• Published 16th Jun 2020
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The Power of Two - Locomotion

A young changeling runs away from home, only to be attacked by timberwolves in the Everfree Forest. Fortunately, Locomotion is on hoof to save her - but little do they know that she has a spy on her tail...

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Chapter 9: Meeting the Elements - Rarity

Twilight had intended to talk to Locomotion about the mystery creature at the first possible opportunity; but an urgent request for an audience that evening meant that she only had enough time to renew the suppression spell before heading back to the castle. It wasn't until the following morning, while they were making their way to the Carousel Boutique, that she managed to bring up the subject.

The red-furred teen gazed over his shoulder in the general direction of Sweet Apple Acres. “Yeah, I had a feeling somepony was spying on us – and not by royal appointment either,” he muttered grimly. “Any idea who it might have been?” Somehow, he suspected he already knew the answer, but he still wanted to be sure.

“I'm afraid not, Loco – aside from the main colour being black, I couldn't make out very much through the leaves,” answered Twilight. “I did try to get a better look, but he vanished before I could get close enough.”

“You don't think...could it have been another changeling?” quavered Hornette nervously.

Locomotion frowned and gave an uncertain shrug in reply. “Could have been anything, really – a changeling, a unicorn, a reindeer – heck, it could even be a murder of crows, for all we know.”

“A...a murder?” Hornette winced, visibly disturbed. “Why would anypony want to go killing birds out of...”

“What? No, I didn't mean that kind of murder!” blustered Locomotion hastily. “I meant 'murder' as in 'a group of crows'.”

But this did little to quell Hornette's unease. “But...why would you call them a 'murder'?” she objected, now completely unnerved. “Surely they don't kill other creatures...do they?”

Twilight suppressed a dismayed chuckle. “No, Hornette, of course they don't,” she explained gently. “It's just another of those...confusing terms for groups of certain animals – kind of like 'pride' can also mean a group of lions, for example. You see what I mean?”

“Um...I think so. I always thought of them as flocks, though – I never knew you ponies used such a...morbid word to describe them in groups.”

The lavender-coated alicorn smiled understandingly. “Yeah, language is a funny thing. Sometimes you get it first time, others it just goes right over your head. Even I get confused from time to time when Pinkie comes up with a new word.”

“Seriously?” Locomotion raised an incredulous eyebrow.

“Yeah – and I've the highest IQ of anyone in Ponyville, if not this part of Equestria. But anyway, getting back to the matter at hoof,” Twilight went on, “I've already asked Flash to double the unicorn patrols, so if it really is another changeling, hopefully we'll find out soon enough.”

“Emphasis on 'hopefully',” muttered Locomotion to nopony in particular. If Twilight's experience at the Canterlot invasion was anything to go by, he thought to himself, it would take some extremely perceptive ponies to sniff out a swarm of changelings in disguise. Hornette didn't seem very much at ease either, for the red-furred unicorn could still detect a hint of fear in her eyes. If they hadn't been out in public at that moment, he would have given her a gentle nuzzle in an attempt to calm her down; but he didn't dare in case he aroused some other pony's suspicions by mistake. Instead, he wrapped his hoof around hers and whispered, “Don't worry, Hornette, nothing's gonna happen to you.”

That had the desired effect. The moment their hooves made contact, the young changeling felt her anxiety fade; and despite her earlier concerns about being stalked, she managed a small smile in return as they stopped just outside the front door of the Carousel Boutique.

“I sure hope Rarity's okay with all this,” mused Twilight as she rang the doorbell. “Spike tells me she's been having a pretty busy time lately...”

At the mention of Spike, Locomotion goggled in alarm. “Oh, D-rat!!” he burst out, his face nearly turning pink. “How in the world could I be so stupid?!”

“Eh? What are you talking about?” asked Twilight, perplexed.

“I completely forgot to explain about Spike!” blustered Locomotion, screwing up his eyes and gripping his temples in a fit of hysteria. “Aw, heck, how's Hornette gonna react when she finds out Rarity's married to a...”


