Friendly Correspondence

by Pascoite

Chapter 1: Friendly Correspondence

Princess Celestia looked up from her stationery as she heard the familiar rumble of approaching flame.

And as always, she went through a quick series of mental calculations. She had no urgent business awaiting her, at least not for the next few hours. No social appointments, no mealtimes, no touring school groups. Plenty of time, then, both to deal with the incoming message and get a little friendly assistance with it.

Mail was a simple spell. Twilight Sparkle could cast it easily, if she wished, but she preferred to have Spike take care of it, because it let him contribute and because it was something they could do together. A trick Celestia had taught her, but one Celestia herself forgot far too often.

“Would you like to handle this one, Philomena?” The phoenix clicked her beak together and sidled along her perch. Then her feathers flared a bright crimson, and she cupped her wings around a growing fireball. At last, it burst into a red mist, and a single scroll floated onto the rug.

“Ah,” Celestia said. “An answer from the griffon ambassador.” Without opening it, she slid the scroll over by her inkwell and scooped up a small stack of pages. She glanced back up at her companion. “Ready for another batch?”

Philomena cocked her head and let out an inquisitive grunt.

One by one, Celestia rolled up each page, sealed it with wax, and tied it neatly with a ribbon. When she’d added the last one to the pile, she shoved them to the side. “That should do it. If you will…”

Philomena clapped her wings together, and fire engulfed the stack of paper. In quick order, they disintegrated into brittle cinders. The wisps of ash swirled into gray tendrils in the air, shot up the chimney, and split apart, heading toward their scattered destinations.

“Thank you,” Celestia said as she reached up with a hoof and rubbed beneath Philomena’s chin. “You always do such a good job.”

And then came that same rumble again. By reflex, she lit her horn and concentrated to intercept the energy, to channel and focus it into the air in front of her. But for the second time, she held back.

“Would you mind?”

Before Celestia had even finished asking, Philomena’s feathers glowed. A ball of carmine flame coalesced in front of her, floated there a moment, then drifted toward Celestia. And halfway to her, it turned—


Celestia’s heart leapt. Green! A-a letter from Spike, from—yes, sent by Spike, but from Twilight Sparkle!

As soon as it dropped into her waiting hooves, she yanked the string off with her teeth and tore the seal away, then flattened it on her rug. Just last week, she’d instructed her prized student to report on any lessons in friendship she’d learned. Another social correspondence? Or maybe the first of many realizations on the power in her relationships.

“I hope she enjoys those Gala tickets I sent her.” A push, yes, but only a little one. “What do you think?”

“Awk.” A small tuft of down floated away from the growing bare patch on Philomena’s breast. She watched it drop, even poked at it with her beak, then lost interest.

“Time for that again already? Didn’t you just molt a few centuries ago?” Celestia asked with a smirk. Philomena chirped a reply, a kind of verbal shrug, if Celestia recognized the tone.

She looked back down at the page. Celestia had simply told Twilight to make some friends. Off to a good start, no doubt. Perhaps she’d shared some tea with one of them or had a nice conversation and wanted to tell her about it. A bit early to expect much progress, but maybe Twilight would surprise her.

Which one of those mares would Twilight want to invite with the extra ticket? Which one might spark the beginnings of a real friendship in her? The Gala was still months off, over the next hill, so to speak, but never too early to start preparing.

Celestia took a deep breath and squeezed her eyes shut for a few seconds. She savored the anticipation of such moments almost more than seeing them through. With one last glance at Philomena, she read out loud.

Dear Princess Celestia,

I've learned that one of the joys of friendship is sharing your blessings, but when there's not enough blessings to go around, having more than your friends can make you feel pretty awful. So, though I appreciate the invitation, I will be returning both tickets to the Grand Galloping Gala.

Celestia frowned. Twilight didn’t want to attend? Of course, Celestia couldn’t make her. But why would she decline?

Before she’d dispatched her student to Ponyville, she’d seen Twilight run away—

No. If she were afraid, she would have said so. Twilight wouldn’t lie, not to her. Had she failed to make a friend, had a falling out? Too embarrassed to admit it? Frankly, that was the only scenario in which Celestia could envision her being less than truthful. She had such a desire to please, even to a fault, and might well try to hide anything she considered inadequate.

