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                “I don’t know…” The young mare muttered sadly, looking at the ground.

                “You can do it!” The prince said enthusiastically.  The mare looked up into his eyes, seeing the confidence he had in her and drawing confidence from them…yes…maybe she could do this!

                Twilight groaned and shut the book closed.  She hunched over her desk and rubbed her eyes slowly, taking some small comfort in the circular motions of her hooves massaging her eyelids for a while before looking up at the night sky through her study window.  Luna’s moon was much lower in the sky than it had been when she had started reading this book, meaning it was well past the middle of the night now – dawn would come in only a few hours time.  The moon’s silvery glow mingled with the orange light from the candle sitting on Twilight’s desk, which had almost burned the wax to the base of the stick, as was often the case lately.

                The unicorn sighed, burying her face in her hooves again.  Even for all her studying, Twilight was not exactly what one would call “well read.”  Most of her reading involved non-fiction, and though she had read some of the classics to get through her classes as a filly, she dismissed them as soon as they were no longer required reading for a decent grade.  Magic, science, the history of her nation, the essays from the field of equestripology…the real world offered so much wonder to Twilight that made-up ones simply didn’t interest her.  Despite running a library, she had just never gotten into the habit of reading fiction for pleasure.

                But despite this, she was well familiar with some of the clichés of fiction, and the book she had just closed was chock full of them.  Twilight knew perfectly well how this story was going to end: the nervous mare in the story would wind up rescuing the prince and they would finally confess their love for each other.  She had opened it because the title sounded interesting, but the story and characters wound up being utterly bland.  If Twilight had wanted to read a story about some self-doubting figure who keeps having to be convinced of her worth, she would have picked up the library’s copy of the filly picture book The Little Equine Who Could.  And it just seemed so tedious to Twilight to read yet another story about an otherwise self-capable male character who somehow inevitably needs to be rescued by the female lead, which the unicorn supposed was one of those often unconscious by-products of Equestria’s female-dominated society.

                Twilight idly levitated another book out of a small stack on her desk, using her magic to flip it open to the page she had left a bookmark on.  This one was supposed to be a romance novel.  Twilight found where she had left off and continued reading:

                She stretched her wing around the earth pony’s midsection, drawing closer.  The earth pony blushed deeply and turned her head away, but did not retreat from her friend’s advance.

                “Appleseed…” the pegasus said softly.  “I…I want to tell you…”

                Appleseed looked up at the flyer, gazing at her with those magnificent, watery eyes which reflected the moonlight that cast its glow on the pegasus’ curving frame. “Yes, Flash?”

                 Twilight stopped reading.  Five lines.  She managed to get a whopping five lines through the page before she was bored with the story again.  What was it about romance that made it so nopony seemed to be able to write it well?  To be fair, this story did have its edgier moments which made for enjoyable reading, but for the most part it just seemed so…banal.  Granted, romance wasn’t a matter Twilight had a whole lot of experience with, but she knew enough to be able to distinguish between these trite, sappy stories and something that felt genuine.  These romance novels were far too superficial – there was always lots of touching but very little feeling, and what feeling they had seemed too simplistic for the whirlwind of emotion that true love would seem to entail.

                The unicorn groaned and lifted herself off her chair, her bones creaking and her neck sore.  She levitated the stack of books on her desk into the air and unceremoniously dumped them on top of the return pile near the door for Spike to reshelf tomorrow.  Twilight then turned back to the window, gazing out into the night.  It was the dead of winter in Ponyville, and the ground was covered in a few inches of snow which reflected the moonlight, bathing the village in a soft, silvery glow.  The moon hung overhead, making its slow decent toward the horizon.

                Twilight yawned and stretched her forelimbs out.  Guess it was time to hit the hay…she figured she wouldn’t wake up until around noon the next day, but winter mornings were so cold it was hardly a loss, and Spike could have a few hours to himself in the morning as he did his chores.  Owlowiscious liked to take a night flight around this time, and Twilight knew he would most likely return in another hour or two – even in the cold of winter that bird liked to spread his wings for a bit.