Both Locomotion and Twilight nearly jumped out of their skin as Hornette leaped into the air with a terrified scream and fled to a nearby tree, trembling feverishly as she clung onto one of its boughs for dear life. Shocked and confused, the lavender-coated alicorn hastily scanned the area for the practical joker who had tried to scare them out of their wits – only to find him standing in the doorway and staring at the tree with a stunned look on his face. Rarity stood immediately behind him, equally flabbergasted by what had just transpired.

Only then did Twilight realise what had gotten the young changeling in such a panic. “Uh...just a second, you lot,” she said hurriedly, and trotted over to the tree before any of them could answer.

There was a very awkward silence. Locomotion grinned awkwardly and rubbed the back of his neck, almost expecting an endless stream of questions; but both Spike and Rarity were at a complete loss for words, and could do little more than gaze upon the frightened changeling in confusion. It almost seemed like an eternity before Spike finally managed to choke out a bewildered, “What in the hay was that?!”

The red-furred unicorn gave a feeble chuckle. “That,” he replied simply, a hint of embarrassment in his expression, “was genuine evidence of a changeling showing her fear.”

Rarity's jaw hung open in disbelief. “My word!” she exclaimed breathlessly. “If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes...”

Spike nodded in wordless agreement as he watched Twilight trying to coax the shaken changeling out of the tree. This wasn't the first time he had seen the good side of a changeling, but the notion of one being terrified of a dragon such as himself seemed almost surreal.

“Come on, Hornette,” he heard her say, “there's no need to be afraid.”

“But...how do I know that...that dragon won't gobble me up as soon as look at me?” whimpered Hornette, refusing to let go of her branch.

Twilight smiled kindly and rested a hoof on her shoulder. “He won't. I've known Spike ever since I hatched him. Give him a sizeable hoard of gems, and he'll wolf them down to his heart's content; but he'd never make a meal out of a living creature if his life depended on it.” Her hoof moved over to Hornette's face and lifted it a little so that she could meet her gaze. “Come on now – be brave.”
Hornette didn't seem entirely convinced, but shakily unhooked herself from the tree and drifted back down to firm ground, still hiding behind Twilight as the lavender-coated alicorn led her back towards the Element of Generosity and her reptilian husband.

“Right,” Twilight thought aloud, “let's try this again,” and she trotted forward to share a sisterly hug with her former assistant. “Hello, Spike. Great to see you again.”

Spike was still overwhelmed by the turn of events, but returned the hug without hesitation. “You too, Twilight. Everything been okay with you?”

“Not bad,” replied Twilight, releasing him from her hold and drawing back to stand on all fours again. “Been a bit hectic lately, what with all this changeling business and everything else; but otherwise okay. Anyway, onto the introductions,” she went on, “Spike, Rarity, this is Hornette. She's the changeling I was telling you about last week.” She promptly gave the young interloper a discreet nudge with her right elbow; “Say hello, Hornette.”

Hornette gave a timid squeak in reply, hardly daring to make eye contact. Quickly forgetting himself, Spike politely held out a claw for her to shake; but only succeeded in making her flinch nervously.

“Go on, Hornette,” encouraged Twilight softly, “he's not gonna bite.”

Still as alert as a kitten approaching a bulldog, Hornette nervously shuffled out from behind her meat shield and edged her way over to the big purple reptile. After what seemed like an age to Twilight and Locomotion, she finally came close enough to extend her front hoof and rest it in the palm of his claw, silently bracing herself for whatever he was about to do – but the last thing she expected was for him to give it a gentle squeeze. Cautiously, she cast her gaze upwards, and was even more surprised to notice a welcoming if slightly uneasy smile on his face.

“So...you're not going to hurt me?” she whispered after a lengthy pause.

“Heck, no,” affirmed Spike reassuringly, letting go of her hoof. “Just because I'm a dragon doesn't automatically make me a brute. Sorry I gave you such a scare, by the way,” he finished with a wry grin.

Hornette looked away, mildly ashamed of her skittish reaction.

