• Published 31st Aug 2019
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Magic of the Heart - Pegasus Rescue Brigade



In the final installment of the "Shipping and Handling" trilogy, Ditzy and Dinky once again wind up in the center of one of the greatest trials Equestria has ever faced.

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Chapter 1

Author's Note:

CHRONOLOGY INFORMATION:
Excluding the prologue and epilogue, this story takes place between seasons 8 and 9.
That means the School of Friendship, and all canon events before that, have happened, but Twilight has not yet been asked to rule Equestria and the Grogar arc has not yet begun.

The freshly fallen December snow that blanketed the Everfree Forest never stayed pristine for long. Even in winter, all manner of woodland creatures, both great and small, scurried and shuffled along the ground and clambered through the snow-laden pine boughs. Every manner of mark, from the smallest mouse's footprint to the largest manticore track, crisscrossed in a dizzying maze around the forest floor.

It was, however, quite unusual to see hoofprints in the snow, except perhaps on the somewhat-cleared forest pathway leading to the Castle of the Two Sisters. While the Everfree was perhaps not considered quite as dangerous as it once had been, most ponies still typically gave the forest a wide berth.

If anypony had been around to see it, they may have thought it a bit strange to see multiple sets of hoofprints, clearly belonging to a team of several ponies, snaking through the snow and disappearing into those sinister trees.

On a hillside deep in the woods, a determined young unicorn mare trudged through the wintry terrain, seeking a high point to get a view above the Everfree's thick canopy. Bits of melting snow that had fallen from the branches drew cold, wet lines along her grey coat, but she hardly seemed to mind. Cantering to the top of the rise, she stood looking out at the forest and the quaint buildings of Ponyville, barely visible a bit further beyond the trees. Her messy, light blue mane whipped about in the winter wind, but she paid no attention to it. A small golden hair clip, embedded with a shimmering pink gem, kept her windblown locks out of at least one of her eyes.

"Clarity! Please, wait up!"

Clarity turned from her vantage point and looked back down the hill. "I'm just getting a look at where we are," she called back. "Take your time, I'll wait right here."

There was some shuffling in the brush below, and then another young mare emerged from the trees. In contrast to Clarity's stronger, slightly stocky build, the other pony's frame was much leaner and more effeminate, which seemed to be making it a bit harder for her to push through the snow-covered underbrush. With a little gasp of surprise, she stumbled into the clearing and onto the hillside, barely managing to keep her footing.

Clarity frowned. "You okay there, Honeydew?"

Honeydew nodded and paused to shake the snow off her pastel pink coat. Her mane, the same shade of light green as the fruit that was her namesake, save for the stripe of white running through it, was threatening to fall out of its usual neatly-tied buns. She plodded up the hill, panting slightly as she came to stand beside her friend. A star sapphire, affixed to the silver ring near the end of her braided tail, glinted in the unobstructed afternoon sun.

"This isn't working," she said sourly, earning a curious look from Clarity. "We should meet up with the others and get back to town."

"Aw, you think so?" Clarity asked. "You were the one who wanted to go out today to gather some of the plants you needed for your research with Professor Chestnut."

"Yes, and I found several of them," Honeydew reminded her, patting her saddlebag. "But we haven't found any of the remaining species yet, and it's cold, and this forest gives me the creeps."

"It does?" Clarity replied, chuckling slightly. "Isn't nature supposed to be your thing?"

"It is," Honeydew admitted, glancing at her cutie mark, a green leaf overlaid with a gold star. "It's just this forest I don't like. I feel like something's gonna jump out and try to eat me any time now."

Clarity's chuckle grew into a laugh. "Come on, Dinky said it would be fine," she reassured her. "We've been out here all day and nothing's tried to eat you."

"Yet," Honeydew replied dryly. "And you and I both know Dinky's definition of 'perfectly safe' is a little different than ours."

Clarity gave in. "Well, let's go round up the others and let them know we're ready to head back. And don't worry, even if something bad does happen, Dinky's around here somewhere and, well... let's be honest, nothing in this forest is scarier than she can be when she really wants to."

Honeydew chuckled and started to follow her friend down the slope. They'd scarcely reached the bottom when the sound of something moving frantically through the undergrowth reached them. A few seconds later, a brown unicorn with a short, unkempt tan mane burst through the hanging vines, panting hard. His horn was glowing with slate blue energy.

"Scuffle?" Honeydew asked. "What's wrong?"

"Uhh, we kinda sorta have a slight problem..." Scuffle managed between gasps. "I may have accidentally woken up one of the grumpier forest creatures while I was poking around for those plants..."

A thundering roar shook the snow from the nearby trees, and Scuffle scampered over to stand with his friends. Honeydew sighed and looked at Clarity nervously.

"So remember what I said about the whole 'getting eaten' thing?"

"Relax, we got this," Clarity replied, cinnamon red bursting to life around her own horn. "Scuffle and I know some battle magic, and you've got a couple tricks of your own."

Before Honeydew could reply, Scuffle's pursuer came into view. A towering, translucent, blue-furred beast pushed down a tree as effortlessly as a pony might shove aside a branch, snarling as it approached the trio. Spots of white glimmered on its coat like constellations, which shone brighter each time it roared.

"An ursa minor!?" Clarity gasped, backing up a few paces. "Really Scuffle? I figured you meant something like a Timberwolf, or even a Manticore, but..."

Rather than reply, Scuffle erected a glowing blue shield around the three of them. The magical dome shimmered like glass, but it held firm even when the ursa minor charged into it. It wasn't surprising that the spell could take some heavy damage; Scuffle, as his iron cage cutie mark reminded those around him, had grown into a true expert in the field of shields, traps, and other defensive magic.

"Alright Clarity, get some attack spells ready," the young stallion ordered, taking care not to break his concentration. "I'll cover you. Dewey, you just do your thing; I'm sure that big blowhard won't like it when the forest itself starts fighting back."

The two fillies nodded. Clarity lowered her head as a low hum started to pulse from her glowing horn. Honeydew's pale green magic flared to life as well, though there wasn't any immediately apparent effect.

"Alright, let's scare this thing off!" Scuffle yelled, wincing slightly as the ethereal bear hammered its paws against the shield again. "Ready Clarity? Aim, and..."

A round opening appeared in the barrier, giving Clarity a clear shot at the raging bear.

"Fire!"

A bolt of red lightning blasted from Clarity's horn, rocketing through the opening and striking the ursa minor. Scuffle closed the shield again immediately. The three ponies watched the great bear shake its head in discomfort, trying to dispel the stunning spell. Unfortunately, rather than backing off, it threw itself at the shield again with renewed fury. Scuffle cringed as a long, narrow crack appeared on the surface of the magical dome.

"Dewey, you got a connection with that big tree yet?" he asked nervously.