                She blew out the candle before trotting upstairs to bed.  It was just another one of those nights.


                Twilight awoke earlier than she would have liked the next morning.  The sun had been up for a while, but she could tell from its position in the sky that noon was still a long way off.  Her dreams had been fitful, each one bleeding into the next with no real distinction between each other…which is the perfect analogy for these past few weeks, Twilight thought.  She lay back down on the pillow, staring up at the ceiling as she tried to remember her dreams…there was one where she had been playing tag with a bunch of fillies for some reason…there was something involving these two characters who had seemed so familiar in her dream, as if she had met them in an earlier dream…and then this had all somehow led to some situation with Pinkie Pie trying to catch a bunch of cats with a muffin tin, which had somehow made complete sense to Twilight while she dreaming it.  She idly thought over all this for a moment, but knew there was no point trying to make any sense of it.  At least they weren’t nightmares or one of those awful dreams where she was back in Canterlot trying to pass an examination she thought she had already passed.

                It was warm and cozy under her blanket.  The nice thing about living in a tree was that it essentially heated itself as it pulled nutrients from the ground, although a small magically-powered heater never hurt in the winter (making a fire for heat would have been too dangerous in a house made from wood and filled with what were essentially bound stacks of paper).  But even still, the floors could get a little chilly.  However, Twilight didn’t see much sense in just lying in bed doing nothing and she definitely wasn’t going to be getting any more sleep, so she resigned herself to getting out from under her comfortable blanket and facing the day.

                Twilight could hear a clatter from downstairs, which she knew was Spike doing the morning chores and making himself breakfast.  Twilight walked into the washroom and drew a hot bath for herself.  She settled into the tub, letting the water wash over her and feeling it ebb her stress away.  After a lousy sleep filled with stupid dreams, this was true relaxation.  Her horn glowed softly as she lifted a bottle of shampoo towards her – it just wouldn’t be complete without a decent mane wash.  Twilight stayed in the tub for a while longer, inhaling the steam until it vanished as the water slowly went from hot to merely lukewarm.  At this point, Twilight finally drained the water and dried herself off before heading downstairs.

                Spike was in the kitchen, finishing off a very charred piece of toast (just the way he liked it).  He grinned at Twilight.  “Morning, sleepyhead.”

                “Funny, that’s what I used to say to you.” Twilight muttered, levitating a couple of spoonfuls of tea leaves into a cup before picking up the kettle of hot water that Spike had prepared.  She pulled a poppy seed bagel out of a bag in the cupboard and levitated the bagel and the cup of tea to the kitchen table.

                “So, did you get any work done last night?” Spike asked as Twilight took a bite of the bagel.

                “No…” Twilight groaned.  “No matter what I do, I just can’t get myself to focus lately!”

                “Come on, Twilight.  How hard can it be?  Look, I’ll start…” Spike cleared his throat and closed his eyes in a passable imitation of the unicorn.  “Dear Princess Celestia.  Today I learned…”

                “Today I learned…” Twilight started, staring into her tea cup, watching the small ripples distort her reflection.  Deep reds and purples mixed with a slightly earthy tinge as the tea leaves swirled around in the cup.  It was remarkable how many colors you could get into such a small cup…

                “…Yes?” Spike said expectantly.

                Twilight looked up at Spike, then closed her eyes and tilted her head up, as she always did when she dictated these letters.  She spoke in a very matter-of-fact tone:

                “Dear Princess Celestia.  Today I learned that I really enjoy hot baths.  In fact, I wish they could last forever!  I am going to do some research and find out if there’s a spell I can use to make it so hot water will never turn cold.  Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle.”

                Twilight opened her eyes again.  Spike was glaring back, apparently unamused by Twilight’s joke.

