindly, but it was actually buffalo youths who made the discovery. Then a dragon took up residence nearby, preventing anyone from getting close for a year."

“Really? I hadn’t been made aware of those details.”

“I tried to set the record straight.”

“Good on you. Straight records are my favorite.”

“May I ask, sir, how you’ve come to be in our company tonight?”

“Ah, I’m a friend of Halcyon.”

“Oh? How did you meet?”

“I believe he intends to reveal that on his own terms. But I think that he will do so-”

“Dinner is served!” called Hallmark from the door to the dining room.

“-during dinner,” Celadon finished.

The guests entered the dining room to find a long table set for them. Radish took a deep breath before looking at the name placards on the table. He was seated between Fluttershy and Twilight, who was to one side of Celestia, with Halcyon on her other side. As it was set up, it was impossible for Radish and Halcyon to even see each other. Radish looked at Hallmark, who made an almost-imperceptible nod. Radish made a perceptible smile.

Dinner was a prickly pear filet seared in a balsamic reduction, with pokeweed salad, duchess potatoes, and freshly-baked bread. Radish was famished, and had to restrain himself from wolfing down his meal.

Radish didn’t need to worry about not dominating the conversation- Pinkie Pie did for most of the night. Saguaro Shade, Barrel Roller, and Celadon all kept to a side conversation between themselves, while Rainbow Dash and Applejack had a long and mostly-friendly argument about team sports. Twilight and Halcyon played tug-of-war for Celestia’s attention, who calmly alternately listened to both. Radish spent most of the night talking to Fluttershy about the creatures in Celestia’s menageries.

Toward the end of dinner, Celestia whispered something to Halcyon, who tapped his glass with his spoon to call everyone’s attention. He stood up.

“May I have your attention, please? I know that I may seem a mystery to some of you. Some of you are no doubt wondering who I am, and or why I am a guest at your palace. I would like to reveal all now.

“I am a survivor- one of the few remaining of my kind. My homeland- which you refer to as the Far Eastern Edgelands- was the original cradle of ungulate kind. It was there that hoofed life first emerged from the primordial darkness. It grew, evolved, and ascended to greatness. A grand civilization was achieved.

“But disaster after disaster struck, bringing the First Hoofed civilization to ruin. Geological instabilities cracked our streets and homes. Unnamed monsters devoured our crops and infested our water sources. Magical anomalies swept the land, making the very laws of physics unpredictable.

“Most of the First Hoofed Ones fled the ancestral homeland. They fell into ultimate disharmony, splitting into factions, and form followed faction. Earth ponies, unicorns, pegasi, zebras, buffalo, cows, donkeys, and many more hoofed races both extant and extinct, all developed from that first race. From us. All of you are our legacy.

“In that land, some of the originals remained behind, unwilling to leave and unwilling to change. I am descended from that race of survivors. But the disasters never ceased, and even the hardiest survivors now find themselves on the precipice of ruin. I was sent out to seek help before my kin- and your forebears- perish forever.”

“What!?” exclaimed Twilight. “That’s amazing!”

The other guests looked at her in annoyance.

“Not the part about the oldest civilization falling into ruin!” she quickly said. “The part about it surviving this long! You can teach us so much about ungulate history!”

“I can, and I will. But you also have much to teach me. Your seekers of the past, your archeologists, came across me on my sojourn, saving me from perishing in the wilds. They agreed to convey me here, and taught me about Equestria during the long voyage.”

Celadon stood and spoke.

“It was our pleasure. It was a one-in-a-million chance that we happened upon Halcyon. I feel like the luckiest archeologist alive- he’s like an ambassador from history! We learned a great deal about each other’s cultures during the long trek to Canterlot. I believe his people can teach us not only of our past, but of our future, as well.”

“I’m in agreement,” said Saguaro Shade. “These disasters you’ve suffered could come knocking on Equestria’s door one day. You, sir, could be the key to preparing us.”

“I believe you have all you need. You Equestrians have developed so many amazing things since splitting off from the homeland- magic, technology, culture,” said Halcyon. “I wish to learn about it all. But what I believe can save us more than anything is this power of… ‘friendship’.”

“The original hoofers don’t have friendship?” asked Pinkie Pie.

“No. They live for themselves, just as dragons and griffons do. Relationships among my people are transactional, temporary, and reluctant. Us survivors have recognized that this must change if we are to survive, but we are simply failing to make it work! I have come to you seeking to learn about friendship, so that we may thrive once more.”

“Well, if you’re lookin’ to learn about friendship, you’ve come to the right place!” said Applejack. “Twilight here knows so much about it, she’s practically a Friendship Pre’fessor!”