Honeydew's horn and tail ring both glowed brightly as she concentrated. After a moment of silence, she opened her eyes.

"Ready."

"Then do it!" Scuffle urged. "I can't hold it back much longer!"

The cone of light around Honeydew's horn grew, and suddenly, the forest itself seemed to come alive. Roots burst from the ground and branches reached down from above. Before the beast knew what was happening, it was quickly being pinned down by the tree's onslaught.

"All right!" Scuffle yelled. "By Luna, you're getting good at that spell, Dewey!"

"That's seriously impressive," Clarity added.

"Um, don't celebrate just yet..." Honeydew squeaked, a look of panic creeping over her face.

Clarity and Scuffle wheeled around just in time to see the furious bear's struggles snap a few of the roots. With a roar, it rolled to one side, the sheer force of the movement uprooting the entire tree and sending is crashing into another one. With its connection to the earth broken, it immediately ceased to respond to Honeydew's spell, and it just moments, the ursa was back on its feet, clawing and hammering at Scuffle's weakening barrier.

"Um, Clarity," Scuffle started, trying to maintain some semblance of calm as the bear's latest blow sent a spider web of cracks through the shield just inches from his face, "got any ideas here? 'Cause we kinda need one. Now."

Clarity opened her mouth to reply, but suddenly, she stopped. A big grin slowly spread across her face.

"C-Clarity?" Honeydew asked, shaking.

"Don't worry, guys," Clarity announced, pointing to the gem in her hair clip. "This little enchantment says the cavalry's on its way! And it should be here in three... two... one..."

A loud crackle of energy from nearby made all three ponies jump. The sound was a bit like the lightning bolt Clarity had conjured just moments before, but somehow sharper and more jarring. The sound grew, and suddenly, a bolt of writhing blackness shot through the forest. It passed straight through the trunk of a tree, sending splinters of bark flying in all directions and leaving a clean-cut, smoldering hole, before striking the ground just inches from the ursa minor, instantly melting all the snow for half a pony length around the point of impact and charring the grass beneath. Surprised, the monstrous bear turned to face whatever had assaulted it.

A smoky, churning darkness grew atop a mound a few pony-lengths away. After a moment, a forehoof, covered in deep purple fur like the sky on the verge of night, stepped out from within it. Another hoof followed, and out strode something resembling a unicorn. It took only a passing glance to determine that this, however, was no unicorn. Not quite, anyway.

The newcomer's mane and tail, neither fully hair nor fully smoke, swirled and churned of their own accord, jet black like the darkness from which the creature had emerged. Its eyes had slit-like pupils and glowed yellow from within the darkness of their sockets, and were surrounded by a violet mist, snaking off them in wisps before vanishing into the air. Its horn was quite unlike that of a unicorn; lacking the typical spiral groove entirely, it curved backward a bit as it rose from its owner's forehead, rather than sticking straight out like those of the three ponies nearby. More importantly, the horn was surrounded with an angry aura of black and purple, humming and sparking threateningly as if trying to escape and consume everything around it.

The frightening creature lowered its head. "Next time I won't miss," it hissed, glaring at the ursa.

The bear issued a low growl and took a step toward its attacker. The newcomer's response was immediate; darkness billowed from its extremities and the evil-looking aura upon its horn grew.

"Don't," it commanded the beast, baring its fangs. "Get out of here. Now."

The ursa minor took a single step back, staring at its oppressor uncertainly.

"I said now!" the creature demanded, its hissing voice suddenly magically amplified. The darkness upon its horn grew so much that the bare branches above began to contort, shying away from the corrupt energy.

Finally realizing the extent of the threat it was facing, the ursa minor gave a dissatisfied grunt and turned tail, lumbering away into the forest.

For a few moments, the only sound was that of the bear disappearing into the distance. Eventually, the dark creature turned its head, its piercing eyes coming to rest on the three ponies still contained in what was left of the shield.

Scuffle's magic flickered out. Instead of fleeing in fear, Clarity trotted right up to the strange monster, rolling her eyes.

"Thanks, Dinky, but jeez, a little dramatic, don't you think?"

All at once, the churning black energy on the creature's horn ceased. Almost instantly, its body dissolved completely back into lightless black smoke. Only a second or two later, it coalesced back into a solid form, but this one was utterly unlike the one that had stood there just a moment before. Now, a unicorn mare in her late teens, with a lilac coat and cheerful golden mane tied back in a ponytail, stood atop the earthen mound instead. All traces of the smoky blackness vanished in a heartbeat.

"Dramatic was kind of the point, though," Dinky countered, stepping down to stand beside her friend. "I didn't want to actually hurt the thing if I didn't have to. Fortunately it was smart enough to back down when it realized it was facing an angry wraith."

Clarity chuckled. "I guess that's fair. It's not like anypony's out here to see you in that form anyway, save for us."

"You spoiled my big entrance though!" Dinky complained, pretending to be annoyed. "Swooping in to save the day loses a little 'oomph' when your magic hair clip lets you know in advance that I'm on my way."

The two fillies shared a laugh.

"Eh, we totally had that thing on the ropes anyway, Clarity," Scuffle declared, puffing out his chest and smirking. "Dinky just showed up to steal the glory like always."

It was Dinky's turn to roll her eyes. Scuffle trotted over to her and patted her on the back with a forehoof.

"But for real though, you saved all our rears back there. Thanks, Dinks."

"You always seem to be able to get us out of trouble when it really matters," Honeydew admitted. "Of course, you're, um, usually the one who gets us into trouble in the first place, but..."

Dinky laughed as her meek friend managed a weak smile. "I guess that's true," she chuckled. "Even mom says I've become a bit of a magnet for trouble."

"Maybe, but we love you anyway!" Clarity reassured her. "Now how about the four of us get back to Ponyville? I'm beat."

Dinky's three friends turned back to the trail, lighting their horns to counter the fading light as the sun set. Dinky's own horn sparked briefly, letting a few final black sparks loose before her more standard yellow magic burst forth and surrounded her own horn. Smiling, she followed her friends into the trees again.

As the ponies walked and chatted together, Dinky couldn't help but feel a wave of appreciation for her friends. After all, the four of them had been through some incredible trials together since meeting. In their first term at Celestia's Academy for Gifted Unicorns, an evil entity masquerading as a colt had tricked Dinky into aiding him with his sinister plans. Unwittingly, she'd helped him resurrect Scorpio, a member of the ancient zodiac and master of dark magic. With the help of her friends and family, they'd managed to seal the villain away back in the stars, but not before Scorpio's dark magic had consumed Dinky's body entirely, leaving behind a shadowy creature known as a wraith.

