• 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 10: Alas, Poor Thorax...

Author's Note:

This chapter marks the very first appearance of one of my real-life siblings' ponysonas - in this instance, my eldest sister Eleanor, whose name forms the partial basis for that of Firelli Brazen (pronounced "fuh-REL-ee").

Rarity was as good as her word. After helping Hornette choose the colours and fabrics she wanted, she carefully guided the young changeling through the process of cutting the material to the right shape and size before showing her how to stitch on the eyes, mane, tail and other features. Occasionally, Twilight and Locomotion would chip in and offer their own advice; but for the most part, they simply sat to one side with Spike, Jade and Sweetie-Belle to watch them work.

Hornette was uneasy at first, but quickly got the hang of the cutting and stitching, and even began to enjoy herself. Only when it came to the final assembly did her anxiety catch up with her.

“Are you sure you don't want to try your hoof on the sewing machine?” asked Rarity.

“Uh...I'd rather not, if that's okay with you,” answered Hornette as tactfully as she could. “I don't really trust that thing.”

Rarity nodded kindly. “Alright, darling, I'll take it from here. You go and chat with Loco and Sweetie-Belle for the time being. I'll let you know when it's done.”

With a polite nod of her own, Hornette left the white-furred unicorn to her own devices and went to join the others. Sweetie-Belle, who had just finished sharing something amusing with Locomotion, greeted her with a friendly smile. “How's it going, Hornette?”

The young changeling returned the smile in kind as she sat down next to them. “Seems to be going okay,” she replied doubtfully, “but then I've never really sewn before, so I wouldn't know.”

“Well, you've sure done a better job of it than I ever could,” observed Sweetie-Belle. Despite her earlier apprehensions, she was really starting to like Hornette. “I'd hardly have guessed that was the work of a novice.”

“Yeah, she's nothing if not a fast learner is Hornette,” mused Locomotion. He turned his attention back to Opal, who was now dozing on Rarity's bed; “And you are a fluffy little animal,” he added in a babyish tone of affection, gently stroking her.

Opal purred softly as she stirred in her sleep. Normally she was very particular about being touched by anyone other than Rarity or Fluttershy; but Locomotion, being the cat person he was, was one of the few exceptions.

“I do feel kinda sorry for you, though,” went on Sweetie-Belle, her voice taking on a more sombre tone. “Living such a harsh life, being reviled just for having a conscience...it's a miracle you still haven't let go of that.”

“Yeah, it wasn't easy growing up under Chrysalis,” sighed Hornette, her smile fading. “I wasn't even allowed a name until Loco found me...”

“Weren't you?” interrupted Spike, taken aback.

“No. The only identity I ever had was a number.”

Spike arched an incredulous eyebrow. “That's kinda weird,” he remarked. “Thorax never mentioned anything about not being allowed a name.”

“You...you know Thorax?” asked Hornette, her eyes widening in her bewilderment.

Twilight nodded solemnly, thinking back to the only other changeling she had ever befriended thus far. “Alas, poor Thorax – we knew him well, Hornette. A fellow of infinite conscience, of most excellent compassion...”

Locomotion looked up, perplexed. “Who the hay's Thorax?” he quizzed.

“He was another changeling whom we bumped into in the Frozen North, only a month after Flurry Heart's birth. He was kinda like Hornette in as much as he wanted actual friends rather than to steal love from other creatures,” explained Spike. “I kinda felt sorry for him once I'd gotten to know him a little, and tried to help him integrate with the Crystal Ponies. One thing led to another, I managed to convince them that Thorax wasn't so bad as they first thought, and eventually he was granted a permanent citizenship.”

“Yeah, but hold the coal train a minute there, Spike,” Locomotion cut in, “why would Cadance and Shining Armour be so lenient towards a changeling of all creatures?!”

“Well...Princess of Love, what more do you want?”

“That's not the point!” insisted Locomotion. “Those two had every reason to hold a grudge against them, however misguided – and now you're telling me they let this Thorax geezer off completely scot-free while Hornette has to wait a whole two months for the same privilege! How is this even fair?!”

