Autumn Breeze in: The Greatest Gift
"Ah, good. I'm right on time."
Autumn Breeze alighted on the train station platform. Judging by the position of the sun, the train carrying from Canterlot would be arriving at Ponyville station at any moment. The pegasus folded his wings against his back and leaned against a pillar.
It had been a few months since Autumn Breeze had started dating his cheerful coworker, Ditzy Doo. Everything was going wonderfully between them so far, and Breeze was happy to do favors for her. Like, in this particular instance, picking up the mare's daughter as she returned from the academy in Canterlot.
After a few moments, a plume of smoke appeared over the next hill, signaling the arrival of the train. It pulled into the station with a loud hiss, the doors popped open, and Breeze smiled as a grey-purple unicorn filly hopped out, carrying a travel bag in her magic's grip.
"Hey Dinky!" Breeze called out. "Over here!"
Dinky turned her head left and right, searching for the source of the voice, and a moment later her eyes settled on Breeze. She hurried over to him.
"Hello, Mr. Breeze! What are you doing here?" she asked. "Usually mom comes to pick me up on the weekend."
Breeze nodded. "I know, but Ditzy got sent on an assignment way out in Las Pegasus. Between all the travel and the job itself, she won't be back until Sunday morning, so she asked me to keep an eye on you for today and tomorrow."
"Oh." Dinky brightened. "Well, that's convenient. Now we have time to plan a party or something for Sunday."
Breeze raised an eyebrow. "A party on Sunday? What for?"
Dinky blinked in confusion. "Well
that should be obvious. I mean, isn't my mom kind of your very special somepony?"
" Breeze answered hesitantly.
"Well, do you have a better idea of what you wanna do for her on Hearts and Hooves Day, then?" Dinky asked quizzically.
Breeze froze. "H-Hearts and Hooves Day?! Is that this weekend?!"
Dinky rolled her eyes. "Mr. Breeze, don't tell me you forgot
Breeze groaned and hung his head. "I did. My first Hearts and Hooves Day with a new marefriend, and I totally forget. Great."
"Luckily, I prepared for this," said Dinky in a matter-of-fact tone. "Look, I already made her a card! You just have to sign it, and we can give it to mom!"
Dinky reached into her bag to retrieve her drawing, Breeze snatched her up and placed her on his back before she could.
"No time for the small stuff, Dinky!" Breeze urged. "This isn't just anypony we're talking about here. Your mom's been through a lot in the last couple, and I want to get her something really special for Hearts and Hooves Day! You know, something she'll never forget!"
Dinky tapped a hoof to her chin. "Well, we could go into town. All the stores are full of potential Hearts and Hooves Day presents right now anyway."
"Good idea," said Breeze. "And you, Dinky, are going to help me pick something out. By the time your mom comes back on Sunday, we're gonna have the best Hearts and Hooves Day present ever!"
"Sold out? Really?"
"I'm afraid so," the clerk replied. "Hearts and Hooves Day is quite the occasion around here, you know. Most of the best merchandise we put on stock is gone by the time the holiday gets this close."
Breeze nodded. "Yeah, I understand. Thanks anyway."
Breeze trudged out of the shop, with Dinky tagging along behind.
"Now what, Mr. Breeze?" Dinky asked. "That the fifth store we've checked. All they have left is candy and trinkets."
"I know," Breeze said morosely. "But I refuse to buy that stuff. We need to find something that's really one of a kind."
Dinky glanced around Ponyville plaza, searching for any place that might have the kind of special merchandise Breeze was looking for. Her eyes came to rest on a round, ornate building.
"Well, there's Carousel Boutique," she suggested. "Sweetie's older sister Rarity already has mom's measurements, I think. Maybe we could get a dress made for her?"
Breeze brightened. "That's a good idea," he admitted. "Come on, let's go see if Rarity is busy."
The pair of ponies trotted over to Carousel Boutique and stepped into the lobby. The room was full of mannequins, each with a different spectacular dress draped over it. Rarity was at the other end of the room, crouched over her sewing machine. The little bell over the front door rang as Breeze and Dinky entered, causing Rarity to turn around. The first thing Breeze noticed was how tired the mare looked.
"Hello," Rarity said sweetly, if a little faintly. "Welcome to Carousel Boutique. What can I do for you today?"
"Um, hi," said Breeze awkwardly. "I was wondering if I could order a dress for my marefriend here?"