Normally, such a creature would be a malicious, scheming enemy of Equestria's peace and harmony. Dinky, however, had resisted her gradual corruption for its entire duration, and the strength of her character and heart had preserved her original personality even after her pony form was lost. Even her cutie mark reflected that fact; a ring of tiny dark stars surrounding a much larger yellow one decorated her flank, a proud reminder that the spirit of a pony with a heart of gold lived on inside a body made of darkness.

Through this and all the trials since, though, Clarity, Honeydew, and Scuffle had remained by her side throughout their years at the Academy. Concealing the fact that beneath her pony disguise she was now one of the most hated and feared types of creature in Equestria, was a far easier burden to bear with her loyal classmates lending a helping hoof. She did, however, have to be exceptionally careful with her use of dark magic; while the princesses themselves believed that Dinky would be able to use the black, corrupted magic for good, it didn't change the fact that it could be a dangerous tool that she had to wield with utmost caution, especially since doing so would risk exposing her true form to the unknowing ponies all around her.

A pony fell into step beside her, bringing her out of her moment of introspection. While Clarity and Honeydew chattered away a few paces ahead, Scuffle had fallen back to walk with her.

"You good, Dinks? You've been quiet for a couple minutes."

Dinky smiled. "I'm just fine," she reassured the colt. "Just thinking about the Academy and the adventures we've had there."

"Ugh, I don't wanna think about school," Scuffle grumbled. "It's not even Hearth's Warming, Dinky. We have more than two months yet until our fifth term begins."

"Yeah..." Dinky admitted. "I just can't believe this is gonna be our last term already. Time sure does fly, huh?"

Scuffle shrugged, glancing around at the gradually thinning trees. "I guess," he eventually agreed. "But hey, that's why we spent last year's winter break at Clarity's place in Whinnychester, and this one here in Ponyville with you. Might as well get our kicks while we can, you know?"

Dinky nodded, and then it was Scuffle's turn to lapse into a few moments of silence. Dinky followed his gaze. Unsurprisingly, his eyes were locked on the pink unicorn a few pony-lengths ahead, still engaged in her conversation with Clarity.

"...Speaking of doing stuff while we can, though..." she continued hesitantly, "...shouldn't you, you know, hurry up and tell Honeydew something? Something important?"

"I'll get to it," mumbled Scuffle gruffly, avoiding Dinky's gaze.

Dinky sighed. "Scuffle, it's been three years. You've had feelings for Honeydew since the end of our first term. We just finished our fourth. You really ought to say something to her one of these days."

Scuffle opened his mouth to reply, but at that moment, Clarity turned around, beckoning to the two ponies trailing behind.

"Come on, you two! Ponyville's just ahead. "Let's go relax at Dinky's place and warm up."

"Coming!" Scuffle called back, trotting quickly ahead. "And Dinks, We'll talk about it later, don't you worry."

Dinky smiled slightly. "Alright. We'll put it on hold for now."

Scuffle took off, and a moment later, Dinky joined in, cantering after her three friends.


On the other side of town, Ditzy Doo, a grey pegasus mare with unique eyes that never quite pointed the same way, smiled at the quiet clinking of bits, jingling in their pouch with each flap of her wings. It was not out of greed, of course; having lived on the verge of poverty for much of her life, having some extra spending money was a luxury she never took for granted. It was more because the sound, to her, was an indication of a job well done, a satisfied pony thanking her for helping them with their relationship.

Bits, some ponies might argue, were hardly valuable enough to repay such a service, but the pegasus carrying them didn't seem to mind. After all, that's how things worked at Equestria Speedy Shipping Services.

Ditzy carefully landed in front of the workplace, remembering the very first time she had come here. Back then, she'd just lost her job as a delivery pony, and desperate for income, she'd accidentally accepted a position at a different kind of "shipping" company. It hadn't taken long for her to realize, though, that she had real talent as a pony matchmaker, and the whole experience had netted her a few close friends, more than enough bits to support her small family, and a new coltfriend, the strong and compassionate red pegasus, Autumn Breeze. The only trouble she'd ever faced at work came in the form of a certain blue and teal unicorn, but she was now just a distant memory.

Ditzy merrily trotted into the unimpressive building that she'd come to adore so much. On her way down the hall, she stopped by a small office, its door slightly ajar.

"Hey Doc, the assignment was a success," she chirped.

Dr. Candyfloss, the aging unicorn CEO of Equestria Speedy Shipping Services who sat within, smiled at the news. The old stallion looked much as he did they day Ditzy had met him, from his airy, flyaway mane to his neatly tied bow tie.

"Excellent, Ditzy," he replied, with a twinkle in his silvery eyes. "I do believe you're approaching another milestone in the total number of successes in your career here, you know. Considering you've been here just over five years, you've reached a rather astronomical number."

Ditzy blushed. "Aw, you know I don't care about the numbers, Doctor Candyfloss," she reminded him. "I get paid to make ponies' dreams a reality! I don't really need more than that."

"And that, perhaps, is why you're my best employee," her boss replied, his wispy magenta mane swaying as he nodded. "Now feel free to take a moment to catch up with the others upstairs. I'll be up shortly to say some final words before the holiday."

Ditzy nodded shut the door to Candyfloss's office, trotting up the stairs to the employee lounge. The sound of two voices echoed from above, though one voice was rather more enthusiastic than the other.

The mare poked her head into the lounge to see two stallions seated on the couches there. A white pegasus in a green beret wearing a bewildered expression sat on one side, while a loud, animated earth pony told some sort of story with a far-greater-than-necessary amount of gesticulation from the other.

"Hi guys," Ditzy interrupted. "What did I walk in on?"

In an instant, the earth pony shot off the couch with supernatural speed, stopping on a dime about two inches from Ditzy's face. Thoroughly used to it at this point, she didn't even flinch, instead just cracking a smile at the jittery bright yellow stallion in front of her.

"Not much at all!" the earth pony announced, shaking his head quickly, which caused a tiny arc of electricity to dance through his spiky brown mane. "I was just talking about my latest assignment! But I can get back to that in a minute. How are you, Ditzy?"

Ditzy chuckled. "I'm fine, Watt. Glad to see you're as chipper as always."

Kilowatt Hour, or Watt to his friends, was Ponyville's only electrician, as well as Ditzy's coworker and long-time friend at the shipping company. Bursting with what was probably a rather unhealthy amount of electrical energy at all times, his speed and enthusiasm took some getting used to, but after five years, Ditzy barely paid it a second thought.

"Erm, Watt," came an accented voice from the couch nearby, "perhaps you should step back a bit. It's a bit hard for Ditzy to get through the door with you standing directly in front of her."

Watt finally seemed to realize how far into Ditzy's personal space he had encroached. "Right you are, Cloudcover!" he agreed, quickly backing off. "Sorry 'bout that, Ditzy."

