• 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 17: In Times Gone By

The soft clanging of pots and pans downstairs registered in Locomotion's ears. He cracked a drowsy eye open, wondering who or what was making all that noise – only to blink himself awake when he noticed something odd about his surroundings. For starters, Hornette was nowhere to be seen; but what really perplexed him was that he wasn't in her room anymore.

“Strange,” he thought aloud, arching a confused eyebrow. “How did I end up back in my own bed? I'm pretty sure I...” His voice trailed away as he recalled how Hornette had reacted after he asked to sleep with her. It may not exactly have been frenetic, but she must have been really unnerved after sharing her bed with him...but then why had she consented to it in the first place? Had she done so out of mere pity? With an uncertain shrug of his shoulders, he climbed down from his bed and went to investigate the source of the clanging.

He didn't have to search very far. Upon leaving his room, he noticed Hornette's bedroom door had been left open; and when he peeked into the kitchen, there he saw the young changeling leafing through a cookbook with a puzzled expression on her face. Locomotion let out a quiet chuckle of relief – of course Hornette wouldn't leave him in cold blood, he chided himself. She was far too nice for that.

Hornette's ears pricked up at the sound of his voice, and she looked up from her book with an inquisitive hum. “Oh...morning, Loco. How are you feeling?”

“Much better, thanks, Hornette,” replied Locomotion with an appreciative smile. He paused, rubbing a self-conscious hoof against the back of his neck as he tried to find the right words. “Um...thanks for being so understanding last night,” he ventured. “I dunno how I woke up in my own room this morning, but...well...”

To his consternation, Hornette's brow furrowed as if she was trying to hide something. “What's so special about that?”

“You let me sleep with you after that nightmare, remember?”

“Did I?” stammered Hornette. “Are you sure you didn't just dream the whole thing?”

“Sure I'm sure,” persisted Locomotion. “I may have autism, but I'm pretty self-aware.”

“Then...maybe you'd been sleepwalking...right?” offered Hornette with a nervous chuckle. An awkward silence followed as Locomotion arched a sceptical eyebrow at her. “Well...it's possible, isn't it?”

“Not with me it isn't,” replied Locomotion bluntly. “If I were a sleepwalker, I'd have heard all about it from Uncle Steamer and my parents years ago.” His expression softened slightly. “Come on, Hornette, why so cagey? I wasn't being too forward last night, was I?” he asked with an ever so slight tone of anxiety.

Hornette sighed ruefully and averted her gaze, a look of deep regret in her eyes. “I'm sorry, Loco. I didn't mean to make you feel rejected or anything...I just didn't want you to feel like I was taking advantage of you.”

Locomotion blinked unbelievingly. “Why the hay would you think that?” he objected.

“You were just so timid and insecure last night,” Hornette continued meekly, “and all I did was lure you into a situation where I could easily take all your love if I wanted to. But I don't – you've been a rock for me to cling onto, and I don't ever want to lose your friendship.” She hung her head with shame and sorrow, not even wanting to make eye contact with the young stallion. “That's why I moved you back to your bed – I was more afraid of myself than...well, you, and I didn't want you to be mad at me.”

It took a while for her words to sink in with Locomotion, and for a fleeting moment, she began to worry that she might well have lost his friendship after all. But her fears couldn't last; for after barely a minute, the red-furred unicorn sidled up to her and placed a gentle hoof between her shoulders. “Hornette,” he quipped soothingly, “the only thing you need to worry about is how hard you're being on yourself. Frankly I'd rather have been 'taken advantage of', as you put it, than lose sleep over that dream. Besides, if anything, I'm more to blame for being so intrusive.”

“Eh?” Hornette cautiously looked up, and was stunned to see not even the slightest hint of disapproval in Locomotion's expression – just the same caring, reassuring smile she had grown so fond of.

“I was the one who chose to wake you up,” explained Locomotion, “and, more to the point, it was me who asked to share your bed in the first place. It's as you said; I was properly shaken up, and I needed the comfort. I just...didn't want it to be at your expense, if you take my meaning.” He blushed slightly, unwilling to explain any further; but Hornette seemed to understand. “But yeah, it's me who should be apologising.”