                “Oh come on Spike, I was just kidding.” She muttered, taking a sip of tea.

                “This is serious, Twilight!” Spike said.  “You haven’t written anything good in three weeks!  Since the Winter Moon festival you’ve just been…lazy!  And that’s not a word I thought I could ever use to describe you!”

                “Ah, the Winter Moon festival…” Twilight sighed as she placed a hoof on her chin, thinking back to the celebration of the Winter Solstice.  Princess Luna had come to town to visit, and they had such fun…the trees were covered in lights and beautiful decorations, Pinkie Pie had led a big group of carolers, Applejack had brought them all hot apple cider to drink, and her friends had given her such wonderful presents.

                “At first I thought this was just a case of post-holiday blues,” Spike continued.  “But don’t you think it’s about time you snapped out of it?”

                “That’s what I’ve been trying to do!” Twilight snapped.  “But every time I start thinking about it, my mind goes blank…it’s like I lost my ability to work or something…” She was looking sadly into her tea cup.

                “Isn’t there some spells you can practice?  Or some scientific research to work on?”

                “I told you Spike, I do my research in tandem with the experts at Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, and they’re still on winter break.  There’s just nothing to keep me active…”

                “Come on, you’re Twilight Sparkle!” Spike cried.  “You’re Princess Celestia’s prized pupil, you defeated Nightmare Moon and saved Equestria…you beat an Ursa Minor, for pony’s sake!  You don’t give up, and I couldn’t call myself your #1 Assistant if I let you quit trying.”

                Twilight looked back up, a determined expression on her face.  “You’re right Spike!  I have to do this!  I will write that letter!”

                “That’s the spirit!” Spike cheered.


                An hour later Twilight was feeling considerably less confident.  She was staring at the piece of parchment while holding a quill in mid-air just above it, staring blankly at the words “Dear Princess Celestia” she had written upon it.  Nothing had been written beneath.

                She took a deep breath and put quill to parchment.  This week I learned that a true friend has to offer

                No, no, that wouldn’t work.  She crumpled up the parchment and tossed it aside before trying again.

                Dear Princess Celestia.  This week I learned that no matter how much somepony tries, sometimes you have to

                No, no, no!  Come on, what was she looking for?  She knew there had to be some exact combination of words that would work, if only she could figure out what that combination was.  This week I learned…what?

                “This week I learned I can’t write this stupid letter.” Twilight grumbled, forgetting that she still had her quill activated by her magic.  She looked down at the parchment to see the words written there.

                “GAAAAGH! THIS IS HOPELESS!” She screamed, slamming her face into the desk.  She let it sit there for a moment while Spike came in and patted her on the shoulder.

“Hey... I got an idea!" Spike exclaimed, looking hopeful.  "What if you just asked your friends for help? Somepony is sure to have an idea!”

                “Well…” Twilight considered this for a moment.  She never needed to ask for help to write a letter before, and she felt awkward about asking them now.  But this was not a situation where she could afford to be picky.

                “Well, I don’t have any better ideas…” Twilight muttered.  “Maybe this can work!  Let’s see…who should we visit first?”

                Spike had a satisfied grin on his face, seeing that Twilight was taking his idea seriously.  “Well…let’s go see Rarity!”

                Twilight raised an eyebrow.  “…And why exactly is that particular pony the first to pop in your mind?”

                “Um, well…” Spike stammered.  “Isn’t it obvious?” He said hopefully.

                “You want us to see Rarity because you have a crush on her.”  Twilight said flatly.

                “No, it’s not that! It’s…it’s…” Spike seemed to be desperately fishing for an answer.  “It’s… because… she… she…” He was clenching his fists and biting his lip, hoping for something to come, but after a moment he finally slumped and looked at the ground.  “Okay, fine.  I don’t have another reason.” He sighed.

                “Hmmm…maybe we should try Applejack first.” Twilight said.  “She wouldn’t be growing any apples in the winter, so she might not be so busy.”

