• 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 15: You Can Only Be You

Locomotion didn't need to search very far for Hornette. She had only gone a little way beyond the northern outskirts, and was now sitting gloomily in the middle of a rope bridge over the treacherous Ghastly Gorge. A cool, gentle breeze funnelled its way through the canyon, brushing through her mane and trying its best to soothe her; but she barely noticed it as she gazed into space, tears still trickling down her face to land several hundred hooves below. To one side of the bridge, she could just about make out the Everfree Forest in the distance, and remembered how terrified she had been of Locomotion even though he had saved her life – and all because she was a changeling. A deep sigh escaped her lips as almost familiar words echoed softly in her head;

To be...or not to be? That is the question – whether it is nobler in my natural form to suffer the sting of antagonism from unwanted enemies, or to take on a new form and be freed of my troubles? Of course, that was already out of the question; for while such transformations were second nature to most changelings, her sense of morals had prevented her from even contemplating such magic, let alone mastering it. She choked back another sob and hung her head, silently lamenting her own plight. Why was I born a changeling? Why can't I have been a pony just like all the others? She could still feel the sting of Shady Daze's words, which seemed to taunt her with every tear that slipped out of her eyes, striking further shame into her already injured soul. I hate being different...

Indeed, Hornette was in such a state of self-pity that she barely noticed Locomotion sidling up to her. He bore a gentle, sympathetic expression of concern as he approached, but wisely refrained from speaking until she finally looked up to see that she was no longer alone. “You okay?” he asked softly.

Hornette nodded faintly. “I just needed some time alone,” she murmured, and returned her attention to the floor of the gorge.

There was a long silence.

“Um...bit for your thoughts?”

To her credit, Hornette managed to restrain her thoughts from bursting out in a huge rush, but Locomotion could still hear the pain in her voice as she explained, “I just feel so...out of place among you lot. All around me are ponies and...and more ponies; all of different shapes, colours and sizes, but all living in perfect harmony with each other.” She sniffled a little before adding, “And then there's me – just one solitary changeling, standing out like a sore hoof among a sea of equines.”

Locomotion smiled soothingly and placed a hoof on her shoulder. “You're as much an equine as all the rest of us, in my book,” he whispered. “And so what if you're an equine with insectoid features? We all have our differences – Derpy with her funny eyes, Pip with his blotchy coat colours, Tootsie Flute with two biological mothers...even me with my disability and my love of trains and so on.”

This threw Hornette for a loop, and she could only stare in confusion as if he was having a joke with her. “You? Disabled?” she exclaimed. “But how can you be when you look so...normal?”

Locomotion shook his head, his expression turning sombre and serious. “Wrong again, Hornette,” he confessed gravely. “Not all disabilities are physical, after all – plenty of them are actually...'all in your head', so to speak; and it's pretty much the same with me.” A deep sigh followed as he steeled himself for what he was about to say. “I don't normally like to dwell on it, even with close friends or family, but...when I was only a yearling, I was diagnosed with a condition called ASD – Autistic Spectrum Disorder, or 'autism' to give its more common name.”

“What does that mean?”

“It's...it's basically a sort of a birth defect that messes with your brain patterns in any of a number of different ways,” explained Locomotion. “Sometimes it affects your behaviour and the way you communicate; sometimes it takes the form of a learning difficulty...it's all pretty divisive, but it's usually a combo of the above. In my case, it kinda hampers my ability to deal with certain situations and changes of plan and so on.”

Hornette was left agape in her dismay. She had always seen Locomotion as the very image of perfection, the sort of kind and understanding personality she aspired to be; and here he was, confiding that he was...disabled! The mere thought of such a word made her heart bleed, and fresh tears, not of shame, but rather of deep sympathy, filled her eyes. “Oh, Loco,” she stammered, “I'm really sorry for you. How do you even cope with it?”

Locomotion smiled weakly. “I like to think of it as a blessing in disguise,” he observed. “Even disabilities have their perks, after all, and autism is no different; particularly when I come out with really funny remarks without realising it, or when I start getting all silly and 'breaking the fourth wall' like Pinkie. In fact, even she tells me I have a really good memory – almost photographic, in fact – and let's face it, I probably wouldn't be quite so passionate about railways if I were some boring 'neurotypical' pony.”

The young insectoid stared thoughtfully into space as she took in his words. “I never thought about it like that.”

“You needn't think about it all,” finished Locomotion. “It's just part of who I am by the end of the day – I'm a railway enthusiast first and disabled second, and that's all that matters. It's kinda the same with you; you're a really good friend who just happens to be a changeling.”