“Well, hang on, Loco, that's not entirely true,” interjected Twilight. “None of us believed Spike's story at first, Shining Armour least of all, and we were even less convinced when Thorax broke his own cover. It wasn't until Spike defended his honour that we started to warm to him.”

Locomotion opened his mouth to reply; but quickly stopped himself when he realised what Twilight had just said. “Seriously?” he asked after a short pause.

“Yeah; and even then, we were legally obliged to put him on the same two-month parole. To be honest, I never expected my own brother and former foalsitter to go ahead with it either.”

“Wait – your brother is...Shining Armour?” exclaimed Hornette, aghast.

“And Cadance used to foalsit me when I was young,” affirmed Twilight gravely. “It was on the day of their wedding that Chrysalis chose to invade.”

The young changeling looked down at the floor, raising a hoof to her mouth as she choked back a gasp of dismay. “Oh, Twilight,” she faltered, “I'm so sorry. I never realised...”

“Hey,” soothed Locomotion, resting a reassuring hoof on her shoulder, “don't feel bad, Hornette. Sure, Twilight was actually there to witness it – heck, she even come face to face with that...that...that scorpion; but does she hold it against you just because of her?”

Cautiously, Hornette turned her attention back to the lavender-coated alicorn, who gave a soft smile and a solemn shake of her head in response. “If anything, I'm more upset with Chrysalis herself than I am with the other changelings. It wouldn't be fair to take it out on someone like you.”

“Exactly!” put in Locomotion. “You're both the same species, you both look...fairly similar,” choosing his words carefully, “but that's all there is to it. In all other respects so far, you're worlds apart from that autocrat.”

Once again, Hornette felt her heart fill with warmth at Locomotion's kindly words of encouragement. She gazed into his eyes with a grateful smile of her own, unable to formulate an intelligible reply she was so touched; a gesture which he unconsciously returned.

It was Sweetie-Belle who finally broke the spell; “Ooh, is this what I think it is?” she remarked slyly. “Loco's getting his first crush?”

Locomotion tore his gaze away from Hornette, visibly mortified. “What...j...I...shut up!” he spluttered indignantly.

“Who would have thought it?” went on Sweetie-Belle, cheekily ignoring him. “I'd always knew there was a filly out there for Loco, but a changeling?”

“Give over, Sweetie-Belle, we're just friends,” snorted Locomotion defensively. “And even if we were...'involved', I'd sooner be on the lookout for a changeling than subject material for a gossip column, eh – Gabby Gums?!”

Sweetie-Belle's smirk gave way to a look of appal as she let out a humiliated splutter of her own, causing Spike and Twilight to burst into laughter. “You had to bring that up, didn't you?” she groused, her face turning a deep shade of red.

Locomotion chuckled triumphantly. “Well, that's what you get for...”

“Oh my gosh!” interrupted Hornette, staring with fascination at Sweetie-Belle. “Oh, that's amazing! How do you turn your face so red so fast?! I thought only changelings could do that!”

Twilight shook her head in amusement. “It's called blushing, Hornette,” she answered plainly, “and it's not exclusive to changelings.”

“Isn't it?”

“Oh, no,” replied Twilight knowingly. "All creatures do that when they feel embarrassment or anger or...or even love...” Her voice faded thoughtfully as she uttered the last few words, her expression turning curious. Could such a bond really exist between a pony and a changeling, she wondered?

“Oh...right,” murmured Hornette sheepishly, shifting her mane to hide her own blush.

“But yeah,” remarked Locomotion, tactfully changing the subject, “from what you've been telling us, Spike, this Thorax guy sure sounds pretty decent. I'd quite like to meet him someday.”

Spike stared wistfully into space, a look of sadness apparent in his eyes. “I'm afraid you've already lost your chance, Loco,” he confessed in a sombre tone. “About five months after gaining citizenship, he decided to travel around Equestria to learn more about friendship. He left the Crystal Empire around mid-May under the pretence of being an exchange student.” A deep sigh followed. “That was the last anypony ever saw of him.”

“What happened?”

“No-one knows. Some say he might have died of exposure somewhere in the Frozen North, others think the Royal Guard might have gotten their hooves on him...there's even a few who think he double-crossed us and is back in the Badlands. Load of trash, if you ask me!” huffed Spike sceptically. “I can't believe Thorax would do anything so treacherous. Nope – for my money, he's probably still out there somewhere, still trying to find his way home.”