"No worries," Ditzy replied casually as she trotted over to greet her other friend.

In contrast to Watt, Cloudcover was a rather calm and down-to-earth pegasus. The most senior member of the Equestria Speedy Shipping Services staff besides Dr. Candyfloss, Ditzy had always considered him a great pony to turn to, not just for advice about their job, but about life in general. She'd been seeing quite a bit more of Cloudcover outside of work in recent years, too, ever since his nephew Pipsqueak had become Dinky's coltfriend.

"Ditzy, old girl, good to see you," Cloudcover greeted in his Trottingham accent. "Watt here was just telling me all about a rather unusual assignment he just finished."

"I got sent to Cloudsdale!" Watt announced, pointing to the ceiling as if to point out where Cloudsdale was located. "Considering three pegasi work here, that seems kinda strange, but you know the boss! Sometimes he just knows which pony is right for the job, and this time, it was me!"

"Fortunately, Pinkie Pie was more than happy to let him borrow the hot air balloon she uses to make her occasional trips to Yakyakistan," Cloudcover cut in. "I imagine an earth pony might have had a spot of difficulty with the task otherwise, even when that earth pony is somepony like Watt."

"I can't fly," Watt declared. "Usually."

Ditzy changed the subject. Sometimes, with Watt, that was the best option.

"Anyway, where's Breeze?"

"He should be back any second," Cloudcover said after a glance at the clock. "He's finished his assignment for the day, but if I recall, he had a short errand to run."

As if on cue, there was a clatter of hoofsteps in the stairwell, and Autumn Breeze stepped into the room. He was windswept and looked a bit worn out, but he smiled broadly when he saw Ditzy was present.

"There's my favorite mare," the red pegasus greeted, walking up and nuzzling her softly. "Everything go okay today?"

"Yup!" Ditzy replied happily. "And I'm glad you're back. I wanted to ask the three of you something once you were all here."

Breeze flopped down on the nearby couch. "Sure, what's up?"

"We're all ears," Watt affirmed.

Ditzy hovered a few feet off the ground to address the assembled ponies all at once. "So, the renovations on my cottage are finally done," she announced. "Mr. Hard Hat cleared away the last of the debris just yesterday. It's taken me a long time to save up for it, but it's amazing to finally see that run-down little shack looking like I always wished it could."

"That's wonderful, Ditzy," Cloudcover congratulated. "I seem to recall you were kind enough to house Dinky's little school friends for the winter break this year; I'm sure they appreciate the extra space."

Ditzy nodded. "The renovations were the main reason I agreed," she admitted. "Cooping myself and four teens up in the cottage together would've been a nightmare otherwise."

Breeze chuckled. "I imagine it still might be," he said with a wry grin. "Don't forget, Cloudcover, all four of them are students at a prestigious magic academy. Can you imagine putting four unicorns with that much power and skill in one place?"

"And they're teenagers," Watt added. "Which is probably a bigger contributor than the whole 'being magical prodigies' thing."

"Believe me, I don't need reminding," Ditzy grumbled, swiveling one eye up to glance at the first strands of grey appearing in her sunny mane. "Honeydew's really well-behaved, but Clarity and Scuffle are pretty exuberant ponies, and Dinky..."

"Has a reckless streak a mile long?" Breeze finished.

"Well, yeah."

"Comes with the territory I suppose," Cloudcover observed. "If I recall, Princess Celestia did say that Dinky's personality wouldn't change, but she might develop a bit of a short fuse and more than a little impulsiveness."

Ditzy grinned. "Well, to be completely honest, I still haven't really figured out how much of that is because she's a wraith and how much is just because she's almost eighteen," she giggled. "But I'm getting off topic. I mentioned the renovations on the cottage for a reason. Hearth's Warming is in just two days, and so I'm holding a Hearth's Warming Housewarming! I'd love it if all three of you would join me, Dinky, and her friends for a holiday party to celebrate our newly finished home. Oh, and any housewarming gifts would double as Hearth's Warming ones, of course; it'd be rude to expect two!"

"I'm so there!" Watt cried, vibrating with excitement. "Pinkie's gotta spend Hearth's Warming in Canterlot anyway, so this'll be the perfect way to spend the day."

"I'd love to come," Cloudcover added, "as long as you don't think Pip will feel I'm... how do the foals say it? Cramping his style?"

"Pip adores you, Cloudcover," Ditzy reminded him. "So does Dinky, for that matter. She never would've even known about Celestia's Academy until it was too late to apply if it wasn't for you, remember?"

Cloudcover smiled. "Right you are," he agreed. "I'd be delighted to attend, Ditzy."

Ditzy turned to Breeze. "And you as well?"

"I haven't missed a Hearth's Warming with you in years," Breeze replied, "and I'm sure not gonna miss this one either."

Ditzy smiled warmly. "Then that just leaves..."

There was a quiet cough from the hall, and everypony turned to see Dr. Candyfloss standing in the doorway. The unicorn had a habit of appearing unexpectedly, his presence unknown until he spoke up.

"Dr. Candyfloss!" Ditzy finished, smiling. "Would you like to come to my Hearth's Warming Housewarming this holiday?"

Candyfloss smiled cordially. "It's so kind of you to offer, but I'm afraid I have to decline," he admitted. "Love never sleeps, especially on days like Hearth's Warming. You'll all have the day off of course, but the work of a pony like me with a special talent for matchmaking is never quite complete. I'll be a bit preoccupied making sure a few blossoming relationships around Equestria get that final push they need to truly bloom. But please, you four have a lovely time. No need to hold back on my account."

Ditzy nodded, her eyes focusing together on the unicorn for a second or two. "I understand. I hope you have a great Hearth's Warming, though."

"I always do," Candyfloss assured her, pausing to adjust his bowtie. "Nothing makes an old pony like me happier than seeing true love take flight. In that sense, every day is a holiday."

Ditzy and the other shippers smiled at the boss's usual enigmatic positivity.

"Now, one final order of business before you all leave," Candyfloss continued, levitating his clipboard up to his face. "As I'm sure you're all already aware, you have the next two days off. I'll expect you all back here the day after Hearth's Warming for your usual shift. We've had a very successful year, so to show my appreciation, please drop by my office on the way out; I have a small bonus for all of you. Oh, and please enjoy the short break, and may we all have a healthy, happy, and heartwarming holiday."

Candyfloss was quickly surrounded by thankful employees. One more round of goodbyes and well-wishes later, Ditzy took to the evening skies, ready to prepare for what she hoped would be the best Hearth's Warming in years.


The door to the cottage swung open, and four unicorns trotted inside, each shaking the snow from their coats in turn.

"Looks like mom's not home yet," Dinky observed. "It's almost sunset, so I can't imagine she'll be long."