Hornette gave him a rueful smile of her own. “You don't need to apologise for anything,” she reassured. “I'm just glad I could be of help...” She looked away bashfully, trying to hide her reddening cheeks. “...and to be honest...it felt kinda nice cuddling up to you all night.”

Locomotion chuckled lightly. “I know how you feel. I always enjoyed a good cuddle with Mum every so often, even as a teenager. Mind you, that was before I moved in with Uncle Steamer,” he observed wistfully. “I hardly ever get the chance nowadays, and it's not something I can ask of my uncle. I did consider it once or twice, but...well, I just feel a bit awkward about having to turn to another stallion for that kind of comfort, even within my own family.”

“Aww, that's a shame,” sympathised Hornette. She gazed into space, letting her thoughts wander for a moment. “Actually,” she went on shyly, “there was...kind of another reason why I moved you back to your bed this morning. Since you treated me to breakfast in bed about a month ago......I thought I'd try and do the same for you.”

Locomotion's eyes lit up as he returned his attention to the cookbook and all the breakfast foods laid out on the counter. So that was what all the clanging was all about. “Aw, that's really thoughtful of you, Hornette. You want some help?”

“Um...yeah, I could do with it, to be honest,” conceded Hornette. Despite her good resolution, she was a little unsure about trying to cook an entire fry-up on her own.

“Right, well, I'll see to the eggs and the bangers; you can make a start on the beans and the hay bacon.”

“Okay then,” and Hornette set about emptying a can of baked beans into the saucepan she had left on the stove, whilst Locomotion pulled out a frying pan from the cupboard.

“Oh, and by the way, Hornette...” added Locomotion, with a gentle seriousness about him.

“Yes, Loco?”

“...best not to mention this to Uncle Steamer.”

Hornette could only agree. She didn't want to lose Steamer's trust so soon after earning it.

Given the rough night Locomotion had had, and how Hornette had left him to sleep in after taking him back to his room, it was almost eleven o'clock by the time breakfast was ready. Locomotion didn't mind; with such a varied work schedule, he and his uncle were used to waking up, taking their meals and going to bed at random hours. Besides, he always preferred to fry his eggs slowly and steadily, so that the edges didn't crisp up and the yolk stayed nice and runny for him to dip his bacon in. Hornette had to admit he had a natural talent at cooking them so perfectly.

Having finished their breakfast, and with little else to do around the house, the two teenagers decided to take a casual jaunt through the park, where several of Locomotion's friends and acquaintances were also out and about. Almost all of them gave a friendly greeting as they passed, and not for the first time, Hornette was deeply touched that none had anything bad to say about her. Even the one sullen scowl from a mint-green Earth mare with purple mane and tail did little to dampen her spirits.

“It sure is refreshing, isn't it?” she thought aloud. “Being able to go out and not have to worry about being judged all the time.”

Locomotion smiled in agreement. This had to be the first time he had ever heard Hornette so relaxed and contented. “Yeah, it is kinda relieving, after all the bullying and heckling we've had to fend off,” he mused. “To hear them talk, you'd think we ponies were the bad guys.”

Hornette stifled a wry giggle at his facetiousness; but then her face turned solemn as a mildly disturbing thought occurred to her. “Have you ever been bullied in the past?” she ventured.

“Aw, heck, yeah,” answered Locomotion gravely. “More for being a railway enthusiast than being disabled, mind; and it's become less of a problem as time goes by. But back when I was a baby, I had serious trouble fitting in, especially with how the local social services let me and my parents down. It's part of the reason we moved to Ponyville in the first place.”

“You...used to live somewhere else?” Hornette was most surprised.

Locomotion nodded sombrely. “Elli and I were born in Trottingham, same as Pipsqueak; but we actually lived a few miles beyond its outskirts in the village of Coltwick. And I can tell you now,” he confided, “I wouldn't recommend that place even for ten million bits.”

“Why not?”