Rarity blinked. "Well
it seems a bit unorthodox," she admitted. "I would need your marefriends measurements if I wanted to make something that fits."
"That's just it, though," Breeze said. "You've met Ditzy Doo, right? It's for her."
Comprehension spread across Rarity's face. "Oh, Ditzy Doo! Why yes, of course I know her, darling. One of the friendliest mares in Ponyville, she is. It's a shame, I've not seen her in a while."
Rarity snapped out of her memories. "Oh, but back on topic, you'd like to get her a dress as a gift?"
"Yeah," said Breeze. "Something really special. It's gotta be one of a kind."
Rarity grinned. "Oh, I do love custom orders. Come into my workroom and I'll show you a few of my latest design blueprints."
Breeze began to follow Rarity into the back room. Dinky took a moment to stare at some of the dresses before following along.
Mr. Breeze?" she whispered. "Do you think maybe Rarity is already-"
"Here we are," Rarity sang as she pulled out her sketches. "Depending on which design you'd like, there may be some variation in price and timeframe. I can do rush jobs, though. I once made five dresses in a day."
She frowned. "Admittedly, that escalated into a bit of a fiasco, but that's neither here nor there. When would you like this dress by, anyway?"
"Well, it kind of does need to be a rush job," Breeze admitted. "It's for Hearts and Hooves Day."
Rarity's expression suddenly froze. Her work glasses slid slightly along the bridge of her nose, hanging at a strange angle.
"What?" she asked.
"By Hearts and Hooves Day," Breeze repeated. "I know it's soon, but it's really important that-"
Rarity cut him off with a loud peal of laughter. Breeze was a bit taken aback by the outburst.
"Oh, darling, I'm afraid you're far too late," Rarity giggled. "I'm putting the finishing touches on dozens of dresses that have been ordered for Hearts and Hooves Day; it's the busiest time of the year! If you wanted to reserve something for then, you should have been speaking to me about it a month ago!"
Breeze flattened his ears against his head. "So
that's out of the question, then?"
"Quite," said Rarity bluntly. "And I don't mean to be rude, but most stallions have gotten their Hearts and Hooves Day presents prepared long before today. You'd best hurry if you want to get something nice for Ditzy."
Rarity trotted out into the showroom. "Now, if you'll excuse me," she continued, "I really must get back to work. So much still to do, and only a day and a half to do it in. Looks like I'll be working all through the night again."
thanks anyway," Breeze mumbled. "Come on, Dinky. Let's go."
Feeling less hopeful by the minute, Breeze and Dinky exited the boutique.
"I tried to tell you," Dinky said. "When I noticed all the dresses in the showroom were mostly finished, I realized Rarity probably already had her hooves full with Hearts and Hooves Day orders.
Breeze nodded. "I should have realized it myself," he admitted. "I guess that was a stupid idea from the start."
There was a brief silence.
what do we do now?" Dinky asked.
"I don't know!" Breeze growled, stamping his hoof in frustration. "There's nothing left to try. We could go to another town, but it seems like everypony is sold out here, so I don't see why other towns should be any different."
Breeze slumped down onto his haunches. "I want to get Ditzy something she'll never forget. I want it to be something amazing, but now I'll be lucky if I can even get her a present at all."
"Why does it have to be such a special present, Mr. Breeze?" Dinky asked.
Breeze looked at Dinky sadly. "Dinky, do you know how hard things are for your mom sometimes?" he asked. "She spent years taking care of you all by herself, living off low pay from an unstable job. Sure, she makes more money now, but her first year at Equestria Speedy Shipping Services was filled with more ups and downs than anypony should have to deal with. And poor Ditzy has a harder time doing even simple everyday things than the rest of us because of her eyes. I admire her strength, actually; a weaker mare would have just given up in that sort of situation, but she
Dinky, are you even listening to me?"
Dinky's face was scrunched up. She appeared to be in deep thought.
"Dinky?" Breeze asked. "Are you okay?"
"Her eyes," Dinky said suddenly. "That's it, Mr. Breeze. Her eyes!"
"What do her eyes have to do with finding her a present?" Breeze asked.
"Just a second," Dinky said, turning and digging into her saddlebag. "I'll show you."
Dinky removed one of her school textbooks and dropped it on the ground. Breeze took a look at the title.
"Legendary Magical Artifacts of the Pre-Celestial Era?" he asked, completely oblivious to the book's relation to their current situation.