But Hornette failed to find the solace in his words, not least because Shady Daze's earlier remarks had begun to flow through her mind again. “More like a weakling in my case,” she murmured bitterly.

Locomotion was so appalled that his heart skipped a beat. “Don't ever put yourself down like that!” he protested with a faintly scolding tone.

“But it's true!” insisted Hornette pathetically. “All I've ever done since coming here was cry and cower every time I meet a new face.”

“No you haven't!” argued Locomotion firmly. He paused for a moment to calm himself down, and to let Hornette realise the truth in his words, before continuing in a much gentler tone; “You're a lot of things, Hornette, but you're not a savage, you're not an outcast – and you're certainly not a weakling. If anything, you're a lot braver than you give yourself credit for, running away from such a cruel and oppressive home like that. I dunno if I could ever have pulled that off myself,” he admitted with a soft smile of admiration. “And crying doesn't automatically make you a weakling or a coward or anything of the sort – it just shows that you're a kind, gentle being of flesh and blood, that you have a heart and a soul and everything that that idiot queen of yours refuses to embrace.”

Already, he could see from the shaky half-smile on Hornette's face that she was beginning to feel better for hearing that; but clearly she still had a long way to go. “Only Thorax has ever said that to me before,” she sighed longingly. “Any other changeling would have sided with that Shady Daze pony if they saw me like this.”

Locomotion's smile seemed to soften even further as he played his trump card, pulling her into a gentle hug. “You needn't listen to Shady,” he soothed. “He doesn't know what he's talking about – I do because I've seen it for myself. And the same goes for Chrysalis and all the other changelings; you don't live under their shadow anymore, and neither should you have to.” He drew back a little so that he could look Hornette in the eye; “You remember what I said when we went to meet Fluttershy?”

“I...sort of.”

“I said you didn't have to let anyone else dictate who you are just because that's what they see in you – or even want to see, for that matter. You are who you choose to be.” The red-furred unicorn's hooves slid away from Hornette's barrel to take hold of her own as, still gazing into her eyes, he began to further emphasise his point through song;

Some creatures just don't take a second glance,
And others may judge and deride;
But your species alone doesn't justify their stance.
What matters is who you are inside...

You can only be you,
Whatever else we believe to be true.
It doesn't even matter what you are;
Just be yourself, and you will go far.

You needn't pose as any other creature;
You needn't let your feelings tear you apart;
All you need to know is that, under those features,
You're still a gentle changeling at heart...

But Hornette still felt a little self-conscious, and gently prised her hooves away from Locomotion as she lamented;

Gentle, yes, but then still I'm a changeling;
A creature far from welcome in this land!
You might think I'm fine without any rearranging,
But nopony else would even understand...

She gazed sadly down into the gorge again.

...Why can't they see the real me?
Is this what I'm really meant to be;
A phoney pony who doesn't have a heart?
There has to be a better place to start.

Locomotion gently shook his head in response;

There is nothing that you need to hide,
No shame in where your ancestry extends.
You can't change who you are inside;
That's all that counts to me and your friends.

That at least brought the slightest hint of a smile back to Hornette's face. How could she have forgotten – not just Surfie and Firelli and other members of Locomotion's family, but Sweetie-Belle, Scootaloo, Apple Bloom...even the obstinate Rainbow Dash seemed to see some good in her. Maybe Locomotion was right – maybe she really was overthinking her flaws.

All I really want is trust and love,
Acceptance from the powers above...

Another tear slipped out of her eye, only to be brushed away by Locomotion as he softly cajoled her;

Come now, dry up those tears.
Someday for you,
Your dreams of peace will come true.

At last, Hornette began to feel the weight begin to lift from her shoulders, and her sorrow gave way to a fresh feeling of hope and resolve. So what if she was different from all the ponies around her, she thought bravely – at least she was different from the rest of her kind too, and if so many of her kind were so savage, then being different from them was no bad thing by any stretch of the imagination...

It's not easy being me...

You can only be you.

...but what else could I possibly be?

There's nothing else you can do.

I may not be happy with who or what I am,
But I'll be the best changeling that I can.

No need to take it hard; just be who you are,
And let your gentle spirit take you far.

Both pony and changeling fell silent for a while. Neither felt the need to say anything, but simply basked in each other's company until, eventually, Hornette softly spoke up. “Loco,” she whispered, a genuine smile on her lips for the first time in several hours, “how did I gain such a kind and loyal friend as you?”