                “Fine.” Spike muttered dejectedly.


                “Going out of town?!” Twilight cried.

                Spike and Twilight were standing with Applejack at the entrance to Sweet Apple Acres, which looked quite gorgeous even covered in snow.  The trees lacked the lush greenery they had in the summer, but the darkly colored bark contrasted beautifully with the rolling white landscape.  But what really drew the eye was the bright red of the barn, which looked absolutely picturesque when covered in snow.

                “Eeyup.” Applejack replied.  “Sorry Sugarcube, can’t be helped.  Ah’ve been planning this trip for weeks.”

                “Where are you going?” Spike asked.

                “Salt Lick City!” Applejack cheered.  “S’posed to be amazing!  The town sits under these big salt deposits, which get washed into this big salty lake on the edge of town.  So you can get both rock salt and sea salt there!  Nearly all the salt in Equestria comes outta that town!”

                “Sounds…salty.” Twilight said, unsure of anything else to say.  “But why are you going there?”

                “Well, they make plenty of delicious salt, but the water there tastes awful.” Applejack grimaced.  “So Cousin Braeburn rounded up a bunch of ponies from Appleloosa to help them build a big pipeline down from the mountains so they can get fresh water.  And ah’m gonna go help them!”

                “Oh, wow…” Twilight considered all this for a moment.  “But wouldn’t it make more sense to wait until summer to build a pipeline?”

                “It’s gotta be done before the spring melt.” Applejack explained.  “Plus there’s a lotta interest in Salt Lick City at the moment.  If we’re lucky, the Apple family can lay down a claim fer a bit of land so we can go back and start an apple orchard there when they have some nice clean water.  Maybe someday a few of the young’uns can run it when they get older and make some good money.”

                “Well I wish you good luck!” Twilight offered.  “Just be sure not to plant your orchard on top of any buffalo stampede grounds.”

                Applejack grinned.  “That’s a mistake we won’t be making again, that’s fer sure.”


                Twilight trudged back to town along the road from Sweet Apple Acres with Spike on her back.  Even though the townsfolk had done a good job keeping the road clear of snow, it was still muddy and riddled with puddles of half-frozen water down the middle which Twilight had to navigate around, which made progress slow.

                They started down the hill into town, passing by a set of snowmares some fillies had made.  The road was quiet, and with good reason – a brisk wind was sweeping down from the mountains, chilling the exposed hill.  Even with her scarf and boots, Twilight couldn’t keep from shivering.

                “This is why I started going outside less often.” Twilight grumbled.  “Winter days are for staying inside and drinking hot tea.”

                “I bet Rarity’s place is pretty warm.” Spike said a little too casually.

                “Forget it, Spike.” Twilight snapped.  “I still need help on my letter.”

                “YOU NEED HELP?” Pinkie Pie had suddenly appeared out of one of the snowmares on the side of the road, her head emerging from where the snowmare’s had just been.  Her cheery voice rang out like a shout in the cold air, causing Twilight to jump several feet in the air and Spike to fall into a patch of snow.

                “Pinkie?!” Twilight gasped.  “What…what the…why were you sitting in a snowmare?!”

                Pinkie giggled.  “Sorry Twilight, it’s a secret!  And I promised not to tell nopony about it! …FoooooorrrEVER!” She finished dramatically, a dark look crossing her face for but a fraction of a second before reverting to its usual happy glow.

                “Yes, I’m familiar with your policy in that department.” Twilight said, deciding she probably didn’t really want to know the answer anyway.  “But aren’t you cold sitting in there?”

                “Nope!” Pinkie squeaked.  “See?  I brought my ear muffs!” She tilted her head down to allow Twilight to see them more clearly.  Twilight and Spike stared blankly at her for a few seconds before Pinkie burst out of the snowmare, causing the rest of it to vanish in a cloud of snowflakes.  “Say, you look kinda tired, Twilight!”