Dinky's horn lit up, and the book popped open. The pages fluttered for a moment in her magical aura, before coming to stop at a diagram of a strange, spherical device.
"We just learned about this in class this week!" she said excitedly. "This thing is called the Healer's Orb. It can be used to cure anypony of any ailment or injury, no matter how old or severe it is. It only works once per pony though, so it can't be used to keep one healthy forever. If we can get it, maybe we can use it to fix mom's eyes!"
Breeze scanned the text on the page. "As tempting as that sounds, Dinky, it says nopony has been able to use it for hundreds of years," he pointed out.
Dinky nodded. "That's because it's across the sea, on some volcanic mountaintop in the griffon territories. Unicorns can't make the journey, and pegasi can't break the magical protections around it without magic of their own."
"Then what's the point?" Breeze asked. "Nopony can get to it anyway."
Dinky rolled her eyes. "Mr. Breeze, you're a pegasus. I'm a unicorn. I'm also small enough to ride on your back, so it would be possible for me to get there. See where I'm going with this?"
you're just a filly," Breeze retorted. "Do you think you'd even be able to break the magical barriers?"
Dinky shrugged. "No harm in trying. It's not like we're gonna find any other good presents around here. And if you were able to give mom her old vision back, as a Hearts and Hooves Day present
Dinky trailed off and watched as her suggestion sunk in. Breeze's eyes widened as he realized the possibilities.
"Where did you say this place is, Dinky?" he asked.
"In the griffon territories," the filly replied. "According to my other textbook, a fast pegasus can get there in just a few hours."
"Then what are we waiting for?" Breeze asked, a giddy smile creeping across his face. "If we hurry, we can get the artifact and make it back by Sunday!"
"Really? We're going?" Dinky squealed. "Hooray!"
Dinky closed the textbook, and hopped onto Breeze's back. Breeze flared his wings and took to the air, heading east towards the sea as quickly as he could.
Dinky tucked herself into the space between Breeze's wings, much in the way she did when riding on her mother's back, and chuckled mischievously to herself.
Of course, the book also says that griffon territory is extremely dangerous, she thought, but if I told Mr. Breeze that, then we wouldn't be going, and mom wouldn't be getting anything for Hearts and Hooves Day.
Dinky shrugged off the textbook's warnings. We don't even need to worry about it anyway, she thought. Breeze is fast and strong, and I have magic. Those rugged lands to the east are no match for us.
It was already late afternoon when land finally came into view. Breeze sighed in relief; the long flight had taken its toll. He swooped down and alighted on the rocky ground. Dinky stretched briefly and then hopped off his back and onto the ground beside him.
"Well, this is the place," Breeze said. "I've never been to this continent before. It's not even within the boundaries of Equestria."
He looked down at Dinky. "I hope you know where you're going, at least."
Dinky levitated her textbook out of her saddlebag and flipped open to the map.
"It looks like the volcanoes are northeast of here," she said finally. "I'm not sure how far, though; the measurements on this map are in some archaic units. I don't take ancient syllabary class at school until next term, unfortunately."
"Well, let's get started then," Breeze said. "A whole cluster of volcanoes has to be kind of hard to miss."
"Should we keep flying? That'll make the journey easier," Dinky suggested.
"In a little while," Breeze said. "The terrain up ahead looks pretty impassable anyway, but it's flat here near the coast, so we can walk for a while. Just give me an hour or so to rest my wings, and then we'll keep flying.
Dinky nodded and began to follow Breeze up the inclined path. The two ponies trotted in silence for a short while, taking in their surroundings. There wasn't much to see; just about every surface was composed of the same brownish rock. Occasionally, a tuft of coarse grass would spring up from a crack, but the landscape was mostly barren. There weren't even any mountain animals in sight.
Breeze and Dinky reached the top of yet another ridge, and now the rocky surface seemed to just stretch on forever as the slanted plains rose into mountains. There was no sign of any life at all, let alone civilization.
"Isn't this supposed to be griffon territory?" Breeze asked. "How comes we haven't seen any-"
Something huge and heavy landed on Breeze's back, instantly pinning the pegasus to the ground. A clawed hand held his head against the ground, but out of the corner of his eye, he could see a lot of movement. A group of creatures had descended, and they seemed rather large.
Dinky screamed. Breeze struggled against whatever was holding him down in an effort to try to help her.
"This bigger one is resisting," said a deep voice.