“By being such a kind and loyal friend yourself, much?” chuckled Locomotion rhetorically. “Seriously, though,” he went on gently, “you didn't even need to do anything except to just be yourself. Don't ever feel you have to change who you are, Hornette, just because a measly bunch of hecklers think so ill of you – no creature alive should have to feel ashamed of their species or what they're like, and it's the same with you.”

“You always say that.”

“Yeah – and I mean it. You're a really gentle soul, Hornette, and I'm happy to have you in my life.” Locomotion sighed wistfully and looked up at the stars. “I wish all changelings were like you.”

Hornette was so touched that she couldn't think of a suitable response. Of all the things a pony could have said to her, even by Locomotion's standards this had to be the nicest compliment she had ever received. She could feel his words tugging at her heartstrings, feel the affection in his voice...almost as if he...no, it couldn't possibly be true...could it? But her puzzlement was quickly diverted as she noted a glint of sorrow in his eyes, as if in subdued mourning. Was there something bothering him, she wondered? Perhaps she ought to ask him about it later...

“Anyway,” said Locomotion, changing the subject, “shall we get back to the party? Mum and Dad and the others will be wondering where we are.”

“Even me?” ventured Hornette.

Especially you. The open road's no place for a changeling, even if she is on probation.” Locomotion stepped to one side, bowing graciously and holding out a courteous hoof; “Ladies first.”

Again, Hornette felt a tug at her heartstrings as she politely stepped past him and began making her way back to firm ground. Any remaining woes she might have had seemed to vanish into oblivion, and she stared dreamily into space, sighing inwardly. He's such a gentlecolt...

But her blissful reverie couldn't last. She hadn't even gone ten yards when she heard a startled grunt from behind, causing her to stop in her tracks. “What's the matter, Loco?” she called, turning to face him.

“My hoof's caught in the slats,” said a mildly frustrated Locomotion. He was still on all fours, but his left hind hoof had somehow slipped between two of the wooden boards, and he was cautiously probing them with his right hoof in an attempt to prise it out.

“Oh dear...do you want any help?”

Locomotion was about to reply when he felt what he thought to be a wide enough gap for his hoof to slip out. “No thanks,” he answered. “I think I might have got this,” and he gently pushed down on one slat whilst wriggling his stuck hoof towards the opening. Hornette stood and watched cautiously, trying to make sure he didn't hurt himself; but in the confusion, neither of them noticed an ominous splintering noise...

If Locomotion thought it a surprise that he should enjoy flying, he would have been truly flabbergasted to find himself wishing he still had wings. But now, as one of the slats suddenly gave way beneath him, he realised with horrifying clarity how much he would need them more than ever. He yelped in alarm as he fell through the breach, but only just managed to grab hold of the slat immediately in front of him, and clung on for dear life.

“Loco!” shrieked Hornette in horror. In an instant, she lunged forward onto her barrel and reached out to him. “Loco, give me your hoof!” she urged frantically.

But Locomotion couldn't. For the first time since Hornette had known him, she could see a look of untold terror in his eyes, a look that clearly told her how close he was to eternity; if he dared to let a single hoof loose...well, she didn't dare think about it. She crawled slowly towards him, hoping to grab his hoof herself and pull him to safety – but just as she was within reach, the helpless unicorn lost his grip altogether and plunged into the ravine.

LOCO!!!

Without a moment's thought, Hornette jumped over the side of the bridge and dived bravely towards the flailing, screaming Locomotion. Flapping her wings as hard as she could, she caught up to him just inches from the bottom of the abyss, and grabbed him by his chest before pulling swiftly out of their death dive. With the added weight of a teenaged stallion, she could feel her wings begin to ache from the effort, but refused to give up until they were on high ground – and not a moment too soon either. They had only just cleared the edge of the cliff when, dizzy with exhaustion, her wings finally gave out, and she collapsed onto the soft grass, panting heavily.

It took a while for her head to stop spinning, but when at last she regained her senses... “Loco!” she gasped, still trying to catch her breath. The red-furred unicorn, now sitting slumped only a few inches away from her, was thankfully unhurt; but his breathing was shaky and shallow, and he appeared to be trembling all over. “Loco, are you okay?”

But Locomotion didn't respond. He didn't even seem to hear what Hornette was saying.

“Loco!! Answer me!” she shouted, shaking him vigorously. “Are you okay?!”

A dull, slight croak brought her shaking to a halt as Locomotion tried to speak; but paralysed with shock as he was, even this seemed to take all his willpower. “You......y-y-you...just...saved my life,” he managed to choke out.