“It's okay, Spike,” piped up Locomotion. “She was just as scared of me and Twilight when we first made acquaintance with her. Besides, she's probably never even met a dragon before.” He turned to Hornette with an inquisitive expression; “Have you?”

Hornette shook her head. “I was always too scared to even try,” she confided. “I'd heard all sorts of stories about dragons, and...well, none of them were particularly...comforting.”

Spike grinned knowingly. “Not all dragons are like that. Just look at little old me, for example; I'm a dragon, and as far as I'm...”

“Uh...define 'little', Spike?” quipped Twilight, raising an eyebrow.

Only then did Spike realise his faux-pas and remember how much he had grown in the last few years. “Uh...yeah, okay, I retract the word 'little',” he chortled awkwardly. “Still, no-one's ever lost their lives because of me – even if I did come pretty darn close that one time. On the plus side, at least it gave me and Rarity a new meaning to the term 'falling in love' when it was all over.”

Hornette was a little confused as to what the big purple dragon could mean by this, but thought better of asking. At this point, Rarity remembered her manners and gestured inside the boutique; “Tea, anypony?”

“Well, I wouldn't say no,” conceded Twilight cheerfully.

“Just a glass of squash for me, if you have any,” said Locomotion. “How about you, Hornette – just water be fine for you?”

The young changeling pondered for a moment. “Um...actually, would it be okay for me to...try some tea?” she asked shyly.

“Oh, but of course, darling,” smiled Rarity graciously. “Spike, be a dear and put the kettle on, will you?”

“Sure thing, love.” Spike gave her a fond nuzzle and retreated to the kitchen, while the three ponies and their changeling guest made themselves comfortable in the lobby.

As she entered, Hornette inspected her surroundings with awestruck curiosity. The pleasant mix of gold, white and various shades of purple gave it an air of gentile elegance, which almost perfectly matched the beautiful lines of clothing hanging from the racks on one side of the room, patiently awaiting the next customer. A small chest of gemstones sat in the opposite corner, their finely polished facets glowing softly in the sunlight shining through the front windows; and either side of the front door stood a pair of pony-like objects clad in somewhat glamorous sets of saddlery.

“So...this is where you live?” she ventured, silently marvelling at the sheer beauty of the boutique.

Rarity, who had been trying to think of a decent conversation starter all the while, nodded modestly as she sat herself down on her favourite fainting couch. “And where I make all the dresses for my chain of Carousel Boutiques,” she added. “It's nothing all that special really, but...”

Locomotion scoffed dismissively. “Oh, please – first commercial building in Ponyville, one-time Rich's Barnyard Bargains outlet, now a Grade II Listed Building, and you're saying it's 'nothing that special'?!” he retorted. “Really, Rarity, I would have thought you'd be selling yourself a bit more than that.”

Rarity looked slightly put out, but decided not to dignify Locomotion's facetious observation with a response.

“I think it's really nice,” said Hornette earnestly. “It's certainly a lot brighter and more cheerful than my homeland; but then we changelings have never really had boutiques, or even dresses for that matter.” She gazed back at the clothing ranges, a grave frown crossing her face. “Only the higher-ups were entitled to such frivolities.”

“I'm hardly surprised,” murmured Twilight sympathetically, ignoring Rarity's appalled stare.

“You're telling me,” agreed Locomotion bitterly. “And don't even get me started on...” but before he could continue, he was interrupted by a flustered meowing noise, followed by the babbling of an eighteen-month-old foal at play. Looking towards the staircase, he could only smirk in amusement as he saw Opal sprinting into the lobby with a small, playful kirin filly hot on her tail.

Hornette saw them too, and was intrigued by the sight of the strange, furry draconic creature chasing after the white cat. “What's that?” she asked curiously.

“What's what?” quizzed Spike, who had only just returned with their drinks in time to catch the tail-end of the conversation.

“Oh, that'd be Jade Filigree,” explained Twilight. “She's Spike and Rarity's little girl.”