“Because, back when we lived there, it wasn't exactly...renowned for its social care. Sure, they had a few so-called 'care workers',” continued Locomotion, scowling slightly, “but most of 'em didn't give a flying feather for their jobs – they were just in it for the money. It kinda showed with the younger generation in particular; the number of tearaways you got in our neighbourhood at the time...you just wouldn't believe.” He sighed heavily and sat down on a nearby bench. Judging by the pained grimace on his face, Hornette could tell that an old wound was slowly bubbling to the surface with him. “First playschool I went to, I got pulled out after just one day because of it.”

“What happened?” asked Hornette breathlessly, her eyes wide with concern as she took a seat next to him.

“Well, I was kinda reclusive back then, and so I was content just to sit in a corner of the room and play with the train-set they had there. But there was one particularly rough-and-tumble Pegasus filly who was trying to rope me into a violent game of Pony vs Changeling – and she certainly didn't want me to play the pony.” Locomotion rolled his eyes in sullen indignation at the unpleasant memory. “Apparently they'd had trouble with her plenty of times before then, but they never did anything about it; even the nurse who should have been keeping an eye on us was too focussed on her crocheting. Either way, I was having none of it, so I just blanked her out and carried on building my railway, even when she started whining her head off at me and nicking some of the track pieces. In the end, she got so impatient that she just...kicked me right in the ribs!”

Hornette reeled with anguish. “Ouch!” she gasped. “That must have really hurt!”

“It did,” affirmed Locomotion grimly. “She sent me keeling over onto the bridge I'd just built. I was screaming in agony, and honest to Celestia, the nurse genuinely thought I'd broken a few bones. She immediately prised the filly away from me, and left her in another room while she sent for my Mum and an ambulance. It turned out I was just badly bruised; but Mum was absolutely furious with the staff for letting this happen to me, and as soon as she arrived, all heck broke loose. She claimed in no uncertain terms that the nurse hadn't been doing her job properly; but the nurse and her employers refused to accept responsibility, and even tried to shift some of the blame onto me. In the end, Mum issued them a harsh talking down and stormed out with me in tow. Spent the rest of the day comforting me while we watched my favourite Rodney the Railway Engine videos.” He sighed again and looked down at his barrel, almost as if his wound was still visible. “I never went back there again, and neither would I want to as long as I live.”

“I should think so too,” agreed Hornette feelingly. “How heartless can you get, leaving a poor, innocent foal to be beaten up like that?!”

Locomotion frowned in agreement. “None of the other places were much of an improvement,” he went on unhappily. “No matter where we went, most of the staff were either incompetent, uncaring or just plain bone-idle, and there was always some filly or colt who delighted in playing rough. Their parents weren't much better – some were absolute doormats to their young, others couldn't be bothered with them...there were even a few who encouraged their foals' bad behaviour!” He shuddered delicately at the mental images that sprang to mind – a scraggly stallion grooming his eldest son to become a gangster; three terrified foals being beaten by their parents just for spoiling breakfast; a lonely little filly shedding tears while her uncaring mother chatted with friends... “But attitudes to the disabled were even worse. If, say, you were blind or confined to a wheelchair or had what I've got, they just looked down their noses at you and referred you to the nearest nursing home. Mum and Dad found that extremely degrading, so you can imagine how heartbroken they were when I got my diagnosis.”

“Yes, I can,” sympathised Hornette. “So would I be, if one of my foals had something wrong with their brain.”

The faintest hint of a smile crept into Locomotion's expression. “We did get our happy ending, though,” he observed. “Shortly after I was diagnosed, Dad was offered a really well paid post in the Equestrian Fibre Optics research lab near here, which was kind of his dream job. Incidentally, Uncle Steamer had already been transferred here from Delamare MPD three years earlier, just after being promoted to driver, so we had ample opportunity to explore the place whenever we came to visit.”

“So how did you feel about moving house?” asked Hornette with tentative curiosity. Given what Locomotion had told her about autism, she suspected it must have been a real struggle for him.