“Or maybe the queen has done something awful to him,” murmured Hornette.

“What sort of something?” ventured Sweetie-Belle.

The young changeling shuddered and bit her lip. “I dread to think.”

Twilight was just about to voice her agreement when Rarity finally spoke up; “Et voilà!” she announced triumphantly, stepping to one side and holding out a hoof towards her workbench. “Hornette, my darling, I hereby present to you – your new doll!”

Hornette gasped in amazement, her eyes glazing over and her right hoof covering her mouth as she beheld the result of all their hard work. As per her wishes, Rarity had designed the doll to resemble a one-third scale changeling, even going as far as adding the holes in its legs and a pair of silken blue wings on its back. Its downy plush carapace was a pleasant violet colour, its mane and tail were a pale shade of baby blue that matched her own, and its green sapphire eyes seemed to gaze back at her adoringly, almost as if it were alive.

“Well? What do you think?”

Only then did Hornette manage to find her voice. Her hoof migrated to her chest, revealing a warm, shaky smile on her lips. “She's beautiful,” she breathed softly.

“I had a feeling you'd like...er, her.” Rarity beamed graciously, trying to cover up her near faux-pas. “She's all yours now, darling.”

“But...surely,” began Hornette, a sudden feeling of unworthiness chewing away at her, “there must be some way I can repay you for...”

“Oh, come now, darling,” giggled Rarity in kind dismissal, “you don't owe me a thing. It's been a real pleasure doing business with such a courteous young changeling as yourself.”

Hornette blushed modestly. “Well...if you're sure. But if there's anything I can do in return, then I'd be more than grateful to do so.” She returned her attention to her doll; “It was really kind of you to make her for me,” she added gratefully.

“Well, that's my sister all over,” observed Sweetie-Belle, as Hornette levitated the toy changeling into her arms and nuzzled her lovingly. Her knowing smile changed to a more inquisitive one when the young changeling began to purr again, in the same manner as when she had been fawning over Jade that morning. “Do you changelings always purr like that when contented?” she asked.

Hornette stopped. “Um...yeah, as far as I know. I'm not freaking you out with it, am I?”

“Oh, goodness, no,” Sweetie-Belle reassured her. “I was just kinda curious.”

“I think it's rather cute, personally,” murmured Locomotion, thinking back to when he had tucked Hornette into bed after her first bedtime story. An inexplicable sorrow washed over him as his enthusiastic narration echoed in his head, and he couldn't help but gaze wistfully down at his hooves.

“Something on your mind, Loco?” asked Twilight, concerned. “You seem a little downhearted.”

Locomotion responded with a weary shrug. “Just a little sad that I'm gonna be out of a job is all,” he admitted sullenly. “And I was really enjoying all that storytelling too.”

“What makes you think you have to stop?”

“Well...what's the point in reading some dumb old bedtime story when your audience has a doll to fulfil the same purpose?”

The red-furred unicorn's glum response was met with a sympathetic glance from Hornette. She felt the sorrow in his voice, but couldn't agree with what he had just said. “I don't think Rodney the Railway Engine is dumb,” she answered softly. “I may not know much about trains, but if you hadn't told me all those stories, I'd still be waking up to the same nightmares every night.”

“So...you still want me to...”

Hornette nodded in reply. “To be fair to Rarity, I really do love this doll,” she continued, briefly turning her attention back to the white-furred unicorn, “and I promise to treasure her for as long as I live...”

Rarity beamed appreciatively.

“...but Rodney and his friends will always have a special place in my heart,” the young changeling finished sincerely. “I owe them a great deal, Loco, and I'd be much happier if you did keep reading about them to me...if you still want to, of course.”

Locomotion was visibly touched by this revelation. Most of his friends knew and supported his love of Rodney the Railway Engine, but nopony outside his family had ever shared that interest to the same extent as him. That Hornette, still a virtual stranger to the mere concept of trains, was embracing his favourite fictional locomotive so quickly was so gratifying to him that it almost seemed too good to be true. “Aw, thanks, Hornette,” he said with a mild stammer. “That means a lot to me – really it does.”