“You...that's your daughter?” gasped Hornette, gazing up at Spike who smiled and nodded proudly. “Oh my gosh! I never knew it was possible for a pony and a dragon to have foals together!” She looked back towards the little green kirin admiringly. “Aww, isn't she the cutest thing?” she cooed, placing a hoof over her chest.

Overhearing the compliment, Jade stopped chasing Opal and turned to face the source of the unfamiliar voice. Her eyes widened with curiosity as she gazed upon the strange black creature sitting next to Locomotion; a creature that resembled something from one of her many story books, but nowhere near as scary or vicious. Slowly, cautiously, she padded over to the creature who unconsciously followed her lead.

“Uh...Jade,” began Rarity, hastily lighting up her horn, “I think you'd better...” but she was promptly cut off as Twilight blocked her levitation spell.

“Let's just wait and see what happens,” she whispered coyly.

Rarity looked back to Spike for support; but Spike just casually stood by and watched with interest, pretending not to notice his wife's anxious gestures. All she could do was bite her lip as she watched her daughter sidle up to the changeling, silently praying that neither would come to any harm.

Taking care not to make any sudden moves, Hornette gently stooped to eye-level with Jade, who reached out a tiny paw. The little kirin's eyes lit up with fascination as she made contact with the changeling's face – it felt tough, but fairly soft at the same time, almost like a linoleum floor tile wrapped in a thin layer of velvet. Gurgling with ecstasy, she stood up on her hind legs and hugged Hornette as tightly as she could. The young changeling responded by scooping her up and cradling her in her front legs, purring and cooing affectionately as she nuzzled the baby hybrid.

Rarity's jaw dropped open in astonishment. “Well, I'll be blessed!” she gasped, barely able to believe her eyes.

Locomotion, for his part, could only look on in admiration at how well Hornette was handling the little filly. “Wow,” he breathed. “I never expected her to be this good with kids.” He listened to her soft purring and Jade's adoring squeaks, completely caught up in the sweetness of their interaction. “Aww, isn't that cute?”

“I'll say,” murmured Spike with a proud smile. “This must be the first time Jade's taken to a complete stranger so quickly.”

“And no mind magic from Hornette either,” put in Twilight knowingly. “So, Rarity, still afraid to let her near your daughter?”

By now, even Rarity couldn't help but smile warmly herself. Her own little filly, friends with a changeling? It was all so hard to believe; and yet, somehow...she believed it. “Not after seeing this,” she remarked softly. “In fact, I think I can safely say that she's all but earned my trust.” It was only then that she noticed something else; “By the way, did nopony ever tell you how impolite it is to stare?” she announced with a broad smirk.

Hornette tore her attention away from Jade with an inquisitive chirp. Peering at her from the foot of the staircase, just around the corner, was a teenaged white unicorn mare with a two-tone pink mane and tail. Her pale green eyes were wide with disbelief, and her jaw quivered as she struggled to find her voice.

Locomotion promptly burst into laughter. “What's up, Sweetie-Belle? Opal got your tongue?!” he joked.

But Sweetie-Belle was so flabbergasted by what she had just seen that she barely noticed him. “I....is your name Hornette?” she asked breathlessly.

“Uh...yes,” replied Hornette, perplexed. “How did you know?”

“I...no way!!” exclaimed Sweetie-Belle, clapping a hoof to her mouth in amazement. “So Apple Bloom wasn't joking after all!”

Now it was Spike's turn to laugh. “You seriously think the Element of Honesty's younger sister would pull a fast one on you, Sweetie-Belle? Come on, even I know a changeling when I see one!”

“No, really, Spike,” insisted Sweetie-Belle meekly, “I didn't know changelings could be so...well...”

“Gentle? Benevolent? Conscientious?”

“Well...yes and no,” the white-furred teenager admitted. “I wanted to believe what Apple Bloom had said about her, but considering...you know...”

“Yeah, yeah, we know,” interrupted Locomotion, hastily pulling himself together as he realised where Sweetie-Belle was going. “But hey, Hornette's nowhere near as bad as all that,” he added soothingly. “Why else would she be handling your niece so delicately?”