"Put him to bed, then," replied another voice.
Breeze had only one terrifying second to comprehend the meaning of their words before something hard struck him across the skull. Fight though he did, his consciousness slipped away.
"I said let us out, you big bullies!"
Dinky's shrill yelling echoed around the cave walls almost as loudly as it echoed around the inside of Breeze's throbbing skull. He groaned, and managed to sit up.
"Mr. Breeze, you're awake!" Dinky gasped. "Are you okay?"
" Breeze mumbled. He tried to stand, but the action caused him to pitch forward.
"You can't really stand," Dinky said. "Your ankles are chained."
Breeze pulled himself into the most stable sitting position he could manage, and turned to look at Dinky. Her legs were free of bonds, but she was chained to a wall by her horn.
"They're smart, those griffons," she explained. "Looks like they know that applying pressure to a unicorn's horn disrupts their magic. I can't do too much with this thing on my head."
"Wait, the griffons?" Breeze asked. "But why did they capture and imprison us? We haven't done anything?"
"I don't know," Dinky said. "They said they weren't going to tell me until you woke up."
"Well, well," came a voice outside the cell, "our other guest has come to. How lovely."
A huge griffon with dark grey feathers appeared outside the bars of the underground chamber. The fur of his lion half was a rich brown, darker than the occasional griffon Breeze had encountered in Equestria. One of his talons seemed to be missing a toe.
"Seems an adventurous pegasus and a little unicorn runt decided to take a holiday in griffon country," the griffon chuckled. "I'm not sure where you got that stupid idea, but now you're paying for it."
"Why are you keeping us here?" Breeze asked angrily. "I thought Equestria had some kind of treaty with you guys!"
"Oh, right, that," said the griffon outside the cell. "Yeah, that pony princess always wants to keep diplomacy around all her territories. Griffons can't even enter Equestria without some kind of royal approval, and usually, those that do are the ones who are too weak to survive out here among the griffon tribes anyway. They slink off to live among you prissy ponies like little babies."
The large creature spat on the ground distastefully. "However, our country is under our jurisdiction, not the princess's," he continued. "And our rule is much stricter; no outsiders allowed!"
The griffon grinned. "However, we don't mind it too much when outsiders do come in. Resources are scarce 'round this desolate place, so we can always use a little more slave labor."
The griffon laughed at Dinky and Breeze's shocked expressions. "You two can call me Slavemaster Argus from now on. Only one of you looks fit for any real work, but I'm sure we can find something for the little lass to do, right?"
Dinky stuck her tongue out at Argus.
"Get some sleep, slaves," Argus said. "You two are going to have a busy day tomorrow."
Cackling, the grey griffon disappeared down the corridor.
Breeze sighed. "Great. Now what are we supposed to do? Didn't your book say anything about griffons being hostile?"
Dinky shrugged. "Uh
it mentioned something about the griffon territory being kind of dangerous
" she said meekly. "I don't think I read everything on that topic, though."
Breeze buried his face in his hooves. "Well, now we'll be lucky if we ever get back to Equestria, let alone get your mom a present. We need to find a way to break out of here."
"How?" Dinky asked. "We're both chained."
"I don't know, maybe we can pick the locks somehow," Breeze mumbled. "But there's nothing here to open them with."
Dinky gasped. "Yes there is, Mr. Breeze! Your feathers! The pointy tips of your feathers might be able to get the job done!"
Breeze struggled, attempting to reach his wings, but the chains were too constricting. He couldn't reach them with any of his hooves.
"It's no use Dinky," he admitted. "I can't reach my wings, and you're chained way over there. It's hopeless."
Dinky tapped a hoof to her chin in thought. "Don't pegasi lose feathers naturally while flying sometimes?" she asked.
"Well, sure," Breeze admitted. "But that happens randomly, I can't control when I lose a feather."
"Well, then start flapping!" Dinky urged. "Your wings aren't chained. Maybe if you flap them long enough, a feather will fall out."
Breeze groaned. "I've already used my wings more than I would have liked to for one day," he said, "but I guess there isn't much of a choice."
Breeze sighed and began to beat his wings as quickly and quietly as he could. Dinky leaned against the wall and waited.
The night deepened. The griffons in the caves had long since retired for the night, and with each moment, Breeze knew there was less time remaining until they woke. But none of his feathers seemed interested in pulling free of his wings.