Before Hornette could answer, she was interrupted by the sound of the store bells. Spike heard them too, and peered out into the hallway; “Uh...Rarity,” he asked anxiously, “were we expecting clients at this hour?”

“Oh, goodness, I'd completely forgotten!” muttered Rarity. “I guess I'd better go downstairs and stall them for a bit – somehow, I doubt they'll want to have an item of clothing fitted with a changeling at close quarters.”

“Is it one of our regulars?” interjected Sweetie-Belle helpfully. “Because maybe me or Spike could...”

“Morning, Rarity. I've come for that dress fitting.”

Spike, Rarity and Sweetie-Belle exchanged awkward glances, wondering how best to diffuse the situation; but Locomotion's eyes lit up with delight when he saw the young Pegasus mare who had just entered. “Hey there, sis!” he exclaimed cheerfully, trotting over to share a hug with her.

“Hello, Loco,” smiled the mare, nuzzling the red-furred teenager affectionately. “Not like you to be in Carousel Boutique. What are you doing here?”

“What, am I not allowed to go hang out with my friends every once in a while?!” snarked Locomotion cheekily, and the two ponies chuckled heartily.

Hornette stood to one side, timidly examining the mystery mare. Her Cutie Mark consisted of a wheel with a strange narrow object across it, almost like a stick with a blue flame spitting out from one end; and her freckled face bore the same kindly geniality as Locomotion. She looked a lot like him with her brilliant scarlet fur, but her eyes, mane and tail were more of a chestnut brown in colour, and her bright orange hooves matched the fiery pattern on the underside of her wings.

“Anyway, joking aside,” went on Locomotion, snapping her out of her reverie, “Hornette, this is my older sister Firelli Brazen – Elli for short.”

The mare's eyes widened, but not with the fear that the young insectoid had been expecting. “Oh, so you're Hornette, eh?” she remarked. “Yeah, Mum and Dad had been telling me about how Loco came to your rescue only a couple of weeks ago.” She smiled reassuringly as the changeling gazed ruefully down at her hooves. “Hey, no need to look so sheepish. Twilight told us all about your escape from the Badlands and your search for a new home.”

Hornette perked up slightly. “Did she?”

“Yeah. That was really noble of you,” added Firelli gently, “forsaking your kind like that just because of what savages most of them seem to be. Not that I'd want to tar them all with the same brush,” she finished with a wry chuckle. “I agree with my little brother – even the worst species have to have some good in them.”

“You would!” laughed Locomotion. “You were the one who put those crazy ideas into my head in the first place!”

“You're welcome, Loco,” teased Firelli, playfully ruffling his mane.

Hornette smiled softly as the two siblings continued to banter. At least now, she thought, she could see where Locomotion got his altruistic sense of justice from. “Are you familiar with this...Firelli Brazen?” she whispered to Sweetie-Belle.

“Oh, yeah,” the white-furred teenager replied. “She used to foalsit me sometimes when Rarity and my parents were busy or out of town or whatever. She's only, like...a couple of years older than Loco, but even when she was younger, she was wise beyond her years – and really talented as well. You should hear what she's like with the piano – I'm surprised she's not in an orchestra yet!”

Pianos? Orchestras? Hornette's mind was practically swimming with this influx of new words.

Firelli smiled modestly. “It's only a pastime, really,” she observed. “If I really wanted to play in an orchestra, I wouldn't have taken up that product design course at the Canterlot Academy for Design and Engineering.”

“Yeah, and only a month or so to go before you have to leave,” murmured Locomotion wistfully.

“Speaking of product design,” interjected Rarity, “you said you were here to have your dress fitted, Firelli?”

“When you've got a free moment,” answered Firelli. “I understand if you're busy.”

“That's quite alright, darling. I already finished Hornette's doll long before you arrived.”

“Oh, that's yours, is it?” Firelli gazed at the little plush changeling in Hornette's arms. “And there was I thinking Sweetie-Belle was expanding her collection again,” she remarked wryly.