"Let's head to one of the cafés in Ponyville for dinner, then," Clarity suggested. "Mrs. Doo will probably have a lot of work to do preparing for Hearth's Warming anyway."

"Cool, wake me up when we're doing that," Scuffle grunted, flopping down on the couch. "I'm gonna pass out for a minute, since, you know, we were just fighting for our lives like an hour ago. Wears a pony out, believe it or not."

Dinky was about to agree with him, but was quickly distracted when she noticed a note in her mother's hoofwriting sitting atop a stack of envelopes.

"Hey, there's mail for us," she called to her friends. "Mom left a note about it here. The envelopes have the Academy's seal on them."

Honeydew stepped up next to Dinky, peering over the envelopes. "Our class schedules, maybe?" she theorized.

An aura of blue surrounded one of the envelopes, and it levitated over to Scuffle, who clearly had no intention to get off the couch. He tore it open and unfolded the long paper inside. "Dewey's right on the money," he reported. "It's the whole lineup for the upcoming term."

Curiously, Dinky opened her schedule. A few familiar classes were the first to catch her eye; she had Magical Biology again, as well as Transformation and Conjuring. A grin spread across her face when she spotted Advanced Enchantments printed on the schedule as well. Enchantments had always been her favorite field of magic, and she couldn't hide how much she was looking forward to learning to apply some truly powerful ones.

"Heck yeah, Magical Combat!" Scuffle cried from the couch. "Man, I've been waiting to take that class since the day I first stepped into that school."

Honeydew scrunched up her nose. "You have fun with that," she grumbled. "I took Elementary Battle Magic with you three last year because it was a required course, and that was quite enough of that."

"I will have fun with it, thank you very much," Scuffle affirmed, waving the schedule around in his aura. "It's one thing to learn how to cast a combat spell. It's another to learn how to use them to duel. Dinks, tell me you have Magical Combat this year at least."

"I do, actually," Dinky confirmed. "You know, for when we wind up in bad situations that actually involve other ponies. The ones I can't just dark magic my way out of."

"I took it too," Clarity admitted.

Honeydew smirked. "I figured. Don't worry, I'm sure I can find a way to keep busy while you three are in class. Professor Chestnut almost always has something for me to do anyway."

Dinky lowered her schedule to the table, and was about to turn away when something else caught her eye.

"Wait, Clarity, there's a second letter from the Academy here for you."

"Clearly an expulsion notice," Scuffle joked, rolling onto his back on the cushions.

Clarity trotted over, cocking her head as she examined the second envelope. Curiously, she tore it open, pulling a personalized, horn-written letter from within. Her red eyes darted left and right as she quickly read it. Suddenly, she gasped, nearly letting the paper fall from her aura.

"Is everything ok?" Honeydew squeaked, eyeing the letter suspiciously.

"Did you actually get expelled?" Scuffle chimed in.

"No, it's..." Clarity began, her voice shaking slightly. "W-well, here, let me just read it to you..."

Dinky peered over Clarity's shoulder at the delicate writing as the filly read aloud.

To the esteemed Miss Clarity,

Here at Celestia's Academy for Gifted Unicorns, we take great pride in a number of exemplary qualities that we all hope our students will display. There is, of course, great value in intelligence and magical aptitude, and we strive never to overlook leadership, kindness, enthusiasm, and careful decision making. And it should go without saying that having a well-oriented moral compass is essential. We hope to see these qualities most of all in our fifth-term students, who serve as role models to the underclassmen. The entire staff at the Academy extends their most sincere of praises to you for serving as a shining example of all of the above traits for these past four years.

Therefore, when it came time to make an important choice about our senior students this year, the outcome was obvious. It is with our heartiest congratulations that the staff of Celestia's Academy for Gifted Unicorns has decided to deem you this term's female Student Overseer. Another letter will be arriving after the holiday with further information about your new duties during the coming year. We know you'll be the perfect pony to guide your fellow students in their pursuit of both moral and magical excellence.

Congratulations again, and have a very happy Hearth's Warming,
Dean Spiral Script
Celestia's Academy for Gifted Unicorns

"Heck yeah," Scuffle cheered, leaping to his hooves. "Clarity's the fillies' Overseer? Think of all the stuff we'll be able to get away with!"

"I'm... the Overseer?" Clarity managed, ignoring Scuffle entirely. "But how? Why?"

"Cause you're good at everything, Clarity!" Dinky said brightly, patting her friend on the back. "The Dean isn't just making things up, you know. You're the only pony I know who has every one of those qualities she talked about. I really can't think of a better choice."

"You'll be wonderful," Honeydew assured her, joining Dinky in leaning against the stunned filly. "I think having a pony like you in charge in the dorms is the best way to make for a safe and comfortable year."

Clarity blushed. "Y-you girls are too nice, you know that?" she asked, spreading her forelegs wide to pull them both into a hug. "It's gonna be a huge responsibility though. Not even my sister Lucid was Overseer in her fifth year."

"Some ponies are real good with responsibility, though," Scuffle chimed in, trotting over to the three fillies. "You're one of 'em, Clarity. You've sorta been the unofficial leader of our little friend group since we were in our first term. All you gotta do now is extend that leadership to cover half the students in the school. Piece of cake."

"Don't forget, you'll be able to collaborate with the male Overseer on everything, too," Honeydew reminded her. "I'm sure the two of you will be able to make everything run smoothly."

"Unless it's somepony like me," Scuffle snickered as he picked up his own envelope again. "But the staff at the Academy isn't stupid enough to... to... hang on a sec..."

Scuffle fiddled with his envelope for a moment, and peeled away a second envelope that had been stuck to the first by some residue left over from the post office. He exchanged a panicked glance with his friends before tearing it open and reading it aloud.

To the most respectable Mr. Scuffle,

It has come to my attention that you did not return your copy of the advanced transformation textbook lent to you this past term. Please return it to me when the new term begins or the Academy will be forced to charge you seventy-five bits for its replacement.

Regards,
Professor Flux
Celestia's Academy for Gifted Unicorns

Scuffle blinked, and the fillies around him burst into laughter. The colt just snorted.

"Like I was saying, there are definitely some better choices for male Overseer," he finished, tossing the letter aside. "Whoever it is, Clarity, I'm sure you'll be able to count on them. Now come on, let's stop standing around here and go get some food already. I need a hayburger."

"Sure," Dinky agreed, quietly glad that the incident with Scuffle had helped break Clarity's initial tense mood. She led her friends out into town for a well-deserved meal.


~Hearth's Warming Eve is here once again~

It was the following afternoon, and Ditzy Doo sang a popular holiday carol as she fluttered around her home, merrily cleaning and hanging decorations. With the Hearth's Warming Housewarming barely 24 hours away, and a much bigger cottage than she was used to to tidy up, she had her work cut out for her. Yet despite the work ahead, she didn't seem concerned. After all, Breeze would be over to join her for dinner, and help with the last of the preparations.