With a huge sigh of relief, Hornette wrapped her arms tightly round the traumatised unicorn, who broke down into quiet sobbing as he feverishly returned the embrace. “Don't scare me like that, Loco, please,” she whispered. “I really thought I was going to lose you.”

“Loco? Is everything alright?” called a voice through the darkness. Hornette looked up, and sure enough, Steamer was just approaching them with an anxious look stamped on his face. This quickly turned to baffled shock when he noticed his nephew's trepid state. “Loco!” he burst out. “What happened to you?”

Hornette began to panic. “I-I-I can explain, Mr Steamer!” she blustered. “Loco got his hoof stuck, and somehow, he managed to break one of the slats and...”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!!” interrupted Steamer, flustered. “Start from the beginning, Hornette, and tell me clearly and slowly what happened.”

“You don't need to. I saw the whole thing.” Steamer and Hornette looked back to see Featherweight touching down behind them, brandishing his camera. “It's a good job you asked me to bring this along too,” he added; “at least now we have photographic evidence to prove it.”

“Prove what?”

“There was some kind of dark, shadowy...thing hiding in a blind spot beneath the bridge,” Featherweight explained. “I dunno what it was, I couldn't see it too clearly; but I did see it prising a couple of slats apart when Loco was passing over them. Whatever it was, it must have weakened one of them before he even got there, because next thing I knew...” and he told Steamer all about Hornette's rescue effort.

Steamer choked back a gasp, cupping one hoof around his mouth as the horrific information sank in. Locomotion, very near finished his life's journey – and on Surfie's birthday to boot! Why, if it hadn't been for Hornette...lowering his hoof again, he turned his attention back to his nephew. “I...is this true?” he stammered.

Gingerly, Locomotion lifted his head from Hornette's shoulder and nodded weakly in affirmation. Overcome with relief, Steamer sidled up to them and wrapped a grateful arm around the bemused changeling, letting loose a small tear for the first time she could ever remember. “Thank you, Hornette,” he whispered. “That was really brave of you.”

“Oh, please don't, Mr Steamer,” protested Hornette, feeling deeply self-conscious all of a sudden. “I don't even deserve...” but she quickly broke off as she remembered what Locomotion had said.

“Hornette, you saved my nephew's life,” objected Steamer with a soft, tearful smile. “I dunno how I'd have coped if I found out he'd been...well......or how I could break it to the rest of the family, for that matter. Only a true hero would have reacted the way you did.” He gently released her from his embrace, but kept his hoof on her shoulder. “For all that, you have my full trust from now on,” he finished sincerely.

“I...I do?” Hornette's heart skipped a beat. Even as the buff-coated stallion confirmed it with a hearty nod, she could hardly believe this was happening for real. No, this had to be some kind of dream...

“I should think the same goes for the rest of Ponyville when they hear about this,” added Featherweight. He paused for a moment, gazing thoughtfully at his camera. “You guys okay with me using these in a newspaper article?” he asked tentatively. “I know Hornette's been having problems with hecklers, and I was hoping...since I have the photos to vindicate her...”

“Say no more, Featherweight,” smiled Steamer, raising his hoof. “If Loco and Hornette are okay with it, then so am I.”

Locomotion was still too shaken to say much, but responded with little more than, “Sure...just this once,” while Hornette, finally realising how close she was to exoneration, merely nodded and smiled.

“Good,” declared Steamer, “that settles it. Come on you lot – let's get going before anything else happens.”

With Locomotion leaning against Hornette for physical and emotional support, all four of them began to make their way back to Surfie's party. Not a word was spoken between them for some time they were all so deep in thought; but eventually, Hornette broke the silence. “Um...Featherweight,” she ventured, “were you serious about wanting to...you know...clear my name?”

Featherweight chuckled wryly. “I'd be pretty ungrateful if I didn't,” he observed. “Loco's a good friend of mine, Hornette; I may not be his uncle, but I'd still be gutted if he'd been lost. Besides,” giving her a knowing wink, “I still owe him one for helping me and the Crusaders out of the Gabby Gums scandal.”

Hornette smiled appreciatively. “That's really thoughtful of you, Featherweight. I'd do the same for you one day, I'm sure.”

“That's okay,” Featherweight smiled back. “Just doing my bit for my friends.” His smile faded, and he stared suspiciously back at the gorge. “I just wish I knew what it was that tried to murder him,” he wondered out loud...

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