“Kinda apprehensive at first, but when I learned we'd be moving to Ponyville for good, I was well over the moon. And not just because my favourite uncle lived here either,” chuckled Locomotion. “The only railway we had back at our old home was an abandoned tramway; here in Ponyville, you've got an engine shed, a four-platform station, a shunting yard, all manner of goods and passenger trains...anywhere would have been better than Coltwick, but I got so much enjoyment out of watching trains being marshalled here that I fell in love with this town. What really sold it for Mum and Dad was its outstanding record on social care. At the time, it was officially listed as having the tenth best services in Equestria,” he finished, “so it was pretty much the natural choice for us – and here we are now.”

Hornette smiled softly as she let Locomotion's story sink in, silently marvelling at how much they had in common. No wonder he had been so sympathetic right from the very beginning – he had been there himself, seen first-hoof what it was like to be an outcast, and even had his own proverbial Queen Chrysalis to contend with. Yet he had grown so much stronger from the experience; strong enough that even Diamond Tiara, in times gone by, seemingly hadn't been a patch on his chivalrous nature... “And all the better for it too,” she murmured. “I'm amazed you managed to win through.”

Locomotion smiled back, albeit a little more solemnly. “It wasn't the most enthralling chapter of my life by any means,” he admitted, “but I've had plenty of ponies to support me over the last fifteen years – not just Twilight and Uncle Steamer and my family, but Max Pressure who's helped me live my dreams, and given me plenty of work experience to boot; Cheerilee, who was still only a young carer when we first moved here, and was especially sympathetic to my case; Wise Words, the previous librarian before Twilight was sent here from Canterlot...and of course all my friends in school and around the sheds.” How I wish I didn't have to lose one of those ponies so cataclysmically, he thought sadly. “If there's one thing I've learned from all that, it's what a wise railway worker once said – 'there's always a light at the end of the tunnel'.” And goodness knew he needed one right now, given the painful memories that still simmered in the back of his mind – and not the ones he had just described either...

“Loco...” Hornette's gentle voice interrupted his train of thought, and he looked up again to see a warm expression of appreciation on her face. “...thank you for sharing that story with me,” she whispered.

The red-furred unicorn grinned self-consciously and rubbed the back of his head. “That's alright, Hornette. You're probably the first...well, creature...that I've ever spoken to about it outside of family,” he answered shyly. “I dunno what it is, I...you just seem so easy to talk to – like I can tell you anything, and you won't think any less of me.”

“Well...you don't think any less of me for being a changeling,” Hornette reasoned, suppressing a quiet giggle that sent a strange tingle down Locomotion's spine.

“Well...what more can I say? I...” Locomotion broke off as he suddenly realised what he was about to say next. Somewhere in the depths of his mind, inaccessible even to the most accomplished brain surgeons, he could hear an impatient voice shouting for him to blurt it all out; but the rest of his body seemed too frightened to obey. What good would it do anyway, even if he did? If she knew how he truly felt, she would likely distance herself not just from him, but from all ponykind. At last, he managed to get his mouth working again – but not in the way he intended. “...I really like your...mane,” he stammered.

Hornette cocked her head, taken aback. “Sorry?”

Idiot! You just had to go and blow it, didn't you?! Locomotion smiled awkwardly, trying to ignore the scolding voice in his head. After all, he technically wasn't lying... “Your mane, I really like it,” he reiterated. “It just...adds to your appearance, makes you look even less intimidating than you ever were in the first place. I, uh...I hope you don't mind, by the way, but...I did actually have a feel of it last night.”

“Oh, I don't mind,” Hornette replied earnestly. “I didn't even think much about it before now. Why, how did it feel?”

Locomotion's smile became more genuine as he remembered. “It was beautifully soft – and so therapeutic as well, almost like silk. You know, the stuff that spiders use to make their webs,” he went on. “Rarity uses it a lot in her line of work; it makes a really fine fabric.”

“Gosh,” remarked Hornette, visibly flattered. “You really like my hair that much?”