The mare's ears stood on end as the sound of a hoof rapping at the door reached them. That must be Breeze now.

Still humming softly, Ditzy pulled open the front door, only to find an entirely different pony on the other side. Specifically, a rather familiar pinto earth pony.

"Oh! Hello, Pipsqueak."

Cloudcover's nephew Pipsqueak used to be one of the smallest colts in Ponyville, but some ponies change a lot as they grow up, and if Ditzy hadn't watched Pip grow alongside Dinky, she'd have hardly believed he was the same pony. His name was now more ironic than anything else; between a hoofful of growth spurts in his teens, and the typical earth pony penchant for physical size and strength, the strapping young stallion was now noticeably bigger than even Dinky's male schoolmate Scuffle.

"Wotcha, Mrs. Doo," Pip greeted in his usual Trottingham slang. "Dinky asked me to drop by today. Is she home?"

"She's in the den with her friends," Ditzy replied. "Hold on, I'll go get her."

"No need," came Dinky's voice, as the filly trotted into the foyer. "And hi Pip! Happy Hearth's Warming!"

"Same to you," Pipsqueak replied, hugging her briefly. "I've been so busy with my new job, I was starting to wonder when we'd get to see each other for more than a few minutes."

The three other unicorns emerged from the den a moment later, and Ditzy backed off a few paces to make some room in the quickly crowded foyer.

"'Ey, it's Pip," Scuffle greeted, hoof-bumping the other colt. "It's been a while."

"It sure has," Pip replied. "And Clarity, Honeydew, good to see you both too, of course."

Honeydew nodded politely, but Clarity unabashedly gave Pip the once-over. "Wow, Dinky was right," she chuckled, grinning mischievously. "She's always talking about how macho you look these days, but I didn't quite believe her."

Dinky snorted. "Hush, Clarity."

The five ponies talked and laughed as they made their way back down the hall together. Ditzy chuckled quietly to herself as well.

I'm so glad that Dinky has so many close friends, she thought, letting a smile creep across her face. I've always given her everything I can, but being surrounded with other ponies that care for her, well... I always hoped things would be like this for my little muffin someday.

Another knock at the door shook her out of her thoughts. Returning to the now-empty foyer, she opened it this time to find the pony she'd been expecting.

"Hi Breeze!"

"Somepony's cheerful today," Breeze observed, shaking a bit of snow off his wings before tucking them at his sides. "Dinky and her friends have been giving you some peace every now and then, I guess?"

Ditzy waved the comment off. "They haven't been home much, to be honest," she admitted. "Dinky and Pip grew up here, but for the others, Ponyville is a foreign place. They've all been eager to explore, though they'll probably settle down a bit after the holiday."

Breeze nodded. "Well, while they're keeping themselves busy, let's take advantage of the quiet and have something to eat. I'm starved."

Ditzy's stomach growled in agreement. "I have some stew simmering in the kitchen," she informed him. "Come on, let's have some."

The mare trotted from the foyer. Breeze set his saddlebags down, and flipped one open with a wing. Looking left and right to make sure he was now alone, he withdrew a small box, briefly glanced inside, smiled, and returned it to the depths of his bags.

"This is going to be one heck of a Hearth's Warming..." he chuckled to himself as he followed his marefriend into the kitchen.


Luna's moon hung in the clear night sky, illuminating the snow with bright white, contrasting the warm yellow glow from the windows of the Doo cottage. The back door of the quaint home opened, and two ponies trotted outside.

"Thanks for spending the day, Pip," Dinky said softly, keeping close to her coltfriend for warmth in the winter air. "I know I'll see you again tomorrow at the party, but it's nice to spend time doing something a little more low-key, you know?"

"Of course," Pipsqueak agreed. "Besides, before you know it, you'll be off to the academy again, so we might as well try to spend time together before that, right?"

"Right," Dinky affirmed. "I just hope you've been getting along okay with Clarity, Scuffle, and Honeydew."

"'Course I have," Pip said with a smile, glancing up at the illuminated second-story window into the room where Dinky's friends were getting ready for bed. "They're good sorts, those three. But I wouldn't expect anything less if they're friends of somepony like you."

There was a pause. The two ponies stood in silence, huddled together, gazing at the undisturbed snow.

"Listen, Dinky..." Pip continued. "There's something else I need to talk to you about..."

Dinky looked up at the colt, curious. "Okay, what's up?"

"Well, I've been talking to my uncle, and..."

He trailed off. After a moment, he turned and gave Dinky an apologetic smile.

"You know, perhaps that's best saved for after the holiday," he admitted, looking a bit embarrassed. "I should probably nail down the last of the details first."

Dinky frowned. "Well great, now you just have me worried."

Pip leaned down and nuzzled Dinky affectionately, earning a quiet, content sigh from the young mare. "There's nothing to worry about," he assured her. "No matter what, we'll always be there for each other, right?"

Dinky pretended to think about it. "Well, considering you were right there by my side even after I turned into a wraith, helping me save Equestria from a megalomaniacal dark arch-mage that could've killed us all in an instant, I guess I can believe that," she said with a sly grin.

Pipsqueak laughed. "Good, because it's true," he insisted. "Now, I've got to get home. Get a good night's sleep, okay? I'll see you tomorrow."

Dinky nodded, snuggling into Pip's side for a moment as he draped a foreleg over her in a quick hug, and then stepped aside and watched him trot off into the night.

By the time he'd disappeared from view, the filly was already beginning to shiver. She turned to make her way back into the cottage, but she'd hardly taken a step when a quiet sound came from behind her. Her ears perked up, listening. There was a few flaps of wings, followed by the crunch of hooves alighting on the snow.

"Who's there?" she asked, whirling around and flooding the yard with yellow light from her horn.

A red pegasus squinted in the face of the illumination spell. "Don't worry kiddo, it's only me."

"Breeze?" Dinky asked, letting the spell fade out. She'd long since dropped the habit of referring to her mother's coltfriend as "Mister" Breeze, like she had when they'd gotten together over four years ago. "I thought you went home a little while ago. Did you forget something?"

"Nope," Breeze said, awkwardly rubbing the back of his head with a wing. "Actually I... needed to talk to you about something real quick. I need your help with your mom's Hearth's Warming present."

"Um... isn't it a bit late for that?" Dinky asked, tilting her head. "Hearth's Warming is tomorrow, and you're just now asking for advice on what to get mom?"

"No, that's not what I mean," Breeze said, shaking his head. "I have the present already. I need your help preparing it. You're good with enchantments, right?"