Celestia smiled. For Twilight to think that being unable to make a good enough friend to invite was worth concealing, she at least attached some value to it. Quite a bit of value, in fact, to risk getting caught in a lie. A nominal victory, but a victory nonetheless. Even that small an advance made Celestia proud.

But in that case, why not just give the ticket to Spike? Oh! She’d completely forgotten about Spike! Yes, she needed to mail a ticket for him as well. Maybe Twilight actually had made a friend and couldn’t risk disappointing Spike. She’d take care of that right away and apologize for her oversight. “Not enough blessings to go around,” indeed.

She plucked the two tickets from Twilight’s letter, added another from the stash across the room, and reached for a blank sheet of paper.

Celestia’s breath caught in her throat. Her hooves shook as she drew them to her mouth. “Ph-Philomena, she—”

The phoenix cocked her head. “Chee?”

Why had Celestia tried to read so deeply into it? It hadn’t even occurred to her to take Twilight’s words at face value. “Having more than your friends,” she’d written. Plural.

No, Twilight wouldn’t have stayed in Ponyville in the first place. She’d always preferred the familiar, the comfortable, the usual, at least as far as other ponies were concerned. But she’d asked to remain there, away from the home, the school, the teachers, the Princess she knew so well.

She wasn’t scared. She hadn’t failed, hadn’t tried to avoid the situation. She’d risen above it, triumphed in a way that only Twilight Sparkle could, and exceeded what Celestia dared to hope for. Friends. Maybe two, maybe three, maybe five of them.

Celestia steadied her trembling hooves and brushed away the gathering moisture from the corners of her eyes. Ruffling her feathers, Philomena craned her neck forward and peered down as Celestia pulled the paper closer. In a rush, she dipped her quill in the bottle of ink. Far too much—the first word left a huge blotch on the page, but she scratched it through and started over below it. Furiously she scribbled, word after word, as they flowed into her mind, out her horn, and into her pen. Every few seconds, she paused to wipe the tears from her cheeks.


My most faithful student,

Thank you for your prompt response. Your punctuality is just one of the many qualities I have come to admire about you, and I am pleased to see you reporting on a lesson of friendship so soon. One it appears that I have triggered myself, albeit inadvertently, but one that you have already learned and mastered.

It seems I have yet another quality for which to admire you. When I observed you turning down a party invitation from your fellow students before I dispatched you to Ponyville, I knew I had to do something about it. There is no way I could ever let you bottle up your wonderful personality and deprive everypony else of it. You are too interesting, too exceptional a pony to keep it all to yourself. If I could just nudge you into socializing more, then others would discover what makes you so unique and enjoy you as much as we lucky few who have gotten to know you through circumstance.

But more than that, you would broaden your experience. Other ponies can teach you more than you realize—they have their own interests, their own expertises, and that is a better teacher than any textbook could be. How much more have you learned by getting out in the world and applying your knowledge than by reading about it? I know that can be a scary prospect, but how often did it prove true in your scientific coursework, and how much did it make all the difference only a week ago?

I was also certain that everypony’s capacity to care about you would touch your heart. So I sent you to Ponyville, a place dear to my own heart since its founding. I knew you would find a friend there, not only to save Equestria from Nightmare Moon, but to save yourself from isolation and loneliness.

When you told me you wanted to stay there,

Princess Celestia sniffled, smiled up at Philomena, and levitated a tissue from the box on her vanity.

I nearly broke down on the spot. To see you so attached to others that you would choose to remain with them, away from your home, your studies, your mentor, I was so, so proud of you. I hoped you’d foster a close enough relationship with one that you’d want to invite her to the Gala. So to hear back that you’d prefer not to attend unless you could bring more with you, that you’d become such close friends with them—

You have demonstrated great generosity, kindness, and loyalty to your new friends by making this decision. I suppose that trying to work honesty and laughter in as well would be stretching things, but you get my point. Already, you show the capability for demonstrating all the elements that make up friendship, and I speak not only of the traditional six elements. You will come to find that they are only the beginning.