Sweetie-Belle considered for a moment before nodding in thoughtful agreement. “Yeah, I guess I can't argue with that,” she conceded. “So how did you come to meet her, Loco?”

Locomotion smiled meekly and rested a hoof against the back of his neck. “Kinda by accident, really,” he admitted. “You see, it's like this...” and he and Hornette explained about the timberwolf attack in the Everfree Forest.

By the time they had finished, Sweetie-Belle could only gaze upon the young changeling in sorrow and dismay. “Aw, that's so sad,” she sympathised.

“And disgraceful,” put in Rarity feelingly. “I knew Chrysalis was a tyrant, but to her own subjects?! That's even worse!”

“Yeah, no kidding,” agreed Locomotion gravely. “Small wonder she's been having all those nightmares about being abducted in her sleep.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “That's the first I've ever heard about nightmares.”

“It's true. Even before arriving in Ponyville, she kept cocooning herself at night,” confided Locomotion. “It rather got up Uncle Steamer's nose, having to clear up after her every morning, so eventually she resolved to try and manage without.” He frowned sadly and let loose a solemn snort. “In the end, I had to come and comfort her after she woke up screaming. That's how scared she was.”

“But...how did you manage to cope with it all this time?” questioned Rarity.

Hornette frowned as she stared into space. “I didn't,” she answered sadly. “There was never a time when I could just let loose and feel at peace with the world. Even at home, I was in constant fear of reprisal just because I didn't share the queen's views.”

“Well, if I could have my two cents,” observed Locomotion, “I'd say those bedtime stories might have helped to a degree. Basically, for information's sake,” he explained to the other three ponies and one dragon, “I've been reading her some of my favourite Rodney the Railway Engine stories to help her get off to sleep.”

“Aww, that's really sweet of you, Loco,” remarked Twilight warmly.

Sweetie-Belle nodded in agreement. “Bit weird, yeah, but...as long as it helps her cope.”

“What's so weird about it?” retorted Locomotion, slightly offended.

“Nothing!” began Sweetie-Belle, taken aback. “I just thought...what age are you, Hornette?”

“Who cares?” scoffed Locomotion before Hornette could answer. “There's no such thing as 'too old' with Rodney. Besides, when do you ever catch me saying you're too old to be owning dolls?”

Sweetie-Belle opened her mouth to reply, but quickly shut it as she realised just how right Locomotion was. Perhaps, she decided, it would be best to change the subject; but before she could, Rarity spoke up in a sing-song tone – “IDEA!!”

Locomotion perked up. “What?”

“Uh...Rarity,” began Twilight cautiously, “don't you think this is a bit too soon to be trying dress designs?”

To everypony's surprise, Rarity laughed dismissively. “Who said anything about dresses? I'm simply offering to make a bespoke doll for this fine young changeling to call her own.”

“Oh yeah!” said Sweetie-Belle, her eyes lighting up in sudden realisation. “Yeah, that's not such a bad idea, sis.”

Hornette cocked her head in confusion. “What's a...doll?” she wondered aloud.

Sweetie-Belle shot her a look of disbelief. “Have you seriously never played with dolls before?”

“No. I've never even heard of them before now.”

The white-furred teen smiled understandingly, and proceeded to explain; “They're basically little plush figurines that you can play with, or cuddle up to at night, or just put on display. I've got a whole collection of them at home.”

“Yeah, I was gonna ask,” put in Locomotion curiously, “do you still have that rag doll Rarity made for your birthday one year? The one with amethyst cabochons for eyes?”

“Oh, yeah, Cindy,” affirmed Sweetie-Belle fondly. “Yeah, she's way too special for me to give away. She protected me from nightmares when I was just a filly. Maybe yours might do the same for you, Hornette.”

“You reckon?” asked Hornette hopefully.

“Well...it's worth a try,” offered Rarity. “If you want, you could help me make it as well. I'd be very happy to teach you.”

Hornette paused for a moment to consider. “Well...in that case,” she conceded with a small nod.

“Smashing! Then let us head up to my workroom at once!”

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