"Not to brag, but probably the best in Ponyville," Dinky said proudly. "At least, when Princess Twilight isn't around."

Breeze reached into his saddlebag and withdrew a plain-looking box. "I need you to enchant this so that it only opens when I want it to," he explained. "Can you do that?"

Dinky laughed. "A pony-specific lock charm? Here I was worried you were going to ask for something difficult. Give me the box and one of your feathers and I'll have it done in just a second."

Breeze gingerly set the box on the ground, then reached his head around, pushing his face into his outstretched wing. With a sharp tug, he pulled a feather loose and passed it to Dinky.

Dinky paused, holding the two items in her magic's grip. "So, can I see mom's present now, or do you want me to wait for the party tomorrow?" she asked.

"I think it's probably better if you see it now," Breeze admitted. "Just keep it secret, alright?"

Dinky nodded and flipped the lid of the box open for a moment. Her eyes widened and she snapped it shut again just a second later, staring at Breeze in awe.

"Is... is that...?"

"Yep," Breeze said, smiling and pawing nervously at the snow. "Err, hopefully that's okay with you, Dinky?"

Dinky nodded enthusiastically. "I'm all for it! Mom's going to... to... I don't even know how she's gonna react, but I can't wait to see for myself!"

Dinky placed the box on the snow in front of her, and gently laid the feather on top. Light burst from her horn, and a golden circle appeared around the gift, shrinking until it met the box's sides and disappeared. The filly picked it up and demonstrated that it was, in fact, quite thoroughly sealed shut.

"You could take a crowbar to that and you wouldn't be able to get it open," she declared, "but tap it three times with your wing and it'll pop open immediately. Sound good?"

"Perfect," Breeze assured her, as he took the gift back and leapt into the air. "And promise you won't tell your mom, or anypony else, until tomorrow!"

"I promise!" Dinky called up to him, performing a series of hoof motions to replicate Ponyville's legendary 'Pinkie Promise'.

Breeze flapped again and soared off into the night sky. Grinning broadly, with her slight concerns about Pipsqueak quickly forced out of her mind by the event, Dinky turned and trotted back into the cottage.


The chime of Ponyville Clocktower's great golden bell rang out over the little town. It was mid-afternoon on Hearth's Warming, and at a newly renovated cottage on the outskirts of town, a party was about to begin.

Ditzy Doo floated in the air, looking over her long-time home. She had to admit, she hardly recognized it. Sure, it was still a thatched roof cottage like so many others in Ponyville, but the ratty old roof was freshly redone, the cracks and marks in the walls were all repaired, and a whole new wing of the home was complete, giving the mare ample space not just for her and her daughter, but for plenty of guests as well. Festive pine garland hung from the outer edge of the roof. Watt had offered to string up some colored lights earlier in the week as well, but Ditzy had politely declined. Sure, Watt was the best electrician in Ponyville, but to be fair, he was also the only electrician in Ponyville.

As the chimes of the bell reached Ditzy's ears, she fluttered to the ground and trotted into the house to prepare to greet her guests.

The inside of the cottage looked even better than the outside. Tinsel and ribbon decorated each room, and everything had been cleaned and arranged perfectly. In the den, a stately fir tree was perfectly trimmed with a huge assortment of ornaments and baubles. Ditzy made a mental note to thank Dinky and her friends for that; when four unicorns with exceptional magical finesse worked together, an entire tree could be decorated in minutes.

The pegasus trotted past the tree and reached the base of the stairs. Several muffled voices could be heard above.

"Hey everypony," she called. "Our guests will be here in just a moment! Come on down for the gift exchange.

Almost instantly, Dinky appeared right next to her mother in a flash of yellow light, making Ditzy jump in surprise. "I can't wait!" the filly squealed. "This is going to be such a great Hearth's Warming."

Ditzy smiled. "I haven't seen you this excited for Hearth's Warming in years, Dinky," she commented.

"That's cause this Hearth's Warming is gonna be extra special," Dinky said, flashing a grin. Ditzy couldn't help but feel her daughter knew something she didn't, but before she could pry, she was startled once again as Clarity burst into the room in a reddish flash.

"You kids are gonna scare me to death one of these days with those teleports," Ditzy panted, shaking her head.

Clarity blushed slightly. "Sorry about that, Mrs. Doo."

"If it helps," came Honeydew's gentle voice as she trotted into the room, "Scuffle and I haven't really mastered teleporting with pinpoint precision yet. So at least you don't have to worry about us popping in unexpectedly.

No sooner had she finished her sentence when there was a burst of blue light. Scuffle materialized about a pony length above the ground, crying out in surprise as he fell to the wooden floor with a dull thump.

Honeydew sighed. "Well, you don't have to worry about me popping in unexpectedly," she corrected, smirking a bit as Scuffle hurriedly scrambled to his hooves.

Before Ditzy could reply, there was a knock at the door. Or rather, a series of knocks fast enough that they sounded like the tapping of a very large woodpecker.

"You four wait by the Hearth's Warming tree," she instructed. "All our other guests will be here in just a minute."

Trotting away from the group, she returned to the foyer, and pulled open the front door, where, unsurprisingly, Watt was waiting. The earth pony had decorated himself in the tiny colored lights originally meant for the cottage's facade. Despite the lack of any immediately obvious power source, every one of them was lit.

"Happy Hearth's Warming!" her hyper coworker cried, prancing in place.

"Same to you, Watt," Ditzy chuckled. "Are the others all on their way?"

"Right here, actually," came a voice from further down the walk.

Ditzy peered around the multicolored spectacle in front of her and spotted Cloudcover and Pipsqueak trotting up together, with brightly wrapped presents in hoof.

"Afternoon, Ditzy," Cloudcover greeted. "I hope we're not too tardy."

"Not at all," Ditzy reassured. "Breeze isn't even here yet. Why don't the three of you make yourselves at home while I wait for him?"

Watt blasted past, the rush of air blowing Ditzy's mane like a gust of wind. Pipsqueak and Cloudcover exchanged an amused glance and entered rather more reservedly than Watt had. In a moment, it was Ditzy was alone again in the foyer.

A minute or two later, a bright red streak shot through the clear blue sky, angling downward until it came to a rest on the cottage's lawn. Breeze looked windswept as always, but he beamed as his gaze met Ditzy's.

"Everypony here?" he asked.

"Everypony's been here," Ditzy teased. "We're waiting for you."

"Well then, let's not wait any longer," Breeze replied, taking the teasing in stride. "After you."