                “I do?” Twilight asked, bemused.  She knew she probably had dark circles under her eyes from her relative lack of sleep lately, but she had much worse periods of insomnia in the past without anyone remarking on it.

Fortunately, Pinkie apparently decided not to press the point.  “So, what’s this about Ponyville’s bestest most magical magic unicorn needing help?”

                “Oh, right…well, I need help writing a letter to Princess Celestia.”

                “A letter?” Pinkie said, rubbing her chin.  “This looks like a job for-“ She was cut off by a gust of cold wind that sent a fresh wave of shivers down Twilight’s body.  “HOT COCOA!  Come on everypony, let’s all go to Sugarcube Corner!” Pinkie finished before bouncing down the hill back towards town.  Twilight and Spike ran after her, trying to keep up.

                Twilight was grateful Pinkie had suggested coming to the sweet shop even before they walked in, as the smell emanating from the kitchen window was absolutely irresistible.  A mixture of gingerbread, cinnamon, and peppermint scents wafted through the cold air, tempting the senses like a siren.  Something about cold air always made food smell better, and the scent of sweets was so strong it almost felt tangible, like something you could drink.  Twilight inhaled deeply a few times before feeling a wave of welcome heat as she entered Sugarcube Corner.

                Stepping inside was like entering a furnace, and it made Twilight realize just how cold it had been outside.  The ovens had been running all morning and were pouring out heat which had thoroughly fogged the shop windows (Pinkie briefly took a moment to rewrite her greeting message out of the condensation on the glass and added a quick scribble of a cupcake).  Mr. Cake greeted Twilight and Spike before Pinkie led them to her room for that mug of hot cocoa.

                “Oh, that’s good…” Twilight sighed, letting the first sip of Pinkie’s creamy hot chocolate wash down her throat.  She felt instantly warmed from horn to hoof – what the hot bath had been for her fur and skin, the hot cocoa seemed to be for her insides.

                “You want some marshmallows?” Pinked asked, holding up a small bowl of the little white treats.  “Oh, yes please!” Twilight said.  “I’ll have just a-“ Pinkie emptied the entire bowl into Twilight’s mug, leaving a small mountain of marshmallows on top of the cocoa, with a few falling off the sides of the mug on to the floor.  “…couple.” Twilight finished, frowning at Pinkie.  The pink pony took no notice.

                “So, you need help writing a letter to Princess Celestia!  How far have you gotten?” Pinkie asked.

                Spike cleared his throat.  “Dear Princess Celestia.” He stopped there and Pinkie looked expectant for a couple of seconds before her smile faded.

                “Oh.  Then this might be a teensy tiny bit harder than I thought.” Pinkie said.

                “I need to write another of my reports on the magic of friendship, but I can’t think of anything!” Twilight said.  “Since the Winter Moon festival I haven’t be able to write something good.”

                “Oh, silly filly!” Pinkie said, waving a hoof.  “Isn’t it obvious?”

                Twilight gave her a blank look.

                Pinkie sighed.  “You always write your letters about friendship after something crazy happens to all of us!  You haven’t written anything since the Winter Moon festival because nothing crazy has happened to you!  So…you just need to wait until something wild and unpredictable happens to us again and write something about it!”

                Twilight stared back in stunned silence.  Now that she thought about it, Pinkie was absolutely right.  In fact, why hadn’t Twilight herself noticed this pattern?  Maybe it was her lack of sleep lately… Then again, Pinkie had a strange sort of wisdom about her, sometimes able to see the forest where Twilight only saw trees.

                A smile crept onto Twilight’s face.  ‘Something wild and unpredictable’?  She was only talking to what had to be the most unpredictable pony in all of Equestria!  Maybe this is one of Pinkie’s moments of brilliance… Twilight thought.

                “So?” Twilight asked Pinkie expectantly.

                “So…what?” Pinkie replied.