“Believe me, Hornette, even rabbit fur can't hold a candle to your mane.” Locomotion paused as he felt a deep yearning for the same warm, therapeutic softness that had soothed him to sleep the night before. Part of him couldn't help worrying about what some passer-by might think if they saw him doing so with a changeling; but his right hoof didn't seem to care so much. In the end, he decided that this desire was too much to ignore, and tentatively asked, “Can I have another feel of it? Please?”

He was pleasantly surprised, then, when the young insectoid didn't hesitate even for one second. “Sure,” she replied with a gracious nod, magically holding out a portion of her hair. With an equally gracious smile, Locomotion reached out and began stroking it delicately, trying not to ruffle it. His smile grew warmer as its delicate texture registered against his hoof, and even more so when his gentle ministrations elicited that same cute purr he had grown so fond of. He felt like he could just sit there all day, run his hoof through her mane again and again, and not have to worry about anything else in the world...

But like a vivid, blissful dream, it couldn't last. Fortunately for them both, it wasn't some disturbed onlooker breaking their affectionate moment, but the distant scream they heard was still enough to startle them back to reality.

“What the flabberwocky was that?” exclaimed Locomotion.

Hornette's brow furrowed. “It sounded like it was coming from the boutique,” she remarked anxiously. “Maybe we'd better go see what's wrong,” and she trotted briskly away before Locomotion could answer. The red-furred unicorn rolled his eyes and smirked in amusement – somehow, he had a rough idea what this was all about...

Locomotion was right. When he and Hornette arrived, they found Rarity curled up on the floor and bawling her eyes out, while Spike desperately tried to soothe her.

“Spike?” asked Hornette. “What's going on?”

Spike grimaced anxiously as he tried to diffuse the situation. “Uh...nothing much,” he replied awkwardly. “Just having a bit of a meltdown, that's all.”

A bit?!” burst out Rarity hysterically. “I have every reason to be melting down over this! Of all the worst things that can happen...”

Locomotion clapped a hoof to his face to cover his exasperation, but struggled to hold back a stifled chortle all the same. He knew what was coming next.

“...this is THE – WORST – POSSIBLE – THING!!”

Yep – totally saw that coming!

“Um...pardon my asking,” ventured Hornette, rather more considerately, “but what exactly is 'the – worst – possible – thing'?”

“Ah, don't go on, Hornette,” smirked Locomotion. “As far as Rarity's concerned, every single little mishap in the whole world is 'the – worst – possible – thing'.”

But his smirk promptly turned into a look of confusion as another, much more frustrated voice chimed in with, “Do you have to do that every time somepony goes on about 'the – worst – possible thing'?!”

“Do what?!” Locomotion spun around. He could have sworn the voice belonged to Discord; but when he looked back towards the source, he couldn't see anyone. With a dismissive shrug, he returned his attention to Rarity and Spike; “Seriously, though,” he went on, “what is this all about?”

“I'll tell you what this is all about!” answered Rarity dramatically, pointing to the snazzy new line of clothing on one side of the lobby. “I've been working myself to the bone with these new outfits that Sapphire Shores ordered, which I promised to deliver in time for her latest tour – AND NOW I FIND I'M FRESH OUT OF THE BABY BLUE SILK I NEED TO FINISH THEM!!!” and she collapsed into a fresh round of tears.

Locomotion shook his head wearily. This was getting beyond a joke now. “Well...just order some more in then, if you haven't got enough,” he said impatiently.

“And where are we supposed to get some at such short notice?!” objected Spike crossly. “Even if we went up to Royal Ribbon's place, it'd take three or four days to get there, buy it, come home, finish the dresses and send them off – and that's assuming she has any to begin with.”

Hornette heaved a subdued sigh as the two males argued. If only there was something she could do to help, she thought unhappily as she gazed at the outfits – and that was when it hit her. The fabric Rarity had been using, she noticed, was almost the exact same colour as her mane. Maybe...just maybe... “Uh, Spike,” she interjected curiously, “did you say it was silk you needed?”


“How much?”

“Um...only a few square yards should be alright...I guess?”