In just a few moments, everypony was settled around the Hearth's Warming tree. Ditzy took a moment to take in the cozy scene. There was Dinky, happily tucked between Clarity and Pipsqueak, the two ponies closest to her, engaged in discussion with them both. Honeydew was seated nearby, contently gazing up at the decorations and occasionally offering a quiet comment to Scuffle, who responded with his usual playful arrogance. Then there was Watt, the lights wrapped around his frame blinking erratically as he tried very hard to stay in one place for more than a few moments. Cloudcover sat in a chair tucked in the corner, content to keep away from the center of the excitement and simply observe. And of course, there was Breeze, now seated just to Ditzy's left, who appeared just as pleased with the assembly of ponies as she was.

The grey pegasus fluttered up into the air, catching the attention of the eight other ponies around her. "Welcome everypony!" she greeted. "I think this is the first time all my friends and all of Dinky's have gathered in one place, and I can't think of a better time to do it. After all, ponies of every race from all walks of life coming together in harmony is what Hearth's Warming is all about!"

"Hear, hear!" Cloudcover called. "Thank you Ditzy, for bringing all of us together for the holiday."

"And for all the hospitality you've shown us all season!" Clarity added, brushing her bright blue mane out of her eyes. "Scuffle, Honeydew, and I come from three very different parts of Equestria, but I think we can all agree that it's easy for Ponyville to feel like home."

The other gathered ponies voiced their agreement. Ditzy couldn't help but beam.

"Well now that we're all settled in," she continued, "let's open some Hearth's Warming presents, everypony!"

Over the next half hour, Ditzy's guests trotted from pony to pony, exchanging gifts with those closest to them. All manner of items changed hooves, often warm winter garments, books, or food items. Watt had assembled an entire collection of tiny clockwork toys that he passed among the other guests, Dinky had enchanted more than a few trinkets to exchange with her friends, and even Honeydew had brought delicious dried, candied fruit from her family's farm. Watching every gift given with sincerity and accepted with genuine gratitude brought a tear to Ditzy's eye. It really was shaping up to be the perfect Hearth's Warming.

At last, the activity started to die down, as everypony busied themselves with conversation or examined their new gifts. Ditzy fluttered over to an open spot near her coworkers.

"So, is that all then?" she asked. "Everypony has given all their gifts out?"

"Yes indeedy!" Watt confirmed as he sifted through a box of new tools he had received for his work at the power station that his coworkers had all pitched in to get him.

"I do believe Watt's right," Cloudcover agreed. "It looks like everypony has finished."

"Now wait just a moment you two," Breeze cut in. "There's actually one gift left. I haven't given Ditzy her present yet."

In all the excitement, Ditzy hadn't even realized she hadn't received anything from Breeze. The grey mare watched with curiosity as Breeze trotted to the front of the room to address the whole crowd at once. The other ponies quieted, realizing he was about to speak.

"Hey everypony, before we finish up, there's one last gift to give," he began. "But before that, I wanted to take a moment to say a few words."

Ditzy spotted a tiny movement elsewhere in the room. Keeping one eye on Breeze, she swiveled the other to glance at Dinky. The filly had a twinkle in her eye, and seemed to be suppressing a grin.

Whatever this is, Dinky's in on it... Ditzy realized.

From the front of the room, Breeze gestured towards Ditzy. "I know we've all already thanked this wonderful mare over and over for bringing us all together for Hearth's Warming," he said, "but we have so much more to thank her for then just that. All of us in this room have one thing in common; all of our lives have become so much better, either directly or indirectly, because of the actions of our Ditzy Doo."

He looked toward his other coworkers. "Watt, Cloudcover, I know you two agree that Ditzy is a phenomenal asset to our workforce. Life at Equestria Speedy Shipping Services has become such a joy in the time since her arrival."

"For sure!" Watt agreed. "Whenever Ditzy and I are paired for an assignment, I just know we're gonna have a great time, and a satisfied client on our hooves at the end."

"And Ditzy's as excellent a friend as she is a matchmaker," Cloudcover added, nodding.

"Right," Breeze continued. "And Candyfloss would agree, I'm sure, about all of that. But it's not just those of us who work with her who've had their lives enriched by Ditzy. There's also Dinky, who's been able to enjoy the best magical education Equestria has to offer because of her mom's selflessness."

"And there will never be enough thanks in the world for that," Dinky declared. "Especially considering all she had to go through to make it possible."

"Then there's Clarity, Scuffle, and Honeydew," Breeze added. "While their connection is more indirect, think how different things could be if Ditzy hadn't worked so hard to bring Dinky into their lives.

"Clarity would probably be a nerd, spending all her time trying to get out of her sister's shadow," Scuffle laughed, earning a playful glare from Clarity. "Honeydew might have had serious trouble making friends, or might have even dropped out of the academy by now. And I'd almost certainly be just another dumb thug like my brothers."

"Exactly," Breeze confirmed. "But that's still not all. Without Ditzy's involvement with the shipping service, Pipsqueak may never have even gotten a chance to become friends with Dinky, let alone become her coltfriend."

Pipsqueak leaned down and nuzzled Dinky's mane a bit. She smiled contently.

"And last of all, there's me," the red pegasus said finally. "If not for that day five years ago when Ditzy Doo stumbled through the door of Equestria Speedy Shipping Services for the first time, I'd never have wound up with the world's greatest marefriend."

Ditzy, overcome by emotion at the love and appreciation of all the ponies around her, was unable to reply. She watched as Breeze reached into his saddlebags and withdrew a small box, and then motioned for her to join him at the front of the room. Slowly, she rose to her hooves and approached, wondering what sort of gift she was about to receive. Breeze smiled broadly as she arrived beside him. He handed her the box, allowing her a moment to try to open it. When she discovered she could not, she simply looked at the stallion questioningly.

"Ditzy, these last few years have been the best of my life. I was worried, at first, that both of us might struggle in a new relationship. After all, you're a widow, and the effects of my own prior relationship continued to haunt me for many years after it had ended. Both of us suffered emotional blows that seemed impossible to recover from. But I gave it a chance, and it's been... just beyond words. Do you... feel the same?"

Ditzy nodded, sniffling slightly. "Absolutely, Breeze."

"I hoped you'd say that," Breeze admitted, "because there's something I've been meaning to ask you."

Breeze extended a wing, and tapped the wingtip against the lid of the sealed box once, twice, and then a third time. On the last tap, there was a small flash of golden light (evidence of Dinky's handiwork, Ditzy quickly realized) and the box snapped open. Ditzy gasped, only just barely managing to avoid dropping her present.

Nestled on a cushion inside the container was a golden band, just wide enough to slip around her forehoof. It had been delicately engraved with beautiful patterns, and affixed to it was a diamond that shined with a rainbow of colors in the afternoon light streaming in the windows. Absolutely stunned, Ditzy looked back up at Breeze. The stallion's expression conveyed so many emotions at once: hope, joy, and no small measure of anxiety. But somehow, his voice didn't even quaver as he spoke a few more words.

"Ditzy Doo... will you marry me?"