                “So can you do something wild and unpredictable so I can write my letter?” Twilight asked, almost bouncing with anticipation.

                “What, me?  Oh no no no no!” Pinkie laughed.  “I’m the most predictable pony in all of Equestria!”

                Twilight facehoofed.  Maybe not.


                “Now can we go see Rarity?” Spike grumbled.

                They were back outside, walking down the main street of Ponyville.  After the visit with Pinkie went nowhere, they decided to find another one of their friends.  Sugarcube Corner was so warm that stepping back outside felt like walking into a cool breeze, but soon enough they were starting to feel the chill return.

                “Hush Spike,” Twilight muttered.  “We’ll see Rarity when we’re good and-“

                Spike suddenly got a terrified look on his face.  “DUCK!!!” He yelled, diving for the ground.

                Twilight looked ahead just in time to feel something collide hard against her head.  Whatever it was, it was white as snow and released an enormous cloud of feathers.  She couldn’t comprehend what was going on...stars were popping in her eyes and something heavy was clasped around her head, honking loudly into her ears.

                “Um, actually Spike, it’s not a duck.  It’s a goose.” A familiarly quiet voice said softly.

                Fluttershy landed gracefully on the ground a few yards away, looking in Twilight’s direction with a look of concern on her face (then again, rare was the moment where Fluttershy didn’t look concerned).  Twilight had regained her senses just enough that she was starting to panic.

                “AGH!  What’s going on?!?  Is there a goose on my head?!” Twilight shrieked.

                “Please, calm down.” Fluttershy said.  “Um, if that’s okay…” She added timidly.  Twilight willed herself to not panic.  Fluttershy approached Twilight slowly and reached out a hoof.  “It’s okay…”

                Twilight felt the mass on her head edge away from the pegasus, but after a tense moment a long, slender neck emerged and stretched toward Fluttershy, making a soft gobbling noise as it nestled its head against the yellow pegasus’ outstretched hoof.

                “That’s better.” Fluttershy said, visibly relieved.  “And I think he likes you, Twilight.”  The goose seemed to affirm this by pulling its head back from Fluttershy and wrapping its neck around Twilight’s horn.

                “He’s beautiful!” Twilight said, feeling more confident the bird wasn’t going to attack her.  “But what’s a goose doing in Ponyville in the middle of winter?”

                “Oh, he got injured in the autumn and couldn’t fly south with his flock, so I’ve been keeping him at my house this winter to nurse him back to health.” Fluttershy explained.  The goose gave an appreciative-sounding gobble.

                “So if you’re taking care of him, why’s he flying around out here?” Spike asked.

                “Oh…he got scared.” Fluttershy said meekly.

                “Scared of what?” Spike asked, lifting an eyebrow.

                “CUTIE MARK CRUSADER WILD GOOSE CHASERS! YAY!!!” The overwhelming yell caused Spike and the two ponies to flinch and the goose to start honking frantically again.  The Cutie Mark Crusaders emerged from around the corner, clutching to Scootaloo’s scooter, which had apparently been outfitted with treads on the wheels to handle snowy terrain.  A moment after they spotted the goose they were flying down the street, Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle barely managing to cling to Scootaloo as she expertly drove her scooter.

The goose took off down the street, whacking Twilight on the head when it gave a couple of panicked flaps to try to get airborne.  Fluttershy lifted off the ground just in time to avoid getting buried in a wave of snow sent up from the passing scooter, but Twilight and Spike were not so fortunate.

                “Don’t worry, Fluttershy!” Apple Bloom called back.  “We’ll catch that goose!”

                “Oh no…wait, my little ponies! …Please! …Stop!” Fluttershy called out meekly, too quietly for anyone but Twilight and Spike to hear, whose heads popped up out of the snow.  Fluttershy started flying after the goose and the fillies, but turned around before she got very far.

                “Um, Twilight…it’s probably none of my business…but you should really get more sleep.  You look awfully tired.”  She said before flying off.