“And do you have something to make thread into fabric?”

“Well...yeah, there's that old loom Rarity bought at that auction sale four months ago...” Spike shook his head in confusion. “Why am I telling you this?!” he protested.

“Well, I've kinda had this weird idea,” explained Hornette patiently. “It might work, then again it might not – but if it does, you won't have to worry about your silk.”

Spike stared at her, completely baffled – and even more so when Hornette began running her front hooves through her mane, horn glowing as she did so. “What the hay?” he muttered in bewilderment, looking at Locomotion for an explanation.

But Locomotion was just as perplexed as Spike, and could only shrug in response. He looked back to Hornette, arching an eyebrow at the strange yet almost alluring spectacle; not only did she appear to be bundling the strands of her hair into a single yarn, but she was also coiling it up around her left hoof. Almost at once, his eyes widened with sudden realisation; “Wait a minute!” he exclaimed. “Is this what I think it is?”

“I sure hope it is,” mumbled Hornette without taking her eyes off what she was doing.

“Eh?! What are you talking about?” puzzled Spike.

Locomotion chuckled wryly. “Me and Hornette were out for a walk earlier,” he said, “and I compared the softness of her hair to the very material you were after. If I didn't know better, I'd say she's trying to spin it into actual silk.”

“Well...that's what it's supposed to be,” put in Hornette. “I don't know if it really is, but...what do you think?” She paused and unravelled some of the “silk” for Spike to feel for himself.

Spike shrugged doubtfully and took hold of the proffered thread, only to goggle in amazement as its texture registered on his fingers. “Holy guacamole!” he remarked. “It really does feel like silk and all!” He glanced over his shoulder, his eyes lighting up with fresh optimism; “Hey, Rarity, come and have a look at this!”

Rarity was still in a tizzy, and had hardly taken any notice of what had been going on. “WHYYYY?!?” she bawled out loud.

“Because we have the answer to our problems right before us!” announced Spike jubilantly. It came as little surprise to him when Rarity leaped back to her hooves and began looking around feverishly, whereupon he pointed to the synthetic silk thread trailing down from Hornette's mane.

“You don't mind, do you, Rarity?” the young changeling asked. “I know it probably isn't real silk, but it's close enough in colour at least – and Loco says it feels like it too, so...”

Gingerly, Rarity took hold of the synthetic silk thread still trailing from Hornette's mane – and gasped in amazement and delight as its soft, delicate texture registered against her hoof. “Oh my stars,” she burst out joyously, “this is perfect! How on Earth do you do it?!”

Hornette smiled modestly, trying to hide the proud blush she could feel spreading across her cheeks. “Oh...just a little growth spell and some transformation magic...that's all,” she murmured, only just managing to finish her sentence before Rarity pulled her into a grateful if somewhat sudden embrace.

“Thank you so, so much, Hornette you little lifesaver!” she cried. “How in Celestia's name could I have finished those outfits without your ingenuity?! Oh, I simply must repay you somehow!”

“You don't need to.”

Rarity pulled back in dismay. “What?! But surely a little something for your efforts...maybe a nice chapeau, or an elegant tea-gown, or...”

“Or maybe a doll you already made for me a month ago?” interrupted Hornette politely; holding back a mental giggle when Rarity stared blankly in response. “I know you didn't want anything for Prairie, but I did promise myself that I'd repay you somehow, and now I have. Say what you will, Rarity,” she added reasonably, “but I'd say this should more than make us quits.”

Rarity pondered for a moment before conceding her point with a thoughtful nod. “Well, yes, you do make a sound argument there,” she mused. “Alright then, Hornette, I'm fine to let it slide as long as you are.”

But secretly, she still wasn't satisfied. Surely Hornette deserved some form of recompense for her efforts, she thought as she watched her working her magic – after all, she had just saved Rarity from what could have been a serious predicament. She glanced towards Locomotion, whom she noticed was now watching the young insectoid with a dreamy expression, and smiled broadly. Maybe, she thought to herself, she could use her debt to his and Hornette's advantage as well as her own...

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