Sweetie-Belle giggled. “Not this time. Loco says she's been having nightmares about being kidnapped by other changelings, so Rarity offered to make her one to call her own. You know what was really weird, though?”

“Go on?”

“He's been reading some of his Rodney the Railway Engine stories just to help her sleep!”

Locomotion looked away with an awkward blush; but much to his and Sweetie-Belle's surprise, Firelli smiled kindly and wrapped an arm around his withers. “Hey, no need to look so embarrassed,” she soothed. “I think it's really nice of you, sharing your fanfictions with her.”

“Eh?” Locomotion stared blankly for a second, and then emitted a quiet chuckle. “Nah, these aren't fanfictions – just the original stories.”

“Either way, I'm really proud of you for being so thoughtful,” said Firelli softly.

What had started as a mere half-hour visit ended up spanning over several hours as Hornette got to know Firelli and Sweetie-Belle better, and they were soon chatting away like old friends. Even when it was time to shut shop, the two mares were more than happy to accompany the young changeling and her confidante back home.

“Say, Hornette,” ventured Firelli as they reached halfway, “just out of interest, what are you thinking of calling your doll?”

Hornette pondered. “Hmm...I hadn't thought of that. A name would be pretty nice...what would you suggest, Sweetie-Belle?”

“Anything you like,” said Sweetie-Belle. “She's your doll, after all.”

Yeah...she really is, isn't she? Hornette's eyes glazed over with warm gratitude as she gazed back at the doll perched on her back. This had to be the first material gift she had ever received from anyone, let alone a pony – and yet Rarity didn't seem to want anything in return? Surely there must be something, she thought; but promptly set her resolution aside for the time being as she tried to think of a name. “I think I'll call her Prairie.”

Locomotion raised an eyebrow. “Prairie, eh? That's...an interesting choice of name.”

Firelli laughed heartily. “Wow,” she commented, “seems your love of trains is really rubbing off on her, Loco.”

“Eh? What have trains got to do my doll?” asked Hornette, confused.

“'Prairie' just so happens to be the nickname of the 2-6-2 wheel arrangement on locomotives,” explained Firelli. “Two wheels each front and back, and six driving wheels in between – and you can thank Loco for teaching me that,” winking broadly at the young changeling.

“Oh yeah? Well, maybe you shouldn't have let me touch your old toy trains when we were foals,” ribbed Locomotion cheekily. “Maybe then I wouldn't be such a big train nut!”

“Wait – you mean Elli's a train enthusiast too?” squeaked Hornette, visibly taken aback.

“Well, not exactly,” said Firelli. “Loco gets it more from Dad and Uncle Steamer than me. But yes, I did have my own train set which I used to share with the others,” she went on, fondly remembering how she and her siblings used to lay whole networks of wooden track across their living room. “Loco was always the best at that sort of thing – double-track main lines, big terminal stations...everything.”

“Yeah, but be honest,” chortled Locomotion, “there's an element of design and engineering in railways as well.”

Firelli rolled her eyes in amusement at Locomotion's playful quip, but pretended not to notice. “Joking aside,” she finished, “I think that's a really sweet name, Hornette. Suits your doll down to the ground.”

“Thanks,” smiled Hornette, shyly averting her gaze as she blushed with pride. No wonder Locomotion looked up to this mare, she thought; she sure had a way of making others feel good about themselves. Just a pity she would have to leave Ponyville so soon...

Steamer was out working an excursion by the time Locomotion and Hornette returned, and wasn't due back until just after midnight, so the two teenagers had the whole house to themselves. Fortunately, the young stallion was no stranger to cooking for himself; and Hornette had to concede that he made a wonderful stir-fry. After dinner, they spent an hour talking quietly and watching one of Locomotion's Rodney the Railway Engine videos until Twilight arrived to renew the suppression spell, and to confirm that Pinkie Pie would be returning on Tuesday evening.

Locomotion was a little worried at that point, because he knew that only left one member of the Friendship Council still to meet Hornette – and he certainly wasn't looking forward to it. He was most relieved, then, when Twilight explained that it wouldn't be happening until after the young changeling had made acquaintance with Pinkie Pie. At any rate, the young stallion soon forgot all about his concerns as he and Hornette reflected on the day's events.