                “What…but…BUT I FEEL…fine…” Twilight trailed off, realizing Fluttershy was already too far away to hear.  She sighed and turned around to see Rainbow Dash hovering in front of her.

                “Hey, Twi! Spike! What’s going on?” Dash asked with a bemused look on her face.  “Anything I should be getting involved in?”

                Twilight thought this over for a moment.  “I don’t think so.  Fluttershy would probably be better off handling this one on her own.”

                “Suits me.” Dash shrugged, landing softly on the snowy ground.

                “But Twilight needs your help!” Spike said. “We need something wild and unpredictable to happen so that Twilight can learn a lesson about friendship and write her letter to Princess Celestia!”

                “You mean that wasn’t something wild and unpredictable?” Dash asked, pointing in the direction Fluttershy had taken off in.

                “Not something I could learn any lesson from.” Twilight said.  “Unless that lesson was ‘Don’t chase wild birds.’”

                “Well, if you need something wild and unpredictable to happen, then it’s obvious – you just gotta make it happen!” Dash said confidently.

                “How does that work?” Twilight asked skeptically.

                Dash shrugged again.  “I dunno.  Just…do something you wouldn’t normally do.  Something that would lead to something crazy happening that you can write about!”

                “Sounds…risky.” Twilight said.  “Plus, if you’re trying to make something unpredictable happen, wouldn’t that inherently make it predictable?”

                “Yes. …I mean – no! …Maybe.” Dash stammered.  “…You got me there.” She finally admitted.  “So…I know Applejack’s leaving town, and Fluttershy is occupied at the moment, and Pinkie’s probably being…Pinkie somewhere.  Have you asked Rarity for any help?”

                Spike gave a sideways grin to Twilight, who was glaring at Rainbow Dash.


                The Carousel Boutique looked magnificent in the winter.  The light pink and yellow of the roof was exposed at the top but covered in a soft white below, with a ring of icicles dangling from the decorative trim beneath the edge of the roof.  The awnings had been folded up so they wouldn’t collapse under the weight of the snow, but it also allowed more sunlight to reach the windows and illuminate the displays behind the glass.

                Twilight and Spike entered the shop and spotted Rarity almost instantaneously.  She was reorganizing some merchandise to draw more attention to a particularly beautiful (and expensive) set of coats, which were surrounded by displays of winter accessories like scarves and mittens.  Rarity turned around to face Twilight and Spike when she heard the doorbell over the shop door ring.

                “Oh, Twilight Sparkle!  Just the unicorn I wanted to see!  Tell me, how does the display look?  And be honest now!  I have some big clients due to arrive tomorrow and I need this to look just perfect!”

                “Oh, well…” Twilight started, but was immediately cut off.  Rarity had gasped and rushed up to Twilight with a look of near-horror on her face.

                “My goodness dear, are you all right?” Rarity asked.

                “What…yes, I’m fine!” Twilight said hastily, taking a step back.  “Why?”

                “Don’t take this the wrong way dear, but you look ghastly!” Rarity cried.  “Your color is faded, your complexion looks dismal, you have dark shadows under your eyes…” She started circling Twilight, examining her closely.  “You look anxious, you’re far too tense, and you seemed to have gained some weight.” She finished, prodding her midsection.

                “Rarity!” Twilight cried, pulling away sharply and blushing slightly.  “I feel fine, really!  And besides, it’s normal to gain a little weight in the winter.  It’s a natural reaction to the cold.”

                “You’re absolutely correct, dear.” Rarity said.  “But this is stress you’re dealing with!  Come on in…I will not have you going out looking like this!” She added, pushing Twilight into a back room.

                Spike, who seemed not to mind being completely ignored in the midst of this situation, lazily followed them, walking so lightly he almost seemed to be floating.