“Oh no,” laughed Twilight. “I’m still just a student in friendship studies. I still have a lot to learn. It’s all of my friends here who are my teachers!”

“In any case, the royal guard is at your disposal,” said Barrel Roller. “We’re always happy to help an illustrious guest. Isn’t that right, Root?”

All eyes were suddenly on Radish, who was in the middle of sipping wine. He quickly swallowed.

“Oh, absolutely!” Radish said. “You can count on me, ma’am. In fact, I’d like to volunteer being Halcyon’s personal guard while he’s here.”

He leaned forward, trying to see Halcyon past Twilight and Celestia.

“I’m still learning about friendship, myself,” Radish said. “I bet we can learn a lot from each other, if you’ll let me stick by your side.”

Halcyon leaned forward to see Radish. He started to open his mouth, but Twilight leaned in between them.

“That’s great!” she cheered. “Radish here is one of the palace’s best guards!”

Barrel Roller, now in the middle of a bite, coughed and choked. Saguaro Shade slapped her on the back.

“Sorry,” she wheezed. “It went down the wrong pipe. Actually, we’ve got Root on a pretty tight schedule this week. But don’t worry- there are other guards here who are almost on his level,” she said, toasting her glass in Radish’s direction.

“Thank you, ma’am, I aim to please,” said Radish.

“Oh, I know,” she said, grinning behind her glass.

Dinner soon ended, and wait staff began collecting plates. The guests retired back to the drawing room, then began to take their leave of the party.

“Whoo-ee!” said Applejack. “That was the best grub I’ve had in moons. Uh, don’t tell granny I said that.”

“Uh, Applejack, you’ve got a bit of, oh, here,” said Rarity, wiping her friend’s cheek with a handkerchief.

“Great party, Celestia!” said Pinkie Pie.

“Halcyon, I’m really happy that you came to Canterlot,” said Twilight. “We’re going to help your people, I promise.”

“Thank you, Twilight Sparkle. You have brought me hope in my darkest hour.”

Radish lagged behind. Soon there was no one left but himself, Celestia, Halcyon, and the bartender, who was packing up her supplies and cleaning out her mats.

“Thank you for coming, Radish,” said Celestia, pleasantly.

“Thanks for inviting,” said Radish, not moving.

He looked over her shoulder. Halcyon was relaxing into the couch. Her couch. In her tower.

“Well, have a good night, Radish,” said Celestia, a touch more firmly, eyes shifting to the door.

“Have a good… night’s sleep, ma’am.”

Radish walked out into the hall. He turned. She closed the door. It locked. Radish backed away.

“Root, you comin’?” asked Barrel Roller, holding open the elevator. He joined her in it, still watching Celestia’s closed door as the elevator doors slid shut. He stared, unfocused, as they descended. Barrel Roller leaned against the side of the car, watching Radish’s face.

“Interesting night, eh, Root? Maybe historic.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m grateful to have been a part of it.”

“Don’t lie to your commander, Root.”

“Well, the wine was good, at least.”

She snorted.

The elevator reached the bottom and opened. They exited the spire into the cool evening air. A lone cricket chirped from a nearby bush.

“You’ve got sword training tomorrow morning, don’t you, Root?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Why do you even want a sword? They’re so unwieldy, most guards don’t bother. I never did.”

“That’s part of the reason. If you see a guard with a sword, you know they’ve trained their heart out to be able to use it. It’s an intimidating sight.”

“You want to look scary, Root?”

“Well, scarier.”

She snorted again.

“G'night, Root.”

She walked off. Radish stopped and sat on a stone bench by the hedge maze. He stared up at Starry Spire. Most of the windows were still lit.

After a while, the bartender trotted past him pulling a noisy cart of bottles and cans. Radish looked at her.

“Do you need help, miss?”

“Oh, I’m good.”

“Sorry, I would’ve tipped, but I didn’t know to bring any money tonight.”

“That’s okay. Princess Celestia tips for everyone. And she always over-orders my favorites so I can take home the leftovers. Here!”

She reached into the cart with a wing, and flicked out a can of cider to Radish. He caught it, cracked it open, and drank.

She sat next to him with a miniature wine bottle. She took a swig.

“I’m Grenadine Splash. Radish Root, right?”

“That’s right. I’ve seen you in the tourist bar. But you also work in the officer’s club, right?”

“Good intel. PC lets me stretch my wings for big shindigs like tonight. But what I really want to do is run the royal distillery.”

“There is no royal distillery.”

“It’s my goal to start one. In that old abandoned alchemy lab.”

“That’s a good place for it. There’s easy access for deliveries, and it’s isolated in case of fires.”

“That’s what I was thinking!”