Finally, sometime in the wee hours of the morning, one feather suddenly came loose, and Breeze immediately collapsed, completely exhausted. "Dinky," he said weakly. "Wake up. I got a feather loose."
Dinky, who had fallen asleep on her hooves due to the position of her bonds making it impossible for her to lie down, woke with a start and gave a huge yawn. "Great, Mr. Breeze," she said sleepily. "Push it over here."
Breeze slid the feather along the floor and Dinky picked it up. She inserted the pointed tip into the contraption locked around her horn and began to wiggle it about. A few minutes passed, and suddenly the deadbolt gave a loud click and the bond came free.
"Got it!" she giggled, immediately transferring the feather from her hoof to her magical aura. "Sit up Mr. Breeze, so I can get yours!"
Breeze lifted himself to a partial sitting position, and waited as Dinky unlocked the multiple locks on his legs. Her dexterity with the feather was increased tremendously now that it was being magically manipulated, and all of Breeze's locks came free in less time than it had taken Dinky to do her own.
"Good, now let's get out of this crazy place," Breeze said quietly. "Can you pick the lock on the door with that-"
"One step ahead of you," Dinky laughed, pushing open the cell door.
The two ponies bolted out of the silent corridors, and found themselves on a high ledge in the mountains.
"Okay," Breeze said. "Let's get out of here before any griffons notice. We need to head straight back to Equestria."
"But look!" said Dinky, pointing in the opposite direction. "We're so close!"
Breeze looked. A red glow sat on the horizon, and a few wisps of smoke curled into the sky.
"The volcanoes are just a short flight away," Dinky said. "We can't give up now! We're so close to getting the ultimate present for mom for Hearts and Hooves Day."
Breeze looked back toward the shore, then towards the volcanoes again. Never had he felt so conflicted.
"Alright," he agreed. "It's probably a bad idea, but let's go and try to get that orb."
"Yay!" Dinky cheered.
Breeze shook his head. Dear Celestia, what am I thinking?
Breeze attempted to alight gracefully on the next precipice, but he just sort of crumpled onto the rocks as soon as he landed. Dinky hopped off his back and looked at him with concern.
"You alright, Mr. Breeze?" she asked.
"Oh, my aching wings
" Breeze moaned. "No pegasus should ever have to fly as much as I have in the past day. Especially not with a filly on his back
"Well, I think we can walk from here," Dinky said, observing the area around them. "The paths look a little treacherous, but it's morning now, so we should be able to see it if there's any danger."
Breeze looked at the unstable rocky bridges crisscrossing over a gulch filled with hot volcanic gases. "Yeah," he said sarcastically. "We'll be real safe now."
He stood up. "Just stay close to me, Dinky. If you fall, I need to be near enough that I can fly down and catch you before you wind up in that volcanic pit."
Dinky nodded and began carefully stepping along the thin pathways, and Breeze followed closely behind. The two of them wound around the side of the next mountain, always wary of the crumbling pathways.
Finally, as the afternoon wore on, the pair reached the mountaintop, and Dinky pointed to a structure up ahead.
"That's it. Look."
Breeze saw what appeared to be an old sanctuary of some sort, positioned on an uneven rocky outcropping. Unfortunately, the island holding the strange little building was situated over a large pit of boiling lava.
"Can you fly us over there, Mr. Breeze?" Dinky asked.
"Yeah," Breeze replied, "but hold on tight. If you fall of or something, you're in deep trouble."
Dinky clung to Breeze's back, and the pegasus fluttered as quickly as he could over the deep chasm of lava. A moment later, he landed on the island.
Dinky ran up the steps of the stone sanctuary and reached the pedestal at the top where, sure enough, the Healer's Orb rested inside some sort of translucent barrier. A long, flat stone sat in front of the pedestal; it appeared as if it was meant to bear some sort of inscription, yet it was completely blank.
Breeze tapped the shield with a hoof. "This is made of magic, isn't it?" he asked Dinky.
"That's right," she said. "Now, I just need to figure out how to break it."
"Can you like, shoot a fireball at it or something?" Breeze asked.
Dinky snickered. "Mr. Breeze, they don't teach battle magic to first year students," she explained. "Can you imagine the chaos at the academy if there were a bunch of colts and fillies running around throwing fire and lightning at each other?"
"Good point," said Breeze. "But then, how do you plan to break it?"
"I'm not sure," said Dinky. "But magic puzzles like these almost never require brute force. You just have to figure out how to give it what it wants."