I do not wish to go into why, but at first, I mistrusted your motives in returning the tickets, as if you would rather avoid friendship than confront it head-on. I should have believed in you more; you have never let me down or been anything but forthright with me. When I realized that you simply didn’t have enough tickets, that maybe I needed to send you another, or five more—

I have never been so overjoyed.

Princess Celestia plucked another tissue out, dabbed her eyes dry, and blew her nose. Then she noticed Philomena squinting at her. “Oh, don’t look at me like that.” Celestia averted her gaze to the floor and swept away the few teardrops glistening on her letter, leaving behind thin streaks of ink.

With a chirp, Philomena scanned the letter another time and wrinkled her brow. She gave her wings a tentative flap and waggled her tail.

“I know—a princess has a certain image to uphold.” Celestia let out a long sigh. “And, yes, some things she must discover on her own. I can’t lead her by the hoof forever.” Crafty bird. Sometimes, Celestia wondered if she was actually the wiser of the two. “The start of her new tenure in Ponyville is as good a time as any to fade into the background and grant her independence.”

“Rrrr?” Philomena glanced out the window toward the fancier homes clustered near the castle.

“Yes. Of course, you’re right,” Celestia said. She did have to worry about appearances. If the public felt that Twilight hadn’t earned her way to—

No, too early to think about that yet. A plan in motion, but still in the formative stages. Speculation wouldn’t serve her well now. But even in her position as Celestia’s student and emissary, Twilight needed to make her own way, or everypony would consider her as no better than a beneficiary of something akin to nepotism. Perhaps they already did, but Celestia had taken whatever measures she could to mitigate that.

Princess Celestia would consider this another subtle test, then, viewed from afar. Twilight would doubtless place more pressure upon herself if Celestia indulged in such ramblings and put that sort of scrutiny on her actions. So instead, perhaps the princess should simply let go.

After taking a deep breath, she levitated her quill back into the inkwell. She squared her shoulders, slid another piece of paper from the stack, and carefully blotted the excess ink from the quill’s nib.

My faithful student Twilight,

Why didn't you just say so in the first place?

Celestia tucked six tickets into the scroll. “Another outgoing, please.”

Once more, Philomena clapped her wings together and sent the letter on its way. The princess stroked the feathers on top of her pet’s head, then rose from her cushion and crumpled her first draft into a ball. She tossed it toward the wastebasket.

Philomena trilled a questioning note and hopped onto the metal receptacle’s edge to retrieve the wad of paper.

“What?” Celestia said, an eyebrow raising. “I thought we agreed it was inappropriate.”

Philomena flapped to a nearby bookshelf and tugged one of the volumes partway out. When Celestia saw which one, she nearly laughed out loud. A blank book, one she’d intended to use as a friendship journal, at least until she’d found Twilight Sparkle. Or, more truthfully, Twilight Sparkle had found her.

“Good idea.” Celestia nodded and slid Twilight’s letter inside the front cover. Then she smoothed her original reply back out and added it to the book as well. “Maybe, one day, I might actually send it.”

With a short chirp, Philomena glided over to her perch and watched. She always seemed to glow more brightly whenever Celestia’s own heart warmed.

For a long minute, the princess merely sat, staring at the book’s empty pages and enjoying the feeling. So much yet to fill. Then she rubbed the last few tears from her eyes and levitated the book into place. She stood to extinguish the candle, and—

Celestia held a hoof to her mouth and gasped. “Oh dear, I’ve forgotten Spike again, haven’t I?” She grabbed one last piece of paper, her quill, and another ticket. Only a moment to scribble out a hasty message before holding it aloft in her magic for Philomena to incinerate.

The princess leaned in and pressed her cheek to Philomena’s. “Thank you,” she said, “for the mail service, the sage counsel—” she doused the candle and folded back the corner of her bedsheet “—and the understanding ear.” In her magic’s glow, the stationery floated to its place on the shelf, not far from that book, where the crinkled edge of her letter still poked out.

Her eyes lingered on it for a moment before she wriggled her way under the covers. “And thank you—” she turned her face to Philomena’s soft light by the fireplace again “—for being a true friend.”

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