“Thanks for the, uh, liquid support tonight.”

“Nothing like a social lubricant to ease the burden of a fun get-together.”

Radish finished his can. He crushed it in his hooves. He glanced up at the tower again. The lights were still on, though the curtains had been drawn closed.

“I’m sure they’re just talking about all that rebuilding civilization stuff.”

“It’s none of my business. Good guards don’t gossip. We just do what we’re supposed to do.” He stared at the tower again. The lights behind the curtains were definitely dimmer now, like mood lights. “For her.”

Grenadine Splash raised her bottle to toast the tower.

“For her. But you know… you’ve got options. You really seemed to be getting along with Fluttershy tonight. I’m pretty sure she’s single.”

“Oh, really? Fluttershy?”

“You’re not into her?”

“I think she’s great.”

“But?”

“You know about my cutie mark, don't you?"

"Yeah, so? You've got issues being in public, she's got issues being in public. It's perfect. You two can just stay in together."

"She lives in another town.”

“Ponyville is like an hour away by train. Most ponies spend that much time in downtown traffic every day. Plus, she flies.”

“She’s part of Equestria’s most important team of heroes. I… wouldn’t want to throw off their group dynamic or anything.”

Grenadine Splash reached into her cart and pulled out a bunch of red-striped paper straws.

“Here,” she said, “since you seem to be grasping at some.”

“Ha ha. I mean it. It’s a matter of national security. They need to keep their heads in the game.”

“Do they know that? Those six won’t be single forever. And they can do a lot worse than you.”

“They can do a lot better, too. I’d probably just screw things up with her. Make her cry. Make the rest of the team hate me.”

“Where’s this insecurity coming from?”

Radish glanced back at the tower. All the lights of the other floors were being snuffed by the staff, one by one. The top floors were still lit dimly.

“Just think about it, okay?” Grenadine said.

“I’ll… I’ll think about it. Thanks.”

She finished her wine, and put the bottle and Radish’s crushed can in her cart. She hitched onto it and started away.

“It was nice talking to you,” she said.

“May I escort you home?”

“I was going to fly home.”

“Never mind, then.”

“But I should lighten the load first.”

She tossed him another can.

“Thanks,” Radish said, catching it.

“Just remember, a cold one can make the good times better, but they can’t make the bad times good.”

“Let me know when you get your distillery up and running. I promise I’ll be in better spirits by then.”

“Better Spirits. Good name for the brand. I’ll share the first bottle off the line with you.”

“That would be great. Thanks. Good night, Miss Splash.”

“Good night, lieutenant.”

She flew off with her cart. Radish took one more look at the tower. He could swear he could make out moving figures in the dim lights before they went out. He downed his can.

He returned to the barracks and flopped into his bunk. Spats peeked down from the top bunk.

“Radical! How was dinner among the stars?”

“Just fantastic.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Spats… am I insane for wanting Celestia?”

“Hey, she’s a fantastic lady. You’d be insane if you didn’t.”

“Should I just give up on her?”

“Yes. Definitely.”

“Do you think I should ask out Fluttershy?”

“That’d be swapping one celebrity for another. Find yourself a nice, humble, civilian girl, who never fights any villains or has crazy adventures.”

“Know any?”

“If I did, I’d be dating her myself.”

“Yeah.”

“But if she dumped me, I’d be okay with you taking her out.”

“Thanks, Spats.”

“Could you please hang up that tux now? You’re killing me lying in bed with it.”

“Okay, Spats.”


Radish stared up at Starry Spire. All the windows were dark. In between cricket chirps, he thought he could hear something from the top of the tower. He strained to listen. He caught something that sent his heart into his gut. He took a step back, teeth gritting. He looked at the door of the tower. He started going over his memory of the interior and the guards’ positions within as he walked to the door.

In a burst of glittery flares, Princess Luna emerged from a starlit portal above him.

“Radish Root. Is this the behavior of a royal guardstallion?”

“Princess Luna? I’m having a nightmare?”

“Indeed. Your distress lights up the dream realm like a bonfire.”

“How much was real?”

“Halcyon is real, all right, and you will leave him alone. You will stay out of his and Celestia’s business.”

“Princess Luna… does Celestia really like this guy?”

“Asking that question is not staying out of their business. What right have you to interpose? Who do you think you are, lieutenant?”

“I’m… what is really going on!?”

“Again, an inappropriate question. Radish Root, I thought better of you. I thought your childish lust for my sister had subsided. I thought you were a stallion of honor. Of duty.”

“I am!”

“Then keep to your duties. I will not repeat myself.”

“Princess Luna!”

Radish awoke in his bunk. It was still dark out. He stared at nothing until it was time to get up.

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