“Your sister sure was nice,” murmured Hornette as she snuggled on the sofa with Prairie. “You're really lucky to have such a lovely pony in your life.”

Locomotion smiled and nodded. “She's everything I look for in an older sibling,” he agreed. “Smart, kind, patient, understanding...practically perfect in every way. I think we'd all love to have somepony like Elli for a big sibling.”

“Yeah,” sighed Hornette, her face taking on a mournful expression as she cast her mind back to their earlier conversation with Spike and Twilight. “I just wish I knew what had become of him.”

A worried frown crossed Locomotion's face. He didn't even need to question whom Hornette was referring to. “I'm guessing you and he were pretty good friends,” he remarked softly.

Hornette nodded wistfully. “Thorax was very much to me what Firelli still is to you. He always looked out for the younger changelings in our hive, and didn't approve of the queen's views any more than I did...” A sad chuckle escaped her lips. “...probably even less! The real irony is that he was of royal blood himself.”

“What? No way!”

“It's true,” affirmed Hornette gravely. “He told me his father used to be a Count, but was stripped of his title by Queen Chrysalis and sent to war. I don't know what happened after that, but it must have really angered Thorax, because he vowed to avenge his family honour. He even encouraged me and a good few others to join up with a secret freedom fighter movement alongside him.” She gazed down at Prairie, fighting back tears and running a hoof through her mane as she held the little doll close to her chest. “But that was years ago. Shortly before I turned ten, he too was forced to attend the queen's annual speech. He didn't turn bad or anything, but it was so heartbreaking to see what he was like when he came back – nothing but a timid, submissive shadow of his old self.”

“I know what you mean,” sighed Locomotion solemnly. “I'd feel the same way if it were Elli.” His expression turned thoughtful. “So...if you were ten at the time, and all that business in the Crystal Empire took place only six years ago...”

Hornette nodded again. “Only a month had passed before he was sent there on a spy mission. Shortly before he left, he confided in me that he would try and seek out the Promised Land. I never saw him again after that.” No sooner had she finished than her eyes widened with sudden realisation. “Wait...how old are you?”

“Sixteen as of last April,” said Locomotion, his own eyes lighting up. Both pony and changeling stared at each other in amazement for a few seconds, before blurting out the same sentence in unison; “We're the same age!”

“Wow!” gasped Hornette. “That's...what a coincidence!”

“Yeah,” muttered Locomotion. “You're telling me.” But secretly, his astonishment was tempered by a deep dread as he recalled what Hornette had said when he first met her. None of us were allowed out of our hives until we were sixteen years old, she had told him, and even then we had to attend some patriotic speech thingy. That alone made him realise just how frighteningly close she had come to suffering the same fate as Thorax and many others; if her date of birth had been just a few days earlier, she might never have escaped from the cruel and harsh regime of the dreaded Queen Chrysalis.

The dull chime of the clock tower bell echoed throughout Ponyville as Locomotion sat and gazed out of his bedroom window. After reading Hornette off to sleep, he had initially intended to work on his fanfiction for another hour before turning in himself; but a combination of writer's block and the memory of his earlier conversation prevented him from doing so, and in the end he resorted to sitting around until either some fresh inspiration came to him or his body decided it wanted to rest itself. It was now eleven o'clock, and still he couldn't seem to rid himself of the echoing words inside his head;

“...we knew him well, Hornette...”

“...even the worst species have to have some good in them...”

“...he was of royal blood himself...”

“...for my money, he's probably still out there somewhere...”

“...a fellow of infinite conscience, of most excellent compassion...”

“...maybe the queen has done something awful to him...”

“...no-one knows...”

Locomotion slumped onto his desk with a heavy sigh, unanswered questions prodding at his mind and begging for solutions. Where in the wide, wide world could Thorax be? What had happened to him? Had he really been caught and reprised by Queen Chrysalis? Had the Royal Guard wrongly arrested him? Was he...was he still alive? He couldn't possibly know; but the way things seemed to be going, it was unlikely that Thorax and Hornette would ever cross paths again.

“Alas, poor Thorax,” he murmured sombrely. “It's a shame I never knew him...”

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