Breeze trotted all the way around the barrier, but there was no sign of a hint of any kind. "Well, I'm not sure what to say," he admitted. "I've lived among pegasi all my life; anything from unicorn culture is kind of lost on me."
"Maybe it gains energy from its surroundings," Dinky theorized. "Since it's so hot here, maybe the barrier will disappear if I make it cold."
Dinky's horn lit up, and after a few seconds, condensation began to appear on the surface of the magical wall, indicating the temperature change. However, it didn't falter as a result.
"No effect," said Breeze. "Any other ideas?"
"The only other thing I even know how to do that's applicable to this situation is dispel existing spells," Dinky said. "Remember, it's the same thing I used on Glow when we were in Canterlot. But this magic is a lot stronger than she is."
"Well, give it a try," Breeze urged.
Dinky squeezed her eyes shut and concentrated. A yellow shockwave blasted from her horn. Most of it passed harmlessly over Breeze. Some of it hit the barrier, which caused it to ripple slightly, but a moment later, it solidified back to normal.
"No! Open, you stupid thing!" Dinky yelled, blasting wave after wave of magic dispelling energy out of her horn. The barrier seemed quite unconcerned. It did little more than wiggle around a bit more.
"Ugh," said Dinky, leaning her head against the magical wall in defeat. "It's not fair, we're so close! I just want to be able to fix mom's eyes so she can live a normal life again."
The barrier flickered away instantly and Dinky tumbled forward, landing almost on top of the orb. "Wha- what'd I do?" she asked. "I didn't use any magic."
"Look there!" said Breeze, pointing to the wide stone on the ground. Lettering was appearing in its surface.
The young unicorn's cause is a worthy one. Take the orb and heal the ones you love.
Dinky picked up the large, shiny artifact. "We got it! Let's get going, Mr. Breeze."
"Aw, leaving so soon?" came a deep voice.
There was a loud flapping behind the ponies. They turned around just in time to see Argus alight on the platform.
"I don't know what you two are doing out here," Argus said, "but I don't appreciate it when my guests leave without saying goodbye. Lucky for me, I can smell a pony from miles away. This time, ol' Argus isn't gonna be so friendly with you trespassers."
The griffon snarled and lunged forward. Breeze reacted instinctively; he turned around and aimed a buck at the beast's chest. It connected, throwing Argus backward, but not before the griffon took a good swipe at Breeze with one of his front claws.
Breeze cried out as he felt the muscle in his left wing tear. The useless wing hung limply at his side. Before Breeze could even attempt to retaliate, Argus lunged forward again, beak snapping.
The griffon crashed face-first into a magical shield Dinky had created. Angrily, he hammered himself against it.
"How are we supposed to get out of here?!" Breeze asked desperately. "We can't get off this little hunk of rock anymore; I can't even move my left wing."
Despite the perilous situation, Dinky smirked. "Mr. Breeze, you could try using the orb for that, you know."
Breeze blinked. "Oh yeah
" he said sheepishly.
Argus smashed against Dinky's shield again, and a large crack appeared. "You might want to hurry it up, Mr. Breeze," she said.
Breeze clutched the orb between his front hooves. "I need my wings to be healed!" he said aloud.
The effect was instantaneous; damaged muscle and broken bone mended immediately, and all the fatigue Breeze felt from his recent excessive flying melted away. He felt stronger and fitter than he could ever remember feeling.
"Okay, hop on!" he said, flaring his wings as he prepared to take off.
Dinky grabbed the magical orb and leapt onto Breeze's back. The pegasus crouched and prepared to take off.
Argus lunged forward one more time, shattering the force field, and Breeze took of the instant he did so. The pegasus rose into the air and flew off into the mountains toward the sea as fast as he could. He heard the griffon's powerful wing beats right behind him.
Suddenly, Argus lunged forward in midair and caught Breeze's tail in his beak. Breeze came to a jarring halt, and Dinky screamed as she toppled forward from the momentum. Breeze then managed to catch her tail in his teeth. Unfortunately, the sudden stop in Dinky's momentum caused her to lose her grip on the orb. Before anypony could even react, it tumbled into the chasm and was engulfed by the magma, bursting into a dazzling multicolored flame for a moment before being swallowed up entirely.