                A couple of hours later, after a series of heated negotiations in which Twilight managed to convince Rarity not to drag her to the spa, they were sitting in the top floor of the building, resting on silk pillows with green clay lightly applied to their faces (at one point, Spike had worked up the courage to ask if Rarity could apply some clay to his face too, and had practically fainted when Rarity obliged his request).  Twilight had her front hooves resting in a bowl of steaming water and a warm towel draped over her back.

                Rarity had her hoof on her chin, looking thoughtfully at her guest.  Twilight had just finished explaining her situation and Rarity seemed to be considering it.

                “Well my dear, it would seem to me that the answer to your problem is obvious!” She exclaimed.

                Twilight frowned.  There was that word again.  “I’ve been hearing that an awful lot today, Rarity.”

                “Oh yes, I suppose you have…” Rarity laughed.  “Let me just make sure I’ve got this correct.  You needed assistance writing your letter, so you decided to ask your friends for help.”

                “Yeah…” Twilight said slowly, not sure where Rarity was going with this.

                “Then the answer lies right before you!” Rarity responded.  “A true friend is one you can always count on for help.  And even if they can’t help you, just the knowledge that you have someone you can look to can make any situation much easier to bear.”

                Twilight’s jaw dropped.  It was perfect.  All she needed to do was add ‘Your Faithful Student, Twilight Sparkle’ to the end and it would be ready.

                “Can I use that, Rarity?  …Word-for-word?” Twilight asked.  “I don’t think it counts as plagiarism if I ask for your permission first…” She said, laughing slightly.

                “By all means, use it.” Rarity said proudly.  “I would consider it an honor!”

                “Told you we should have come here first…” Spike muttered with a sly grin on his face.

                Twilight offered a sharp glare in response.  “Spike, take a letter!”

                “Can’t it wait?” Spike asked.  During the conversation he had been fanning Rarity with a large leaf.

                “SPIKE! NOW!


                A couple of hours later they were back at the library.  Spike had sent off the letter and Twilight was feeling more upbeat than she had in days.  She was in the process of removing the last of her boots when they heard a knock at the door.  Spike opened the door to answer it.

                “P-Princess Celestia!?!” He sputtered.  The boot Twilight was struggling with suddenly went flying into the air, landing with a sharp smack on Twilight’s head.  Rubbing the spot where it struck, she hurriedly got up and rushed to the door, bowing when she caught sight of the regal figure standing on her doorstep.

                “Hello, my faithful student!” Celestia said cheerfully.  “I hope I’m not interrupting anything!”

                “Oh, not at all Princess!” Twilight said hurriedly.  “Please, come in and make yourself comfortable!”

                “Thank you for the offer, Twilight.” Celestia replied.  “But I’m afraid I will have to be leaving soon.  I’m on my way to Hoofington, but I got your letter just before I departed and wanted to check in on you.”

                The princess lowered her head towards Twilight.  “I haven’t been getting as many reports on the magic of friendship from you lately.  Is everything all right?”

                Twilight swallowed hard.  She was afraid that she’d be asked that.  “Yes Princess, I’m fine.  I’m sorry…I just wasn’t able to come up with any meaningful reports these last few weeks.  I hope you’re not disappointed in me…”

                “Not at all, my faithful student!” Celestia said happily.  “I just wanted to let you know that you shouldn’t feel any pressure to get your reports to me.  Much like cutie marks, the magic of friendship is something we have to discover on our own time.”

                “Begging your pardon, Princess…But I think if I had been left to my own time, I never would have discovered anything about friendship!” Twilight said, referring to the events that brought her to Ponyville in the first place.

                Celestia chuckled softly.  “Well, maybe not always on our own time.  But so long as you’re attempting, it will come to you.”

                “Thank you, Princess…” Twilight said, audibly relieved.

                Celestia turned to leave, spreading her wings to take off, but she glanced back before soaring into the air.  “And Twilight?  Be sure to get your rest.  You look exhausted!”

                Twilight’s eye twitched involuntarily.