Breeze took advantage of the momentary distraction to flap with all his might. He pulled free from Argus's grip, leaving a tuft of brown hair in the griffon's mouth. He slung Dinky up onto his back and rocketed toward the sea, this time leaving their angry pursuer far behind.
Breeze sighed yet again as he flew, gazing at the calm sea below him and the star-filled sky up above. The journey had been a complete bust; the Healer's Orb was destroyed, and now there was nothing to give Ditzy for Hearts and Hooves Day.
Breeze craned his neck to look at Dinky, who was sleeping soundly on his back. He realized that he himself had not slept in almost two days, and he shook his head to clear the sleep away. He had to keep flying until they were safely back in Equestria.
Besides, I wouldn't be able to sleep much anyway, he thought grimly. Tomorrow's going to be the worst Hearts and Hooves Day ever
The sun had already peeked over the horizon on Sunday morning when Breeze finally arrived back at Ditzy's cottage. He trotted in the front door, and proceeded straight to Dinky's room, where he carefully tucked the sleeping filly into her own bed. Then he proceeded to Ditzy's couch in the living room and collapsed, falling asleep almost instantly.
He got to enjoy his sleep for a quarter hour or so. Then, the door slammed open, startling him awake.
"Good morning!" Ditzy Doo sang as she trotted into the cottage. "Ooh, sorry. Did I wake you up, Breeze? Usually you're up by now."
" Breeze mumbled, rubbing his eyes. "How was your trip?"
"Okay," said Ditzy. "The job wasn't anything special, but I completed the assignment. Anyway, is Dinky awake yet?"
"Mr. Breeze!" Dinky called from her room. "Could you come here a minute?"
"Sounds like she is," Breeze said. "I'll go see what she wants."
Breeze trotted into Dinky's room. The filly was huddled over a large, decorated paper.
"Quick, Mr. Breeze, sign the card! That way we'll at least have something to give to mom!"
"Alright," said Breeze a little sadly. He took the paper and scrawled a short note next to Dinky's, signed it, and handed it back to her.
"Okay, let's go," she said, darting out of the room. Breeze trudged along after her.
"Hey mom," Dinky said as she approached her mother. "Guess what?"
Ditzy's eyes attempted briefly to focus on her daughter before sliding apart again. "What?"
Dinky whipped the card out of her saddlebag with magic and presented it to Ditzy. "Happy Hearts and Hooves Day from me and Mr. Breeze!"
A huge smile crept across Ditzy's face as she took the card. The front was mostly taken up with a crayond drawing of Ditzy and Breeze, with Dinky huddled in between them and a big heart surrounding the trio. Ditzy opened the card to find the interior covered in glitter, heart-shaped stickers, and little drawings of flowers and butterflies. Two notes were written at the bottom.
Happy Hearts and Hooves Day to a mom who works so hard for our little family. You're the best mom in all of Equestria!
Ditzy shifted her gaze to the other note.
To the mare I'd go to the ends of the earth for, (more literally than you might think), a very Happy Hearts and Hooves Day. I'm so sorry this was all we could get for you this year; even though there's nothing in Equestria as good as the gift you deserve, your present next year will be twice as amazing as this year's should have been. I promise.
With love, Autumn Breeze
"Yeah, it's not much
" Breeze said. "Every place in town was sold out, and-"
"Shh," said Ditzy. "What are you talking about, Breeze? This is
this is the greatest gift you two could have gotten for me."
"But it's just a card," Breeze said. "We were hoping to get you a-"
"I'm not talking about the card!" Ditzy laughed. "I'm talking about all the love I get from the two of you. That's all I could want on Hearts and Hooves Day, but I get it every day from my wonderful coltfriend and my amazing daughter."
Ditzy scooped both of them up in a strong embrace. "I don't know what I would do without you two," she said. "I'm actually glad you didn't go out of your way to get me some silly gift, because the best gift of all is spending the day with the two of you."
"Well, that's a relief," Breeze said. "Good thing we didn't try to do anything drastic, right Dinky?"
Dinky winked. "That's right, Mr. Breeze. Nothing drastic at all."
Author's final note: That's it, Shipping and Handling is now 100% complete, bonus content and all. If you're still looking for more, keep an eye on this page in 2013 for the official sequel, "Hocus Pocus", starring little Dinky Doo, and detailing her adventures at Celestia's Academy for Gifted Unicorns. (And of course, featuring the continued story of the lively cast of S&H).
In the meantime, check out my other fics if you're looking for something else by me.